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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!



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

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.