N Scale Layout #3 (2006-2007) - Flat and Industrial, Part 1

Back in December of 2005 I decided to get back into model railroading after being away from the hobby for a few years. I no longer had the space available in the ol' pool room to take on a really big project (ala my first N scale layout), so instead I opted to try out Woodland Scenic's "Scenic Ridge" mini-layout kit. At 6' X 3' (and constructed entirely out of foam) it was plenty small and plenty portable (and since I was building the whole thing on top of my pool table, it definitely needed to be portable).

Scenic Ridge

It took me seven months to complete the project, and over that time I was able to reacquaint myself with the ins and outs of layout construction as well as rediscover all of my various personal likes and dislikes. One conclusion I came to right away is that I really get a kick out of building small, portable layouts. You get to enjoy all of the various tasks associated with designing and building a layout, and at the same time things move along really quickly (relatively speaking). And the good news with a small layout is that, once completed, it's simple enough to just tear it down and start a new one. And since I learned a long time ago that I derive most of my enjoyment from the actual building of a layout, as opposed to operations (where all I really care about is being able to watch my trains run around in circles), all the better.

As luck would have it, I actually wound up selling my Scenic Ridge layout to a local train enthusiast and managed to recoup much of my investment, so it's all good (my wife said I should go into the layout construction business, but somehow I don't see much future in spending half a year building a layout and then selling it for no profit).

Scenic Ridge turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag for me. I picked it up because I didn't want to think too hard about designing a layout, however I think things turned out quite the opposite. SR is (as I came to learn) basically a teaching tool, serving to acquaint the novice modeler with pretty much all of Woodland Scenics' various products in one compact package. But as an actual model railroad, it leaves a lot to be desired. The track plan and the layout of the various roads and buildings don't really make a whole lot of sense (something which I struggled with mightily). And although a very cute little layout, it does incorporate a whole lot of features that I thought I'd sworn off after my last layout - namely lengthy tunnels, sharp curves and steep grades.

But, as mentioned previously, SR did help me to identify the things I really like about layout construction and, even more importantly, the things I really hate. So, about halfway through the project I started developing a laundry list in my head of all the things I was going to do (and not do) on my next layout:

- First and foremost, I want to be able to run two trains at the same time (actually, three would be ideal, but then you're talking about a much bigger layout than I'm interested in tackling).

- As mentioned above, no lengthy tunnels, no curves sharper than 11" radius and no grades steeper than 3% (or even 2% if I can manage it).

- I'm not a big fan of constructing great swaths of mountainous terrain (and wrangling all of that plaster cloth), so this one is going to be fairly flat (at least as compared to SR).

- I actually like the back-and-forth/over-and-under flow of the SR track plan, and I think I can incorporate something similar in my new layout. And since I'm embiggening the whole thing from 6' X 3' to 9' X 5' (large enough to cover my entire pool table), I should be able to widen and lengthen SR's basic plan enough to provide some decent breathing room.

- For various reasons, I don't like Woodland Scenic's foam roadbed and plan on switching back to traditional cork roadbed (that is, if I even use roadbed at all - I haven't quite decided yet).

- I prefer a layout theme that is built more around industry and railroading, as opposed to SR's "theme" (if you want to call it that) of a lot of rural terrain surrounding a small town. What I envision is a large yard with accompanying support structures (yard office, engine service and fueling facilities, etc) and then a couple of major rail-served industries (depending on what fits where), all in a generally grungy industrial environment.

- I've always been a big fan of bridges, so I'd like to find spots for a couple.

- I like the idea of having "backboard" industries (where you basically just construct some building facades and stick them to the back wall of the layout). I've never tried anything like that, so that'll be something new and interesting to try out. Seems like a neat way to increase the industrial footprint without having to deal with all the accompanying (and boring) "support" crap (parking lots, access roads, etc).

- I'm not fond of huge amounts of vegetation (trees, bushes, etc) and I hope to keep that nonsense to a minimum.

- As relatively user-friendly as Woodland Scenic's "road system" is, I still hate it and hope to keep the roads, parking lots and grade crossings to a minimum (probably a pipe dream, but one can always hope).

- Water is always fun, and if I can find a spot for a small stream or pond, I'll certainly put one in.

- I'm not quite ready to tackle modeling a prototypical railroad (as opposed to the complete fantasies I've built thus far), so once again I imagine I'll just plunk down whatever tickles my fancy. Maybe I'll finally get serious on that "next" one...

So, those are some of my basic ideas. I've never been one to spend a whole lot of time pre-planning a layout, and my general modus operendi has been to build a base and then start filling it up with as much track as will reasonably fit, just to sort of get the basic flow of the trains figured out. After that it's all pretty organic- decide on what buildings I want and then see where they will or won't fit and modify the track accordingly. Job #1 is to get to the train-running stage as quickly as possible, though- after that I can take my time and work on whatever it is I happen to be in the mood for on any given day. As I've stated in the past, I think too many people get bogged down in the planning and pre-operational stages of their layouts and wind up losing interest and quitting because they were never able to get down to what attracted them to the hobby in the first place - namely, playing with all the fun toys! Just being able to run a little train around in circles on a barebones layout always seems to give me the extra shot of energy I need to get on with the more tedious aspects of layout construction. Plus, the sooner you get to running trains, the sooner you'll be able to identify all the problem areas that require attention. And it's always easier to fix that stuff at the beginning, as opposed to later on.

So, I guess my first step is to raid Home Depot for some foam and get after building that base.

08/02/06 - The base is built

I picked up about twenty bucks worth of foam insulation from Home Depot and set about building a base for my layout. At first I thought I could just construct a single layer with the edges resting on the pool table "rails", but the foam turned out to be too saggy for that. So instead, I took three long pieces of 1.5" foam, glued them together and put them on the table top. Next I glued six sheets of .75" foam on top of that. That wound up coming right up to the top of the table rails, so I was then able to glue eight more sheets of the .75" foam on top of that, with the edges resting comfortably on top of the table rails. I cut the foam with my Woodland Scenics "Hot Wire" tool, glued it together with WS "Foam Tack Glue" and held it in place while drying with WS "Foam Nails" (T-Pins).

Once I'd finished it became quickly obvious that I'd gone way too big with the thing. I tried picking it up and hauling it up the stairs, but it was simply too wide and too long to make the journey. So, I trimmed some off the edges and took it down from 9' X 5' to 7'6" X 4'4". Not quite as vast of an empire as I had originally planned, but portability is a must. So, oh well. Adapt, compromise and move on.

The final step was to seal all of the joints with strips of WS plaster cloth. It covers up all of the tell-tale seams and firms up the joints.

I've been advised that the "pink" (or "blue", depending on what part of the country you live in) foam insulation one finds next to the white stuff actually works better for model railroading. It's much sturdier, less messy and can even be sanded and sculpted. I'm not much in the mood to switch now, but I'll probably check it out for my next layout.

08/09/06 - Painted the base and started kanoodling with the track

I brushed a layer of cheap brown laytex interior paint on the base - it's all going to get landscaped over eventually, but that's not going to happen for months, and in the meantime I don't want to be saddled with a lot of grungy looking white styrofoam.

I also started experimenting around with figuring out where I'm going to put my track. First things first, I started with the yard. Basically I'm going to have the two mains running down the middle (interconnected so trains can switch from one main loop to the other). Each main has two sidings long enough to accommodate a decent sized train, and each siding has a Micro-Trains magnet track for decoupling (two on the south end of the yard and two on the north end). I also stuck a little spur off of the north end to go off to some kind of diesel maintenance/storage area. I may do the same thing off the south end, only with steam support structures (or not, I haven't really decided yet).

For the most part I'm going with Atlas Code 80 sectional track. It's cheap, it's easy to work with and it's readily obtained from Ye Olde Local Hobby Shop. I toyed with the idea of switching over to Atlas's new Code 55 track, but given all the old locomotives (from the deep-flange days) that I like to run, it just seemed like asking for trouble. I sure don't want to mess around with trying to convert them to low-profile wheelsets. I'm also staying away from flex track. I'm not a big fan of cutting and soldering (if I can avoid it), plus it's virtually impossible to design a layout "on the fly" (as is my won't) if you're not using all sectional track.

I think I've dropped about $300 so far on track, most of that going towards turnouts. I'm sticking with narrow radius turnouts, and for the most part, I'm getting the ones that come sans switch machine. I did pick up a few that have the switch machines just because they work better with non-affixed track and will allow me to start running trains around right away. Eventually they'll all be set up with Caboose Industries groundthrows (the Atlas switch machines are butt ugly, and although ridiculously out of scale, the Caboose groundthrows at least look more or less prototypical). The narrow radius turnouts leave the yard tracks a little farther apart than I'd like to see, but the trade-off is that you get longer sidings.

One thing I did discover about the Caboose groundthrows (on Scenic Ridge) is that they don't work very will in tight yard situations where you have to put a groundthrow between two parallel tracks. You have to modify them (shorten the slidebars) and situate them fairly close to the rails (where they tend to become obstacles for rolling stock with low-hanging protrusions like steps and whatnot). So, for the four turnouts that connect the two main lines I opted for Pecos. These are sprung and click into place without the aid of any kind of outside switch machine.

I've been told that since I'm going to be using DCC on this layout, that I should go with the "electric frog" Pecos (as opposed to the "insulated frog" versions). Apparantly the insulated frog Pecos are prone to short-circuits in DCC situations (then again, that could just be a lot of internet BS, but at this point I'm not interested in offering up my layout as a guinae pig). The only downside with the electro-frogs is that they do complicate the wiring situation somewhat. On small layouts like this, I've generally been able to get by with a single set of feeder wires from the power supply. However, the electro-frog turnouts require insulating joiners on the inner two rails of the frog end of each turnout, and consequently, all sorts of additional feeder wires are required. Basically I now need individual sets of feeder wires for each main loop as well as for the two short sections of track between the two turnouts on each main (for the mathamatically impaired, that makes four sets). Kind of a pain, but I'd rather go this route than use ugly Atlas switch machines or have my cabooses crash into modified groundthrows. And so, you ask, why not just eschew switch machines entirely and go with all Pecos? Well, apart from the wiring issues, they also cost twice as much as Atlas turnouts. And given the plethora of turnouts on this layout (already up to 16 and counting), that would add up to some serious gelt.

Another complication arising from the Pecos is that they only come in "wide" and "medium" radius versions - IE, there isn't a Peco turnout of the same radius as my Atlas narrow radius turnouts (not that I've been able to find anyway). The upshot of all that being that I need to custom cut some sections of straight track in the yard to accommodate the Pecos. No big deal though, as I always wind up cutting my own bits and pieces of custom track anyway, regardless of what kind of turnouts I'm using.

Anyway, I basically ran the outer loop in a grand oval around the outside of the layout (and added a long siding off the west edge for some as yet undetermined backboard industries). The inner loop will eventually follow (I hope) the general contours of the Scenic Ridge loop. The good news is that so far I've been able to stick to 19" radius curves for the most part (and no 9.75" radius curves at all). Nevertheless, I'm becoming concerned that I'm eventually going to have to make some major compromises to my initial layout plan. That outer loop is seriously boring looking, and I'm already thinking that I'm probably going to have to hide some of it inside of a tunnel just to break up the monotony. And given the fact that I had to trim 8 inches off the overall width of the base (to retain portability), I don't think I'm going to be able to keep my promise to myself to stay away from steep grades. There's no way I'm going to be able to climb two inches from the front of the layout to the back (and do the over/under Scenic Ridge thing) with a mere 2% grade. I might be able to get away with 3% on the outer loop, but the inner loop is going to have to be 4% for sure. Oh well, I'll have a better idea once I finish laying the inner loop and see what I wind up with.

08/10/06 - Finished mocking up the main track loops

Well, I guess that's more or less how the mainlines are going to flow (although, no doubt things will wind up changing when I actually get down to fixing everything in place - nothing is quite so misleading as free-floating sectional track). Eventually there will be sidings for the major industries (looks like I'll have to come up with two, if not three of them), but I'm not ready to worry about all of that quite yet.

At this point I'm a little less concerned about the incline situation. It occurred to me that the only places that literally need be raised 2" off the base are the two points where the inner loop crosses over itself. And I think I'll have plenty of distance over which to make that climb, so I should be able to get by with the 2% inclines there. And as for the track that needs to climb to the back of the layout, there really isn't any reason that is has to climb the full 2". I can probably get away with only raising up the back section 1.5", and thus be able to get by with 2% grades there as well.

On the other hand, I still have this burgeoning tunnel issue to ponder. The two outer loops of track on the southern end of the layout are simply crying out to be concealed by a tunnel (in the picture above, I'm calling the bottom "south"). The problem is, we're talking close to 3' worth of tunnel, covering one section of track that's going to be curving and another section of track that's going to be both inclined and curving (yikes). Talk about asking for trouble! Fortunately, it's right along the edge of the layout, so I could build access panels to make the track, well, accessable. So, I dunno. Maybe it's completely insane, but I think the layout is going to look a whole lot better with some of that track covered up. Otherwise, I'm afraid it's all going to wind up looking like some kid's 'round-the-xmas-tree layout. Well, whatever. First I need to worry about mocking up the inclines. Then I'll be able to get a better handle on the whole tunnel situation.

08/11/06 - Finished mocking up the inclines and risers

This all turned out pretty well. By not trying to run all the way up to 2" along the back side (west) of the layout, I was able to keep all of the inclines to 2%. Better still, most of the curves are 19" radius (with a couple of 11 inchers thrown in for good measure, but zero 9.75" curves), so I should be able to operate longer trains and bigger locomotives more reliably than I wound up being able to on Scenic Ridge. Once again, major kudos to Woodland Scenics for inventing these flexible inclines and risers. A total joy to work with, and without them I would've bailed on this hobby long ago.

I decided to remove the locomotive maintenance spur from the north end of the yard - there's just not enough room for the 3-4 buildings I'd like to put there. Instead, what I'm going to do is run a spur off of the west side of the yard off into that large triangular area. There should be plenty of room for fueling facilities, a maintenance building, a yard office and whatever else I decide I want to put in there.

I've definitely decided to go with a couple of tunnels on the south end of the layout. It's mostly straight track (or 19" curves), the grade on the outside track is relatively gentle and it's all near enough to the edge of the layout that I can put in access panels for rescuing stalled trains, cleaning the track, etc.

So, the next step is to pick up some cork roadbed and start getting this stuff glued down. Yes, I've definitely decided to go with prefab roadbed again, if for no other reason than it helps deaden the racket my trains would otherwise make rolling along on top of naked foam.

08/14/06 - Glued down the yard roadbed and track

On previous layouts where I had to put down roadbed for a yard, I always put down individual strips for each track, with a "ditch" (or gutter or whatever you want to call it) in between. This never looked quite right to me, and after scouting out some local yards I think I finally understand why. From what I've observed, you only find a discernable lip on the outer tracks - the inner tracks and ballast (what there is of it) is all pretty much at the same level right across. So, with that in mind I put the strips with the beveled edges along the outside of the yard and then just ran an uninterrupted surface of flat-edged strips right the way across.

For the necks, I put the beveled-edge strips down along the outside and then filled in with varying lengths of flat edged roadbed. And rather than trying to cut all sorts of crazy angled pieces, I just filled in the open spaces with actual ballast (following the traditional steps of soaking it with wet water, and then fixing it in place with Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement).

For roadbed, I just grabbed whatever cork roadbed they had on hand at Ye Olde LHS (Midwest Products Co, as it turns out). I glued it in place with WS Foam Tack Glue and held it in place while it dried with T-Pins. Once dry, I put down the track (also glued down with FTG and held in place with T-Pins). To make sure everything was straight and correctly spaced, I made use of a handy little jig that came with my MLR "Deluxe Tool Set" (an assortment of handy track laying tools). Basically a little plastic block with grooves in it, you slide it along between two sets of parallel tracks and it pulls them into alignment for you. After that, I carefully inspected each track segment for rail joiners that didn't get connected properly (found about a half dozen of the suckers too!)

Once dry, I turned my finickest assortment of locomotives (long steamers with lots of drivers and long six-axle diesels) loose on the track to make sure everything was functional. As always, if you've got a troublesome turnout or a kinked-up joint or something, it's best to find and fix it now rather than later on.

08/14/06 - Finished the wiring (such as it is)

For the four sets of feeder wires, I glued a couple of Atlas "Connector" boxes to the underside of the layout (that lip I had to build to accommodate the pool table rails came in damned handy). These take two input wires which can then be split out into three pairs of output wires (per box). Multiple boxes can be connected in parallel, so one set of feeder wires can be split out into as many output pairs as you need. They also have the added functionality of allowing you to turn each output pair "on" or "off" with a switch (handy for finding shorts). Normally I would have mounted all of this stuff on my control platform, but since this layout needs to remain portable, I only wanted one set of wires running from said platform to the layout.

In case you were wondering about my command platform, it's the exact same one I used for Scenic Ridge. I purchased a cheapie lectern upon which to mount my Lenz DCC "Set 100" (powered by the Atlas "generator" from my old Atlas MasterDCC system) as well as a cheapie "Railpower" DC powerpack for when I want to run trains the old-fashioned way. The programming track is glued right to the top of the lectern, along with an Atlas "Controller" box (which allows me to switch between piping DC or DCC to the rails). I have one set of wires running from the command platform to the layout, with some automotive electrical connector plugs spliced in so that I can readily disconnect the layout from the power when I need to move everything out of the way in order to play some pool. The lectern has a handy shelf underneath where I keep the Lenz command unit, the Atlas generator, a power strip, a fascia for connecting my Lenz throttle and USB interface (the latter allowing me to connect my laptop to the command station for the purposes of running trains and programming decoders). It's also a handy place for keeping assorted manuals, track cleaning tools and whatnot. All in all, a very nifty setup.

08/17/06 - Started gluing down the risers and inclines

Well, enough dicking around I guess, time to start taking the glue to some of this stuff. First I affixed all of the risers and inclines for the outer loop, starting at the north end of the yard and working around to the south end. Next, the inner loop. Again, I started at the north end of the yard and started working my way around to the south. Once I got to the first section where the loop passes over itself, I had to stop and figure out just what the hell I'm going to do down there vis-a-vis tunnels and bridges.

Now, the one bummer about these flexible risers and inclines is that you can't start putting track and roadbed on top until you've covered it all up with plaster cloth (to get rid of the flex gaps). But, since the positioning of these tunnels mouths and bridges needs to be relatively exact, I decided to go ahead and glue down what roadbed and track I could (the stuff resting on the base). So, I affixed the inner loop as it comes south out of the yard and enters the (eventual) tunnel area. As it turns out, I lucked out and wound up with a section of straight track on the upper section right where it intersects the lower, so great, perfect spot for a bridge.

So, I guess now it's time for a trip down to Ye Olde LHS to acquire some bridges and tunnel mouths. Then I can get on with finishing up the inclines and risers.

08/17/06 - Installed some bridges and made the inner loop operational

Before I could get on with gluing down the inner loop risers and inclines, I needed to get some danged bridges in there and run some trains around to make sure the whole plan wasn't a dud from the get-go. I've never had a double-length bridge before, so I picked up a couple of Atlas "Warren Truss" bridges for the center cross-over. Then, for variety, I put an Atlas "Plate Girder" bridge over the western cross-over. And lo, once the bridges were installed, the inner loop did in fact turn out to be able to run trains (always a plus on a model railroad).

As far as the tunnels go, at this point it looks like I'm going to have to put a double-width one at the south end of the yard (sending both lines off into the dark simultaneously). The inner loop is going to emerge just prior to running under the plate girder bridge (too weird? we'll see), and the outer loop is going to emerge in pretty much the same vicinity, just a little higher up. At this point I have no idea how I'm going to landscape over the tops of these tunnels, or what (if anything) is going to go up there. I guess I'll worry about that in the semi-near future.

So, the next step is to finish gluing down the remaining risers and inclines and then get on with plaster-izing them. And I guess I also need to start thinking about the industries. Where should they go? At what level? And how the heck are the workers going to get there? Blimey, access roads?! Possibly the greatest bane of the "on-the-fly" model railroad designer! If I could do away with automobiles and assume that everyone just got around on trains, life would be so much simpler...

08/21/06 - Finished gluing down the risers and inclines and covering them with plaster cloth

Well, I'm definitely married to this track plan now. Now it's just a matter of getting the rest of the roadbed and track glued down and I can start running some trains around.

I decided to slice off a chunk of riser and add a second section of plate girder bridge over on the west side. I really like the double-length bridge look (although, I must admit that a double-length plate bridge doesn't look nearly as cool as a double-length truss bridge). Apart from the coolness factor, I also needed some extra room to work with over there for when it comes time to figure out just where I'm going to put the lower-loop tunnel mouth. To stabilize the bridges, I picked up an assortment of Chooch Enterprises bridge abutments.

Since I'm going to be gluing down all of this mainline track shortly, I figured it was now or never as far as deciding just where I want the industrial sidings to go. I decided to put one turnout just south of the truss bridges leading off into the southern loop of the central "figure eight". I plan on raising this whole area up to the level of the track (IE, 2" off the base). I put a second turnout undernearth the truss bridges, leading off into the north loop of the figure eight. At least for now, the plan is build that area right on the base. Finally, I added a third turnout just north of the plate bridges leading into the triangular area west of the figure eight. Unfortunately, this turnout wound up on an incline. Not my first choice, but there really wasn't any other way to get track in there. I plan to raise this area 2" off the base as well.

I decided to go ahead and replace the sharp radius turnouts I had used on the "backboard" siding with some broader "#6" turnouts. Since the actual siding (where freight will be spotted) is on the straight section of track along the (eventual) backboard, the mainline trains will actually have to take the inner section of track (and consequently, go through those two turnouts) each time "around the horn". The sharp radius turnouts would have made for some fairly violent "S" curves as said trains entered and exited each turnout (always a recipe for unplanned decoupling and/or derailments), so I figured I'd better ease up on the angles a bit with some #6's. This does have the added benefit of breaking up the "boring oval around the edge of the layout" affect that I wound up with on my initial track plan. It should also make a nice place to put a passenger station.

Finally, I think I'm starting to get a handle on where I'm going to put the boring old roads. One will enter somewhere along the southwestern edge of the layout (atop the tunnels), make a grade crossing into the southern loop of the figure eight and enter the southern industrial area. From there, the road will take a bridge over the lower loop and enter the triangular area west of the "eight", make a grade crossing into the upper loop of the eight and then descend an incline to the base. From there, the road will make a grade crossing into the locomotive maintenance area west of the yard. That's a lot of road and at least three grade crossings, so I guess my plan to avoid using Woodland Scenic's "Road System" is pretty much out the window at this point. So, oh well. As much as my layouts are "fantasy" creations, I do feel compelled to at least make the occasional nod towards reality.

08/22/06 - The trains, they be a' runnin'

I finished gluing down the roadbed and track for the outer loop, and I have to say I'm pretty damned geeked about the results. I never know what to expect (and I generally expect the worst), but things turned out bloody perfect. Once everything dried and the T-Pins were pulled, I literally spent hours running the longest trains I could muster (14 assorted box cars, tank cars, and hoppers plus a caboose) using my longest and finickiest assortment of diesels and steamers. Through turnouts and sidings, up and down grades, through curves, the whole deal- and I'll be damned if there wasn't so much as a hiccup the whole time. I'm starting to think that I might actually know what I'm doing

So, wow, time to get after that inner loop. Here's hoping for similar success.

08/24/06 - Weathered the bridges and bridge abutments, prepped the bridge underpasses, installed the groundthrows and laid a bunch more track

I have a pretty simple system for weathering plastic models- spray paint, weatherwash, and Bragdon powder. For the bridges, I first sprayed them with a coat of Floquil Railroad Colors "Grimy Black" paint to kill that shiny "new plastic" look. Next I applied a light dusting of Bragdon rust, followed by a layer of Bragdon black (for more on Bragdon's fine weathering products, see my Scenic Ridge page).

For the abutments, I started with a layer of all-purpose "weatherwash" (a few drops of black India Ink added to a bottle of rubbing alcohol). This adds a light, grimy layer that helps bring out all the cracks and crevices and fine details. Then I finished up with a layer of Bragdon gray.

As I learned on Scenic Ridge, trying to work underneath bridges sucks. So, before putting the bridges in place I went ahead and took care of some business down there. First I installed the groundthrow for the turnout underneath the truss bridges. Next I painted the track (a light layer of Grimy Black to dull the shine on the ties, joiners and rail sides). Lastly, I ballasted the track and roadbed. And since I was in groundthrow mode anyway, I decided to go ahead and install them on the rest of the layout.

I also managed to get about three-quarters of the inner loop track and roadbed glued down, so I should be able to finish the rest of that up in my next session. Can you say "running two trains at the same time"? Boo-yah!

08/29/06 - The two mainlines are well and truly laid!

Hey, look at me, running two trains all at the same time 'n' shit. Oops, there goes my "G" rating. Ah well, good thing this blog doesn't record what I say when things aren't going well.

Actually, after running around all kinds of different combinations of locomotives and rolling stock, I did identify a number of problems areas. The first was a curve on the inner loop that I had forced into going places that the sectional track really didn't want to go - winding up with a serious kink in what was otherwise supposed to be a smooth curve. After having more than a few 6-axle diesels hop the rails over there, I decided to just bite the bullet and get the damn thing fixed. Fortunately, fixing track at this stage is pretty simple - I just pried it up off the roadbed with a paint scraper and then relaid the whole curve using the custom cut piece of track that I should have used in the first place.

I had a similar situation with one of the turnouts at the south end of the yard - the rails had popped out of their little plastic "spikes" on the "entry" end at some point, and although I thought I could get away with relying on the connecting section of track to hold the rails in place, it turns out I was (of course) wrong. Yah, it worked most of the time for most locomotives, but it didn't pass the "let a train being pulled by a finnicky steamer run around for three hours unattended" test. So, to save myself headaches later on, I just pried the whole damned thing up and replaced it with a new switch. Problem solved.

I guess my system is pretty simple - I just put a couple of trains together and then let them run around for hours while I attend to other things (playing games on my laptop, building models, tinkering with locomotives, weathering rolling stock, composing these eddifying little missives, whatever - hell, as I type this I have two trains running around in the background). Apart from the fact that I just find the sound of model trains strangely soothing, itís pretty much the only way to insure that the track is going to be reliable down the line. And now is definitely the time to identify and fix all the problems - before the ballast and the scenery and the buildings and everything else. Itís certainly time well spent because nothing kills my enthusiasm for model railroading so much as balky and/or derailed trains!

08/30/06 - Completed my first building

I have no idea where I'm going to put it yet, but building Atlas's classic "Signal Tower" kit for all of my layouts has been a long-standing tradition with me (this must be at least my sixth iteration). Pretty simple project - follow the instructions, glue it together, then hit it with a dose of weather-wash followed by various shades of Bragdon weathering powder to ancient-ize it a bit.

08/31/06 - Started mocking up the tunnels and raised industrial areas

I started in on wrangling foam for the two upper industrial areas and the tunnels. After my experiences with cutting foam on Scenic Ridge using Woodland Scenics "Hot Wire" tool, I decided this time around to also pick up a Woodland Scenics "Hot Knife". Good decision, because cutting the pieces that make up the raised-up industrial areas was much simplified using said knife. The wire is great, but it's very tough to use when you need to make cuts that are either very deep into the foam or don't necessarily start at an edge. For the industrial areas, I simply laid a piece of foam on top of where I wanted it to go and then cut it using the surrounding risers as a guide for the knife - very slick and very easy. Yes, the knife is quite a bit more expensive than the wire, but I recommend having both on hand.

Once I started in on the tunnels, I spent a lot of time puzzling over just what the heck I wanted to do with them - at least as far as how the tunnel roofs should be configured and what, ultimately, is going to go on top of them. I keep waffling back and forth between a couple of options- I could make them flat right the way across and put buildings on top (maybe the edges of a small town or something), or I could allow them to follow the same general grade of the outer loop and make them barren landscape (with maybe a stream thrown in for variety). At the moment I'm kind of leaning toward the latter option, but I guess I'll just have to continue mocking things up and see what happens.

More perplexing is the whole issue of an access road. Running a road from the edge of the layout, over the top of the tunnels and into the lower industrial area is still my simplest option as far as providing realistic road access to the great "beyond" outside the layout. Anyplace else and I'm looking at multiple grade crossings over semi-parallel stretches of track that aren't necessarily even at the same elevation. Trouble is, given the elevation of the tunnel roofs and the relatively short spaces between the tunnel walls and said lower industrial area, any road is going to have to be ridiculously steep to get from point A to point B. So, I dunno, at this point I'm thinking I need to find someplace else for the road to enter the layout - probably up in the northwest corner someplace. Not having to worry about putting a road on top should help simplify the whole task of laying out the tunnels.

09/07/06 - Finished some more structures

I suppose at this point you're asking yourself, "Just what in the hell is that supposed to be?" Well, smartass, what you're looking at is my diesel fueling facility (although I kind of doubt there's a prototypical structure out there even remotely similar). I took Model Power's simplistic little "Tank Filling Station" kit and started out by assembling the base platform and then spraying the whole thing with Floquil "Grimy Black". Next I applied a little bit of Bragdon rust and a whole lot of Bragdon black.

Now, the kit comes with a rather humorous assortment of widgety little bits of tank and plumbing, all injected using a nightmarish assortment of circus colors. Having no idea what (if anything) they're supposed to represent in reality, I just went ahead and grabbed a random assortment and sprayed them with flat white paint. After gluing them onto the platform (completely randomly), I brushed on some gloss black "fuel spills" to cover up the glue and then applied some Bragdon black to age the spills a bit. Finally, I brushed a bit of Bragdon black onto the various bits of plumbing. What the hell is it all supposed to be? Beats me, but it looks like fuel might come out of it so it's going into my locomotive maintenance area as a fuel pumping facility some day.

For the storage tanks I picked up the new "Cornerstone Modulars" storage tank pack. What you see is what you get- a random assortment of different storage tanks. I glued 'em together, sprayed 'em with flat white paint and then applied a bit of Bragdon rust. I don't suppose I'll use them all for the fueling facility, but no doubt they'll come in handy elsewhere as well.

Obviously I've been procrastinating about getting on with that damned tunnel. This invariably happens when I'm not quite sure what I want to do, and not quite sure whether or not I'm going to be happy with the results. Oh well, as they say in Nike-land, I suppose I should "just do it" and see where it gets me.

09/14/06 - More new structures

I decided to try out a couple of these Rix "Pike Stuff" buildings for my yard. They basically all consist of the same small selection of parts that can be modified and reconfigured into just about any kind of generic modern-era yard building you might want. I picked up their two-stall enginehouse kit, mainly because I wanted something relatively small and contemporary looking (as near as I can tell, most of the small enginehouse kits currently available are more or less steam era). I also picked up their yard office kit. Once again, it's just about the right size for my purposes and it looks very much like the kind of buildings I've seen on my visits to real rail yards.

The wall sections have various "cut lines" on the inside, indentations that allow you to slice out additional windows and doors as well as change the height of the walls. The roof pieces are similarly delineated, allowing you to change the size of the roof. For the enginehouse, I decided to leave well enough alone and just build it the way it came.

Unfortunately, Rix decided to go with just about the ugliest combination of colors imaginable (baby blue walls and white everything else), so pretty much everything required paint. Prior to assembly, I sprayed the walls with Floquil "Concrete" (which, after weathering, winds up looking more or less gray) and the roof with Floquil "Grimy Black". I'm always leery about doing any kind of painting before assembly because glue and paint just don't get along very well. But since I wasn't keen on hand-brushing all of the trim pieces, I decided to just live with the glue/paint mess.

I must say, the instructions included with these kits leave a lot to be desired. They don't really give you any kind of step-by-step visual diagrams, and I wound up having to unstick and start over on a lot of stuff that I screwed up the first time through.

Anyway, once I finally figured out what the hell I was doing and got everything put together, I went ahead and slathered on a layer of heavy weatherwash and then hit the roof with Bragdon black and the walls with Bragdon gray (along with some extra touches of black over the door openings - y'know, diesel exhaust). And just for grins, I stuck a couple of UP decals over the doors. Despite my difficulties with the instructions, I think overall it turned out pretty decent looking.

The yard office was a bit more problematic. The wall pieces come with precious few pre-cut door and window openings, so my first job was to cut more. This turned out to be a surprisingly challenging task. I don't know what the best tool for performing this cutting might be, but I have a feeling it's neither an Exacto knife nor a box cutter. I tried both, and the openings I wound up with were not sufficient to accommodate the door and window inserts as provided with the kit. So, I pulled out my files and set about straightening and widening the openings. After much elbow grease, I did eventually get the openings wide enough and (more or less) straight enough to accommodate the doors and windows. Unfortunately, I have to say I wasn't particularly pleased with the rather raggedy looking end-results. But I figured, once everything was painted and (severely) weathered, it would at least be passable.

Not wanting to deal with the glue/paint feud I went through on the enginehouse, I decided to just go ahead and assemble everything prior to painting and let the chips fall where they may. So, I glued in the doors and windows, assembled the walls and sprayed the whole thing with Floquil Concrete. Same thing with the roof- I assembled all of the pieces and then sprayed them with Grimy Black.

Now the fun really starts.

My first schocking revelation was that my roof was too danged big. I missed the part in the instructions that said I needed to trim a bit off of each roof section to make the roof assembly fit on this particlar building (no such modifications were needed on the enginehouse and I guess I fell victim to kit auto-pilot disease). So, I tore the assembled roof apart, trimmed off the necessary strips, glued it all back together and prepared to stick it on top of the walls. It was at this point that I decided I just didn't want a two-story yard office. Call me a victim of rampant aesthetical compulsion, but plunking a yard office down next to an enginehouse and having them both be the same height just looked plain weird to me. Plus, I've seen a few yard offices on my journeys, and ain't none of them ever been two stories. So, rather than hate my layout forever, I decided to just bite the bullet, rip the walls apart and trim them back to one story. And awfully glad I am that I did, because I think it looks pretty perfect now.

Once (finally) assembled, I brushed the doors and window frames with Floquil "Antique White" (deciding to save myself some headaches, I left the corner trim pieces be). Finally, I hit the roof with Bragdon black and the walls with Bragon gray. The end result isn't half bad, and although I'm still not particularly happy with the raggedy window/door openings, from five feet away who's going to notice anyway?

09/17/06 - Put the roof on the tunnel (finally)

Well, it's done. It looks a bit strange at this stage, but once I get it covered up with plaster cloth it should look a lot better. I decided it was going to be pointless to try to build more industry up there, so I gave up on the idea of trying to keep everything level and just went ahead and let the slants and angles do what they wanted to do. I think what I might try to do now is build a dairy farm up there and cover up the rest of the foam with rolling pasture. I'd still like to fit a stream in there someplace, and if the opportunity presents itself, that's just what I'm going to do. The southeast edge (with its flat facade) looks like a perfect place for a little waterfall. I've never tried to build one of those before, so that should be kinda cool.

I built some long tunnels on my first N scale layout and made the mistake of making them extremely difficult to access. Having learned my lesson on that whole deal, I put in five (count 'em, five) lengthy access panels, so rescuing stalled/derailed trains (and even cleaning the track) is going to be very easy. I thought cutting said panels would be a perfect job for the hot knife, but no such luck. The knife is great for cutting countours, but the blade is way too thick and way too hot for cutting thin slits, so I wound up simply cutting them out with a small saw. Kind of a mess, but I didn't have any better ideas. Once I get to the plaster cloth stage, I'm going to have to apply some to the openings and to the panels. Otherwise I'm going to wind up spending the rest of my life chasing after little foam beads.

Now that I've started on the back wall, I guess I should start investigating my options vis'a'vis that background industry I wanted to add. I really wish I'd made the whole thing about an inch wider because right now I just don't have much room to work with over there - maybe 3/4 of an inch at most. Whatever I build is going to have to be awfully slim!

09/17/06 - Another new structure

Whatever the layout, I always seem to wind up finding a spot for Model Power's goofy prebuilt water tower (the silver one with the blinky red light on top). Out of the package it's pretty lame looking, but with a bit of modification it's not a bad little structure. Good thing too, because there just aren't very many other municipal-type water tower options available in N scale right now.

The first thing I did was to remove the wiring, the base from the bottom of the tower and the base from the bottom of the tank. Next, I sprayed the whole thing with flat white paint. Then, for giggles, I added some UP decals. After hitting the decals with some flat finish, I then applied varying shades of Bragdon to dirty it up and add some rust. Prototypical? Gad, I have no idea. It's more of an aesthic thing with me- adding a nice tall structure adds some variety and breaks up the "everything's the same height" affect you get with the other structures.

I started mocking up some track for the diesel maintenance area and played around with positioning some of the structures I've built so far, but I'm not committing to anything until I get all of the structures I want. At the moment I'm waiting for the Stewart sand tower I ordered from Walther's.

09/20/06 - Another day, another new structure

In order for my so-called road plan to work, I need a highway bridge to cross over the inner mainline. And brother, just try finding an automobile (as opposed to train) bridge in N scale. The options are few and far between, but fortunately Rix came to my rescue once again. They supplied me with this "exactly what I needed" 1930's style highway overpass kit. The decks come in 4" sections and the piers are adjustable for height, so you can put together pretty much any size bridge you're likely to need. All of the various pieces are available ala carte, but I opted for the "1930's Highway Overpass" packet, which comes with three deck sections, 4 piers, railings, etc. No rocket science here, just glue it together and spray it with Floquil "Concrete" paint.

09/20/06 - Another half a day, another new structure

Since I can't really do too much else on the layout until I get all of my structures decided upon and put together, I've moved into serious model building mode. And since I have a number of passenger trains I like to run around (particularly my Zephyr), I figured I'd better go ahead and make my next selection a passenger station. Fortunately, there's a very obvious place for it over on the west side of layout on the outer loop, and so there it shall go.

As model railroading tasks go, I don't have very strong feelings one way or the other about putting together structure kits. I don't get the kind of enjoyment out of it that I get from, say, laying track. On the other hand, it doesn't give me the ulcers that I get when doing anything involving plaster. Basically it's just kind of a mindlessly semi-pleasant task that I usually undertake whilst half-watching television (model building and baseball games are a perfect match it seems).

Whereas N scale tends to be skimpy in certain areas (municipal water towers? hello?), the good news is that there are a plethora of passenger station options. I decided upon Atlas's classic passenger station kit mainly because I like the looks of it, it's the right size for my needs and I just plain have a nostalgic affection for all of Atlas's kits. I've built these things in one scale or another numerous times since I was a kid and it's always a pleasant trip down memory lane to find places for them on whatever layout I'm currently working on. And nostalgia aside, Atlas's kits are very high quality. For example, I noticed for the first time that the station platforms on this kit actually have little cracks molded into the concrete. How cool is that?

Assembly is blessedly straightforward- no painting required, so just follow the simple instructions and glue everything together. Once assembled, I brushed on a light layer of weatherwash and then sprayed the whole thing with Dull Coat to kill the shine and hide the glue glitches. After that I brushed on various shades of Bragdon powder to provide some age. Finally, I picked up a couple of cheapie Model Power figure packs ("Sitting People" and "Station People") and glued them in place. Yes, it's way too early in the process to be worrying about detailing, but I figured since the thing comes with its own base, I might as well go ahead and finish it up. I did save a few suitcase-wielding people for the (eventual) parking lot though.

09/22/06 - Could it be? Yes, I believe it is! Another new structure!

Man, I love getting bright ideas, but I'm afraid I've used up my quota for the year this time. I've been wondering for weeks just how in blazes I was going to fit some kind of industry in that skinny little 3/4" strip of open space I left myself along the western edge of the layout. When suddenly it dawns on me, cripes, I was the one who de-bigulated the layout over there, what's stopping me from re-bigulating it and giving myself some room to work with? Well, apparantly the answer is "nothing, stupid". So, I cut myself a couple of strips of foam and added 1 1/4" inches of width to the lip of the layout along the western siding. Voila, back in business!

The next problem- what the heck to put there? Walther's has a ton of really cool backboard industries in HO, but naturally only a couple in N scale (and lame ones at that). Model Tech Studios has a much wider selection of what they call "3D Background Kits", but none of them were really jumping out and grabbing me by the lapels. Really, all I wanted was a big, nondescript, rectangular building with windows and loading docks, but nobody makes anything like that (not that I could find, anyway). I toyed briefly with the idea of scratch-building something, but having zero experience in that particular field, I was not optomistic about the potential results (especially after my misadventures with Rix's yard office kit). Then it dawns on me - what about the Cornerstone "Grain Elevator" kit? I've always been a big fan of that particular kit (I suppose because you see similar elevators around every other corner up here in Minnesota), but it's so danged big it's always a challenge finding a place for it on small layouts like mine. But shoot, it's like it was made to go along a backboard, it's just a matter of slimming it down some.

Never having done any sort of major kitbashing before, I had no idea how one goes about modifying a styrene kit to suit one's own particular needs. However, after a bit of research, it turns out to be surprisingly simple. Basically all you do is "score and snap" - take an Exacto knife and a straight edge and scribe a line where you want to cut a particular piece and then snap it in two. And once I got going, I was surprised by just how easy the whole process turned out to be. Especially on this kit, which almost seems to have been designed with this very possibility in mind.

Once I'd cut all of the pieces exactly in half, I glued all of the white sections together and sprayed them with flat white paint to kill the plastic shine. Next, I glued on the gray pieces, applied the decals and sprayed the whole thing with flat finish. Finally, I applied some Bragdon rust and gray to the "metal" bits.

Now I have a perfectly sized 1.5" thick grain elevator to mount along the western backboard. And the beauty part is that I get eight silos this way instead of four. So wow, what a relief to get that particular problem solved. Now it's just a matter of attaching some backboards and then figuring what to cover them with (probably Walthers "Instant Horizons", but I won't have to worry about that for a while yet).

10/03/06 - God, I'm so embarassed...

Once again I've taken the easy way out and purchased preconstructed buildings. O the shame! But, what can I say? There's a huge dearth of generic railyard buildings out there in N scale, and this new Cornerstone assortment is just what I needed to (almost) finish off my yard. Believe me, if these were available as a kit I would have gone that route, but they're not. So, sue me!

In my defense, I did go ahead and hit them with weatherwash and Bragdon powder. So, y'know, don't hate me too much (sniff, poke-at-ground-with-toe).

10/04/06 - And then there was... more industry!

I'm finally getting on with the planning/placement of my major industries, and no friggin' pussyfooting around either - this Cornerstone "Superior Paper" kit is a real eye-grabbing centerpiece. And if it's not the most acreage-eating kit ever to grace N scale, it's certainly in the top three. Unfortunately, it's my understanding that the SP kit is currently "retired" (temporarily out of production), so you do have to kind of scrounge around a bit to find one. I scored one at Ye Olde LHS and wound up paying full retail, but, ah well, so it goes.

Despite its size, the kit goes together pretty rapidly (and easily). Once assembled, I sprayed the rooftop tanks and catwalks with "flat white", the pulp tanks with "concrete" and the air conditioner units with "dark green". Next, I sprayed the smokestacks flat white, then masked out the stripes and sprayed on Testor's "flat red". Now, I've never had much success in the past with masking and multicolor painting, and sure enough, my first attempt was a miserable failure. The red paint bled underneath my masking, resulting in a big ugly mess. So, I soaked the two stacks in Pine Sol to strip the paint and then took another whack at it. This time I made sure the masking was good and tight and then sprayed the red on very sparingly (just a quick spritz, then move on). This worked out ace, so I guess the secret is to not overspray. Lastly, I brushed "CN gray" along the the bases of the buildings.

After that I unfortunately fell victim to alzeheimer's or something and applied the decals and dull coat before putting on the weatherwash. Oops! I forgot that the alcohol-based weatherwash does funky things to dull coat (makes it cloudy), so I wound up having to rather severly weather the whole thing with Bragdon powder to cover up the cloudy areas (and as a result, virtually obliterated the decals). Still, it's a paper mill, so I think the extra grunginess works.

The whole complex wound up fitting rather nicely in the northern loop area, although I did have to kind of flip things around from the way they were probably intended to be situated. No biggie, though. In any case, it does look like that's about it for rail-served industry up in that particular section of the layout. Whatever else I put up there is not going to have any track going to it (not necessarily a bad thing - I think sometimes we get a little bit too "track-centric" on these small layouts and forget that most of the real world is not connected by rail).

Addendum- I've been informed by a reader of this blog (hi Rick) that I could have made my dull coat cloudiness go away by simply spraying on another coat. Wow, who knew? Oh well, I'm still happy with the end-results so no harm done.

Addendum II- Rick also passed along a handy tip for mask painting. The secret is to spray on the base color, let it dry for 24 hours, put on the masking tape, and then spray again with the base color. After allowing another 24 hours for drying, the masking should be completely sealed, making it possible to spray on your second color without any risk of bleed-through.

10/11/06 - I do believe I've finished with the yard structures

The final piece of the puzzle was a Stewart diesel sand tower "kit" (and I use the term kit loosely). There are precious few options for modern sand towers in N scale it seems, as this appears to be the only one available at present. Unfortunately, it's pewter and I can't stand working with pewter. There's always a ton of flash to be filed off, all of the skinny little bits are impossible to keep straight and gluing is rarely as easy as it is with plastic models. Worse still, this particular kit requires drilling and filing in order to get all of the pieces to fit together properly.

The kit I wound up purchasing is actually a double-track facility, and you're supposed to rig it up with a total of four hoses. I opted instead to just build a simplified version with a single hose - creating more of an impression of a sanding tower than a perhaps more prototypically accurate one. Anyway, it was much easier to build this way and it's not going to get in the way quite as much as the full-blown four-hose version undoubtedly would. For assembly, I used Zap-A-Gap contact adhesive (CA) as opposed to the regular old plastic model glue I normally use (the latter just plain don't work on pewter). Once assembled I sprayed it with silver paint. Kind of redundant, what with the pewter already being silver, but I figured if I was going to weather it it would provide a better surface. Although, as it turns out, I decided to skip the weathering all-together.

So, I think that's all I need as far as yard service structures go. I've situated them where, at least for now, I think they should go. But I'm not going to be carving anything in stone until I've finished acquiring and assembling all of my buildings as I still haven't quite figured out where all of the various roads and parking lots need to go.

By the way, if you're wondering where my little "pump house" next to the fuel tanks came from, I built it from some leftover parts that came with the Superior Paper kit. I've said it before and I'll say it again, never throw anything away when you've finished building a kit. Some of that stuff is going to come in handy some day, even the sprues!

10/11/06 - Moving on to the next major industry

I've settled on a large oil refinery complex for my second main industry, and in service of that goal I went ahead and put together four of these Cornerstone oil storage tanks. Unfortunately, this particular model is currently listed as "retired" at Walthers, so it took a lot of scrounging around to come up with four of them. As luck would have it, I did manage to score all four of them at a local hobby shop (well, local being a relative term - I had to drive two hours to get there).

There's not a lot to these things and I was able to put all four of them together in about an hour. Once assembled, I sprayed them with flat white and then hit them with a light layer of weatherwash. Next I tried brushing on just a little bit of Bragdon rust to age them a bit, and man, it turns out that "just a little bit of rust" on a totally white structure goes a long way. In retrospect, I would have gone with even smaller amounts, and scattered it around much more sparingly. Oh well, live and learn.

Next I applied the decals and then sprayed on a layer of flat finish. Once I'd finished, I decided that they looked just too danged rusty. I mean, it's not like this is supposed to be an abandoned refinery complex. So, I took some light sandpaper and removed about half the rust. Then I brushed on another layer of weatherwash to remove even more rust and even out the coloring. They're still pretty decrepit looking, but I think I wound up with just about the look I was after. No seriously - don't let the pictures deceive you. I have really crummy lighting down here in the basement when it comes to taking pictures, and pretty much everything winds up looking much darker than it really is.

10/16/06 - Finished the guts of the refinery complex

I'm not sure what prototype the Cornerstone "North Island Refinery" kit purports to emulate, but it looks awfully darned small to me- at least as compared to sites I've actually visited (the local Twin Cities refinery, Roseport, covers probably close to a square mile). So, wanting something larger (and not being particularly imaginative), I just purchased two of them and stuck them together (relocating the furnace or roaster or whatever the hell it is off to the far end on the second kit). Totally non-prototypical I'm sure, but it looks bigger now so I'm happy.

As Cornerstone kits go, this one was a bit of bitch to assemble. I didn't want to be a pussy and go with the stock colors (or just put it all together and spray the whole thing silver or white or whatever), so I went ahead and sprayed the various towers with white, and (most of) the rest with metallic silver (and let the yellow platforms be yellow). As a consequence, getting everything glued together kind of sucked (having yet to learn the magic secret that makes gluing painted styrene together simple). And painting aside, just getting this thing assembled is pretty damned complicated, especially the first time through. Bazillions of oddball little parts coupled with a handful of byzantine illustrations made for a few headaches (although, admittedly, the second iteration was much easier). It's really all about doing certain things before other things, but unfortunately, the instructions don't really tell you that...

I took the simple route on weathering - basically just massive amounts of really heavy weatherwash. And I tells ya, weathering rocks. Thanks to weathering, even mediocre kit builders such as myself can wind up with semi-impressive looking structures, what with all of the various mistakes and glitches generally getting hidden under that wonderful layer of grunge. I love this hobby!

10/18/06 - Chipping away at the refinery complex

Let's face it, a real refinery complex would probably have to take up my entire layout in order to be considered "prototypical". And prototypousity aside, it'd still take like four more Cornerstone refinery kits just to take up all the space I've already allotted for a refinery on this layout. So, whatdya say? How 'bout some more storage tanks! Right, but unfortunately I've pretty much exhausted the world's remaining supply of Cornerstone oil storage tanks, so it's become time to branch out into some of the (ahem) lesser brands. Oh well, a little variety never hurt anybody.

I started out with Model Power's "Twin Oil Tanks" kit. And my first step was to chuck the elaborate platform, along with the ladders, stairways, handrails, kitchen sink, etc. Basically I just took the tank part, stuck on the feeder pipe and called it done. Next I sprayed it with flat white and then applied some Bragdon rust (sparingly this time!) followed by a slathering of weatherwash.

For variety, I next picked up a Con-Cor "Cambria City Butane Storage Tank" kit (located in a dust-covered corner at Ye Olde LHS, so I'm wondering if this thing is even available anymore). And once again, I just chucked all the elaborate foofarah (base, ladders, stairways, railings, scaffolding, etc) and just put together a simple tank. For fun, I also cut myself a piece of L-shaped sprue, stuck on a leftover valve wheel from my refinery kit and called it a feeder pipe. After that I applied a layer of flat white paint, some Bragdon rust and a generous helping of weatherwash. I must say, weatherwashing these tanks is kind of fun. Rather than brushing the stuff on, I just fill up an eye-dropper, point it at the apex of the tank and let fly. Talk about your realism...

Once I'd eaten up enough space and gotten things more or less situated where I think they'll ultimately wind up, I went ahead and mocked up some track - two sidings for loading/unloading and a third track for storage. Prototypical? You're kidding, right? As usual, I haven't the faintest idea, but it does seem like a semi-logical way to run things, so let's go with it.

For loading/unloading, I went back to the old tried-and-true Model Power "Tank Filling Station" (two of them, actually). I've already blathered on about how those things go together, so 'nuff said.

Lastly, I opted for a Model Power "Oil Facility Office". It's actually fairly lame looking (man, that front window looks way out of scale to me), but this place really needs a place for actual human-type beings to hang out, so what are you gonna do? The good news is that it's dirt cheap and takes about 10 seconds to put together. I started out by assembling the walls and roof and then spraying them with silver paint. Then, after gluing on the rest of the pieces (leaving them be their native color), I applied a layer of weatherwash and various shades of Bragdon to make the whole thing look like hell. So, what purpose is this thing supposed to fulfill in the whole refinery oeuvre? Damned if I know, but I stuck my last couple of "Cornerstone Modulars" fuel tanks behind it. The way I figure it, the guy who runs this place keeps a chilled supply of fine Lager in one and straight Southern Comfort in the other (and yes, I want his job).

So, I think the final piece of the puzzle is going to be the Cornerstone "Interstate Fuel and Oil" kit, which should occupy the front gate area quite nicely. Or not... but, that's what I'm gonna do next, so we shall see. I think I could probably also use one more Cornerstone oil tank, so I guess it's time to start scouring eBay.

10/22/06 - Added the Cornerstone "Interstate Fuel & Oil" kit to the refinery mix

I was feeling particularly lazy the day I started putting this kit together and decided that I was going to skip the painting step entirely and just go with the stock colors. Well, I quickly gave up on that notion once I'd gotten it together and got a load of that crazy shade of blue Walthers had decided upon for the doors, windows and various bits of trim. So, on the main office building, I painted the walkway supports, the front door and the windows brown, and the large overhead doors silver. Next, I painted all of the tanks and various bits of plumbing white, and finally I painted the truck loading platform and the track loading tower "grimy black". For weathering, I sprayed the main office and pumphouse with flat finish and then hit the roofs with Bragdon black and the walls with a mixture of Bragdon black and off-white (which wound up looking particularly cool, I must say). For the remaining structures, I just slathered on a heavy coat of weatherwash, followed by just a wee bit of Bragdon rust for the tanks.

Now, this kit comes with a series of pipes that are all supposed to run to the little pumphouse structure, and everything is supposed to be situated pretty much "just like we tell you in the instructions, or else". Well, I was having just one hell of a time finding a place for all of this stuff to sit on the northern end of the refinery complex (where an access road will enter a main gate) and still have all of the various pipes and whatall go where they're supposed to go. Eventually I decided that I wasn't going to let the damned instructions ruin my life and started experimenting around with positioning the buildings where I thought they would work best as related to the complex as a whole (and worry about the bloody pipes later).

The first thing I discovered was that there just wasn't enough room left on the north end to accommodate all of this stuff, along with an access road, a gate, parking, room for trucks to enter, fill up and then turn around, etc. IE, everything needed to slide down south a few inches. So, Drinky McDrunkerson's office and booze storage facility had to go. And I have to say, good riddence. That structure really is just plain lame looking, and plunked down in the middle of all these high quality Cornerstone structures, really stuck out like a very sore and very ugly thumb. So, off to the "maybe if I'm desperate some day, but probably not" dust-gathering shelf it went.

After that everything fell into place pretty quickly. I found logical spots for all of the structures and now it was simply a matter of figuring out what to do about the pipes. The main problem was the set running from the three horizontal tanks and sticking out the back side. Well, hell, pipes sure don't need to run above ground, so I just snipped off most of that elevated triple-pipe piece, cut myself off a small section and ran it straight down into the ground. Now, who's to say that they don't run to the nearby pumphouse? You can't prove nothin'! The pipes for the two vertical tanks wound up connecting to the pumphouse very nicely, so no modification required there. And the short section of piping coming out of the unloading tower could similarly be routed "underground" ala the triple tanks. So, voila, problem solved.

So, after rearranging the large storage tanks somewhat, it turns out that all I need now is one more Cornerstone storage tank to finish off the complex. Fortunately, I was able to score one off of eBay, so I'll be able to finish off the whole complex in the very near future. So, wow, things are filling up nicely. I think three, maybe four more kits and I'll be finished with this whole "building the buildings" phase. And then what? Oh yeah, roads. Oh joy.

10/29/06 - Another new structure

This Cornerstone "American Hardware Supply" building is just the kind of generic, nondescript structure I needed to fill up the remaining space in my northern industrial area. And although I can't really run any track up there, one can easily justify the lack of a siding by saying that it's strictly a truck-supported industry.

One thing I noticed right away about this structure is that it would make for a perfect backboard industry - just the kind of "generic rectangular building with loading docks" I was looking for a few weeks ago. The walls are laid out in nine sections of varying width, and four of the loading docks are moveable (or can just be left off), so you really could create just about any sort of building you like. The only thing requiring any modification at all would be the roof. Oh well, I'm plenty happy with my grain elevator, but I'll definitely have to keep this kit in mind for future projects.

I started by putting the water tower together and then spraying it and the roof sections with "grimy black". Next I assembled the walls - but how exactly to paint them? They come in this pseudo-concrete looking yellow-tan color (while the windows and doors come in gray). I didn't want to stick with the stock colors (ick), but I also thought that if I just sprayed the whole thing brown (or boxcar red) for a brick-colored scheme it would wind up looking pretty boring. So, I decided to just bite the bullet and hand-brush all of the brick sections with Floquil "boxcar red" (which makes for a very nice brick color when dry) and leave the concrete sections be the stock yellow/tan color.

Well, nice idea, but it turned out to be a lot of work. Hand-brushing is not my favorite chore to begin with, and trying to keep the paint "inside the lines" on all of those tiny little rectangles, while at the same time trying to put down an even coat of paint, took what seemed like forever to accomplish. And as the various sections started to dry, it became obvious that even my best efforts were not resulting in very homogenous results and that I was probably going to have to brush on a second coat just to even things out! But then it dawns on me, why am I even worrying about this? Jeez, if this stuff had come prepainted in pristine two-tone brick and concrete colors, the very first thing I'd be doing was attacking it with various weathering concoctions anyway. So, with that in mind, I just pressed on with my painting and gave up on the idea of trying to achieve perfect coats of paint.

Once I'd (finally) finished with the paint, I put all of the remaining pieces together and then hit the whole thing with a very heavy slathering of weatherwash. Next, I stuck on the decals and then sprayed the whole thing with flat finish. Lastly, I hit the roof sections and water tower with a bit of Bragdon black, and then absolutely inundated the walls and windows with Bragdon medium brown (which completely hid all of that uneven paint that I was so worried about). By the time I'd finished I was very pleased with the results. And although it was quite a bit of work, I'd say it's easily my most realistic paint/weathering job yet.

10/30/06 - Ho hum, another new structure

First of all, let me apologize to the entire world for the color scheme I opted for on this Cornerstone "Sunrise Feed Mill" kit. What can I say? Sometimes my color choices work out and sometimes they don't. But regardless of how ugly a building ultimately turns out to be, I'm way too lazy to ever repaint anything once its finished. I guess I can rationalize it by saying that, hey, there are ugly buildings out there in the real world too. Hell, I drive past them every day.

Anyway, this kit has a minimal number of parts and goes together in about five minutes. On the paint end of things, I started by spraying the roof pieces Floquil "roof brown" (wow, an inspired choice). Next, I decided to just let the walls just be their stock gray color and then proceeded to handbrush everything else in sight- "concrete" for the foundation, "antique white" for the windows and doors, "engine black" for the sliding door tracks, "silver" for the tool-bin lid and ventilators, "roof brown" for the loading dock and "boxcar red" for the chimney. Yes, clearly I was a bit too impressed with my painting skills after "American Hardware" and I probably wound up biting off more than I can comfortably chew on this one. For starters, Floquil's various shades of white are really watery and really difficult to work with. It's tough to get an opaque coat down, and it's a major pain in the ass to keep it from running all over the place. What I eventually wound up doing was just dumping a bunch of it out onto a sheet of newspaper, letting it thicken for a couple of minutes and then brushing it on. Probably not a method found in the John Allen playbook, but things did seem to go more smoothly after that.

So yeah, not my neatest paint job ever. Fortunately, there is a solution to every painting mishap waiting patiently in the wings- IE, bring on the weathering! My first stage on the road to recovery was to slather on lots of heavy weatherwash (afterwhich I applied the decals and sprayed on a layer of flat finish). Then I absolutely buried the thing in various shades of Bragdon powder (which did serve to cover up my assorted painting glitches quite nicely). Sadly, none of this subterfuge did anything to ameleorate my basically vomitrocious mix of colors. But oh well, it's a feed mill, so who cares? I doubt the guys who work there ever spent much time worrying about their odds of making the cover of "Feed Mill Beautiful" magazine...

I have to say, this is kind of an odd structure. Something about the tall foundation, the oversized windows and the overall height of it makes the whole thing look somewhat out of scale to my eye. In fact, it makes my nearby Atlas passenger station look positively Z scale by comparison. At this point I'm assuming the eventual detailing (people, vehicles, junk, etc) will cure this optical illusion. I sure hope so anyway, because this particular structure is exactly the right size for my final industrial siding and I sure don't want to have to shelve it in favor of something else.

10/30/06 - OK, I've just about had it with kit building!

I built another Model Power "tank filling station" for my yard (to replace the one I kidnapped for my refinery complex). I decided to go with silver paint this time, just to differentiate it from the other (black) ones. It also fits in better with the silver sanding tower this way.

Next, I finished off the refinery complex by adding that fifth Cornerstone storage tank I was threatening to acquire.

So, I'm definitely on the home stretch with the buildings. And not a moment too soon either... I never thought I'd say this, but bring on the plaster, dammit!

11/03/06 - More buildings that didn't have to be built

I decided it was time to figure out just what it was I wanted to do up on the area above the tunnels. At first I thought a giant auto salvage yard would be kind of cool (and it would definitely fit in with my "industrial grunge" theme). But after I started thinking about all of the time (not to mention the expense) of acquiring and junkyardifying a bunch of automobile models, I decided to rethink that whole idea.

Next I thought that since I do have a bit of an Ag theme going on (what with the grain elevator and the feed mill), that a farm would probably work out OK. So, I hied myself down to ye olde LHS and just grabbed what they had on hand - a Model Power "Barn, Chicken Coop and nameless Pile-O-Stuff" prebuilt, a Model Power "Kennedy House" prebuilt and a Cornerstone windmill kit.

The prebuilts come with (gasp) "lighting", although said lighting merely consists of a cheap filament bulb (as opposed to a "won't burn out after 2 hours of operation" LED) stuck to the inside and connected with some wire. So, the first thing I did was pull that stuff out. Yes, lighting is a very cool feature, but it's not something that I've ever really dealt with before. And although I'm actually considering making lighting a major theme on my next layout, now is not the time to embark on some half-ass "let's dabble around with electronics" project. When I do do it, I'm going to do it right. And whatever "right" might ultimately turn out to be, I'm pretty sure that filament bulbs ain't it.

The Kennedy House so-called "prebuilt" kind of cracked me up (or was it "infuriated me"? I forget). When I opened the box a little packet of about a zillion window shutters fell out. Yes, they are preapplied on the side of the house that you can actually see through the front of the box, but the walls you can't see? Well, let's just say that my notion of what constitutes "prebuilt" doesn't necessarily jibe with Model Power's. So anyway, I got to spend a bit of time sticking those stupid things on.

The barn and chicken coop, I have to say, are pretty decent looking structures right out of the box. My only major complaint is with the silo, which comes prepainted in white and with a pointy little "rocket ship to the moon" topper. Now, I don't know what silos look like in your neck of the woods, but up here in Minnesota virtually all of them (well, the older ones anyway) are made of concrete and are universally grayish-tan in color and have a round metallic silver hemisphere up on top. So, I pried the silo off of the barn and painted the sides with Floquil "Concrete" and the top with silver. If I was really ambitious I suppose I'd scratchbuild a decent capper, but I guess for now I'm content to live with the pointy top (a feature that, based on the 10 seconds of web research I just conducted, might be more commonly found in the eastern US).

The last bit of painting involved that pile of "whatever" it is (hay maybe), which comes in this bright neon "we just cut it 10 seconds ago" green. So, I sprayed a bit of Floquil "Earth" on it to cover up most (but not all) of the green.

After that I hit everything with weatherwash (dark for the barn, chicken coop and hay pile, and light for the house). Next I sprayed everything with a coat of flat finish and then applied various shades of Bragdon to the barn, coop and hay (leaving the house relatively pristine looking).

There isn't a whole lot to the windmill kit (which is awfully darned spendy at $25, even if you do get two of them). Assemble the dozen or so pieces, spray it with silver paint, apply a bit of weathering and you're done. It's designed to be configurable as far as height goes, and I trimmed mine down to be slightly taller than the barn. Dunno how accurate that is, but it looks about right to me.

So, that should just about take care of the upper area. I picture gently rolling hills, a few cows and a little stream somewhere down the line. Although, given the proximity to the refinery complex, said cows might need to have a few extra heads and whatnot glued on

11/08/06 - Glued down the roadbed, track, bumper posts and groundthrows in the refinery complex.

Well, I guess the above description about says it all. In addition to getting everything glued down, I sealed all of the gaps around the edges of the foam with Woodland Scenics plaster cloth and then slapped on a quick coat of interior laytex to cover up all that whiteness. And rather than spending $30 on three different Micro-Trains magnetic uncoupling tracks, I stuck one (trimmed as small as it would go) up in the neck of the siding. Again, I'm not a big "operations" guy, but it's nice to have the option should the mood strike me.

I generally like to use Tomar bumpers, but here I decided to try out some of these new "Cornerstone Prebuilts" posts for variety's sake. I still haven't quite decided what I'm going to do down here as far as ballast is concerned. My supposition is that in the real world this track would probably all be embedded in concrete, but I don't think I'm brave enough to slobber Woodland Scenics road goo all over my switches. Oh well, I guess I'll worrying burying that bridge when the time comes.

11/08/06 - Another building

To complete the Feed Mill, I added this Cornerstone "Co-Op Storage Shed" kit. Once again, very few pieces to deal with (less than a dozen) so the whole thing goes together in about ten seconds. I painted the roof brown, the doors white and the air vent silver to match the Feed Mill, while leaving the walls be their native tan. And shucks, now that I see how well this particular building turned out, I kind of wish I'd gone ahead and painted the Feed Mill itself tan - this color combo is definitely much more pleasing to the eye. Ah well... Lastly, I applied a coat of flat finish and a bit of Bragdon powder for age to finish things off (decals seemed like overkill, so I skipped that step).

11/09/06 - Blah, blah, buildings, yadda, yadda, yadda...

I'm definitely getting down to the "filling in the dead spaces" stage of structure placement. First off, I decided I needed one more smokestack industry up in the northern industrial loop, and this DPM "Goodnight Mattress Co." kit turned out to be a perfect fit (well, perfect after I modified the walls a bit). I started by assembling the walls and spraying them with Floquil "Boxcar Red". Next I handbrushed all of the windows and doors (all fifty of 'em!) with Floquil "Rail Brown". Next I used the supplied sheets of cardstock to make a couple of roof sections and sprayed those "Grimy Black". The kit doesn't come with any decals, so I borrowed one ("River City Textiles") from the selection that came with my American Hardware kit. After applying the decal, I sprayed on a layer of flat finish and then hit the walls and roof with Bragdon powder for age (skipping the weatherwash this time around, just for variety's sake). And lastly, I stuck on the supplied smokestacks (also painted Grimy Black) and one of my Cornerstone storage tanks just to make the roof look a bit more interesting. Again, no sidings in this area of the layout, so trucks only.

For my second filler, I opted for the old Con-Cor "Cambria City Electric Sub-Station" kit. In addition to being just plain cool looking, this thing is really ideal for filling up space as it can sit just about anywhere, doesn't really need to be situated next to rails or roads or anything else, and size-wise you can either build a couple of small ones or one large one, depending on how much acreage you want it to eat up. The only real downside to it is the insane wiring scheme they present you with - basically a big pile of not-quite-straight, semi-rigid wire that you are then supposed to cut and bend into a dizzying array of byzantine shapes running from one piece of electronic gizmo-age to the next. Well, forget that. I simply cut a few basic pieces just to give the impression of wiring and left it at that. Beyond the wiring, the rest of the kit is fairly simple to put together. I started by spraying the base with Floquil concrete, then put everything together and applied a layer of heavy weatherwash. Next I brushed Bragdon rust onto the chain link fence (actually thin strips of window screen material), figuring it would be a lot easier to accomplish before installation. Once rusted, it's just a matter of bending the corners and gluing it on. Lastly, a layer of flat finish to kill the shine.

So, at this point I have plans for just one more building (a gas station). Once I start getting all the roads and parking lots and whatnot plotted out I may decide to add one or two more smallish structures if the space presents itself, but at least for now I'm definitely seeing the light at the end of this whole building the buildings tunnel (and man, is my wallet ever happy to hear that).

11/10/06 - Pink slips all around for the construction workers, the buildings are built!

For my (hopefully) last space filler, I called upon another old friend - Cornerstone's "Al's Victory Service" kit. I love the classic art deco design of the thing, and the size is just perfect as you can put it down just about anyplace where you have a little bit of extra room next to a road. More importantly, it's adds a bit of "something that doesn't have anything to do with railroads" variety to an otherwise very industrial layout.

Once again, the pieces are few and assembly is simple. I started by spraying the roof pieces Grimy Black, the window and doors with Dark Green and then brushed on the roof trim in Caboose Red (a little bit of masking tape makes this last job a whole lot easier). After assembly, I applied a layer of light weatherwash, stuck on the decals and then sprayed on a coat of flat finish. Lastly, a bit of Bragdon gray for age. I brushed the sign in Grimy Black, applied the decals and then sprayed on a coat of flat finish. For the pumps, I sprayed the base with Concrete and brushed the pumps themselves with Dark Green and Caboose Red (leaving the faces white).

11/10/06 - Finished digging the stream bed

After all of my worries about what it was I was going to do up on top of the tunnels, I have to say that at this point I'm pretty pleased with my choices and how things are ultimately shaping up. Basically I'm going to have a shallow little stream entering from about the middle of the southern edge of the layout, meandering down towards the east and ultimately dropping from the upper level to the lower level in a little waterfall and then running off the edge of the layout.

To create the streambed, I started by gluing down some random pieces of foam of varying size and then covered everything up with WS plaster cloth. Once the bed was finished, I went ahead and applied plaster cloth around the tunnel mouths and various other places up there that had gaps that needed covering up. Lastly, I slapped on a layer of interior laytex paint. And no, I don't view this latter step as any sort of "landscaping", but I figure it's the cheapest and simplest way to get all of that white foam hidden. And later on, when I'm actually putting on landscaping materials, having a little bit of tan showing through (as opposed to white) is going to be no big deal. And all of that aside, I just hate having all of that glaring white styrofoam staring me in the face as I plod along in the pre-scenery phases of layout construction.

So, time to finish gluing down the rest of the roadbed and track and getting on with the foam and plaster work. After spending weeks (months?) assembling and painting all of those buildings, I am definitely geeked about getting on with some new tasks!

11/11/06 - Finished gluing down the remaining roadbed, track, magnetic uncouplers, bumper posts and groundthrows.

Not much to elaborate on here. Squirt glue, pin down, let dry, pull pins. I did wind up finding a spot for McDrunky's shack in the rail yard, though. As cheesy looking as it is, it doesn't have any Cornerstone structures in the nearby vicinity to compete with, so it actually doesn't look too bad and does seem to take up just about the right amount of space (I know, what an odd way to design a layout, but there ya go).

11/11/06 - Finished with the plaster cloth

It's probably going to take longer for all of these pictures to load than it took for me to actually do the work. Which is say, mission accomplished, since my goal on this layout was to keep the plaster wrangling to a minimum. Basically all I had to do was cover up all of the joints where different pieces of foam come together, cover up the space between some of the risers, and build a little lumpiness into a couple of the flat corner areas. The only task that wound up being remotely elaborate was finishing up the channel for the waterfall. Much of it looks pretty boring at this point, but eventually I'm going to be building various rock formations onto the facades to add some life.

Most importantly, I've finally got a grip on how the roads are going to work. I built a nice level section for one to enter up on the northern edge of the western side of the layout. From there it will meet up with the road leading to the refinery and the road that will descend into the lower level. The latter did involve building a somewhat crazy incline- not hugely elegant, but I think it will work.

11/11/06 - Finished mocking up the backdrop

I really like these Walthers "Instant Horizons" backdrops. I think the simple style actually works better with a model railroad than do the more photo-real backdrops (which, to my eye anyway, tend to accentuate the unreality of a layout more than anything else). They come in a wide variety of terrains, all of which are designed to be connected together so that you can flow from one background theme to another. Best of all, they're very inexpensive. It took three of them (albeit with some trimming) to run the 91" of backdrop I needed covered, so I opted for "Whistle Stop", "The Prairie", and "Country to Eastern Foothills". Ironically, there is an actual picture of a grain elevator on the backdrop literally right behind my actual model of a grain elevator - how's that for cosmic coincidence?

At this point I just have the paper pinned to some foam boards, which in turn are pinned to the back of the layout. I don't plan on fixing them in place right away as they'll just interfere with the work I'll eventually need to get on with over along that edge. And once I'm ready to install them permanantly, I'll be trimming the boards down rather severely since really the only function they ultimately need to serve is to provide some support for my grain elevator. And frankly, although they do serve their purpose, I'm not a huge fan overall of backdrops - I much prefer a layout with a 360 degree view. By the time I've finished trimming them down, the hope here is that they'll have become quite unobtrusive indeed (IE, make the back edge a little bit more interesting without completely dominating it). But in any case, I did want to see how they were going to work before I progressed too much further, and hence the mock-up job.

So, I guess now it's time to finish painting the track (as you may have noticed from some of the pictures, I've already gotten a headstart on that particular task in a few spots). And then? Oh hell, bring on the roads! I am not afraid!

11/12/06 - Finished painting the track

I'm not sure how well it shows up in the photograph, but that track is indeed painted.

Prior to Scenic Ridge, I was always pretty intimidated by the prospects of painting track. And it wasn't until that particular project that I discovered (quite by accident) that outstanding looking track can be achieved surprisingly quickly and easily with a can of spraypaint.

My "method" (if you can even call it that) is to take a can of Floquil "Grimy Black", hold it about 3 inches above the track and spray down. That's it. Once sprayed, I run a flat piece of styrene over the rail tops to clean off most of the goo, and then finish off with a Bright Boy track cleaning eraser once the paint is mostly dry. The end result is that the ties lose their shine, the rail sides turn black and don't look nearly so tall, and best of all, the rail joiners virtually disappear. I never thought Atlas Code 80 track could look so good!

Which is not to say that I didn't run into some paint-related problems on Scenic Ridge. There I made the mistake of spraying my turnouts and groundthrows right along with the track, which ultimately resulted in some very iffy turnout performance. On this layout, I plan on going the extra mile to make sure that my switches continue to operate as flawlessly as they did the day I first installed them. To wit:

- For installation I no longer squirt glue indiscriminately on to the roadbed and then just plop a switch on top. Chances are this is going to gum up the throwbar from day one. It doesn't take a whole lot of glue to fix a switch in place, so instead I just squirt a bit on my fingertips and then spread it around on the bottoms of the ties (well away from the actual moving parts of the turnout), and then stick the switch to the roadbed.

- When spraypainting the track, I mask all of the moving parts of a turnout along with any groundthrow. Just like the track, those groundthrows look much better painted, but most of the time the paint completely gums up the works and performance goes straight to hell. So, in this instance it's definitely function over form.

- When ballasting the track, no ballast anywhere near the moving parts of a switch. Again, the looks may suffer, but I'd rather deal with that than balky switch rails that won't move cleanly (or fully) from one side to the other.

I'm sure that most of these minor visual issues will be addressable somewhere down the line (when I'm into the fine detailing stage of things). And if not? Well, so be it. Again, it's just more important to me that they work flawlessly than they be worthy of a Model Railroader photo-shoot.

11/12/06 - Finished trimming and mounting the backdrops

I wound up having to go through this whole process twice (oops). The first time through I tried using some fluid matte medium to stick the backdrops to the foam (mainly because it's all I had on hand and I didn't feel like running up to the store to look for something else). Anyway, I guess it was either too runny or I used too much of it, because what I wound up with was a big lumpy messy. Not even remotely salvageable (even by my standards), so I peeled everything off, bought three more backdrops (thankfully they're only eight bucks each) and tried again. This time I picked up a can of "Duro, All-Purpose Spray Adhesive". Spray it on (it doesn't hurt foam, fortunately), apply the backdrops, smooth and you're done. Now we'll just have to see how well the adhesive holds up, but so far so good.

I still have the entire backdrop assembly stuck to the layout with pins - it's way too much of an obstacle at this point, so best to leave it moveable.

11/12/06 - Finished the refinery base

Well, once again, what should've been a pretty simple foray back into Woodland Scenics RoadSystemLand turned into yet another harrowing adventure down here at Spookshow HQ. I blew the dust off my "Smooth-It" plaster, "Paving Tape" and "Spreader/Smoother" and set about building a simple base for my refinery, and somehow managed to turn it into an all-day project (no, seriously, don't look so shocked). I thought I could get away with putting down the whole base in two lengthy five inch-wide sections (five inches being the width of the widest paint scraper I use as a "Smooth-It" spreading/smoothing tool). And sure enough, no problems on the first strip. Unfortunately, I underestimated the remaining width on the second strip and it wound up being just a skosh too wide for my spreader to comfortably handle. So, I wound up spending most of my morning cursing at the walls and generally making a mess in a vain attempt to cause a smooth surface appear. I tell you, when I (inevitably) started slopping plaster onto my nearby track I was about ready to start shopping for a new hobby. Anyway, when I eventually got it as good as it was going to get, I took a break, let it dry, and then spent most of the afternoon grinding my teeth and sanding things smooth (the plaster, not my teeth).

Fortunately, once I'd brushed on the "Asphalt Top Coat" layer and got a load of the final results, all was forgiven. Very slick looking indeed! My next step was to repaint my bridge deck "Grimy Black" (since I seem to have suddenly opted for asphalt roads as oppposed to concrete). And to finish things off, I picked up yet another package of those blessedly handy Cornerstone "Trackside Structures" prebuilts and added a guard gate/shack at the front and a generic storage building at the back (the speeder shack, sans speeder). I foresee a chainlink fence around the entire facility eventually, but I won't worry about that until I get down to the detailing stage.

11/14/06 - Finished the upper level roads and grade crossings

These went really smoothly and really quickly, and I have to say that after my misadventures on the refinery base, I'm now finding the whole road building process to be a bit less stressful. I used to drive myself insane trying to get everything absolutely perfect during the spreading/smoothing stages. However, since I discovered that any minor mistakes can be readily addressed once everything dries, there's really no point in going nuts striving for perfection the first time through. As I was putting down these particular roads I had all sorts of lumps and potholes and uneven edges and whatall to deal with after the plaster dried. But thanks to my Exacto knife, a wet toothbrush and some sandpaper, everything turned out great.

Now that I've created some new flat areas over along the western edge of the layout (north of the road), it looks like I'm going to have a bit of extra space to work with - IE, time to pick up another building. Sliding the Atlas signal Tower over to the north side of the road will leave a nice spot for some kind of smallish freight terminal over by the passenger station. So, I guess it's time to pay a visit to YOLHS and see what they have laying around.

11/15/06 - Got me a freight depot (eventually)

Wow, finding a decent freight depot turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought it was going to be. I don't do wood, so that eliminated more than half of my options right there. I don't do "old-timey", which put the kibosh on another large percentage of the available kits. And suffice it to say, I don't do "crap" either, which eliminated Bachmann and a few of the other cheapie brands. Lastly, I needed to go relatively small which, unfortunately, eliminated the (as usual) best offering - Cornerstone's "Water Street Freight Terminal" kit. Even with the "office" portion of the kit removed, there's no way I could cram it into the available space. Ironically enough, Walthers has announced a prebuilt freight depot that looks to be just about perfect for my needs. Unfortunately, it's not yet available and probably won't be for some months...

Fortunately for me, it was Model Power and their goofy line of prebuilts to the rescue (yet again). They provided me with this "CF Truck Depot" prebuilt which, after a bit of modification and weathering, turned out to be just about perfect.

This is another of Model Power's "Wow, it has lights and people, let's charge an extra $10 for it" buildings. So, the first thing I did was remove the wiring and the lightbulb, and the next thing I did was remove the stupid roof sign with the little paper sticker. Next, I pulled out my box of leftover kit-building parts and added an overhang over the loading doors, a loading platform and a freight door. After that I brushed on a layer of heavy weatherwash, applied an "All City Storage" decal (leftover from American Hardware) and sprayed on a layer of flat finish. Lastly, a bit of Bragdon powder for age. Once finished, I was very happy with the look (not to mention the size, which turned out to be dead-on perfect for my needs).

11/15/06 - Finished some more roads

Running the lower road down to the diesel service facility and building a parking lot for the UP guys was the easy part. But that crazy triangular truck loading area next to Superior Paper? Well, that took a bit of head-scratching (to say the least). There's absolutely no way to build anything in there using the traditional "Road System" method of masking out your space, glopping in the goo and then smoothing it out with a flat edge (especially with all of that nearby roadbed and track). Which is not to say that I didn't try (I tell you, you've never heard such cursing and yelping coming from a train room).

Once it became clear that I wasn't going to be able to lay my plaster the "normal" way, I started thinking maybe I wasn't going to be able to put any kind of surface in there at all. Unfortunately, the styrofoam base in that area isn't particularly smooth (thanks to a seam between two sheets of foam and some wayward plaster cloth), so I couldn't even really just paint over the base and call it "good enough". And anyway, since I'm eventually going to be running a road into that area via a grade crossing, it was going to wind up looking really stupid without having something for the road to transition to.

So, my bright idea was to mix up a very viscous batch of "Smooth-It", pour it in and let gravity do the work for me. And amazingly, this actually worked very well. I used WS foam tape to mask the edge where the building butts up to the plaster, and then just let the roadbed serve as the masking everyplace else. For the Smooth-It, I simply mixed up a regular batch and then added water until I got something that would pour (and spread out). I had absolutely no idea how this would turn out, or if it would even set up at all. But sure enough, it did eventually firm up quite well. Yes, it wound up being a bit softer (and thus harder to sand) than normal, and there were lots of air pockets to deal with, but once painted it certainly didn't wind up looking any worse than any of the actual pot-hole strewn truck roads one encounters out there in the real world.

So, another handy solution to one of life's little problems, brought to you by the good people at Spookshow Labs!

11/16/06 - Expanded the industrial heartland (y'know, added a building)

As I started plotting out where my roads, parking lots and truck loading areas needed to go in the northern industrial area, it became quickly obvious that I had more than enough room to add another decent sized industry up there (and on the rails no less). So, I picked up "Red Wing Milling", one of my all-time favorite Cornerstone structures. I don't know what it is about this particular kit, but it just gives me the warm fuzzies. I love the loading docks (front and back), I love the smokestack and I really love all the doodads on the back wall.

The other thing I love about this kit is that it doesn't require much in the way of paint. The green windows and doors along with the concrete/tan walls make for a really nice combo right out of the box. So, all I had to do was spray the roof sections and the smokestack with Grimy Black, followed by Metallic Silver for the ventilators and rear overhang. After assembly (once again, a very simple process) I brushed on a layer of heavy weatherwash, stuck on a couple of the decals and then sealed everything up with a layer of Dull Cote. For weathering, I applied Bragdon black to the roof, rust to the ventilators and overhang, and brown to the walls for that "grimy concrete" look.

After rearranging things a bit I think I've finally achieved that "sense of place" I was looking for up in the industrial heart of the layout. I guess it has something to do with forming an overall shape (in this case, a rectangular block of buildings) that isn't driven by the rails. Completing the streets should further cement the illusion.

Flat & Industrial Part 2

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