Sunday, 23 November 2014

Why Things Are Seen

This post was started a few months ago after a discussion at the Modelling the Railways of NSW Convention last June but for one reason or another has remained in a half finished state for several months, kind of like a few models I could mention! One of the Sydney Model Railway Society team operating the Society's Mungo Scotts layout bought a 48 class locomotive that he had purchased second hand to the weathering display at the same time that I happened along. The locomotive has some basic weathering but for some reason, a small section had flaked off leaving a triangular shape of the original unweathered surface. Although only small, it was glaringly obvious and he was seeking suggestions of how to repair this.

I had to attend another presentation and I trust he was able to find a solution. However, as we were discussing possible rectification options with the person manning the display, it occurred to me that the issues that we were addressing were the same as those I recall from my early days in the army when one of the first lessons we received was entitled ‘Why Things are Seen’. Back then, the intent was to ensure that our camouflage and concealment practices addressed a number of factors and hence our bodies and equipment were not visible to an enemy. If I recall those factors correctly, they were:
  • shape,
  • colour,
  • silhouette,
  • movement,
  • spacing,
  • shadow,
  • texture, and
  • shine or lustre.
For modellers, the situation is somewhat different. Some things we want to be seen and we usually use one or more of these characteristics to ensure that, but others we wish to remain hidden or at least be less obvious than other elements. 

For many readers of this post, such things are self evident, so why waste time restating the obvious? A few reasons come to mind. Firstly, sometimes it helps to review the concepts that underpin the visual aspects of the hobby. Secondly, it may give some readers a different perspective when it comes to weathering and scenery. Finally, in the perennial question concerning how much detail is appropriate for HO scale, I tend to look at the issue in the context of these factors because my belief is that if you can’t see the detail readily, then perhaps it is not necessary.

In the modelling context, a number of the factors are readily apparent. We spend a lot of time and effort to ensure that the shape and colour are right. Silhouette could be considered as a sub element of shape. In the military context, the silhouette against the skyline is something to be avoided. In the modelling context, it may work to enhance a realistic scene.

In the same way, movement and spacing are also easily appreciated but again, context is important.

However, it is perhaps the last three that present me with the greatest challenges. 

A misplaced shadow can easily compromise a scene and is something that I must address in several parts of Philip’s Creek but more of that in a moment.

We seem to have a sensitivity to texture and I confess that more than once, I have been tempted to reach out and touch a corrugated iron roof on an exhibition layout to see if it feels right. Recent blog posts by others dealing with topics such as brick or block work, or the depth of timber grain on cattle or sheep wagons are, in part, about getting the texture right.

I think the incorrect lustre of a model is one of those things that can really detracts. It was the juxta-positioning of the two lustres, the shiny ‘as purchased’ finish and the dull weathered surface, on the 48 class in the opening vignette that made the problem very obvious. By way of further example, the photo opposite shows a situation where the incorrect lustre makes something look out of place. We expect the top of the tracks to reflect some light but the new, and as yet unweathered, flat wagon tends to catch the eye and possibly distract the viewer. Not all gloss or shine is a problem, but if we get wrong, either way, it stands out. 

The second photo attempts to highlight a few examples of these factors at work. The effect of shape, colour and shadow is fairly obvious in defining the scene, but the shape of the masking tape on the track certainly ensures that it is visible even though the colour is not terribly out of place. Perhaps less obvious in the photo, but apparent when viewed in person, is the impact of texture and shine. The pond in the foreground was created using several coats of clear gloss vanish over a darkened ground. The colour and lustre is about right but the roughened texture of the ground gives the  appearance of running water rather than a still stagnant pond that was intended - a bit more work to do there.

The shadow of the culvert entrance is expected but the astute observer will also note the small unwanted shadow at the top left of the headwall. This void is where the terrain and the headwall do not quite match. This an example of something that we don't want seen and normally theses are covered by vegetation, but clearly I missed one. Sometimes the camera sees better than the eyeball.

Finally, to return the shadow. Ron Cunningham in his Branchline Ramblings segment in AMRM (October 2014) wrote about a trend in model railway design towards the use of narrow shelves as a part of the layout. The photo opposite shows a  potential consequence of that trend as the shadow of a passing train may fall on the backdrop betraying the proximity of the backdrop which otherwise would visually appear to be more distant. I need to investigate this further as it's an issue I have in several locations. I suspect that some form of lighting immediately above the backdrop may be the best solution for this.
As I said at the start, most modellers understand these factors implicitly and use them successfully. However, for me and perhaps others, occasionally, something slips through the cracks and it helps to recap the basics.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A 36ft Tank Wagon aka Grandfather's Axe

When I converted back to HO scale in 1996, the first wagon that I purchased was an Athearn  US three dome tank wagon. The primary purpose of this acquisition was to test the new track that was being laid. In my ignorance at the time, I also thought that it could provide a 'near enough' version of its NSW equivalent. Although, I was soon set straight on this point, the wagon continued to operate as the only tank wagon on Philip's Creek. Fast forward to last December and the arrival of my SDS tank wagons. The old Athearn wagon now looked very out of place and languished in the 'back of house' staging area.

A few months later, Peter Hearsum posted retrospective on some 9000 gallon tank wagons that he had built quite a few years ago ( Peter had co-authored an article on this work in an issue of the magazine Branchline Modeller (later The Australian Journal of Railway Modelling). Fortunately, I had a copy of the issue, reread it, and noted that one of the two wagon used as the start point for the conversion was the Athearn three dome tank wagon. I contacted Peter and he very kindly helped me out with the specialist dome and end casting, and cylinder to complete the conversion. Many thanks Peter!

I followed the process outlined in the article fairly closely but stuffed up the shortening of the chassis. To overcome this, I glued a styrene channel section on each side of the centre bream to create a sandwich arrangement which allowed me to achieve the straight line that my earlier attempts had not achieved.

I did get a bit confused with the different arrangements of domes, ladders, handbrakes and securing straps. As a consequence, I decided to follow the drawing of the Caltex 9000 gallon tank wagon on page 8 of the magazine. The model now just requires painting and the procurement of some suitable Caltex decals before returning to service.

The one thing the article did say at the very start was that most of the Athearn kit should be discarded and this was certainly the case. I have chosen to show photos before painting to demonstrate this point. The dark grey coloured parts of the model (not to be confused with the new grey domes and tank ends) are the only components from the original wagon hence the reference to grandfather's axe. We are all familiar with the story of grandfather's axe. It had seven different handles and five new heads but it was still grandfather's axe. And so it is with the tank wagon, although heavily modified it is still the first wagon that ran on Philip's Creek