The Railroad: January 2017 Update

January 15, 2017

Time off from work or school has long brought with it the promise and the pressure of making something cool – making progress with my projects. More often than not these breaks have yielded somewhat disappointing results in terms of productivity, and so exceptions like this past winter break stand out brightly.

That’s a rather long-winded way of saying that I got some stuff done on the layout over Christmas.

The River Valley Gets A Bridge

Practically all of my layout energy went into the river valley (formerly referred to as the “back left area”), which has transitioned from prototype cardboard profiles to a basis for real scenery: a plywood riverbed, pink foam banks and cardboard webbing. This area continues to be gratifying to bring to life (it’s featured prominently in the video below).

In addition to pink foam, the valley now has a real bridge. I chose the MTH Steel Arch Bridge and I’m trying out salt weathering on it. I first learned about this technique from Eric Siegel’s YouTube channel, but there are numerous other examples on YouTube. The steps are simple:

  1. Paint the model a rusty base coat
  2. Spray with water and apply sea salt liberally where you want a corrosion effect. As the water dries the salt sticks (quite well, actually)
  3. Paint a second color on top.
  4. Chip off all of the salt and you are left with the rust showing through.

Chipping the salt off can be a very time-consuming process, especially for a structure as complicated as a bridge, but I think the results were pretty good. For the second coat I chose a deep red, which unfortunately means that the effect is somewhat subtle (especially in photographs), due to the similarity of the two colors – rust vs. red.

Progress Video

To mark the progress of the past few weeks, I made a video of W&LE 8002 pulling a consist of six B&O passenger cars. Think of it as an “excursion”. The video starts in the lower return loop and follows the train all the way up to the upper return loop, where it crosses the bridge:

Shifting Landscape Building Techniques

For a few years now my plan for creating the shape of the landscape has been to stack layers of carved pink foam. While using this approach on the river valley, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply too slow (and, my god, messy – static-y pink foam sticking to everything) for me, at least for mountainous landscape. Perhaps it has something to do with perfectionist tendencies, but it takes a lot of energy to select the right piece of foam for each layer, then carve the piece to my liking, and so forth. So I’m trying something different.

Many times I’ve looked to Rich Battista’s excellent Black Diamond Railway series for inspiration. In the first volume he demonstrates his basic mountain building technique which is essentially to ball up craft paper, tape/staple it into place, add plaster sheets, and then adorn with molded plaster rocks. It looks to be very fast, and it offers a lot of control.

As much as I love the results on his layout, the thought of great big damp wads of paper under my landscape is just not that appealing (damp from the wet plaster sheets, and the water sprayed on from his excellent approach to rock mold blending). So my plan is to use foam to build the base and back profile (against the backdrop) of the landscape, and the classic cardboard lattice covered in plaster sheets (and molded plaster rocks) for the actual surface.

Next Up

I expect that I’ll remain pretty focused on scenery in this area for the next few weeks. I ordered tunnel portals and bridge abutments. I expect to start applying plaster relatively soon, although before I get too far into that I need to build out the tunnel interiors for that area.

In my last post I mentioned that I was working on signals. My wife gave me a Raspberry Pi for Christmas, which will make a great nerve center for the signaling system (I like the thought of being able to SSH into the signal system). I haven’t made much more progress in this area, however.