Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Dinkley Locomotive & Machine Works

This was the result of me grumbling about the backgrounds in most of my photos. See, it was pretty common for me to take photos of finished or in progress models for sending to my friends via text message or email. (Ah, the wonders of modern technology. When advice can be sought in the moment or work shared instantly upon completion.) Most of the time I would take photos on either the mantel above the fireplace, or the dining room table if it was devoid of flat surface syndrome. This was because those locations had the best light. However the result was a beautiful model admits the realms of household debris.

This could be solved with the use of a photo booth. Or a sheet of paper held up behind the locomotive. Which was the immediate solution. However, the seeds where planted in my mind for something more substantial. Why by god, the best place to take a builders photo of a finished would be at a locomotive shop. Why not build a simple diorama that had the back wall of a shop building as a background. I had this small 27x27 cm plaque I had obtained from Hobby Lobby sometime back that was just perfect. One track, maybe two, and the brick wall of some backshop. What could go wrong?

Things escalated quickly.

So, the plaque was discarded for a frame of basswood atop a layer of two 2x1 foot chunks of polystyrene foam laminated together atop a screen. This made the diorama both super light, and super strong. I decided to focus on the entrance to an engine shed with two tracks running outside along a workshop. The engine shed would be modeled with the door open and short bit of track going inside. The inside would only be modeled for the first few feet. A black backdrop and the interior fading to shades of black would help to illustrate the illusion of a larger shop.

In front of the workshop is another large building. Also modeled in respective compression. I decided to model this building with a “Builders Photo” front. A wall that is painted white with the windows covered in canvas. This is so that locomotives can be photographed in front of it strait out of the shops. The white paint on the building helps the photographers retouch the photo and remove the building entirely. The space between the two buildings contains an access road.

The workshops were made from wall sections from the Revell “Superior Bakery” kit. One of many Revell kits made from the same basic structure. I had two of these kits for reasons unknown. (I believe I obtained them to make a steam era backshop for North Georgia Modu-rail. However, better options came our way) The brick walls with their awesome multitude of textures and arching windows were perfect for an 1880s-90s locomotive shop. I cut the wall segments to fit, and on one piece cut two of the archways out to make access doors.

The walls were painted brick red, and a wash of refer white and grimy black gone over them to highlight the textures and give a dirty appearance. The structures were assembled with card-stock backs painted black on the inside to both give the illusion of full interiors and help disguise how small the structures are. The inside of the engine shed and workshop got a wood plank floor with individual floorboards cut and glued to card-stock.

A third track was added to spot coal hoppers for the boiler house as well as help add more to the scene and provide another track to photograph. This track was set at a slight curve as if running to a switch just off the edge of the diorama to help break up the square lines. The track was secured with liquid nails for projects. All three tracks got a spray of flat black to hide the shine of plastic and weather the rails. Once the paint dried I went over the railheads with a bright-boy.

The walls of each structure were glued together using CA glue, and then attached to the base and sides with liquid nails for projects. Once the structures were in place, the initial covering of ground-foam went down. I tend to scenic in layers, with each layer of scenery getting a coat of glue and letting dry before the next layer is applied. This way I avoid having a large layer of scenery material to try and soak glue into and potentially have crack as it dries. Starting with the roadbed, each track got a layer of dirt and cinder, and the the whole diorama got a mix of cinder, dirt, brown ground foam, some real crushed coal, and a slight wash of brown paint to help tie the whole mess in. The smallest grade of everything was used.

The crossing was built up from three layers of yellow ground foam, dirt, and cinder in that order. As the final layer dried I took a wheelset with plastic wheels and dragged it across the surface to represent wagon tracks. As the road dried I did a was of brown paint and highlighted the ruts with strait paint.

The weeds and brush were added with the layers depending on how vibrant I wanted them to be. My rule of thumb is that more layers one puts atop the foam the more subtle and in the earth it becomes. In some cases as the layer dried I'll add a sprinkling of foam and press the foam into the earth with my finger. The key to this is patience and delicacy. I tend to add ballast and scenery material by finger-loads rather then just pour it out from a shaker. This helps to control the material and get it exactly where I want. My brush is from the Scenic Express value bag. I highly recommend this, as not only is it far cheaper then the plastic bottles, but you get more material. I'm still using a bag I bought back in 2013.

Since the inside of the workshop is slightly visible from the windows, I went ahead and did some subtle details. The back wall is black and the floorboards slowly turn into a black wash. This helps create a nice shadow effect and gives the illusion of a much bigger building. However, as some parts of the building would be visible, I created a wheel lathe and placed a few bits of machinery along the row of windows. The lathe was made from excess parts from the Revell kits, and the machinery were parts of Woodland Scenics sawmill kill and included rollers for band powered equipment and a circle saw.

The shed doors where made from paper glued to balsa wood. The image of the shed with created in Paint Tool Sia, and printed out and glued to balsa. The doors are glued in the open position.

As the bare wood wall was visible next to the locomotive shed, one single brick wall with two windows was cut to fit. This became the boiler house, complete with stack. The back of the windows were painted black to hide the wood frame of the diorama. The roofs were made from cardstock painted black. Masking tape was layered to represent tar paper roofing material. I may come back later with shingles and redo these roofs. However, for now this is perfect.

Well, this turned into a far more ambitious project then I planned. But the end result was spectacular. A light diorama that can be taken outside and posed in natural light for photography. There are a few things that I may add as time goes on. Such as figures and maybe a horse and cart.

As for the name? Well, I've been building custom locomotives for clients for a little while now. Mostly turn of the last century equipment. I've jokingly dubbed this service as “Dinkley Locomotive And Machine Works”, after a pun one of my close friends came up with in regards to both the small size of HO scale, and the Hinkley Locomotive Works. After a year of playing with it, “Dinkley” now has a physical form.

Aye Sir, the Dinkley Works are open for business. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Handcar

The railroad handcar has become as ubiquitous a symbol of early railroading as the steam locomotive and the caboose. Its inclusion in all form of media, from big budget films to Saturday morning cartoons, has landed this unique piece of equipment a place in the public's mind.

Handcars were mainly used by track section gangs in order to maintain track and other railroad infrastructure. A typical design consists of an arm, called the walking beam, which pivots seesaw-like on a gallows type base, which the riders alternately push down and pull up to move the car. The handcar typically has a brake that is activated by a foot pedal. The brake was made of wood, although to increase its ability to stop the vehicle it was often covered with a leather pad.

A typical track gang maintained a section of track that was 4-12 miles long and consisted of six men, although various testimonies have indicated that handcars have carried ten to twelve men on occasion. Depending on where in the United States the crew was operating, a gang usually consisted of five laborers of Native American, Irish, Chinese, or African descent. The foreman was almost always of European descent. These men were quickly nicknamed gandy dancers in reference to the dancing movements of the workers using a 5-foot lining bar, which came to be called a "gandy", to tamp ballast around ties.
A similar type of track inspection vehicle. The Velocipede.

Handcars first came onto the scene as a natural evolution from simple two axle pole cars. Pole cars did not carry any means of propulsion, and were either pushed, kicked, or poled along like a Venetian gondola. Early handcars were built by railroads in their own shops starting around 1860. These vehicles used a crank to propel themselves and were very dangerous to operate. By the 1880s, the standard handcar propelled by a walking beam had replaced the older home-built vehicles. These commercial built versions were built by the Sheffield, Buda, and Kalamazoo companies. The cars weighed 500-600 pounds and could be handled by two men. Different variations of design could be ordered, such as longer toolboxes, or being fitted with benches that ran along the sides of the car. Some cars had a small bench fitted across the front of the car facing the direction of travel so that inspections could be made from the car.

Operating a handcar was a relatively simple affair. Handcars were usually pushed to get them started, and then the pumps worked to bring the car to speed. Contrary to the popular image, handcars were NEVER operated with two men pumping on each side of the walking beam facing each other, as this arrangement placed at least one member of the crew with their back in the direction of travel and with nothing to keep them from falling in front of the handcar should the car strike an obstruction. The proper way to operate the car is with all crew facing the direction of travel, and with the leading crew member positioned in between the handles with at least one member ready to apply the brake.

Handcars carried tools that included a spike removal claw, spike hammer, shovels, picks, track wrenches, rail cutting chisels, signal flags, water, and oil cans. They had a small tool box in the gallows where smaller tools such as a hack saw, files, monkey wrench, and other small tools were kept. Some handcars also carried a long narrow wooden tool box on the platform. For night travel, the handcar carried a white lantern to the front and a red lantern to the rear. Handcars were prohibited from carrying rail and ties on the platform except during emergencies, as they damaged the deck. Set-off platforms and storage sheds were placed at intervals of 1/5 to 1/3 mile along the right-of-way. These set-offs were designed for the car to be removed and placed onto the tracks without removing the tools. In an emergency, the car was light enough that the crew could throw the car off the tracks regardless of whether there was a set-off or not.

The handcar began its decline right after the turn of the last century. The problem with the handcar was the physical energy needed to move one. By the time the crew had pumped themselves to a work site, they had already expended a lot of energy in just transporting themselves and their tools. One interesting development at this time was various companies that offered after-market conversion kits to convert handcars into motorized vehicles. The pump handle and gallows was removed and replaced with an engine and the various parts needed to propel the car. By 1920, most handcars had been replaced by motorized cars. Sheffield and Kalamazoo continued to advertise the cars in their catalog up to the Second World War. One of the last handcars built by Kalamazoo was in 1956, and offered as a gift from the company to Mr. Walt Disney for use on his railroad in Disneyland.

This handcar was donated in 2009 to the Southeastern Railway Museum.

The history around the car is rather shaky. It was built by the Sheffield Company sometime in the late 1890s and is typical of the standard handcar. It has been rebuilt several times over the course of its existence, and at least two of its wheels are from another handcar of unknown origin. We do know that the car was in the possession of Mr. Frank Pollock in the 1970’s. Mr. Pollock operated the Northwestern Oklahoma Railroad at the time, and it is believed he acquired the car while in Woodward, Oklahoma from an unknown source. The car had gone through at least one complete restoration at this time prior to its purchase by Mr. Pollock.

The car was brought to South Carolina in the early 1980’s while Mr. Pollock was the operator of the excursion train on the Hartwell Railway. It was rebuilt again after arriving in South Carolina. After periodic use on the Hartwell Railway, it was stored at the home of Sandie Pollock following the passing of her father in 1985. 
The wood had again deteriorated due to outside storage. At the hands of a museum team including the author and Mr. John Pollock who is the son of Frank Pollock, it was restored once again from the wheels up. This restoration included a new frame, all new wooden components, and hardware. All iron or steel in the car's axles, gears, shafts, bracketing, walking beam, and other hardware date to the car's construction or close to it. However, at least two of the wheels are from another car as determined from stampings in the castings.

Today this piece of railroad history is on display in the rolling stock hall. On special occasions and events it's wheeled out and used for rides on the tail tracks from the museum's main rolling stock hall. Giving a new generation a small taste of what life was like for the gandy dancers who once maintained the railroads in the age before mechanization.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Down At The Depot II

Wow, it's been a full year since I last wrote for this blog. It's way past due for an update and a bit of a rehab.

Late in 2015 I became an honorary member of the North Georgia Moduler Club. This gave me the opportunity to continue model building and operations without having a permanent layout. Amongst the club membership it turned out to be a few of us youngsters who had an interest in turn of the century railroading. This led to a wide variety of model and research projects. Some of which I hope to cover in future posts.

One of the first things I did was construct a depot for the club, which had just finished a new set of yard modules. Originally, I had intended to detail a plastic model the club had inherited from an estate sale. However it turned out that cheap tyco plastic has an adverse reaction to CY release. So I just went ahead and started building a new one. 

A Strong Foundation

The base is card-stock which was cut to match the marks set down on the module. At this stage, the beginnings of the platform are being cut and filed to shape. The platform is made from individual pieces of strip wood and will be stained and weathered. The depot is being built from a American Model Builder kit, but there is a lot of scratch building and kit-bashing going into this. Including the addition of an interior.

The front and rear walls were cut/modified and glued in place. Even though the skeleton is from a kit, I've made some heavy modifications. One of which is the addition of a second freight room door, which had to be cut into the wall delicately so as to not snap the fragile wall section.
The freight room with it's second door.
I also modified the kit's doors to model them in the open position as well as built a second set of doors. My goal is to have the freight room wide open so that people can actually view through the freight room and see trains passing through the other door. Everything is made from wood or card. Not one scrap of plastic or styrene has been used thus far.

The Waiting Room

The waiting room end is about 70% complete. Like the freight room it's modeled with the doors and windows open. (Must be a warm summers day) The door to the agent's office is open, and a ticket window has been added. I quickly made up a bench, but it's more of a mock up to see how one would look and where then the actual model. I'll have to work on that. Debating if I have the skills to make one, or if I should just use a ready made piece.
Next, I will tackle the end walls, and then *gulp* the baywindow.

I've placed a few figures in the waiting room, and a baggage master in the baggage room, which now has some LCL freight and express glued in place. I need to find some figures to populate the depot with, both a seated agent at the desk, and folks in the waiting room and standing on the platform.

The interior was finished up, which included placing figures at the ticket counter, waiting room bench, at the train order desk, and one lazy REA agent in the freight room with his legs up on some LCL freight. Some signage around the depot (Including a copy of the train bulletin board from the Duluth Depot) and I was ready to move onto the roof.

The kit originally came with some peel and stick tar-paper roof, which while looking acceptable, was not what I wanted for the structure. I was looking more for the shake shingle roof that was popular on the Central Of Georgia in the 20s and 30s. So, I decided to make my own shingle strips from brown construction sheet. (The later versions of this kit do include shake shingles. Just as an FYI) The depot was also raised and several wooden joists placed underneath in order to bring the platform to track level. Going to have to make a few stairs for people to access the platform, however I will leave the backside open so that trucks and wagons can unload to the freight doors. 

The final steps included finishing the roof, painting and adding small details such as the luggage and LcL freight that is spilling out of the freight room, and populating the scene with figures. The structure is made to resemble an active depot between 1925 and 1940. It must be nearing train time, as passengers are rushing towards the agents office to acquire tickets, or checking the departure boards. Inside the waiting room, a couple sit with their luggage awaiting the arrival of the next train, and a businessman stands at the ticket window. Inside the LcL room, the REA agent is sitting on a chair, with his feet propped up on a crate. The telegraph agent has the window open and sits ready at the keys.

There must not be any outstanding orders, as the train order semaphores are set to proceed. (I purposely set them so that all our trains did not appear to be blasting past their train orders. I did debate setting them to receive orders and have a figure standing out with a hoop.) The order semaphore was completely scratch built, with the blades being built up from card stock. In retrospect I could have made the counterweights a separate piece and made the blades that much more three dimensional, but I'm pleased with the current result. Something to think about for the next batch I suppose.

On the street-side wall of the depot, stands a strange inscription. Conveniently next to a train bulletin board. Seems that not long after the depot was erected, there wasn't a board on the outside wall of the depot to announce the arrival and departure of the morning local, or its evening counterpart. This departure and arrival was of some importance to the local people, so an anonymous miner, in the view of providing a public service, scrawled “DINKY DO 6:17” in a rather crude manor in the depot's freshly painted front. His writing instrument had been the oily black wick of his miner's lamp, and wouldn't you just wouldn't wash away. Much to the station master's annoyance, soap, water, oils, and even heavy duty engine cleaner wouldn't remove the inscription. New paint faded it, yet still it shown through. Even now, many years later, the unknown miner's inscription reads clear...right next to a hindsight obtained and now clearly marked train bulletin board.

 This structure is very fragile. It has to be said. With so much of it made from paper and cardstock, it can not get wet (I marked it so on the bottom, so hopefully one will see that before hitting it with a bottle of scenic cement and just ruining it) I'm pretty happy with it, and it sits nice and neat on the layout.

Now, to work on some platforms...and maybe a freight house for an extended REA service...hmmm.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Down at the Depot

The W&A may not be a physical railroad anymore, but that doesn't mean it's entirely dead either. While the On30 railroad certainly fulfills it's role, and has been well received, there is something about the W&A the calls to me.

Recently, a need has arisen for the old White Fang depot to come back into existence. The depot was one of the first structures I built, and it looked it. Pulling the structure out of storage, it was in a very sad shape. Bits of the old building where held together with brushed on white glue, which was drying out and peeling away. The roof was actually sitting cockeyed, and the wooden platform had boards broken, missing, or peeling off the plastic sub base.The structure had been left in it's stock plastic color, with a splash of dusty weathering added that while adequate at the time, appeared very tired.

So, the first step was dissembling the structure. Using gentle persuasion, the whole building was brought down to it's individual pieces. The parts where cleaned and hit with a mix of warm soapy water and detergent to remove any traces of glue. Once each part had been cleaned, they where laid out on a paper towel and left to dry overnight.

 Over the course of disassembling the structure, it was found that a multitude of peaces had gone missing over the years. Some parts would have to be fabricated, others hidden.Some parts where a bit out of place to the building's 1890s appearance.

The stock telephone booth was inclosed to create a wooden shed, and the telephone re-sculpted to look like some sort of electrical equipment relative to the depot's telegraph. The light fixtures with their saucer like hoods where all removed, and the platform was once again coated with wooden boards to represent a wooden platform. The building was then painted, with a coat of boxcar red with black trim.

The roof was painted a deep flat black, and a light amount of weathering was added. The platform boards where weathered using the "scratch back" technique. The while thing was given a wash of black paint, and then sanded with some light grit sandpaper. This removed the heaviest of the black paint and outlined the grain in the wooden floor boards.

The windows and doors where left white. Thus putting the building in (my) W&A's official building paint scheme of deep red with white trim.

One of the missing items happened to be the windows on each side of the bay. They left a fine impression of where they where supposed to be, so I lightly outlined the window imprints with white paint. Representing the window frames with the windows themselves (hopefully) appearing as if they where open.

One final touch was the brick chimney. The chimney was hit with brick red, and then a wash of white was painted over it. Gently wiping away with my index finger revealed the brick red, with the white paint settling into the cracks to act as mortar.

The roof was then reassembled, takeing extra care to keep the gables in line. Gorilla liquid glue was used, with application from the tip of a bent paperclip. This should prove a much stronger bond then brushed on Elmer's white glue, and shouldn't yellow over time. The depot walls where assembled with clear acetate in the windows, and finally the roof was attached. The finished structure looks beautiful and stands as a testament to the old W&A RR. There are some plans for this structure, as well as a few others in regards to a small re-birth of the W&A. But for now, those will have the remain a secret.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Western & Atlantic Lives Again!

For a day at least.

I was invited to attend an operating session of the North Georgia Moduler Railroad Club, at their annual set up at the Smoke Rise baptist Church. The layout this year was properly massive, and took me over an hour to circumnavigate. Granted I was running a slow way freight that had to take to the sidings on occasion, but that did not bother me. My slow speed meant I had plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful layout sections as I slowly rattled through them.

For this adventure, the 1890s W&A rose from the dead in the form of Baldwin ten wheeler #7 The "Excel". #7 preformed flawlessly, aside from a small accident in the first five minutes on the railroad when her pilot got jammed in a switch and was yanked off. However, I found I kind of liked the look, and upon the show's close, I decided that instead of fitting the old pilot back, I would construct some switchmen's boards to go under the pilot beam.

#7 is DCC fitted and has a Tsunami sound chip in her. The sound of her safety's occasional blast, deep throated whistle, and rhythmic chugging as she slowly rocked her way along the layouts was quite the show.

Some of the modules where quite fanciful. Including this beautiful two decked monster with a quarry-esque railroad winding all over creation and across a suspension bridge, while the mainline soared above on a steel girder bridge.

Overall I had fun stepping back into the HO scale world. The Club members where unbelievably kind, and very friendly. I found myself leaving with a membership form.

There maybe something more to this in the future.

Friday, May 23, 2014

From The Ashes

Well, it's been a few years since the W&A became a memory. The layout is now just an empty shell, most of it picked clean. I put the model trains up and focused on my career and job.

However, recently I jumped back into model railroading in a big way! I got bit by the Narrow Gauge bug, and the need for a much smaller railroad led to the construction of the On30 "Watkins Glen Railroad." The WGRR is a 1903 mining road set in the North Georgia Mountains. Built atop a 25 X 24inch base board, the layout is completely portable and is proving to be a fun and constantly developing project.

The layout's own blog can be found here:  Watkins Glen Railroad

Yes, it is updated somewhat regularly as time allows. So join me for a trip back in time to where little engines struggle up some pretty big grades, into the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.