Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Creating Freelance Realism (Branding & Schemes)

Thought I would take a break from my normal progress updates and switch gears to show the different ways you can create freelance realism in model railroading using branding and schemes. 

Brand Identity - consistent, plausible, and purpose

It all started with a logo...
As you know at the Walt Disney Company they say it all started with a Mouse.... Well the Michigan Interstate all started with a logo. I think all of us model railroaders can relate to that restaurant napkin chalked with ideas such as route map, track plan, diesel roster, and the logo. Oddly enough the Michigan Interstate's logo started on a scratch sheet of paper in my college advertising class. We had been discussing brands and how it should reflect what the company stands for / does... At the time I knew of the MR&T and V&O railroads and realized that if I was modeling a freelance railroad in Michigan it might be important to have an outline of the state. Taking inspiration from notably the Algoma Central logo I wanted to have a focal point symbol.... Case in point the pine tree in the middle of the state outline. Other inspiration came from the BRC Railroad logo being a belt. I knew the railroad being created would not be belt line but more or less be interstate. The two lines across the hearld represent those connections. Looking at Wisconsin Central as an example its core was Wisconsin, but had connecting lines in Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois. With that the name Michigan Interstate was born, truly the purpose of the railroad is right in the name connecting Michigan within the state and neighboring connections in Ohio and Indiana. Leaning back to the Algoma Central logo, I decided to wrap the words in similar fashion. The font is based on Milwaukee Road's final font before being absorbed into the Soo. Honestly when I was working with Rail Graphics to create the logo I chose the font based on the flyer available, haven't looked back ever since.

Just like that the Michigan Interstate logo was born creating the base for the brand. Over the past 13+ years the logo and lettering have been applied to no less than 30 locomotives and 100 plus railcars. As more equipment became lettered the brand began to spread. No longer was the Michigan Interstate a scrappy railroad with patched equipment we now had a paint scheme creating a consistent image that was plausible in the railroad world and had a purpose. 

The best part about setting up ones logo is the business or individual can provide a copy of the logo in different formats once computerized for use on paperwork or even embroidering.

Crew members can work in style during home or away ops sessions carrying the brand anywhere they are.

The MCIS logo is now found on every official piece of railroad paperwork... corporate folks.....

In a nutshell that is how the Michigan Interstate logo and name came to be. Where we operated and what we do are another topic that we will discuss later this year. 

Defining the Dip...
Getting back to branding, the railroad now had a logo and just as important was the creation of a plausible scheme to apply it on. Going back to my childhood I grew up loving the Grand Trunk Westerns blue and orange scheme. I even loved the different variations such as former DT&I and UP locomotives using the GT basic scheme. Early on I really wanted to use the Central Vermonts Yellow and Green scheme that was on diesels prior to NECR takeover, but decided on taking two of the best and putting them together. Blue from the GTW engines and Yellow from the CV engines. 


Phase I
Early on in the railroads history first generation diesels and alcos received a Grand Trunk Blue color with white chevron nose and rear. Not sure where the yellow was but maybe they had to watch the budget... Not exactly the scheme I had intended and throughout the years as engines were either struck from the roster or repainted the Phase I scheme all but vanished. The last four engines on the MCIS roster in Phase I scheme are EMD GP30s currently stored at Mt. Pleasant MAC Shop. As these engines go through a rebuilt to roadmate slugs they will be repainted into the current Phase III paint scheme.

MCIS 3080 (EMD GP30) posing at Saginaw River Bridge in Phase I scheme - the color has held up well...

Phase II and III
Adopting the Grand Trunk / Central Vermont inspired schemes, all second generation and new deliveries come in the Phase III scheme. You ask, but wait you forgot about Phase II? The only difference in Phase II and III is the choice in color for the Blue. Originally the blue was a Floquil Enamel GT Blue, as this phased out we migrated to Conrail Blue. When Floquil went away the mechanical team turned to Scalecoat for paint sourcing which is where we established Phase III. Additionally Phase III engines had their rear number boards covered over as another unique spotting feature. The elements make distinguishing between the two colors almost impossible, but this adds a neat layer of story telling since each engine unless painted in the same patch is not identical in color.

MCIS 3827 (EMD GP38-2) posing at Saginaw River Bridge in Phase III scheme. 

Phase IV
There have been rumors of a Phase IV which would adopt a more simplified paint scheme similar to the repainted dark blue FEC geeps. However at the time of this writing, there is no official plans to change schemes. 


Using multiple sources of freight cars plying the North American system I had plenty of inspiration to follow. 

Boxcars fell into one of two basic schemes which used a very generic freight car brown as the color. Scheme "BA" was large or small logo on either end of railcar, while scheme "BB" was large or small logo on right hand side of door witch "Michigan Interstate" spelled out in large or small font to the left of the door. 

 Examples of both scheme "A" and "B" at Bay City, Michigan

Shoving platforms used the Grand Trunk Orange with MCIS logo centered on car.

MCIS 31 leading point on switching duties at Bay City, Michigan. 

Company material cars are like most railroads being cascaded down from revenue fleets. However some of the more purpose built ballast and dump equipment are painted in the Amtrak orange scheme with full lettering on sides, no logo. 

MCIS 7059 captured at Grays Lake, Michigan during a recent track work project. 

The largest fleet on the roster is covered hoppers of different capacities. The hopper fleets also had three different gray paint schemes based on the vendor / batch, additionally there were two basic schemes for lettering. Scheme "CA" was logo large or small on right hand side or centered on railcar. Scheme "CB" was logo on left side of car with lettering in large or small font on right side.

Top two hoppers in scheme "CA" and bottom car in scheme "CB"

Rounding out the freight car fleet is our open top fleet which falls under one of two schemes. Scheme "HA" which is Michigan Interstate in small font with a logo to the right or scheme "HB" which is large or small logo only on left, right, or center of car. 

Two greenville hoppers in scheme "HA" on Virginia Midland Railroad

Within all of these fleets are plenty of variation like patch jobs or different colors, but the point is with the logo and brand there is consistency between the T-shirts, paperwork, and equipment. The consistency helps better establish your railroads purpose and plausibility in the era you are trying to model. Sure I could model the 90s but every piece of equipment in these photos has FRA 224 reflective striping making it very clear this is post 2012. 

So there you have it branding and schemes of the Michigan Interstate. The consistency, plausibility, and purpose have helped define three important questions:
  • Where does my railroad operate 
    • (Michigan)
  • What / When is my railroad 
    • (Modern era - Regional)
  • What does it do 
    • (Hauls Agricultural, aggregate, and paper products to North American network) 
Have a great Easter Week!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Early April Update

My attempt to complete a post at the end of March was a complete bust. However the on-going work on the layout provides no shortage of great content for me to share with you in this post. Great happenings on the Michigan Interstate St. Clair Sub, so lets get started. 

Executive Unit Acqusition
Over the past few months I have been thinking of acquiring motors for Executive / Special service on the Michigan Interstate. Using prototypes of Pan Am, NS, and Maine Eastern I figured EMD F7s would be a solid choice. 

It just happened that a friend to the north had a beautiful EMD F7 A-B-A set looking for a good home. In short order Michigan Interstate's CFO authorized acquisition of the three engines. While 2017 was not planned for fleet growth, the set were too good of a deal to pass by. 

Trio on previous owners pike awaiting final purchase paperwork

In short order the motors routed BNSF-CHGO-NS-FTWAY-MCIS. Beings they were dead in tow like railcars it took some time to get them to "Michigan" with numerous mechanical inspections along the way. Arriving in Fort Wayne the units were delivered on the overnight interchange cut from NS. Once in MCIS inventory they routed via the daily M-FWGR (Manifest - Fort Wayne to Grand Rapids) connecting onto the M-GRBA (Manifest - Grand Rapids to Bay Yard).

A-B-A Trio arriving at Bay Yard behind EMD SD40-2M #4571 and 4059 on M-GRBA-29

 At Bay Yard the units will ride the L-BAMP (Local Turn - Bay City to Mt. Pleasant) to MAC Shops for prep work before heading to Fogelsinger Rail to receive a very classy scheme. The units should be in new paint by end of summer 2017 in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas specials planned on the network.

GoPro4 Inspection Car
For sometime i have been wanting to capture the St. Clair Sub from the locmotive engineers view, however from a HO scale perspective it has been somewhat limited. The only options for using an iPhone was the iCar from Minutman Scale Models. After talking with them I learned that there would not be one for a iPhone 6 due to the weight imbalance of the phone and if they had built a car it would be outside NMRA clearance specs. Knowing this I turned my attention toward the other  product which was the Laser cut acrylic GoPro4 Camera Stand from Summit USA. For $9.95 it is a really good buy and takes not very long to build. The most expensive part is the $200 GoPro4 "Session" camera.

Components for building my inspection car - 60' flatcar, Camera Stand Kit, and GoPro4 Session.

Directions are clearly labeled with good reference photos. The parts are laser cut ready to test fit and final assemble. 

Within an hour I had the kit together using brush one C.A. After a few hours i test fit the camera on the fixture. 

Definitely recommend this camera fixture for anyone with a GoPro4 Session. The deliverable video and photos provide the view from a modern wide cab locomotive window. Additionally if I want a wide view like from the back of a observation car, I can still use the fixture but just turn the camera around and move towards rear of railcar. Over the next month I will be testing the shots and working up video over the St. Clair Sub that I can share on my YouTube channel. 

If you are interested in how the video looks with this fixture please check out the following link.   Summit Customcuts - Camera Fixture Cab Ride

Grays Lake Scenery Progress
Continuing my 2017 focus on one scene at a time, the scene continues to impress me. The entire area now has a good covering of tan latex paint, various shades of rock, and Heki wildgrass tufts. Here are few photos showcasing the work done in March. 

Tools of the trade - multiple homemade dirt / sand grades and Harley & Sons rock ballast 

Basic rock and ground foams installed from highway overpass back to station foundation (Before) 

 Same view with tuftgrass, textured grass, and SuperTrees added. Everything from background to signals is glued.

 Area around Cooperative Elevator and Crop Production Services developing "Character".

MCIS9019 unloading fertilizer materials at C.P.S. Grays Lake.

If you have been following my posts you can really see how this area has come along way. Over the new few months we will continue to bring it all into a finished product.

Woodland Scenics Just Plug System
We are surronded by innovations in our hobby. One topic that really impressed me was the LED lighting system offered by Woodland Scenics. Up till this system came out Walthers and Atlas had some great product on the market, but the simple plug in / modular system was a win for me. While developing the scene, I figured now was teh time to spend the money and add in the lights whether i lit them now or later. 

Currently i have 3 different sets of lights (modern lights at LPG terminal, Wooden lamp posts for trackside / industry area, and ornamental lights for downtown Grays Lake). So far I have only installed the modern lights and temporarily connected them but the results are fantastic. 

:"Just Plug" light hub - transformer connects into this box which then connects to the LED lights 

Lighting demonstration at LPG terminal - the effect is just enough for nightime ops / photos. 

Be sure to check back as i add more lights, i will touch on where the control boxes ultimately get installed. Hardest part of installing these lights was drilling the hole through 2" thick foam. 

MAC Shops Work

Recently completed install on friends Atlas GP38.
Components Installed:
  • Soundtraxx Tsunami2 EMD Diesel
  • Railmaster Hobbies DS1425-8 speaker,
  • Soundtraxx Currentkeeper
  • Monster LED Rotary Beacon
  • 3mm LEDs for lights

Happened to catch a photo of the motor in transit after releasing from MAC Shops. Who doesn't love a good GP38 in ATSF colors? Ironically the leading motor #4571 (former SD45-2) was originally a Santa Fe before becoming a Michigander.

Returning from MAC Shop behind MCIS 4571 on L-BAMP-25 (Local Turn - Bay City to Mt. Pleasant) 

ATSF 3546 back on customers home rails.

Hope you enjoyed the happenings around the St. Clair Sub. Check back later this month for progress on Grays Lake and hopefully a link to cab rides across the subdivision.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Early March Update

I had hoped originally to get an update post out at the end of February. Well here we are on March 2nd, so we'll call it a Early March post. The past few weeks have brought great progress to key projects in my work plan. The Grays Lake project has helped reinforce many basic steps of scene development such as working back to front, making a list of materials ahead of time, and planning the work in manageable bites.

Propane terminal, where did the 3M plant go?

Huron Gas LP. 
Regular readers will quickly catch that Huron Gas is something new to Grays Lake. As I have developed the area, I re-evaluated the 3M plant that was originally planned for the east end of the industrial lead. 
Mockup of propane distribution terminal

However above the proposed plant is a display shelf so the backdrop is not very tall. That said I then decided it would be best to have an industry that did share airspace with the shelf. The railroad working with state and county economic development teams to help customers make the move. The 3M plant moved to Gerhard and Huron Gas established operations here instead. With 3M moving to Gerhard, the original idea of Huron Malting at Gerhard has been scraped. When we tackle Gerhard scenery we will dive more into the genesis of its industry selection.

The industry itself will be a regional distribution center for propane gas moving from inbound tanks cars to storage tanks and then being reloaded into semi tankers for distribution to service centers or loaded into bobtails for local delivery based in Grays Lake area. Railcar capacity will allow for two cars to be unloaded with a third stored within the gated area. 

Using my Walthers kits I embarked on building the Propane tanks. I decided on three for the facility. Of course building those tanks required plenty of Squadron Putty and patience to make them more respectable. Once smooth to my satisfaction, I used Rustoleum Painters Touch 2X Almond for the tank color. 
LPG tanks done - Facility base taking shape

The entire facility is mounted on Elmers foam board which is mounted to the pink foam base. I then used Busch's asphalt road material to create the pavement around the tanks. Looking at the photo above the white strip in the foreground represented where the rail spur would be located. This portion was cut and discarded and replaced with n scale cork to lower the track.

Once the cork was in I moved ahead with my standard scenic process.
- Paint ground area latex tan
- Install any necessary railroad track no already in place 
- Paint track
- Add base layer of real dirt 
- Add ballast to scene in preparation for wet-wet technique

The photos below show the later steps as we had the dirt and ballast getting installed for this area. The second photo shows the area just left of the propane terminal with pink foam. 

Amazing how a little paint, dirt, and rock really change a scene

 Looking east at propane terminal and highway overpass from downtown Grays Lake

Lead into propane terminal - security gate will cross tracks 

Additional details that have gone in on the scene are three Woodland Scenics modern street light poles and plenty of Walthers chain link fence. 

Highway Overpass
Working right to left from the previous completed corn field scene, one specific item that needed to be installed was the highway overpass. This is made up of Rix components that were painted with different grays, tans, and given a ink wash. 

 Vegetation and traffic coming soon.

Miscellaneous components drying after being painted and weathered

Modeling Tips 
For anyone wondering how I built the Walthers chain link fence, I used the posts from the kit but instead used 0.020 steel wire in 3' lengths. This made assembly much easier with CA glue and once dry very strong and flexible. The mesh material was used for the fence. One tip I found online from Ryan Kunkle's model train site was using removable contact paper to help keep the mesh taught while cutting. Here is a link to his page which was very helpful on building this kit. A few simple changes like the wire and contact paper made install much easier. I actually built mine on the workbench using wax paper so the posts wouldn't stick to anything. 

Another tip for ballasting around signals or fragile items is using a plastic cup to cover the item. While you can still bump the cup, it will move slightly not damaging the signal or detail and make enough noise that you stop before destroying the item.

Thanks for stopping in and reading my Early March Update. By end of this month this scene should be wrapping up nicely which we will recap before moving towards downtown next.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Early February Update

Time fly’s when you are having fun, or in this case while working on the layout. As discussed in early January I wanted to focus on working specific scenes one a time to make noticeable progress on the St. Clair Sub. The past few weeks have produced great results so let’s review the work completed and what’s on the workbench, and even checkout photos provided from the 2017 Amherst Show.


While developing the Town of Grays Lake I made sure that as work took place it was from backdrop to foreground. Helping provide a sense of the elevator, I took a few minutes to sketch out a rendering. Key items I wanted to include were the overhead conveyor bridges, and fall protection system. The facility will ship various grains and dry beans like the prototype Cooperative. 

Cooperative Elevator and Crop Production Services @ Grays Lake, Michigan

I wanted to capture 10' concrete form lines the best I could. Looking at alot of techniques I combined them to create a believable product. Using 3M 1.5" painters tape I tape from top to bottom. After each strip of tape I lightly traced a line using mechanical pencil. Then added the next strip of tape up to the top of the tower. For paint I used Humbrol Gray and Modelmaster Light Sea Gray in rattle cans. The base of the tower was already tan so the gray colors help dusted together helped create a nice effect. After spraying I then removed each strip to tape from top to bottom so each 1.5" strip on the tower was a little different. I let the paint setup until it was not tacky, then used the back edge of a no. 11 hobby knife to trace the line made with mechanical pencil. After this light "gouge" was completed I finished off with a alcohol / ink wash using a small brush along the form like and then pulling the wash straight down. Once dry you can apply more wash depending on your liking. 

Rendering of what Cooperative Elevator would look like

Fall Protection System Inspiration - Courtesy CAI Safety Systems

 Closeup view of facility showcasing the fall protection system made using Plastruct components

 Overall view of the four silos, conveyor bridge, and elevator tower

Closeup of elevator tower concrete form lines

This month I will finish tying the facility together, but everything you see with exception of the fall protection system is from Walthers kits. 
- ADM Grain Elevator
- Conveyors 
- Ladder with safety caged
- Grain Bin


A few years ago Blair Line released their Fertilizer Plant kit and I have always waited for the day I could add it as an industry. Just like the prototype in this part of Michigan's Thumb I found a compelling story that could be told with this kit. Never having built a laser wood kit before I was absolutely impressed with the directions, components, and sequence for assembly. The industry will sit on a three car spur on the same spur as Cooperative Elevator. Provided are a few photos of the build process over a week or so. 

 Follow the instructions provided with kit and Blair Line tip guide online - it is bullet proof

 Primary walls in place, beginning to add doors, trim, and roof

 Main structure completed, all that is left is loading conveyor

Completed structure test fitting at Grays Lake


The foreground portion of Grays Lake will be comprised of a Michigan Trunk Highway "M-XX" crossing the mainline and heading into town. We only see a small portion of the town, but the scene helps tell the story that we are entering the downtown business district. Currently the primary road layout has been completed. This month we will complete road markings using Summit USA road decals. Additionally grade crossing signals and street lamps have been acquired. As we work back to front these details will be added and showcased probably in the Early or Late March Update. 

Test fitting the town structures  

Cork installed as base layer - sidewalks are laser cut from Minuteman Scale Models

While the station is no longer rail served, it has become home to new business. 

Laying road base (cork and adhesive) across tracks which parallel the Grays industrial spur 

 Sidewalks getting paint - primary styrene road painted and glossed awaiting decal markings

BLMA Rubber grade crossing installed in town. The road will but up flush to crossing panels once complete

AMHERST 2017 - The One Module Approach (T.O.M.A.) Layout

While I did not have the opportunity to attend this years Amherst show, a good friend of mind Mike Thidemann does attend. Mike was my eyes, ears, and shopping cart during the trip.Please enjoy photos of the new T.O.M.A. layout which we should be seeing more of soon. Thanks to Mike for the photos and picking up more Minuteman Scale Models sidewalk kits. 

All photos are from left to right starting at staging yard and terminating at processing plant.

I am very excited to follow along on this T.O.M.A. series as it hosts modern techniques, well formatted scenes, contemporary industries, and contemporary railroading! 

AMHERST 2017 - Mike McNamara's Modules

Could forget to show off a few photos of fellow model railroad blogger Mikes awesome Woodsville Terminal free-mo modules. For my photos of Mike's layout please follow the link to his blog on the right sidebar of this blogs homepage. 

Alot of work complete in January setting up this month to be very successful as well. Over the next few weeks I will be adding the backdrop for Grays Lake, shaping and painting the foam to establish land contours, and mocking up the Altogas LPG Terminal. Where is the 3M plant? We will touch on the industry change up next month. 

Have a great February!