Friday, December 31, 2010

New Tool - The Laptop Computer

Many tools are a necessity.  Hobby Knife.  Screwdrivers.  Tweezers.  Gin glass.  But a laptop?  Yes, I believe that computers are mandatory in the hobby now and the laptop even more so.  I use it for writing notes, making drawings, research, photography and DCC programing. 

 I finally sprung $300 at a Black Friday sale to get a new HP laptop.

This G56 is not the fasting unit on the market and doesn't have the most features, but it does what I need it to do and what I'll need in the near future.  Why buy any more?

 After removing it from the box, I put the battery in and hook up the power supply.  Very easy.

 There!  It now has a prominent place on the workbench.  I'll use it a lot.

 The hard part is getting it set up.  I'll have to get it on our network with security, then get it hooked up to the Internet.  Wife will have to help me I'm sure.

 Next, we have to load the software.  I need Word and Excel, then some graphic software.

Then we add the files.  I'll use the laptop as a back up for all my train files located on my main office desk unit.  That way I have my files anywhere I go.

Do you have a computer or laptop in your shop?  What is your opinion of it?  How often do you use it?  Any good tips or tricks?

Rookie Night on New Year's Eve

 Do you remember your first model?  Your first hobby knife?  I do.  I remember it as clear as day.  My father, who was a second generation model railroader, sat me down with an N-scale church kit and showed me how build.  Now, it is time for someone else to learn.

 First, we need a simple kit.  The hobby shop in Orem, Utah sold me a $5.00 Plasticville Item 45532 Vintage Auto Repair Shop.  This is a snap-fit kit, so no glue is supposedly required.  Yeah, right.

 Next, we need a willing contestant.  Any volunteers?  Yes, you in the yellow princess dress.  Come on down!  You are the next contestant on The Model is Right!

 This is Taylor.  She is five years old.  Time to build her first kit.  As you can tell from her smile, she needs a bit of assembly herself.  Tooth fairy got it on Christmas night.

 The first step is to take the kit out of the box.  The parts are molded in color so we won't be painting this kit.  That is training session #2.  We'll keep the box and study the photo of the assembled kit.

 Together we read the instructions.  Ok, ok, I know YOU don't read instructions.  I don't either.  But for grins and giggles I'm actually going to do it this time.

 We'll use a parts tray (stolen from the friendly Marriott hotel in Chicago) to keep all of our parts together and to provide a cutting surface.

 We'll take the parts out of the bag carefully so that we don't break or knock a part off the sprue tree.  We have grey, cream and clear "glass" sprues.

 After an hour of safety and skill training, Taylor is ready to undergo the knife.  I've given her a special hobby knife with a padded grip.  Here she picked up the knife the wrong way, so I gently corrected her.  Most children are NOT ready for a hobby knife at this age, but I've been working with Taylor for a while and I think she is ready.  Hey, if she gets a scar at this age it will disappear by the time she is 40.  I've showed her all of my scars including the one in my foot, thus the reason to work over the table!

 Safely holding the knife with the right hand and holding the part with her left hand clear of the cutting area, she begins to do surgery on part #12.

 There are several small burrs from the cutting, so she uses a sanding sponge to smooth the edges.  Mommy insisted we get a bath and put on warm jammies before continuing.

 After she got the hang of using the hobby knife, I switched her to a sprue cutter.  If you don't have one of these go order one from Micro Mark right now!  They are fantastic and leave a very smooth cut.

 The first wall is completed and I hear the familiar "daddy, let me do it myself" song that I love to hear.

 With great precision Taylor removes each part, and following the exploded drawing, puts all  the pieces together.

 The last wall sections need some sanding and Taylor uses the 45 degree corner of the sanding block to get in tight areas.

 The windows ans doors are now in, and we fit the wall sections together.  Looking good!

 Some detail parts have to be removed and assembled so she works diligently to make the chimney and the gas pump.  Perfect!

 As is typical, one of the parts is warped.  Here you can see the roof is taking on the shape of a pagoda roof.  We'll need to warm it in hot water and bend it back in shape.  Actually we wind up digging out the Tenax 7R in order to hold it in place.

 With the roof, chimney and gas pump in place, the model is now ready to go!

 See!  Even a five year old can do it.  So why do you keep reading magazines and talking about tomorrow's plans with Taylor is smoking you in the workshop?  Time to get busy!!!

Good job Taylor!  I'm thinking Master Model Railroader at 14!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sippin' Swamp Diorama - Part 2 - Diorama Clinic

This is an article that I wrote for the Wasatch Division Gandy Dancer which should be published this month.  It is based off a hand's on clinic that I taught years ago.

Design and Build a Mini-Diorama

The Rocky Mountain Region Convention at Salt Lake City in November of 2011 will feature a new and intriguing kind of contest.  It’s a Mini-Diorama Contest.   You are allowed up to 144 square inches of space to build a diorama of any kind.  This is an excellent chance to improve your skills using a different scale, gauge or scenery type.

What is a diorama?  To those of us that are model railroaders it is a three dimensional model of a scene.  Usually a diorama is a static (non-moving) display.  A mini-diorama is, in our case, a small one limited in size by total square inches.  We can think of our layouts as grand-scale dioramas.  For the contest these dioramas are limited to an area of one square foot which is about the size of a floor tile.

So what does it take to build a contest winning diorama?  There are quite a few tricks and tips that can help you build your next contest winner.  So get out your pencil and paper and let’s review these ten tips for designing and building an award winning diorama.

Tip #1: Plan, plan, plan.  Many modelers start out by building something and then slapping it on a one foot square board only to find that it doesn’t fit.  Take the time to plan your design.  Draw it.  Sculpt it.  Make a mock-up of the model (such as a barn) using foam board or clay.  Decide what objects need to be on the display and what objects should be left off.

The crisp white road against the dark green fauna makes this barn shot very interesting to the eye.

Tip #2:  Tell a story.  A diorama of a barn may look very nice.  But it’s just a barn.  If you want to draw the viewer in, you have to tell a story.  What is the purpose of the barn?  What is going on there?  Is something going on BEHIND the barn (wink)?  Maybe there is a farmer working on his tractor in the hot sun?  How can you convey to the viewer that the farmer is hot?  Is his hat off?  Is his wife bringing him lemonade?  Is the ground dry and dusty?  Why is he working on the tractor?  Answer these viewer questions by giving them hints and details that spell out the story.  People are an absolute necessity on a diorama!

Tip #3:  Use the elements of the diorama to draw the eye to where you want the viewer to look.  If the farmer is the central figure, you’ll want to place him in a prominent place on the diorama.  If he is in the bright sun in front of the darkness of the interior of the barn, people will look at him and not the inside of the barn.  A fence running along the side of the farm going toward the farmer will stop the eye of a viewer and redirect it to the farmer.  Even three cows staring at the farmer will direct the focal point.

Using a CAD system to layout the pieces of the diorama is a quick and fast way to get a feel for the look and dimensions.

Tip #4: Fit the base to the diorama, not the other way around.  Most people start with a one foot square flat block and start their construction.   It is better to work on a large foam or cardboard surface and layout out the scenic elements and then form the base to the models.  Then when you have the design you want, cut away the material you don’t need on the base.  This will often give you more rectangle or trapezoidal shapes for the base which add interest to the diorama.  Circles work, too!

Once you have laid out the scene on a large sheet of foam you can use a hot knife to cut out the base.

Tip #5: Give your diorama a sense of place.  Where is your diorama set?  Maybe it’s in the mid-west?  What does the mid-west look like?  What kind of plants would you see there, or rocks for that matter?  Take the time to understand the environment of the diorama and give the viewer clues as to where they are.  Billboards and signs that represent local establishments such as “Kansas City Chevrolet” or “Toledo Mudhens Baseball” give the viewer a precise sense of location.

Tip #6: Give your diorama a sense of time.  There are several important time elements.  The first is time on the calendar.  Is it the 1950’s or 60’s?  Then there is time of year such as fall or spring.  After that there is time of day which could be noon or even night.  So maybe our farmer has a farm in the 1940’s and has just started his spring plowing.  It’s near lunch so maybe his wife is bringing him a sandwich.  Give the viewer context clues about time.  If it is spring maybe new, yellow flowers are in bloom in the field and the oak tree has bright green leaves.  A fall evening would require long shadows under the trees and behind the barn.

Tip #7:  Control the use of color.  While you will need to paint virtually everything on the diorama, by using shades and tints of color you can control the scene.  A shade of red is red paint that has black paint added to it in order to darken it.  A tint of red is when white is added to the red to lighten it up.  You may hear your wife tell you that she “likes this shade of pink” but that is not possible as she can only like a tint of pink.  She’ll hit you for saying that so just don’t go there.  For areas where you don’t want the viewer’s eyes to look, such as the very edge of the diorama, keep those colors shaded and dark.  For focal areas, lighten up the colors.  In our barn scene you may want to use very light colored soil under the farmer’s tractor, and very dark soil in the floor of the barn.  Darker plants should be in the background with lighter colors in the foreground.

Here the light color of the spilled hay contrasts with the dark inside of the boxcar keeping your eye from wondering in to the undetailed car shed.

Tip #8: Show action.  While a diorama is normally a static or fixed model you can still show action by inferring it to the viewer.  If a child is on a rope swing hanging from the barn, he’ll be hanging straight down.  This doesn’t look right to the eye to see a young boy not in a constant state of motion.  To infer motion, put the boy up in the door of the hay loft with the rope looped up and in his hand.  This tells the viewer that motion is about to happen as they see him swing out in their mind’s eye.

 The model had closed doors but I cut them out and just opened them enough that you get the feeling someone is or has been in there.

Tip #9: Give your diorama a non-flat surface.  One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen in dioramas is that they are built on a flat base.  Short of a concrete slab you almost never see any ground that is perfectly flat.  Undulate the scenery and give it rise.  When you build your barn, build it on an uneven surface and add a stone foundation to make it level. 

 Buy using a hot knife you can cut away and then add back foam to make the scene more rugged than flat.

The stacked stone makes the building look like it was built there and not just set on the scene. 

Tip #10:  Photograph and review your layout.  Ok, let me warn you.  This is a VERY painful step.  By using digital photography you can print or view on the screen every little mistake you made.  You‘ll find yourself scratching your head going “how did that fingerprint get on the side of the barn?”  This is a great way to make your model as perfect as it can be.

The almost finished diorama still requires people, machines and trees but the camera shows the imperfections which we’ll clean up as we go.

Using these basics you can take your modeling talents up to the level of artwork!  Commit to a friend to have a diorama completed for the contest and you’ll come out a winner no matter what your score.  You’ll always learn from doing!

Scott Perry

Product Review - Books, Rule, Loco Cradle

This just in!

My favorite model train supplier Trainmaster Models has just put up a new order on line website.  Naturally I have to try it out!  Here's what I bought...

 Book: the Allegheny Midland Lessons Learned by Tony Koester

Hey, I love Tony.  He's added so much to my model railroad knowledge over the decades that I scarf up everything he writes.  What I really like about Tony is that he's not afraid to say "hey, I did this wrong."  This looks like a great book and I'll do a full review when I get through with it.
 How to Build and Detail Model Railroad Scenes Vol. 2
 by Lou Sassi

I really liked Volume 1, so I expect Volume 2 to be great as well.  The pictures are huge!  I'll read it and do a full review.

 Peco Locomotive Servicing Cradle.   

This is a $10 piece of crap.  Don't buy one.  The foam is stiff and scratchy, and it is very, very small.  I doubt a modern loco model will fit in it without rolling over.  Save your cash.  If you have one that you really like, can you post at the bottom and tell me the brand?

The Maxon Scale Ruler

Ok, can you every have enough of these?  Spring steel construction.  Embossed and painted markings.  EXTREMELY precise.  These are extremely valuable to a scratchbuilder and I buy a new one every two years as mine get covered in glue and paint.  If you don't have one, order it now!  The rule covers scales N, HO, S and O.  Each has foot measurements along with smaller breakdowns for precision work.  The only improvement that I can think of is to put a hole in one end in order to hang it up.  The do get "sprung" sitting in a drawer.  I have a special case for mine.

That's all for today!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sippin' Swamp Diorama - Part 1 - Getting My Gator On

At the Rocky Mountain Region Convention in November of 2011 there will be a special contest.  See the rules below...

Requirements for the Region Convention 2011 Mini-Diorama Contest

The requirements for the Mini-Diorama Contest are simple and are listed below.  The idea for the Mini-Diorama Contest is to get people to build something.  Contestants will be able to win awards in both the Popular Vote Category and the corresponding Achievement Program Category.  For instance, if your diorama is a barn you could be judged in the Structures – Off Line Category. The contest is open to all NMRA members attending the 2011 Convention.  Look at this competition as not so much contest between you and others, but as a contest between you and yourself.  It is a great opportunity to work in a different scale or with scenery concepts you’ve never tried before.  Be creative!


1.  The diorama may be on any subject that the modeler may choose.  It would be nice if the chosen subject is railroad related or related to the theme of the convention, though that will not be a requirement.  You can build in any scale or gauge combination you choose.

2.  The area of the diorama can NOT be larger than 144 square inches.  There are no requirements for length or width as long as these two dimensions when multiplied together equal 144 or less.  As an extreme example: a diorama that is 1 inch wide and 144 inches long would qualify.

3.  There is no restriction on either height or depth.  Those two dimensions are dependent on what the modeler can transport.

Please bring your completed entry to the Contest Room at the start of the Convention.  Good luck!

Naturally I can't pass this opportunity up  Dioramas are fun to build and they let you play with scenery items you don't normally get to play with.  However, because I'm working on other projects and am the Convention Chairman, I'll have to do something quick.  With all the swamp work I've done I'm thing...Hebard Cypress.

I ran across a photo by Mal Ferrell in his book Argent: Last of the Swamp Rats.  It was a wood burning steam locomotive on a piling railroad in the swamp.  The loco had thrown it's hose overboard and was drinking water up from the swamp to fill it's tender tank.  It's a great scene and one that also occurred on the Hebard Cypress Company.

I've already got the pilings, crossties, and the cypress trees.  All I have to do is lay it out and put it together.  The swamp models of the Muskrat Ramble group continue to get rave reviews and I've got a seven year jump on them.  So why not?

Several years ago I gave a clinic on building dioramas.  While it was a beginner's hands on clinic it did give folks a chance to play with designing and building a diorama.  We'll use those same skills here and I may reprint the article on line.

First, let's outline the key elements:
1.  Swamp loco with tender - probably a 0-4-2T engine lettered for the real Hebard Cypress Co.
2.  Engineer and fireman who will add character to the scene.
3.  An alligator
4.  Large, scary, dreary cypress trees with knees, vines and Spanish moss.
5.  Piling trestle bridge across the diorama
6.  Swamp water, vegetation, etc
7.  Maybe a small fishing/hunting shack
8.  Leaning dead log with "cooters" or turtles
9.  Swamp sign
10. Cypress stumps

The story:

The best water in a swamp comes from a gator hole where it is deep, cool and clear.  The boys decided to fill up the One Spot's tank and take a drink for themselves.  The engineer lowers a bucket into the gator hole only to stir up trouble.  Maybe the gator has the bucket and the rope is in the hands of the engineer who is fighting to keep his balance on the trestle.

Diorama Layout:

I can see big trees on either side with the piling trestle just touching solid ground on either side.  The track is curved in a crescent moon shape.  The middle of the dog-bone shaped diorama is the scene with the loco, maybe one log car, and the two men fighting Old Grumpy, the gator.  Each square inch must be fully detailed with heavy swamp scenery.

Tomorrow I'll try to find my sketch pad and graphite and draw you up something.

It Lifts! It Separates!

Um, no, its not a Cross Your Heart Bra.  No, I don't wear them, either.  Welcome back from the holiday festivities.  I had my mother and brother here in Utah for their first white Christmas only to find that it snowed on Christmas in Atlanta for the first time since the 1800's.  Oh well.

 Its a peaceful Sunday and my wife and I are taking time off to play, which is quite rare.  Today I'm going to build a shelf over the #1 workbench so that my tool boxes are off the desk top. Right now they are pushed into the window area.  The "lift" will keep the drawers of the chests unblocked so they can be opened, while also opening up more work space on the bench.

 As you can see I'm still working to get the shop in the garage back in order.  At least all the tools are in one place.  A quick trip to the Home Depot to use a gift card (thanks, Mom!) and we're off.

 Using a 1x12 inch pine board I cut a 56" top shelf and one 12" support board.

 Here I have cut three support boards and the top shelf.

 The center support will need to be notched for the small 1x2 that I'm putting in the back to keep it straight.

 The first support is pre-drilled to prevent cracking and glued/screwed with 2" drywall screws.  It was checked carefully with a speed square to make sure it was square.

 Here we have the two end supports.  Not very hard to do.  Especially when you sweet wife sends the five year old out with some sandwiches and a soda.

 You can see the notch on the center board, which has now been installed.

 The "stringer" board will keep the supports upright and will prevent small parts from rolling off the table.

 Next, I cut some 1x2 stock to make mounting brackets for the desk.  I was going to use brass "L" brackets, but I like this idea better.  Since it is an old desk that I was going to throw out, I don't mind screwing the shelf into the top of the desk.

There!  The shelf has been mounted on the desk and the two tool boxes are now on top.  I've got a foot of room under the shelf for tools and the like.  I also drilled a half inch hole on one side of the shelf and mounted some extra light.  Can't have too much light, can you?

Ok, off to babysit.  We'll be back tomorrow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Projects - Sorting Out The Damage

I know this is going to be bad because my benchtop models were put in a moving box under two metal tool boxes full of pipe wrenches. I'm scared to see the damage.   

Since its the holidays there is no end of cheese and crackers laying around so I'll enjoy them with a big, cold glass of pomegranate juice.
 The first box contains Pier components and Dr. Bank's Office components.

 There is the main pier.  It looks pretty good.  A few post were knocked sideways and only one came off, so the damage is light.  We'll put that aside for repair.

 The foam pellets (not a good idea for packing) are stuck in the bents.  A good pair of tweezers gets them out without any more damage.

 All in all it came out pretty good.  The repairs won't take any time at all.

 The walls for Dr. Bank's Office are in great shape and are ready to be planked.

 The same for the roof trusses.  Perfect and without any warpage which is what I'd thought I'd see.
 Plans, NBW castings and jigs are all in good order!  Yeah! 

 I placed the long bridge plans under glass to protect them and to let them flatten out as they have developed a curve.

 All of the dimensional lumber is in great shape for Dr. Bank's Office.

 Ouch!  Ok the small pier got creamed a little bit.  This will take some work to straighten out.

 The main pier wall is perfectly ready to be completed.

 I'll put these on the construction bench to be reglued. I may need to fabricate more parts for the repair.  This time we'll mount them on the board and start finishing the model.

To project the delicate parts for Dr. Bank's Office I labeled a spare tub and put the parts in it.

Next the Pier.