Modeler's Moment - Selective compression

Selective compression

A model railroad friend of mine likes to say "our eyes are bigger than our layouts." What he means by this is that there is never enough room on the layout to include all of the features that we want to include. Whether they be structures, track arrangements or scenery, there are just too many big things that we want to model. As model railroaders, we employ a process called selective compression where we select the most important features for a scene and compress them enough to fit in the space available while retaining the key elements of those features to keep them recognizable. Now if only I could selectively compress all the paperwork around my house...

Modeler's Moment - Happy birthday, E.H. Harriman

E. H. Harriman

Today is the birthday of the railroad executive who tried to merge Union Pacific (UP) and Southern Pacific (SP) almost a century before the merger was complete in 1996. E.H. Harriman was born on February 20, 1848, and joined the Board of Directors for UP in 1897, becoming President in 1903. He also became President of SP in 1901. He controlled both railroads (and several other companies) until his death on September 9, 1909. Many of the two railroads' operating practices were standardized, but Federal officials objected to a combined company at the time, so a complete merger would have to wait. In 1913, his widow set up the E.H. Harriman Award to recognize railroad companies with outstanding safety records.

Modeler's Moment - Model the fallen flags too

I'm always fascinated when I go out railfanning to find freight cars still lettered for former railroads (fallen flags), like this former Wisconsin Central covered hopper that I saw in 2004. Not only was WC no longer extant at that time, the location made the sighting all the more interesting. This car was sitting in the yard at Tacoma Rail during the tour that I took at the NMRA convention that year. So, when you're building your freight car fleet for your model railroad, add a few fallen flag cars, and don't worry so much about the region where the former railroad operated.

Modeler's Moment - Check your white balance

Cascade green mainline action

This tip could go just as easily under lighting as it could under model photography. Be aware of what kind of lighting you're using on your layout. In the same way that incandescent bulbs can cast a yellowish glow, most of the fluorescent bulbs will have a green tint to the light that they give off. When you're painting your models, paint them under the same lighting conditions as your layout. If you're photographing models, check your camera's manual on how to set a custom white balance to compensate for it.

Modeler's Moment - Putting a bridge against a backdrop

No outlet

So you've got a small rail bridge that you really want to use on your layout but the track is right up against the backdrop. How do you blend the road under the bridge into the backdrop while keeping it realistic? Block the road! I spotted this former bridge and road underpass yesterday in Waupaca, WI; the road used to go through under the bridge, but has since been blocked by fill material. My guess is that the bridge itself is rated for lighter trains than now run over this line and it was cheaper to just close the street and fill in under the bridge than to replace the bridge.

DM&E sale may be imminent

Here's something interesting for those in the Midwest. Trains magazine is reporting that the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad may be sold by Cedar American Rail Holdings, its current parent company, to raise the funds needed for its Powder River Basin extension. The short list, according to Trains, is now narrowed down to three likely bidders: CN, CP and an undisclosed shortline operator (ed. could this be RailAmerica or maybe Railroad Development Corporation [current owners of Iowa Interstate]?). The bidders have until the end of the week to respond, so we should know more about this transaction next week. The Associated Press has picked up this story now, so check your sources when you look into this one.


New toy, trying to get back to posting here...

Okay, so I've been busy and not getting anything posted here for quite a while. Well, a new toy arrived in the mail today. It's called "Lens in a Cap" and it gives me a near pinhole aperture on a very small lens. The entire lens is about the size of a body lens cap and it has a setting for f/64. While it's almost impossible to see through the lens to compose an image with the aperture so small, using that and the optional Lubot 10x loupe, I got some amazing macro shots of some models....

All of the models that I shot are N scale factory painted, unmodified models. The first model that I shot was an unlettered Atlas GP9 in Union Pacific style yellow and grey (Milwaukee Road used this paint scheme on their later passenger trains too).

Macro test 3

I never noticed those T joints molded on the handrails until I saw this image on my computer screen. Way cool! Next, I grabbed a MicroTrains covered hopper...

Modeler's Moment - A source for window tints

light gel samples

Are you building a model that includes tinted windows? If you know anyone who deals with professional lighting equipment (think about the people you know at the local performing arts theater), you may have a source for low cost window tints. This image shows a sample pack of light gels from Roscolux. A light gel is basically a colored filter on a thin sheet of plastic. When the light gels wear out or get damaged (like if there's a hole melted in the center), they need to be replaced. For model building purposes, the rest of the damaged gel still contains enough material to use for your window tints so ask your friends to hold on to the damaged gels for you.

Modeler's Moment - Paint the backdrop

Backdrop before and after

If you do nothing else to your backdrop, at a bare minimum, go down to the local paint store and buy a quart of mistint flat sky blue paint and a wide brush. The exact shade isn't important, just get something that looks like a sky blue. By looking through the mistint (the "rejects") shelf, you'll often get the paint for very little. Most skies that occur naturally don't have wood grain, so a simple step like this can immensely improve the appearance of a layout in its beginning stages. While you're at it, get a grass green, dirt brown and street grey for the rest of the plywood plains too.

Modeler's Moment - Happy Birthday, London Underground!

Blackfriars station

The first section of the London Underground opened on January 10, 1863, connecting Paddington Station to Farringdon Street. Since then, the system has grown to cover 253 miles of track on twelve lines. I can only imagine what it would have been like riding the Underground when it was still powered by steam engines; it certainly would have been quite a bit dirtier and darker in color than scenes from today, like this view of Blackfriars station.

Photo credit

Photo by Adrian Pingstone in June 2005, released to the public domain. Original image obtained from on January 10, 2007.


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