Woohoo! I’m on the Long Tail!

I’ve blogged elsewhere about the way that I see manufacturing changing from huge production to small runs. Obviously in a hobby like model trains, the ability to efficiently create a small run is even more important because there are so many things you could possibly make a model of and comparatively few modelers. Indeed, the economics for today’s short runs of injection-molded wonder-models are truly astonishing and probably only work because we offload pollution and worker safety to other countries. Enough said about that, because I believe that the future of the hobby lies with rapid prototyping anyway, and the passenger car that has been going on for almost two years is my first proof.

Today I got word from Shapeways that someone actually forked over the dough to buy my model. This is my first proof that the long tail of the hobby exists as I think it does.

I’m thrilled that someone else is going to join me in making this model. If you are that person, please contact me either through the comments or through email. I’d love to hear how your print comes out, and I’d love to see how your model progresses as you put it together. If you’re the type who blogs about it, let me know, and I’ll link over to you.

Passenger Car Colour

When I started researching the Canada Atlantic, and thinking I might one day model it, one of the supposed benefits was that a railroad that disappeared 85 years ago (this was about 1990) offered both freelancing and prototype modeling opportunities. Sadly, it turns out that I suck at freelancing.

I think it started with a corner of the mouth comment from Pete North, now of Kelowna or is it Penticton, when as a teenager I was assembling a couple of old Ulrich zamac semi trailers for my friend Tom Hood. When it came to a question of colour, he said something like I should really find a picture of a real truck of this type and copy it. Well that was pretty much the end of freelancing for me. I did paint those trucks whatever colour Tom wanted, but I was scarred for life.

Twenty years later, I am a committed prototype modeler, and an unapologetic rivet-counter (where did that term go anyway?). But now, the fact that there is so much unknown about the Canada Atlantic is not freedom, but a paralysis. Sometimes I go ahead and build something in the face of undiscovered information, only to have a picture crop up later to confirm or deny my suppositions. The best example of this is the original Pembroke layout, which was partially built in 1997 with the river much too high; a photo emerged just as I was starting to lay track proving I was wrong, and the layout has remained uncompleted ever since. The plan is to start over this year.

Sometimes, we period modelers just have to go with the best information we have. Take this passenger car I’ve been building, for example. Assuming that it is in fact a CA car (there is reason to doubt, but that’s another story), we know very little about its actual colour. There are two sources that I’m aware of — a reference to a locomotive (414) that was painted “Turkish Rouge” (Turkish Red!, Turkish Red!, Turkish Red 😮) to match its train, and this just in time photograph that I came across last year.

True there were no colour photographs in 1896-1900, and this is consequently a colorist’s interpretation of the black and white photograph, but this is the best information I’ve got. I’m definitely not going with any of those commercial makeup colours – that industry definitely can’t be trusted for historical accuracy, but these cars are in a nice railroady reddy wine colour, and so, that’s what I’m searching for. No, I haven’t found it yet. Today’s favorite swatch is a bit of Pacemaker Red, but it’s not purple enough. So, the search continues.

Incidentally, I’ve loosened up the comments section. You no longer have to log in to post a comment, but I have to moderate them. Maybe now I’ll have fewer requests to become users with really rude names; probably I’ll have to view some really questionable posts, however.

Well that was curious

I have spent literally days on trying to figure out why one end of the passenger car was so high. The bolsters were the same height relative to the floor and the platforms were not .5 mm different from the floor, but somehow the car was sitting with one end a half millimeter higher than the other. Finally, I switched trucks end for end, and the difference went away.

A few more minutes of puzzling revealed the culprit: the hole in one of the trucks was too tight. So, when I backed it out to allow a little equalization, it was actually lifting the whole car! A few twists of a broach and all was perfect. Still, a strange puzzle.

Roof Details

Despite how it might seem if you follow this blog, there is still modeling going on in my basement. Here are all the bits that belong on the roof. Everything is scratchbuilt because, well, I’d rather spend my time doing that than pouring through catalogues looking for parts that probably won’t fit properly anyway.

The five lamp jacks were created with pins soldered into tubes, and pieces of sheet soldered to the outside of the tube, then turned down to size in my drill. A similar process made the toilet vents (I considered using a nail, but I couldn’t find two that matched).

The Baker heater stacks are made from a piece of 1/8″ rod turned in the drill for the base, then soldered to the stack itself, with the cap bent from sheet and soldered on. It’s interesting to note that the Baker heater stacks are oriented with their hoods lengthwise to the train on my car, while I would have installed them cross-wise so air doesn’t blow down the flue and into the car.

Everything except the Baker heater expansion tanks comes off for painting so I can get some nice crisp colour separations between what will likely be subtly different shades of black.

pesky baker heater

I’m still not sure I’ve got the right shape for the Baker heater expansion tanks. They started out as Scupley shaped on the model, baked and sanded off the model, and then glued in place and further sanded. Then I looked at some other tanks and decided I needed to make it squarer, and so I corrected the shape with Squadron White putty. Then I went back and looked at the photos of my car, and I don’t think it should be quite so big. Sigh. I don’t think I’ll correct it.

The top up funnel and cock is a little jewel: three pieces of brass that could just about fit on the head of a pin. They turned out nicely, even if I say so myself.

Minimum Wall Thickness

I submitted my designs to Shapeways, and waited with baited breath for their realization in plastic. By the tenth day, I wanted to race home at lunch time to check the mail box. That day passed, as did the next and a few more; finally I got an email from Shapeways.

Apparently they do one last manual check before submitting the model to print, and in this manual check they found that I had violated the minimum wall thickness. Now, I knew I was violating this rule, but with a thorough read of their site, it seemed like I could do so as long as I kept the distances minimal. The way I read it, I should be able to have a short span of something finer than 1 mm diameter. However, this turns out to be false: you can have something that ends finer than 1 mm, like a knife edge, but you can’t have a barbell shape with a fine handle.

So much for window mullions, or printing ladders, at least for now. I’ve redesigned the passenger car without any window frames, and I guess I’ll get those laser cut in .015 material. The more challenging redesign was the truck, however. For this, I’ve made all the various straps in the double arch bar include a 0.7 mm (minimum wall thickness for white strong flexible) diameter rod that tapers to the front and to the back. It doesn’t look too much worse than the draft angle on some of the older injection molded arch bar trucks, at least on screen.

I’m going to wait a week before I submit the job so it doesn’t arrive when I’m on holidays. Hopefully this time, it passes muster and I actually get some plastic!

Water tight and ready to print!

Okay, it’s all cleaned up and uploaded to Shapeways. For only $100, I can get this printed, but I’m going to design a couple of small test pieces to try out as well. So, you’ll all have to wait a few more weeks for the print photos. Now that I’ve got the little dance with MeshLab and AccuTrans all figured out, getting a printable model is actually straightforward.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this drawing, it is that SketchUp! doesn’t like working in HO scale. It is much more comfortable in full size. One of the small pieces is a truck, and I’m designing that full size, so we’ll see how Accutrans does with the conversion to HO scale.

Finally a successful upload!

Alright! Finally, I’ve uploaded a model successfully. I continued to struggle with inverted normals until I figured out how to get Accutrans to fix the remaining normals. The do-it-yourself active worlds page came to my rescue when the Accutrans help files failed to load, and it turns out all you need to do is click on a couple of semaphore flags, then click on the model.

Once that’s done, you just have to save it as a Collada (.dae) file again. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the model got expanded a hundred times; it also seems to lose its units. As Shapeways interprets such files as cm, the resulting model was 778 cm long (about 25 feet for those of you who remember those). That’s a bit too big for the Shapeways printers, and a bit too big for HO too.

Fortunately, Accutrans knows all about scaling, and so, all I had to do was to save it at a scale of .0254, and I got a part that ought to work.

As you can see from the screenshot, it’s apparently only going to cost me $10 to print the side, which means that the whole model might come in well below my original $100 estimate.