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Friday, October 6, 2023

Plexiglass Alternative


I have a number of good friends who swear by Plexiglass, for protecting delicate details unavoidably located close to the front of the layout.

These guys are great operators and great modelers, and have some years - er, wisdom - on me too...  So you'd think I'd want to heed their advice.  

Thing is, though...  yeah.  I just really like to avoid things that "break the 4th wall" - interfere with the scale reality when operating - if I can help it.  I keep structures and details floating on their mounts wherever possible, and in general I'd just rather fix things, than be walled off from my gameboard.  Just my preference.

There is one significant exception, however - one that can't float, and can't easily be fixed.  It's the right crossing flasher in Three Rocks, which is at shoulder height, 1" from the fascia, and square in the path of uncoupling-related arms and elbows.  It also happens to be a Tomar mast, which is not only the best of breed IMO, it's also no longer available - and has no reasonable facsimiles out there.

Over the years, that outside mast has been blasted, bent, straightened, glued, soldered, and jumpered so many times that it not only has become permanently stooped, it's also down to one single operable lamp out of four.  Reminds me of Homer Simpson's Christmas lights.  

For the record I am certain that virtually all - if not actually, literally, all - of the destruction, was at the hand of... the owner. 😁  (Or the elbow, or forearm...)

Anyway, I was recently fortunate enough to find a used pair of Tomars on Ebay whose buy-it-now figure wasn't stratospheric multiples of the list price.  But I had to accept that this one was officially a rare bird, in danger of extinction, and was going to need to be armored in some way.  So I began musing about novel defense mechanisms...

Here's what I came up with - how about protecting the delicate stuff with buttressed versions of things that could belong in the scene anyway?  In this case, that meant telephone poles.  On the surface they are unassuming line poles - easily snapped off with a sidelong glance, you say?  Au contraire - in reality they are made of coat-hanger wire, which, when cut to short 5" lengths and anchored through the homasote into bedrock (plywood), become stout enough to fend off the errant elbow even in 1:1 scale.  

Interestingly - for all the reaching I've done in Three Rocks since installing them, I've almost never actually contacted them, much less hit the flashers.  There's something about their presence that just makes you go carefully around or between them.  Whereas, I mercilessly beat the crap out of the previous unarmored model, QED.

One weakness in the plan, though, is... what are they, actually?  There ought to be poles nearby - I mean, there's a signal line paralleling the tracks, isn't there?  (Out in the aisle)...  And there are probably utility lines crossing the tracks to serve downtown...  But since neither of those installations actually exists, it seemed OK to not affix any specific crossarms to the poles, and just let the viewer's mind figure it out.  To me they look wrong individually... but the scene looks right.

I would love to hear what you all think.  Useful?  Or clumsy-looking?  If you've done switching up at Three Rocks recently, did you notice them?  Did you ever run into them?  And for your own layout, could you envision a similar application?

Thanks for reading, and I'm looking forward to discussion. 

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