Nice tutorial on static grass


I understand the appeal of using “static grass” on a model railway and the basic techniques involved. Furthermore, the benefit of using a selection of grasses of different lengths seems equally obvious. What I couldn’t seem to understand was how you were supposed to stick it all down in layers. Often, I’d read or hear about how a modeler stuck down a field’s worth of fibres of one length and then went back and stuck down more later. To my simple mind, I just kept envisioning layers of fibres stuck down over top each other and not the pleasantly varied field we all had in mind.

I know. Once again, it’s me.

I wanted to post the video part to mark how it helped me overcome a simple comprehension issue but more so to showcase what I think is just a very well done tutorial. Despite what ___ insist, every so often someone actually does elect to compose a truly great video on their own and make it publicly available. Good content exists and is worth celebrating. I like the camera work, the length of the video, and I feel that even the soundtrack works.

Well done, thanks!



Painted track


I’m unsettled about how this sample turned out but think it’s best to park the work for a moment until I figure out what I’d like to try next. I think I wanted the rails a bit more reddish there’s something with the ties that I’m not settled with. Perhaps a wash of colour this evening?

Coffee’s just about done and it’s really past time to get out the door and off to work.

Track Atlas HO scale code 83 flex track; base colour is Tremclad “Leather Brown” aerosol; rail and ties are dry brushed acrylics.

Coffee Kicking Horse beans I ground and made as an Americano; milk, sugar.

A little out of hand?

I’m finding that I really enjoy working with these full-size mockups. During a period where my hands are restless for a model to work on, this is something I can quickly dive into and satisfy that urge. It’s work with value that is helping me better understand my relationship with my space and will prove invaluable as I try to settle my mind on decisions that will guide changes to the composition of the layout. For a couple dollar’s worth of foamcore and hot glue, this work is proving to be money and time I consider well invested.

Shown above is the latest and, by far, the grandest. I have increased the opening in the front of the layout to eight inches. The structure below the track currently occupies a vertical space of four inches. Though not installed, I see the top frame set at two inches high. This sums to a fourteen inch high model that is about nine inches deep. I like the overall volume and I have something here that I can easily modify to tailor changes (for example: Is there enough room for the scenic elements in front of or behind the track?)

Keeping in the spirit of screwing around, I thought I’d try creating a variation on spline roadbed based on the 3/16″ thick foamcore I’ve been using throughout these projects. It’s surprisingly rigid and I’m impressed.

Foamcore, hot glue; thirty inches long, nine inches deep, fourteen inches tall; based on 1/87 scale models;

May I borrow your camera?

CN 4792 20170304 IMG_3344

CN 4792 in Dartmouth yard – March 5, 2017

CN’s Dartmouth yard, last Sunday, was eerily empty. Not a single car in sight. A pair of GP’s were idling so perhaps this is a moment of silence waiting to be broken. Thank you Émi for loaning me your iPod so I could take the above photo!

Mile 63 Truro NS 20170304_165529

As we rolled toward Truro, I asked if anyone needed tea and if anyone would mind if I checked out the Truro yard. First stop, the Co-op mill on Willow Street. I don’t believe I’ve seen this milepost before. Perhaps another gift from a receding winter?

COOP Feed Mill CN 109899 Truro NS 20170304_165621

I’ve often remarked that the mill itself would make a superb small layout. The line in front used to continue across Willow Street but now stops just before the crossing. I could easily envisage a lean model railway based on exactly this scene. I find, in the strong vertical lines of the mill an appealing backdrop for the scene and imagine it almost filling the lense of the railway. Keeping in mind the previous conversation on composing a scene, I see this with only brief glimpses of sky. Ideally, I’d like to see that layout composed from exactly the perspective in this photo.

CN Brandt Truck Truro NS 20170304_170941

At the Truro yard office, where I expected to find the Truro local engine tied up, a CN Brandt truck was waiting instead. Though it wasn’t tied to the tank car sitting behind it, it was easy to imagine this as a small train arriving. I’ve always dreamed of seeing Saskatchewan’s Southern Rails Co-op and watching their Brandt truck working across a prairie horizon with a long cut of grain hoppers in tow. It still sounds like paradise for me. A scene like the one above feels pretty close and certainly than I’ve ever been so far.

CN 79918 Truro NS 20170304_170914

Once upon a time we’d harbour a private Canadian railfan pride when we’d secretly correct others who might call it a caboose. Today though, cars like CN’s 79918 are “shoving platforms” used to protect the back end of a train on local moves.

With no camera of my own on this trip, I’m relying on those I can borrow and am adding one more “I owe you” to the list for Krista. Her generousity, loaning me her cell phone, is the only reason why I have these photos to mark the memory of a side trip. A tangent that itself is a gift. Thanks guys!

Wash it off and start again…

Last weekend I bought several lengths of HO scale flex track. I’m quite happy with the weathered effect I’m achieving on wood ties and wanted to start exploring how well I could reproduce the same effect when working on something non-porous (I.e. plastic ties). With other things to do this week I hadn’t had a chance to start screwing around with the new track and that’s okay since I didn’t want to jump in without a plan for fear of wasting material if things didn’t work out. Then, suddenly, it dawned on me:

This is track that’s not stuck down on a layout. The ties are plastic and the rail is metal. If I don’t like the way the paint looks just strip it off like you would on any other model.

Well, duh…

Sent here by the pen and some paper

Hamilton is a place on a map. It’s a place that is something real. As real as I profess that it is, you really have to go there to relate to it and maybe even appreciate it the way I do. I guess this is a rambling way of opening up a blog post about foamcore mockups I’ve been working on, to help translate some ideas I’ve had for the future direction of my model railroad and its design.

“So just how tall should a backdrop be?”

Armed with some foamcore I created the mock-up shown above, based on a backdrop about twelve inches high with the valance installed. I could position this mockup on the layout and test those dimensions in way that can’t be approximated with pens on paper.


The beauty of working with something like foamcore is how fast you can execute changes to design to test subsequent theories. Pictured above is a modification of the original mockup, changed to incorporate a design feature below the track. More importantly, I reduced the height of the backdrop to five inches.

Five inches seems like a really low height. From what I’ve read, most modellers seem to work with a backdrop in the range of twenty-four inches in height. When I looked at photos of model railroads, most of those backdrops are just paintings of sky. When I looked through photos of real trains, I started to notice that most of the time we don’t compose a similar view and most often crop most of the sky out. Given that my layout is installed quite high above the floor, I don’t feel I need as much sky and surprisingly this five inch backdrop seems to offer something I want to consider more seriously in terms of the experience.

More than just reducing the amount of sky I might be making a model of, this short backdrop addresses a design concern I have: when the layout is really just a narrow shelf I feel that it’s just too easy to delineate visually between the backdrop scene and the three dimensional model that exists in front of it. When the backdrop is a more traditional height I feel like I can stick my head into the scene and look down on the model. In this example, it’s not physically possible to assume that same position and my focus remains looking more at the side of the model instead of the top. Since I can’t easily see the seam between the modelled landscape and the photographed one it’s easier to control that sense of where those borders are. Additionally, by reducing the height of the backscene I feel like we draw attention to the horizontal proportion of the scene and, in doing so, make the scene feel longer than perhaps it really is.

To further explore this idea I constructed a second mockup based on the same basic dimensions. By this point I’m moving away from simply testing a theoretical solution that responds to a design issue with the current layout and more toward a conceptual idea I have been exploring. To provide further context, here are some basic dimensions:

  • The deck area where the model railroad would be built is 6 inches deep and I believe around 12 inches long;
  • The backdrop is five inches tall;
  • The base is itself also five inches tall and the valance over the scene is 2-1/2″ tall;
  • The frame behind the backdrop is about 2 inches deep;

I find I rather like the almost Brutalist aesthetic this form takes on. The visual mass of the layout’s envelope is greater than the actual models though it doesn’t feel out of proportion compared to the room in which it is situated or the wall on which it would hang. The idea is to explore using the fascia surrounding the layout as more than simply a means of cloaking the structural elements of the model railroad and ask it to actually frame the scene and focus your attention on it.

Moving forward from this point, some thoughts:

  • I find this short backdrop attractive visually and like the effect it has on the scene contained within;
  • Access to the scene from above now must be maintained by leaving the top of the scene open;

If the layout is considered as a whole that includes the fascia that surrounds it should it’s design aesthetic be similar? (e.g. perhaps a 1970’s-era suburban setting). Even if not, with so little area provided to the model I feel that colours and textures within the scene should be quite deliberate in their selection for the way they compliment each other and homogenize the message they illustrate for the viewer.

3 March, 2017 18:03

I’ve been working on some blog housekeeping. Part of that is deleting some posts that I just don’t like, at least what I wrote. The goal here being to leave behind a “tighter” body of work.

Unfortunately when I delete a post the comments are lost too. I wanted to address that issue and apologize. I am grateful for every time when someone reads something here and offers to join in. I am no less grateful for that connection.

Sorry. It really is me…