Friday, April 22, 2011


The accent up Castle Rock started with a gradual climb over a broad meadow, still saturated from the previous night's deluge. By the top of the meadow I was starting remember the difference between backpacking and day hiking. The 70 pounds or so on my back added that much resistance to every step, not that I am exactly in peak shape either. We had walked about a mile or so of level ground mostly prior to the meadow - this would end up being the last we ever saw on the trip. The Hudson Highlands aren't the Rocky Mountains, but we would see plenty of rapid elevation changes throughout and also plenty of rock. As we reached the tree line the trail turned southward, away from the castle and toward Sugarloaf Hill.

Sugarloaf Hill appears to be an almost pyramidal mountain, or hill - felt like a small mountain, but is actually more of a continuous ridge. From the entrance to the Castle Rock Unique Area, Wing and Wing Road, we had been hiking on the red trail. When we reached an intersection with the blue trail (The Osborne Loop), the red trail (Carriage Trail and Sugar Loaf Trail) turned west, directly up to the summit of Sugarloaf. This trail stub ended, and also rose almost 300 feet in elevation over less than a half of a mile - we had already at this point climbed to about 500 feet above are starting point at the river. I offered to drop our packs for this hike, but everyone was still pretty fresh so the consensus was to go on.

The climb proved to be as steep as expected and after a rapid climb for the first 1/4 mile we walked the ridge another 1/4 mile to a rock outcropping - we stopped for a rest and for lunch. When we arrived a group of four hikers we just leaving. This group of young folks was up from the city for a day hike - they were "training" for Machu Picchu in Peru. Very friendly and I kept my thoughts to myself - they should have brought full backpacks if they were serious, and even then, there is no way at 780 feet to simulate the high altitude problems they will face. Best of luck to them anyhow. I settled in behind a rock for lunch as the wind was gusting pretty fierce all day and into the night. Great views of the Hudson River Valley here - from West Point down to the Bear Mountain Bridge. The Bear Mountain Bridge looked pretty far away from this perspective and being that in two days time we were supposed to be overlooking that bridge, it looked even further - a lot of highlands between us and there.
The Hudson River Valley is surely unique in some aspects of it's beauty. One can only imagine Henry Hudson sailing up it for the first time with the soaring hills on both sides dropping to banks of the river. Even the names of the peaks and valleys are mystical - Sugarloaf, Storm King, Breakneck Ridge, Dunderburg, Manitou, and - Glenclyffe, Graymoor, Canopus, Iona Island, Sunk Mines,....etc. The real history is equally as rich - Bear Mountain bridge was the location of the first great Hudson Chain and the two forts that protected it's anchors on each bank, and the second chain was strung between Garrison and West Point. The first chain was cut after both forts fell to overwhelming British forces. Nearby Hessian Lake supposedly got it's name from the massacre of American Continental Prisoners. These German mercenaries left an ind
elible mark on the region that echos in folklore to this day. Don't forget, just a few miles south at Sleep Hollow, the antagonist of the Washington Irving story was the ghost of a beheaded Hessian horseman. The trail we took from the river was the "escape route" of the penultimate American traitor, Benedict Arnold - the path he took after he realized his attempt to hand over West Point to the British had been discovered.

Speaking of the trail, we negotiated our way back down Sugarloaf and then started climbing the Osborne Loop Trail (blue trail). On this trail we ran into a very nice couple and their two chocolate lab dogs. We talked for a bit and mentioned that we were thinking of possibly checking out a small lake to the north, near the castle, as a possible campsite for the night. They said we could probably find a place there, but would probably get a visit from the castle caretaker "Chip" . They knew Chip apparently and just told us to mention their name and it would be fine. Legally, it wouldn't matter as we would have been in the Osborne Unique Area which is managed by the New York Department of Environmental Resources. They permit primitive camping in groups of 10 or less without any permit or fee - but the gesture was nice and as Scouts we would want to be a courteous as possible. The Hudson Highlands Park is run by the state Park Service and does not allow camping - the exception being for backpackers on the AT. Ultimately we elected to press on to the AT and not stay at the lake. In hindsight, staying at the lake would have kept us high on the general north south ridge line we were following, instead of dropping down behind it only to retrace our steps the next day.
At the old carriage road to the lake we left the Osborne Loop Trail for the Connector Trail (yellow) which would take us a mile or so, mostly downward, to the AT. On this trail we passed a group of elderly hikers on the accent - hope I am as spry as some of them when I'm their age. Connecting with the AT (Appalachian Trail - White Blazes) we continued on until we came to a swamp, which we crossed using a planked walkway. At this point the trail arrived at what was probably the highlight of the trip for the scouts, the Appalachian Mart. A convenience store at the intersection of two busy roads. Crossing the road the Mart had a small picnic area that we dropped our packs and rested while the Scouts loaded up on candy, soda, and energy drinks. We had only been in the woods since about 10am but you'd think they'd just reached the New World after three months at sea.

Our destination for the night was just across the street, sort of. On Bing Maps it looked like a short 1/2 mile walk to a campsite on the baseball field of the Mount of Atonement Monastery. I didn't notice much elevation, but the "Mount of Atonement" thing should have clued me in. With the Scouts sugared up and blazing ahead, we climbed this Mount and did our own Atonement of sorts I guess. It was another grueling climb and we were about spent. Finally emerging from the woods onto a grassy strip and road, we ran into a group of resting Baptists. Sort of ironic running into a crowd of Baptists at a Monastery - these folks were a church youth group from Maine - they had come down for the week and already in one day covered a lot of ground - we were just about to settle down for the evening and they still were intending on reaching almost the Bear Mountain Bridge - our destination the next night. (It will take us four hours the next day to cover this ground so they must have been pretty tired by the time they reached camp)
At this point, the Friars have marked a trail with blue blazes through the Monastery grounds to a baseball field with a small covered pavilion. There was water available here but not privy (I believe they set Porta-Pots for the warmer months) There was also a cold shower but it was locked for the winter I guess. We pitched our tents in the field and made supper. After dinner the Scouts found an old ratty softball in the woods and made a bat out of a stick and proceeded to play baseball the rest of the night - with the exception of an hour break or so to hike back down to the convenience store for soda and candy. I can't get my kid to take out the trash, but he will hike a mile round trip, up and down a mountain, for a bottle of Mountain Dew and stick of gum. On returning they played baseball until the cover and binding completely fell off the ball. This is something that is unique to the Boy Scout Organization - where else would you see a group of boys playing baseball with a ratty softball, a stick for a bat, and on a muddy field for three hours? Contrary to popular belief, boys can occupy themselves away from X-Box and scheduled sports and activities. This "free time" is during which most of my fondest memories in the Boy Scouts happened - five hour long games of steal the flag, building forts in the woods, damming streams and then letting loose the water, building rafts, frog parachuting, red eff races,...etc. It's nice to see a tradition continue.

Fatigue soon caught up with us non sugar enriched older folks so we headed off to our tents just as rain drops started to fall. The Scouts, still wired had connected their two tents with duct tape to create "Supertent". While it might have looked good from their perspective, the Scouts would soon learn there is a reason people get paid to design tents. To be continued

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


For the past two years I've posted pictures of Jimmy's April Boy Scout backpacking trip to the Adirondacks. This year, the usual four day trip, scheduled for this past Saturday through Tuesday was cancelled due to expected bad weather, including possibly snow. Being an Eagle Scout, my initial reaction wasn't positive, however, sitting inside on Saturday night listening to the torrential downpour and then thinking about how much colder it would have been up north sitting in a tent, I'm glad smarter heads prevailed. There was talk substituting the backpacking for a canoe trip, however, the consensus was to press on with the backpacking, abet one day shorter, and a bit closer, and hence warmer. I suggested hiking part of the Appalachian Trail (AT) through New York State, east of the Hudson River - my old Boy Scout Stomping Grounds. I also suggested mostly eliminating driving and instead taking trains to the trail head and trains back home. Surprisingly there was interest in this. In addition to giving the drivers a needed rest before and after the serious hiking, it also gave the Scouts a chance to experience rail travel - for at least one it was his first train ride.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates Metro North Railroad is surprisingly backpacker friendly. On their Harlem Line they have a separate station at the point where the AT crosses the tracks just for disembarking hikers. This is close to the Connecticut border, while some 45 miles down the trail at the Hudson River, there is a short walk from the trail to the Hudson Line train station at Manitou. While convenient, both these stations are weekend only stops, however, there are still stations within range of the trail at both ends on weekdays too (more on this later) With only a three day trip, the AT between these stations was not doable by anyone other than some very experienced, very hardcore backpackers, so I came up with a plan to stay near the Hudson. We would travel to Garrison, NY on the Hudson Line, backpack on a series of trails within the Castle Rock Unique Area, and the Hudson Highlands State Park, connect with the AT and take it North (actually traveling east but on the AT you either say North - Maine, or South - Georgia), then double back for a mile or so and take the AT South to the Camp Smith Trail and that trail to the Toll House on the Bear Mountain Parkway - from there we would make our way to the Peekskill Train Station, also on the Hudson Line.
So, with the one day delay, we gathered at the New Jersey Transit Hamilton Station at 6am Sunday morning for the trip into New York's Penn Station. Arriving in New York City the hike started - we could have taken two subways but it was more interesting walking the mostly deserted (relatively speaking of course) fifteen or so blocks between Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal. We arrived with some time to spare so the Scouts were able to take in some of the grandeur of my favorite railroad station.

We took the Hudson Line train out of the city. Going both ways most of our group was either sleeping, talking, or had windows blocked by our backpacks - so we were unable to take in the some of the beautiful views from this train. Running on what was the original New York Central mainline, the "Waterlevel Route", it feels like the train is literally running on the river - even more so on Sunday as the previous evening's storm had left the river high - several waterfront parks were mostly submerged and I saw at least one yacht club's members scrambling to recover boats, docks, and gear, now adrift. The train was an express so we by-passed all the stations until Croton-Harmon, the home of Metro North's Shops and the former end of the electric zone - locomotives were formerly changed here from electric to steam, and later diesel for the continued ride northward. Today, the electric zone extends to Poughkeepsie so it was only a station stop.

At Garrison we disembarked and readied ourselves for the hike ahead. We were able to pick up the Arden Point Trail at the south end of the station parking lot. From the start the trails proved to be as flooded as the river banks were. For most of the day we would literally be hiking up streams as when it rains like it had the night before, the trails become catch basins and gutters to drain the highlands. The initial hike was pleasant enough despite the water and generally paralleled the river and the railroad for about a half of a mile south, passing a few ruins that looked to be some sort of small factory. The trail split and we took a short spur to reach a restored pavilion with a wonderful view of the West Point Military Academy. We took a short rest and a few photos.

Departing from the narrative a little - the former New York Central West Shore Railroad, now CSX runs along the bottom of the cliff that West Point sits on. Virtually against the cliff the railroad built a bridge. I'd never seen this bridge before but it sure looks like a Double Intersecting Whipple Through Truss, of which I thought the only extant example of one in New York was L-158 in Goldens Bridge on New York Central's Mahopac Branch. I've walked on and photographed L-158, and from across the river the West Point bridge sure looks like the same bridge, right
down to the same number of verticals. I also know that L-158 was originally on the West Shore Railroad in Kingston, built there in the 1880s by the Phoenix Bridge Company, and then taken down in 1904 and rebuilt at Goldens Bridge, but reduced from a double track to a single track bridge. What am I missing? It was impossible to tell if the West Point Bridge had the Phoenix Columns like L-158 from across the river. I'm not wrong about the Whipple Truss, but was it rebuilt so is no longer historic? Bridge people - help me out - send email.

Back on the trail, we left the pavilion and got on a trail called Marcia's Mile. The trail was a little difficult to follow and skirted the property of the Monastery of Mary Immaculate, but private property warning signs usually turned us around and kept us on track. The trail ended at Route 9D. A very short hike along 9D brought us to Wing and Wing Road and the gates of Castle Rock. Castle Rock is the estate of William H. Osborn, the former president of the Illinois Central Railroad. It's prominent feature is the castle Osborn built as a home on a large rock about 620 feet above the river. Most
of the "castle grounds" have been donated to the state of New York and make up the Castle Rock Unique Area, whatever that means. Now this castle is truly pretty creepy looking, right out of a horror movie like Dracula's castle, or maybe even the Rocky Horror Picture Show (don't forget to throw coffee grounds) . Either way these movies have taught you to stay away from the castle on the hill - end up with your blood drained, or raped by a transvestite, take your pick. So what do we do- walk up the hill.

Hiking up Castle Rock was the start of many grueling accents in the days to come, and they didn't get any easier. Made me think of the Navy Seal slogan - "The only easy day was yesterday" . To be continued soon.

Monday, April 11, 2011


I'll start off the photos with one of Dave D. of the Capitol Area Free-mo group. Dave is running his train (the Union Pacific lead loco) past Randy Constanza's 3'x24' coke works. At this point Dave is about 300 feet or so from our Free-mo modules, completely at the other end of this massive modular layout. We had a lot of visitors that had a hard time believing we could run trains all the way to the other end - proof positive. The only real problem that we had was that the Digitrax equipment had apparently reached it's limit and wasn't able to add the Free-mo Digitrax system to the rest - so - we had to manually lift our locomotives over the "frontier" between systems. This could be resolved with four rail gaps and a DPDT switch in the future. All I have to say about this is one thing, NCE.

The next two photos relate to module transport. With four m
odules and structures we are maxed out with a E-250 cargo van. Even
with the van, the transport of the modules takes it's toll on the modules and precludes us leaving any structures permanently attached. Additionally, we lack proper storage space at home and have to store the modules in an outdoor shed. The only real solution that presents itself to this problem is to get a 6x12 trailer to store and transport the modules. While this should work fine, it presents some other issues, namely cost. With about $2000 for a trailer and then at least another $1000 in costs to fit it out for transporting the modules and for actually finishing the modules we now have built, we have to ask ourselves do we take this leap or do we just maybe scale back and focus solely on the pipe foundry module - spending the $3000 or so on the steel mill layout in our basement. The pipe foundry module was originally built as two four foot sections - we could transport in the back of a Saturn Vue. With rising fuel costs I can't even imagine the cost of dragging a trailer to Timonium - in fact this trip we spent more on fuel and tolls than our motel Saturday night. We also need to get our electrical systems up to snuff and are looking at having to buy 8 of the Digitrax plates at $15 or so a pop, plus all the cables,..etc. Another 8 plates in my basement would make that system complete. Well, something t
o ponder over the spring and summer - a lot will have to do with how the economy goes and how it affects my income. One model railroader from the North C
arolina Slipping and Switching Society solved his storage and transport issues by buying an old school bus and tearing out the seats - see photo.

One thing I always get out of any model railroader gathering is information - I try to ask a lot of questions to learn how other people do things. The more information you gather the better - and then take all this, compare it to how you were doing something or thinking of doing something and then adjust accordingly. Slowly you will find your techniques improving with every model you build. This past weekend, I spent a good hour or so talking with Jim Harr of Stella Scale Models - he gave me tons of new ideas for stepping up my resin casting game a notch or two. Talking with the previous mentioned Randy Constanza about his first-rate steel mill I picked up at least a half dozen or more ideas I want to try at home and probably will pick up a dozen more after I look through the photos I took of his mill. I also came across a module with I think it was a group called the Four County or Four something modular group, whose builder had some serious skill modeli
ng in three dimensions - something I'm trying real hard to develop as a skill myself. Developing a good track plan and a realistic structure layout is one thing, but then to take that and expand it vertically to different levels is another. I can handle the different levels, and in fact, my steel mill is on three distinct levels, but the real skill comes in tying these levels together with scenery and lots of retaining walls, in a way that looks realistic and convincing and eliminates the tiered look. Well I took a lot of photos and notes on this module and I thank the unknown builder for displaying it.

Finally, as has become a tradition - our purchases -

First Jimmy - A Bachmann CSX GP38-2, DCC on board - $40
also a Spectrum Conrail SD45, DCC on board $49

Me - (omitting prices incase wife reads)
Tichy Water Tower
Tichy Oil Tank
Peco HOn30 flex track and a right hand switch
Some magazines
A 34' hopper
A tractor and trailer for module
An front end loader for module
Digitrax UT-4 Throttle, so we can stop borrowing one all the time
A Kibri warehouse building kit
A bunch of the Walthers conveyor kits
and probably some other things Im forgetting about right now.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Returned this evening from another Free-mo/Timonium trip. Hopefully I'll keep it short and post a part 2 tomorrow as I am tired and a bit cranky - the worst part of the trip is of course taking everything down, getting it into our van, sitting in the sunday traffic jam on I-95 thanks to the retards in Delaware that first need to clip me a few bucks for driving through their whole dozen miles of highway and additionally have managed to have a tollbooth under construction for two years with no high-speed Easy Pass yet - I mean didn't they build ships in a day or two during WWII, what's so hard about a toll-booth. It's probably the six time I've sat in the same traffic jam. Then I get home and have to put everything away and then reload my work truck with equipment - I'm beat.

But, despite all this, the trip, as usual, is more than worth it. I don't actually end up running a lot of trains, but I do a lot of shopping and a lot of talking. Some highlights of this trip included: hooking our Free-mo stuff up to the Slipping and Switching Societies of North Carolina and Ohio's massive modular layout. There was something like 12 scale miles of mainline available to run on (One of the photos show a side view - basically our Free-mo stuff is on the far right, followed by the NC groups "branch line modules", then the Ohio Group, and then the NC main modular setup); finally meeting, and seeing, Steel Mill Modeler Extraordinaire, Randy Constanza's 3'x40' steel mill, and 3'x24' coke works (see photos); plus bumping into a bunch of other steel mill modelers throughout the show; hanging out with the Free-mo and S&SS folks; and finally, some of the great modeling throughout the displays - the final photo for tonight is an example of some of this modeling, a module built by I think Joe B. of the North Carolina group (correct me if I'm wrong) - besides the fine structure modeling, check out the Code 70 hand laid trackwork - count them, 13 DIAMONDS and 6 TURNOUTS!! additionally, 4 of the diamonds are dual gauge and if you look real careful there is a diamond over a diamond (three tracks crossing a one spot - one of those dual gauge to boot)

Sunday, April 3, 2011


With the basic spout shape vac-formed twice using .060 plastic, I started first with the pouring spout. This spout sticks out further then the filling spout and comes to a sharper point. I used the drawing to estimate where to trim the plastic back to fit and used a junk piece of Rix tank shell to sketch the curvature on the side of the piece. I then cut along this line and sanded the edge for a tight and square fit. Once I was satisfied with the fit I took a piece of .015 sheet plastic and held it against the mixer body and glued the spout to that. (don't glue to actual mixer, just use as a backer for procedure). Once dry, draw a line about 1/8" from the spout on the sheet plastic and trim and sand so the sheet creates a flange on the spout. Trim the inside of the sheet similarly, maybe a bit more as the inside of both spouts will have a lining like the prototype. Hold the spout assembly to the mixer and before permanently attaching, use a Dremel to cut out the mixer where the spouts will attach. Install the spout. The fill spout is similar, but needs to be cut different as it doesn't project as much, is closed, and is much wider than the pouring. After glueing on the spouts I began using .015 strip to create all the rivet strips,..etc.. Lots more to do.


I will need to do two posts tonight on this subject. With everything else pretty much either underway or work out in my mind, I figured I'd better not put off building the pouring and receiving spouts of this mixer anymore. I'd been thinking about how to build these things - they aren't identical, which is one problem, but the bigger issue is their shape - something like half an almond shell and then attached to a cylindrical body. Since the shape isn't exactly conical there really isn't any simple way to build these spouts other than to just carve them. I wanted to try to end up with something styrene as I would need to attach rivet strips and other things that would be easier with plastic on plastic. So, I carved a master out of a block of basswood and then vac-formed two plastic pieces from that master. The result had the right shape but still needed a lot of work. Continued in Part 6

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I continued working on the support rails. First I created some rigidity by adding 5/32 channels to the ends of the upper rail web. I then added some 3/16 channel cross pieces between the webs to later receive the bolt ends for the top tie-downs. Finally, I applied .40x.188 flange to the outer edge of the support rail - once dry I trimmed all the web supports to match the angle between the inner and outer flanges of the support rail. I also started to add some of the rivet strap details - the long curved strips are a challenge as you must first cut the radii in .015 styrene sheet, emboss the rivets by hand, and then cut and glue on.


I love scratchbuilding structures for a number of reasons. One reason would be the research element - when you build something you need to find photos, drawings, sketches,,...etc.., but also you need to learn the basic hows and whys of the structure - processes, procedures,....etc. This to me is a lot of fun and at times like a treasure hunt. Another reason - no limitations - once you master the basic techniques and tools there is nothing that is beyond reach - of course money and time can be a limiter and a drawback too.

As I travel I frequently see buildings or factories and think - that would be a neat structure to scratchbuild. So I end up building this never ending list of future projects. If I have time I shoot some pictures when I see these buildings, but most of the time I just drive by with the intention of going back sometime to photo document the structure - something that is virtually costless thanks to the digital image age. As I continue with my slide scanning project I have begun to realize that factories that I photographed in the 1980s are mostly gone now and many of the pre-1950s industries that have survived are in jeopardy of being demolished in the near future. I would venture to guess that by the end of this decade, only 10% of the industrial structures that pre-date 1950 will still be standing and the majority built in the 60's will probably be gone too. So now, I am more fearful of missing a chance to photograph a building.

One of these future to do projects is a small Municipal power plant in Vineland, NJ - I noticed that in the past few years they have switched from coal to oil - while not so worried about the plant itself, I was worried that the coal handling equipment would soon be demoed so - ROAD TRIP. Typical of the day trips that I have began to enjoy since our daughter went off to college and my son is close to finishing high school (think empty nesters - fly children and be free - maybe?) we try to mix things up a bit some industrial archeology, maybe some trains, some shopping, some visiting,,..etc. Well we did plenty of all of these today and managed to take some photos of the Vineland Power Plant. This nifty little power plant is perfect for a future project - it sits within a city block so it is small compared to most NJ power plants - you can photograph it from all sides thanks to sidewalks right alongside the plant - and it has a cool retro-neon sign to boot. Enjoy the photos.