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The Pour

Posted: August 16, 2018 in Uncategorized
slimepit_20180721_115511345_blur sm

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.


C’mon. You know you wanna


The History
Intergalactic Transport Machines (ITM) will build 3725 HH-78 models between 2142 and 2159, used mainly for deep space heavy industry like mining and transport. “HH” stands for “heavy haul” and these machines are revered for their simple mechanics and their robust life spans in the harsh working conditions of the space mines. Three hundred year old internal combustion engine technology is still quite effective and cheap and is the basis of many of  ITM’s designs, including the HH series.


Unit HH-78 #15 engineer’s side

Engine number 15 is one of the locos present on Xenon III during the Machina Revolt of 2154. My model depicts the unit after it was confiscated by the miners and modified for maximum protection and military operations.

HH-78 00a

The Model
No model train manufacturers make a model of the HH-78 since the prototype doesn’t exist yet. A kitbash would be in order. Since this was my first science fiction locomotive kitbash and first engine kitbash overall. I sought out the advice of Jack Hess, author of the article “An Out of this World Kitbash”  published on the Railroad Model Craftsman website. Jack had actually started work on this unit himself and graciously let me finish it to my own specs and in my own style.

The Bash
The chassis and mechanism is from an unmodified Atlas blue box SD45-2 and the shell started out as a Bachmann electric E60PC in Amtrak livery. Jack had already made the first cut and splice to get the shell to fit on the chassis when he passed it on to me.


The factory paint was stripped using a bath of 91% isopropyl alcohol. Horns, exhaust, and window glazing were removed for the final prepping step. The color scheme for the series of locos the Xenon Mining Corporation has purchased for its fleet is an orange corporate logo over a beige base color. The logo is a simple scriptograph produced from the letters “XMC” in a futuristic font I found on the Internet.


I attached a few extra vents and hatches from my scrapbox and gave the engine a base coat of Rustoleum ivory from a rattle can. I printed the logo on Testors water-slide decal paper and applied to the sides per the manufacturer’s instructions. Everything on the engine body with the beige color represents the “stock” production model from ITM before the humans got a hold of it and added the upgrades.

HH-78 00d

I liked what Jack had done on his Colony 5 model engine, so I took an extra sprue from a Walthers building kit and added an extra exhaust pipe amidships, which also serves to hide part of the body splice. I softend the sprue with heat from a hair dryer and bent it to fit the space. I bored out one end with a small hobby knife to represent hollow tubing. I spray painted the piece gold and attached it to the main body. I then did some light weathering on the overall model to show some light road use.

The Fantasy
Next was the fun part and required a bit of imagination and some courage. The idea is that the miners and workers on Xenon III took over operations of #15 in the early days of the android uprising. They “upgraded” the unit by adding armor cladding on the sides and general body protection at the fore and aft of the model. A few simple mechanical upgrades like an extra fuel tank helped the engine run for longer distances. Protection for crew comes from grates and wire mesh added wherever possible. Battle guns on the top side add some offensive power. Finally, survival supplies and spare parts are crammed in wherever possible to ensure the crew has everything they might need.


Unit HH-78 #15 Mad-Max style model locomotive

I scrounged the Internet for ideas, and my scrap box  for “Mad Max” style bits and pieces to see what would work. Mostly I tried to replicate some images I found of post apocalyptic vehicles without going overboard. I wanted a bit of a mix of science fiction and apocalypse. Materials should look like they were added hastily (see “Tips for Mad Max Upgrades to Your Sci-Fi Model Train” in the blog post below). Evergreen corrugated siding provided armour to reinforce the sides. The end of a 70’s era Athearn Pullman Standard hopper and some picture wire provided a nice plow for the front end. I think Matchbox has some really good stuff and they contributed the oil tank, back snow plow, gun turret, and the rack of camping (survival) equipment. Railing from an old AHM house helps protect the crew cab. A friend’s screen door mesh provided the safety cage on top and on the back end.


If the pieces don’t fit quite right, that’s OK. If the paint doesn’t match, all the better. It all adds up to an effect of humanity making do and surviving in real time. Some war-time graffiti and another layer of weathering completed my model.

HH-78 14

The Future
My next model will use the same techniques, but look totally different. Why don’t you get some extra locomotive shells and see what you can come up with? The model doesn’t have to actually run and should you not be satisfied, just chuck it in the bin. A little imagination and out of the (scrap) box thinking will have you building your own space ship train, unique to you. It is impossible to do it wrong. Maybe I’ll see you out there somewhere.


C’mon. You know you wanna.

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.

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.


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.


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.




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!


Last Year This Year

Posted: February 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

Progress was slow during 2016 but the net result ended up in the plus column. After being out of the country for 7 weeks, upon arrival plans were made to sell our house. A new residence was secured with a dedicated train room (yay wife!). Not only did the move take some time, but the layout got a bit roughed up in the process.




So after a rush of progress to start of the year, last year’s projects kind of stalled:

  • Redoing city streets, finishing buildings and detailing (urban renewal)
  • Adding an staging oval (now since abandoned)
  • Finishing ol’ number 703
  • Finishing Morden diorama
  • Making an OO scale London Underground exhibition layout

Life has stabalized now and the 2017 agenda is shaping up so:

  • Cleaning up the bumps and bruises from the move
  • Preparing the train room and workshop
  • Urban Renewal
  • Finishing ol’ number 703
  • Redoing Morden station (didn’t like the quality) and finishing the diorama
  • Starting London Underground exhibition layout
  • Track plan for new layout
  • Start of benchwork for new layout

So let’s follow the progress and see how far I get.