Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Subdividing the 0-Gauge Zen Garden - Part 3. Paving Paradise

After cutting out the roadway, I traced it onto the cork.
In Part 1 I outlined the plan I had for a bare section of my tinplate layout. The flat surface of my mountain would become a small subdivision (two houses -- can't get much smaller than that). In Part 2 I documented how I prepared the vintage Plasticville homes for their new location.

Now it's time to work on said location.

In one sense, the surface is already prepared. I could just plop the Cape Cods down and be done with it, but I'd like to do a little more. I want to have a road, so that the happy homeowners could have access to the larger world.

Now if this were a scale model layout, I would need to find some way to trick the eye into believing the road extends far beyond the limits of the layout. One option is to have it go into a tunnel. Another is to have it go over a rise. But since space is at a premium, I just have to show the road on the layout, and concede that it cuts off along with the rest of the scenery right at the edge of the 3' x 5' board.

I started with some scrap paper and created a template of the roadway. With the limited space I had, a simple curve sufficed. After sketching it out, I straightened up the lines with a ruler, and measured the width of the road to ensure it remained consistent. 

 I used the road tracing as a guide and drew parallel lines 1/16"
deeper in. These would be my cut lines for the cork.
I wanted the road to sit down into the ground a little, which meant I had to raise the ground around it. To get that little bit of height, I used some spare cork I had. After trimming it to fit the space, I traced my black paper road onto the cork. I then added other markings, such as locations for lights and wires, and even a couple of driveways.

I then did some careful measuring, and with a ruler and French curve did a smoother outline in pen. I then went back and drew to parallel lines 1/16" in from the road. This would be the amount of overlap of the cork onto the black paper -- which would create a curb for the road.

I traced the outer lines of the road with opaque paper, and used it to create a cutting template. That template I used to cut the black paper, which looked enough like asphalt for my purposes. I then cut the cork pieces and laid everything onto the surface.

 The cork overlapped almost precisely the amount of the
pen outline.

As you can see from the photo at left, it all looked just about the way I thought it would. Note how the outer lines correspond to the border of the paper.

After painting, the cork pieces were ready for installation. After checking everything carefully once again, I glued down the road, and then the two cork pieces. As you can see, it looks like the road has curbs on either side.
Almost there. You can see where I carved out the ramps
for the driveways.

In order to mark the driveways, I carved inclines out of the edge of the cork, and then painted those parts in a concrete grey. Not realistic, but representational of two driveways.

The wiring for the lights was already run, so all I had to do now was install the light sockets, and place the houses.

Actually there were a few other things I wanted to do. In Part 4 I'll talk about the finishing touches for this project.

Subdividing the 0-Gauge Zen Garden
Part 1: The Plan
Part 2: Douse that light!
Part 4: Rocking the Details

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Subdividing the 0-Gauge Zen Garden - Part 2, Douse That Light!

Original price: 89 cents. Fifty years later: $10.00. This
Plasticville Cape Cod house is not an extremely rare item,
but still one worth preserving, I think.
In part 1 I outlined the plan for adding on to my tinplate layout. The first problem had to dow tih housing. Since this is a layout primarily of toy s rather than models, I feel I have a custodial relationship to a lot of the items  I use for it.

As much as possible, I try to make any alterations non-permanent and reversable, so that at some future date (like after I'm gone), someone else can enjoy these things as much as I do.

For the mountaintop, I wanted to use two small Cape Cod houses from Plasticville. These houses were originally offered in 1949 and were one of Plasticville's most popular products (and still being made today).

What happens when a light is placed inside a thin plastic
structure. I wanted illuminated windows, not walls!
I wanted to put lights in the houses, but as you can see from the photo, there's a real problem -- the light shines right through the walls.

Now Plasticville structures per se are quite plentiful. I could glue opaque panels to the windows, spray paint the interior walls black and glue the whole thing together. And if the houses I had were from the 1970's or later, that's what I would do.

But the houses I do own have survived in their original condition -- in their original boxes -- since at least 1951. To permanently alter them now (I think) would be a shame.

So I achieved the same results with some reversable modifications. Using a sheet of opaque paper, I made templates for each of the four walls (the window patterns are unique for each side of the house). From the template, I then made black paper lining for the walls, cutting out the window areas (right).
 After that, I cut out squares from the opaque paper to serve as window glass. (It's a little bit of a fudge, but it lets me have light shine out without having to detail the interior of the structure. Remember, the goal here isn't a realistic model of a house at night, but a representation of a house at night.)

The next step was to place the black paper outlines onto the house sides. I used double-sided tape so everything could be removed and the house restored to its original condition. I left some overhang on both the sides and the top of the paper. This allowed me to have seamless corners, ensuring that no light leaked out.

As you can see from the photo at right, I had to make sure there was enough clearance so that the pegs holding the roof in place could settle properly. I cut a rectangular piece of black paper to make a ceiling for the the house, confining the light to a black box.

As you can see from the image below, I got the desired results. You might notice a little leakage at the bottom. This was a temporary location for the house -- I just placed it over an existing light installation to get the shot. When I put the house where it belongs, I'll seal the bottom with electrical tape to ensure that the only light you see is from the windows!

The prefab Plasticville Cape Cod houses are now ready to move onto their lots. The next step is to prepare those lots.

Subdividing the 0-Gauge Zen Garden
Part 1: The Plan
Part 3: Paving Paradise
Part 4: Rocking the Details

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Subdividng the 0-Gauge Zen Garden - Part 1. The Plan

Look at that nice, flat green expanse, just
waiting to be developed!
I've characterized my 0-gauge train layout as a Zen garden. It's kind of grown, each addition sort of suggesting itself by the context of the entirety of the layout. Rather than do a scale model railroad, I chose to do a tinplate layout. That means that my layout isn't realistic, it's representational. The trains I run are basically toys, and so the layout has a more toy-like rather than real-world appearance. Sure, there's some nice detail on some of the plastic buildings, but then I have a lithographed tin station parked in the corner. Why? Because I like it, and I think it fits.

When I constructed the tunnel a corner of the layout, I deliberately made it fairly boxy. I didn't want a big, tall mountain that would overshadow everything. Instead, I wanted another level to add things to (space being extremely limited on my 3' x 5' board). So there's a nice flat surface instead of a rocky crag.

And now it's time to develop the last open space on the layout. It took me a little while to figure out what I wanted. I decided a small subdivision (very small -- two houses) would be perfect.

So that's the project. Landscape the surface, bring in the structures, illuminate the structures, and complete the scenery. If this were a scale model layout, there are some standard techniques and materials that I would use for this.

But because I have a tinplate layout, there are some special challenges to this project -- starting with the houses. More on that in part 2.

Subdividing the 0-Gauge Zen Garden
Part 2: Douse that light!
Part 3: Paving Paradise
Part 4: Rocking the Details

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Straco Layout, Part 11 - Truckin'

I had an opportunity to add something to the Straco Express layout. As you might recall, the project started when I purchased this early 1960's Japanese-made tin toy train on a whim. Since even new, the toy was inexpensively made and only marginally operational, I didn't want to spend a lot on it -- and I haven't.

The most recent improvement was the laying down of a road on the layout (OK, spreading some grey paint around). So the next step was to add some vehicles. And in keeping with the intent of the project, I found one that didn't cost me anything.

In looking for other things at my Dad's house recently, I ran across this small stake truck that I had as a boy. It's approximately the same age as the Straco Express, and decidedly Japanese (I believe it's Linemar, but would welcome confirmation on that).

The truck's been played with. Originally there were metal hubcaps on all the wheels, and a hinged door in the back. Nevertheless, the price was right, so onto the layout it goes.

Yeah, that truck makes all the difference!

The next step is find a few more vehicles of appropriate origin and vintage, and perhaps some other scenic elements. But for now, at least someone's using that new road!

Read about the entire Straco Express project here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Farinelli the composer

Farinelli: The Composer  
Jorg Washchinski, male soprano  
Salburger Hofmusik; Wolfgang Brunner, conductor New Classical Adventure

“Farinelli the composer” is a fascinating release. CarloBroschi (AKA Farinelli) was – by all accounts – the greatest castrato opera singer of his day, and perhaps of all time. But because Farinelli conquered the stage 200 hears before sound recording technology, we only have contemporary descriptions of his voice to judge the extent of his talent.

Fortunately, in addition to being a singer, Farinelli was also a composer. Like many virtuosos of his day, he wrote music exclusively for his own  performances -- primarily arias. Baroque opera singers were expected to improvise around the written score, and Farinelli was no exception. Of course, such improvisations are ephemeral. But just as a Miles Davis composition can provide insight into his improvisational style, so too does Farinelli’s arias give us a better idea of what his voice was capable of, and how he was likely to improvise in performance.

The arias on this release are of great historical interest, which is not to say they’re without compositional merit. Even though the orchestrations are run-of-the-mill, Farinelli was a better than average composer with a real gift for melody (not surprisingly). The vocal lines he wrote for himself are full of unusual twists, turns, and leaps that could trip up a lesser singer.

Sopranist Jorg Waschinski is more than equal to the task, and does an outstanding job with this material. No matter how talented the countertenor, the range is always a little more constrained than that of a true castrato. Nevertheless, Waschinski soars through the upper register seemingly without effort, delivering a clear, full-voiced sound. If you’ve seen the movie “Farinelli” then you know of the man’s reputation. But the voice you heard was a digital blend of different singers. In this release you hear an actual singer delivering Farinelli’s music to the best of his formidable ability. And the humanity of  Waschinski's voice makes all the difference.

Although we can never really know what Farinelli sounded like, this recording of his music brings us a little bit closer.   Highly recommended for anyone interested in Baroque or Classical era opera.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Review: Comfort music from Franco Ferrara

Franco Ferrara
Fantasia tragica
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma; Francesco La Vecchia, conductor

Franco Ferrara was many things: a brilliant pianist and violinist, a teacher, a conductor -- and a composer. Ill health forced him to give up public performance at age 47, so the bulk of his reputation these days rests on those who studied conducting with him, such as Roberto Abbado, Andrew Davis, Riccardo Muti, among many others.

This new release from Naxos, Fantasia tragica, features four world premiere recordings by this master musician. Ferrara certainly isn't the first 20th Century conductor who wrote music. There's George Szell, Jose Serebrier, Wilhelm Furtwangler, and (of course) Gustav Mahler. Ferrar isn't quite on the level of Mahler, but his works are more tightly constructed than Furtwangler's.

Francesco La Vecchia and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma present four world premier recordings of Ferrara's music. They provide an excellent reading of this material, giving the listener a great introduction to these unknown works.

This is accessible and appealing music, indeed! While sitting clearly in the 20th Century, Ferrara's compositions stay safely with the bounds of tonality. To my ears, the compositions sounded somewhat like mid-career Shostakovitch, without the Russian accent.

That's not to say this a a bad recording -- far from it! Ferrara has some original music ideas, and his intimate knowledge of how an orchestra works allows him to come up with some very effective and moving tonal colors. In a way, it's sort of like comfort food. Ferrara doesn't challenge, but rather reassures with his music.

I found the Fantasia tragica particularly appealing. Like Ravel's Bolero, the work gradually builds in volume as more instruments enter the mix. But there's no driving percussion here -- just a long, beautifully-crafted melody that moves inexorably upward, winding its way through the orchestra.

This would be a great disc to give to someone who's ready to move beyond the basic repertoire. There's still plenty of touchstones with the familiar, but the spark of originality Ferrara brings to his music makes the exploration worthwhile.