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The Railfan

Some may perhaps regard it as just a tad narcissistic to feature Yours Truly on the layout, but in reality it was a way to poke fun at myself. Back in the 70s, if you saw me out and about, it was usually near a railroad, and always with my Canon TL hanging around my neck—I was the very definition of a "shutterbug" at the time. (I truly wish I still had the thousands of slides I took, even though most of them were obscure railroad artifacts; what seemed like random images of virtually anything railroad-related would be even more valuable today. But they're gone, and it's best not to dwell on the reasons.)

This particular scene was inspired by the Canal Street crossing relay box: it's just the sort of thing I'd have photographed. To model myself in my early college days, I started with a youthful-looking Preiser figure in a contemplative pose. Then I made a 1:220 SLR with telephoto lens as follows:

1. The first step was to make the lens. It consists of .010 brass wire inserted into .015 OD stainless steel capillary tube. After bonding the wire and tubing together with CA, I cut the lens to length with a diamond cutting disc in a Dremel tool.

2. The camera body was made from .010 x .020 strip styrene. I drilled a small hole in it at an arbitrary location by twirling the tip of a knife against the styrene. It took a few tries to get a hole that was centered.

3. I bonded the lens into the hole in the strip styrene with CA, let it set for a little while, then trimmed away the excess styrene from one side of the lens.

4. The camera strap is #43 solenoid wire, which is about as thick as hair. I bonded a piece of it to the edge of the camera body, and trimmed away the excess.

5. I cut the excess styrene off of the other side of the lens to finish the camera body, shaped the camera strap into a loop, and bonded it to the other edge of the styrene.

6. Using the remainder of the camera strap wire as a "handle," I painted the camera with black paint. When this was dry, I trimmed off the excess camera strap, and hung the finished camera around the figure's neck.

It may sound like a lot of work, but actually it only took a few minutes. Good thing, too, because by the time I was done I'd made five cameras. The first one I rejected because the tapered wire I used for the lens didn't look right. On the second one, I'd used wire insulation as the lens, and it didn't photograph very well. The third one looked great, except the strap was too long. The fourth one shot off into space as I picked it up with my tweezers to take it to the layout; it's now destined for some landfill via my vacuum cleaner bag. The fifth time was a charm.

This little scene inspired me to have a bit of "Photoshop fun" creating the image below, shot of the layout taken roughly from the Preiser figure's position; it's the perfect likeness of something that might have actually existed in my slide collection back then. Subsequent to his installation at the Canal Street crossing, the railfan was moved twice before finally settling in at the scenic overlook on Poor Farm Road.

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.010 brass rod is bonded inside .015 capillary tube to make the lens.

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After attaching the lens, the camera body is cut down and a strap attached.

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The strap is shaped and attached to the other side of the camera body.

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The finished camera is painted and ready to install on the photographer.

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This Preiser figure seems to be contemplating his next shot.

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The railfan had a brief stay under the deck bridge before being moved here.

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