Friday, February 20, 2015

Railfanning as Prototype Research

As I have discussed on this blog, as well as the railroad website, I have been collecting as much information as I can about the area, railroads, industries and operations of who/what/where I am attempting to model.

All this research certainly can take away from modeling time, I will admit, but this isn't 100% the case. Sometimes I am collecting information during a time that I can't do any direct modeling, such as during my lunch hour, or when I'm traveling. It is true that if I take a Saturday afternoon to stand trackside and shoot pictures, I am not in the basement laying track, or detailing locomotives, or fixing cars on the RIP track from last session.

I've also been able to snag additional materials by keeping my eyes open. A recent win was finding a RF&P book from Morning Sun on sale from a dealer; this book is out of print so a bit harder to find, especially at a discount. I also was able to score a new (to me) ACL book that was saved from an archive at the C&O Historical Society. (I will be putting a review up on the site about these books and mentioning it here too.)

While I have been researching to make my modeling better, one of the big pieces is being able to document what I see on a daily basis around town, such as when signals get replaced.

At first glance, this point may or may not be obvious to everybody, but I believe that once you consider it at length, you will realize this is simple, yet powerful.

Prototype modeling is all about replicating the normal, day to day business of  railroading. Some may even say that you are copying the mundane, and that may or not be a strong word depending on one's point of view, but no matter what, first hand knowledge of the subject is vital to prototype modeling efforts.

How is it vital? It makes it easier!

Collecting this information is done on a couple of fronts - noticing what is taking place, networking with other railfans, railroad employees and modelers to get the latest gouge, and documenting what is going on.

I think the first two are fairly basic so I will leave them as they sit and we will go a bit deeper into the 3rd piece - the actual documentation.

As the cliche goes - a picture is worth a thousand words. Memories can fade or change as time goes along, but having photos in hand is almost as good as being there again. Capturing good pictures also allows you to fill out other documents, such as consist information, locomotives used, routing information, and car/container reporting marks.

Up until this point, I had just been using a simple point and shoot type of camera. These cameras are good at taking snapshots, but they do have limitations.

With a standard pocket camera, your lens is only so good and then the sensor itself, is only so physically large (don't get too hung up about the number of megapixels), so this makes getting photos with lots of useable details at 100% or larger size, a bit challenging when you are further away than say 20 or 25 feet. If you are hundreds of feet away and can't get any closer, your little pocket wonder will really show its limits. Don't forget that these jewels mostly autofocus and have no ability to do anything manual, so trying to shoot a train moving past you quickly can be hard as the camera tries to work on a continually changing view. Also, the list of settings you can change that directly affect the picture (ISO, Shutter Speed, f/stop, plus white balance) is somewhat limited, as these cameras are built to get good photos in common situations, but this means that covering edge cases is difficult.

So, now that we've talked about what I'm trying to do, you can see that getting good results a bit challenging. A fact of railfanning in the post September 11 era is to ensure you stay off railroad property and not become threatening or suspicious. (And I'll save the snark about who actually won this war for a different forum).

So let's plan to stay on the sidewalk or at least off of railroad property. Our requirements are now a camera with interchangeable lenses, as we can tailor our choice to how far away we are. We can get a lens made for wide shots if we are close, such as on a passenger platform, or a zoom if we up on a road overpass with good sidewalks.

There are boatloads of options from a camera standpoint (manufacturer, mirror or mirrorless, lens mount type, storage type, saved picture format, etc) and discussing them is outside the scope of this blog post, but if you start out, I recommend a base level DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) with its included lens. If you know that a good spot to stand if a bit farther away, feel free to add a zoom lens that has a max zoom of 200 or 300 mm. Often you will get money off an additional lens if you buy with the camera.

Then, charge your batteries (you did buy a second one, right?) and go out and shoot pictures.

Don't expect awesome results as you get going; it takes time to learn what to do (and what not to do).

What follows are some sample photos I've captured since starting this last December.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Richmond Amtrak Schedule

I've been doing a fair amount of rail fanning recently and to that end, I've worked out an concise schedule of when certain trains should be seen here in Richmond. I was able to winnow this down from the timetables that Amtrak provides and their schedule tool on their website.

Times are show as listed per station, then the train name and number (handy to check status via Amtrak's mobile app on your phone as you sit trackside).

RVR = Staples Mill Station, Richmond
PTB = Petersburg Station
NPN = Newport News

Without further ado:

Weekday Schedule


Depart RVR    Arrive PTB
Wed 12:02 pm     Wed 12:32 pm     Palmetto     89
Wed 1:10 pm     Wed 1:43 pm     Carolinian     79
Wed 5:19 pm     Wed 5:57 pm     Silver Star     91
Wed 6:26 pm     Wed 7:00 pm     NE Regional     125
Wed 9:50 pm     Wed 10:24 pm     Silver Meteor     97

Depart RVR    Arrive NPN
Wed 9:45 am     Wed 11:50 am     Northeast Regional     67
Wed 4:45 pm     Wed 6:50 pm     Northeast Regional     95

Autotrain 4pm Depart


Depart PTB    Arrive RVR
Wed 3:41 am     Wed 4:25 am     Silver Meteor     98
Wed 6:27 am     Wed 7:03 am     Neast Regional     174
Wed 11:52 am     Wed 12:21 pm     Silver Star     92
Wed 1:20 pm     Wed 2:05 pm     Carolinian     80
Wed 4:31 pm     Wed 5:15 pm     Palmetto     90

Depart NPN    Arrive RVR
Wed 9:15 am     Wed 10:59 am     Northeast Regional     94
Wed 5:20 pm     Wed 6:55 pm     Northeast Regional     66

Weekend Schedule


Depart RVR    Arrive PTB
Sun 12:02 pm     Sun 12:32 pm     Palmetto     89
Sun 1:10 pm     Sun 1:43 pm     Carolinian     79
Sun 5:19 pm     Sun 5:57 pm     Silver Star     91
Sun 9:24 pm     Sun 9:58 pm     NE Regional     71
Sun 9:50 pm     Sun 10:24 pm     Silver Meteor     97

Depart RVR    Arrive NPN
Sun 10:11 am     Sun 12:05 pm     Northeast Regional     65
Sun 7:10 pm     Sun 9:10 pm     Northeast Regional     99


Depart PTB    Arrive RVR
Sun 3:41 am     Sun 4:25 am     Silver Meteor     98
Sun 7:42 am     Sun 8:18 am     NE Regional     88
Sun 11:52 am     Sun 12:21 pm     Silver Star     92
Sun 1:20 pm     Sun 2:05 pm     Carolinian     80
Sun 4:31 pm     Sun 5:15 pm     Palmetto     90

Depart NPN    Arrive RVR
Sun 8:15 am     Sun 9:50 am     Northeast Regional     194
Sun 5:20 pm     Sun 6:55 pm     Northeast Regional     66

Friday, February 13, 2015

Task List

As I said in the post last month, not much has been going on, on the railroad.

I've been suffering from a bit of low motivation with the railroad, as well as being pulled in lots of directions with the rest of life.

I had been putting off starting the build of the paper mill area until I painted the backdrops in that area, but that hadn't happened due to lack of paint which was due to lack of railroad funds and cold in the basement.

Last Sunday was very warm (almost 70), so I when to Home Depot, bought paint, and got ready to paint sometime in the next few weeks. If need be, I can run the heater in the basement for a day or three to get the paint dry.

Once the paint is complete here, I'll start laying out track and finding what works in this area. Next step is building track. My plan is to build just about all the paper mill track work from code 70 rail, with a mix of Micro-Engineering flex, handlaid and Fast Tracks jig built turnouts.

Signal wise, I think I only have the area around the turnout to this paper mill branch to be completed, so we are coming to the end of that process.

I do need to mud, tape and sand the drywall backdrop on the upper level along the wall, but that will probably need to wait for summer and warmer temps in the basement, as running the heater to the level of getting mud to dry would probably double the electric bill.

I might be try a work session or two on a Sunday or Saturday, but schedules haven't been too kind here lately.