Posts Tagged ‘model railroading’

sci-fi model train

HH-78 #15 crosses over the sludge pond as the Turbo Trains shuttles a crew to work at the Mines of Xenon

The year is 2154 and humanity has built a mining outpost on the planet Xenon III. Profits have been down for the Xenon Mining Company (XMC) for decades, forcing them to cut corners, defer maintenance, and ignore required firmware upgrades to their ageing AI mining robots. An electrical storm has enveloped the planet and XMC’s command center has taken a direct hit. The current surge has shorted out the coupling between the robots and the master servers, allowing the automaton units to move freely about the planet. The robots have taken control over all systems on the outpost and the humans must defend themselves.

The Mines of Xenon layout depicts the early days after the ‘bot revolt and the workers’ counter-uprising in which the miners must secure a base, scrounge for supplies, and fight for survival. The humans have managed to commandeer the existing freight and passenger rail systems as their only way to ensure safe passage around – and under – the planet surface until either they arrange to escape in a freight launch-craft or help arrives.

Motivation

One of the greatest benefits I get from reading print model railroading magazines or books is the power they have to spark my imagination. I will often read an article again and again, poring over every detail of the photographs to fuel my dreams.

Lunar_MRR_feature

The earliest modeling memory I have from my teens is when I first discovered Model Railroader magazine and found the article “A Lunar Railroad You Can Model” in April of 1978. By checking the date you’ll know that it was meant to be tongue in cheek, but the lead photo of rail cars on the lunar landscape stayed with me, if though dormant, until adulthood.

Recently I was inspired by watching an outer space themed movie and went back to that old photo. A new project was born: The Mines of Xenon layout. It has now been 40 years since I first saw that magazine article.

Sci-fi Turbo Train

The space Turbo Train pulls into sub-terra station on the way to take workers to the Xenon mine

Until that moment, I had been a by-the-rules model builder. I have a small industrial switching layout that stays pretty much true to script (explore this blog for a lot more information on the Southside Industrial District). It is my first layout as an adult and has given me the chance to hone my modeling skills and learn updated techniques that I learned as boy. But now it was time to branch out.

Modeling the Story

The trains run through a fantasy environment of robots, spaceships, and dinosaurs. As the trains run, a world unfolds around them. Radioactive sludge fills the extract pond as rogue robots attempt to take over the planet. Humans have retreated in defense, planning their next move.

img_20180312_233545574.jpg

The Turbo Train speeds past #15 on the way from the mine to the underground station by the workers’ village. Notice the heavy modifications the humans have made to the freight engine for safety and survival

Design Parameters

I wanted a place for imagination to have the freedom to run. I wanted people to feel welcome to operate or touch the layout (within reason). It should be created from relatively cheap and available materials and provide low entry barriers for new and young modelers. It should be simple and include interactive possibilities (like some of the old Tyco electric accessories). Basically, a glorified Christmas morning train set.

I had become frustrated with the lack of a continuous-run possibility on my industrial switching layout so I knew I wanted a loop. If this was to be on exhibition, I wanted to be able to let trains run of their own accord, freeing me up speak to visitors at a show or guests in my home.

sharp3070.us@om.org_20170624_095243_0001

Initial sketch of the Mines of Xenon track plan. Notice the point-to-point passenger line as well as the ore dump spur in the upper right corner, both of which were abandoned in the final design.

I would also take this chance to introduce my youngest daughter to model railroading and she would help me out with design decisions and age appropriate tasks.

The Search

So then it was off to the Internet to get inspired. I started mixing standard model railroading search terms with words like “science fiction”, “fantasy”, “futuristic”. What I found was amazing. I found a whole other world of hobbyists, especially in the gaming community. I would encourage you to check out the war gamers and their creativity. There are some amazing modelers out there that have nothing to do with model railroading. I wanted to learn from them and incorporate as many cross-genre techniques as I could into my model making.

In my searching for futuristic railroad items, I came across the Turbo Train set that Tyco sold in the 70’s. This would fit the bill perfectly and I picked up a used box set for a nice price on eBay.

Year2017 05

I settled on a mining theme on a foreign planet. The mines would add some operational possibilities, the use of heavy industrial machinery (and robots), and the chance to incorporate a passenger line to move workers around. I knew Tyco also offered an operating ore dump car and set, so I would be able to work that into the plan.

The genre would be science fiction with a bit of a nod to post-apocalyptica a la Mad Max style. Other genres you might consider for your own railroad are fantasy, Gothic, Viking, steampunk, or even a mix of different genres. I didn’t want the apocalypse to be too dark, so I went easy along that dimension.

The Diorama

I wanted to test out some ideas and modelling techniques before committing them to the layout, so I built a 2×4′ diorama. I had never worked with extruded foam (for the mountain) or resin (for the sludge pond) so I wanted a place I could try my hand and practice. I tried out combinations of colors that I think turned out OK.

I also wanted to test out size and spacing. One side of the diorama is the sludge pond, the other is the underground passenger terminal. After a couple of attempts, I settled on a technique for the pond. I found that leaving the foam cut and not smoothed like a mountain made it appear more as a quary (or mine) might look. Using different combinations of pieces gave me the look and feel I was going after for an underground station.

20170802_201201

Adding texture to the sludge pond on the diorama

The diorama also gives me an setting or background for photography. I can quickly add pieces or move them around for the affect I am going for.

The Layout

I decided early on it was best to keep it simple. Every time I was tempted to add a siding, turnout, or crossing, I resisted and pulled back to what is basically a loop with a passing siding. The Turbo Train must run on steel track (it is held down by magnets), so it ended up being a separate outer loop. I added a couple of spurs to the freight line so I could 1) dump the ore with the Tyco accessory and 2) have another destination and holding siding for processed material headed for the freight space shuttle.

Mines of Xenon sci-fi model train layout overview

This photo shows early progress of the layout with most track in place. The mine and processing plant will be on a mountain at the far end and cover the three loops of track. The Turbo Train passenger line is independent of the freight line and painted white.

The terrain includes a mountain to add visual interest and provide a destination for mine trains. One end of the freight tunnel is the xenon mine and the other end houses the processing facility. This orientation allows me to use the old empties in / loads out operating scheme I first learned about from Model Railroaders N scale Clinchfield Railroad.

IMG_20180312_230322958

Workers try to contain the radioactive runoff before it gets out of hand

For passenger operations, there are two stations modeled of a shuttle line. One station is at the mine and the other at the dormitory for the workers. The simple loop allows me to turn on trains and let them run while leaving me free to speak or explain the layout. I can add some basic switching to break up the monotony.

The turbo train is really fun to run and can be run by youngsters for an interactive experience. A big red button on the side of the layout invites you to push it and dump the processed ore for shipping. I’ve also added some battling robots for another aspect of interaction. Plans also include a crashed spaceship with lights and smoke, as well as an operating turret to protect the mine with lasers and sound.

A radio active sludge pond with runoff creek adds visual interest, while the setting allows a lot of freedom for inserting a cast of unique characters and vignettes.

Construction Techniques

Construction is mostly by the book, despite the topic being modeled. Extruded foam over an open grid of 1×4’s make up the benchwork. The mountain is more 2″ extruded foam stacked. The only thing I did different here was to not smooth down the edges, but rather keep the edges “cut”, much like a quarry on the planet Xenon might look. The sludge pond is resin with several coats of Mod Podge to give texture on the surface.

20133307_10154502140611755_1104002627_o

Even a science fiction model railroad starts with a plan and sound building techniques

Track is mainly a mix of brass Tyco train set and Atlas snap track, as are turnouts. I invested in a few new #4 turnouts because that is where reliability issues show up first. The Turbo Train track is steel Tyco track painted white to set it apart and give it a familiar, yet different, look.

Beyond the basics, details were made with what I could find on hand. Two plastic soda bottles make the bridge tunnel for the Turbo Train. Ballast is construction sand painted with the same color as my base terrain.

Rolling Stock

Rolling stock is Athearn Blue Box PS hoppers modified for the outer space mining environment. I’ll cut the three bays into individual units and place on a single truck. Some modified train set flat cars will be used for hauling heavy equipment and maintenance of way purposes. At the moment most couplers are NMRA horn-hook style for robust operation by little hands. Upgrading to Kadee style may be an option.

IMG_20180204_191606198

Modified HH-78 #15 gets final preps to make the dangerous run from the sub-terra station to the mines to pick up supplies

Motive power consists of custom kitbashed “space locos” (see article “Kitbash A Deep Space Model Locomotive”). There will be at least one for a mine train and one for freight ops. The head unit of the Turbo Train comes out of the box unmodified. It is basically a slot car motor on a chassis with plastic wheels of the correct HO gauge. The engine and wagons are very light and held down to steel track with magnets. This design is quite effective and the train can travel vertical and even upside down, though I have chosen not to exploit that at this time.

Operation

Basic operation involves continuous running of the mine train in a loop. There will be two mine trains so I can operate an empties / loads operating scheme using the passing siding within the mountain.

Automatic operation can be interrupted for picking up, setting out, or dropping a load of processed Xenon ore with the Tyco ore dump accessory. The Turbo Train operates independently in a loop and can be run by young observers. Other interactive pieces include the battling spider robots, a gun turret on the mountain, and possibly lasers on a crashed spaceship.

Mining in Space

Plenty of interaction and animation on the railroad layout “Mines of Xenon” –  a nice little eBay score

Still To Do

I’ve come this far in just a few months which is fast for me. I still have the mine cars to build, locos to finish kitbashing, mountains and toxic waste pools to model, all the while stretching my imagination on how to use those dollar store robots.

Then I must decide if I take the layout on the road for shows. If you happen to see me out there, be sure to come by and say “hi”! You just might find yourself saving the human race from an onslaught of killer robots – or at least have fun trying!

Sci-fi Model Train Play tunnel

Fun and play is the name of the game on The Mines of Xenon science fiction model railroad!

Advertisements

I didn’t really know what I was doing when I set out to make my first space train, so I just kind of jumped right in. Here are some things I learned along the way.

IMG_2956

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

* Do a Google image search to get ideas and what style you are attracted to. A consistent style helps sell the realism, even on a fantasy train.

* Choose your genre – fantasy, sci-fi, steam punk, apocalypse, etc. Post apocalyptic is best for straight up Mad Max style.

* Familiar yet different. If things are too wild and crazy, people won’t be able to relate to it. You’ll want to start with something that resembles a train at it’s essence, but is different enough to suggest it comes from another world or era. For North Americans, models from other countries can look, well, foreign. Continental Europe models can be a good place to start looking.

* Asymmetry is your friend. Nothing says “last minute addition” like a piece off-center, or on just one side of the vehicle. You have 3 axis of possible symmetry. Abuse them all.

* Stick to earth (muted) tones and the predominate color on your planet. Similar pieces can be painted different colors to give the impression they come from different “sets” or locations..

* Add sheets of metal (I used Evergreen corrugated) for defensive protection.

* Add crude weapons of offense like guns, spikes, bombs, etc.

IMG_2997

Profile of a science fiction model train engine HH-78 #15 with upgrades in place

* Not all pieces will fit. Chop them off to make them fit, or just have them take a precarious position. This can give the impression that the builders had to make do with what was at hand.

* Think outside the box – horizontally as well as vertically. Armaments and supplies just tacked onto the sides especially give that rough-and-ready feel. Most people forget about expanding out over the track. Watch your clearances if you plan to operate your model.

* Always keep an eye out for little containers, covers, tops, from around the house like your kitchen or bath. By now you have recognized the back of the disposable razor heads on my model. Stationery supplies are also possibilities.

* Check the toy section of your favorite store for specific add-ons like guns, lasers, robots, etc. Some movie branded items can be quite expensive and may not be worth it. The local dollar store and charity shops have provided some nice finds.

* Matchbox accouterments can be quite good. Construction vehicles can be especially useful. Don’t be afraid to chop or take apart a new model. Hot Wheels has some wild stuff, but I find Matchbox more “realistic”. Hot Wheels with some modifications might fit your genre.

* Less is more. Don’t add too many different things that might detract from the overall look.

* Most of my “upgrades” I added with the body attached to the frame. This helps fragile pieces from falling off. Test that you can remove the shell again for cleaning and maintenance.

* Don’t be afraid to try something or damage your model on the outside. If something breaks, it might be for the better. That’s an opportunity for an aged piece or even a patch job.

* Graffiti gives that rag-tag feel. I keep mine minimal, general, and non offensive. Decals or free-hand, up to you.

* Weathering counts and can tie everything together. Do it in “layers”, each after a set of pieces has been added like might happen in the prototype. Standard techniques apply: dry brush, air brush, chalks, and washes.

* Appropriate figures can help bring the unit to life when you have finished or for photography.

* Have fun!

Sci-fi Train locomotive engine

Progress on the science fiction locomotive for the Mines of Xenon model railroad

2017 was a year of stabilization on one front and expanding horizons on the other.

First it was time to finally redo and finish the asphalt pavement areas on the West end of the Southside Industrial district. The plaster drying and painting process seemed to go slow and took a few of real-time months.

Southside Industrial District industrial switching

Paving on the Southside Industrial District industrial switching model railroad

With a new and improved back drop as a blank canvass, I applied the background photos and finally got the structures set back to their allotted positions for the first time in the new basement. Work began on the final detailing for structures.

Southside Industrial District model railroad switching layout

Southside Industrial District in its place

 

Then I approached a fork in the road, so I took it.

Mines of Xenon

Getting started on the Mines of Xenon science fiction model railroad layout

The idea for the Mines of Xenon layout was birthed. That set of months of research, planning, Googling and even playing. I decided on a simple 4×6′ space mining layout and build a 2×4′ diorama as practice. My daughter would help and get an introduction to model railroading.

Mines of Xenon sci-fi model railroad

Mines of Xenon track plan sketch

Scenery, rolling stock, and motive power (and the odd robot) were stock piled. The last part of the year was spent finishing the space loco kitbash and diorama to place it in. Scroll through last year’s blogs for details and photos.

Mines of Xenon sci-fi model train layout overview

Running trains on the Mines of Xenon

 

So, what’s up for 2018? The theme for the year seems to be finishing. We all know a model railroad is never finished, but here is what is on tap for this year:

  • Finish the Sothside Industrial District with detailing buildings and a simple operating scheme
  • Finish the Morden diorama with a station re-do and a reasonable facsimile of an Underground platform
  • Finish the Mines of Xenon layout with the main mountain and detailing
Mines of Xenon model train family play

Xenon is a family affair

I would also like to have a go at getting some new projects underway:

  • Finalize plans and prep for the new train room
  • Get a jump on starting the Morden exhibition layout

 

In the short term, the Mines of Xenon is the highest priority, so keep checking the blog for progress.

Sci-fi Model Train Play tunnel

Goal for 2018: Play with trains!

Service is now running from the village sub-terra station to the mine.

IMG_1055

The futuristic turbo train departs for the mines of Xenon on Rich Erwin’s sci-fi model railroad

I’m writing a mixed-bag status update today. I’ve painted and put in place, at least temporarily, the passenger line from the village to the mine. The configuration is a loop and the plan is to have a station at the mine (underground, hewn out of rock, etc.) to the “village” where miners live and the extracted minerals are processed and loaded for shipment.

IMG_1054

Overview of The Mines of Xenon science fiction model railroad

 

The village station (approximately where the turbo train is in the picture above) will be a “sub-terra” (that is, subway) station, also within rock.  Available space will determine the size of the stations, but I’d like to have a pretty substantial one as in my practice diorama.

This is the steel track included in the Tyco Turbo Train set plus a couple of extra pieces I surprisingly found in my scrap box. The steel is used because the Turbo Train uses magnets to maintain contact with the track. I painted the passenger line white to set it off visually from the freight line. I’m also considering using the vertical spacers that come with the train set to make it appear more like an elevated passenger track. I think the contrast is nice, but I still have to paint the re-railer / power section which is a bit quirky.

20170924_204219

I’m getting ready to do some body work on the diesel roster. I have a box full of shells (most of which are courtesy of Jack Hess of the “Colony 5” work in Railroad Model Craftsman) and I am quite enjoying stripping the paint off. Just soaking 2-3 days in 91% alcohol and scrub with a toothbrush. Jack had already started some work, and I continue to imagine what a heavily kitbashed alien engine might look like.

IMG_1049

Remember, the layout depicts the early hours after the AI mechs are attacking and the humans must scrounge for raw materials for protection. Think Mad Max style trains. The idea is that I will take the bodies of disparate engine styles and cram them together for something that is recognizable, yet foreign. This could be fun if I don’t stress and let the process come.

IMG_1048

A secondary technique is to leave the paint bubbled as a weathering effect. I’m looking forward to using this in the future, but for now I’m stripping everything off.

IMG_0221

Next up is ballasting. Again I wanted something familiar, yet different. Typical model railroad ballast would be just too ordinary. I considered kitty litter or aquarium pebbles. A little research and I thought both those items would be too large for HO scale (but probably acceptable if nothing else could be found).

I’m pursuing using construction sand that I snagged from a friend. It comes from a big box store and I got about two pounds worth. I dried it out and the sample seemed to have a pinkish hue. I had in my mind something darker and more red. So I painted it. I simply dropped some of the same paint from the baseboard stage and mixed in a red party cup. Let that dry and voila!

IMG_1057

Dried construction sand on the left, painted sand on the right

 

The sand clumps slightly as it dries, which turns out is a nice effect. The grains themselves are a bit small for a ballast (although who knows what they use on Xenon 3!) so the larger clumps work out nicely.

I’m happy with the results and think I’m going to go with the painted sand. This turns out to be quite a versatile and cheap method. You don’t need very much paint and I guess acrylic would work as well as the latex house paint.

I ballasted two small sections of track – one with the original sand and one with the painted. I’ll have my little helper give the final verdict with a little input from dad.

IMG_1059

Finally I’d like to share a nice little find. I was looking for plastic containers to hold the diesel shell parts (window glazing, handrails, horns) while stripping paint. I went strolling down the aisles of my local grocery story and found some cheap lunch containers with sections. Neato and I think I’ll be using these again and again for various projects to come.

IMG_1058

So now it is on to installing a couple of bridges and securing the ballast and track.

20170730_184034

Work has begun in earnest on filling the swamp. I had already coated the bottom with joint compound, sanded and painted it. Light green on the outside, blending to a black in the middle represent depth.

I had also fashioned a couple of industrial pipes from PVC and a prescription pill bottle and added toxic drainage. A how-to video by Wyloch can be see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S07hHjXgd60

Now it was time to add some detail to the area. I cut a dollar-store toy dinosaur in half for the “swamp monster” emerging from the pool of blech at the waterline. Paintbrush bristles and Noch static grass were glued in to represent whatever type of wild reed grows on Xenon 3. I also added part of toy dinosaur skeleton tail.

Next I poured the resin. About 20oz of both resin and hardener were enough to lay down a layer of about 1/4″ inch thick. I let it cure and harden at least 48 hours.

Next comes the magic. The resin dries incredibly clear. Every fault from the plaster and paint can be clearly seen.  The resin, as poured, needs some texture and color variation to get the light to play and bounce. This can be achieved by adding some acrylic paint to the resin pour, but it was too late for that now (note to self: add some color to the resin next time. Fluorescent or glow in the dark?)

20170802_201847

I remembered technique of making water of nothing but coats of Mod Podge by long time Model Railroader Magazine contributor Dave Frary. The effect is stunning and explained on Dave’s Youtube page here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnOE-qWhGVs

Even though the effect of building up the coast of Mod Podge is amazing, the bottom layer of paint also counts for a lot as well. Again, a lesson for the main layout, but now time to start laying down the layers. As the video states, blotching is key. Thicker layers are better, but tend to cause air bubbles, which destroy the effect.

This is a fun task where you can get a little help from your assistant. You can do at least 1 coat a day, two for the thinner ones.

20170802_201201

On the backside of the diorama, which is the underground sub station, I started placing in the various elements, The platform and bulkhead are basically finished. I tested coloring the ties white to differentiate the passenger line. I made some other pieces out of sci fi gaming textures from the Internet. I still need to add some details to get a grungy, sci-fi, post apocalyptic feel, as well as a futuristic train or locomotive, low level lighting, and passengers on the platform.

20170730_184309

Over on the main layout, it is time to start laying track. I have put in place the cornerstone pieces (basically the switches) which will key the placement of the rest of the track. There will 5 electrical blocks (standard DC block wiring), so I mocked in some curves and identified where the feeders will need to be.

20170802_201903

I drilled the holes and will start laying the track for real next week. Soon trains will be running on the Mines of Xenon!

 

20170723_214606

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.

20170723_210009

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.

20170723_210619

20170723_210753

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!