No. 116: Rebuilding the Bump Out onthe Ackle Layout, Part 2

This post will be more boring than usual.  It will serve as a record-keeping function for me.

The last time the bump-out was seen, in Post 112, Rebuilding the Bump Out, Part 1, it looked like this.  The original bump-out was removed so the track could be re-aligned to accommodate two freight customers.  At this stage I had completed the new benchwork, laid roadbed and track, and completed landforms.  Ballasting was underway.


Here’s another view with everything cleaned up.


I wanted this track to be buried in mud and debris and grass.  I applied matte medium with an eyedropper between the rails in many places and then applied Woodland Scenicks fine green grass mix and then static grasses.


When everything was dry I went back and added some more ground foam, a few peel-and-stick weeds, and some dirt and other material to represent spillage and mud. 


I am very happy with the results.


The last major step to completing the new bump-out was installing new Masonite fascia.  I cut it at the wood shop at the air base.  Here’s the completed fascia in the back of the Volvo, heading home.


In addition to installing new fascia on the bump out, I also cut new fascia for most of the layout.  It is amazing how much punishment that fascia takes in just a couple of years.


I cut long strips of fascia at the wood shop and then was able to cut it to fit with a box knife.  A good, steady cut and a little sanding yielded clean, straight cuts.  Here is all the new fascia cut and fitted. 


A view from the other side.


Next I removed the new fascia again for painting.


I had to put on two or three coats of paint.  It took exactly two hours to complete.  I took a day of leave from work to get the job accomplished without interruption.


After the paint was dry, installation was a snap.  A thorough floor and layout cleaning go everything looks great again.


Now we can get back to building construction.  The major industry on this branch was Carstens, a contracting company that received lumber, construction material of all kinds, and coal.  That industry is not modeled.  The branch also had–in the very old days–a second grain mill, come coal bins, and a few other industries. 

As mentioned in a previous post, I don’t have information on the mill so I built a representational model based on the mill at Carver, Minnesota, which is near the family farm in Chanhassen.


The original plan was to sheath the building in dark, weathered wood.  After I completed the sheathing, using Evergreen styrene strip, it looked to me like a bad model of a log cabin as seen below.


I quickly repainted it gray as it was seen in the 1950s…



I think the mill was gone by my modeling date–1950–so I intend to finish the building as a weary but active structure somewhat along the lines of this Tom Johnson masterpiece.


Next to this elevator I’d like to build some coal bins.  Sanborn maps show bins, but there are no pictures available to help prototype modeling.  So, I’d like to build open bins and found this aerial photo online of another M&StL station that has the kind of open bins I’m looking for.  The photo below is little grainy, but you can see 6-7 bins there, built in sort of a semi-circle, and reached by a conveyor.

Coal Bins

After all this work…and here I am thinking of rebuilding the whole layout!  – John




No. 115: Completing the Yarmouth Models ACL O-16B Auto Car

I was fortunate to have an article posted on the Resin Car Works blog recently.  I completed a C&IM USRA-type gondola and wrote about it at


Frank Hodina supplied most of the information and photos and a few parts for the project, and Eric Hansmann did the editing.  Our St. Louis RPM friend and C&IM expert Ryan Crawford also helped with editing and prototype information.  My thanks to them for all the help.

I started this project in January 2018.  I finished the build in a few weeks but the project stalled while I was rebuilding my sandblaster.  It took me a few months to get it rebuilt, then running, but once it was back in operation—around September—I was able to finish the model pretty quickly. 

I didn’t mention it but my then-11-year-old daughter Kirsten did some of the work.  She’s “crafty” but not a model builder.  From time-to-time if she sees me doing an interesting project she’ll want to take over.  Of all things she thought installing the floor in the C&IM car looked interesting, so she cut the floor and installed it.  How could I say no?

Photo 5 - Kirsten Installing the Floor

ACL 55439

I posted construction comments on this model in New Builds, May, 2018 (Post #97/05-18), found at  The model is of course the relatively new Yarmouth Model Works kit, which can be purchased from at


I have a little bit of love for the old Coast Line.  My father grew up in Ludowici, Georgia alongside the busy, double-track ACL, and—much later, when I was in high school—I railfanned all over the old ACL lines in Savannah.  The old ACL (then SCL) Liberty Street Yards downtown was a favorite place to go.  Liberty Street was an old-style downtown stub-end yard with lots of warehouses everywhere, an old roundhouse, and lots of activity 24/7.

A long branch connected the big ACL main line outside of Savannah to Liberty Street.  Along the branch there were strange warning signs, like the one seen below, on nearly every street crossing.  It was all part of the allure of the old yards.  The signal below was photographed by fellow Savannian Tom Alderman around 1980.  This one guarded Bull Street and Victory Drive.

ACL Bull & Victory July79

Back to the O-16-B model.  Here’s the car, at center, after painting with my ACL color of choice–Scalecoat 2 PRR Freight Car Color.  Also on the drying rack is a roof for a Milwaukee Road car and an O scale PRR hopper.


The photo below shows off some of the cool characteristics of the prototype that are expertly captured by the kit.  The O-16-B is differentiated by different-size panels on each side of the doors.  The ladder-and-grabs combination is a standout feature, along with the inset lower side sill and the stand-out bottom door track. 


The decals included with the kit were a little disappointing.  The unique ACL lettering style and round monogram have rarely been rendered accurately.  I studied drawings and the decals I had on-hand and ended up using parts from three different decal sets to finish my model.  Above, the monogram and the lettering below the monogram are from an old Jerry Glow ACL O-25 decal set.  The monogram is as close as they get, but the lettering style is off.  The smaller lettering is from the YMW kit, but they got the built dates wrong and didn’t include the “Rebuilt” lettering.  See the prototype photo further below.  

Below, I created paint code information (top left) from a C&O hopper set, and used the reporting marks and numbers from a Microscale ACL wood rack set and, again, the Jerry Glow set.  The Automobile lettering is from the YMW set.  I think the combination of the three sets yielded good results.


Here’s the decaled car ready for dullcote.  I used Scalecoat 2 PRR Freight Car Color for the primary coat.  I think it is the best match for late-40s ACL paint.


Here’s the model after a few shots of dullcoat and a “softcoat”.  I seal the decals with a mix of 40% Testors dullcote, 40% Testors glosscoat and 20% thinner applied with an airbrush.  The I add a few drops of the original car color to the dullcoat mix–in this case the Scalecoat PRR FCC, and apply another coat.  This softens and blends all the colors together and tends to provide a little aging effect to the decals.


Above.  I repaired the running board by applying a little canopy sement to the running board supports and turning the car upside down on a flat surface. 

Here’s a prototype O-16-A circa early 1950s.  Note the paint and lettering variations for the model.  Also note the different details—the ladders and panel spacing in particular.  The Prismo stripes were authorized around 1950.

ACL 55439 Apr. 11, 1951

The photo above is dated April 11, 1951 but I don’t have a photographer reference.  When I find it I’ll annotate appropriately.

And just for kicks here’s a couple more view of the old Coast Line in Savannah, this out at Southover Yards on the main line next to Hunter Army Air Field.  These photos are circa 1946.  Love all those old cars in the yard!  I’ll bet there’s an O-16-B hiding in that consist just up a ways…

Southover Yard and Switch Tender.jpg

Southover Yard 2, 1946

Back at Ackley…

Meanwhile, construction on the layout continues.  Over the month I’ve been slowly working on the Sherman Avenue crossing nearby Marshal Canning.  There’s a lot to be done to this scene but the road is looking pretty good.  I used a 1950 Iowa highway department guide to mark the roads. 

I intend on writing a whole post on this area soon.  That crossbuck model needs a lot of help—it looks a little askew.


I have also cut and installed new masonite fascia on about two-thirds of the layout.  I needed fascia for the new bump out and while I was at it I replaced most of the fascia on the rest of the layout.  Below, here’s a view of the new fascia installed but not yet painted.


At the moment of this posting I’m in Austria with the family on one last ski trip for the season.  The fascia is removed for painting and I’m going to get that finished when I get back.  I only have one U.S.-style paint roller, so I’ve gotta get the whole job done at once.  I just need a two-hour block of time with no work, kids, or other things to get in the way…   – John G





No. 112: Modeling Northern Pacific War Emergency Box Cars

First: Cars for Matt

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I was finally able to complete and ship Matt Herman’s cylindrical hoppers to him last week.  Matt installed sound in one of my M&StL RS-1s a few years ago and I offered to pay him plus weather a few models in return.  I won’t tell you how long it took me to get these cars completed.  Let’s just say it was a long time.

The models certainly aren’t masterpieces from The Weathering Shop, but I’m happy with them. 

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The white car was the toughest to complete.  Weathering white models isn’t easy.  I sandblasted some of the paint off to fade it, then applied several coats of off-white colors with a brush to fade and weather the model.  I also used some AIM white powder on this car until I was happy. 

Also last week, I spent some time trying to talk Bob Chapman into coming to St. Louis RPM in 2019 and giving a clinic.  Bob declined, but we traded a few model photos–one of which is included below.  This is an old Sunshine B&O auto car, and it is magnificently built and finished.  What an inspiration.  Thanks for sharing, Bob!


NP War Emergency Box Car

My “finish a couple of freight cars project”—the project that began in Thanksgiving and was supposed to last a few weeks—is still underway.  One project that I really wanted to finish was the one below, the NP War Emergency box car from the NP Historical Society.


This is a beautiful kit with all the fixin’s included.  The instructions, below, include over 20 pages of model and prototype views, guidance, decal placement instructions, and a whole lot more.  It’s a neat document and a keeper.


This kit has a one piece body and the build was a breeze.  The hardest part was adding the brake gear to the underframe, and even that wasn’t all that hard.  I didn’t take any under construction photos but I do have this photo of the completed car after the first coat of paint was applied–that was the black paint on the roof, ends and underframe.   I used gloss black paint from Testors, which went on a little heavy.


Here’s the car after being masked and painted with the body color.  I used Tru Color TCP-193   Northern Pacific 1935-45 Freight Car Brown.  This color has a nice rich red tone.


I mentioned in an earlier post that the decals for this model have to be ordered from the NP Historical Society.  The cost: $18 for a sheet.  For some reason the society sells a sheet that can decal nine cars.  At $50 or $60 a pop, I don’t see a lot of guys getting their money’s worth out of this set.  I’d prefer to pay a lot less for two sets, for example.  I sent half the set to my friend Bill Welch so he can finish his three cars.  

Cost notwithstanding, I must say the decal set is one of the most comprehensive I’ve ever used.  There are even chalk marks included–that’s a nice touch.  Unfortunately I found the decals were a little troublesome to apply.  Using Microscale products I was not able to get the decals to settle properly.  After repeated applications of settling solution I had to cut them, and when I cut them some of the decals broke apart over the sheathing. 


To repair the decals, I used the old “double-decal” technique and also filled in some gaps with a touch of white paint.  After dullcote things looked better.  Here’s the car with decals applied, but prior to dullcote.


Below is a photo after a couple of shots of dullcote.  I used my usual solution, consisting of 40% dullcote, 40% glosscote and 20% thinner. 


I weathered the car very lightly.  I did not stress the roof and left it completely black.  I lightly airbrushed the underframe, trucks and lower third of the car with a light overspray of Testors Dark Earth, applied a few hand-written chalk marks with a white artist’s pencil, and then added AIM weathering powders to the car ends and couplers, and finally sealed everything with one more light shot of dullcote.  I want to leave this car nice and clean.

Here’s the lead shot again on my Ackley layout.


I’ve got a bunch of other cars on the workbench this week–here are a few being painted.  The hopper is an old Precision Scale O scale model.  The car in th emiddle is the ACL auto car offering from Yarmouth.  The roof is the front is having “salt weathering” applied…more to follow on that later.  


Future Plans

Another thing I’m exploring is building another layout or two.  This view below shows the south staging yard along the wall, and my thoughts on rebuilding it and turning it into the room.  The idea is to build a small peninsula and curve the staging yard tracks onto one side of the peninsula, and on the other side build another small layout.  

I also have a ridiculous desire to build a 4 or 5 x 6 layout, British style, with super-detailed track and an interchange and a coal mine, or a quarry, or something else small.  ANd of course it would be a loop.

There won’t be a lot of room for a second layout.  The maximum it can be in this configuration is about nine feet by 18 inches wide.  I’m thinking an industrial layout, or perhaps a small town based on a Seaboard Air Line or Milwaukee Road prototype.


Hope you all have a great week!  – John G

No. 107: The Ackley Layout – Rebuilding the Bump Out, Part 1

I was looking at old photo sets the other day and went through a folder I shot on the CSX lines in western Illinois in 2004.  The photo below was taken on the old B&O main track between Shattuc and Carlysle, about 30 miles east of where I lived in O’Fallon.  I thought it was interesting because of the way the siding track was sunken into the ditch, and have always thought it would be interesting to model.  The standing water, line poles and jointed rail add to the cool factor.


Nearby, in a junk yard in Centralia, there were a few grounded box cars that brought back memories of the old days.  


These are former Missouri Pacific single-sheathed box cars, rebuilt in the early 1950s with steel sheathing and new doors and roofs.  The car above still has the brake gear installed on the end.  The car in the background below is similarly rebuilt, but has inverse ends.  You never know what you’re going to find out there, so keep hunting!


Rebuilding the Bump Out

Last year, in Post #37, posted in March, 2017, I described adding something I called a “bump out” to provide a little extra room for industries in the aisle.  That post can be found at  I got the idea from Warner Clark’s Proto48 Nickel Plate layout.

Here’s where I started with the rebuilding project.  This isn’t bad, but I wanted room for a second car spot (the real one had four or five spots) and therefore needed a deeper bump-out. 

Bump Out 2018 1 (1)

Below.  Here’s the plan.  Tighten the curve to 24-inch radius (that was the original plan anyway) and increase the depth of the bump-out another five or six inches to make room for another industry.

Bump Out 2018 1 (5)

It took less than an hour to snip the rail, remove the supporting structure and then pop off the Styrodur sub-base.  Cleaning up the mess took a lot longer.

Bump Out 2018 1 (12)

Next, I soaked the track and roadbed in rubbing alcohol and removed it, along with a small portion of scenery on both sides of the track.

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Below.  After a lot of cleaning and shaping the subroadbed, I tested the new track alignment.

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Below.  I secured cork roadbed with a heavy, German glue that is close to adhesive caulk sold in the U.S.  I used Micro Engineering Code 55 flex track.  I cut all the ties apart from underneath and spread them out to better represent little-used spur track.

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Once I had the roadbed and track alignment determined, I then built a frame for the new bump out.  1 x 4 pine boards were connected on the bottom of the layout and then a frame was built around those board at the front of the layout.  All that is left to do now is install new Styrodur subroadbed, fascia, and then scenery material.

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With the new piece of Styrodur in place, I can now finish laying the rest of the track.  FInishing the fascia is a more time-consuming job—first I have to buy it, then cut it, then test-fit it, and then probably go get it cut again to get it exactly right.  I use a wood shop that’s away from home to do all my heavy and/or precision cutting, and it takes time to go out there and get that work done.   In the meantime I can finish laying the track and get the scenery going, which is a lot of fun.

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Below.  I glued the roadbed in place and pinned it into position with my wife’s sewing stickpins.  As always I test-fit everything, and here the elevator is in position to check clearances.  Yep, it’ll be tight, and I may have to install a small piece of plexiglass here to keep things from tumbling off the layout.

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Below.  With the track in place and painted, I laid down a thin coat of Hydrocal to form the scenery base.

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I painted the scenery base…  


…then wired the track, test-ran an engine on it, and then tested the building fit.  I’m satisfied with everything so far.  

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Next, below, I painted the ties with a variety of grays, tans and browns, mixed together on a palette and applied with lacquer thinner.


Then, below, I applied my special ballast made of screened dirt and cinders I collected from PRR roundhouse site in Richmond, Indiana.  I laid it down and then soaked it with rubbing alcohol to knock off the surface tension, then secured the ballast with a mixture of 60% water, 25% rubbing alcohol, 15% Elmer’s white glue, and a few drops of dishwashing soap…give or take a few percents on each ingredient.


Finally, with the ballast dry, I put a building and a few cars down and ran a train by, and everything’s looking real nice.  The new bump out fits two cars easily, and I can still easily reach around it.  All this work was done in about 20-30 minutes every other day over about ten days.


Next up, scenery for the bump out.  Well…maybe sometime in January, after I finish a few new freight cars.

Below…one more photo of the B&O lines, this one looking east somewhere in southern Indiana.  How I miss you, B&O Lines!  – John G




No. 104: Modeling Projects, Fall 2018

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at work and at home.  I took a new job and have been working about 50 hours a week, and the kids–12, 14 and 16–are going 100 mph with school, sports and active social lives.  There hasn’t been much time for modeling lately–maybe an hour a week.

Meanwhile, over the Columbus Day holiday weekend, I took the family on a short trip to Belgium and the Netherlands to relax in one of our favorite European cities, Maastricht.  When we arrived on Friday evening I took my son’s Boosted Board–it’s an electric-powered skateboard–for a long ride, and after riding a mile came upon this bridge over the Albert Canal into Holland.  


The battle-scarred bunker, I discovered, was a Belgian army stronghold and marks the site of the initial German assault into Belgium in 1940.  There’s an extensive war museum underneath the bridge, and just a few miles south of this spot are the remains of Fort Eben-Emael.

We also visited the Netherlands American cemetery north of Maastricht, where the remains of over 8,000 U.S. World War II dead are buried and another 1,700 missing are immortalized.  It was a beautiful day to visit our troops.  The official website is here if you’re interested in reading more:


On to the Modeling

Despite the busy family schedule and weekend travel there are things that bear reporting.

L&M Gondola

The first update is about Ted Culotta of Speedwitch Media.  Ted provided the Litchfield and Madison gondola kitbash project at the 2018 St. Louis RPM meet, which included an awesome clinic about the prototype and model, an undecorated Intermountain kit, custom-built resin parts, and decals–all for free. 

Here’s Ted’s finished model, and it’s a beauty:


Ted and I have been friends for a long time, going all the way back when we lived near each other in California.  He’s one of the most talented modelers in the world and his research has inspired thousands.  He is also one of the most generous fellows you’ll ever meet.  I’m so grateful for what he does at St. Louis and for the modeling community at large.

Of particular interest to me is the underframe on his L&M car, as I am currently building a C&IM model circa 1950 and don’t have any photos of the brake gear installation.  Assuming the C&IM cars retained operational drop doors, the AB brake gear must be jammed into a tight space in the center of the car.  Ted provided this photo of his L&M car as an example:

Ted's GOn Underframe

Here’s a link to the last post on Ted’s site, which covers underframe construction and finishing.  Ted as always did a breathtaking job with the model:  Ted’s site is always interesting and is one of my favorites.

New Etched Ladders by Plano

In May I got word that Keith Hapes of Plano Model Products was producing an HO scale etched ladder set for box cars.  I e-mailed Keith and he sent me a set to try out.  Here’s the pre-release kit below which included 7-rung ladders and an Apex brake stand for the Intermountain 1937 box car. 


Below.  I quickly bent up a set with my ham-hands and here’s the result.  There is room for NBW detail on the top of the stiles if desired.  These ladders assemble more quickly and are more durable than the brass etched ladders on the market.  As far as I know, however, they only come in one size…so far…


Keith was selling the ladders at St. Louis RPM and I was fortunate to get a few more sets for future projects.  They’re #12121 in case you want to order a few from Keith, who can be reached at  


Carver Elevator Project

The Carver elevator project is moving forward slowly.  Last time you saw this thing it looked like this:


The next step was to sheath the building in plastic strip.  I used Evergreen #145, .040 x .100 strip, painted in a variety of brown colors to sheath the model.  I had the idea to paint the building barn red and vary the colors of the sheathing slightly, but barn red turned out to be way too red.  Obviously, right?  Besides, period photos indicate that most red elevators faded to something like box car red or maroon so I decided to paint the sheathing with a variety of box car reds and darker browns to give the sheathing some variety.


Below.  As of today I’ve applied the sheathing to about half the model.  It doesn’t look quite like I imagined, but I’ve still got a long way to go. 


Replacing the Bump Out

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to replace the “bump out” on my layout.  I’m going to devote an entire post on it, but for now here’s what’s going on.  I easily removed the bump-out in about 15 minutes, then spent another 15 minutes to tear out the track.   



Another half hour later, I had shaped the foam subroadbed and laid down cork roadbed measured to a 24-inch radius curve.  The Micro Engineering Code 55 track has been placed to test clearances.  The purpose of this project is to tighten the curve to 24-inch radius and increase the depth of the bump-out to make room for two rail-served customers.  More to follow on this project later.  


iPhone 10 Camera

My son has numerous part-time jobs and used some of his “monies” to buy himself a new iPhone 10.  The camera–combined with the photo-editing features built-in to the device–is unbelievable.  Here’s a quick snapshot I took of the layout, below.  The depth of field is much better than my iPhone 6, and I understand the depth of field can be adjusted digitally so I plan to do a lot more experimenting.  I told him if he doesn’t like me using his phone for train pictures then he can start paying rent. 


Freight Car Models

The M&StL 2-6-0 project is moving along nicely.  I finally hooked up my North Coast sandblasting booth and blasted ten of 20 projects in need of work.  Here’s the little Mogul, below.  It still needs a whole lot of work, but winter is coming!


Also blasted was this old Sunshine Models CB&Q XM-31.  This is a favorite prototype, but I really messed up the roof during the weathering process.  I blasted the roof a couple of evenings ago and now it looks like this.  At this point I’m willing to do anything to save the decals, so I’m going to re-weather the roof and use my artist oil wash technique to add some depth to the sides and ends.  Again, stay tuned–I think this one will turn out to be a winner.


Jeff Kubler’s L&N Layout

I’ve been working on a post to cover Jeff Kuebler’s L&N layout for about two months.  Jeff is a great guy and is part of our St. Louis RPM team, and has a neat L&N coal-hauling layout packed into a few rooms of his basement.

Jeff’s layout is nowhere near finished but benchwork and track are complete and he’s been hosting ops sessions for a few years, and lately he’s really been moving fast on scenery application.  The photo below shows Jeff’s Red River scene.  It looks great, and he’s modeling specific tree types which I’ll cover in a future post. 


Shoot…for a guy that hasn’t done much modeling in the last month, I’ve gotten a lot done!

Time to get off the computer and finish a couple of these projects.   – John G

No. 102: More Details for Ackley’s South Side

In my last post I mentioned that my friends Lonnie and Mary Bathurst were visiting Europe, and last week they came to visit us in Kaiserslautern.  My wife and I met them at the Hauptbahnhof and took them to our favorite German restaurant in Hohenecken for lunch, beer and conversation.    


After a hearty German meal we went over to Ramstein Air Base for a pre-arranged C-130J tour.  There was no rain in sight until we made the long walk out to the ramp.  Despite the weather the boys from the 37th Airlift Squadron gave us a first-class tour.   They even wheeled out a power cart and we got to tour the jet with power to doors and avionics and everything.

I just happened to lose my cell phone that week so I wasn’t in charge of pictures, but the crew got one of Lon in the left seat.  Lon looks pretty good wearing a Herc.  And yes indeed, the J-model has a HUD.


After a couple of hours at the jet and a long walk back through the wind and rain, we made the short drive to Albersbach where Lon was able to run trains at Ackley for a couple minutes.  

Please note the IC Orange shirt, worn specifically for the boys on the Proto Layouts list on IO.


Before The Visit

Before Lonnie’s visit, I was able to get a little detail work done on the layout.  Here’s a run-down of the improvements.

Below.  A quick and easy project was getting new photo backdrops and some more trees installed on the north side of the layout.  The track disappearing here represents M&StL’s connections to the north such as Mason City and Minneapolis.  In addition to being a major industrial and population center Minneapolis also provided connections to all the big northwest transcons.  

Here’s the north end scene with all the trees ans structures removed, ready for a face-lift.


Below.  Free time doesn’t come easy when you have a busy job and busy family–all of which come before my hobbies.  I don’t watch any television so when I have a spare ten minutes I run upstairs and try to get something accomplished instead.  Here, trees and bushes have been prepared, and new backdrops cut out.  Everything is set up and ready for action. 


I didn’t take any in-progress photos of the new work, but the shot below shows the new backdrops in place with a few trees planted in front to provide some depth to the scene.  It doesn’t look too bad.  The building at left is the Marshall Canning Co. #5 building, the major industry in town. 


The farm girls are from a Preiser “German Farm Workers” set, given to me by my daughter Kirsten a few years back.   


This photo, below, was taken with my iPhone6.  Please ignore the gaping hole in the horizon. 

Speaking of the horizon, I established one-inch as the optimal height of the horizon on my backdrops.  


I also made progress on the three tool houses at the IC-M&StL crossing.  I had completed and painted the buildings some time ago, and brought grey paint home with me from my trip to the U.S. in July.  I painted the trim, windows and details an appropriate shade of dark grey and got most of the details applied in time for Lonnie’s visit.  The shingles are from Minuteman Scale Models.


The tool houses need a little more work and some weathering, but I placed them into the scene for the visit.  The base for the interlocking tower is at right.  There’s a lot to say about this scene, but I’ll save the details for a later post.


This view, below, is the same scene last year, before I made some prototypically-correct improvements.  The view below is pretty sterile.  Above, with the more prototypical ballast contour and details, and the much-improved backdrops, it looks much better.


I built this telephone pole and breaker set using a Walthers kit.  It needs a lot of work still, but it adds a nice touch to the scene.


A few details were finished for the depot too.  The baggage cart is from Grandt Line, the dollies are old white-metal kits I’ve had around for 25-30 years, and the coal bin is another old white metal thing that I’ve had around forever.  The depot will need a lot more details.


Over at the Standard Oil terminal, I finally added a detail I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  Dan Kohlberg suggested I use solder to simulate hoses, and I ordered some solder–I think about .010-inch in diameter–from Amazon.  I pained it with a box car red and laid it under the tracks at Standard Oil to simulate a bottom-unloading hose.  It ain’t perfect but it does the trick.  I also heavily-weathered the track here, first with some artist’s oil color to get the glossy black to simulate a new spill, and then with AIM black powder to simulate old spills.  


The last thing I did was fix a pesky track issue seen below.  Down on the south side there was a spot where the track had risen slightly at a joint, producing some ugly and unprototypical bouncing of cars and engines.  I cut the rail here to provide a gap for signalling but I haven’t installed the detection system yet.  

A close inspection revealed that one of the ties had risen slightly, providing the bump.  Also notice…that despite my best efforts to model highly detailed track, I can’t get around using ghastly rail joiners like those on the right.  And when I soldered the rail joiners, it melted the plastic joint bars I used.  That joint bar looks ridiculous.


I undercut a couple of the ties on each side and that brought the rail down to level.


I spiked the rail into place, then replaced the joint bars.  I like to install joint bars over rail gaps to help hide them.  I used the old Grandt Line O scale Code 70 joint bars for this job.


Then I painted the rail and ties with my color of choice, Testors Rubber.  Unprototypical bumps: Gone.


The last scene, below, this of double-headed M&StL RS-1s at Ackley.  Consisting the engines with the NCE system is fast and easy, and the sound systems seem to differentiate just enough so you can hear both engines.


My blessings to you and your families!  – John G



No. 101: Building the Carver, Minnesota Grain Elevator

My friend and St. Louis RPM co-host Lonnie Bathurst is on a trip through Europe this week and I met up with him and his wife at Rudesheim, which us about an hour drive from my home.  That’s Lon on the left.  We had a nice dinner and caught up on things. 


After dinner we went out to the main street–where our photo was taken–which faces the railroad and the Rhine River.  We set ourselves up at a nice German restaurant so we could have a couple more frosty brews and watch trains.  The weather was magnificent.  Deutsche Bahn did not disappoint either.  The big trains rolled by every 4-5 minutes.    

The Elevator at Carver

If you read my last post you may recall that I slapped together an elevator to serve a siding on my Ackley, Iowa layout.  An older map of Ackley shows a flax mill on that siding but I haven’t found any pictures of it and doubt I ever will.  To fill the gap, I built a model of the small mill at Carver, Minnesota.  Here’s a closeup of the prototype, below.

m&stl carver mn 4-7-65

And, below, here’s a photo of the model I built.


After posting the photos of the mill, I got a message from my friend Doug Harding, who told me I got it all wrong:

     John, re: your elevator model. It doesn’t look right because you have the roof pitch wrong. The elevator has a steeper pitch.  I think it is an 8/12, i.e. 8″ high for a 12″ run.  It looks like you cut your model with a 4/12 or 5/12 pitch.  A common mistake.  Today we have a lot of 4/12 roofs, but back then 6/12, 8/12, even 12/12 was more common.  A steeper pitch will put the lower roof ridge right between the twin windows on the head house.  Your roof ridge is too low because of the shallow pitch.  Doug

Doug was right, so I found a spare hour last week and rebuilt the model.  Doug was also kind enough to send a couple more photos, the most important of which was the photo below from May, 1965, below, showing the back of the building.

Carver 1965

I did not want to completely disassemble and rebuild the whole model because styrene isn’t easy to get here in Germany, so my approach was to remove the roofs and add styrene shapes to get the building “up to pitch”.

Below.  I made some measurements to create an “8-12 pitch” as suggested by Doug.  Using mathematics, I determined the peak needed to be two feet higher so I measured and cut a piece of styrene to fit and glued it behind the end.


I filled in the gaps with spare pieces of styrene and attached the roof.  I’m going to sheath the whole structure in simulated wood (Evergreen styrene strip) so at this stage it doesn’t matter if the external finish isn’t perfect. 


Below.  I used the same technique for the main structure.  The math here was a little more complicated than this P.E. major could handle, so I asked my wife for help.  Once I had the additional riser figured out, I cut a piece to match.  That’s it at the bottom, waiting to be attached.


I fixed the new roof piece and then realized I cut it wrong…


…and had to add yet another small piece to get the pitch perfect.  


When I test-fit the head-house, below, I realized that I had to adjust the angle on the bottom of it too.  I overlooked that procedure and wasn’t looking forward to another modeling challenge.  Nevertheless I was able to scribe it easily and break the unwanted parts off with needlenose pliers, and get it done quickly.


Below.  Here are the two components, rebuilt and ready for test-fitting.


Below.  That’s a little better.  Doug was right–the steeper pitch makes this look like an older building.  You many notice that the lower windows in the headhouse are all messed up.  I’ll just omit those from the finished model and I think it’ll be fine.


Below.  Test-fitting on the layout.


Finishing this building got me thinking about a mistake I made when constructing the layout.  The siding on the “bump-out” was supposed to ease down to 24-inch radius, but for some reason I laid the curve broader.  It has caused a lot of problems, and now that I am building structures for the bump-out those problems need to be addressed.


Below.  The new elevator works better on the bump-out with a tighter curve.

On the real railroad, there were four or five customers on this siding, but I’ve only got space for one.  To address the problem I’ve made a plan to remove this bump-out and make a new one, adjusting the width and depth.  The plan is to increase the depth by about eight inches which will give me room for this elevator plus a coal dealer.


So there we go…how to rumble, bumble and stumble your way through scratchbuilding a grain elevator.  You’ll never see this one in MR.  – John G

No. 100: More Southside Scenery Work

I’m not a streetcar guy but I was in Milan, Italy on Monday and was surprised to see a whole bunch of old trolley cars running around downtown.  I managed to get one halfway-decent photo shown below.  I read online that these cars have been around since the 1920s and were built to an American design. 

The most interesting thing about these cars, apart from their cool early 20th Century design, was that they are loud!  Modern trams running nearby are quiet and comfortable, but these cars clank along and with every turn of the wheel there is a creak and moan and clatter over rail joints.  It’s great!  The photo below almost looks like it could’ve been taken in the 1930s, right?

IMG_1955.jpgThe Milan cars have a pretty cool history, some of which can be read about at  Even if you’re not a streetcar guy the read is worth five minutes of your time.

Back to Ackley

In a recent post I mentioned that I had completed a lot of work adding new photo backdrops and trees to the south side area of my 16 x 2-foot layout.  Here are a few more photos of the work, plus some new photos of work in the center section of the layout.

Below, here is an overall view of the newly completed area.


Here’s a close-up of the layout near the M&StL-IC junction, with the new backdrop in place in the background.  The backgrounds are simply color photocopies, cut out around the tree-lines, and glued on the backdrop with Elmer’s Glue.


Here’s another view, slightly different from the view at top, with more trees added and a few more details filled in.  You may note that elevator in front.  It’s new.


In the early days there was another elevator on the stub-end spur across from the Ackley depot.  No photos of it have been found, and having just a footprint on an old Sanborn map, I went about finding a suitable prototype model the structure and provide a little business on that track.  

I focused on this elevator, below, which was on the M&StL lines at Carver, which is one station east of Chaska, Minnesota.  Chaska and Carver have a family connection.  One of the guys on the M&StL IO Groups list, Vern Wigfield, was a longtime agent at Carver.  Vern has been a great resource for M&StL historians and modelers, and a few years ago I found out that Vern and my mom went to high school together in the 1940s too.

m&stl carver mn 4-7-65

I quickly threw together a model of the elevator, guessing at the dimensions.  I used Evergreen Models Novelty Siding for the job, and planned on sheathing the entire model with styrene strip to simulate wood.


I built up the basic superstructure first…


…then added the roof and elevator (below).


Above.  I think it’s too big.  The elevator part of the structure is too tall.  But I’m going to finish it and even though it might not be the final building on that site, it’ll work for the time being.

Meanwhile here’s another photo of the road at the center of the layout.  I shot the photo in downtown Litchfield, Illinois—does it look familiar, Lonnie?  I still need to match some colors and add a few details but it’ll work.


I also added about 30-40 new trees to the layout.  My daughter Kirsten and I built three different types.  We built some puffball trees on Woodland Scenics tree armatures, we built some puffball trees on Swiss weed armatures (more on that later…) and finally we made some trees using Super Tree material.  They all turned out well.


Below.  Here’s a view at the center of the layout where the road backdrop was installed.  There are several types of trees here, but the best-looking one in my opinion is the tree just to the right of the highway at the backdrop.


I made the tree using a cutting from a bush I came across in Switzerland last June.  The armature looked nice and I painted it lightly using a mix of dark brown and light gray paint, and then covered it with Woodland Scenics fiber and coated the fiber with Super Leaf material from Scenic Express.


My funny, funny daughter took a photo of me harvesting the weeds last year.  We stopped at a local grocery store to pick up food while staying near Lake Geneva, and I spied the bushes and grabbed a handful of weed cuttings.


Here’s a view of a freight car with the new backdrop in place at the center of the layout and some new trees in place.  To my untrained eyes the “back-scene”, as British modelers call it, looks perfectly natural.  Definitely not perfect, but the background and trees fit together and compliment the foreground scene where all the action is.


Progress is good and continues this week. 

Meanwhile, this photo, below, is added for all the guys on the Proto Layouts list on IO.  I posted a similar picture and one of the guys said “Looks good…now go straighten that crossbuck!”


Until next time.  – John G





No. 98: New Scenery for Ackley’s South Side

I came home from St. Louis RPM full of motivation to finish up some important things on the layout.

The primary area of concern was the south side of my 16 x 2-foot layout.  I was unhappy with the photo backdrops I was using so while I was in St. Louis I took a couple of hundred pictures out east of the city in the farm country around Litchfield, hoping that some of those photos would work for backdrops. 

Below.  Here’s what I started with when I came back home.  I removed all the trees, buildings and detail parts from the layout and got to work.


Below.  With everything out of the way, I decided to install new concrete blocks that held the control rods for the mechanical interlocking system.  The mechanical interlocking was gone in 1940–I model 1950–but I thought it would be interesting to add the blocks.  I used Evergreen styrene strip for the job, measuring six inches by 12 inches, and then cut a whole bunch of them using a NWSL Chopper.


Then I made a little jog to install them at the right height and distance from the rail.  It would’ve been much easier to do this before applying any scenery.


Below.  Nevertheless, I was still able to install them all at relatively the same height and distance from the rail.  I continued installing the pads on all the tracks within about 200 scale feet of the interlocking.  I painted them with Tru Color Concrete.

You can also see the photo backdrops I was using originally.  That was my first-ever try at using photo backdrops.  They were an improvement, but I wasn’t happy with them.


Next I re-ballasted the IC mainline track per the 1940-era photo below.  The ballast profile on my layout as seen above just wasn’t prototypical.  The steam-era ballast profile is very prominent in the prototype photo:

  • Ballast up to the top of the ties in the middle
  • Exposed tie ends 
  • Shallow ballast profile out to six feet

Isn’t this a great shot?  You’re looking down the IC towards Chicago.  The IC – M&StL transfer (interchange) track is just to your right.  This photo was provided by Doug Harding, courtesy the Ackley Historical Society.ackley tower looking east 047

The ballast used on the IC line on my layout is Woodland Scenics N scale light gray ballast.  I don’t know if it is prototypical but I wanted to create some contrast between the IC and M&StL lines.  

I simply added more ballast where I wanted, wetted it down by spraying it with a fine mist of rubbing alcohol, and then applying ballast glue.  My ballast glue formula is about 25% Elmers Glue All, 25% rubbing alcohol, a few drops of dishwashing soap, and the rest water.  This formula works good and doesn’t leave behind any white residue.


I also touched up the scenery a little bit here and there, and added a little more ground foam and static grass in a few places, and in general cleaned up a lot of minor problem spots in this area. 

New Backdrop Photos


The photo above shows some of the new backdrops photos I’m using after some of the IC line details and a few trees were reinstalled.  Here are three of the photos I used in this area, all of which were taken around Staunton, Illinois (near Litchfield).




When I was shooting the “backdrop photos”, I tried to follow a simple set of guidelines that I learned from the first round using backdrop photos:

  • Take photos of an entire scene from end-to-end.
  • When possible, include in photos an area that include a transition, such as foreground trees with a corn field in the background.
  • If taking pictures of trees or other tall features, include the whole tree–don’t chop the top of it out of your photo. 
  • Take some pictures that have diagonal land features.  We railfans tend to take pictures that are always nicely boxed in, or 3/4 views.  Note the photo above–see how there’s a diagonal transition at the bottom right?   Those features break up vertically-stacked scenes, and come in handy for creating backdrop transitions, so “think outside the box”.

To use the photos, I simply printed them out on an 11 x 17-inch sheet of legal printer paper, in landscape model, and that was it.  Then I cut out all the sky around the trees, test-fitted them, and then glued them on the backdrop using Elmer’s Glue-All.

Because I took series of photos I was able to easily match up different photo prints end-to-end.  The photo below is much improved!


I worked my way around the entire south end of the layout, slowly adding the photocopied backdrops. 

Below.  This is one of the three road crossings in downtown Ackley, Iowa.  This picture was taken in downtown Litchfield, Illinois.  It worked out nicely.  The large black line in the left center is a separation in the Masonite backdrop; this is where the two major benchwork sections separate (for moving and transport).  I needed to cut the backdrop photo several times to lay it over that break in the backdrop.  I also need to match the road color to the photo. 


Below is another photo of the new backdrops.  Behind the cement dealer there is a transition from foreground trees to a background soybean field, hidden by a couple of 3-D puffball trees. 

I added the dead tree to attract the eye away from the backdrop.  That tree was cut from an ornamental bush I found alongside a highway in Switzerland.  I got a giant handful of them before the family knew what was going on.  I dried it and painted it gray and that was it.


I’m happy with the new backdrops so far.  They are not very “Iowa Cornfield” but this area did have quite a few trees in the 40s and 50s, so the backdrops are prototypical although not quite representative. 

I continued to touch up grass, ballast, plant trees and add details as I worked my way down the layout.  I don’t want to install too many trees, but rather use a few trees here and there to provide a 3-D effect. 

Speaking of trees, Jim DuFour explained how he made trees in one of our many conversations at St. Louis RPM.  I finally got a new box of Super Trees shipped so I’m going to give his methods a try soon.  Jim told me he wasn’t happy with puffball trees.  I’m not either, although there are a couple still on the layout as you can see in the photos. 

By the way, if you ever need motivation to do better scenery work, look no further than Jim DuFour.  The photo below on Jim’s layout is an example of how Jim mixes model trees, photo backdrops and ground cover into a perfectly natural scene.   It was photos like this from Jim’s layout–and meeting the master himself at St. Louis–that got me motivated to get to work.


A few additional details and trees later, everything was back to better-than-normal.  There’s more work to be done but I really wanted to get some trains running again.  The work can wait.


One last photo–down by the depot–just for fun. 


I hope you guys have a blessed week!  – John G


No. 83: Lighting Up – Lights on the Ackley Layout

The final light fixtures for the Ackley layout were installed last weekend.


You may recall that the layout is built at sit-down height under a sloped ceiling.  I placed LED lights in a triangular-shaped valance and installed the fixture on the sloped wall above the layout.  Then I installed a 4-1/2-inch Masonite fascia in front of the valance to clean everything up.  I still want to paint the fascia green to match the rest of the layout fascia and will get to that as time permits.

Looks like I’ve got a little bit of “mission creep” above the fascia on the valance at left.  


Below.  I went to out neighborhood Lowes-look-alike, called Obi, and bought a thin piece of Masonite and had them cut it into 4-1/2-inch slices.  No muss, no fuss, and no charge for all the cuts.  They were happy to do it.  Gotta love that about Germany.


Below.  The valance for the center section of the visible layout is seen below.  I made a triangular-shaped fixture and screwed it into the wall, installed the LED light inside, and ran the wires down the sloped ceiling with conduit.  This center section of the layout is hidden behind a chimney and it’s very dark back there without lighting.


Below.  Here is the valance with the new 4-1/2-inch fascia installed.  It looks a lot better.  I decided to run the fascia all the way to the skylight window at left.  I did not install lighting across the window opening, however, hoping that enough ambient light will get in from outside to keep everything well-lit.


Then I installed the last fixture, below, on the left side of the layout.  The south side staging yard is to the left.


Below.  Here’s a general view as you enter the room.  I get a little extra light during the day.  I get a whole lot of extra light during the summer months.  We’re up at 52 degree Latitude and the sun comes up at 0400 hrs and goes down after 2200.


Below.  This is a whole-layout view from the other end of the room.  You can see the entire visible layout, the chimney (which I have surrounded by cabinets) the lighting valance, and my workbench at far right. 

As a reminder the sloped wall is 21-1/2 feet long and the “visible” or scenicked portion of the layout is exactly 16 feet.  At each end of the layout is a 2-1/2-foot “curve module” that is covered by fascia; the main track curves behind each of the curve modules to reach a small staging yard on each end.


I did not intend to run the fascia all the way to the wall–just to the edge of the visible layout.  However, I ran it all the way to the wall on the left side and I think it looks pretty good.  So now I have to run it all the way to the right wall as well to satisfy my OCD.

Below.  This is the South Staging Yard.  There’s about 12 feet of wall space here, and I’m thinking of installing a small city-themed layout above it.  I’m thinking of a British-style traveling layout with a valance on each side, just small enough to fit into the family van.  More to follow on that later.  Right now I’m thinking of an industrial layout…somewhere in St. Louis…


I spent the rest of the week working on freight cars and made some significant progress and finished three cars and got a few other weathered.  Here’s a photo of my P48 WP car, below, which just needs Dullcote and couplers to be “done”.  I’ll cover all this as soon as I can get some computer time.

Looks like I need to re-install the grab under the placard area before we’re ready for Prime Time…


Hope you all have a blessed week.  – John G