Monday, February 26, 2018


At long last, I have begun adding terrain forms to my railroad.  The scenery base is a task best left until a railroad has “seasoned in.”  That is both literal seasoning as in several seasonal cycles with attendant changes in humidity and “operational seasoning” wherein enough operation has taken place to identify and have corrected anything affecting the running characteristics of the railroad.  My railroad mainline has been in operation for about three years now.  I have had to make a few roadbed adjustments as I experienced wood shrinkage or expansion with the seasons.  Similarly, I have held two dozen formal operating sessions. Although I have a few nagging spots that accumulate PostIt notes, the bulk of the railroad now performs well.  I can thank at least one member of my regular operating crew for helping with the fine-tuning of turnouts.  I also can thank all of my operating crew members who have taken the time to write a note that flags a problem.  With the railroad performing well, I finally can tackle the major visual elements.

I did a lot of tunnel preparation this past Fall and reported those efforts in this blog:
It now was time to enclose those tunnels within mountain shells.

Surveying various methods of creating terrain, I chose foam insulation panels (“pink foam”) and Sculptamold for my basic landforms.  Eventually, I will need to “plant” a lot of Douglas Fir!  That will be a lot easier with a Styrofoam scenery base.  Previously, I have used plaster hard-shell.  While great for rock casting, planting trees requires a drill and often leaves a trail of white plaster dust.  Creating the hard-shell also leaves a trail of plaster dust as one’s shoes inevitably pick it up.  Foam creates its own mess, with electrostatic cling moving bits of shredded foam around.  So far, the foam mess seems a bit more manageable. 

I began filling in the terrain on my railroad with the summit tunnel, Tunnel Number 3.  This terrain area has relatively basic landforms.  On the other hand, all of the work was done “on high”—usually from a step ladder.

With the track ballasted, the tunnel portals and initial liners were mounted permanently with adhesive caulk.  Care was taken to ensure proper clearance for rolling stock was maintained.  I needed to fill in the remaining tunnel liner.  The prototype tunnels on the Cascade Line were lined with timber with a later effort to spray this with concrete.  Only the ends of the tunnels were lined with concrete in the initial construction.  I represented the inner “timbered” liner with foam core panels with representations of the timber support posts applied on tunnel liner panels that might be visible from the operating aisles.  The interior of the tunnel liners was sprayed with a dark primer gray (close to SP dark gray).  I assembled the liners as simple forms of sides and a roof, omitting the angled upper corners used in the prototype tunnels.  The objective was a complete enclosure of the tunnel but not a full model.  The effect in the aisles is quite good.  Even camera cars should have an acceptable view.

Tunnel liner wall with “timber posts” before paint.

I glued together one wall and the roof and fixed these assemblies permanently to supports just outside the roadbed.  The other wall was left loose against stops on both the roadbed and the roof.  This will allow future access to the tunnel inside to reclaim derailed equipment.  The loose wall is the one toward the backdrop wall. 

With the tunnel innards in place, the next step was to add a fascia terrain profile.  I began with cardboard, first drawing the proposed terrain contour and then cutting it out.  For the summit tunnel, I discovered I had removed too much, so I taped the cut off cardboard back to the panel and cut a new profile.  The next tunnel RR-East needed a bit more trimmed from the top after the initial attempt.  I then used the cardboard forms to define the contour cut on the final hardboard panels.

Temporary cardboard profile panels for Tunnel 5 fascia.  More material will be removed from the right-hand panel as seen by the cut line sketched in on the cardboard.

Final fascia installed and painted.

I installed a lightweight hardboard deck above the tunnel liner between the fascia panel and the wall.  This provided support for contour panels cut from Styrofoam.  I then began fitting pieces of Styrofoam on top of the inner contour panels, spanning the distance between the fascia and the wall.  Since my Tunnel 3 occupies a corner of the room, I needed to cut a number of pie-slice shaped pieces to turn the corner.  I used both horizontal flat pieces and a few vertical stringers for added stability of the shell.  I used Loctite PL300 caulk for foam as the primary adhesive.

As I got to the ends of the tunnel, I shifted from horizontal flat pieces of Styrofoam to a series of vertical profile panels.  The terrain alongside the track at the RR-West end of the tunnel had twenty of these contour panels.  I used both horizontal or vertical panels—whatever seemed best for the particular terrain I was trying to create.  Working with Styrofoam is very much like sculpture.  It is a process of removing material.  In contrast, working with plaster hard-shell, one is adds material, building up the terrain. 

Inner supports for mountain over Tunnel 3.

Rough terrain defined by Styrofoam panels.  The bridge over Trapper Creek is in the foreground.

Once the rough terrain contours were defined by the Styrofoam panels, those panels were shaped further using a Stanley Surform scraper.  Although I had a small “block plane” form of this tool, the scraper version with a yellow handle worked best for me.  This scraping action smoothed the terrain contours.  For tunnel 3, I found I also needed to tackle Trapper Creek, which serves as the geographic western edge of the Cascade Summit scene.  That Surform scraper sure came in handy for forming the stream bed. 

Smoothed contour panels for Tunnel 3.

The final step to form the basic terrain was to apply Sculptamold to the smoothed Styrofoam rough terrain.  I chose to mix a tan house paint into the Sculptamold ™.  This will reduce the impact of the inevitable scenery dings.  Such divots will reveal tan instead of the basic white Sculptamold ™.  Sure, a deep divot will show the underlying pink of the foam, but those divots need to be repaired anyway.

I found most of the Sculptamold ™ could be applied with a spatula.  The process was much like icing a cake.  With the paint mixed in, I saved a step by not needing to go back over with a coat of paint, though I will do so if I want to change the base color of the terrain.  For now, I have nicely formed basic terrain the makes my summit tunnel look like it is needed.

Summit Tunnel encased within the mountain.  The BRLAT emerges from the RR-West portal on its way to Trapper Creek and Cascade Summit.  This has been my test train as it has large locomotives (Tunnel Motors), auto racks and TOFC—all of which can have clearance issues.

This was my first scenery effort in nearly two decades.  It was my first use of foam rather than hard-shell.  I judge this one a success.  I also relearned the need to tackle scenery in modest chunks.  The 12-15 square feet of terrain I created for the Summit Tunnel area kept me very busy for a week, with each day leaving me happy-tired.  All that climbing up and down the ladder contributed to the energy drain.  Now for more terrain…

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Wrapping up the current wave of trestle work on my railroad, I completed the track deck--the walkways and handrails--for Noisy Creek Trestle.  As noted in the previous post on this trestle
( this is the next trestle up the Cascade Hill, above Salt Creek.  My model sits in a corner of the layout space with a curve, just as the prototype trestle provides a curve.  Further, the trestle is framed by tunnels with rock shed entrances on both ends.

I used the same technique developed for Salt Creek Trestle for the walkways and handrails.  Seventeen scale feet wide 4 x 10 beams were placed between every third tie.  Every other cross-beam had 3 x 6 handrail posts attached to the ends.  The walkway was made up of strips of Apex grid freight car running board material, attached with canopy cement.  The railings were 0.015-inch music wire.  This time, I used 6 x 10 outer guard timbers outside the rails.  This provides a bit more vertical clearance for the rail—a factor when cleaning rails. 

When I fit the track back into place on top of the girders, I found I had a slight vertical bump at one end.  I weighted the track with paint cans while the adhesive caulk set. 

Noisy Creek Trestle track held down with paint cans while the caulk sets.

The abutments for Noisy Creek Trestle were substantial, probably due to unstable nature of the surrounding terrain.  Note the rock shed tunnel entrances on both ends.  This trestle suffered a washout in December 1964, which led to reconstruction of the RR-East trestle tower, set on new concrete piers.  I understand from a reliable RR-engineering expert that a colleague had to keep the new concrete from freezing during that winter reconstruction.  Noisy Creek Trestle has been a continual problem for the railroad. 

My model abutments were simply constructed from styrene sheet and strip.  I chose not to use the standard 12:1 batter (slope) used on most concrete work by the SP, as prototype photos do not show this.  That made construction easier. 

I had not prepared end supports for the abutment area for this trestle the way I have on most other bridges on my railroad.  The roadbed is supported by brackets attached to the wall.  Instead, I chose to support the simple abutments from underneath using height-adjusting 2 x 4 posts similar to the tower base plate supports.  I was able to slide the support posts and abutments into place with proper height before securing the two parts of the posts.  The posts and abutments were held into place with adhesive caulk. 

Noisy Creek Trestle abutment and support post.

With the track restored to the now complete trestle, my railroad is ready to resume operations.  The railroad is looking more and more like it is set into the mountains.

The LABRF (Los Angeles to Brooklyn <SP’s Portland yard> Forwarder—the hottest train on the RR) led by SP 9232 crosses Noisy Creek Trestle.  Railroading in the Cascades!