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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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?)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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Lots of progress the last couple of days, mostly on the diorama. Subway station 8C is getting bulkheads, doors, a platform and track. The main bulkhead is corrugated cardboard with one paper side removed. Doors are sci-fi textures downloaded from the internet and glued to foam core. A few things left there to finish up.

The swamp is coming along, too. I touched up the bottom and believe the industrial piping to be done. I’m gathering scatter and junk to function as flotsam, and we’ll start gluing those down shortly.

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The base coat is down on the layout, and next I’ll spay on a few coats from rattle cans to give the terrain some texture. The test on the diorama seemed to come out well. Track laying is imminent.

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Last week, a tradesman came to the house for a service call. I moved the Southside Industrial District so he could access a utility space. While moving the layout, the legs became unstable, so I’ve spent the last week repairing and strengthening those. They’ve been on casters for several months now and I love that feature of the layout. But it has forced a slight digression from working on The Mines of Xenon 3.

Speaking of Xenon 3, I bit the bullet there, too. I wasn’t happy with the strength of the so called benchwork, so I built a proper frame from 1×4’s.

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I had laid all the track out with the final trackplan, so before starting, I marked the location of the track. Since any marks on the foam would be painted over, I keyed on the two main turnouts and outlined them in the foam by applying a little pressure with a pencil.

There was also a wee bit of warpage, so I flipped the layout and put weights on it for 48 hours or so, so it would lay flat.

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Instead of placing the layout (1″ extruded foam over 1/4″ plywood) directly on top of a completed frame, I turned the layout over and built the frame around it. This resulted in the top of the baseboard lying flush with the top of the frame. For the first time in building benchwork, I laid the cross members horizontal. This gives more surface area for the plywood to make contact (since I can’t practically nail through the foam) for gluing, as well as making space should I decide to add hardware for folding legs. The result is a strong and sturdy benchwork durable enough for leaning or the likes of an 8-year old.

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Work continues on the diorama. I decided not to try and smooth out the layers into a standard hill formation that we see in model railroads. The resulting layers appear to accent the stratifications that would result in a mining operation. Well, on Xenon 3, anyway! I used SculptaMold to give some texture to the flat surfaces. I layered on ruddish colors of spray paint to give the final look.

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The bottom of the swamp has been painted, and some industrial pipes created to dump sludge from the mining operation into the pit. Various shades of green were used, with the color getting gradually darker towards the center. Next, I’ll glue some weeds and debris to the bottom before pouring over a resin.

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Work is also going on on the backside where the underground subway station is. I’m working on using corrugated cardboard for the bulkheads with doors and access made from printed texture glued to foam core. I’ll add some expanding squirt foam insulation for effect. There are lots of possibilities here.

The foam is painted on the main layout, and I have been acquiring the switches for the control panel little by little. Just a bit more base scenery, and hopefully, trains will be running soon!

 

20170705_180832Yes, OK, so it is Xenon 3, not Mars, but we are having a practice go at a making foreign world. I used the left over 2×4′ section to start making up a diorama that will resemble the final Mines of Xenon train layout.

I wanted to get some practice using the extruded foam (XPS), shaping it, painting it and working with it in general. Also wanted a trial run at the slime pit swamp. That will give us some training using the planned resin as a medium for making the swamp. We’ll work on the color scheme and scale.

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Eventually, on the diorama, we’ll also build an industrial building to scale and map out the mine structure, as well as textures for raw materials. But that is still to come.

On the main layout, I think I’ve decided on a track plan. I wanted lots of features, but when in doubt, keep it simple. The Tyco Turbo Train runs on (magnetic) steel track, but had some trouble traversing turnouts since it essentially a slot car mechanism. (Have I said it is lots of fun, though?). So I made a simple loop to go around the perimeter of the benchwork.

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The mining branch is another independent loop with a passing siding on one end through the mountain. That allows for an empties/loads operating sequence. There are also two spurs which lead to the barracks and freight depot. All curves are 18″, number 4 turnouts, code 100 rail, with 5 block sections.

I’m not happy with the support, so first thing is to shore that up with a benchwork frame made of 1×4″ dimensional lumber. We’ll do that in parallel as we continue to work on the diorama.

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