Don’t be afraid to undo things

This is a new one for me, having never built a larger layout before, rarely have I been in a situation where I am looking at a piece of scenery and track that just doesn’t work. Generally speaking, my dioramas are small enough that by the time I have affixed things, I’ve worked out the kinks. That was not happening on the layout, as one corner of the layout has been bothering me since I laid the track. There is a dead-end spur onto the Toronto Carpet Factory site, its not a piece of track that will ever see much, if any use. If I’m honest, I still haven’t decided if I’m even going to actively tag cars to be switched there, but, the way I originally laid the track, limited the placement of a building and the scenery around it in a way I didn’t like the longer I looked at it, so a change was needed before I got much further with scenery on the layout. Making the decision to rip up track and try to change it is a big one, and after some deep breaths today, out came the tools and away we went!

Before, a straight piece of track into the backdrop, forcing the building to the right.

Toronto Carpet is an odd area on my layout. I have room for the full scale footprint of the building, but because of the limits of HO Scale equipment taking curves, the trackwork is actually pushed away from the main factory building further into the courtyard than in real life. Because my benchwork is narrow, there is not a lot of room there for bending the track in a way that is usable for locomotives, but a freight car should take the tighter curve still as a loading spot.

Taking up the building foundation was the first challenge. I glued them down with NoMoreNails construction adhesive, and this stuff works, but gently, with a putty knife, I got in and separated it from the foam underlay. Important lesson, thank goodness I only put a thin bead around the edges, if I’d put a bunch in the middle, this wasn’t coming up without great risk to track I wanted to keep!

Separating the MDF building foundation from the foam, taking up the track, and realigning it with a curve. The new alignment of the track is then glued down with Alex Clear Caulk.

Its now sitting with my handy dandy brick on it keeping the track in place while the caulk sets, but its a good nights work done and I am already much happier with the area. I think I am going to narrow the building base to pull it back to the backdrop from the tracks, as that will give me a bit of room for the yard and a fence around the carpet factory yard to improve the appearance in the long run. This bit of tearing up track and foundations has bought me a 4″ by 4″ area where I can create good looking scenery, rather than trying to hide the weird angle of the track running straight into the backdrop and building at the same point.

Aside from that, an update from last weeks post, I am keeping on with little projects and tasks. In the past week, I’ve done a bunch of scenery on the peninsula, to help make it look a bit more done. This is making me feel good, as I expect the large buildings on the peninsula are not going to get built any time soon, at least not until I am back at the office more than in work-from-home mode, as I need my full workbench space back to have enough room to build them, rather than giving up the 1/3 of my space that is my overflow for setting things aside being my office desk. The good news is, there is still lots to do before I need to worry about the big buildings, so on we go!

Just a little bit of work at a time and scenery starts to appear on the peninsula.

One little Project at a time

Well, here we are, a week into 2021. I’m trying to do a lot of little things in my life, after 10 months of work-from-home and social distancing, lock-downs and isolation, I discovered over my Christmas break that I am in a rut, both hobby and personally. I have been a creature of routine for years, and over the 10 months of being home basically the whole time, I’m lost. I have lost the ability to get out of bed at a regular time, and function, and was increasingly relying on ever larger pots of coffee each day to try and convince my body to function to work during the day, and have some semblance of a life after work. Every time I look at the layout, I’m looking to do big projects and make visible advancements because I am spending at least 8 hours a day looking at it while I work, and I was getting myself into knots making lists of projects I wanted to do, and getting nothing done because I wasn’t just doing something small and cant do big projects that may need to sit on the desk for weeks when I need it clear each morning for work.

This week, I’ve tried to re-start routine. Before the pandemic, I got up at 6am, was at the bus stop at the end of my street by 6:40, and at my desk at 8am. Come 4pm or so, reverse the trip, and the TTC God’s willing, I’d be home and making dinner by 6pm. Obviously, I don’t need a 2 hour window to get from our bedroom to the home office/layout room 10′ away!! That said, I have set my alarm this week for 7am, the first time its been on regularly since March, I am getting up, doing a quick 20 minute workout, having breakfast, and getting to my desk for 8am. This means, on a normal day, come 4pm, I can turn off my work laptop, and walk away, most likely down the hall 10′ to have a nap for an hour. After that refresher/break, I can get up and make dinner and have an evening (full disclosure, I used to sleep on the subway home after work as part of my post work recovery for my personal time during the day).

So, with that, this week I’ve kinda returned to what I do best in some ways, puttering. Monday night I did some prep on cast metal wheel stops, did some cleaning on the layout, and thought about little things I can do. Tuesday, I built some more hydro poles and cleaned up the ones I’d already built a bit. Wednesday, to escape the news of the day, I set up the paint booth and painted about a half dozen small projects or items that were ready for paint (setup, painting, cleaning filled a good hour and a half where there is no TV and I didn’t look at my phone), including the first batch of hydro poles, primer on part of the H&D Factory, the wheel stops, some sidewalk styrene, and some wheelsets. Thursday evening, I installed some of the wheelstops, the sidewalk and looked at other places that need to have sidewalks made. Nothing big, just little things. Some glue here, some paint there, some scenic scatter in the corner. No big action. Not, “I’m going to build the wall of a building” or lay 10 square feet of ground cover. Just little things, that even I barely notice when I look back at where I was working.

A gallery of little projects, base paint on hydro poles, primer on H&D, sidewalks in front of 60 Atlantic, and wheel stops at the edge of the universe (they will get weathered in situ)!

Sometimes I have to remind myself, I am not building a large layout. The entire area of my benchwork is approximately 36 square feet. For comparison, a 4’x8′ sheet of plywood is 32 square feet. Yes, it fills two walls in my room and half the closet, but it is not large. I don’t know how people build large layouts, as this is daunting enough, but biting off manageable pieces and just puttering a little bit every night, I will get there. I am 7 days into 2021, there are 358 days to go this year. On some of those 358 days, I definitely will take on big projects, but using my weeknights to just do little things that don’t take a lot of time to set up or do, is I think going to be my way of trying to keep going forward. What will I do tomorrow on Friday night? Who knows, maybe nothing, maybe something, but that’s OK and I’m finally starting to I hope wrap my head around that.

2020 Year in Review, well its been a year hasn’t it?

Well, what a year it has been, in so many ways, for so many people. We have been lucky in our house and family. Everyone has kept their jobs and their health, and that is thing one, far more important than model trains or anything else. Who knew what was waiting for us when I cheerfully reviewed 2019 12 months ago!

2020 Started out with a bang, a new years visit to operate on a friends layout, and friends coming here to help me wire the layout and reach a point where I could run trains, and that was just the first two weekends of the year! I then had my first “random” visitors in early February who weren’t dragged kicking and screaming through my promises of dinner being provided to help me build (Hopefully Matthieu and Chris can visit again and run trains!), then, well, we all know how the next 10 months of 2020 went. I spent a lot of time working on my own after March, but I have made good use of that time, applying myself to putting things I have learned from others into practice to actually achieve things on the layout, and make some real progress on construction, far more than I had hoped to before the pandemic and having no where else to go and nothing else to spend disposable income on other than hobby supplies.

View of the layout on December 31st showing the state at the end of 2020.

A summary of my year is below, followed by some brief thoughts on my year and the hobby:

Projects Completed in 2020

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.
  • Freight Car Kits – I didn’t finish any as of the time of writing, though 5 are literally waiting on me setting up the airbrush to clear coat them before weathering. 5 more are partly built, 3 not started, and one on order. But that is the way of the hobby.
  • Bullfrog Switch Machines – I’ve installed 4, that leaves 8 to go. Its pretty much a laziness thing at this point that I just haven’t felt like doing it as each one takes some time.


  • Scenery. I did a lot, worked on base scenery, learned static grass. Am working on improving my painting techniques in a variety of ways
  • Wiring, well, I learned, not always good things, but I am pushing myself to become better at soldering and wiring, blown up decoder to end the year notwithstanding.
  • Resin Casting, I bought supplies and cast my own parts. Starting with simple flats like manhole and drain covers, moving on to rocks and stone, then finally windows for buildings from 3D printed masters. Its been a good year on this count.

Thing’s I’m expecting to arrive in Stores in 2021 (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 – 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!

I mentioned at the start that this has been a year of challenges, and while things have generally been good for me, I have not been without the dark times and depressing feelings and moods. It has not been an easy year, even if it hasn’t been “bad” for me, isolation, being at home 24/7 almost with my wife (and we love each other and get along just fine, but space is also important), has worn on me, and I have written about it this year, how living, working and relaxing in our home has been a challenge at times. Talking is a good thing, its part of why I do this blog. I hope people learn something or are interested in what I am doing, but it also is an outlet for me to shout to the interwebs about the things I am doing to be happy and function, even before the pandemic struck.

I am not going to do a “preview” post of what I want to achieve in 2021 as I have some years in the past, the one thing this year has taught me is that it really is true that making plans and scheming isn’t worth it. Roll with what life gives you, take the good and the bad, and make something of it. Thank you all friends I know and those I don’t for coming back and reading. Your feedback, likes, page views helps me keep going, and I hope I reciprocate enough for those of you who blog as well to know I read and appreciate your work and efforts to.

From my workbench to yours, as we see out the end of a year we’ll all be glad to have behind us I think, be kind to each other, and hopefully sooner rather than later, we can talk trains in person.

Stephen Gardiner
December 21, 2020

Reclaiming my Layout Room for the Holidays

First off, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Belated Hanukkah, whatever you celebrate if you do, I hope you find a way to make the best of it given all that 2020 has thrown at us. I am using up some days off that I need to use before the end of the year, and as I write this on Christmas eve, yesterday was my first day off for a Christmas break until January. As such, first up was to reclaim my layout room/workshop from also being my home office, and banish anything that has been there since mid-March making it my office for my employer as well, and even on day one it made a huge difference. Instead of being in the layout room from 8am having to ignore my models, I meandered in around noon and looked about to choose projects to work on. Talking with my friend Trevor Marshall of late, I realized I have made a lot of progress in 2020, but I want to focus myself on “finishing” the eastern half of the layout from the peninsula into CPR staging in the closet. I am not going to set a specific time target, more of an overarching “is there a project I can work on to advance this end of the layout” plan. If the answer is no, then off I go with something else, but If i can work on things that move that end forward, that I will do.

So, with all that said, I picked out two projects to work on. Making my first telephone poles, and laying the first static grass on the layout. I’ve been practising and learning to use Static Grass, so I decided it was time to actually apply some to the one large grassy area, the prison yard for the Mercer Reformatory woman’s prison! The sad part is, most of the grass is hidden behind the security fence, so you don’t really get to see it, though it will hopefully show in photographs from a slightly higher angle. None the less, laying the static grass in the yard, has brought that area very close to finished. It needs some work around the two trees recovered from Trevor’s layout, to blend the roots in, but the static grass has brought the appearance of the area and around the fence looking much more finished.

Getting set and laying static grass on the Mercer Reformatory prison yard.

For the yard, I removed the trees and fence, and filled the holes with toothpicks so I could find them again, and keep them free of grass and glue. As you can see from the pictures above, I laid green painters tape to help keep grass and glue from getting on the track and roads where I didn’t want it at the moment. I have recently stained the green painted fence with an alcohol and ink mix to tone it down and dirty it up. Nothing earth shattering in the work, or techniques, just good solid actually getting things done.

The finished area, before the green tape was pulled and with the tape removed.

Moving on from static grass, I have had the telephone poles in place for a while, but hadn’t moved on with them. Because on my layout, these are not railway telegraph poles, but city hydro (electricity) and streetlights, I am scratch building them so they match the poles from archives photographs, and at least give me the option to install working lights. My inspiration for the how is from Australian modeller Luke Towan’s Boulder Creek Blog. I am making modifications to his technique that he shares at the link, but I am absolutely 100% using his technique as the basis for coming up with how I am going to build mine. He kindly shares his 3D print designs for components, though this is one of the big areas I am making a change. When my friend Trevor moved, he gave me a giant box of HO Scale stuff, included in it was a set of Rix products telephone poles. The poles are useless, but the cross arms were perfect to cut down to size and modified. I am likely at some point going to get a couple of the pole mount transformers Luke shares printed, as I’ve been struggling to find any available from existing manufacturers (they exist, just not in stock anywhere!). The poles in Liberty Village as seen in archives pictures had arms on both sides, connected by wooden supports, creating a box like look for the arms. To make them consistent, I made a jig using some scrap styrene to set the arms, and let me glue them to the styrene tube poles. The poles are hollow for wiring, the outsides have been scraped with a razor saw so that when painted they will look like wooden poles. We shall see as they say how my painting technique goes!

Building a jig to connect Rix telephone arms to evergreen styrene hydro poles, and cutting down the arms on my NWSL Chopper.

I still need to make a final decision on if I am going to light the streetlights or not, as that determines how I 3D print the Toronto Acorn streetlights (previously used on my Bar Volo Diorama), as Shapeways no longer prints the clear material I used several years ago. I have friends with resin printers, who may be able to print me clear globes and non-translucent fixtures, we shall see, or if I decide not to light them, I can adjust and have them printed as just detail parts. Thus far, all the work I have done with the poles and their mounts in the layout allows for me to wire them and light them, but I can walk back from that if needed. For now, I’ve build 8 poles, and have an order for a package of the Rix cross arms pending to finish the other 10 poles on the layout. It was a nice easy project. I will get the rest of the strip wood pieces I need cut for the braces while I wait, but doing the rest of the poles will be a nice evening project sometime once I have the parts, then I can move on to painting them.

The first test pole assembled, and on the layout, setting up to build the 8 I have enough cross arms for, and the first three in place to see how they look.

All in all, a good day in the layout room, and it was nice to feel positive working in my layout space. On we go with more little projects here through the holidays!

The Importance of Light in Painting Models

I’ve been working on what feels like a small mountain of box car kits, but I am slowly making progress. Three of them were ready for paint today. The only Acrylic Canadian National Red #11 I have been able to find is the Badger Modelflex. This isn’t a brand I have used a lot, I think I’ve only used it on one project previously, which is always a bit scary getting used to a new paint. There are lots of questions, does it need thinned, how much if it does, does it gum up the airbrush (the answer on this was yes, moreso than some other paints I use), and how does the colour actually spray and look?

Two 1937 AAR Boxes and a Fowler Patent boxcar, all in CN Red 11 in the bookcase drying/curing after airbrushing. Its a bright red, I think.

Boxcar Reds. You could (and someone probably has) written voluminous tomes on the colour of boxcars. They were red, brown and almost every shade of both in the 1950’s, and that;s when they are clean before they have been out in the world being used and getting dirty!

I don’t get too wound up about these kinds of things, but I do want realistic looking models. So after painting, looking at the red in the bookcase where I store parts after painting, which is in a different room of the house with very different lighting, I had some doubts about the colour and how it would look. After a couple of hours, once it had cured enough to be gently handled, I brought one of the three cars up to the layout, put on the trucks and wheels, and popped it onto the layout alongside cars factory painted from two RTR manufacturers to see how the colour looked on the layout.

A freshly painted Intermountain/National Scale Car 1937 AAR Boxcar in Badger Modelflex CNR Red #11 between a Rapido Gondola and True Line Trains Slab Side Hopper in CN Red #11. On the layout, the Badger looks a lot more reasonable shade.

On the layout, next to other cars, the spread of the colour is not nearly as bad as it looked like it was going to be when I was done painting. Realistically, I should have stopped after paining one car and taken a look before painting the other two, but sometimes, I am not clever. In this case, it didn’t come back to haunt me, but there is a definitely lesson here, if your paint area has different lighting than your layout, test paint! Then you can go and see how things look when they are on your layout. I’m not worried as I could be, as after decals and flat coat are applied, there are many ways to dull and darken the paint including weathering. While it may not look like CN Red to some who get worked up, it does look like other cars in this scheme, which will be a different red/brown that cars painted for other railroads in other shades of “BoxCar Red”!

Sunday Putterings

As we approach a return to lockdown in Toronto starting tomorrow, instead of going out and fighting the sheeple going out to malls and stores before they are closed (I hated malls in the before times, in a pandemic, with a lockdown starting at midnight, you couldn’t make me go!), I planned to spend my Saturday and Sunday taking full advantage of the fact that the English Premier League is booking four games with no overlap on Saturdays and Sundays at the moment. I managed to watch all four games on Saturday, but otherwise, I was in a funk. I had no motivation to do anything, didn’t want to work on trains, spent a good chunk of the day watching the football games from bed. This year has been a year, for us all, and I’ve written about some of my challenges with motivation and mental health. Suffice to say, as the saying goes, today was a new day. I got up this morning, watched the 7am Fulham v. Everton game, and by the time the Sheffield United-West Ham United game started at 9, I was up, showered, dressed, and had laundry going! With that, I launched into 5 non-stop hours of model train puttering in advance of plunking myself down on the sofa to watch Liverpool-Leicester City to end the days EPL soccer! What a difference a day makes. I don’t know why I felt energized on Sunday and in the dumps Saturday, but so much has happened, I’m going to focus on the good, while remembering the bad is OK too and that its perfectly normal to not have good days at the moment as well. I just know since I spend all my work week in my layout room, its easier for me to focus on my day job during day job times if I am feeling I have been productive on the layout in my time, which I now do compared to yesterday.

Unexpected Treats for modelling from my better half!

A positive start, shortly after I started puttering, my better half ordered in Starbucks (its snowing here today, she had a zoom coffee date with friends and didn’t feel like going out to get a Starbucks treat), she got me a Peppermint Hot Chocolate and a Ginger Cookie, now that’s how to start a day at the workbench!

Up First, more with the Static Grass Applicator and playing around.

First up, more learning with the Static Grass applicator. I have bought another colour of 2mm material from Woodland Scenics, its quite different in terms of feel from the WWScenics material I ordered with their applicator tool. I’ve not got test samples of all three 2mm colours of base grass I have on styrofoam shingles so I can see how they look under layout lighting. After all of this, I think I am going to use the WWScenics spring, on Tile 1. I like the bit of brighter colour pop for where I’m going to have green grass, and it can be toned down with selective additions of the Woodland Scenics darker green, and layering longer grasses.

I then moved onto my narrow gauge shelf, and added some more static grass and started to play around with some flower scatter and fabric materials I had picked up. As there won’t be a lot of grassy areas on my layout, I won’t have a lot of this, but little pops of colour here and there for a small cost to buy the two different material bundles. I am quite happy with how they look, and while I may come back and add some more to the diorama, I’ve achieved the first goal which was to use it as a test bed for learning before doing anything on the layout.

The Railway Village Diorama in 2017 when completed, and today stripped down for refreshing.

Next up, in order to continue to practice and learn applying Static Grass, I am going to do some “refreshing” and repairs to my Toronto Railway Museum “Railway Village” Diorama. This model of our restored buildings in the park has travelled around the province for the past five years going to shows, and been on display in our house. At the time, I did not have a static grass applicator, and no need to buy one, so I did the grass with my old traditional technique of ground foam. It looked fine, but it hasn’t aged well as it has caught cat hair and dust. Overall, the diorama was a bit tired looking from all the being carted about, so this is a chance to fix and improve things. Today I only cleaned and fixed the ballast, but in the coming days, I have some things I want to try with the static grass to freshen it up and hopefully improve it for whenever I go to another train show.

Working on gravel drive crossings on the layout.

In my last omnibus post of activity, I wrote about how I was starting to fix the level crossings that are not in the paved roads. I have been staining and trimming the crossing boards. They are now getting to about the look I want, they just need some more sanding and trimming to fit to make sure they don’t rise above the railheads and cause derailments.

Handrails and stairs for the entrance to 60 Atlantic.

My final achievement for the day, was a small one. Drilling four holes in the plastic steps for the front of 60 Atlantic, the building I built during my week off. The front steps and handrails are Plastruct parts. Two concrete steps glued together, and then two handrails. The two steps were the perfect width for the front door opening. They were a bit deep, but that was quickly remedied by taking a razor saw taking off the molded in landing as the steps butt up to the landing in the buildings entrance canopy. I think I’m getting close to ready to try and primer the building and paint it. Exciting times.

I’ve managed to write this during the 2nd half of the Liverpool-Leicester match, while curled up on the sofa beneath a warm blanket with an adult beverage. Now to do some cleanup of the dining table so we can enjoy the roast that’s in the slow cooker making the whole house smell delicious!