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


07/29/07 - Started building the mountains

That's a whole lot of white there in those pictures, but hopefully I've manipulated the lighting well enough that you can see what I've gotten up to with the first mountain.

My first step was to cut out some foam banks for my eventual river bed and glue those to the tops of the tunnel structure. Next, I piled a bunch of crumpled newspaper on top of everything that wasn't going to be stream bed and then set about the sloppy task of covering it all up with WS plaster cloth. I still need to do a bit of clean up around some of the edges (particular the tunnel mouths), but so far I think it's looking really great. Easily the most convincing looking mountain I've built to date.

At this point I think I'm going to go with "cast and stick" rock formations (as opposed to "slop and foil") for those big, flat foam facades on either mountain face. I'll get more than enough slop-n-foil action covering up all the various risers, and since I really do like the look you get with cast rock faces (using WS's various rock molds), those big, flat facades seem like ideal candidates for that particular method. Plus, it's a bit easier and far less sloppy than S'N'F, so all the better.

On a completely unrelated topic, I decided to replace all of my non-Presize tunnel portals with Presize ones. On some of those narrower portals (particular the Chooch's), I was having a lot of problems with some of my taller (an Overland brass caboose with a really big smokestack) and longer (an Athearn 4-6-6-4) crashing into them. And since the Presizes are noticeably wider than some of those other brands, I decided to save myself some headaches and just go with Presize right down the line.

08/03/07 - More mountain building

Same basic procedure here on the north mountain as I followed on the south mountain. Unfortunately, I wound up with a really lame roll of WS plaster cloth and had just one hell of a time getting this thing built. I dunno if it was methusiastically old or if it just came from a really bad batch, but whatever the case, even soaking wet it was as stiff as a pair of just-bought-em denim jeans. I did the best I could under the circumstances, but I expect I'll eventually wind up having to smear a ton of ad-hoc plaster over the thing just to hide all of the sticky-uppy seams and whatnot. But whatever, that's a worry for later.

Once I'd gotten the basic tunnel box covered up with p-cloth, I took a break and sat back to admire my work. And unfortunately, my first impression was that I'd managed to create a couple of rather dorky looking mountain book-ends. Seriously - they were identical, what with the basic shape, the rivers and the flat facades. So, I decided to 86 the whole "big, flat facade" thing on the north mountain and build a gradual descent to the base instead. I also covered up much of the open territory next the northern edge of town with various paper+pcloth lumps to eliminate the whole "walk out the back door of the gas station and fall off a cliff" thing.

Once I'd finished with the mountain building, I went ahead and slogged through the whole process of applying thin strips of p-cloth to all of the various open seams and edges and whatnot (EG, around the tunnel mouths, the backdrops, and so forth). And when I started in on cleaning up the southern mountain, it finally dawned on me that I needed to build some banks for my nascent river (where it transitions to the layout base). And once I got started on that project, I noticed that the whole area was just entirely too flat, and basically went nuts adding all sorts of additional foam layers and lumpiness:

So, cripes, my baby has suddenly turned into a big, white, sloppy mess. Time to get busy with the Earth Undercoat and see what I have, and then figure out what I need to do next. I'll tell you what though, I'm am getting to the point where I can at least see the end of the line. Some surface pigment, a few rock formations, a sprinkling of turf, a bit of greenery, a couple of rivers.... and then, finally, the long, slow glide through detailing. Ahhhhhh....

08/05/07 - Painted all the plaster cloth with Earth Undercoat

Once again, nothing earth-shattering to report here - I brushed on the EU and it cooperated by drying. However, I did discover a nifty technique for cleaning up all those ugly white splatters you wind up with all over the place after finishing with the plaster cloth. Fortunately, most of them wind up on base and can simply be painted over, but the ones that wind up on track, roadbed and ballast are a bit tricker. And, not really having any idea what I was going to do about those, I went ahead and tried (on a whim) brushing them with weatherwash. And wow, did that ever work out well! Those white splats vanished like so many farts in the wind. Yet another nut discovered by the blind squirrel...

So anyway, I think the plan now is to finish up with all the rest of the plaster work. First I need to cast some rocks for the flat face on the southern mountain and get those glued into place. Then there's just a ton of smaller areas that need the old slop-and-foil rock treatment. I've never been a fan of the whole plaster routine, so I figure I might as well just grit my teeth and get it all over with as quickly as possible.

08/09/07 - Rock walls, and lots of 'em

I started by building slop'n'foil rock faces around all of the various tunnel mouths. In the past I've always tried to build my tunnel portals right into the surrounding rock by sealing them in with thin strips of plaster cloth. However, I've also always thought this wound up looking kind of stupid (what with the holes in the cloth and the raggedy edges of the cloth and whatnot). So, this time I'm just going to stick the portals directly onto the flat, rocky facades and leave it at that.

In preparation for fixing the portals in place, I went ahead and got them all painted ahead of time. In the past I've always put this off until after I've actually gottem them installed (due to the mess created by my old plaster cloth method), which always made the job of painting them ten times more difficult. So, yet another benefit to just sticking them to the facade and being done with it. For coloring, I started with a layer of watered-down WS "Stone Gray", followed up with a coating of dark weatherwash, and finally some Bragdon powder (gray over the entire portal, and a bit of black over the top to simulate accumulated soot).

As threatened, I also went ahead and covered the flat wall on the southern mountain with various WS rock castings. In the past, I've always sealed up the gaps between the wall and the tops of the rocks with plaster cloth (ala what I used to do with tunnel portals). And again, same problems. So, this time around I decided to fill in the transition from mountain to rocks with more slop'n'foil plaster. And, lo, I do think it worked out pretty well.

So, just a couple of more small sections of riser to slop'n'foil and I think I'll be able to safely store the plaster away until my next layout. Although, truth be told, I have been toying with the idea of casting a few more rocks just to scatter around the tops of the mountains (just for some variety). However at this point, I'm not entirely sure where I'd put them... I dunno, I might just wait until I've got the whole thing painted and turfed and see what I have. Then maybe add them at that point.

08/11/07 - Finished with the rocks

So yay, that does it for the plaster work and the plaster painting. My first step was to finish up the last few small riser sections that needed the slop'n'foil treatment. After that, I cast some assorted (smallish) rock formations for the tops of the mountains, which I then scattered scenically around. Lastly, I applied a light coating of Smooth-It to some of the original mountain plaster cloth that didn't turn out so hot (hiding fields of p-cloth holes and assorted p-cloth seams). Once that task was completed, I painted over all the Smooth-It slather with Earth Undercoat and then set about painting all the various rocks and rock walls. And this time around I tried something a little different as far as the coloring is concerned.

Woodland Scenics has four basic pigments suitable for coloring rocks- "Stone Gray", "Yellow Ochre", "Burnt Umber" and "Raw Umber" (although I've never actually used the "raw", so let's pretend that that one doesn't exist for the time being). Now, on previous layouts, I've always applied these three basic colors all at once (and in undiluted fashion) - IE, brush on one color, then brush on another color (before the first one had dried), and then the third color. And I guess I got some fairly decent results that way, but ultimately I wound up with a single, basically vomitrocious color where the three colors mixed, and a lot of pretty obvious "dried brush stroke" sections where they didn't.

So, this time around I decided to mount my attack in diluted coats. I started by going after the raw/white plaster with some fairly diluted gray (just guessing here, but I'd say about 33% water). The combination of a big brush and said watery mixture allowed me to really slather the stuff on- killing all of the overt whiteness in one pass (there being nothing more irritating than finishing your rock painting and finding all sorts of little white spots all over the place).

Once that all dried, I then brushed on a layer of ochre (slightly less diluted - maybe 20% water). This made for a nicely faded yellow coloring that didn't completely obliterate the underlying dirty gray layer. And once that layer dried, I then applied a layer of barely diluted burnt umber (maybe 10% water). This resulted in a very warm overall southwestern coloring, while still allowing patches of the underlying yellow and gray to show through.

So, the whole process took a little bit more time, but I think ultimately it was well worth the effort. That big cast-rock facade on the southern mountain turned out particularly nice - especially with all of the little bits and pieces of "fell off the wall" rock I decided to scatter around the base. Once I get some bushes planted amidst the detritus, I'll really be in business.

08/11/07 - Finally got my NJI signals

Yup, there they are. Aren't they, um... great?

OK, well, what can I say? This seems to be yet another instance where I'm going to have to part company with the prototype police and declare my allegiance to a less than accurate model. Yes, these NJI signals are no doubt more "real world" than my Model Power signals, but dang, they're so small! If I knew they were going to be this dinky, I would've waited and stuck 'em on the front of the layout (and stuck my giganto-huge MP's on the back). I mean, as is, they're virtually invisible on this layout.

Oh well, whatever... such is life in the "buying stuff you've never seen" world. I sure ain't going to worry about it now because, by Crom, I am now completely finished with all of the electronics! And I will readily confess right now that I came very close to losing my enthusiasm for this entire layout during that nigh-endless wiring process. It's a damned good thing I've already finished all of the heavy lifting, 'cuz... well, who knows? I've never not finished a layout before, but I suppose there's always a first time for everything, even the unthinkable. Fortunately, my batteries have been totally recharged now that I'm well and truly into the whole scenery thing, so no more worrying about thinking the unthinkable. As for the thinkable, let's start thinking about some turf!

08/17/07 - Finished with the first layer of turf

Previously I've always started turfing operations with a layer of Green WS "Blended Turf". However, since I guess I've more or less settled on shooting for some sort of pseudo-southwestern look here, I decided that going too green wasn't going to work. When I think of the southwest, I think of a lot of brownish-red soil, covered by a lot of faded green brush. So, I decided to try out a bag of WS "Earth" Blended Turf instead and see how that looked. And I guess it's OK for a first layer, although I'd say it's a bit more green/yellow than the brown/red I was shooting for. In fact, about halfway through I wound up mixing in an additional bag of brown turf just to tone the green down a notch or two.

Application is dead simple. I brush Matte Medium where I want the turf to go, and then sprinkle it on with the little plastic shaker I got with "Scenic Ridge" (basically a plastic condiment container with holes punched in the lid). Once the glue dries, I then vacuum up everything that didn't stick.

So, the next step is to add some patches of various different flavors of turf (faded green, yellow, brown, etc) for some variety, and then move on to the coarse turf and underbrush.

Once I'd finished with the Blended Turf, I went ahead and finished gluing the rest of my buildings to the base - so we're now completely portable. And you've probably noticed this mysterious (and unmentioned) electrical structure in previous pictures. I had it (a Con-Cor Cambria City Power Station) left over from my last layout and wasn't sure if I was going to be able to use it on this one or not. Well, I finally decided I would. And so, there it is.

08/20/07 - Built a fence around Empire Leather

Having spent most of the week playing around with turf, I decided to take a break from all that and build a chainlink fence around Empire instead. And once again, I went with Gold Medal Models "chainlink fence with barbed wire and gates" (#1600). Each package contains four 4" sections of fence, so I was able to build the whole thing with three packs (and I still have enough left over for the fence I'm eventually going to build around the freight house truck loading area).

Installation is pretty easy (so long as you're building your fence on top of foam). Each fence post has a pointy little spike on the bottom that sinks very nicely into foam (just add a drib of FTG to each spike to hold them in place). Things become a bit tricker if you're trying to erect a fence on top of plaster (or wood or whatever). Yes, each pack comes with a little drilling jig that you can supposedly use to plot holes for the fence spikes, but I've never had much success going that route. When faced with plaster, I usually just clip the spikes off and glue the fence directly to the base. Fortunately, there were only a couple of spots where this fence wound up on top of some plaster cloth seams, so I didn't have too many problems.

The only other tricky bit with this fence is the barbed wire. Naturally, you want to bend it at an angle from the fence to make it look more realistic. However, this causes all sorts of problems when you need to bend the fence around a corner. Basically you have to cut the barbed wire at the bend, and then try to keep those tiny little wire strands looking somewhat realistic. Fortunately, I've seen plenty of bent and otherwise mangled old security fences in the real world, so I didn't make myself crazy trying to get everything perfectly straight and connected from one fence section to another. To further cement the "old and abused" look, I applied a healthy dose of Bragdon "rust" to each section prior to installation.

So, that was fun. Now, back to the turf.

08/21/07 - Finished with the turf

Well, I'm not sure where this layout is headed, but the more green I add the more it starts to look like the high plains (Colorado or Wyoming maybe) than it does the desert southwest. I guess Woodland Scenics' products (or at least the ones I'm most familiar with) aren't necessarily geared towards modeling desert. And at this point I'm not even sure what materials and methods one would use to create that dry desert soil affect I was looking for, but turf definitely wasn't it. Oh well, I guess if I really cared I'd have done a little research first. As is, I still think it looks good, and hell, there must be someplace in the US that looks like this

To add the second layer of turf, I first used an eye dropper to soak the Blended Turf layer with wet water. Next, I used the same eye dropper to soak in some Scenic Cement. Then it's just a matter of sprinkling on patches of various shades of fine turf (yellow grass, burnt grass and earth) to break up the monotony of the blended turf. Then, I sprinkled on a bit of light green Coarse Turf (smooshing it down as flat as possible with my fingers) to simulate patches of thicker/weedier growth and generally add some much needed lumpiness to the otherwise flat terrain. I also took this opportunity to hide the gaps along the bottom of "the great wall" - simply stuffing coarse turf into the cracks and crevices. Once the glue dries, it's just a matter of vacuuming up everything that didn't stick.

And so, on to the bushes, undergrowth and trees. Here I'm definitely going to have to exercise a bit of restraint, as I'm not really interested in transforming my once arid landscape into an out and out tropical rain forest.

08/21/07 - This 'n' That

Having reached the point where the beast is starting to resemble an actual model railroad, I decided to finally take care of some little fiddly bits of business that have been annoying me for a while. First off, I hunted down and killed all of the little plaster-rock white spots that I somehow missed painting the first time through (you know, the ones that you don't see until you're halfway across the room and hanging upside-down from the ceiling or something). Next, I inspected all of the roadbed and ballast and painstakingly (inch by bloody inch) cleaned up all of the thin spots (where I didn't get enough ballast down on the first pass) along with all of the "ick" spots (where I somewhere along the line slobbered plaster or paint or god knows what on them). Lastly, I mixed up a batch of diluted "Burnt Umber" and re-touched all of the "how in god's name are you still showing through" spots on the mountain plaster cloth that had, against all odds, resisted all previous efforts to paint, rock, turf, or otherwise cover them.

So there ya go, an evening well spent. I'm sure it's all completely obvious from the photo.

08/26/07 - Another shocking waste of money

So, after all my griping about being bored with electronics, what's the first thing I do? Well, naturally I go out and buy yet another electronic gizmo. Namely, this NJI semaphore tower. Oh well, what can I say? NJI just got these back in stock and I've always loved semaphores- no passenger station looks complete without one (at least to me). And, the good news (I guess) is that ultimately I didn't even have to power it. I was going to test it out on my workbench prior to installation and hooked it up to the trainset power pack that I keep on hand for such things. Unfortunately, I didn't read the instructions first, so I didn't notice that it's only rated for 3 volts (my bad I guess, but all the rest of the NJI toys I've purchased have been rated for 12-15 volts). So, I fired up the juice and instantly fried the bulb.

So, oh well. I can't say I'm exactly heartbroken about missing out on all that wiring. And anyway, it still looks plenty cool as is.

08/31/07 - Added a fence to the freight house

I finally got around to erecting that freight house fence that I've been going on about for a while. And just for a different look, I decided to go ahead and snip off the barbed wire this time around. I think the fence is there mainly to keep pain-in-the-ass pedestrians from straying off the sidewalk and getting run over (as opposed to being an out-and-out security fence). And anyway, barbed wire seemed just a little bit too hard core for a building right on the main drag. For another change of pace, I used Bragdon "gray" instead of "rust" for the weathering (going for that galvanized look). For installation, I simply clipped off the metal spikes on the bottom of the fence posts, then applied a bit of FTG along the bottom of the entire fence and then plopped it in place.

08/31/07 - Painted the river beds

I'm just about ready to add water to my rivers in order to turn them into actual, y'know, rivers. But before I can do that, I needed to get my river beds painted. I started by brushing on a layer of WS Yellow Ochre. Then (before the yellow dried) I hit the center of the bed with Burnt Umber, trying for a smooth transition from dark (in the center) to light (on the edges). The goal here being for the eventual water to look darker, and hence deeper, in the middle of the river. Although, since I actually plan on painting the surface of the eventual river blue, I'm not sure that this step is strictly necessary. But, whatever...

08/31/07 - Talus and underbrush

I've been gradually working through the very slow process of adding splashes of WS Talus (rock debris) and WS Underbrush here and there (mainly around the rock faces). A little of this stuff goes a long way, so I'm trying to restrain myself and keep it to a minimum. At this point I've finished with the talus, and have almost finished with the underbrush (with just the northern mountain needing a few more bushy accents).

For the talus, I went with the smallest size available. I started by dumping the entire bag into a big bowl, squirting in various shades of pigment, and then mixing it all up until I got something that approximated the look of my existing rocks. Then I used a small spoon to sprinkle it around my various rock formations. Next, I used an eye dropper to soak it down with scenic cement, waited for the glue to dry, and then vacuumed up whatever didn't stick.

And for the underbrush, pretty much the same procedure. Sprinkle it around on top of the talus (or wherever), soak it with scenic cement, wait for the glue to dry, and then hit it with the Hoover.

So, just a little bit more underbrush and then I can get started on those rivers.

09/01/07 - Finished with the underbrush and started on the rivers

After I finished planting the last bits of underbrush, I decided it was time to get started on those rivers. However, before I started pouring the river goo, I decided to make the beds a little more interesting by adding some of my painted talus along with a few "logs" (twigs from the back yard). I also added some larger talus (the next size up) to the areas below the (eventual) waterfalls for some (eventual) rapids.

Once the beds were prepped, I started pouring the water (WS "Realistic Water"). This stuff is pretty cool. It flows like molasses, and if you pour it at the top of an incline, it will literally flow downhill like water- filling in as it goes.

I decided to leave all the rocks and debris loose (IE, not glued down), hoping that the river goo (once flowing) would move the stuff around as it flowed, and ultimately leave it deposited in natural and realistic looking locations. And for the most part, I think that idea worked out. The larger rocks below the waterfalls did kind of wind up getting pushed into a big pile, though. So once the goo stopped flowing, I used a toothpick to redistribute them around a little better. The beauty of Realistic Water is that it takes hours to set up, so you have plenty of time to fix whatever little problems might arise during the pouring process. In fact, I found that you can simply use your fingers to smear the stuff around while it's still gooey, getting it to stay in places it might not otherwise want to flow.

RW's fluidity can be a bit of a mixed blessing at times, particularly when trying to build a river on an incline. Chances are, there will be a lot of thin spots once the first layer sets up. So, I generally wind up putting it down in several layers, eventually building up a consistant depth from top to bottom (it's in these later coatings that the "smear with fingers" technique comes in particularly handy). Another problem is that it starts to look a little purple if you go too deep with it, but since I plan on actually painting the river blue once I've finished, I didn't worry about that too much.

It's after I'd finished pouring that first layer that the fun really starts. As I mentioned before, it takes a long time for this stuff to set up. So, rather than sitting around staring at my rivers, waiting for them to dry, I decided to run some trains around instead. So, I fired up my DCC system and zap, instant short circuit. Well damn, what's up with that? I finished all the damned track wiring months ago and haven't had a single problem with it. What's going on here??

So, I futzed around with locomotives and rolling stock for a good long time, eventually just removing them all from the track. Well, no luck there, my DCC system was still shorted out. The problem was definitely in the track or the wiring someplace. So, going with the "what did I do last?" theory of trouble-shooting, I focused on the rivers (an admittedly unlikely source for electrical trouble). I popped the tunnel access panels, stuck a flashlight inside and took a look around. And, lo and behold, some river goop had oozed through some unsealed holes in my plaster cloth (where I hadn't gotten the plaster spread around very well) made it's way down the foam roof of the tunnel box, seeped through the cracks between two sections of foam and dripped right onto one of the mains, right on top of (and I am not making this up) two terminal joiners!

I couldn't fathom how that might cause a short, but it was simply too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence. So, I stuck a little screwdriver between the joiners and cleared out the crud. And wouldn't ya know it - no more short! Wow, I guess Realistic Water is even more realistic than I'd originally thought, 'cuz apparantly it conducts electricity! So anyway, Spookshow Tip #4593- make sure your river bed is on solid plaster or there's no telling where the RW is going to wind up...

09/06/07 - Finished the rivers

I'm still pretty green when it comes to modeling rivers, so this whole operation was basically a lot of trial and error (with emphasis on the "error").

After I'd finished getting the basic rivers built with Realistic Water (as documented above), I next employed WS "Water Effects" to create a couple of waterfalls. To do this, I first cut out a paper template approximating the size of the area I wanted to cover up with a waterfall. Then I squirted the WFX onto a non-stick surface (my wife's frying pan, so schtum), using said template as a guide. Next, I used a toothpick to scribe vertical lines through the goo, creating that "columns of cascading water" look prized by waterfall enthusiasts the world over (or, y'know, whatever). This stuff takes a long time to set up, so I just let it sit overnight. Came the dawn, I pried it up off the frying pan using my wife's spatula (again, schtum). Now, out of the bottle, WFX is flat white. But as it sets up, the thinner sections take on a translucent look, with the net effect being a nice mixture of white and clear that really does look like a waterfall.

I think the instructions recommend using WFX to stick your waterfall to the Realistic Water, but I've found that the waterfalls adhere quite readily to the river without any additional assistance, so I've never bothered with that step. So, with my waterfalls in place, I started in on the paint.

OK, first of all, I admit it, I actually like blue water. I know, I know, it's not everyone's cup of tea - some people like their rivers clear. But whatever, it's all personal aesthetics and there's no reason to debate it. Anyway, back on my last layout I figured out that my preferred color for water is Testor's "Dark Blue" enamel. I also figured out that one has to mix in a fair amount of thinner with said enamel paint (about 50-50) to make it translucent (and thus allow all of those painstakingly placed underwater details to show through). So, I mixed up a batch of said paint and proceeded to give my river the Hamm's Beer bar clock treatment (everyone sing along, "From the land of sky blue wa-a-ters..."). And once again, everything turned out quite nicely - the color was good and at the same time, nicely translucent.

Next, I decided my rivers could benefit from some rapids and a bit of general turbulance. So, I squirted WFX in what looked like the obvious areas for such things (drops in elevation, around logs, rocks, etc). And once again, I gave them the toothpick treatment for that flowing look.

It's at this point that things started going south in a hurry. And rather than chronicle all of my embarassing screw-ups, what say we just cut to the chase and talk about what actually worked? First off, the WFX rapids and turbulence- as mentioned previously, WFX tends to go all clear when applied in small quantities, so a lot of my "lumpy" water lost its desired whiteness when the WFX hardened. After a lot of screwing around, I eventually figured out that the best way to fix said problem is to simply dry-brush the WFX with some watered-down white acrylic paint (well duh, I guess - but sometimes the obvious is not quite so obvious).

Next, the waterfalls. I did like the look of them "out of the frying pan", but nevertheless, thought they could benefit from just a little bit of blueness. Well, as it turns out, painting the waterfalls blue directly is not the way to go. Rather, paint the wall behind the waterfall blue. Enough blue will show through the translucent areas of the WFX to create the desired effect. Or, if you want to be stupid like me, build one waterfall, paint it blue, hate it, then build another waterfall and stick it on top of the blue waterfall. Voila!

So, that's that. Mistakes were made, but I did (eventually) wind up with a couple of rivers that I'm quite happy with. Now, as my reward, I get to sit down and build about a million pine trees. Um, yay?

09/13/07 - Finished with the trees

I've never been real big on modeling trees, and the arboratic displays on my previous layouts have generally been limited to the odd tree here and there for accent purposes (and always deciduous). And since I'd made the decision to go with pine trees up on my mountains, my task here was doubly challenging - IE, what's the best way to build pine trees, and then what's the best way to situate them in a semi-arid, semi-mountainous setting?

I started by picking up some WS pine tree armatures and then set about the task of applying foliage to them. And since I'd had such good luck with the WS "Fine Leaf Foliage" on my boulevard trees, I decided to try that out first. And I have to say, my initial results were not so great. Basically I'd slobber on the Hob-E-Tac and then squish as much foliage onto the armatures as they could hold. The end result was something that looked like a tree, but didn't look much like a pine tree. Cypress maybe, but definitely not pine.

So, I went and got a little Atlas Forum advice and tried again. One thing I learned is that you have to let the Hob-E-Tac sit for about 30 minutes before sticking on the foliage. If you don't give it sufficient time to set up and get good and tacky, it doesn't do a very good job of holding the foliage (and consequently you wind up having to squash the foliage onto the armatures in mass quantities just to get it to stay).

For the second batch of trees, I decided to 86 the fine-leaf foliage and go with foam instead. All those little twigs in the fine leaf stuff are great when you're building big lumpy deciduous trees, but they don't look so hot when you're building a pine tree (where you want the foliage to be less dense and allow the trunk and branches to show through). So, instead I opted for WS Forest Green "Clump Foliage". And this worked out quite nicely. With the glue nice and sticky, I was able to simply roll the armatures around in the foliage, winding up with a nicely sparse and piney looking coverage on the branches.

Now with two decidedly different types of trees in the mix, I decided that adding a third species would give me a nice variety to work with (cuz when you think about it, how often do you see forests where all the trees are the same?) I figured that simply building more WS trees was going to look like more of the same, so I picked up a box of Noch pre-built pines instead. These basically look like Christmas trees, and although I think they're probably too regular and "straight from the tree factory" looking to use by themselves, I figured if I just mixed them in here and there with my other trees, they wouldn't stand out quite so glaringly.

Next, I started planting trees. Initially I was thinking that I was going to need a lot of trees for these mountains, basically building two entire forests up there. However, as I started planting them, something wasn't quite working. I'd scattered close to twenty up on the northern mountain and they stood out like a bunch of sore thumbs. Frankly, I was stumped. Something wasn't meshing and I wasn't quite sure what. But what I did know is that I didn't want to spend a month building, buying and planting trees only to wind up with a couple of forests that I didn't like. So, I took a break from the northern mountain and tried a different tactic on the southern mountain. There, rather than scattering a lot of trees all over the place, I instead tried simply planting two small, distinct stands of trees. And lo, that was exactly the look I was after.

So, I pulled up all the trees I'd planted on the northern mountain and reorganized them into a handful of distinct stands (with the trees inside each clump grouped very closely together - branches nearly touching). Then, to finish things off, I added the odd "loner" tree here and there just to break up the "they're all in clumps" monotony. The end result scans very well, looking very much like the kind of limited pine cover you might find in a semi-arid area. Better still, I only had to build 30 trees (not counting the 5 I bought), so it was relatively painless in that regard.

On a side note, I read an interesting theory on the Atlas forum about the placement of trees and how the brain perceives them. I have no idea how valid this is, but the assertion is that the brain is more comfortable with groups of things (trees in this case) that come in odd numbers. So, if you have a group of four trees, it will ultimately look more pleasing to the eye if you add one more tree (or take a tree away). And here's the funny part - after I'd read that, I went and checked my trees. And I'll be damned if every single clump I'd planted didn't have an odd number of trees. So who knows? Maybe there really is some validity to that theory.

So anyway, I guess that's about it for the scenery. I might eventually decide to add a pine or two to the base, but I need to live with what I have for a while before making any moves like that.

Next up- details, details and more details!

Addendum- Shortly after finishing my scenery, I found myself watching the movie "True Grit". As it turns out, the film was shot on various locations in Colorado, and I'll be damned if a lot of that terrain didn't look exactly like what I wound up with on my layout - namely a lot of dry, brownish terrain with short grass, scattered boulders and rock formations, occasional patches of low brush and small groups of pine trees. How's that for serendipity?

09/14/07 - Yet another fence

I decided to build a fence around the passenger station using Atlas "Hairpin" fencing. I sprayed it with Engine Black to kill the shine and then glued together the sections I needed using "gel style" super-glue (regular old model glue being pretty much useless on whatever kind of slippery plastic this stuff is made of). Lastly, I applied FTG along the bottom of each section and stuck them in place.

09/17/07 - More ballast clean-up

I've been twiddling my thumbs waiting on various internet "detailing" orders, so instead I decided to address some more "it used to be good enough, but isn't anymore" ballasting issues that have been bugging me lately.

I don't know what the problem is down at "Ye Olde Roadbed Manufacturing Company", but they don't seem to be able to come up with roadbed that has decent bevels on both sides. I sort of addressed said shortcomings way-back-when by putting the nicely beveled edges on the outside of the double-track mains, and damning the crappy not-so-beveled edges to the "ditch" betwixt and between said mains. Unfortunately, this resulted in a ditch that looked more like a treacherous geologic fault-line than it did a ditch. So, having nothing better to do, I spent a few minutes filling in all of said between-the-mains ditches with ballast. Chances are it's more prototypical this way anyway, so all the better.

09/17/07 - Installed 40+ parking meters

Man, this one is straight from the "why do we model railroaders torture ourselves this way?" file. Well, I dunno, but I went ahead and did it anyway. The parking meters are from Neal's N-Gauging Trains (sorry, I'd post the link but it changes every other week, so screw it - do a Google search). They cost a buck apiece and are incredibly tiny, so yes, I am completely insane. But at this point I figure that since I've gone to all the trouble of actually detailing the interiors of buildings, I may as well go ahead and go similarly nuts on the scenes that can actually be seen - IE the streets. And truth be told, if you get right in there and examine them with your handy-dandy electron microscope, they do look pretty good. Much better than some of the "indeterminate blobs on a stick" that I've seen from other manufacturers.

Unfortunately, this whole project wound up being much more difficult than it needed to be. I really should've put these damned things in place back when I was messing around with the boulevard trees (and before the buildings were glued in). These meters are designed to be stuck into holes (IE, they don't have bases), which is great - they look better that way - but trying to create said holes at this stage of the game was a bit of a bitch.

First off, there's no way I was going to be able to use a Dremel to drill the holes, what with all of the buildings and trees and everything else being in the way. Discarding that notion, I thought I might be able to use a needle to create the holes I needed. Unfortunately, it turned out to be similarly impossible to wrangle a needle in said cramped surroundings. So, what I eventually wound up doing was using a push-pin (the ones with the plastic base that you're no doubt using to stick expired Domino's Pizza coupons to the bulletin board in your kitchen).

The diameter of said pins is a little thick for what I needed, so I took one and filed it down. Then I went around sticking it into the sidewalk, creating parking meter holes (and praying I didn't mangle the sidewalk in the process). Fortunately, all went well, so I then got on with the business of planting the meters. No big deal there - I just coated the "below the sidewalk" portion of the meters with FTG and then stuck 'em in the holes. After all the meters were planted, I spent a bit of time cleaning up all the little plaster chunks and touching up the sidewalk paint. And I suppose I'll eventually have to go around and reweather said touch-up spots, but that's an exercise in anal-retentiveness for another day.

So, that was definitely the last bit of heavy lifting. Now it's just a matter of bringing the whole thing to life by adding a lot of cars and trucks and people and other assorted bits of junk. Hmm, now I suppose I'll have to start thinking about what I'm going to do for my next layout...

09/21/07 - A 12 year-old gets ahold of the controls...

So, I'm in the process of adding figures to the URR, and the first ones I picked up were some WS "Fisherman" and "Black Bears". Call me crazy, but my original idea was that they might look at home up in the mountains (the bears) and around the streams (the fishermen). But that's just the sort of thing a stodgy 45 year-old might come up with. As it turns out, I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Anyway, as I was sorting through the various figures, I noted the "Hallmark Moment" father-and-son fishing duo, and decided to give my son (Joe) the honor of placing them on the layout. And quite naturally, he decided they needed to be sitting on top of a tunnel portal.

"Um, OK.... Well, I guess they need to lose the fishing pole then, 'cuz, y'know, there's no water there."

"Sure, dad (eyes roll). Whatever."

"And how about the bears, Joe?"

"They're attacking us, dad! And one of them should have two heads!!"

And so, insensate horror comes to Wingnut... Kids! Involve them in your model railroading activities at your own risk

09/24/07 - Town detailing

I started by distributing the contents of a couple of Model Power "Park Scenes" packs around. These provide a very nice assortment of handy sidewalk clutter - trash cans, mail boxes, phone booths, benches (complete with people to occupy them) and fire hydrants. After that, it was just a matter of adding dozens and dozens of Woodland Scenics people, an assortment of vehicles, and various bits of this'n'that (barrels, boxes, generic junk, etc).

I'm in the process of giving Empire Leather and my lo-pro industries the same treatment, and hope to finish that all up in the next day or two. I'd like to get going on detailing the alleys, but at present I'm being held up by a couple of slow-arriving orders (telephone poles and dumpsters). But once I get all that stuff installed, I do believe I'll be able to call this layout finished (or at least as "finished" as any layout ever gets).

09/26/07 - A little more scenery

I decided that the areas around the bases of my two mountains needed a bit of something, so I went ahead and added a few rock formations along with a triad of tree stands (aha, odd numbers yet again). And I think "Mission Accomplished". Whatever it was that didn't feel quite right before now seems to have been addressed.

I must say, those damned Atlas switch machines are just about the ugliest things I've ever seen on a model railroad... Ugh.

09/29/07 - Bus service comes to Wingnut

I picked up this "Airport Shuttle" bus on eBay, thinking it would make a decent city bus for Wingnut. I stripped off the "Airport Shuttle" logo with some lacquer thinner and replaced it with a custom "Wingnut Transit" decal. Then, I put a few people inside, brushed on some Bragdon powder and got ready to install it on Main Street. It was at this point that I noticed that the door and the driver are on the wrong sides! Yeesh, that's what I get for buying stuff from Hong Kong. Bloody British commonwealths!

Oh well, I seriously doubt anyone's going to notice unless I tell them, so I'm keeping the danged thing anyway.

10/01/07 - Reconfigured the bus a bit

I decided to USA-ize my bus a little bit by relocating the driver/seat over to the left side and camoflaging the wrong-side door by painting over the bottom half of it. I didn't bother doing anything about the non-door side since it's not really visible anyway. I dunno, maybe I'll sleep better now, but I do feel sorry for those passengers. It's going to be one hell of a long time before they get on that bus.

10/01/07 - Putting lipstick on the pig

Obviously I'm running out of useful things to do on this layout, given the insane little tweaks I've been worrying about lately. In this case, I decided to take a whack at camoflaging my ugly Atlas switch machines. This involved gluing ballast to one side and turf to the other. And I have to say, it still looks pretty darned ugly. Then again, I guess it doesn't look any worse either. Let's call it a draw.

10/03/07 - More detailing

That pretty much does it for the lo-pros and Empire Leather. Man, it's tough to come up with different ways to disguise the fact that I basically recycled that same WS "Dock Worker" figure pack about a half dozen times on this layout...

So, all that's left now are my alleys. Unfortunately I can't really get going on that until I get the utility poles I've ordered. Hopefully they'll show up this week and I can finish this baby.

Assuming I've finished by then, I plan on hauling this thing down to the "Second Annual St. Alphonsus Train Show" and set it up for display. The show is sponsored by the New Brighton Connection Model Railroad Club and is being held at the St. Alphonsus School in Brooklyn Center, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis). Show dates are 10/27 and 10/28. So, if you think you might be interested in purchasing this layout (or just want to get a look at it), this will be a good opportunity to do so. I've never brought a layout to a train show before, so this should be interesting... At this point I haven't decided if I'm going to stick around for both days or not. I guess I'll see how bored I get on Saturday and then go from there.

10/11/07 - More detailing

So, that does it for the alleys. I started by brushing the asphalt with a layer of Bragdon black to differentiate the alleys from the streets (and also make them a little grungier looking). Then it was just a matter of adding a few dumpsters, garbage cans, generic pieces of junk, people and vehicles to finish things off.

I also got my telephone poles installed (finally). And instead of the usual cheapie plastic crap trainset poles I normally use, I decided to go upscale and pick up some wooden poles from N Scale of Nevada. And I have to say, these things are quite impressive. Very realistic looking! Better still, they're available in a wide variety of different permutations. For my layout, I opted for the the single crossarm style poles and ran them from my electrical substation all the way up to and through Wingnut. Looks aside, what I really like about these poles is that they are nice and tall - allowing me to (eventually) run power lines right over the tops of some of my buildings.

As evidenced by my pictures, I once again found myself unable to resist the urge to add more lights. Oh well, what can I say? As I was detailing the alleys I found myself regretting the fact that I'd completely ignored the backs of all those buildings vis'a'vis some sort of external light fixtures. And since I'd decided to run my telephone poles down said alleys, wiring up a couple of streetlights to said poles seemed like a no-brainer. So, I picked up a couple of Lo Cascio telephone poles with 50's style streetlights and set about adding NSN tops to them.

As delivered, the LCO poles are basically brass tubes (painted brown) with a streetlight arm soldered on and an Atlas telephone pole top (with crossarms) stuck into the top of the tube. I asked Warren (LCO) to just send me the poles with the lights and to skip the Atlas tops. Then, I clipped the tops off of a couple of NSN poles, filed down the ends to fit inside the LCO poles, stuck in the tops and then repainted the whole assembly. And although a bit of a Frankenstein's monster, I think they turned out OK. LCO's streetlights are a little clunky looking, and I don't think I'd want them on my main streets. But as alley lighting I think they work fine.

So, next (and dangerously close to last) I need to string some wires on my poles...

10/13/07 - Done!

Kind of an anti-climactic set of pictures for such a momentous occasion, but what are you gonna do? For my telephone pole wires I decided to skip the fuzzy old black thread this time around and try something a little different- namely, Berkshire Junction "EZ Line". This stuff is quite a bit more realistic looking than thread (especially the way you can let it hang with a little sway between poles). It's also much more to-scale than thread, which unfortunately is a bit of a mixed blessing. Frankly, it becomes damned near invisible once installed. EZ Line actually comes in several different colors, and BJ recommends going with green because it tends to show up better than the traditional "charcoal" (IE, black). Just to be on the safe side, I picked up spools of both colors and tried them out side by side. And yes, the green does show up better than the charcoal, but it also looks, well, green. So, I decided to stick with reality and go with the charcoal. Fortunately, that big tan expanse in the middle of my layout provides a perfect background for the wires, so it actually worked out OK.

Installation is pretty simple. I started by gluing the ends to a couple of insulators on the electrical substation and then ran the wires to each pole (mounted between the insulators on the pole crossarms, and held in place with a little dab of FTG). On the far end, I ran the wires up to a couple of insulators I glued to the wall of the hardware store. No, I didn't go the whole "transformers on every other pole" and "connect wires to every building" route. Mediocre to the end I guess, but frankly I'm kind of impressed I connected the wires to anything at all. That's a first for me.

Lastly, I installed a few more street signs in town (No Parking, Bus Stop, Speed Limit, Do Not Enter, etc). My apologies for the lone picture, but hell, it's all just "more of the same" anyway. I got these signs from Dave Alexander a while back and they're pretty slick. They're basically paper stickers that you glue to regular old pins (you know, the kind used to package dress shirts). It's hard to know where to stop with these things once you get started, so I just did them until I got sick of doing them (the magic number apparantly being "9").

And so... (drum roll)... that's it!

Some final thoughts on the URR-

As a mediocre modeler, I'm uncomfortable bandying words like "masterpiece" around, but I think it's safe to say that this is probably the best model railroad I'm ever likely to build. I used just about every arrow in my modeling quiver on this one (not to mention adding more than a few new ones along the way). I was able to use all of my past layout building experiences (both good and bad) to come up with a layout that incorporates damned near everything I really like in a model railroad - a full-sized town, lighting from stem to stern, simple and reliable roundy-round operations on four separate tracks, just a ton of detailing, and no spaghetti.

On the downside, this turned out to be way more layout than I'm likely to ever want to tackle again. I really got away from my first love - small, simple, portable layouts. Hell, if I knew this thing was going to take ten months and cost over $5000, I would've rethunk the whole project. Don't get me wrong- now that's it done, I'm glad that I did it. I certainly get a great deal of pleasure out of firing up all those lights and sitting back to watch four trains run around and around. And if I recall correctly, that was the whole point of the experiment. But I just don't see ever doing anything on this scale again. For my next layout (whatever that turns out to be), I'm going to get back to the basics.

And so ends the URR saga, thanks for sticking around for the big finish. And thanks to everyone who sent in their tips and emails of support along the way. It's nice to know that people are interested in what I get up to on these pages.

_________

Addendum:

This layout has been sold, and unfortunately (for me), at a significant discount from what it cost to build ($2500 vs $5400). And I guess the lesson I learned here is- don't build any more big/expensive layouts (not if I want to sell them and make my money back, anyway). Oh sure, I had plenty of higher offers from which to choose (some for the full five+ grand), but unfortunately they all involved me having to drive great distances in order to deliver the layout myself. And frankly, that's just not something I'm interested in doing. I value my time too much, and I just really hate driving cross-country.

So there ya go, yet another reason for me to go smaller, cheaper and simpler on my next layout. Based on my layout-selling experiences thus far, $2000 seems to be the tipping point when it comes to pricing (regardless of inherent quality). Ask more than that and it becomes increasingly difficult to find "local pickup" type buyers. So, I'll be keeping that figure in mind as I construct future layouts.


Some parting shots:


N Scale Layout #4 - The Ultimate Roundy-Rounder

Track & Buildings

Roads & Lighting

Bill of Lading



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