Sunday, May 25, 2014

Realism vs reality, or why you measure before you build

Measure twice, cut once.  Check whether you've got the funds before starting a building project.  All good advice.  And when it comes to model railroading, there's another good one to remember: decide how you're going to trade off realism and reality.  I've seen pictures of amazingly detailed models, capturing in near perfect detail a particular section of a particular line in a particular year.  Right down to the numbers on the carriages and wagons.  At the other extreme, some folk just want to run trains, and don't care if it's on bare track, no scenery whatsoever.

I'd like to think I sit somewhere in the middle - I want my layout to look realistic, but I'm not trying to replicate the scene perfectly.  I'm willing to compromise realism to fit within the limits of reality - space, budget, time, all that.  What I didn't understand was how quickly I'd be tested on it.

The scene I'd like to model is simple: a set of eight silos beside the train line on the western Darling Downs.  I knew from the outset there'd be some compromise: the line is a single track, but the T-Trak model standard that I'm working to specifies two tracks.

Then, as reported in this post, I discovered a kit that was a candidate for the job.  But, it differs from the real silos in a few too many ways, so I'm not sure whether I'll go with it or not.  For example:
  • The kit has all eight silos in a single block.  The prototype (model railroad slang for "the real thing") has two groups of four, linked only by some overhead fixtures.  Modifying ("kitbashing") it to achieve this would probably require two kits.  Alternately I can get PVC pipe from a hardware store and use that to the same effect.
  • Some very rough photo matching with Google Earth suggests the kit is taller than the prototype, and that each silo is a smaller diameter.

But, after buying track yesterday (yay!) I'm continuing the paper design today and once you allow for the pair of tracks across the front of the module, there's not much space left.  The scale equivalent of 50 m wide by 32.6 m deep (away from the tracks).  And some more very rough analysis suggests that the prototype silos will take up all of that space.  Whereas the kit will fit in quite nicely.


Looks like my next step is downloading Google Earth and SketchUp to do some more accurate size estimation.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Empire building, phase two

No visible progress on the module yet, but I made a small amount of progress at the Brisbane Model Train Show today.

I'd been hoping to buy the track I needed, but neither of the stores that I knew carry the right type were exhibiting, and I couldn't find the right type at any of the stores who did have stands.

But I did see several other displays with silos there, and in the process learned about the Walthers grain elevator kit:

It'll need some kitbashing, that is, it doesn't look exactly like the scene that I'm modelling, so I'll need to change it.  But it's close enough to what I need that I can at least consider kitbashing.  Until today, I thought I'd have to build it from scratch.  I might still do it that way, we'll see.

I don't know yet if I have the patience or skill, but it was very cool to see some examples of N scale work done well.  For comparison, these modules are about 50% longer and wider than my module:

The photos don't do it justice, but even so you can see the attention to detail and the quality of the workmanship that goes into these models.

First part of first module done

The first part of my first module, the actual module assembly part, is done.  If the rest is this easy, I'll have my 1:160th empire reaching all over the house in no time...

The kit didn't come with written instructions, just some verbal directions from the manufacturer as he handed it to me.  Thanks to Mr Bell, my year 9-10 woodwork teacher, I think I still managed to do an OK job.

Step one, put the frame together.  Make sure it's square.  The top piece came with some handy guidelines, and each piece was numbered to show which side it belonged on.

It's good material - marine ply - nice and light, but also considerably more environmentally rugged than MDF and some of the cheap stuff you find lying around.  Each corner is glued and nailed, and the glue is what holds it in place long term.  The nails are just there to provide clamping while the glue dries.

Step two, pin the top on the frame.  Again, a bead of glue around the mating surface of the frame, and clamp in place while pinning.  It's child's play.

My apprentice hard at work

Step three, put in the riser blocks.  These wouldn't be necessary for a standalone module, but one of the specifications for T-Trak modules is that they have adjustable height.  Most people use slotted bolts, but the kits from Modular Train Tables use a 6 mm grub screw.  The Allen key drive won't slip like a slotted coach bolt can, and it's more discrete.  The finished module looks like this:

All this was done over a couple of days, mostly to give enough drying time for each stage of assembly before adding new parts.  Actual hands-on time was about an hour.  Now on to stage two...