Foliage is a Scenery Superstar

I love the Foliage mats (or sheets) from Noch, Busch and others.  Here's a couple of shots showing the new elevated section on the North Side of the layout (replacing the old elevated Kato Double Viaduct with super-elevated curves at 'grade' with the city)...


I covered this hillside with Noch 7408 "Nature & Pasture".  Beautiful results (well, ignore the ballast mess at the edges!)!  And it was so easy to apply....I used my standard method of white glue mixed with a bit of Mars Black acrylic paint, this creates a nice 'grey' color baser for the foliage to stick to (more here).  I used two sheets for this hillside, and while this material is NOT cheap on a 'cost per square inch' basis (compared to the normal stock at hobby shops), and the fact that this 'hill' is in a very prominent area of the layout, I could afford to go 'high end' in this area!. 

Very easy to work with as well, just cut the sheet to fit the area with normal scissors.  The seams between the two sheets are almost impossible to find.  When the foliage is sitting in the wet glue/paint mixture, all it takes is a little 'massaging' and the two seams sort of 'blend' into each other.

I have another sheet of this that is a bit more 'wild' than the pasture look I used on the hillside, not sure where I'll be putting this just yet, but I'll find a spot!  You can tell what this stuff looks like in the below package (I've always found both catalogs and online shops somewhat unclear about this) next to the newly landscaped 'hillside'!


Locomotive Size Comparisons

Just for fun I set up a diverse set of locomotives from a couple of different countries, manufacturers and eras.  The reason I did this was to get a sense of the relative size of each of these locomotives (kind of similar as what I did with buildings several months ago).  The Above photo shows, from left to right:
  • A Fleischmann Class 64 tender engine (German; 1:160)
  • A Kato DF 200 Diesel (Japanese; 1:150)
  • A Minitrix CC 72000 Diesel (French; 1:160)
  • A Minitrix Class 47 Diesel (UK; 1:144?)
  • A Minitrix U30CG Diesel (US; 1:160)
So the above picture should have locomotives in three different scales (at least I think the Class 47 is 1:144, which is the English standard for N Scale, although its unclear to me if Minitrix was making these models in that scale while they were still producing British outline locomotives.  Which again shows you that Americans and the English have more than just a common language separating us! :-) ).

So I attempted to collect the prototypical height of each of these locomotives to see how they compare in their N Scale versions.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find this information for the Class 64 and SNCF dieselUPDATE!  Thanks to La Saucisse, I now have the height of the SNCF diesel, which changes the below conclusions.

Take a look at the 'head on' photo below and see what you think of the relative sizes in the photo with their prototype height:

 I was actually quite surprised that the old (1970's vintage) Minitrix U30CG wasn't as 'over-sized' as I expected- because next to everything else it sure looks HUGE!  Part of my test was to see just how 'bad' some of the scaling was done back in the early days of N Scale.  According to my eye (which is most important to me, which is why you don't see an actual measurement of the above locomotives), the BN U30CG locomotive looks about right compared to both the BR Class 47 and DF200.  Which is interesting is that both of those locomotives should be proportionally larger than their actual prototype (and I would have expected them to be much closer in size to the BN U30CG locomotive) but they all seem to look...okay.

Of course, what I'm most curious about is how the SNCF 72000 and BR64 compare.  These are the only other "1:160" models and sort of act as controls for this little comparison. UPDATE!  As is now apparent in the above photo (and wasn't prior to getting the height data for the SNCF diesel) is that both the JRF DF200 and the BR Class 47 are over-sized compared to the 1:160 SNCF 72000, which would be appropriate given the relative scales of Japan (1:150) and the UK (1:144).

So...what's the point of this post? First, US locomotives are, as you occasionally hear, really big compared to European and Japanese cousins.  Second, while I'm certainly not a member of the Legion of Prototypical Diligence, I am a little more particular about the relative size of the trains (and buildings) and want them to all look like they could be in the same 'world' (even if that world never did and never will exist).

Other than that, if anyone knows how high the prototypes are for the two missing locomotives, I would like to update this post with that information and see if it changes my initial thoughts.

A couple of more comments.  I love the Minitrix U30CG.  I think Minitrix painted this diesel in the paint schemes for about 5 or 6 different railways, even though only the Sante Fe ever had them.  Additionally, they were failures as passenger locomotives (not surprising given the 'quality' of most American industry in the 1960's and 70's).  This sort of 'creative license' by manufacturers is something that we hardly see any more (it seems like it used to be quite common).  I find this curious, and probably one of the side effects of the greater detail and accuracy of N Scale in the past decade or so.  What is still fascinating to me is that despite this, locomotives like the U30CG are still in decent demand on sites like eBay given all their clear 'flaws' or errors.  Makes you wonder.


Bridge to Nowhere...DONE!

A bridge to nowhere (for now!) is complete!  This is primarily an auto bridge that extends from the 'south side' of my city, across a depression, to an as-yet-to-be decided area.

This was a critical part of the tram line....now there really is a destination outside the city for the little people to visit!

The construction was fairly simple....Atlas flex track forms the core of the bridge, with two 1 3/4 or 45mm pieces of sintra attached to the outer edges of the sleepers/ties (regular styrene would work just as well).  This gets a color of the same paint that I used for my city streets.  The sidewalks are just pieces of styrene, however, I did score them with a knife to give a more realistic look, and then applied some weathering to make the scoring stand out more (I used the same method as I describe in the video in this post.  Its very easy and looks great!).

After thinking about several methods, I ended up masking out the yellow lines for the street markings.  This method worked pretty well, despite the masking tape taking a little of the gray paint off the plastic base.  I will be working on adding this to the rest of the city, which will be much more complicated!

The 'guard rails' on the sides are really the key element.  These are from the Kato 23-213 guard rails and road fences.  While it was always obvious where the guard rails could go, the road fences had a distinctive design to them that I wasn't sure about....but they sure did come in handy for this bridge!  They were attached by drilling very small holes with my Dremel and then inserted and glued into the holes!

The lights are from my favorite manufacturer for street lights...Viessmann.  While they are incandescent and not the far more reliable LED's I'd prefer, I'm not aware yet of any good looking, 'warm white' LED street lights in N Scale yet.  And yes, in the above photo you can see that (finally!) I am able to start putting buildings back on the layout after this very long revision to my layout!

So this is what's been keeping my busy (well....that, and a little house-keeping on the blog, which was starting too look a bit too cluttered for my test and was due for an overhaul. I hope you like the new look!).


Short Tram Line Test Video

I took some quick shots of the new tram line in operation!  The trolley is Modemo NT87, which is a model of the Keifuku Dentetsu Mobo Tupe 101 "Yuko Go".

The layout is quite bare, but I was able to set up and power the one city block that I have completed.  A lot more detail to go into those vast empty spaces you see in this video!  I wanted to do this so that after its complete I should have some interesting 'before' and 'after' video!

By the way, the tram line is a combination of Tomix Finetrack (mainly for their tight 103 and 104mm radius curves and matching Tram street detail pieces), Minitrix (for the turnout and terminal spurs) and Atlas Flex track (for the long straight section where I needed a slight bend).


Future Building Projects

As my city begins to take shape, I've discovered I might not have enough room for everything, but I still have several buildings and structures yet to be completed and make their debut on the layout.  In addition to my procrastination and delay with my attempt at my second skyscraper scratchbuild, I've also picked up a lot of kits, both old and out of production, as well as new, that will house the residents of Quinntopia.  I thought it might be interesting to share some of these if for no other reason that its interesting to see some of the building options out there.

Although this building from Heljan is advertised as HO, only the ground floor is really HO, with all of the upper floors more appropriate for N Scale people.  Strange, but not unsurprising given the somewhat liberal interpretation of 'scale' often found in model buildings.
Next up are a bunch of classically kitschy bunch of boxes from the fine folks at Faller.  First up is Faller 2291, which is a 'boutique' with apartments on the top level.  As it is, I'll probably hold off putting this one together until I can find another one like it to give it some extra height versus the existing 4 floors.  I do admit, I really love the 1960's style 'boutique' lettering that make up this buildings marquee.
I picked up this nicely modern looking building about 6 months ago, but once I recieved it, it seemed more appropraite for Z scale than N!  The floors are just way too short to look good sitting next to other N scale structures.  I like its general appearance, and I plan to give each floor a little more height by replacing the 'blue' sections with higher sections of styrene.  As I picked up the first one pre-built, I wasn't even sure as to its manufacturer, but came across this unbuilt kit of the Faller 2293 so that now I'll be able to give this building several more stories as well, which should look pretty sharp:
Speaking of 'doubling-up' buildings to add more height, I also now have 2 unbuilt "Columbia Hotels' from Faller (2294) which will be interesting with the right lighting and a fresh paint job....

One of the unbuilt kits I'm most excited about putting together is the Faller B-905 high rise...they just don't make them like this anymore!  It looks great on the box, and the built examples of it I've seen from other modellers look really good.
And just to show that not everything this big is out of production, a building that they apparantly do still make, are these Skynet/Aoshima apartment buildings from Japan.  I was amazed at just how big the boxes are that they come in and, in a case of possible overkill, I ordered 2 boxes of these, which could mean for some very high apartments in Quinntopia!

Another building that is apparantly an older kit now back in production (although seemingly impossible to find) is this Kibri 7120.  I'm debating on whether or not its 'high' enough or if I should hold out for a second kit to give it some more height.

Some future kit bash/ modifications include taking this already built (again, another building picked up for cheap on ye olde eBay) modern German train station, and combining that with my Kato Overhead train station.  While I like the Kato Overhead station, the 'entrance' (just a couple of covered stairways) was somewhat underwhelming (although I expect entirely prototypical of these types of stations in Japan) and the combination of this modern station with the Kato overhead might actually be quite cool. 

A couple of more buildings that I am thinking of 'combining' are these two.  I don't know the catalog numbers, but its almost possible with some trimming to make the large building the 'top half' of the shorter shops building.  In this way, I bring to the people of Quinntopia even more retail space and living room at the same time!

For the time being, that's my list of building projects, which will be fun and keep me busy at the workbench for a while!  Seriously, some day I will get back to running trains!!!! 

I should also send out a huge thanks to "Scaper" whose been giving me a lot of great tips on where to find these buildings on eBay! 

UPDATE - A late arrival from Germany....
This is an interesting kit, and a very retro-looking cafe with a definite unique look!  I came across this on eBay without any knowledge of Herpa's history of making N scale structures.  So here is a Herpa B605.   From the package design, this looks like it was 1960's era.  Quite cool, not sure if I even want to build it if these things are as rare as they seem to be!


Final stage of Tram Line Construction

With the tram line almost complete, at least in the city center, I can now finally start to plan out my urban grid!  The above photo conceptualizes what I think I'm going to end up with, and I think its going to be pretty good.  

The plastic sheeting was used to cover and protect the rest of the layout from the paint that I sprayed on the sintra/streets.  I ended up using spray paint from the hardware/home improvement store for the street as my original plan was to use my airbrush for this part of the job was foiled by either bad paint or a bad compressor.

While this was very frustrating, I like the color of the end result.  I used a very dark grey, nearly black, automotive primer that was almost the perfect color of black asphalt.  I then sprayed over this with some refer grey to give some lighter highlights, and then sprayed over everything with a coat of flat clear paint.  The last coat of clear flat paint was a necessity as the dark grey primer needs some protecting and would othewise show marks from the most simple contact on its surface.

I resisted using spray paint at this stage as I was primarily concerned about either messing up my track with the spray paint, or trying to figure out how to precisley mask the rails to protect them from the spray paint.  In the end, as it turns out, both of these fears were not necessary as the spray paint came off the rails with the use of a 'rubber' rail cleaning eraser.  I was very impressed that this little piece of rubber did such a great job of cleaning the paint off the rails that I will likely give this cleaning method a lot more credit than I did in the past!

The tram project is now past its biggest hurdle and I can start to work on the city!  However, once I laid out the structures as shown in the top photo, I discovered that I may have a few too many buildings!  This is not a bad problem, of course, as it will allow me the chance to select the best for the layout.  I even have a few more structures that I've been accumulating that will make some nice additions I think (more on that in a later post!).

I really can't tell you how happy I am that this part is over!  While the Kato Unitram system would have made it a lot easier, there are still no 'straight' sections, and an extended wait until (and if?) Kato comes out with these is something I'm not that patient for!  It was a real learning experience to do it this way, but in the end, I'm glad its done and pretty pleased with how it turned out!


Manhattan Hobby Shop Visit & Review

NOTE: Since I originally visited this shop, I discovered another model train store not too far away!  Also check out Gotham Model Trains!

I've been in New York City for work most of this week, so haven't been able to provide any updates on the layout.  However, I was able to visit a hobby shop here in the Big Apple and, as I know a lot of folks eventually visit here on business or pleasure, I thought I would share my tips and directions on how to find it!

First off, it appears that there is only one hobby shop, specifically focused on model trains, left in Manhattan.   Not surprisingly, years ago there were a lot more.  This is a somewhat sad aspect of our hobby in some ways, although considering how easy it is to find items on the internet, the changing demographics of this hobby, and other factors (some of which I'll touch on below), its not all that surprising.

Fiirst of all, the shop is called Red Caboose Hobby Shop.  Apparantly there has been a hobby shop here for decades, so somewhat of a landmark in a way!  If you search the web for hobby shops on Manhattan island, you'll also get results for another shop that was apparantly called Manhattan Trains and Hobby.  However, this information, the the best of my knowledge, is out of date as it appears to no longer exist.  The shop was apparantly located just across the street from where the Red Caboose is on 45th, but there is no longer a hobby shop at that address.  Interestingly enough, the sandwich board outside the Red Caboose has the Mahattan shop's name on it, so perhaps the old shop closed and Red Caboose took some of their inventory (besides just the sign!).

The great thing for visitors to Manhattan/NewYork City is that this shop is a fairly easy walk from Times Square.  And if you're not staying in the Times Square area, there are plenty of subway stops all around that make this shop within easy walking distance.

So how do you find it?  First, use Bing maps.  If you're starting in Times Square, head East on W 45th St.  (Planet Hollywood is on the corner of W. 45th and Broadway),  Then its basically two long Manhattan blocks to the stores.

Here's the view down 45th heading towards the hobby shop after you've left Times Square:
At the end of the above block, you're getting a lot closer:
Keep on walking and almost two/thirds of the way down the block you'll see their sandwich board sign for the shop, which is just about the only indication you'll get for this place's existance:

You'll enter what appears to be the lobby to an apartment building (which I think it is) but you'll know that you're on the right track as there are now cases with model trains on the walls of this lobby, and of course a few encouraging signs not to give up and run away:

The lobby continues back a bit more until it ends, whereupon you'll find a sign and a staircase on the left that will take you to the basement where the shop is:
Once you start to descend the stairs, you'll know that you're still on the right path and extremely close as the landing below you shows you a huge case full of N Scale goodies.
Sorry, no shots of the interior of the shop out of respect to the owners, but what will you find?  This shop is a bit of curio shop for model trains.  All sorts of stuff, all over the place.  Its wild.  Very, very old school.  It may remind you of your grandfather's garage -crammed with all sorts of trinkets.  In terms of inventory, they seem to have a lot, but as its crammed into every nook and cranny of this basement shop you may be a bit overwhelmed! 

What was kind of fun, is that their N Scale selection is pretty good, whcih surprised me.  An interesting selection of a lot of older N Scale stuff from previous eras, including older Arnold/Rivarossi, Fleischmann and some Minitrix, with a decent share of European models, and mostly locomotives.   There are even Japanese trains (all Kato from what I saw) on the shelves.  All of the stock is in glass cases so you feel like your looking at old artifacts in some dusty old museum, which has its own kind of charm.  And some of the stock looks like it goes back way into the 1960's!    If you're looking for older US prototype N Scale stuff (like a Burilington Northern U50!!!) or a Conrail ED75 (I think it was an ED75, but very clearly a Japanese electric locomotive in Contrail colors!!!!) they have them!  I almost picked them up just for the fun of it!  

On the other hand, this is Manhattan and prices seemed to me to be a bit on the high side.  The shop owner is a New Yorker, and I'm sure you could haggle a better price than the sticker (if there is one) on the item suggests.

Outside of N Scale, they also seem to have a decent selection of Marklin, HO, some O Guage, and lots of model kits --- both model railroading as well as military, sci-fi, and automotive, in addition to die-cast cars and such.

That's it for this little 'mini-travelog' on the last (?) remaining hobby shop in Manhattan.  If you're in New York City, its probably worth a visit, but its not the type of shop that wives or significant others would like to visit, so perhaps if she (or the significant other) is at a matinee over on Broadway, you can steal away a couple of hours to rummage through this interesting place!

Again, there is another shop a few blocks away that may also be worth a visit, check out my review / description of this shop at this post.