N-Scale Statuary Helps Tell a Layout’s History

A few weeks ago I wrote about Lts. Benjamin and Henry who discovered Many Lost Ways and founded Salvation Point, the fictional National Park and town upon which the freelanced FCFL is based.

The story inspired a little urban revitalization project near the Salvation Point depot, including a monument to the explorers.

IMG_3124I started with a pair of figures from a set of Woodland Scenics HO scale people. I cut a small oval of thin styrene sheet, beveled the edges with a sanding block, and mounted the figures to it with plasic cement. I sprayed the statue with a bronze “hammered metal finish” spray paint and set it aside to dry.

I made the rest of the monument from a thicker square of styrene and again beveled the edges with a sanding block. I drilled a pair of 1/16 holes in two corners. For the plaque, I cut the top from one of the surplus old-timey gas pumps from the Walther’s “Al’s Victory Service” kit I recently completed and glued it centered between the holes. I painted this assembly with Pollyscale Aged Concrete, and filled in the plaque with Pollyscale Rail Brown.

When the pedestal was dry, I glued the statue to it with plastic cement. I gave the entire piece a wash of India ink diluted in rubbing alcohol. Finally, I “planted” Woodland Scenics field grass in the two holes and mounted the entire piece on the layout.

I’m not breaking new ground with statuary from figures of a different scale. Model railroaders have been doing that for years. But I think the little monument is a unique lineside structure and helps tell the story of the FCFL.

Plus, it’s the only way I can get those two to stand still.

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The Flagstaff Sub Takes a Colorful Turn

IMG_3106I left the canvas of the Flagstaff Subdivision blank for too long. Or, maybe just long enough.

Trackwork and wiring were 90-percent complete this spring when warm weather called us outdoors. My plan for the fall was to finish up powering the turnout frogs, get the backdrop and fascia done, then focus the long, cold winter on scenery.

But, baseball’s fun until it’s not, and by the Dog Days of Summer, the Superintendent and the Conductor had rediscovered the wonders of model railroading.

IMG_3107“Dad,” they said on a drizzly Labor Day afternoon, bats and gloves stowed in the garage. “Can we do some scenery on the new subdivision?”

Two paths spread out before me.

Down the one, hours spent mostly alone festidiously crafting a convincing if not altogether faithful facsimile of Flagstaff.

Down the other, happy memories of my boys creating, expressing, falling in love with the hobby while turning the Flagstaff Sub into a candy-colored mush.

“Just don’t get any paint on the tracks,” I sighed.

Hand-Painted Railcar Graffiti

Graffiti is an essential element to realistic railcar models. There are graffiti decals available on the market, but using a commercial product to represent something so individual and organic doesn’t sit well with me. So, I paint my own using acrylics. The water-based paint allows me to blend colors and recreate the inconsistent coverage of spray paint. Plus, I can personalize the artwork.

I start by sketching the graffiti on scratch paper to get the right size and spacing for any letters. Then I paint the silhouette of the art in multiple colors, creating a gradient. When the gradient dries, I come back with a contrasting color and outline the letters, and add any other details I want. IMG_3086

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“Hey Dad, Can We Build a New Layout?”

IMG_3065A syrupy Tuesday in July – a blank square on the calendar except for the “Dad Home” jotted in the corner indicating it was my week to stay home with the boys and stay in our pajamas the entire time.

When I was a kid, days like this meant Legos and model trains all day. For the Conductor and the Superintendent, as I have lamented before, it means baseball in different media: Playstation, ESPN, Cards and finally, you know … baseball.

Mid-morning front yard baseball in your pajamas on a weekday is an exquisite privilege. But when it ran its course we lost our momentum and found ourselves face-to-face with a powerful stuff called Boredom.

On days like this 11:15 a.m. can last six hours.

Boredom comes in two forms, and I hate the one and love the other.

There’s the boredom of the cubicle, the assembly line, the math worksheet – a painful boredom without which Work would not be the punishment God intended.

Then there’s idle boredom, when there is really nothing to do.

This is useful stuff and frankly if we had more of it we might not be so far behind the Chinese in math and science. Necessity is the mother of invention but its father is boredom.

It was idle boredom that led the Superintendent to wander aimlessly into my workshop, where he happened upon a box of leftover roadbed and track from the construction of the Flagstaff Subdivision.

“Hey Dad, can we build a new layout?”

Oh heck yeah.

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Five-Year Gas Station Build

IMG_3046Something like five years ago I obtained (I think it was a Christmas gift?) Walther’s “Al’s Victory Service” kit. I remember putting the walls together and then cutting the whole thing apart to rearrange it before putting it back together the way it was originally, then doing some very basic weathering before getting distracted.

The unfinished structure bounced around the workbench and the layout for the last half decade and – uncharacteristically for me – the rest of the pieces remained safely in the box and tucked away in a spot I actually remembered.

Recently I had some downtime and finally finished this little project. I am particularly proud of my little “live bait” and soft drink signs, the mechanic rolling out a set of tires, and the yuppie with the Porsche cleaning his windshield.

Don’t give up on your unfinished projects – like good wine they are more satisfying with age!

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Flagstaff Field Work (With a Six-Year-Old)

The Superintendent and I were on location last week in preparation for the scenery phase of the Flagstaff Subdivision.

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I’m a freelance modeler, so all I really want to do is make the Flagstaff portion of the layout kinda feel like the real thing. I’m not worried about duplicating trackwork or buildings down to the finest detail.

Which is good, because when you’re traveling with a six-year-old there’s little exploring and no measuring going on. I got about 45 minutes to take pictures and scoop up some dirt before I was reminded that the real reason we were there was to go to Bearizona just up the road.

But I figured this much out:

Depot

I want to model the depot.

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It’s an attractive building that will look good with the Many Lost Ways steam shuttle docked out front. I hope I can find a kit to approximate it. Otherwise I’ll build a placeholder while I scratchbuild one, which I will get around to never.

Giant Mass of Road Signs

About a block away from the depot was this giant collage of road signs. I don’t have much room on the Flagstaff Sub for roads, but this thing is situated on the opposite side of the sidewalk from the road.

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I think I’ll model the sidewalk and curb against the edge of the layout and put the signs between that and the track. That will clearly convey the intended geography to viewers.

Color and Foliage

As I noted above, the Superintendent and I collected about three quarts of dirt in various colors from several locations near the BNSF mainline that runs through Flagstaff. I’ll sift it on the layout for ground cover and secure it with diluted white glue. That, along with referencing pictures of the topography and foliage, should help me give the scene a realistic “Flagstaff feel.”

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Okay? Now let’s go look at some bear cubs before you pee your pants.

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$2.50 Rolling Stock!!!

Never skip an opportunity to sift through the bargain bin at your local hobby shop.

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During recent visits to my train monger, I scooped up a pair of Roundhouse Apache Railway boxcars and an Atlas Burlington Northern covered hopper for the basement price of $2.50 apiece.

Out of the box, the models weren’t worth much more than that. The lettering and finish were poor and the running gear was truck-mounted Rapido couplers and ancient plastic wheels. But we can fix all that.

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Here’s the step-by-step for the hopper. The boxcars got similar treatment:

I removed the old trucks and discarded them, retaining the bolster pins. (I’ve found that older rolling stock doesn’t always accept new Micro-Trains pins.) I then gave the car a good spray of dullcoat to give the shiny finish a little tooth.

Using a toothpick dipped in burnt sienna paint, I dappled the sides and ends of the car with random rust spots. I then mixed some rust-colored weathering powder with a little rubbing alcohol to make a thin paste. With a fine brush, I drew streaks of the paste down from each rust spot.

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I then applied a wash of light rust-colored alcohol ink solution to the entire car. With careful downward strokes, I used the wash to soften the rust streaks without rubbing them out entirely.

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When the wash was dry, I patched out the Burlington Northern herald and reporting marks with dark-green paint. Some modelers suggest masking patch outs and spray painting them. I think the rounded corners and uneven edges of my brush painted patches better simulate the quick work of a guy in the car shop wielding a spray gun or roller.

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After the patches dried overnight, I added FCFL reporting marks and car number decals. I set the decals with Micro-Sol and let them dry. I then brushed a light coat of dullcoat over the decals to seal them. When that was dry, I coated the decals with my alcohol ink solution to knock down their bright white. When that dried, the dullcoat and alcohol ink had hazed up so I brushed another coat of dullcoat over the top. The several layers of dullcoat and weathering wash further enhance the spray-gun look of the patches, in my opinion.

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I outfitted the car with my standby Micro-Trains 100-ton roller bearing trucks and Fox Valley Models 36-inch metal wheelsets. I weathered the trucks with powders and painted the wheels rail brown.

There are some very beautiful, very expensive models on the market, but you can fill in your fleet nicely with pretty good, budget-friendly cars from the bargain bin.

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