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.

rock n rye

“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.)

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.

overall view

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.

overhead

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.

dock

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.

sailor

Christmas is Merry, Whether We Know it or Not

wreath scout

“If you haven’t bought a wreath yet, there’s still a ton of them in my dad’s truck.”

The secret to Christmas magic often lies in what you don’t know.

Cases in point: The Scouts of Troop 303, caroling mightily for the last-minute shoppers in Salvation Point.

They fill the air with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Silent Night and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, and every few songs there’s a commercial break: “If you haven’t bought a wreath yet, there’s still a ton of them in my dad’s truck.”

Salvation Point is a small town and the Fighting Three-oh-Third has mustered just three wise guys tonight. One’s in second grade, one’s in seventh, and the tall one is a senior in high school.

Three case studies in the magic of what you don’t know.

Christmas magic is easy for the second grader. Santa Claus is still totally real and is totally going to bring a PlayStation 4. What he doesn’t know is Dad bought the thing weeks ago and has been sneaking it out late at night. When they face off on Christmas morning, the old man will for once have the upper hand in electronic gaming.

For the seventh grader, it’s Christmas magic that makes his otherwise too-cool older cousin don a Santa hat and play the part of jolly elf, loading Christmas trees onto SUVs and tying them down with a smile and warm holiday wishes. What he doesn’t know is the tips are good, and cousin’s desperately fighting his way out from under a $28,000 Visa balance.

The senior’s got a small box of Christmas magic in his dresser drawer – a pretty expensive necklace and earrings for Samantha. He figures she’ll cry when she opens them and she’ll know he’s serious even though they’re both leaving for college next fall. They’ve been going out since homecoming, but what he doesn’t know is she’s got plans for New Year’s Eve and they don’t include him.

Three fragile Christmases made magic by what they don’t know.

The trouble is, once they do know, the magic is gone.

This has been a year of error and loss in my house. My holiday spirit is less Gene Autry (Here Comes Santa Claus) and more Merle Haggard (If We Make It Through December). What I don’t know is deep and wide, but that’s not making for much magic.

So I’m sticking with what I do know:

“For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

It’s not the kind of magic that necessarily makes for twinkling memories ’round the tree. To some it’s no more real than Santa Claus. But to the Christian it is a hope that brings peace in every circumstance. The knowledge of Christmas – the light and life of the risen Savior – is cause to celebrate even when we don’t feel like it.

Christmas is Merry, whether we know it or not.

May your Christmas be joyous, and your New Year bright.

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.

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.

Signature

sign closeup

Mom died in May. It was unexpected, a heart attack I guess, and it came on the heels of a couple rough years that included knee and ankle surgeries that left her immobile for many months. But she was getting better, walking without a cane finally and driving herself to the Y and then for coffee and a $1 McDouble with her buddies. She was sixty-seven, and Dad had retired just three weeks earlier – timing that was terrifically cruel to him, in my opinion.

Anyway, Mom knew me better than just about anybody else. We shared our joys and sorrows in a way only a Mom and son can. She understood from her own occasional darkness the melancholy with which I am sometimes tinted, and knew when to offer encouragement and when to shut up and let me be gloomy.

missu

She also embraced silliness. Reveled in it. She loved musicals – especially Fiddler on the Roof – and one night last winter I had “Sunrise, Sunset” in my head but couldn’t remember all the words. My sons and I got Grandma on the speakerphone and we worked through it until all four of us were belting it out in harmony: “I don’t remember growing older, wheeeennnn diiiiiiid theyyyyyyyy?” Then we said, “Love you Grandma” and hung up. She was always up for that kind of goofing off, and I’m smiling now remembering the laughter in her voice that night.

A few weeks before she died, I was out and about for work and had a little time between appointments, not far from her and Dad’s house. Dad was off somewhere so we ate lunch together, watched Days Of Our Lives, laughed. I don’t remember much of what we talked about. It doesn’t matter. We just enjoyed being together, and that turned out to be the last time we had each other to ourselves.

During that visit I told her I was thinking about naming a restaurant in Salvation Point after her. We talked about what it would be called, and what the sign might look like. Before I left that day, I had her write her name and some of the restaurant names we’d played with on a scrap of paper. That scrap sat on my workbench for a few weeks.

note

The night before her funeral, unable to sleep, I went down to the workshop in the wee hours of the morning and got to work.

I took some thin copper wire – 22-gauge maybe? – and “traced” her handwriting by bending the wire with a fine needlenose pliers. Where the letters made angles too sharp to bend, I soldered pieces together (the “n,” the “i,” a few other spots). I also made solder joints where the wire crossed, like in the double Ls, to give the thing some stability. I then bent the whole assembly into a gentle curve and sprayed it turquoise – Mom’s favorite color.

The rest of the sign (“Clean Plate Club”) was just printed from a Word document. The plate was scavenged from a miniature playset of one kind or another that my boys outgrew. (I have a collection of similar tiny plates, spoons, coffee cups, toothbrushes and a very small scissors that I or a modeling friend will someday put to good use.)

The plate and signature I glued to the Design Preservation Models building with CA (super glue).

It’s not a good enough tribute to my Mom, but she would have gotten a kick out of it.

Janibelle Clean Plate Club serves Chicken Paprikash, Chicken Cacciatore, Beef Stroganoff, and darn good chocolate chip cookies – all just like Mom used to make.* It’s the only place I can get the stuff anymore.sign

*In fairness, the secret to Mom’s chocolate chip cookies has been revealed – Dad made them.