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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Ilchester, Maryland, Part Two; The Railroad Infrastructure. The Coal Dump, Bridges, and Tunnel.

If you follow the progress of my layout, you know I am starting at the railroad east end and working my way west. Laying track to serve the town of Ilchester, MD requires special infrastructure, including a coal dump, two bridges and a tunnel. That’s what we will cover in this post.

The Coal Dump

This structure appears in the earliest photos of Ilchester after the realignment in the first part of the 20th century. Maybe it was meant for residential delivery when it was first built in the early 1900’s. Coal was used to heat homes and was a common fuel during that period. I wonder if gas stations will seem as unusual to modelers in the beginning of the next century? The early photos of Ilchester Station show long wooden passenger platforms, maybe this was a planned commuter station initially. Remnants of the coal dump are still on the site in 2018 and it might have been part of the original 1904 realignment or built just thereafter as it was in place in the 1920s. It appears to follow the B&O 1907 Standard Building Plans for a Commercial Coal Dump. I have a copy of those drawings contained in a document obtained from the B&ORRHS Company Store.

Tipple, Trestle, or Dump? In my B&O home growing up, what was termed as a Commercial Coal Dump in 1907 by the B&O was called a coal tipple. The term tipple is often used at or near a mine head for a trestle that is used to transfer coal from a mine cart or truck to another means of conveyance. I have also heard the term coal trestle used. I am going to use the term coal dump.

Source and Date unknown, though it appears to be before 1920.

Source in text

Building an HO scale model of the coal dump was a matter of purchasing styrene stock shapes to match the plans and adapting tried and true methods of wood model bridge construction to styrene. I chose styrene over wood for several reasons. The first was my comfort with accurately cutting and joining styrene, I like the precision it affords. I also wanted dimensional stability. And finally it has the same look and texture as the other modeled “wood” for the ties and especially the large number of bridge ties in the modeling scene. I used Evergreen products: including #8612, HO Scale 6×12; #8212, HO Scale 2×12; #8412 HO Scale 4×12; and #8410 HO Scale 4×10. I glued various sizes together to get needed lumber sizes, for example I glued two 6×12 pieces together to get needed 12×12 for the main supports.

I reduced the plans in HO scale with a photocopier to aid in taking scale measurements, using the rail width as a known distance. Having them to scale helped me check my first bents and then I figured out a simple jig to construct multiples. I only need one, but am building three more for my friend Don Barnes for his layout. If the jig survives, I am happy to lend it to anyone wanted to duplicate this structure. Drop me an email.

I sought insight into the best way to build a jig for a plastic bent, but it seems most people use wood. After some internal debate I decided to keep it simple and use materials on hand. I had a small piece of flat aluminum and some square brass stock from another jig. Expecting a short life for the jig, I combined dissimilar materials and used 5 minute epoxy to join them. I used a NWSL Chopper II to duplicate structural members and glued them together in the jig. The Plastruct Bondene solvent melts the plastic to form a joint and some of it leaked under the joints and lightly attached the bent to the aluminum. After the glue started to set and melt the plastic, I lifted it a few milimeters and let it cure. That allowed it to release easy enough.

Stringers under the rails tie the structure together. I glued the bents to a thin piece of styrene sheet and positioned it on the layout using scenery goop to set it at rail height. The styrene sheet was painted black with a light highlight spray of brown like the rest of the structure and covered with coal and coal dust to make it blend into the scene. As the trestle structure is mostly hidden, I also finished it in black paint with a rail brown overspray for highlights and to simulate the heavy creosote on such structures. Tichy nut, washer, and bolt castings were added to the visible ends and the top to finish the model.

Ilchester Coal Dump, March 2018. Bruce D. Griffin Photo
Ilchester Coal Dump, Looking east. March 2018. Bruce D. Griffin Photo.

The Bridges and Tunnel

The Bridges offered me several modeling possibilities. The double-track Pratt Truss pin-connected prototype bridge has actually been offered as an excellent brass HO and N scale model. Train Cat Models offers the brass kit, but the $549.95 price tag and the prototype length led me down a different path. Walthers and Central Valley both offer suitable stand-ins.

I chose to construct both bridges from Walther’s kits. I didn’t have immediate access to the Central Valley kits and I found one of the Walther’s kits on EBay very cheap. I used the Walthers HO 933-2948 Through Plate Girder Bridge Kit and the Walthers HO 933-3012 Double Track Truss Bridge Kit. The Through Plate Girder Bridge kit was modified by removing the center girder and replacing it with a styrene strip to keep the bridge width the same as the longer span. The prototype only has two girders so this is a way to simulate the look. The girders aren’t tall enough to match the prototype, but it looks good. The Truss Bridge Kit was built according to the instructions. Both were airbrushed with Vallejo NATO Black during construction to make sure all of the nooks and crannies got painted. I weathered the structures with pastels and Bragdon powders.

The track is Micro Engineering Code 83 Bridge Track. I painted the rails and ties Vallejo NATO Black and then weathered them with dark brown and rust pastels. The end result is a nice dark shade of rail brown. I wanted the bridge ties to look different as they do not age like ties in contact with the ground and are specialty products designed for bridge construction.

My extensive use of Vallejo paint and my new Iwata dual-action, gravity-feed airbrush on this basic painting project have given me a lot of valuable airbrushing experience that I will use on new freight car projects. Airbrushing was never a skill I was comfortable with, but using Vallejo paints with their easy thinning and clean-up gave me the chance to practice my skills. I am currently experimenting with a variety of colors from the Vallejo line to see where they can be used on other projects. One accessory I purchased to make airbrushing more enjoyable was the Iwata-Medea Universal Spray Out Pot. It makes color change and clean-up so much easier. Find a video on how to use one and give it a try!

The three bridge piers and abutments were made from two Walthers parts, HO 933-4584 Double-Track Railroad Bridge Stone Abutment, Resin Casting, and HO 933-4582 Double-Track Railroad Bridge Stone Pier, Resin Casting. The Stone Pier was cut into two pieces with the shorter top half used as an abutment on the tunnel side of the bridge. The taller left over piece was used for the middle pier. It needed a unique concrete top that I created with some pieces of sheet styrene. I painted the styrene a concrete color and weathered it along with all the other stone surfaces with a wash of thinned black acrylic hobby paint, pastels, and Brogdon powders. Prototype photos helped me choose appropriate colors.

The tunnel portal was originally mocked up using a scaled photocopy of a drawing from the B&O 1908 Standard Plans, as seen above. I was looking for a way to recreate this brick structure when fate intervened. I asked a few OML modeler friends about how they planned to model the distinctive brick tunnel portals and JohnTeichmoeller came through with the suggestion to use the AIM Products #151 Baltimore & Ohio Style Brick Tunnel Portal, Double-Track. A quick email to my friend Raymond Stern at Pro-Custom Hobbies in Eldersburg, MD found one sitting on the shelf waiting for me. Pro-Custom is always well stocked, especially with products for local railroads.

Source in text.

The portal is cast plaster and readily accepted hobby paint washes of brick red, orange, and brown to create a rich brick color. A steam-era tunnel portal wouldn’t be complete without some exhaust smoke weathering, a little heavier on the uphill side. The prototype now has a distinctive green hue from mosses, but I chose not to model that as I assume the environmental impact of multiple steam engines a day kept the surface free of natural materials.

AIM Products #151 Baltimore & Ohio Style Brick Tunnel Portal, Double-Track

Ilchester Bridge and Tunnel in 2018, Bruce D. Griffin Photo

The next step will be to add and paint some “scenery goop” to most of the scene, add trees, ground cover, and the river water. I’ll cover track ballasting in a blog about laying track. And I’ll cover the buildings and final details in another.

As the scene is coming together in my mind I am excited to see it more complete. I like the TOMA concept because of being able to near finish a scene before digging into the next one. The variety of jobs keeps my interest level high and focused, as I tend to wonder to the next shiny object too quickly in my modeling.

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Photo Diorama

One of my first tests of what I wanted to build as part of a future layout was a simple diorama to take photos for the new B&O Modeler. I have had this prop for a while. The parameters were simple; lightweight, portable, removable backdrop for outdoor photography, double mainline, river side scenery like the B&O’s Old Main Line, and inexpensive, using materials on hand.


A thin sheet of 1/8″ luan was in the garage and made a lightweight base. Some two inch foam insulation, Code 100 flextrack, scrap posterboard, ballast, ground foam, and some Sculptamold rounded out the materials list. I cut the luan to a 18″x 24″ rectangle and added some 2” foam for base scenery. I covered it with Sculptamold and painted it brown. The idea was for the view to be from across the Patapsco River, so the front of the scene sloped down to the river and was covered in cinders. This is meant to be 1950’s view but generic enough that it could be used as a background for trains from the last 100 years.


The backdrop is a piece of posterboard left over from one of my son’s school projects. Some foggy, gray spray paint and a poor attempt at clouds added a neutral background. Don’t want to steal the show from the models. It slips into place between the foam scenery base and piece of scrap approximately 3/8″x 1″ glued to the base.

Some weathering of the rails with a spray can, then gray ballast, some ground foam and we have a lightweight photography prop. While it is slightly noticeable, I used a little more red-brown to simulate additional “brake dust” on the downhill track. I usually took it into the backyard with trees in the distance to get my shots in full sunlight. One key hint is to put some long pins at the end of each track. The cars roll pretty easily with the slightest incline and one rolling off the end would ruin a day.


After 15 years of service, it might be time for a refresh on the backdrop and scenery. Sounds like a great opportunity to try some new techniques before I try them on the layout. Time to get a static grass applicator and break out the airbrush.

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Ilchester, Maryland, Part One; The B&O Station.

Finding information about the the B&O Station at Ilchester, MD became part of a research project that involved multiple people and continues with the sharing of the information with local historical societies. Sometimes I think we are doing research to save our history but not sharing it with the broader community to insure it meets the needs of a bigger audience. My son probably won’t care about the ladder construction detail on an M-15-k boxcar, but hopefully he can learn about the rich railroading history along the Old Main Line (OML] and this effort added to that body of knowledge

Sometime back in the late 90’s or early 2000’s I started looking for information about Ilchester Station after seeing one picture of the OML emerging from a tunnel, crossing the Patapsco River, then a small road and running next to a very unusual B&O Station.

1941 View from Buzzard’s Rock of Ilchester Station. Herb Harwood Photograph.

At the time I was part of a small list-serve of B&O OML Modelers and we exchanged information about our favorite railroad topic. Working in universities most of my career I had access to the some of the first public list-serves about Genealogy and learned how to use them for other hobbies. That first Genealogy list-serve had about a 100 or so members and was state of the art back when PCs had green screens. Remember green screen monitors? It taught me the power of information exchange long before Yahoo Groups or now .IO Groups.

We exchanged information about rolling stock, sources, and anything we could. Exchanging photos online was out of the question, only the DOD had that kind of bandwidth. We saved photos on CD’s and sent them by snail mail. I remember Bill Hebb, Nick Fry, John Teichmoeller, Don Barnes, Bill Barringer and a few others being on the list. When I asked a question about Ilchester Station, Bill Barringer (author of the definitive book on the B&O’s Q-Class Mikados) sent me a CD of photos he had from before and after a B&O renovation project to upgrade the structure in the 40’s or 50’s. The dates were approximate, but those photos have turned out to be the best source of information about the station in existence. Bill has since passed. What a great thing to share with the larger community. Thank you John Teichmoeller for doing just that.

Ilchester 005
Looking east toward Relay Junction past Ilchester Station, date unknown, B&ORRHS Collection

2018 March OML 242
Looking east toward Relay Junction past Ilchester, March 2018, Bruce D. Griffin Photo

So we had photos of the station and someone remembered a set of erection drawings for the station existed at the Smithsonian. A couple of years later one of the members of this tribe found the drawings and shared them with the group. They were not even close to the photos of the actual structure and things like roof pitch were so different we thought that they couldn’t be the result of a renovation, too expensive with little purpose. As time passed older photos were found and we realized the plans were never built. I guess we should send the photos to the Smithsonian and let them know the station turned out different than planned.

Ilchester Station Thumbnails, 1940’s, Bill Barringer Collection

Ilchester Station Thumbnails, 1954, Bill Barringer Collection

One of the people in this research group was Don Barnes and he was building a huge layout that included the entire OML, so he needed a model of the station structure. He contacted Mark Bandy of now MJB Model Trains,, to see if he would be interested in producing laser cut models of some additional structures, including several along  the OML. Bill Barringer had taken the extra steps to photograph all sides of the structure in the early 50’s and with those, Mark was able to produce a kit for the structure in exacting detail. It wasn’t cheap but I was able to trade my research skills and resin kit building skills with Don and he traded me for one. Thank you Don.

The more we learned about the station and the OML realignment in the early 1900’s the more questions arose. Even old postcards became reference material. At some point between maybe 1920 and 1940 a freight house was added next to the station. No one has found a photo of more than an edge of the structure and an overhead shot from above the tunnel, across the Patapsco. Similar to the station it is not anything like a B&O Standard Design. It has board and batten siding, something not too often seen on B&O structures in the east. That and the coal trestle on the north side of the main tracks across for the station are a story for another time after additional research.

Ilchester Station 1 1959
The Agent ready to inspect a west-bound through Ilchester Station, 1959, B&ORRHS Collection.

if you are wondering why I was complaining about a lack of photos when there are so many in this post, I will add that this is about all that could be found from twenty years of digging. Building the station kit deserves a little more attention. This is the first step below. I will post another blog about it, as it is well engineered, and should produce a top-notch foreground structure.

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