I think the picture below would meet the criteria for "making anything cool", the only issue is that I took the picture and submitted it to the editor of the Train Collectors Quarterly back in January so, even though it is the cover of the just published July issue of the Quarterly, it might not meet the criteria for "lately".
As the opening credits of many movies state "the following is based on true events" - the key word is based - I did take some artistic license.
The full story from Southern Railway Remembered is as follows:
"At the Alexandria Station the main line tracks separated into freight train tracks and passenger train tracks. The freight tracks, behind the northbound passenger waiting room, went into Potomac Yard. One morning a southbound train stopped right in front of the passenger sheds to wait for clearance. From the Alexandria station past Duke Street was a long curve, and incoming freight trains had a signal just before they got to the Duke Street Bridge. Because of the curve, northbound engineers had to depend on their firemen to
let them know whether or not the signal was clear.
An RF&P freight was coming in, and when it got close to the curve the engineer asked his fireman how the signal was. The fireman replied," I can't see the signal for that caboose is blocking my view." The engineer threw the brakes into emergency-too late! He rammed the Southern caboose and stood it on end. The flagman saw him coming in time to get out of the way. He took off down Duke Street. Someone stopped him and asked why he was in such a hurry. He pointed back toward the bridge; the caboose was on fire, and flames were going high above the bridge. Fortunately, the Southern conductor had already started walking to the front of his train when the train struck so no one was injured. There were some hard feelings however. The conductor had bought a couple of hams in Monroe and left them on the caboose. By the time he got back to what was left of the caboose, his hams were cooked well done".
For the diorama I first did a trial set up to get a sense of camera angles and the distance I would need to be away from the setup in order to guarantee everything was in focus. I had originally thought about having a wrecking crane in the background but the camera angle was such that the boom from the crane was more of a distraction than a complementary element to the picture. I tried different station locations and tried to think of things that would decrease the blank space above the main picture elements. I settled on the water tower and played with different positions of the tower, the station and positions of the wreck – particularly the locomotive.
In the first attempts I thought too much of the engine was concealed. After a couple of tries I finally found a derailed position that permitted one to see most of the front of the engine even with the caboose hanging in the position it was in. I dismantled one gondola to scatter wheel sets and I removed the wheels and axles from one of the caboose trucks.
Once I had the basic setup, I spent some time arranging figures – I took a number of test shots with figures in various locations trying to make the figures the focal point. The main issue with the figures was that I wanted to have a hapless fireman trying to explain things to the division manager with the engineer just looking on. Since I couldn't find any figures to match my needs for the fireman and the division super I kitbashed them.
The fireman with his palms turn outward in supplication is a heavily modified Plasticville figure. In order to get the right pose I spent a lot of time running between my wife's full length mirror in the bedroom and my work bench. I would stand in front of the mirror, take the stance I wanted to create, stare at my reflection for awhile, run down to the basement, sculpt a little of the figure, add a little squadron green putty, etc. and repeat.
The division super is a heavily modified Bachmann figure. The figure didn't scale out to 1:48 so I had to do some serious surgery with respect to sectioning his arms, legs and torso to "cut him down to size."
The engineer and the older railroad employee looking at the wrecked engine are commercial cast figures I painted and the intrepid newshound with the camera is from the Arttista Gazette.
As for the artistic license - the actual wreck only involved the destruction of the caboose - there was no derailment of the train that hit it.