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Peter's Model Railroading | Articles | Layouts | Layout #7

With the track work done, I decided it is time to install the front fascia panels, to which the scenery would be mounted. These would have been in the way while laying track, which is why I waited. I am using 1/8-inch Masonite hardboard for the boards. This photo shows the board being glued in place on the right-hand side of the layout.

This gives a nice, clean look.

I did the same thing to the center section, where countryside hills are to be modeled.

And, the same treatment for the left-hand side.

Painting the fascia involved covering the cabinets below the layout with newspaper and tape. I used the same dark green I used on the overhead lighting system.

This photo shows the completed front fascia.

Next, I started working on the back support for the scenery base. I marked out the rough profile of the scenery at the back of the layout on some leftover Masonite hardboard, and mounted it in place, without attaching it to the backdrop/lighting system. The idea being that, should I not like the scenery base, I can remove it without damaging the backdrop.

I could then use strips of cardboard to weave the foundation of the scenery base. You can also see the start of my painting of the backdrop. I used Greg Gray's video as my guide for how to paint backdrops. I have watched the video many times, and I always go through the whole thing again when I get ready to paint a layout's backdrop.

I used Woodland Scenics' plaster cloth to put a layer of the material over the cardboard webbing to form the basis of the scenery layer.

I only put down a single layer of Woodland Scenics plaster cloth, because that stuff is expensive, and because I always follow that up with some layer of Sculptamold anyway. I use the "ground goop" method for building the final layer of the scenery base.

The ground goop takes quite a while to dry, so it easy to add some rocks and the basic ground cover to make the area not look so barren for the time-being.

With the basic scenery base finished, I could return to the backdrop painting. In addition to painting some distant hills, I also started painting some trees that are closer to the viewer.

I needed an extra three inches of space for the spur on the left-hand side of the layout so that I could fit an engine and a 40-foot car on that spur. The extra three inches were created in the form of a trestle extension bridge. That spur is also my DCC programming track, so the rails that are on the bridge needed some special wiring, too. The bridge had to be built and be put in place before I could work on the creek itself.

The creek's construction starts with the same cardboard webbing.

And a few days later it was covered in the same manner as the background area. It really doesn't take much to build a basic scenery base that hides all the benchwork stuff.

I spent a few days mucking around with the new scenery area. I painted the rock outcroppings, applied all kinds of ground foam, crushed tea leaves, india ink alcohol, and some more paint to get to this stage. I got it to look like the older scenery area on the other side of the track. I cleaned the creek bottom and then applied two coats of black latex paint.

Of course, a solid black creek bottom isn't very realistic, because that would represent a very deep creek. Since this is near the beginning of the creek, it can't be too deep. So, I painted several colors on top of the black. I started with a very dark green across most of the middle of the creek. Along the edges I painted various earth-tones, such as raw umber, raw sienna, etc. Generally the flow of a creek will leave more sediment near the edge where the flow isn't strong. I tried to mimic that by painting those parts wider. When all the painting was done, it still didn't really look like a creek. It needed rocks, but I didn't think the ones I had used in the scenery above were appropriate for the creek. A few days later I was going through one of my drawers when I discovered a bag of small decorating rocks I had bought at the Michael's craft store. They come in a mix of colors that seemed appropriate for a creek or river. I placed those along the edges of my creek. I had also started to do some work in our backyard and found a couple of pebbles. I grabbed those that somewhat matched the smaller rocks and placed a handful of them along the creek. You can see one of them in the middle of the creek. Afterwards, I sprayed all the rocks down with a 50/50 mixture of white glue and water. The next day all the rocks were firmly planted and I was left with this white residue on the painted surface. I left it there thinking that it might help make the water look more convincing (the residue eventually disappeared, though).

To give the creek a lived-in look, I decided to also add some debris, weeds, and dead branches here and there.

This was all in preparation for pouring the "water". I bought a 32oz-kit of Envirotex Lite at Hobby Lobby. It was just enough for this creek. One evening I mixed up about 8oz of the material and made a thin layer. The instructions with the kit call this the sealing layer. It allows for air bubbles to come out of the material upon which the Envirotex is poured. The final layer took about 16 ounces. The photo is of the final layer right after I poured it. I have used Envirotex quite a bit, so I'm comfortable working with it. The key is to have a small butane torch handy to heat up the air bubbles that want to escape but can't quite yet. I bought a torch from Micro-Mark years ago.

The results are fantastic (for still, standing water, that is).

As an experiment, I also poured some left-over Envirotex on the layout's scenery here and there to leave the impression of puddles left over from the rain from last night. The effect worked remarkably well in-person.

I, next, completed the backdrop painting on the left side of the layout.

And, on the right-hand side of the layout.

The next project was the construction of a walkway and handrail for the bridge on the right-hand side of the center section. All scratch-built in-place out of strip wood, stained with Minwax' "Special Walnut". I also applied some India ink and alcohol mixture. In the background, on the right, if you look closely enough, you can see a person taking a lunch break while enjoying the relaxing flow of the creek below.

I built 9 telephone and telegraph poles for this area of the layout. These will eventually have the wires between each of the insulators.

I then completed the scenery base on the left-hand side of the layout.

And also the right-hand side of the layout.

Before finalizing the telephone/telegraph wiring, I wanted to have all the trees and background scenery in place. Working from the back to the front. That way I am not constantly snagging the wires as I am planting trees. The background area is now pretty much the way I want it, so it is time for the wiring. Years ago I had bought some nylon filament from Clover House (part #289), which is 0.009" thick. I thought I could go thicker (it comes out to 1/2" in S-scale), but from comments I received from people in-the-know, it turns out that the wire is actually a bit thinner than that! The filament comes in a package, but it is not wound on a spool. Within minutes of opening the package and trying to use it on the layout, it was all tangled up in knots. I eventually found a spool in my spare parts box and started winding the filament onto it. This, then, made the job a lot easier. The way I do it is I tie a loose knot in one end of the filament and then tighten it around the "insulator" on the pole. I then string the filament over the next two poles, just loose. I have found Aleene's Tacky Glue as the only one to work reliably, and it dries transparent when cured. I apply a dab of the glue to the knot on the back of the "insulator" and let that dry. The reason for stretching the wire with the spool over the next two poles is so that the nylon filament is aimed in the correct direction. If you don't do that, it will curl up, left, or right and it will look odd later on. I put a slight pull on the wire by placing a metal weight on the spool and pulling it out a bit, but not too much. When the first knot's glue is dry, I place the wire over the remaining poles. Again, I put the weight on the spool past the last pole. I then apply a drop of glue (using a toothpick) to each of the insulators and carefully pull the line up to the glue. By the way, the wire goes in between the two stacked insulators. When that glue has set, I trim the wire to about 3 or 4 inches past the last pole and tie a loose knot in it. By holding the wire taut near the insulator of the last pole and pulling the knot slightly tighter as it is placed over the insulator, you can get a nice tight line to the last pole. My poles have nine insulators on each side, so it took quite a bit of time to complete what you see in the photo. I started by wiring the lower, inside insulators, working to the farthest back one on that cross. I then moved to the one above it, and so forth. I found that using a butane torch (I bought from Micro-Mark years ago) is great for carefully heating the wires that are a bit too loose. If you heat it too much or too quickly, it will shrink and snap (speaking from experience here). However, if done carefully, the line will shrink slightly and tighten up.

After about a year and a half of looking at the creek, I just didn't like the results. The problem I found with "Mod Podge" (applied to simulate ripples in the water) was that over time the surface becomes very dull. I thought it was just dust, but even after I thoroughly cleaned it, even waxed it, the surface remained dull. I won't be using that method again. I also wanted more of a creek feel and, since this is near the source of the creek, I wanted to be able to see the bottom of the creek. The bottom, of course, needs to be littered with rocks and gravel. I just didn't know how to effectively model that. One day I was working with vermiculite when I realized that it actually looks like scaled-down gravel. So, I covered the previous layer of the creek with a layer of vermiculite. Down the center of the creek I carefully distributed some Arizona Rock & Minerals' N-scale PRR ballast which seemed to create a more well-worn path of finer gravel. Next, I strategically placed some colorful rocks in areas of the creek where water speed would be slower. As shown in the photo, the creek looks like a dry-river bed. If you're modeling a desert area, you'd be done! The next step was to lightly spray some water followed by thinned white glue to firmly glue everything down. I also started putting down some more scenery materials around the creek. Most of that was also glued down in a similar manner, as it is better to do that now before proceeding with the creek.

I let the glue dry overnight. The next day I mixed about a half a gallon of Envirotex Lite and poured it on the creek. This gave me about 3/8" of "water". As a note-to-self, in some of the hard-to-reach areas under the two bridges, I wasn't able to get enough glue down and some of the vermiculite floated to the top of the Envirotex.

This was my first attempt at scratch-building a vehicle roadway. This one in on the right-hand side of the layout.

After living with a perfectly flat creek for many months, due to the Envirotex epoxy pour, I thought it might be better to add some waves. I used Liquitex Gloss Medium on a pair of rivers on one of my old N-scale layouts. Those came out really well. So, I thought I'd try it again on this layout. I used the same stippling method I had used years ago. The material is a thick milk-colored paste. However, as it dries, it dries clear. I covered the entire creek, and by the time I got around to taking this photo, some of the creek was already clearing up. In this photo, the white makes it look like a fast-moving creek, though. On my N-scale layout I applied three layers on the rivers. For this one, all I've done is one layer. I am not 100% happy with this first layer, so I'll soon add more layers to add to the effect.

I had bought a set of swimmers on eBay. Even though the figures were listed as S-scale, they are a little small for S. However, I decided to put one in the creek. He's a bit away from the front of the layout, so his small stature should help a bit with the forced perspective. I had placed him on the flat Envirotex layer and then carefully worked the gloss gel around him.

I build all of the trees on the layout myself. These are time-consuming to make, but I think it is worth the hobby time. I would build a handful of them for each train show that the Houston S Gaugers club does, so that that I have some different ones to show on the club layout. When I come home from the show, I plant them permanently on my layout. Then I repeat those steps for the next show. That way I get two uses out of each batch of trees, while at the same time my layout gets more populated with them.

I have now applied the third layer of gloss medium to the Chartiers creek. I think I am happy with the results now. It is supposed to be somewhat choppy water that is flowing in the direction toward the camera (railroad-east). With the layout lights reflecting on the water, it looks very realistic in the photo. In person, unless the light hits it just right, it is not quite so dramatic.

Tom Henderson of Sidetracks sent me a pair of NJ International crossing gates. Neither the LEDs nor the mechanisms are connected on these, as I did not want to take the time to do that. I lightly glued them to the layout using Aleene's Tack Glue, so when it is time to work on them, I can just break them off without any damage.