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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Upgrading Model Power Heavyweight Passenger Cars

Last week I wrote about the steam shuttle to Many Lost Ways National Park.

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I built this train a few years ago, before MicroTrains and Walthers introduced their very nice heavyweight passenger cars. My options at the time were brass car sides or these units from Model Power.

The Model Power cars have serviceable carbodies, but the lettering, running gear and couplers left a lot to be desired.

Bodywork and Paint

The most noticeable drawback to the carbodies was the lack of any steps. I remedied that by cutting the entire platforms from the ends of a couple of cheap cabooses I bought from the junk bin at my local hobby shop. With some careful filing, I was able to neatly fit these beneath the vestibules on both ends of the parlor car and the passenger end of the combine.

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On the baggage end of the combine, I cut bits of ladder from an old bridge kit and glued them in place as stirrup steps.

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The car ends had poorly molded brakewheels next to the diaphragms. I removed these with a sharp hobby knife and filed the area smooth.

Next I thoroughly cleaned the models and sprayed them Bomber Tan. After the paint dried, I lettered the cars for the Four Corners, one of the predecessor roads to the FCFL.

I brushpainted the diaphragms and other details, then lightly weathered the cars with weathering powders.

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Interiors

I removed the plastic interior inserts with molded seats and sprayed them dark red. I then added a handful of passenger figures, trimming their legs and torsos to fit as needed.

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I made a paper template of the window openings and used it to cut strips of manilla file folders for window shades. I glued these to the inside of the window glazing.

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Running Gear

I discarded the Model Power trucks and replaced them with MicroTrains trucks.

The trucks came with plastic inserts that fit neatly in the factory truck-mounting holes. The inserts are pressed in from above, and the mounting pin is pressed in from below, holding the truck in place.

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The trucks come with couplers that are supposed to be mounted on a tab with a long slot in it. A small screw is supposed to go through the slot, making the coupler adjustable. I wanted the cars to couple more closely, so I trimmed the tab about 1/16″ and glued the couplers in place with CA. This works for my short train, which doesn’t put much stress on the couplers.

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Close coupling!

I’ve since acquired a couple of the newer, higher quality heavyweights – I’m proud that these look pretty good alongside them.

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Steam Service to Many Lost Ways

Several years ago I had the privilege of taking the Agawa Canyon Tours/Algoma Central “Tour of the Line” from Sault Ste Marie to Hearst, Ontario and back. Riding this amazing little train was one of my all-time favorite railroading experiences.

Here’s how I try to capture it on the FCFL:

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As the Agawa Canyon Tours website says, their “Tour of the Line” train is:

“…a unique service that picks up and drops off passengers at any point along the line. Sometimes called the milk run, you could stop for any number of reasons on your journey. From people heading to their private camps, a wilderness lodge getaway, fishermen, canoeists, kayakers, ATV’ers or snowmobilers, our passenger service provides an ideal way for people to access the recreational wilderness of Northern Ontario.”

The heart-stopping scenery aside, the train was great fun for the hodgepodge of people hopping on and off at unmarked stops in the middle of the wilderness, loading and unloading the most absurd northwoods supplies.

The little consist I rode was headed by an EMD F7 pulling a baggage car and two coaches of similar vintage. One of the coaches had a small lunch counter with cold sandwiches and snacks, but if you knew the right people the train crew appeared to be willing to let you heat your pasties over their charcoal grill up in the baggage car. It was that kind of operation.

My version of the wilderness milk run takes passengers deep into the backcountry of Many Lost Ways National Park. The journey starts at Flagstaff, AZ with scheduled stops at Herbst Junction and Salvation Point before terminating at Durango, CO.

Power

I wanted to include steam in my fleet, and this seemed like the perfect place. The wilderness shuttle is powered by a Kato USRA Light Mikado. This was Kato’s 20th anniversary version numbered 1986.

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Four Corners 1986 waits its turn for sand and water at Salvation Point.

I converted the locomotive to DCC with a Digitrax DN163 mounted in the boiler – a rookie move. The boiler-mounted decoder replaces crucial weight, and significantly reduces traction – someday I’d like to upgrade to a tender-mounted sound decoder.

I disassembled the loco and tender and painted over the Kato markings, then applied “Four Corners” decals and some weathering powders.

The Four Corners was one of the “fallen flags” that merged to form the FCFL, and having this “heritage” piece on the layout helps bring that history to life.

I imagine the locomotive is owned and maintained by a volunteer group that receives significant corporate support from FCFL. I plan to include a facility for them when I build the Flagstaff addition to the layout.

Baggage

The kind of stuff I saw loaded on the Agawa Canyon trip hardly qualified as baggage. There were ATVs and small boats and even some lumber on board. I felt like an old boxcar was more up to the task than a baggage car.

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I disassembled a MicroTrains 40-foot steel boxcar and painted it primer gray, then coated the sills, doors and car ends Inland Sea. The roof I painted silver. I then lettered it with homemade decals representing the Five Lakes Railway, the other fallen flag that makes up the FCFL. (For more on homemade decals, read this.)

The baggage people bring on this kind of train is a huge part of the story, so I wanted to include the freight in the model.

I made a couple of coolers from scraps of styrene, painted them, and glued them to the floor of the car just inside the door. On top of the coolers I piled several pieces of luggage I sculpted from bits of Play-Doh (read more on Play-Doh luggage here). Deeper in the car I glued a Plastruct boat and a couple of Gold Medal Models photo-etched metal bicycles.

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Backcountry baggage includes coolers, backpacks, tents, bicycles and an old rowboat.

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Next Week – Turning Model Power heavyweight passenger cars into backcountry palaces on wheels!

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Grade Crossing and Block Signaling 101

Last week I wrote about the grade crossing with working lights The Superintendent and I added.

Electronics are not my thing. Ohm’s law? Amps versus volts? I don’t know what’s watt.

Thankfully the FCFL’s signals chief, AKA my Dad, is an electrical engineer. Here’s Dad on how we made the grade crossing lights work, with a bonus on an occupancy detector for a hidden stretch of track:

FCFL Railway signaling

The FCFL Four Corners Division traverses sparsely populated areas of the Southwest. Given the long distances between stations with few crossings and relatively little vehicular traffic most of the division operates “dark,” that is without centralized traffic control or automatic block signals. Most of the rural grade crossings are protected by stop signs warning road traffic to watch out for trains.

Grade Crossing Signals

signs and grade crosssing 037There are two ways to detect trains and actuate grade crossing signals. One is to detect the locomotive current. The other is to use photocells that detect the light change when the train passes over them.

Detecting locomotive current is simpler and doesn’t depend on room lighting for operation. However, the signal operation isn’t prototypical in that a long train may still be in the crossing when the locomotive exits the block and turns off the signals.

The photocell system provides more prototypical operation by starting the signals flashing before the train reaches the crossing and turning them off once the train is clear of the crossing.

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Photocells are mounted between the rails and flush with the ties. When a train passes over the photocells, the grade crossing signals are triggered.

The Logic Rail Technologies Grade Crossing Pro was chosen for this application. The Grade Crossing Pro module uses four photocells, two on each side of the crossing to detect the train, and has outputs to drive the flashing lights as well as an output to drive a switch machine to actuate gates, although gates weren’t installed for this crossing.

One complication with this crossing is that there are two tracks and trains can be on either or both tracks at the same time and be moving in either direction.

The way to handle this situation is to use two Grade Crossing Pros.  One acts as a slave unit that only detects the train on it’s track and sends a signal to the master one to actuate the lights.

A DC power supply is needed for these units.  A Radio Shack 110 Volt AC to 12 Volt DC “wall wart” power supply was used to power the grade crossing electronics.

The signals work well, even when the crossing is the site of a meet between two trains:

Occupancy Detector for Hidden Track

Between Herbst Junction and the Flagstaff staging area there is a 25-foot stretch of track where the train isn’t visible.

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This headhouse is the eastern end of a 25-foot tunnel. A block detector was installed to alert operators when a train occupies the unseen trackage.

Automatic block signals were installed in this section to provide an indication that the block is occupied.

A Circuitron BD-2 Block Occupancy Detector was used to detect the train and drive the signal heads at each end of the block.  This is a self-contained unit for one block. It detects the train by sensing the current drawn by the locomotive when it is in the block and has outputs to drive the Occupied/Clear signal aspects.

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A westbound train enters the tunnel, and the signal head indicates the block is occupied.

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Twenty-five feet to the west, the train exits the hidden trackage, and the signals show all clear.

Beyond the block occupancy detector module, the signal heads, and about 50 scale miles of wire, the only requirement is the Radio Shack 12 volt supply used for the grade crossing signals.

There is a small voltage drop in the track power going through the occupancy detector.  To compensate, back to back diodes are connected in the power supply to the rest of the layout so there isn’t a sudden change in voltage as the locomotive enters or exits the block.

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Mission Accomplished: Happy Kid.

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.

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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Tabletop Layout for a Closet Model Railroader

Nine Christmases ago I made this little N-scale layout for my step-father-in-law. It suffered some wear and tear and never really lived up to my vision, so this year I stole it, updated it, and regifted it back to him.

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Years ago John told me about his childhood train set. He remembered the thrill of watching the steamer come around the curve and the way he described it, I knew: He was one of us.

I try to encourage John’s inner model railroader, and sharing the hobby with him has opened up some common ground and allowed us to know each other better.

See? It’s not just about playing with trains.

The Layout

The layout is a plywood box about 26″ x 18″ x 4″. The terrain is several layers of carved foam insulation. The track plan is an oval with one siding, and is operated by a DC powerpack.

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Two things stand out when I consider the man my kids call “Grandpa John”: A love of sailing and (like most sailors) an affinity for fine spirits. He is also an incredibly kind man who treats people with generosity and grace. But sailboats and booze are easier to model.

Accordingly, the single industry is a backwoods distillery called John’s Hooch. Out back I made an illegal-looking still from a thumbtack, a short piece of metal tubing and some wire.

Thumbtack still

2013 Updates

I always intended the central scene of the layout to be a lake with sailboats, but when I first built the thing I had neither the budget nor the time to pull it off. I settled for a dry creek bed and a Design Preservation Models building on the bank.

This year I filled the creek with layers of hydrocal. When the plaster dried, I sanded it smooth and filled any holes with lightweight spackle. I brushed the surface with black laytex paint, then feathered in some tan near the beach area.

The boathouse is an Imex model. I cut a sheet of styrene the width of the building and about an inch longer. I made a dock out of the overhang by covering it with scale 2x6s. I glued the first plank on a 45-degree angle across the dock using CA cement. When it was set firm, I simply worked my way across the dock one board at a time, letting them hang over the edges. Once I had all the boards in place, I trimmed them with a sharp hobby knife and a straight edge.

I then glued the building to the styrene foundation with CA.

Lengths of round toothpicks serve as the pilings and the roof support.

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I glued the building assembly to the layout with white glue, then graded around it with fine ballast secured with diluted white glue.

The sailboats came from Wiking sets. They are supposed to be rowboats. I trimmed the oarlocks from the top of the gunwales, then drilled holes in the front benches for masts I made from the sprues the boats came on.

The boat at the dock got a stowed sail sculpted of Squadron White Putty. The sail on the other boat is a piece of clear window glazing painted white.

Once the boathouse was in place and the boats were ready, I filled the lake with water. I used EnviroTex Lite, a two-part clear resin.

After the resin had set for about two hours, I floated the boats. They sank straight to the bottom, which fortunately was shallow enough that they still look afloat. EnviroTex takes 12-18 hours to fully cure. I’ve used it only once before and I like it, but still don’t have a handle on when to put things in so they don’t sink.

Finally, I went around the layout and updated the foliage. I added a few new Woodland Scenics trees and some ground foam where the old scenery had chipped.

This little layout was an OK diorama to begin with, and now I think it’s pretty good. It won’t win any contests, but it gives a latent railroader the thrill of watching his own trains.

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