FEF Crazy

Okay, I admit it, I have a problem – an addiction if you will. Not to model trains in general, or to electronic circuit design, or perfecting my layout scenery. No, my addiction is more acute than that. I am addicted to models of 4-8-4 Northerns. If O gauge model trains are a Schedule 1 Drug, then 4-8-4s are heroine. I’m not sure what the allure is to me, perhaps the symmetry, the size, or the fact that the real thing highlights the “pinnacle of steam” (I’d argue more so than the larger articulated brethren such as the Challengers, Big Boys, or Y6bs), but it’s most definitely my favorite steam locomotive arrangement.

My collection now has three 4-8-4s, with a fourth on order from the 2020v1 MTH catalog. Most recently, I added a second UP FEF (UP’s abbreviation for Four-Eight-Four), this one in they greyhound paint scheme used for UP passenger service. My first UP 4-8-4 (#844) is a model of the restored and currently in-service excursion locomotive, which wears the later all-black paint scheme which was primarily used for freight service.

Here’s a few photos of the 4-8-4s:

The newest addition, UP #811:

Brothers together (UP #844 on the left and UP #811 on the right):

UP #844:

ATSF #2921

Then the “Expecting” category is a N&W “J” from the latest MTH catalog:

Just like an addict, I am sure more will be added in the future – if I had a crystal ball, I’d say a C&O 4-8-4 Greenbrier…

Field Trip: Eric’s Trains (2019 reprise)

Fall marks the annual NMRA Piedmont Pilgrimage, a tour of Atlanta model train layouts. Lydia and I attended Eric Siegel‘s open house last year in 2018 and had a blast and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see the layout again. Eric is pretty famous in the O Gauge Model Railroading world, as he produces a popular YouTube series, which includes tips and tricks as well as reviews of the latest trains and accessories.

I didn’t have the opportunity to talk too much to Eric as he’s busy with his open house, but I did get to bask in a bit of his YouTube fame in the background of one of Eric’s live streams during the open house, which you can see here:

I took a few more pictures this year of the layout, to share as well as to gather ideas for our layout. Here’s a few of the photos:

As always, big thank you to Eric for his hospitality and his willingness to share his layout!

The Grass is Always Greener

We’ve continued our efforts in scenery in earnest this past weekend, where we focused on completing the upper level scenery with grass, trees, paths, roads, street lights, and a little camp fire.

The street lights and campfire were a bit more difficult to wire up than other accessories due to their location. I had already run power leads for the street lights (yellow and white) to under the upper platform, but I didn’t install the lamps at the time since I wanted to get scenery down first and I needed to come up with a creative way to keep the wire leads well up and away from the level one tracks (so trains going through the tunnels don’t snag the leads). I ended up solder the street lamps to the leads then using hot glue to “tack” the leads up against the underside of the second level, which keeps them well out of the way of the trains.

For the remaining scenery, we laid down ground cover (a mix of fine Woodland Scenics Fine Turf Green Grass, Earth, Yellow Grass, and some medium turf). We then ballasted the GarGraves track using Brennan’s Better Ballast. For both the Ballast and the ground cover, we used the technique of:

  1. Lay down a base of 50/50 water/Elmers glue with either a spray bottle or eye dropper
  2. Sprinkle/pour turf or ballast
  3. Use “wet water” (50/50 mix of isopropyl alcohol and water) on top of the turf or ballast to break the surface tension
  4. Additional layer of 50/50 water/Elmer’s glue to “lock in” the materials

For trees, we drilled small holes in the table top and “planted” the trunks of the trees in to the holes. We still need to glue down the figures, I haven’t decided what glue I want to use for them just yet – hot glue is too “stringy,” gorilla glue gel is too permanent, so I may pick up a bottle of Woodland Scenics “scenic cement” instead.

Lastly, I finally glued in the far retaining wall in place and was able to then finish the BridgeBoss supports under the track by simply gluing the ends to the wall itself:

Here are a few glamor shots of the work:

Next up, we need to add additional figures by the camp fire scene – we’re currently playing with some ideas on how we want to make a tent/etc for that so stay tuned. We also need to add in road signs and some additional little details, but the top level is pretty much “done” for now!

Gone Fishin’

We completed our “murky pond” scene this past weekend, complete with fly fisherman. We used Woodland Scenics Deep Pour Murky for our water and are pretty happy with the results:

We followed the Woodland Scenics instructions to a T in terms of mixing and pouring the resin. We ended up with some very small bubbles in the resin but opted not to use the heat gun to try and clear them since we had essentially poured the resin to the “rim” since we wanted a well defined “lapping” of the water on the banks. Honestly the bubbles add a bit of texture and depth to the water and aren’t really noticeable from a distance.

Our only regret is not having made the pond bigger and also trying to integrate a stream/waterfall. We still have plenty of “undeveloped” territory on the layout so we may take a crack at making a river on the main level!

Modern Passenger Pulling Power and Scenery

New passenger motive power has been procured! I stumbled across an MTH Premier Amtrak Dash-8 (P32-8BWH) on eBay and was smitten with the Phase V paint scheme.  Also being a sucker for 90s motive power, I had to pull the trigger and I can say I’m very happy with the new addition:

The Phase V paint scheme matches the Phase IV Amfleet cars as well as the recently picked up Phase V baggage car.  While the Dash-8 from MTH may not be entirely scale (It looks like they used an earlier shell mold and trucks) it’s close enough for Slottown!

As for scenery, we’ve finally tackled our small pond project on the upper level – We cut out the pond shape using a rotary cutting saw and used liquid nails to glue on a 1/4″ bottom.  We then used spackle to build up the banks of the pond, then painted the bottom brown and added both commercial and natural ground cover. A short scavenge around the yard turned up a few twigs that match the scale (although fear not should you live in a baren wasteland with no vegetation, you can always buy your sticks from woodland scenics)  Next up, we’ll be pouring in the Woodland Scenics Deep Pour Murky Water solution to give the pond a realistic “Murky” water look and finally our fisherman will have a body of water to snag some trout:

A taste of Chicago

Deep dish pizza, the Cubs, and Metra – is there anything more Chicago than that? After years of hunting for a Metra F40PH to add to my collection and reminisce seeing the real thing for the few years of my childhood in Naperville, MTH offered a new PS3 Railking version in their 2019 Volume 1 catalog. Upon seeing it in the catalog, I quickly put in my pre-order to Legacy Station back in October of 2018. It arrived this week and I quickly headed over to Legacy Station to pick it up.

I’m super happy with the locomotive – the sounds and lights are great, and the fake Chicago accent PFA announcements is pretty great!

It’s interesting to see the new Railking version next to a PS2 Premier version – the shells are sized almost identically but there’s definitely a number of add-on details on the premier version that the Railking version is lacking (as expected) – notably:

– See-through radiator screens and spinning fans
– Windshield wipers
– Marker Lights
– Add-on steps
– Nose ladder hand rails

Foto Friday

With our vacation to France, and addition of Mr. Hobart to our family, we haven’t had a ton of time to work on the layout.  Here’s a few photos documenting what we’ve been up to:

Mr. Hobart himself:

While Hobart is certainly a very sweet boy, he is nonetheless a puppy and one of his favorite activities is to abscond under the train table and look for things to chew on.  As a result, I’ve had to block access under the table.  Initially this was done with boxes and plastic container lids, but when I had time the other week, I built another “mini” shelf to block off the corner.  Conveniently, the width of shelf fits Premier 18″ passenger cars perfectly:

For the small gaps, my plan is to use some spare plywood and either stain or paint it – I’m also considering small skirts, but I’m not sure that will deter the little terror from going under the layout.

After a meltdown (literally), I had to ship back my GP38-2 back to MTH for repair – it’s unclear what happened, but while on the track and powered up, the locomotive sounds started up on their own (despite being on a DCS-enabled track), then began distorting, then for the finale, a bit of acrid smoke leached out, and the locomotive shorted.  It took a few months, but the locomotive has been returned to operation and is working better than ever:

I’m still running the UP excursion train on the main 1 – I have a UP RPO car waiting for me at Legacy Station, I just haven’t had time to drop by to pick it up.

Lydia desperately wanted the Woodland Scenics post office, so we picked one up at Legacy Station and I got the buildings on the second level wired up – next up I need to wire up the street lamps

My modus operandi is to typically check eBay once a week for anything interesting that pops up – being a sucker for tunnel motors, an MTH Premier UP SD40T-2 caught my eye.  A little silly, as I already had a Lionel UP SD40T-2 that I picked up at a train show a couple of years back, but I was too tempted with MTH’s version and the fact it had PS3.  I ended up winning the auction and am very pleased with the locomotive. After mulling it over, I decided to sell the Lionel SD40T-2 on eBay. I didn’t quite make my money back, but it helped offset the cost of the new MTH version:

Side-by-side – Lionel in the foreground, MTH in the background

After having taken the Amtrak Crescent from Atlanta to NYC twice, I’ve been wanting to model the train we took up – unfortunately no O gauge manufacturers make Viewliners, which is what we rode in. MTH has however made Amfleet cars a number of times, so I picked up a set I had found on eBay, along with a modern Amtrak Mail car from trainz.com:

In June, the missus and I took a trip to Belgium and France with some friends and we had the opportunity to ride a variety of TGVs – we really enjoyed the experience, it’s absolutely the best way to get around France! It’s quite a contrast to our experience on the Amtrak crescent – in France we averaged 280km/h (173mph), whereas on the Crescent, we averaged 64km/h (40mph).

Thalys at Brussels Midi:

TGV Duplex and TGV Sud-East at Gare de l’Est in Paris:

I would LOVE an O gauge model of a TGV – I’m keeping a close eye on MTH‘s European lineup, but I don’t have my hopes high. I may use it as an opportunity to get into N-Scale (I’ve been toying with the idea of a coffee table layout), as Kato makes a number of versions. Additionally, Kato also makes the Amtrak viewliner passenger cars, which are super tempting!

UP Excursion Train

We’ve been making considerable progress on the layout recently, including adding key infrastructure and utilities.  Slottown now has concrete sidewalks downtown, asphalt/bitumen roads, power to buildings, street lights, traffic lights, and crossing signals. While we plan on posting a more thorough update soon, for now here’s a short video showing a Union Pacific Excursion train featuring UP #844 FEF Northern, just like what was run recently in honor of the 150 year anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad (minus #4014 Big Boy since I don’t have one in my collection (yet)):

Making Messes

True scenery has begun! After lots of hemming and hawing (mostly on my part), we masked off the track and table and set to work laying down hard shell on top of the cardboard lattice sub-structure using hydrocal and paper towels (we used the blue shop towels since they are more absorbent and stronger, without dimples). It was about as messy as you’d expect but we masked well and covered all of the rails.  After letting the hydrocal hardshell setup, we then proceeded to apply a number of paint washes using black tempura powder paint, Woodland Scenics stone grey, and Woodland Scenics brown.  We opted for more grey than brown to simulate exposed stone, using our local Stone Mountain and Appalachians as our inspiration (although we know the geographic origins of the two mountain types are very different) – the idea that since our mountain is relatively small, it’s been mostly eroded away down to stone.  All told, we probably did four washes with the stone grey and three with brown

After letting the washes dry, we proceeded to apply ground cover. We mixed a 50/50 mix of Elmer’s glue and water, then starting with Woodland Scenics fine ground covers (earth, green grass, and burnt grass).  We then applied a wetting agent (water with a few drops of dish soap), then applied another top layer of the 50/50 mix of glue and water.  We repeated the procedure with some course ground cover again.

Hat tip to Eric Siegel and his YouTube series, where we used his “Building O Scale Mountains” for our washes and scenery

Next up, we will likely add some small trees to the mountain, lay down our roads, then start laying down additional ground cover on the homasote.  We also need to cut out footprints for a few of the buildings that have too-tall of bases (MTH gas station, bank, and train store).

For now, we’re just happy to be able to run trains again since all of the masking tape and plastic precluded us running trains for a little over a month.

Mountain Weaving

We’ve made some progress over the past couple of weeks working on Slottown – in large part due to having a bit of time off work for the holidays, as well as having some cold, wet weather, layout building and train running has been high on the agenda.

First up, I built some display shelves to line the layout and store unused rolling stock and locomotives.  This was my first attempt at building proper display shelving and I had quite a bit of assistance from a fellow model railroader, Shop 13. He was kind enough to lend me his tools, time, and most importantly, his expertise to help me build my display cases. We sourced our wood from the local big box store, where the frames are made from 1x5x8 pine, the shelves out of 1x4x8 pine, and the rear backing using 1/4″ thick sanded plywood.

We used a table saw to cut two 1/8″ thick grooves 1/4″ apart on each 1×5, which will eventually be the “tracks” for clear acrylic sheets that will slide back and forth as transparent doors.  We then used his mitre saw to cut each piece to length, then finally we used his Kreg system to create pocket screws to better conceal the screws and ensure 90 degree joins.

I brought all of the cut wood home, then stained it using my favorite stain, then painted the plywood backing white on one side.  I still have yet to order the acrylic sheets for the doors, but the shelves are in-place and being put to good use:

After my BNSF trip for work (see previous post) I was inspired to add some more BN/SF/BNSF rolling stock to the collection. My local hobby shop just happened to have a new MTH Premier BN GP38-2 on the shelf, for which I was smitten. I’ve brought it home and have been enjoying running it, however there appears to be some kinks with the DCS and protosound board.  I’ve been troubleshooting it using factory and feature resets, for now it’s running well but I’m keeping a close eye on it:

Lastly, we’ve finally dived in on our mountain/tunnel project, where I’ve built a 3rd level platform and ridge line out of wood, which we then used to anchor a cardboard weave, soon to be covered with plaster cloth hardshell.  While I completed the wood support aspect, Lydia was the primary geologist who created the cardboard weave.  We’re aiming to apply the hardshell this or the following weekend:

We also took a stab at creating custom tunnel portals using hydrocal plaster and foam molds. The results are mixed – the good news is we’ve cast them to the width and height clearances we needed, the bad news is the plaster still needs to be etched and painted, which is a fair bit of (messy) work