Little Projects: Prepping for Post-RPM

As things wrap up and I finish prepping for the RPM Chicagoland event next weekend, I have moved all the completed freight cars from this year into slots in my Freight Crates and cleaned up the workshop.  Part of that task involved prepping for work to begin come November for the next batch of cars.


I am not going to go big again.  This winter my plan is to build about 14 cars total, and keep it relatively sane in the construction department.  If I finish everything I have selected to build, and by finish, I mean it’s all done, weathered, assembled, finished, then I’ll tackle more.

In addition to 14 freight cars, I want to build at least 2 YV structures this ‘modeling season’.  I still would like to build the station at Snelling.  That’s been on my list for years, and is a good starting spot.  Getting that built would be a huge boost.  The other structure I’m eyeing for this year is the ATSF tower in Merced.  I have a kit for that building that looks like it would be fun to build, so I may do so.

I also have some projects for my Free-mo layout to tackle, namely, most of the layout and rolling stock.  I plan to take some time in November and get the rolling stock banged out at least, with the layout portion to follow soon after.


In the midst of all that, I decided as I was building cars this year, that I am not 100% satisfied with my Kadee #158’s.  They’re difficult to paint properly, and the springs go flying regularly.  Cutting the glad-hand off is not great either.  With that in mind, I have started a small trial of other options.  I elected Sergeant couplers and would also like to test the couplers Accurail makes.  A small order of Sergeant goodies arrived this week, and I’ll be tackling those in November.  The Accurail product is currently out of stock, and I’m not sure if they’re coming back.  If they do, I’ll buy a few and try them out.  If not, and I like assembling the Sergeant product, I may make the change now, before I get building cars.


One last project: my Hicks Car Works builder plate.  I helped my friend, Wes, a few years back, to get a new builders plate made.  I decided that it’s time to get my copy that he graciously had made mounted and hung up in the house. So far, I’ve sealed it.  I’m currently researching the proper color for it.  Some sources indicate brass, while others indicate black with white paint on the raised portions.  Hopefully that will get sorted out and hung up for display before the end of the year.

Time to get that presentation finished!


Posted in Model Trains, Modeling Update, Uncategorized, Yosemite Valley Railroad | 3 Comments

2017 Roster Shots

It’s time to show off the work I’ve done this year.  With cars ‘done’ now before RPM Chicagoland, I’m relatively happy with how things have turned out.  Yes, I learned some things that I’ll change next time, but isn’t that how all projects go?  Improve over time.  Do things better.  It’s a learning process, constantly.

With that said… on to the cars.


As I’ve previously discussed, a large number of boxcars are needed for operating the YV.  I highly doubt that I’ll ever be building freight cars in a given year and not have at least one or two boxcars on the workbench.


MILW SS Boxcar – Tichy Train Works


MILW SS Boxcar – Tichy Train Works


CP “Minibox” – True Line Trains


CP “Minibox” – True Line Trains


VRR Boxcar – Westerfield Models


SOO Line 1932 Boxcar – Atlas (with corrected brake gear)


WP 1937 Boxcar – Intermountain


CV 36′ Boxcar – Funaro


SSW Rebuilt DS Boxcar – Sunshine Models


GN DS Boxcar – Westerfield Models (This car has been 3 years in the works, I’m thrilled to have it finished.)


D&H SS Boxcar – Tichy Train Works


ATSF Bx-6 – Westerfield Models

Not pictured:  MKT SS boxcar.  I realized after the photo studio was already away that I left 1 car out.  OOPS!

Tank Cars

I finished three of the five tank cars I started this year.  Two will be finished for next year, as I had to track down the right trucks.  This set of three brings the finished total of tank cars to 6.


UTLX 8000 Gal GATC 1917 Tank Car – Tangent Scale Models


UTLX ACF Type 27 8000 Gal Tank Car – Intermountain


UTLX ACF Type 27 8000 Gal Tank Car – Intermountain

Refrigerator Cars

This is the ‘complete’ set of refrigerator cars I plan to build.  The YV didn’t haul many refrigerators, even though there was the Merced Ice and Cold Storage Co. in Merced.  Most of the traffic was actually ice headed from Merced to El Portal.


PFE R-30-12-9 Refrigerator – Red Caboose


PFE R-30-12-9 Refrigerator – Red Caboose


PFE R-40-2 Refrigerator – MTH


PFE R-40-10 Refrigerator – Intermountain


SFRD Rr-21 – Intermountain


Gondolas won’t make many trips on my railroad.  About the only use in 1939 is to bring sand into Merced for the YV facilities.  Thus, this year I finished 3 of the total of 4 I plan to build.


ATSF GA-10 Gondola – Intermountain



SP USRA Gondola – Intermountain



ATSF GA-10 Gondola – Intermountain


That’s it!  Hopefully these cars serve long lives on my railroad.  As more cars are built in the next construction cycle, I’ll be sharing things I learned that I’m doing differently.

Until then, there are always more projects!  Most of these cars will be in storage after RPM Chicagoland until I have space for a layout, but they’ll soon be joined by more as I plug along on my 10 year plan.

Time to get back to the workbench!



Posted in Model Trains, Modeling Update, RPM CHICAGOLAND, Uncategorized, Yosemite Valley Railroad | 1 Comment

The Batch of Cars That Wouldn’t End

I’m making an attempt to do more, learn more, add additional detail, try new techniques, etc… this year with the weathering processes I’m using. Last year it took more than a month to do 10 cars, and this year I’d set out for a huge batch of cars, trying to finish projects long-started so I can start some new ones.  
As I progressed through the processes, and I’ve employed my own versions of some techniques that I’ve seen online, in magazines, or elsewhere, I added some new tools to my skill set. What that amounts to is that I don’t want to have everything look the same, like the cars were weathered in the same location, by the same hand. 
I kept thinking in my head that I was going to be done with a bunch of cars. But as things progressed, I started to discover almost daily that there were details I wanted to add.  
This batch has turned into my very own version of “The Song That Never Ends”.

Last weekend I managed to get 6 of the 7 remaining cars assembled. I have one car left, my WP 1937 boxcar, that needed the uncoupling lever added after the couplers were installed. As soon as I get a chance to paint and weather the uncoupling levers, I’ll finish assembly.
With that done, I have a few punch list items. I am going to add chalk marks to several cars, waybills posted on a few more, and the tank cars need placards.  
After the cars are finished, I have more work to do, building additional freight crates to carry these cars and a few others. I also need to take roster shots of the cars to share here.
It really is the song that never ends. Fortunately I like the tune.
Time to get back to the workbench!


Posted in Goals of the Month, Model Trains, Modeling Update, Uncategorized, Workbench, Yosemite Valley Railroad | 1 Comment

My 5 Favorite ‘Workshop Hacks”

There are a few things that I do in my workshop that I find to be really handy.   These “hacks” have helped me keep my work space clean, my hands and other things that don’t need glue or paint clean, and my equipment organized.  I thought I would share some of these ideas to encourage you to look at your own tricks, tips, and “hacks” and share them as well, so we can all be better modelers.

Kitchen Drawer Organizer for Paint Storage


I’ve tried several solutions for organizing paint over the years.  As my inventory has grown, I needed a better solution for storing and organizing the paints.  I happened to have a wooden silverware sorter floating around the house, and decided to give it a try as a storage solution.  It has worked out so far.  The try is just slightly too large for the drawers of my storage cabinets, and in the future, I’ll most likely find one or two more of these, slightly smaller, to put in the drawers to organize the paint. For now, the paint resides on the top of one of the cabinets, providing easy access to find what I’m after.

Water Bottle Caps for Holding Glue


Years ago, when building models, I used to squeeze the tube of Testors model glue out onto a piece of paper and then try and dip parts in it, or occasionally squeeze the glue onto the model itself.  These days, more practiced and knowing that more CA doesn’t mean a better bond, I use a sewing needle with the eye cut open held in a retired pin vise to apply just the glue I want to just the spots.  The trick is to find a reliable, clean, spot to hold the glue.  I’ve seen people use the bottom of an overturned shot glass, disposable plates, and any number of other containers to hold the CA.  One day while drinking a bottle of water, I had the idea to try using the lid as a glue container.  It’s small enough that I don’t run into it moving around the workbench and yet the lids hold enough glue to work with for quite a while.  When finished, the lid is simply discarded in the recycling bin.  I keep a parts bin in my storage cabinet to collect the lids, and have enlisted my family to help collect the lids for me.

Baking Tray for Painting/Powders/Decals


I try and keep my work surface as clean as I can.  Finding small parts among paint drops, weathering powder smears, and other colored blotches on a work surface is really hard for me visually.  Most of my cutting mats don’t clean very well either if that material get’s on them.  When one of our baking sheets in the kitchen recently was deemed to be ready to be retired because it had lost it’s non-stick, I quickly saw the benefit in adding it to the workshop.  The metal tray with a lip all the way around contains the paint, powders, and other materials when I’m working with them, allowing me to be as messy as I need to be, and yet cleaning up easily at the end of messy work.  By laying a paper towel or paper plate in the try, I protect the model if it’s lying in the bottom.

Cotton Swabs for Weathering


Working with weathering powders or Pan Pastels is fun.  Bringing out the detail in a model by weathering the models with these media is something I enjoy.  Applying them can be a trial and error proposition occasionally.  I find that keeping a supply of cotton swabs on the workbench for use when I’m applying these media is greatly helpful.  I use them to blend, streak, and smooth the applications.  They also are useful when airbrushing for cleaning the head of the airbrush.  I don’t paint or weather without them anymore.

Snack Bags as Parts Keepers


Keeping track of small parts can be really hard.  When you’re taking a model apart for weathering, it can be that much harder.  Little screws, wheels, trucks, couplers, etc… all can get lost or mixed up. To keep this from happening, I use a sharpie to write the reporting marks and car number on ziplock snack-sized bags, and then all the car parts get deposited into the bag.  Even if the bag and car are separated during the construction, weathering, assembly process, I can bring the two back together again.


It’s time to get back to the workbench to try and finish my freight car projects!


Posted in Modeling Update, Uncategorized, Workbench | 5 Comments

Airbrush, Powders, and Assembly

The weathering shop here has opened and is in full swing.  I really got everything in high-gear over the weekend with a marathon Saturday afternoon with the airbrush set up in the garage.  All 23 cars made it through airbrushing.   This process is the same that I used last year, changing between a Light Dust and Soil colors from Ammo by Mig Jimenez to add running dirt and dust to the bottoms and along the sills of the cars.


Airbrush setup!  I use a Grex airbrush.  The whole shop here folds up for storage.


All 23 cars that were ready for weathering and had made it through the first steps in my process made it through the spray booth.  Here we see quite a few of those cars drying.


Using the airbrush, I aim for the sills and under side of the car.  This car is just getting ready to start the process, and it only takes a minute or two for each car.

With the airbrushing completed, all the cars moved back inside to the workbench.  At a rate somewhere between 2 and 4 cars per day, I’ve been slowly adding AIM weathering powders to the cars, using dirt and dust colors along the bottoms and ends coupled with soot and darker colors to the roof.  At the same time, the trucks get powdered as well.  Once the powders are applied, the car and trucks are sealed again with dull coat and allowed to dry.


Post-poweders.  These cars were hit with a coat of dull coat, and are drying.

Any cars ready are once again taken to the workbench that day.  The trucks get a little clean-up in the pockets for the wheels, a touch of graphite, and then final assembly is completed.


Assembled cars


More assembled cars

As I write this, I have 6 cars completed, and another 2 weathered and drying, with 5 cars most likely going to try and go through the powders process today.

It looks like by next week that I’ll be able to post the “roster shots” of everything that will be going to RPM Chicagoland.

Speaking of RPM, I’m hoping while cars are drying this weekend, to finish my presentation as well.  I’m really close to that being done.  If you’ve read any of the entries here about the YV Freight Car Fleet, that’s the topic for this year’s clinic.  I’m refining the formulas, making sure everything works and makes sense, and getting it all organized to present to attendees.

Time to get back to the workbench!


Posted in Goals of the Month, Model Trains, Modeling Update, RPM CHICAGOLAND, Uncategorized, Yosemite Valley Railroad | 1 Comment

Updating My Reading List


I’ve recently revised my ‘reading list’ of modeling and real railroading monthly, bi-monthly, and quarterly publications as well as video publications.  I found the process of deciding what to read and watch something that fascinated me as I reviewed the value of each in my month, and made some choices for what to change.

What I was subscribed to:

Model Railroader – Montly

Railroad Model Craftsman – Mostly

Model Railroad Hobbyist – Mostly

NMRA Magazine – Monthly

Great Model Railroads – Yearly

Model Railroad Planning – Yearly

Operations Special Interest Group – Quarterly

Layout Design Journal – Quarterly

Model Railroader Video Plus – Video

Trainmasters TV – Video

I have long had the above list of subscriptions, but pondering them, and their value, I find that a bunch of that isn’t necessarily something I am spending a lot of time with.  There are other options out in the market.  I’ve considered subscribing to Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette for several years (since I am modeling a short line), our household once had a subscription to Trains magazine, and there’s Classic Trains.  Several online magazines also are out there, having popped up in the last few years.

Looking at the monthly publications, the only magazine there that I read, cover to cover these days, is Model Railroad Hobbyist.  The quality of Model Railroader has suffered recently, and I’m not reading much there.  The occasional article that I want to see, I can buy the magazine digitally or get a copy at a bookstore or the hobby shop when I’m there.  For years, that was my go-to, and when my subscription runs out, I’ll go back to that.  Railroad Model Craftsman, while much better these days than it was for a while.  I had let my digital only subscription lapse at the beginning of the year.

The NMRA magazine has long been treated sorta like the weekly circular advertisements that come in the mail.  It arrives, I page through it, and it get’s recycled.  I decided to drop the magazine this year when renewing my membership.

The OPSIG and LDSIG journals, known as the Dispatchers Office and the Layout Design Journal, are quite enjoyable publications.  I’m a member of both the OPSIG and LDSIG, and I’ll keep reading those publications long into the future.

The two yearly magazines I really enjoy from the Model Railroader family of magazines.  I have a nearly complete collection of those, and intend to keep reading them as long as they are being published.  I find especially enjoy the Model Railroad Planning issues.  There’s always something new and applicable, or just even interesting to read, in there.

As far as video subscriptions go, I tend to prefer the content on Trainmasters TV to Model Railroader Video Plus.  It’s a personal preference.  It tends to go along with how I feel about each magazine that is associated with the videos.

On a whim, I recently picked up the most recent issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, and with several excellent articles, about backdrops, laser cutters, CAD, and other topics, my wife and I decided to subscribe again.

Additionally, I have known about, and occasionally picked up at the hobby shop, copies of Railroad Explorer.  This magazine focus on great railroad photography, but there’s lots to learn in the articles about what is being photographed as well.  I subscribed to Railroad Explorer to bring some great railroad photography into the reading.

Online, I discovered a great source for information on Canadian and Northeast railroads.  Canadian Railway Observations,  It’s a subscription site, again with great photography monthly, along with reports on shoreline and regional along with other Canadian railroads and locomotives.  Fascinating information.  I subscribed for a year at a very reasonable cost.

With that, I’ve adjusted what I’m reading to:

Railroad Model Craftsman – Mostly

Canadian Railway Observations – Mostly

Model Railroad Hobbyist – Mostly

Dispatchers Office – Quarterly

Layout Design Journal – Quarterly

Railroad Explorer – Quarterly

Great Model Railroads – Yearly

Model Railroad Planning – Yearly

Trainmasters TV – Video mostly

I read a lot of railroad blogs, online sites, and Facebook pages.  There are quite a few fantastic Youtube channels too.  Those are a clean-up for another day!

What are you reading?

Right now, it’s time to get back to the workbench!


Posted in Model Trains, Real Railroading, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Weathering Wheels (And Couplers)

Version 2

Weathering projects continue to occupy the workbench.  Just this morning I was thinking to myself that at this point last year, in the process of finishing the 10 cars I took to RPM Chicagoland, I was almost done.  This year, with 23 cars left in the program, I’m now working through the process of weathering the wheels, couplers, and trucks for all those cars so that when the airbrush comes out later this week or early next week, things will move quickly.

I spent some time last summer experimenting with paint and washes, developing a process.  This summer, with 23 instead of 10 cars to deal with, I’ve got the process down.


The first step in weathering wheels and couplers is to clean everything.  The wheels especially are usually pretty dirty with manufacturing oils.  To remedy that and make it possible to adhere paint properly, I use 91% isopropyl alcohol and a Q-tip to clean everything that will get paint.  Cleaning 12 wheels for the three cars that I am working on today the one Q-tip got pretty dirty.



After only 12 wheels, it’s time for a new Q-tip.

It takes about an hour for the alcohol to dry.  Once that’s done, two different colors of paint are applied.  I carry a rail brown and a rust color through the wheel sets to get some variety in the end result.  The paint is applied using a micro brush.  Today, four wheels got the wheel faces, backs, and axle’s all rail brown, four got the faces rail brown while the backs and axles were painted rust, and 4 got the rust on all the painted surfaces.  I also vary the paint on the couplers with 1/2 of what I do getting rail brown as a base and 1/2 getting rust.  I find this variation allows for a more interesting look, and helps tell the story of each car.


After the rail brown and the rust have dried, I use a variety of Ammo by Mig Jimenez weathering products to add some additional depth to the wheels and axles.  The wheel faces typically receive the Engine Grime as this produces a color that matches color photos I have from the period of the wheel faces on cars.  Some variety is built into the final appearance by the background brown or rust.  The wheel backs and axels, along with the couplers, then also get a variety of rust washes or the wash called Tracks Wash.  Once these are applied with micro brushes, they are allowed to dry for several more hours.


Rail brown and rust applied to the wheels.  Here is today’s batch drying.


The last step in weathering the wheels is to seal everything with a dull coat.  The final finish of the washes can occasionally be somewhat shiny.  Using the dull coat provides the final dull look of rust and grime that I am seeking on the wheels.


Once I finish weathering the wheels and couplers, it’ll be time to airbrush.  I’m looking forward to getting that all done,.

It’s time to get back to the workbench!


*****    *****

At the beginning of August I set out three goals I wanted to meet that I estimated were doable.  Those goals were:

  1. Finish weathering and assemble 38 freight cars

With some cars falling aside for this year (a couple tank cars were deemed un-necessary, a USRA gondola also, several 1937 AAR boxcars stood aside until I refine some techniques and tools, etc… I’m down to 23 cars in the ‘program’ for this year.  That said, the 23 cars made great progress this month.  Everything is currently ready for the airbrush which means I’m closing in on the end.

  1. Build the legs for and install foam on my Free-Mo module.

While the legs didn’t get built, the leg pockets did for the Free-Mo taconite module and the foam did get attached.  Not only did the Free-Mo module get foam, but the other 3 pieces of benchwork I built this year also got foam.  I’m not quite sure what they’ll be used for yet, but there are a couple of options.

  1. Finish RPM presentation.

With my presentation due for the end of October, I got a great start on it in August.  As I write this, I’m about 2/3 done.  The presentation this year is on fleet building and how I figured out what I need to build.  That’s taking longer than last year’s discussion of my workshop to write, but it’s very helpful to me and I’m looking forward to giving the presentation.

With last month reviewed, it’s time to set goals for September.

  1. By the end of September, I’m confident that the last processes of weathering will be completed and I will have all 23 cars that are currently in my program assembled and completed.
  2. I’d like to have the first parts ordered for doing some structure building for the YV.  I’m anxious to get on with some measuring and cutting of wood and styrene.
  3. I’m hoping to have trucks in-house for my two 6,000 gal UTLX tank cars.  Once those come, I’ll be able to work on the necessary modifications.
  4. I need to finish my RPM presentation, and by the 17th my handout, so that needs to be on this list.
  5. The legs for the Free-Mo, and starting to lay roadbed and track need to be here as well.  I’m looking at trying to finish the module over the winter, and having it stand on it’s own legs will be necessary.
  6. I need to decide what those other 3 modules will be.  YV?  A switching district for the Free-Mo?  A stand alone GBW or CMQ switching area?  I’ll sort that out in September.

Lots of goals this month.  Hopefully the progress justifies setting more goals than I have in the past.

Posted in Goals of the Month, Model Trains, Modeling Update, RPM CHICAGOLAND, Uncategorized, Yosemite Valley Railroad | 2 Comments