Thursday, August 20, 2015

Scenery Test Module, Part 1

A while back I had this crazy dream where my Adena layout was in full swing and I had started to lay down some scenery. Apparently my efforts were terrible because I can recall heading up from the basement being full of despair and explaining to my wife I wasn't any good at this scenery thing.

While it was all just a dream, it goes to show how scary and intimidating the idea of applying scenery can be to some people.  I know I'm not alone as a few members of the Proto-Layouts Yahoo Group have spoken about their fear of scenery in the past. However these same people and others who have never built a layout before went on to create beautiful realistic landscapes.

If they can do it, then so can I.

I don't have a layout to scenic yet, but I've wanted to make a small module for model photography and to display models on at future Railroad Protoype Modeler (RPM) events I hope to attend.  This would also be a perfect way to to test scenery techniques I've read about. It's also a great way to make the inevitable mistakes and apply the lessons learned when it comes time to build the real thing.

For some people the scenery techniques I used to make this photography module won't be groundbreaking, but for everybody else here's how someone with hardly any experience used what he learned in magazines, Youtube and online forums.  If you're nervous at all about doing scenery I hope a scenery newbie can show how easy it can be over the next few posts.

I chose lightweight pink insulating foam as it would be easy to carry around and I've been curious about working with it as a base for track work and scenery, much like Bill Darnaby's Maumee Route layout. The plan is to build a 5 track yard much like the yards found at Adena or Pine Valley where the track sat on a bed of cinders and decades of spilt coal from passing hoppers.

1 1/2" Pink Insulating Foam for the base, cut to 36" long the same as a piece of flex track.

I also wanted to try out a 1/8" thick black rubber sheet material as a roadbed for the track. This stuff was used to prevent loads from sliding on the floor during transit in the semi-trailers we would receive at work. I collected quite a lot before the deliveries stopped thinking it could be used under large areas of track like yards or even roadbed for single track.

The floors of semi-trailers are pretty dirty so I had to wash the rubber sheet and let it hang dry over night.

Widely recommended on forums and in magazines, a small squeeze tube of DAP clear adhesive caulk was purchased to glue the rubber sheet that I cut to fit 5 tracks on 2" centers, and later on the pieces of flex track. To make sure it glued flat as possible I "borrowed" a rolling pin which I wisely protected with saran wrap as some of the caulk oozed up between some holes in the rubber. I piled some books on it and let it sit overnight.

I bought a small bottle for testing the much hyped DAP Kitchen & Bath Adhesive Caulk.

Spread it out thin to avoid glue bumps when using a thin sheet material for roadbed.

Flattening the rubber sheet with the kitchen rolling pin, I suppose I should go get my own.

Getting more value out of all those college books I couldn't return.

The next day the rubber was perfectly glued to the foam, all the magazines and online forums were right about this adhesive caulk stuff!

I wanted the land contours to resemble the the hillside behind the Adena yard as seen in my large blog title photo, so I used my hot gun gun to quickly attach a couple lengths of foam to the back of the module and some small pieces in the front. No need to use any fancy foam glues, the hot glue held everything just fine, even during rough handling when carving.

I used a Stanley Surform tool (the yellow handled tool) which works like a cheese grater, I also used a utility knife to terraform the foam sheet. Anything that's sharp will work, I've seen some people use long steak knives, keyhole saws or even electric hot wire cutting tools.

Carving pink foam is a mess!

Carving foam is really messy, lucky I had some help.

Putting Brendan to work.

With the foam module contoured we moved outside to enjoy the sun and limit the potential mess of the next step.

Carving foam can leave a rough surface so smoothing this out makes a more natural looking surface for the next steps of making scenery. A variety of materials can be used to coat the surface including plaster, spackle, something called "Ground Goop" and others I can't remember. But on this project I wanted to try a popular product called Sculptamold.

3 lb bag of Sculptamold + Raw Umber Acrylic Craft Paint
Sculptamold is a cellulose material mixed with a white powdery binder. When mixed with water it turns into something not unlike a bowl of cold oatmeal. I decided to add some acrylic brown (Raw Umber) craft paint to tint the sculptamold a earthen color to avoid painting it later. It turned out not to be as dark as I hoped so I ended painting it later anyways. 

Spreads like wet newspaper?

It spread a little differently than I thought, more like ground up newspaper than the oatmeal it looks like. Once I got used to working with it I quickly covered everything in two batches.

Basic scenery layer completed!

I'd read that Sculptamold has a longer set up time than plaster, allowing you to smooth out any lumps or small peaks. The back of a spoon was mentioned on a website but I just used my fingers about a hour later. My Sculptamold took a really long time to dry, perhaps I used too much water or the acrylic paint retarded the drying process. Even 12+ hours later the next day I had a few wet spots, so I set the module out in the sun for a hour or two.

So far so good, it's almost like I know what I'm doing. Next up the start of some greenery, track work and ballast.

Quick links to the rest of this Series

Scenery Test Module Part 2
Scenery Test Module Part 3
Scenery Test Module Part 4
Scenery Test Module Part 5
Scenery Test Module Part 5a

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