Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

20170708_135602

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.

20170708_141223

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.

20133307_10154502140611755_1104002627_o

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.

20170702_185002

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.

20170708_140007

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.

20170702_185047

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.

20170705_180711

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.

20170702_190208

 

 

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.

20170615_220929

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.

20170616_203343

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.

sharp3070.us@om.org_20170624_095243_0001

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.

20170623_190338

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!

20170618_201558

Mine Wars and Little Girls

20170611_161241

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.

Lunar_MRR_feature

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!

MRR112015_MRR_EagleMtn

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.

20170611_174127

testing the track

shadowbox13

Southside Industrial District proscenium arch

My modeling career has followed the trajectory of what I feel is common to many American modelers. I inherited my brother’s Christmas train set that was an oval on a sheet of 4×8 plywood. The 4×8 doubled, and was eventually replaced by a 10’ x 12’ basement empire, all by the time I was the ripe old age of 20. Then real life showed up and I was off to college to seek my fortune. Family and career followed as my models were put away, only to collected dust for several years.

Becoming a home owner allowed me to dig out the old boxes from my parents’ basement a few years ago. I secured a section of a spare room, dusted the cobwebs off the old rolling stock and set up a small industrial switching layout, which I call the Southside Industrial District (follow my blog at http://www.smallurbanrails.wordpress.com).

During the active periods of railroading in my life, I did the typical: grew a rolling stock and locomotive fleet, practiced scenery, learned wiring, and honed my modeling skills. Beyond ground cover and weathering, I paid little attention to presentation of the layout as a whole. Saw horses and visible dimensional lumber were good enough for me. I tacked on a few sheets of paneling to the benchwork and called it a day.

Lately, I’ve begun to think of how the layout exists in its environment in total. Lighting, fascia, sight lines, skirting and experiencing the layout in its entirety all contribute to this thing I am calling presentation.

Presentation

The Southside Industrial District was originally housed in a 28” x 88” closet (thus its dimensions, which are the same, even until today).

I left the light on in the closet one afternoon and returned later in the evening to a darkened room. The HO scale skyline of the Southside popped out of the darkness. I decided then and there I wanted to eventually maximize the effect for my visitors even if now wasn’t the right time.

shadowbox01

Humble beginnings in the closet for my HO Southside Industrial District switching layout

Later, the railroad was moved to function outside the closet as a stand-alone module, moving from room to room until eventually finding a home in our new garage / studio space. Still resting on saw horses, the time had come to raise the rail height, create dedicated legs, and add a theatre-style shadow box to the front.

shadowbox02

Switching layout without a home gets moved from room to room during construction

It was time for the proscenium arch.

The American Way

Until recently, most US modelers have given little attention to presentation. Layouts are built as permanent structures, often bolted to the wall. If you want to see your friend’s layout, you go over to his house and head down to the basement.

In UK and Europe, things progress differently, I would guess mainly due to stricter space constraints as compared to the US. First of all, layouts tend to be smaller on average. Other countries simply don’t have the space per person the build pikes the size of their American counterparts.

Layout on a Ironing Board byPaul Allen Academey Modellers

Paul Allen’s British themed Ingleton Sidings is built on an ironing board and features a shadow box display. http://ingletonsidings.com/hornby-magazine-photos/

Second, the layouts are built as stand alone entities and not merely as a club NTrak or Free-Mo module to be assembled at a meet. Layouts are crafted to function and stand (literally) by themselves. You can see this in the work of British author Iain Rice, modeler Paul Allen and his Ingleton Sidings layout, and others.

A possible third reason as to why Americans build their train layouts with different priorities is that in other countries, I would guess there is a higher participation rate at train shows. Often you’ll find several 1- or 2-man layouts side by side from different scales, eras, locales, and themes. No attempt is made to connect them as the Americans would in order to see who can run the longest train.

Smaller layouts standing on their own need to emphasize presentation.

Styles of Presentation

“Picture Frame”, “shadowbox”, “theater-style”, and even “proscenium arch” are all words used to describe ways of framing your layout in a box to maximize and control how users experience your models. There are a couple of different approaches to making your master creation stand out in its surroundings by using one of these styles.

Southside Industrial Model Railroader Olympia Logging

Model Railroader Video Plus’ Olympia Logging layout stands in shadowbox relief behind producer David Popp (subscription required) http://mrv.trains.com/how-to/modeling/2014/04/olympia-logging-series-part-1—display-style-design

The simplest might be what I refer to as the “picture frame” method. This is the method I’ve chosen for my own layout and describe in more detail below. It consists simply of creating a picture-type frame to frame the layout and adding it to the front fascia. A good example of this is the recent Olympia logging layout from Model Railroader Video Plus, a joint venture with Model Railroader Magazine. Their video website has a good tutorial on how to add a picture frame to a presentation layout.

Geoff Nott’s Leigh Creek On3 Layout

Geoff Nott’s Leigh Creek On3 Layout Carl Arendt’s Small Layout Scrapbook http://www.carendt.com/small-layout-scrapbook/page-95a-march-2010/

 

Another way to do it is with an overhang, or valance, in which the top of the front frame hangs over the front of layout by a few inches and usually houses a lighting fixture. This way, the light can shine down onto the front of the layout. Iain Rice is a big proponent of this method and you can see in almost any of his track plans. Even his book Shelf Layouts for Model Railroads (2009, Kalmbach Publishing) has a diagram on the cover.

Shelf Layouts for Model Railroads by Iain Rice

Shelf Layouts for Model Railroads by Iain Rice

Larger home and club layouts often have a permanent valence attached to the ceiling which controls lighting and sight lines. There are also museum type displays which can be quite extravagant. Some may even include a model railroad as a portion of a larger theme, as in Banco Popular’s light rail tram proposal for Puerto Rico by Smartt Inc. and Estudio Interlinea.

Estudio Interlinea’s On Tracks Exhibition

Estudio Interlinea’s On Tracks exhibition demonstrates the benefits of adding tram light rail to Puerto Rico. An HO model railroad is the centerpiece of the exhibition. http://estudiointerlinea.com/archives/167

Do an internet search to get an idea of the variety of styles and see which is right for your circumstances. Of recent note in the hobby press is the aforementioned Olympia layout as well as the High Line featured in Kalmbach’s Great Model Railroads 2015.

Brooklyn: 3am

Brooklyn: 3am Carl Arendt Small Layout Scrapbook http://www.carendt.com/small-layout-scrapbook/page-87-july-2009/

Brooklyn 3am by a man whose internet handle is “Prof Klyzlr”, is another great layout that takes all aspects of presentation into consideration. You can see an excellent discussion of the Prof’s layout at Carl Arendt’s Micro Layouts website. Pay special attention to the treatment of the entire “feel” of the layout including sights, sounds, and animation. This is one layout that continues to inspire my modeling and motivated me to consider this project of adding a proscenium arch to enhance my visitors’ experience of my model railroad.

Brooklyn: 3am http://www.carendt.com/small-layout-scrapbook/page-95a-march-2010/

Brooklyn: 3am from Carl Arendt’s Small Layout Scrapbook website

Framing the Southside Industrial District

I chose to build my shadowbox as a flat-on, picture-frame style. The layout was already built and operational with backdrops on three sides. The backdrop and “sidedrops” were already in place, so I had to work within those constraints. I chose to put a “flat” window on the front, framing the railroad for maximum impact.

The layout had been moved about frequently as sat on a pair of saw hourses, so the first step at hand was to raise the layout height and give it its own legs. I followed standard practices of 2×2 legs braced with 1×2 cross members. These were attached to the 1×4 cross pieces of the frame of the layout with ¼” carriage bolts for a semi-permanent installation. A 1×4 brace at the bottom of each leg structure provided additional support as well as a support planking to create some storage shelving.

IMG_8033

I chose 3/16” plywood as my fascia material. The window “frame” had to be strong enough to hold its own weight, yet sturdy enough so it wouldn’t sag or buckle. The frame would be attached to the 1×4 members of the layout frame. There would be no cross bracing from the frame to the backdrop for added support.

I first measured my stock plywood to match the width of the front of the layout and the height of the already existing side drops. After cutting to size, I clamped the stock in place to the front of the layout. Then I drilled ¼” holes for carriage bolts. The bolts are used to secure the frame as well as index for position. As with the leg assemblies, I used carriage bolts so the frame can be removed for layout transport or maintenance.

Next I cut the opening using a jigsaw. While the plywood was attached to the railroad, I marked the height of the sub roadbed against the plywood from the inside. I also marked space at the top for my lighting fixture with some added clearance. I used that same measurement (4 inches) to mark the width of the sides of my arch.

Test fitting the front fascia shadow box

Test fitting the front fascia shadow box

Now a box “window” was marked on the plywood stock. I found a plastic lid from the kitchen to round the edges to give a softer feel to the viewing window. It was about 24” inches diameter or maybe a little more. It doesn’t really matter as long as you’re happy with the results. Find something that works for you.

With the window marked out, I used a saber saw to make a doughnut hole in the board. The cut was mostly free hand, although you may wish to use a straight edge on the longer sections. I painted the front side with a flat black latex-based house paint. You’ll want to pain the underside (inside) as well.

Finally, using the previously drilled holes as guides, I attached the window frame to the layout using the carriage bolts.

Supports

The arch frame was light enough so it doesn’t put undue stress on the layout structure, but as expected, it was a bit wobbly and lacked the internal structural strength to keep itself straight. I needed to brace the structure as well as attach it to the existing backdrop pieces.

I placed 1×3 pine pieces cut to length along the top and two sides. Standard wood glue secured the pieces to the arch. Fitting was done in place to insure clearance with existing scenery, side drops, structures, etc.

shadowbox11

Detail showing the back of the shadowbox fascia attached with angle brace to the Masonite sideboard.

 

I picked up some common metal corner braces at the local hardware store of about ½ inch long on each side. These were attached with the provided screws to the inside on the braces and side drops. These braces were a small detail, but probably did the most for keeping the sides stable and true.

Lighting

The lighting is provided by an off the shelf 18 inch fluorescent lighting fixture. I considered LED strips, but I wanted to keep the cost down for my first attempt. I actually tried various LED under – cabinet lighting fixtures, but they really weren’t bright enough. The fluorescent fixture was a nice compromise of cost vs. brightness. After verifying the supplied power cord would stretch to the edge of the layout, I attached the lighting fixture to the top 1×3 stiffener with the lamp screws that came in the package.

Southside Industrial proscenium arch from behind

Backside of proscenium arch showing 1×3 bracing and fluorescent light fixture

The fluorescent light left some dark spots on the edges of the layout, so I used some battery powered LED lights on the top edges of the frame. These come with a sticky attaching fixture, and can be angled as desired.

Finally, I attached a power strip to the under side of the layout. The light fixture as well as my DC power supply plug into the power strip. The power strip is plugged into the closest outlet.

Southside Industrial theater style proscenium arch

The Southside Industrial District with its theatre style proscenium arch complete. The final step will be to add some black skirting to hide the underneath storage and complete the effect.

The improvements to the layout have been fantastic. The proscenium arch and lighting really set off the layout within the room. Visitors are immediately drawn to the presentation of the trains. Plan on incorporating presentation in designing your next layout or add it to your current one. The results are worth it and you’ll be glad you did.


 

Literally. As part of the shadow box project, the grade has been moved from 28 inches off the floor to 43 inches. The following photos show the front fascia painted and attached to the lower version, as well as the leg work and the layout on the new higher legs.

 

Test fitting the front fascia shadow box

Test fitting the front fascia shadow box

IMG_8023

Southside shadow box legs

IMG_8025

Buildings on workbench, bench work legs, with painted shadow box in the background.

IMG_8033

Attaching the legs to the bench work.

IMG_8037

Southside Industrial District model railroad bench work with legs.

IMG_8038

Southside benchwork moved from 28 inch high horses to 43 inch legs.