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Layout Lundi II

Colorado Model Railroad Museum

Super nice well-done layout.  You gotta love the truck driving along the mountain road.


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Traction Tuesday

Who doesn’t love a trolley?  The hum of the electric motors, the clanging bell and tight curves while zipping through canyons of tall buildings, or passing through the countryside.  I once read that you could literally take a trolley from Boston to Chicago due to all of the traction lines that had been laid down by 1900.  I don’t know how true that may be, but it’s fun to think about and wish I could have tried, but I was born too late.  Fortunately,  there is YouTube and a few museums around to get my fill and I figured I pass it on to my visitors.  I love traction(electric)  railroads and I’ve decided to dedicate Tuesdays to traction railroading, depending on if I can find enough stuff.  Russ

ON a side note,  you don’t call them trolleys if you visit New Orleans, they are known as “streetcars” in the Big Easy.  I was corrected by my aunt who lives there.  “Oh no, don’t call it a trolley, it’s a streetcar!”.   She was serious too and I have to agree, I don’t think “A Trolley Named Desire” has the same ring as Tennessee Williams’ play title.

Check this out.  If you model traction you have probably seen this video, but if you haven’t, let’s just say it is the epitome of super street trackage.

Dan Sparks’ Grand Union intersection

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Layout Lundi


Industrialmodels-Movie Hub

It’s amazing how you can bumble around YouTube and all of a sudden find a gem.  I don’t know much about this layout as they didn’t put much info in the introduction, but “it’s a beautiful thing”.  Check it out.  They do have plenty of other videos of this layout too.   Hope you enjoy. Russ

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Magnification! AmScope 7x-45x Stereo Zoom Microscope With Single Arm Boom Stand

Can’t see what you are working on?  Not really hip to magnification headgear?  Always wanted a super cool binocular microscope?  Yes?  Then here you go.


I’ve been using an Amscope Trinocular scope just like this one for the last 15 years as a dental lab technician and can’t say enough good things about it.  This is not a toy!  This is a high quality scope for the best price you will find anywhere and it is on sale right now (as of 11/30/17).  They normally run about $50 more than what they show today, but even then that’s an excellent price.  The MSRP shown indicates that they normally go for twice as much, but Precision World always has them for 1/2 price or there-about, so you can get these for a good deal anytime, but right now you can get them for an even better price.

They do sell the same mag-head with a twin boom, but you don’t need that. This thing is plenty sturdy enough with just one boom and much cheaper.

Do you need the extra camera port (that’s the tri in the nocular) ?  NO, but for the price, why not.  That’s about the normal price for a binocular rig.  Who knows, you may need to video a pimple on a fly’s butt someday and it’s always nice to have that functionality available should you need it.


5x  wide Barlow ring

I’d also like to suggest getting a .5x  wide Barlow ring that reduces the magnification in half (7x is actually a bit too much magnification for regular modeling work) and increases the field to make it wider so you are not viewing  a small area.s-l1600 (2)   that reduces the magnification in half (7x is actually a bit too much magnification for regular modeling work) and increases the field to make it wider so you are not viewing  a small area.


Oh yes, and don’t forget a ring light.   You really need a light of some sort and these are worth every penny.  When I bought my first LED ring light the darn thing cost the office $150 and it crapped out after a year.  I started to use the florescent type which was cheaper, but they became obsolete a few years ago.  Luckily, by that time the LED lights dropped in price to being lower than the florescent ones.  No brainer there.



Believe me, once you work with one of these rigs you’ll never want to use a headset again.

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Still probably have to wait a few years, but “Yeah Baby”

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Mixing Plaster

I’ve been mixing and pouring plaster professionally for some years now and learned a few things about it along the way and figured I’d pass them on.  Really nothing different than what other people do or write about.  Just my opinion and things I’ve learned.   I can tell you this, plaster is an easy material to work with.  It can be worked with by almost any woodworking tools and saws and is very easy to hand carve.  It is a messy material, but not any worse than painting and most of all, it’s fun.  Wear a mask anytime you cut it, especially with a power tools.  Think of it as big boy/girl mud pies that you can make into something real cool.  I wrote down a few of the basic things you have to deal with,  none of which would prevent you from giving it a try.

Plaster of Paris vs. Hydrocal White ™

Plaster of Paris is a cheap plaster.  It cures slower and is no where near as strong as Hydrocal White ™. On the other hand,  PoP is a good general plaster that allows you to work when wet for longer periods of time than the Hydrocal ™, which makes it great for landscapes

Hydrocal White ™ is a statuary plaster (for making statues, duh) that is excellent for picking up the fines details in a mold.  It cures quick and has what is called a “high-early strength” that allows it to be handled 20 minutes after pouring.  It takes paint and stains well and all in all a tough plaster and that’s why I use it.

Some Plaster Tips

Always pour plaster into the water, not the other way around.  Can you add water to plaster that seems to be too thick?  Of course, but only during the initial mixing, which is within the first minute, after that it starts curing and no amount of added water will make it thinner.  Ideally you want to have the correct amount of water and plaster ready to go so when mixed it will give you the right consistency you need.  The consistency for pouring molds for say a model building is thin compared to filling and stamping a mold onto the side of a scale mountain.   When pouring a mold, you need the plaster mix to have the consistency of a thick cream, where-as if you are slapping a mold against a mountain you don’t want a thin creamy plaster you want it to be thicker so it won’t fly or pour out of the mold.  How thick it needs to be is really a hit and miss kind of thing and you will have to try out various ratios to fit your needs.

The Island

When I first got started in pouring plaster I didn’t really know all that much about any associated techniques other than pouring plaster into water and mixing.  After searching the web I found that if you sift the plaster into the water until is barely rises out of the water like an island that it is just about the right ratio without figuring out ratios for mixing and pouring into a mold.

Soak it!  

Soaking is just that.  Once the plaster is poured into the water you want to let it sit for one or two minutes.  This allows all of the plaster particles to get thoroughly wet and helps prevent clumping.  It also makes mixing a lot easier since everything is already wet and soggy.  It’s not precise timing.  I usually let my plaster soak for 1 min, but have on occasion started to do something else and had to run back after 2-3 minutes worried that the plaster was going to start setting, but all was fine.  So you do have time, just don’t forget about it.  Plaster needs to be mixed for it to start curing fast.  However, I wouldn’t just let a bowl of wet plaster sit too long because it will harden up and you don’t want that.


At New England brownstone we use a dental Lab vacuum mixer that works well and helps to produce dense, sound castings.  However, the vacuum does not prevent bubbles from poor pouring practice.  See next tip Proper Pouring.

There are all kinds of mixers that can be used in conjunction with a cordless drill that will mix the plaster quickly and thoroughly, but with proper technique, you can easily mix your plaster with a plastic mixing spatula by hand to the right consistency with minimal bubbles, as long as you soak the plaster first.  Once mixed you need to rap the side of the container to get the bubble to float to the top where they can be skimmed off.

Proper Pouring

I’d say that 90% of the bubbles found in plaster castings are directly related to poor pouring practice.  This is where the art takes over the science.  You can’t splash plaster into a mold and expect it to come out bubble free.  Molds need to be poured with care.  Well, unless bubbly castings are what you are trying to achieve, but I would think not.  Start from one end and slowly feed the plaster into the mold.  If it is a deep mold, pour into the deepest part and let it slowly flow over the mold details.  The faster you pour, the better the chance you will get bubbles.


A Note on Bubbles


Rap, Tap and Vibrate

Even though plaster may be in a liquid state it doesn’t flow well into tight corners and details unless it’s really thin or has some help and that’s where rap, tap and to vibrate come into play.  I have a vibrating table that I built from a dental lab vibrating table that works rather well.  I have it connected to a foot pedal so I can have my hands free while pouring and rapping.  In my left hand, I am armed with a rubber hammer that I use for tapping the mold while I pour.  The foot pedal operated vibrating table is activated all through the pour and is great for finessing the plaster into the tiny details without capturing any bubbles.  I rap the mold with the rubber hammer to help move the majority of the plaster from one side of the mold to the other without being sloppy.

Full Mold vs. Not Quite Full Mold

It’s a good idea to plan to have a bit more plaster to pour into the mold.  If you under pour or pour short and the plaster does not reach to the top the of the molds your casting will end up with a chalky back.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but a good hard flat back on an open flat-back casting is desirable and always from a commercial point-of-view.   The best thing to do is to over pour and let the plaster set for 3-5 minutes and then strike the back or scrape the excess plaster off the mold.   Striking is a foundry molders term and fits this process appropriately.   The visual trigger is when you see the wet plaster become dull due to it sucking in any water that was sitting on top of the plaster.  You will need to experiment to find the ideal time to screed as plaster curing time is affected by things like temperature and mixing time.

Stripping the mold

Give yourself 20 minutes or more before stripping, or pulling the casting from the mold.  Hydrocal has a good hi-early strength, meaning even though it is not totally cured it is able to be handled without breaking or falling apart and that is usually after 20 minutes.

Clean up

Plaster should never be poured down a drain for obvious reasons, but that doesn’t mean people actually heed that warning.   Don’t do it, unless you want to hire a plumber to route out your sewer lines.  Set up a plaster trap.

Throw away all excess wet plaster into the trash.   The less that goes down the drain, the better.  What does go down should be caught in the plaster trap.  Traps are easy enough to make and if anything should be installed before pouring any large amounts of plaster.

Need plaster?

The Plaster Guys have a site on eBay and sell smaller quantities than the typical 80 lb bags at a reasonable price.  Yes, you can get it cheaper if you buy it by the bag, but you also have to deal with the bag (remember, it’s 80 lbs) then worry about humidity and the messiness that goes with working out of a bag.   I put all of my plaster in 5 gal buckets with screw-on tops that I purchased from Home Depot, so the messiness and humidity are not much of a big worry anymore.


If you have any questions, feel free to reply to the post.  Thanks, Russ

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Local Hobby Shops

Finding a hobby shop these days is almost equivalent to trying to find the elusive needle in a hay stack.  So many have dropped off of the map due to decline in business, use of the internet, or simply because the owners retired or died off.  The latter sounds a bit morbid, but it’s a fact of life and it happens.

Even so, I’ve seen quite a lot of modelers on the forums (, one of my favorites) and Facebook pages (All O-scale, On30 Railroading, and Model Railroading) asking where a good hobby shop is in such in such a town. I can’t say much about other towns, but I can comment about the two shops around me. One is with-in 45 minutes from Chicopee, MA (my location) in Manchester, CT and the other is with-in 10 minutes drive in West Springfield, MA.  Nice, huh.

I don’t know how many of you will be visiting the Springfield, MA area, but if you just happen to be in town or the area and need a hobby shop fix, try these two places.

Pioneer Valley Hobbies

Pioneer Valley Hobbies is a multi-facet hobby shop which started out primarily as a train shop that eventually sold R/C cars and planes.  I don’t usually by kits from them as I like to scratch-build or buy online (most hobby shops don’t stock the kits I buy, anyways), but for stock materials and small hand-tools I need in a pinch, they are my go to store.  The store is clean and well lit.  Dennis Gamelli, the owner and store staff have always been the most helpful to me.   No Grumpies here.  They even reopened the register after I walked into the place on a Sunday, thinking they closed at 5:00 and not 4:00.  I figure if they are willing to do that for me, I can give them props here.  However, I don’t recommend walking into the place right at closing time.

Time Machine Hobby

Time Machine Hobby used to be a strictly model train store when it was located across the Hilliard Street and once called The Train Exchange.  This was the hobby store I grew up with in the early 70’s and is the go to if I can’t find something at Pioneer.  At one time, they had everything.  They even sold Fine Scale Miniatures kits when George Sellios would sell his kits through hobby shops.  Detail parts galore and a way cool layout in the back.

Fast forward today and the shop is now located across the street (it’s actually been in the “new” location since the late 70’s or early 80’s) in the old Bon Ami cleanser factory.  They handle just about everything now.  From trains, to board games, to R/C, to dollhouse miniatures, to science projects, to…well, you get the idea.  They still have a great layout in the back operated by the Silk City Model Railroaders which is open every first and third Sunday of every month.  Well worth the trip.







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Is it Prototype?

Help me here,

The word prototype is a common term used in the model railroad community to describe the full sized railroads that we model.  However, is it the correct word to use?  I was discussing model railroad modeling to a non modeling friend and I mentioned “prototype” describing a full sized thing.  He responded with “is that the correct word to use?”  I thought about it and had to agree with him.  I really never thought about it until then and since then have come across others disagreeing with it’s usage as the term to describe full sized anything being modeled in any scale other than 1:1.

An example of a prototype in modeling would be the original test model for a new locomotive, a piece of rolling stock, or a structure to be used for future production design.  Not the real railroad.
A prototype by definition is an original model used as a pattern for future models, which is not quite what a real railroad is in relationship to a model.  If you were use a real railroad as a prototype then technically you’d have to model it full scale to fit the definition of being a prototype.  This would fit #4 in the definition.

From the Merriam/Webster site:

Definition of prototype

1:an original model on which something is patterned :archetype
2:an individual that exhibits the essential features of a later type
3:a standard or typical example
4:a first full-scale and usually functional form of a new type or design of a construction (such as an airplane)
#1 pertains to an original model as in a test model or pattern for casting, however, I can see how it can be used here.
#2 doesn’t pertain
#3 still not accurate for this use.  This seems to be more QC related.
#4 Unless we’re building full sized replicas, then this is inaccurate, too.

So, why do we use it?  I believe it may have originated in one of John Armstrong’s layout design books and it has stuck ever since and I am as guilty of using it and honestly it seems to roll off the tongue quite nicely and it sounds good, too.   But, technically speaking is it the correct word to use?


Archetype is a better definition, but even then it seems to refer to things being modeled of equal size.
What do you think? Honestly, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.  I just figured it would be something to throw out there into the community and see what others think.  Feel free to comment as I would love to here other’s opinions.
Thanks, Russ

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New Toy


THIS! I usually don’t do reviews on tools and this is not so much a review as much as a thumbs up for this piece of equipment. I needed to cut a bunch of square tubing for a shop project I was working on and really didn’t want to have to hand cut each piece by hand, so I started looking for an abrasive chop saw. I remember seeing some guy on Youtube using a chop-saw that had a toothed blade that literally ate through the metal stock being cut. Having worked in the metal working industry I was a bit wary of putting a cold saw blade on an abrasive saw and began doing some research on this super saw.

Come to find out the blade cannot be used with just any saw and is matched speed-wise with the Evolution’s Rage2 saw, which is considerably slower than a typical abrasive saw, but faster than a cold saw. I watched a few videos on Youtube and was pretty much sold on this rig, but was still a bit apprehensive and wondering if I’d get buyers remorse after using it. I decided to take the plunge and purchase one. This is one purchase I have not regretted.

As true to the statements of the reviews this thing is a beast. It cuts through steel like butter…and fast. And, there is no abrasive dust to breath in, which is real nice. And, the cut piece is cool to the touch right after cutting. Try that with a freshly cut part out of an abrasive saw. You’ll iron your fingers.

Now, most of ya’ll won’t need anything like this, but I do know a few who do like to or need to weld on occasion, or are welders 24/7 that this saw would be a welcomed addition to the shop.

Seriously, this is a bad MOFO at a very reasonable price. Russ



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