N Scale Layout #4 (2007) - The Ultimate Roundy-Rounder


01/08/07 - The base is built

As threatened, I nailed together a wooden frame (built out of 2 X 4's) upon which to mount the foam base. There's not a straight corner or a level edge to be found anywhere on the thing, so clearly my woodworking skills haven't magically improved since the last time I tried to build any kind of layout benchwork. Now you know why I avoid the stuff.

I've been advised that 1 X 3's work just as well, and I actually considered going that route when I was shopping for wood down at Home Depot. But frankly, the 1 X 3's they had down there all looked pretty flimsy and warpy to me. So, I decided to just go with the sturdier looking 2 X 4's (and the extra weight be damned).

For the base, I picked up a couple of 8' X 4' pieces of pink insulation (1.5" thick). I trimmed both pieces to 7'6" in length, and then cut a 6" wide piece from one and stuck it to the other (for the mathamatically impaired, that makes a total width of 4'6"). That's about how big my last layout wound up being, which is just about as big as I can go and still be able to lug the thing up the stairs and out the door (for when I inevitably decide to part with it). To connect the two pieces of foam, I used Woodland Scenics "Foam Tack Glue" (held together with some T-Pins while the glue dried). To cover up the seam, I used Woodland Scenics Plaster Cloth. I expect I'll need to glue the whole thing to the frame pretty soon (presumably when I get to the point where I'm wiring things up), but for now I'm just going to leave it sitting loose on the frame (if for no other reason than it's easier to move this way).

And what about that magical Pink insulation? Well, I have to say, it's definitely sturdier than the white stuff. No question about it. Also, cutting it doesn't make nearly the mess that you get with the white. I took a big ol' saw to the stuff to make my cuts and got nice smooth edges, and had no more crud flying around than you'd get sawing wood.

Eventually I plan on using the rest of that second sheet to create a second layer of foam that will sit atop the outer edges of the first base, and make up the actual, real base of the layout. I have a feeling I'm going to need this to provide clear separation between the unoccupied center of the layout and the back side of the layout. I know, I know, the logical way to do this simulated "around the room" layout thing is to make an "O", where the layout lives on the outer edge of the "O" and the backdrops block off the center of the "O" all the way around. But since I don't want half my layout to be hidden from view, I'm going to try this crazy experiment where the front and side backdrops are in the middle of the layout and the rear backdrop is on the back of the layout. Will it work? Gad, who knows. We'll find out soon enough, I guess. Anyway, the first thing I need to do is figure out is where the track is going to go, and then we'll move on from there.

01/10/07 - The base is built... more

For just a whole bunch of reasons, I decided to go ahead and build up an actual layout "base" atop my original base and create a (by defacto) "dead zone" in the center (using most of the remainder of my second sheet of 4 X 8 foam in the process). Since my whole goal here is to not have to worry about creating a logical layout totality (one which extends inwards from each side and meets at the center), I needed some sort of barrier that makes that whole illusion possible - thus the sunken center (creating a now discernable "edge" to the inner lip of the back side of the layout). As an added plus, the "big square canyon" gives me walls to which I can affix backdrops for the front and sides, as well as providing a place where I can surreptitiously run wiring (if need be). For the actual "layout base", I went 18" deep on each side - that being just about the maximum distance I can comfortably reach when working on stuff (thus allowing me to go ahead and cancel my order for that Tom Cruise "Mission Impossible" dangly rig).

I have to say, I'm getting awfully tired of trying to explain the insane crap I'm trying to do on this layout. I sure hope the fact that it's difficult to delineate in words doesn't mean that it's going to be difficult (or impossible) to pull off in reality!

Oh yeah, I also went ahead and painted the new base using my seemingly infintite supply of cheap, brown interior latex paint. I have no idea (yet) how much of this is ultimately going to be covered up by other stuff, but whatever. I just feel better not having to look at ugly pink foam splattered with equally ugly plaster cloth. I know, it's a personal problem, but since the whole process takes about 10 minutes tops, I'm not going worry about putting my analyst on danger pay for this one.

So anyway, what say we try throwing down some track and see what happens?

01/11/07 - Started mocking up the track and risers

Wow, talk about layout design by the seat of your pants. Starting with nothing more than my basic idea (two pairs of double-track mains, one low, one high) I simply started laying track and sat back to see what would happen. The first thing I did was set up the straight sections along the front (what I'm calling the "east" side) of the layout, which allowed me to plug in all the interchange turnouts. With that complete, I moved on to the first curvy sections. And here, what I quickly figured out is that trying to build tandem, curving mains with sectional track is pretty much impossible. When all you really have to work with are 19" and 11" radius curves, the geometry just don't work. So, I figured my best plan of attack would be to mock up the outer mains of each pair using sectional track (using the widest possible radius curves), and then finish off the inner mains using flex track later on.

My first challenge came when I hit the spot on the northeast side of the layout where the upper mains need to cross over the lower mains. Here, I decided to go with a Kato "Double Truss Bridge". Why, you ask? Well, it looks cool, it hooks right up to my Atlas track, and it was the only double-track bridge that they had in stock at Ye Olde Local Hobby Shop (YOLHS), so what the hey, I went with it. Anyway, I spent a good long time trying to finagle the various curves such that the lower mains would head inward at the correct angle in order to get where they needed to go, and at the same time go under the bridge without crashing into the abutments. And as if that all weren't difficult enough, I also had to worry about juggling the upper mains such that they also made the correct curves to get where they needed to go (and not run off the edge of the layout, nor become so narrow that they breached the dreaded 11" radius barrier). Suffice it to say, it took a whole lot of experimentation and general head-scratching to get everything to work. What finally turned the tide for me was actually pulling out the 2" risers for the upper mains and putting them in place. Being able to experiment around with the bridge and the track with the correct elevations made all of the difference, and certainly explains why I'll never be able to design a layout on paper or using a computer. I simply cannot envision how all of this stuff is going to transfer from 2-D speculation to 3-D reality. But hey, don't shed any tears over my feeble brain - I actually quite enjoy this whole process of "layout design by physical experimentation".

Once I'd figured out that mocking up the risers right along with the track was the best way to go (and had solved the whole bridge problem), finishing up the rest of the initial mock-up turned out to be a fairly straight-forward procedure. Well hell, the whole track "plan" is basically a couple of slightly offset ovals, so it's not exactly rocket surgery. I did manage to stick with 19" radius curves almost exclusively, so once I get to putting down the inner flex track curves, I shouldn't have anything to worry about radius-wise. On the downside, it looks like my plans for a second mains-over-mains bridge just isn't going to happen. The only other place where the mains cross is a dead-obvious tunnel situation, so I guess I don't get to have a second visible bridge (or at least, not one where tracks cross over each other). Too bad too, 'cuz I think trains crossing over each other on a bridge is one of the most dramatic scenes one can have on a model railroad. Oh well.

Fear not, though. Now that the basic flow of the railroad is starting to take shape, I'm starting to get awfully excited about the possibilities for this layout. The bridge is totally bitchin', I have some very obvious places for some very cool tunnels (and accompanying dramatic mountainous scenery), I have tons of space to build a nice sized town on the eastern side of the layout, and even more space on the inner lip of the western side to build some run-through sidings and some kind of really big industry. And as if that weren't enough, I built myself a nice long run-through siding along the back (western) edge, where I should be able to erect several interesting "low profile" industrial structures.

And speaking of structures, I do believe that before I get too far into permanant-izing my track I'm going to have to spend a bit of time planning (and acquiring and building) said structures. On my last layout, I think I let the track drive the overall layout design a bit too much. This time around, I think I'm going to let the buildings have at least as much influence over the track as I do the track over the buildings. Hey, it's only fair.

01/13/07 - Nothin' new to report, other than a whole lot of rockin' on!

Blah, blah, blah... Sometimes it's more fun ta do other stuff than playing with trains, eh?

So anyway, here I am, the man behind the curtain. Nice ta meetcha!

01/15/07 - Finished the first building(s)

OK, I've pretty much settled on a plan for the east side of the layout. Going from east to west: edge of the layout, outer mains, inner mains, rail-oriented structures (passenger station, freight depot, etc), a street running north-south, a couple of blocks worth of small town buildings (facing east), and then a backdrop. And since I've already built a dozen or so Design Preservation buildings of the small town ilk for my Scenic Ridge layout, I decided to open the festivities this time around with a Cornerstone "Merchant's Row II" kit (although, no doubt I'll eventually wind up drinking deeply from the DPM well before all is said and done on the URR).

Based on the picture on the front of the box, I was kind of surprised to discover that this kit is, in fact, one big structure (and not three separate structures). No big deal I guess, but it did change my painting plans rather drastically. All of the wall sections are uniformly brown in color, so to really differentiate one building from the next (color-wise) you'd have to perform a whole lot of tricky mask-painting on each of them (no, not my strong suit). Oh, and can we talk about that picture for just a sec? I mean, it's hilarious. Not only do they have each building painted a different color, but each building actually features that fancy-pants accent paint scheme where every tenth brick is painted a different color from the rest. I mean, come on... If you're spending your life handbrushing individual N-scale bricks, you might just need to up your medication some (or maybe down it, I dunno, I'm not a shrink). Anyway, I decided instead to see if I couldn't get away with just handbrushing the various trim pieces on each building a unique color and see if that didn't do the trick. I opted for Floquil Reefer Gray for the left building, Dark Green for the middle building and Roof Brown for the right end building.

Once I started in on the painting, I ran into some problems with paint bleeding into places where I didn't want it to go. Having run into this problem before and just living with it, I decided this time to try and do something about it. My bright idea was to try spraying everything with a coat of flat finish first, and lo, this worked quite nicely. I was able to go ahead and finish painting all of the various window frames and trim pieces in the appropriate colors, and without further difficulty. Next, I sprayed the turret pieces and downspouts with Reefer Gray, the roof sections with Grimy Black, and then glued everything together.

The supplied base (with "sidewalk") is pretty decent looking, and hopefully I'll be able to use it when I actually put this structure onto the layout (IE, be able to match it up with the plaster sidewalk I'll ultimately need to build for the rest of the block). And if not? Well, no biggie - I'll just pull it off. But in any case, I went ahead and painted it using the magic brew of Woodland Scenics pigments that I use to simulate concrete (a mixture of WS "concrete" and "stone gray" pigments).

Once assembled, I hit everything with another blast of flat finish. I still don't quite know how I'm going to go about lighting these buildings, but I'm pretty sure I don't want windows that are too clear (and thus revealing the vast emptiness within), so fogging them up with a bit of chemical spew seemed like the prudent thing to do. Next, I brushed on a coating of weatherwash (rubbing alcohol mixed with a few drops of India Ink), followed by various shades of Bragdon Enterprises weathering powder. I tried using a different shade for each building just to see if that wouldn't differentiate them a bit. And although pretty subtle (I don't think you can really tell from my pictures), I think it worked out pretty well. Lastly, I sprayed the signs with flat white, stuck on some decals, sprayed said decals with flat finish and then glued the signs to the fronts of the buildings.

So, it's a start. I suppose now I'll need about a dozen more (give or take) to complete the scene.

01/17/07 - And the maiden voyage goes to.... Con-Cor's Pioneer Zephyr!

It looks like I'm going to be in kit-building mode for some time to come. And although I'm holding off on getting the track fixed in place until I have a better handle on what buildings need to go where, I'm not going to let that stop me from getting my train-running fix in. So, I went ahead and completed the outer loop of the upper main, hooked up a couple of wires and turned my Zephyr loose. I even went so far as to cut several custom pieces of track in order to complete the loop, which is kind of crazy at this stage because I'm sure I'll have to redo it all once I get to actually gluing the track down (as I've mentioned before, there's nothing quite so misleading as unaffixed sectional track). But whatever, I think it was worth the effort. Now I can enjoy a little action when I need to take a break from painting bricks and ruining my eyesight.

One thing I decided is that I'm going to go with Atlas remote control turnouts for the two switches along the back edge of the layout as well as the two in the center. After having to go through the process of retrofitting an under-table switch machine for the F&I (to accommodate the buyer, who needed to situate the layout in a corner), I figured I'd save myself potentially having to repeat that same process on the URR and make them remote control from the get-go. I decided to go with "on the table" (as opposed to under-table) switch machines. Yes, they're ugly as all get-out, but there is no way I'm going to subject myself to the misery of trying to get another under-table machine installed and working properly. It looks like I'll only have to worry about the four of them, so I don't think their ugliness is going to ruin the layout (I hope not, anyway).

01/18/07 - Work continues on the town buildings

After a bit of investigation, it turns out that the selection of N Scale "Small Town, USA" type structures is pretty much limited to the aforementioned Cornerstone "Merchant's Row II" kit and the ubiquitous offerings from DPM. From what I've been told, there actually were Merchant Rows I and III kits floating around out there in the dim and distant past. But, like so many venerable N scale offerings, they seem to have been shuffled back and forth between various companies over the years, only to ultimately vanish from the world entirely. The same can be said for the Walthers "State Street" and "University Avenue" kits. So, with DPM being pretty much my only readily available option, I went ahead and put together the first in the series - "Bruce's Bakery".

I started by assembling the walls and spraying them with Floquil "Boxcar Red" (which makes for a nice brick color), and then spent an hour or so handbrushing the window frames and assorted trim with "Roof Brown". After that I brushed on a coating of weatherwash, followed by some Bragdon powder.

As documented on my "Scenic Ridge" page, these DPM building kits are pretty spare. Basically you get the four walls (all one color), a piece of white cardstock (out of which you're supposed to fashion a roof), and some sheets of clear plastic (out of which you're supposed to fashion window glass). And baby, that's it. No decals, no nothing else. Now, back on SR I actually purchased all of my DPM kits as part of the Woodland Scenics "Town and Factory Building Set", which did come with a selection of decals (among other things) that you could use to detail your buildings.

Unfortunately, such niceties (oh, like decals) are not available when purchasing these kits ala carte. However, after spending a bit of time researching what's out there, I came up with some rather intriguing possibilties. First off, Woodland Scenics has a wide variety of interesting decal assortments (including the sheet that comes with the aforementioned T&S Building Set), so I ordered up a few of those from their website.

Next (and even better), a company called "Shire Scenes" has created clear plastic window sheets that provide signage, curtains, etc. for many of DPM's buildings. I don't know a whole lot about these things (yet), but I guess the guy who runs Neal's N Gauging Trains is their primary importer (they're made in Europe). So, I called him up and ordered a bunch.

Lastly (and most amazing of all), a company called Lo Cascio has entire interiors designed for some of these DPM kits! And as if that weren't enough, they also have actual lighting kits for said buildings. I mean, come on! Needless to say, I've ordered several of these as well (addendum from 2016 - Lo Cascio no longer sells these interior kits due to lack of interest).

And as if my building projects weren't already piling up enough as it is, I just got my Cornerstone "Empire Leather Tanning Complex" kit in the mail today from BLW. The ELTC package contains four separate buildings, all designed to be constructed using the new Cornerstone "modular" system. And honestly, at this point I haven't the faintest idea how well it's all going to fit on my layout (at least in its "stock" configuration). My original inclination was to put together some of the Cornerstone steel industry structures (Blast Furnace, Rolling Mill, et al) for my "big industrial area", but I quickly came to the conclusion that I didn't really have the space for them. So, rather than either A) Building a bunch of tired old "been there, done that" Cornerstone structures, or B) Spending a lot of time thinking up something original, I decided to just go with this relatively new tannery package. If nothing else, the whole modular aspect will lend me some flexibility in what I ultimately decide to build (if not some headaches as well, but we'll see). In any case, onward and upward with this stuff. Getting these buildings built and placed on the layout is the only thing stopping me from getting my track laid. And dammit, getting something laid around here is always my goal!

01/19/07 - Another day, another building

Another DPM job ("Otto's Parts" this time). I assembled the walls and sprayed them with Floquil "Concrete", then I brushed the woodwork with "Rail Brown". Lastly, I slathered on just a ton of weatherwash and Bragdon powder. You can always tell when I've really screwed up a paint job by how much weathering I have to apply to hide the glitches. I tell you, if it weren't for weathering I'd have been laughed out of this hobby ages ago.

Once again, I'm holding off on finishing things up (windows, roof and interior) until I get some of the stuff I've ordered. And speaking of DPM detailing, I got an email from a guy (hi Rob!) informing me of yet another option. A company called Tobias Locomotive Works has a line of resin kits that allow you to add interior details and fancy roofs to a number of DPM's building kits:

Very nice stuff, although I'm not sure how sanguine I am about my prospects of getting it all painted properly. Still, it's definitely worth looking into.

Addendum from later in the year - I just found out that TLW went out of business in April of '07. I haven't heard whether or not anyone else is going to pick up his product line. Good thing I got my stuff when I did!

01/22/07 - Slogging through Empire Leather

I haven't really "finished" any of this stuff yet, but since I didn't want y'all to think I was just sitting around wanking off and not getting anything done on the URR, I decided to take a much needed break from the noxious chemical inhalery zone (IE, my workbench) and jot down some of my initial impressions vis'a'vis Cornerstone's modular building system.

First off, although the kit's instructions do a decent job of showing you what goes where, they don't really go into the nuts and bolts of how exactly the individual modular pieces actually fit together. I guess they think its self-explainatory, and I guess to a certain extent it is. However, my first building wound up with more than its fair share of "oops, this ain't working, gotta pull things apart and start over" glitches in it. Still, after a bit of initial trial and error, it didn't take me too long to get into the swing of things. Despite the hundreds of individual pieces that come with this particular package, the modular system itself can be boiled down to a handful of basic sprue patterns (repeated over and over)- IE, the foundation/staircase sprue, the wall sprue, the roof and base sprue, the window and door sprue, etc.

So, after some initial stops and starts, I eventually got a system going. For a basic building (sans detailing), start by gluing the base pieces together, then assemble the foundation pieces on top of the base. Next, spray the foundation with Floquil "Concrete". While that dries, move on to assembling the walls (one facade at a time). Once the facade glue firms up, assemble each "story". And once that glue firms up, glue all of the stories together (along with the wall "caps") and spray them with Floquil "Boxcar Red". Next, install the windows and doors (leaving them be green), and then glue the assembled walls to the foundation. Next, spray the roof pieces with "Grimy Black" and glue them on. Next, spray the loading docks and staircases with "Concrete" and glue those on. Lastly, spray any overhangs with "Grimy Black", assemble them and then glue them on.

So, that's about where I'm at. I'm still fiddling around with assembling and painting the various bits of detailing, but I'll delve into all of that when I actually finish.

At this point, I have mixed feelings about the whole modular deal (at least as far as this "kit" is concerned). First off, it's just one hell of a lot of work for what are, ultimately, some fairly simple and straightforward buildings. Even a basic four-walls-and-a-roof building takes dozens of individual pieces to assemble under this system. I swear, I must've burned through an entire bottle of glue on these things. And with each new piece, you introduce the possibility for gaps, crookedness and other screw-ups (I shudder to think what's going to happen when I actually try sticking lights inside of these things). Sure, I appreciate the flexibility. In fact, I actually took advantage of said flexibility in order to relocate some of the loading docks on one of the buildings (allowing me to reorient it relative to the track).

Another negative is that there isn't a whole lot of variability to the individual pieces themselves. Once you've built one wall, you've pretty much built them all. And trying to camoflage the basic sameness of it all with different colors of paint is only going to take you so far. I imagine that trying to use too much of this stuff on any one layout is probably going to wind up looking like a whole lot of "same old, same old" after a while. So I dunno, it definitely has its plusses and minuses. I guess my inclination at this point is to keep this stuff in mind for when I need to pseudo-scratchbuild the occasional custom structure, but to stick with more traditional building kits for everything else.

01/25/07 - Finished with Empire Leather

Wow, just a ton of work getting these things assembled, painted and weathered. But ultimately, I think everything turned out pretty great. The complex fills up the entire area between the lower mains and the inner lip quite nicely, and I really like the cluttered look you get with all the various tanks and assorted roof doo-dads. And although it took quite a bit of effort, it does basically complete entirely one of the three areas I had earmarked for structures. So, I'm that much closer to being able to get busy with the track.

For spraying, I went with Reefer Gray and Rail Brown for the water towers, Dark Green for the large air-conditioners units, Flat White for the tanks, and Bright Silver for everything else. Once I'd installed all of the various bits and pieces, I sprayed everything with Flat Finish (and when that ran out, "Dull Cote"), followed by a coating of weatherwash. And as I found out on the F&I, applying weatherwash to Dull Cote causes a really nasty milky film to appear on the plastic. Now, I suppose if you wanted a building to look really weathered, you could just leave it that way. As for me, I didn't want my buildings looking too decrepit, so I sprayed on another layer of Dull Cote to make it all go away. After that I brushed on various shades of Bragdon powder, applied the decals, sealed them with Dull Cote and then weathered them with a bit more Bragdon.

I did wind up making some minor modifications to a couple of the buildings. The large chimney for the "Boiler House" is designed to just sit on the ground behind the building. Which is, I guess, prototypical, but I just didn't like the look of it. So, I took a few of the leftover parts and built myself a little windowless wing off the back for the chimney to stick out of. I also modified the "Tanyard" building by completely rearranging most of the wall sections- the main goal there being to get the loading docks onto one of the long walls. This allowed me to rotate the whole building 90 degrees (relative to the track) so that it takes up more north-south space than east-west space.

So, for my last trick, I think I need to get some kind of large water tower and make myself a custom decal for it along these lines:

EMPIRE LEATHER

"We'll Tan Yer Hide!"

Oh yeah, I'm a sick man. No question about it

01/29/07 - I actually finished a DPM building

Since the only "cool" accessory for the "Erik's Emporium" kit is the Shire Scenes "David's Drugstore" window insert set (which I actually have), I decided to go ahead and put that one together (I'm still waiting on the fancy-pants interior kits I've ordered for my other DPM buildings).

After assembling the walls, I sprayed them with "Rail Brown". And once that dried, I brushed the windows and trim with "Reefer Gray" (a very forgiving color combo when it comes to "oopses" - I'm definitely going to have to remember it in the future). And, holy hannah, this kit comes with an actual, honest-to-gosh plastic roof, so I sprayed that with Grimy Black and stuck it on. Next, I brushed on some Bragdon powder (no weatherwash this time, 'cuz, well, who knows?), and then installed the much anticipated Shire Scenes windows.

Yah? And...? Well, they're certainly more interesting than the plain old clear plastic inserts that come with the kit. And not having to apply my own business graphics to the front windows was certainly a time (and effort) saver. All in all, I like them- I just wish they'd put a little more effort into them (especially given the price - $9 per sheet). I mean, the curtains are fine, but did they all have to be purple? And for that matter, did they all need to be open? They're pretty tough to see as is, so how about the occasional closed curtain or drawn shade? Oh well, anyway, they're better than nothing at all. And I guess the cat (upper lefthand window) is kind of cute...

01/30/07 - You thought I was kidding, didn't you!

For the tower, I picked up a Cornerstone "Steel Water Tank" Prebuilt and sprayed it with Flat White (followed by a coating of weatherwash). Next, I printed out the graphics on Micro-Mark laser printer decal paper and stuck 'em on. Lastly, a quick spritz of Dull Cote to seal them in place. I tell ya, I had no idea that making custom decals was going to be this easy. Talk about opening up Pandora's box...

01/30/07 - Getting ready to get all serious on this track

Now that I've got the basic plan for the tannery figured out, I think it's safe to go ahead and start working on getting the lower mainlines permanantly situated. So, first things first, I went ahead and completed the outer loop of the pair and then ran some trains around for a while to make sure everything worked. So far so good, so the next thing I need to do is build some of the electrical infrastructure I'll need to run power around. At this point, I'm thinking I need to go with three separate feeder pairs for each loop of track (um, let's see, I guess that makes for a total of twelve). So? On to the wiring!

02/01/07 - Finished another DPM kit (Val's Variety, nee Cricket's Saloon)

This kit has a number of available mods- Shire Scenes has window inserts for "Val's Variety" and "The Boom-Boom Room", and TLW has a "Saloon" pack with a roof and some interior details. Not having any idea what a "Boom-Boom" room might ultimately turn out to be (guns & ammo? a brothel? a public toilet?), I decided to go with Val's Variety. I also picked up the TLW set, just to see what those things are all about.

The first thing I had to do was modify the rear wall. For whatever reason, DPM decided to make it too damned wide. Consequently, the entire building adopts a rather ungainly trapezoidal shape once assembled. So, to actually make use of the TLW roof, I needed to sand a ton off the back wall just to create an actual rectangular structure wherein the roof could reside. Once I got everything properly fitted, I assembled the walls and sprayed them Boxcar Red. Next, I sprayed the roof Grimy Black, assembled everything, and then brushed the windows and trim with Dark Green.

As far as the TLW stuff goes, I really like the roof (beats the hell out of that cheesy piece of cardstock that DPM provides you), but they can go ahead and keep those crazy interior pieces. I guess what I was hoping for was a one-piece base that becomes the floor of the building (and with all of the details cast into it). Well, I should've examined TLW's pictures more closely, because what I got was a half dozen or so separate detail pieces (bar stools, a bar, booths, some wall stuff, etc) that you have to arrange inside the building - and I guess on a floor that you provide yourself.

Worse still, all of the bits of furniture and whatnot are cast into the same piece of, well, I don't know what it is exactly, but it has all of the tensile strength of peanut brittle. I had just one hell of a time trying to get them cut out. And after utterly destroying the bar, I finally just said screw it and chucked the whole thing into the trash. No big loss though, I guess. I was never entirely sure what I was going to do about painting those things anyway. Given the miniature windows, I just didn't see wasting a lot of time and effort painting stuff that nobody was ever going to be able to see. Maybe I'll try again on one of the larger buildings (with big front windows), but Cricket's Saloon? Forget it.

So, after bailing on the interior details, I did the Bragdon powder thing (skipping the weatherwash again) and then went ahead and stuck in the Val's Variety window sheets. Once again, not much "variety" to these things (ironically), but better than nothing at all. And I do like the big sign that goes on the front of the building.

02/01/07 - Finished Dan's Diner (nee DPM's Otto's Parts)

The only mod available for this kit is the Shire Graphics "Dan's Diner" window insert set, so that's what I went with. And this time I decided to go ahead and fog the windows a bit to obscure the vast emptiness within (for when I get a light in there, oh, 3 months from now).

02/05/07 - Finished Bruce's Books (nee DPM's Reed Books)

I've always thought this building was kind of odd looking, but given the limited choices, I guess even the odd ones are going find a place in my town. On the plus side, this is another of the very few DPM buildings that actually comes with a plastic roof, so at least it's got that going for it. I started by assembling the walls and spraying them Boxcar Red. Next, I sprayed the roof Grimy Black, and then assembled the bay windows and brushed them with Rail Brown (leaving them off the building for the time-being). As I moved on to brushing the rest of the windows, I slid into this assembly-line sort of procedure that really seemed to speed things up for me. Basically I just did all the right sides, then all the left sides, then all the tops, then all the bottoms, then a quick once over on each to get all the spots that I'd missed on the first pass. I don't know that it's the magic bullet that people are always looking for when it comes to painting these DPM buildings, but it worked out pretty nicely for me. I think I was able to finish the back wall of this kit (12 windows and 2 doors) in about 5 minutes (as opposed to the 15-20 minutes it would've taken me previously). Once I'd finished all the brushwork, I glued on the roof and then (before moving on to the window glass), brushed on a layer of Bragdon powder.

Once again, the only fun mod available for this particular kit is a Shire Graphics window insert set (Bruce's Books). So, the first thing I did was glue the inserts into the bay windows and then glue the windows to the front of the building. Then, I glued in the rest of the inserts and called it done.

02/07/07 - Finished the basic wiring "infrastructure"

Well, calling it infrastructure might be a bit more grandiose than it deserves, but it's certainly more elaborate than anything I had to come up with for my previous two layouts. Basically I just screwed 6 Atlas "Connector" boxes to the outside of the frame (two in the front and two each on either side), then screwed in eye-hooks every couple of feet (for wire support), and then drilled a bunch of holes (for transitioning wires from one side of the frame to the other).

I ran the main power leads from my command console to the Connectors on the front, and then from there, fired off a set of wires to each side pair. That leaves me four sets of terminals on the front for running feeder wires to each loop of track, and six pairs on either side. So, probably overkill in the feeder wire department, but I'd rather go off the deep end now than have to rip up my layout later on in order to retrofit additional track wiring.

I still haven't glued the layout to the frame, as it's simply easier to get things done this way. But once I get to the point where I have a lot of wires actually connected to the layout, I suppose I'll have to. I certainly envy you guys running real around-the-room layouts, where the underside is easily accessable for wiring purposes.

My "command console" consists of a cheapie lectern on which I've mounted a power strip, my Lenz Set 100 DCC system, a DCC programming track, a DC power pack and an Atlas "Controller" box for switching between pumping DC or DCC to the track. I used some of those automotive electrical plug connectors on the main power leads so I can quickly disconnect the command station and roll it out of the way (when it comes time to play pool). A very nifty setup.

02/08/07 - Loop #1 is glued down and operational

Wow, one month into the project and I finally have some track well and truly laid. I'd call that remarkable restraint, especially given the name of this layout. And hopefully all of that restraint will pay off later on - y'know, like not having to tear stuff down just to accommodate some crazy new structure idea.

First things first, I put down the roadbed for the switching area and then glued all of that track down (after first removing all of the Atlas switch machines). These interchange areas always seem to be the most difficult when it comes to keeping everything straight, parallel and properly connected, so I spent a good long time making sure everything was copacetic there. Once that was all glued down, I simply took a marker and traced the outline of the remaining track onto the base and then started gluing down the roadbed (held in place with T-pins while drying).

Once the glue on a particular section of roadbed dried to the point of tackiness, I'd pull the pins, lay the track on top of it and then make any necessary adjustments to the roadbed to get it centered under the track. Then I'd go ahead and glue and T-pin each section of track down (again, making adjustments to the roadbed along the way). Lastly, a quick once-over to make sure there weren't any kinked-up joiners, and then on to the next section of roadbed. And as I've mentioned in the past, there's nothing quite so misleading as free-floating sectional track. Once you start gluing the stuff down, it seems inevitable that sections that connected up quite nicely before suddenly don't connect up at all anymore. So, keep the track saw and rail nippers handy - having to custom cut sections of track along the way is pretty much of a given.

Once the glue was mostly dry, I pulled the T-pins and starting turning locomotives loose to see what would happen. The torture test started out with a Kato C44-9W, a locomotive most adept at finding kinks and screwed up joiners (actually, pretty much any of Kato's big-ass 6-axle diesels will fill this bill quite nicely). After finding and fixing a couple of bad joiners, I upped the ante and brought out the ultra-fussy Con-Cor 4-8-4. If you can run this thing around (backwards and forwards, and in either direction) your track is done. Unfortunately, mine failed this test. I used 19" radius curves on the entire loop except for two lousy sections where I wound up going with 11" radius curves. And yep, you guessed it - that Northern derailed consistantly on both of them (albeit, only when running counter-clockwise).

Well, that kind of sucked, but I thought maybe I could live with it... I mean, it's only one locomotive, and only in one direction (this is how my thinking always goes after a long day of working on the railroad - the laziness genes start kicking in big time). So anyway, next I pulled out the ultimate bad curve exposer - Bachmann's Acela express. I have never been able to run this thing on a layout and I was determined to have at least one loop on this one where I could. And yes, as it turns out, that thing was hating on my 11" curves as well. So, by this time it's like 11 PM and I'm thinking, hell, it's not all that great of a train. I mean, shoot, it looks great in my display case, doesn't it? Do I really need to actually run it? And after a bit more weasling and self-delusion in a similar vein, I decided to just call it a day.

So naturally, came the dawn and I gave the finger to "lazy yesterday Mark" and got busy ripping up all of the track around those friggin' 11-inchers and relaid it all using 19" curves. So now, literally every locomotive I own can run that loop without a single glitch. I don't know that I'll be able to say the same about the remaining three loops, but for sure I have at least one that's optimal.

02/12/07 - Loop #2 is glued down and operational

My first foray into flex track in many a year actually wound up going pretty smoothly. I started out by gluing down the roadbed along the insides of the outer main (maintaining the same distance between the two sets that I'd established up in the interchange area). And since these curves are long enough to require two pieces of flex per, I did wind having to do a little bit of prep work on them prior to installation. If you're going to be joining two pieces of flex on a curve, you absolutely have to pre-solder the pieces together before you try bending them, otherwise you're guaranteed to wind up with a really nasty kink at the junction. So, first I made sure I had the sliding rail on each piece matched up, then I cut a tie off either end, connected the two pieces with rail joiners and then soldered them together. As far as whether the sliding rail should be placed on the outside of a curve or on the inside, there seem to be two differing schools of thought. I won't bore you with the arguments because, frankly, I'm not sure that it makes all that big of a difference either way. Anyway, I opted for having it on the outside.

Next, I squirted my FTG and then put the track down (temporarily held in place with a couple of T-pins). Once the track is bent, the sliding rail will move away from either end, so you have to cut off the dangly ends of the non-sliding rail and remove enough ties from underneath to allow room for joiners. A Dremel works nicely for cutting the rails, and then just a small screwdriver to get underneath to break off a tie or two. Then it's just a matter of joining one end of the flex track to the existing track with rail joiners (these could be soldered as well, but I didn't bother - I like to give my track a little freedom to expand and contract with the weather). Once everything was connected up, I adjusted the track here and there to center it over the roadbed and then stuck in T-pins to hold it in place while the glue dried.

While the glue was drying on the curves, I got my straightaway and siding track situated on the western side and then set about cutting the handful of custom pieces I'd need to connect everything up to the ends of the flex track. It took a lot of trial and error as I wanted to make extra sure that all of the curved sections connected smoothly - a kink of any kind here (in areas that ultimately are going to be inside of tunnels) was going to be deadly. Once I'd (eventually) made all the custom sections I needed, I put down the rest of the roadbed, installed the feeder wires, and then glued down the track.

Since the Empire Leather siding might conceivably be used for operations by somebody, somewhere, someday (albeit, probably not by me), I decided to go ahead and stick a Micro-Trains uncoupling magnet in there. And although I've always gone with the MT "straight-with-embedded-magnet" sections in the past, I've also always thought they were pretty ugly. So, this time around I thought I'd try out one of their concealable "under the track" magnets (mainly because that's all they had on hand at YOLHS and I didn't feel like driving half-way across town to find something else). Anyway, the first thing I discovered is that, brother, these things are huge. I guess it's a good thing they're concealable because, as is, they're quite the eyesore.

Now, I'm no expert on magnets and their properties, but I sure wish MT had conspired to make these things a little thinner. Ideally, they'd be exactly as thick as standard roadbed, making for a very simple install. Unfortunately, they're not, so I had to dig a big square trench in which to situate mine. This basically involved gouging out a hole, first with a screwdriver and then with lacquer thinner (which does a bang-up job of melting foam - just watch out for the fumes). Since there was no way this hackey process was going to net me a level surface on which to situate the magnet, I just dug it out deeper than it needed to be and then filled up the bottom with a thick layer of FTG and then stuck in the magnet. And by God, I sure hope "future buyer guy" appreciates all this effort.

The last step was to install Caboose Industries groundthrows in lieu of the late (and unlamented) Atlas switch machines for the turnouts in the interchange area. I don't see any great need to get the remote switch machines wired up just yet, so for now they're going to remain manually operated.

Once I'd finished up with all the track work, I embarked on another locomotive torture test. All went well, excepting that the 4-8-4 (as expected) only worked in one direction. But, since all of the curves are, by definition, narrower radius than the established minimum, no surprise there. Everything else worked fine though, and I've since been able to run a couple of long freight trains around pretty much continuously for the last couple of days without incident, so all is well.

By now you've probably noticed the seemingly meaningless "jog to the left" that I built into the outer main over on the western side. This serves no functional purpose whatsoever. However, for a layout such as this (with a lot of basically oval track), it's actually kind of necessary. Track that runs parallel to the edges of a layout (with no breaks in the action), makes for just a whole lot of dull. Don't ask me why, it just does. So, having trains make a quick change of direction out there in the middle of all that straightness just winds up making your model railroad look a lot more lively. And since I don't have any switches or anything else to deal with over there, I thought I'd take the opportunity to insert just such a jog.

So, two mains up and running, very cool. At this point I'm extremely tempted to get on with the upper mains, but since I haven't even picked out (let alone started building) my lo-pro industries for the other siding, I shall bite the bullet and direct my energies elsewhere for now (IE, back to the workbench for some more building building).

02/12/07 - Finished the passenger station/freight depot

Well, I said I wanted to go with buildings that were new and different, and this baby (Cornerstone's Sante-Fe Style Depot & Freight House) is about as new and different as it gets. And I have to say, I'm pretty darned impressed with the thing. Once again Walthers has raised the bar on themselves- great instructions, nice colors (I didn't have to paint a single piece), nice detailing, and overall just an elegant piece of modeling. Basically all I had to do was put it together, brush on some weatherwash, spray it with flat finish, and then brush on some Bragdon powder. I may eventually have to trim down the (rather huge) cobblestone base some (depending on how things shake out in the town), but otherwise it's good to go. Oh, and pay no attention to the photos- that's not where it's ultimately going to be situated. I just needed someplace to stick it (temporarily) where I could get some decent pictures.

My only minor concern with the thing (Howard Johnsons jokes aside) is the whole southwestern look. Does this mean I need to drive this whole layout to Arizona? I guess I don't have any problems with that, excepting that I have no experience modeling such things. Oh well, whatever... Lack of experience certainly hasn't stopped me in the past (and let's not tally up the wins and losses just now, 'K?)

02/12/07 - Finished the "State Street" stores

I wanted to mix some non-DPM buildings into my town, so I wasted a bit of time (and money) scrounging up this (now discontinued) Cornerstone "State Street Stores" kit off of eBay. And I have to say, kudos to Walthers for dropping it, 'cuz this is one lame package. Basically you get all of the looks of a DPM kit, and as an added bonus, a lot of lame-design and lousy-instruction headaches (whee).

Let's start with the (ahem) instructions. What you get is a single drawing (basically regurtitating the picture from the front of the box), with a few of the pieces sort of "exploded" to indicate where they're supposed to go. Unfortunately, the really byzantine pieces that make up the doorways are left completely "unexploded" (leaving one with the very strong desire to really "explode" them). Oddly enough, the pieces on the sprues are all numbered, whereas the instructions blissfully ignore all of this helpful enumeration (honestly, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry). Anyway, after much trial and error (and the end result being a rather sloppy mess), I eventually got things put together. But it took major applications of weatherwash, dull-cote and Bragdon powder just to wind up with anything I'd even remotely consider putting on my layout.

Another oddity with these buildings is their bases. Each comes with sidewalks running around multiple sides, leaving one to ponder just where in the hell they're supposed to fit into a city block. Last time I checked, most buildings don't have sidewalks running along the front and both sides... So, needless to say, I pulled the bases off and chucked 'em.

The decals presented me with yet another can of worms - something that I suppose can be blamed on old age rather than incompetance (and, um, I'm talking about the decals, not me). One after the other, they simply disintigrated as I tried to apply them (on and on until I finally ran out). Eventually, I just gave up on the little ones and stuck the big "Bogie's Night Club" decal on the side of the large building, created my own "Bogie's" sign for the front (printed out on my laser printer) and then used some of my generic Woodland Scenics press-on decals for the sign on the smaller building ("Beer" - wow, inspired). At this point, I'm not interested in delving into why I decided to turn both of these structures into run-down bars. Some roads are best left untravelled...

Anyway, the smaller building ("Beer") should fit in with the rest of my DPM town (more or less), but Bogie's? Gad, I have no idea. It's nearly 2" longer than all of the rest of my buildings, so I have no idea where (if anywhere) it might go. I guess I'll worry about that later... Right now it's definitely residing in the "maybe if I'm desperate" bin.

02/13/07 - Finished accessorizing "Bruce's Bakery"

Man, I went the whole nine yards on this baby- Shire Scenes "Paddy's Pastries" window inserts, TLW roof/interior kit and a Lo Cascio "Cafe" interior and lighting kit. Yes, it's true, I now have a sixty dollar DPM building. Lord God a'mighty, somebody stop me before I kill (my bank account) again!

OK, histrionics aside, this thing turned out way cooler than I could have ever possibly imagined. I absolutely love the window blind look of the Shire inserts - they make those stupid curtains I put into all the rest of my buildings look sick by comparison. The hard plastic TLW roof is (once again) way better than the crappy DPM "sheet o' cardstock". And although I wound up tossing most of the TLW interior pieces, I did make fine use of their way cool staircase.

But good golly, let's talk about these Lo Cascio interiors. Frankly, I am totally impressed. Sure, it's basically just a sheet of paper (that you cut and then fold into a room shape) along with some simplistic plastic furniture, but dammit, there is elegant genius in all that simplicity. I mean, the TLW stuff is way more detailed than the LC stuff, but come on, we're talking tiny N scale buildings here. Ultimately, ain't nobody ever going to be able to appreciate all that fine TLW detail anyway (N scale windows being what they are). Plus, it's all monochromatic, so whatever does show up through the windows is going to look kind of boring (unless you've gone completely insane and went ahead and actually painted it all). On the other hand, I think the LC stuff strikes a perfect chord of color and detail for this scale. Plus, it has the added benefit of being extremely simple to install.

The fiber optic lighting kit is also pretty cool, and I can see where you'd definitely want to go this route for illuminating buildings with detailed interiors- it certainly makes for a dead accurate impersonation of overhead lighting. However, I don't really see using fiber optics for the rest of my non-detailed, "glazed-over-windows" buildings. Frankly, it's kind of a pain in the ass to deal with. Having eight semi-rigid plastic tubes running into a building makes for a bit of a logistical nightmare (to say the least).

So, OK, sure. Detailing the interiors of N scale buildings is completely impractical (both in terms of cost and visibility), but I think the "gee whiz" factor is high enough to justify at least a couple of buildings like this one. Probably no more than that, though. I can't really see dropping $500+ on my town... My wife would surely sue to have me committed (again).

02/14/07 - Finished "Funny Bones Toys" (nee DPM's "Corner Apothecary")

Putting these DPM buildings together used to be kind of a tedious task (especially the painting). But man, with all of these fun add-ons to jazz things up, I'm actually quite enjoying the whole process. Hell, even the handbrushing is relatively painless now that I've got this whole assembly-line thing going. In fact, if somebody doesn't turn the hose on me pretty soon, I'm probably going to wind up with more buildings than my town actually needs.

Anyway, for this one I picked up the Shire Graphics "Funny Bones Toys" window inserts and the TLW roof/interior set. This is another one of those DPM buildings with oddly angled walls, so I had to sand them down a bit in order to get a shape that would accommodate the TLW roof. After that, I glued everything together and sprayed the walls with Boxcar Red. I continue to resist the urge to mix things up and try some wilder wall colors. From what I've seen, real small town buildings do tend to be rather bland, with colors generally being limited to brown, gray or brick red. So anyway, after the red had dried, I got on with the handbrushing (Dark Green this time). And I tell you, it didn't take me more than about 30 minutes to finish the whole thing. God bless you, Henry Ford.

This time around, I came up with a more efficient way to extract the TLW interior details from their blocks o' peanut brittle- namely, the mighty Dremel saw. So, I decided to actually use a few of them to make an interior scene (although nowhere near all of them - 'cuz frankly, it's just kind of pointless). Better still, it turns out that these interior scenes make for an ideal place to jettison some of the goofier and more useless human figures I've acquired over the years (because, hell, who's really going to get a good look at them anyway?) Here, the fireman is clearly exhorting the clerk to notice him, thus distracting said clerk from the lumberjack/bandit who's about to hack open the cash register with an axe. Sordid indeed.

As you can see from my pictures, I'm still trying to figure out an effective way to kill the gloss on these Shire Graphics exterior signs. I've tried flat finish (both on the front and the back of the transparency) as well as Bragdon powder. But, despite my best efforts, they remain irritatingly shiny. Anybody out there got any bright ideas for me to try?

02/16/07 - Finished DPM's "Trackside Transfer" kit

I needed a long, skinny industrial structure to fill up some of the space along the tracks next to the passenger station, and this kit filled the bill quite nicely (nice 'n' cheap too, for a change). I assembled the walls and sprayed them with Roof Brown, then brushed the windows and doors with Rail Brown. Next, I sprayed two of the supplied cardstock sheets Grimy Black for the roof sections, and the third one Roof Brown for the loading dock floor. After cutting them down to size and installing them, I added a few of the leftover roof doodads from Empire Leather to jazz things up a bit. I also used some of the Empire Leather doorway overhangs for the loading dock (rather than going with more DPM cardstock). Next, I stuck on some leftover "Waterstreet Freight Terminal" decals, glued in the windows, sprayed the whole thing with flat finish, and then brushed on some Bragdon powder.

02/19/07 - Started building the upper level

Before I could really get started on laying the upper mains, I needed to make sure I had plenty of space for the track as well as all of the buildings. So, I started by gluing down the 2" risers for the mains. And to make the whole track-laying process easier later on, I went ahead and ran tandem pairs of risers all the way around the proposed track plan. This should give me plenty of wiggle room so I won't have to worry about suddenly driving the track off the edge of a cliff or something as I put it down.

After that, I started working on the flat area for the town. And since I'm going to eventually need to run a lot of wiring into all of these buildings, I decided to build a platform rather than a solid base. So, I scattered a bunch of chunks of 1.5" riser around and then laid sheets of 1/2" foam on top of them. The foam sheets extend way out over the "dead zone" at the center, and I'll probably wind up trimming them back eventually. But, I wanted to make absolutely sure I had more than enough room for the buildings and the streets from the get-go.

As for the back (western) edge of the layout (where the lo-pro buildings will eventually go), well, it is what it is. I pushed the 2" risers in as far from the edge as they could go (basically right up to the lower mains), giving me about 5.5" to work with. Hopefully I'll be able to fit the two mains, a siding and the buildings into that space. And after a bit of free-form mock-up, it does looks like I might be OK. I guess ultimately it all depends on what I decide to go with for buildings. If it turns out that I do need more space, then I'll just have to build a little lip onto the western edge (like I did for the F&I). In any event, it'll be a while before I need to worry about any of that.

I got started on covering up the 2" risers with plaster cloth, but given the double-width, I ran out pretty quickly. So, that'll have to wait until I can get down to YOLHS to replenish my supply. I also decided to go ahead and get the foam base glued to the wooden frame. With six sets of track feeder wires already in place, I figured it was about time to bite that particular bullet. It's going to make future wiring a bit more difficult, but at least I won't have to worry about sliding the foam too far one way and accidentally ripping wires out. Having to tear up track in order to replace a yoinked terminal joiner is a prospect simply too horrible to contemplate.

I also had to revisit the whole bridge situation. As it turns out, the Kato Unitrack bridge ain't going to fly. Originally, I thought that my track would connect right up to it once I got the roadbed installed, but I've since discovered that it doesn't. The bridge simply sits too high. And rather than messing around with trying to situate the bridge lower (and thus endanger the trains running underneath), or trying to hack some off the base so it doesn't ride quite so high, I decided to just go with some Atlas Warren Truss bridges instead. Four of them glued together (with sheets of styrene glued to the bottom to keep them from bending) seems to work OK. And although I really do like the look of that gigantic Kato bridge, I guess these will have to do. Cornerstone has a double-track bridge kit, but it's longer than the Kato bridge, so I'm not sure how that might screw up my painstakingly-arrived-at track plan. And I suppose I could try hacking the Kato bridge apart, but at this point I'm just not really in the mood to try some kind of kit-bash kludge in order to get a more massive looking bridge.

The southwestern crossover (the one that's going to eventually reside inside of a tunnel), also turned out to be a bit of a challenge. The track is all curves (both over and under), so a simple YOLHS-type bridge was not going to work - IE, I needed to build something myself. Basically I needed something thin enough to sit right on top of the risers, stiff enough not to bend as trains cross over, and small enough not to block access to the track below (given the whole tunnel thing, it's going to be hard enough to get at as is).

After comparing different materials in YOLHS's scratch-building section, I decided to try some thin sheets of aluminum (.032"). As it turns out, this stuff is really strong and will more than adequately support the weight of track and train without bending. Better still, it's easily cut with a set of tin snips. So, I cut myself a custom bridge for the outer main and gave it a try. And sure enough, trains ran right over it without so much as a creak.

02/21/07 - Sweet fancy Moses! Four trains at the same time!

Man, this whole track-laying thing is a breeze once you settle on a really simple track plan (well duh, I guess). I mocked it up, I glued it down, I launched some trains, and damn if it didn't all run like clockwork. I was dead certain the curves I laid into and out of that bridge were going to cause me all kinds of problems (what with part of the outer curve being 11" radius and the inner being, well, less than that), but shoot, I hit 'em with a big-ass Kato passenger train (PA/PB pulling ten long passenger cars) and not so much as a single hiccup. I tell ya, I dunno what I've done lately to make the model railroading gods so happy, but I'm taking the money and running at this point. IE, track done! Now I just need to build a few more buildings and then it's the long downhill trip through scenery-ville.

03/01/07 - Finished DPM's "Crestone Credit Union" kit

I picked up the TLW roof/interior set for this one (just for the roof) and an LCO "Pool Hall" interior. This time around the walls went together square, so no sanding necessary to get the roof to fit. I sprayed the walls Boxcar Red, the roof Grimy Black, and then brushed the windows and trim Dark Green. After assembly and paint, I brushed on some heavy weatherwash and then some Bragdon powder.

The LCO interior comes with a couple of pool tables and a bar, which I painted and then glued to the floor. I also stuck some more semi-useless figures in there (hmm, engineer's day off I guess). The front window inserts also came with the LCO set (and somewhat less impressed am I with them than I am with Shire's window inserts). The "Saloon" decal is from my Woodland Scenics set of assorted press-ons.

Speaking of Shire, I decided I really liked the window blind look of "Paddy's Pastries" and decided to take a whack at making some for this building (there being no Shire window set for the CCU kit). Basically all I did was fire up "Word" and type in a few million underscores (_________). Then I reduced the font size until I got something that looked like window blinds (4 point bold) and printed them up on plain old laser printer paper. They wound up looking a bit thicker than the Shire blinds, so I guess I'll have to try a smaller font next time (although, heck, not all blinds are the same size anyway). I'm looking forward to six months from now when the paper has yellowed with age.

I also hooked up the remaining LCO fiber optic lighting... and once again, oy, what a mess. I am definitely finished with this stuff. It's too much of a headache wrangling all that tubing, and frankly, I'm just not all that impressed with the results. These lighting kits are supposed to provide adequate lighting for two buildings, but it all looks a bit dim to me. When I get around to installing lighting in the rest of my buildings, I'll probably have to stick a regular old lightbulb in these just to provide enough lighting to fully reveal the interiors. I mean, since I did go to all the trouble of detailing these interiors, I'd certainly like to be able to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

03/02/07 - Finished the Cornerstone "University Avenue Shops" kit

Yup, another discontinued Walther's kit scored off of eBay. And yes, it's kind of lame. Still, it wasn't nearly as painful to assemble as the State Street kit. Plus, it lets me stave off the whole DPM ubiquity thing for another a day or two. And let's face it fellow mediocre modelers - a kit that allows us to avoid using the paint brush is definitely a good thing. I mean, two blocks worth of buildings is, well, a lot of buildings, and they certainly don't all need to be gorgeously hand-painted DPM masterpieces (complete with $50 worth of snazzy window inserts, roofs, interiors and whatnot). At this point, there's certainly something to be said for less-than-awesome "space fillers".

So, what did I do? Well, not much really. Like State Street, these buildings come with a crazy "sidewalks all the way around" base. So, first things first, I tossed that into the scrap heap. Next, I tossed the "second floor shack/stairway" thing that's supposed to go on the larger building (don't even ask). After that assembly was pretty straight-forward, with one glaring exception- the front facade of the smaller building was, for whatever the reason, missing its right "leg". It didn't seem to be broken off, so I have no idea what that was all about. Anyway, I fashioned one of my own out of some leftover "red brick" styrene I had laying around. After all that, I sprayed the roof sections with (wait for it...) Grimy Black, stuck those on, and then sprayed everything with Flat Finish. Next, I applied the decals (which, thankfully, weren't nearly as spazzy as the State Street decals), stuck some window blind cutouts into the front windows (as supplied by the kit), sprayed on some more Flat Finish, and then Bragdonized the bejeezus out of everything.

Again, nothing to get hugely excited about, but I'm sure they'll take up space just fine.

03/04/07 - Bingo, my town has a name-o!

Don't ask me why, but I've always thought "Wingnut" would make a good name for a small town. And now that I'm making my own decals, I can actually implement that particular plan.

And speaking of ubiquity, yes, there it is again - Model Power's goofy water tower with the blinky light on top (making for the fourth time I've used one on a layout). Yeah, I know. I said I was going to try to avoid repeating myself, but you try finding a decent municipal water tower in N scale. They're just not out there, my friend. Last time though, I swear. Next time I'll scratchbuild one of my own and live with it no matter how laughable the results. Still and all, at least this time around I'll actually be making good use of the blinky light on top.

As previously, the platforms (both on the base and under the tank) had to go. And since I always seem to wind up going white with these things, I decided to try "Reefer Gray" instead. And although it looks OK, I think I should have probably gone with a lighter shade of gray. Oh well. Lastly, some Bragdon rust for character.

03/07/07 - Finished DPM's "Jerry Riggs Quick Service" kit

I decided I needed some kind of service station for my town, and despite my obvious affection-for/obsession-with Cornerstone's "Al's Victory Service" kit, I decided it was time to finally cut that particular umbilical and go with something different. And after a bit of research, about the only kit that I could find that both fit in with the rest of my town and wasn't laser-cut wood (ick) was this DPM Gold "Jerry Rip-Off" (er, Riggs) kit.

Now, I've been a big fan of DPM's building kits ever since Scenic Ridge. Yeah, painting them can be kind of a pain in the ass, but overall they're really nice looking. And better still, they're very affordable. So, I thought I was in good hands when I opted for one of their (drum roll) GOLD kits.

Wow, was I ever wrong...

What can I say? This kit is insultingly overpriced, plain and simple. For your $50 you get a handful of uninspired modular wall sections and window inserts, a couple of packets of absolutely mangled and flash-ridden white metal parts, a few press-on decals along with some plain paper signage, and a sheet of cardstock for yet another patented DPM "do it yourself" roof job.

The white metal pieces are particularly irritating. It wouldn't be so bad if it was all detailing that could simply be tossed aside (for those of us who detest working with CA and white metal). But nooooooo! The front portico is comprised entirely of white metal pieces (five in total) that are just oh so much fun to assemble. And I have never been any good at getting white metal pieces to CA together. I always wind up getting everything in sight stuck together except for the actual parts I'm trying to stick together - those, on the other hand, repel each other like oppositely polarized magnets. And even after getting the things glued together, the whole assembly has to be treated like a Faberge Egg, lest it fall it apart like the house of cards it is...

So anyway, after some initial grumbling I got on with it. First, I decided that I needed to alter the planned shape of the building to not take up quite so much east-west space. So, I put both garage doors on the front and made a simple rectangle (hey, nice doors by the way - what are they? O scale?) Next, I sprayed the walls Flat White and the windows and doors Dark Green and glued them on (and oh joy, the doors and door frames are white metal). Next, I cut myself a roof and sprayed it Grimy Black. The tops of the walls are really ugly looking, especially at the very visible joints. So, I used some styrene strips from my giant "box o' leftovers" to make some wall caps and glued those on along with the roof. Then I stuck on some leftover "Empire Leather" roof doodads for character (the kit has its own white metal roof doodads, but I didn't feel like spending an hour filing all the flash off of them).

Next, I spent several painful hours trying to assemble the portico. And once that was accomplished, I sprayed it white, cut myself a roof (again, Grimy Black) and glued that on (along with the plain paper signs). Once the portico was done, I knew there was no way in hell I was ever going to get it glued to the building and have it actually stay there. So, I cut a base out of cardstock, sprayed it with "Concrete", brushed on some Bragdon, and then glued the portico and building to that (and then the portico to the building). It does seem reasonably sturdy, so I think it's going to work. Next, I cut a floor out of cardboard, painted it gray, stuck the floor lift white metal detail part in by the open garage door, and then glued the floor inside the building.

For the pumps, I used some leftovers from Al's Service (again, the pumps supplied with the kit being too mangled and too flashy to bother with). Lastly, I applied a few press-on decals and then Bragdonized the whole thing. For the three storage tanks, I simply sprayed them Flat White and then applied some weatherwash for grime, followed by some Bragdon rust for, well, rust.

So, it is what it is. I guess at the end of the day it's not a bad looking little kit, but no way is it worth fifty bones. DPM Gold? More like fool's gold if you ask me...

03/08/07 - Finished DPM's "Hayes Hardware" and "Roadkill Cafe"

I sprayed Roadkill Cafe with "Earth" and brushed the woodwork with "Roof Brown". Tobias has a roof/interior set for this kit, so I picked that up just for the roof (sprayed Grimy Black). Shire has a "Wayne's Barber Shop" window set for this building, so I picked that up and used it for all the windows save the main ones on the front. Finally, LCO has an "Arthur's Cafe" interior/window set for this kit, which I installed (along with some more useless figures).

I sprayed Hayes Hardware with "Boxcar Red" and brushed the woodwork with "Roof Brown". No Tobias set for this kit (well, there is one, but it's out of stock), so I made a roof out of cardstock, sprayed it Grimy Black and stuck it on. No Shire Scenes windows either, so I made up some of my home brew blinds and stuck those in. Lastly, an LCO "Insurance Office" interior/window set and more Woodland Scenics people.

Since I've given the fiber optics the old heave-ho, I decided to try experimenting around with alternate lighting sources. I started by picking up a couple of packs of Miniatronics lights at YOLHS just to see what might work best (purchasing both incandescent bulbs and LEDs). The lighting in the above picture is provided by a single 12V incandescent bulb in each building. At a buck each, they're much more economical than the fiber optics and, as evidenced by my picture, do just as good a job of lighting up the interiors (if not better). According to the packet they have a lifespan of 10,000 hours, which is a good thing. My primary concern with using incandescent bulbs is the whole "burn out" factor. I don't want to have to rip up buildings and wiring in order to replace burned out bulbs on any kind of regular basis (or ever, really).

The LEDs are slightly more expensive and a bit more complicated to install (requiring resistors and soldering), but I'm assuming they last forever (or at least as close to forever as I'll ever need to worry about). I haven't tried them out yet, but I figure between the LEDs and the bulbs, I should be able to provide adequate, inexpensive reliable, and easy-to-install lighting for all of my buildings (once I get down to the serious wiring stage).

03/11/07 - Finished Red Wing Milling, lo-pro style

Well, this is the third time I've put this particular kit together. But, it's the first time I've bashed it into a lo-profile version, so I'm saying it doesn't count as repeating myself (hey, my layout, my rules).

I started by gluing the two large wall sections together (which required a bit of sanding on the two connecting sides, since they were originally designed to be corners and not flat). Next, I glued on the skinny (left) loading dock and then stuck the whole rig on my layout to see how much room I had left for the side walls (about an inch, as it turns out). So, I scored-and-snapped a couple of 1" deep wall sections and glued those on. Once that firmed up, I sprayed the whole thing with "Earth" (light brown).

Next, I installed all the doors and windows (left 'em green) and S&S'd a couple of roof sections (sprayed Grimy Black) and stuck those on. The loading dock on the right (originally designed for the "street" side of the building) had to be trimmed down to be the same size as the one on the left (same with its overhang and supports). I then sprayed the overhang and supports Grimy Black and stuck those on. Next, I sprayed the left overhang and all of the ventilation doodads Bright Silver.

While that all was drying, I decided to go ahead and build the little boiler house (with chimney) and see how that would fit. Pretty close, as it turns out. Just a little bit of sanding off the back and right (connecting) side and it snugged right into place. So, I sprayed that all with Earth, stuck in the windows and doors and glued it to the main building. Next, I stuck on the ventilation gear, as well as the fire escape platforms and ladders and stuff, and then stuck a few ventilation doodads (from my infinite "Empire Leather" supply) to the roof.

Lastly, I brushed on some weatherwash, stuck on the decals, sprayed the whole thing with Flat Finish, and then finished up with a layer of Bragdon powder. And I guess I was in some kind of hurry to get to the Bragdon, because I didn't wait quite long enough for the Flat Finish to totally dry everywhere - consequently, my weathering wound up looking rather more grungy than I was aiming for (especially on the one decal). Ah well.

Despite the grunge, I'd say this turned out really nice. I've always been a big fan of this building, mainly because of all of the interesting gizmoage on the back (now left) wall. It also turned out to be much larger than I was expecting (when I originally picked it up, I didn't think I'd be making use of both long walls). In fact, at this point I'm kind of regretting my decision to build my other lo-pro industry using Cornerstone Modular crap. After seeing how much I can do with a $35 kitbash (as opposed to the $80 or so I dropped on assorted modular packs), I probably should've just saved my money and kitbashed another Cornerstone kit (like American Hardware or something). Oh well, too late now... Here's hoping I wind up creating a masterpiece for the ages out of all that expensive modular detritus (OK everyone, commence holding breath... now!)

03/13/07 - Fixed the URR's first clusterf*ck

So, I'm working on my second lo-pro building, mocking it up on the layout to check depth and whatnot, when I suddenly come to the realization that I have a big problem- my track is not parallel to the edge of my layout! IE, when I align my lo-pro with the track, it doesn't line up with the backdrop, and when I align my lo-pro with the backdrop, it doesn't line up with the track. Crikey! How in the hell did that happen?! Seriously, this was a first for me. I generally have a pretty good eye for symmetry and order when laying track, so I dunno... Too many Bacardi-Cokes that day, I guess.

So wow, what a puzzler. I had to sit and scratch the old noggin' for a good long time before I finally came up with a workable solution. I started by cutting a strip of 1/4" foam and pinning it to the edge of the layout (flush with the top). Then, I took a ruler and adjusted it (in or out, using the T-pins as sliders) such that it was a standard distance from the track right the way across (some spots winding up flush with the edge of the layout and others having a decent sized gap between the foam strip and the layout). Next, I grabbed a tube of caulk and backfilled all of the dead space between the layout and the foam strip (hey, gimme a break - this was an emergency and it's the best I could come up with on short notice). After applying all the goo, I double-checked my measurements and made any necessary adjustments to get a consistant distance from track to edge of foam. Finally, I used strips of Woodland Scenics plaster cloth to cover up (and firm up) the seam between the foam strip and the layout.

So, there ya go, another classic Spookshow model railroading kludge. Sorry, I would have loved to have taken pictures of the whole procedure "in progress" to illustrate what all I did. But frankly, I was just kind of winging it and didn't really know if any of it was going to work. And anyway, who else besides me is going be air-headed enough to need to duplicate this effort?

The good news is that I'll actually be able to make good use of that extra quarter inch of space for my second lo-pro building (where I wondering just how in the hell I was going to find space for the loading docks). I tell ya, it's an ill wind that blows no one no good!

Tools of the Trade:

I picked up this Kentool "Sup-R Sander" grindstone basically by accident. I was actually more interested in acquiring the little wire brush that comes along with it and very nearly tossed the sander in the trash (thinking I didn't have any real need for it). Well, one day I needed to smooth out some edges on some building parts and it happened to be closer at hand than my files or sandpaper, so I grabbed it and gave it a try. Well jeezo-beezo, now I have to wonder how I ever got along without one! It makes kit-bashing just so much easier, what with being able to make smooth edges by rubbing parts on the very stable, "never wears out" gritty surface (as opposed to trying to hold the part with one hand and file/sand it with the other). I guess it'll seem like a no-brainer to most of y'all, but man, it was quite a revelation for me. I swear, kit-bashing has become so simple I might just work up the nerve to add actual scratch-building to my repertoire one of these days.

03/15/07 - Finished lo-pro industry #2

This was a pretty straight-forward implementation of the Cornerstone Modular system. I came up with a simple design and then put it together following basically the same procedure as with Empire Leather. I sprayed the walls and smokestacks Rail Brown, the doors, windows and air conditioners Reefer Gray, the foundation and loading dock Concrete, the ventilation details Bright Silver and the loading dock overhang and roof sections Grimy Black. Once painted and assembled, I brushed on weatherwash, applied the decals, sprayed on a coat of Flat Finish and then brushed on some Bragdon powder.

Sad to say, but I remain pretty much underwhelmed by this whole system. It's damned near impossible to get all of the wall pieces assembled without leaving all kinds of little gaps and cracks all over the place. And although they're not hugely noticeable from more than about a foot away, they'd certainly become a big ugly problem once I installed the lighting. So, I picked up something called "Flash Black" at YOLHS and applied it to all the gaps (from the inside). Flash Black is basically super glue with rubber mixed in, so it dries black and is pretty much invisible from the front.

Unwieldiness of the actual bits and pieces aside, I'm not particularly sold on the economics of this stuff either. To construct a building of any size at all, you need to buy a veritable armload of different parts packages (wall packages, roof packages, detail packages, smokestack packages, foundation packages, and on and on). And at $11 a pack, it adds up in a hurry. I suppose I spent close to $80 (give or take) putting this building together, and given the rather bland end-result, I can't really say it was money well spent. Not that I'm necessarily unhappy with what I built, but it would've probably been more economical to just buy another Empire Leather kit and get enough pieces in one bundle to construct several buildings (rather than buying everything piecemeal). And for a single building, it would have been way cheaper to just get a traditional kit and bash it.

I was hoping to create some fun decals for this building, but that didn't work out too well either. I printed up a couple of banners, one reading "Vandelay Industries Incorporated" and the other reading "Architectural Design & Fine Latex Products" (if you don't get why that's funny, you must've spent the 90's watching "Home Improvement" instead of "Seinfeld"). Anyway, since the building is dark I decided to print the decals on Micromark white decal paper. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a complete disaster. Once wet, the ink would instantly flake off the paper with little or no provocation - IE, completely unuseable. I have no idea what, if anything, I was doing wrong. The instructions specifically say that laser printed decals require no special treatment (as opposed to inkjet decals, which do). So, next I tried printing my decals on the clear paper, and as expected, they basically just vanished once stuck to the building. So, with my heart broken and my spirit crushed, I peeled off my custom decals and stuck on a couple of "Ridgeway Paint" decals leftover from the Empire Leather set.

Oh well, woe is me. The good news is that as far as the buildings go, the heavy lifting is pretty much finished. I just need to build a couple more DPM buildings for my town and I think I'll be ready to move on to the landscaping.

Addendum- I've been advised that these custom decals (regardless of what you use to print them) are best treated with some kind of protective finish before getting them wet. "Krylon Clear" was recommended, although I suppose just about any kind of clear finish will do the job. And although at this point I'm not really interested in removing my "Ridgeway" decals and giving "Vandelay" another try (hey, it wasn't all that funny), I'll definitely keep it in mind for the next time.

03/17/07 - Yup, it's definitely portable

Despite all the planning, until you've actually hauled the thing up the stairs at least once, there's always that lingering doubt...

03/19/07 - Built a Rix "150 Foot Highway Overpass" and reorganized the town

I needed some way to get a road into and out of my town, so I built this Rix overpass kit. These things look great and are really easy to put together. I sprayed the whole thing Concrete and, when that dried, masked off everything but the deck sections and sprayed those Grimy Black. Now I can run a road out of town, over the bridge, and ultimately to a grade crossing before finally exiting the layout. Grade crossings are way cool and I always like to have at least one on a layout (especially this time, as I plan on using some NJ International LED-equipped crossing gates).

My original plan was to have the south end of the road also exit town, then have it curve alongside the track and ultimately enter a tunnel right next to where the track enters its tunnel. But, after playing around with my buildings, mocking them up this way and that, I decided that that probably wasn't going to work. Instead, I'm just going to have the main street make a turn to the west when it reaches the south end of town.

So, what I've come up with now is three intersections on the main street, with the cross streets heading off towards the backdrop. Now I just have to find one more largish building to fill the space next to the freight depot. I'm thinking some kind of kit-bash on one of the Cornerstone "office" type buildings (American Hardware, Roberts Printing or the Bralick Building). I just have to make sure that whatever it is fits in with the DPM style of the rest of the town (IE, not too large, and not too modern looking).

03/19/07 - Finished the Cornerstone "Jim's Repair Shop" kit

This is a nice little 10 minute project- spray the foundation Concrete, the roof Grimy Black, the chimney Boxcar Red and then glue it together. Then, stick on the paper signage, brush on a little Bragdon and finito. This little guy will be perfect for filling in the empty space on one of my side streets. All in all, a very nice change of pace from DPM-land.

03/19/07 - Rethinking the whole backdrop situation...

Hey, remember way back in January when I was struggling with trying to describe my whole goofy backdrop plan, and wondering if it would even work? Well, now that March has marched in, it turns out that those goofy chickens have come home to roost...

As you may recall, my plan was to put a backdrop behind the town and another one at the back of the layout (behind the lo-pro buildings), and then run foam walls between the two (through which the trains would run, via tunnels). Never seen anything like it, didn't know if it would work, but that was my plan. However, before going whole-hog, balls to the wall, and the whole nine yards on the whole deal (IE, not being completely stupid), I decided to take a whack at mocking up the main backdrops now, just to see how things were going to work. And crud, I just can't say that I'm happy with the potential results.

The main problem is that the backdrop behind the town basically blocks my casual view of the back half of the layout (even cut down as far as it could go and still have it function as a backdrop). And being one who enjoys watching trains run roundy-round the whole layout, this just ain't a good thing. I mean, if I wanted to have to get up and walk around to see all of my hard work, I would've gone with the traditional "run a barrier down the middle and divide the layout into two distinct halves" thing.

So, I think the re-thunk plan starts with 86'ing the backdrop behind the town. Yes, it nicely terminates an incomplete town, but it also interferes with my ability to appreciate the entire layout. And what with the latter being more important to me than the former, it's just gonna have to go.

I'll tell ya what, though. I'll save it (ala carte) and stick it in when I need to take super cool photos of my town for the cover of "Mediocre Modeler" magazine

The now unobstructed view from my desk... Oh yeah, much better

03/22/07 - Vandelay Industries rides again!

As previously mentioned, Wingnut was in desperate need of some sort of medium-sized industrial structure to fill up some of the empty space along the tracks. And after spending a full 60 seconds mulling my options down at YOLHS, I decided to go with Cornerstone's "Bralick Building" kit. It's kind of interesting looking, I've never built it before, it seemed to offer some decent kit-bashing possibilities, and overall it looked like it wouldn't clash with the rest of my DPM-centric town. So what the heck, I went with it.

In its stock configuration, Bralick is way too big for my purposes - 5 windows wide, 4 windows deep and 4 stories tall. So, I went ahead and score-n-snapped off half the height and a quarter of the depth. And once I'd assembled the newly debigulated walls, I decided I didn't like the looks of the tops (having removed the wall caps along with the rest of the top two floors). So, in a moment of sheer mediocre modeling brilliance, I decided to glue the base to the top of the building. Voila, instant wall caps. Satisfied with that effort, I went ahead and sprayed the entire assembly Concrete. Next, I assembled the water tower and little-rooftop-shack-thingy and sprayed them Dark Green and Concrete respectively. After that I put together the chimney and sprayed it Concrete and then sprayed the roof sections Grimy Black. Once all the paint dried, I glued everything together (including the window frames and doors, which I left green) and then slathered on a layer of heavy weatherwash.

Once I'd reached the stage where I was ready to put on some decals, I decided that none of the signage that came with the kit was doing much for me (all of it basically wanting me to call this structure some sort of apartment/condo complex), so I decided it was time to take another whack at custom decals. However, this time around I decided to try going beyond the whole "cut 'em out and dunk 'em in water" technique I've been employing since I was, like, 7 years old. So, after printing the decals I went ahead and sprayed them with Flat Finish. Once that dried, I cut them out, soaked them in water and stuck them on the building. And since there aren't any entirely flat surfaces to stick them to, I also applied a treatment of Walthers "Solvaset" - a decal setting solution that makes decals more pliable and allows them to settle into irregular surfaces. And by gosh, it all worked ace. The decals look great and didn't give me a bit of problem. Admittedly, I was not using the white paper, but I'm encouraged about my prospects for getting that to work as well (should the need ever arise).

Once the decals dried, I installed the window "glass" and sprayed the entire structure with Flat Finish. And once all that died, I brushed on a layer of Bragdon powder. To complete the illusion of a two story building (for future lighting purposes), I installed a cardboard floor for the second story.

So there ya go, Vandelay Industries is open for business in Wingnut. Should you ever need any architectural design, fine latex products, or just need to verify the employment of one George Costanza, go ahead and ring up Kal Varnson. He'll be happy to assist!

03/27/07 - Finished Hayes Hardware... again

I kind of lost track of which DPM buildings I have and haven't built and accidentally built this one again. Oops. Oh well, it's not like I can't use it, and fortunately it's about the most generic of DPM's buildings, so having two of the same shouldn't be too terribly noticeable. I painted this one Roof Brown for the walls, Reefer Gray for the trim and Grimy Black for the cardstock roof. No Shire windows, so I went with some more of my homebrew blinds. And since I went with the LCO "office" interior on the first one, I opted for the "cafe" interior this time around. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much variety between the various cafe interiors, even the ones designed for different buildings. This one is exactly the same as the one I installed in "Roadkill Cafe" (right down to the "Arthur's Cafe" window inserts). I guess Arthur has really made a name for himself in Wingnut... Anyway, I didn't bother taking a picture of the interior as it's pretty much just more of the same (firemen and lumberjacks sitting down to lunch, etc).

03/27/07 - Finished "Greze Cafe" (nee DPM's "Char's Soda Shoppe")

I started with Rail Brown for the walls, and although I really hate handbrushing light colors (always a runny pain in the ass), I decided to bow to the gods of variety and go with Antique White on the trim. Based on the rather iffy results, I think I'll just kiss those gods off from now on. No Tobias add-on for this one, so I made a cardstock roof and sprayed it Grimy Black. Window inserts (yay, blinds) came courtesy of Shire, and the "cafe" style interior was provided by LCO (and sad to say, but once again same old, same old on the whole cafe thing). I finally ran out of useless people with which to populate the interior, so I picked up a couple of packs of Model Power "sitting people". Not bad little figures, and certainly good enough to become nigh invisible for time immemorial inside of an N scale building. Plus, they're cheaper than the Woodland Scenics figures ($8 for a pack of nine, as opposed to $10 for a pack of five).

I must admit, I'm rapidly approaching burn-out on the whole building thing. Unfortunately, I still have at least three more to go before I can call the town finished and finally be able to get on with the landscaping and scenery. Must... grit... teeth... and... finish...

03/29/07 - Finished, um, "Gorilla's Corner Turret Office Gym"

Wow, this one turned out to be something of a Frankenstein's monster of discordant elements... I started with DPM's "Corner Turret Building", going with Rail Brown for the walls, Dark Green for the trim, and Grimy Black for the supplied (gasp) plastic roof. And then for the windows, well, I don't know what exactly they were smoking down at Shire the day they came up with the "Shapes & Gorillas Gym" inserts for this particular building, but I sure hope they brought enough for everybody. Anyway, I chucked the front window "Gorilla" inserts and just kept the second story drapes. I mean, come on, when I look at this building "Health Club" is not the first thing that comes to mind. For the interior, I opted for another LCO "office" (figuring Arthur didn't really need a third cafe to worry about). And once again, this office is an exact duplicate of my previous office, so yippee, another place to buy insurance. Still, duplication and weirdo window graphics aside, I have to say that this building really does a good job of showing off all that interior detail (for a change). Why, it almost justifies the time, effort and expense of it all...

03/31/07 - Finished the City Classics "Service Station" kit

I decided I could use another service station for the north end of town. And since I'm still "on the wagon" as far as Cornerstone's "Al's Service" kit is concerned, I opted instead for virtually the same thing, only made by somebody else (hey, it still counts as not repeating myself).

This is my first "City Classics" kit, and I have to say, I think this is what a "DPM Gold" kit ought to be. Simple walls, a plastic base, cut-your-own cardstock roof and plastic window inserts, a bunch of easy-to-deal-with plastic detail pieces, a large assortment of decals, and a price tag commensurate with what you get (IE, under $20). Better still, this kit has something that I've never seen in anybody else's kits (not even Walthers) - namely, a cut-and-fold paper interior for the office (very LCO-like, in fact). Sure, it's only black and white, but it's better than nothing. I wonder why more kits don't offer this option? It'd certainly be simple enough to include as part of the instructions, and it really helps bring the building to life. The bad news is that I guess this is City Classics' lone foray into N scale - apparently sales didn't live up to their expectations, so they bailed on us. Maybe if they'd picked a prototype that hadn't already been ably covered by Walthers they might have had more success...

I started by spraying the base Concrete and the roof Grimy Black. Then I assembled the walls and sprayed those Flat White. Next, I brushed the doors and trim Reefer Gray, stuck in all of the windows (except for the large ones in the office), stuck on the building decals, and glued in the paper office walls. Once everything dried, I sprayed on a layer of Flat Finish to fog the windows and seal the decals, and once that dried I brushed on a layer of Bragdon powder. Next, I assembled, painted and applied decals to all the various detail pieces- pumps (Dark Green & Boxcar Red), islands (Concrete), oil can racks (Boxcar Red), lamps (Flat White), signpost (Flat White), soda machine (Caboose Red & Reefer White) ice machine (Flat White) and chimney (Flat White & Grimy Black).

Prior to assembling the walls, base and roof, I drilled a couple of holes in the base to accommodate lighting. Next, I glued in the front window inserts and then stuck in a leftover Tobias counter for the office (I think it was actually one of the teller windows from my unused "Credit Union" parts). And, as usual, I dug up a couple of basically useless figures and glued them in there as well (guys from a road crew or somesuch). Next, I stuck a couple of decals to the front windows, and then glued the walls to the base and the roof to the walls. Lastly, I did a little bit of Bragdon touch-up to hide the tell-tale glue around the joints, and then sealed some gaps around the edges of the roof with Flash Black.

So, all in all, a very nifty little kit. My only tribulation was with the "ICE" decal that's supposed to go on the front of the ice machine. Much to my dismay, it consists of three separate decals, one for each letter! Holy cats. I honestly don't know why I bothered, but I did actually spend about 30 minutes fishing them out of the water and then somehow getting them lined up on the ice machine. Way above and beyond the call of duty if you ask me. But hey, obsessive-compulsive disorder is what it is, what can I say? I'll tell you this, though. I did not bother with the miniscule little piece of rubber tubing that comes with the kit, and out of which you're supposed to fabricate pump hoses. I mean, please.

Looking at the picture, it suddenly occurs to me that those lamp posts at the pump islands are eventually going to have to go. No fake/non-functioning lights on this layout, baby!

04/04/07 - More experimenting with backdrops

Needing a serious break from putting buildings together, I decided to get started on the rear backdrop and the side/corner mountain supports- the goal here being a backdrop for the rear lo-pro buildings to butt up against, and side/corner supports for the eventual mountain/tunnel areas.

My first vexing problem was what to do about the northern edge of the layout. As things developed, my best option for a road out of town (along with a grade crossing) turned out to be up there. Unfortunately, I (once again) let my short-sighted track-planning (or lack thereof) interfere with other aspects of the layout and, as a consequence, wound up with the upper mains running right up against the edge of the layout (and leaving zero space for a road to exit the layout, let alone an accompanying crossing gate).

I tried various experiments extending the layout northwards using a thick (2") piece of Woodland Scenics foam. Unfortunately, given the fact that I'm already stretching the limits of this layout's portability as is, making the whole thing longer was just begging to strand it, forever unmoveable, in my basement. So, next I wasted a bit of time trying to simply apply the 2" foam to the immediate area around where the road would exit. Um, yeah... As you can imagine, that wound up looking really stupid and kludgey.

Eventually, I decided that since the mountain supports were going to extend the layout a half an inch anyway (that being the thickness I use for backdrop foam), I could go ahead and run them along the entire northern end of the layout (cut down flush with the top of the layout in the exit road area), thus hopefully providing enough room for both sides of the grade crossing. And, given the flexibility of foam, I suppose I could even bulge things out another quarter inch or so in the crossing area, just to provide that extra push over the cliff.

So, with that problem (hopefully) solved, I glued together a bunch of sheets of 1/2" foam and pinned them up along the back and sides of the layout (terminating on the sides more or less where I think the tunnels will start). I'd really like to get them glued permanantly in place, but that'd just make the rest of the work I need to do along the edges of the layout completely impossible. So, at least for now, pins.

OK, next problem... the rear backdrop. Now, I've always been a big fan of Cornerstone "Instant Horizons" backdrops. First of all, they're cheap ($8 per 3' section), and they come in a wide variety of themes (all designed to connect and flow seamlessly together). And beyond that, I just really like the elegant simplicity of the painted artwork. Some prefer more "photo real" backdrops, but (at least in my mind), those tend to accentuate the unreality of a model railroad rather than work with it. Still others (y'know, people with actual talent) actually go so far as to paint their own backdrops. Yeah, right... As for me, I decided to just stick with what's worked for me in the past and once again let Walthers do all the work.

So, which ones to use? Well, I figured that since I have a couple of major industries over there (Red Wing Milling and Ridgeway Paint), I'd try a seriously industrial backdrop for starters. And, much to my dismay, this wound up looking really lame. As it turns out, sticking a backdrop with buildings on it right behind a couple of lo-pro buildings just plain don't work. Suddenly your lo-pro buildings look exactly like what they are - IE, one inch thick buildings. So, into the trash went the industrial backdrop.

Next, I tried a couple of simple "desert/country" backdrops. These wound up looking, um, OK (I guess). I mean, they'll work great with the eventual "mountains", and they don't clash with the lo-pro industries per se, but the whole scene does feel a bit odd (IE, why are these giant industrial structures out in the middle of nowhere?) Oh well, what are you gonna do?

The good news is that now that the mountainous areas are starting to take shape (at least in my mind), I can envision exactly where I can run two (count 'em, two) cascading streams. Namely, starting in the back corners, running over and down the rugged terrain, and eventually into the center "dead zone". I knew that big square hole would come in handy for something...

Oh yeah, I also decided to round off the front corners of the layout. Don't ask me why, but I guess I've always found square edges on a layout kind of, I dunno, odd. So, I trimmed them to follow the curving contours of the track. So, whatever. If nothing else, it'll help make the layout more portable. I'd really like to round off the back corners too, but what with the backdrops, I just don't see that happening. That foam is only going to bend so far...

04/10/07 - Working on that last stubborn section of town

I've been sitting here scratching my head trying to figure out how to finish off that last section of open space along the main drag in Wingnut. At first I thought I might try another "corner" style building down at the end, basically touching corners with my soon-to-be-finished DPM "Wilhelm's Mercantile" kit. So, with that in mind I picked up a Heljan "Corner Drugstore" kit based on a pretty cool picture of one I saw on the Atlas forum. Unfortunately, said picture was a bit misleading as it didn't really reveal the fact that the building is not rectangular, but rather a really bizarre trapezoidal shape. Probably handy for specialized situations, but completely unworkable for mine. I briefly experimented with bashing it into a rectangle, but that didn't get my anywhere. Eventually I just gave up.

Putting the corner situation on the back burner for the moment, I instead turned my attentions to my Trackside Transfer building. Once I'd started placing "regular" buildings on that side of the street, the office portion of the transfer building started looking really out of place. Worse still, it didn't look like I'd really left myself enough room on the street side for trucks to actually operate (even shorties). So, the first thing I did was pull the loading dock off of the track side and trim it down to half its original depth, allowing me to push the whole building another half inch closer to the track and giving me a good couple of inches on the street side in which to operate trucks.

Next, in order to make the office portion of the structure fit in better with its surroundings, I pulled it off the main building and rotated it 90 degrees (putting the main door on the street side). Next, I pulled the former front wall off and relocated it to the back, and then used some of the leftover wall sections from Heljan Drug to embiggen the whole thing such that it could run from the (eventual) sidewalk all the way back to the rear of the transfer building. After putting that all together, I made myself a new roof out of leftover Cornerstone Modular pieces and stuck that on. And since a couple of my new wall joints didn't turn out as elegantly as I would have liked, I went ahead and used a couple of simple cheats to conceal them (a downspout for one and a ladder for the other). Then it was just a matter of some Flash Black to seal up the roof gaps and a bit of paint and Bragdon to match the new wall sections with the old. All in all I think it turned out pretty well. It does look a bit like a building that's been "reconfigured" somewhere along the line, but I'm sure we've all seen structures like that in the prototypical world. And ultimately I think it helps improve the overall flow of that side of the block.

So, what about that corner? I guess what I'm thinking now is another kit-bash of a Cornerstone "office" type building (probably American Hardware). I need something relatively long (7 or 8 inches), relatively skinny (or maybe L-shaped) to run flush with Wilhelm's and at the same time not crash into the track, and only 2 or 3 stories tall (so as to not dwarf the surrounding buildings). And as specialized as all that sounds, kit-bashing is likely my only option at this point. It's kind of funny, to me this whole process is reminescent of finishing those last few sections of a loop of track - lots of custom work required. Unfortunately, involving a bit more effort than just pulling out the track saw and hacking a couple of sections of custom track.

Oh, and as you've probably noted from my pictures, I'm using strips of paper as placeholders for my eventual streets. Just a little mock-up tool to help me situate things while I'm deciding what to put where.

04/12/07 - Finished DPM's "Wilhelm's Mercantile" kit (now "Walter's Hardware")

For this one I went with Boxcar Red on the walls, Reefer Gray on the windows (all 37 bazillion of 'em) and Grimy Black on the included plastic roof. No specialty window inserts currently available (Shire's "Cuthbert's Clothing" inserts being back-ordered at the moment), so I went with homebrew blinds on the upper floors and Flat Finish Fog along with an assortment of hardware themed decals on the main floor. And since I haven't had a chance to vent about Woodland Scenics' "press-on" decals lately, let me just indulge myself for a moment by saying they suck! OK, I feel better now, thank you.

This building turned out pretty nice looking, but given all those big, beautiful windows on the main floor, I was really regretting the lack of interior detail (neither LCO nor Tobias having anything to offer for this kit). It definitely felt like it needed something else to make it a bit more interesting, but since I didn't feel up to the task of creating some kind of custom interior, I instead decided to give one of these Miller Engineering animated neon signs a try. However, sad to say, I did not achieve much in the way of success, what with these things turning out to be pretty impractical.

First off, much like the fiber optics, these turned out to be very difficult to deal with logistically. Each sign consists of a PC board which has to be connected to some kind of power supply. You can either use the supplied 4.5V battery pack or one of their converter units (which runs off of a regular model railroad power pack). The PC board then connects to the actual sign via a 6" ribbon cable with a big plug on the end. And since the signs are one-sided (coming in either "left side" versions or "right side" versions), you really need to rig up two entire light units to make one complete sign (I mean, who's going to want a one-sided neon sign? Yuck). Suffice it to say, that's a lot of stuff just to light one sign.

I might have been able to live with the rat's nest of wiring, but the real deal breaker for me turned out to be the PC boards. Each comes with a miniature transformer that emits this insanely irritating high pitched tone that had every dog within six blocks of my house barking like mad. I tried various experiments to eliminate said dentist's drill screech, and finally came up with this rig whereby I sandwiched the PC boards between two sponges and then sealed them up inside of a cigar box lined with Dynamat. Well, sound problem "solved", but there's no way I was going to try to install that Rube Goldberg contraption under my layout just for a couple of neon signs, no matter how cool they might look.

So, ultimately I just chucked all the electronic gizmoage and stuck the signs onto my building sans lighting (cutting a thin slit in the front wall with a Dremel). And I have to say, even without the nifty lighting effects, these are very impressive looking little signs. Unfortunately, I checked with Chris at Miller and he informed me that they don't sell the signs ala carte. Too bad, that. Even I'm not crazy enough to spend $50 for an unlit building sign (not more than once, anyway).

Anyway, I'd still like to try to get some lighted signs into my town somehow. But I definitely want something less complicated - IE, simple two-wire LED or filament bulb lighting. Based on a little bit of web research, it appears that the only other company out there that makes lighted business signs is Miniatronics, but their "neon like" signs, though nice and simple, are definitely geared more towards placement inside of buildings (and shining out through a window) as opposed to being designed for the fronts of buildings. So, at this point it looks like I'm just going to have to figure out a way to scratchbuild my own.

04/14/07 - Finished bashing the hell out of Cornerstone's "American Hardware" kit

Since this building is so danged tall (four stories), the first thing I needed to do was figure out how many stories had to come off. Ultimately, I decided to simply remove one story, although in retrospect I think it would have looked better if I'd taken off two. Oh well.

When I chopped down Bralick, I removed the top two stories (along with the wall caps), and wasn't real happy with the way the tops of the walls and the roof wound up looking. So, this time I decided to take out one of the middle stories and preserve the tops of the walls. This worked pretty well, but it did introduce its own set of problems. Getting smooth, even edges where the rejoined wall sections meet was quite a challenge, and I have to say that there are a few spots where the joints are a bit sloppy and obvious. Not a "toss the whole thing into the trash" disaster, but not my finest hour either. Oh well, I'm still new at this whole kit-bashing thing, so maybe by "N Scale Layout #12" I'll have it all figured out.

Once I'd properly sized the walls, it was just a matter of selecting the sections I needed in order to build something that would both make sense (like having doors where people can actually get at them) and take up the desired L-shaped vacant lot. Fortunately, AH seems to have been virtually designed for kit-bashing, what with the nice assortment of differently-sized wall sections they give you.

After I'd glued everything together, I sprayed the entire structure with "Concrete" and then handbrushed all of the brick sections with "Boxcar Red" (an arduous process, to be sure). Next, I glued in the window frames (leaving them Gray) and window "glass" and then sprayed the whole thing with Flat Finish. Next I cut a couple of roof sections, sprayed those Grimy Black and glued them on. Lastly, a few decals, a few Cornerstone Modular roof doodads, and then just a ton of Bragdon powder to hide all those crazy seams.

So, that's just about it for the buildings. At this point it looks like all I have left to do is finish painting my "Hilltowne Hotel" kit (DPM). Then I'll finally be able to put the damned model glue away and get on with other things.

04/18/07 - This 'n' that

Being completely not in the mood to take on another six-bazillion window DPM paint job (Hilltowne Hotel), I decided to spend some time puttering around with a bit of other business that I've been putting off for a while...

First off, I went ahead and got all of the track painted. I know, I know, this scares the hell out of most people (it sure as hell used to scare the hell out of me), but it's actually quite painless and yields most excellent results. No rocket science here- just take a can of "Grimy Black" and start spraying (three passes- first, straight down, and then from either side). Everything that isn't track is ultimately going to be sceneried over or ballasted over, so accuracy isn't particularly important (although it's actually pretty easy to confine the spew to the track). After spraying, I run a sheet of styrene over the rail tops to remove most of the paint, and then once dry, I give it all a good scrubbing with my magical track cleaning eraser ("Bright Boy" or whatever brand melts your favorite butter). The end result is that the ties lose their icky plastic sheen, the joiners basically vanish, the (now blackened) rail sides wind up looking not quite so Code 80 tall, and everything still runs great because your locomotives only care about the tops of the rails anyway. OK, sure, it's not quite up to the standards of Ye Model Railroading Gods (who painstakingly air-brush every rail, tie and spike in excruciatingly exacting colors), but believe me, it does wonders for the typical mediocre layout.

One caveat - NO PAINT anywhere near the moving parts of switches (or groundthrows or switch machines). I totally mask that stuff off before spraying any paint (having learned the "sticky switches really suck" lesson way back on Scenic Ridge).

Nextly, I did a bit of plaster cloth work. First, I finished PC'ing my risers (or at least the risers where I hadn't gotten PC all the way to the bottom). Then, I did a bit of lumpy landscaping around the eastern corners (crumpled paper under PC on the south side and jumbled foam blocks under PC on the north side). Finally, I finished building up the south end of the town "platform" so as to connect up with the bridge (pleasing many future Wingnut motorists in the process).

Once I'd finished with the plaster, I went ahead and brushed a layer of Woodland Scenics "Earth Undercoat" on pretty much every surface (mainly to get rid of the last vestiges of plaster/foam whiteness). And wow, it's almost starting to look like a real live layout now.

Finally, I decided to get serious about my city/street mock-up (or at least as serious as one can get with a mock-up). My first task was to verify that the 11 centimeters I'd originally opted for as a street width was going to be sufficient (IE, wide enough to accommodate sidewalks, parking and traffic lanes). I decided to lock in on 1.5 cm for the sidewalks - that being how far the awning sticks out on my State Street "Beer" building (for lack of any better metric) - and decided that the remaining 8 cm was indeed going to be plenty wide enough for parking and traffic. So, with dimensions firmly settled on, I went ahead and cut out paper templates for all of the side streets, pinned them in place, positioned all of the buildings, and... oops. Turns out that I didn't go quite deep enough on the whole town platform, what with some of my side street buildings having their asses hanging out over "dead zone" oblivion. So, it looks like my next task is to build another half inch (or so) lip onto the platform. Fortunately, a pretty simple fix at this stage. And definitely another good excuse for putting off painting Hilltowne Hotel for another day.

04/22/07 - More assorted miscellanea

Just to make absolutely sure I had plenty of room along the back edge of town, I added a full inch of additional depth to the lip. And as long as I was in foam cutting mode, I also added a couple of more inches to the lip behind Empire Leather. A couple of those buildings were painfully close to the edge, leaving precious little space for roads and whatall.

I'm kind of anxious to get going on my tunnels, so I've been trying to get a lot of the macro landscaping chores out of the way while I still have unfettered access to the entire layout (IE, no foam barriers to get in my way). With that in mind, I've gotten a good start on the ballasting (having been able to finish about half the track so far). Once again I've opted for Arizona Rock & Mineral "C&NW Mauve" ballast (mainly because it looks like the ballast one sees on most of the mainlines up here in Minnesota). They rarely have much in the way of N scale AR&M ballast down at YOLHS, so I wound up mixing in HO ballast as well. I don't think it makes a great deal of difference though, as it all looks good to me. I've developed a pretty simple and efficient method for laying ballast (fully documented on my last couple of layout blogs), so I should be able to finish up the rest in a couple more sessions.

Somewhere along the line I decided I wanted a long "cut stone" retaining wall on the risers along the western side of the layout (across the tracks from Empire). And the ones that look best to me turned out to be from an outfit called Pre-Size (strange name, nice walls). Each $10 package comes with two 4.5" sections, which means I'd need to purchase a total of six packages to complete the entire wall. Spendy, yes? That's what I thought too, so I thought I'd take a whack at making a mold out of one and casting my own.

I didn't really want to spend a ton of money on this experiment, so I just picked up the cheapest (and easiest looking) molding medium they had at YOLHS - namely, Woodland Scenics "Latex Rubber". I won't go into all of the details here, but suffice it to say, this was pretty much of a failed experiment. Mold building is a long, painstaking process involving building up layer after thin layer of latex and gauze (each layer taking like an entire day to dry). And by the time you're done, I guess if you wind up with something usable at all (I didn't), it might only be good for a few casts before you wear it out and have to make another one. So I dunno, maybe some day I'll revisit the whole thing, but for now I think I'll just let Pre-Size have my sixty bucks and get on with my life.

So, while I'm waiting for my monster order of walls to show up at YOLHS, I'll continue slinging the ballast. Here's hoping I don't run out - AR&M is notoriously unpredictable as far the availability of their products is concerned (particularly their N scale ballast).

04/25/07 - Finished ballasting

I seem to get a little better at this every time I do it - and faster too. The whole project took something like four hours to complete, and once finished I didn't have my usual assortment of glitches to clean up (lumps of ballast interfering with wheels, sticky switches, etc). I'll eventually have to do a little bit of touch-up work on a few thin/uneven spots here and there, but I won't worry about that until I've finished up with the rest of the scenery.

I'm still waiting on my Pre-Size walls, so I suppose I'd better just grit my teeth and go finish painting that damned hotel.

04/25/07 - One last building (not counting the evil hotel from hell, which I am still painting)

My buddy Dave (the guy who purchased Scenic Ridge from me last year) presented me with a box of interesting buildings a while back. Apparently he'd picked them up on eBay (or somesuch) over the years, but never got around to building an actual layout on which to use them. So, deciding it'd be fun to see them show up on one of my layouts, he freebied them to me. Unfortunately, by the time I got them I'd already pretty much finished building all the structures I needed for this particular layout and wasn't sure that I'd be able to make use of any of them this time around... Well, the good news for all concerned is that I did finally decide that I could use one more building for my town. And since I've totally exhausted the entire DPM vein (and cornered the Cornerstone market), it was Dave's "box o' fun" to the rescue. Free, pre-built and pre-painted? Crikey, I ain't going to argue with that.

The "town" buildings he gave me are pretty interesting. They're all cast plaster (something I didn't even know existed, let alone have any experience with). And I have to say, the look of it is quite impressive. Much more "bricky" looking than styrene. The roof is also quite cool. Instead of the usual flat/smooth number that I've embraced in my model railroading rut, this guy went ahead and glued ballast (or something like ballast) to the roof to give it an entirely different (and yet prototypical) look. More better still is the big "Card Room" sign on the side wall. It's literally painted on (IE, not a decal). Again, I don't know the origins of any of this stuff, but my guess is that it's some kind of stencil. But whatever the case, it looks amazing and is the main reason I decided to use this particular building on my layout.

Unfortunately, the building also came with a fair number of unconvincing looking paper signs that really detracted from the realism of the model. I wound up removing most of those (and then straightened out and/or repaired the rest). Then it was just a matter of some weatherwash for some of the shiny plastic bits, followed up by judicious amounts of Bragdon powder to further enhance what was already a very nice looking model.

The one thing I can't do with it is install any kind of interior lighting (well, I could, but since the windows are merely glued to the facade and the walls are completely solid, it'd be pointless). Fortunately, the way it's faced (away from the front view of the layout), it shouldn't be that big of a deal. And hell, given the presumed low-life nature of the place, an "open window" policy probably wouldn't be in their canon anyway. And OK, sure, it's not really in step with the rest of Wingnut - looking like something from 20-30 years earlier and all. But I think one can totally justify it as a seedy, next-to-the-tracks, soon-to-be-torn-down holdover from an earlier era type deal.

So, whatdy'all say? Come on Spookshow Nation, give it up fer Dave!

Addendum- after a bit of research, I've discovered that these plaster buildings are made by Downtown Deco. Unfortunately, this particular building (Addams Avenue Part III) is currently out of production (at least according to their website).

04/26/07 - Prepping for Powerage

No, I still haven't finished painting Hotel Hell, so quit buggin' about it me already, OK? Sheesh!

Anyway, as I gradually (nigh imperceptively) approach the end of the "building the buildings" phase, I figured it was about time I started making plans for how I'm going go about wiring up and powering this theoretical lighting extravaganza. The plan (so far, anyway) is to use cheapie DC trainset power packs so that I can control the brightness of the lights. Unfortunately, at this point I haven't the faintest idea how many lights I'm going to be able to power off a single power pack. Still, I think it's probably safe to assume that it's going to take more than one. And rather than trying to somehow snake a bazillion power cables from a bazillion power packs out of my layout, I decided to go ahead and install a power strip instead.

At this point, I'm thinking that ye old "dead zone" is going to make a fine location for power/wiring central (as opposed to the underside of the layout), mainly because I am definitely not geeked about the idea of lifting the whole layout up off the pool table every time I want to hook up a stinking light or something. Yeah, I expect it's all going to get fairly ugly looking in a big hurry, so I suppose somewhere down the line I'm going to have to conceal it all somehow. But that's a worry for another day. In the mean time, my evil dominatrix (Helltowne Hotel) demands more of my attention...

04/29/07 - Helltowne Hotel is finished

Well, that's it for DPM. I've built every one of their town buildings for this layout, and I definitely saved the worst for last.

I sprayed the walls with Earth and then brushed the trim and windows with Rail Brown. And what windows! Not only are there 78 of the damned things, but they're double-recessed, making painting them just one hell of a bitch. I'm sure I wound up spending at least a couple of minutes on each window, and I still couldn't keep all the paint "inside the lines". Once again, thank god for weathering...

No fancy add-ons for this building, so I installed the plain window "glass", fogged it with Flat Finish and then installed homebrew blinds. Next, I cut a roof out of cardstock, sprayed it Grimy Black and stuck it on. After that I applied a few decals to the windows (two from Woodland Scenics' generic business press-on set and two from Gold Medal Models' "Downtown Business Signs" assortment).

Then, being a total brute for punishment, I decided to give Miller Signs one last try. Hell, this is the only other building (apart from Wilhelm's) big enough to support one, so if this one didn't work I didn't feel like I'd even be tempted to try another one. And once again, it didn't work out. In addition to the noise issue, the other problem with these signs is that they don't really mount back-to-back very well (or at all, really). Even placing a shim between them (.080" thick, as recommended by Miller), it's quite impossible to get the backs of the signs plugged into their respective plugs. You have to bend the ends away from each other to provide room for the plugs, and bending the signs at all causes the various layers to separate, thus rendering some (or all) of the light panels inoperable. So yeah, another fifty bucks worth of fancy electric lighting up the spout. Oh well, they still look nice unlit.

So that's it, baby. I'm finished building buildings. Here's hoping my walls show up at YOLHS today so I can get on with that particular project.


N Scale Layout #4 - The Ultimate Roundy-Rounder

Roads & Lighting

Scenery, Detailing & Beyond the Beyond

Bill of Lading



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