C’mon. You know you wanna


The History
Intergalactic Transport Machines (ITM) will build 3725 HH-78 models between 2142 and 2159, used mainly for deep space heavy industry like mining and transport. “HH” stands for “heavy haul” and these machines are revered for their simple mechanics and their robust life spans in the harsh working conditions of the space mines. Three hundred year old internal combustion engine technology is still quite effective and cheap and is the basis of many of  ITM’s designs, including the HH series.


Unit HH-78 #15 engineer’s side

Engine number 15 is one of the locos present on Xenon III during the Machina Revolt of 2154. My model depicts the unit after it was confiscated by the miners and modified for maximum protection and military operations.

HH-78 00a

The Model
No model train manufacturers make a model of the HH-78 since the prototype doesn’t exist yet. A kitbash would be in order. Since this was my first science fiction locomotive kitbash and first engine kitbash overall. I sought out the advice of Jack Hess, author of the article “An Out of this World Kitbash”  published on the Railroad Model Craftsman website. Jack had actually started work on this unit himself and graciously let me finish it to my own specs and in my own style.

The Bash
The chassis and mechanism is from an unmodified Atlas blue box SD45-2 and the shell started out as a Bachmann electric E60PC in Amtrak livery. Jack had already made the first cut and splice to get the shell to fit on the chassis when he passed it on to me.


The factory paint was stripped using a bath of 91% isopropyl alcohol. Horns, exhaust, and window glazing were removed for the final prepping step. The color scheme for the series of locos the Xenon Mining Corporation has purchased for its fleet is an orange corporate logo over a beige base color. The logo is a simple scriptograph produced from the letters “XMC” in a futuristic font I found on the Internet.


I attached a few extra vents and hatches from my scrapbox and gave the engine a base coat of Rustoleum ivory from a rattle can. I printed the logo on Testors water-slide decal paper and applied to the sides per the manufacturer’s instructions. Everything on the engine body with the beige color represents the “stock” production model from ITM before the humans got a hold of it and added the upgrades.

HH-78 00d

I liked what Jack had done on his Colony 5 model engine, so I took an extra sprue from a Walthers building kit and added an extra exhaust pipe amidships, which also serves to hide part of the body splice. I softend the sprue with heat from a hair dryer and bent it to fit the space. I bored out one end with a small hobby knife to represent hollow tubing. I spray painted the piece gold and attached it to the main body. I then did some light weathering on the overall model to show some light road use.

The Fantasy
Next was the fun part and required a bit of imagination and some courage. The idea is that the miners and workers on Xenon III took over operations of #15 in the early days of the android uprising. They “upgraded” the unit by adding armor cladding on the sides and general body protection at the fore and aft of the model. A few simple mechanical upgrades like an extra fuel tank helped the engine run for longer distances. Protection for crew comes from grates and wire mesh added wherever possible. Battle guns on the top side add some offensive power. Finally, survival supplies and spare parts are crammed in wherever possible to ensure the crew has everything they might need.


Unit HH-78 #15 Mad-Max style model locomotive

I scrounged the Internet for ideas, and my scrap box  for “Mad Max” style bits and pieces to see what would work. Mostly I tried to replicate some images I found of post apocalyptic vehicles without going overboard. I wanted a bit of a mix of science fiction and apocalypse. Materials should look like they were added hastily (see “Tips for Mad Max Upgrades to Your Sci-Fi Model Train” in the blog post below). Evergreen corrugated siding provided armour to reinforce the sides. The end of a 70’s era Athearn Pullman Standard hopper and some picture wire provided a nice plow for the front end. I think Matchbox has some really good stuff and they contributed the oil tank, back snow plow, gun turret, and the rack of camping (survival) equipment. Railing from an old AHM house helps protect the crew cab. A friend’s screen door mesh provided the safety cage on top and on the back end.


If the pieces don’t fit quite right, that’s OK. If the paint doesn’t match, all the better. It all adds up to an effect of humanity making do and surviving in real time. Some war-time graffiti and another layer of weathering completed my model.

HH-78 14

The Future
My next model will use the same techniques, but look totally different. Why don’t you get some extra locomotive shells and see what you can come up with? The model doesn’t have to actually run and should you not be satisfied, just chuck it in the bin. A little imagination and out of the (scrap) box thinking will have you building your own space ship train, unique to you. It is impossible to do it wrong. Maybe I’ll see you out there somewhere.


C’mon. You know you wanna.


I didn’t really know what I was doing when I set out to make my first space train, so I just kind of jumped right in. Here are some things I learned along the way.


Unit HH-78 #15 Mad-Max style model locomotive

* Do a Google image search to get ideas and what style you are attracted to. A consistent style helps sell the realism, even on a fantasy train.

* Choose your genre – fantasy, sci-fi, steam punk, apocalypse, etc. Post apocalyptic is best for straight up Mad Max style.

* Familiar yet different. If things are too wild and crazy, people won’t be able to relate to it. You’ll want to start with something that resembles a train at it’s essence, but is different enough to suggest it comes from another world or era. For North Americans, models from other countries can look, well, foreign. Continental Europe models can be a good place to start looking.

* Asymmetry is your friend. Nothing says “last minute addition” like a piece off-center, or on just one side of the vehicle. You have 3 axis of possible symmetry. Abuse them all.

* Stick to earth (muted) tones and the predominate color on your planet. Similar pieces can be painted different colors to give the impression they come from different “sets” or locations..

* Add sheets of metal (I used Evergreen corrugated) for defensive protection.

* Add crude weapons of offense like guns, spikes, bombs, etc.


Profile of a science fiction model train engine HH-78 #15 with upgrades in place

* Not all pieces will fit. Chop them off to make them fit, or just have them take a precarious position. This can give the impression that the builders had to make do with what was at hand.

* Think outside the box – horizontally as well as vertically. Armaments and supplies just tacked onto the sides especially give that rough-and-ready feel. Most people forget about expanding out over the track. Watch your clearances if you plan to operate your model.

* Always keep an eye out for little containers, covers, tops, from around the house like your kitchen or bath. By now you have recognized the back of the disposable razor heads on my model. Stationery supplies are also possibilities.

* Check the toy section of your favorite store for specific add-ons like guns, lasers, robots, etc. Some movie branded items can be quite expensive and may not be worth it. The local dollar store and charity shops have provided some nice finds.

* Matchbox accouterments can be quite good. Construction vehicles can be especially useful. Don’t be afraid to chop or take apart a new model. Hot Wheels has some wild stuff, but I find Matchbox more “realistic”. Hot Wheels with some modifications might fit your genre.

* Less is more. Don’t add too many different things that might detract from the overall look.

* Most of my “upgrades” I added with the body attached to the frame. This helps fragile pieces from falling off. Test that you can remove the shell again for cleaning and maintenance.

* Don’t be afraid to try something or damage your model on the outside. If something breaks, it might be for the better. That’s an opportunity for an aged piece or even a patch job.

* Graffiti gives that rag-tag feel. I keep mine minimal, general, and non offensive. Decals or free-hand, up to you.

* Weathering counts and can tie everything together. Do it in “layers”, each after a set of pieces has been added like might happen in the prototype. Standard techniques apply: dry brush, air brush, chalks, and washes.

* Appropriate figures can help bring the unit to life when you have finished or for photography.

* Have fun!

Sci-fi Train locomotive engine

Progress on the science fiction locomotive for the Mines of Xenon model railroad

2017 was a year of stabilization on one front and expanding horizons on the other.

First it was time to finally redo and finish the asphalt pavement areas on the West end of the Southside Industrial district. The plaster drying and painting process seemed to go slow and took a few of real-time months.

Southside Industrial District industrial switching

Paving on the Southside Industrial District industrial switching model railroad

With a new and improved back drop as a blank canvass, I applied the background photos and finally got the structures set back to their allotted positions for the first time in the new basement. Work began on the final detailing for structures.

Southside Industrial District model railroad switching layout

Southside Industrial District in its place


Then I approached a fork in the road, so I took it.

Mines of Xenon

Getting started on the Mines of Xenon science fiction model railroad layout

The idea for the Mines of Xenon layout was birthed. That set of months of research, planning, Googling and even playing. I decided on a simple 4×6′ space mining layout and build a 2×4′ diorama as practice. My daughter would help and get an introduction to model railroading.

Mines of Xenon sci-fi model railroad

Mines of Xenon track plan sketch

Scenery, rolling stock, and motive power (and the odd robot) were stock piled. The last part of the year was spent finishing the space loco kitbash and diorama to place it in. Scroll through last year’s blogs for details and photos.

Mines of Xenon sci-fi model train layout overview

Running trains on the Mines of Xenon


So, what’s up for 2018? The theme for the year seems to be finishing. We all know a model railroad is never finished, but here is what is on tap for this year:

  • Finish the Sothside Industrial District with detailing buildings and a simple operating scheme
  • Finish the Morden diorama with a station re-do and a reasonable facsimile of an Underground platform
  • Finish the Mines of Xenon layout with the main mountain and detailing
Mines of Xenon model train family play

Xenon is a family affair

I would also like to have a go at getting some new projects underway:

  • Finalize plans and prep for the new train room
  • Get a jump on starting the Morden exhibition layout


In the short term, the Mines of Xenon is the highest priority, so keep checking the blog for progress.

Sci-fi Model Train Play tunnel

Goal for 2018: Play with trains!

Service is now running from the village sub-terra station to the mine.


The futuristic turbo train departs for the mines of Xenon on Rich Erwin’s sci-fi model railroad

I’m writing a mixed-bag status update today. I’ve painted and put in place, at least temporarily, the passenger line from the village to the mine. The configuration is a loop and the plan is to have a station at the mine (underground, hewn out of rock, etc.) to the “village” where miners live and the extracted minerals are processed and loaded for shipment.


Overview of The Mines of Xenon science fiction model railroad


The village station (approximately where the turbo train is in the picture above) will be a “sub-terra” (that is, subway) station, also within rock.  Available space will determine the size of the stations, but I’d like to have a pretty substantial one as in my practice diorama.

This is the steel track included in the Tyco Turbo Train set plus a couple of extra pieces I surprisingly found in my scrap box. The steel is used because the Turbo Train uses magnets to maintain contact with the track. I painted the passenger line white to set it off visually from the freight line. I’m also considering using the vertical spacers that come with the train set to make it appear more like an elevated passenger track. I think the contrast is nice, but I still have to paint the re-railer / power section which is a bit quirky.


I’m getting ready to do some body work on the diesel roster. I have a box full of shells (most of which are courtesy of Jack Hess of the “Colony 5” work in Railroad Model Craftsman) and I am quite enjoying stripping the paint off. Just soaking 2-3 days in 91% alcohol and scrub with a toothbrush. Jack had already started some work, and I continue to imagine what a heavily kitbashed alien engine might look like.


Remember, the layout depicts the early hours after the AI mechs are attacking and the humans must scrounge for raw materials for protection. Think Mad Max style trains. The idea is that I will take the bodies of disparate engine styles and cram them together for something that is recognizable, yet foreign. This could be fun if I don’t stress and let the process come.


A secondary technique is to leave the paint bubbled as a weathering effect. I’m looking forward to using this in the future, but for now I’m stripping everything off.


Next up is ballasting. Again I wanted something familiar, yet different. Typical model railroad ballast would be just too ordinary. I considered kitty litter or aquarium pebbles. A little research and I thought both those items would be too large for HO scale (but probably acceptable if nothing else could be found).

I’m pursuing using construction sand that I snagged from a friend. It comes from a big box store and I got about two pounds worth. I dried it out and the sample seemed to have a pinkish hue. I had in my mind something darker and more red. So I painted it. I simply dropped some of the same paint from the baseboard stage and mixed in a red party cup. Let that dry and voila!


Dried construction sand on the left, painted sand on the right


The sand clumps slightly as it dries, which turns out is a nice effect. The grains themselves are a bit small for a ballast (although who knows what they use on Xenon 3!) so the larger clumps work out nicely.

I’m happy with the results and think I’m going to go with the painted sand. This turns out to be quite a versatile and cheap method. You don’t need very much paint and I guess acrylic would work as well as the latex house paint.

I ballasted two small sections of track – one with the original sand and one with the painted. I’ll have my little helper give the final verdict with a little input from dad.


Finally I’d like to share a nice little find. I was looking for plastic containers to hold the diesel shell parts (window glazing, handrails, horns) while stripping paint. I went strolling down the aisles of my local grocery story and found some cheap lunch containers with sections. Neato and I think I’ll be using these again and again for various projects to come.


So now it is on to installing a couple of bridges and securing the ballast and track.

Mines of Xenon

Moving minerals on planet Xenon’s futuristic model railroad layout

I consider the electronics finished. I’ve got the freight track laid down and the wiring all hooked up. I went with 6 electrical DC blocks controlled by Atlas Connectors. The main loop and siding take 2 blocks so I can stop a train on either of the sidings under the mountain giving way to the possibility of a loads/empties operation.

The two spurs and lead track are the remaining 3 blocks. It’s single cab, but could be easily extended to dual cab or DCC (or obviously combo with battery powered radio control).

I also took the opportunity to wire up the AC accessories. I ended up connecting the two siding turnouts to one Atlas switch control box so I could coordinate and synchronize the routes (both straight or both thrown). It certainly is easier than having to walk to the other side of the layout every time I want to change the direction of that turnout!

Mining in Space

Mining in space on the sci fi model railroad layout “Mines of Xenon” – a nice little eBay find

I left the possibility for expansion and powering the other two turnouts, but they are near the edge of the operating side of the layout, so it is just as easy to throw the turnout as it is to throw a control switch on the operating panel.

I acquired an operating Tyco accessory, and wired that up so any member of the public could push the button should the layout find itself in an exhibition setting. There are more details further down in the article.

Mines of Xenon Layout

Mines of Xenon space-themed layout track plan wired up and ready to go

It may look simple, but the sidings and spurs actually provide for a fair bit of operational possibilities. As stated previously, the sidings will be hiding under a mountain with a mine on one end and a processing facility on the other. Trains will be parked in the tunnels and “hidden”, while the train on the other track shuttles the long way around the layout to the other side of the mountain. The train pulls in his siding and the roles are reversed.

I’ve also picked up an operating Tyco ore dump car and set. The car can be backed into place and tips over when a current is applied with a big red button! Throwing the switches that control the turnouts and power routing, shunting the various engines, and dumping ore should all provide interest and fun for the younger crowd. And that doesn’t even include the yet-to-come Turbo Train!

Finally, as evident in the photos, I’ve weathered the track (Nutmeg) and spray painted the ground with some ruddish earth tones. This was based on my results from the diorama testing. It breaks up the monotone and provides some visual texture, even if the terrain remains flat at this point. I’ve sketched in with yellow spray paint where the toxic waste pond and stream will go. I needed to know where to place the bridges, so this is a help. I think my layout photos are going to have a lot of orange in them!

Mines of Xenon model railroad

Mines of Xenon model railroad with diorama in the background

Up next I’ll ballast the freight track and start laying the track for the passenger commuter train, before moving on to engineering some ore cars, Mad Max style locomotives and vehicles.


Making Waves, Making Tracks

Posted: August 15, 2017 in Uncategorized
Mines of Xenon

Mines of Xenon space-themed model railroad layout

Progress update: The swamp on the diorama is just about done. Maybe one more coat. Also tried some test shots of the subterra passenger station. Some more detailing to do there.

Space Train

Space train pulls into sub-terra station on the way to take workers to the Xenon mine

Toxic waste on Mines of Xenon

Toxic waste on the Mines of Xenon model railroad layout

Nice progress on the main layout. For the first time since about 1988, I have a loop and can railfan and just watch trains run. I’ve got three DC electrical blocks wired up and pulled out some engines to see what would work. Quite surprised and found some gems in the rough. Well, they move at least! Got to figure out the shells and which motors to use.

Mines of Xenon model raiload layout

Mines of Xenon sci-fi model railroad layout

Also snagged some sci-fi models for scenery, which is exciting (no pics). A bit more trackwork to do, then weathering. The vision is starting to come together.


Work has begun in earnest on filling the swamp. I had already coated the bottom with joint compound, sanded and painted it. Light green on the outside, blending to a black in the middle represent depth.

I had also fashioned a couple of industrial pipes from PVC and a prescription pill bottle and added toxic drainage. A how-to video by Wyloch can be see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S07hHjXgd60

Now it was time to add some detail to the area. I cut a dollar-store toy dinosaur in half for the “swamp monster” emerging from the pool of blech at the waterline. Paintbrush bristles and Noch static grass were glued in to represent whatever type of wild reed grows on Xenon 3. I also added part of toy dinosaur skeleton tail.

Next I poured the resin. About 20oz of both resin and hardener were enough to lay down a layer of about 1/4″ inch thick. I let it cure and harden at least 48 hours.

Next comes the magic. The resin dries incredibly clear. Every fault from the plaster and paint can be clearly seen.  The resin, as poured, needs some texture and color variation to get the light to play and bounce. This can be achieved by adding some acrylic paint to the resin pour, but it was too late for that now (note to self: add some color to the resin next time. Fluorescent or glow in the dark?)


I remembered technique of making water of nothing but coats of Mod Podge by long time Model Railroader Magazine contributor Dave Frary. The effect is stunning and explained on Dave’s Youtube page here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnOE-qWhGVs

Even though the effect of building up the coast of Mod Podge is amazing, the bottom layer of paint also counts for a lot as well. Again, a lesson for the main layout, but now time to start laying down the layers. As the video states, blotching is key. Thicker layers are better, but tend to cause air bubbles, which destroy the effect.

This is a fun task where you can get a little help from your assistant. You can do at least 1 coat a day, two for the thinner ones.


On the backside of the diorama, which is the underground sub station, I started placing in the various elements, The platform and bulkhead are basically finished. I tested coloring the ties white to differentiate the passenger line. I made some other pieces out of sci fi gaming textures from the Internet. I still need to add some details to get a grungy, sci-fi, post apocalyptic feel, as well as a futuristic train or locomotive, low level lighting, and passengers on the platform.


Over on the main layout, it is time to start laying track. I have put in place the cornerstone pieces (basically the switches) which will key the placement of the rest of the track. There will 5 electrical blocks (standard DC block wiring), so I mocked in some curves and identified where the feeders will need to be.


I drilled the holes and will start laying the track for real next week. Soon trains will be running on the Mines of Xenon!