Progress on Multiple Fronts

I have to admit that I’ve been in a rut for quite some time at least in regards to track laying.  And it all centers around the (self-imposed) requirement that all of the track switches are to be “DCC friendly”.  I’ve finally embarked on this project and can happily report that as a result, track work is again proceeding.  I’ve modified four of the Shinohara code 70 switches thus far, two of which have been installed.  The Illinois Central passing siding at Willis, and the interchange track to the Louisiana Central have been installed and are operational.  This completes the I.C. trackage.  The next two areas I want to complete are the L.C. passing siding at the Willis yard, and the Spencer Lumber Company’s line up to Camp 6 in the woods just east of Whitcomb.  The latter is necessary as it’s located at the far side of the benchwork in this area.  I want to get this installed and operational before advancing the Louisiana Central mainline (to be located near the aisle side of the benchwork) from Maynard to Whitcomb.

And since trackwork has resumed, I needed a fresh supply of refurbished and pre-wired Tortoise switch machines.  I grabbed another pile of those, performed the prep work, and now have them ready for installation.

I’ve decided to go with recessed control panels similar to what I mocked up recently.  There wasn’t much point to mocking up my other ideas as the recessed version was what I really wanted and the mock-up confirmed that the idea would be workable.  This past weekend Wayne and I cut out the components for the four panels that will be in the vicinity of Maynard.  I hope to start the actual construction of these panels within a week or so.  Once these are installed, I’ll be able to paint that section of fascia.  I’m studying color samples and hope to decide on a color soon.

I’ve also made a minor lighting change in the train room.  In addition to the fluorescent lighting behind valances, I also have recessed can lighting over the aisles.  These have had 75 watt incandescent lamps in them.  I decided to change the incandescent lamps out to 5000k LED flood lamps, the same color temperature of the fluorescents.  These match the layout lighting quite nicely and I think it will be a visual improvement.  I also installed a twin head emergency light fixture near the entrance to the room as when the lights are out, that room gets very dark (as in black).  Interestingly, the first day after I installed the light we had a heavy thunder storm pass through and the lights went out for a couple minutes.  The emergency light did an outstanding job of lighting the way out.

And finally, freight car construction continues, although at a slightly reduced pace.  I have about 45 cars assembled and checked out to be road worthy at this point.  Only about 250 kits remain.


And More Painting…

OK, the view blocks have been installed and the overhead work is done!  I took a bunch of photos of the completed valence and view block installation . . . head over to the website if you’d like to gaze at them (the link is over there to the right).

So next up is my practice backdrop painting project.  This past weekend I dug out several hardboard background panels that I had used on my last layout many years ago.  I have about 32 lineal feet of 2 feet high backdrop to practice with.  Tonight I dropped by the Walmart and bought a quart can each of sky blue and flat white.  I’ll roll the blue on the panels at the end of the week and may even get some time to start spraying a few clouds on.

I’ll try a couple spray techniques using the stencils, and I’ll probably also try using an old paintbrush, sponges and anything else that I spy that may contribute to a credible cloud.  My plan is to just do a rather sparse sprinkling of clouds around the room; a group here, a group there.  I can always add more later if I decide I need more.  The main point here is to try to get some of the higher up painting done prior to putting up benchwork just to make things easier while painting.  I know I’ll end up sitting or laying on the benchwork later to do detailed painting such as hills, trees and such, so I plan to build a substantial framework to carry my portly self without fear of crashing through to the floor.


Lighting Valence and View Blocks Complete!

That’s right, they are primed and painted.  Actually, the view blocks still have to be re-hung, but that is a 10 minute task.  I will tend to that next weekend.

Next up is to paint some practice clouds on scrap Masonite and then use whatever technique works best to apply some clouds to the sky backdrop.  I’m chomping at the bits to get some layout construction going, so I may focus on the back wall initially and then I can start erecting the first of the L-girder benchwork.

I’ll be posting a few photos of the completed overhead work on the website soon (have to find time to take the pictures).  Look for them.


Another (interim) Update

Painting continues on the overhead appurtenances.  The valence has been primed and the backside has the finish coat applied.  I hope to get the finish coat(s) brushed on the front side this coming weekend.  The view blocks will be next.  Since these are simply suspended on hooks, it should be a bit easier and less time consuming to get them painted up.  I’ll likely just take them down and stand them up against the wall and roll on the paint.

As a break from the painting, I took a few weekends to build the desk for the train room computer and accessories.  The computer was temporarily sitting on an old kitchen table in the train room and I wanted that table to pile tools and stuff on during the layout construction.  So the computer desk is now designed, built and (sound the trumpets) painted!  It even has a nice Formica top.  It is on casters and will be rolled under the layout at a planned location.  The casters will allow me to easily roll it out of the way during construction of that section of the layout.

I haven’t done the “practice” backdrop yet, but I’m leaning toward the stencil method of painting clouds due to my total lack of artistic ability.  Wayne Robichaux and I employed this method some 18 or 20 years ago on a layout at my former residence.  Bill, I may indeed borrow your stencils if the offer holds, as I think mine are so coated in paint that they can barely support themselves any longer.  Or heck, if they’re still available, maybe I can just order a new set.

I’ve been checking out the spray paint selection over the past couple months.  While flat white is widely available, bluish gray colors are not.  I was thinking of this color to add bottoms to the clouds.  I’ve seen some flat gray paints (primer, ugh!) and one place had some flat blue, but it was more of a light baby blue.  So to hopefully solve this dilemma, I purchased a Paasche spray gun that is somewhat bigger than an air brush, but much smaller than a full size paint sprayer.  It’s very basic in construction, and only the air volume/pressure is adjustable, but I think it will ultimately be more controllable than spray cans.  This will give me the ability to mix paints to whatever color I want.  Since it was only $25, I think I can offset the cost with the savings in paint (rattle cans vs. quart cans).

That’s it for now.  I hope I can have a benchwork progress report within a month or so.  Having time only on weekends to get things done greatly slows down the construction schedule as I’ve learned.  I’ve also learned that getting old greatly slows down the construction schedule.


Room Construction Update

The construction aspect of the valence and the view blocks is complete!  The final task is to prep and paint everything.  A long, tedious and often frustrating task is finally winding down.

Meanwhile, I’ve done a bit more in preparation for the benchwork.  The L-girders themselves have long been fabricated, and the legs and bracing have been ripped to size on the table saw.  I ripped this material from larger size lumber as it was cheaper than buying the material the proper size to begin with.  Ripping material is easy and goes quickly so I found the time worth the savings.  This weekend I got all the gussets cut out for the leg braces.  When benchwork erection starts, it should go pretty quickly since all the materials are present and ready.

Aside from painting the valence and view blocks as mentioned above, the only task that remains is to paint some clouds on the backdrop.  I’ve been reading about all the various techniques in the various magazines, and I’ve seen a couple You Tube videos on the subject.  I have some scrap Masonite that I think I’m going to paint up Sky Blue, and then I’ll have something to experiment with, trying out various techniques.  If you want to suggest something that worked for you, please post it…I’ll try anything in my quest for a technique that works for me.



After an incredibly long delay, things are again moving forward on the Louisiana Central.  As I’ve bemoaned in a couple of posts, the big hang-up has been the lighting valence.  Well, significant progress has been made on this.  The hardboard warpage is now in check thanks to the 1×2 strips that have been glued to the base of the panels.  The specially cut blocking for the outside corners of the 45 degree joints is working well, and about half of those joints have been completed.  There are a number of inside 45 degree and odd angle joints that also have to be made, but I’m confident that the special blocking that we’ve fabricated will handle those nicely as well.

All in all, I’m pleased that the room prep is moving along again.  While there is still much work ahead, most of the hardest work has been completed, and further work sessions are tentatively scheduled to get ‘er done.


So What’s the Problem, Jack?

The fall is almost upon us and the “traditional” modeling season is about to begin.  I’m looking forward to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, which will be enhanced by the fact that I’ve got almost 3 weeks of vacation scheduled during these times.  The last time I made really significant progress on the train room and layout was during this same period last year.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve done some work during the summer, but I’m not anywhere close to where I thought I’d be at this time.

As I’ve also mentioned, my biggest hang up has been the light fixture valence.  Several of you have asked why such a long delay due to a simple thing like a valence.  OK, I’ll give you the story.

The construction plan was to attach 2×4 lumber to the ceiling, with the edges flush with the future layout edges.  Gypsum board was to be applied to the bottom to meet the fire code, and the fluorescent strip lights installed to the sandwich.  This was done, and turned out reasonably well.  Photos appear on the website.

The next step was to cut 1/8″ thick hardboard panels (Masonite) to the proper width, then screw them to the sides of the 2×4’s to form the valence.  That’s when the problems began.  It became apparent early on that the hardboard panels alone presented a rather unfinished appearance.  The joints between panels were just too crude. To make matters worse, the ceiling had several undulations in it (not apparent when simply viewing the ceiling) and this created places where the hardboard panel didn’t fit tight to the ceiling leaving big gaps in a number of locations.

I searched around and found what appeared to be an excellent solution for the joints.  Home Depot had some plastic moldings that were used for the joints in 1/8″ prefinished panels that are typically used in bathrooms and kitchens.  There were moldings to trim exposed edges, others to join panels end to end, and yet others to create corners.  I bought an assortment of all this.

When I tried to apply the moldings, I encountered my next problem.  I had already primed and painted the hardboard panels, and the additional thickness added by the paint wouldn’t allow the moldings to just slip on the panel edges as they were supposed to.  After much agonizing, I decided to pull the panels down, then using a router, I was able to shave off enough material on the ends and bottom edges of the panels to allow the moldings to slip on.

The panels were re-hung, and the ends had molding slipped into place.  Everything good so far.  The only joints that were still a problem were at places where the panels met at other than 90 degree angles.  There were no moldings for this type of joint.  I figured I would think about this awhile while continuing with the installation.

To solve the ceiling gap problem, I simply bought inexpensive shoe molding, and nailed it to the junction.  This worked out fine.

By now another problem began to surface.  Some of the panels were beginning to warp, particularly the longer ones.  By warping, I mean they started getting wavy, which was very pronounced at the bottoms.  I wasn’t prepared for this sort of thing.  The panels had been primed and had two coats of paint on both sides.  They are in a centrally heated and air conditioned room.  But they still warped.

As an experiment, Wayne and I clamped a piece of L shaped sheet metal that I had on hand to the bottom of one of the panels, and that easily pulled it back into alignment.  So for the (hopefully) permanent solution I’m going to glue 1×2 lumber to the bottom inside edges of the panels to pull them into alignment.

The odd joint angle problem has been the hardest to solve.  I looked high and low and found nothing suitable for these joints.  Also, because of the warpage, many of the panels don’t naturally meet well at the corners, and will therefore have to be pulled back into alignment.  This means that the joints will have to have some structural integrity.  I have a tentative solution now.  We cut some special 5 sided strips of wood on the table saw, and I think that these may work to make the joints.  They will be glued into the backside of the joint, so the outside will remain clean.  I’m thinking of applying a bent strip of thin styrene over the outside just to cover the seam.

The last steps will be to slip the bottom molding on the edges, then apply another coat of paint to the entire assembly.  As a side note, the panels were pre-painted so I could lay them flat on the floor and use a roller.  Even this was fraught with frustration as the little bit of paint that ran down the edges caused the panels to stick to the plastic sheeting on the floor, requiring a whole bunch of trimming and sanding between coats of paint.  In hindsight, had I known at the get-go that I would be applying all this molding, I would have skipped painting the panels initially and done all the painting at the end.  This would also have eliminated the need for the tedious and time-consuming routing session with the panels.

So, to answer the question: since I had no clean solution, I did little work on the valence during the summer.  Instead, I did other things around the building, primarily in the shop area.  And I also spent considerable time doing things not directly related to the railroad, but nevertheless, things that had to be done.

I’m hopeful that this remaining valence work will be completed during my holiday.  We also have to fabricate and hang some view blocks down the center of the peninsulas, but I don’t think they will be any particular problem (the view blocks are simply to keep the lights on the opposite side from being visible).  They will simply hang on hooks from the ceiling, so the work on them can occur at ground level.

That pile of benchwork lumber in the center of the room should be well seasoned by now!


(What appears to be) Lack of Progress

I know that there appears to be little or no progress on the railroad this summer, and with respect to layout construction, that is true.  The last apparent activity was back in the late spring.  I’ve run into unexpected difficulties with the lighting valence.  In fact, the valence, as simple as it is in concept, has turned into a nightmare of problems.  Undulations in the ceiling itself, thickness mismatches with materials, warpage of the Masonite valence material itself, and some joinery problems at the odd angles of the panels have conspired to make the valence a real headache.  If so much time and money had not already been poured into the thing, I would probably rip it out and start over with a new concept.

Most of the problems have been overcome, and I have a couple potential solutions for the remaining problems.  However my able bodied assistant (required for the overhead work) has generally not been available this summer,  Also the constant threat of thunderstorms (typical of southern Louisiana weather) keeps me from dragging the table saw outdoors for the day and setting it up to do the required cutting.

Instead, I’ve stayed busy doing plenty of unseen “support functions” such as completing and arranging my work bench, building a paint bottle rack and computer desk, working with software, “decorating” the shop and rest room, and several other projects.  While none of these things are doing anything to build a layout, most are essential in the overall construction.  I’ve also spent a good bit of time making minor alterations to the track plan, making sure that the buildings I plan to use will actually fit the spaces where they’re supposed to go (and rearranging them as necessary).

The summer will be winding down shortly and cooler, dryer weather will be here.  I have almost three weeks of vacation time that I’ll be taking this fall, and that will give my available layout time a great shot in the arm.  As I’ve mentioned on the main website, the benchwork lumber is ready to go; the L-girders are fabricated and the bracing and joist lumber has been ripped to size and is ready.  Upon completion of the fascia (and a couple view blocks that will be suspended from the ceiling), I’ll paint the clouds on the backdrop.  THEN benchwork will commence, and I expect that it will go fairly rapidly.

It’s been a MUCH slower effort that I expected to get this project going.  Actually finishing out the building interior was a major hurdle, time wise and financially, and disappointingly the layout still hasn’t taken shape.  But I’m confident that things will start rolling again soon.