Scenery Repairs and Final Preparations for the First Operating Session

Been a busy week at work, but managed around the edges of my days to get the layout almost set for its first formal operating session on Sunday.

First up, getting the layout back looking like scenery is kinda done. Having chosen to build a small layout, having it look semi complete is reasonably easy compared to many who have large layouts and lots of benchwork, where just getting the track in and running trains is an accomplishment. Having replaced the problem switch, and it seeming to be working after a couple of weeks testing. During the week I pulled the airbrush upstairs and painted the rail, then put down new ballast and ground cover dirt around that to fill the hole in the scenery. I am not going to start re-applying static grass in this area before my Sunday Ops Session, as that introduces another round of glue and wetting spray, and after the ballast and ground cover dried, the track seems to still be working ok.

Repairing ballast and base scenery around a replaced switch. Thankfully I had plenty of the mix of ballast I used, so it will blend right in as if nothing was ever ripped out.

Second up, paperwork and DCC. I have been thinking a lot about how operations will work, and realistically, all trains on my layout are yard jobs. This means, more than likely, rather than the crews having to deal with individual paperwork, they would be given switch lists from the yard master telling them which cars to collect from on-line industries, and which cars to delver to industries, and where to spot them. This means, for now at least, the where for cars destinations is less important, I can simplify by simply treating anything coming on layout as going to a destination, and anything leaving to a yard for onward travel. With that in mind, I split my switch list into two, a “Loads to Pick Up” and a “Cars to Spot”. This will let me, as effectively the yardmaster as the host prepare the lists in advance, so the challenge for the crews will be figuring out their order of operations in terms of which cars they pick up before they can spot any cars, and not running out of room in the staging yards to run around cars and change their locos location between pushing cars and pulling cars.

Slightly revised switch list for tomorrow, switching to cars to pick up and cars to spot. And my ESU Cab Control throttle and running tests before having guests.

Finally, today I will spot cars, do final cleaning of the track, and clean up the home office/layout/workshop. I am really excited to see how it runs in the hands of four of my friends. I really wish I had a second throttle though, with 4 people coming over, that is I think my maximum number of guests, but it means if they split into a CN and CP Crew, only one can work at any given time. I am really excited to see how tomorrow goes, and reporting back on it afterwards.

Repaving a Ripped out Crossing

Finally getting back to doing some layout work. Decided after work on Friday to tackle a quick task, repaving the crossing I ripped out in early December. Now that the check rails are adjusted to hopefully stop derailing cars, I was ready to repave the crossing. My chosen way for paving is using deep hole drywall putty, tinted grey with acrylic paint.

For fixing the crossing, I used some 4×6 dimensional lumber wood strips to protect the flangeways, and give me guides for the “tool” i made from a bit of heavy wood block, a brick of wood just wide enough to smooth the drywall compound. One of my lessons from the first go round of road paving, was that I did a terrible job keeping plaster off the rails. I don’t want to have to spend as much time scraping the rails clean again.

The road crossing ready to pave, mixing up way too much plaster for this small fill, my “tool” of a small block of wood and finishing the crossing.

It felt good to work on the layout. I’ve written many times about my motivation ebbing and flowing with how I feel. I’ve been feeling I really want to work on the layout, but haven’t been able to figure out what to work on.

Adding a pair of Hoists

A nice quick Christmas Eve project. I built a pair of hoist kits from Rail Scale Models. Of course, I didn’t build either as the kit suggested you should! I basically used it as a source of parts. One is mounted to a pole and can swing at Brunswick Balke’s powerhouse, and the other is wall mounted at Toronto Carpet. This is a really nice little kit. It comes with a 3D printed hoist pulley in two parts, a bit of I bar styrene, a length of brass wire, a 3D printed hook and a length of chain. I replaced the chain with some pre-blackened A-Line 40 link per inch, as I don’t have chemical blackener for the brass chain provided.

For Brunswick, I have a picture of a pole mounted hoist over the side door into the power house. It was a nifty looking pole, and figured with some quick styrene adds, I could re-create it. The Toronto Carpet one is a bit closer to the kit, I added styrene bolt plates at the wall, and used a single support guy wire. There is a hoist arm like this on the building, but in a different location. Because of my selective compression, instead of facing Liberty Street, I am using it to help fill the gap between the building and the track on the side. I think its a good compromise.

Two quick hoist kits, with a little bit of effort, the same kit gives two very different looks.

I actually painted the hoists tonight in a batch of stuff. I need to finish the assembly of adding the chain and hooks now that everything is painted, but its little things that help fill in the layout like this that are nice to have instead of imposing feeling building projects sometimes. Good for the motivation to see things advance!

Improved Closet Scenery

I wrote a few weeks back about upgrading the scenery in the corner of my layout as it enters the closet. It was some of the first scenery I did on the layout, and even in a couple of years, it wasn’t up to the standard of more recently sceniced areas as I have learned to apply static grass and other improved techniques.

Pictures of the work in progress adding improved ground cover base and Static Grass in the corner.

There is nothing earth shattering in what I did. A better base layer of Scenic Express sifted soil, followed by Woodland Scenics gravel for the driveways, and then a mix of 2mm, 4mm and 6mm long Static Grass layers of “patchy” grass from WWScenics in the UK (they sell direct or through Amazon in the past at least). Over the course of a few days, the new layers were built up after the old was scraped away, and I worked to blend it to the areas with previously applied static grass to avoid a visible seam in the scenery.

Before and after views of the closet area and the upgraded scenery.

So again, the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to tear things out and try again. I am much happier with this corner of the layout now. Looking at it, I think I will also at some point do this “scenic upgrade” to the staging areas as well that had my older attempts at scenery. It will help bring the whole layout together, even though the scenery on the staging traversers is really just to hide the pink foam!

Fencing Toronto Carpet

I am always looking to make some progress, even slow progress. For the Toronto Carpet main site, now that the one outbuilding is done-ish, I can start to look at finishing the Scenery around it. This is actually about the hardest to reach area on the whole layout because of the peninsula, so it would be really nice to actually finish the scenery in this area. There is still a little bit of detailing to do to the building, but it lifts out easily, it is doing scenery in this area that is really tough. With that in mind, I’ve been searching for a different look, the site in 2022 has metal fencing, that is probably a more modern addition, but doing a fancy metal fence would help to differentiate the site a little from the home made chain link, wood or metal panel fences I have made elsewhere on the layout.

Using my helping hands from a friend to hold etched fence to solder parts together to make longer gates, and prepping for painting in the paintbooth.

I finally found an etched metal fence that I really liked, from Langley Models in the UK. It was however, cost prohibitive until I found an Ontario based retailer of British Models,, who had the etches I was looking for, and the gate set, and they had them on clear-out sale. Yes, I cleared them out! I now had more than enough fence to cover the area I was looking for. In terms of install, I wanted to have gates across the track, because the fence is etched, I would make them so they were open, I don’t want the risk of them swinging and shorting out on the layout. To make the winder gates, I cut posts and parts with hinges and locks from the gate set, and then spliced in blank fence sections from those etches. Some extra brass strip for bracing on the gates, and then soldered them on a flat surface (in this case a bit of scrap 1×3). Just a little bit of flux paste, and a tiny touch from a hot iron with some solder on the tip, and the fences were lengthened. I also made longer sections of the plain fence to make handling and painting a bit easier for me than many shorter segments.

Painting the fences was a pretty straightforward shot in the paint booth. Tried black primer on these for the first time. Figured it would help to keep them from showing too much etched brass through on missed areas if I used black primer and then glossy paint over-top. Installation was fiddlier. They don’t have good long legs. I added a couple of pins to hit holes drilled in the scenery, but there are a couple of spots that are now begging for the scenery to be blended around them to hide glue marks. Oh well, it happens, fixable, but annoying!

Installed fences on the Toronto Carpet yard. I like the look of different fences. I know the modern site has a metalwork fence, Don’t know if the 1950’s era did, but I like the look, and can always change it later if I change my mind.

As with so many projects, it unlocks more to do, or uncovers, I don’t even know some days! Still, progress is always a positive! There is now another block of area where I can get in and apply some static grass and scenery, it shows how much I need to formulate my plan for finishing painting the roads to actually get started on doing so, especially back here at the hardest to reach area. Might as well start there so I never have to go back in there, and so I finish the area where I am reaching over the most other scenery first!

Don’t be afraid to do things over

When I started building Liberty Village in the summer of 2018, it was (and remains) far and away my biggest attempt at a layout or diorama. I am constantly learning and improving skills in many areas, one of which, is scenery. Some of the first scenery I did was in the staging yards, especially the CPR end in the closet as I wanted to be “done” in the most constricted working space. Over time, the quality of my early scenery between the staging traverser and the boundary of the layout has gnawed at me as not being good enough. There was a discernible line in quality between the earliest areas and the later areas as you come out of the closet, and it was bothering me.

So, at lunch today on a work from home day, I started scraping at the scenery to remove some of the old cover. When I did this part of the layout, I bought the wrong ScenicExpress dirt, I bought coarse sifted instead of fine, which meant it had large pebbles, virtual boulders in it. I sifted out the worst myself, and tried to hand remove the biggest, but the area looked entirely wrong for southern Ontario with these big rocks just sitting there. Then, on top of that, I used a heavy ground foam to create access roads and grass. It just looked awful, especially compared to the areas immediately adjacent with fine soil, and static grass applied. I know I can do better, so I worked to strip away the worst of what I had done, and re-do it.

Before, during and after today’s new ground cover. Even with the glue still setting, the area looks so much better.

I didn’t want, or need to strip away all the existing scenery back to styrofoam subbed. What was there will provide some texture, and some of it poking through isn’t going to be a bad thing for variety of appearance. Once I vacuumed up any scraped material, I laid new gravel roads, and then properly sifted soil. After that has had a couple of days to set up, I can go back and add detail colour and static grass to help blend this area into the layout.

I’ve been busy as well of late working on buildings for the layout, I will write about that progress this weekend, as there are some interesting continuing developments in my working with the Cricut. My message for now, don’t be afraid if something isn’t right and isn’t making you happy with your layout, to take it out and do it over. I am already much happier than I was when I look into this corner.