Sunday, August 23, 2015

Scenery Test Module, Part 2

After I set the module out in the sun to completely dry out the Sculptamold, I decided to continue my work outside. Since I wasn't happy with how the tinted Sculptamold ended up a light brown, I used the same raw umber acrylic craft paint at full strength to paint the ground.

Too dark?

Of course now it seemed way too dark. While in the end the ground color worked out fine, however in the future I think I'll use something a little lighter than raw umber. Working outside the paint dried pretty fast so I was able to keep working and moved on to the next step, adding some green.

I really got into "the zone" laying down some real dirt and a coating of turf ground foam and forgot to take photos, but the process was pretty simple.

I wanted to have some areas of bare earth showing through the grass and brush on the hill side through erosion or some of the hill being scooped away like in the blog's title photo above. I brushed full strength Modge Podge matt medium on spots on the hillside and along the edges of what will become a gravel road. Using a light colored fine dirt collected from a road construction site near my house, I sprinkled it on the glue. Then using an old housecleaner bottle I misted some "wet water" on to the dirt to saturate it and the glue beneath. 

The "wet water" is misted or applied with a pipette to a dry loose material that you want to remain undisturbed when you then soak it with a diluted glue or matt medium. Pre-wetting helps pull the glue through the area you want secured, and the dish soap breaks the surface tension preventing material movement such as small craters forming from fat droplets out of a pipette or misting bottle.

My wet water formula at the start of the project was 3 parts isopropyl alcohol to 1 part water with a drop of dish soap. Just to see how different mixtures would soak, I changed my wet water formula by adding more or less water until by the end I was using straight isopropyl alcohol and the drop of dish soap. I really didn't notice too much of a difference aside from the purer alcohol mixes dried faster and required a couple of open windows when working indoors.

Using a small misting bottle I wanted to try misting matt medium diluted with water on to the dirt. This worked pretty well until the nozzle finally clogged at the end of the work session fixing the ground turf in place. After ruining the nozzle I used a large eyedropper to apply any future glue mixtures.

To give the module a base coat of ground cover I used Woodland Scenics Fine Turf in three colors
  • Earth
  • Burnt Grass
  • Green Grass

I first misted the areas to receive the fine turf with the diluted matt medium. The Earth Fine Turf was sprinkled over much of the module except the areas of real dirt, the future gravel road and the rubber track road bed. Along the sides of the rubber sheet where the yard would be I dusted some Burnt Grass Fine Turf and then randomly around the module. Finally I added the Green Grass Fine Turf more moderately around the module then some more Burnt Grass was spotted over top to add some variance. After I was happy I misted the whole thing with the wet water then more diluted matt medium to fix it all in place.

Ground foam turf and dirt done. 

I thought I was happy with my work, but taking a step back I wasn't so sure. The real dirt patches didn't look how I'd pictured but the dirt along the road looked good. After a moment I realized the module was far from being done and hopefully the coarser ground foams, bushes and grass would tie everything together.

I need a layout to put all this stuff on while I work on scenery.

Also I found out making scenery also seems to make a huge mess as supplies sprout up around you as you work. I'm not sure where all this stuff came from but as the project moved back to the basement it would only get worse.

The threat of thunderstorms that later that day quickly moved things back to the basement where I started laying the flex track for the yard.

I plan on using Micro Engineering code 70 flex track for my layout and like other people I've found it to be tricky to work with and curve compared to other brands of flex track. The detail of the ME track is worth putting up with any difficulties. The planned yard has no curves but I still had to get the stiff and slightly wavy ME track in line. To loosen up the track and to help it look like lesser maintained yard tracks I cut out every 6th or 7th tie by slicing the webs of the plastic ties with a X-acto chisel blade and popping the ties out. I then went back over the webs and cut almost 75% of them to allow the ties to be spread out to fill the gaps from the missing ties. After readjusting the spacing on all the ties for each of the five pieces of flex track, I made them as straight as possible using two 48" measuring sticks. I gently slapped and squeezed the sides of the flex track between the rulers making the flex track very straight.

I like the look of the spread out ties compared to out of the box "mainline" track. It was a lot of work however. I later looked though my photos of Adena and Pine Valley yards to find there wasn't much difference in tie spacing compared to the mainline. In the future maybe I'll do it for just for industrial and mine sidings.

After all that work I added some Details West code 70 Joint Bars that I had been eager to try out. These are molded in styrene plastic, come 36 to a package and represent 6 bolt joint bars. To make them look like the 4 bolt joint bars used on the my prototype track, I chopped off the last 2 bolts with a Xuron sprue cutter. I then applied them with a tweezers and dab of CA glue (super glue) every 39 HO scale feet, the length of the prototype sections of rail. Unfortunately I only had enough to do the first track at the front of the module on both visible sides of the rail, the other four tracks only got joint bars on the front rail.

I sometimes found the ME track spike detail would prevent a joint bar from setting flush inside the rail web. A little extra pressure would pop the joint bar over the spike nub  I didn't realize this at first and discovered it when testing a metal wheeled hopper over the track to see if the joint bars on the inside of the flex track would interfere with flanges on the wheels. The occasional bump uncovered this issue and show how important it is to test track work of any kind as you work.

Somehow I didn't have one joint bar escape my tweezers and jump into another dimension.

Once the joint bars were applied the track was ready to paint. I masked off the scenic areas with painters tape and newspaper. For painting the track I went with the popular Rust-o-leum Camouflage Brown spray can paint. One coat of this paint from all four sides covered everything just great. Right when I was done painting I grabbed a small piece of scrap plywood and wiped it across the rail tops. Unfortunately when wiping off the paint some of it was still gummy and would get balled up then coat a few joint bars with a thick brown goo. Maybe next time letting the paint dry longer or perhaps getting it off quicker?

Not too bad so far but the joint bars are hard to spot.

I'm not sure if it's worth adding joint bar detail to track. It's real easy to not see at all, but then again once you do notice it does seem pretty cool.  Doing several hundred feet of track would be insane, but doing only signature scenes or eye level track might be alright.  Maybe when I highlight the rail sides with some rust powders they will pop and change my mind about them.

There are also laser cut joint bars available from Precision Design Co. that look really good and are more economical than the Details West joint bars I used. I look forward to ordering some of this new product to try out.

Next I wanted to give the ties a weathered look since ties in yard tracks weren't replaced as frequently as other ties like mainline tracks. I mixed up a light grey wash using a 10:1 ratio of isopropyl alcohol to black and white acrylic craft paint. I covered the ties with one coat and went back to dab more wash on some random single ties to highlight a few as even older weather worn ties.

Greying the brown out, also something that's starting to happen to my hair...

All weathered and ready for ballast.

Next up ballast.

Quick links to the rest of this Series

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


  1. Chris

    Great post! We've all modeled track and yards but the decision about how far to go is always present---given new materials, ideas.and processes. Yours is a really fine syllabus.


    1. Thanks Rodger!

      The question of what's "good enough" is certainly a moving target for me right now as I try to find an acceptable ratio of layout detail to time spent. A couple of prominent model railroad authors have commented on the issue of "good enough" and I tend to lean toward their philosophy on the subject.