Lessons in Forced Perspective

Most model railroaders are familiar with the idea of “forced perspective” – selectively resizing scenery elements to create the illusion of greater distance. I recently modeled a new road, using forced perspective to make it look a little longer than it really is.

My partner in the project, The Superintendent, forced my perspective a little, too. He had some firm ideas about the scene and we disagreed a bit, but seeing it from his perspective made this project special.

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Last fall at a model railroad show, The Superintendent spotted a grade crossing with working lights and gates on an HO-scale module. He insisted on one of our own. I couldn’t shoehorn in the mechanism necessary to actuate the gates, so we compromised on a new stretch of road with a grade crossing and working lights.

Here’s how we did it:

Shrinking Roads

The FCFL is a narrow layout – just 10 inches wide for this scene – so creating convincing roads is a challenge.

Just east of Salvation Point, there was an existing rural road with an underpass beneath the mainline. Our new road is a spur from that road.

The Superintendent dubbed it Arizona Highway V. Arizona state highways are numbered, not lettered, but what’s that to a six-year-old?

“I want it to be Highway V just because I do,” he explained.

We made Highway V by carving a right-of-way into the scenery, sanding it smooth, and paving it with lightweight spackling compound. We paved right over the mainline tracks, then immediately cleaned out the flangeways with a toothpick. Once the spackling dried, We sanded it and finished the road with another coat, again clearing the flangeways immediately.

I wanted to model precast concrete panels across the tracks, but The Superintendent insisted on asphalt all around, with no roadway markings of any kind.

“It looks cooler that way and more real,” he said. “I want it to look like the street we live on.”

Fair enough. Unmarked asphalt it is.

Both the old road and the new road are a scale 28 feet (about 2-1/8 inches) at the front of the layout, and taper to about 1-1/4 inches at the backdrop. This helps fool the eye into thinking the road is longer than it is.

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Shrinking Signage

We installed two signs along the roadway. They are a nice detail to the scene, help place the layout geographically, and further aid the forced perspective.

The nearest sign is an Arizona highway sign copied from the Internet and modified to show “V”. The highway sign is .2 inches wide – a scale 32 inches.

The second is a speed limit sign, which we made .15 inches wide. The speed limit sign  is mounted on a shorter post that is half the width of the nearer one.

Looking down the road at the two signs enhances the illusion of depth:

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The speed limit sign shows 55 mph. To me this looks like a 35 mph zone.

“I like going 55,” says The Superintendent. “And that’s the speed limit on country roads.”

Tough to argue with that.

Shrinking Vehicles

Finally, all the way against the backdrop, is a Z-scale logging truck that I kitbashed from a cast metal container truck.

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The viewer compares the N-scale SUV up front to the Z-scale truck in back, and the road appears longer again.

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The Superintendent wants a long line of N-scale vehicles waiting for the train, which would ruin the whole illusion. We’re still sorting that one out.

This was a fun project. I think we successfully stretched the road using forced perspective, and it was good to stretch my imagination to see things my son’s way, too.

Next week – a guest blog from the FCFL’s signals chief (my Dad) about how we make the lights go blinkety-blink.

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ModelStory: Pallets of Faygo Rock & Rye

The transportation industry is filthy with shipping errors. Someone once told me the Union Pacific, on any given day, misplaces something like 500 freight cars. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, and I’m not at liberty to discuss FCFL’s statistics, but who cares because today I’m talking about a happy, bubbly error in my favor.

There are things in life so good, so simple, as to achieve mythical status. Good-fittin’ jeans. A first kiss. All great songs and no commercials on the radio all the way to work.

Faygo Rock & Rye.

“Faygo whodidwhat?” you say.

Faygo Rock & Rye, son.

There arrived by inexplicable error on the loading dock of the Salvation Point shops this morning cases and cases of Faygo Rock & Rye.

So what is it?

It is officially “cream cola” according to Faygo. It’s soda. Or pop. Or sodapop. Or if you’re far enough south, it’s just Coke.

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“There arrived by inexplicable error on the loading dock of the Salvation Point shops this morning cases and cases of Faygo Rock & Rye.”

But I’ve had Coke, and with all due respect, Coke, you’re no Faygo Rock & Rye.

Coke is manufactured by a global corporation and distributed across the planet by a monstrous infrastructure geared for peak efficiency.

Faygo Rock & Rye is brewed and bottled in secret caves deep beneath Wyandotte, Michigan by thousand-year-old elves who pledge to guard the formula with their tiny lives. They produce a fresh batch only under the New Moon, and distribute it exclusively to Michigan supermarkets via an impenetrable network of runners and safehouses.

We spent a lot of time in Michigan when I was a kid, and Rock & Rye has a central place in some happy memories. I can’t buy it at home, so whenever I’m in Michigan, which is about once every two years, I stock up then ration the stuff like a Londoner during the Blitz.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for today’s unexpected stash, but delivery error is not how I like to get my Rock & Rye. I don’t like to buy it online, either. Sure, I can order a case from Faygo.com and have it on my doorstep in 48 hours, but there’s something lacking in the experience.

I much prefer my Rock & Rye to come from a Michigan grocer – Kroger or Meijer, Farmer Jack if possible (but I think they’re all gone now).

I go into the store and take an empty cart straight to the soda aisle and clean them out, if necessary sending my firstborn on his belly into the shelves to retrieve the 12-packs shoved way to the back.

The cashier looks at me like I have four heads as she passes case after case over the scanner.

“That’ll be $273.50.”

A bargain at any price.

What’s your Rock & Rye?

(Custom-painted Model Power figure, custom-painted resin casting of boxes on pallets (from on-hand collection, manufacturer unknown), kitbashed Rix two-stall enginehouse.)

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

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Signs are everywhere, and including them on your model railroad is essential to realistic scenes.

I went on a little sign binge on the FCFL recently and I’m pretty happy with the results.

There’s nothing groundbreaking or difficult in my approach to sign making: I went online and searched images of the signs I wanted, pasted the images into Word, resized them to N-scale, and printed them on my inkjet printer.

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According to The Internet, the accuracy of which I trust unwaveringly, standard sign sizes are:

Speed limit signs – 24″ x 48″, 36″ x 72″ or 48″ x 96″.

Stop signs – 18″, 24″ or 36″.

I divided the dimensions by 160 (N-scale) and told Word to resize 24″ signs to .15″ wide, 36″ signs to .23″, and 48″ signs to .3″.

I printed most of the speed limit signs 36″ wide. I think they’re a little big but I’m going to live with them awhile and see what visitors think.

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The 36″ stop signs I printed were way too huge, but I found the octagon shape got distorted if I printed them much smaller. I went with 24″ stop signs mostly, but I had to fix the shape when I trimmed them.

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To simulate the primed aluminum most road signs are made of, I laminated the white printer paper to gray or tan colored construction paper using Elmer’s spray adhesive. I carefully trimmed the signs out with sharp scissors.

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My signposts are mostly scale 4×4 basswood, but in a few cases I used some 28 gauge and finer wire. I glued the signs to the wood or wire with CA, then cut the post a good inch long or more. I drilled matching sized holes in the scenery and secured the signs with white glue.

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I may come back at a later date and weather some of these with an India ink wash. For future signs I might also soak the basswood signposts in an India ink/alcohol solution to make them look aged. These all look brand new, and they don’t look pressure treated.

This is a fun detail project that doesn’t take a huge amount of time, skill or materials, but the added realism is immense.

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ModelStory: Post-Holiday Buzzkill

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” Jason drew the short straw and had to pick her up at the train station before sunrise the next morning.”

She comes every quarter from Corporate and spends a week rummaging through everybody’s desk and at the end there’s a department meeting where she lists “goal enhancement opportunities” and somebody usually leaves in tears.

It would be fine if she actually understood what they do, but as the Senior VP of Management-Employee Disconnect – or whatever – her visits are unchecked power trips dripping with nonsense.

This quarter she arrived on January 2 which meant an early end to Christmas vacation for everybody.

They all spent the week making colorful graphs and charts from meaningless spreadsheets – someone figured out a long time ago that content isn’t important to her, but if you know how to click “format data series>fill>gradient fill” she’ll pant like a dog.

On New Year’s Day most of the department stayed at the office until past 10 then went out together and got solidly blitzed. Jason drew the short straw and had to pick her up at the train station before sunrise the next morning.

It became apparent early on that her focus this time was something called an “enterprise-wide desiloization initiative.”

“Process compartmentalization challenges our core imperatives,” she announced. “We’re evolving our platform to facilitate cross-mission force integration.”

(She’s enthusiastic about corporate jargon.)

She was armed with stacks of inaccurate, outdated reports and sat at everyone’s desk and asked how they drove internal-external partner engagement with their centers of influence. Frustrating conversations that only served to reveal her utter lack of operational understanding.

She actually said to Michael:

“I see that for December your ratio of source optimization in the departmental space decreased sharply on the 25th. Explain that to me.”

Of course he couldn’t, so the entire department got the assignment to identify the internal and external partners most impacted by process compartmentalization and develop a plan of action for transitioning the paradigm toward desiloed competency achievement. She wanted a spreadsheet with backup data. And graphs.

“And wouldn’t it be cool if we could track which day of the week we are most likely to properly flow-out unit implemenation?” she added. “Let’s build that into the matrix.”

Sixty hours of horse-apple work, due tomorrow.

No one was willing to remind her that a year ago, she declared cross-mission force integration inefficient and formed a committee to proactively mitigate the trans-pollination outreach realm.

Vivian was on that committee. She pulled up the spreadsheet they built for that project and with some deft “find and replace” work had the new document complete. She’ll hold on to it for a little while, change the colors on the graphs.

Meanwhile, they’ll all update their resumes and come to grips with the unhappy realization:

The Holidays are over.

(Custom-painted Model Power figure, Play-Doh luggage (read more), Walther’s Cornerstone Pella Depot, Kato Superliner.)