Building and Rebuilding a Bridge

For my modern diorama of Canyon Road, the centrepiece is going to be the scratch built wooden farm crossing that still exists over the CPR Galt Subdivision. I looked at various commercial bridges that are out there, and decided that nothing I could find made me happy, but I did find one that would work as a bit of a design guide/aid that I could buy cheaply. There is a Rix Products wooden bridge kit, its an older kit that’s been out there for a while, and is only single track. That said, it gave me something to look at for wooden bridge design, and to use to help me make templates for my own bridge built from stripwood. I pre-stained my strip wood for this project, using a couple of different Hunterline Stains and a isopropyl alcohol/India ink mix. This got me a variety of wood colours, and those colours into the wood before gluing anything together, that means there aren’t areas that won’t stain because the wood has been impregnated with glue. This is something I’m sure I’ve seen written about, but I learned the hard way building wood kits or scratch-building that you need to stain before you glue!

Pre-stained strip wood, home made jigs for a bridge and scratch building the bridge decks and trestle bents with them.

As you can see in the pictures above, i built two jigs using scrap styrene sheet and styrene angles. I used the Rix Bridge as a rough guide for beam and bent spacing, but also made tweaks to get the bents in particular to look like my photos of the actual bridge. The deck jig was set up to let me build up to a 40′ long deck (could probably do longer the way it is set up, but my base only let me add dimensions that far. The deck of my bridge is about 32′ across to clear the two tracks. The bents (legs) on either side are really close to the tracks and edge of the loading gauge in real life, and I wanted to replicate that in the model. Even with the jigs, before I built anything, I used some scrap cardboard to build a mock-up to look at spacing and dimensions. I hang onto a fair bit of scrap cardboard for painting and mockups, its a good practice to have some as it is a cheap and easy way to see if what you see in your mind translates well into 3D before you start actually building with more expensive materials.

Building Bridge Version 1.0. Working through the design and visualization, then building. But yeah, those ramps are a bit steep.

So, with the prep work done, and the diorama reaching a stage where the landforms to support the bridge were in place, I got going with the bridge. Slowly but surely, building sub components, the deck, the ramps, the bents, and getting them together and continually going back and forth from the workbench to the diorama to check fit and appearance. As I was working, the angle of the ramps started to gnaw at me, but I was so happy with the overall look of the bridge, I busily went about convincing myself that it was OK. It wasn’t until the bridge was “finished” and I shared a picture with some friends, one of who’s first response was “gorgeous but those ramps look really steep” did I finally go yeah, I’ve been trying to convince myself its OK and I’ll be happy, but the more I looked at them after that, the more I knew I would not be happy. The good thing is, as I have been moving slowly so I had not gone so far in the ground cover that it would mean undoing work to raise the hillside at the back and reduce the angle of the ramps. The ramp on the front side is shot and doesn’t land, so it would just be a take apart and adjust angle to match the change on the other side.

Rebuilding the ramps and raising the hillside to provide a more gentle ramp onto the bridge. Using a level that mounts into a camera hot shoe to check the bridge levelling.

Once I had confirmed that the ramps had to go, I started looking at how to best fix them. First looking at just making the side that reaches the ground on the back longer, but the more I looked at that, the clearer it became that what needed to happen was raising the hillside a bit so the ramp could stay around the right length while getting a gentler slope. To do this, out came the hot wire tool to carve off a piece of foam, and carve it to a shape where it could be glued on top of the existing hill, and blended in with the Woodland Scenics plaster cloth as I did for the rest of the scenery. With the hill increased in height, it was pretty straightforward then to get the angles cut on the ramp underframe beams and get it into place. All the different pieces then where re-assembled/adjusted and the bridge rebuilt.

With the bridge now approaching “done” in terms of the basic form, I was able to build the jacking that was installed beneath the bents at some point to raise the bridge to clear taller modern equipment, as opposed to building a whole new bridge for the farmer. These where built using HO Scale pre-cut wood ties, stained, and glued together. These actually are really handy for me, as they let me ballast the track without the bridge in place, as the bents sit on top of the risers, so my bridge can stay removable for a while still while I do scenery around it before eventually gluing it into place when I am done doing things that are easier without it there.

Finishing off the rebuilt bridge, getting the footings in (at some point the bridge was jacked up on site and raised to clear modern higher height equipment with large timbers under the legs, and ballasting the tracks.

At the end of the day, scratch-building made it really easy for me to take apart and re-do the things that didn’t work. I have some added details I want to add to the bridge, in terms of bolt castings for where boards meet to add a bit of detail, but, given the pre-staining of the wood I did, I am already really happy with it having the weathered appearance I want. Next up, getting started on the ground cover on the hillsides and telegraph poles.

Tuesday Train #251

How to railfan in a foreign country, 2021 style with full social and physical distancing in effect. Lake State Railway MP15AC No 1501 switches Dunn Paper in Port Huron Michigan…seen safely from the Canadian side of the St Clair River in the Bluewater Bridge Park in Sarnia Ontario. With the border closed, during a drive on a week off getting lucky and catching the job from across the river is as close to railfanning in the USA as I am likely to come for a while still!

Tuesday Night Paintshop Whoopise, the camera be harsh on your mistakes

Painting whoopsie, it looked fine before I painted, but after, some damage to the roof walk on the left side of the picture becomes apparent.

A quick trip to the paint booth tonight to get two projects advanced, one a project I am sending to a friend for a DCC install, to do a quick initial weathering on a CPR S-2 locomotive. While I had the paint booth set up, I wanted to get colour onto a Yarmouth Model Works West India Fruit Company ACF 40′ Boxcar. In my setup, I dropped/knocked it over, and it hit the floor. It looked fine after a check, all the detail parts survived and were where they were supposed to be, or so I thought. after hitting it with green paint on the body, it became apparent that the roof walk was both mangled and half separated from the roof. Sigh, nothing that can’t be fixed, but annoying none the less. Important lesson, after something goes wrong, maybe take more time to go back and check everything is ok.

And for those wondering, the green is less bright under normal lighting conditions on the layout, the LED lights in my paint booth are not good for assessing colour tone, they may everything look brighter than it is. Good for seeing where you’ve missed paint, not great for deciding if you are happy with a colour or not.

See Through Layout Edge Buildings

Looking through the foundry building to the layout after spraying the interior black. I can see some light leaks now that its painted on the interior.

My layout has five structures that will be located between the edge of the layout and the tracks. I have built one of them so far. There are a number of ways that this can be tackled by modellers to make them look good. You can put a false back on so the fascia board extends to close it in, you can build full, detailed interiors, or you can make them see through “shadow boxes”. I am going with the shadow box/theatre staging version of making them see-through. I don’t really know what the interiors looked like, and they are all slightly compressed and the widest is about 1 inch deep. That doesn’t make for great model space, and I think, as you can see, it creates a bit of a shadow box effect. I don’t have “glass” in the windows yet, as I still have to paint the window frames on the finished building side, so I can’t glaze them. I think the effect of looking through a shadowbox building will be really interesting and less distracting than made up interiors.

Starting Scenery on Canyon Road Diorama

One of the reasons among the many that I have started on a side project diorama of Canyon Road was that I have learned so much in the nearly two years of building my Liberty Village Layout, that I wanted to re-enforce and build upon the scenery techniques I have either had to learn, or refresh my past experiences and build upon them. Liberty Village is pancake flat urban industrial area, which while the how of creating that can be used elsewhere, there are lots of other skills in scenery that don’t get used on it, so the diorama offers a chance to expand on my scenery skill set, in an achievable sized space.

The start of scenery, plaster sheet on the carved foam landforms, paint, and soil cover.

With the foam carved and to what I thought was the right shape and landing point for the wooden bridge at the left of the diorama, I wanted to experiment with creating the final ground form in a different way. In the past, I have either done nothing on my first layouts, or used sculptamold. For this, I wanted to try something different, so I bought a roll of Woodland Scenics plaster cloth. It comes in different widths, I bought a 3″ wide roll given the narrow areas I am covering. You cut it to length, quickly dip it in water to get it wet and activate the plaster, then apply it and smooth it out. You can create shapes and texture. It hardens to a hard cover, which protects the foam, and provides a good surface for paint and texture.

For the first coat of colour, I used another Woodland Scenics product, but one that I’ve had for nearly 20 years, a bottle of Burnt Umber Pigment. I don’t know why I bought this, I think I was using it and a green product they had to stain wooden baseboards before applying ground foam… I’ve come a long way in doing scenery! This was actually a more correct application for the pigment. I think, being honest I should have applied it while the plaster was still “wet” so it would soak in, but it worked. At the end of the day, this is all going to be hidden beneath soil, grass, shrubs, trees and the like. Its really a backstop against unsightly white poking through the upper levels of scenery.

Once that was dried, as you can see I’ve had the track protected with painters tape as it was already painted and weathered, it will probably need some more, but no point in destroying the work already don. As with the layout, I am using Scenic Express fine soil for the dirt cover to give any open patches of ground some earth like texture. I am really happy with this product and how it looks on the layout, and I was able to be more, delicate with the application here. On the layout it is being used a bit as filler to bring ground level to the level of tracks and curbs and such, here, it is more a fine coating on the hill slopes. To do this, I found that applying a fine sprayed coating of my thinned glue of choice, Weldbond (at least 50/50 with water), then sprinkling on a light coat of the soil gave it some bite to apply a slightly thicker cover to make sure everything was covered with soil and then wet it and spray on a top coat of glue to soak through with the wet having broken the surface tension.

Jumping ahead and around other things since this is about first scenery, getting the track ballasted. Those with sharp eyes will notice the landform on the left has changed. I’ve got another post to write about the bridge where I’ll tackle that.

With the first bit of ground cover down, the next step was to ballast the track so it starts to nicely blend together with ballast over soil. Pretty standard ballasting, lay it down, wet it, and dribble in thinned glue, the water breaks the surface tension and lets the glue work its way in. Then go and add ballast once the first coat has tried for anywhere that there is thin spots showing through and to build it up along the verges and between the two tracks.

With the ballast, I also installed the signals. The two signals are going to be permanently mounted, so I wanted them in and the wiring buried beneath the ballast so they would blend into the ground as the real ones do. I have a signal electrical cabinet to install now that the ballast is down, I just realized I never got around to finishing painting is so I will be getting some aluminum on it in the paint booth this weekend.

Lots to do still, static grasses, long grasses, telegraph/power poles, making trees, finishing the bridge and so forth, but as always with my projects, forward progress is the goal.