Thankful for the Much and the Little

“Welcome to the FC & FL kid.” The veteran with the seniority to get four days off clocks out and slaps the youngster who just clocked in on the back. “Days like this I used call it the FU & F ME.”

It’s late on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the gap between the Haves and Have Nots is apparent in the yard office.

heap

“The kids roll up in sorry heaps…”

The old heads trickle out to the lot where they jump in shiny new pickups and head home to turkey and football and family. The kids roll up in sorry heaps or on foot and lean their shoulders into a long weekend working.

The old guys have earned it, the young guys will get there, and I’m not sure which side I’m on.

“Grant me neither poverty nor riches, but only my daily bread.” That’s Proverbs, which goes on to say that having too much makes us forget where good gifts come from. Too little makes us do desperate things and dishonor God.

Ain’t that the truth.

Some of these old guys get a little smug. Sure they’ve put in the time and worked hard, and the good pay and plum shifts are just desserts. But to talk to them you’d think they built the railroad single-handedly, never asked a dumb question, and did the work of ten men every day. They’ve forgotten the little bits of charity we all need to get along.

Some of the young guys get a little too hungry, though. They see the new truck and envy that and the nice house and the four-day weekend. They feel entitled to those things but haven’t earned them yet, and sometimes that leads to a toxic attitude or worse they shirk their duties, cheat and steal. They’ve yet to learn how to be content in their circumstances.

I’m always refreshed by people in the middle – people who have their daily bread without much more or much less. It keeps them connected and charitable to those who need a little, and keeps them willing to put in the time and effort to earn their way.

That’s a good place for all of us to shoot for.

At Thanksgiving we count our blessings and thank God for all we have. This year, I’m thankful for a little leanness, too.

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Realistic Scrap Metal Loads – Quick and Easy!

herbst1

These gondolas were loaded with realistic looking metal scrap in about 20 minutes each plus drying time.

Scrap metal loads are lively things – jagged fingers of rust pointing this way and that over the sides of battered gondolas, swaying in the wind and jostling with the bumps.

The cast resin loads on the market don’t cut it. Here’s how I made my own, for cheap, and in only about 20 minutes apiece (plus drying time).

I started by making a base plate of styrene to fit the bottom of a gondola. For 50-foot gons that is 3-11/6″ x 9/16″, for the longer 52-foot mill jobs extend it to 3-13/16″ with the same width.

base

The best way to simulate scrap is to use scrap. Every modeler has a collection of styrene odds and ends, and this is a great way to use them up. I looked for structural elements, like the struts from an old fueling platform kit, corrugated sheet, and anything else that looked like scrap metal. I cut these into random shapes, and made sure to “shred” some pieces into curly fingers with a scissors.

I used CA to glue my scrap to the base, starting with the most boring pieces first. I then built up a few layers of scrap pieces at random, jumbly angles.

early details

As the pile took shape, I added smaller pieces with more detail. I drilled some 1/8 and 1/16 holes in sheet styrene and cut them out. I also used some of my wife’s scrapbooking punches to make more interesting shapes – like a ladybug. Once I cut them up, the intricate shapes looked like scrap from CNC machines. Finally, I added a few pieces of very thin styrene that I was able to crinkle like discarded sheetmetal.

details

When I was satisfied with the content of the load, I test fit it in a gondola. Then I secured it with tape to a wood block and carried it to the garage for paint.

My technique for painting rusty metal is to use a can of flat black and a can of red metal primer, and spray the piece with both at the same time. For the scrap loads, I made sure to cover every angle and really soak the piece to obscure any white.

paint cans

When the rust/black paint dried, I came back with a fine brush and gave the crinkled sheetmetal pieces a coat of silver.

silver highlights

When the silver dried, I gave the whole load a heavy spray of dullcoat. This is key to the final rusty finish. Once the dullcoat was dry, I gave the piece a liberal wash with my diluted alcohol ink solution that I described in this post. The alcohol reacts with the dullcoat to develop a hazy, rusty finish when dry.

finished

And that’s that. Another time I’ll describe how I make my gondolas look abused. For now, I’ve got scrap to haul.

w loco

Mouse Call

I’m being pushed around by a mouse, and he’s pushing my buttons. It’s supposed to work the other way, isn’t it?

It all started last week. While operating the layout, I heard the unmistakable sound of a visitor somewhere in the drywall over Herbst Junction.

Scritch scratch. Nibble nibble. Pitter patter.

Mus Musculus. The common house mouse.

Drat.

On Saturday I tore out several square feet of wallboard and pulled out even more insulation, and with it gallons of maple seeds and other souvenirs the little so-and-so had brought in.

mouse mess

“… I tore out several square feet of wallboard and pulled out even more insulation, and with it gallons of maple seeds …”

After several hours of awkward bending I had sealed up all the spaces I could reach without ripping out the top foot of the entire wall, though I know that will have to be done eventually.

The layout fared OK. One worker from Red Earth Co-Op got sucked into the Shop-Vac, but he always looked kind of surly to me so I don’t think he’ll be missed.

Once I had everything cleaned up I set out some traps to check my work, hoping they’d sit undisturbed. Overnight one of them was tripped, licked clean of peanut butter, and left empty.

The game of Me and Mouse was afoot.

It pays to know your enemy, so I was glad he called:

“I’m beginning to feel unwelcome,” said the mouse. “Last month you clean the garage and move the bird seed into a Rubbermaid bin, and now you try to kick me out of the house. What gives?”

He sounded manly for a mouse.

“What gives?” I said. “I can’t have mice in my house. It’s untidy. It makes my wife edgy. It’s got me re-evaluating my worth as a man and my ability to provide a suitable home for my family. I am now of the class of people who have mice. You’ve touched off a real existential crisis, not to mention making me waste the better part of a Saturday.”

I could hear him nibbling, his whiskers brushing against the receiver.

“If my presence makes you uncomfortable, that’s your problem,” he said. “I’m just looking for a warm place to lay my head. But I don’t think it’s my untidiness that bothers you.”

“Oh no? What bothers me?”

“You’re jealous,” he said. “I take care of myself doing logical, no-nonsense things all day. No boss, no status reports, no ‘re-evaluating my worth.’ Just the real work of finding food and shelter. My life makes perfect sense. You’re jealous.”

In the information war, this mouse had me beat. I barely knew how he got in the house, he understood what makes me tick.

“You might be on to something,” I admitted. “But at least I’m not a parasite. The boss and status reports allow me to provide that warmth you’re after. And I worked hard finishing that basement. I was pretty proud of how it turned out.”

He inhaled deeply, let it out slow.

“It’s a crumbling world,” he sighed. “The work of your hands is not immune.”

A philosophical mouse with an apocalyptic worldview. What other kind would I get?

“So you pride yourself on contributing to the decay?” I asked.

“I’m a mouse. It’s why we’re here.”

I pictured him shrugging, if mice shrug.

“And that’s why you’re not getting in my house,” I said.

It was an empty threat. I have hours of work to do to properly rodent-proof the basement. But I can’t get to it this week.

Status reports are due.

“We’ll see.” he chuckled. “Do me a favor – next time use chunky peanut butter. I prefer chunky.”

Rolling Reminders of the Salt of the Earth

We lost my wife’s grandfather earlier this year, in addition to my mom, which leaves some pretty big holes and has us ready to kiss 2013 goodbye. One silver lining, though, is that I had these remarkable people in my life, and they’ve inspired some satisfying modeling projects.

Grandpa Ray was salt-of-the-earth. He was the third generation to live on the family farm, but he supported his ten (yes TEN) children driving a truck. The farming he did gentleman style – a huge garden, some fruit trees, and for several years he even grew our family’s Christmas trees. It wasn’t his job, it was his way of life. He tended that land on Highway 310 for eighty-nine years.

This winter I will add a switching district to the layout, and one of the core industries will be Grandpa Ray’s Produce.

cars

These large boxcars will haul produce and canned goods from Grandpa Ray’s facilities to markets across the nation.

The fictional company borrows a lot from JR Simplot Company, an Idaho-based foodservice giant. The late Mr. Simplot, from what I can gather, would have been a kindred spirit to Grandpa Ray. He was a no-nonsense farmboy who valued hard work and, like Ray, refused to let age slow him down.

I have always been drawn to the Simplot insulated boxcars. These are mammoth pieces of equipment with the name “Simplot” big and red on the side.

(I suspect “Simplot” was sometimes a difficult name to carry around. It’s easy to denegrate, calling to mind “simple,” and the “plot” reminds you he came from the farm – or sounds like “plop.” I can’t imagine elementary school kids of any generation politely letting it go. So when he became successful, I like to think he wanted all those kids to know about it. The marketing people brought him a sketch of the cars and he shook his head. “No. Bigger.”)

I used to see Simplot cars from my office window, but we’ve relocated so I don’t get to look at the trains as much. Fortunately you can see one here.

On to the models.

interior bracing

Styrene strips stabilize and level the carbodies.

Carbodies:

A friend from the railroad club gave me a pair of 65-foot boxcar kits that rival the gigantic Simplot variety. They were old Roundhouse kits, I think.

The molding was a little sloppy, so I did a lot of filing and trimming. There were also a couple spots where bubbles left voids in the casting. I filled these with Squadron White Putty.

The underframes fit poorly, so I installed some strips of styrene at the base of the carbodies to make them ride level and fit securely.

The kits came with stirrup steps of the MicroTrains variety that snap into a goove in the underframe. However, the underframes lacked the appropriate machining to accomodate these. I cut off the steps and glued them to the carbodies directly. They’re good enough, though not perfect.

Finally, the models were molded with a wheel mechanism for securing the doors, but did not come with matching wheels. I remedied that with a set of HO-scale brakewheels that look about perfect.

door detail

HO-scale brakewheels are a fine replacement for the missing door-securing wheels.

Once I had the carbodies to my liking, I cleaned them thoroughly, then sprayed them reefer white. I set them aside to dry for several days.

Decals:

The “Grandpa Ray’s” herald and the other markings were made with Word, including “NEW 10-2013” marks to set the cars, and the layout, in the present day. The bushel of apples is clip art. I made several duplicates of each decal, expecting to ruin some in the application.

I printed the decals using my inkjet printer and let them dry for 24 hours before spraying them with Testor’s decal bonder. I let that dry for another 48 hours.

I applied my homemade decals like I do any others: I soak them in room-temperature water, and while they soak I brush a layer of MicroScale MicroSol Decal Setting Solution onto the model where the decal will go. I then apply the decal, and put another layer of MicroSol over the top.

MicroSol can make larger decals wrinkle up. They almost always dry beautifully flat, conforming to the finest molded details.

The homemade decals wrinkled up quite a bit more than storebought decals. I was able to get them to lay flat with careful strokes from a dry brush. However, in some cases, they folded over too badly to be saved and I had to go to the backups. (Thank goodness for the backups.)

Warning and instruction markings culled from storebought decal sheets rounded out the lettering.

Running gear:

The kits did not come with trucks, so I installed MicroTrains 100-ton roller bearing trucks with medium extension couplers. I added Fox Valley Models 36-inch metal wheelsets, which I painted rail brown. These models represent brand new rolling stock, so I did not weather the carbodies or the trucks. I carefully painted the bearing caps light blue to appear factory-fresh.

end detail

Unweathered MicroTrains trucks with the bearing caps painted blue give the models a factory-fresh feel. The bushel of apples is a clip-art image printed on clear decal paper.

Complete Fleet:

I have four other mechanical refrigerator cars that will join the Grandpa Ray’s fleet, carrying RAYX reporting marks and numbered 310 – (1 through 6). One of these wears reefer white and the decaling shown above. The others are patch-outs – Grandpa Ray would rather they get to work than hang around getting dressed up.

patchouts

A trio of second-hand mechanical reefers will simply be stenciled with RAYX reporting marks. Grandpa Ray would rather they get to work than hang around getting dressed up.