Modelling Fences, from Chain Link to Board to Corrugated Steel

I wrote some time back about my learning to and making my own HO Scale Chain Link Fence. I finally got around to finishing and installing the first two segments of it, and I am really pleased with how it is looking as the layout scenery starts to progress.

The first segments of my scratch built chain link fence in position on the layout.

The next two places I need fences are not however locations for chain link, so I get to build something different. The first is the south side of Liberty Street across from the Brunswick Balke Collender billiard table factory. This site from the information I have and the aerials was the lumber yard for the factory across the road. That makes sense, as its close, and the factory filled most of the block, and I suspect in its prime it went through a lot of lumber making billiard tables and bowling alleys and such.

The small triangle that is the north edge of the lumber yard serving the Brunswick plant across the street on my layout.

My first thought on this was to re-use some fence I had salvaged when I tore down my layout in my parents house in Georgetown when they moved out. Its a perfectly nice laser cut wood fence, maybe not super well painted by me when I made it a decade ago, but re-usable. The problem was, the longer I looked at it, the more it was clear it was not the right fence for the job. An industrial site would have had a taller fence (the one I had was 5′ in scale), and it would have been a heavy board privacy fence to keep people out. So after looking at it for what seemed like days, the old fence is on its way back to the recovered scenery tub, and I built a new fence on Friday night. An 8′ high heavy board wood fence, something that feels much more right for the space when I look at it on the layout now, even unpainted just getting it into position.

Recovered fence vs. scratch built. Even unpainted the scratch built stripwood looks better and tells a stronger story about the area than the other fence would.

The second place that I need to build a fence is for the Mercer Reformatory, the women’s prison that was in the centre of Liberty Village (and along with the men’s prison to the east, part of why Liberty Street got its name, not because of war production as many think, but because its where prisoners were released to, getting their “liberty” back). I am not modelling the prison building, it is too far to the north, all that appears on my layout is the south end of the yard, and the perimeter fence.

The Mercer Reformatory area on the left, and looking at how a 10′ tall corrugated metal (or styrene) fence will look. These are also the only two trees on my layout in the corner of the prison yard!

I haven’t built the prison fence yet, it’s in my weekend work program along with getting the ground cover down (its the largest grassy area on the layout, and most of it will be out of view behind the fence!!). I’m going to get the ground cover down this afternoon, and work on building the fence on the workbench. I’m happy with the appearance, and in going back and forth with a fellow modeller of the 1950’s, the heavy metal fence tells a story about the prison being somewhere people really don’t go vs a wood fence. I don’t know what the actual fence was, any pictures I’ve found are either too far away, the wrong end of the site, or aerials where all you can tell is that its a sold fence. Therefore, modellers license, I can build the style of fence I want, and should I discover I’m really wrong in the future, its easy to take it out and redo.

Layout Research, Hollywood Style

Things you find on the internet searching for historic photographs. (

First up, I haven’t been posting on here about what I’m working on. I think I need to get back to writing about trains, but there is a lot going on in the world, and while I’m personally well, my particular hobby and escape from the world doesn’t seem important in the context of everything that is going on and the suffering. That said, working on trains, and to some extent writing about them here is a positive for my mental health, which I also can’t ignore. I don’t talk politics here on a blog about model trains, It’s not the place, but I do think the honest statement that I’ve been spending my time thinking about other things that will impact my life and work is a fair extent to go as to why I haven’t posted lately, and why I’m going to make an effort to get back to posting moving forward.

Well this is one I didn’t see coming. In searching for images of Pardee Avenue and the Gillett Company Mill that I don’t have pictures of, I found some…on a site that shows people where scenes from movies were shot. It turns out, significant chunks of the exteriors in David Cronenberg’s the Fly were shot in Liberty Village, including the former loading docks between the missing building and the building now known as the Castle as can be seen in the pictures above. Who knew that a movie from when I was 7 years old that I haven’t seen in years would be a source of reference material for me, and super helpful material at that. I now need to find a copy of The Fly so I can watch it and freeze frame to see what else I can gleam other than what is seen in the few freeze frames I’ve now found on different movie location websites. This is a surprising lift up for me in working on the one building I have precious little information on.

Sure the tracks are gone, but the loading dock is still there, the original windows are still there, and on the left, the Mill and Elevator are still there, yes they aren’t centre of the frame, but there is a lot of useful information to me about ground level details that I didn’t have, just by seeing there are windows and doors means I can include them, even if i don’t know exactly what they looked like.

I would never have thought that a night with Jeff Goldblum would be needed to build a layout based on Liberty Village in the 1950’s. Live and learn! A small win in another long week!

Quick Layout Progress/Status Update

I just wanted to write a quick update. I’m fine and working away on the layout or layout related projects, and even some projects that have nothing at all to do with trains. I just haven’t been sitting down to write about it. I’ve still been taking pictures, and hopefully at some point will catch up, but I just haven’t had the motivation to spend more time on the computer at home at my workbench after spending my whole work day here. I’ve been motivated to use the workbench time doing what it was meant for, making models. I realized my last few posts have mostly been Tuesday Train railfan shots, and I’ve lined up those until the end of June as I’m not out railfanning at the moment (but I’ve found some great stuff in boxes of old pictures I’ve now scanned to make up for that!).

I hope those who read my blog are well, and are finding ways to keep busy with whatever lets you unwind as we continue in varying degrees of lockdown to hopefully stay healthy and safe.

As proof of progress, a couple of pictures below of the resin cast manhole and storm drain covers being painted. The first of these are now installed in the roads on the layout, and I’ve got enough pre-painted to do all the roads, so I just need to find a night to get motivated and start the next chunk of road paving!

Resin cast manhole and storm drain covers taped down to a sheet of cardboard to be pre-shaded before installing in the roads.

Finding Things that Didn’t work

So, working from home means I’m working at my day job from my modelling workbench. It’s not all bad, though it poses different challenges when you need a break from work, or when you get frustrated at something you are working on having your distraction at your finger tips instead of having to stick at the work and get things done.

In any event, last week while sitting and working, I heard a popping sound from the layout behind me, the way the sun comes in through the skylight it only catches a small part of the layout as it works its way around the room, but it turns out, that it was more than enough in the concentrated heat box the suns path creates (which passes right over where I’m sitting and working from about 12:30-2:30 causing a great risk of desk naps) to cause the No More Nails adhesive holding the fascia on to fail!

IMG_2553Well that ain’t right….

In theory it’s an easy fix, do a better job of putting more of the adhesive in place and press the styrene fasica back into place. We will see if it holds this time! Certainly not a big problem, but the heat change with the sun is far greater than the normal climate variances and how fast things heat and cool in the layout room. I suspect anywhere not directly in the suns path will be ok, but we shall see in the course of time.

Every now and then…

You write something believing it to be the truth, only to find your memory really really sucks.

In a recent post, I said:

I’ve been using a modified technique for ballasting, based on something I learned from my friend Trevor Marshall, and using thinned Weldbond Glue (why in 20 years of modelling has no one ever told me how much better this is than normal white glue before now!!).

Then, I was searching for a photograph of something else in a box of pictures, and came across a photo of my old “layout” from my high school and early university days. I don’t know the exact date, just that it’s pre May-2000 as that’s when I moved out of the house for the first time to move to Toronto for a Co-op Placement, and my parents moved out of the house and this layout was torn down for good while I was working in Toronto that summer.

WaterlooLayoutWould you look at that, a bottle of Weldbond on the end of the layout next to my workbench…

So yeah, turns out I just have no clue what I have and haven’t done! Also, yeah, I have no idea what this layout was trying to do at the time! Other than the Lima Class 156, Hornby HST, Tri-ang 2-6-2T at the front, and Tri-ang Transcontinental coaches by the Weldbond, everything in this picture is gone from my collection.

In the interest of fairness, this photograph is of the peninsula extension of my first layout, a 4×8 plywood pacific seen below that served from around 1989-2000 and from Chatham Ontario to Dartmouth Nova Scotia and back to Waterloo Ontario.

The Plywood Pacific in earlier guises in Chatham and Waterloo, love that chandelier layout lighting I had! I’m pretty sure it had a circular fluorescent tube in it!

Its always nice to look back a little, which is what I was doing when I found the first picture today and had that “huh, I have used Weldbond before? Who knew?” moment!

Building Building Foundations

Any project that starts with a new tool has to be a good one right?

IMG_2421New Milwaukee M12 Cordless Jig Saw, clean, clearly not used yet!

Thanks to the kindness of friends in coming to my house with portable tools and access to the woodworking shop at The Toronto Railway Museum where I volunteer, I was able to build all of the benchwork for my layout without owning any power tools other than an Impact Driver/Drill combo set. That’s great for the heavy construction, but I still need the ability to do things myself at home, especially now in an era of Social Distancing where we can’t get together with friends and build benchwork together.

As I am building the layout, one of the first phases of the structures, is building foundations so that I can work on scenery, but have bases for the buildings to eventually get mounted on, these will largely be buried, but will be visible here and there, so I wanted to make them out of MDF using a technique I picked up from a friend.

Getting set to cut foundations for the buildings on the layout from 1/4″ and 5/8″ MDF fibreboard.

Basically, the MDF is cut to size, sanded, and sealed with a “Sanding Sealer”, basically a varnish. Because MDF can absorb moisture when it is cut because it is pressed board, you need to seal cut edges. I learned this mistake the hard way myself as one of my dioramas built on an MDF sheet cut to fit into a shelving unit has curled at the two cut corners. Nothing I can do to save it now, it is what it is, but I can’t have that on the layout.

I spent a Saturday a bit back drawing all the outlines for the foundations in preparation for this, with copies made and them all cut out and pieced together, they were transferred onto the MDF and away I went with the jig saw to cut out the pieces.

Pieces cut out, sanded, cleaned and painted with sanding sealer on the edges to keep the MDF from absorbing moisture and expanding on the layout.

With my new saw in hand, and a nice weekend last week, I got set up on my patio terrace, and spent an afternoon cutting, sanding and sealing pieces of 1/4 and 5/8 MDF for building foundations.

Checking the fit of foundations after cutting to see if they need any trimming before sealing them.

I’ve since painted all the the ones that are small enough to paint in my spray booth other than two pieces that need to be re-cut, and three pieces that are too big for my booth. These will get painted outside on the terrace when the chance presents itself. I am really happy with the look, now just need to get motivated to take the next step of gluing them down and starting scenery around some of them. Onwards we go.