Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Progress Report: Scenery Advances at Old Deep River Road

I can't believe it's already been over two whole weeks since this year's NERPM - and what a busy couple of weeks it's been! In addition to making some major (and hopefully final, for this season) progress on the house and yard, my buddy Pete and I got to visit Jason Fontaine's amazing layout and I got to operate on friend Alex Wood's layout. Those activities will be the subject of a future post - but for now, I have some fairly major progress to report since my last update way back on May 21(!).

When I haven't been otherwise occupied, I've had the bit between my teeth and been making some progress on scenery north of Essex, coming into Deep River . . .

Old School Hardshell

Specifically, I've been focusing on the area around the grade crossing at Old Deep River Road. If you'll click here, you'll see the genesis of this spot - as well as prototype photos. Eagle eyes will notice that the hill above has evolved somewhat from what Bill started way back then . . .

I wasn't quite happy with the layered foam look, so I added a couple of additional old-school hard shell techniques - specifically masking tape over balled-up newspaper, as well as cardboard strips. This all will support plastercloth which will be added later to make the hard shell.

Extending fascia to cover hillsides

If I was an especially good scenery planner (which is to say, if I'd planned my scenery in any detail at all), I would have known where my fascia would have to rise up to accommodate varied terrain, hills, and such. I may not be a good scenery planner, but I've become pretty good at taping & topping. The pics above and below illustrate the point: Above, I've tacked up some cardstock to make a template for cutting masonite, which I will then attach to the top of the fascia.

I draw a "hill line" on the cardstock, then cut the masonite using the resulting template.

I used a combination of hot glue (to hold the masonite temporarily in place) and PL300 (to attach the masonite permanently to the foam board). The only good thing about having a flat top edge on what was there was that it made it easier to extend later. Going below "grade" is a simple matter of cutting the top edge down with a saber saw (as you can see on the right).

Making the masonite look like I *planned* it like this is a simple matter of taping/topping the seam like you would drywall (or seams in a backdrop - which I also have lots of practice with).

While the photo above shows the result of a nice smooth seam which disappears, you can also see how the hill is now covered nicely in the plaster cloth.

Painting track

While that was all drying, I decided to continue painting the track northward. While I've long been a fan of Rustoleum's "camo" line of paints for painting track, without adequate ventilation the fumes are dangerous and unhealthy. Unfortunately, even though it's now summer, I still have my basement windows sealed and, besides, they're all in the other room. This location in Deep River is about the most UNventilated part of the whole layout (in a cul de sac, surrounded by walls and a tall backdrop).

So my go-to track painting process now involves my airbrush and Tamiya's "Linoleum Deck Brown" paint, thinned with 91% alcohol. Since I'm using such a small amount of paint, and it's an acrylic, the fumes are minimal - and (bonus!) I get low-risk practice using my double-action airbrush.

Once the track was all painted as far north as Tate's Cut (at the end of the aisle, right at the bend), I taped it all to protect it from the oncoming scenery...

Casting & Coloring Rocks

If you checked out the prototype photos of the Old Deep River Road area, you probably noticed how many rocks and rock outcroppings there are there. So I needed to make a LOT of rocks.  I go into the process in more detail in this post, but here are the bullet points:
  • I used Woodland Scenics "Super Strength Plaster" (C1199) mixed according to the directions, and poured into a variety of rubber molds (WS C1231, C1232, etc).
  • Once the castings are done (24hrs or so), I pop them out of the molds and color them using washes of raw sienna, raw umber, and black (detailed process here)

I used ground goop to cover the hard shell, and added the colored rock castings to the wet ground goop to "plant" them in place. Alternatively, I've added uncolored/white castings to uncolored Sculptamold and colored the rocks in place (having to paint the Sculptamold later, of course). Click here for that method. Frankly, I'm not sure which method I like better. What about you?

Ground Goop

Speaking of Sculptamold, I use it as the basis for my version of Lou Sassi's famed "Ground Goop" which is used to cover the hardshell - including any cardboard "lattice" that's showing through - and provide some thickness for planting trees and such. It's a versatile material that can be used to make small hillocks, eroded embankments, etc. I used it over foam board base as well to provide some much-needed terrain undulation.  While you can use it plain (it looks like mud), you'll most often want to add ground foam and other scenery materials to it.

There are a variety of formulas - here's what works for me:
  • 2 parts Sculptamold
  • 1 part brown latex paint (I use a Home Depot/Behr color called "Davenport Tan")
  • 1/2 part Elmer's Glue All
  • 1/2 part water - just enough water to make a oatmeal consistency
So the last couple of days has involved a lot of rock casting & coloring as well as ground goop mixing & applying. But once you're in a groove, progress is made by the foot rather than by the inch, and the layout starts to look like something other than a Plywood (or foam) Pacific.

Here's where things currently stand:

The Old Deep River Road grade crossing area is coming out nicely, including a rocky hillside (though I need to add more rocks), as well as the creek along the tracks (note the eroded bank...)

Looking south toward Old Deep River Rd from the Deep River station area, you can see that I've added some "gap filling" material between the foam base and the backdrop. There was a huge gap there, so I realized I needed something other than air to hold up my 'goop. Some foam "profile boards" and plaster cloth will provide the needed support. Ground goop will follow during my next work session.

And here we are back were we started at the top of the post - looking south/east from Essex (on the right) to the cut at Old Deep River Road. The top of the fascia has been cut to vary the terrain and LOTS of ground goop has been applied. Thankfully, it looks a LOT better once it dries (folks on the Valley Local FB group had the dubious honor of seeing it wet. Let's just say, that was hard to UNsee).

Long-time readers know that I work in fits & starts and my productivity ebbs and flows. I doubt I'm at all alone in that, but I sure do like it when I'm in a "flow" like I am now. And with scenery no less!

Hopefully, this mood will continue and I'll keep making more progress that I can report here. In the meantime, the basement is a nice, cool place to spend some time during a hot, humid summer. And besides, it's always Autumn on the Valley Line!

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