Catching Up: Lots of progress, few posts.

To spite my lack of updates here, a great deal has been going on with the layout and with other projects, so I’m going to try and capture sort of an “update’ or “catch-up” here, and work at getting back to sharing projects and things regularly.  

Layout Progress:

When I left off with the ACP Branch progress, everything had achieved a “standing” position.  Since then, I’ve spent many afternoons working on projects that need to be handled before track laying can commence.  First, I glued down the 2” pink insulation foam for a sub bed over the whole of the layout.  The foam will allow me to cut out for rivers and depressions wile giving me a nice base to support structures and other layout scenery elements.  I used a hot wire cutter and a thin-bladed carving knife to shape one river after having decided that the small Monroe Models bridge I built a few months ago would fit nicely on this layout section.  I also carved a depression near the front edge of the layout near the mine to be able to add a cribbing wall as was seen in some of the mine photos I shared when discussing this layout section’s prototype inspiration.

With foam in, I set about adding fascia constructed of 1/8” hardboard sheet.  The sheets were cut into 6” wide by 4’ long sections, and then screwed in place on the layout with blocking added behind them for attachment points as necessary.  


Fascia going in.

With all that done, I began installing the backdrop for this section.  Using 1/8” masonite panels and plywood supports, I erected a structure on the back of the layout that will soon be covered by .020 styrene sheet.  The masonite was used to provide a flat surface to adhere the styrene to, and also to provide some support along the run.  


Backdrop and Valence Supports

Once the main portion of the backdrop was in place, I added a valence to the front edge, closely following the front edge of the fascia.  The valence is 3” strips of the same 1/8” masonite.  


The problem end

The ‘left’ end of the layout section, where it will eventually join to more layout, has given me some fits with how to treat it.  I originally had left it open, but that didn’t look right, and the valence was sagging.  I then added a panel to that end to support the valence with a square hole cut in to allow eventual track to pass through, but that didn’t look or feel right either.  My third attempt at solving that end involved cutting the plywood and masonite sandwich I had made there into a large “C” shape.  This appears to have solved the issues.  To straighten out all the cuts and issues I caused by doing all this work, I added .060 styrene sheet to the corners and along that end.  This will all be painted the same color as the fascia and valence.  After I install the styrene backdrop, I’ll putty the seams in the styrene on the end and sand those out as well, creating a seamless appearance.


The problem end solved.

The underside of the layout received some attention as well, with the addition of 4 more braces to create triangle supports for places that were not spanned by legs.  I’m happy with those results as the layout feels much more solid when having to be moved around.

The next step is the installation of the styrene backdrop, painting that blue, and then I’ll be installing LED strip lighting before laying roadbed and track.  I’m happy with the progress I’ve made, and with several more months ahead of ‘working weather’ I should have trains running on this section soon.

On another front, after reviewing the layout and how I had been referring to the town on this section as Auburn, I’ve decided that doesn’t make sense.  As this is the last modeled town, I’ve decided this is the town of Pineville, the end of the branch.  

Finally, with regard to the layout, I’ve been looking at space in the garage for storing the whole thing, and decided that come next year when it’s time to send up another section, that the monster “phase 2” will be cut down and a real “phase 2” will be built out of that section.  The town of Auburn (named properly with respect to it’s location) will be built with the main yard and other associated facilities.  This section will not include the intermediate town of Cowen, as I have to sort out storage for that piece.  Having the yard come next makes sense as it will allow me a location to start making and breaking trains coming out of Pineville as well as the add-on of some other industries to switch.  Making this change will be something to tackle next year.

Freight Cars:

I did sit down one weekend recently and make some progress on freight cars.  I built several more Accurail 36’ cars, that as they make it to decals and other processes, I’ll detail out for you.  The “Suggestion Of A Car” model update will be coming to you shortly, as that car has made it into paint.



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W2 2-8-0 with replaced tender.

As you can see from the photos, the W2 2-8-0 has received it’s “proper” tender.  That comes courtesy of a N&W G-1 by Alco models that I recently acquired.  A courteous member of an online group pointed out a few detail changes for the locomotive that will also backdate it when paint work gets done.  As for the G1, either a smaller brass tender or a tender from a Bachmann 4-4-0 will be added.  The locomotive will most likely only see service when I have more than 2 crews operating, so it may be some time before it needs to be pressed into service.


Norfolk & Western Z class 2-6-6-2.  (Photo from the Norfolk & Western Historical Society)

I also learned from another commenter online that the Z1 / Z1a class of 2-6-6-2 mallet might be something to explore adding.  I started looking at these smaller (is anything really small when it comes to a mallet locomotive?) power locos, and discovered several have been imported through the years.  Several books I received on the N&W for Father’s Day this year also illustrate the Z class locomotives, and I think that I will wind up adding one, even if it just comes to Auburn and picks up cars.  The 32” radius curves I’m currently building with would be easily negotiated by this bigger power, and it’s time-frame appropriate as well.  The hunt continues!

Other Events:

I was happy to spend several days recently at the Illinois Railway Museum.  Several pieces of equipment that I had not seen before in the collection were accessible, and I was also please to find some Norfolk & Western items in the collection.


With that, we’re up to date.  It’s definitely time to get back to the workbench!



From Primer to Paint: Trying Scalecoat Paint


First car, first can.  I’ve not tried Scalecoat before, so this is an experiment.

Having previously tested a new primer from Tamiya, I also had seen some interesting products from Scalecoat while at the hobby shop a few months back.  I have wanted to try using Scalecoat paint as it’s highly recommended by several modeling friends who use it almost exclusively, but I hadn’t yet taken the plunge.  Having spotted Scalecoat in spray cans, I decided to give them a try, and the 5 cars that I used the new primer on I figured were excellent candidates.

I ordered several different freight-car reds and decided to try them out.  The cans are not huge, but the sprung spray nozzle is a pleasant upgrade from the typical push down to spray that most spray paints I’ve used in the past sported.  I had to shake the cans HARD the first time out to get the ball bearing inside to loosen up so I could shake the paint properly, but once I’d done that, they shake nicely.  

Spray-wise, they spray evenly.  In most cases going over the nice primer coat, I haven’t had to use more than 1 coat of paint, using good spray/airbrush technique.  One thing I will say is the drying time on these paints is long.  I’m used to paint that I can turn over and do a car underside in about 15 minutes or so.  With these, I usually wait about 4 hours before I even touch the car, turn it, wait 4 more hours, and then set it somewhere dust-free to fully cure.  That process takes about 24-48 hours.

Once dry, the paint finish is hard as a rock, and glassy smooth.  I’ll be interested to see how getting decals on these goes.  

My typical process with these is one car a day due to the drying time.  That said, I spray before work,  at lunch, and put the car away after work.  Not having to set up the airbrush to get a quality paint coat on during the work week when the time to paint would otherwise be restricted, the 2 minutes it takes to put a coat of paint on with these cans is really a benefit to using them.


Drying… and drying… and drying.  

As a good friend also pointed out, once the paint is dry, it’s hard.  I don’t envision the issues with rungs chipping paint that I’ve had in years past will be a problem with this product.

It’s time to make final decisions on what railroad to assign these cars to.

Time to get back to the workbench!


Standing Up the ACP Branch

The goal of having phase 1 of the ACP Branch standing and running this year has made several leaps forward in the last week or so.  After waiting out some busy weeks lying on one side, I’m please to report that the benchwork is now standing!

On Friday afternoon last week, I pulled the Auburn section out from the wall, and had some help to get it onto a pair of folding tables.  I then proceeded to use a jigsaw to cut the front edge of the layout into the somewhat serpentine form as called for in Iian Rice’s original plan for the Black Creek & Buda.


First photo standing up on legs

With that done, and the legs standing by, I got help from my wife and our oldest son to lift the layout section high enough for me to slide the legs under.  The original plan was to store the whole layout by hanging it from the ceiling via the same kind of hoists that are variously sold for bikes or personal kayak’s.  Right….. that thing is heavy!  Having moved section 1 by myself several times, it’s closing in on the weight limit for most of those hoists.  We’ve managed to arrange our storage so that the layout has room to just stay standing.

With the layout standing, I noticed a few things that needed adjusting.  First, the legs needed to be positioned all the way back on the supports so they were touching the back rail of the benchwork.  Second, my wife pointed out that when the layout rolled around, the legs seemed to be moving out of vertical.  Third, the layout needed to be seated all the way onto the legs, as some of the legs had a snug fit and the layout didn’t seat all the way down immediately.

Enter, the persuader.


The Persuader

It took less Tham 5 minutes with a mallet to knock the legs all back into place, and then seat the layout onto them properly.  I then engineered braces across the 4 sets that span the long run of this section, attaching them together at the back of the layout.  The set of legs holding up the short section that will connect to phase 2 also received a support brace.  One leg of 


Section 1 with leg tracking added.


An under-layout view showing how the legs and supports fit together.

I made the right choice using heavy duty casters for this.  Most people don’t need to be able to engineer their layouts to move, and I initially had considered using levelers in the bottoms of the legs.  The casters make moving the layout around easy.  

It’s time now to glue down foam, add fascia, backdrops, lighting, track…. Still lots to do, but definitely progress has been made.  It’s been close to 10 years since I had a layout this far along, and that’s driving me forward.

Time to get back to the workbench too!


Over-Engineering Layout Legs

I’ve tried several designs over the years for legs to hold up layouts.  I’ve used 2×4’s, 2×2’s, “L” shaped assembly’s of plywood…. none of it seems to have been as successful as I wanted it to be.  The 2×4’s were under a decent portion of my Yosemite Valley that I started building in California.  The 1×2’s I tried under an N scale layout.  The issue was always kicking the legs which would jolt the layout above, and being in a hurry, I never had added additional bracing, so the legs wound up out of alignment.

Two years ago on the Idea Demonstration Layout I built “L” shapes out of plywood that were the best effort so far.  I added cross-braces to those, and they were much better in terms of being straight and resistance to being knocked into.  Those “L” replaced a huge failure when I tried to use folding legs under the layout.

For the ACP Branch, I set some criteria out as I started leg design:

  1.  Sturdy.  The legs need to be built to survive moving with the layout from storage to use and back.
  2. Use available materials here.  I had brought in materials to build a different style of legs than I have before and wanted to see if I could incorporate that material if possible.
  3. Easy to replicate.  I determined that I wanted 5 locations under the first layout section to have legs, and the larger section will need 8-12 depending on design.  Being able to replicate the legs is important.

A year ago while prepping for a now abandoned Free-Mo layout project, I bought the materials to build legs to spec from a local modular group, Modutrak.  Their N and HO layouts that show up at train shows in the region are amazing, and the leg design is highly portable.  The drawing is here, and you can click on the link in the caption for the photo to get a link to their whole build specs available via the Modutrak website.

I don’t need the portability factor for this layout, but I still had enough material that I figured I could us it to build legs for the ACP.  I also am a huge convert to the wood glue and screws construction methods.  Having thrown all-in with the Kreg tools, and having had the layout sections I built last year not move an iota after the glue set, I wanted to create something strong using those materials as well.

Coming late the the equation was the realization that the leveling feet that I wanted to use for the legs would not be practical.  The layout is not going to be able to be brought in the house, the overall dimension to make it what I want it to be will mean it needs to live in the garage.  Additionally, with two layout sections that will need to be joined together for operating, moving pieces around on leveling feet is difficult.  I decided to go with some heavy-duty casters and include some locking wheels so the layout can be positioned and locked in place.

I decided to eliminate the moving pieces in the Modutrak design, and mad “Y” shaped legs out of the materials, gluing and screwing everything together.  To make sure the height of the upper arms of the “Y” started at the same spot, I made a template out of a piece of plywood, and held it in place with a clamp while I pre-drilled and assembled each side.  I used Kreg pan-head wood screws to attach everything.


Two “Y” legs.

The next step was to make the cross pieces in what I decided would be a double-“H”.  I glued up some scrap 3/4″ plywood and ripped it into 2″ strips.  Then I cut those sections, and some additional 1″ pieces, into 14″ long blanks.  The glued together pieces were designed to fit at the top of the “Y”, while the 1″ pieces were designed to cross at the bottom of the outside leg supports.

With all the pieces made, I took an afternoon to drill the bottom of the legs for inserting the large T-nuts and eventually the casters.


Assembly starts with the first lower cross piece.  It’s glued and screwed, again with pan-head screws, in place.  At each connection, I checked for square.

Once the first piece was on at the bottom, I inserted the top cross support between the “Y” arms, and glued/screwed it in place.  Flipping the legs over, I proceeded to repeat the process, working to secure the top cross first, and then adding one additional cross support at the bottom.


The arrows indicate where the 2nd cross piece will go at the lower end of the “Y” arm.

With those pieces in place, I inserted and screwed the T-nuts in place on the legs, and twisted in the casters, making sure there is one locking and one free caster per set of legs.


It only took about an hour to assemble all the legs once the individual pieces were ready. There is one more piece to attach to each leg.  I’ll be inserting a small piece of 2×4 into the top of the “Y” arms.  Those will rest against pieces of 2×4 under the layout and provide a way to make sure everything is properly supported.

I’m sure these are over-engineered.  I am hoping that the robustness of these legs will mean that they’ll support the layout through moving around without issues.  We’ll see how it goes when they go under the layout in the next few days.

Time to get back to the workbench!


No Need To Adjust Your Color


I’m trying some new things out on freight cars this year, learning, and trying to evolve my skills and processes.

I’ve normally gone from “ready for paint” model straight to paint.  In reading how our friends in the plastic modeling community work, the majority go from finished model to a primer coat.  I’ve used the first coat of paint as a primer coat in the past, but I decided this year to try using several different modeling primers to see if they help improve adhesion of paint, especially to metal details that I have some trouble keeping from chipping.


Tamiya Surface Primer (from Amazon)

I decided to try some Tamiya Surface Primer.  I’ve seen nice results from military modelers using the product before, and the ease of using it, as opposed to setting up the airbrush right now while temperatures are still all over the place, the garage is occupied by other modeling items (like benchwork construction), and the chance to get a few models moving made it appealing.

So, one afternoon I set a piece of lumber up on the sawhorses, grabbed a few cars, and set out to get them into primer.  I picked a pair of USRA DS boxcars, a car that will be a B&O M26, and a pair of modified Accurail 36′ DS boxcars.

The technique for using the primer is straight forward.  Shake well, use in a well ventilated space, etc… Applying spray paint evenly requires some patience.  I used a base application of primer, let it dry, then covered it with a second even coat, making sure to start the spray just beyond the model and end the spray on the opposite side of the car while not aiming at the model.  Even slow movements while staying.  Once the top and sides were finished, I primed the underside of the cars as well.

I’m pleased with the results.  I’ll keep using a primer of this quality from now on.  I have some airbrush primers to try out too, but at the spur of the moment or when I only have a handful of models ready that I have enough time to prime, the Tamiya is certainly an excellent choice.

The next chance I get, I’ll start getting these cars into their paint colors before adding decals, weathering, trucks, couplers….  there’s still a lot to do.

Stay tuned… more new (to me) stuff to try coming shortly.

Time to get back to building some cars and benchwork!



GO! Benchwork Is Under Way


The ACP Branch base benchwork.  On the right is what I’ve termed “Section 1”, the town of Auburn.  The large section on the left will be split down the middle by a backdrop and have one town on each side.  The tails along the middle aisle will support a sweeping fascia design.

After a solid week of working in the garage for at least an hour every evening, I’m please to be able to show you the “base” benchwork for the whole of the ACP Branch of the N&W.

Using some really easy to learn tools that I’ve been using now for 3 summers, namely pocket screw jigs from Kreg tools, a Kreg “rip-cut” jig for my circular saw, my Bladerunner table saw, wood glue, and a set of 4 right-angle clamps,I managed to get everything to the this point in about 7 days.

I honestly find working with 3/4” high-grade birch plywood as dimensional lumber to be the way to build benchwork.  I ripped everything to 3” high with a length that matched where it was needed.  Some of the benchwork was re-used from the sections I built last year.

A nice set of right angle clamps make everything easy to hold in position when putting the pocket screws in place.  I normally try and aim for 2 screws per joint.

In one corner of the large section, I dropped from 3” down to 2” high under where there will eventually be a turntable.


The largest town, and main yard, for the ACP Branch will occupy this side of the layout.  On the far right, at the bottom of the picture, the lower benchwork brace will support a turntable location, and the fascia will curve around the end pas it.

After laying the sections together, and taking the photos, I had a chance to stand “in” the layout aisle.  I had already added 12” to the connection between the two sections, and after standing there, I decided adding yet another 12” would make a passable layout something that I would be comfortable standing in, so I built an additional section and added it.  

In the next couple of days I’ll be making sure I have wiring chases drilled through where the main bus wires need to run, sorting out building legs, and putting some decking and foam in place on at least section 1.  More to come soon!

Time to get back to the workbench!


New Layout, New Color Choices

With the advent of a new layout, the ACP Branch, it’s time again for revisiting color choices.  I’ve never really been happy with some of the choices I’ve made in the past, so I’m working through fascia colors again as construction nears and ramps up toward having something to show you in the next few days.

I applaud those of you who have found a green or tan that works for your layout.  Having been through those colors on several occasions, I’ve never really been happy with what I picked.  I’ve tried to get close to a CTC green, or a Pullman green several times, but it either misses or the lighting makes the green a funny shade.

I’m going to go with gray this time around.  It will fit the coal/coke hauling theme, and should make for a nice window box effect for the layout, drawing the eye to the scenes on the layout.

I’ve narrowed the colors to two choices:

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Dark Ash

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Cracked Pepper

The Dark Ash color is a couple of shades lighter than the Cracked Pepper.  Both will be applied in a satin finish so I can keep the fascia as clean as possible.

If you have an opinion between these two, feel free to comment here.   I’ll let you know when I buy the paint which one wins.

Time to get back to the workbench!