Saturday, March 25, 2023

Continuing Progress at Essex: Concrete Pad & Backdrop

Persistence in my quest to catch up on this here blog is paying off . . . With this progress post, I'm now only one week behind(!) Thanks much for the encouragement to keep up with the blog - it's a bit more work than the FB group, but here I can post more detail, info, and pics - and I own the content.

So without further ado, here's what I was up to last Saturday . . .

Concrete Pad at Dickinson Witch Hazel

I used the same technique I used for the grade crossings on this concrete pad. The main part of the pad itself is foamcore with the paper peeled off (Pro Tip: Use the $2.99 foamcore from Hobby Lobby - the paper will peel off in large sheets without leaving bits of paper on the foam) and painted with gray craft paint. The track is Micro Engineering Code 70, already painted with a base coat of Rustoleum Earth Brown camo paint. I didn't bother weathering the ties since they'd be covered by "concrete." The guardrails are also Code 70 - same height is important to keep the "concrete" all level. I used Xuron rail nippers to cut the guardrails to length, used needlenose pliers to bend the ends, and used my fingers to give the rails a slight curve to match the track. Then I used thick CA (my go-to brand lately is the Loctite pictured above) to glue the guardrails onto the ties, snug up against the tieplates/spikes.

Next, I used the Tamiya 3mm curve-able tape (pictured in the previous post) to mask the flangeways and painters tape to mask off the surrounding area to protect it from the spackle.

I then spread on the spackle using a piece of dense foam to spread it. I would have used a putty knife, but I discovered that the foamcore is ever so slightly thicker than the ME Code 70 track is tall. So, to blend the difference without a visible step, I used something more flexible than a metal putty knife to spread the spackle.

As with the grade crossings, I needed a second coat to smooth it out better after the first coat had dried and shrunk.

The Big Reveal is always fun - here, I've removed the Tamiya tape to uncover the flangeways. Oh So Satisfying

And here's the final result after removing the painter's tape. I still need to paint the spackle/concrete to match, but I decided I was done here for now...

Essex Backdrop

I used the same basic process (outlined here) that I've used elsewhere on the layout (click here and scroll down). Additional details can be found in the hyperlinks, but here's a quick overview:

The process starts with gathering together the photos I've taken of the area modeled - or, if I don't have or couldn't get any, then shots that "look like" they may have been taken in the area - and Photoshop them together. In this case, I had to add a couple of roads to match the two roads in the Essex station area I'm modeling. Fortunately, I was able to get an actual shot looking northbound on Plains Road to include the "Yellow Label" store (part of the Dickinson complex - click on the photo above for a larger view - the store is there in the trees on the right).

Next, I print out a mockup on regular copy paper to finalize overall look and position. Once I'm happy with that, I save the .psd file to a .pdf banner file. I take the pdf to my local Staples store to have them print it out on their indoor polypropylene banner paper. This particular backdrop was almost 15' long, so I divided it into two sections and had it printed one section on top of the other. The whole backdrop you see above was about $34.00

Other than the Photoshop work, the most time-consuming part of the process is trimming along the tops of the trees to remove the sky. Pro Tip: be sure and match the sky color on your backdrop image to the paint color you use on your masonite (or preferred backdrop support). That way any top "border" left after trimming will just about disappear. In the photo above, I've finished all the trimming (incidentally, while hanging out with the AML Wednesday night chat group) and it's ready to mount.

So here's what we're starting with... Just plain blue masonite. That's Middlesex Turnpike (Rt. 154) heading toward the backdrop, and you can see the Dickinson concrete pad/foundation and coal dump there on the right.

And looking the other way... that's Plains Road (Rt. 153) on the right. The Yellow Label store will be on the backdrop there on the left side of the road. In order to make vertical positioning easier, I cut a gap between the horizontal layout base and vertical backdrop. The backdrop photo will slide down into that gap.

I use wallpaper/border adhesive to attach the backdrop to the masonite and I have some water on-hand to wipe off any adhesive that oozes out (though I try not to let that happen).

The positioning process involves scooting the backdrop down into the gap/slot and making sure it's level and at the right height. In the past (and as you see above), I've marked where the top of the backdrop falls with tape - since that would show me the maximum height to apply the glue. But in my case, the tape ended up taking some of the sky blue paint with it when I removed it.

So now, instead of bothering to mark where the top of the backdrop falls, I just apply adhesive to the lower part of the masonite, staying well below where I know the top of the backdrop will be, attach the bottom part of the backdrop, then apply more adhesive to the top part/back of the backdrop itself and finish attaching it, smoothing it as I go. If any adhesive oozes out of the top, I wipe it off with a rag or paper towel dipped in the water.

I'd planned ahead for 1) the backdrop being in two pieces given its long length, and 2) the seam between the two pieces being behind the big Dickinson warehouse where it wouldn't be seen. That turned out to be an even better idea than I'd planned since - despite my best efforts/planning - the two sections didn't match height-wise (likely due to how I had to position them at the roads). There was also a lot more overlap than I'd expected, so I ended up having to trim the end off of one side. But again, you don't see any of this behind the warehouse.

And here's the payoff for all the work... What a difference a backdrop makes! Compare this to the "before" photo above for the full effect. I especially like how the road ended up blending into the backdrop. But, speaking of blending, I have a lot of work left to do to blend the foreground scenery into the backdrop...

And here's the "south" end of the Essex station scene. Click on the image for a larger view to be able to see the Yellow Label store down Plains Road.

I don't think I'm alone in lamenting about how little progress I make on the layout - Real Life has a way of interfering. But one of the unexpected benefits of taking the time to document and recount my progress here is being reminded of how much I'm actually accomplishing.

Of course, the prospect of getting feedback and encouragement from you all is another great reason to post here as well as on FB. And of course, keeping a (b)log my techniques helps me keep track of what's worked in the past - and what hasn't. You've hopefully noticed the hyperlinks to past posts I pepper throughout for reference - I find those especially helpful and hope you do too.

While I'd hoped to be "done" with scenery in Essex by now, I decided to take a break to get some more terraforming done north of Essex to East Haddam. I'll be tackling that in the next post . . .

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