Onboard Camera

Thanks to my friends at the Milwaukee N’ Southeastern for spending some time this weekend taking onboard footage of the FCFL. This video starts as we exit southwest staging, crosses the Benjamin Henry River, rolls through Herbst Junction, passes the Salvation Point Yard, then skirts Many Lost Ways National Park and crosses the high bridge before coasting into northeast staging. It’s a whole new way to see the layout.

I’m a novice video editor so forgive the amateur treatment. To save time I trimmed out the staging yards and long tunnels. I wasn’t able to trim out the giant people wandering about trackside. See anyone you know?


What’s in the bag?


A solitary backpacker waits for the train at Herbst Junction after a few days of wilderness hiking. His bedroll and backpack – crafted from bits of Play-Doh – complete the scene.

Very few of the N-scale figures I’ve encountered seem to be carrying anything. That’s a problem when your layout is focused on a National Park and a tourist-heavy town on the edge of the desert. Visit your favorite rail depot, outdoor destination or vacation spot and you’ll see people hauling all kinds of gear – backpacks, roll-aboard suitcases, duffel bags, sleeping bags, and more backpacks. The factory options for this kind of luggage are limited, and what is available is spendy.

What’s a modeler to do?

Get out the Play-Doh.

I got playing with some bits of the stuff during a recent sculpting session with The Superintendent. After a few minutes with a toothpick, a steady hand and a scale rule I had crafted fashionable bags for passengers and shoppers, as well as rugged gear for backpackers.


A scale rule helps keep the size of the sculpted luggage in check. These Play-Doh pieces were dry after about 24 hours.

It takes about 24 hours for Play-Doh sculptures this size to dry. I brush a coat of Tamiya acrylic paint over each piece, then highlight pockets and edges with a contrasting color. I glue backpacks to the backs of a figures with CA and paint straps on with a fine brush.


Highlights with contrasting colors along the edges and pockets give the luggage dimension.


This tourist looks much more authentic carrying a backpack.

Pieces stacked on the ground add nice detail to any scene, from station platforms to the beach.


A rested tourist watches the luggage while his

wife does some last minute shopping. They’ll board the next train east, toward home.


The cool water of the Benjamin-Henry Reservoir were so inviting, this bather didn’t bother to unroll his beach blanket before wading in.













If you have people on your layout, are they traveling a little too light?

Check yer Neck

What’s a model railroad without a couple of hillbillies? Here’s how I transformed a “stock” Atlas Ford F150 into this jacked-up monster.


Check yer Neck.

The project begins with disassembly of the stock model.

The body of the truck is conveniently molded in two pieces: the cab/front clip and the bed. To give the truck a more authentic “redneck” feel I sprayed the front half with gray primer and the back half “bomber tan.” Any drab, ugly colors will do. I then added a coat of dullcoat and finished with a wash of india ink and rubbing alcohol.

Next is the chassis work, which is what makes this model distinctive.

The stock wheels are easily removed by simply pulling the axle out of the molded pockets on the undercarriage. I then cut two lengths of Plastruct 3/64″ tee styrene strips to span from the front of the front axle pocket to the rear of the rear one. I glued these in place to create frame rails.


Styrene frame rails added to undercarriage.

I then made four shock absorbers out of doorbell wire. I stripped about 1/16″ of insulation, cut another 1/8″ of wire above that, and repeated the process until I had a set of four.


Shock absorbers made from bits of wire.

I then used CA to glue the shocks into the axle pockets.

Next I made suspension arms with more of the tee styrene. Rather than measure, I simply found the middle of the frame rails, held one end of the strip there and cut where it met the bottom of the shock. I secured these in place with plastic cement at the frame rail and CA at the shock. I then used a round jeweler’s file to notch the bottom of the arms to accept the axles I made later.


Suspension complete.

I painted the frame rails and suspension arms competition orange and set the chassis aside to dry.

While the suspension was drying, I made a transfer case from a small block of styrene. I drilled a 1/16″ hole in the center of one side, and another on the other side offset to the driver’s side. I then used CA to secure driveshafts made of wire, then secured the assembly to the undercarriage with plastic cement.


Transfer case and driveshafts in place.

I made the axles by cutting lengths of spare railing from an old engine service terminal kit. Any round styrene about 1/16″ in diameter will do. I cut two pieces to 5/8″ lengths.

I used the white metal cast rear wheels from two old straight truck models. I used white putty to fill in the groove between the dual wheels to make one wide tire. I then sanded them smooth and sprayed them with Pollyscale grimy black. When the paint dried, I drilled a hole into the center of the back of each wheel and secured them to the axles with CA. I then painted the rims flat black and put a dot of silver on the hubs.

Next I glued the axle/wheel assemblies to the ends of the suspension arms with plastic cement. I then bent the wire driveshafts to meet the axles and trimmed them to length. Then I used white putty to sculpt differential housings around the axles and driveshafts. When the putty dried I painted the housings black with silver covers.

A redneck pickup is not complete without rednecks, so I crafted Zig and Lerline from a couple of unpainted Model Power figures.

Zig was a hefty gentleman wearing a coat, tie, and for some reason a ball cap. I cut his torso just above the waist, then used a jeweler’s file to remove the molded clothing detail. I then carved a buddha belly and flabby chest. I filed his ball cap down to a bald head. I then mixed up a sunburn color with white and Rock Island Red and painted him, making sure to give his neck an extra coat. A few dabs of rail brown were added for a goatee and nipples.

Lerline was another odd Model Power figure of a chubby woman wearing a slinky dress. I trimmed her above the waist as well, then painted her with the sunburn color, brown hair, and a red bikini top. After the paint dried I glued Zig and Lerline into the seats molded in the chassis.


Zig and Lerline.

The stock window glazing would not fit above their heads, and I wanted the windows open anyway, so I trimmed the windshield and rear windows out of the glazing. I accidentally cracked the windshield, but I think that’s a happy accident.

Before final assembly, I used some more styrene tee strips to make a rugged-looking brush bumper, and glued it in place with plastic cement. Then I put the body back on and placed the model on the layout.


Heading out of Salvation Point for a day on the trails… Y’all.

Another time I might make a set of roll bars for the bed of the truck. I also might add a whip antenna, a flag, or a dog. Oversized mirrors and exhaust stacks would also be a nice touch. For now the model does a nice job helping establish Salvation Point as a recreational hub on the edge of the desert.

For My Dad and Dads-In-Law: Have fun, fellas.

Southbound to Salvation Point, if you make it past Milepost 138 without being put in the hole, it means you sleep in your own bed tonight. How many afternoons – early mornings, black midnights – did he roll down this hill toward that sign, fingers crossed, wondering what she’d have on the stove, what homework he’d help with, what might need fixing before he set off again?

Today, no matter what the dispatcher says, he’s going home.


People don’t hold the same job – hell, people don’t work in the same industry their whole career anymore. He started as a conductor on this section in 1969. He got up in the morning, or whenever they called, did what they asked him to do.

Still does.

He remembers all the wonders he wondered, all the worries he worried, rolling past MP 138. There have been answers, but he still has questions.

She married him, thank God, and stuck around.

The railroad taught him to be an engineer.

He rolled past MP 138.

They bought a house, had a couple kids.

He rolled past MP 138.

The kids got older. Her dad died.

The railroad got new equipment. New rules.

He rolled past MP 138.

The kids started driving. Her hair showed a little gray. So did his.

The railroad started using e-mail, onboard computers.

He rolled past MP 138.

The kids moved out, went to college. He paid for it and was thankful he could.

The railroad became FCFL Transportation. Suits from out east started showing up.

He rolled past MP 138.

She got cancer.

She got better.

He rolled past MP 138.

Four grandkids. All boys.

He had a TIA – a “ministroke.” They said he was OK but it scared him.

He rolled past MP 138.

A full life, lived between shifts and during a few weeks of vacation, financed by work he liked and got to do alongside good people. Faces and names he’d learned over four decades. Some of them still around, some gone from the railroad now. Some of them just gone.

“It’s just a job,” he tells his kids. “Do it the best you can but don’t worry too much about it.”

After today, he won’t worry about it at all. Maybe not as sweet as it sounds, but maybe not so bad either. He’s not sure.

The signal’s green.

He rolled past MP 138.