Category Archives: Railway Modelling

Tectonic Activity

Part 4 of my railway modelling series brought the story up to the end of 2016, concluding with a note that I had mixed up the left-over Polyfiller I had been given. Unfortunately, I added too much water and thus it didn’t work particularly well. Over several more days, I layered on quite a bit of the additional filler I had bought. A week after I had applied it, the runny Polyfiller mix still hadn’t set (the new stuff was setting hard in under 24 hours). Since it was the leftovers of an old packet, I thought it may have got damp before I made it up and thus decided to scrape most of it off and redo it with my new plaster.

Photograph of my model railway baseboard looking towards the hills
Looking Tasty: while plastering, I had irrational thoughts that it might be nice to eat some of the plaster, perhaps because it looked similar to butter icing for cakes.
With the new year and the end of the holidays it was back the day job, reducing the time available for modelling. Weekend landscaping works continued (the evenings are too dark) on the layout, for a while. The chicken wire mentioned in the previous post has gone missing; so I won’t be needing the wallpaper paste I bought. In hindsight there wasn’t room for much landscaping anyway, so once I had finished off the top of the main hill by shaping the filler into a few ‘rocky crags’ there was no need for much more. I wasn’t sure about the crags, but one of my brothers took a look and thought they were ok. His feedback wasn’t so positive on other aspects though; one side of my cutting was too step and he felt the hills were too ‘plonk’ at one end of the board, rather than spreading out more. I had originally planned to make the larger hill extend further onto the board, but my grandmother pointed out that would eat into space for the station; hence the design that was built.

Bit-by-bit, I then started adding a rock-face effect to the cliff using foil (mostly Toblerone wrappings), scrunched up and then partly straightened, as a mould. I hadn’t got far with that before I discussed the steep side of the cutting with my grandmother. She agreed that it was too steep, so we took a chisel to it and reshaped it to a more-realistic profile, before I carried on with the rock-face effect.

Model railway baseboard with hills in the foreground and cork trackbed beyond
All Iced Up: the plaster/filler has turned the hills into a winter wonderland, looking like they are covered with snow (or, alternatively, like a cake covered in icing)
As the hills took shape, I started gluing down the rest of the cork tiles, cut to shape so that certain areas where there will not be track can be at a slightly lower level. I had only stuck three sections of cork when the PVA wood glue I had bought (and used on the chipboard) ran out. There may have been a little left that I couldn’t get out of the bottle, but even so that is almost 250ml of glue on my model already! Fortunately I had been given a large bottle of PVA labelled as being for sticking paper/card; I had intended to use that for ballasting in case PVA for paper isn’t the same as PVA for wood, but I figured it would stick the cork down alright too.

Cracked plaster (interior filler) on model railway hill
Disaster Area: close-up of the section suffering from cracks caused by ‘artificial earthquakes’.
It was rather thick, gloopy glue, way past it’s use-by date I suppose, but I went ahead with it and just hoped it would stick. Perhaps because of the thickness of the glue, the last few sections of cork needed a lot of extra weight to press them down, and I even had to resort to hammering the cork flat with a wooden mallet at some of the joins where the cork was jutting up above adjacent pieces. This hammering caused ‘seismic activity’ in the baseboard which broke off part of the plaster on the small hill side of the cutting. I fixed that, by re-attaching the broken plaster with more of the stuff, but there are still a number of cracks in that part of the hill, perhaps caused by further hammering (which may have been the chiselling of the cutting mentioned above).

Close-up of damage to model railway hill
Cracking Model: Another view of the depressing results on that corner of the model (the chiselled cutting side is also visible)
Once the Toblerone-wrapping work on the cliffs was almost completed, I started thinking a bit more about the design of the station area. I still haven’t decided whether I have space to expand the hill as my brother suggested, because I don’t know how big the car park will be, so I left a bit of the cliffs unfinished in case they get extended later. I did take a tape measure to our cars, to get an idea of how much space is needed, but never got round to scaling these down and making a parking-space-sized template to experiment with on the model. A combination of consultations to work on (principally the ones for the new Wales & Borders rail franchise) and general despondency given the cracked hill then put a halt to the project.

Photograph of model railway hill (work in progress)
Snow On The Hills: a closer view of the larger hill section following the application of plaster/filler

‘Bedrock’

Part 4 of my railway modelling series. While the legless board was lying in the house following the events of part 3, a couple of shopping trips were made. On the first, I picked up a shiny new length of flexible track. The metal-cutters I had tried on an old length of broken flexible track produced very untidy results so, at the same time, I also bought a track-cutter to use on the new track.

Part of chipboard hill structure on model railway baseboard
Base layer: the structure of my hills begins to take shape
As well as ‘IT guy’ I am also ‘furniture assembler’ at work; the desks come packed with four strips of chipboard (roughly 2in by 1in cross-section) and I already had collected quite a few of these. At home, I had been given a small amount of chicken wire and Polyfiller, but this was not going to be enough to landscape my model. The aim of the second shopping trip was there to obtain materials for scenic development. I picked up some more plaster along with some PVA wood glue and cork tiles for laying under the track. I thought I would probably need some wallpaper paste too, so bought some of that as well.

A Step Up: Another level added to the hill structure (in the far corner)
A Step Up: Another level added to the hill structure (in the far corner)
Before commencing the messy work, I marked out the position of the track on the board, and rolled one of my longest items of rolling stock over the layout to mark the overhang on the curves. I then realised I wouldn’t be able to see these markings once I laid the cork. Fortunately, my grandmother had a bright idea; once I had lifted the track she produced a large amount of ‘tracing paper’ (I think it was actually baking parchment or greaseproof paper, given that it came on a roll in a cardboard box) and I copied the markings onto that.

Close up of the larger of the two hill sections, cobbled together from scrap chipboard
Recycled Material: Close up of the larger of the two hill sections, cobbled together from scrap chipboard
Going back to the track-lifting; this was necessary to avoid getting scenery-building material all over, and proved to be a challenge. Despite the fact I had left part of the track pins protruding, they took quite a bit of effort to pull out. When the pins eventually came up they did so suddenly and violently, taking the track with them and bending the fishplates joining the rails to the next (still fixed-down) piece of track. I hope only the fishplates are bent, not the track itself.

Chipboard hill structures on model railway baseboard
Chipboarding Complete: the basic structure of the hills, now complete
The bare baseboard was then taken back out to the shed and the legs re-attached. Over several days, I then constructed the underlying structure of the hills at one end of the baseboard using the free chipboard gathered from work. A lot of sawing and gluing was necessary, and I wasn’t able to get a lot done each day partly due to the limited length of daylight (there is no electricity in the shed) but mostly because I kept having to leave the glue to dry. Before I could glue the bottom layer of chipboard to the ply surface, I had to cut and fix the first small section of the cork base for the track (this can be seen in the photos, running through the cutting).

Looking down on the chipboard hill structure
Top View: the completed hill structure from above.
Finally, on 29th December, I completed the gluing of chipboard. On the 31st, I mixed up the left-over Polyfiller I had been given and made a start on trying to round-off the hills. More on the that will follow in the next instalment.

Tracks And Trees

Part 2 in my model railway series teased that I had played around with some track, arranging the layout, but did not show the track plan I had in mind. That will be revealed in this post.

Model railway track on baseboard
Computer-Aided Design: the track plan from SCARM
As the frost on the grass in the completed baseboard photograph last time shows, it was rather cold outside back then; so I detached the legs and brought the board inside for the track laying. I started by eliminating most of the plans I had created on the computer, one by one. When only one was left, I placed the track on the board in that configuration and took a photo. Next, I rearranged the track to match the layout arrived at using real 00 gauge track as described previously; and photographed that too. After flicking back and forth between the photos, I decided on the plan I’d invented in the physical world (rather than the virtual realm of layout-planning software).

As I only have a 4 foot by 2 foot board, there is clearly not much scope for an extensive track layout in 00 gauge. Even a traditional train-set oval would never fit* so my layout is based on the ‘Inglenook Sidings Shunting Puzzle’ concept. That involves three sidings, one a bit longer than the others, and a headshunt. I do like my passenger trains though, so I’ve added an extra line (for a short passenger platform) to the basic Inglennook plan. Trains in that platform will have nowhere to go, but maybe one day I’ll be able to add a second board with hidden sidings for trains to run to.

* even if it would, I doubt a minimum space continuous run could be made interesting; if space is limited end-to-end layouts are more likely to be fulfilling in my opinion.

Just in case you’re wondering how the shunting puzzle works there’s a website on the topic.

Model railway track laid out on baseboard
It just fell into place: the chosen track plan, designed without the aid of a computer
With the track plan finalised, I was keen to get some locos running, so I grabbed some IPA (Isopropyl Alcohol) and paper towel and tried to get the track clean. The clean(er) track was then carefully pinned to the board, with the exception of the curve heading off the end of the board and the platform road (the latter because I didn’t have suitable track). I tried to avoid driving the pins fully home so that the track can be lifted to allow the messy landscape modelling to take place. A couple of Peco buffer stops were clipped onto the ends of the short sidings; this was harder than expected and I wonder if they will ever come off again.

I had a go at cleaning the wheels of one or two locos as well, but unfortunately the initial tests were disappointing; something still isn’t clean enough. The locos still don’t run smoothly enough to run the layout without them (or the stock being shunted) hitting the buffers rather hard.

Office drawer full of network cables
Top Drawer: collection of network cables at work, waiting to be put to use (the brand-new ones in plastic wrap are tied up with wire that is useful for tree-making).
That’s the track story, now what about some trees? At work one of my roles is ‘IT guy’. As such, I have drawers full of cables and every now and then I install some of them. The new cables are often tied using wire wrap things, which I keep in a pile on my desk in case the cables ever need to return to storage. A while ago, I decided the pile was getting rather big and I was never going to use all of the ties. I was about to throw some away when I realised they are basically wire, so why not use them for the same job that modellers use other odd bits of wire; making trees?

Office desk with model trees and wire cable ties
Wire Trees: my desk at work with two trees (the black one is on a black background so doesn’t show up well) and the material used to make them
So that’s what I did, I made one then and there (it must have been a quiet time at work). Several weeks later, while waiting for a slow computer to do something (while trying to fix a problem on it), I built a second tree and used the webcam on my laptop to take some photographs (I don’t tend to take any other camera to work with me). The trees need more work to finish them, but will presumably end up on the layout at some point.

Modelling Foundations

Following the events chronicled in the first post on my model railway projects, I made a trip to our nearest Jewson store in search of a sheet of plywood and two lengths of 2-by-1 timber. Unfortunately they did not have birch ply, which my internet searches indicated was the recommended material for model railway baseboard surfaces. They did have sheets of ply the size I was after (2ft by 4ft) though so I purchased one along with the 2-by-1 timber which they cut into two lengths for me.

Back at home, work continued on the baseboard legs. I cannot remember the exact sequence of events, but each of the tasks undertaken will be covered here (just not necessarily in the correct order).

Photo of baseboard framework on legs
Unstable Table: my baseboard much as it would have appeared following the events of the previous post (except that the bolts holding the legs on weren’t installed then)
Somebody had found me some bolts to attach the legs, so four holes (one for each corner of the baseboard) were drilled to accept the bolts. As with the legs, the timer of the framework was rather hard; each hole took a while to drill and required a fair amount of pressure. The result of this was the drill would jump forward dramatically once it was finally through, hitting the internal bracing of the framework and causing me some alarm that the strength of the structure might be compromised. Fortunately the damage was minor and I was reassured that it was not a problem.

Close-up photograph of timber with a notch cut in it
Notched: one end of one of the two new brace timbers (the second timber, already installed, can be seen in the background)
After some measurements, I made a notch a short distance from each end of the two new lengths of 2-by-1 softwood timber. This was done by sawing roughly halfway through the timber and chiselling out the wood in between. The cutting was much easier than the old timber, and I doubt I would have been able to chisel it by hand as I did with the new stuff.
Close-up of baseboard leg brace timbers
Braced? Close-up of the two braces slotted into place on one of the legs (they aren’t fixed, to allow me to dismantle the structure)
These two lengths were then used to hold the base of the legs apart, with the notches slotting over the lower horizontal brace of the leg assemblies. At some point (probably before the notches were cut) it was noticed that these horizontals were not the same height above the ground, so one had to be moved to correct this so that the new spacers could work. Even now however, the table still wobbles slightly, though my idea of the new notched lengths of timber seems to help.

Photo of baseboard support structure (braced legs and framework)
Framework Supported: the near-complete baseboard, just waiting for the plywood top
I got out some track and had a play to make sure the layout I had in mind would fit. Interestingly, the arrangement I came up with was different from the plans I had created using layout planning software, so I recorded the plan (in the layout-planning program SCARM) before packing the track away.

The ply sheet was varnished, both sides, and measurements were made in an attempt to get the ply centred on the framework (the framework is slightly smaller than the ply sheet). Eventually it was pinned onto the framework using about 12 pins around the edges. I may have got the ply slightly off centre, despite all the measuring, but I’m happy enough.

Photo of bare baseboard outside shed
Outside The Shed: the ‘completed’ baseboard (now only slightly wobbly).

Scaling Down

It is a fact that I am a rather disorganised person. This blog is a good example of that, there’s no fixed time in my week allocated to ensuring that I regularly manage to publish posts. Thus, the blog can go months without a post, then have a run of posts at weekly intervals. That probably isn’t going to change, but my lack of organisation is not the sole reason for the irregular posting. There’s only a limited amount of content I can put out, and the stories I have are generally too lengthy to be completed in one sitting (so they get left in the drafts folder for months or even years). I’ve decided to try and resolve that second issue by broadening the scope of the blog.

Rather than just talking about real-life transport (and important but off-topic issues), starting with this post I will also cover my model-railway project(s). I have a dream to construct a rather large layout, but currently I have next to no space to set up a model railway. After many years hoping to find space, I have given up and decided to build something small and try to squeeze it in anywhere I can. This will also give me a chance to practice and improve my (currently very limited) modelling skills in order that, if I ever get onto my big project, I have a chance doing the idea justice.

Anyway, the starting point for this ‘something small’ is one of three baseboard frameworks of 2-by-1 timber made by my father for the layout I had in our previous house (the other two frameworks will remain in storage for the time being). I cannot find the legs the baseboards once stood on, maybe somebody used them to build something else. The first order of business therefore was to design and build some new legs. Design-wise, the big problem was how to attach them to the framework; initially I planned to have them hinge up under the board but it was pointed out to me that the bracing of the framework would get in the way of the screwdriver when I tried to attach the hinges. Outside hinges couldn’t be attached at one end, due to some damage on the timber, and they would have put the legs outside the framework. Back to the drawing board. I want the layout to be portable, meaning fixed legs are undesirable. With hinges ruled out, the new plan was detachable legs (held on by nuts and bolts).

Photo of damaged screwheads
Mangled Screwheads; they’re all too soft
Using some 2-by-1 timber found in our ‘random bits of wood’ storage area, a pair of legs (each formed of two verticals with two horizontals as bracing) were assembled over the weekend of 12-13th November 2016. The timber was very hard, sawing it to length was a pain and efforts to screw the components together were thwarted. The screws heads were too soft, with the slot for the screwdriver getting mangled (this happened both with brass-coloured screws and silver-coloured ones). After a few screws, the drill bit used for making the pilot holes snapped and screwing was abandoned in favour of nailing.

Parts of model railway baseboard in workshop
My baseboard legs and the framework leaning against the woodwork bench
Once the legs had been made, the structure was loose-assembled (we did not have bolts yet) and it was found the structure was not sufficiently stable; the framework would wiggle back and forth. Quite a disappointment, but I had an idea to solve it. The idea involved more 2-by-1 timber, and the remaining lengths from the stash I had found were not long enough.

That didn’t matter too much since I was intending to go wood-shopping anyway; the chipboard tops from the old layout have probably been thrown away, so some ply to form the new surface was on my shopping list. Progress would however have to wait until the shopping had been done.

So, I now have at least one follow-up post to write, but I don’t know yet whether this modelling series will run for very long.