Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Straco Layout, Part 35 - Passenger service!

Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

Although the Straco Express set provided the inspiration for this display/layout project, it's really been the offerings of Nomura that have kept it going (from the train aspect). I had a Cragstan/Nomura set as a child, and it's now part of the display. It consists of a Santa Fe diesel and two pieces of rolling stock -- a refrigerator car and a stock car.

I've since discovered (and obtained) an earlier version of the set, with different couplers and different graphics on the cars. I knew that Nomura also made a passenger set (presumably for toy importer Cragstan), and finally I was able to obtain one.

No question -- the only difference is the lithography.
The couplers are definitely later period, similar to my childhood set. What I was most interested in, though, was to compare a passenger car with a freight car. I suspected they were identical, save for the lithography. And I was right.

The construction of both is the same. And it's another example of how the Japanese toy manufacturers kept costs down on these sets that were sold for a few dollars in U.S. 5 & 10 stores. The F3 diesel is unchanged. To change the appearance of the set, all the company had to do was change the graphics. The same shape could be insulated panels of a refrigerator car, the wooden open  slats of a stock car, the metal sides of a double-door box car, or the fluted aluminum sides of a streamlined passenger car.

The surfaces of both cars are flat -- only the graphics
suggest otherwise.
Since the Aero station has images of passengers coming and going lithographed on it, I'm glad to finally offer rail service. It makes for a more logical display than having a freight train stopped at a passenger station.

And there's a bonus: as you can see, the silver refrigerator car looks just fine with the passenger cars. Although it strains the pulling power of the locomotive, having a three car train just looks a little better, I think.

Total cost for the project:
Layout construction:

  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99
2 tinplate signs: $1.00
4 tinplate signs (with train) $5.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Namura Police Car $2.52
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Namura lumber truck $3.48
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00 
  • Linemar Fire Engine $4.95 
  • Linemar Dump Truck $12.99
  • Namura Red Sedan $5.00
Total Cost: $127.98

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Prickly City's Phantom Gap

Scott Stantis' Prickly City is, at heart, a comic strip that uses humor to make political commentary. It's not difficult to figure out where Stantis himself stands. But because his message is delivered subtly, rather than with a bludgeon, the strip succeeds in delivering a certain viewpoint even to those who might otherwise not wish to be exposed to it.

His late August, 2014 sequence is a good example of that -- doubly so since it uses a convention of the comic strip to tell the story.

The first sequence breaks the fourth wall, as the two main characters notice the white space (called a gutter) separating the two panels. (click on images to enlarge)

One character is conservative, the other liberal. While long-time readers will know which is which, note that throughout this sequence Stantis provides no labels at all. Because having one side winning over the other isn't what this sequence is about.

The gutter expands as the sequence continues, further separating the two characters. And note how it expands -- it grows out from the middle. The left side isn't squeezing the right, nor the the other way around. Both sides are being squeezed, and as it continues and communication breaks down, both seem to blame the other.

It's a brilliant use of the medium. Stantis makes his point about the breakdown of political discourse, and does so in a way that everyone can relate to. The villain isn't the character on the other side of the strip -- it's the white void of nothingness that's boxing them both in. 

The gutter is always there between the panels, just like political differences exist between people. Most times, we just don't notice it (either the gutter or the differences). But when it grows, neither side benefits -- either in the funnies, or in real life. That's the message I got from this sequence. How about you?

Monday, September 01, 2014

Diabelli Project 055 - Percussion Trio

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

My undergraduate degree is in percussion performance. My major instrument was keyboard percussion. So it was fun to return to my roots somewhat by dashing off the opening to a percussion trio. The trick, I think, to writing for instruments of indefinite pitch is to find something the listener can hold on to. Since a hummable tune isn't an option, one can go with a rhythmic cell, or even a pattern of timbres.

In this case, I used both. This is one I might continue, and if I do, I'll continue to develop the tension between the sixteen/eighth figure, and the irregular pulse of the music. The number of instruments would expand as well, changing and adding to the texture of the work.

What would you do? That's up to you. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, this one's available to any and all who would like to use it as a starting point for their own composition. No strings attached, either; just a request that you share your results.