Sunday, January 20, 2019

Scenery Experiment -- First Layers With "Ground Goop"


In my last post I left off with some new landforms in place drying between the trestle and box factory areas. Since I'm experimenting with "ground goop" in this first area to have ground cover applied, the next step, after the plaster dries, is to paint the stark white plaster cloth with my earth color, a flat latex paint. The point of this is to make sure none of the white can show through later layers. Also, before applying the "ground goop," I try to protect the track, backdrop painting, and and other areas such as, in this case, where the background box company building is going to sit with blue tape and wax paper.

"Ground goop" is a concoction popularized by Lou Sassi in his scenery books and videos. It is made up of:
+ one part vermiculite (home and garden store: Home Depot))
+ one part CelluClay (art or craft store: Hobby Lobby)
+ one part flat brown latex paint (paint store: Sherwin Williams)
+ two thirds part white glue (art or craft store: Hobby Lobby)
+ one capful of concentrated Lysol (Dollar Store)

Mixing it up in a sealable container allows the unused potion to be saved for later use. Adding the Lysol prevents mold from growing. After it is mixed, it should be the consistency of peanut butter. I add a few teaspoons of water, if it is too thick initially.

Applying a thin layer of "ground goop" works best with an artist's pallet knife and accomplishes several goals. It covers the gauze pattern of the plaster cloth, hides any gaps or patterns from the plywood, provides a surfaced in which to imbed plaster "rocks," creates a naturally irregular surface, and allows me to treat mainline and non mainline tracks differently. In an earlier post and an even earlier post I discussed differentiating the different kinds of trackage. In addition to rail size and tie regularity, I can use the "ground goop" to emphasize the differences. To do this I can spread the "ground goop" gradually right up to the top of the cork on the siding, so it will appear that the track is laid directly on the ground. On the mainline, I leave a narrow "ditch" of uncovered plywood and create a bank opposite the edge of the cork emphasizing mainline drainage.

Following the techniques that Mr. Sassi suggests, I can apply my first layer of ground cover right over the freshly applied "ground goop." No need to let it dry! My choice for initial ground cover materials includes medium sifted real dirt, tube sand, and several Woodland Scenics products: Fine Turf--Earth, Blended Turf--Green Blend, and Course Turf--Light Green. I have a standard procedure for applying ground cover. I sprinkle on a layer of real dirt and the Fine  Turf--Earth over most areas. I spoon on a layer of tube sand and its small rocks under rock castings and along the base of any cuts before pinching a small amount of the green blend foam in some areas. Then, after wetting the ground cover with 70% denatured alcohol, I use an eye dropper to flood the area with Woodland Scenic's Scenic Cement. (One could use thinned artist's acrylic matte medium or even thinned white glue.) Then to add a bit of variety, I placed a few pinches of the course turf in a few areas.

For the most part, I am quite pleased with the "ground goop" experiment, both for creating a natural irregular surface and for helping to differentiate between mainline and sidings. Applying a base layer of ground cover as I go also seems like a time saver. This section is ready for track ballasting and the addition of trees, buildings, static  grass, or other additional textures.

On the other hand, one minor problem with the "ground goop" is that some of the vermiculite particles don't absorb the brown paint and their light, almost metallic, color telegraphs through. The worst of this can be hidden later with clump foliage or static grass clumps; adding additional texture is a good thing! Also, I am not that happy with the closest layer of backdrop painting in this area of the layout. The green in the backdrop trees don't "go with" the ground foam colors I am using. While the short ridge disguises the right angle between baseboard and backdrop, the painted trees directly behind it will need to be redone as I develop the plan for the 3D trees on the ridge.





Monday, January 14, 2019

3D Landforms -- Another Technique

Base landform added between the trestle and box company
Over the past three months I have been involved with the Meadville Model Railroad Club as an adult mentor/instructor. The young people there have been building a Woodland Scenics "Grand Valley" layout kit, and I thought I would try out one of the techniques from there on the 4th Subdivision and one of my T-Trak modules. Essentially, this technique is a hardshell technique with plaster cloth over wadded newspaper held in place with masking tape.

This is quite similar to the technique in an earlier post, only with the newspaper and masking tape instead of cardboard webbing. The first step is to crumble or "pillow" the newspaper and then tape it in place with a web of masking tape to form the land rising from the plywood flats. In the back, I want a slight rise to hide the ninety degree edge between the backdrop and the plywood. In the front, I want to have an undulating surface for the scenery. Before applying the plaster cloth, it is advisable to protect nearby surfaces. To accomplish this I taped over the painted track and cork underlayment with blue painter's tape. I also taped some wax paper over the backdrop.


The next step is to apply the plaster cloth. I have found it easiest to precut some strips or rectangles of the plaster cloth appropriate to the size I am covering. Then, I briefly dip each through water in a paint tray and apply over the newspaper. I overlap the next strip over the first strip before smoothing the joint lightly with my finger. As the newspaper is covered, I also smooth down the gauze on the plywood. In the photo, one can see the strips ready to apply to the newspaper in the back as well as the finished section in the front. The plaster gauze needs to dry until it no longer feels damp or cold, usually over night.

Depending on the techniques to follow, the next step could be to add a layer of Sculptamold to hide the gauze pattern or to paint over the dried gauze before adding Ground Goop. Ground Goop will be the topic of another post, which I hope to do much sooner than the gap from the last post!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Car Forwarding on the 4th Subdivision - Part One: Overview

Willow Springs Bill Boxes
After prepping for part of a mini-presentation on car forwarding at the October Division 12 membership meeting, I realized that I have never really documented the car forwarding process used on my model railroad here. The entire car forwarding process includes both initial planning and actual implementation. This process is what I have used for the initial "fun for one" operations plan as well as what I will continue to use as I plan for a more involved operations plan as the layout expands in the attic.

Switch List and Mini-clipboard
My car forwarding consists of a series of steps, presented here in roughly the order I followed in developing the initial "U" shaped layout.  The proto-freelanced nature of the 4th subdivision of the Cascade Division of the Great Northern led to research of industries ranging from the real to the plausible. After researching to establish potential industries, the car flow was developed or organized using two charts, an online industry list and a matrix chart of daily car flow. Then, moving from planning to implementation, a car card and four cycle waybill system was set up for the initial rolling stock, and bill boxes were installed and labeled for all the tracks. Finally, I have found that switch lists are a helpful car forwarding tool in some steps of the sequence operations I wrote about in the last post.

Having established an overview in this post, I intend to go into more depth for each of the steps in a later second part.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

"Fun For One" Operations on the 4th Subdivision

NP Interchange and Willow Junction Yard
Although I have recently engaged in a lot of armchair modeling, planning for a larger operating scheme for extensions into the rest of the attic, the initial "U" of Willow Springs, Willow Junction, and associated staging is ready for "Fun for One" operations. The "Fun for One" concept, from Bryon Henderson, is explained in one of my original rationale posts. Yesterday, I took this section of the 4th Subdivision through several steps of my current operational plan:

Sequence Second Draft     4thSubdivision
“Ops – Fun for One”
Willow Springs and Willow Junction
(All Within Yard Limits)
·     Road Switcher works in yard limits
·     Passenger 288 Eastward and 287 Westward
·     Greenrock Turn: Extra Freight Leaves Port Gulick Bay to Greenrock and returns

1.   8AM Road switcher on duty: Service as needed and collect cars from NP Interchange.
2.   Greenrock Turn Eastbound leaves west staging, drops off and picks up on WS Siding before continuing on to interlocking signal, and enters East staging.
3.   Road Switcher Classifies Propers and Westbound on Yard 1 and 2.
4.   Clear main for 288 Eastbound by 9:40 AM.
5.   288 leaves West Staging, scheduled to leave Willow Springs at 9:55 and Willow Junction at 10:00 AM, continues to interlocking signal, and enters East Staging.
6.   Road Switcher set outs and pick up for Box Spur, Elevator Spur and Team Track; returns to yard with Pick Ups from Greenrock Turn.
7.   Road Switcher clears main for 287 Westward at 1:20 Pm.
8.   288 scheduled to leave Willow Junction at 1:35 and Willow Springs at 1:40 PM.
9.   Road Switcher set outs and pick up for Facing point Oil Spur and Foundry Spur, returns to yard.
10.  Road Switcher Classifies Propers and Eastbound on Yard 1 and 2, and Westbound on WS Siding. Goes off duty at 6:00PM. 
11.  Greenrock Turn Westbound drops off and picks up on WS Siding.
Notes: 
·     Need to Determine fiddle Track work
o  Staging
o  interchange PU and Arrival
o  Turning 287 & Greenrock Turn

·      changing the cycles on the waybills?

Pro Cab with fast clock set at 4:1
The session lasted about an hour and a half and left off between steps #5 and #6 from the "Sequence Plan" above, with the next step to be writing up a switch list for the road switcher to complete step #6.

In addition to enjoying the session, this trial run led me to install a few changes in the operational plan (hence "Second Draft") as well as note a few changes or additions. First of all, with a recent update to my iPhone, my fast clock app is no longer supported or usable. So, I figured out how to set up the fast clock on my NCE Pro Cab. I am not sure that a repeater with a digital display is the way to go with an enlarged (multi operator) plan, but for now, the NCE fast clock is what I will use.

Boxcars left on the WS siding
A second note for the future is that if "meets" are added to
operations at Willow Springs, the Greenrock Turn may be limited in dropping off or picking up at WS siding. A third consideration is refinement of the procedure for coming out of and entering staging. Having some sort of interlocking signal going into the East staging would add an operational detail. The West staging, the fold down staging, had several derailments occur. I need to be careful of the track at the hinge and cognizant of the S-curve in the North staging track. Finally, additional operational aids are needed to prevent using the bench work as storage and work surface. Right now, with minimal scenery, it isn't critical, but as I  start scenery installation, it will become more critical.

So, as I am want to do, I have developed a "to-do" list:


  • Fine-tune the West fold-up staging: more careful alignment of track at hinged connection and limit car length for North staging track.
  • Establish some kind of signal at entrance to East staging, and firm up procedure for entrance to staging.
  • Install yard limit signage.
  • Consider installation of a sound decoder for 2320 (Bachmann gas electric doodlebug).
  • Create operational aids beyond bill boxes: pencil/pick holders, mini-table for writing switch lists, holder for clipboard.
  • Add the use of forms to the session: clearance form and form 19 for scheduled passenger train and Greenrock Turn running as an extra.
  • Clear the floor completely: with full attention going to the trains and paperwork, wires need dressed and other clutter removed.



Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Adding Nooksack

Draft plan for Nooksack, extended from Willow Junction to the east
Last spring I started planning for extensions to the initial attic layout, starting with this plan for Nooksack. The Nooksack section extends from Willow Junction, replacing the current location of the four-foot staging section and then cantilevers over the attic trapdoor. While later I am planning on adding additional trackage to the east, for now the plan is to continue to use the four-foot staging to the east, on the other end of Nooksack.

Operationally this plan has some upsides and some downsides. The upside is the addition of two larger industries: Curtis Cannery and Nooksack Lumber and Shingle Company. Both of them are based on similar industries in Whatcom county. For example, Everson, Washington had a large produce cannery active from the 1920's through the 1950's. The downside is the lack of "empty" running space between the initial "U" (Willow Junction) and this new section. The timetable shows around four or five miles between the two; the layout will have a full height backdrop scene divider between the two. Clearly, one-half inch and four scale miles are not the same! Perhaps, manual block division points are the operational solution.

Curtis Canning Company is represented as shallow buildings and/or flats behind a long spur siding. During the busy/harvest season it requires a fair amount of traffic. Can blanks from American Can Company in Seattle arrive with the bottom already attached. I found an interesting industrial film from the 1950's showing the can-making process. These are rather bulky loads requiring several car loads a week. The cannery also requires labels, cardboard box blanks, salt, and occasionally produce itself delivered to the siding. Canned produce will be shipped out at about the same rate as bulk cans arrive. Using several sure spots along one spur siding and the size of the facility will add operational interest/complexity.

As seen on the track plan, the lumber mill will be only partially represented on the layout, with most of the mill itself on the perpendicular backdrop/scene divider or in the aisle.  The office/warehouse, loading dock/end of drying house, and the log dump are on the layout and provide operations for the Great Northern and my logging railroad which has trackage rights over the 4th Subdivision.

Yes, it is armchair modeling, but planning for a next phase has been fun.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Track is Painted!


Well, now that the track is painted I can move on to scenery and operations without disclaimers. In this post, I will review the process.

The first step was to fine tune the track work: soldering rail joiners  and adding track nails as needed. The photo shows the tools needed. I worked on different parts of the initial "U" layout at different times, which means that several areas have gone through complete changes in season without track buckling despite my soldering most joiners. A nail punch is included because I did not fully set nails until I had run locomotives through the layout. All track (other than at the trestle) was completely finalized, permanently attached, and thoroughly tested before the painting was attempted.


The second step was to scrub all the solder joints with denatured alcohol and replace any missing ties. Any flux that remained on the track would keep the paint from adhering properly. The process I used was much like what Cody Grivno demonstrated on several MRVP videos. While wearing protective gloves, I dipped a toothbrush into the alcohol and scrubbed until all of the gold- colored flux and solder residue was gone. Then, after the alcohol dried, I prepped some ties by removing the tie plates with a chisel pointed hobby knife and an emory board so the tie would slide under the rail joiner and fill the visual gap. While somewhat laborious, replacing the ties tied the trackwork together visually; a process that was completed with the later painting of the track.

The third step, after all the track was prepped, was to mask the rest of the layout as needed, as well as masking electrically sensitive parts of the turnouts.  In my case, I had finished backdrops, fascia, and basic landforms around the trestle to protect. I used newspaper and blue painter's tape to create a protective barrier over the finished parts.

Again, following advice from Cody Grivno MRVP videos, I masked the points and heels of the turnouts with small pieces of blue painter's tape. I also protected the rail ends on the trestle section of track as it will not be permanently installed until after the scenery is further along.

This photo shows the tape masks on the points and heels of several turnouts and the curved piece of track that will later be mounted on the trestle. I used MicroLux Rail Brown (#29001) mixed with around nine parts paint to one part 70% isopropyl alcohol. I am still a novice with an airbrush, but even with my inexperience, I was able to get a fairly decent job done with two coats. That said, I don't think that the airbrush needle was adjusted quite correctly, or that I had the ideal air pressure. Painting the rails and ties was a good task for practicing, as they did not need perfection.

After cleaning the airbrush and letting the second coat of paint dry for around a half hour, it was time to for the next step of removing the tape from the track and using a Bright Boy track cleaning pad. As the acrylic paint had not fully set up, it was relatively easy to clean the rail heads by scrubbing the Bright Boy along the surface of the track. On one of the turnouts, I had not affixed the blue tape carefully enough and some paint had crept under the tape. By going into my airbrush cleaning supplies, I was able to use Windex and a pipe cleaner to clean the points of all paint residue.

The final step was to carefully touch up around the points and heels. I used unthinned paint and a medium (green handled) micro brush to paint the ties and outer part of the point rails and around the heels. Later that day, after the touch up paint had dried, I successfully ran a locomotive around the railroad, running through all the turnouts and down all the spurs. As seen in the initial photo, the track is ready to ballast after the surrounding scenery is initiated. As part of the planning for scenery, I will decide on a plan for ballasting the mainline a bit differently than the spurs.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Lighting and Valance Part 2


I have managed to steal some time to actually work on the initial 4th Subdivision layout, continuing the work on lighting and figuring out the valance, the framing border above the layout. In talking to my wife about my plan, I realized I did not know how to pronounce the word valance. Based on some research, it is simple; it rhymes with balance.

In the photo, the valance over Willow Junction is clamped in place. Before the final installation, I want to prime the back of the tempered hardboard so that it both reflects light better and is somewhat protected from changes in humidity. While the space between the layout and the valance is comfortable enough to access the track and rolling stock on the layout, I think that I should go ahead and paint the track before attaching the valance.

To get to the point that I could even clamp the valance in place, I needed to figure out a way to attach it. I came up with a way to mount a 2 X 2 to some of the roof rafters on the Willow Junction side. The hardboard then attaches to the trim stock at the end of Willow Junction (seen at the right in the photo.) From there it will hang below the collar ties and curve to the bottom of the "U" where it will attach to the board I had previously hung below the collar ties. I also decided that I needed to paint the collar ties in the layout area with the sky blue color with which the rest of the spray-foamed attic had been painted.


After masking the layout and backdrop with newspaper and then painting the collar ties, the next step was the lighting on the Willow Junction side. My original plan was to mount 1 X 2 boards along the rafters to attach the LED strip lights that I had purchased at the local big box store. After mounting the first of the 1 X 2 strips, I realized that the LEDs would be facing the back of the valance instead of facing down to the tracks and scenery. After considering ripping 2 X 2s at an angle to mount to the rafters with one side then facing down, I thought of another option. Why not just hang the original four foot LED shop light from the 1 X 2 I had mounted for the strip lights? Installing the hooks on the back of the 1 X 2 allowed for a reasonable positioning behind the future valance with the light shining down towards the modeled area. Completing this process, the lights are in place, and the various supports for the valance are also in place. I will prime the back of the "Masonite" and prep the track and airbrush it before the final instal of the valance.