Scrub On The Point

Other modellers may have found a simple, effective and relatively cheap way of adding thick scrub to a piece of their layouts but I’m not one of them. When I commenced building Morpeth (the portable section of my permanent layout) about 10 years ago I had a vision of a pier based on the one that stands at Coffs Harbour on the NSW north coast, the second station building that had the name Morpeth applied to it and a creek with really thick scrub and trees around it. I’ve lived in the bush (the thing we Australians call the “real” rural areas of our continent) for a good proportion of the past 33 years and I’ve got to admit that I’ve rarely (if ever) seen a creek populated with vegetation in the way I see it every day of my life as I simply drive around. I don’t know what people in cities see but I see creeks, well to be more accurate I don’t see creeks, because the trees and plants that surround them crowd in on them and block the view of the water. In fact in Australia you can tell where the water courses are by the presence of a wandering lines of gums. I wanted my creek to be scrubby in the way I know Australian creeks are scrubby. Today I finally finished the creek scene.

A couple of months ago I purchased a bag of trees from a Chinese firm on eBay. I could provide you with a link but just go onto eBay and search for model mulberry trees. You’ll find them for sale at around $8 for 5 and with free shipping. They look awful (they have glitter on the limbs for Heaven’s sake!) but they can be turned into something looking like a reasonable gum tree with a few snips, a bit of white and grey acrylic paint on the trunks and the application of some foliage mat. I use a Heiki product. I wanted to use these small (about 15cm high) trees to cheaply bulk up my creek’s foliage canopy.

I spent the first part of the week finishing off the small cabin I posted about last week. I made some brick steps for this model and started painting a white metal figure to stand on the small landing at the front of the building. I also started to review the scenery materials I had on hand and took to some cheap Ebay sourced plastic trees I’d purchased a few months ago with a set of flush cutters and paint. I wanted to use these to help me bulk up the scrub around the mouth of the creek on the real estate that surrounds the cabin.

In addition to deciding that the line at the entry to the pier would finally receive its final layer of scenery I also decided that the ship model needed to be secured to the “water” next to the pier. I wanted a way of bolting the wooden base of the ship to the scene to allow me to display the ship tied up to the pier but in a way that would also allow me to remove it as I worked on it. I settled on two small blocks of ply with t nuts driven into their upper side and with bolts coming up from below the water. The ply is glued in place because these small blocks will eventually be entombed inside the ships superstructure. The forward block of ply is under the deck of the fo’c’sle.

After fiddling around with securing the ship to the water I gathered my amazing collection of scenery storage boxes around me, mixed up a batch of PVA and water with the obligatory drop of washing liquid and made a start. I don’t have a technique for ground cover beyond painting the foam yellow, gluing on a thin layer of Woodland Scenics Earth Blend ground foam and then covering it all up with as much crap as I can throw at the area till I run out of time or scenery materials. That’s about as scientific as it gets. Lots and lots and lots of PVA used neat and then I just keep ripping up various mats and clumps and gluing till I’ve covered everything up.

The one feature I did want to capture on the area in front of the mill was some willows sitting near the water. They sat in front of the real Portus mill at Morpeth so I wanted the same look for my version. I purchased the two that now reside in that spot a couple of years ago and almost gave myself a heart attack when I looked at what I’d paid for them. I could have got 20 or 25 Mulberries for around the same price 🙂

After temporarily positioning the 5 or 6 trees I was going to use in the area I pulled them out again and then set to gluing the thick mat of foliage I wanted to cover this part of the layout in place.

The plan is that Pioneer and an Ixion tank loco will come to share exclusive duties on the pier run. I haven’t yet chopped, changed and dirtied up the Ixion model but I’ll get to that eventually. This shot provides a good comparison with the photos I’ve posted in previous posts on the blog.

I’ll let the model do the talking for me with this one.

I have a great deal of admiration for modellers like Geoff Nott who who did (or do) a great job of capturing a forest setting deep in the woods with huge trees. While I don’t model a forest I still want my models to look as if they’re in a landscape that, while it may not sit under towering red woods, is no less densely populated by trees and foliage in various locations, invariably close to water. I’ve never seen a redwood but I’ve seen plenty of creeks in the Australian bush.

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A Suitable Piece of Real Estate

As the SE Qld NMRA convention’s self drive layout tours and Morpeth’s visit to Armidale for the New England convention race toward me like a speeding goods train it seemed like a good time to actually finish the scenery on Morpeth. The layout does need a few projects completed, one of these was the now complete control panel, however before I moved to my current home 18 months ago, I hadn’t yet completed the last small patch of scenery where the pier module butts up to the main layout at a right angle.

This last small corner of Morpeth has sat unloved and minus scenery for over 3 years, around the time I made the mill building you can see in the right background. This shot shows the patch of ground prior to any work being done this week. The land-form is complete and I painted this and added a layer of basic ground foam the last time I worked on it but it’s sat like this for almost three years.

This section of the layout has been in progress for a few years but there’s nothing like a deadline to help get work moving. The small segment of shoreline and a short length of yet-to-be-ballasted track were crying out for a bit of attention. After this the last two jobs left to complete will be the portable train turntable/fiddle yard MkII, which will butt up to the layout just beyond the building you can see in the photo (where those wires are running on the permanent part of the layout) and the ship model and associated pier detailing.

I didn’t just want to cover this transition point with ground cover and foliage alone. I felt it needed a small feature to draw the eye away from the obvious 90 degree angle of the layout’s fascia. I’d got half way through assembling this hut over 2 years ago but it had sat in a container for the intervening years. So much time has passed had passed that I seem to have mislaid its roof and some details for the model so I was forced to scratch build a replacement along with a set of new steps. I’ll find the missing parts the day I complete this scene 🙂

I set to work this week and completed assembling a small kit of a watchman’s hut that had been intended for the gap I’d left in the scenery when I last worked on the area. However I couldn’t just plant the hut, I also needed to fill in the gaps behind the retaining wall that hold the lead track out to the pier. It was the work of a few moments to fill these gaps and glue some paper towel over the gap but then I discovered that the inch or so of paint at the bottom of the tin I knew I had left of the colour I use for my ground base colour had set solid in the can. This required a trip down town for a new can. The mix had been written on the can when I bought it about 8 years ago so it took no time at all to fork out way too much money for this vital colour. I’ll be using the whole can and then some when I commence work on the permanent layout’s scenery.

This shot shows the hut in place in front of the freshly painted ground and newly laid ballast. It was so new that I’d only finished flooding the ballast with white glue and water about 2 mins before I took this photo.

I wanted to get this little section of ballast glued down because it normally takes about 36 hours to dry. I’m visiting a friend tomorrow so everything should be nice and dry and ready for a base layer of foliage and perhaps a bit of tree planting on Tuesday when I next get a chance to work on the layout as I’m very unlikely to get any work time on it tomorrow.