Remembering My Friend Mike

I first met Mike when we were sophomores in high school. I played cornet in the school band, Mike played the sousaphone. Although we didn’t become close friends until our senior year, Mike was hard to miss. Tall, dark hair, rosy cheeks, well-equipped to carry a tuba, and Mike had an infectious laugh that made everyone smile.

Our paths crossed, in a life-changing way, in January, 1971. Our high school drama department announced the spring musical, “Annie Get Your Gun”. I loved going to the plays, but had never been in one myself. I had no desire to act or get involved. In Drama class, however, I became acquainted with a lot of students I hadn’t known before, and got a tiny bit of exposure to the stage.

I don’t remember how I got roped into playing the piano for the auditions. It was so unlike me. Hiding was more in line with my inner self. I thought I was better on the piano than I actually was, and sight-reading was not my forte. I remember trying to play “Eleanor Ribgy”, for a girl attempting to impress the the directors. When I plastered the song I had never heard of, she said, “You’re terrible!”

When the auditions were over and almost everyone was gone, the music director said to me, “Are you going to sing something?” I said, “No.” He said, “Come on, just try it.”

I literally felt like I had a finger stuck in my back, pushing me. I gave in. The director handed me “Climb Every Mountain.” As I sang, he walked to the back of the choir room and listened. As I finished, “….’til you find your dream!”, one of the student directors said, “Sounds like Frank Butler to me!” I didn’t know who that was.

The next night I went to the acting tryouts. I knew I didn’t have a chance, I was just following the encouragement of the director. I read lines as I was paired with various other students several times.

The day came when the characters for the musical were announced. I walked into the Drama classroom after school. Several students were gathered around the bulletin board and a girl named Mary, said, “You got it!” I knew who she was, I saw her in several other plays. I didn’t think she knew who I was.

I looked at the actors’ list and read, “Frank Butler – Dale Parsons. Dolly Tate – Mary Wagner. Sitting Bull – Mike Lynch,” and many other names of those who would quickly become friends.

Mike and I soon began spending time together. He said, “I knew I was going to be ‘Sitting Bull!’ There was a part in the musical when Frank Butler joins the wild west show headlined by Annie Oakley. Mike was supposed to walk up to me in all of his chiefly attire, face to face, and gruffly say, “You in show too?” We busted out laughing every time he did it.

I treasured the time I spent with Mike, as we had a great deal in common. He and I both believed we were called to ministry. He planned to become a priest in the Catholic Church, I planned to become a minister in the Protestant Church. We often read Scripture and prayed together after play practice.

Before meeting Mike, my repertoire of music enjoyment was all churchy. Our car radio was glued to a local religious station owned by the church I attended. That’s not a bad thing, I just rarely listened to secular music. Mike introduced me to “Chicago.” Oh my gosh! I loved it! What a sound! “25 or 6 to 4!”

The topic of girls came up in many of our conversations. As rehearsals for the musical continued, there were two girls I was thinking about asking for a date. One was in the play, one was not.

One night after play practice, Mike and I talked about the two girls and he said I should draw straws to decide which girl to ask, so I did. One straw for Marcia, one straw for Mary. I pulled out Marcia’s. I said, “I’m gonna ask Mary out.”

Mary and I went on our first date on Friday, March 5th. We will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary next year.

“Annie Get Your Gun” was an incredible success. Three nights of performances, standing ovations, surrounded by new friends, and in the final scene standing next to “Dolly Tate”. We’re still standing together after all these years.

During the summer of ’71, Mike and I continued our friendship. He actually came over and helped me work on painting our old barn, a job I never finished. We talked, laughed, cried, and dreamed.

Sadly, after Mike and I went to college, we lost touch. I didn’t write as often as I should have and the communication finally stopped.

Last Sunday night was our oldest grandson’s baccalaureate in preparation for high school graduation. As we sat waiting for the ceremony to begin, my wife noticed the name of the first guest speaker, “Pete Lynch, Catholic Deacon Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church.” She said, “I think that’s Mike’s brother!” I didn’t think it was possible.

As Pete was sharing his inspiring message of faith in Christ, he said, “I remember when I graduated from high school in 1975. My brother gave me a Bible.” Mary said, “I think that’s him! You have to talk to him!” Pete said it wasn’t until years later he began reading the Bible and followed God’s plan for his life.

After the ceremony, I walked up to Pete and said, “Did you graduate from Lapeer High School?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Did Mike give you that Bible?” His eyes widened and he said, “Yes! Who are you?” I said, “Dale Parsons.”

We laughed and hugged. I introduced him, again, to my wife, Mary. He remembered us. In fact, he said, “My sister and I were just talking about you a few months ago.” Pete has that same bright smile and laugh I remember in his big brother.

I asked about Mike. He said, “Mike passed away with cancer six years ago. He had several bad bouts with cancer.” I told Pete I hadn’t heard, and was sorry to hear that he was gone.

Deacon Pete and I exchanged phone numbers. We’ll get together for coffee and talk about life, family, and ministry. We’ll also talk about Mike.

I’m sorry I didn’t continue writing to Mike. I last saw him fifty-one years ago. I’ll always be thankful for him. I can see his face and I hear his laugh. I see the straws in his hand, and I see the one I pulled out. I’m so thankful I broke the rules.

I’ll see Mike again some day. We’ll get reacquainted. I know what he’ll say when he sees me.

“You in show too?”

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 23

Sheriff Pete walked into the Ya’ll Sit Cafe on Monday morning, just like he does every week. Something felt different. He didn’t know what it was, but he had the eerie sense he should sit by the door instead of taking his usual seat at the counter.

“Good morning, Hannah!” he said.

Hannah Cloverton looked up but said nothing.

Pete noticed a few people turned to look at him. He knew them and nodded. Nothing.

He picked up a copy of the Maple Valleyan and was surprised to see his name on the front page. “Questions Swirl Around Sheriff Terkinberry” the headline read in bold letters. “What is this?!” he almost said outloud.

Hannah startled him and Pete dropped the paper face down. “Do you want to order, Sheriff Terkinberry?” Hannah asked.

Pete saw a stranger in his friend’s eyes. “Hannah, you haven’t ever called me ‘Sheriff Terkinberry’. What’s going on?”

“Would you like to order now?” she asked.

“Yes, Hannah, I’ll have the same thing I’ve had every Monday morning since the first time I came in for breakfast twelve years ago.”

“What would that be, Sheriff?” Hannah Cloverton asked.

“Hannah, what is going on? Are you okay? Is something wrong?” Pete asked.

“No, sir, why do you ask?”

“Why do I ask? Are you kidding me? You just called me ‘Sir’!”

“Sheriff Terkinberry, would you like something to eat, or not?”

“Yes. I’ll have two scrambled eggs with onion, bacon, hashbrowns, toast, and coffee. Please,” Pete said, perturbed.

Hannah wrote the order down as if she hadn’t heard it a hundred times before and might forget. She left without saying anything more and returned to the kitchen.

Pete picked up the paper once again and started reading.

“Questions regarding the behavior of Sheriff Pete Terkinberry have residents of Maple Valley concerned. A confidential source told this reporter, ‘Sheriff Pete Terkinberry allows people to see him in his boxer shorts.’ This reporter asked, point blank, ‘How confident are you that Terkinberry wears boxers? Could you be mistaken?’ My source responded, ‘I don’t make mistakes like this.’

“Outrage has swept across this town. With tourist season just a few weeks away, shock, dismay, and horror are words that have been spoken in the wake of this devastating news.

“Questions roar in everyone’s mind. Will Sheriff Pete Terkinberry resign? Will he be removed from office? Will the town council act quickly enough to repair the tattered remains of this battered community.

“This reporter has been on the front lines of news for several months. I can tell you, without equivocation, this has shaken Maple Valley to its core.

“I’m on the scene for you. Derk Quimberz, reporter, The Maple Valleyan.”

Someone grabbed Pete Terkinberry’s shoulder and shook him. “Pete!! Pete!!”

Pete opened his eyes and was surprised to see his own bedroom, with Alvin Thrashborn standing over him.

“Are you alright?! You were yelling about someone named Derk Quimberz! Who is that?!” Alvin asked.

“What are you doing here?!” Pete yelled.

“Don’t you remember? We were supposed to go fishing this morning. I banged on the door but you didn’t answer, then I heard you yelling, so I came in. Your door was unlocked.” Alvin said.

“It’s always unlocked.” Pete said, sitting on the edge of his bed, trying to find his way through the fog.

“Get up, we have an appointment with several big bass,” Alvin said, walking out of the room.

“Who is Derk Quimberz?!” Alvin yelled from the kitchen.

“I don’t know! Some reporter who doesn’t like boxer shorts!”

A Coffee State of Sixty-Nine

I was absolutely sure Jesus would come back before 1969. Everything I learned from my classmates of all sixty-nine meant assured the return of Christ before humanity had to endure the shame of entering that awful year on the calendar.

I am twenty years older than my mother was when she died of cancer. I am seven years older than my father was when he died of cancer.

I don’t feel old. Sometimes.

I look in the mirror and the one I see is different than me. That guy has wrinkles. Lots of wrinkles. His ears are almost flappy. Two people left their skin under his chin. He has a few strands of white on top, more on the sides. There’s a scar on his head. Skin cancer removed. One eye is more squinty than the other. Now a drooping eyelid makes it smaller.

His eyebrows have taken on a life of their own. “Reach for the stars!” is their motto.

The hair that was once on his head now lives in his ears.

A broad chest now rests on his belt.

He looks different, but I feel the same. Mostly.

Hello 69.

Treasures from a Model Railroad Swap-Meet

Packages of styrene, balsa strips, plastic windows, and metal junk.

Everyone in model railroading, from those just getting started with the first circle of track to those seasoned folks with several layouts under their belts know how easy it is to quickly spend a lot of money.

Swap meets can be a model railroader’s best friend.

I love going to model railroad swap meets. It can be overwhelming with so much to see and choices to make. The good meets have rows and rows of tables with a wide variety of gauges from N scale to G and everything in between.

Just because it’s a swap meet does not mean prices are going to be rock bottom. You have to patiently search to find those great deals. There are many displays with folks who regularly do train shows. Some prices are no different than can be found in local hobby shops.

Yesterday, I attended the Railroad Days Train Show in Durand, Michigan. This is an annual event, but this was the first time for me, so I didn’t know what to expect. The show was held at the Durand Middle School. I couldn’t believe the number of cars in the parking lot!

We paid the five dollar entrance fee and started hunting. I already have plenty of locomotives and rolling stock. (I know that sounds like blasphemy, but my shelf-style 21 x 4 feet layout just won’t realistically hold any more.) I have more buildings than I can use. What I need most is junk. It’s the stuff lying around that makes scenes look realistic. Old tires, rusted bicycles, piles of broken pallets, window frames, and paint cans. Junk.

Box containing many random items from model railroad swap meet.

As I was about to enter the second large room of vendors, I spotted the treasure I was looking for. A box of junk for $5.00. I couldn’t believe it! I could see right away this was the find of the day. I thought it would be rude to dig through it, so I handed the owner a five dollar bill and thanked him before he could change his mind.

The first chance I had, I carefully searched through the items and everything convinced me I had struck gold!

I don’t run long passenger cars on my layout, so the four packages of car diaphragms will probably not be used, at least not for their intended purpose. Piled against the side of a building they will look terrific. I’ll improvise a spot for the elevated conveyor system. The little caboose-shed will look great with a little bit of weathering.

The small stationary crane is fantastic! Hidden down in the box were eleven small sheds including two outhouses! Scenery treasures!

A sandwich bag was packed with wheels, trucks, couplers and other junk. Some of the trucks are spring loaded. This load of stuff will be perfect for the engine house yard.

I have been making my own windows for the cabins I’m scratch-building. I found several packages of HO scale windows!

The barrels, tanks, and other items are metal. Just the stack of barrels is $12 at the hobby shop! The box of stuff got better with each item I pulled out.

One of the things I was looking for at the model railroad swap meet was vintage automobiles and trucks. I’m modeling the 50’s era, so finding the right vehicles at a good price requires some diligent searching. Once again, I uncovered a treasure!

Six metal and plastic HO scale cars and trucks.

I was a little kid on Christmas morning! A ’56 Ford T-Bird, a ’59 Chevy El Camino, a 40’s delivery truck, a ’57 Chevy Bel-Air, a 40’s Buick police car, and a ’55 Chevy Bel-Air Sport Coupe. The T-Bird, El Camino, and the ’55 Bel-Air are metal. Beautiful! (These were not in the junk box. The vehicles were purchased from a retired middle school teacher/assistant principal. It was great fun talking with him and he gave me a fantastic deal!)

The police car is especially important. Pete Terkinberry, the Sheriff of Kertok County, who lives in Maple Valley, has been using his own car for county duties. The police car was purchased from the Chicago Police Department when they ordered all new vehicles. Sheriff Terkinberry is looking forward to using a real police car to patrol Maple Valley and the surrounding area. The Maple Valley town council voted unanimously to purchase the used patrol car. They also approved the purchase of plane tickets for Sheriff Terkinberry and Mayor Alvin Thrashborn to fly to Chicago to retrieve the car and drive it back to Maple Valley.

Maple Valley Railroad box car and HO scale automobile

Probably the discovery that was the most fun was this Maple Valley box car. My layout is the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad.

I plan to make Durand Railroad Days and the Model Railroad Swap Meet an annual event on my calendar!

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 22

Three Tower Bridge with track deck and timbers holding the bridge in place.

Poor Sylvia Meisner. Sylvia disappeared from Maple Valley almost a year ago. Poor Sylvia Meisner. She has missed so much in her little home town. Folks still talk about her. There are a few who believe they know what happened to her. Most don’t pay any attention to them, which makes the believers even more sure they know the truth.

After Vee Burthrap left Sheriff Terkinberry’s kitchen, she wandered around town as if in a daze. She bumped into Quintin O’Dillmotte and didn’t even say excuse me, which upset Quintin. He decided to give Pete a call and tell him about Vee’s rudeness.

“Sheriff?”

“Yes, this is Pete, Quintin. What can I do for you?” Quintin O’Dillmotte has an odd voice. Everyone knows who it is when he calls. His voice sounds like a mixture of gravel and explosive diarrhea.

“I want to report an assault,” O’Dillmotte said loudly.

“What assault? What are you talking about, Quintin?”

“I was assaulted by Vee Burthrap over on First Street?”

“Vee Burthrap never hurt a fly in her life. What happened?” Sheriff Pete asked.

“I was walking along, heading back to the funeral home from Ya’ll Sit, after I ate my muffin and finished my coffee.”

“And?” Pete asked.

“And what?”

“Quintin! You said you were assaulted by Vee Burthrap. What happened?!” the Sheriff shouted.

“Oh! Right! Well, I was walking along, and all of a sudden someone ran into me. It was Vee Burthrap! She just ran into me and kept right on going. She didn’t stop, didn’t say excuse me, didn’t look at me. I was assaulted and I want something done about it.”

“Did she hit, push, shove, kick, or knock you down?” the sheriff asked.

“No, but she bumped into me really hard.”

Pete thought about the conversation he had with Vee in his kitchen when she insisted she knew what the letters D-S-L meant. “Don’t stop looking!” she shouted.

“Quintin, what time was this?”

“It was about ten minutes ago,” he answered.

“I think I know what happened,” Pete said. “Vee was at my house this morning.”

“What? Why was she at your house,” O’Dillmotte asked in a hush, as if he was about to hear a wonderful tidbit of forbidden gossip.

“She thinks she knows what D-S-L means. She came running in my back door without knocking and I was standing in the kitchen in my boxer shorts. She was hollering “Don’t stop looking! Don’t stop looking!”

“Don’t stop looking for what?” Quintin asked.

“Don’t stop looking for Sylvia!” Pete yelled.

“Oh! Oh! Don’t stop looking for Sylvia. Oh. She saw you in your boxers?”

“Yes, Quintin, she saw me in my boxers, but I’m not sure she noticed.”

“Why wouldn’t she notice? Has she seen your boxers before?”

“Quintin!! Of course not!” Pete yelled into the phone. “Let’s get back to the reason you called!”

“Oh, right. She assaulted me.”

“Quintin, Vee Burthrap did not assault you. She ran into you because she was thinking about her conversation with me and not watching where she was going. Does that sound about right?”

“Why wasn’t she looking where she was going?” Quintin asked.

“I think she was upset about talking to me,” Pete answered.

“Was it because of your boxer shorts?”

“Quintin, I have things to do. Are you finished?” the sheriff asked, exasperated.

“I just think it’s strange she saw you in your boxers,” Quintin said. “Don’t you?”

“Quintin, I’m going to say this slowly. You called me to report an assault. You said you were assaulted by Vee Burthrap.”

“I was.”

“No, you weren’t. She bumped into you. You were upset because she didn’t apologize, she didn’t stop and make sure you were alright. I’m quite sure she was thinking about Sylvia and about talking with me. Oh, and another thing, Quintin,” the sheriff continued. “I’m upset with you about telling Vee about the cookies we received before Christmas.”

“What cookies?” Quintin asked.

“Quintin, are you feeling alright? You sound like you’re sleeping. The cookies several of us recieved with the letters D-S-L on top. Remember?!”

“Oh, those cookies. Yes. I remember,” he answered.

“Do you remember me telling all of you not to tell anyone about it because I thought it would give us an advantage if people were talking about it even though we didn’t tell anyone?”

“Uh, I guess so,” Quintin answered.

“So, why did you tell Vee Burthrap?” Pete asked.

“I didn’t tell her,” O’Dillmotte said.

“You didn’t tell her about the cookies with the letters on top? She said you told her,” the sheriff said.

“Oh, I guess I did.”

“Right. Case dismissed, Quintin. Maybe you ran into Vee. Were you reading the newspaper while you were walking?” Pete asked.

“Yes. I always do. You know that,” Quintin answered.

“Goodbye, Quintin.”

“Bye, Pete.”

Quintin O’Dillmottee decided to walk back up to the Ya’ll Sit for another cup of coffee. He was exhausted after talking with the sheriff.

“Good morning, Alvin!” Quintin said when he saw the mayor walking.

“Quintin, how are you?”

O’Dillmotte and Alvin Thrashborn stood along First Street.

“Listen, Alvin, did you know Vee Burthrap saw Pete in his boxer shorts?”

Using Balsa Wood to Scratch Build Structures for Model Railroads

Lap desk, cutting board, protractor, scale ruler, and balsa pieces.

My Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad is looking really good, if I do say so myself. In previous posts I wrote about making printed buildings with cardstock and balsa. I have many of them. I decided to try scratch building.

The first thing required is a dedicated work space. Mine is a lap-desk and a piece of foam where I can measure, draw, cut, pin, and glue while binge-watching “The Mentalist.”

I used my scale ruler to measure some of the structures on my model railroad to be sure my plans for new buildings are accurate. I use the ruler and a protractor to draw pencil outlines on cardstock.

I like all the printed buildings I have, but they don’t look as convincing in mountainous areas surrounded by pine trees. I need small rustic cabins.

On the HO scale ruler, 3.5 mm equals one foot, so the 10 mark on the ruler is approximately ten feet. I cut the stud pieces at 9 so that when glued to the top and bottom plates, the wall is a scale 10 feet. I cut all the balsa pieces first.

Balsa wood is very light and easy to work with. Art supply stores and hobby shops have great supplies of balsa wood in many different sizes, making it easy to create terrific structures.

I pin the wall plates to the drawing on edge, then glue the first and last studs to the plates and allow them to dry. Placing pins on an angle from both sides of the scale 2 x 4 holds it in place.

Two wall frames and two wall outlines in pencil drawn on cardstock.

This cabin has longer walls so I glued a middle stud in place to be sure the plates stay true while the glue is drying.

Four wall frames and two trusses, pinned and glued.

When the outer frames are dry, I then begin gluing the remaining studs in place. I make my windows 3 x 5, doors are 3 x 7 on the HO scale ruler. When all the studs are dry, I glue the window and door upper and lower frames in place.

My roof trusses are a “trial-and-error” exercize. After gluing trusses on a small cabin frame, I decided it looked goofy so I cut the roof off and started over. A lower pitch looks better on a small structure.

I decided to try using overlap siding because I like the way it looks. I cut strips from very thin balsa sheets. Starting at the bottom of the wall, I glued each one in place, overlapping the next piece above it. To frame the windows, I glued short pieces from the wall ends and between the windows. I left a small edge of the frame to allow window trim to be added later.

To create finished corners, on opposite walls the siding pieces are 3mm longer at each end. This also allows for much stronger gluing surfaces.

Two sizes of balsa cabins showing inside stud assemblies.

These are my first two attempts at making scratch-built balsa cabins. I really like the way the walls look on the inside. The siding looks great, but doing the overlap is a lot of work. These will look terrific nestled into the pines on my model railroad.

This is the small cabin with the second roof attempt. The lower pitch is much better. I used the same process to make roof trusses as with the walls. I measured, drew the outline on card stock, cut the pieces with the appropriate angles for the pitch, then pinned and glued the scale 2 x 4s in place.

Obviously, the glued pieces are stuck to the cardstock after the glue dries. I use an X-acto knife to carefully cut the balsa pieces away from the cardstock.

Scratch building is a learning curve. On this cabin I used flat siding. It was much easier to frame the windows and allow plenty of space for trim pieces. I started these walls by placing a vertical board on the ends and then measured between them for the siding.

I cut the gables out of balsa flat stock then made grooves indicating wood slats using a small piece of basswood.

Sharp 1:87 scale workshop painted dull gray inside and out, ready for roofing.

This will be a workshop in Maple Valley. I used vertical slat siding glued to the balsa wall frames. After gluing the three solid walls together, I added the roof support beams and the front post with the angle pieces.

Trimming the windows was actually easier than it looks. I painted very small pieces of balsa with white acrylic. I put a little glue along the window frame, then held the painted strip in place and cut the end off. For the window pane I cut a piece of balsa and glued it on the inside of the window frame.

As my work continues on the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad, I am convinced more scratch built cabins will be perfect for blending in among the pines. These little cabins are sturdy and good looking. I have a little more painting to do, and I have several more structures under construction on my laptop workbench.

I don’t consider myself a master modeler by any stretch. Learning is the key to model railroading that provides years of enjoyment. Before the days of the internet, modelers had to rely on hobby magazines, and there are still many good ones. Today, with YouTube and innumerable websites, model railroaders of all scales can find help with any project.

Why go to all the trouble of scratch building? There is something very satisfying about making my own buildings, one small piece of balsa at a time.

How to Build Strong Model Railroad Benchwork

Blog and Photos by Dale Parsons

Benchwork support structure including leg support and arms.

Strong model railroad benchwork will guarantee stress-free HO scale, or your favorite scale, railroading for years to come.

Linn Westcott’s magazine-style book, “How to Build Model Railroad Benchwork” is a great resource for information about a solid structure for your trains and scenery. Whether you plan to use an open-grid style, or a table-top layout, Westcott’s book will be helpful to you.

Magazine by Linn Westcott, "How to Build Model Railroad Benchwork."

Since my plywood sub-roadbed was only about a 1/4 inch wider on either side of my cork roadbed, it didn’t leave enough room for attaching the strips of cardboard for the foundation of my ground and rock scenery. I made it work, but I wished I had built it differently. I have not used open grid since then.

In my opinion, no model railroad is ever finished. At least not for me. There is always something more to do. I find that scenery and detail is just as fun as running trains. On this my third layout, I plan to use more detail than I ever have before.

Model railroading is a great learning experience. I have already made several mistakes on my third layout, but I’m not starting over. The most important mistake I made is the narrowest part of my benchwork is 36 inches. The ends are 54 inches. My original braces weren’t long enough so I had to attach additional 1×3 pieces to both sides so the brace arms to extend them to the edge of the bench. Leveling everything was a challenge. The two sides of the arm had to be level, and the brace itself had to be level with the next brace arm, and so on.

Keeping in mind that model railroad benchwork is the foundation of future enjoyment will carry you through the tedious tasks.

Attaching the braces to the cement block wall was tough. But they’re not going anywhere. I used an impact driver and 1/4 inch cement screws that are 3 1/2 inches long. I went through several drill bits. I drilled through the 2×2 inch leg brace with a wood bit that made a mark on the white cement block. I then used the cement drill bit to make the hole. The impact driver fastened the legs to the wall very easily.

Close up photo of lengthened wall bracket arms with fascia attached for additional support.

To accommodate my choice of 26 inch radius curves on each end of the layout, the benchwork is 54 inches deep. I am pleased with my progress so far, but the benchwork really is too deep. Reaching across to work on scenery is going to be difficult, but I will manage.

When I was satisfied with the benchwork framing, it was time to put on the plywood sub-roadbed. I had some plywood pieces from my previous layout so I used them, plus some additional new 3/8 inch plywood. I measured and cut the plywood so the ends come together between the two sides of the 1×3 inch brace arms. I then drew lines on the plywood indicating the brace arms. After drilling counter-sink pilot holes I used 1 1/2 inch screws to fasten the plywood to the brace arms.

These are photos from my first shelf layout. It was only 24 inches wide in the middle, and just wide enough on the ends to hold a 22 inch radius curve. I run parallel mainlines so I can operate two trains simultaneously.

My next post will include details about applying sheets of foam to the plywood.

Thanks for reading.

Dale

How I Created My Own Backdrop Factory

Backdrop Factory pieces leaning against the wall

I started working on my backdrop factory two years ago. I don’t have enough space on my layout to use the factory as a free-standing kit. I started by cutting the pieces down so they could be glued together side-by-side. I have four inches of space between the wall and the rail siding.

I was not satisfied with making the factory a totally flat backdrop, so I brought the center portion out three inches for depth and so I could put lights inside the building. Gluing the pieces together was the easy part, especially because of the terrific industrial backdrop painting I purchased to go behind the factory.

Building the backdrop factory included a lot of starts and stops. I stood the pieces up against the wall so I could imagine how the factory should look. The most obvious feature of the factory is windows. I decided to block many of them.

Collection of 6v and 12v lights

I finally decided to tackle the backdrop factory job once and for all. I glued the remaining pieces together, leaving the factory at a whopping fifty inches long. My decision to include an array of lights meant I had to figure out how to display them from various windows offering separate views. I didn’t want to just put a light bulb behind the facade and hope for the best.

I have lots of wires and lights from my previous layout. I first had to refresh my understanding of wiring lights in series or parallel. I have a few bulbs that are 6v, most are 12v. My accessory power supply is 12v, so I wired 6v bulbs in a series of two, dividing the voltage in half. All the other bulbs are wired parallel.

Here’s an over-simplified explanation. Light fixtures have a positive and negative lead. In series, the fixtures are wired lead to lead, the beginning wire and the last wire are connected to negative and positive leads from the power source. Every light bulb drops the power feed by the voltage of the bulb, saving 6v bulbs from being burned out by a 12v feed.

In parallel, all negative and positive leads from each bulb are connected to the negative and positive feeds from the power source. Hint: That doesn’t mean if you have twelve bulbs you have twenty-four feeds going to the power source. The negative wires can be connected together, and the positive, then connected by two feeds to the power source. This is still parallel wiring. When wired parallel, each of the 12v bulbs will receive the same power from the source.

I love foam board! I pondered ways to make the light sources appear different so the windows don’t all look the same. I decided to make small boxes out of foam board and glue them to the back of the factory backdrop.

I still was not satisfied with just putting lights in different size white boxes. I thought about painting the inside with varying colors. Nope, not good enough. I decided to print color pictures of factory and workshop interiors and glue them to the inside of the boxes. So, the entire box interior is colorful.

It wasn’t until after I glued the boxes in place that I realized I blocked too many of the windows and it was almost impossible to see the beautiful interiors of the lighted boxes. So, I cut open the boxes from the back and took out some of the material covering the windows.

After taping light fixtures and wiring in place on the back of the factory boxes, it was time to test the lights for the first time. I was pleased to see every bulb working perfectly. I stood the backdrop factory up and looked in the windows. Beautiful! Granted, the windows have small panes, and the backdrop factory will stand against the wall on the back of the layout, so it will be difficult to see detail, but I know it’s there.

I securely taped all the wiring connections and also connected two long leads to the positive and negative feeds to the lighting system. I fed the two leads through the layout bench surface to be connected to the power source below.

One area of the factory backdrop has a blank brick wall that needed something. I printed some 1:87 scale signs. I rubbed the color print with sand paper to “weather” the signs. I cut several of them out and glued them to the wall.

The top of the boxes glued to the back of the facade provided nice support for the foam board roof that I made for the backdrop factory. I mixed some light gray and black acrylic paint with some matte medium and painted the rooftop. It was now time to permanently place the backdrop factory on the layout.

The Maple Valley Short Line Railroad is coming together. I still have a long way to go, but when I look back at all the photos from the beginning, it’s amazing how good the layout looks. The addition of the backdrop factory is an important accomplishment.

Tuesday Teacher: Mrs. Yalmauer’s English Class

The following excerpt is fiction. There is no Mrs. Yalmauer, at least not that I know of. If there is a Mrs. Yalmauer, somewhere, it is totally by coincidence that I picked her name out of thin air, assigned her to an English class in Amshover, Missouri, and placed Smivey Stepward in her 7th grade class. Amshover, Missouri doesn’t exist either. I checked. Smivey Stepward does exist. He’s very real. I can see his face, and I know his voice.

“Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery” by Dale Parsons, all rights reserved.

“Class, I trust all of you are prepared to give your demonstration speech today” Mrs. Yalmauer said. “This is an important grade during this marking period, I hope you have spent sufficient time preparing. You should have practiced your speech at home for your family so you are not nervous about getting up in front of the class today. You should have brought some props to help you with your demonstration. If, however, you are demonstrating something for which it was not possible to bring a prop, it is acceptable for you to use pantomime. Who can give me a definition of pantomime, class?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked. 

No one responded as quickly as she desired, so Mrs. Yalmauer answered her own question, which she does quite often. The class found out a long time ago that if they just keep quiet, she does most of the talking and seemed not to care that they didn’t answer her questions.  

“Okay, pantomime is acting out something without any visual aids or props. You act as though, for example, you are holding a jar and taking the lid off even though you don’t actually have one.” And as she talks she acts like she’s holding a jar and unscrews the lid, pulls it away and lays it on the desk. Her motions remind Smivey of Gretchen Kirtz getting ready to play the piano. “Does everyone understand?” No one said anything. “Good. All right, then. Let’s begin.” 

“I have placed all of your names in this basket, and I will draw them out one at a time” Mrs. Yalmauer said. “Sylvia Weitzel, you will go first please.”  

Smivey breathed a sigh of relief as the girl who sat right behind him walked to the front of the class. She was carrying what looked like a baby wrapped in a blanket and a zipper bag. She laid the bundle and the bag on the desk and then she began. 

“Mrs. Yalmauer and fifth hour English class, good afternoon to all of you. Today I am going to demonstrate how to change a diaper on a baby.”  

There were a few giggles in the class but when Mrs. Yalmauer cleared her throat they stopped.  

“This doll will represent a baby who is four months old. First, you should determine if the baby is wet or dirty. Sometimes it is easy to tell just by the odor.”  

“Pew!” someone said.  

“Boys!” Mrs. Yalmauer scolds.  

“If there is no odor but the baby is fussy, he may just be wet. The easiest way to tell is to hold the baby and stick a finger down the back of the diaper to see if it’s wet.” 

“Eeewww” came responses from the class.  

“Class?” Mrs. Yalmauer said.  

Sylvia continued. “If the baby is wet, first lay him down on a blanket. Next, unsnap the baby’s sleeper. Carefully pull his legs out of the sleeper so you can take off the diaper. Pull the adhesive strips off the front of the diaper and fold the front down onto the bottom. If the baby is a boy, it is a good idea to place a towel or cloth over the area or you may get squirted.”  

Snickers again from the class. 

“After cleaning the area with a warm damp cloth, put the new diaper on the baby. Some people prefer to use baby cream or baby powder before replacing the diaper. Now, if the baby is dirty, there is more to do.”  

“I’ll say” someone said from the back of the class.  

“Boys, that is enough” Mrs. Yalmauer said. 

“When the baby is dirty, the diaper should be folded down as before, but this time use it to wipe away as much waste as possible.”  

“You mean poop” someone muttered thinking no one would hear it but several students started laughing loudly.  

“Stephen Linkler! You go out in the hall!” Mrs. Yalmauer said.  

“Oh come on, everybody was thinking it!” he said.  

“Instead, go to the office and explain to Mr. Pommer what you said. Now! Go!”  

“I’m going” Stephen said as he shuffled out of the room closing the door loudly.  

“Okay, Miss Weitzel, you may continue.” 

Sylvia Weitzel finished her demonstration and the class gave her polite applause.  

“Okay, Sylvia, very well done. Now all of you should be able to change a baby’s diaper,” Mrs. Yalmauer said. As she was drawing another name from the basket she said, “Next we have Smivey Stepward. Okay, Smivey, would you come to the front, please?” 

Smivey acted as though he was completely prepared. As he walked to the front he still had no idea what he was going to do. As a bead of sweat formed on his upper lip he turned to face the class and a thought hit him like his finger touched a light socket. 

“Today I am going to demonstrate how to play the piano. The piano is a large instrument made of wood. It has a big box with metal strings on the inside. On the front it has white and black keys that are pushed down to make the sounds. To play the piano you sit on a bench in front of the keys.”  

He pretended to pull a bench out in front of the piano and posed in a difficult sitting position.  

“Then, you play.” And using both hands, Smivey pretended to push on the keys with no particular rhythm or grace. He then stood up straight and bowed to the class as they clapped. 

“Mr. Stepward, that was a good start, but tell us about the music you are playing. First of all, how many keys are there on the piano?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked.  

“Sixty-seven” he said confidently, not having any idea how many there really are.  

“How do you know which keys to push?” the teacher asked.  

“Uh, well, first you have to know the music you are playing. There are lines on it and lots of notes,” he said, trying to remember his clarinet music. “There are notes on the top and notes on the bottom.”  

“The bottom of what?” Mrs. Yalmauer asked.  

“The bottom of the music,” he answers.  

“Okay, what are the notes?”  

“Well, uh, there’s a way to remember them, and it’s, uh, Every Cow Ate Fudge, and then the lines are, uh, Flies Don’t Bother Going East, or something like that I think.”  

Several students were laughing as sweat drops fully formed on his forehead. 

Mrs. Yalmauer, knowing that Smivey was not as prepared as he tried to make himself appear, said, “Well, I play the piano as well, and in the first place there are eighty-eight keys, not sixty-seven. And you’re almost right about the notes except you have them upside down. The acronym is F-A-C-E for the spaces, and Every Good Boy Does Fine for the lines in the treble clef. Do you know what the notes are in the bass clef?” she asked.  

“The what?” Smivey asked.  

“The bass clef, which you would normally play with your left hand,” she answered. “No” he answered softly, becoming more embarrassed by the minute.  

“The spaces acronym is All Cows Eat Grass, not “every cow ate fudge”. The lines are Girls Boys Do Fine Always,” she continued. “How long have you played the piano, Smivey?” she asked.  

“I don’t, but I might start,” he answered as the class laughed again.  

“Well, next time you do a demonstration speech, let’s make it about something you know” Mrs. Yalmauer said. 

Copyright 2022 by Dale Parsons

Our Insatiable Obsession with Balls – 1

Balls are everywhere. Balls of different sizes. Some are soft, some hard. Some bounce, some refuse. Whatever the reason, it seems no one wants balls to be near them, because they are always, and in various ways, trying to either throw or hit the balls as far away from them as they possibly can.

Picture, if you will, someone instructing another on the fine skill of hitting a little ball with a big stick. Let’s listen in on the first lesson.

“Here is the little ball you will use,” instructor Erv Hammelmink said, handing a little white ball to his student.

“Why do I have to use such a little ball?” Alword Frinst asked.

“Well, as they say, big things often come in little packages. You will find this little ball holds the power to fly great distances when you hit it with this big stick,” Erv said.

“I see,” said Alword.

“First, you will place the little ball on a little stick, then you will hit it with a big stick. Watch me, I’ll show you how to do it,” Erv said as he placed the little ball on the little stick. He stepped up to the little ball on the little stick with a big stick. He stood there silently, staring at the little ball on the little stick, holding the big stick next to the little ball, threatening it. He slowly brought the big stick back a few feet, then slowly brought the big stick back to the little ball, threatening it yet again. Then, Alword watched as Erv brought the big stick back, way back behind his head as if he were trying to twist himself completely around, then quickly untwisted, bringing the big stick down and hitting the little ball on the little stick with a loud smack! Alword watched as the little ball flew straight away, almost out of sight.

“Wow!” Alword said.

“Yes, that was good,” said Erv. “Now it’s your turn.”

“Ok, but why are we doing this?” Alword asked.

“It’s a game. We’re going to hit the little ball with the big stick, then we’re going to search for the little ball we just hit with the big stick, and we’ll hit the little ball with the big stick again,” Erv explained.

“If we already have the little ball, why would we hit it with a big stick just to go find it again? Why don’t we just keep the little ball?” Alword asked.

“That’s not how the game is played! We hit the little ball with the big stick, go find the little ball, then hit the little ball with the big stick again, then go find it, and hit it again,” Erv said with frustration in his voice. “Now get up there and give it a try,” the instructor said.

Alword carefully placed the little ball on the little stick. He stepped up to the little ball on the little stick with the big stick Erv had given him. He stood next to the little ball on the little stick with the big stick and stared at the little ball, just as he had seen Erv do. He threatened as long as he thought proper, then brought the big stick way back behind his head until he thought he would tip over. He quickly untwisted himself, bringing the stick down with great speed and heard a loud thud. He watched as huge clumps of grass and dirt sprayed in every direction. The little ball remained on the little stick, having withstood the threat.

“That was a good swing, Alword,” Erv said. “This time, try keeping your eyes on the little ball while you bring the big stick back. Try not swinging quite so hard. The important thing is to actually hit the little ball on the little stick with the big stick.”

Alword tried, tried, and tried again, until he had to pick up the triumphant little ball still proudly standing on the little stick while escaping the violence nearby, and move the little ball on the little stick to another spot without a deep moat around it.

Finally, after patiently watching his student’s innumerable attempts, Erv picked up the little ball still standing on the little stick unscathed, and threw it as far as he could in the direction his own little ball had flown.

Erv and Alword slowly walked and searched for the two little balls.

“After we’re done hitting the little balls with the big stick, what happens?” Alword asked.

“We will hit them into a hole,” Erv answered.

“Why?”

“That’s the point,” Erv said. “We hit the little ball on the little stick with a big stick until it falls into the hole.”

“What do we do then?” Alword asked.

“We take the little ball to another spot, put it on the little stick, and hit the little ball on the little stick with a big stick again until it falls into the hole again,” Erv said.

“Why would we do that?” Alword asked.

Erv stared at him for several minutes. “Maybe you should take up gardening.”

-Dale Parsons