Thursday, June 29, 2017

Late June Update

Just like that the month of June is coming to a close. While I did not get any work done on the Grays Lake scene this month, I have plenty to show for other projects that did get completed this month along with new equipment additions to the St. Clair Sub so lets take a look.

MAC Rail (Car Shop)
I had a friend sometime ago that he would like a model of wind blades on railcars similar to what you can find operating on the prototype.  Luckily American Model Builders created a fantastic kit that is easy to build and in a few days you create a very nice model of a wind blade railcar setup. While in California I ran across the blades in a 3 pack at Railmaster Hobbies, so sure enough I picked them up for his display.

The blades represent a 102' model. Current prototype wind blades are 150' to 200' in length, but in our selectively compressed hobby these are the perfect size with plenty in/out swing. As for the rail car a combination of Athearn Genesis and BLMA 89' flats fit the bill. The blades and root end assembly are resin castings while the tip sling fixture is laser cut wood with a literally plastic swing. In the near future the Michigan Interstate will be moving wind blades, however to make "More with Less" I will be using the Atlas Trainman 68' flat which will compress the empty car space and operate better on my 28 degree curves. More to come on wind energy service on the MCIS in another post. 

MAC RAIL (Locomotive Shop)
There was no shortage of work being done in June, it just was not on the layout. Over the month MAC Rail released four locomotives that had undergone various sorts of work. 

Overview of the "High Bay" with BN2627, MCIS4005, and a bowl of cake getting worked on....

MCIS 4005 showing off its new Econami decoder and Railmaster DS1240-Box speaker. In this install i actually cut the top off the rear weight and then point the speaker downward over the trucks. The rear LED mounts right on top of the speaker. The front weight over the trucks is added back once the decoder is wired up. 

MCIS 4005 (GP40-2)
Internal: Soundtraxx Econami & Currentkeeper / Railmaster DS1240-Box Speaker / 3mm LED
External: Replaced broken cab sunshade and added BLMA air conditioners

MCIS 4571 (SD40M-2)
Internal: SBS4DCC Athearn LEDs / Truck & Gear Rebuild
External: Replaced handrails / Added all weather windows and non-op ditch lights

Following many online tutorials for Athearn engines I took apart each truck, filed off rough flash on each gear, cleaned with warm soapy water, re-assembled, lubricated with Labelle, and tested. The grinding sound did reduce tremendously and will get better the more running I can get on the engine. While apart I also checked gauge of the wheels and hard wired the track pickup wires to the brass tab on the truck tower. This work improved the reliability to the point where it can be run well with other engines that are sound equipped.

All Athearns are the same.... 

BNSF 3136 (GP50 for customer)
Internal: Soundtraxx Econami & Currentkeeper / Railmaster DS1425-8 Speaker / SBS4DCC Athearn LEDs 
External: Replaced ditch light bulbs with SBS4DCC 0402 LED

BN 2627 (GP40 for customer)
Internal: Soundtraxx Econami & Currentkeeper / Railmaster DS1240-Box Speaker / 3mm LED
External: Added Monster LEDs Stratrolite Beacon

That wraps up MAC Rail work for June, the rest of the summer looks to be steady with probably one sound install upgrade per month supplemented with existing fleet lighting upgrades on Athearn models. I strongly recommend Streamlined Backshops Athearn LED upgrade kits as it really makes putting LEDs in a snap. Basically each individual light has its own surface mount LED so it is very bright, and they can be wired into series so connecting them to whatever decoder is simple. 

Layout Car Fleet Additions
In my last update post I had touched on a new Athearn 60' TOBX purchased. Wanted to provide a up close look at the car in its pre-weathered from factory look and also showcase a few other purchases and Freelance Model Railroad trades that added to the overall layout roster. 

 TOBX 889088 (60' Plate F Double Door Boxcar) 
As part of the TTX national pool, we will see this car in overhead and online service carrying building products.While already weathered I do expect to do a little more to bring out its character. 

 DVE 6005 (50' Plate F Single Door Boxcar)
This car belongs to Jamie Isett's Delaware Valley Eastern. It seems Fort Mackinac Paper has secured business on the east coast so this boxcar will be busy hauling paper rolls from the mill at Cheboygan, MI. 

 DELC 90105 (5161 Cubic Foot Covered Hopper)
Owned by Matt Curll's Delmarva Central, this car loads out corn on the Michigan Interstate at either Cooperative Elevator or Michigan Agricultural Commodities for use as chicken feed out east. 

 QTTX131003 and QTTX131004 (66' Heavy Duty FM Flat)
Cars were recently came purchased and will find themselves hauling HIWIs of either the wind turbine or power gen. nature. As Michigan Interstate gets into hauling wind energy these will critical cars for the heavier wind turbine nacelles. 

DODX41089 and DODX41089
While marked up for DOD use, these cars will be re-purposed into wind energy service flats hauling the American Model Builders 102' wind blade. Using two 68' versus 89' flat will greatly reduce the overall size of the train and for my layout size better "Selectively Compress" the intended wind blade on flatcar. During this conversion an additional 8 flats will be purchased to allow for a train to carry 5 blades. 

That about sums it up for my end of June post. In just a few days from now we will be in July getting ready to celebrate the Fourth. With MAC Rail work tapering off some I do plan to get back on the Grays Lake scene. Until my next update, have a safe Holiday. 


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

May Recap

Sometimes even the best intentions of publishing a blog post monthly does not go as planned. The month of May was by far the busiest for me in terms of traveling in 2017 for both work and pleasure. June is well underway and with that will come great content on the layout and MAC Rail but this post we are going to recap the on-goings during the month of May. 

Grays Lake Update
One goal I had for the layout was taking my time and really building character into each scene. My current focus is the Town of Grays Lake. The middle of May ended up being the largest push to "Pave" the scene and "Bring Light" to things.... Sorry for the puns, could not resist. Well the answer is in the words, as I ended up getting the pavement, pavement markings, and lighting added into the scene.

 Looking east down First Ave. 

 Overhead view of First's parking spots, sidewalks, lights, and weathering

Looking north on Main St.

So far in downtown Grays Lake I have installed 9 street lights with an additional 5 of this ornate design required. Additionally a few wooden lamp posts will be installed at the fertilizer plant, track access road, and side street. The Woodland Scenics Just Plug system makes this process very easy to install and just takes minute to connect and lighting. I believe you would agree with the following photos that the finished result is amazing.

 Overview of entire modeled downtown

 Corner of Main and First. 

View north on Main St. 

Additional work on Grays Lake included the addition of Railroad St. which runs between First and Second Avenues. The road runs parallel to the Michigan Interstate St. Clair Sub mainline. Along Railroad St. is Dean's Garage which is a small town auto repair shop. Pretty sure the scene will have the owner Dean sitting out front with cold suds watching trains versus fixing autos...

Deans Garage located beside Railroad St. The shop will actually be located on Second Ave.(Cork).

In the month of June you can expect to see further progress on Second Avenue and getting scenery such as shrubs and trees more permanently in place. Additional lighting will be added as purchased. I will cover the entire install and wiring process for these lights in a future summer post.

Quick word on the streets and sidewalks - they are styrene and created following Lance Mindheim's Road How To on his blog. Basically rustoleum gray for the aged asphalt and india ink / alcohol airbrushed following his technique. Prior to weathering I did use Summit Custom Cuts road marking decals which I must say were easy to use and turned out great. Lastly the sidewalks are laser cut wood from Minuteman Scale Models. They offer different angles and the detail is perfect for further detailing and weathering. 

Travels - East
Early in the month of May our family traveled to Walt Disney World. Anyone who has followed my blog for sometime knows I try to provide a few pictures and recap on the love of railroading that Walt Disney had. To this day trains play a large part in the parks. Here are a few photos. 

 Main Street Station at The Magic Kingdom

 Garden Railroad at Epcot's Germany Pavilion - versus the past they had trains running with mutliple car consists. This is a nice change to just seeing a engine running light. 

Great view of creek, tunnels, and multiple loops on setup. There are four loops with two in the foreground, one in the upper right background, and another in upper left corner beyond the bridges. 

Travels - West
The back end of May require me to be in Southern California for a work conference so while traveling on my off time I did have a chance to stop in a Railmaster Hobbies in Bellflower, CA. and Arnie's Model Trains in Westminster, CA. My first reaction to both of these stores is wow what great staff, great customer service, and great selection to the modeler. Both stores had items that we do not always see in Texas. Lets take a look at both stores and run by what I picked up. 

Railmaster Hobbies - Bellflower, California
I prefer using Railmaster Speakers for my DCC sound installs and no better place to get them then the source! I picked up 2 of the DS1240-Box speakers, 4 DS1425-8 speakers, the American Model Builders Wind Blade 3 Pack, BLMA detail parts, and Athearn Genesis 89' flat. Funny story I actually bought everything and I got to talking with Dave at the store so i accidently left my detail parts behind. A week later after tearing apart my suitcase thinking I had misplaced them I gave em a call and they had set the 2 parts aside. Soon enough the parts were in the mail heading to Texas. 

Arnie's Model Trains - Westminster, CA
I had been to California back in 2012 and visited Milepost 38 ToyTrains when they were still in Anaheim Hills. Since then Milepost 38 and Arnie's have co-located side by side in the same shopping center. If you are looking for HO and N then you go into Arnie's. Looking for O and G scale step next door to Milepost 38. 

Great store, great staff, great selection. The modelers in Southern California are very fortunate to have two great stores that support the hobby and if one doesnt have the item you are looking for they suggest to check the other. Nothing against ordering from Walthers or OEM direct, but it is always nice to support local model train stores. Beings I spent quite a bit at Railmaster Hobbies, I opted to keep this trip light and picked up one of the new Athearn R-T-R 60' Gunderson TTX repaints in the TOBX marks. Additionally this car comes faded with patchwork. Thanks to James working that day for pointing this out. I saw the re-stenciled reporting marks but was unaware of the factory pre-fade. 

If you are in the Southern California area make time on your trip to stop by both of these shops, you will not be disappointed. Make sure to make room to bring home items in your checked bag as well. 

Wrapping up the trip was a quick trip to Disneyland. I couldn't miss out on having both Main Street Stations in the same post. 

Main Street Station at Disneyland Park

That wraps up my May recap. Pretty busy month of traveling but as you saw I got a little more done on the Grays Lake scene. Stayed tuned in June for two updates once showcasing the purchases from my California trip and MAC Rail projects. Later in the month we will head back to the layout to see progress at Grays Lake.

Have a great week.


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!