N Scale Layout #6 - A Season In Hope (2009-?)
The No Imagination Required RR, Part 13

05/10/18 - Finished the main drag (well, most of it anyway)

Boy oh boy, I'm spinning enough plates here to land a gig on the Ed Sullivan show. It all started as I was putting down a layer of dirt for the elevator complex, whereupon I noticed that the inner main in that area was a little "off" (crooked). So, I rewired one of my track feeder sections (the wires of which were preventing me from straightening out said stretch of track) and eventually got everything going where it should. However, said adjustments ate into the space I'd allotted for the buildings on the west side of the road, which led me to wonder if everything was still going to fit where I wanted it to fit. Well, the big deciding factor (and question mark) all along has been the road (up to now represented by a free-floating strip of paper, lol). So, I figured before I did anything else, I'd better get a permanant road in place and then reassess the situation.

Up to now I've always used Woodland Scenics products (Paving Tape, Smooth-It Plaster, and Top-Coat Pigment) for my paved roads. And generally speaking, I think they've turned out pretty well. However, things tend to get a bit "tall" with that system (particularly when you add sidewalks into the equation), and then you wind up having to put all of your buildings on foundations to keep them from looking stupid. So ultimately just a lot of messy and time consuming work. And since the road through Hope was going to be fifteen feet long (including some sections with adjacent sidewalks), I decided that it was time to try skinning that particular cat some other way.

Now, from what I've read over the years, one of the more common ways to conjure up roads is to use sheet styrene. However, I've always resisted going down that road (boom-swish) because a lot of the layout pictures I've seen show roads that just look too plastic-y to my eye (IE too smooth and too shiny). But then again, I've also seen pictures of styrene roads that were absolutely gorgeous looking, so I figured there had to be a way.... And yes, after a bit of research (along with some trial and error), the good news is that I did manage to cobble together a method that is both quick and simple (always my goal) and yet yields results that are more than passable.

I started by buying a big stack of 6" x 12" Evergreen sheet styrene. I went with .015" thickness, which seemed nicely thin and would allow me to add some sidewalks into the mix later on without winding up with something that looked like it was two N scale feet tall.

The first thing I did was to cut the sheets into 3" X 12" sections (3" seeming plenty wide enough for two lanes of traffic along with on-street parking). Then, I used a spraycan of Rust-Oleum flat gray primer to put down a base coat. The secret here is to hold the can a good 2-3 feet away from the styrene, which allows the paint to dry a little bit before it lands - thus resulting in a slightly coarse texture. I then finished things off with a layer of dull coat, and..... ugh, still too reflective. So, I then followed a suggestions I'd been given on nscale.net and airbrushed on a diluted layer of WS pigment (a mixture of Slate Gray and Asphalt for that faded tar look). And lo, this resulted in a truly flat finish (no reflectivity at all). However, it still looked just a bit too "perfect" for the real world. So, I finished things off by brushing on a bit of black Bragdon powder (as pictured below, I also used a ruler and a yellow pencil to added some double yellow lines before fixing the individual road sections in place with white glue) -

Eventually there will have to be grade crossings where the two ends of the road meet the outer main, but that's a plate that I won't need to get spinning for a while. For now, I have a pretty good idea where the buildings on the west side of the road will go. And although where they sit relative to their neighbors across the street probably isn't going to wind up 100% right, it should be close enough. As things stand, the road and inner main pinch together in such a way that I had no choice but to slide all the west-side buildings a bit further south to leave enough room between the buildings and the track (the same situation that led me to lose the larger Co-Op Oil building last year).

OK, so where was I? Oh yeah, dirt!

05/16/18 - Added a layer of dirt to the elevator complex

Arizona Rock & Mineral has an impressive line of "real rock" ballast and ground cover products. Unfortunately, the photos (or lack thereof) on their website make it somewhat difficult to know what exactly you're going to get when you order something. For my project, I decided to try several different "powder" products that at least sounded promising - Earth (#1090) and two different flavors of Industrial Dirt (Dirty and Standard, #1000). Given the rather ginormous area that I had to cover, the whole project wound up consuming nearly 10 bags of material (mixing Dirt and Earth in equal amounts).

Truth be told, the difference between "Dirty" and "Standard" Industrial Dirt seems to be minimal (both being a very light off-white/gray). On the plus side, mixing the Earth with the Dirt (either one) did get me a decent looking color. Unfortunately, I never was able to match the medium gray of the Highball Products Earth cover that I'd used on the storage bunker and the NH3 station. But oh well, I guess that's my bad for assuming that Highball was still in business. Suffice it to say, the next time I decide to use a given scenery product I'll make sure that I have all I'm ever going to need already on hand.

Both the Earth and Dirt products are advertised as being powder, but after I'd covered a small test area I found the texture to be a bit mixed (particularly the Earth, where I'd say about 10% of the bag wasn't particularly powdery, and thus too coarse to look like N scale dirt). What I eventually wound up doing was getting myself a fine mesh sifter (the kind you use for flour) and filtering out the bits that were too big.

For adhesion I used Woodland Scenics "Scenic Cement", which does do a nice job of locking the dirt in place. Unfortunately, it also tends to change the coloring of the dirt in seemingly random ways. For example, when doing an area I would occasionally wind up with a thin spot (or a spot that I'd missed entirely). So, I'd go back and put down some more cement (either with a sprayer or an eye dropper) and apply dirt to said spot. However, this would usually result in an obvious dark splotch in the otherwise uniform coloring of the dirt. Vis -

But then again, is that necessarily a bad thing? I mean, if the color and texture are too uniform and perfect it's not going to look real, right? Ultimately, I decided to just live with the splotches (for the most part). As for all the little tracks and trails found at the prototype...? Um, no, not gonna happen.

One other thing I learned tangentially is that masking tape doesn't really work as a way to cover up the gaps between the foam base sheets. In the past I've always used plaster cloth for that particular job, but it always winds up causing problems (too white, too hard, too lumpy, etc). Well, suffice it to say that tape has its own set of problems - the main one being that it comes unstuck the minute you get it wet (with, say, Scenic Cement). So, after struggling around with all that for a while, I finally went back and tore up all the tape and replaced it with plaster cloth.

I have to admit that I kind of wimped out on the siding track. Prototypically speaking, the ties should be almost completely invisible and the rails should basically be at the same height as the surrounding dirt. But to accomplish that I would need to either dig some sort of shallow trench for the track to sit in or add a layer of cork (or whatever) to the entire area around the track to raise it up to the height of the rails. Well, to heck with all that, said I. Basically I just painted the rails and ties, glued it all down, and then buried the ties in dirt as best I could.

My last little task was to add a Caboose Industries groundthrow to the turnout. Note that I kept all the paint, glue and dirt well away from the moving parts of said turnout (yeah, I learned my lesson in that regard years ago - you can either have a pretty turnout or a turnout that works, your choice).

Oh yeah, I also learned one other valuable lesson - do not build a small structure or scene on top of thin (.015") styrene sheet with the idea that you're going to glue the whole thing in place on your layout years later. OMG, the styrene sheet underneath that NH3 station was so warped that it took me literally hours of babysitting to get it glued down and flattened out (and the storage bunker wasn't much easier). As for the north elevator, the sheet underneath that one was large enough that warping wasn't a problem. Rather, it was just trying to move it around that turned into a disaster (basically all the various walkways, pipes and supports that were connecting all the various structures together came unglued). So, I just pulled everything off of the base and will (eventually) be situating (and reconnecting) everything right on top of the dirt (which, as it turns out, is more correct anyway).

The good news is that I didn't have many (well, not too many) problems with the south elevator. That entire complex sits on a big concrete foundation, so I used a very sturdy piece of styrene sheeting underneath my model when I built it. Consequently, moving it around didn't result in too many calamities.

So, that's that. And since I'm kind of digging being in scenery mode, I think I may spend some time planting some grass next.

05/18/18 - What do you do when the trackmobile is in the shop?

Well, evidently you use a front-end loader to move your hoppers around. Or at least that's what they do at SunRich -

In aid of that, I picked up this nifty little Komatsu keychain with diecast loader (currently available for about fifteen bucks from some random Chinese seller on eBay) -

For the price, it's really quite nice looking. All I had to do was hack off the keychain portion, touch up the wound with black paint, spray on some dull coat and then add a little Bragdon grime. OK, the axles aren't quite wide enough to straddle the tracks, so I guess I won't be using it to haul any hoppers around. But it sure does make for a great little trackside detail.

As for that storage shed? Ugh, evidently I never saw it with a hopper parked next to it before because I sure went way too tall with the front wall. How depressing

To be continued...

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