Friday, January 18, 2019

The Chicken & The Egg - Roads/sidewalks & Scenery

Now that the scenery base in the Fernwood Street area is (pretty much) done (BION, I may need to add "just a little more" goop to bring the level up ...), I went back to mocking up the scene. . .

Looking north toward Jordan Lane from the Wethersfield station area

Fernwood Street scene, with Wethersfield Lumber in the background

Looking south from Jordan Lane to the Wethersfield station area, and Gra-Rock

As you might have noticed, I've narrowed Fernwood Street from "true scale" width to 3" wide (about 22' in HO scale). I figure I'm still in prototype range:

These lanes are 10'6" wide, for a total of 21'
And I also used some N-scale cork to mockup the sidewalks. As for positioning the houses, Bill & Randy (being more right-brained than I, though that's not too hard) suggested I "move the scene to the left until it starts impinging on the team track scene at the station, and move it north until it starts getting too close to Jordan Lane." With the narrower street - and the extra space that gave me - I ended up positioning the structures where you see them above.

So I'm ready to commit and complete the scene now, right? Not so fast.

Base scenery (ground foam, static grass) or sidewalks/street - which should come first? I can't decide. I've seen it go both ways - either doing the roads first then scenicking up to them, or the roads are added on top of scenery that's already been roughed in.

What do you do? And why?

Fortunately, I have a bit of time to wait for what I hope will be your many responses :^) cuz, as I mentioned above, it looks like I still need to add some more goop . . .

Am I the only guy that uses a bubble level while doing scenery? Did I mention I'm pretty pathologically left-brained? But good thing I got it out - as you can see, the terrain has quite a dip in it. And it should be fairly flat - like the prototype scene:

Heh - but maybe that's just how far the scenery base has dropped under the weight of all that goop.

And it's STILL not dry. Ugh. I think I should've just used a sheet of plywood or foamboard here.

Anyhoo. . . please <ahem> weigh in with your thoughts and comments. And especially let me know which comes first - the roads or the scenery....

Until then, I'll keep repeating the requisite mantra:
Model Railroading is Fun
Model Railroading is Fun
Model Railroading is Fun

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Scenery Base - Goopin' it up!

While ruminating about how wide to make Fernwood Street, I decided I could at least start filling-in and leveling out the terrain in the scene. Here's how things looked when I started:

Note a few things: I use pretty standard techniques for building my scenery base - cardboard strip lattice, hot-glued to the plywood subroadbed and the fascia, covered with a layer of plaster cloth. I think this method makes it a lot easier to have scenery below the tracks/roadbed and it also creates natural, random undulations in the terrain without having to scrape at foam making lots of static dust. Or worse - have to cut away plywood.

For areas which you want to be pretty flat, you can use plywood, foamboard or - as I did above for the Fernwood Street scene - a piece of foamcore. Note also that I've covered the track with blue painter's tape (sticky enough, but not difficult to remove without residue).

Now, I don't know if you can tell in the photos above (click on them for a larger view), but the plaster cloth/foamcore scenery base if a fair amount lower than the track and the top of the fascia. I did that on purpose since I figured it'd be easier to build up the terrain rather than have to cut it down later.

But I think that may have been a mistake . . .

On top of the scenery base, I use a variation of the "Ground Goop" that Lou Sassi popularized in his scenery books. My formula consists of:

  • 1 part Celluclay or Sculptamold
  • 1/2 part brown (dirt color) latex paint
  • 1/3 part white glue
Lou's recipe adds vermiculite and Lysol (to prevent mold in storage), but I tried vermiculite once and didn't like the big, shiny flecks it had (maybe I got the wrong type), and I seldom keep my Goop around long enough to worry about long-term storage.

You mix this all together with a little water to make a "batter" that you trowel and spread on the scenery base. If you want to make the surface smoother after you apply it, use a little water brushed/smoothed over the top. You can add base scenery materials while it's wet - including ground foam, static grass, trees, and even structures pressed-in - but here it's evening out the scenery base and saving having to paint the scenery base a dirt color.

The plan was to fill-in on top of the scenery base and bring the ground level up to where I wanted it. In this case, just below the level of the track. Lou typically uses about 1/8" thick layer on top of his base. Let's just say, I used quite a bit more . . .

Here's the scene all "gooped" in from Jordan Lane (white in the distance, just short of the painter's tape) south to the Wethersfield station site. Compare this photo to the first photo above. The good news is that I was able to level the terrain up nicely.

The bad news is that I used Two Full Batches of ground goop to do it! (Bill will tell you that's "two cookie bins of goop" - or about a full gallon!)

Or, to put it in another perspective - the goop layer on top of the foamcore in the Fernwood Street area above is about 1" thick. 8 times what Lou uses!

At least I won't have to worry about the scenery being too thin to hold trees. But I may have to worry about the foamcore and plastercloth holding almost 5 pounds of ground goop.

If one of the many things this hobby is about is learning from one's mistakes, I think I'll take this little project as a learning experience. Time will tell if it actually turns out to be a mistake (it's been 3 days and it's still not thoroughly dried...), but I think I'll build future base scenery support closer to the final level I have planned for the scene.

I hope y'all with more experience will weigh in with what you do - and whether you have any tips, suggestions, or thoughts about what I've done here so far.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"Mocking Up Fernwood Street" or "A Left-Brainer in a Right-Brained Hobby"

I'll leave for another time a discussion about how many left-brained folks are attracted to this hobby which relies so much on the right-brained/artistic side. How else can you explain all the detailed how-to books on scenery, weathering, painting, etc - some even with actual recipes and formulas (formulae? I'm looking at you Dave Frary, since I own ALL the editions of your scenery guide...)?

Rather than a discussion, I'll post an example - taken from my own painful experience in "mocking up" a certain scene in the town of Wethersfield on my layout. Said scene centers around John Wallace's house on Fernwood Street and a little Cape Cod house I imagine across the street.

Fernwood Street ends at the tracks. Photo taken by John Wallace, from his bedroom window. c. early 1940s
"Mocking up" conjures images of just placing things together to see what looks "right." For me, it meant blowing up Sanborn maps so that I could get the scale to equal something I could measure. That way I figured out that Fernwood St. was 40' wide, the houses were set back 20' from the street, and the footprint of John's house is - approximately - 31' 3" wide and 37' 6" deep.

But I'm getting ahead of the "fun" stuff . . .

I love maps. Especially Sanborn maps. Look at all that fun detail! Fernwood Street is near the top (north) of the diagram.

And here's the area on my layout. The coffee cup is sitting on Jordan Lane and Wethersfield Lumber is in the background, across the tracks. The taped-up paper is the start of a template I'll make of the area.

I used scrap paper to mark where to cut to fit in between the track and fascia.

And here it is all cut up. This is roughly the area that will be occupied by John's house (which will be to the north/right of Fernwood St.), Fernwood Street itself (in the center) and the little Cape (which will be across the street on the left.

I used the paper template as a guide for cutting out a more-substantial/stiffer cardboard equivalent.

While I had the cardboard out, I put together a mockup of John's house.

So, here's the first placement. A photo of John's house is taped to the cardboard mockup, the paper is Fernwood Street, and the Cape is just to the left/south.

Looking down the street, you can see better where I've marked on the template where the throwbar is for the house track switch (critical for making sure you can access it easily around the structures).

Another view, looking southeast toward Church Street, Wethersfield Station and Gra-Rock.

View from above
Another aerial view - with everything moved south (to the left) a bit.

Of course, moving the scene south starts impinging on the team track scene.

Detecting a theme here? I'm obsessing WAY too much over exactly where to put these houses. but it wasn't until I took the above photo that it hit me . . .I'm trying - again, mistakenly - to do a scale/uncompressed scene right in the middle of a layout that has to be compressed. Just take a look at Fernwood Street. It's perfect scale - but way too large for the scene.

Here's my nice, scale-sized Ferwood St. template compared to Middlesex Turnpike at Goff Brook. Fernwood St. may be "correct" but it ain't "right."

As I said at the top of this post, I may explore this left-brain/right-brain tension in our hobby more some other time. Just recently, during a discussion with my friend Dean Turta (who is doing an amazing job of modeling Cape Cod on his Cape Cod & New Bedford. Sadly, Dean's blogless) he reminded me that I have to get over trying to replicate everything perfectly (a very left-brained thing to do) and, instead, focus on conveying the "look and feel." Now, that way of thinking may not pass muster when it comes to modeling a locomotive. But for scenery, and in this case, structure placement and road width, that decidedly right-brained perspective is exactly what's needed.

Sometimes, an impressionist painting conveys a scene better than a photograph ever could. So I think in this case I need to practice a little more of the "art" of model railroading - more impressionism, less photo-journalism.

So I need to narrow Fernwood Street. A lot. And - bonus! - I'll get a bit more room for the houses, and the scene as a whole will look and fit better. If I can convey the impression of the scene, that'll be much more effective than trying to shoehorn it in.

But for now, all this is making both sides of my brain hurt. I think I'll join Lexy and Rosie by the stove . . .

Monday, January 14, 2019

Modeling Monday - Scenery Setbacks

After a spurt of activity around the holidays & my birthday, the 2019 legislative session started last Wednesday so my modeling has hit the brake pedal pretty hard. I'm not stopped, but I'm certainly going a bit more slowly. And it doesn't help progress that I feel like for every few steps forward I have to take a couple steps back.

I've decided to put ops sessions - and other things in the hobby that I'm pretty good at - on the back burner in exchange for getting more scenery and structures done. The structures have gone pretty well - albeit slowly. The scenery . . . not so much. Case in point - the Valley Coal area.

Here's an overview panorama of the area before I started (yeah - it's looked like this for months, if not years):

And a closer-up view, with the grass starting to fill in to the left of the road:

After a a few fits and starts (and no small amount of coaching from Bill), I ended up with this:

The grass is 10mm static grass, with a few colors mixed together. The coal lot is Highball cinders.

I think I really should have sifted them more first. It all looks WAY too coarse and out of scale. Not bad for a quarry or open-pit mine, but not such a great look for pulverized coal in a parking lot. And I really don't like the "salt & pepper" look of the Highball cinders. Not sure why they mixed in such a contrasting stone, but it's doesn't look good at all to my eye.

So I moved to the east (aisle-side) of the tracks to do some more static grass.

And some more overview shots:

While I know I have to give myself some space and time to develop my scenery skill, it's still pretty frustrating. The grass is looking ok - though a bit sparse. I used only 10mm, so I'm considering filling in with more, shorter, static grass. Thoughts on that??

Also, I really think I'm going to scrape up and redo the coal lot area with some much finer - and a bit more uniform - cinders. If you have any suggested alternatives on how to salvage the area, I'd love to hear them :^)

All in all, I just have to remind myself that I'm breaking new ground here (no pun intended). I've gotten pretty good at benchwork, trackwork, and wiring and actually have come to enjoy it. But I suspect that's mostly because I have a LOT of practice doing benchwork/trackwork/wiring. Except for the Christmas layout that I did - start to finish - in about a month, I've never done much in the way of scenery. And it shows.

At least the area looks marginally better than it did. And I'm doing my best to learn from my mistakes so I can do better next time.