Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Modifying a Bachmann GE 44 Tonner for EBT Yard Service

While wandering through my local hobby store recently, I noticed a clean looking Bachmann HO gauge GE 44 Ton diesel in the showcase.  It was on sale for $20.  No matter that I model the East Broad Top, which was a narrow gauge steam railroad!  No matter that I operate DCC, and this engine was DC!  No matter that the logo on the side of the cab read Boston & Maine!  The price was right, and I sprang for it.

You see, the EBT was experimenting with diesel engines way back in the early 1950s, and had even been in conversation with GE about soliciting bids for a dieselization program.  According to an article by Lance Myers in the summer 2010 issue of the Timber Transfer, GE had proposed in 1953 producing four 80-ton 600 horsepower diesels plus one standard gauge unit of the same size, for $106,000 each.  In 1955, just before abandonment, the EBT contacted GE again.  At that time, GE offered a pair of 65 ton 550 hp diesels, plus one 35 ton switcher for Mount Union.  Nothing came of these discussions, and the railroad closed with only one piece of internal combustion equipment: the gas electric motor car M-1.

After the railroad reopened as a tourist attraction in 1960, management acquired a collection of 16 different gas or diesel locomotives.  Only eight of them were actually used in service; the rest were stored on the property and disposed of over the years.  Until the end of tourist operations two years ago, trains were hauled either by 2-8-2 #15 or by GE 55 ton diesel electric M-7.  Several smaller diesels are still in occasional use for shifting in the Rockhill yard.  Here is a photo of the M-7 in operation.

So maybe my idea of an EBT diesel wasn't such a wild idea after all!  Upon inspection, I found that the only glaring problem was the Boston & Maine logo on the center cab.  I brushed on a small puddle of Solvaset, let it sit for a minute, and then began to work the logo with a wooden toothpick.  To my surprise and delight, the logo began to soften and come off.  It was a decal!  Careful work with several applications of Solvaset and rubbing gently with a toothpick resulted in the complete removal of the logo.  I then applied an EBT "acorn" logo from a set of steel hopper car decals, applied a coat of Microsol to settle it onto the cab surface, then sprayed the entire unit with Dullcoat.  The result was an engine that bore a fair resemblance to the M-7.

The EBT generally numbered their diesels with the prefix "M", but I argued that this diesel was recently acquired used from the Boston & Maine, and the railroad opted to leave it as number 118 for the time being. 

The next issue was converting the locomotive from DC to DCC.  The Bachmann engine has a small printed circuit board on top of the motor frame.  This acts as a constant lighting control for the front and rear 12 volt bulbs.  The unit has all wheel pick-up, which is ideal for DCC, expecially with such a small engine.  I carefully detached the printed circuit board from the frame, and disconnected the wires running to it.  They were clipped to the PC board, rather than soldered, which made it easy to separate the wires for each truck (using an ohm meter to determine which wire went to which side), the wires to the motor, and the wires to the lights.  I carefully tagged each pair of wires with tape.

Rummaging through my box of decoders, I found a Soundtraxx MC1Z102SQ 2 function decoder that was no bigger than my thumbnail.  The Z in the model number is a dead giveaway.  You can see from the above photo that the tiny decoder fits right on top of the frame, leaving plenty of room for the shell to fit on top.  I connected the wheels to the red and black decoder wires, then the motor to the orange and gray leads.  A quick test on the layout showed no problem running forward and back.  I then ran the white wire to the headlight and the yellow wire to the backup light.  The blue decoder wire is the common for lighting, and was connected the the other side of the front and rear bulbs.  An engineer from my scrap box completed the effect.

So there you have it.  A $20 EBT standard gauge diesel shifter perfect for shunting cars around the Blacklog Refractories brickyard.

This was a fun project that took a couple of evenings and adds some interest to the dual gauge operations at Blacklog.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Blacklog Refractories Corporation (BREFCO)

In my previous post, I described the thriving Mount Union industries manufacturing firebrick for the steel furnaces of Pittsburgh and Steelton, Pennsylvania.  On my HO scale layout, the bustling town of Blacklog is modeled after Mount Union, and like its larger cousin to the north, includes both a coal cleaning plant and a brickyard.  Mount Union was home to North American Refractories (NARCO) and General Refractories (GREFCO), as well as the Harbison-Walker plant on the west side of town.  Blacklog is the home of Blacklog Refractories Corporation, or BREFCO, which occupies a significant space on one end of the layout.  Here is a picture of the plant, with the dual gauge yards and coal cleaning plant in the background, and the town of Blacklog on the right.

As you can see, the plant includes a conveyor from nearby Blacklog Mountain, which carries ganister rock from the quarry to the crusher on the left.  Additional ganister is brought in by rail below the conveyor.  The crushed rock is then carried by another conveyor to the two story brick building with its brick smoke stack, where the rock is mixed with water and moulded into bricks for firing.  The six kilns on the right are served by dual tracks to bring in coal for firing the ovens.   To the right of the kilns are a series of wood and metal buildings designed to warehouse the finished bricks until they can be carried off by boxcars.  The curved track in the foreground is the mainline of the Blacklog Valley Railroad, a standard gauge pike that shares the dual gauge yards in the left background.  If you look carefully, you might noticed three identical houses just beyond the plant.  These are modeled after actual GREFCO company houses along the EBT tracks in Mount Union.  Below is another view of the company houses with the warehouses on the right and the mountains in the background.

As I mentioned in my previous posting, the ground cover in the brickyard industrial area is #180 Sandstone, sanded grout from Polyblend, available at your local hardware or building supply store.  I first read about Polyblend in Bob Brown's "Ramblings" in the January/February 2010 issue of the Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette.  I had been waiting for an opportunity to try out this new ground cover material, and the brickyard seemed the perfect choice.  Bob had tried mixing the grout with water and brushing it on, but I tried spreading the grout and spraying with a fine water mist.  The misting worked well enough, but tended to get everything else on the layout just as wet (I should have used a plastic drop cloth, but hindsight is 20/20, right?)  I then tried brushing on diluted matte medium and sprinkling grout over it.  This also worked, but tended to produce clumpier and darker areas on the terrain.  I also used matte medium on piles of grout at the end of the stub sidings to build up end of the track bumpers, which came out very well.

The kilns in the photo above are plaster castings that were painted and colored with grimy black weathering powders.  The rusted metal bands holding the bricks together were painted onto the kilns using a Prismacolor dark umber marker.  I ran across the idea of using Prismacolor markers from Michael Duggan, owner of Paw of a Bear Models in Virginia.  The markers did color the bands as I had hoped, but it was hard to keep a straight line freehand.  At first, I was sure I had ruined the model, but after weathering with powders, and viewed from a distance, the less than perfect lines vanished in the distance (see above).

Clearly, the production of bricks requires more than crushed stone and kilns.  The stone has to be combined with water into a slurry, formed into moulds with the required shapes, and dried before firing.  Between the crusher and the kilns I chose to place a "mould house", using the Easton Mill kit by RDA (Railway Design Associates) out of Monson, Massachusetts.  This was a traditional northeastern brick mill building, with a large brick smoke stack at one end, and a conveyor belt from the crusher at the other.  I used white water color and a wetting agent to flood the gaps between bricks on the mill walls, to resemble mortar.  Half of the RDA roof was missing from the kit, so I replaced the kit's roof and its cupola with Evergreen corrugated metal.  To disguise the seams between sections of the kit, steel wire was shaped into downspouts, while Evergreen channel was used for gutters.  The results, including the BREFCO logo on the smoke stack, were exactly what was needed.

Here is another view of the building in place on the layout.

There are still a number of details to be added to the BREFCO  brickyard, including ballasting of the tracks outside the yard, adding weeds and shrubs around the major structures, along with a company water tower (complete with BREFCO) and a "burial ground" for broken and castoff bricks.  All of this remains to be added before I can call the Blacklog brickyard finished.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Building a Brickyard

The town of Mount Union marked the northern terminus of the East Broad Top narrow gauge railroad and its junction with the Pennsylvania Railroad. While Broad Top coal was one reason for the town's importance, it was not the only local industry. Mount Union was also home to three large brickyards, or refractories, where ganister rock (a mineral found in several locations along the EBT) was quarried, crushed, and made into high temperature firebricks for the steel mills of Pittsburgh.  In their heyday, North American Refractories (NARCO), General Refractories (GREFCO) and the huge Harbison Walker plant employed thousands of workers and were a primary source of employment for the citizens of Mount Union and the surrounding area.   Here is an early post card view of the Harbison Walker refractory in Mount Union.

The Harbison Walker facility was located at the foot of Jack's Mountain, seen in the background, a major source of ganister rock on both sides of the Juniata River.  The huge size of the refractory is best seen from an aerial view.  Below you can see the long rows of kilns, where the yellowish bricks were fired at high temperatures, and the associated smoke stacks to vent off the heat and smoke from the fires. In the early days, kilns were fired with coal or coke.  Toward the end of its existence, H-W had made the transition to natural gas, which was plentiful, cheap, and less toxic than coal.  The tracks in the foreground are dual gauge for the EBT and the PRR. 

Across town, North American Refractories, or NARCO, was located on the banks of the Juniata and was served by a spur of the PRR.  On the lower left, below, you can see the roofs of standard gauge boxcars in which the newly fired bricks would be shipped out on the Pennsy to steel mills east and west.

When I began to plan my own layout, I knew that I wanted to include a smaller version of these bustling industries.  The town of Blacklog, with its dual gauge yard and coal cleaning plant, was modeled after Mount Union.  So it seemed reasonable that Blacklog include a brickyard as well.  I had explored the hills around the Harbison Walker plant when I lived in Mount Union, and I knew I wanted my brickyard to resemble a miniature version of that facility.  I was inspired by a close-up view of the refractory in a photograph provided by the Mount Union Area Historical Society.

I particularly wanted to reproduce the complexity of the brickyard, with conveyors bringing ganister rock down from the quarries on Jack's Mountain, the large crusher to the left center, the kilns and stacks in the background, and the variety of structures, roofs, and building materials in the photograph.

For the crusher, I used a Walther's Glacier Gravel plant kit, 933-3062, which would be connected to quarries on a nearby mountainside by combining several of the Modern Conveyor kits (933-3518).  Here you can see the crusher on the left, served by two tracks.  The Blacklog Valley main line runs under the conveyor as it loops back around the town.  The mountain on the right was made of layers of 2 inch pink foam insulation, stacked to suggest receding terraces from years of quarrying ganister from the mountainside.  In the lower right corner is the dual gauge EBT wye. 

An Easton Mill building by Railway Design Associates would be added later to provide a place for shaping and preparing the firebricks for the ovens.  There would also have to be several large warehouses to hold the finished products for shipment.  All of this would need at least five industrial spurs to service the plant.  Here I am laying out the brickyard to get a feel for how it might look.

While most of the structures in the refractory were commercially available for kitbashing, I was at a loss as to how to model the kilns.  At first I was attracted to the wonderfully detailed resin kilns from Model Railstuff (Walthers 506-660) with massive matching stacks (506-680).  But after spending more than $75.00 for one kiln and stack, I started looking for an alternative.  After more than a year of searching, I stumbled over a set of cast plaster kilns on eBay from Imported Specialties out of Columbus, Ohio, which were about a third the price of the resin models.   The plaster kilns were pure white.  The following photo shows one of the kilns after spraying wiyth Model Master 1963 Desert Sand.  The paint was as close as I could get to the color of the kilns and stacks at Mount Union.

Apparently, the maker of these kilns no longer exists; but eventually I was able to accumulate a total of six kilns on eBay, some of which had been broken and glued back together.  Still, beggars can't be choosers, and I felt that when painted and weathered, the cracks would hardly be noticeable.  That turned out to be correct, as you shall see in the next post, when I continue the story of how I built the Blacklog Refractories Company, or BREFCO for short.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Finishing Tori's Trestle

Over the course of five postings I have described how I built and sited a 140 foot curved trestle for my HO gauge Blacklog Valley Railroad.  The Blacklog Valley, as you may recall, was originally designed as a bridge route running between Port Royal, Pennsylvania and Hancock, Maryland. The BVRR interchanges with the narrow gauge East Broad Top at Blacklog. 

Originally, I had no intention of building a trestle, but two factors induced me to take on the project: First, my youngest granddaughter had asked me to include a "tall, spindly trestle ... with a waterfall .... and an alligator".  Second, in preparing for the National Model Railroaders Association achievement certificate in building structures, I had to construct a bridge or trestle.  And so the die was cast, and Tori's Trestle became a reality. 

Part 5 of this series of articles ended with the making and painting of the plaster rocks that form the backdrop for the trestle.

From this photo you can see where a mountain stream will carve through the hills above the ravine, crashing down into a rocky pool below, and flowing out under the trestle.  The next step was to carve out the stream bed under the trestle and line it with plaster.  The lining is critically important for the next step, which involved mixing and pouring a two part clear resin call "Magic Water".  The resin has a tendency to creep into any hole or crevice unless it is carefully confined.

Above you can see the creek bed where it has been gouged out of the pink foam base, lined with plaster of paris, and colored earth brown for convenience in working with the plaster.  I then painted both the upper and lower creek beds with acrylic paints, using several shades of green.  The darkest green was used for the deeper places and the lighter shades for the shallows.

With the creek bed painted, I added several small stones to suggest boulders that have broken and fallen off the cliff above the stream.  I poured the Magic Water, and then discovered that not only does it creep into holes and crevices, it also creeps up and over small pebbles and rocks in the creek bed!  Notice the resin on the sides of the stones.

The effect was even worse for the upper stream, where the rocks were completely covered in resin!

Fortunately, I discovered (serendipitously) that the resin covered rocks can be painted with acrylics. A careful brushing of slate gray acrylic on the rocks left them looking even more realistic than when I started.  Phew!

So far, I had a fairly good looking stream at the top and the bottom, separated by 80 feet of vertical cliff.  Obviously, I needed a way for the water to get from stream A to stream B -- in other words, a waterfall!  I decided to make my waterfall out of DAP 3.0 clear acrylic caulk.  The technique is fairly simple.  First, a frame is made from a sheet of clear plastic (I used acrylic sheet from Home Depot) cut to size.  The upper end of the clear plastic is heated (in my case with a heat gun) until it becomes soft and flexible.  It can then be bent to suggest water pouring over the top of the cliff.

Once the clear plastic support is finished, the next step is to construct the rushing water.  Beads of caulk are laid out side by side on a sheet of waxed paper using a caulking gun, then mingled together to the proper width with a toothpick, and allowed to dry for at least six hours.  Be sure to lay the beads of caulk at least 1/2 inch longer that the height of the waterfall.  The caulk is then peeled off the waxed paper and fitted to the clear plastic form.  (Be sure to wear latex gloves for this step, in case the caulk isn't completely dry.)  If you wish, you can secure the caulk to the plastic with ACC.

The waterfall can then be adjusted to the available space and glued into position with caulk or ACC cement.

But wait!  We're not finished yet!  We need to add rapids to the rushing waters at the top and bottom of the waterfall.  There are several ways to do this.  You can use "Water Effects" by Woodland Scenics or you can use a heavy gloss gel from AC Moore or Michael's art departments.  I tried both and found little difference between them.  The heavy gloss gel seemed to hold peaks better when stippled on the water.  Both materials dry clear, so to get the effect of foaming water, I mixed my gel with a small amount of titanium white acrylic paint.  The mixture was stippled around the rocks to resemble rushing water.

I also brushed the gel mixture on the falls, especially around the top and then randomly down the length of the waterfall.  The key word here is "random".

The finished product is beginning to look like a waterfall!

The rock face and falls look pretty good, but the scenery around them is lacking in .... well, scenery!  I planned to use a new product called "Fusion Fiber" for the ground cover.   Fusion Fiber resembles Sculptamold, but according to the manufacturer, True Scene, is easier to apply and color.  You mix the fibers in a container of water and acrylic paint (I used earth brown) until it forms a squishy mass.  The fibers can then be troweled over the base with a putty knife.  The major advantage of Fusion Fiber is that no glue is required to add ground foam, clump foliage or even trees.  The stuff is sticky when wet.  If it dries, just spray with a little water and it becomes flexible again.  Here I have applied the fiber to the hill top above the falls, and sprinkled it with several shades of ground foam.

The addition of some homemade lichen trees makes the scene even more realistic.

Reassured that this fiber stuff would really work, I began to smooth it on over the plaster cloth base under the trestle and up the right hand hillside.  I applied a coating of Woodland Scenics blended ground foam over it all.  A Noch briar patch was used at the left hand tunnel mouth for scenic interest.  At this point I still have to cover the ground under the trestle supports, but here is the result:

We're not quite finished yet.  An 80 foot waterfall creates a lot of spray.  The bottom of the falls should be clouded in mist.  To create the misty effect, I used imitation Halloween cobweb material from my local party store.  A small amount teased out over the bottom of the falls gives just the right impression.  A brief spray of clear Krylon spray fixed the spray in place and gave it a little sparkle.

To the left of the falls is a small, quiet pool.  This would be the natural lair for my granddaughter's beloved alligators.  I wanted to highlight the pool with vegetation, using Noch's new laser cut ferns and cattails.  These are fun to apply.  You just pop them out and fold them together between thumb and forefinger, add a spot of ACC and presto!  If you look carefully, you can make out a gator hiding next to a bunch cattails, while its sibling suns on a rock at the foot of the falls.

This concludes my six part series on building Tori's Trestle (and so as not to neglect my youngest grandson, Tucker Falls). I still have some work to do integrating the scene into the rest of the layout.  Track remains to be ballasted, and a hardboard fascia strip will eventually frame the scene.   But this is what a visitor sees today when entering the train room. 


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tori's Trestle - Part 5

In my previous post, I explained how I carved out the ravine over which Tori's Trestle will pass.  The shape of the opening was roughed out with strips of cardboard and the floor of the ravine overlaid with Fiberglas screen to provide "tooth" for the Fusion Fiber scenery base.  The next stop was to cover those areas with plaster cloth that will be covered by plaster rocks.  Here is a picture of the project before adding the rock wall.

To give a solid support for the large rock castings behind the trestle, the vertical wall was coated with a layer of Hydrocal.  The channel for the upper stream that will cascade down the rock wall, and the carved out shape of the pond and rapids below, were also coated with Hydrocal

Once the Hydrocal had set, I began to experiment with positioning the large latex molds that would be used to cast the center of the rock face.  Fortunately, the two largest molds fit together reasonably well, and the gap between them could be filled with plaster, then blended together with a knife to give a seamless appearance to the wall.  I used Plaster of Paris for the rocks, since it accepts acrylic stains better than the rock hard Hydrocal. 

I filled the molds with Plaster of Paris, then waited until the plaster began to set.  While the plaster was setting, I sprayed the Hydrocal wall thoroughly with water.  This is a critical step, for if the Hydrocal is dry, it will instantly suck the water out of the casting and the rock will not hold.  The liquid plaster is ready to apply if it no longer spills out of the mold when you pick up an edge.  Then the mold must be lifted gently, supported as much as possible with both hands. The casting is placed on the Hydrocal and held in place by the edges for several minutes until the plaster sets.  After ten or fifteen minutes, the mold can be gently removed.

Here is a picture of the rocks with the trestle in place.  To give you an idea of the scale of the scene, the trestle is 160 feet long and 40 feet high.  The top of the waterfall where it will emerge from the upper stream is 80 feet high.  At this point a great deal of work remains to be done on the rock wall.  The two castings will be plastered together and the seam shaped with a knife to give the illusion of a single massive granite wall.   One of the rocks will be recast and cut into pieces to fill in most of the empty space on either side.

A waterfall has to have a source.  I cut out a channel in the hill at the top of the ravine for a stream.  The sloping sides of the channel were covered with cardboard and plaster cloth, and a channel was carved out of the foam stream bed.  Eventually, the sides will have cast rocks glued to them rather than the flat, artificial sides.

The waterfall cascading over the cliff will be a key feature of the scene.   To see how the waterfall would fit in the scene, I used a piece of white paper to gauge where the falls would land, and decided to enlarge the pool at the bottom of the cliff.  Impressive!

I decided to stain the rocks using a method called "leopard spotting" that I picked up from the Woodland Scenics website.  It's a very simple technique that consists of randomly "spotting" the casting with several different colors of acrylic paint in a water solution.  It is much easier to make the rocks darker if the colors are too light, than to lighten them up if the colors are too dark.  So I used Forest Green, Slate Gray and Raw Umber in solutions of 1:16 to 1:32.  Once the rocks are stained with various colors, the next step is to apply a weak black stain, but to allow it to flow over the rocks rather than spotting them.   In this way the black runs down cracks and crevices and gives depth to the casting.  Since I was new to the techniqe, I used it on a spare casting to test my technique.  I was genuinely amazed how realistic the rocks appeared after this simple technique.

Reassured that I could paint a realistic rock wall, I proceeded to cast another large rock, then cut it in pieces to fill in the voids on the face of the cliff.  In the following picture, I have filled in the gaps between the various castings with plaster.  A hobby knife and dental tool were used to shape the plaster to make it a part of the adjacent castings.

Now to the exciting part!  I mixed solutions of acrylic paint and water, and lightly spotted the rocks with green, brown and gray.  Then I dipped my brush in the black solution and allowed the stain to run down the face of the cliff.  If the stain did not run into some cracks, I applied it directly.  The results were amazing!

When I was satisfied with the results, I stood back to admire my work.  A massive rock face now stood where there had been only a flat sheet of Hydrocal.  The white spaces on the left and lower right will be filled with vegetation when the scenery is finished.

Once again, I wanted to see what the finished product would look like.  Here it is with the trestle in place.  In the next installment, I will detail how I made the waterfall and the rapids using simple materials such as acrylic caulk and Woodland Scenics Water Effects.