Sunday, July 9, 2023

Scenery Base Progresses Northward, Despite Ground Goop Gotchas...And Mind the Mental!

I'm happy to report that the "flow" of scenery work I discussed in my last post is continuing northward from the Old Deep River Road area up to Deep River itself. Unfortunately though, while I'm in a scenery flow, my ground goop recipe seems to have ground to a halt . . .

Ground Goop Gotcha

As you can see in the pics above, the latest batches have come out VERY lumpy/bumpy. I'm using the same formula that's worked fine in the past (2 parts Sculptamold, 1 part brown latex paint, 1/2 part white glue, 1/2 part water - adding more if 1/2 part doesn't seem to be enough), but for some reason, while it looks smooth enough when I trowel it on, once it dries all the bits of paper stick out like a sore thumb.

I mixed up another batch this morning, adding more water to make the goop easier to smooth out, but so far it seems to be doing the same thing.

I'm beginning to wonder, as some folks pointed out on the Valley Local Facebook Group, if I'm using too much paint and the paint is shrinking as it dries - leaving lots of undissolved bits that are even more prominent since everything around them has shrunk.

So next time I need some "ground goop", I'm just going to mix up some Sculptamold according to the instructions, just adding water to it - no paint & no glue. I'll see if that ends up drying smoother and, if it does, I'll just get in the habit of painting it as a separate step rather than try to prepaint/color it.

Stay tuned! And if you're getting good results with my (previously used) formula, let me know what you're doing and/or what I'm doing wrong. . .

We're Rockin'!

I've had some pretty good luck with the few rocks I've cast and colored (see above), but - like with the goop - my latest efforts have been less satisfactory. Since I figured I could use some more practice - and knowing that modeling New England requires LOTS of rocks - I've been a rock casting fiend lately . . .

Thanks to those that have offered advice, as well as pointed me to videos and such, on different coloring techniques. As you can see in the pics above, I have plenty of castings to practice on - I just have to wait a week or so for them to fully cure before coloring . . .

Plaster Riverbed

While watching one of those videos, I learned that foamboard - even if painted - could offgas underneath resin water. Certainly not something you want! You need to seal the riverbed with a batch of thin plaster. Since I was already plastered in a plastering mood working on my rocks, I mixed up a batch, "dammed" the ends of the creek at Old Deep River Road with blue painters' tape, and poured it out, allowing it to find its level.  So far, I'm liking the results - and hopefully not only will this eliminate the offgassing possibility, but should also prevent any resin pour from leaking onto the floor . . .

Ballast Experiments

Yikes! It's been over FIVE years since I first solicited opinions about, and started researching, different ballast choices. If that's not the epitome of Analysis Paralysis, I don't know what is!

While I've been making scenery progress "up the line" in the Deep River area, the Saybrook station area continues to taunt me with its lack of ballast. An otherwise perfect prototype scene is marred by the "obviously a model" look of unballasted flextrack.

Thankfully, in addition to samples from KayleeZ and JimD, my buddy Randy dropped off a number of different grades of ballast - all sifted from local traprock (e.g. the exact same thing our prototype used for ballast). I won't admit to how long ago he did this, and I'm too embarrassed to try and remember anyway.

Since my main goals for the day (coloring rocks, doing base scenery, groundfoam, etc) were thwarted, I just pivoted to finally figuring out what ballast I should use on the Shore Line through Saybrook. So I took out my trusty test tracks and poured out three different grades, affixing them in the usual way. I'll be interested to see not only how the color ends up but, most importantly, which grade is going to look best - and most like the mainline ballast I'm used to seeing in the old prototype photos.

Foamcore Road - Rt. 82 in East Haddam

While all that was drying, I turned my attention even further up the line to East Haddam. Going full circle to the beginning of this post, I figured this would be the next best place to try some additional ground goop formulas - starting with plain ol' Sculptamold.

But first! I wanted to finish some terraforming in the area - specifically the roadway that crosses the tracks at the south end of the scene.

In the pic above, you can see my method for creating cutting templates so I don't waste any good foamboard.

This method comes in particularly handy when trying to fit odd spaces. The road itself is made up of pieces of foamcore board with the paper peeled off to reveal a nice textured surface.

Mental vs. Physical Health

So that's where I had to quit for the day - not bad for an afternoon's work! And I'm still chomping at the bit to make even more progress in the coming days. Unfortunately, weekends - and their big blocks of time - only come once a week (duh!) and it's tough to get to the basement after work during the week.

But The Missus gave me a great idea . . . while in this state of flow, why not spend the time in the morning before work, when I'd normally be hitting the treadmill or riding the bike, working on the layout instead? She reminded me that mental health is just as important as physical health and as long as working on the layout doesn't become a source of stress, it can be a great way to reduce stress (something sorely needed lately, given my day job). Mental and physical health are more closely related than many of us realize, and it's all too easy to neglect one or the other. Or both.

While I certainly wouldn't recommend giving up exercise to work on a model railroad (since you can't enjoy your layout - or anything else for that matter - if you're in poor health), she raises a good point. And as long as I'm in this flow - and the resulting immersion gives my dayjob brain a rest - I can just get some extra steps in during my lunch break :^)

And when this flow period inevitably ends, the treadmill will be right where I left it and the balance can swing back the other way until the next flow hits.  But for now, instead of riding my bike, I'm going to enjoy riding this wave . . .


  1. What grade of Vermiculite are you using? I never saw Lou Sassi actually specify the size/grade, but it various from course (Grade 4) to fine (Grade 1)? Maybe you accidently purchased the larger size of vermiculite? (I did myself recently)

    1. I'm actually not using any Vermiculite and haven't since my first attempt at ground goop years ago. Not only was it much too large (which you rightfully point out could be remedied), but it also had many shiny bits in it that looked like mica. I didn't really see or understand the need for it, so I eliminated it from my recipe. FWIW, the formula I've been using has worked "ok" for years - maybe I'm just being less accepting of it these days! In any event, the straight Sculptamold - mixed according to the instructions and applied plain white on the layout - seems to be working MUCH better. In fact, I may attempt a skim coat over what I've already done. Certainly won't hurt - and lesson learned :^) As always, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  2. Chris, Ralph here, I call it MoJo, but your wife is right. Don’t forget the concrete colouring powder to add to the Sculptamold, works great and doesn’t degrade the plaster in the Sculptamold. As for the River bottom, it will also need the be sealed with paint. I use old house Latex paint on everything!

    1. That's right - the concrete coloring powder. I'll have to look for some of that. And don't worry - latext paint is the next layer for that creek bed :^)

  3. I would sell every train I own before I'd give up my bike, but I'd probably have my layout completed if I did. Sometimes I have to tell myself that being "healthier" about riding means I need to ride less.

    1. Heh - I won't be giving up the bike any time soon, no worries there! Just shifting the balance a bit temporarily. These "flows" tend to pass fairly quickly, so gotta take advantage of them when they arrive! I do the bike anytime - no flow needed :^)