N Scale Layout #3 (2006-2007) - Flat and Industrial, Part 2

11/17/06 - More roads and a parking lot

Not much to report on these - pretty straightforward for a change. I did wind up kidnapping my electrical substation from its spot next to the grain elevator and relocating it to some empty space over by the textile mill. And yeah, it looks great there, but it also looked great where it was before and now I have this newly empty space by the grain elevator that I have to re-fill somehow. Man, I could really use one of those not-due-until-January Walthers freight depots right about now...

11/17/06 - I guess the refinery is open for business

Yeah, yeah, I know - way too early for detailing. But dang, that Texaco tanker was just sitting there at YOLHS. I mean, who could resist?

11/17/06 - Added a couple more structures

I built the other half of my Con-Cor electric sub-station and put it over by the grain elevator where my first one used to be (basically as a place holder until something better comes along). I painted it in alternate colors to differentiate it from the first one (black and white as opposed to the stock green and red), but no matter how you slice it my layout is way too small to accommodate two iterations of such a distinctive structure. So, eventually it will to have to go (yah, I know, I should go get some help for my OCD).

The kit doesn't come with enough fence to fully enclose two separate stations, so I used some fencing material that Dave at Scale Model Signs sent me (thanks, Dave ). I'm not sure what it's made of, but it's not metal. Nylon maybe? Anyway, it looks great and it's pretty easy to work with (although I must admit that I prefer the regidity of metal fencing - it just holds a shape better).

I also added a third platform to my passenger station, basically to eat up some more dead space if for no other reason. Now I have even more people to stand around and watch my freight trains go by (and go by, and go by, and go by).

By the way, as you can probably tell from my picture, my backdrop is looking a little raggedy. My spray adhesive started giving way at the seams and I made the mistake of just squirting some white glue along the edges to nail them down. Well, dumb idea I guess as I wound up with a bunch of lumps. I doubt that I'm going to bother doing anything about it at this point as it's really not all that horrible, but I sure would like to know who makes a decent adhesive that will stick paper to foam and at the same time not destroy either material.

Addendum- I've been informed by a reader of this blog (hi Ryan) that Acrylic Contact Cement (made by Elmer's among others) will glue pretty much anything together without harming it.

11/18/06 - More roads, parking lots, sidewalks, etc.

For some of these parking and loading areas I decided to break up the monotony of all that black and go with a color other than WS "Asphalt". Unfortunately, I've never really liked Woodland Scenics' "Concrete" top coat, having always thought it looked just too bright and too yellow. So, I decided to play around with mixing my WS Concrete with a bit of WS "Stone Gray" to get something that more closely approximates what I think concrete looks like. And I have to say, I think I just about nailed it.

11/18/06 - Yet more roads and parking lots

I finished up all of the roadwork on the lower level (yay). And since everything was looking just a wee bit too pristine, I decided to try out some Bragdon powder on the roads just to see what would happen. And although I probably overdid it in couple of spots, overall I think it worked out pretty well. I'm sure once I get into the landscaping and detailing phases, my "overdone" spots will blend in just fine. And if not, no big deal. It's easy enough to just repaint the roads and start over if need be.

Speaking of landscaping, I've been gradually brushing a layer of WS "Earth Undercoat" onto the base as I finish up these roads. I guess you could say I'm prepping to move on into full-on landscaping mode, but mainly I just wanted to cover up all the plaster slobber leftover from my road work so's I can provide y'all with pretty pickchurs.

So, my road crews are quickly running out of stuff to do. About all that's left is a short stretch of road to the passenger station and a base for Al's Service Station. Then I can get on with my rock formations, and then I can happily kiss all of this plaster goodbye until the next layout.

11/19/06 - The roads are finished

I finished the road and parking lot for the passenger station as well as the base for the service station. Al's wound up sitting a little closer to the road than I would have liked, but any further back (and thus closer to the rails) and the whole thing would have wound up on a slant. Oh well, no big deal.

So that's it, at least as far as the plaster roads go. I still have to do something with the feed mill, but I'm thinking I'm going to eventually do that up in gravel (just for variety).

Still working on getting the base covered in Earth Undercoat - I'd say I've finished about three-quarters of it so far. And I have to say, I kinda look the sere look - I may have to do a desert-themed layout someday.

11/19/06 - Built some dikes around my oil tanks

I got an email from a guy a while back (hi Frank) who suggested that I get prototypical and build some dikes around my oil storage tanks. Not really knowing what exactly it was he was talking about (and picturing something scarily elaborate), I just kind blew off the suggestion (sorry Frank). However, I recently came across some photos of some oil tanks and I was surprised to see that the dikes in question are basically just low, earthen levees. Well hell, I thought, even I could build something like that - and so I did.

I figured that if I tried to build them out of foam, I might lose the "low rounded mound" look I was after. So, I hit upon the idea of constructing them out of clay (or Play-Doh). However, not being one to keep mass quantities of Play-Doh laying around the house, I decided to cook up my own (a valuable skill I learned from my son back when he was in elementary school). Take a metal cooking pot and mix together 1/2 cup salt, 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon cream of tartar, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and 1 cup of water. Put on low heat and stir continuously until it gets thick enough that it won't stir anymore. Then scoop it out and let it cool - voila, instant modeling medium.

Prototypically speaking, I suppose each tank is supposed to have its own levee. However, not being in the mood to go completely nuts with this stuff, I opted for just a single ring around the entire perimeter. I don't know how tall they are in real life, but I figured approximately four N scale feet would look about right. Once in place, I covered them with plaster cloth and painted them with Earth Undercoat. As soon as I get to the turf-slinging stage (approaching rapidly, amazingly enough) I'll be able to finish them off.

11/20/06 - Started in on the rock formations

I decided for the central "grand canyon" to go with Hydrocal rock formations (cast using the molds that came with Scenic Ridge). Being basically a flat surface from one end to the other, said casts are then simply stuck to the canyon walls (one after the other). The only downside to this particular method is that you don't get much of a flow to the overall rock face, what with everything tending to look a bit "modular". Still, the rocks themselves look very realistic and I'm sure that once I scenic-ize the surrounding terrain it'll all look great.

I followed the exact same procedure as on Scenic Ridge- Mix up a batch of Hydrocal (2 cups of Hydrocal and 1 cup of water makes enough Hydrocal to fill pretty much all the SR rock molds). Once dry, extract the rocks and stick them to the facade using white glue. Mash, smash and snap as needed to get things to fit, and leave the broken bits on the ground for added realism. Use plaster cloth to seal the edges and then paint using a mixture of Earth Undercoat, Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre and Stone Gray pigments and hope for the best. I imagine that at some point I'll be doing some touch-up work on the paint to bring the coloring in line with the (eventual) surrounding scenery, but good enough for now I suppose.

For the curvier facades I plan on an entirely different method (one not involving pre-cast rocks), but we'll worry about that when the time comes (oooh, foreshadowing...)

11/20/06 - Built a retaining wall

Well, it can't all be custom plaster rock formations. Cripes man, that'd get boring (not to mention exhausting - plaster is a lot of work). So, for the "great big hill that runs down to the northern industrial area", I opted instead for a stone retaining wall.

For the actual walls, I picked up a couple of Pre-Size cast resin "Cut Stone Walls" at YOLHS. I used a hacksaw to cut the various sized sections I needed and then filed them down to smooth out and straighten the edges. Once I had the pieces I needed, I stuck them to the hill using white glue. As it turns out, the walls didn't wind up laying entirely flat against the side of the hill. And rather than trying to seal the gaps with plaster cloth like I did with my rocks (and which would have looked really stupid), I went ahead and back-filled them with ballast (a bit like you'd do in the real world, I suppose) - saturating said ballast with Scenic Cement to harden it up (just like you would if you were ballasting roadbed). Finally, I brushed on some watered-down "Stone Gray" pigment, followed by some Bragdon gray.

11/21/06 - The feed mill expands

I got to looking at the feed mill and decided that too much empty space was going to waste there. And no, I'm not a big believer in filling every square inch of a layout with stuff. However, I do believe in balance, and given that I already have an awful lot of empty space that's eventually just going to become a place for trees and N scale squirrels to inhabit, the overall layout felt like it needed a little tighter concentration of action at the center. I dunno, once again it's just an aesthetic thing with me and doesn't have much, if anything, to do with modeling a railroad.

Anyway, once I'd made the decision to add on to the feed mill I immediately jumped at the chance to add one of my all-time favorite structures- a Rix "Guthrie Grain" grain elevator. These things bring a whole new meaning to the word "ubiquitous", at least as far as Minnesota is concerned. And I think we can all relate to the pleasure one gets from adding something familiar to one's layout.

Warm fuzzies aside, Guthrie Grain is not the easiest kit in the world to assemble. Just ballparking here, but I'm guessing there about about thirty-seven bazillion pieces to the damned thing. Seriously. Each bin is comprised of six wall rings, and each wall ring is comprised of six individual sections. Plus, all of the skinny little handrail and ladder sections are attached to the sprues nine different ways from Sunday, requiring a lot of Exacto knife work before they're ready to be installed. And I don't even want to talk about the chute "tubes" that have to be cut, bent, filed and otherwise manangulated in order to connect the tower to the individual bins. Oh wait, I guess I just did. Nevermind. Anyway, once (finally) assembled I simply sprayed the whole thing with Floquil "Bright Silver" and then brushed on some heavy weatherwash.

My next idea was to expand the scope of the business to also include farm implements, thus allowing me to fill up the parking lot with a bunch of interesting looking (and space occupying) farm machinary. With that in mind, I hied myself down to YOLHS (where they are getting to be way too familiar with me, by the way), to peruse their selection of tractors and suchlike. And I was much delighted to find that Athearn sells three-packs of pre-painted/pre-assembled John Deere tractors, and much less delighted to find that the only other piece of machinary they had on hand was a GHQ corn combine. I purchased both, but I haven't gotten around to assembling and painting the combine yet - pewter, yuck.

Next on the bright idea train (I tell you, I was hot tonight), was to add a big ol' parking lot sign. And as luck would have it, I happened to have one sitting in my "Box O' Unused Layout Stuff", just waiting to finally see the light of day. I'm not sure who makes it as it was something that I picked up off of eBay awhile ago along with a bunch of vehicles and people and stuff. The actual signage is nothing to get excited about, but it does seem to work OK. I printed it out on my nothing-special-about-it black-and-white printer, trimmed it to fit and then stuck it to the sign using the spray adhesive I used for my backdrops. Then it was just a matter of applying some Bragdon yellow to give it a little color and character.

Finally, I built a gravel parking lot for the whole place. I started by blocking out the desired area with WS Paving Tape, then I brushed on a layer of Golden Mediums "Fluid Matte Medium" (the same stuff I use when laying ballast). Next, I sprinkled on a layer of Highball Products "Fine Light Brown Earth". Once everything was dry, I vacuumed up the excess "Earth" and, voila, instant gravel parking lot.

11/22/06 - More rock faces

The best looking rock formations I've ever seen on a model railroad are generally the ones that have been sculpted and carved by hand. Unfortunately, I posess neither the talent nor the patience to pull off such things, so I don't even bother trying. As Harry Callahan was won't to say, "a man's got to know his limitations". Fortunately, there are a couple of simple methods that even mediocre modelers such as myself can employ and still achieve respectable results- the first being the aforementioned "cast and stick" method and the second being the about-to-be-mentioned "slop, smear and foil" method.

As far as rock building is concerned, the foil method is just about as simple as it gets, and yet the results are quite astounding. I was able to put down literally six feet of rock facade in about 10 minutes, and quite frankly, the looks are sensational (if I do say so myself).

For the actual rock, I used Woodland Scenics "Smooth-It" (yep, the road stuff). You need something reasonably thick (IE, something that will stay stuck to a vertical wall after you apply it) and this stuff seemed about as good as anything for the job. So, I mixed up a bowl full, scooped it out with a spoon and glopped it on to the hillsides in question. Then I smeared it around with my fingers to get a more or less consistant covering from top to bottom. Next, I cut out strips of aluminum foil, crinkled them up, then flattened them out again and pressed them on top of the Smooth-It. Once in place, I pressed down good and hard with my fingers to make sure the foil "molds" were tightly in place and waited for everything to dry. After a few minutes, I pulled off the foil and did a bit of maintenance work around the edges (to get rid of the stuff that wound up looking not quite right or whatever). After vacuuming up the crud, I brushed on various shades of WS pigment (watered down this time, just to get a different look). As with the grand canyon rocks, I imagine I'll be revisiting the coloring later on (once all of the turf and whatnot is in place).

So, that's it. I actually finished more than half of of my total stone work in less than half an hour. All that's left now is another "cast and stick" job on the southern wall of the grand canyon and I'm finished with the plaster. Moohahahahah!!!

11/24/06 - Finished with the rocks and the undercoat

I finished my "cast and stick" job on the southern wall of the grand canyon. I also finished covering up the base with Earth Undercoat. So, I guess now I'm ready to get started on applying turf to the base and ballast to the track. But first, I still think I need a couple of more small buildings...

11/24/06 - Three more buildings

Good lord, this layout is a ravenous, building-devouring beast that is never satisfied. I keep throwing 'em on, and it keeps swallowing 'em up! Well, all I can say is that it better be happy now, because I ain't adding any more... Um, probably.

Anyway, I decided that the yard was looking a little too sparsely populated. So, I added a NuComp Miniatures "N Scale Garage"- a very nice and very small storage-type building that looks very much at home with the rest of my yard buildings. I'm not sure what it's made out of, but normal model glue doesn't work very well on it, so I wound up using CA. First, I assembled the walls on the base and sprayed them with Floquil "Concrete". Next, I sprayed the roof sections with Grimy Black and stuck them on, and then sprayed the garage door with Bright Silver and stuck that on. Lastly, I brushed on a coating of heavy weatherwash followed by some Bragdon powder.

Next, I decided to bite the bullet and just get rid of that second electric substation. I mean, it was going to have to go eventually, so why not now? In its place, I went back to the idea that I wanted some sort of generic freight storage building. Unfortunately, given the limited space, my options were few. What I opted for was a Piko (by way of Model Power) "U.S. Army Munitions Depot". The size is perfect, and the lack of any freight doors or loading docks on the sides made it easy to situate. I tossed the large cobblestone base (no room for it) and simply assembled the four walls (sprayed Boxcar Red), along with the roof and overhang (sprayed Bright Silver). I then stuck one of the doors on the wall underneath the awning, and the smokestack to the roof, brushed on some heavy weatherwash followed by some Bragdon powder and called it done. I haven't the faintest idea who uses it, or what they might be using it for. Maybe the railroad keeps lost luggage in there?

For my last trick, I decided I didn't like the Atlas signal tower sitting where it was and moved it down to the raised section of land at the other end of the grain elevator siding. And for the newly vacated spot, I asembled a Cornerstone "Jim's Repair Shop" kit. It's the perfect size, and it just seems very much at home in that spot next to the road. The kit comes in nice colors, so the only painting I did was Concrete for the base, Grimy Black for the roof and Boxcar Red for the chimney. I didn't want anybody looking in the windows and seeing nothing, so I sprayed the whole thing with Dull-Cote to glaze them over. Finally, a coating of light weatherwash and some Bragdon powder.

I think that's going to have to be it for structures, at least for now. I keep forgetting that once I get around to planting trees and bushes and grass and weeds and whatnot (not to mention cars and trucks and dumpsters and yadda, yadda, yadda), a lot of what looks like barren wasteland right now is simply going to go away. So, no point in trying to eat it all up now.

11/25/06 - Finished putting together that GHQ "JD 9500 Corn Combine"

I've said it before and I'll say it again - working with pewter sucks. I don't like working with CA, I don't like having to handbrush every square inch of a model, and I really don't like the crappy, poorly-photocopied instructions that GHQ provides (the pictures are practically useless). To make matters worse, this particular kit comes with a very scary assortment of skinny little etched-brass handrails that require the drilling of about a dozen miniscule little holes. Needless to say, I completely skipped that part. It's just not going to happen. Basically all I did was assemble the pewter pieces along with the cab sides (the only etched-brass parts I even bothered with), brushed the wheel hubs with Floquil "Reefer Yellow", the tires with "Engine Black" and everything else with "MKT Green". Then I sprayed on a layer of Dull-Cote and ran screaming into the hills with my sanity barely intact. It actually doesn't look too bad, even without the handrails (and thank god for N scale - because from five feet away who's going to miss them anyway?)

In the meantime, I've ordered up a couple more tractors and suchlike to complete the scene. Prepainted and preassembled? You'd better believe it, baby.

11/27/06 - Finished ballasting the track

Up until Scenic Ridge, ballasting track was always one of my most despised of model railroading tasks. It took forever and I was never happy with the results. However, after experimenting around with different methods on SR, I finally came up with one that requires very little effort, goes very quickly, and produces very respectable results:

- Use a small spoon to sprinkle ballast between the rails (just enough to fill the gaps between the ties and no more)
- Take a small brush and even out the ballast so that the gaps between the ties are filled with ballast, and brush away the rest
- Vacuum up any excess ballast that's landed outside the rails (we're not ready for that yet)
- For turnouts, apply the ballast very sparingly - like just enough to make it look like there's some ballast there, but not enough that its going to interfere with the moving parts of the switch
- Run a locomotive over the track to make sure you haven't built up any obstructions
- Use a spray bottle to saturate the ballast with "wet water" (a mixture of water and a couple of drops of liquid soap or laundry detergent)
- Mask the moving parts of your turnouts (we'll get to those in a moment)
- Use a spray bottle to saturate the ballast with Woodland Scenics "Scenic Cement"
- Use an eyedropper to carefully apply scenic cement to the ballast in your turnouts
- Use a cloth to clean the glue from the railtops and anyplace else where it doesn't belong (roads, etc)
- Brush the moving parts of your turnouts with rubbing alcohol to wash off any glue (so they don't wind up getting all gummed up when the glue dries)
- Once the glue dries, clean the rails tops with a Bright Boy or a track cleaning car or whatever it is you use to clean your rails
- Make sure all of your turnouts are still operating smoothly - remove any ballast or glue that's interfering with their operation (Pecos, it seems, require a lot of extra attention in the cleaning department)
- Use a brush to apply Golden Mediums "Fluid Matte Medium" (available at any art supply store) to the roadbed outside the track This stuff will fix your ballast to the roadbed, and it completely vanishes once dry
- Sprinkle ballast onto the matte medium and wait for everything to dry
- Remove any ballast that wound up in places it shouldn't have (I use either a toothbrush or just rub it off with my fingers) and then vacuum up everything that didn't stick
- Retouch any areas that didn't get enough ballast

I was able to ballast my entire layout in a grand total of about six hours (not counting drying time) spread out over three days. Using the old method where you dump the ballast on, arrange it all with a brush and then use an eyedropper to apply the wet water and the scenic cement, I might have been able to finish 4-5 feet worth of track in the same amount of time. And glacial speed aside, I never used to be able to get the ballast outside the rails to look right. Inevitably I'd wind up piling it to the sky to cover the edges of the roadbed, only to have it spread out for miles in the flash floods created by that damned eyedropper. Yes, I do wind up wasting a fair amount of ballast this new way, but if I figure in all the money saved on aspirin and therapy sessions, it all evens out.

In the past I've always used Woodland Scenics dark brown ballast. I don't know that I've ever seen that particular color of ballast used prototypically (not around here, anyway), but it's fairly unobtrusive, it blends in nicely with the roadbed, and anything you spill on it (track cleaning fluid, etc) tends to simply vanish. My original plan was to use the same ballast on this layout. In fact, it's the ballast I used three months ago when I was finishing off the track underneath my bridges. However, while browsing around at YOLHS, I happened across some Arizona Rock & Mineral Co. "C&NW/Santa Fe Mauve" ballast that really caught my eye. It's a mixture of pink, brown and gray stone that looks exactly like much of the ballast I see on mainlines up here in Minnesota (not surprising, what with this being former C&NW country and all). The stuff I wound up getting is supposedly "HO Scale" (they didn't have the N Scale equivalent in stock), but to be honest, I can't really tell the difference.

So, I dunno... am I happy with my choice? I'm not quite sure at this point. It certainly looks prototypical, but I guess I'm just not used to light ballast yet. We'll see how things look once I get the turf down. Hopefully it'll grow on me (and it'd damn well better, 'cuz it's not like I can switch now).

12/01/06 - Finished applying the blended turf and assorted bits of gravel

Stage II of covering up the base (IE, putting down a layer of Woodland Scenics "Blended Turf") is now complete (Stage I having been the application of the "Earth Undercoat"). The process is pretty simple and painless - brush matte medium onto the areas that you want covered, sprinkle on the turf (I use the little shaker that came with Scenic Ridge), allow a couple of hours for drying, and then vacuum up the stuff that didn't stick.

I also finished off a few miscellaneous bits of gravel business that I'd been putting off- namely, an access road for the farm (wow, right off into the clouds...), an access road for the generic freight storage building, a parking area for the repair shop and a parking area for the service station.

I'm not sure that I'm going to be documenting every bit of detailing as I go, but what the hey, let's see how long I can keep it up... For the remainder of the Farmer's Union parking lot machinary, I added a Neal's N-Gauging Trains "Modern Tractor" and a Wiking "Massey Ferguson MF 8280 With Front Fork". For the farm, I added a Wiking "Jumbo Hay Loader Trailer" (to go with the previously purchased Athearn John Deere tractor).

As I've been finishing up applying turf to the various areas, I've also been going ahead and fixing most of the buildings to the base. As I found out last weekend, picking up and moving all of the buildings (when it comes time to relocate the layout in order to play some pool) is an annoying procedure. So, for the buildings that never need to move (IE, the ones that don't interfere with cleaning the track), I just apply a bit of white glue to the bottom and stick 'em to the base.

Now that I've reached the whole "Blended Turf" stage, I am once again reminded of the weirdness of it all. It's nice to get some greenery into the mix, but the whole layout does tend to take on a rather pristine "manicured golf course" look. Of course, that'll all change soon enough as I mix in some of the assorted Woodland Scenics "Accent" turf. But the good news is that now that my pink ballast is surrounded by some green grass, I'm definitely much happier with the look of it. I think it's going to work out after all.

Another random thought that comes to mind (vis'a'vis the reduced size I wound up going with on this layout in order to retain portability)... Wow, I'm actually glad that "August Mark" decided to make that particular "compromise". As it turns out, not only is this size about all I'm willing to handle in terms of coverage (be it buildings, roads or landscaping), but damn, just the physics of trying to work at the center of even a slightly larger layout makes my back hurt just thinking about it. I think I'd need one of those Tom Cruise "Mission Impossible" pulley rigs just to get at the center of the thing!

Anyway, I think that I can safely say that "Major Combat Operations" are over, at least as far as the track, buildings and scenery are concerned. Apart from some interesting side projects I have planned (a corn field for the farm and my river/waterfall), I've definitely moved on into the "detailing" stage of things- IE, accent turf, coarse turf, shrubbery, trees, telephone poles & wires, fences, vehicles, people, etc, etc, etc...

Wow, is it possible that I will have actually completed two entire layouts in the space of one calendar year? And will I get some kind of major award for my efforts? Only time will tell...

12/04/06 - Finished applying the accent turf

I didn't want to go too nuts with the accent turf and wind up with a crazy quilt look, so basically I just mixed in large areas of "Burnt Grass" along with a few very small areas of "Yellow Grass". The shading is pretty subtle and I don't know how well it shows up in the photos, but I think it turned out very well. The golf course is definitely gone.

Once again, the procedure is pretty simple- I use a spray bottle to spritz down random areas of scenic cement, sprinkle on the turf, wait for the glue to dry and then vacuum up whatever didn't stick.

I've also been working on the river and waterfall, and as soon as everything dries I'll post the pictures. You just ain't'a gonna believe how cool it all turned out! In the meantime, I guess I move on to the coarse turf, rock debris and underbrush.

12/04/06 - Finished the river and the waterfall

This was one heck of a big experiment for me, involving lots of new techniques (some learned elsewhere and some I invented myself along the way). And as with anything new, I guess one just kind of muddles along and hopes for the best, but in this case I think things turned out much better than I had any reason to expect.

I started out by simply following the Woodland Scenics methodology for modeling a river. First, I painted the river bed (dark brownish pigments at the center, lightening to yellow pigments at the bank). Next, I added a smattering of Talus (rock debris) to the bed and a half dozen or so small twigs to simulate underwater debris. Once the bed was ready to go, I poured in a shallow layer of WS "Realistic Water". I used this particular product on Scenic Ridge, and once again I must enthusiastically sing its praises. You simply pour it straight out of the bottle into wherever it is you want water to appear (it pours like molasses). It takes a good 24 hours to solidify, so you can push it around or scoop it out or otherwise manipulate the heck out of it for hours after you first pour it. In my case, I just poured it at the top of the streambed and watched it flow slowly downstream, right over the banks of my waterfall, and on into the riverbed below (and, as luck would have it, right off the edge of my layout - oops). As I found out on SR, Realistic Water tends to turn a bit cloudy (and purplish) if you go too thick with it, so it's best to work in layers no thicker than an eighth of an inch (if you don't plan on applying any coloring to it).

Once I'd finished the river itself, I started in on the waterfall. For this, I used Woodland Scenics "Water Effects" (yet another ridiculously effective and easy to use product from WS). First, you measure the size of your waterfall, then you squirt out enough Water Effects on to a non-stick surface (I used a frying pan) to cover the measured area. Next, you draw lines through the goo using a couple of toothpicks to give it texture, feathering out each end an additional quarter inch so that you have something to stick to your river. Once you've got a shape you're happy with, let it dry four about 24 hours and then pull it up off the pan (or whatever) - it comes off readily. Once dry, it takes on a very convincing mixture of clear/translucent and opaque/white areas - IE, just like frothy water. I have no idea what this stuff is, but it reminds me a lot of that plastigoop stuff we used to use to make Creepy Crawlers back in the day. The final step is to apply a bit of Water Effects goo to the feathered ends of the waterfall and stick it your river.

So, I guess in the Woodland Scenics world of river modeling it would have been at this point that I should have stopped. But you know me... I just can't leave well enough alone. And frankly, I just wasn't buying that river. Maybe up in some pristine glacier someplace you have crystal clear rivers where you can see right down to the bottom, even at the deepest parts. But in farm country? I think not... So, I decided to go ahead and brush a semi-transparent layer of watered-down Earth Undercoat onto the surface of the river and then pour on another shallow layer of Realistic Water to give the water some of that chunky-style midwestern farm run-off look.

So, now I guess I should really have called it quits, but... I started thinking maybe I wanted to take a stab at blue water. Now, I know Woodland Scenics absolutely eschews blue water (for whatever reason). And don't ask me why, 'cuz when I look at rivers or lakes or the ocean or whatever, and if it's a sunny day, that water looks blue to me. On the other hand, I've seen a lot of pictures from a lot of really half-assed layouts where attempts at blue rivers turned out absolutely ghastly looking- comical even. Nevertheless, determined to give it a try, I decided to give it a try.

Now, trying to decide on what paint will work best for the job is not as easy as it might sound. YOLHS has a dizzying assortment of paint- multiple brands, multiple chemical make-ups and multiple shades of "blue". Eventually I just grabbed something that looked like it might work and got out of there before old age set in. What I wound up with was a bottle of Model Master "Dark Blue" Acryl paint and a bottle of thinner. The first thing I did when I got home was to use Water Effects to build some (soon to be) underwater turbulance around some of my rocks and "logs". Then I mixed up a thinned-out batch of paint and tried brushing it onto the river. Hmm, not so good. It didn't really paint the surface so much as it pooled up in little puddles here and there. Rats. So, I added more paint to the mix and brushed that on. Well, that worked much better, but unfortunately it didn't wind up being quite as see-through as I wanted it to be (I was hoping to still be able to see through to the bottom, but except for the odd spot here and there, no such luck). After I'd finished blue-izing the river, I poured on another thin layer of Realistic Water. Next, I decided to apply a bit of that original too-thin batch to the waterfall itself, where it actually wound up working out quite nicely (leaving much of the original white patches white).

So, all in all I'm very happy with the waterfall, and pretty happy with the river. I think the particular shade of blue I used wound up looking kind of pretty (if, I guess, not 100% realistic), but I think I may try applying a further coat of something else (darker) to tone down the vibrant blueness of it all. And before I try this again on some future layout, I'm going to have to figure out a better method for mixing the paint (or use a different kind of paint entirely) whereby I can tint my river blue, but still leave it fairly transparent. Also, I think I'll probably skip the underwater turbulence next time. I'd say that turned out to be the least convincing part of the entire project.

Still, if you don't make at least one mistake (and hopefully learn from it) while building a layout, I'd say you weren't trying hard enough

12/05/06 - When Spookshow Nation speaks, I listen! (Eventually...)

I got an email from a guy a few days ago (Hi Dwayne!) who suggested that it would be more prototypically accurate if I had my storage tanks sitting on white rock (ala the above picture attachment). And as usual, I just wasn't real keen on the idea, thinking it would look kind of bizarre. Well, sure enough, I got another email today from yet another guy (Hi Rob!), who further extolled the prototypical virtues of white rock, explaining that it's easy to install, virtually maintenance free, doesn't bog down during heavy rain, and shows leaks much more readily than grass. OK, OK, so my mission was clear - time to put down some white rock.

As luck would have it, I had an entire bag of white Woodland Scenics ballast left over from my Scenic Ridge kit laying around (as mentioned previously, I decided to use brown ballast on that layout). So, I sprinkled it inside the berms, sprayed it with wet water, and then sprayed it with Scenic Cement. And as always seems to be the case, it wound up looking great. You'd think I would have learned my lesson by now - when given a choice, going with the prototype always seems to yield the best results.

So anyway, thanks for the tip gents. Keep 'em coming, I need all the help I can get!

12/05/06 - Well, I don't care what anyone says, the river is done and I like it.

I added a very thinned out coat of Testors "Dark Blue" enamel paint to the surface of the river (about 2:1 thinner to paint) to darken it up a bit (and further mute the presence of that goofy underwater turbulence). This mixture actually turned out to be nicely transparent, so I think I'll probably go with something along these lines on that next layout. Nevertheless, it's definitely BLUE and (much to the regret of the naysayers), there's not much I can do about that now. Yes, I still seem to be the only one that likes it (my traitorous family included), but what can I say? There's no accounting for taste (and I won't say who's).

BTW, I forgot to mention this before, but I added some slop-and-foil rock formations to the area around the waterfall (if it's not obvious). Such a grandiose waterfall simply demanded a bit more from its previously mundane surroundings (or, y'know, whatever). Also obvious from the picture is the fact that I've gotten started on the whole coarse turf thing, but I'll fill y'all in on that deal once I've finished. "Wow, feeling a bit testy today, eh Mark?" Oh, shut up.

12/07/06 - Finished with the Coarse Turf and the Talus (Rock Debris)

I figured that the coarse turf should start around the rural edges of the layout and work its way inwards. Trouble is, I never really know when to stop, mainly 'cuz I don't know what this stuff is supposed to be exactly. Is it tall grass? Weeds? Low brush? Who knows. I think more than anything it just makes your turf look a bit more interesting by giving it some texture. So anyway, basically I just worked inwards, gradually tapering off as I got to the busier parts of the layout, where I then stopped (figuring somebody somewhere was keeping that grass mowed).

I used a variety of colors (light green, dark green and burnt green) in different areas, just to minimize the "it all looks the same" factor. I started by using an eyedropper to gloop scenic cement into the areas where I wanted the turf to go, then sprinkled it on and pushed it down flat with my fingers. Once the glue dried, I vacuumed up the excess and then smashed it down flat again (maybe it's just me, but I think it looks better if it's not all "fluffy").

It's at this point that Scenic Ridge goes on to larger and more obvious foliage, but apart from a few small bushes here and there (probably in the "grand canyon" area), I think I'm pretty much done with the ground cover. I think SR wound up looking a bit too lush and tropical for my taste, so I'm going to leave well enough alone (for a change).

For the rock debris, I used the smallest size of WS "Talus" around the base of the "slop-and-foil" rock facings, and the next size up around the base of the "cast-and-stick" rocks in the grand canyon. I used a small spoon to put the rocks into place and then an eyedropper to dose them with scenic cement (and as usual, once everything dried I sucked up the stuff that didn't stick with a vacuum). This stuff seems to suck up the glue pretty nicely without an application of wet water, so I skipped that step.

The one thing I did figure out is that I should have put this stuff in place back when I was actually building the rock facades themselves, and then painted everything all at once. Trying to match the original rock colorings a few weeks after the fact turned out to be a bit of a challenge. So, another lesson learned.

12/08/06 - The beast, it hungers!

The more I prettify and scenicize the edges of the layout, the more I feel like the industrial center could benefit from a bit more action (IE, buildings). So, with that in mind I added about 5/8's of the Cornerstone "Water Street Freight Terminal" kit to the backboard (next to the grain elevator).

In order to butt the loading dock up to the edge of the roadbed, and at the same time have the back of the building resting flush against the backboard, I did the old "score-and-snap" trick on the base, the side walls and the roof. For paint, I sprayed the roof "Grimy Black", the base and the roof trim "Concrete", the loading doors and roof vents "Bright Silver", and the loading dock "Rail Brown". The stock colors for the walls and windows (brown and green respectively) worked OK for me, so I left them alone. Once assembled, I brushed on a layer of heavy weatherwash, applied a couple of decals, sprayed the whole thing with flat finish and then brushed on various shades of Bragdon powder. Lastly, I added a set of Woodland Scenics "Dock Workers" figures along with some assorted freight details that I picked up off of eBay (I spent like $25 for a guy's huge "pile o' stuff" from his liquidated layout- a purchase that will hopefully save me a little bit of money down the line in trips to YOLHS).

As I progress through the scenary and detailing stages, I can't help but feel like I've gone completely astray from my original vision for this layout. Don't get me wrong, I really like how it's turning out and I don't know what, if anything, I'd change. But man, it feels neither "grungy", nor particularly "industrial" to me. I guess in my mind, I pictured something that would evoke those wonderfully nasty old rust-belt industrial areas with their steel mills and manufacturing plants belching choking smoke into the atmosphere, spewing toxic gunk into all of the waterways and generally killing every bird, tree and blade of grass for miles around. Instead, I seem to have gone all "Minnesota" on the thing, as what I've wound up with feels very much like some of the exurban areas around where I live. Y'know, industrial up to a point, but still green and pretty, and with hints of farm country leaking in around the edges.

Oh well, when you build layouts without any kind of firm plan in mind, I guess you just kind of go with the flow and see where you wind up. And in this instance, I guess I've fallen into the trap of accidentally modeling that with which I'm familiar. No regrets, though. There's always that "next" one.

12/08/06 - Painted the tunnel entrances

I used some watered-down WS pigment for these (quite an insane variety of shades, don't ask me what I was thinking), followed up by some matching Bragdon powder.

12/09/06 - Finished with the underbrush (such as it is)

I glued a few clumps of Woodland Scenics "Bushes" to the base of the rocks in the grand canyon and stuck the odd lump or three around the banks of river. And, that's it. Hey, it's not like I'm modeling the Amazon river basin. On to the trees!

12/11/06 - Finished with the trees

I wound up building twenty trees, and although it sure felt like I lot, the layout did a pretty good job of simply swallowing them up (as it does with just about everything it seems). Since I'm trying to keep the overt greenery to a minimum, I pretty much limited them to three logical areas- the farm, the river and the northwest corner (where the backdrop I chose sort of demanded a bit of extra greenery in the foreground). Apart from those areas, I added a total of four "loner" trees scattered here and there for variety. I don't know what it is about trees, but they really cause buildings to come alive when placed in close proximity (as evidenced by my farmhouse picture). Nevertheless, since I'm still trying to (more or less) stick to my original "industrial" theme, I tried to restrain myself and basically limited the trees to the outer edges of the layout.

Once again sticking with the methods I learned on Scenic Ridge, I built them using Woodland Scenics tree "frames" (slathered with Hob-E-Tac glue and festooned with WS Medium Green and Light Green "Bushes"). They're pretty easy to build, but it's a very sloppy job and I can't seem to stand to do more than about five at a time before needing a break. Sloppiness aside though, they're awfully cheap to build (at least as compared to "prebuilt" trees), and I think they're quite convincing looking.

As you can tell from my pictures, I've been gradually acquiring and placing an assortment of vehicles and other details, all of which I will comment on as soon as I finish up with them.

12/12/06 - Started building the #&%@*! refinery security fence

Lord god a'mighty, if this stupid fence didn't look so darned good I would've given up on this whole project after about 10 minutes. What a bitch!

OK, now that I've gotten my initial whining out of the way... Let's talk about fences in general, and this one in particular. First of all, there's just no getting around it, fences look awesome on a layout. The real world is full of fences, and adding a few to any layout really helps to bring your sub-scenes to life. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a realistic looking chain link fence product (or home-brew rig) that was easy to deal with. Generally speaking, you're gluing some kind of fence material (be it metal screen, bridal veil material, nylon, etched brass or god knows what) to some kind of metal post (usually a pin) with CA and then trying to get the whole thing to look sturdy, straight and generally fence-like. And maybe it's just me, but I have never been a fan of CA - not only does it tend to make a big mess, but it seems to have a mind of its own- "Am I going to stick what you want stuck? Oh maybe after you try three or four times and manage to get your fingers and everything else stuck first." I tell you, if somebody invented a simple nylon chain link fence product (complete with sturdily pre-affixed pins) that came in a handy-dandy roll, I would make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Anyway, fantasy fences not being currently available, I decided to go with some Gold Medal Models etched brass "Chain Link Fence With Barbed Wire and Gates". I figure I'll eventually be making use of plain old nondescript nylon chain link fence elsewhere on the layout, so I thought I'd go with something more interesting (and probably more prototypical) for the refinery (IE, the barbed wire). Plus, I thought that sturdy etched-brass fencing would just be easier to deal with than floppy nylon. Well, surprise, surprise, I guess not.

First things first, this stuff does look amazing. Granted, I'm no rivet counter, but it just looks totally realistic to me (especially when you bend the barbed wire at an angle for that 3-D effect). Unfortunately, I don't know who they had in mind when they designed it, but it sure wasn't me- the supplied installation procedure is completely unworkable as far as I'm concerned.

Each pack comes with four sections of fence (each being about 4" in length) along with a drilling "jig". Each fence section has a tiny little spike at the bottom of each post (a total of seven per section), and the jig is designed such that you're supposed to drill tiny little holes into your layout, each of which is supposed to line up with one of the tiny little fence pole spikes. Uh, right... I don't know what planet these people inhabit, but it sure isn't mine. Oh yes, I tried wrangling that little jig to drill all those little holes and it was a complete catastrophe. Jeez, get the thing off by a millimeter and your holes are completely useless as far as getting one section of fence to butt up to the next (that is if you can even find said tiny little holes in order to assess their uselessousity). And god help you if your terrain isn't as flat as North Dakota, because your tiny little fence spikes just aint'a gonna find those tiny little holes even if you did know where they were.

So, after unsucessfully trying to get a few sections of fence in place (and connected... and straight... and fixed to the base) I decided that the whole "drilling tiny little holes for the tiny little fence feet" thing just wasn't going to work. The next thing I tried was just saying "screw you" to the tiny little holes entirely and trying to jam the spikes directly into the base. This worked, but only occasionally- there's a lot of stray "Smooth-It" and plaster cloth in the vicinity, and faced with such obstructions, said tiny little metal spikes simply give up the ghost and bend over. And even if I could get the little buggers pressed into the soil somehow, they're so tiny that they'd never stay put on their own. And trying to coat them with some kind of adhesive turned out to be basically useless as well, as it would all just basically vanish in the whole process of trying to get the seven tiny little spikes stuck into the base and have everything line up with the adjoining sections of fence. Gah! I get a headache just writing about it...

So, my next bright idea was to say "screw you" to the tiny little metal spikes as well, and just cut the bastards off. Instead, I opted for using CA (ah, my old nemesis, so we meet again) to affix a big ol' metal pin to the middle of each fence section and use that to stick the fence to the base. Well, nice idea in theory, but another non-starter. Friggin' round metal pins don't CA to flat brass fence particularly well - or at least not well enough to withstand the rigors of being manhandled into semi-rigid layout base (I tell you - "super" glue my ass). Plus, preaffixing a pin (albeit sturdy and lengthy) to the fence still left me with the whole "oops, you stuck it in a millimeter too far to the right and left a big gap between fence sections, try again" problem. And given the tenuous nature of the CA'd pins, naturally they just come unstuck the minute you try pulling them out in order to reposition the fence. Oy! What I wish GMM had done was included some long, flat brass fence spikes that could be glued to the fence and provide something you could really drive into the base.

So, I had to sit back and scratch my head for a bit... Two basic problems needed to be solved- how to fix the fence reliably to the base, and how to fix each section of fence reliably to the next. And finally, I did come up with a method that seems to have more or less worked. First, I stick a pin into the base (the subterranean portion being coated with some Foam Tack Glue so it stays put) that more or less approximates where the center post of a new section of fence is going to go. Next, I squirt some CA onto the pin as well as onto one edge of the fence section I'm about to install. Then, I overlap the CA'd end of the new fence section with the existing fence (flat CA'd to flat works pretty well) and butt the center of the new fence section up to the CA'd pin. Then I cross my fingers and pray that the sodding CA will grab on both fronts. And, believe it or not, this procedure wound up working pretty well. No, I'm not delusional enough to believe that, aesthetically speaking, it's going to hold up under magnifying glass scrutiny, but from an average viewing distance it looks very nice. On the other hand, if I happen to bump into the fence the first time I need to get in there with a Bright Boy and knock everything over, I'll probably rip it all up, toss it to the floor and spend a good long time jumping up and down on it, laughing hysterically all the while.

So, now all I have to do is figure out a way to erect the fence that actually sits atop the "asphalt" portion of the refinery base (complete with gates). Oh man, I think I need a break from all of this...

Oh, and don't even talk to me about the fact that I've only enclosed the basic "refinery" area and left the storage tanks out there completely unsecured. Frankly, I just plain don't want a big round fence running around out there flanking the track. Etched brass fence is great for enclosing rectangular areas, but curved? Fuggedaboutit... Anyway, if some petro-terrorist is ambitious enough to scale the surrouding cliffs in order to get at my storage tanks, a few feet of fence isn't about to stop him anyway. So hey, bombs away dude!

12/12/06 - Finished drawing the traffic control lines

I keep this stuff pretty simple and basic, mainly because when I try to do anything else it winds up looking pretty pathetic. So, single white lines down the center of the roads, little "stop here" bars at intersections, and that's it. I figured out on Scenic Ridge that the easiest way to go about this is to simply draw them on the road surface with a white pencil (aided either by a straight ruler for the straight roads, or a flexible ruler for the curving roads). Lastly, I brush on a light coating of weatherwash for that faded, washed-out look.

12/13/06 - Added another set of feeder wires

I always thought I might be taking a risk by going with basically one set of feeder wires for each of the two main track loops, and sure enough, I was. I noticed recently that my trains were slowing down rather noticeably as they navigated the innermost section of track on the inside loop. And after cleaning all of said track within an inch of its life and checking each individual piece with a voltmeter and not really getting anywhere, I decided to stop wasting my time trying to figure out where exactly the current loss was occuring and just go ahead and run another set of feeder wires into the problem area.

Tearing up track always seems like it's going to be a bigger deal than it ultimately turns out to be. All I had to do was pry a couple of sections of track up off the roadbed with a paint scraper, drill a hole for the feeder wires, connect up the wires, put the track back and do a little bit of ballast touch-up. The whole process probably took a half an hour, and the good news is that my trains are once again running flawlessly.

12/15/06 - Finished the refinery fence and gates

This turned out to be insanely easy, at least as compared to my trials and tribulations getting the perimeter fence installed. Bending the gate pieces made those particular fence sections very easy to install - basically just apply a little CA to the bottom and stand them on the asphalt. And then pretty much the same procedure for the non-gate sections - apply a little CA to the bottom and on the edges and stick them to the asphalt, using the sturdy gated sections as a prop while the glue dries. If I'd have known that this stuff sticks so readily to plaster, I think I probably would've installed the whole fence this way. Oh well.

The gates are very cool looking, but I'd sure like to know how exactly they go about closing the ones over by the siding (where the track, combined with the roadbed, probably rises a good four scale feet off the ground). Hmm, best not to think about it.

12/15/06 - Built a nigh invisible safety fence for the crazy steep hill

Like modeling N Scale doorknobs, lug nuts, and hummingbird nests, this whole project would have to come under the heading of "Um, what was the point?" Well, I'm not sure, but I was driving to work the other day and noticed some of that roadway fencing that consists of three-foot tall posts connected with three strands of steel cable, all designed to keep you from jumping the median and killing your neighbors. And I thought, hey, that would make for a nice, simple project for the F&I.

Oddly enough, for such a seemingly simple project, it turns out that there are a whole lot of ways to do it wrong, and somehow through the course of trying to build this dumb, invisible fence, I managed to discover them all. However, to save undue embarassment, I'll just skip the ways not to do it and go right to the final solution... First, take a bunch of pins, coat them with Foam Tack Glue and stick them into the surface next to the road. After waiting for the glue to dry, take a long piece of gray thread and tie it to one end of the row of pins. Next, squirt some CA onto the knot to firm it up and wait for that to dry. Then, loop the thread one time around each pin until you get to the far end. Holding the final loop tight, squirt CA onto all the loops to fix them in place. Then, cut off the dangly ends of the thread with an Exacto blade and finish things off by painting the tips of the pins yellow (move on to the second and even third strands at the risk of your own sanity - I sure didn't bother). Lastly, get out your magnifying glass, sit back, and admire your accomplishments.

12/16/06 - Spent a small fortune on cars and trucks

Man, this is where model railroading gets to be an even more insanely expensive hobby than it already is. I purchased some 63 assorted cars and trucks (Atlas, Kato, Busch, Wiking, Classic Metal Works, Athearn, and Con-Cor) to fill up all those roads and parking lots I so painstakingly built. So, let's see, figuring an average of about $6 per vehicle... Oh god... Let's just skip that part, my wife might read this some day...

But jeez, you drop thirty bucks on a building kit, and then spend a couple of days on assembly, paint and weathering, followed by a couple of more days running a road to it and building a place for people to park and for trucks to load and unload. And what do you get in return? A request for payment in the amount of fifty bucks from the car and truck suppliers so that you can clutter up said roads and parking lots with a lot of expensive cars and trucks (that is unless you're willing to use those stupid Model Power so-called "cars", something that even I wouldn't consider).

Anyway, I used Foam Tack Glue to stick the vehicles to the layout (a little dab on each tire). And as you can probably tell, I opted for a fairly bizarre selection of eras. But what can I say? I think the Classic Metal Works stuff (mainly geared towards people modeling the 40s, 50s and 60s) is just too cool looking to pass up. And unfortunately, most of the the rest of the prepainted/preassembled stuff currently available is geared towards people modeling more modern eras. Oh well, unless you're willing to dip your toes into the pewter/resin pool, you just kind of go with what's available. Anyway, since I'm not really modeling any specific era, I'm not going to let it bother me too much.

I must admit that, at this point, I think I'm finally growing a bit tired of this type of layout (the big rectangular spaghetti bowl filled with endless amounts of expensive "stuff") and I think I'm about ready to try something different. In fact, I've already been fomenting some ideas for my next layout where I plan on building a less ravenous beast.

12/16/06 - Added another fence

I added some of that new Atlas "hairpin" style fence to the passenger station. Since you can't really see the bottom of the fence (what with it being hidden between the roadbed and the station platform), I simply applied a healthy dose of Foam Tack Glue to the bottom of the fence posts and stuck the fence sections in place without using the supplied (very ugly) bases. The FTG provides plenty of support for the fence to stay upright all by itself while the glue dries.

12/20/06 - Uh oh...

I don't suppose anybody out there has Erin Brockovich's phone number...?

12/21/06 - Added some telephone poles/wires, street lights and traffic signals

After spending all that crazy cash on vehicles, I decided to give my wallet a break and go cheap with this stuff. For street lights, I used Plastruct SLD-200's. They look like pretty much 90% of the lights I see around town in my daily driving, so I decided to go with them pretty much exclusively. I may get the itch to varietize things later on and swap in another style here and there, but for now these will do just fine. The beauty part is that, as supplied, they make nice parking lot lights, but if you lop one of the ears off, they make equally nice boulevard lights (and the ears come in handy for sticking to the sides of buildings, telephone poles or anyplace else where you might want to model some lighting that doesn't require a dedicated pole). For some strange reason, Plastruct decided to issue these in neon green, so I wound up having to paint them all (using Floquil "Reefer Gray"). Installation follows the same basic procedure as everything else - glob a little bit of Foam Tack Glue to the base and stick them in place.

For the telephone poles, I went with the cheapie train set stuff readily available at YOLHS (Bachmann maybe, I forget). Prior to installing them, I sprayed them with a coat of flat finish. For installation, first I glued the poles to the layout with a little bit of Foam Tack Glue, then brushed Earth Undercoat onto the bases and sprinkled on a bit of turf to hide them. Once all that dried up, I installed the wires the same way I installed the thread for my "invisible safety fence" - IE, tie one end of a long strand of black thread to the end-pole, hit it with some CA, then proceed down the line, looping the thread around each arm, drawing it tight and then fixing it with some CA.

This is the third layout where I've followed this exact same telephone pole procedure, and so far I've only been able to muster enough ambition to string two "wires" per pole. And after stringing up my first set on this layout, I decided I'd had enough. I mean, selective compression aside, it seems a little silly having only two wires on a six-arm pole. So, for my second string I pruned the poles down to two arms. And wow, it wound up looking about a million percent better. Not too surprising I guess, since about 90% of the telephone poles I see around town do, in fact, have only two arms.

For the traffic signals, I went with the ridiculously overpriced "wow, they really work" offering from Model Power. Traffic lights may be ubiquitous in the real world, but in the N scale world, the options are (sadly) few and far between. Don't ask me why, I don't know. Anyway, not being interested in installing these things such that they actually work, I went ahead and removed all of the wiring. Then, just for fun, I painted the poles "Reefer Yellow" to make them look a little more prototypical.

The particular intersection I selected for my traffic lights probably wouldn't actually warrant them in the real world, but I wanted some signals someplace and it seemed to be about my best option. Given the lay of the land, I wound up having to perform a minor kit-bash job to put two sets of lights on one pole. I don't know how convincing it turned out, but given the limited space (and limited signal options), it was the best I could manage. Hoo-rah for mediocrity.

12/22/06 - Started detailing the refinery

I'm still holding out hope that I can yet find the grungy, industrial soul of this layout. And if I'm lucky, it might just be the detailing that's going to do it for me. With that in mind, I started putting the finishing touches on the refinery.

The one really eye-grabbing feature that I've noticed from pictures of real refineries is all the miles and miles of white pipe running all over the place. So, to capture some of that feel I took a bunch of leftover white sprues, cut and bent them into various shapes and attached them to the refinery. I ran a couple out the backside and had them shoot down into the ground (maybe connecting to the storage tanks?), a couple more out the backside over to the pumping shed, and a couple out of the pumping shed over to the truck filling platform. Then I ran a couple out of my storage shed (which, I guess, is now a pumphouse as well) and on into the refinery. Man, now I wish I'd painted all of the pipes that actually came with the refinery kits white. They'd sure stand out a lot better if I had.

I could probably stand to add a few more at this point, but since they don't really serve any known purpose, I'm afraid that if I add too many the whole thing is going to wind up looking a bit retarded. Also, at this point it's occurred to me that few (if any) of these pipes would ever run underground (where leaks would be more difficult to detect and fix), but oh well, that's the way things sometimes go for the mediocre modeler. You get these brilliant flashes of prototypical insight long after its too late to do anything about it (and then rationalize it as best you can later on). Still, my goal is not to model a prototypical refinery (a task that would require a lot more painstaking research and modeling effort, to be sure). Rather, I'm just trying to create the impression of a refinery (or so I tell myself). So, I guess I'm not going to lose too much sleep over the whole situation.

Anyway, I also added a couple of stacks of dirty, rusty disused pipe to increase the overall clutter factor. For these, I picked up some generic Plastruct piping at YOLHS, cut it into various lengths, glued them together and weathered them. And lastly, I dribbled some off-black liquid stains here and there, as well as completely soaking the white rocks in light weatherwash to dingy those areas up a bit.

So, it's a pretty good start. Now all I need to do is add a lot of crates and barrels and dumpsters and assorted bits of junk (not to mention people) to complete the scene.

12/26/06 - I'm through with the cornfield

Yeah, I know what you're asking- "Cornfield? What cornfield?" Well, let me tell you, I may be through with it, but I sure as hell didn't come anywhere near finishing it.

Here's the deal. I don't often find myself tossing in the towel on model railroading projects. Why? Well, mainly 'cuz the patented "Spookshow" method has always been to find the easiest possible method that yields the best possible results. The way I figure it, if you're breaking a sweat or yelling at the kids as a result of your efforts, you haven't looked hard enough for the simplest short-cut. I admit it, I do not aspire to modeling superstardom, and I'm equally ambivalent about getting bogged down in mindnumbingly tedious tasks that turn into the model railroading equivalent of a death march. The path of least resistance, that's my motto. After all, it's just a hobby, right? Well, pedantic cliches aside, there's no getting around it- my methods failed me here, and (with all due respect to the victims and survivors of WWII) this cornfield project turned into my own personal Bataan.

It all started out innocently enough. I performed my usual 10 minutes worth of research, and what I found were a lot of methods that produced crappy looking corn, and still more methods that, although effective, would take hundreds of years and cost millions of lives (IE, methods where you painstakingly model every single stinking plant). Hell, I even came across methods that both took forever and produced crappy results. Eventually though, I did come across a method using etched-brass pre-fab corn rows (from Alkem) that looked like it might be do-able. And so, despite my previous issues with etched-brass, I was excited to give it a try.

My initial concern with the etched-brass corn was that it was probably better suited to 180 degree layouts where you'd position it along a backdrop and where its utter flatness would not be an issue. However, I was assured that you could simply twist and bend the stalks and ears to produce 3-D corn (much like you would with Woodland Scenics' flat tree trunks). Well, that sounded reasonable enough, but once I had the corn in hand I was quickly disabused of that entire notion. This stuff is really thin and really flimsy. Yes, the individual corn plants are very finely detailed, but that's part of the problem too. Each plant has 10 "stalks" (or leaves, or whatever), and each 4" row of corn has 22 plants on it. So, my proposed 4" X 4" cornfield would require about 10 rows of corn, making for a total of 220 plants, and a grand total of 2,200 stalks to worry about twisting and bending. But, twenty-two, twenty-two hundred or twenty-two million, it doesn't really matter because it's all too fine and flimsy for that kind of manipulation anyway. Forget about bending individual stalks, the best I could ever manage was simply twisting entire plants such that they faced in some direction other than the flat direction from which they originated. And once bent, they have an annoying tendancy to just go back to being flat when you're not looking (or bend around every which way, and at every conceivable odd angle, and generally winding up looking nothing like nice, neat rows of corn).

Well, truly a pain in the ass, but I thought it was something I might be able to deal with once the corn was firmly seated in the field. So, with my enthusiasm for the project already flagging, I proceeded on to the painting. Basically all I did here was spray the entire row green and then brush the tassles yellow. Kind of a drag, especially when faced with the prospect of repeating the task 10 times over. Still, survivable. However, after I'd finished that first row I decided I'd better just go see about the whole installation process before I invested any more time in the painting (and mighty glad I am that I did).

Ironically, what I thought would be the simplest and most straight-forward part of this project turned out to be the ultimate deal breaker. For foam layouts, they recommend simply cutting a lengthy slit for each row of corn (each row being equipped with a 2 millimeter deep base). Well, I have no idea what (if anything) I was doing wrong, but I simply could not get a single bloody corn row successfully inserted into said slits. Despite repeatedly gashing the foam wider and wider, the damned corn fought me at every turn, absolutely refusing to go in. And if I somehow managed to actually force one end in, it would quickly pop out when I tried to push the other end in. Eventually the things would become so mangled and bent that they became useless. I completely destroyed three rows before finally giving up in disgust. Admittedly, I was limited insofar as I couldn't cut the slits infinitely wide, what with said foam serving double-duty as the roof for my tunnels. But believe me, the slits I cut were (at least in my estimation) more than wide enough to accommodate these stupid skinny brass strips.

So, that's it. My nameless farmer has gone back to making all of his money from cows. The next owner of this layout is more than welcome to try his or her hand at planting corn, but as for me? I'd rather chew tin-foil.

Addendum- I got a helpful email from the guy who makes the Alkem corn (hi Bernie!) Here's what he had to say:

"I just read of your experience with using our photo etched corn stalks on your website. I was sorry to read that you had an unpleasant experience using our product.

In looking over your website, I noticed that you used white beaded foam for your scenery base. Our instructions assume that one uses closed cell foam (the kind that is pink or blue and does not have beads). If you cut a slot in the pink/blue foam, the edges of the slot will grab the corn stalks and grip it tightly. I have planted literally dozens of rows in this type styrofoam without trouble. One trick I learned is that in planting on sloped surfaces, cutting the strips in one or two inch sections makes it easier to follow irregular surfaces. If you cannot cut slots, I suggest you try using Thickened ACC to glue the bottom of the row to your scenery. Then you can cover it with sifted dirt.

I hope this helps you and that you updated your website with the new results."

So, major kudos to Bernie for standing by his product. Although, it scares me just a little that he managed to track down my blog entry and contact me so quickly - are the Alkem corn police poised outside my door?? Only time will tell...

Anyway, I guess my mistake was going with the white beaded foam (a mistake I won't be repeating on future layouts, mind you), so I guess I was doomed from the get-go. As far as revisiting the whole thing goes, I'm still not sanguine about being able to get this stuff firmly glued in place without actually seating the corn rows into the foam. Most of my hope for getting the individual corn plants properly twisted around (and thus making a 3-D corn field) hung on my ability to get said corn rows firmly affixed to the base. And I just don't see gluing the corn to the top of the base as providing enough stability for said twisting operations. Of course, that's all just pessimistic supposition on my part. In any event, I've gotten over my corn obsession and moved on, so we'll never know. But don't let my screw-ups deter you from trying out Bernie's corn on your layout. Who knows? It might just wind up looking like this (actual Alkem corn installed by somebody who knew what they were doing):

12/26/06 - Finished detailing the yard buildings

Now I know why my interest in a given layout always seems to peter out at this point. By the time I reach the serious detailing stage, I've totally figured out what I don't like about a layout and have already mentally moved on to planning the next one. And as a consequence, this whole business of detailing simply becomes a costly (and mentally exhausting) distraction from said future plans. I mean, I can certainly see the attraction of lovingly (and endlessly) applying this, that and the other little thingy to your "baby" once you've come up with a layout design that you're truly happy with (and plan on living with for a while). But if you're just sort of drumming your fingers waiting for it to leave like some unwelcome guest, detailing just plain becomes a lot of work. You can't just plop down any old thang that you happen to have laying around (unless you're completely inured to the ridicule and scorn of your fellow modelers), so you do have to do a bit of research (both on the protoypical side, as well as on the "what's actually available in N scale" side). And then, apart from staples like crates, barrels and generic "junk" (which tend to accumulate of their own accord), you then have to go out and spend a lot of money on said details. I mean, I thought I was vexed with this layout's ability to consume expensive vehicles. Forget it, that doesn't even compare to this insatiable creature's ability to devour "people".

So anyway, bitch bitch bitch. I'm approaching the end here, so I should just quit whining and get on with it.

Oh right, so back to what I actually did... I added some patches of dirt, piles of ballast, ties, rails, boxes, barrels, crates, dumpsters, people, wheels, and assorted bits and pieces of junk. The figures are from Woodland Scenics (very expensive, but they do seem to have the best quality human figures, not to mention the widest variety), and the dumpsters are from Cal-Freight (who have a great selection of relatively inexpensive cast resin details). The wheels came from some old Rapido-style trucks that I had laying around, I made the ties from some wooden sticks I picked up at YOLHS and the rails were simply cut from old sections of Atlas track. The rest is a lot of generic junk that I've accumulated over the months and years (remember, never throw anything away).

And hey, on the plus side, it did wind up looking pretty darned grungy.

12/26/06 - Started in on the traffic signs

After once again taking it in the financial shorts in my journey down Detailing Lane (y'know, the human figures I was just grousing about), it's time to get back to a little bit of fiscal responsability. In other words, hellooooo Bachmann. In this case, I'm talking about Bachmann's insanely cheap grade crossing gates and signals. OK, I'll grant you- they're fairly lame looking as delivered, but with just a little bit of modification I think they work pretty well.

The first thing I do is nip off the hugely oversized "counter-balance" thingies on the gates and then glue the newly resized gates in place so they don't flip and flop all over the place. Next, I repaint the signals a bit - "Reefer Gray" for the poles and "CSX Black" for the signal housings. Lastly, I nip the bases off the signals and glue them (the signals, not the bases) to the gates. All things considered, I think they wind up looking pretty decent. Certainly good enough for the mediocre modeler. Hoy!

I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do about regular old "Stop" and "Railroad Crossing" signs for that other road. In the past I've used those really dumb Model Power signs, but I think I'd like to get away from that this time around. I'll let you know what I come up with (oh right, it's a layout blog, why the hell wouldn't I?)

Oh, and if you live in fear of miniscule painting tasks such as the one I just described, coax your gal pal into getting you one of these fancified fluorescent light/magnifying glass thingies for Christmas or Kwanzaa or Festivus or whatever (like mine did, bless her):

Man, talk about moving from N scale to G scale in one swell foop. My modeling life just got one hell of a lot easier.

12/29/06 - More detailing

I probably won't be documenting every single bit of detailing as I go along here. Much of it's just going to be a lot of "same old, same old", followed by varying portions of "more of the same" (IE, boxes and barrels, guys hauling boxes and barrels, guys watching guys hauling boxes and barrels, etc, etc, ad nauseum). Still, I promise to do my level best to keep you abreast of anything I do that might actually be interesting.

Anyway, once I got into this whole business of placing people, it became obvious that buying little packs of Woodland Scenics "guys" six at a time (at $10+ per pack) was going to drive me insane and send me to the poor house. Fortunately, I noticed that YOLHS has these "economy" packs of WS guys where you get a bundle of about 15 or so six-guy packs for $100, so I decided to go that route instead. Y'know, drop a C-note on guys all at once and draw the line there (regardless of how much the beast might complain later on). I mean, it seemed like a good idea at the time anyway...

Actually, the whole economy package thing turned out to be a bit of a mixed blessing. The so-called "Worker Bundle" that I purchased turned out to have a rather bizarre assortment of guys, about a quarter of which I'm going to have a hard time finding places for on the old F&I. Freight dock workers and general laborers? Boo-yah, bring 'em on. Garbage men, engineers, and uniformed railroad workers? Sure, I can work 'em in. Firemen, policemen and a road construction crew? Um... sure... I guess so. A funeral party, complete with coffin? Hey now!

Well, anyway, it saved me some money. Now I just have to figure out where to put that coffin.

I also built a Stop/X-ing sign for the three-way intersection using some of the signs I got from Dave at Scale Model Signs. These are available in various scales (as well as different sizes within each scale). Oddly enough, I decided that, size-wise, his Z scale signs would probably work the best for my purposes (the N scale signs, though undoubtedly scaled prototypically, just plain looked too big to me). The signs themselves are printed on glossy, adhesive-backed paper and are really tiny, so thank god for my new magnifying glass bench light and a really sharp Exacto knife. I carefully cut out each sign, peeled it off the adhesive backing and stuck it to a pin (aided by a little bit of CA just to be sure). Next, I painted the head of the pin gray (which otherwise tends to stick out like a very shiny sore thumb) and brushed a bit of weatherwash onto the backs of the signs to mute the basic white paperousity of the whole operation. Lastly, I coated the base of the pin with a bit of FTG and stuck it in place. I think it wound up looking very convincing, and certainly more realistic than the primitive Model Power trainset-style signs that I've tended to use in the past. Thanks, Dave.

Oh, and the haul-off dumpster next to Superior Paper and the tire rack next to Al's? More Cal-Freight jobs. Again, those guys have some great cast-resin detail pieces. As for the pile of oil cans and the gas price sign at Al's, sorry can't help ya. That stuff all came with a pile of used detail junk I picked up off eBay (and I really need to do more of that kind of thing, as I've recently discovered that money doesn't grow on trees around here).

So, wow, really approaching the end here. A few more guys, a few more boxes and barrels, a couple more signs, one last big fence, and I do believe this baby will be ready to sail.

01/02/07 - More detailing

I added a couple of Model Power train signals (once again spending a lot of extra money on functionality that I don't really need - I can't wait until my next layout where I plan on actually wiring this kind of stuff up). These wound up looking particularly cool (especially for Model Power), and I think I'm probably going to have to add a couple more.

I started building another fence down by Superior Paper, and once I got to the little service road by the intersection, it become obvious that I needed to add another traffic signal. And, so I did. However, it turned out to be a bit too tall for where it needed to go (telephone wires in the way), so I snipped about a half an inch off the base (and did the same for the other two). I always thought they were a little overly huge anyway, so I'm glad was forced into making this particular modification.

In addition to the usual assortment of people, boxes and barrels, I also added a pack of Model Power cows to expand the herd at the farm. The little see-saw and the gas pumps came in that assortment of stuff I got off of eBay. The LP gas tanks came with the package of pewter detail parts that I got with the Scenic Ridge "Building Assortment". The garbage cans and assorted bits of painted junk are from Woodland Scenics (in the same section as the human figure packs). The "feed/seed" sacks are actually mail sacks that came with the Atlas passenger station (the milk cans also came with the passenger station). And I made the Stop/Xing signs using the pins and paper signs I got from Scale Model Signs.

As it turns out, I wound up with way more people than I really needed. For whatever reason, it doesn't seem to take more than a guy or two to complete a scene. I guess when you think about it, unless you're talking about a busy downtown street, you don't generally see lots of people milling around outside. So, sticking a guy or two here and there is about all you really need. Oh well, no harm done. It's not like I won't be able to use the rest on my next layout (well, with the possible exception of that crazy funeral party).

So, at this point about all I really need to do is finish that new fence, and then maybe add the odd traffic sign here and there. So I expect I'll be putting this layout up for sale within the next week or two. The asking price is $1500, but I'm willing to entertain other offers. Drop me an email if you think you might be interested (and don't daudle, I already have one guy who I'm negotiating with). Priority given to those who can drive up to my front door and haul this thing off themselves.

01/02/07 - Magnets? What magnets? Oh, those magnets

I suppose the correct solution for concealing these eyesores is to just get the kind that go underneath the roadbed and can't be seen at all. But, I dunno, I seem to recall trying those out back on layout #1 and feeling like maybe they weren't as strong as the magnets you can actually see (perhaps just my imagination, perhaps not). Also, figuring out where to stop and do the uncouple cha-cha beomes a bit more challenging when you can't actually see the magnet in question. As a consequence, I've pretty much stuck with the in-your-face style magnets.

Anyway, not having anything better to do, I thought I'd take a whack at comouflaging them somewhat. My bright idea was to paint them to match the roadbed (using Polly Scale "German Mauve" paint), and then draw on some simulated ties using a black marker. All in all, I can't say that they look a whole lot better, but I guess they don't look any worse either. Let's call it a draw.

01/03/07 - Getting ready to transfer ownership of the F&I

Well, that was fast. The F&I has been sold and is headed out the door this coming Saturday. Dang, I don't seem to ever get a chance to kick back and appreciate the fruits of my labors anymore. Oh well, I'm more than ready to get on with my fourth N scale layout, "The Ultimate Roundy-Rounder", so I guess I'll get over it soon enough.

The dude who wound up purchasing F&I (hi Matt!) is a big operations guy, so I made a couple of modifications to accommodate his particular bent. First off, I've never been real happy with the way my refinery turnouts turned out (no pun intended). I don't know if I wound up getting some glue or some ballast (or both) messed up in the mechanisms, but they were always a bit twitchy. So, I decided to save Matt a few headaches and replace them. I also took the opportunity to stick in another set of track feeder wires. I don't know what I was thinking when I wired this thing up originally, trying to get away with such a minimal amount of wiring. For sure my next layout is going to have a set of feeder wires for every four feet of track, minimum.

Since Matt plans on situating the layout in a corner, getting at the northwest turnout (and groundthrow) is going to be pretty much of an impossibility for him. So, I decided to go ahead and install an Atlas "Deluxe Under-Table Switch Machine" in place of the groundthrow to make operations easier for him. Unfortunately, I've never been a big fan of remote-control switch machines, especially those of the under-the-table ilk. I had nothing but problems with the things on my first N scale layout, and sure enough, same deal this time around.

The particular switch machine I purchased has a very long needle for moving the turnout throwbar (like 3-4" in length). Unfortunately, the base underneath the turnout in question is deeper than that, so I had to carve out a hole for the switcher. I cut through the first layer of foam base with a little saw and then dug things out further by brushing some lacquer thinner onto the foam (literally melting it in the process). Next, I removed the groundthrow and then drilled out a hole for the switcher needle. And believe me, trying to retroactively install things like turnout controls is definitely not the way to go through life. Drilling a hole for an already-in-place turnout is every bit as difficult as it sounds. Anyway, I eventually got a hole I could use and set about hooking up the needle to the throwbar.

It's at this point that things get really squirrly. I stuck the needle through the hole in the turnout throwbar, put a little FTG on the machine's "feet" and then stuck some nails through the holes in said feet to fix the machine in place. Then, I used the little manual operations switch on the machine to move the needle from one position to the next to see how everything worked. Well, bloody hell, that throwbar didn't so much as budge a millimeter. Basically the needle would pivot back and forth inside the hole in the throwbar without moving the damned thing at all.

So, I spent the next several hours dicking around with repositioning the machine this way and that way, occasionally getting it to sort of, almost work, but never with full movement from one side to the other. Finally, I decided to see if gluing the pin to the throwbar would help any. So, I coated the pin with CA, stuck it through the hole in the throwbar, let it set up and then tried it again. Well, a little better, but still not perfect. So, I continued playing around with repositioning the machine this way and that way when, suddenly, out of the blue, it worked perfectly. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I went ahead and wired up the control box, made sure everything still worked, and then ran some trains through the turnout. When nothing derailed, I counted my blessings and called it day.

The frustrating part of the whole ordeal is that I still don't really know what it was that I did that got it working. Then again, since there's no way in hell I'll ever be using remote-control switch machines in the future, who cares? Build your layout so that you can use groundthrows, that's my motto.

So, that's about it for the F&I. I'm waiting on an order of Gold Medal chain link fence, and if I get it before Saturday I'll go ahead and finish the Superior Paper fence. And if not, I guess I'll see y'all over on my Layout #4 page.

01/07/07 - The pool table is empty once more

Yep, F&I is sold and out the door. Matt seemed quite pleased with his purchase, saying it looked even better in person than it did in pictures. So, everything worked out well for all concerned (good thing too, since he had to drive 5 hours just to get here). And I tell you, getting the thing out the door was quite the precision operation. If I'd have built it even an inch larger in either direction, it would've been stuck in my basement forever. I'll have to remember those dimensions, because I sure as heck ain't ever going to be able to build anything bigger (and still keep it portable, that is).

I never did get a chance to finish the Superior Paper fence (my fence order still hasn't arrived). Oh well, I guess that'll have to be Matt's first project.

So, the bad news for me is I don't have any place to get my train-running fix anymore. But the good news is that now I finally get to get started on The Ultimate Roundy-Rounder. See ya there!

12/01/09 - Addendum

Matt made some nice improvements to the original layout, including replacing my old cartoony backdrop with a really ace looking photographic version (suddenly causing me to question my allegiance to those old / simplistic Walthers backdrops entirely).

Flat & Industrial Part 1

Send email to the spooks!

Spookshow Home