Right On the Button

In my last post regarding the saga of the part of many attempts, I mentioned my intent to try an “old school” technique for rounding off the ends of the part. The obvious approach would be to center up the part on the rotary table and mill the ends. This has challenges. The small size of the part makes any error in centering very obvious, holding on to the part while still getting in there with an end mill is tricky, and so on.

I was especially leery of messing things up at the final stage for what is a cosmetic feature so I elected to go with hand filing. I am no master of the file so just marking out the curves and having at it was not going to produce a satisfactory result. Enter the filing button. Filing buttons are a form of filing guide that provides something to file up to centered on a hole. Other filing guides can be used for more elaborate repetitive shapes but all I needed was a circle. One usually makes the guide out of a harder material so that the workpiece goes well before the edge of the guide.

I made a pair of buttons out of O-1 drill rod since that is much harder than brass. I could have heat treated the results to get something that the file could not scratch but this is a one shot use and I wanted to avoid extra wear on my file. I made a pair with matching center and hole so that I could clamp the forks of the workpiece in the vise and not bend things.

After dropping and finding the button parts several times, it was just a matter of filing away all the bits that didn’t look like a rounded end. It probably took me three times as long to make the buttons as it did to use them but I found it relaxing to use files because there was little to no chance of a catastrophe. I am pleased with the end product and even enjoyed making it. Onward (finally) to the next part!

This is Going To Take a Bit

I was inspired earlier in the week to start in on a(nother) project, converting an ancient, original center drive Weaver RS-3 to Proto:48. While Comstock Road can only plausibly host one locomotive at a time, having a backup is something I want both in case of unexpected issues and so that I can still push cars around while re-detailing one to proper CNR outline. Thus, I picked up a consignment Weaver RS-3 with drive issues and ordered the drop in conversion axles from NWSL. There it sat for a couple of years.

For a change of pace from machining type model building, I took up the project again expecting to have the swap done in an hour. Here are the two axle types for comparison.

You can see the first gearbox already converted in the background. It was non-trivial only in the sense that the little nut and bolt sets holding the gearbox together were very stubborn. I foresee a purchase of precision nut drivers in my future because getting a good grip on the nuts with the end of my needle nose pliers was challenging.

Sadly, my quick project was not to be. I got the second axle of the first truck done and reassembled the truck. I quickly discovered that the new axles which are supposed to fit into the holes in the sideframes which bear the weight of the model were too short. A bit of internet searching later turned up reports of others with similar issues. It appears that a packaging/labelling error is too blame. Being way past a reasonable return date, I elected to go with another solution.

The alternate solution is to narrow the bolsters and cut new notches in the tabs on the sideframes that clip into the bolsters. Not for the faint of heart but not undoable. The upside of this approach is that the sideframes are brought in to closer to scale width. The downside is that this is a one way trip whereas the drop-in would be reversible. (Proto:48 locos have a much smaller market than O 2-rail.)

I considered making the modifications with my mill but I have no experience in machining plastic and did not want to risk melting or shattering something that is hard to replace. I settled on a combination of jewelers saw, x-acto knife and files. The initial effort before life intervened is a qualified success. I need to tweak the notch but otherwise I can believe that I can do this. We shall see.

If it all goes pear shaped, I plan to mill a replacement bolster out of brass or aluminum. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary but knowing that I have a backup plan gave me the confidence to dive in and start hacking away.

Weekend Reading: The Pennsylvania A3 Switcher by Kozo Hiraoka

I know it’s Wednesday. I am retired so every day is the weekend. 🙂 I received a most wonderous package yesterday in the form of the 5 book set of Kozo Hiraoka’s live steam locomotive construction books. In a triumph of common sense over ambition, I am at least reading the begginer targeted book before I dive into the ones for two different Shays, a Climax and a Heisler.

If you have more than a passing acquaintance with the live steam railway hobby or Live Steam magazine, you already know about Kozo. He has been authoring wonderfully explained and illustrated construction articles for decades. These books are hardcover roundups of five construction series. I am only about 30 pages in but I have already learned a few things. There is lots of photos and drawings with step by step instructions clearly matched to those photos and drawings. When I briefly thought some pages were missing they turned out to be on one side of a fold out drawing. These are very well done books.

The details are awesome in this book. So far, the only purchased items other than metal stock is a few screws. It even includes instructions for winding your own springs for the trucks. Even if I never do this project, I now know how to make springs!

Sieve Experiments

My soil sieve arrived unexpectedly early so I took advantage of the sunny weather to experiment outside and see what I could come up with. I started with some of the contents of a leftover bag of limestone screenings with thoughts of producing my own ballast. (When it’s not cinders, ballast in southern Ontario is usually limestone.)

The sieve came with three different meshes: 1mm, 3mm, and 5 mm. 1mm is about 2 O scale inches so about right for ballast. Or that was the theory, anyway. What I failed to account for was all the smaller bits and outright dust that also passes through that mesh. What I got was good “dirt” material but not ballast.

I then hunted around the house for something with a finer mesh. I was partially successful in that I found a bit of plastic screening but it looks to be about the same as the 1mm. I tried sandwhiching it between two of the screens and did get some “ballast”. I think it looks darn good but the amount produces is such a low ratio to the total material processed that I could not reasonably produce enough to do even a small layout such as Comstock Road.

Not to be discourages, I decided to use the “dirt” as a first texture layer on the foreground test scene. It is undeniably an improvement over brown paint.

Next I need to round up a suitable brush for stippling on glue and shoot some grass on this thing.

Foreground Staging: Useful Scenery Practice

I have been sporadically putting in the foam scenery base of Comstock Road but with no sense of urgency. I think that part of that lack of drive is due to a bit of uncertainty about the next steps. I know what they are, more or less, but have not done some of them in a long time (mixed Sculptamold in various consistencies and configurations) or ever (applied static grass). What I need is a practice project with low investment, material or emotional.

Coincidentally, I have been using my scheduled reading time to catch up on my pile of partially read model magazines and came across the perfect project concept. In the November 2020 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, George Dutka presents the idea of foreground staging. This is a small, simple, scenicked diorama used to provide foreground in layout photography and hide the front fascia. It also provides a way to temporarily deploy structures that don’t otherwise have a home. (If you are familiar with George’s work, you will know that he probably has an extra structure or two about the place. 🙂 )

Given the narrow depth and close to the edge track locations of Comstock Road, some foreground staging is something I can definitely use. The entire scene in front of the traverser will only be about 6″ deep. The diorama is inherently expendable and quick. So I am off! I have gotten as far as the “paint the Sculptamold” phase but am stalled a bit on some materials.

I am assembling appropriate ground textures from local sources, a process much slowed by the current Toronto area lockdown but not impossible. Hopefully, once I get ahold of some suitable sieves I can get this done. With curbside pickup and online shopping only, I can’t stroll the housewares aisles looking at the size of the meshes in the strainers so I have resorted to the online retailing behemoth for a set of soil sieves. Now we wait. And collect and dry used tea bags. By the time I get this done, I should have shaken out all the bugs in a basic scenery system.

As a thoroughly unimpressive illustration of the concept, here is what the aforementioned foreground track looks like with and without my work-in-progress foreground bit held in front of it.

Including of a structure to frame an edge will require a steadier setup than board held in left hand and phone in right. George recommends accumulating a suitable stack of boxes.

About That Foam Scenery

During some of my scheduled shop time, I have been working towards getting all of the spaces between the tracks filled in with foam. The first priority to is relieve my anxiety about any derailments involving rolling stock making a fast trip to the concrete. Nothing even close to that has happened and I am generally well pleased with operational performance so far but it is still something I worry about.

Getting all those non regular shapes cut and fitted is time consuming and got me thinking about what I might do differently next time. I haven’t really settled on anything but I did want to share what I have learned about this approach. Queue the list.

  • Retrofitting foam is fiddly and time consuming. No matter what methodyou chose it will take time and probably involve a mess somewhere.
  • I have tried tracing the shapes onto the underside of the foam from below. This is awkward and not as accurate as I hoped. I always have to trim things down.
  • I have tried “routing” the shapes by tracing the edges from above using hot wire tools. This produces closer shape matches but has the various drawbacks of hot wire tools. Ironically, the Hot Wire Foam Factory router tool doesn’t work as well as the “knife” tool. The router is too short and too thick.
  • Foam board aka extruded polystyrene rigid insulation is very slow to cut with hot wire tools. The Hot Wire demo videos all depict white foam “bead board” and are clearly the intended material. I will consider using that instead for future projects if I don’t need the structural feature of the rigid foam.
  • Polyurethane glue works a treat but squeezing the bottle (LePage 200ml) for long beads is hard on the hands. I have resorted to using a quick grip clamp as a squeezer.
  • T-pins are great for holding foam bits together while the glue cures. T-pin use number eleventy-one.
  • Fumes from hot wire foam cutting are unpleasant. duh.
  • Getting the pictured foam in along the back edge strongly validates the removable backdrop design. It would be a real bother to do from the front.
  • Ditto having the layout lighting working.
  • Glue instructions say to dampen surfaces prior. Choose a stable container for your water supply. Just sayin’…

I expect to have everything roughed in sometime next week and will probably roll straight into some final contouring with additional layers of foam and sundry coatings. I have a jar of Foamcoat I intend to try out in addition to the traditional Sculptamold.

Designing a Roller Gauge

I have a request from a fellow Proto:48 modeler for some roller gauges. These handy things are just the ticket for handlaying track and, as far as I can tell, not something you can get for Proto:48. (There are commercially available gauges for most of the regular track standards) While I am not prepared to make lots of gauges on my entirely manual Myford lathe (You would want a CNC machine to do this commercially) I am not averse to knocking out a couple. Once I finished my Milling About and rearranging the shop…

Milling trials having been concluded (more on that later) and shop having been rearranged including new task lighting and a shelf over the lathe, I am ready to actually make something which leads us to objective of this post.

The relevant dimension of the target rail is the width of the rail’s head since that is the part the gauge has to fit over. The measurement reported for ME code 125 is 0.056″. The rest of the numbers needed come from the NMRA trackwork standard for Proto and Fine Scales S3.1. From the Proto:48 line we get a gauge range of 1.177-1.203, a flangeway width of .036-.039, and a minimum flange depth of .026.

From those numbers, we work down to something I can aim for on the lathe. I say aim because I can miss a dimension by a couple of thou and still get working gauge. A couple of thou is a long way in machining(famous last words).

  • The desired target gauge is the middle of the standard so 1.190.
  • We want the gauge to fit through minimum flangeways so .036 wide and .026 deep.
  • We want the gauge to be accurate without being difficult to fit on the rail or roll along it. This suggests a loose running fit (had to look that term up) so I will add .003 to each slot to get .059. As a check, 1.196 is well within the standard’s maximum allowable gauge of 1.203.

Here is a very low tech sketch of the planned work:

Proto:48 roller gauge for ME code 125.

What Colour Is The Sky?

It turns out that this is not a settled question, even in the real world. Local conditions can affect things enough that opinions will vary by geography, never mind personal perceptions. It also turns out that the Behr Android phone app and I have vastly different perceptions of what that sky blue colour is…

Long story short, I rashly tried once again to match a colour photographed under natural light with the app and did not get satisfactory results. My phone shows a nice sky blue and the paint is downright purple. Even with some added white it is never going to do except for perhaps as a participant in a spectacular western desert sunset.

I ended up finding an online discussion of sky paint colours and, for the record, went with somebody else’s light sky blue: Behr Serene Sky 540C-2. The failed match was Periwinkle P540-4. Interestingly, one of the reported sky colours in the found discussion was a periwinkle although not this one. No photo of the result as far as I could tell so who knows. I will stick to the pale white-ish blue suggesting a hazy summer day.

Here is the colour on first application with the failed contestant represented on the stir stick. You can see the some of the problem because even the sky blue looks purplish which is not representative of the in-person view at all. More photographic experience and fooling with lighting is indicated.

Another Take on Virtual Gatherings: The Hindsight 20/20 Virtual RPM

This last Saturday I “attended” my first Railroad Prototype Modelers meet all from the social isolation of my comfy chair. Organized by Ted Culotta of Speedwitch Media, Ryan Mendell of National Scale Car and Hunter Hughson, modeller of Penn Central’s Niagara Branch, this eight hour virtual meet was attended by roughly 170 modelers from all across North America and probably beyond.

I have not managed to attend an RPM in the past since the local one always seems to be a calendar conflict for me and I prefer to use my rare travelling attendance on meets with a wider scope. I decided to attend this one largely because it required no travel, no cost and Ryan and Hunter are two of the attendees for Train Night in Canada. My attendance was amply rewarded as I did come away with a number of useful ideas and learned some interesting prototype information that might be useful some day.

I listened to a number of excellent presentations on an assortment of specific prototype modeling topics. The speakers were all excellent although there was the odd technical hiccup as we have all come to expect in this era. Glitches were eventually overcome and all the presentations got delivered. For general historical interest, I particularly enjoyed Roger Chrysler’s  talk on  Lidgerwood and Hart cars. This was a system for bulk unloading of aggregate for ballasting and filling trestles. Picture a winch car at one end of a train pulling a plow the length of the train to push the load out the side doors. I had no idea such a system existed.

For specific usefulness, Jered Slusser’s presentation on USRE 40′ was definitely the winner. Most of my current boxcar fleet are variations on the old Intermountain 1937 AAR 40′ boxcar kit now carried by Atlas as ready-to-run. These would have fit the previous effort, based in the late 1940’s well but would be getting implausibly long in the tooth and rare in the mid 1970’s. Unless they were rebuilt! And now they shall be! Eventually….

The organizers are planning additional instances of their virtual RPM format in the future. If this is something you might be interested in, watching Speedwitch Media’s blog would be the best way to find out in a timely manner.

Back on the Bus

IMG_20200523_215448698One of the non-layout related projects I have started is a David Provan etched brass kit of a Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes railbus. I had always wanted to have a go at a UK etched kit and an On30 North American outline vehicle gives me something more than a display model. (Or at least to the same extent as the rest of my currently un-layouted On30 rolling stock!)

With the recent acquisition of a resistance soldering unit and an increase in time for model building, I decided to have another go. I got stuck back in during our usual Train Night in Canada video call. It was easy to find the project in progress since it resides in one of my storage boxes. Remembering where I was at and what I had worked out about the pieces on the frets is still in progress. Nevertheless, I did get the next bit on although I used my digital iron since the joint wasn’t amenable to soldering tweezers and I haven’t worked out a satisfactory method of grounding for use with the probe.

The only downside of this sort of project during a video call is that it requires focus. I missed some of what others were showing to the camera. I need a call specific project like applying shingles. The modelling equivalent of knitting as it were.