Archive for June, 2017

20170616_203500I’ve started gathering raw materials for what is now being called “Mines of Xenon”. Shopping is taking on a whole new dimension. I’m seeing things with all new eyes and it is so fun! Previously, I would look at toys and odd shaped containes with the view of how they could be used to augment a mill or factory model to make a model look more realistic. Now, robots, super heroes and spacecraft are all fair game for inclusion on the science fiction train terrain of the future.


While poking around eBay, the first thing I found was Tyco Turbo Train from 1986. I snagged it for $25 – a steal compared to the $499 list price on Amazon. It is so cool. Then a visit to the dollar store and grocery store produced a robot, 2 dinosaurs and a couple of souped-up Hot Wheels.


I’ve also discovered the world of Sci-Fi war gaming terrain. I’m busy searching for images on the internet and putting together an idea book of images and concepts.

My daughter and I have put a few pieces of snap track to determine the layout geometry and I believe I’ve come up with a final trackplan. The Tyco train runs on the old Tyco steel track, and has trouble with turnouts, so it is better to keep that loop separate and have two independent lines working. There will be an outer turbo passenger track (it goes really fast!) and the inner mining track with a passing siding under a mountain and a couple of industry spurs. This will be standard brass or nickle silver and electric switch machines. Standard “first ‘real’ layout” kind of stuff. We’ll go DC control with blocks that can be turned switched on or off.

I also snagged a Bachmann 44-ton switcher which has a nice size of a layout of this type – small wheel base with two electrified 4-wheel truck to keep contact. Of course at anytime we can add a battery powered radio control motive power with no changes to wiring.


The idea book is coming together and I am spending many nights a week in the basement with my daughter as she helps and learns. I can imagine my time for the next few weeks will be divided between Google image search, eBay and the basement. So much fun!



Rich Erwin freshens up the Southside Industrial District and addresses some nagging scenery issues


So, after a house move and some space prep, the time had come to clean things up a bit. I wanted to fix a couple of dings as a result of the move, enhance and correct some benchwork, and  tackle a couple of nagging issues with the scenery (paved areas).

First the benchwork. I reassembled the layout on its base legs. Since the new space isn’t finished yet, I had a pretty good inkling that I would be moving the layout a fair amount while things got sorted out. I turned the layout over, being carful to damage as little of the scenery as possible. Then I added 1/4″ center post casters I picked up from a big box home construction store. Flipped the layout back over and we were ready to go. The locking casters made a big improvement and maybe my best move yet.


The District in its new space with rolling casters and an upgraded backdrop


Next up was the backdrop. For whatever reason, the current backdrop had about 1/2″ gap down the center. I don’t know if I originally measured wrong or what, but it had been like that for 3 or 4 years. Now was the time to fix it. I got a new 8′ section of 1/4″ Masonite and cut it to fit. It was long enough for a single piece to span the length of the back of the layout. I attached 1×3″ bracing to the back with Gorilla glue and painted the smooth side the same sky blue as the side boards. I attached it with clamps and drilled holes to match the existing holes in the frame. One quarter inch bolts with washers and wing nuts secured the backdrop to the benchwork frame.

On the backdrop I use photos of real scenes to fill the space between buildings. I still had the original backdrop and reference photos, so I peeled the photos off the backdrop and re-affixed them to the new backdrop. Another step done.


Painting the backdrop



The sidewalks at the back of the layout needed attention, so that was my first modeling chore. It was pretty straightforward. I use .060″ styrene cut to fit for the raised sidewalks. and I scribed in expansion marks every 1 inch. I then added curbstones with a width of 1cm, rounded the corners at the intersections, and beveled for crosswalks and driveways. I follow that up with spray painting the sidewalkes with textured sandstone. I carved in some cracks and applied a dark wash for weathering (and to bring out the detail) which completes the work before I glue it in place.

On to the pavement issues. The paved areas consist of several materials. Most was either painted styrene or cardstock. At one point I used thin black card which was essentially black poster board without a sealed surface. This was mostly used in the Du Pont area. In an Georgia garage with no climate control, this thin and unsealed stock had warped in a few places, especially around the track rail. Also, on the west (left) side, there was no pavement under the track or up even with the railheads.


Pavement redo with styrene at Du Pont


First on the list was the cardstock at Du Pont. I pulled the paper layer off, being careful to preserve the shape as a template for the new material. The bottom layer, even with the top of the ties, remained. I used a .030″ styrene stock and traced the piece of card on the styrene and cut to fit. I sprayed a base coat of black primer and then highlighted areas with gray to represent traffic patterns. I added some arrows and street markings with oil pastels and traffic templates (made for UK roads). Of the three sections, I replaced the two closest to the front of the layout and left the back section intact, as it is mostly hidden and in the best shape.


Finished Du Pont section complete with road markings. Note the weathering indicating traffic patterns.


The paving on the west section was next. I did some research and wanted to try some differing techniques to see which provided better results. Three sections to process (plus between the rails), so for each I would try a different material. On the back section by Sylvan Foods, I used black foam core with the paper backing removed after soaking in water. The pieces were cut to fit and sanded. The resulting texture was a nice rough one, simulating a paved surface.


Plaster used to fill in the space between spurs on the west end of the Southside Industrial District. Wax paper and painters’ tape protect the track work.


For the area between the tracks of National Transfer and Storage and Sylvan Foods, I took a page from the old-school plaster playbook. I needed 1/10 of an inch, plus the height of the ties, for code 100 track, so I applied in layers, let dry, sand, repeat. Finally I painted a coat of black/gray acryllic mix and added some chalk for weathering. This took a couple of weeks not necessarily would I call it messy, but I did feel that doing each layer was burdensome – having to repeat the cycle of wait and sand, wait and sand.


Weights assure a good bond for the foam core paving onto the benchwork top


Finally back to foam core for the base under the National Transfer and Storage. I made it a little larger and shaped and sanded to fit the existing access road.


The completed scene includes pavement made out of five different materials: card stock, foam core, styrene, craft foam, and plaster


So now these nagging little projects are done, I can get on to the next thing. We often forget that track is scenery, too, and with just this little bit of effort, the layout feels more complete, and has a more finished appearance. On to detailing the city!

Mine Wars and Little Girls


Pink Panther or model railroader?


The genesis of the next railroad was birthed today. So far, I’ve come up with “Mine Wars: Descent below Xenon 3”. I’ve taken the concept of the 50’s mining layout and blown it up.

The year is 2154 on the planet Xenon 3. Humanity has set up a base there mining unobtanium (ha!), which has been highly automated. Machines augmented with artificial intelligence do most of the work. Eventually, the machines grew too clever and turned on the humans. The railroad models the first days after the automaton androids have taken over the mining base. The pre-programmed mining cars and loads continue to run while the humans fight to gain control back from the robots.

For a while now I’ve wanted to do an apocalyptic themed railroad, but could never bring it all together. The ideas have started to gel, so let’s go for it.

The setting will be a Mars-like red desert planet of the future. A mining operation will be the key scene, with a processing plant and possible urban lodging area (think miner’s quarters). Continuous running loop in a sci-fi space setting featuring droids will add interest. Maybe some robots chasing humanoids as they try to escape the planet.


From A Look at Futuristic Modeling, Apr 1978 Model Railroader magazine.                               Photo: Model Railroader

Inspiration so far has come from various sources. 1. “A look at Futuristic Modeling” in the April 78 edition of Model Railroader. 2. Model Railroaders Eagle Mountain project railroad starting in November 2015, especially for the topography. 3. Laurie Calvert’s sic-fi inspired ‘Clash at North Ridge’ from Model Rail magazine (US) online message boards. 4. Scenery modules and accessories I’ve recently discovered for table top role playing fantasy games.


North Ridge Clash

Clash at North Ridge   Photo: Laurie Calvert


Features I’d like to include:
* Space themed distance planet setting
* Loads in / empties out mine and processing plant
* HO standard gauge track with continuous run loop
* built for exhibition
* undefined scale
* extruded foam-based scenery
* cheap (but dependable) components modified for space theme
* DC power; possibly an auto-reversing circuit on the mine run
* learning opportunities for my 8-year old daughter
* Lots of kitsch and heavy on the sci-fi
* fun, fun, fun!


Photo: Model Railroader magazine


I was so motivated, already this afternoon I ran out to the home supply store and scored a 4×8′ piece of extruded foam, with help from my daughter. Now the research starts to get a track plan, accessory parts and pull it all together. The idea is not to think too much and have some fun playing.


testing the track