When things don’t go right

I have set myself here in February on a path to get done what I am calling my “base scenery”. Basically, I don’t want to see any more of the foam layer beneath the layout. I don’t necessarily mean having the scenery done, but I mean a layer of dirt material, or pavement as appropriate so everything is semi-presentable. I’m not expecting visitors soon, but I’ve decided that it’s time to advance some things that are easy and probably should have been done a while ago were it not for my being easily distracted by shiny side projects or my health issues through the back half of 2021.

Using crafting foam to create an impression of the track to cut interlocking brick styrene to pave the Toronto Carpet Factory courtyard.

First up, finishing some sidewalks and paved areas. This is pretty straightforward for the most part. Cut styrene to shape, install risers to get to the correct height, and install. The more complicated part was I decided to provide some visual interest by paving the Toronto Carpet Factory with interlocking brick styrene sheet rather than plain pavement. To do this, I used cheap craft foam to create a press impression of the track, so I could cut that out of the foam, and transfer it to the styrene to then trim that to get a good fit to the track. A similar technique was used for the plain white styrene sidewalks to make cutting templates for any areas where the curb wasn’t straight, and to mark locations for hydro poles sticking through the pavement. They are not fully installed yet as I need to paint them before they go down, but the work of creating the pieces is complete.

Moving on, I have started to put down Scenic Express fine sifted soil, my base dirt of choice. I have had great success with this so far on the layout and on the Canyon Road diorama, but I have run into a problem with my latest applications, and I’m not 100% sure of the cause. I was having issues with my sprayer that I use to wet groundcover after it is down to break the surface tension so my thinned glue flows to hold it in place, so I am not entirely sure that glue flowed properly. It is also winter, and the area I am working on is directly beneath an Hvac vent (the ducts in the layout room are in the ceiling). As you can see from the picture below, the soil did not glue all the way through, and it glued and cracked on the surface, easily pulling apart to reveal completely unglued soil. I am not entirely sure what the bigger factor was, other areas I laid last night that were not directly below the vent don’t seem to have cracked the same way, so I think its probably the hot air drying things out too fast, but I’m not sure. This weekend will be used to pull up bad laid ground to work on trying again, and hopefully pull out the airbrush to paint styrene pavement to install.

Toronto Carpet before soil, and the cracked and unglued soil the next day.

This is hardly a terminal setback, and probably one that if I hadn’t pulled apart the worst cracked area I could have left alone, but for my own piece of mind and future projects, I want to try and understand what happened so I can prevent it from happening again.

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.

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.

Switch Stands for Liberty Village

Continuing to work on scenery for Liberty Village, a year ago now I ordered some 3D printed CN and CP switch stands from Steve Hunter’s “Eastern Road Models” store on Shapeways. Recently I was reading my friend Matthieu Lachance’s blog and he wrote about his experience installing these switch stands. Seeing his post, it finally got me going on mine. I can’t install them all, but there are a half dozen spaces on my layout where I can start to add these to the scenery.

The bare 3D prints of the switch stands, CPR and CNR versions.

While I certainly am capable of designing these myself, why re-create the wheel? Steve Hunter’s done them, and they are excellent. On Liberty Village, most of my switch stands are CPR style, with open sides, and the remaining are Racor style CNR ones. The pictures I have all show the stands with short posts and the switch targets mounted on them. The 3D printed cores take a 0.015 wire for the rod to go through the main casting and have the target glued onto it. I used Tichy Phosphor Bronze wire as its strong and won’t bend unless I want it to sticking the long post in as a pin to place the stands on the layout and hold them for painting.

Assembling and priming the switch stands. Followed by a quick hit of yellow on the targets. A couple of days later, the targets were masked, and the stands hit with some Black-Grey. Wasn’t too picky about the colour, something flat and dark, as they will get a little bit of weathering powder to show some rust and help them pop.

With the stands assembled, or at least my first batch of them, it was off to the paint booth. I have saved scraps of the insulation used in building the layout. It comes in quite handy to make paint tools to hold parts, and its not something I need to worry about if it gets beaten up or if I need to cut it to change the size for a part. For paint on these, three passes, first Vallejo primer, then some Vallejo yellow on the targets. I didn’t wait on that, I sprayed the primer, and about 20 minutes later, hit the yellow. I wanted the yellow on before I sprayed the bases black, as its easier to mask a light colour than spray a light colour over black. I waited a couple of days on everything curing before spaying the black as I didn’t want my masks on the targets to pull away the paint if it wasn’t cured fully.

Installing the stands on my layout, is easy, just push them into the foam beneath the scenery. This means I can take them out for weathering, or for cleaning the track if needed. It also means they have a bit of flex for people operating and knocking them if they need to reach into the layout. Fortunately, almost all the stands are on the back side of the track, which reduces the risk someone reaching in will hit them.

Installed switch stands. They just poke into the foam underlay, so I can take them out as needed for cleaning track or doing scenery.

I am really happy with how these came out. Being 3D printed they are fragile, but I managed not to break any. Hopefully the other 8 I need to do when scenery progresses that far go as well. I’m also really glad to be able to help a fellow Canadian modeller/designer in the 3D printing universe by buying Steve Hunter’s stands. Its a small but growing group of modellers in the country who are making things we’ve designed available, and it hopefully helps us all to support each other.

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.

Slowly making progress

Well, I haven’t written about anything I’ve been working on in over a month. It isn’t because I haven’t made any progress, though truth be told, there hasn’t been a lot of progress. August was a very hot month, which makes my 3rd floor layout room where I am already spending 8 hours a day as my office for my day job a bit of a sauna. As I’ve written about more than once in the past 18 months, some times are better than others have been for mental state and motivation, and I have definitely been at a low ebb through August.

First up, in early August, the first bit of modern rolling stock I have bought in a long time came in. A Scale Trains “Rivet Counter” Gunderson Auto Max auto rack. For a diorama of Canyon Road, one of the main things seen on trains there is Auto Racks, so this was a must have type of car. The other still coming is a container well car, which do run here, but are the other ubiquitous modern rolling stock type out there these days. I still don’t have a modern locomotive (its coming, pre-order and wait is the way things are these days!), but having a modern freight car lets me make sure everything is good spacing wise.

Ooooh, some modern rolling stock finally arrived. One of two options for modern freight equipment I have ordered, confirming that the bridge will clear models.

I haven’t made a lot of progress on the diorama for a little bit, as I was waiting on a freight car to be 100% sure I had my clearances right. Now that I am, I have started puttering along again. I am working on the photo backdrop for the right hand end, that will represent the Niagara Escarpment in the distance when looking down the track, once this is sussed out, I will move on to ground cover and such. Before that, I also have the telegraph poles along the line I am working on. These are good as they are giving me some much needed practice with dry brushing and coming up with a way to give a little pop to the insulators, something I will need for the large number of poles on the main layout.

Testing paint technique on some scrap cross arms, the telegraph poles for the diorama ready to have the insulators painted, and the paints I am using.

For the insulators, I used Rix Products arms, they have nicely molded insulators, but they will look like nothing without some help from paint to make them stand out a bit. For this, I decided to try a two stage approach. First touch the insulators with some aluminum paint (its what I had, really I think it just needs to be a metallic ish metal like Steel or Aluminum. Doesn’t need to be perfect, just a quick swirl around each of the insulators. In a pinch silver would do as I don’t think you’ll notice after the second stage. The second stage is to touch on some Tamiya clear paint. I amusing two, the clear smoke, and clear green. When I do the actual poles, unlike my test ones, I will also use some white paint for white porcelain insulators. The common colours I see of glass insulators are smokey clear and green, so the Tamiya paints are perfect. I haven’t done the ones for the diorama yet, but I had lots of miscut length and spares from making the layout hydro poles, so as you can see above, I played around with them to see how it looks. I think it captures the look, even in a poorly lit cellphone photo.

The effect I am going for, one of the telegraph poles at Canyon Road in Cambpelville.