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Hardshell Terrain

Hardshell Terrain
For my terrain structure, I opted to use the hard-shell method, consisting of cardboard strips, plaster infused paper towels, and a final layer of plaster. This seemed to be a popular, tried and tested method, and though messy, the materials are very cheap and the end results are very effective.

Cardboard strips to support hard shell terrainCardboard strips to support hard shell terrain

I first started by cutting several different length strips from a cardboard box, all between ½ and 1 inch wide. The strips were then bent to the desired curvature and fastened to the benchwork with either white glue or staples, or a combination of both. I spaced each strip about 1 inch apart. For most of the strips, I didn’t require horizontal support strips, except where the vertical strips were longer and tended to sag a bit more. Crumpled newsprint under the strips also helped with support in some areas.

Cardboard strips and crumples paper for hard shell terrainCardboard strips to support hard shell terrain

At this point, I also incorporated some crock croppings that I had cast with plaster earlier. For the more rugged looking terrain features, I used the same crumpled paper method that I used for my mountain tunnel. For future planned roads, I simply cut a desired sized piece of cardboard and attached it just as I did with the other strips, ensuring a smooth grade from the upper level to the lower ground level.

Paper towel strips soaked in plasterPaper towel strips soaked in plaster

The next step was to cover the cardboard strips with plaster-impregnated paper towels. For this, I first tore sheets of paper towel into strips at various widths. Make sure you have a good mixture of thin and wide strips, as it’s a lot easier to cover a large area with wide strips then several small thin strips, and vice-versa for small areas.

Paper towel strips soaked in plasterPaper towel strips soaked in plaster

I mixed powder drywall compound into a large, shallow container with water. This took a little trial and error to get the right consistency; if too thin the paper towel strips will dry and peel, and have no rigidity. If too thick, the paper towel will just rip under the weight. I found a consistency of oatmeal worked best. Good quality paper towel also helps immensely. I had to keep stirring the plaster mixture as I went, as the plaster tended to settle to the bottom of the container. Adding a bit of water to the mixture as I worked will also keep things flowing.

Paper towel strips soaked in plasterPaper towel strips soaked in plaster

Once I had found the proper plaster mixture, I dipped each strip of paper towel into the mixture, wiping off the majority of excess plaster from the strips with my fingers. I then positions the paper towel strips horizontally across the cardboard strips, overlapping them for added strength. I didn’t worry too much if the paper towel strips sagged a bit between the cardboard support strips as this would be leveled off later with the final plaster layer. I used my fingers to smooth the strips as much as possible.

Final plaster layer of hard shell terrain width=Plaster retaining wall cast in place

After 24 hours the paper towel shell was dry, and I was left with a rigid but brittle shell. The final step was to cover everything with a final coat of plaster, which greatly strengthens the shell, and smoothes out the unsightly seams of the paper towels. I used a gypsum based plaster, but made the mistake of using a pre-mixed product, which is way more prone to cracking and shrinking then dry mix, and resulted in filling in a lot of cracks. I also cast a retaining wall (as seen above) using a paper mold that I made directly on the layout. The wall is cast with plaster of paris, and finished with hand carved bricks.

Final plaster layer of hard shell terrainFinal plaster layer of hard shell terrain

I spread a thin layer of plaster over all of the paper towel shell, thicker in some areas to eliminate low spots. I blended in all of the rock croppings and filled in any holes/joints, etc. I used a combination of my hands and small plastic spatulas to smooth and level the plaster layer and blend it with the existing bridge abutments and terrain. The ground foam and dirt/ballast that I will add later will fill in and deficiencies in the plaster. I still have a few touchups to do, but I can safely say that the plaster hard-shell is finally complete.

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Turntable Upgrade

Turntable Upgrade
While working on my hard shell scenery, I thought that it would be a good idea to also update my turntable to make it look a little more realistic. I wasn’t very fond of all the extra, unused entrance slots in the turntable, nor did I like its original glossy-gray paint job (which was a result of being one of the first structures I’d ever painted on my layout). The paint job I originally did on the rotating table itself wasn’t half bad, but it too definitely needed some weathering effects.

Atlas turntable upgrade

I started by first cutting styrene into curved strips to cover the tops and sides of the unused entrance slots. Once glued on and painted a light gray colour, the foundation now looks solid and specifically built to match my track and not as if the engine is just going to roll on off the table at any point. I also painted the small shack that covers the turntable motor. I then weathered the turntable, foundation, and motor shack with various powdered pastels that I applied with an old paintbrush. The whole structure was then sprayed with a final layer of dull-coat, which seals in the pastel weathering and prevents it from rubbing off if touched.

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The Other Corner Café Kit

The Other Corner Café Kit

The Other Corner Café kit by DPMI wanted to add a bank to my small commercial district, and the DPM Other Corner Café kit by Woodland Scenics fit the bill perfectly. This was my first DPM kit, and if you have never built one either, it’s a very good idea to follow the preparation directions before assembling the model. The Design Preservation Model (DPM) series kits have high quality details and styrene but do require a good amount of sanding and trimming before assembly.
As I did with my Merchant’s Row I kit, I used small strips of masking tape to mask the windows and trim before painting the brick walls. Once the walls were dry, I covered the newly painted sections so I could now paint the trim and window frames. After drying for 24 hours, any touchups were made with a small detailing brush. The masking is tedious, but worth it in the end, however it’s only effective if it’s done correctly and carefully. If not, you will just have a ton of touchups to deal with. The structure was then brushed with dark powdered pastels for weathering effects and sealed with a final coat of Testors dull coat.

Blind assortment on 8” x 10” matt photo paper
Most DPM models do not come with a pre-molded roof or base, however bulk styrene is provided for at least the roof, which needs to be cut-to-fit. A length of strip styrene is also provided to be cut and installed to support for the roof. Clear bulk styrene sheet(s) are also included for the window glazing. Window blinds were used from the same templates I used on previous structures that I built.
Removable first level of bank interior and light diffuserRemovable first level of bank interior and light diffuser
Styrene light diffuser boxFirst level interior with lit diffuser box

I built the interior structure of this building in almost the exact same way as may Merchant’s Row I kit, utilizing my light diffuser box method. The first level interior of the building is built upon a removable styrene base, with the light box installed on top (2nd level). The removable base allows access to the bulb in case it ever needs to be changed. I built the bank’s teller desks out of scrap styrene pieces, as well as the large support column (which actually supports the light diffuser box). The bank’s floor is a tile design that I made in Adobe Photoshop and printed on matt photo paper. The walls are just coloured cardstock.

Second level interior of the Other Corner Café kitSecond level interior of the Other Corner Café kit
The Other Corner Café kit with lightingBank interior with lighting

The second level interiors are actually attached directly to the main structure. I built these with a combination of dark cardstock and styrene plastic, which I secured directly to the inside walls. When the base and light box are inserted, the light box sits just behind the second level interior rooms. To allow light into the rooms, I simply cut small openings into the back walls. For the rooms I didn’t want to light, I simply omitted the rear opening to keep them dark.

Bank roof with medium burnt cinders from Woodland ScenicsThe Other Corner Café kit by DPM

The Other Corner Café kit by DPMThe Other Corner Café kit by DPM

I decorated the final structure with dry transfer decals from Woodland Scenics on the windows as well as a vertical corner sign that was left over from my Merchant’s Row I kit. For the roof material, I used medium burnt cinders from Woodland Scenics, which I spread about 1/16” – 1/8” thick. I then secured the cinders with thinned white glue that I applied with a small pipette, mixed with a few drops of isopropyl alcohol to break the glue mixture’s surface tension.
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Kate’s Colonial Home Kit

Kate’s Colonial Home Kit

Having a layout measuring only 4’ x 8’, there is very limited room for structures after track and terrain are added. As is my situation, I just don’t have the real-estate for full sized town and residential areas, so I find myself having to represent these zones with only 1 or 2 structures. For the residential aspect of my layout, I have room for one house and I chose the Kate’s Colonial Home Kit by Atlas.
Kate’s Colonial Home kit by Atlas
I liked the buildings yellow and forest green colour theme, so I used very similar colours when I painted the exterior. I did however change the roof shingle colour to a dark brown instead of the recommended light grey. The great thing about Atlas kits is the injection molding process they use, which results in high quality, very detailed, and precise parts that fit together easily with little to no prep work.

Construction of the styrene light diffuser boxFirst level interior of Kate’s Colonial Home kit

First level interior of Kate’s Colonial Home kit with light diffuser box

The window coverings are printed on photo paper which I taped and glued to the inside walls. Because I wanted to light the house, I had to add a layer of dark cardstock to the inside of the walls so light wouldn’t shine through the styrene shell. To light the structure, I used the same method as in my Walthers Merchant’s Row I kit by building a small light diffuser box out of styrene. I built the interior walls around the light box with thick cardstock, allowing light to glow through small doorways.

Second level interior of Kate’s Colonial Home kit with light diffuser boxSecond level cardstock ceiling and light blocker

Once the first floor was completed, I added a styrene floor for the second level, and used the same cardstock wall method that I used for the first floor, building around the light diffuser box. I then added a cardstock ceiling to the second floor rooms, preventing any light from glowing though up to the attic windows and into the roof section. This ceiling can also be removed (along with the actual roof) to access the light diffuser box in the event of a burnt out bulb.

Kate’s Colonial Home kit by Atlas

Kate’s Colonial Home kit by AtlasKate’s Colonial Home kit with interior lighting

The kit was weathered using a semi-soft paintbrush and dry pastels that I ground up into a fine powder. I made sure almost all of the pastel was off of the brush before applying it to the building as it isn’t very forgiving. A final spray of Testors dull coat sealed in the pastel weathering. The chimney and foundation mortar were coloured using thinned black and white washes.

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Train Display Case

Train Display Case

With my very small collection of locomotives and rolling stock starting to grow, I needed someplace to store them while not in use (which is 99% of the time as my layout is still under construction). Even though my collection is currently very small, it is ever so slowly growing, I needed more of a long-term storage solution. I searched my shed and basement and managed to round up just enough scrap material to construct a wood display case, which will mount to the wall adjacent to my layout.   
Model train display caseModel train display case

The case frame measures 37 ½” inches wide by 35” tall and is constructed from 3” x 3/4” lumber, screwed and glued together at the corners. The 6 shelves are made of 2” x 5/8” lumber, and are 36” long, allowing for a full length of flex track to be mounted. The shelves were then mounted to the frame with screws and wood glue. The backing is made from 1/8” thick hardboard.
Installed model train display case
As I said before, this was made almost completely from scrap materials, and was done easily on a Saturday afternoon. It is nothing fancy or complicated, but at least I have a place to store, display, and protect my locomotives and rolling stock. Next week I will hopefully also add horizontal sliding glass or clear acrylic doors to keep the dust out.

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Paving Roads

Paving Roads
Model road build with Woodland Scenics Smooth-ItWith a bit of consideration, I decided that the next step of my layout would be the roads. As always, I researched the subject online and found that the most effective method would be to build forms and pour the roads with a plaster product. First however, I needed to plan where my roads were going. I determined my road width at 2 ½”, and cut a square piece of cardstock the same width. After drawing the contour of one edge of my planned road directly on my layout, I used the template card to draw the opposite edge. This allowed me to ensure the road was always 2 ½” wide.

Building road forms with foam tapeBuilding road forms with foam tape

Once the outline of the road was drawn onto the layout, I installed 4 laser cut wood grade crossings where needed. For the road forms, I used inexpensive foam tape that I purchased from a local dollar store. Woodland Scenics sells a similar product (called Paving Tape), but it was unavailable at the one and only hobby shop in my city.

Masking grade crossings and trackFirst layer of Woodland Scenics Smooth-It road plaster

I laid the foam tape on the outside edge of the road lines I had drawn. The tape I used was  ¼” wide, which allowed it to be easily pliable for any curves. Because my layout and grade crossings were not all level, I needed to use two, three, and even 4 layers of foam tape in several areas to allow the surface level of my road to be as level as possible.  For a smooth transition between the different levels of foam tape, I always made sure the very top layer of foam tape was continuous, instead of being stepped. This is very important when it comes to smoothing the top of the road.

Building road forms with foam tapeFirst layer of Woodland Scenics Smooth-It road plaster

For the road material, I used Woodland Scenics Smooth-It, a special dry-mix plaster product specifically designed for building roads and other smooth surfaces. I mixed the Smooth-It powder with water until it was the consistency of cake mix. Working in small sections, I slowly poured the mix between the forms, spreading and leveling it with the top of the foam tape forms using a wide piece of styrene. I made sure I masked the top of the wood grade crossings with masking tape, that way I could easily level the roadway with the top of the crossings.

Building road forms with foam tapeFirst layer of Woodland Scenics Smooth-It road plaster
Completed poured first layer of Smooth-ItSecond layer of Smooth-It with foam tape forms removed

After the first layer of Smooth-It had dried overnight, I applied a second thin layer, smoothing over any imperfections in the first layer and making sure the road was as smooth and level as possible. Once the second layer was completely dry, I carefully removed the foam tape forms. The roads were pretty smooth, but needed further sanding to improve the surface and remove rough edges.

Leveled ground for freight depotLeveled ground area for main street area
Complete road system after second coat of Smooth-ItComplete road system after second coat of Smooth-It

To sand, I used 200 grit sandpaper and sanded the road surface until I was happy with the smoothness. After I vacuumed all the dust off of the roads, I noticed some areas of my road looked more like the bubbly inside of an Aero chocolate bar then the surface of a road. This was caused from mixing my mixture of Smooth-It too thin when I poured it. If you do mix it too thin, add more Smooth-It and stir until the bubbles disappear, or let it sit for a few minutes, stirring often. To fill the air holes in the road, I simply added a thin layer of Smooth-It overtop, making sure to press it into all the holes so they didn’t reappear once I sanded the affected area again.

Model road painted with gray acrylic paintMain street sidewalk, building, and road line markings

I used a gray acrylic paint for the road colour, of which I applied 3 coats. I also coloured the wood grade crossings at this point with India ink diluted with water. Once the gray paint had dried, I marked the center line of the roads with a pencil, using the center line on the same cardstock template I used before to measure the road widths.  These lines would be a guide for the center line markings. I also marked out stop lines using the same method.

Stop and center line markings drawn onto roadwayStop and center line markings drawn onto roadway

Masked road stop lines painted with white acrylic paint

I masked the stop lines first, and then painted them with white acrylic paint. Once they were completely dry, I started to mask the center lines. To do this, I took blue painters tape and applied the required length to a piece of glass. I then cut the straight edge of the tape about 1/8” wide to make long, narrow strips. I peeled the narrow strips off the glass, and very carefully applied it to the road, following the contour of the center line I previously marked and making sure the straight edge of the tape was facing to the inside.

Masking for road center linesMasking for road center lines

Painting road center lines with yellow acrylic paint

I found that starting at one end of the road and only sticking down ¼ – ½” of the masking tape strip at a time worked best for getting smooth, straight lines. For curves, especially tight ones, I found that by holding the tape down with my one thumb, and positioning the next ¼” of masking tape with my other hand and then applying it by slowly sliding my thumb forward resulted in the best curves. I then did the same with the second strip of masking tape, ensuring the space between the two strips was as equally spaced as possible.

Pastel weathering effects on road and grade crossingsModel road build with Woodland Scenics Smooth-It

The lines were then painted with yellow acrylic paint, of which I applied about 3 coats. I then carefully removed the blue masking tape strips. Some small patches of the gray base coat did lift with the tape, but this was easy enough to touch up (just make sure you save some of your original road colour!). I found working in sections and not leaving the tape any longer than 20 minutes on the road greatly reduced the amount of paint that came up. Also removing the tape on a sharp angle helped, opposed to lifting in straight up.

Pastel weathering effects on road and grade crossingsCompleted model road build with Woodland Scenics Smooth-It

My roads were now complete, but looked a little too perfect and new. To add some weathering and usage effects, I sprinkled a very small amount of black pastel dust down the center of each lane and smeared it with my finger. I used the same effect on the grade crossings as well. Signage and other small details will come later, but at least the main roadways are now complete and ready to serve the various areas of my layout.

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Painting the Terrain

Painting the Terrain
Painting hardshell terrain with tan acrylic paintPainting the terrain on my model train layout was probably the most nerve-racking experience I’ve encountered so far on this project, but at the same time, was also the most rewarding and fun. I’ve been ready to paint since I finished all the plaster and hard shell scenery back around Christmas time, but in all honesty I was absolutely horrified to paint anything in fear that I wouldn’t get the look I wanted. After 2 ½ months however, I couldn’t put this task off any longer.

Painting hardshell terrain with tan acrylic paintLike common practice, I did a lot of research to find the best way to paint terrain and rocks. I found the easiest and most common method to colour plaster rock castings was to use a series of earth-coloured acrylic paint washes using the “leopard spotting” technique, as explained on Woodland Scenic’s website.

Before I could start painting the rock castings, I needed to paint the hard shell scenery. For this I used inexpensive tan coloured acrylic paint, thinned about 50% with tap water for better coverage. Make sure to use cheap foam brushes for this step and not expensive ones, as the plaster will tear the foam up pretty fast, regardless of how much you paid for the brush.

Using the leopard print method to paint plaster rock castingsUsing the leopard print method to paint plaster rock castings

I decided early on that I wanted the colour of my rock outcroppings to be rich with lots of texture, so I opted for dark browns, yellows, and grays. I used the leopard spotting technique to paint the rock castings, using thinned washes of acrylic paint. The first colour I applied was burnt umber, literally applying it randomly just like leopard spots onto the rock castings. A narrow foam brush works best for this application.

Using the leopard print method to paint plaster rock castingsUsing the leopard print method to paint plaster rock castings

The second colour I wanted was yellow. To give the yellow more of an earth-tone, I mixed the yellow acrylic directly with my leftover burnt umber wash, and mixed it until I got the colour I wanted. I then applied this second wash in the same random manor as before, making sure to not over-apply any one colour.

Final wash of black acrylic paint over plaster terrainFinal detail of painted rock outcropping

To blend everything together, I did a third and final wash of black, this time applying liberal amounts of wash over the entire surface, making sure no uncovered plaster was showing through. The black wash blends all the colours, and settles into all the nooks and cracks, highlighting the rock’s texture and profile. I made sure that I didn’t make the black wash too dark, as it would be difficult to lighten the terrain if it turned out too dark. Instead, I used light washes, applying more washes to achieve a darker look.

Plaster rock outcroppings highlighted with white paintMountain structure with final black acrylic wash

As most of the tan colour that I first applied will eventually be covered with foam ground cover, I used the same black wash in these areas as well in hopes of making the ground a little more realistic. The black wash gives the tan wash a bit more of a dark clay look, which is similar to the area of Alberta I live in. Applying the black wash also helped to blend the rock outcroppings into the rest of the terrain.

Hardshell terrain with acrylic washesFinal plaster rock castings highlighted with white paint

Plaster rock outcroppings painted with the leopard spot technique

The final step was to very lightly dry-brush the rock outcroppings with white paint. The white paint collects on the high ridges of the rocks, highlighting them and creates further contrast. At this point I’m still a little nervous how the final look will turn out, but I keep reminding myself that there is still ground cover and trees that need to be added, so the final look might be something completely different.

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Cutting’s Scissor Co. Kit

Cutting’s Scissor Co. kit by DMPThe Cutting’s Scissor Co. kit is my second structure kit from Design Preservation Models. My layout does not have much more room for commercial or residential structures, but I do require a couple more industrial structures to fill some empty real estate, which this kit fits into perfectly. As always, I started by removing any edge spurs (left from manufacturing), and sanded the edges of specific wall pieces down to 90 degrees, ensuring a good fit when gluing the model together. This is required on most all DPM kits, as the structure edges are not at a perfect 90 degrees, and constructing the model without sanding will result in either a crooked structure, or large gaps in the exterior joints.
After sanding the required pieces, I washed them in warm, soapy water to remove any oils that my hands may have left on them from the previous step. Once dry, I glued the walls carefully together on a level surface, ensuring the wall pieces fit together perfectly and evenly. I made sure each corner was square by using a square wood dowel on the inside of each corner joint while I was gluing them together. 
Constructing my Cutting’s Scissor Co. kitRoof supports inside a DPM model

Once the structure had dried for an hour, I cut 2 roof structured from a sheet of supplied styrene, and glued on the roof supports, which were also supplied in the kit via a bulk length of strip styrene. I did not glue the roof structures on at this point, as I needed the roof open to add window glazing and interior details later on. The kit also calls for awnings over the loading bays using a leftover piece of styrene from the roof structures. I opted for a textured styrene awning that I had leftover in my scrap bin, which looked a little more authentic. I also added horizontal supports for the awnings using narrow strip styrene.
Masking model windows for faster and more accurate paintingMasking model windows for faster and more accurate painting

After 2 coats of brick red paint had dried, I started masking the structure so I could paint the details, including trim, windows, and doors. Masking takes time, but as hard as I try to paint free hand, I can never achieve the same crisp lines and accuracy as I do when I mask. I use a small flat head jeweler’s screwdriver to press the masking tape into tight corners and on narrow edges to make sure paint doesn’t bleed underneath. Bleeding paint isn’t 100% avoidable, but is easy enough to touch up in the final steps of painting.
Name change from Cutting’s Scissor Co. to Velikovsky’s DistributersInserting styrene interior lighting structure into the kit’s exterior shell

Once all parts of the model were painted, I weathered it lightly with pastel powder, and applied a dry transfer decal (Velikovski’s Distributors) to the exterior wall. The last paint layer was a final spray of dull-coat to seal everything in. Once everything was dry, I applied clear styrene for window glazing, then cut and applied printed paper blinds to the inside of the windows using small strips of masking tape (clickhere for printable blind templates). It was also at this point that I started to assemble the interior structure, which would serve as lighting and interior rooms.
Interior styrene and cardstock insert structure for my DPM kitWiring for interior lighting of DPM kit

As most previous structures I have built, the interior is completely removable from the building structure itself. By simply sliding the exterior shell off, I can easily access the lights and add interior details as needed in the future. The interior structure is built in such a way that once fully inserted into the building’s shell, the building looks as if it is full of separate rooms when looking through any of the small windows. Cardstock was used for texture and colour on the floors and walls.
Lights for interior of Cutting’s Scissor Co. kit
Two small automotive bulbs light the structure. Since the interior walls only rise as high as the tops of the windows and don’t go right to the roof, I installed the bulbs above the interior rooms so one bulb could light multiple rooms. Aluminum foil installed on the underside of the roof structure helps reflect the light downward into the rooms and keep heat from melting the roof structure. I used narrow bare steel wire to supply power to the bulbs, but also used this type of wire to support the bulbs so they wouldn’t have to be attached directly to the styrene structure. Just be careful the bare wires don’t get crossed or you will have a nasty short on your hands.
Cutting’s Scissor Co. kit by DMP

Cutting’s Scissor Co. kit with interior lightingCutting’s Scissor Co. kit by DMP

The last step was to attach the roof structures to the model once I made sure the internal insert structure fit perfectly into the building shell. Once the styrene roof was glued to its supports and had dried, I applied a thin layer of medium cinders on top of the roof and leveled it with a folded piece of cardstock. Using a small pipette, I gently soaked the cinders with isopropyl alcohol. Once entirely moist, I used the same pipette to apply white glue thinned with water. After drying overnight, the cinders were securely fastened to the model.

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Home-Made Track Camera

Home-Made Track Camera

While I’m currently working on the first stages of my scenery, I completed a little side project that I’ve had on my mind for the last few months. A hobby store I had visited had rolling stock fitted with wireless cameras for an engineer’s-eye-view of your track layout, however these turned out to be quite expensive, even for the basic starter kit. I immediately began to look for a more cost-effective option, and figured that I might even be able to make my own camera car for little-to-no cost.
I have a junk drawer in my office with a bunch of old, obsolete cell phones that are serving absolutely no useful purpose, but all still function fine. Each cell phone however, has a camera that shoots and records video, all of which can be transferred to a computer via USB. And that got me thinking. Would I actually be able to somehow use one of these old cell phone’s cameras as a travelling cab-view camera? You bet I could.
Track camera using an old cell phone and engine components
The biggest challenge of using a cell phone for this task was making the cell’s camera face forward. This is because a cell phone’s camera is usually located on the back of the phone, and since the phone would need to travel on its side to properly fit through tunnels and under bridges, the camera always naturally faced off to either side of the track. This meant that the camera would need to be physically removed and repositioned to a forward-facing location, while still staying connected to the phone interface.
I played around with a couple different phones and had no luck, as their cameras were directly attached and soldered to the phone’s mother board. However when I took my old Samsung Instinct apart, I noticed that its camera was only attached via a flexible data cable, which allowed the camera itself to move independently of the phone. I cut a hole in the back of the phone’s case so once re-assembled the camera could pass through and be accessible and positioned from the outside. I built an external support structure out of styrene to hold the camera in a forward-facing position, making sure that the camera was positioned at a correct angle so it would have an accurate and realistic recording.
Front view of my homemade model railroad track cameraHomemade cab view track camera

I sacrificed an old Bachmann GP35 engine to carry the cell-phone camera. I removed the engine and cab structure, only keeping the motorized base. To allow the cell phone to pass through tunnels and under my trestle, it would need to be located as close to the track as possible, so I positioned it inside the engines fuel-tank structure, between the trucks. This of course was not long enough to house the phone, so I needed to cut the tank in half and extend it with rigid styrene extensions. The cell phone needs to sit at an angle to clear the bottom of the trestle, and the camera was adjusted and installed to compensate for this angle. I used styrene pieces to support and securely hold the phone to the engine structure.
Model railroad scratch built track camera Homemade cab view track camera

The final product isn’t pretty at all, but it does its intended job very well. To use the camera, all I do is activate the camera and set it on camcorder mode. I then place the phone into position on the engine base. When ready, I press record on the top edge of the phone, energize the track, and let the engine travel around my layout. Once I’m done recording, I simply remove the phone, tether it to my computer via USB, and download the footage (as seen below). I know the quality isn’t as high as the expensive commercial products available, but this didn’t cost me anything, and the effect is equally as amusing.
The following video is of the very first test run of my entire layout with my new track-camera. Please don’t mind the speed of the camera and my under-construction layout – this was just a test!

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Making Trees – My First Forest

Making Trees - My First Forest
With the first section of my layout’s ground cover well under way, it was finally time to start putting some trees together. Since my layout is set in a mountainous terrain somewhere in the Canadian Rockies, it will feature forests comprised of pine trees, most of which will be in the back-half of my layout. The front half will feature more deciduous type trees around the residential, commercial, and industrial areas.

I decided to use Woodland Scenics plastic tree armatures for my pine trees, and for the majority of my deciduous trees. Using the tree armatures does of course require assembly, but are a lot less expensive and look far more realistic then most pre-made trees. Making trees completely from scratch however is probably the most economical option, but I like the look and ease-of-use of the tree armatures, so this was the method I chose.

Woodland Scenics pine and deciduous tree armaturesWoodland Scenics pine and deciduous tree armatures

The first step was to prep the armatures by bending the branches and limbs into a 3-dimentional shape. Once all the armatures were properly shaped, I mounted them by their bases to a sheet of foam board. I will not use the bases of the trees on my layout as they look very unrealistic, however the bases work well for holding the armatures upright while I work on them. I airbrushed the armatures with a mixture of chocolate brown and gray paint to get a more realistic colour. I then applied a coat of dull-coat to get rid of any gloss left on the trees.

Tree armature covered with Hob-e-Tac adhesiveTree armature covered with Hob-e-Tac adhesive

The next step was to apply an adhesive onto the armatures. Woodland Scenics recommends their own tacky adhesive, Hob-e-Tac, so this is what I used. I applied it to the armatures using the supplied brush, doing about 6 trees at a time. I was careful to not apply too much glue to the trunk of the tree, as most trees don’t have a large amount of foliage growing out in that area. I let the Hob-e-Tac set for about 15 minutes until it became clear and very tacky.

Dipping and rolling tree armature in scenic ground foamWoodland Scenics pine tree armature with conifer green foliage

I then dipped and rolled the armatures in Woodland Scenics foam products. For the pine trees, I used Conifer Green Coarse Turf, and for the deciduous trees I used a combination of Medium Green Clump Foliage and Underbrush. I had a couple deciduous armatures from Life-Like, which I covered with Light Green Coarse Turf. I found that the pine trees looked a little empty, so I used Conifer Green Foliage to fill them in a bit. By using different sized pieces of foliage which I stretched out and placed randomly between the branches, the pine trees lost their generic, pipe-cleaner look.

Woodland Scenics deciduous tree armatures with medium green clump foliageFirst batch of pine trees ready for my layout

After applying the foliage to all the trees, I noticed the next day that large amounts of the clump foliage had fallen off of my deciduous trees. I realized that unlike the very light coarse turf I used on my pine trees, the heavier clump foliage did not get a good enough grip on the Hob-e-Tac adhesive from simply rolling the armature around in the material. Instead, I had to hand press all of the clump foliage onto the armature to ensure that it was properly secured. I then shook each tree to remove any loose pieces and to see where I needed to apply more.

First batch of pine trees ready for my layoutLife-Like deciduous tree armatures with light green foliage

The final step was to highlight the trees with blended turf, which gave the trees a more realistic look. I sprinkled a little bit of Earth Blend on the pine trees, and used Green Blend on the deciduous trees. I then gave all of the trees a spray of thinned white glue to seal everything in. Be careful to not get the clump foliage too wet, as the added weight is actually enough to cause the clumps to drop off of the armatures.

The trees are now ready to be added to my layout. I should have my fist post on the first stage of my scenery within the next couple weeks, as long as everything goes as planned.

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