Something Shiny, Red and Modern

I got an email from the Credit Valley Model Railroad shop on Friday, that something I had ordered last year had arrived. I had some other previous orders sitting out there waiting on being picked up, so once I’d paid, I went out on Saturday to do a curbside pickup at the hobby shop. When I started the Canyon Road diorama, it was a “modern” diorama, to depict the railway as it is today. To do that, I needed a modern locomotive and rolling stock. Over the past year, I have picked up a modern autorack and container well car, but did not have a modern locomotive. Athearn announced some time ago that they would be doing the EMD SD70ACu rebuilds that CPR has been receiving, which include the ten heritage (5 script lettering, 5 block lettering in Maroon and Grey) and the 5 Military Units. While all modern locomotives have some degree of sameness to them, I actually quite like the SD70ACu’s. That may just be that they haven’t been out long enough to become perma-dirty like most CPR locomotives! In any event, I ordered a CPR Red version for the diorama. If I was going to order a heritage version, I think it would be 6644, the D-Day Commemorative unit, but that was not done as part of this run. Who knows, maybe someday in the future.

Unboxing and checking out CPR 7000 on the Canyon Road diorama.

I haven’t had a chance to put the locomotive on the test track connected to DCC to check out the lights and sound. That will hopefully be a today thing. I spent most of my day yesterday on Saturday doing nothing, and when I did start to do something, it was to start re-organizing the closet in my layout room to better organize things as I need to move some things around in the near future on the bookcases in the layout room so I actually have somewhere to put Canyon Road when it’s done. It can’t sit on top of the IKEA cart I use for tools forever!

The nice part about a newish locomotive, is that it won’t need heavy weathering. Just a bit of road grime along the bottom, and exhaust smoke along the roof. Enough to look used, which means I won’t be taking the nice bright shine off of it. Athearn also, to their credit made the cab roof easily removable. It is held on by two magnets. I have some modern crew figures I ordered from ModelU 3D in the UK, I need to get these painted, but will then be able to crew up the cab easily. I’m even more motivated now to figure out the last of the scenery on the diorama so I can actually take the time to take some good model photographs on it, and mark a project complete!

EDIT: Quick static test video, my programming track is not really long enough for it to move!

2021 Year in Review

Its that time of year again, the end, where we look back at what we’ve done, and think about what is to come in the new year. Sadly again, 2021 has been a year dominated outside the modelsphere by the ongoing bad news of the pandemic. Fortunately, we have given the pandemic a pass and remain mostly cloistered at home and have not gotten sick with Covid (knock on wood). I have however, had the second half of my year impacted by illness, leading to a slowdown in progress on model making from August on when I was diagnosed with Kidney Stones. Initially, my illness didn’t impact me much, but as the months rolled on without getting any progress into November and December, my work rate definitely slowed down as all my energy was needed to stay on top of work for my day job, leaving not a lot of energy or motivation for modelling. By a couple of weeks before Christmas, I found myself in the ER in absolute agony, followed by surgery to remove a massive kidney stone two days before Christmas. The up side of this, is that I am feeling so much better than I have the past few months. Still some slow recovery time to go here into January and the requisite follow ups, but it is really nice to feel well again, its the little things. I don’t think I’ve been taking my health for granted, but clearly there is room for improvement given the past few months.

In the hospital waiting on going in for my surgery to remove a very large kidney stone. I am feeling much better but almost 5 months of dealing with the stones before surgery became the only option wasn’t great for my 2021.

Despite having been unwell in varying degrees for about half the year, it was a good year. A lot of the progress on the layout is incremental. Sometimes I don’t even notice it when an hour here or 15 minutes there add up to things getting done, but they do. As such, my review bellow really is a high level of big things, where so many things just sort of add up to make a whole.

Liberty Village Layout Panorama, December 30, 2021. It really does make me happy to see how it looks, even in a half finished state!
Looking along Liberty Street at Atlantic Avenue. Buildings and Scenery here are nearing completion. Still some weathering on the buildings and work on the road to paint/weather to go.
Canyon Road Diorama. I pulled out my Rapido Canadian to get the FP9’s, and pulled some equipment off the layout for a quick photo shoot of its progress. It is definitely starting to give me the feel I was aiming for as a photo diorama for models.

Projects Completed in 2021

  • Switch/Turnout Controls – As of July, all 12 of the turnouts on my layout now have Bullfrog Manual Turnout throws installed. They still need some minor adjusting as I use them, and eventually the grabs on the end of the control rods will need upgrading, but this means that not only is all the track on the layout laid, its all operational.
  • Freight Cars – I actually did finish some kit builds this year. At least 7 freight car kits for the layout were finished in 2021. Some have received some weathering, some haven’t, but they are all presentable and operable.
  • Non Train Things – Pop Vinyl Selfie, Darth Vader Diorama, Lego Batmobile

Projects In Progress

  • Building Liberty Village Layout – Did lots on this!! See page here. This whole post could really be a look at the layout, and I decided for this year, I didn’t want it to be. I want to touch on some highlights and things that mostly make me feel good in a year where feel good has been in short supply at times.
  • Canyon Road Diorama – A new project, a chance to work on something different and scratch some itches for scenery skills and things I don’t need for Liberty Village. Made good progress. Might have even finished it in a year had it not been for my August on slowing down of work progress on models. See this page for all my posts on the project.
  • Freight Car Kits – I did actually finish some this year, and even get to first attempts at weathering. I had set a mini-goal in early December when I thought I was feeling better to get the three partially built kits finished by new years, I don’t think I will, but such is life. Once those three are done early in the new year, I have 8 more kits sitting in the pile waiting to be started. Plenty to keep me busy in 2022 even if I don’t buy any more kits!


  • Weathering – I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, but it was finally time to actually get on with doing it. I re-created weathering on a container well car from prototype photos, along with applying basic fleet techniques to cars on the layout to start making the equipment look used instead of fresh from the factory.
  • Scenery – Lots of progress on this, both on the Liberty Village layout and on the Canyon Road Diorama. I’ve gotten confident at Static Grass, creating basic topography, and even worked on making trees again.
  • DCC/Electronics – After starting the year with a bang (literal not proverbial sadly), I did make some progress with my wiring. I successfully installed keep alive capacitors in all my layout locomotives, and worked out a bunch of other little electrical gremlins and shorts on the layout that were causing problems.
  • Operations – I don’t know if this is a skill, or a project in progress, but someday I intend to operate the layout, both on my own and with friends over (visitors, what?). I took some tentative steps into this world, mocking up car cards, setting up a session and running some trains. I need to do it again along with start the work of making car cards for all the equipment on the layout.

Thing’s I’m expecting to arrive in Stores in 2022 (This list doesn’t seem to move some years)

  • Rails of Sheffield Caledonian Railway No. 828 – See Here
  • Bachmann LMS Patriot “The Unknown Warrior” – See Here
  • Rapido Trains GO Transit F59 & Bombardier Bi-Level Coaches – See Here
  • Athearn Genersis Canadian Pacific SD70ACu – See Here
  • Accurascale British Railways Class 37 “Loch Lomond” – See Here

Strangely, none of those have anything at all to do with or on a layout set in Liberty Village in the 1950’s, but that’s what display cases are for!

So, this wasn’t the year I thought it would be, I had been feeling really good the first half or so, making progress, then, health issues started to get in the way. A lot of the pandemic related and work related stresses I had been dealing with in 2020 got resolved early in 2021, so for a while I was in a real good space. Hopefully, as I write this and am slowly feeling better from the surgery last week, 2022 can slowly pick up speed as I continue to recover and be a good year, and a year that brings us to the point where we have gotten on top of Covid, and things like travelling to see friends, or friends travelling to visit us can happen again. It will be two years in February since anyone saw the layout in person other than me, I think by then it will be tidied up enough in the layout room that I could even have people over to operate. I don’t know if it will happen that early in the year, but I am going to be positive with the hope it does happen next year.

In terms of where I am going, I won’t be doing a 2022 Preview, its pretty obvious what the big goals are, finish the Canyon Road Diorama, and keep on plugging away on the Liberty Village Layout. I really want to finish the large Hinde & Dauch Paper company in 2022, that I had hoped to finish in 2021. I have made progress, but it’s one of those projects that has kept getting pushed aside. I think my 2022 goal will be to try and stay more focused on the core projects, rather than looking for side projects (he says knowing he has another side project he is collecting stuff to build next year…).

So, with that, I hope you have a wonderful New Years Eve. We are ordering all the Chinese Food for dinner and I am going to torture myself watching the US NCAA College Football playoff games (Go Blue!), because that seems as good as anything else to do on a Friday night! Stay well friends.

Stephen Gardiner
December 31, 2021

Making Trees for Canyon Road

I wrote in November about starting the scenery for Canyon Road. Back then, I was working to straighten Scenic Express SuperTrees material and getting ready to make trees. Yesterday, I took those armatures and started adding SuperLeaf material and actually turning them into trees. On the diorama, the trees form the majority of the background to transition between the ground and the backdrop, so I needed to get them done sometime so I can fill in the scenery around them and finish the scene.

Supplies for making trees, and tress drying before they are installed.

I wanted these trees to be as simple as possible, in part because the Super Trees tree material is quite fragile, so I didn’t want to mess around trying to add any polyfibre bulk to them. I used a tried and true method of spraying with a heavy hold hair spray, and dropping down leaf material onto the armatures. For my trees, I mixed a variety of colours to create different shades of green and orange trees as this is a fall scene I am modelling. There are four or five different tonal varieties of mix across the dozen or so trees and large shrubs I made. After the leaf scatter is on, another shot of hairspray over top, and then set them aside to dry.

While they were drying, I ran the “electrical wire” on the telegraph poles that remains to provide power to the signals, and got ready to plant the trees. To plant them, I used a pointed awl to make holes in my scenery. I’m finding a downside of the way I did the scenery with plaster sheets here, you can’t just poke things into the scenery, you need to punch/drill a real hole to get them in, and glue them in place. Good to know for future scenery on projects.

Getting the trees installed on Canyon Road. Such a simple project but it so advances the look of the diorama in a few short hours.

I am pretty pleased with how the trees came out. Every shot of the diorama looks a bit better when I make progress like this. I have a variety of long grasses and other materials to work into the undergrowth and hillside to hopefully finish the scene as it looks a bit barren under the trees now, but that is a project for another day.

An inside joke for the Canyon Road Diorama

Anyone who has known me long enough, knows that once upon a time, I had a bit of a challenging relationship with the Canadian Pacific Railway when I would go out railfanning. I saw a lot of nothing, or worse, a lot of guys in pickup trucks working on the railway, but not a lot of trains! That’s fortunately gotten better thanks to friends and as I’ve learned when and where they are moving during the daytime.

With that in mind, I recently picked up a River Point Station CPR High Rail Pickup Truck. If I’m going to build a CPR Diorama, might as well be able to laugh at myself by occasionally having it be a giant shelf with a tiny pickup truck on it. I also ordered a replacement tool bed for the standard pickup bed. The bed came undecorated, but fortunately, for some reason, I have a sheet of CPR Maintenance of Way vehicle Decals from Highball Graphics (I think from a Speeder Car for the Toronto Railway Museum Railway Village diorama). The final add for the pickup was the guy in the truck in a high vis vest. For this, I ordered a 3D Printed figure from Modelu3D in the UK, along with a number of other HO and OO Gauge figures for a variety of projects. More on some of those projects down the line when I get to them.

Replacing the bed of the pickup, painting the driver and getting them in the truck, and adding some grime to weather the truck.

The final thing to do was spray the truck with some grime to take off some of the shine and make it look like it had been out and about. I have actually caught a truck almost exactly like this at Canyon Road, with a signal maintainer working on repairs and doing a roll by inspection, so I can have the truck out on its own as a joke, or as part of the regular diorama scenery. I don’t have any pictures of it on the diorama, as its in a spot with the scenery that is not at all photogenic and I need to make some trees to improve that.

Getting some Scenery on Canyon Road

I’ve been working slowly but surely on a lot of projects, on the layout and on the Canyon Road Diorama. I have made a bunch of small projects on the diorama turn into visible progress in the past couple of days, and I’m writing this on Saturday morning with a day and a half to go on my weekend.

First up, adding some colour and grime and texture to the ballast. It was just too grey looking. To achieve this, I did two things, washed thinned Hunterline Brown stain over the ballast randomly in varied amounts to tint it down. Then, using PanPastels, a rub of black down the centre of the track to look like goop and grime coming off rolling stock. You can see it better in some of the overview photos later than the first test area below, but I find it to be satisfyingly effective and simple to apply.

First bit of weathering on the ballast. Using a brown weathering mix from Hunterline.

Next up, is some cleanup work. The open end of the diorama was very unfinished looking, with semi stained foam and roadbed. This was conceived as a “quick” project to give me something I can photograph models on and display equipment on that didn’t otherwise have a home. The end that would potentially be seen in low angle photos looked bad, and I’d been lazy about doing anything to fix it. I took care of that yesterday, with some painful trimming of the pink foam (lesson learned, do this kind of stuff first!), I was able to trim down a piece of 0.020″ styrene sheet to make a finish wall. I applied this using Silicone caulk to fill the gaps created and adhere the styrene. Once it was in place, I was able to bring the scenery into place and tidy up the scenery. In due course, the white styrene will be painted black to make it vanish in photographs.

Trimming the end, before (left) and after (right), even unpainted the styrene added looks much cleaner.

To provide a base on the hillsides along the line, I had previously applied dirt material. Next up, is a variety of fall static grass to base out the ground before adding trees, shrubs and scrubby growth as exists along the line. I used a variety of 2mm, 4mm and 6mm long WW Scenics static grass to create a variety of lengths and colours in the grasses. In the area at the top of the bridge where it enters the field, I used a brighter greener colour as this area appears very different when reviewing photos vs. the unkempt hillsides. Applying static grass is fairly straightforward. I made a conscious effort to not apply glue across the whole hillside as I wanted to have patchy areas, and be able to fill these in with other growth.

Mixing up a batch of mixed lengths and colours of Static Grass, and applying it as a base to the hillsides. Last shot shows the photo backdrop on the curved end glued in place.

Moving on to more dimensional scenery, I finally glued on the photo backdrop section along the curved backdrop that wraps the tracks on one end. This will be blended into the hill using 3D trees made using a variety of materials and techniques. The first is using Scenic Express Supertrees as the bases of the trees. This is a natural material, that can be painted and have scenery materials added to to create the look of trees. The material however, comes as a bit of a tangled mess. Once I found pieces that were the right shape/size, I needed to figure out how to straighten them out some. After a lot of reading online, the recommended technique seems to be soak them in boiling water for 5 minutes, then hang them with weights at the bottom to hold them straight. While they are hung, spray with isopropyl alcohol and scenic cement to effectively glue them straight. This seems to have worked, maybe not as well as I would have liked, but they are definitely straighter and I think I can work with them.

Home made hanging rack for Scenic Express Supertrees and soaked super trees hanging while getting glued to straighten them.

Last but not least, more messy foam work. Digging a hole in the back of the hillside for the Iowa Scaled Engineering Soundbyte. It will live behind the scenery under the bridge, and create a sound of the crossing gates just to the west of the area on the diorama. Next up for this is to tidy up the wiring and run the switch to an accessible point. This is another project that would have been much easier had it been a part of the plan when I started, but I didn’t even know these existed when I started the diorama!

Soundbyte in its little cave. Ready to shorten the wiring leads and fully install it.

Next up, making the trees and getting them installed along the backdrop, then filling in the lower parts of the hillside, and some wiring work to get the Soundbyte installed, and the electrical power for the signals fully installed. It had felt for a while like I wasn’t making any progress, at least not visibly, but as with so many of my projects, I find sometimes great lengths of time spent looking and thinking, lead to great bursts of visible progress in a short period of time.

Taking a bite out of scenic sound

For the Canyon Road diorama, I am trying to re-create the feel of train watching at this location. Part of that is the sights of the wood bridge and the Niagara Escarpment in the background. I think, I am making good progress in re-creating the feel of these aspects. One thing that I had not thought about was the sounds, the track is wired, so I can connect it to power/DCC to light the locomotive and get loco sounds, but what about other sounds? Background sounds as part of the scenery is something I have seen done on a layout scale, and which I am interested in down the road for Liberty Village, but what sound dominates this scene? Well, to be honest, when you are standing there taking pictures, the most dominant sound other than the train, is the crossing gates electronic bell.

I was killing time browsing the internet a couple of weeks ago looking at train stuff and model parts, and I was on the Iowa Scaled Engineering website drooling over Protothrottles, when I noticed a new-ish product, the Soundbyte. A small, integrated circuit with a speaker and enclosure, with pre-recorded bell sounds. It has options for a generic bell, and 7 real world recordings. One of the real world recordings is a Western-Cullen-Hayes 777 Electronic Bell, which is the bell at many crossings in Ontario, and certainly sounds like the one at Canyon Road when I listen to my videos.

The Iowa Scaled Engineering soundByte. In its package, out of the package, and wired up to a 9 volt battery and switch.

The Soundbyte runs on 5 to 24 volts, so it can be connected to a variety of power supplies. In my case, for a portable diorama, a 9volt battery is the simplest solution. It was a simple five minute project to wire up the battery clip and switch. Red to positive, black to negative, and white with the switch to negative as well. With this done, the Soundbyte has a small volume control, to adjust the sound from quite loud, to rather soft. I have set it fairly soft for in the house, but once I figure out how to install it into the diorama, I can adjust it further. I am thinking, at this point, I will hollow out the underside of the foam hill the bridge lands at, and create a little cavern in the back to mount it into where it won’t be seen. I have to figure out the best way to do this, but I’m sure that will come to me in time.

Video of the Soundbyte. Sounds like you’re at a crossing gate.

Iowa Scaled Engineering currently also offers a Cicada Soundbyte, which is not a sound I want on Liberty Village. That said, these are a nice option if they could be programmed with generic city noises. Car horns, traffic, factory sounds, etc. At some point I will have to reach out to them to see if they have interest in expanding the line to other ambient sounds that model railroaders may be interested in.