Ilchester, Maryland; The Big Picture(s) as the Module Progresses, Part One

A quick photo tour of the development of the Ilchester, MD 2’x4’ “module” is a good way to see the progression from idea to model. It is also cathartic for me to see the progress of the past several months.

1960s View of Ilchester Station looking East. Bill Hopkins Photograph.

The goal is to have this scene/module completed with additional photos of the overall progress in a part two and as well as complete some specific blogs about structures and track work over the summer.

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Getting the New Tangent Models O-59A Gondolas Layout Ready

I just bought two Tangent Models B&O O-59 Gondolas and they look fantastic. They are a very nice compromise for a layout model as opposed to an RPM model with full underbody detail. At $38.95 retail they have a lot of great features and B&O specific details. The coupler bodies are extended from the ends to replicate a Duryea underframe and it is roughly represented under the car. The underbody details are hidden from the side view, so the rough representation is a good compromise as it allows space for adequate weight, there are two. This was an intentional compromise by the manufacturer to insure the floor height was accurate to the prototype. Weight is always a problem for empty gons and flat cars and in this case I prefer their approach to making it look correct from the top and side, rather underneath. The carbody has separate grab irons, great hand brake detail, coupler lift bars, and a Tatum slack adjuster. I wonder if they would sell those Tatum slack adjuster castings for detailing other B&O freight cars? I’ll check. I have gotten a kind reply and the parts sprue is out of stock. I will edit when it is in stock. Tangent offers most of there parts sprues for only $3. it does appear the underbody details aren’t aligned with the slack adjuster, the underbody detail is at the other end of the car but on the same side. UPDATE MARCH 2022: National Scale Car offers HO scale Tatum Slack Adjuster castings as well as etched brass Tatum Brake Steps.

O-59A Builder Photo, BORRHS Collection.

I recently saw on a chat group someone state that an old Athearn Blue Box kit would be around $25 today, when adjusted for inflation. It gives some perspective on what a deal I believe these cars represent.

Getting them ready for my 1950 era layout starts with some basic steps, the first thing I do with every car is paint and install metal wheels. These models have great wheelsets included so a quick trip to the paint booth, a spray with Vallejo NATO Black, and they are ready for service. You can see in the photo how shiny they are compared to the paint mask that has been sprayed many times. This hasn’t happened to me before with other wheelsets, I would recommend washing the them with a degreaser as I got an unsatisfactory finish on several wheels and it appeared to be the result of some type of oil on the wheel face. Lesson learned. The trucks get a quick weathering paint job with a mix of Vallejo NATO Black and Hull Red.

While I have the trucks removed, I was hoping to burnish the coupler box interiors and add some Kadee 231 “Greas-Em” Dry Graphite Lubricant. The end detail makes it difficult to remove the couplers, so I will shoot some lubricant into the coupler boxes and exercise the coupler shafts to make it as smooth as possible. The cars are already equipped with scale couplers, bonus. I lightly brush painted them with some rust paint. Late note, I was using one of the gons on the layout to test track placement and a derailment caused a coupler box to come loose. They are actually glued in place and the screw only holds the cover to the box, not the car. I was a little disappointed with the two small spots of glue that secure the coupler box without a mechanical attachment, like a screw. I will use some styrene cement to reattach the coupler box using the original two pin connections and supplement it with some epoxy in other locations under the box to add some durability. I hope the flexibility of an epoxy held joint will help improve longevity as the styrene pin joint is small and rigid. UPDATE MARCH 2022: This joint didn’t hold up in service on longer trains. Tangent sent me a new couple box after exchanging emails and explaining the issue. I’ll paint, install, and see if it holds.

One of the preinstalled air hoses took at beating in the derailment so before painting with some rust and light grey on the “metal” parts, I installed some Hi-Tech HO Scale AAR Air Hoses 22″, part #6038. After drilling a #76 hole in the end sill I used canopy glue to secure the hose from behind to the sill. It took some careful trimming to remove the valve from the diagonal support that came with the kit. I secured the support to the body with styrene cement and CA. The joint with the rubber hose was secured with canopy glue. I use Formula 560 Canopy Glue from Zap as recommended by others. It’s durability will depend on me limiting derailments.

Next I weathered the body with a combination of thinned NATO Black overspray, Pan Pastels, and artist pastels. The very light overspray of Vallejo NATO Black lightens the basic black body color and dulls the stark white lettering to represent nine years in service behind steam engines and near steel mills. The interior gets attention with Pan Pastels, especially rust and brown tones. I also have a set of artist pastels and a very stiff, wide brush I use to add lighter colors. I will repeat this after DullCote overspray to make sure the car has an appropriate “in-service for a decade” look.

Final touches include creating some stencil updates to the reweigh and repack information with black decal patches and 1950 dates and B&O locations. I added a few chalk marks from Speedwitch Media’s Decal 135 – Freight Car Chalk Marks. I want these to appear less weathered as if they were written within the last year.

Finally I overspray with Testors dullcote and add some scrap donnage and other things found in gondolas constantly in service.

In addition to the B&O cars, I purchased a Lehigh Valley gondola with similar features. The LV car was a treated similarly to the others and I got to weather the wood decking using time honored techniques of gray, tan, and black washes. This car does not have Duryea underframe. For the body, the lighter red color allowed me to use some Tamiya 87131 Panel Line Accent Color – Black to weather the seams, structural members, and to highlight the details. I enjoyed using the accent color using the pin wash technique and will write further about it in a future blog.

A couple of nights worth of work and these cars are ready for service. Nice models at a fair price.

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A Modeling Bench; Part Two, Adding a Cutting Surface.

As I relayed in an earlier blog, I have repurposed a used jeweler’s bench as a “modeler’s bench”. It has some ergonomic features not readily apparent but probably developed over time. My experience over time has taught me to keep my glues and other liquid bottles to the left, out of the way of my dominant and sometimes clumsy right hand. This makes them much harder to knock over. Tweezers and cutting blades are to the right for easy access by my right hand. Other tools are arranged to so that those most often used are closer to the right.

The wood slat sticking out to the right of center of the work area is an elbow rest to keep your right arm steady and supported. The center anvil is a solid work surface for a jeweler’s soldering, filing, and cutting. This is the part I modified.

I don’t do a lot of filing and soldering up close like a jeweler, but I do cut and trim small plastic parts with an X-acto knife and prefer them close to my body for precision and control. So I converted the anvil to a cutting surface with a small piece of oak and a cutting mat. It has slight angle to put my hand in a more natural and ergonomic position when cutting.

I glued a small piece of oak trim to the bottom of the oak board to keep the cutting mat in place. I sanded the edges of the oak to give a smooth surface.

Then I screwed the oak board to the anvil with countersunk wood screws. Next time I am spraying some gloss clear coat I will put the boards in the paint booth and give them a protective finish.

Finished, an ergonomic cutting surface close to my body with an arm rest to the right to steady my cutting arm with a catch tray below that I can pull it out close to my knees to catch scraps or the occasional dropped part. Not an earth changing improvement but an incremental one that makes my modeling easier and more precise.

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My Techniques for Laying Track, Part One. Ilchester Mainline and Siding.

For me, model tracklaying is something I am truly afraid to do, afraid to get wrong. I know the consequences of doing it poorly and thus my fear. I have read many articles, watched many videos, and I know if the track isn’t smooth it will forever dampen my modeling experience. For me to be afraid of a physical task is very unusual. I have taken apart automobiles and put them back to together with less concern. I have drilled and tapped an engine block in my only transportation over a weekend and not thought twice. Part of my concern is how soft the parts involved are and the lack of precision. I am used to hard, straight lines, objects that react with precision to precise movements.

I suspect few model railroaders have ever get to lay track on an actual railroad, so I should share that experience. Though I don’t think the two are related. While working on a tie unit (a mechanized workforce that replaces cross ties at a pace of 500 a day) we were diverted one very, very hot day in 1982. I suspect there was fear that our unit would disturb the mainline between Baltimore and Washington so we were diverted. Disturbing the mainline for a Trackman is easy overtime, but for a railroad it is a very bad thing. The disturbance that the B&O was afraid was commonly called a “heat kink” and no one really wanted it. On hot days if the roadbed and ties were moved too much the welded rail would kink. By that I mean a twenty foot or so long section would pop out laterally in one direction or the other. For modelers it is the same expansion we see in our rails, but on a bigger scale. Many times this movement in the rails occurs near bridges but when you move the ties and roadbed, it can happen anywhere. The remedy was overtime, a welding crew to cut out a few feet of rail, a track gang to move the rail back into place (lining bars and a lot of push), hand ballasting and tamping, and then adding joint bars to rejoin the track. The fear of all that overtime probably put my tie unit on this special assignment.

“Cajon, California. Group of Indian workers who were employed on a section gang working on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad track, 1943,” Jack Delano Photograph. 

Our task for the day was to add a new siding in the Jessup, MD area. The older Trackman that were machine operators barely got off the bus. While it was a union job no one seemed to care and I was personally happy that some of the old guys laid out in the shade. The switch (turnout) for the siding had been laid and our job was to add a couple of hundred feet of straight siding to reach a warehouse. Sidings are light rail, right? Well a 117 pound rail at a 39 foot section weighs in a little over 1500 pounds. It is not like in the movies, moving it with a four guys with rail dogs. It starts with laying out the ties on a graded roadbed. Ties aren’t too light either, four guys with tie tongs can move a cross tie. Well you get the picture, it was a long day and I am probably better at laying 1:1 track than 1:87 track.

Back to modeling, laying cork roadbed, and flex-track at 1:87 isn’t so precise. Add turnout machines that require relatively precise adjustment, but are attached to plywood with wood screws and thus less precise and it is outside of my comfort zone. My goal is to lay the first four feet of track on the first module, Ilchester, with its bridges, slight curve, and two turnouts. Taking the consensus advice from the, I am going to glue down the cork with adhesive caulk, sand, and then glue the track onto the cork. Some sage advice on deciding on the type of caulk from Tony Koester on the listserve, “Be sure the word ADHESIVE comes between “clear” and “caulk.” And avoid problems by ensuring the letters “DAP” precede the other words.” Got it!

Securing the roadbed with thumb tacks while the caulk adhesive sets.

Laying out the track was discussed in a previous blog. I was able to start with black Sharpie line down the middle of each track. The cork was laid along this line with the ends of the cork staggered to help the sections blend. I laid one side at a time by applying a thin layer of adhesive caulk and using thumb tacks every few inches. I used a small tack hammer to make sure the tacks were set down into the plywood subroadbed.

After the caulk adhesive set overnight, I ran a sanding block over the cork to make it as smooth as possible. Well truthfully, I have ran the sanding block over it many times and am trying to lay a turnout that transitions to a siding at a lower rail height with much less ballast. The backdrop in these photos is just some foam core I had lying around to give me a sense of the depth of the scene. It has helped tremendously. It is resting on the aluminum L-girder I intend to anchor Masonite (or maybe Gatorboard) to for the permanent backdrop.

Rough design, the bridge and supports are secured yet.

To create the illusion of a significant drop in rail height I am both dropping the rail height slightly and building up the landform around the siding tracks so it appears to be “on the ground.” It is necessary in modeling to shrink length much of the time, thus shorter turnouts, shorter sidings, and less distance to create the prototypical drop in rail height for my siding. With the sanding block I thinned the glued down HO scale cork roadbed and transitioned to N scale roadbed. That along with slightly building up the ground around the siding track will hopefully create the illusion of a greater drop.

At the same time I am added rough cut 2″ insulating foam to create the basic landforms and places for structures. I am not sure how far to go with each process before one interferes too much with the other. This experimentation is the advantage of working on one module at a time. Or so I hope, maybe I should have started with a simpler module. In the photo below, the mock-up structure to the right is the Bartgis Brothers power plant and the basic structure of the MJB Models Ilchester Station kit is to the left. The Lees Coaling Tower mock-up in the distance in the center. Exciting blogs to follow for each.

Landforms in place, cork glued, time to layout some flextrack.

Time to cut some full length pieces of flex track sections to use as few pieces as possible between the bridge and the turnouts on each track. This required some shaping of the track detailed later. Each rail gets its own feeder wire, I am using red wire for the south rails and black for the north. I’ve seem it done two ways, one soldered to the web on the side away from typical viewing underneath the base of the rail. Both methods have proponents and I chose to solder to the bottom of the rail. I am not bad at soldering but this allows for some error and keeps the hot iron away from the visible plastic tie surface and the relatively small spike detail on the ME track that keeps it together. I actually used a light touch with Dremel tool with a wheel to scare the bottom of the rail and create a clean surface. I am using a Weller WLC100 40 Watt Soldering Station on its high setting with a Weller ST7 Conical Solder Tip, 0.31″. The idea is high heat in a small space to melt the solder quickly and get it back away from the plastic ties. The ground and dressed rail bottom is flushed with some liquid electronic soldering flux and tinned (adding a thin layer of solder to the surface). The a tinned feeder wire bent in an “L” shape get a touch of flux and is touched to the rail with the hot iron and held until cool. There are plenty of videos online to assist in this technique, but watch several and learn from them all to get a consensus of what works. No one knows everything and by watching them all you can pick up tips from each and develop your own “best practice” for soldering rail. I am relying on these feeders to the bus wire for power to the rail, so I am not soldering the physical rail joints. Only final word at this stage. Test every soldered connection for continuity with a multi-meter, it will payoff later if there is a problem.

I try to do as much soldering as possible at the workbench. The Soldering Station gets moved into place when it’s time to solder.

For some additional detail, I decided add “scale” joint bars from HE6AGON that I found on Shapeways. They are called ME83 Joint Bars, Four Bolts. I added them at 39′ intervals with CA. I used an Atlas Super Track Saw to cut joints about 1/4 of the way through the top of the rail. I am not sure CA was the right choice as the dissimilar materials will expand and contract differently and may cause the glue joint to fail. Future scale joint bars will be added with more flexible Pliobond and GOO adhesive. The installed joint bars do tend to disappear when viewed from the side. They are a more apparent looking down the track longitudinally and therefore with the effort to me. I consider it like underbody brake detail on a freight car, it is only partially visible but enjoyable and worth the time spent.

Scale joint bars painted on their sprue and ready to install.

The joiners that physically hold sections of flex track and turnouts together are Micro Engineering HO 26-083 Code 83 Nickel Silver Rail Joiners that have been cut in half to help hide them in the ballast. To cut them I took a short length of scrap rail, slid on a rail joiner and cut it in “half” with a Dremal cutoff wheel. Afterwards, I slide the cut joiner down the rail to open up the end that was cut (see photo). The result is one half-length joiner, the other side is too short so each full rail joiner yields only one because of the cutoff wheel width. Not a big sacrifice, they are cheap and this process is quick. A touch of rail brown paint and they disappear and about half will get trimmed scale joint bars above them for further camouflage.

Cutting rail joiners in half.

When laying the track, I first laid it in place and bent it into shape. Some dislike ME track because it tends to hold its shape when bent. I use the Fast-Track Sweepsticks straight and curved pieces I used in planning (see previous blog on Layout) to set the track to the shape I want and take advantage of this feature. Final trimming to length is done at this point. On occasion, I have added a drop of CA to the tie plate/rail joint to keep the shape if it starts to flex back to straight. With everything where I want it and rail joiners in place, I run my most finicky steam locomotive over the line multiple times.

By doing this I discovered an actual “low joint”. I must have bent the rail slightly on the vertical axis while cutting the joint bar locations. This may be a wanted effect on a well worn branch in the 60s but not welcome on my mainline. A track gang was dispatched to dig out the ties, add some stone, tamp up, and respike the ties. That only works on the real thing, for my model I used a some gentle hand pressure to straighten the rail. Maybe in another blog I will describe how a track gang fixes a low joint with a tamping fork, it’s a two man operation.

The shortened rail joiners actually provide decent electrical continuity between rail sections, as terminating the rail feeder ends to the bus wire is my last step. To make life a little easier for the first module I purchased the NCE Layout Wiring Kit NCE 5240268. It includes enough red and black bus wire for my layout, several short rail drops, termination spade clips, and suitcase connectors that connect to the bus to spade terminations. The hope was to make the whole wiring process go a little smoother. It’s a beginner kit and maybe a little expensive, but I’m a beginner and I am hoping this reduces the likelihood of an electrical fault. As stated at the beginning of this blog, this exercise is outside my comfort zone and I realize it is very important if I am to enjoy my layout for a long time.

Final sighting of the track to make sure it is straight where it is supposed to be and the curves transition smoothly is a visual exercise. I am fortunate with this section to be able to view the track longitudinally and spot minor kinks that are not apparent from the side view. One trick that worked for me was to add a thumb tack to give me a reference point as to where the kink is located. A bit of back and forth and the pin is located at the kink and then the track is aligned to match the overall profile. It is a depth perception aid. It is a hand exercise after the scale joint bars are added as the Fast Tracks Sweepsticks don’t fit into the track due to interference from the bars. Not a problem at this point, everything is pretty close to the design.

Track feeders in place, layout correct, and kinks removed on Track #1.

Gluing the track in place is the moment of truth, so I am doing it first thing in the evening when I get home and am fresh. All the prep work really paid off as I was able lift the rail out of the way with the feeder wires still through the roadbed and add a thin bead of adhesive caulk. Flattening the bead with a plastic putty knife leaves me with a thin layer of adhesive caulk. I tried to get a consistently thin layer so it would not squeeze up between the ties, just enough to make contact. Again, prep work pays, the sanding and sighting kept me from last minute emergencies with wet adhesive in place.

I used several methods to hold the track in place while the adhesive set depending on the situation. One method was thumb tacks tapped lightly into place over the rail head, making sure to put some pressure on the track but not enough to bend the rail or distort the ties. For flat, level sections I use some marble floor tile transition pieces from a home improvement project. Cheap, flat, and they have some mass. They also make nice display bases for models if you use the narrow ones. When I needed a more dense weight I used the old crankshaft dampener/pulley from my Mini Cooper S (I said I don’t mind pulling apart a car and the used parts have other uses).

Flat weight provided by piece of marble threshold and a Mini Cooper S crankshaft dampener/pulley.

I held my iPad on the rail and snapped a few pictures before adding the tacks and weight to be sure things looked smooth from track level. An easy way to get a track foreman’s view of the work. A day later I was happy with my results. I only did one section a day and left the turnouts for later (and a later blog). Connect the track feeder drops to the bus wires and I’m ready to test the track gang’s work.

Track Foreman’s view of the work in progress.

One final operational check is to test the continuity of every wire and joint. It only takes minutes but should make it easier to find future issues if I know I started with everything working as planned. It’s a good baseline and if a change in performance occurs after a future modification, you can be a little more certain that the recent modification caused the glitch and it wasn’t from previous work. With all power off and the DCC power unit disconnected from the bus wire I connect one lead of my multi-meter to one side of the bus and then test each piece of rail that is supposed to be connected to that side. I did find two loose spade to suitcase connections, but my solder joints remained solid and everything is now connected to the main bus wires. Reconnect the bus line to the DCC power unit and run some trains, again checking for low or high spots, bad joints, etc.

Time to deliver a full hopper to the coal trestle. The power plant up the hill was running low.
Track #1 secured through Ilchester, time to climb Buzzard’s Rock and take another in-progress photo.

The next step will be ballasting the mainline and popular wisdom suggests this be a later step after more scenery and ground cover are in place. Anyway, this blog is long enough, I will add some more as I add further detail and ballast. Next track work issue is the turnouts. Thanks for following along.

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Building the Point of Rocks Station Resin Structure Kit

Fourteen or fifteen years ago my modeling was limited to building freights car, buying locomotives, dreaming up layout plans, and founding/editing the B&O Modeler magazine. At that time I was part of a small listserve of B&O modelers interested in recreating the Old Main Line (OML) of the B&O. We shared ideas, dreams, and current events on the B&O modeling front.

One guy I met on the internet during this time was Don Barnes. Great guy with plans to model the OML and beyond. He was researching, collecting, and planning every aspect of his layout. I offered to build some kits for him in return for some similar kits I could build for myself. It was a win/win, I got new kits to build, a few to keep, and I got add to Don’s monumental layout. When I say great guy, let me expound a little, Don is hardworking, honest, and intelligent way beyond the norm.

His layout needed two fantastic structures that I always wanted to build, the Point of Rocks Station and the Camden Station and Warehouse. I was living in NC and he in SC and we managed to meet up on the Interstate or in Baltimore. Don gave me a chance to build the Model Tech Studios resin kit of The Point of Rocks Station (PofR). By all accounts it is a challenging kit.

This station sits at the point where the B&O lines west from Washington, DC and Baltimore meet.  Tracks from DC are on the south side, the tracks from Baltimore, the Old Main Line run, along the north side. the model will be displayed so that primarily the north side is visible.

Point of Rocks Station, 2013, Bruce D. Griffin Photo

I dug in hard and got the walls assembled square on the hydrocal base, shaped andsquared the roof sections, and started adding windows. After painting the wooden windows, their age began to show and they disintegrated in my hands. When I realized I didn’t have enough to finish the kit I contacted the manufacturer. He was gracious enough to send me a new set of windows made from a composite, no longer just laser cut wood.

I will say that fitting the windows into the resin cast walls was the biggest challenge of this kit. Each one took a few hours and involved filing the opening, squaring it, painting it, and then securing the glazed window in place. Canopy glue has been a big and recent improvement to the process.

Point of Rocks Station, 2013, Bruce D. Griffin Photo

Then I decided I needed to move back north to Maryland to be closer to family and progress stopped. Don had a pair of my F-7’s equipped with sound running mainline freights on his layout and I appreciate that he gave me a pass for a few years. Not easy for him, he could buy some diesels if he needed them, but the station kit is pretty rare and pretty pricey. For me it was an unkept promise and that is something that weighs on me everyday. After moving and doing some home upgrades and building a modeling bench, finishing this kit in the best fashion possible became a haunting goal.

Anyone who has built the kit or seen it modeled knows that the resin parts for the wrap-around platform roof are not usable. There is a compound curve around the building created by the sloped platform roof as it transitions ninety degrees. Some help from B&O modeler Bruce Elliott gave me possible solutions and I came up with a good looking solution. Bruce shared his efforts in a past issue for the B&O Modeler.

Measuring the Platform Roof Sections
Finished Platform Roof Sections.

After all this time I found a roof eave support missing from the kit. It has traveled through several states and moves, so not unexpected. I fashioned a new one from styrene and you can’t tell the difference. Fabricating small styrene part’s is a skill I learned from watching freight car detail artists like Bill Welch and Ted Culotta. They share their techniques freely and always encourage others to try them. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries, but it is possible with patience.

More Windows Installed, Time to Add the Platform Roof Sections

After so many years I felt I needed to add a little something extra. Woodland Scenics has some new lighting products that could set this building off on Don’s layout. Since this structure will only be viewed from the north side I focused my effort on lighting parts that would be most visible from that side. The Just Plug Power Hub has four inputs for four light circuits, with dimmers for each circuit. I also bought a Just Plug Power Supply (JP5770), a set of interior lights, Warm White LED Stick-On Lights (JP5740), and two sets of Gooseneck Wall Mount Lights (JP5654). The interior lights were added to the first floor and the exterior lights to the most visible north and east sides.

Floor Plans and Elevations Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Point of Rocks Station Maryland;

I added some interior detail so there was something to see with the interior lighting of the first floor. In the front telegraph office I added a scaled 1949 B&O calendar (Don’s layout is set in 1949) to the wall behind the clerk having a cup of coffee and in the Waiting Room, wainscoting, some passengers, and wall art. No one may ever see it but I know it’s there. And it was fun and new experience.

After massaging the roof sections into place, did I say the resin castings aren’t square and very thick, I was able handover the model to Don. After it is installed on his layout I hope to share more photos. Long story, difficult resin kit, and happy with the outcome.

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