Current Projects

EVEN THOUGH MY LAYOUT WAS FINISHED IN JUNE 2011 I'm not done building new models and taking on new projects. I especially like projects which involve challenges and which stretch my modeling skills. I also like to share progress on such projects with others as a way to encourage more modeling (I believe that the more time you spend on a hobby, the more enjoyment you receive) and maybe show some new ways to do things.

Back in the mid-1970s, I contacted Fairmont Railway Motors about some equipment the Yosemite Valley Railroad might have owned and learned that the YV had purchased a W44-A-1 weed burner along with a T27-C-2 extinguisher car and T28-A-1 trailer in October 1942. They also sent me a large scale plan for the weed burner and some information on the extinguisher car and trailer. The weed burner was an impressive piece of equipment:

Color Fairmont
Here is a W44 weed burner demonstrating an effective way to burn the weeds along a section of track. An engine powers a blower and two pumps via pulleys and belts. It is located under the control cab and painted maroon in this photo but it was gray on the actual machines. The weed burner is being pulled by a gang car since it was not self-powered.
W44 and A6
A Fairmont picture of a W44 and A6 gang car. The M44 was 24'5" long and extended 12'5" above the rails. - Fairmont Railway Motors photo, Doug Harding collection, originals available at the Martin County Historical Society, Fairmont MN.

One day in the fall of 2012, while thinking about possible new projects, I decided that it might be fun to build a model of a Fairmont W44 weed burner. Since I model August 1939 and the weed burner wasn't purchased until 3 years later, I couldn't have it on layout and I therefore decided to build it in Proto48 (1/48th full size as is O scale but with prototype wheels and track gauge) instead of HO scale. Given the complexity of the prototype and size of its components, I felt that I needed to build it primarily out of brass shapes, a new technique for me.

After gathering as much prototype information as possible including photos, dimensions, and studying that information to determine how the weed burner actually operated, I ordered the materials I needed and got to work.

I began work on the frame in late November 2012. This simple jig kept the side sills and end sills in alignment while soldering them together. Temporary spacers hold the two side sills exactly parallel.
Three weeks later, the basic frame was nearly complete along with the blower box (white styrene) and blower tubes. The frame which supported the cables which raised and lower the blower tubes was also coming along.
By the end of the year, I was adding pipe fittings to the burner tubes, attaching chains, and had built the counter-balance springs by wrapping soft wire around pieces of brass tubing. I built a master for the burners themselves and cast them in resin (the white fittings on the ends of the burner tubes).
You can tell I was having a lot of fun by the progress I was making! Three weeks later, the support frame was done including the floor for the control cab, the large diesel tank was finished and primed, and the blower cage and pumps were done.
Another photo taken the same day shows the other side of model. The engine is located under the cab; louvers on the engine covers were added using Archer resin decals. The engine ran the blower which forced air into the burner tubes. Diesel fuel (from the large tank at the front of the weed burner) was pumped to the burners and ignited. Igniting the first burner was accomplished by a electrical spark fed from the engine magneto. That igniter can be seen extending out from the second burner from the right. The wheels are brass castings made from Grandt styrene parts.
I knew it would be difficult to reach many areas with my air brush when I was ready to paint the model and, although I rarely paint a model before it is completely finished, I didn't see another option with this one. I first air-brushed on a primer coat and, the next day, air-brushed the orange coat. The burner tubes will be brush-painted silver so I didn't bother to mask them before painting the orange.
Building the control cab was an interesting challenge. This photo shows the use of three homemade wood clamps to aid in soldering the brass control cab floor supports in place. One wood clamp is attached to the horizontal angles at the rear of the weed burner (which is to the left) which will support the burner tube pulleys. It projects under the rear floor support to ensure that it is aligned with the other framework. The clamp with the large plywood part holds the vertical angles plumb and the correct distance apart while the other clamp was used to hold the floor angles in proper position as they were soldered in place.
A couple of days later, I had mounted the diesel tank and engine and was ready to start on the cab. I made the decals using a Fairmont logo I found online. I opened the logo in Photoshop and resized it. After adding the rest of the lettering, I reduced the opacity of the lettering which, in effect, faded the lettering, much as it would appear after a few years of service.
In the control cab was a valve assembly which allowed the operators to control the flow of diesel fuel to each burner independently. The model of this assembly is about a 1/4" long.
Hand wheels inside the control cab turn these windlasses which moved the burners up/down and sideways.
Handrails were made from brass rod annealed with a torch, flatten in a vise, and drilled to accept 0.5mm bolts. The stand-offs are pieces of hypodermic tubing.
The finished weed burner.

By the time I had finished the weed burner, I was already thinking about building the other pieces of equipment associated with the weed burner. That included an A6-C gang car which pulled the weed burner, the ST2-D speeder which pulled the extinguisher train, and the T27-C-2 extinguisher car and T28-A-1 trailer. Fairmont had also sent me product brochures for the gang car and speeder and those brochures included general dimensions. From the dimensions and photos, I was able to draw plans for those two cars. The Sierra Railroad in Jamestown (a state park) owned a T27 extinguisher car which I measured to make plans for that car.

A picture of a Fairmont A6-C from the product brochure. The A6-C used a Ford flathead V8 and thus had the power needed to pull the weed burner which weighed nearly 12,000 lbs.
The Fairmont S2 was a fairly standard section car. It was used to pull the extinguisher car and trailer which followed the weed burner and put out any lingering fires.
The Fairmont T27 had a single-cyclinder engine which powered a water pump which could deliver 14-1/4 gallons of water per minute to feed the three hoses. The tank held 450 gallons of water and could be refilled from a locomotive water column, standpipe, or water tank.
t27 and t28
A Fairmont publicity photo of an extinguisher train with a speeder pulling the T27 extinguisher car and T28 trailer with additional water. The T27 and t28 were connected together so the pump on the T27 could pull water from either tank.

After deciding to build these pieces of equipment, I chose to also build a diorama to display the equipment in action. The diorama is 36" long by 18" wide and features a scene at Edendale Creek, about 9-3/4 miles north of Merced. That allowed me to also build the trestle over the creek here.

When I first began modeling the YV, I made a few field trips to the area and took this photo of Edendale Creek when the bridge was still in place although the rails had been gone for 25 years.

While the trestle is now gone, the abutments and piers are still in place.

Looking east across Edendale Creek toward one of the bridge abutments. The concrete wingwall with rubble behind it was most likely built when the nearby highway bridge was rebuilt; the concrete pier on that side of the creek is hidden under the rubble. On the near side of the creek is the other pier. Trees around the creek are a type of willow tree.
I worked on the diorama and bridge simultaneously. Here, the abutments and piers have been cast from hydrocal and the two bridge bents have been finished.
Wood trestles typically have guard rails at the ends of the ties to prevent a derailed car from leaving the bridge. These guard rails are notched to fit over the ties. Here are my guard rails.
The notches in the guard rails fit over the ties.
complete bridge
Here is the completed bridge.

With the bridge done, I could get started on scenery.

Foam sheets were used for the contours which have been shaped and covered with dirt, bonded in place with 50/50 white glue and water. The location of Edendale Creek is obvious from the sand and gravel. The ties have been glued down and static grass added. On the far side of the diorama is a portion (very small portion) of Highway 59 and the old highway bridge over the creek.

The YV used 3-hole tie plates and I therefore wanted to duplicate this detail. Fortunately, a friend was working on artwork for photo-etching some parts he needed and had room on his sheet for enough tie plates for my diorama.

tie plate
A photo-etched three-hole tie plate and one of the proto-etched spikes I used from The Proto87 Stores. I needed to pre-drill holes in the ties for the spikes but they are very close to prototype size. The YV used redwood ties so I stained my stripwood ties with redwood deck stain together with some applications of black leather dye/alcohol.
The resulting track looked pretty good with tie plates, four spikes per tie, and joint bars.

Meanwhile, I also started working on models of the A6, S2, T27, and T28.

I built a jig to assemble the frames for these cars similar to the one I built for the weed burner. However, since the size of the frames for these cars varied, I made my jig so that it could accommodate the different sizes. It was built from 1/8 plywood with pieces of stripwood at the right and top edges. The brass channels for a frame are cut to size and placed against the stripwood fences and then held tightly to the fences with pieces of plywood clamped to the table. A piece of 1x1 pine was glued to the bottom of the jig so that the jig could be clamped in a vise. That got the jig off of the workbench so that clamps could be used to hold the movable pieces of the jig to the table. The frame is then soldered together with small brass gussets reinforcing the joints.
The A6 under construction.
The finished A6-C. Rivets on the front of the gang car are were modeled using Archer resin rivet decals. This model is 2" long.
T27 and T28
The T27 (left) and T28 (right) under construction.

One of the challenges I realized from the start of this project was going to be modeling the single-cylinder Fairmont engines used in the S2 and T27.

Sierra engine
This is a Fairmont engine on the remains of a weed burner on the Sierra Railroad in Jamestown (a different model weed burner than the one purchased by the YV). This model of the engine has the large radiator used with on the ST2-D. The prototype photo of the T27 shows the same engine but a smaller radiator.

The solution to building these very small engines was to use rapid prototyping technology. Basically, you draw the part you want in a 3D program (such as the free SketchUp program) and then have it "printed" at a service bureau.

Here is a screen-shot of my 3D drawing of that Fairmont engine. I actually drew up the basic engine, the flywheels, and the radiators as separate parts (along with a pulley) but combined them into one drawing for this screen-shot.
The resulting engines are quite small, measuring about a half-inch long. Each engine has five pieces as noted above.
engines in speeders
Although small, the engines are still visible in the models as shown in this photo of the finished ST2-D and unfinished T27.

I ultimately used SketchUp to draw a number of parts for the equipment and diorama including pillow blocks, brake shoes, gas tanks, battery boxes, and telephone insulators.

Barbed wire fences were made from two strands of twisted No. 36 wire with individual barbs soldered in place.
fence over creek
The barbed wire fence was carried across the creek using natural branches. The fence post hanging into the water has caught some moss. The water was modeled using Magic Water and Woodland Scenics Water Effects.
I added this traffic sign to the highway to highlight the idea that it is a highway even though I only had enough room to model 4 scale feet of it. The sign is a photo of a real sign from the Internet, scaled and printed on photographic paper. The bullet holes in the real sign were drilled out on the model sign.

Here are some photos of the finished diorama.

Willow trees
The creek surrounded by a few willow trees.
The equipment
From left to right, the weed burner, the ST2-D speeder, the T27 extinguisher car, and the T28 trailer. The area to the right of the trailer has already been burned but the weed burner has developed a problem which one of the operators is working to fix. Meanwhile, the extinguisher train has caught up with them and the rest of the crew is taking a break. The Cotton Tail rabbit hiding behind the bush in the bottom right corner is watching a Red Tail hawk on the telephone post behind the weed burner.
Red Tail hawk
Here is the Red Tail hawk that is watching the rabbit. Although named a Red Tail hawk, their tails are actually closer to orange.
One of the weed burner operators is talking to the speeder driver. All of the figures are from Buffalo Landing. I researched photos of men's work clothing from the 1930s and 1940s to determine the proper colors. You will notice that pants are denim or dark gray while shirts were white, denim, or gray. The wild flowers are lupines with California poppies in the background.
Proto section crew
This photo was most likely taken in early 1938 after the Merced River flood in December 1937. It shows a YV section crew laying new tracks. Note the fellow on the left staring at the photographer.
Same fellow
Here is the same fellow now working on the weed burner crew.
The foreman walks back to the A6 to retrieve some tools.
Long shadows
Shadows grow long as the work day ends.