ModelStory: The Last Time

???????????????????????????????Big Roger thinks about the Last Time a lot since they moved him to the home.

The Last Time he used his table saw.

The Last Time he fired a rifle.

The Last Time he shuffled out to his own mailbox.

The Last Time with Mae.

The Last Time with Mae – gosh, when was that?

He’s not sure when the Last Time was for any of those things, he just knows they don’t happen anymore.

He remembers the Last Time he drove that pickup, though. It was in the ‘70s and his two oldest were canoeing and he set out to pick them up. He was cutting overland along the railroad tracks toward the river (people did that in those days, though the Last Time was awhile ago) and POW! – a ball joint let go and she went down on one knee like a wounded mule.

The truck was surplus by then, a Saturday beater he never much cared for anyway, so other priorities got in the way of retrieving it. The Last Time he seriously considered it was a weekend that same summer, when his brother offered to drive down from Kanab with his wrecker, but then there was a pileup on 89 and oh, brother made a bundle on the cleanup instead.

So the truck is there and he is here and he wonders, “When was the Last Time I could have gone down there and turned it over?”

The Ford wouldn’t have gone anywhere on its crippled suspension anyway. But he’s the same – a good motor in a ruined chassis – so the wondering is good for his mind:

When was the moment? The Last Time the bearings and gaskets and plugs were all still just good enough, it would’ve cranked and maybe sputtered but the old straight six would have caught, and then the next moment – just a moment’s more corrosion on the points maybe – it wouldn’t have?

That’s the funny thing about the Last Time, he thinks. You hardly ever know it.

When does a disabled truck become a derelict?

When does bread become toast?

When does a man become an old man and then become – well, what sort is he now?

Big Roger remembers when they were young Mae would run her fingers through his hair when she rode with him in that pickup. He loved that, but parenthood doesn’t leave much room for scooting over on the bench seat, so there was a Last Time for that, too, but he’s not sure when it was.

He thinks about a routine he had with the kids at bedtime. Sometimes he would carry them by the ankles and swing them upside down before sliding them under the covers and then one day – who knows when? – the littlest got too big. A giggling child curled up liking how Daddy did that, but it was the Last Time and no one knew it.

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(Modified and weathered Classic Metal Works 1954 Ford F-350, JTT trees, Woodland Scenics field grass.)

Abide With Me

crossAt a somber Good Friday service twenty-five or thirty years ago, the congregation sang “Abide With Me” and I looked up in the dim light to see tears in my mother’s eyes. I was eight or ten or twelve – too young to understand her anguish. She was grieving, as though someone had died. Someone close to her. Someone she knew well, and loved.

 

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Help of the helpless, Lord abide with me

Age has brought me bits of understanding, and I now grasp the immense faith on display in Mom’s tears. Someone had died. Someone close to her. Someone she knew well, and loved. Jesus Christ, her friend and Savior, died on the cross to redeem her and give her eternal life. It wasn’t a tradition she observed out of habit, not just something she believed. She was certain of His suffering and death, and mourned it.

Swift to it’s close ebbs out life’s little day

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away

Change and decay in all around I see

O Thou who changest not, abide with me

It’s been nearly a year since Mom died, suddenly and unexpectedly – a thief in the night on a Wednesday afternoon. We sang “Abide With Me” at the funeral and I cried, but I haven’t since then. I’ve been waiting for the heavy hand of grief to fall on my shoulder but it hasn’t. I miss her, but I can’t be sad for Mom. She loved the Lord she served so deeply that His suffering brought her to tears, and now she’s risen to eternal life with Him. Who can cry over that?

I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless

Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness

Death where’s thy sting, oh grave thy victory?

I triumph still if Thou abide with me

I rejoice for a faith that made Mom’s Savior real and alive and present for her. I pray for that kind of faith. For myself. For my wife and children. For my father and sister and nephews, for my in-laws, for my friends. For you. The glory of Easter outshines the sorrow of the grave for all who believe. Christ has Risen, He has Risen indeed.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies

Heaven’s morning breaks and Earth’s vain shadows flee

In life, in death oh Lord abide with me

ModelStory: Post-Holiday Buzzkill

travellerfinal

” 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.)

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.

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.