The best train layouts have a backstory. They model a point in time and space. They convey a history.

When developing the content for The Mines of Xenon science fiction model railroad, I wanted to do a little bonus feature on its in-universe story. Since it is a little out of the mainstream to begin with, it needs a some explaining of the events that lead up to what you are seeing.

My original idea was to have a comic book style or short graphic novel set the scene. I had a few images in my mind and was wondering the best plan of execution.

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The Mines of Xenon comic book style

I contemplated and even started on drawing some images myself, but the learning curve was too great for the amount of time I had. I also thought about having a friend do the work. I would have to do a story board treatment and block out some images, but there still would not be a guarantee that I would get what I wanted. There was also the issue of time and money.

I had some photographs I was using as reference images and started looking for concept art filters to apply and eventually send to an artist. Then I came across a set of filters that could be used straight away for a comic book effect.

Problem solved with Deep Art Effects. It is quick, cheap, the results are more than adequate, and I can keep control of the creative process.

So, off I went. Here are the first proof of concept images on some reference photos. At the moment, some of the styles are intentionally mixed, and I did not shoot any thing specific for this format. The filters are really forgiving and even the Matchbox car on my workbench taken with an average smartphone meets the standard.

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Turbo train hauling workers back and forth to the mines

I transferred all the photos I thought had potential to my smart phone and used the Deep Art Effects app. Mostly I’ve settled on Epoch, Eye, and Wolf as the top choices. I’ll gladly spend the more than reasonable $3.50 to upgrade to pro and remove the watermark.

Below you can see the results of the first pass.

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Heavy mining equipment on Xenon

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Crash of a crew transport on the Mines of Xenon

I hope you can enjoy my initial efforts and don’t forget to be on the lookout for the final product!





It’s not what you are thinking …

What is a science fiction model railroad with some spaceships? After a crash and burn and a little backtracking, I’ve finally got a small fleet together. This has taken the longest of any of the projects so far.

Model train spaceship

I tried to junk bash a ship from bits found around the house. There are some quite clever bashes on the Internet and I was inspired. Unfortunately, it didn’t come off. My creation ended up looking like some home made NASA space shuttle toy. But not to worry. Onward and upward.

First try at junk bashing a spaceship

If I want to add some extra details or scenery quickly to a layout like this, I would need to start with a proper kit, at least until these specific modelling skills improve. The trick is to find something not immediately recognizable like the starship Enterprise or Millennium Falcon.

Ebay to the rescue again with an obscure Star Trek auxiliary crew transport. It is an easy, cheap kit with some really nice texture. A paint job matching the Xenon theme, some decals, quick weathering and we were off.

Its just the right size to get the point across but does not dominate a train layout. It will make a nice crash scene and not take up too much room.

Next, it was to make some secondary ships I could place around the layout wherever they might be needed. They could be adjusted for photography, moved to fill in a scene, or removed all together. A craft store clearance airplane fit the bill nicely. Its a modern Testors F-117A stealth fighter, so it works well with a stock from-the-box build and a matching Xenon livery. It still needs some decals and maybe some weathering.

Mines of Xenon escort fighter protects the space around the interplanetary cargo shipments

Finally, I took the best part of the failed freighter kitbash to see if I could salvage something. I think it could possible be used as a background ship for photography. I might try to add a few greebles and bits to see if I can improve the experience. It might not look too bad in context.

Mines of Xenon mid-sized cargo hauler

Eventually, taking what I learned from the kitbash, I would like to make another attempt and build something like a barge and tug combo. The tug would be a small control ship that could attach to one or multiple freight units. The freight units could stack or change out as the situation called for. But that is a project for a different time.

Spaceship model text placement. The ship on the left carries processed Xenon mineral to planets close by and the ship on the right will be a crashed escort patrol.

Now that people and product can come and go to Xenon, it’s time to populate the planet!

Maiden Voyage

First try at roughing up a vehicle suitable for the terrain of Xeon III that involved drilling out the rivet posts

I drilled out my first die cast car today.

The idea is to build my ground fleet for the workers and rogues that populate my layout world. I’ll build a junk town style fuel depot that doubles as a local watering hole where all the interesting characters gather while waiting for their cargo to unload or to scrounge up a new contract.

I started with a vintage Matchbox car. I ended up choosing a deep green 1969 Group G, whatever that is. The procedure was a straightforward and simple matter of using a 5/32 bit in a power drill to drill out the rivet posts on the bottom. You could go a little bigger, probably. The metal was soft and required no special bit.

I took the component pieces and lay them out to see what I had. The body will be an auto primer red. Insides will be a contrasting color. I might add a driver. I’ll definitely give it a dirty wash and weathering. I’m still debating on the window glazing, because it is a nice all-in-one piece and I could see it being useful for a flying machine cockpit.

I’ll gather a collection of work and war vehicles as well as speeders and place them around a ramshackle shack to create a scene. Think Star Wars cantina. I’ve found a new inspiration in the tabletop game Gaslands and have been growing some ideas from the Mad Max series of films. You can find some good military style trucks from Matchbox that need very little enhancement to fit the style. I normally don’t like using Hot Wheels cars with their suped-up engines and fantasy designs, but they give some good stock as well, especially for the sci-fi speeder genre.

So now to get to work popping blister packs and drilling out posts so my Xenon inhabitants are not stranded.

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.



Sci-Fi model train landscape

Workers venture out on the dangerous landscape of the Mines of Xenon science fiction model railroad

The year seemed to be dominated by larger time consuming projects. January saw me complete my Mad Max style science fiction locomotive kitbash, which I didn’t think turned out to be half bad for my first attempt.

Science fiction kitbashed locomotive for the Mines of Xenon layout

April was the 40th anniversary of the famous lunar model railroad which was a major inspiration in my starting this layout. I marked the occasion by writing a layout tour article giving an overview of The Mines of Xenon and the state of layout construction at that time.

Mining mountain and radio active slime pit scenery progress

During the summer, work progressed mainly on the scenery while the mountain forms and radio active sludge pond were created. Work seemed to come together pretty quickly as I had had some good practice on the diorama.

Kitbashing science fiction ore cars

Next up during the fall was my attempt to scratch building some rolling stock and flying stock. I wanted a custom ore-type car to run around the layout as well as a vessel for a crashed spaceship scene. I cobbled something together for the ore cars that don’t really work, but may be able to be used as scenery props around the layout.

Scratch building a spaceship

Also the results on the spacecraft were not really what I wanted. After watching lots of online videos, I put something together that didn’t really fly. I might find a place for the craft on the layout, but ultimately decided on an obscure Star Trek kit. This ship will be the center of a crashed spacecraft scene. It is a nice size and has some good texture to fit the current setting.

Crashed spaceship scene – first look

I finished the year with some more good progress on the scenery while I tackled the end the layout under the mountain. Some wire screening by the passenger track and lights made a big difference.

Futuristic turbo train pulls into mining passenger station deep below the surface

Another project not directly related to the Mines of Xenon layout was prepping the room for the next big thing. I basically have two rooms available in my basement and worked toward finishing one room. That stalled after the fist stage, but de-cluttering and re-arranging was able to continue. This was more effort that I had planned for and seemed to drag down progress whenever I would look at my actual layouts.

I revisited my radio controlled power on board Athearn blue box SW1500, and redesigned the wiring. While I was working I burned out the receiver board and killed two batteries, so this project didn’t get finished by the end of the year.

St. Mary’s Railroad MD15-AC

And let’s not forget the nice surprise gift from my wife to drive an actual locomotive in October! Behind the throttle of St. Mary’s Railroad MD15-AC also gave me some good ideas for a railroad-you-can-model article or possibly a diorama. Surprisingly, the railroad had a SW1500 that looked very similar to the one I have running on the Southside Industrial District, which I painted about 35 years ago!

The next year is ripe with anticipation of big things. Here is what is on my docket:

Mines of Xenon
– Finish motive power
– Structures – main mine and gun turret
– Village ?
– Detailing
– Write it all up and put it in a bookazine

Southside Industrial District
– Finish detailing some buildings
– Formalize an operating scheme
– Write it all up and put it in a bookazine

Morden Diorama
– Redo Morden station
– Finish platform scene

New Layout
– Make staging modules

Here’s hoping this coming year is great one for you. Keep modelling and don’t forget to have fun!

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The Turbo Train pulls into the station with the mining mountain in the background on The Mines of Xenon science fiction model railroad.

The main scenic land forms are now finished. The mine mountain has been in place for some time, but I wanted to make sure all the other parts were completed in proper order so I wouldn’t have to backtrack and redo or take up track if I didn’t have to. Up until now, none of the trackage has been secured. I’m glad I took this approach because I made a few final adjustments at the end.

The radio active sludge pond was finished up with an outlet pipe of goo and some details. The runny stuff is gloops of hot glue and the drippings on the surface is some left over resin from other projects. All these were painted with neon shades of green and then give a sealing coat of Mod Podge lustre (shiny), with some final coats of glow in the dark craft paint. Some vehicles and figures were placed around the scene.

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Who knows what kind of radio active goop is flowing from that outlet pipe?

The hill formations on the “village” end of the layout were created much the same way as the mine mountain – 2 inch extruded foam cut and shaped to fit. These forms are not as big as the mountain, but provide a view block and give a place to put in an “underground” passenger station. I think it works well. Some corrugated cardboard is used for the tunnel sides, weathered to show the affects of the geologic event like an electric storm or resulting quake that is the basis of our story. The passenger station will be completed with details at a later stage.

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Trains pass as they cross the bridges over a stream of radio active sludge on the Mines of Xenon sci-fi model railroad

The track was ballasted with standard techniques. The white track is steel Tyco sectional pieces from the Turbo Train set. The darker track is Atlas brass snap track weathered with a nutmeg color from a rattle can. I made my own ballast by painting construction sand the same color as the scenery base coat (Glidden Peking Orange). I just mixed a few spoonfuls of paint in with about 2 cups of sand and spread it out on some newspaper to dry. Repeat as needed to get the volume required.

I’m pleased with this ballasting process, too. The “familiar but different” effect blends the scenic pieces together. I’ll use this method again because HO scale ballast is usually too big for HO scale track. The sand and paint is cheap, it clumps together just a bit so it doesn’t look like sand, and the colors are versatile because you can use your own latex or acrylic paint. The ballast was spooned into place, formed with a small brush, and secured with a 50-50 mixture of white glue and water using “wet water” as a wetting agent.

A couple of nooks and crannies add visual interest to the formations – one might be a hidden cove for robots and the other a more practical storage place for the Turbo Train throttle. These are fun little details the visitors can “discover” as they interact with the layout.

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Cut out storage for the Turbo Train throttle

There is still plenty of scenic detailing left to do. The passenger stations are specially ripe for some creative post apocalyptic, sci-fi creativity. There is also some rolling stock to kit bash and structures to add, which are next on the To Do list.

The Pour

Posted: August 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

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Rich Erwin pours the resin to make a radio active slime pit on his science fiction model railroad “The Mines of Xenon”

The next phase of the scenery sees several items come together as we finish the radio active slime pit and stream.

After the base of white Sculptmold was painted orange to match the surrounding terrain, I painted the the pit and stream various shades of green to simulate radio active slime. I started with the brightest colors out on the edge and worked towards a very dark green in the center section, being careful to blend the edges from one color to the next. Rather than painting strokes, I used dabs and swirls to simulate the effect of a current under the liquid. The bottom of the stream really shows through the clear resin, so an effective paint job is important.


The stream bed painted shades of green on Xenon 3

Lastly before putting down the layer of resin, I added details to be below the water line. I cut a grocery store toy dinosaur in half to appear as if coming out of the liquid. I cut a Matchbox car tire in half, weathered the two halves, and glued them to the base. I sanded down the end of an HO scale barrel so it would look like it was bobbing up and down. Parts of another toy dinosaur skeleton were scattered about. Bristles were cut from old paint brushes and glued to for long grass and weeds.

Now time to pour the resin. I use Envirotex Lite. I knew from my test attempt that the resin drys very clear – almost too clear. The problem is that light doesn’t bounce off like it would off of a water surface to give the illusion of depth. I thought I would try to tint the mixture to give it some color and visual texture. I mixed the two parts according the manufacturer instructions and added just a few drops of acrylic craft glow in the dark neon paint.


Applying a coat of Mod Podge over the resin-cast radio active slime pit

Then I just poured the mixed resin in the pit and stream. I used a disposable wooden chopstick to spread the mixture about and to get into all the nooks and crannies. After 24 hours I came back to check the pour. It should have been rock hard, but was still a bit sticky to the touch. I gave it another day, but it was still sticky. My theory was that the added acryllic color threw off the mix ratio and affected the drying. I contemplated tearing it out and redoing the whole thing, but then I had another idea.

The next step is to add several layers of Mod Podge (gloss medium) to build up some depth and let the light dance around for that depth affect that is so important. I know this also dried hard to the touch, so I decided just to cover the sticky resin after letting it set for several days. Before applying the gloss medium, I poured some out into a disposable cup and again mixed in the acrylic glow in the dark paint. The affect is clear and subtle, so I added a generous amount – maybe a spoonful.


A newly applied layer of gloss medium along with the debris of the slime pit

I did five layers of dabbing the Mod Podge. The layers built up successfully, but it was still a bit tacky. So I tried a final coat without any acrylic paint. Yes! That was it – it dried hard and solid. A few other dabs over some trouble spots that had difficulty drying and the application was complete. I’m quite happy with the finished effect.


Trains are ready to go as the finishing touches are put on the slime pit on the planet Xenon III

The slime pit and stream are the lowest piece of scenery and several other items on the layout depend on them being finished before I could continue, such as the final track placement and ballasting. In the next installment, we’ll add the drain pipe with some glowing sludge coming out and then move on to securing the track.

Mines of Xenon scenery and rock work

The next step is to knock out most of the scenery. I finished the big mountain that contains the mine the same way I did the diorama. I stacked the 2 inch extruded foam and cut it to shape to allow for the three tracks that go through the mountain. Again, I didn’t smoothe the edges, but left it rough cut to suggest a terrain like a quarry.

Mines of Xenon Sculptamold makes bed channel and terrain

I dug out the slime pit and stream, then sealed the bottom with patching plaster to give some texture and hide the plywood grain. Then I covered it with Sculpamold to smooth the banks to give some texture. I glued down some small rocks (“talus”) to simulate the rocky planet surface. The extruded foam has score marks every 16 inches, so I covered those with plaster as well. The whole thing was painted Peking Orange and then weathered and blended with various ruddy shades from rattle cans. I even created a bit of a cave on top in case there happens to be a spider robot that needs a place to hide!

Inside the mountains of the Mines of Xenon model railroad. Some final clearance work and painting still needs to be done.

The bottom of the stream was painted various shades of green starting with bright on the outer edges and then blending towards black in the center. I’ll add some reeds and debris in the next step.

Mines of Xenon scenery and sub-terrain turbo station under construction

I needed a little more room at the end where the turbo station is under a hill, so I extended the passenger (white) track another couple of inches. Two inches is a lot of room when you’re making an underground tunnel! I also deconstructed the Turbo Train power section and moved the connector parts under the layout and fed power to the track with standard feeder wires. The result looks much better.

Mines of Xenon work vehicles from Matchbox Jurassic Park 5-pack

And I got some new work vehicles suitable for the environment. Jurassic Park? Who cares! Fun!

Next we’ll finish detailing the slime pond and creek bed and pour the resin.