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This is a close up of the dry creek bed. To be honest this creek only exists becuase I hate flat ground and the creek breaks up the landscape. I like to plan features like this well in advance so I’ve known there was going to be a creek in this spot for about 2 years, well before any of the benchwork was started and track laid.

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The Weighbridge Scene

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This photo shows a fairly general view of the weighbridge, dirst road and some of the creek and bridge. There are some things that bother me about this scene and I’ll be going back and adjusting things the next time I work on the layout.

Cottage Manufacturers

I’ve been writing this blog for a few months now and I’ve never really mentioned in any great detail the manufacturers who make the products I use in my modelling, especially the smaller, “cottage” manufacturers. As I’ve mentioned recently, I think the scenery products coming out from companies specialising in this area are a huge improvement over what’s passed as “standard” for quite a while now. What I don’t seem to have done much of is sing the praises of other companies that I’ve come to rely on, but who won’t be all that well-known outside the relatively small community of Australian O-scale modellers, especially those working in 1:43.5.

I’ve continued to gradually “shrub up” the scene on the engine servicing module of my new layout since I last posted. I manage about an hour on the layout on a weeknight when I’m free and this has been enough for me to complete the detailing on a small patch of ground about 200mm square each night. I tend to prefer that the basic ground cover is essentially dry before this last stage is commenced as I find it’s very easy for things to become saturated and this can lead to a soggy mess if you’re not careful. I take things one step at a time and give an area where I’ve been squirting “wet” water and glue about a chance to dry out before I move on to gluing down the shrubs and weeds.

I break a large scene down into manageable, discreet segments of roughly similar size so that approaching the scenery of a layout doesn’t appear overwhelming. These segments are:

  • A long narrow section of ground either side of the large water tank which sits hard up against the backdrop.
  • A long, thin strip of land between the fence line and the dirt road.
  • The ground surrounding the weighbridge itself
  • The ground surrounding the turntable
  • The dry creek bed and the ground surrouding the small wooden road bridge that allows the dirt road to cross this creek.

I work on one small section at a time and stick with it till I’m happy. I do not move onto something more enjoyable and easy when things start to get a little challenging. This is a sure fire way of making absolutely no progress in my experience. Maybe this is just me? 🙂 I’ve worked on large layout projects and there is nothing more demoralising that being faced with endless acres of empty space that needs to be filled with scenery. Smaller, sectional layouts naturally lend themselves to being divided up and by working intensively on one small section of ground at a time, you can give it the attention it deserves. Every empty piece of ground is a modelling opportunity! When an opportunity presents itself you should take it.

Perhaps the unsung heroes of our hobby are the small manufacturers who produce kits and bits for hobbyists like mr but rarely get the recognition they deserve. The photos I will post shortly are of a scene I’ve been working on this week, but when I sat looking at the photos it occurred to me that the three pieces of “built environment” that are included are all from the same small company: the Waratah Model Railway Co. Both of the modellers who own this company happen to be friends of mine, however it did cross my mind that my options for this scene would have been considerably narrower if Chris and Dave of Waratah had not produced accurate kits for NSWR post and rail fencing, water cranes and the weighbridge. I probably could have made models of all of these items from scratch, but without the kits I would still be labouring away trying to produce the models and would not have made anywhere near the progress that I have on the layout. With a bit of paint and glue these items from Waratah make up into beautifully accurate models of their prototypes. They really conjure up the NSWR and I simply do not know what I’d have done without them in producing this scene.

Thanks to Chris and Dave from Waratah (see the link on the side bar of the blog) and all our small, cottage manufacturers who make our modelling much easier than it otherwise would be. Keep up the good work guys 🙂

Weeds

About two weeks ago I resolved that I would take some photos of my progress on the layout today. I wanted to set myself a target date to get as much done as possible before I took the photos. I photograph everything I do with my modelling: often this is with the intention of illustrating an article or this blog, but just as often it is to give me a camera’s eye view. I find you can sit and look at a scene you’ve modelled for an hour and still miss something glaring you see straight away in a photo. This is an inveterate habit with me and has become as much a part of my modelling as reading magazines and shopping for hobby products.

I’m happy enough with the progress I’ve made in the last two weeks but I’m not as far along as I’d like to have been. I wanted to be able to say the section of the layout I’m currently working on is finished to a level that would allow me to run a locomotive on it but sadly I’m not ready for this yet: possibly next weekend. I might get my little video camera out and shoot some footage of this momentous event but we’ll wait and see. I’m back at work tomorrow and things are going to get busy.

I’ve found myself doing some reverse gardening over the last couple of days as I prepared to get the layout ready to take the photos: I’ve been planting weeds and generally messing up the pristine landscape. After I get the basic landform the shape I want it I paint it a yellow colour with acrylic house paint and then lay down a basic covering of Woodland Scenics earth blend. This colour has become the default colour of the whole layout and is pretty much used to tie together every scene. I don’t just use it for grass cover: I sprinkle it on trees, over the top of the loading bank, blending weed clumps together and a half doz applications. I’ll be in real trouble if they ever stop making it!

After this basic ground cover is down and dry I then come back and detail and texture with a range of products that I’ve been collecting over the previous months. I’m glad to say that my days of ground foam and coloured saw dust are long gone as I’ve been using the great new products that have been coming onto the market over the last few years. I really like the textured grass “mats” and individual “tufts” that are now available as they allow a lot of control and produce great results. You can buy these from a lot of outlets (I have a link to Modellers Warehouse on the blog) but I would suggest that you try to take a look at the colours and textures in person if possible before buying as it can be a bit difficult to get an accurate idea of the colours and textures from photos on the web.

I start the texturing process by placing the trees I’m going to use first and also installing any fencing dry to allow me to move it later if I want to. I’ll then sit back and take a look at the way these are positioned. I find the siting of fences and trees is critical: if it doesn’t look right then move things about. I only use a minimum number of larger (and more expensive) trees and fill in the understory with cheap quickies from Busch and Scenic Express using their “fillers”. Once I’m happy with the “architectural” elements of trees and fences, I start from the back and work my way forward. I don’t install any buildings until the last minute and I can’t avoid it any longer. I don’t want these getting sprayed with water, bumped with stray elbows or squashed by having something heavy dropped on them.

Today I weeded up a long narrow strip of land between the weighbridge and the track. I installed a fence down the edge of the rail line and went to work. I tend to install the taller weeds and shrubs to the back (in this case on the track side of the fence) and gradually allow the shrubs and weeds to grow shorter the closer they get to the viewer. This is what landscape gardeners do: you see, you do learn something from watching Lifestyle programmes on TV 🙂 I’m still not finished yet: I didn’t have enough fence to install it all the way along the edge of the track and I’ve still got to weed and detail around the weighbridge hut and the dry creek bed. However things are sufficiently advanced to allow me to post some photos.

3D Back Scene

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The aim here is to provide an unobtrusive, shrubbed up, 3D backdrop. I don’t want the trees and scenery to be “spectacular”, but rather to have them blend together naturally and help keep the viewers eye on the main action, namely the trains. I’m a railway modeller who likes his trains to run through some reasonably realistic scenery, not a modeller of wooded landscapes who happens to have a passing interest in trains.

Ballast!

You know you’re making real progress on a layout when you start laying ballast. As I was able to lay about a meter of ballast today this must mean things are progressing well. One meter down, about nine to go! I’m not sure why I spend so much time carefully handlaying track only to half bury it in a layer of dirt. One of the strange mysteries of our hobby I suppose 🙂

The other day I decided to lay out all the scenery materials I had on hand on a table I use to assemble big projects. There wasn’t enough room to fit it all! I’d accumulated a vast array of scenery products over the years and the time had come to do a little culling. Some rather sad and sorry lichen, three colours of ground foam I could never seem to make look like plants and a packet of some material with German writing on it all took a trip to the wheelie bin. I didn’t thin out the ranks all that much, but it was a start.

I’ve found that a quiet revolution has taken place in scenery products in recent years. The materials coming out of Europe in particular are fantastic and produce outstanding results in a relatively short space of time. Gone are the days of zip texturing with powder paints! The biggest change has been in a modellers ability to lay down fibers in a manner that produces something that looks like miniature grass, as opposed to a layer of something that approximates the surface of a pool table.

To this end a friend of mine came over tonight with a Noch Grass Master which we decided to try out. After reading the instructions (they were actually in English!) we hooked the contraption up and gave it a try. Aside from Phil looking like he was in the torch relay for the Olympics, the machine worked as advertised but we feel that a little more experimentation might be in order as the result looked more like teddy bear fur than grass. We’ll keep trying and pull our socks up next time 🙂

I’ve managed to complete one small section of the scenery to my satisfaction and this is a thin segment running along the backdrop. I’ve spent three days fiddling with the shrubs and ground cover on this section and my back started to tell me this morning that it was time to be satisfied. I’ll post a couple of photos to let you see the result. Nothing too spectacular but it provides a shrubby backdrop to the trains and that’s the intention.

Grasping The Nettle

The countdown to the Aus ExpO is on and I have about 18 months to go before Morpeth MkII will be exhibited for the first time. I wouldn’t describe my work on the layout over the last couple of weeks as exactly feverish, but I have been making real progress on the layout segment I’ve been working on. I spent yesterday with a small group of O-scale modellers at the home of an acquaintance who is building a large layout under his house. There were six of us at this gathering and some had driven many hours to get there. As such I didn’t get anything done on my layout yesterday however I think socializing and watching O-scale trains run qualifies as a satisfactory substitute.

As of today I have the house to myself for approximately 10 days while on a break from work. My aim is to get the layout segment I’m currently working on completed before I go back to work in the middle of October. The weather is dry and warm at the moment, so it’s a good time to be doing scenery as things dry more quickly. In fact I’m writing this as some glue dries under the ground foam I’ve just applied to the layout. I thought I might take the opportunity to detail some of the jobs I’ve been doing in the lead-up to being able to apply the first ground foam.

Modular Modelling – As the years have passed I find that more and more of my modelling could be described as “modular”. Building the layout in segments obviously fits into this category, however I’m also finding that I increasingly think of each model as a module and attempt to build them as discrete units. This actually assists in helping to preserve models when the inevitable happens and I have to pull a layout apart. If the model is a transportable “unit” I find recycling them into the next layout is much easier than if they are set directly into the landscape. One model on this section will have survived onto three different layouts once it is installed on this layout.

Foam Scenery – I’ve decided that the foam scenery has been a real success. However I will stick my neck out and say that I’m still not convinced that laying track directly to the foam is a good idea in an exhibition layout. I want my track to stay put and I remain convinced that the best way to achieve this is pinning it to a wooden sub-roadbed. The gentle undulations that can be easily achieved using the foam are, in my experience, unequaled by any other scenery base method and I’ve tried them all over the years.

Finishing and Joining – Perhaps it’s just my training as a carpenter (admittedly this was many years ago), but I find that I’m psychologically unable to start assembling the final product until I have all the elements that will go together to make it up. When I build something from wood I work for a considerable amount of time preparing a series of sub projects before the final elements are drawn together and assembled. I seem to have spent weeks and weeks building, painting and weathering a series of small models – in fact I was starting to wonder whether this phase was ever going to finish. However this method does have one big up-side: when the final assembly does commence, progress is very quick and you can see things coming together before your eyes in a very satisfactory way. I finished the models off over the last week or so and now I’ve moved onto installing them and joining them up with ground foam.

Trees and a Moral Dilemma – I have to admit that the one of the few areas of this hobby I really do not enjoy is making trees. I have the ability to make them and have done so in the past, but I’ve finally admitted to myself that my dislike of making them is not a passing fancy or some sort of moral failing that I need to live down. So I’ve given into the inevitable and purchased some commercially made trees which I have to admit are at least as good as the ones I can make myself. I console myself that I’m saving a heap of time that I can devote to other areas of modelling. There’s always that deadline of the upcoming exhibition.

Laying Concrete – My efforts to cast plaster foundation blocks for the wooden tank stand were so satisfactory that I decided to try the same technique for the concrete driveway that sits next to the weighbridge hut. I cast thin slabs of plaster in styrene formwork molds I made up, extracted these from the molds and then stained them in rubbing alcohol and india ink before gluing them in place. The effect is very pleasing.

I’ve posted a photo of the weighbridge hut and the water tank so you can see the progress I’ve made on the layout recently. This might act as a good contrast for others I’ll post when things really start to change over the next few days. The change is going to be dramatic, even if the trees are commercial interlopers 🙂