ModelStory: Lucky 13

There’s a long wait for a table at Janibelle’s tonight but the older couple sitting outside doesn’t seem to mind. The word is out it’s their 55th wedding anniversary, and they’re passing the time taking congratulations.

IMG_2610My wife and I offered our wishes and were thanked with kind smiles and a hearty handshake – a firm grip for a man in his eighties – but there was no effort on their part to rise. No pretense of it, either, to which we would have said, “Oh, don’t get up.”

They sat, comfortably past the point in their lives where they need to worry about such decorum.

In the time it takes to drain an Old Fashioned, we heard their story:

He was forty-something years in whatever industry. The work came and went so there were lean years and lots of uncertainty. She had a career, too, but it was in segments – when she wasn’t working, she was working as a stay-at-home parent.

They raised five kids, and lost one to a war – a pain I cannot imagine. Some of them did well and some of them struggled. They’re all settled now but you never stop worrying about your children.

There was the time she found the lump, his heart attack, their first grandchild born to their daughter who was not yet out of high school.

Great, crashing waves, all now far astern.

They are veterans.

My own marriage turned thirteen this week, a pleasing accomplishment that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes patience and hard work and an awful lot of forgiveness, and that’s just her part.

After thirteen years, we feel like veterans, too.

She gets this way sometimes, or maybe it’s me, but I don’t panic anymore. I just listen if she wants to talk but I don’t make her. Be patient. Maybe get some flowers – a good move for rookies and veterans the same.

Mothers are beautiful and children are beautiful but childbirth is a medical procedure and there are parts of it that can’t be unseen. When we were younger the mark of an established relationship was the ability to fart in front of each other without it being a big deal. Now we’ve given birth together – twice – and still want to hang out.

We’ve figured a few things out about each other, ridden our little boat over our own formidable waves, so we feel like veterans.

Only we’re not really veterans. Not yet. There’s still a long row to hoe.

“The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,” says the Psalmist. “They quickly pass, and we fly away.”

But if you’re lucky – and I am – the Lord places in your life a remarkable partner.

Mine is faithful and ferociously loyal. She works tirelessly keeping our little family moving forward. Her blue eyes and beguiling smile still brighten the room. She reads interesting books and thinks interesting thoughts and though I’ve known her more than half my life, she still surprises me. She supports me in my darkest moments. She makes me laugh. She is my best friend.

It doesn’t matter if the road before us is long and steep. Together we are equal to it.


Henry Rail gets space with FCFL

Henry Rail was planned a space on the new addition on the FCFL layout in the back room. The area is about 1 and a

half feet long. It holds a small locomotive and 4 small cars at the most. It has a nail at the end to keep the cars from

falling off the layout. It is at the end of the layout. Henry Rail also shares the rest of the layout with FCFL. Henry

Rail also has their own property and rolling stock it is very small but they only have one active locomotive the

rest need servicing .They use their own rolling stock on the FCFL layout accept they borrow the FCFL 1586



The Flagstaff Sub Hits a Home Run

photoTrains are cool until they’re not, and when you’re six or eight years old the start of spring training seems to be the tipping point.

My help is gone, so the work of bringing the Flagstaff Subdivision to life has been solitary. Sure, The Conductor and The Superintendent swoop in between innings to make sure Dad is on task, but when they see wire and plywood instead of trees and locomotives, they’re off again.

No matter. It’s a little project in a little hallway and we’d be crawling over each other anyway. I’m content that The Conductor stuck with me long enough to learn some soldering, and The Superintendent tried his hand at the power drill.

Model railroaders aren’t built in a day.

Neither is an 11-foot-by-six-inch switching district, especially when your priority is to be Dad, and Dad is needed to Pitch.

Flagstaff is taking shape in fits of 30 or 40 minutes: the track plan in paper and pencil, the benchwork, the sub-roadbed, the frustrating search for Code 55 track. Then suddenly, last Saturday, a train rolled into town.

IMG_2663[1]I called upstairs that I had an important moment to share with the family and would they please join me by the layout.

“After this at-bat,” they said.

The first train to arrive on the Flagstaff Sub was a short maintenance-of-way consist. To my delight it was greeted with applause (The Train Man’s Wife is a generous booster) and before it got underway The Conductor wanted to make sure it included a piece of rolling stock from his collection. A nice touch that assured me he still regards the FCFL with some admiration.

Nobody seemed to notice that, in order to give the long, skinny track plan some interest I built in grade separation between the mainline and the passing siding. (The main drops about 5/16-inch between the turnouts, while the siding is level.)


Nobody seemed to notice that to give the shallow scene some depth, I curved the mainline and angled most of the industrial spurs so there would be minimal track parallel to the fascia.IMG_2640

Nobody seemed to notice the powered turnout frogs, the hidden feeder wires every three feet, the Z-scale roadbed under the spurs to drop their grade a tiny bit and allow the ties to hang over the edges so when the track is ballasted it looks washed out and in need of maintenance.

Nobody noticed any of that, but it’s okay. They were there, and I think it was a hit.


Upgrading and Detailing Wiking Vehicles

Outdoor recreation is a big part of the story on the FCFL. Having a few boats being towed around helps convey that.

I picked up two sets of Wiking vehicles, including boats on trailers, for my gift layout project. I kept the powerboats and one of the older model Mercedes for myself and added some quick, fun details.

Boats on Trailers

I applied some strings of very tiny letters and numbers from an old boxcar decal sheet to the bows of the boats for registration stickers. I didn’t fret over legibility or accuracy.

I “tarped” one of the boats by spreading a thick layer of Squadron White Putty over the top of it and sculpting it into “tarp” shape. This took a few rounds of sanding and filling to get the shape and finish I wanted. I painted the tarp a flat dark green.


The boats were molded white with yellow interiors. I brushpainted the other boat to add some detail, then added a couple of wire fishing rods and a scratchbuilt styrene cooler.


These are both towed by Atlas SUVs. The trailers are good enough – not great – but I think the detail of the boats distracts from them.

Mercedes Downgrade (riches to rags?)

One of the cars from the Wiking set was an older model Mercedes. I made it look more realistic by removing the solid black “window” insert and crafting a basic interior from bits of strip styrene. I painted the interior tan, the bumpers and wheels silver, and the tires rubber brown.


The front of the car needed a little definition, so I used a needle file to shape the headlights. I then sprayed the body with a heavy coat of dullcoat. When the dullcoat dried, I gave the body a wash of my rust-colored alcohol ink solution. When the alcohol dries over the dullcoat, the finish looks like badly faded paint over rusty metal.

I made a new windshield and rear window from strips cut from the flexible clear plastic insert from a pack of Preiser figures. I glued these in place with CA.

I borrowed a whimsical sunglasses image from the Internet and printed it about 3/8 inch wide. I cut it the height of the windshield, then carefully folded it into accordion shape. I then installed it behind the windshield like one of those cardboard sunshades, tacking it in place with a little CA.


With the work of a couple evenings, these Wiking vehicles stand out in the traffic on the layout.

Of Refugees and Lands Surrendered to Winter

Midwestern people retreat from winter to the south and west, and by the time they reach Florida or SoCal or Hawaii they are pretty well thawed out and the defeat has left their bodies.

Here in Salvation Point, though, the average high this time of year is 54 degrees. That puts us a little closer to the front both in terms of geography and climate. We are not in the thick of it – no snow cover, no frost advisory – but close enough to the Occupied Territory that when people get here the scars of winter are fresh. We are a halfway house, a field hospital where warriors of the cold begin to heal.

They come from places like Milwaukee, Dubuque or Omaha. Places where this year Cold means the kind that makes the hair in your nose recoil and where Snow means a crackling gray-black mass of sorrow that will remain on the lawn – quite unfashionably – past Memorial Day.

They are not from the Northeast, where people are comforted by a sympathetic media that makes big news from each snow event and wind chill warning, as long as it occurs on EST. They are from the Midwest where it is just as cold and maybe not as snowy but they understand that unless you live there, you don’t care. They just battle on in flyover country and when they have had enough, they take the train west.


Two such trains arrive every day in Salvation Point, and judging by the hollow eyes and slumped, parka-covered shoulders, things aren’t going well. So many refugees have arrived here we wonder who is left to hold the fort.

The doors of the Amtrak Superliners whoosh open and the dark forms stream out, and to them 54 degrees is heaven. They shed heavy coats dappled with salt residue and hurl them to the curb, kicking giant boots after them. Other items are discarded more reluctantly – nobody is sure what their hair looks like anymore so hats stay firmly in place, flaps down.

They gather in little groups and share stories of heroic episodes with snowblowers. They count the schooldays the kids have missed due to cold and snow, and try to calculate the makeup days and when summer vacation will actually start. (August.)

They chronicle the erosion of their will to fight. December snow is cleared enthusiastically – snowblower first, then the fine trim with a shovel, a good spreading of salt and finally around with the roof rake to prevent ice dams. Snow in early March gets driven over. The roof rake got left out sometime around MLK day and is now entombed under 18 inches of ice and the dams are well formed anyway so it’s better to just stay inside.

Like veterans who have shared combat, they won’t talk about the worst of it. They just exchange knowing glances and look timidly up at the sun as though they expect it to wink out at any moment and plunge the temps back under zero.

Re-acclimating to a state where water can exist in liquid form outdoors is a lengthy process. They come around slowly – a kid tosses a Frisbee, another looks on until his mother coaxes him out from under her coat to retrieve it. Small steps, a little more pale flesh exposed every few minutes until they are in shirtsleeves.

A day or two here and then on to San Diego for a week, maybe from there a cruise to Cabo, and in time they are restored.

The Midwest is vital to the nation for the amber waves of grain, the Great Lakes, the hearty people who know how to get things done. But holding the territory against an onslaught so vicious as this winter comes at a staggering cost. We need spring soon, or the Heartland may be lost.