Allagash Railfan Series backstory

The original concept for the Allagash Railfan Video Series was sparked in 2001 from watching a Pentrex video. Pentrex is primarily known for their vast library of high-quality prototype railroading videos. But back in 2001, they did something a bit different, filming Allen McClelland’s HO-Scale Virginian & Ohio Afton Division. This was about the time that Allen was going to be moving, and the original V&O was about to be torn down. The title of the video was “Afton Division Finale.”

But this Pentrex home layout video was different: much of it was shot from the perspective of a railfan. Into the video, they wove a story about a pair of railfan buddies chasing trains on the V&O. Some of the footage was shot close-in, and some of it was filmed from the vantage point of a visitor standing in the aisle. At the time, onboard sound didn’t really exist, so prototype, piped-in sounds were used to give the video a more prototype feel.

I had always enjoyed watching the Pentrex V&O video, and wanted to do something similar for my Allagash Railway, but I wanted to take it to another level.

To me, the ultimate presentation of a well-done model railroad is with a video of that railroad shot exclusively from a railfan’s trackside perspective. There’s no escaping the video camera. It picks up everything. So, if things aren’t up to snuff, it quickly shows. But if things are done well, the effect can be killer. In the case of the proto-freelanced Allagash, a railroad that is not real, video can bring it to life in a way that pictures in books, magazines or online just can't match.

In short, it looks more real, and that was the goal: to document the day-to-day life of this model railroad, but treat it as if it were, in fact a real railroad.


Sandy River crossing on the Allagash Railway
 

I’ve had a Sony Hi-Def. camera for 10 years or so. We purchased it for family use, but I found this camera was pretty darn good at filming my model railroad too. So, back in the summer, I began to think about how I could do this video.

Joe Fugate turned me on to the Sony software I would need to edit video and create a finished product. My first efforts were not all that great. I shot a test video and sent it over to Joe for review. My depth of field was very poor. I have a lot of fluorescent lighting in my railroad room, but with video you need a lot more light. I learned this the hard way!

Joe recommended some soft-box lights and after shopping around a bit I picked up three of these monsters. Boy do they put out the light! I sent him a second trial video shot with the new lights and his reaction was “Wow!”

So, with lighting problem solved and camera in hand, I began to document the Allagash strictly from the perspective of a railfan trackside. That meant no fascia, no walls, no nothing that clearly gave away that it's a model railroad. This meant that my composition would have to be very tight. No wide views from the aisle, no views from a helicopter.

For much of the summer, I spent spare time filming the railroad. I started at New Sharon (volume 1) and documented the daily goings-on of the New Sharon Switcher and the road trains that pass by or stop to work. I tried to capture everything that might happen there on a typical day if the Allagash were real.

The last of the F-units on the Allagash, reflecting the changing times
 

After volume 1 was complete, I began filming for volume 2. Volume 2 covers coal trains. This enabled a bit more reach as the trains traversed the scenery vs. being confined to just New Sharon. As I got deeper into the process, I began to try new techniques with the lighting, creating dawn and dusk scenarios. This gave the video a lot more ambience and prototype edge. I have some additional, outside-the-box ideas I will try in future volumes. Stay tuned.

A word or two about sound and narration. Onboard sound is from Soundtraxx and LokSound. My original sample to Joe had no narration, just captions. Joe suggested  narrating the video would take it up a notch or two. Always up for a challenge, I purchased a head-set mic and went to it. I knew it would improve the finished product, I just didn’t realize how much fun it would be doing it. Somebody once told me I had a “radio voice.” I don’t know about that. It’s strange listening to yourself talk!

The final add-on was something I hadn’t planned to do, but in retrospect makes the biggest impact in the final analysis: ambient sound. When I say ambient, I mean sound from the track and wheels etc. Without it, it just doesn’t sound real. With a real train, as the locomotives roll by, the prime mover sounds are replaced by flange squeal, rail click/clack, car rumble, and other sounds that all blend together. I had to figure a way to make this happen.

A day in the life of the New Sharon switcher job - the topic of video volume 1
 

It turns out it was real easy. Over the years I’ve captured tons of Hi-Def video of real trains in my area and on various railfan trips. I found an HD video converter program, and one of the features of this program is it lets you create an MP3 audio file from your video clips.

So, I went ahead and watched the videos and isolated areas where there was adequate ambient sound, with no locomotive sound. I had to find variation – slow, fast, high-squeal industrial etc. After all was said and done, I came up with about 15 or 20 clips that I could use and apply to the video. Editing these in was a snap and it brought the project to an entirely different level.

I’m looking forward to putting together many more of these little trackside adventures, especially as additional scenery is completed.

- Mike Confalone


I’d like some feedback on how these first efforts grab you: have I accomplished my goals of depicting the Allagash as a real railroad? When you watch it, does it seem like you are a HO-Scale figure standing trackside? If the answer is yes, then I’ve done my job. If no, then please let me know what needs improvement!

Comments

I think this is outstanding.  In terms of scale model railroading you knocked it out of the park. The views and angles you showed gave a real nice perspective as someone watching this "trackside"  Too often model rail videos follow the locomotive around and don't give me a sense of railfanning.  These videos do!   I  watched these videos multiple times and each time I watch them I see new details that I missed before.  I'd really love to see video on the operations at Madrid yard from the "yard tower" perspective. 

I did want to comment on the lighting effects.  I thought it was a neat effect when you went from "overcast" to "sunny"  It gave me a sense of a real spring day.  I can imagine it, standing trackside, as kind of a cool, raw day with the over cast clouds.  Small breaks in the cloud cover give way to little periods of warmth that give you hope that winter is finally behind us!

Thanks Mike for all of your hard work!

Much appreciated Andy.

Glad somebody noticed the clouds-parting effect! I can' tell you how many times it has worked in reverse trackside...getting skunked as a cloud comes in and blocks the sun at the last second. I wanted to reverse the bad luck this time around!

Mike Confalone

It will probably... nope scratch that... It will never get any better than the Allagash..(atleast in my life time)

To Allagash Mike....your work  will be how the future of this hobby is measured and compared..much like days of passed and John Allen...If there was a model railroading hall of Fame...(is there one?? )  if there ever is one you'd be right in there with John Allen.

Daniel,

Must say thanks for the compliments!

Not sure I'm in or will ever be in the same class as the great John Allen. He, and Allen McClelland were true pioneers. 

When I think about what I'm doing, I'm just taking what others have done and maybe raising the bar to meet my own personal goals. which admitedly are lofty. Glad to hear the results seem to be well received. Lot more work to do, and I'm looking forward to it.

Mike

Hi Mike its been a while since I've logged on, Anything new or upcoming with the Allagash?

Hope all is well your way.

Daniel 

One of the best layout I've seen. Must be a joy to operate. looking forward for more!!!!!!!!!  

Hi Mike ,

For me what impresses ,  that`s your composition and color. You have so many good ideal.

Btw, I still can not found the right color for the static grass. i realy need the good proportion to mix with rit liquid dye (dark brown) .

Im curious , how many hours you take per week on your layout?

Pascal

Hi Pascal,

Keep experimenting with the Rit Dye. Eventually, you will get the right color.

How many hours per week do I work on the railroad? Depends. If I am in a big scenery push it might be 3-4 hours per day for a few weeks straight, but then other life duties intervene and there's nothing for a while. Right now, nothing. Working on the weathering video, which will take quite a bit of time to do.

Thanks again for the comments.

 

Mike

Hi Mike,

Truly a great result to all the thought and effort that you have put into the Allagash.

Well done, so very enjoyable and inspirational.  The railfan perspective is great, and as a modeller I very much enjoyed the ops videos as well.

As for feedback:  The lighting, dusk, and dawn effects are spot on.  Now we need weather, ambient wind, rain, etc. I'm talking sound effects here, not real rain, lol.

I only say because everything else is so realistic.

I found the locomotive sounds to be a little quiet, it could be fine in person but I found myself trying to hear them.   Your a realism guy,  and  I have to ask, why no TCS Wow  EMD 567?  Have you heard them?   You gotta try one Mike.  I'd love to hear what you think.  

Anyway, you knocked it out of the park there fella!   Looking forward to future releases, and still waiting for the weathering video, lol.

Take care

James

 

Thanks for the feedback James! 

I've got a few ideas on how to add "atmosphere"...will try them on V3. Also, some other lighting effects. Not sure if they will work. Only one way to find out.

I have heard the TCS WOW 567. Pretty good, but I think the LokSound beats it. Personal opinion.

Work has begun on the first volume of the weathering series. Freight cars. Filming begins next week. Thanks for asking.

Mike Confalone

Tbgarland's picture

Very interesting backstory.  I remember purchasing a Pentrex VHS tape of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. In that video they followed a Tank Train over the line and what made it so cool was the real railroad sounds that were added in. 

The way you added in the sounds really made your video top notch as well.  While enjoyed the daylight scenes a little better than the night scenes I thought the scene with the clouds moving and the sun coming out fantastic.

Thanks for sharing your incredible layout and I look forward to more exciting videos in the future.

Tim Garland

I love the Allagash!  I hope to see printed books and DVD's too.  Have you ever had any issues with 3% grades?  I know you pull a ton of weight.  Also, I know you have a short loop of 24" radius track, and I've seen you've run some long PiggyBack flat cars, have you ever had any issues with the long cars on these short raduis turns? Thanks.  Keep up the good work, Can't wait to see more videos!

 - Mark