Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Utility Poles and More Mundane Details

Scenery work is progressing at a steady pace in D’Estimauville. To be honest, much faster than I ever anticipated. At this point, I’m not sure if I did a good thing in selecting springtime as the season. Getting the grass color right is quite hard in fact. What I see in real life is green grass and dead straw, but when I tried to do this on the layout, it looked garish and overdone (feel grateful I didn't post picture of it before I scrapped the small test patch).

I’m not sure, but I think the reason is that seen from afar, the mix of very green and yellow grass gives a general impression of

But that’s not my main point. While ground cover is a large part of scenery, roads, bushes, trees and other things need to be added. Among them are trackside details. Over the last few days, I’ve been building a few of them.

muted light olive green (just like pointillism in art). Since a model railroad is scaled down, we get a general impression and not a specific perception of every strand of grass. However, the general feeling is quite good and I’ll stick with it. I’ll be aware it’s better to experiment on a mock up for the next layout!

The first sets of details are relay boxes for crossing signals. On Murray Bay, they were small steel boxes fixed on treated wood posts. To make building easy, I used Atlas telegraph pole boxes. They are about the same size. I filled the hole in their back with putty and glued them on scale lumber post stained with a faded olive green wash. A small piece of brass wire was added to represent the pipe connecting the wire with the underground.

A stock Atlas HO utility pole

The other set of detail is the mundane power utility poles. I’ve already built a few of them in Clermont, but I wanted to simplify the process a little bit. On my first try, I used bamboo skewers that I sanded down to shape with my Dremel tool and coarse sand paper. The result is quite good but that means I must modify and add plastic crossarm independently. It requires to add small metal brackets later, which isn’t that easy.

At this point, I could use Rix Products crossarms which are already molded with the brackets. In fact, I think I have a better use for them. So, my new technic is simpler: use the Atlas telegraph poles and bash them. It saves a lot of cutting, sanding, shaping, etc. The big advantage is the pole and its details are monolithic, thus less prone to breaking. Keep in mind many of our utility poles are in the foreground, near the track. Fancy little models glued with CA won’t last long!

The only problem with the Atlas poles is their height. They are simply too short. They stand at 29-30ft, but according to my prototype, poles in Maizerets are about 36-40ft high. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to use bamboo skewer. But I got the idea to extend the Atlas poles with plastic sprues. Imagine my joy when I found out Atlas poles sprues were the same diameter as the poles! With some sanding , the seam would disappear… seamlessly!

It did work. At this point, it is good to remember that plastic poles can get a realistic wood texture by scraping the surface with a metal saw blade. Once painted and stained, the illusion will be spot on.

For the insulators, I kept a few one and added the missing ones from scrapped crossarms. I wasn’t satisfied with the small pointy insulators that look nothing like electric pole insulators. To enhance their appearance, I decided to kitbash them a little bit. I used Tichy insulator and drilled their core with a drill bit the same diameter as the Atlas stock insulator. Then, I separated each insulator rings and applied them separately over the Atlas insulator. The result was a much more realistic mushroom-shaped insulator.

For transformers, I added insulators to the stock Atlas ones. They are Tichy ones save for one ring. Finally, the last detail was making the fuse. At first, I used Kadee springs and brass wire, but the look was far from right and it was quite labor intensive. Worst, it was hard to get them all similar. The answer came from a bunch of Accurail underframe parts. I discovered their gondola stirrups were the right size. Using brass wire, I made support brackets and epoxied them on the stirrups. Small holes, like the prototype, were drilled into the crossarms to insert the fuse brackets. So now, I have a decent and fast way to make utility pole details without losing my sanity.

With a good coat of paint and weathering, these new utility poles are ready to go in service. They cost a few cents each and can be built by the dozen. They can easily be adapted o several situation and I believe the Rix Products are a good way to customize Atlas poles when required. Yes, I tried to salvage Atlas crossarms complete with their metal brackets, but it’s a frustrating process that yields poor results. Be ready to lose many! Better make your own brackets than try saving them.

By the way, I found out india ink/alcohol weathered bamboo skewers are exactly the same color as Krylon Camouflage Tan spray paint and Citadel Karak Stone. It means there's no reason to fear blending plastic parts with real wood. I remember Harold Minky made a few experiment with white base and different washes that work well. My recipe is inspired by him since I use an oil-based wash to bring out details and add some color variation to the plastic parts.

More about the completed utility pole in a future post...

No comments:

Post a Comment