The Up North Experience

People who live in the great state of Michigan actually argue over what it means to be up north. Most particularly, where up north actually begins. To some, it begins after travelers cross the beautiful Mackinac Bridge and begin to explore St. Ignace, Escanaba, and all points in the Upper Peninsula.

To many, up north means the beautiful region of Houghton and Higgins Lake. The fishing at Houghton Lake is unsurpassed. The beautiful blue water of Higgins Lake is known around the world. But still, there are many who say this very popular area is not truly up north.

Oddly enough, there are many who live in the southern areas of Michigan who consider the middle “thumb” region of the state to be up north. There are small lake areas south of where we live in the lower thumb that are favorite destinations of those seeking to go up north.

Up north is a state of mind. It involves a million different experiences all inspiring their own memories, each with a special feeling folks try to recreate by returning up north, wherever that may be. And that is the beautiful thing about going up north. You can have it wherever you are. Up north is yours to enjoy, whether it is in Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Otter Lake, Bay City, Mio, East Tawas, Clare, Gaylord, Ossineke, East Jordan, Brutus, Onaway, Rudyard, Brimley, Eckerman, or Au Train.

My wife has captured a little bit of up north with her Up North Flannels. A few years ago, while we enjoyed a trip to visit family in Tennessee, she purchased a flannel shirt that had been re-purposed and re-tagged. An idea was born. Why not do the same thing in our area and call the shirts Up North Flannels? She began by designing her own label, then started searching for used plaid flannel shirts.

Over the last three years her hobby has continued. Although two shops where she had a display of shirts have closed, she has two other stores specializing in home decor that also sell Up North Flannels.

We visit community thrift and other stores that sell used items. My wife has become very good at hunting and knows just where to find the shirts. Sometimes she finds just one or two, sometimes a bag full. We bring the shirts home where she washes and irons them. She then uses the iron to place her special Up North label. I get to help by sewing the label to the shirt. We have quite a production line going and we make a good team.

We recently have had great fun participating in a local Farmer’s Market. Our tent is surrounded by those who actually farm the items they sell but they have graciously allowed us to join them. Last week we decided to include home made cinnamon rolls which my wife named “Dale’s Delicious Delectable 3D” cinnamon rolls.

An Up North state of mind is a lot like A Coffee State of Mind. I don’t have to be enjoying a cup of coffee to have that state of mind. I can think about a delicious cup of steaming hot coffee and have the mind to enjoy the thought. I can think about the wonderful experience of being up north without actually being there and enjoy the state of mind all the same.

We all need to find that kind of thinking. Whether it’s enjoying traveling, spending time with family and friends, taking a walk, or listening to birds singing, our thoughts can take us there. If we stop for a moment and purposely think about the things we enjoy, we return to that state of mind.

It’s definitely time for more coffee. Literal coffee, not thought coffee.

Plaster of Paris Progress on My Model Railroad

Using Plaster of Paris in model railroading is a messy process, but the outcome can be amazing. In my last post I wrote about using cardboard for the underlayment around my risers. So far it has worked very well and I am pleased with the progress.

I use small squares of paper towel covered in wet plaster, then lay them on the cardboard right up to the edge of the cork roadbed.

I made the mistake of not covering the roadbed with tape so I have a little bit of clean-up to do, but that won’t be a problem. It’s all going to be covered in ballast material anyway.

I am using Woodland Scenics rock molds for the first time in my model railroading life. I am really happy with the results! The detail is fantastic. The difficult part will be placing them in such a way that there isn’t a predictable pattern. A few of them broke when I removed the mold, so there is definitely a learning curve in making rocks.

I first purchased dry Plaster of Paris in a one pound container which I quickly used up. I then purchased two more of the same size which didn’t last much longer than the first. A two pound bucket would certainly keep me going for quite a while. Wrong. Pouring rock molds takes a lot of plaster.

Plaster of Paris is mixed at a ratio of 2:1, two parts powder, one part water. It doesn’t matter what kind of scoop is used but it is important that the measurements of powder to water be exactly two to one.

I find that one cup of powder to a half-cup of water is the perfect amount to use before it begins to set and gets away from me. I work as quickly as I can, dipping the squares of paper towel in the plaster and laying them in place. I leave the pieces bunched rather than smoothing them.

I was really concerned about how my scratch-built risers stretching across the middle of the layout would look. With the “ground” reaching from the roadbed on a slant to the layout surface, I think I’m on the right track. (No pun intended, but it’s a good one!). I’m getting anxious to complete the plastering and start painting.

My rock production line requires a lot of patience. I have four molds and I pour them all at one time. I first rinse the molds and lay them out with support under the edges so they lie flat. I mix the plaster and pour. The most difficult part is waiting for the plaster to cure. I wait twenty-four hours before I do anything. I then carefully peal the molds away from the new rocks. Voila! Beautiful! It takes a couple more days for the green rocks to turn white.

Model railroading is a wonderful hobby. I’m not a master modeler at all. It’s not my plan to try to be one of the best. The point is, if I’m happy with what I create on my model railroad, then it is the best.

Choosing not to compare my model railroad, my writing, my piano playing, myself with anyone else has been a tough lesson to learn. I’m still working on it. If I do begin to compare myself with others, I tend to come up short. If I decide what I’ve done is better than anyone else, I’m wrong again. It’s enough to be satisfied with what I’ve done and choose to be happy with the results.

When I work on my model railroad, I always have music playing, either Earl Klugh radio on Pandora, or country music on FM. With a cup of coffee close by, I’m happy.

Good luck with your model railroading

A Messy Model Railroad is a Happy Model Railroad

Before you get upset and say something you might regret later, let me explain. I’m making progress on my model railroad and I’m excited about it. It’s been a long time since I spent more than an hour with my layout. In the last few days I’ve probably spent fifteen hours with The Maple Valley Short Line.

I don’t claim to be an artist so mixing paint colors has never been a familiar task. To me it’s a matter of meeting a need and mixing until it looks presentable. There is also the challenge of the paint’s response to plaster and how it will look when it’s dry. So far so good.

Model railroading is a lot of fun and there are many rewards on the path to a finished layout. Part of the excitement is that a layout is never really finished, at least not for me.

This piece is the result of my first use of a latex mold. I think it turned out pretty great. I’ll paint it with a grayish wash and touch it up with some highlights of darker and lighter shades. What I’m not sure about is how many of these I can get away with using. I have smaller molds as well so I’ll mix them around the layout

This model railroad represents several firsts for me. I have never modeled a river before and I have already made some mistakes. I made the river area too wide for my bridges so I had to adjust the width in a few areas. I also had no idea how expensive the water-pour mixtures are. Ugh! Oh well, I’ll work around it. I’m going to use a deep-pour clear mixture. I left chunks of plaster on the river bed which should be visible through the hardened water material.

I’m also in the process of building another bridge. Because I didn’t leave enough space between the beginning of my incline and the end of the decline, it’s necessary for me to place two #6 turnouts end-to-end so I can move trains from the outside to the inside mainline, and vice versa. They will come together over the river! (Another mistake.)

These are my tools for building bridges and just about everything else. I use a lap board with a measuring-cutting pad. To begin construction I use a piece of 1 1/2 inch foam about the same size as my lap board. I pin and glue the basswood and balsa piece by piece. We have enjoyed several Netflix series while building great scenery items!

Back to my messy model railroad. I like busy-ness. I like stuff. I’m not good with tools because I have a terrible habit of not putting them away. I leave them where they were needed, so I have about a dozen screwdrivers. I like the look of a mess as long as there are good things happening.

Some day the paint, plaster, brushes, containers, tape, and all the other clutter will be gone. What remains will be a fantastic model railroad. Just after I drive the golden spike I’ll start thinking about how I can change the layout to make it better. That’s the way model railroading works.

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Where’s my coffee?!

Model Railroading Scenery Techniques

I’ve been struggling with a couple of things on my model railroad. I love my scratch-built basswood and balsa bridges. I used dark brown spray paint and I had to decide how to apply weathering finishes.

I used a mixture of Ceramcoat acrylic paint, light gray, dark brown, a little yellow, a little red, and green. At first, I used too much green and I had to make some adjustments. After I stirred in a pint of plain water I ended up with a grayish wash that after a couple of coats looks great.

The second thing I’ve been trying to figure out is how to blend the styrofoam risers into the surrounding areas. I had an epiphany! I didn’t want to cut strips of cardboard as there would have been a ton of them. I thought of a way to use cardboard, cut it on a 2% incline, then fold it down to meet the layout base.

My first step is to hold a piece of cardboard against the riser and use a marker to draw a line its entire length. I transferred the mark to the opposite side of the cardboard so my finished piece is not backwards when I apply it.

After I transferred the line to the opposite side of the cardboard, I used a straight edge and a blade to cut 1/4 inch above the line. The extra space above the line is the distance between the outer edge of the riser and the fold.

Next, I used the blade to score just the outside layer of the cardboard. I then folded the cardboard on the cut. I used a piece of wood to mash the cardboard to crush all the cells inside, making the cardboard much easier to work with. Then I laid out a piece of 1-1/2 inch tape, sticky side up, the length of the cardboard. I carefully placed the small folded area against the tape, leaving 1/4 inch.

I carefully picked up the cardboard and tape, then set the edge of the cut section against the outside corner of the riser. I pressed the tape extending from the edge of the cardboard onto the riser surface. I then folded the remaining cardboard down from the cut to meet the layout surface. I pressed the remaining tape down onto the cardboard.

I now have a grade from the side of the riser I can live with. I’ll lay plaster-covered paper towel squares on the cardboard from the edge of the cork roadbed to the base surface. I’ll doctor it up with tools and paint washes so the finished grades don’t look like paper towel covered with plaster.

Another little trick is to score the cardboard on the opposite side of the radius so it is easier to tape around a curve. I cut the tape as well so it’s easier to secure to the riser edge.

Recently, I’ve been spending more time working on the layout and I’m happy with my progress on The Maple Valley Short Line.

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Model Railroading Beats Covid Stress

Model railroading is a terrific way to lose yourself in details that have absolutely nothing to do with the media, bad news, worse news, health scares, or Covid.

It’s been almost four months since I worked on my model railroading project, The Maple Valley Short Line.

Part of model railroading, at least for me, has been anticipating but not being upset by the feeling of hitting a wall. My motivation to build disappeared. Today I reactivated and found it.

Even as I stood in front of my layout, it wasn’t until I actually started measuring, cutting, and gluing that I began to feel motivated.

I discovered installing scratch-built bridges is difficult. Making sure the bridge deck is the same level as the cork roadbed which means boring holes in plaster and foam takes time. When it’s done, it will be fantastic.

Plaster is a necessity in model railroading if you’re seeking for realism in your scenery. It takes time and is messy, but well worth the effort.

I have been challenged by the need to cover my styrofoam risers and blend them into the scenery in a way that looks realistic. I’ve thought about covering crumpled paper with plaster, but wondered about mold forming on the paper from the moisture.

I thought about using cardboard strips with plaster, but with one to four inches across thirty-two feet of riser, that is a lot of cardboard to cut and cover. I’m still working on it. I think I’ll use a combination of paper towel and pieces of foam dipped in plaster.

Gluing cork roadbed is time consuming but so rewarding! Covid stress floats away like a crumpled leaf in the wind. Cork roadbed is a model railroading task that you start and finish even though the layout still has a very long way to go.

The river I decided to dig across the middle of my layout added a tremendous amount of work, but I’m excited about how it’s going to look. This will be my first time using the epoxy mix that becomes “water”. I’ll paint the plaster first then pour the magic liquid.

Model railroading is a lot of fun. It provides a great opportunity to see what can be done. Everything is changeable, there really is no such thing as a mistake.

I can’t wait to see my steam locomotive rumble across this bridge. The extra work setting and leveling this scratch-built model is more than worth the time.

I can start placing my nickel-silver flex-track any time. That’s when the layout really starts looking like a railroad. I’ve been working on my model railroad for a long time already. Every step has its own rewards.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can start setting all the houses and buildings I spent last winter creating. Trees, grass, weeds, junk, sticks, fences, rocks, stones, lights, signals, backdrops, ballast, and more junk. Love it.

All this makes me want more coffee. Model railroading and coffee. Inseparable partners.