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 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.

Model Railroading from Start to Not Finished

Model railroading starts with a fascination with trains. I guess that’s obvious. But why trains? What are trains? Aren’t they just huge semi-trucks with steel wheels instead of rubber, rolling on rails instead of roads? There are one, two, maybe five or six or more incredibly large engines, pulling anywhere from ten to one hundred and more huge cars loaded with items bound for destinations around the world.

Why not model semi-trucks? Does anyone have a “layout” made of winding roads full of trucks pulling trailers? I don’t think so, or maybe. But millions of model railroaders build layouts, large and small, with tracks carrying scale engines pulling scale trains. G scale, O scale, S, HO, N, and tiny Z scale provide a very wide range of opportunities for enthusiasts to live in their fascination with trains.

A model railroad is a work of art that begins with a blank canvass. The canvass may be a room measuring twenty-one feet by seven feet, like my own train room where I am building a shelf-style model railroad. It may be a larger room with only enough space for a four by eight feet layout. The important thing is the canvass is anywhere you choose, and will hold any dream you build.

Building a model railroad is identical to writing a novel, only different. Some people begin writing a novel with an idea but the characters are born and develop as the story is created. Other writers know their characters inside and out before the first word is penned. Still others begin with a blank sheet of paper and the story and characters create themselves. Sometimes characters do things the writer didn’t expect. Main characters become belligerent and demand freedom to change story lines on their own. Model railroads do that, too.

My Maple Valley Short Line demanded benchwork that would be strong enough to carry my own weight. I’m not a small man, so that was no easy task. The wall brackets were fastened to the cement blocks with three-inch masonry screws, after I drilled pilot holes in the wall. The drill bits in my impact driver had to be changed after drilling just three holes.

I attached the brackets to the wall leaving no more than twenty-four inches of space between them, which increased the strength of the bench. These brackets were used on a previous layout which was only twenty-four inches deep at the center. This layout is thirty-six inches deep at the middle, so the bracket arms had to be lengthened. I chose to attach a 1 x 3 inch board to each side of the arms, making sure the boards were tight against the wall, increasing arm stability. To provide even more stength, I attached a 2 x 2 inch support between each bracket, making sure each was level with the top of the bracket arm.

A good novel has layers of subplots adding suspense and apprehension about what the resolution might bring. Model railroads do the same. A layer of 3/8 inch plywood was added and attached to the bracket arms as the base of the layout. A layer of 1 1/2 inch extruded foam became the visible base. This is the same kind of insulating foam builders use in new house construction. Foam is a popular base as it makes attaching additional layers easy. I attached the foam pieces to the plywood with Liquid Nails.

When the base layer of foam was securely fastened in place, the obvious next step in the story was to build a bridge. Ahh, the first subplot. Who could have known the Maple Valley Short Line included mountains and a river when only a flat pink surface was visible? Every artist sees far beyond the simple strokes with which a masterpiece begins.

After completing a perfectly wonderful bridge, the next logical step was to build a larger trestle-style bridge, and then another. At this point in the story, characters begin to ask questions of the writer who created them. They start conversations with each other without asking permission.

In a novel plot there is a rise in the action. Trains will have to rise four inches to the height of the bridge decks. The solution to the problem of taking trains from the surface of the layout to the deck of a bridge is styrofoam risers. Grade percentage is an important consideration when choosing a riser. I wanted my locomotives to be able to pull many cars to four inches without difficulty. The result is sixteen feet of 2% grade. However, reaching the bridge height is not the only problem. Bringing the trains back down to the surface is also necessary, requiring another sixteen feet of 2% grade. Problem solved.

The next task was digging a river in the foam so the trestle-bridge would look terrific spanning it. Having never done it before, I decided the best way to create a river was to just start hacking away at the foam with a utility blade. I scraped, sliced, pealed, scratched, dug, and gouged until I was somewhat satisfied with the appearance of my foam riverbed.

I had to be careful to dig out a convincing river without exposing the plywood, so I only had 1 1/2 inches to use. I then used plaster-saturated paper towel to line and shape the riverbed, making sure the plaster material was thick enough to seal the surface and prevent epoxy from seeping through.

For a couple of months, I battled with how best to secure the trestle-bridge to the riverbed. I tried to avoid cutting down to the plywood, but ultimately for fool-proof stability, I did just that. I held the trestle in place and marked where the posts touched the riverbed. I then cut a rectangle a quarter inch wide, and just longer than the width of the posts. I glued basswood pieces, one at a time, in each of the gaps until they were the exact height needed to support the trestle. I was pleased to find the trestle rested securely on the footings. I glued the trestle permanently in place.

At this point in the novel, the characters were behaving themselves predictably. They stood back and let me do the work. The risers were finished, the trestle was rock solid. All eyes were on the process of laying cork roadbed on the track lines. I am suspicious when characters are quiet. Sometimes I don’t trust them, but please, don’t tell anyone I said that. Every writer and model railroader knows the thin line we walk between working a plan and a plan working us.

I avoid things I’m worried about. I’ll put them off until I can’t go on without dealing with the problems first. I don’t like being backed into a corner. When my plot included rise and fall, which all good plots do, I was trapped by the need for realistic gradual fall-away from the top of the risers to the surface. This is the point where I started listening closely to ideas from the characters. Some of them were stupid. Others caught my attention. Finally, a solution was found.

I cut strips of cardboard twelve to fourteen inches long. To determine the height of the strips, I measured the height of the riser from the point where cardboard would be attached, to the point it would end. On the cardboard, I marked the shorter measurement on one end, and marked the longer measurement on the other. I drew a line between the two points. I cut the carboard one inch beyond but parallel to the line. The extra inch creates a gradual, more realistic, fall-away from the top of the riser.

I placed the strip on the floor, then using the corner of a piece of 2 x 2 to hold it tight, I pulled the length of the strip under the corner edge of the wood to crush the cardboard cells. This makes the cardboard more flexible, especially helpful on curves. I then folded the the carboard on the line.

On straight sections of track, using masking tape, I secured the straight edge to the top of the riser. I taped the angled edge to the foam surface. If I was not happy with the angle, I repeated the process, but increased the height measurement until the fall-away angle met my approval.

On curves, there are a couple more steps. On the straight edge of the cardboard, I make a cut one quarter each deep, every half inch, the length of the cardboard strip. On the angled edge, I cut an inverted “V” about an inch and one half deep. This allows the cardboard to follow the curve and still maintain the same fall-away angle from the top of the riser.

When the cardboard was secured, it was now time for huge sloppy messes. Lots and lots of them. But that is a story for another day.

“I want to talk about it now,” Bertrand said.

“No, I’m done writing, I’ll write more later.”

“When?”

“When I want to.”

“Who put you in charge?”

“I created you, didn’t I?”

“Ok, I’ll stop now,” Bertrand said.

“Good idea.”

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 21: DSL

Sheriff Pete Terkinberry is determined to find out what happened to Sylvia Meisner. She disappeared several months ago. Her car was found under Three Tower Bridge, completely destroyed by fire. No evidence of any use was found in, on, or near the car.

In December, while a crew of volunteers was hanging Christmas lights on the bridge, three letters were found scratched into the timbers. D-S-L. The group didn’t think much of it, one suggested the letters might be someone’s initials. A few days later, one of the volunteers talked to the sheriff and told him about the letters.

Sheriff Terkinberry went out to the bridge and climbed the timber. Sure enough, the letters, D-S-L were found, carved into the wood. He could tell the wood had been cut recently.

Then, just before Christmas, a plate of cookies was left on the front porch of five homes in town, including the sheriff and Mayor Alvin Thrashborn. A card was attached to the wrapping on each plate. On the cards were written the letters, D-S-L.

After Christmas, Sheriff Terkinberry made a big mistake. He asked the good folks of Maple Valley to help him with a “small project.” Without telling them the significance, he asked them to suggest what the letters D-S-L might mean to them. Big mistake.

Denver sends letters.
Dummies spend large.
Drilling silver linings.
Ducks scratch limes.
Dorothy Sieversen Langworthy
Dirty stinky laundry.
Donkeys swallow liquor.
Durrette sang louder.
Derwood’s slippery loops.
Drastic slime lives.
Doodle sleuth lovers.
Dogs sit longer.
Dabner slaps liver.
Dingy stinking leaves.
Deliberate sickening lies.
Drooping sliding lips.
Delbert Swingly Limberton

Reading the suggestions reminded the sheriff of watching a game show called “Are You Crazy?” where the clue is “Opens a door” and the contestant says, “Pudding!”

Pete Terkinberry was standing at the kitchen sink in his boxer shorts when someone ran in the back door.

“Don’t stop looking!!” Vee Burthrap yelled at the top of her lungs.

“Vee, what are you doing?! Pete yelled, scrambling for his pants.

“Don’t stop looking!” Vee yelled again. “Don’t stop looking!”

“What in the world are you talking about, Vee?!”

“The letters on the bridge! Don’t stop looking! D, S, L! Don’t stop looking!”

Sheriff Terkinberry sat down at the table and rubbed his face with his hands, trying to wake himself from a bad dream.

“Vee, thanks for your help, I really appreciate it. But, don’t stop looking is not what the letters mean. I’m sorry.”

“How do you know?” Vee asked.

“Sylvia has been missing for seven months. No one, not one person has heard anything from her. I’m sorry, but I think we have to assume, at this point, something terrible has happened to Sylvia,” the sheriff said.

“But what about the plates of cookies?” Vee Burthrap asked.

“What cookies? What are you talking about?” trying to dissuade Vee from asking any more questions.

“Quintin told me he got a plate of cookies before Christmas, and so did you and Alvin, and a note with the letters D-S-L written on it,” Vee answered.

“Quintin wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about that,” Pete said softly.

“Why not!” Vee hollered.

“Vee, listen, someone is playing games. Cruel games. I didn’t want anyone to know about the cookies and the message because I need to find out who did it. And when I do, I’m going to find a reason to charge them with disturbing the peace,” the sheriff said.

Vee sat down at the table, suddenly realizing perhaps the sheriff was right.

“Can I offer you some coffee?” Pete asked.

“No, thanks,” Vee said quietly.

“Vee, we’re going to get to the bottom of this. One way or another we’re going to find out what happened to Sylvia. I would like nothing more than to believe she is going to come back to us, but with every day that passes, I think it’s less likely.”

Vee Burthrap stood, and without saying another word, left Pete Terkinberry’s kitchen.

Adding Trees to the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad

When you’re making plans to build a model railroad, scenery is going to be a big part of it. If you want your layout to be at all convincing, and I can’t imagine starting a project like this without deciding to make it as realistic as possible, trees are going to play a huge role.

If your benchwork is already complete and your track is in place, now is the time to start planting trees. That is, if you already know where your buildings are going to be. You have spent plenty of time in the hobby shop, and you know tree kits are quite expensive. If you don’t plan to use a lot of trees, maybe a tree kit from the hobby shop will work fine. Otherwise, you’ll want to find trees at swap meets – the model railroader’s best friend.

I was lucky enough to find two complete pine tree kits, about thirty trees all together. The first job is to twist the tree armatures as they are flat in the kit. I hold the top with a pair of pliers, and twist the trunk until I’m happy with the look.

As you can see, the trees have a small tip on the trunk. They come with a plastic base, allowing you to stand the trees without making them permanent. Don’t bother with the stands. You want your trees to be permanent.

The kits come with a bag of dark green foliage. Many of my conifers are covered with a home-made light colored foam. I prefer the lighter color to the dark foliage in the kits. I have many trees of both.

When I finish twisting the trees, it’s time to spray them with adhesive. I only spray as many as I can complete in a few minutes, while the spray is still wet. Yes, the adhesive is still sticky when it dries, but it works a lot better if the adhesive is wet.

After I spray the branches, being careful not to spray the lower part of the trunk, I dip the tree into the foliage bag and squeeze the foam onto the tree. I shake off the excess and the tree is finished.

I completed all of the trees in the photo in about an hour.

My layout has semi-mountainous, rocky scenes with both conifer and deciduous trees. I planted most of the deciduous trees in areas where my houses and buildings are. The mid-section of the Maple Valley Short Line is an industrial area with a few trees along the painted backdrop of hills and trees.

I made many of my deciduous trees with floral wire. They are easy to make, and anyone can do it. I start with fifteen pieces of 26 gauge floral wire, about 12″ long. Wire length determines the height of the trees. Holding all the wires together, I fold them in half. Then I twist the folded end, making a tight loop. I separate the wire ends into branches of about five or six wires each, leaving about 1 1/2″ of twisted wires as the tree trunk. I twist the branches tightly, leaving about two inches at the ends. I then fold the branch ends in half and twist them, making a loop. I cut the wire loops, making the ends of the branchs.

I twist the heavy loop at the bottom of the tree as tightly as I can with a pair of pliers. I then use pliers to crush the loop, leaving a straight trunk. Some modelers divide the wire pieces at the end of the trunk to make roots that will sit above ground and be secured in place with plaster. I choose not to do that. Instead, because I use 1 1/2″ extruded foam as a base for my layout, I simply poke a small hole in the foam where I want the tree to be planted.

When I’m happy with the shape of the tree, I paint the entire tree with latex. More than one coat is needed on the trunk and large branches to cover the twisted wire. After the latex dries, I paint the tree with burnt umber acrylic paint. Then I follow the same procedure I use with the tree kits.

I poked holes in the foam base, then marked the holes with a piece of balsa. Rather than planting one tree at a time, I found it easier to mark several holes and place four or five trees.

To permanently plant the trees, I first tried white glue. I immediately found the time it takes for the glue to even begin to dry is far too long. I decided to use a glue gun instead, and it works great. I simply apply hot glue to the base of the tree and plant it in a hole. About thirty seconds later I have a permanent tree, firmly planted.

So far, I have planted at least fifty or sixty trees on the Maple Valley Short Line. I can see it’s time to make more.

Tuesday Tracks

Track for Three Tower Bridge
Approaching Three Tower Bridge above Maple Valley.
Three Tower Bridge
Three Tower Bridge at Maple Valley.
Heading for Maple Valley
Double tracks to Maple Valley.
Trestle over Maple Valley River
Trestle over Maple Valley River.
Iron bridge
Iron two-track bridge over Maple Valley River.
Workers at Interlocking Tower
Busy day at Hightown Interlocking Tower.
People working
There is always something to do on the railroad.
Rail office
Railroad office at Hightown.
Sanding station
Sanding station.
Engine house machine shop
Engine house machine shop.
Old General
The Old General at Hightown.

Scandal At Maple Valley – Episode 17: Death in Maple Valley

I really hate to say this, but life has moved on in Maple Valley. Sylvia Meisner has been missing for five months. All the arguing has stopped, thankfully. The summer tourist season everyone looked forward to has ended. The Founders Day Celebration now seems forgotten. The Old General is being prepared to take visitors to Maple Valley Christmas Town.

Even though folks are no longer consumed by news about Sylvia, or the lack of it, the investigation has continued. Sheriff Pete Terkinberry has not slowed his efforts to either find Sylvia, or uncover what happened to her. He still pays very close attention to his neighbors, which is everyone in Maple Valley. Have any changed their behaviors? Yes, some have. Are any relationships strained? Yes, some are. Are any hiding? Yes, there are some who have been nearly invisible since Sylvia disappeared. Is it coincidence? Sheriff Pete doesn’t know, but he’s determined to find out.

Maple Valley folks have acquired a characteristic that is annoying. I don’t know if other people have traits like this, but it is unmistakable in this small town. Maybe it’s a result of being part of a well-known tourist stop. In order to be successful, everything in Maple Valley has to be boxed up and pretty. No loose ends. All the windows are clean, the eaves are painted, the sidewalks swept.

As I think about it, this might explain why so many people who come here want to stay. They all say the same things, “I would just love to live here.” “Don’t you just love it here?” “This place is magical!” “You are so lucky to live here!” What they see is not real. Painted boards rot. Roofs leak. Grass dies. Maple Valley isn’t just a showplace. The people who live here live every day. They struggle, are disappointed, and get angry with each other.

There’s another Maple Valley reality tourists don’t usually discover, unless they have the unhappy experience of a surprise visit. Maple Valley has bats. Say what you want about how much good they do, bats and people don’t mix, at least not on purpose. Just last week, a sixty-four-year-old woman from Conklin, Iowa, Madeline Overweist, stepped out of Y’all Sit Cafe, in a hurry to get to the last train leaving Maple Valley. Five steps outside the cafe, a bat landed squarely on her face. Mrs. Overweist will be sorely missed.

Last spring, Mayor Alvin Thrashborn commissioned a special task force to deal with the bat problem. He called it the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team. The group members are Shorty Cloverton, owner of the Y’all Sit Cafe, Quintin O’Dillmotte, owner of O’Dillmotte Funeral Home, Able Kafflen, leader of the Young Hopefuls Club, Henry Brimmerton, owner of Brimmerton’s Auto Sales, Stew Hanmin, town council chair, Hardin Sievers, village attorney, Mayor Thrashborn, and Sheriff Terkinberry. Anabel Wizzleby, Wanita Havertons, Velma Kreitzhammer, and Veronia Burthrap were all invited to join the task force, but all declined, presumably because of the force’s task.

The task force had their first meeting last March. Bats have been a problem in Maple Valley for as long as anyone can remember. This is the first time a task force has been organized to deal with it. So far, not much dealing has happened. The group meets together on the first Tuesday of each month at the cafe. The first order of business was to choose a chairperson and by common consent, Quintin O’Dillmotte was selected as the group leader. Henry Brimmerton is vice-chair, Stew Hanmin is secretary, Shorty Cloverton is the treasurer. The second order of business was to discuss why a treasurer was needed since the group would not have any funds to treasure. It was moved and seconded the title of treasurer would remain with Shorty, but it would be in name only. The vote was unanimous, the motion carried.

The monthly BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team meeting includes the reading of minutes from the previous meeting. The secretary, Stew Hanmin, takes very detailed notes, so the reading of minutes with discussion, motion to accept as read or amended, second, and the vote usually takes half the meeting. There is discussion of where the group will meet the following month, which is always the cafe, new business to discuss, nothing, comments from the public, nothing. Just about then, Quintin declares the meeting adjourned, and everyone goes home. This is the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team in Maple Valley.

That brings us back to the original point. Folks in Maple Valley like things to be tidy. Neat and clean. That seems to be the explanation for the unbelievable suggestion made to Mayor Thrashborn. The person who asked to meet with the mayor will remain nameless, at least at this point. He or she gave a piece of paper to the mayor.

On the paper was typed a short note. “Mayor Thrashborn, in the interest of the health of our community, and in order that Maple Valley may forward in a positive way, we (several names included) recommend the following:

“As of this date, Sylvia Meisner is declared deceased.”

The mayor was speechless, which doesn’t happen, ever. His face turned red. He stood up from his chair, walked around the front of his desk to where (nameless) was standing. Silently, the mayor ripped the paper into tiny bits and threw it into the air. He looked squarely into the person’s eyes and said, “Merry Christmas, now get out of my office!!”

Wiring the Maple Valley Short Line – Part 2

The Maple Valley Short Line RR is now operational. I can successfully run two trains simultaneously on two long lines. The outer loop rises to four inches at 2% starting at the Maple Valley River Bridge. The inner line completes a circuit by passing through two tunnels, crossing the Maple Valley River, and winding through the village.

As every model railroader knows, operational does not mean finished. The outer line has been running for several months. Last week I finished wiring the inner line and all the sidings. I decided to use Atlas Selector Switches rather than soldering DPDT toggle switches. I may yet change my mind about that. I plan to wire LED turnout and block signals on my control panel. The panel in the photo is temporary.

Last week family members came just to see the layout, so I had to finish the track wiring and make sure it all worked. I discovered my small furniture dolly with a piece of plywood works great as a cart allowing me to move around under the layout without kneeling and bumping my head. Wiring was a much simpler task as I avoided stops at the first-aid closet to bandage cuts on my head.

To you expert electricians, this is nothing new. But the slickest help I found on YouTube is using “heat-sinks” to keep my plastic ties and wiring insulation from melting. Two little alligator clips worked perfectly! This is the first time I used buss feeders on both rails, so I did a lot of soldering.

I staggered the feeders on the track. I used black wire for the common feed, red wire for the block feed. I put a number sticker on each block feed to correspond with the Atlas Selector Switch. (Now that the track is wired, it’s time to complete ballasting.)

I took a lot of time thinking about how best to run the wiring underneath the layout. I was not careful with the underside of previous layouts so I had different colors and wires running in every direction. It was a real mess when something stopped working and I had to figure out why.

I used 14 AWG solid wire for the buss feeds from the power supply. I used 20 AWG solid wire as the feed soldered to the rails. As you can see, my 14 gauge power feed is green, the 20 gauge feed to the rail is red. At this point, instead of soldering each feed connection, I used wire nuts. I plan to go back and solder later. (You’re right, unless I start having problems, that probably won’t happen.)

Assisting me in the project, not only so I can see, but also working the magic of battling SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) I struggle with every year, is the sunlight lamp our daughter purchased for me. It works! Instead of feeling like crap when it’s twenty degrees, dark, and snowing, I feel like jumping, running around and laughing. Not really, but it does help.

All the while tough work is going on under the layout as I scoot around taking care not to cut my head, these guys paddle down Maple Valley River like they don’t have a care in the world. (Current ripples on the surface will be added some time down the road.)

It was an exciting moment when I was able to sit back against the wall on my little cart under the layout and admire the terminal strip complete with buss feeds in place. The black wires on the right are the common feed and I used jumpers between the three terminals. The rest of the terminals are numbered from left to right, with number tape on all the wires. Turned out nice. Troubleshooting will be much easier.

I still have the big but fun job of wiring all of the turnouts, signals, and buildings. I plan to find some street lights for Maple Valley.

The Maple Valley Short Line Railroad has been a long and satisfying project that is no where near completion. But that is the fun of model railroading. There is always something more to do. Whether it’s small weeds along the river and around buildings, kids playing in a back yard, townsfolk going about their business, neighbors arguing over lot lines, or a train load of tourists stepping off The Old General into the wonder of Maple Valley. Which is still stirring over the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. It has been months since anyone has seen her. There are still no clues to her whereabouts…or are there?

How to Easily Make Trees for Your Model Railroad

I want to be clear that any links or referrals I include to experts in model railroading are an effort to be helpful and not a result of having any kind of sales affiliation with them.

Many helpful skills in model railroading can be learned by watching YouTube videos. Just about any question you have or any project you want to complete on your railroad can be found on YouTube. Such is the case with making trees for your model railroad.

My purpose in watching all kinds of model railroading videos was saving money, which I have been able to do. I do not consider myself an expert in the hobby, but I have been able to complete some pretty impressive scenes on the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad by getting help from other modelers. From placing foam risers, to making plaster rocks, to scratch building an incredible trestle and tower bridge, to building printable houses, to painting backdrops, and finally, to building wire trees, there are videos for all of it!

One of the best examples of expert advice, in my opinion, can be found on Luke Towan’s videos of the Boulder Creek Railroad. This guy is amazing! I followed his examples for building my bridges and digging out the Maple Valley River on my layout.

If you have a large layout, you’re going to need a lot of trees. You can purchase tree kits at your local hobby shop but they’re pretty expensive. I purchased a 250 ft. coil of 22 gauge floral wire at the store for less than $5.00. So far, I’ve made twenty trees and used about half the wire. That’s a huge savings!

I apologize for the dark background of these photos. You can find Luke Towan’s tutorial on making wire trees at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FNQTxX_jT4 but I finish my trees a little differently than Luke does in his video.

I have the most success using a smaller gauge wire. Be careful while you are making your trees, the ends of the wire are sharp and will draw blood! A lighter gauge wire is not so dangerous.

  1. Start by cutting 7 12-14 inch lengths of wire.

2. After cutting the wire lengths, fold them in half. Holding the folded end of the wires, twist the wires tightly 7-8 turns while keeping the two sections of wire apart. (Use more twists if you want a taller trunk.) Also, the number of wire strands you use will determine the thickness of your tree trunks. You will quickly discover the smaller gauge wire is much easier to twist.

3. Practice will make perfect as you learn to make wire trees. I suggest dividing each of the two bundles of wire in half. Combine the two inner bundles and tightly twist them together 4-5 times. Then tightly twist each of the remaining bundles 4-5 times.

4. Divide each of the bundles in half again and twist 3-4 times. Fold each of the bundles in half and twist them 3-4 times. The result will be a loop of 2-3 wires at the end of each bundle as you see in the photo.

5. This is where I finish the process differently than Luke Towan demonstrates. I clip off the top of the bundle loops so that the remaining “branches” each have 2-3 wires. To me, this is much simpler and provides a nice looking tree.

6. I am not going to set the trees in plaster and detail the roots. Rather than separating the loop at the bottom of the tree, I use pliers and twist the loop, then flatten the end. I use a piece of foam to hold the trees for the final steps.

7. Paint the entire tree with latex and allow it to dry. Put another coat of latex on the main trunk and large branches as necessary.

8. When you are happy with the trunk and branch latex covering, paint the entire tree with a brown acrylic paint. (Use a matte finish so you don’t have a glossy finish like this. I will rub a brown turf mixture on the trees to get rid of the shine.)

The final step is spraying the branches with adhesive, then rolling the tree in foliage mixture and pressing the material onto the branches. Shake the excess away. Luke Towan suggests sprinkling some turf mixture over the tree.

There you have it. This is the easiest way, in my opinion, to add as many trees as you want to your layout with very little expense.

I would love to read about your layout. Let me know what kind of techniques you’re using. I still have a lot to learn. Happy model railroading!