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September 2017

MRR170901
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Features

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Build a layout in a weekend

Some model railroads require years of work before the first train ever runs. On the other hand, my new switching layout was started after dinner one Friday evening and hosted its first operating session that Sunday. I worked alone and didn’t rush or cut corners, but in just a few hours spread over three days, a pile of parts on a table became an operating model railroad.

“What’s your hurry?” you ask. Usually it’s more fun to relax and enjoy this marvelous hobby, but there are times, such as a fast-approaching open house, when you want quick results. In my case, I had dismantled my old layout and was suffering from Model Railroad Withdrawal Syndrome (MRWS). Whatever your reason, you can be making setouts and pickups on this little railroad in a couple evenings.

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How to model repaired hoppers

Open hoppers are often the most active cars on railroads, in constant motion from shipper to consignee and then back for the next load. This rigorous service leaves little time for repairs, and those that are made are done quickly, with more emphasis on a rapid return to service than aesthetics.

As a result, many cars carry a well-worn look that can last until the car is fully rebuilt or retired. Although our models are hardly subject to these conditions, we model these repairs to add interest to freight car fleets. A few repaired cars can help to break up the monotonous appearance a unit train often exudes.
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Model a trailer home scene

As I was designing my On30 South China & Sheepscot River RR, set in rural Maine during the 1950s, I knew I wanted to add a trailer home scene. When I came across MTH’s O scale stainless steel mobile home at a local hobby shop, I had the starting point for my project. Though the model is small compared to most prototypes, it’s similar in appearance to those that were found in Maine and throughout the United States for decades.

The story behind the scene is that the family’s patriarch, Gordon, is a World War II veteran going to school on the G.I. Bill. His father runs Hilton’s General Store in Strong, Maine. There was some empty land between the store and the railroad right-of-way, which Gordon’s dad made available for a living space.

The fictional history set the stage for the elements in the scene. The actual modeling was pretty simple.
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Re-enacting Rio Grande narrow gauge

For me, the narrow gauge gets in my blood. From the early days of westward expansion to the 1950s, little steam trains plied the rails of southwestern Colorado, hauling coal, lumber, ore, farm goods, and livestock. Combine this history with beautiful mountain scenery, and how could I not be captivated? My HOn3 (HO scale, 3-foot gauge), 1,400-square-foot Iron Gorge Subdivison models scenes along the narrow gauge lines of the Denver & Rio Grande Western and Rio Grande Southern, as well as a “little known” (aka mythical) connection between the two roads.

I don’t think of my model railroad as a layout. It’s a living, breathing depiction of the narrow gauge with the sights and sounds of mountains and streams, mines and mills, and steam locomotives rattling along the tracks. As work on my Iron Gorge Subdivision progresses, I think less about “layout operation” and more about re-enacting a trainman’s typical day.

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Add shadows to structures with paint

We’ve long complained about how flat indoor lighting is. Maybe we can do something about that without earning a degree in theatrical lighting. To that end, I experimented with simulating the strong shadows of a sunlit day on a structure and its surroundings without changing the otherwise excellent cool-white fluorescent lighting system in my train room.

Of course, it’s possible to produce strong shadows using point sources of light. But on a basement-size layout like mine, that simply isn’t practical for a variety of reasons. Unlike incandescent bulbs, fluorescent tubes don’t consume a lot of power or produce a lot of heat, and they’re cheaper than light-emitting diodes (LEDs) – so far, at least. And even the LED replacement “tubes” for existing fluorescent fixtures still produce flat lighting. So let’s explore a Plan B.

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Use natural soil and rocks in scenery

My Proto:48 (O fine scale) Colorado Midland Ry. layout is set between Leadville and Basalt, Colo., in 1897. Before starting construction on the model railroad, I made a research trip to the region to study the scenery. Beginning in Basalt, I found the ground cover was a little brown. Proceeding east, the colors changed to a dusky red, to deep brown approaching black, and finally to what appeared to be almost white rock.

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