Archive for the ‘Mines of Xenon’ Category

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An ominous laser cannon tower defends the planet on the Mines of Xenon science fiction model railroad

With a fleet of star ships at the ready, it is now time to turn our attention to defense systems.

When I was in the dollar store a few months ago and saw a toy tank, I immediately knew I wanted to use it on my Mines of Xenon sci-fi model railroad layout. The detail was surprisingly well done and it came with lights and sound – a great interactive feature I could employ to add operational interest.

When it came time for the build, I knew I wanted something akin to the Death Star laser tower from Star Wars. I did some quick research and based my piece on Dave Goldberg’s model here. David is a professional prop builder and includes templates that really helped with the wall proportions and panels. I guess I really did download the plans of the Death Star!!!

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The laser cannon and turret

I started with the toy tank and cut the cannon away from the tank body. The cannon assembly included the turret, LED lighted gun, battery housing and speaker. A little clean up was required to confirm the lights and sound worked, as well as secure the battery to the rest of the fixture. I doused it with a coat of red oxide primer, then dry brushed a couple of details including some hatch doors. Then came a “salt weathering” with a top coat of metallic silver. I tried a new method and used sand instead of salt. It didn’t really work. When cleaning off salt with water, the salt will dissolve. Not so with the sand, so some of it gunked up and various portions of the body. I managed to work most of it off and the remains I decided to use as rust points. In the future, I’ll stick with salt.

After that, I did an ink wash and then dry brushing to bring out some details. I set that aside to dry as I moved onto the tower module.

I sized by eye the Goldberg templates in Microsoft Word. I did’t do the complicated turret version – just four identically sized walls but with differing paneling. I choose two of the wall templates and mirrored them left to right so the panel patterns would not appear that obvious.

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tower sides with template and panels

I printed out the templates and applied to a single layer of foam core with spay on Elmer’s Glue. I did the same to a sheet of styrene. The styrene is the back of a “for sale” sign I got at home box store – I would guess about .040″. The sides were trimmed, beveled, and hot glued together, keeping the paper templates visible.

After what I consider an earlier failure in bashing together a spaceship from household items, I knew the importance of panels on the side of the model. I don’t have a laser cutter as in the reference article, so I carefully cut the styrene panels by hand. Due to the thickness of the styrene, the sides are a bit short but that turned out to be a good thing as it gave me working room for the panels. For each row, I started on the sides and worked inward for exact placement. I could space out the panels to fit the area and that seemed to work. At least 3 panels on each row gave the most flexible spacing options.

Then came time to add the bits on the sides. I went back to the reference photos for inspiration. I wasn’t too concerned with duplicating the tower from the movie exactly – just something with a similar feel. Again, familiar yet different.

I had a few pieces already identified and my scrap box did not disappoint. I did want to include a door, balcony, and ladder for a subtitle reference to the original movie version. I chose a blast door from the Maelstrom’s Edge terrain sprue. For the balcony, I went back to the driver’s cage from a dollar store bulldozer. I cut off the seat section and with a bit of serendipity it fit perfectly with the blast door, so I had to use that. The ladder was from a Matchbox firetruck that I had set aside for the purpose.

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tower complete with greebles and ready for painting

Other bits and bobs came courtesy of left over pieces from science fiction rail modeler Jack Hess that had donated to the cause. I also found use for a woman’s razor cover, a broken piece of my dishwasher rack, and the center to a cassette tape spool. The door of an HO scale Belvedere Hotel on the lower level allows access for space marines and maintenance workers. After positioning the pieces and trying different configurations, I glued everything on with super glue (CA).

I made a top platform with the same method of styrene over foam core. The tank turret has a bit of a piece hanging down in the middle, so I cut a hole to fit that and the battery assembly. A similar hole was cut in the styrene and the pieces all glued together.

Then I blasted everything with light gray primer. I dry bushed a few of the greeble details including the ladder and the access door. I gave a couple of ink washes to get into the nooks of the details and between the panels. Then I dry brushed acrylic browns and rusts for weathering. I placed the cannon assembly on top and touched up a few paint mistakes. Finally I glued the balcony to its ultimate position and placed a couple of HO Preiser figures to add interest and establish a sense of scale. The tower is a single unit and can be moved around the landscape as the situation calls for.

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supervisor and guard discussing the recent developments

This was a fun and straightforward project and came together well. The addition to my Mines of Xenon layout adds a nice touch and sets the scene with a nod to a classic. The sound and synchronized “laser” surprise visitors and add a neat wow factor. So, if you need to defend your starbase, go ahead and build yourself a laser cannon turret tower. They’ll be glad you did.

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finished laser cannon turret and tower


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.

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.