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The Altamont and Blue Ridge 2
Starting Over: A Comprehensive Project Blog

Page 2: 3/6/2018
through 3/6/2019

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Backdrop Silhouettes and Lake Bed at East River

Adjacent to the Mountain on the East River Curve there are two lake crossings. I have held off on installing the mountain silhouettes behind these crossing because I have been thinking about exactly how to handle the mountain flats on the backdrop wall behind an expanse of water like a lake. This is to say how to create the distant shore of a 3 dimensional lake in two dimensions on the back drop wall. The sketch below shows my thoughts on this matter: a large, distant mountain silhouette with a low tree line on the shore line in front. The lake floor with its Magic-Water-poured onto a sheet of .040 styrene on a flat surface and then installed to kind of bend up to the shoreline to create a slightly raised, arrow-straight line of the bank with forest floor and tree canopy above. Having the lake terminate into the wall an inch or so up the wall should help to create the illusion of additional depth, which is what I want here.

Here's the general concept.
Here is the the crossing scene with the far mountain ridge line installed.
Here the backdrop silhouette work is completed and the rock sides of the lake glued in place. The near shore will be a marshy area at the bottom of a steep slope down from the rounded homasote cutout above. I can now remove the .040 styrene sheet, paint my lake on it, detail the shoreline and lake bottom, seal the enclosure with gloss medium, and pour the Magic Water. Then I'll replace the finished lake in a single piece, glue it down, and tie in the marshy part of the near shore line to the adjoining terrain using trees, rocks, foliage, and ground cover etc.
Here is the completed scene. As it turns out, the shadow of the bridge on the lake helps to add depth, and so does the juxtaposition of the two fishermen and the small sailboat. If I had it to do over again, I would make the large triangular rock a bit smaller than the one the fishermen are standing on. 

Adding Earth Texture, Ground Cover, Shrubs and Trees
to the Mountain on the East River Curve: 

Now, back to my mountain.  I'll put down a texturing layer on the painted earthen areas. I use a mixture of tempera paint powder and plaster of paris sprinkled over the painted earth sections that have been first sprayed with a solution of equal parts water and isopropyl alcohol. This gives you a really nice, textured, realistic bare earth effect to lay your grass or over ground cover on. You could just glue your ground cover right over the smooth painted surface,, but adding this texturing step really softens the end result and looks more realistic. It is especially effective if you leave spots of bare earth showing through here and there. Warning: the dry paint powder has a tendency to get everywhere and as you later spray over any this, it tends to splatter, so it is good idea to mask off nearby track, structures, and roadways and use a hand held shield to protect rocks and foliage and backdrop when dusting the powder or spraying the liquid etc. This technique is a variation on Linn Westcott's famous "zip texturing" idea popularized in the late 1960s. It is described as follows in Joe Fugate’s masterful “Forum Clinic.” http://siskiyou-railfan.net/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?1270.10
In Joe's words:
“Be aware that the plaster - tempera paint mix darkens quite a bit when you wet it down, so mix up a batch that looks too light to you, then apply it to a scrap of scenery, wet it down and allow it to dry. Once it's dry, check the color. If it's too dark, add more plaster and try again. If it's too light, add more color and try again. Keep track of your formula so you can repeat it later. Generally, you want somewhere between 2 - 8 parts plaster to color, or perhaps 10 parts plaster if you need a really light "dirt". Keep track of the total parts that are color. For example, the rich brown dirt color below has 3 parts that are color, so 9 parts plaster is really a ratio of 3 parts plaster to 1 part color (9 divided by 3 is 3). For reference, here's some simple formulas I use.
Rich brown dirt:
1 part black
2 parts brown
9 parts plaster (3:1 color to plaster)
Tan dirt:
1 part black
2 parts brown
1 part yellow
16 parts plaster (4:1 color to plaster)
Get yourself a tea strainer, spray wet water (water with a few drops of detergent in it) on the bare brown scenery, and sprinkle some of the plaster-tempera mix onto the scenery. Then mist the plaster mix from above lightly with more water from a pump spray bottle. In a couple of hours, the plaster should be dry and set up. If it's still loose, spray it again.
If I want something that looks muddy, I'll soak the plaster good. Or if I want a more dusty look, I'll take it easy with the water.”

After everything is dry, you can use your vacuum to get up any loose powder. You may need to touch up a few spots here and there at this point, but this is easy – just few pinches of the plaster paint powder and few little shots of my water/alcohol spray. Don't worry if the finished product is a little dusty to the touch. It will all be well sealed when you apply the glue mix to attach ground cover.

To make my red/brown mix, I use .5 parts red, .5 parts yellow, 1.5 parts black and 2.5 parts brown to 9 parts plaster. To make my dark brown mix I use a darker variation of Joe’s rich brown dirt recipe using 1.5 parts black and 2.5 parts brown and 9 parts plaster.

The truth of the matter is that, the way I do it, the exact color doesn't matter much, because I like to go back over
every bit of exposed earth with a very thin coat using a basic red-earth color latex paint mixed with water to make a thin wash. Then I just lightly dab it on. This gets the red-earth color just right, and it also helps blend the dark earth and the red earth borders.

Once the texturing layer is complete and fully dry, I move on to adding ground covers, shrubs and trees.

erm Here is the mountain with the rock, walls, and track masked off and the texture applied. In this photo the plaster is still wet. It will dry a much lighter color. In this case I got the red earth mix a little on the purple side, but it doesn't matter. I'll go back over it with thinned latex paint color wash using my basic red-earth color to adjust the color once it dries and sets up hard. Once set, you can quickly but lightly over-wash this stuff with thinned paint to correct color and then with thinned glue (either white or matte medium) to attach ground cover. But you must be very careful - just lightly dab the fluids on - don't use forceful brush strokes or you will smooth out the grainy texture, and don't spray because you'll want to leave a few spots uncovered so some earth shows through here and there. It's a great effect.. 
Here is the finished earth texturing, ready for ground cover.
ermgc And here is the mountain with the basic ground cover applied. I like the Woodland Scenics fine turf and mixed turf products for this: first fine turf in a medium green, then a dusting of green blend (a WS mix of fine turf made from a variety of greens) and then a few spots of burnt grass and yellow colored fine turf for variety. The forest floor sections, covering the dark-brown-earth painted areas, is made using two shades, soil or earth colored WS fine turf, with a sprinkling of fine turf in a burnt green and then a sprinkling of course turf in a light green. I have left the road uncovered allowing the textured red earth to show, and I sprinkled on a little ballast to simulate gravel. Then, liberally using contact cement, I added the tree line where the mountain meets the wall. Notice I use larger clumps on the lower slopes and diminish the size of the clumps as I ascend to the top where I have a thick forest covering the summit. At this point things are beginning to take shape, and the forced perspective effect is clearly beginning to work.
ermb Now I add bushes and shrubs and vines to the rock outcroppings, again using plenty of contact cement and Woodland Scenics Clump Foliage in three colors and WS Foliage to simulate creeping vines on the rock faces: large clumps in the foreground and generally smaller clumps of foliage as I go up the slopes. At this point, I will also add a little more color to the rocks using pastels and washes to emulate mosses, and lichens, and dirty spots. Notice the variations in the grass color and bare earth patches I have allowed to show through here and there. I have also added a few loose rocks, thickets, and a few fallen trees to the forest floor areas in perpetration for adding my trees. 
ermc Trees: I like to use a variety of tree types in a variety of green shades. Here I'll be using trees salvaged from the A&BR1, so each tree will have to be refurbished with foliage and paint. Before I add my trees, I like to install a few strategically-placed trees to help me execute the forced perspective. These represent the largest trees and shrubs in any given area, and I can use them as a guide to size the surrounding trees and other greenery.  Also, although I did not do it here, I often give the smallest and most distant trees and shrubs just a hint of gray over-spray to add to the illusion of distance.

Here's the mountain completed. I placed and landscaped two structures (N scale for the house in the foreground and Z scale for the more distant house in the upper right on the horizon). Finally, I added a vehicle, a few figures, and some cows
ermf Looking up this mountain meadow gives a good idea of the effectiveness of my forced perspective.Every thing gets smaller and less distinct as the eye move up the hill. Note the cows in two sizes - the cows in the distance are goats painted to look like cows. 
ERMCov Model railroading can be a dusty business. While the the adjacent scenery is under construction I'll cover my completed work with this very thin plastic sheeting. It is light enough to rest on the tree tops without damage.

New Computers and Monitors Arrive

On and off, for the last few months, I have been shopping on line for desktop computers to run the A&BR2. I'll need two
since I plan to have a separate 4D Sound system for the center bench when I get around to it. The two computers will eventually be networked together using a TCP/IP network and running Railroad and Company's "Net" software. Since the desktop models I select will not do much of anything else except run Traincontroller, I won't need alot of computing power or hard disk memory. I need wifi, and I have determined that I want to run windows 10, so at least 4 gig of RAM will be required. Also a 64 bit processor seems best. My current laptop runs TC smoothly with a rated speed of only 3.18 mHz, so anything in that speed range will probably work fine. The least expensive new units with these features cost about $300 or so, and that does not include monitors, keyboards, cables, or mice. I did a little research into used units, and I hit on a Walmart on line offering for "refurbished" HP units with a 64 bit Intel Core processor, 4 gig of RAM, 180 gig of disk memory, 3.0gHz, with 8 serial ports, wifi, a network port, a 17 inch monitor, all the cables, a keyboard, a mouse, and free shipping for $134 each. This seemed impossible to beat, and even though I would have preferred a wide screen monitor configuration, the rest fit the bill exactly. So I bought two. They came yesterday, and they work great! I've already set them both up, naming the one that will control the perimeter mainline loops "Main" and the one that will eventually control the center bench section "Terminal." I then downloaded TrainController Gold 9.0, Train Animator, and 4D Sound onto both computers, installed Norton Anti virus, and copped my Railroad and Company "Documents" folder with all my yrrgs, yras, wavs, jpgs, and my custom exe files onto both.

I am out of town for few days, but when I return, I'll install my 7.1 surround software on both machines, and take them down to the train room and get both running the current layout using Traincontroller 9.0 and my current yrrg file. Then I'll set up a TCP/IP Network, and put one of then aside until I am ready to wire up the center section of the layout years from now. I'll use the other to run the current layout while keeping my laptop up to date so I can work away from the layout as well. My ultimate plan calls for a custom made control desk with these monitors, keyboards and mice built in. 
Two refurbished HP desktops: 64 bit, 4 gig or RAM, 180 gig memory, 3.0gHz, with 8 serial ports, wifi, network port, 17 inch monitors, keyboard and mouse. Total cost delivered: $268!
Here is a preliminary sketch of the proposed control desk that will house the monitors and keyboards.

New Computers Up and Running

Both of the "new" computers are up and running and I have installed TC 9.0 and 4D Sound on both as well as the drivers for my surround sound box and for the servo controller, and I am running schedules complete with sound including all train sounds and a number of stationary sounds as well, I am also running all lighting effects including HUE light sunrises and sunsets. This took a little time, but both units seem to be working great.

There is one small glitch. The sound positioning widow in TC On "Main" has somehow been corrupted. I suspect that this is a Windows problem for I had to fool around with some display settings to get my switchboard to display correctly on the 17" monitor. This problem does not show up on my laptop, nor on the other "new" HP unit, both of which work fine running exactly the same software and data files. I am working on the TrainController on line forum to get help clearing this up. In the meantime, it is not really too much of a problem.

Note: 3/29/2018. I preformed a Reset of Windows 10 on "Main" today. It took all day, and it failed to fix  the Sound Position Window problem. I guess the next step is a full "clean" Windows install. Whew! I think I'll just live with it for a while. Everything else seems to work, and I can use my lap top or the other HP desktop should I need to adjust the sound position of one of the blocks. In the meantime, I'll do some reading, and see if I can't find a way to reset the display without having to re-install Windows.

Note 4/1/2018. Another Easter Miracle! After quite a bit of fumbling around I finally fixed the problem. It was the zoom sizing for the display, which is what I thought was wrong at first. However, problems arose owing to the fact that windows has two different "Change Display" screens, one for the user's personal settings, and one screen that works system wide called "Change Primary Display Settings." Every time I asked to go to the "Change Display" screen, Windows would take me to the user screen without mentioning the existence of the other option. This option was not mentioned in any off the Microsoft documentation or service papers I read. I finally found it more or less by accident, and resetting the zoom there immediately fixed the problem. It is getting more and more difficult to navigate Windows settings!

Creating A More Complex Lake at Westridge.

With the success of the little lake bed at the East River Curve, I now feel confident to try something a little more ambitious, so I'll turn my attention to creating the larger lake bed on the other side of East River Mountain at Westridge. With three bridges already in place, this will be a little tricky, but I have a good plan, which I devised after consulting by phone with Dave Williams the inventor of Magic Water, and a very nice guy. Having the far shoreline terminate up the backdrop wall by 1/2 inch helps to enhance the forced perspective, but this, as well as having to work under and around the bridges, dictates that I can't pour my Magic Water in place on the layout. I'll have do this in sections, re-assemble the sections and glue them together on a very flat surface, make the pour, let the whole thing dry, and then cut them apart again, and finally reinstall the pieces on the layout. Part of the trick here is to take care to hide the tell-tale seams where the cut were made beneath the bridges or behind the raised roadbed causeway.
s1 Here is the area in question. I plan a deep water lake along the back wall joining the wall about 1/2 inch up and resting on the homasote strips I have installed just beneath the styrene strip with the tree line photo on it. There will be a deep water inlet (cove) beneath the two crossing bridges and terminating in a rock face around the cork area in the lower right corner of the photo, and I plan another shallow swampy wetland cove under the wooden tressel terminating near the edge of the plywood to the left-center of the photo.

The plan is to layout the water feature in place on four sections of .040 styrene, taking care that they join with nice straight edges. Then I'll mark the outline of the lake and the exact joint locations, remove the sections, place them on a flat bench, tape them back in place and then glue them carefully together using plastic cement to form a single piece. Next, I'll glue a .080 styrene barrier along the long  back edge where it will join to the wall using thin plastic model cement. And then I'll create the shoreline by molding about 1/4+ inch high Sculptamold barrier all the way around.

When the Sculptamold is dry, I'll seal everything up well (the barrier strip, the homasote shoreline and the sheet styrene joints) using thick gloss medium. Then I'll paint the lake bottom, detail the lake bottom around the shore, and pour my Magic Water. Finally, I'll use a very sharp razor knife to cut the sections apart again. and reinstall them in place on the layout. I have taken care to make sure that the cuts will be masked from the viewer's eye by the bridges and the roadbed causeway, and if I am careful making my cuts they will be pretty much invisible anyway. I tried this last week on a little test lake I made when I first began to experiment with Magic Water. I could detect a fine line where the Magic Water was cut, but it was subtle indeed.  
s2 Here are the four .040 styrene sheets in place. Note: I have left about 1/8" clearance under the tressel pilings.
s3 Here the styrene pieces are removed and reassembled on a flat place on the bench top.
s4 And here they are glued back together and a .080 square strip of styrene barrier added along the back edge (it does not show up in this photo,) and with the low Sculptamold shoreline molded all around. 
s5 Now the whole thing is sealed with gloss medium with extra attention to sealing the sheet styrene joints. It is then painted with flat latex paint in two shades of green: a deep green for deep water and a lighter, dustier green for the shallows. (The color gradations do not show up in the photo, and they are indeed subtle, but still, they are clear to the eye.) Then the shoreline in-water and underwater detail (rocks, dead trees, gravel, some in-water plant life in the swamp etc.)  is added and, after careful mixing, the Magic Water is poured. This took nearly 48 hrs to fully dry.

I calculated the area of the lake (~308 sq inches) and since I know 18 oz of  Magic Water will cover ~244 square inches .125 inch deep. I calculate 12 oz will cover my 308 square inch to a depth of about .074 inches.That's a bit over a 1/16 of an inch. Remember I have a .080 strip styrene barrier in the back, so 12 oz  ought to be about right. I just need to make sure the entire thing is super level. Notice I have surrounded the thing with .040 sheets of styrene, which I can use as shims should there be low spots that want to overflow after the pour. This stuff stays liquid for hours, so making these kinds of adjustments, if need, is easy. 
s6 Finished lake and wetland.
s7 Another view.

The Mountain at Westridge

The plan now is to turn my attention to the mountain covering the turnaround loop at this, the Northeast end of the layout. Once that mountain is complete I can layout and build the little town of Westridge, which will lie in a valley between my two completed mountains and overlook the newly-created Lake Merley.

As with the recently-completed mountain in the corner, east of  Westridge, I'll begin by making a rough sketch of the topography indicating the approximate location of all features. Then I'll position the tunnel portals and fill in with more bracing on the homasote framework in order to more fully support the
flimsy screen covering and to supply level places to attach rock outcroppings, roadways, structures etc.

wmf Here is the completed frame with tunnel portals and highway roadbed in place and little shelves for rock faces running  just above the base and near the rocky summit. In between, there will be a large, relatively flat, undulating mountain pasture, and two level pads: the lager pad for a z scale barn, silo, and farmhouse; and the smaller closer pad for an N Scale aluminum grain storage silo - again I'm working to force the perspective, and I hope to make the very top of this mountain appear very distant indeed. Most of the town of Westridge will be built on the hatch-top, which will cover the void  on the right in this photo.

One of the things I like to do while roughing out a large scene is to place any structures on the surfaces I am preparing for them to see if everything fits and looks in scale and convincing. In this case when I placed the house, barn, and silo on the pad I had prepared for them, they seemed a little crowded, so I added another separate pad for the house a little higher up the slope. You can see it in the following photo.
ws Rock faces screwed or glued in place, plastic screen "skin" installed, highway surfaces installed, homasote modeling in process. Notice the narrow strip of styrene running along the slope from the highway up to the farm pads. This will supply a level base for a little gravel/dirt farm road and I can model in a little cut and fill as I apply the Sculptamold. Again the forced perspective is already beginning to work.

wmo Initial base paint job
wmgc Plaster/tempera ground texture applied and over-wash earth tone paint applied- ground cover applied, and rocks dry-brushed with light gray and then very lightly with white.
wmc Shrubs and trees installed to complete my second mountain scene.
wmcu Closeup detail.

Westridge: Town Planning and Construction

As mentioned earlier in this blog, I plan to build the town of Westridge on and around the flat hatch cover between the two mountains that I have just completed: that is to say, between the corner mountain covering the East River curve and the mountain covering the Westridge loop. So far, I have done little in the way of town planning here. The reason for this is I want to wait until the space around the town location is fully developed before I commit to a specific town layout. For me this is the easiest way to maintain good transitions between the town and the surrounding terrain. This said, I do have in mind a rough idea of what I want the town to look like and what buildings and other features might be employed in its construction. What is more, the surrounding completed terrain and track work dictates a lot. For example, I know the exact location of all roads and highways leading into and out of town, and the location the of depot and the platform.

The best way to proceed at this point is to roughly make a few sketches that place the key structures that I know you want to include onto various street plans until I get something I like. It is a must at this point that I have selected at least the key the structures I want to use, and that I have on hand at the very least a to-scale cutout of the footprint of each of these structures. An even better approach is to have on hand completed models of all of the structures I plan to use - or at least completed models of the key structures I plan to use.

Once I settle on a general street plan, I will lightly sketch it onto the homasote and place my structures on it, making adjustments as I go until I get a street layout that accommodates all my structures and marries gracefully to existing roads, track work, and other 
surrounding features. In this way, I will develop not only a street grid design, but exact street widths and the location of sidewalks, trees, rail crossings, traffic lights, parks, playgrounds, telephone poles and all of the other details that will make up my town.

wl Here the hatch cover has been replaced and the town of Westridge as been laid out on  the flat surface. I plan to put a low hill in the back left corner by the church to accommodate a cemetery. This will help to break up the uniform flatness of the town terrace. There will be a little grassy space with trees beside the hotel on the left and a near wooded strip behind that beside the road leading up the mountain and in front on the large rock escarpment farther back. This tree line along the left side of the town scene should soften the now-abrupt transition to the mountain scene and break up the expanse of the large rock face. 
ws Here .040 styrene strips have been cut from sheets and covered with 220 grid sand paper and spray  painted dark k gray with a final spray dusting of black and then a very light gray mist to form streets, which are then glued in place with a thin coat of Liquid Nails. Sidewalks are then installed along the streets. I use Liquid Nails to glue the sand paper covering to the the styrene and to glue down the street strips and sidewalks because it is stronger than white glue and will not warp the styrene like so many other adhesives. 
wc The next move was to mark the location of the streets and sidewalks, remove all the structures, and glue the sidewalks to the the streets and then glue the streets in place on the homasote. Then I used dry transfers to make street center lines and other street painted markings like parking spaces etc. Then I laid out the small hill for the church and cemetery, filled in all of the unpaved areas with Sculptamold, texturing, and ground cover, and added shrubs, trees, vehicles, figures and other details. Not much left to do here except  to ballast the track, construct two more sections of the depot platform, and install LED lights in all the structures. Remember.his entire town is built on a hatch cover so I will glue all structures and vehicles etc. in place after everything is complete. 
wlw Here is the underside of the hatch with seven 4 bulb series circuits attached to 12 volt feeder bus terminals.Structure lighting on the A&BR2 is accomplished using warm white LEDs powered by the switchable 12 volt supply circuit. LEDs are wired 4 bulbs in series with a 680 ohm resistor. There are a few remote structures that will be lit with the same LEDs, but with individual bulbs wired  in parallel using the switchable 5 volt supply circuit, each of these solo bulbs gets a 1000 ohm resistor.
Here is a night photo. The switchable supply circuits are turned on and off using relays triggered by a DS64 switch machine set in the slow motion mode, and wired using a zenor diode to convert the polarity reversing output to an on/off output. Thus, all structure lighting can be controlled and fully automated by TrainController.

Thoughts Regarding Track Cleaning and Running Trains During Layout Construction

Keeping track and wheels clean and trains running smoothly is an ongoing challenge, and it is especially difficult when parts of the layout scenery is under construction. The problems are obvious. First, no matter how carefully done, scenery construction generates dust. As a general rule, once all the mainline track is laid, I never use sprays or power saws or abrasives like sandpaper in the train room. Still, I am frequently using paint and glue and dusty powers made of plaster of paris and tempura paint, as well as all manner of dusty ground covers and the like. Even though I try to vacuum as I go, it is still construction is still a dusty process. What is more every time I sweep the floor, dust is raised to inevitably settle down on the track. Second, during construction, I don't run trains every day, or even every week for that matter, and as every model railroader knows, once the track is clean nothing keeps it clean like running trains over it. If a model railroad sits for a week or two without activity, even under the cleanest of circumstances, it will undoubtedly be sluggish when restarted. So it is a double edge problem: the creation of dust and the absence of regular traffic.  

It seems to me that not running trains during construction, just letting things go is a mistake. Accordingly, I have settled on a periodic program of track cleaning and train running. At least every two or three weeks, I stop what I am doing and try to get the layout clean enough to smoothly run a sequence of schedules designed to travel over all of the mainline track. This involves five long trains, and the schedules exercise station stops at all depot sidings, and include all my sound and room lighting routines like sunrise and sun sets.

I first run each train around the layout by itself, and use a bright boy and alcohol to clean any stops where it studders. During this process I clean the loco wheels several times, for if there is dust or grim or glue or whatever on the track, it will surely get on the wheels. Then I run my full multi-train sequence, which takes about 10 minutes or so. Generally, I can get things working smoothly and  without incident with in an hour or so. Still it is always surprising to me how funky things can get after even a short period of disuse. Along the way, I almost always encounter a few spots in the track that I want to tweak, and a few trucks or couplers that need adjustment.

Once my five train sequence runs to conclusion without incident, I shut things down and return to my layout construction. 

Completing the Westridge Side of the North Bench 

Just a few details to attend to and I'll be done with this side of the North bench: a church window, window treatment for the buildings of the town (black outs and shades etc.) just so all the lighted windows don't look the same, some ground cover along the road from East River Mountain and a few structures there (an ice house, a bakery and a creamery) with lights. A few more trees and shrubs along the road into town and - "Voila, Fini." Another milestone: scenery complete on 15 feet of outer wall bench, out of the roughly 95 feet of bench needed to complete all the bench work along the outer wall. Now on the the East bench and the larger town of East River.

wo Overview of Westridge looking down from the West Rridge across the rooftops of the town and the lake below to East River Mountain in the background
wtc Westridge town grid with a view of the exposed rock face of the West Ridge on the left.

Moving On: The East Bench and the Town of East River.

The town of East River will be the second largest of the 4 towns on the A&BR2. It will occupy all the space between the two double track mainlines on the East bench, and will be a terraced affair with three levels and a couple of irregular hillocks: one accommodating a large park and the other accommodating the highway bridge crossing over the rails to connect East River to the main highway, which hugs the bench front. I have placed the depot near the bench front on the highway side of the track to allow room for the town to have at least a two-block-deep street plan on all levels. This created a bit of a traffic jam, and I had to drop the main highway below the bench top level in order to bypass the depot by means of a roadway tunnel. This is a little unusual, but it should add variation to what would otherwise be just a long, straight, flat road, something one rarely sees on the Blue Ridge  Mountains.

Since, the terraces are already in place, the first order of business is the prep the topography and the streets and highway
roadbeds, tunnel portal, and retaining walls.

ers Here is the topo and street preparation for the right hand half of the town of East River including my rough in forms for the two hillocks, homasote ramps for major roadway elevation changes and the road and street layout complete with .040 styrene sheets. I have also roughed the main retaining walls and the tunnel portals.

Next the streets will be completed and glued down and the street lines added (see the following entry dated 6-18-2018,)  The rock face and heavy retaining walls must be installed and painted and detailed, and the screen, Sculptamold and ground cover will follow. I also have to install the sidewalks and all the LEDs for the structure lighting and put the structures in place.  I must also complete the church grounds to the left of the town including the creation of the cemetery. 

Trouble with Dry Tranfers as Roadway Centerlines

I have always used dry tranfers to create lines on my sandpaper-covered .040 sheet styrene roadways, but for some reason the last sheet of white line transfer I got from Woodland Scenics did not work well. Instead of coming free in a single strip as usual, these lines kind of disintegrated, sticking only to the raised grit of the painted sandpaper, and the result was rough-edged and uneven. I can't say what changed, but it's a problem. So, I did some reading on line and found that some modelers use a very narrow tape called Chartpak Graphic Art Tape available in 1/64 inch width. I ordered some, and it came today, but alas, I'll be out of town for a week or so. Results when I get back.

rlb Dry transfer problem,
Ratty lines repaired with 1/64 inch Art tape. Perhaps 1/32 inch would be even better (that's about 5 inches or so). The Art Tape covered up the problem to my satisfaction. This repair is not perfect, but it is not so bad as to warrant repainting the streets.

 In general, I think the Art Tape is a far better technique. It gives a cleaner result than even my best dry transfer efforts. It is also much less expensive. The only problem is that it does not readily stick to the sand paper grit road surfaces, and in order to get it to stick, I have to work with a small brush and some liquid Testors dull coat.  As with the dry transfers, the dull coat is necessary to form the final bonding coat anyway, so this is not really much of a a problem. Once I got the hang of it, it went much faster than applying the dry trasnsfers and it was easier to line up and adjust. I plan to keep both 1/64 and 1/32 inch Art Tape on hand in white and yellow. 

East River Left Side Completed

Now that the street line difficulties are resolved, and since I already have all the structures completed, it is a simple matter to complete the left side of the town.

rl Here, the East River main streets with road markings and sidewalks have been completed along with all the retaining walls and rock faces, and all  ground cover except track ballast. Now some trees and landscaping, some telephone poles, a few more figures and vehicles and other details to the complete the scene.
erc East River Completed
erc2 Another View

Notice I have yet to complete the scenery along the front edge of the bench. I will do that after I have ballasted the track so I don't have to work over the top of finished trees etc when I do the ballasting later on. 

Completing the Scenery on the East Bench and Some Thoughts About Marrying Mountains to the Backdrop

The remaining half of the East bench will contain the rolling residential section of the town of East River and the rest of the hilly valley between the East River and the low hills on the Little River Curve. In addition to five homes, there will be a small park with a bandstand, a broad pasture beginning in three dimensions next to the backdrop and disappearing into the distance of a flat pasture photo pasted on the backdrop silhouette, and several rock faced cuts along the backdrop silhouette. There will also be a low ridge with cuts for the railroad roadbed and two highways on the far right tying into the railroad cuts through the hills on the Little River Curve.

ebnr Right - Rough in of a low ridge with cuts extending out from the backdrop. Left- Rough in of house lots with small meadow rough in behind.
evo East River Valley: Scene near completion,
Note: I have found that three dimensional mountains and hills that tie into the two dimensional backdrop mountain silhouettes and extend outward into the three dimensional space help to breakup the flat plane of the backdrop silhouette, and add credibility to the entire backdrop by enhancing the false perspective and effectively hiding the point at which the model changes from 2 to 3 dimensions. With high mountains, this technique is most effective when I create the summit within the three dimensional space and make the transition to the two dimensional backdrop on the down-slope just behind the summit.

Scenery on the Little River Curve

With the completion of the East bench scenery, I have begun work the Little River Curve. This section of the layout has no access from the aisle behind the backdrop, so I plan no tunnels here. Instead, I opted for a low mountain with a wide, deep, open cut for the two double track mainline roadbeds. This allows easy access to all track on the curve, and it gives the overall layout a little variety. That is to say, I don't think it is a good idea to have a mountain in all four corners of the room. Anyway, the general plan is to have the mountain provide an end to the wide valley on the East bench and then transition down to the finger of  the lake below bench level on the east end of the South bench.

The part of the mountain that is against the backdrop wall is relatively high and steep and will feature a large meadow next to the East bench and a high (about 75 scale feet) rock cut wall next to the track. This meadow will continue along the edge of the cut and will terminate at a forest tree line about half way up the slope. Again I will force the perspective on the meadow between the rock cut-wall and the tree line. I am not sure exactly what I'll do for scenery on the near portion of the mountain next to bench-edge, but I know I do not want a lot of tall trees there, as they would make it difficult to reach over them when cleaning or servicing the track. Perhaps a little orchard with small forest at either end. As  usual, I began my planning with a rough sketch.

LRCS Here is my rough sketch, Kind of cryptic, I know, but just drawing this helped me to sort out my thoughts and address all the planning issues required. It will make a little more sense when you examine the rough-in photo below.
lrcri Little River Ccurve rough-in with homasote forms, screen, and roughed-in rock walls. The two double-track main lines begin in a single wide cut on the right and then diverge into two cuts in the next mountain on the East bench.  The mountain side behind the high rock cut wall is very steep. The placement of the the tree-line will be critical. It will probably be best to place it pretty low on the mountainside. I may experiment with a homosote strip to carry a forest floor photo and to raise the height of the trees on the near edge of the forest at this tree line similar to the way I handled the forest floor photos on the back drop.

 Next comes the sculptamold; the first painting of the ground, forest floor, and rock; the "zip" texturing and a quick wash painting after it is dry to correct the color; then the ground cover, shrubs and trees; and finally, any structural details. I am toying with the idea of adding a small pond in the low spot in the meadow to the left, with a small stream running down to the stone wall and into an under-the-track culvert leading to small stream-bed down to the lake.

lrl1 The idea for the pond came from a natural low spot in the meadow topography about 3/4 of the way up the slope. I did not plan it, but just looking at the contour of the hillside made me think small pond. There is a natural place for a dam, and a deep ravine for the stream to run down the mountain, under the retaining wall and the track in a culvert, and spill into a another little ravine between the two sets of mainline tracks. From there, it will empty into the lake at Little River via a small waterfall.

In the photo on the left, you can see I have spread sculptamold on the screen leaving the pond  and stream position open so I can tie it in after I create, pour, and position the pond and the stream. Once these are in place, I can fashion the the dam and tie it all together with sculptamold.
Here is the pond bed and the stream bed ready for painting, sealing, detailning, and the pour of the Magic Water.
lrl3 Here the pond and stream forms are roughly placed in position to check the fit and the elevations. 
lrl4 I like to pour the Magic Water on to a flat form made from .040 styrene sheeting cut to size. I make banks using sculptamold  and I use  1/8 inch square styrene strips to make barriers glued to the styrene to form a reservoir for the Magic Water pour. This way I can make the pour on a perfectly flat and level surface. This means that these forms have to be sealed, painted, and detailed with anything that will be in or below the water so I can make the pour around or over it. Here, I have painted the bottom of the pond and the stream and the banks of both as well; and I have glued in a few rocks in the stream and in the pond and some reed and a fallen trees in the pond using gloss matte medium as glue. Then I made the pour, let it dry, and finally I constructed the dam and tied  the water forms  into the scene using sculpatmold.

Since I am again forcing the perspective here, the stream feeding the head of the pond will be quite small, so I can just cut it into the sculptamold and make any water effects I need using gloss medium or my Woodland Scenics' water effects gel.
lrl5 Here is the entire Little River Curve ready for the initial paint coat.Notice I have used a sharpy to rough in the location of the distant tree line and the location of the forests (xxx). 
lrl6 Here is the completed initial paint coat (dark grey rocks, red/brown meadow or orchard soil, brown near  forest floor, and black distant forest floor.)

Looking at this photo, I realize I have made a mistake. My plan was to have the main highway, which one can see on the left in the photo running along the edge of the East bench, come up and around the curve and continue on along the edge on the South bench. I will have to cut a little of the edge of the near hill away, install the rounded corner, and rough this in. The finished bench will have a one foot radius in what is now a right angle corner, so there will be plenty of room for the roadway grade and curve.
lrc8 Here is the repair with top radius installed , the corrected highway, and a stone cut  roughed in.

Notice I have completed the carpentry for the corner radius.here. The one foot radius with  vertical posts will allow me to bring the black Formica fascia finish smoothly around the corners and give me something to glue it to on the curved sections. All the interior bench corners will be rounded like this, and the exterior corners will get a similar treatment to allow the Formica to round exterior corners and be securely glued down.
lrl7 Next I added the ground "zip" texture, a second washy coat of earth colored paint to correct the color, the ground cover, and some shrubs and trees. Here is a view of the high meadow with the pond and stream. Again. I forced the perspective across the meadow, and as a result, the distant tree line is very convincing indeed. I also installed a low near mountain shilouette in front of the large blue mountain, which is not shown here. 
lrc9 Here is the finished Little River Curve section (viewed from the North)
lrc10 Here is the finished Little River Curve section with the fruit orchard in the foreground (viewed from the South)

Little River Crossing

With the Little River Curve complete, I can now move on to the South bench. The first order of business will be Little River Crossing where two double track truss and girder bridges allow both pairs of mainline tracks to cross a finger of a lake that is below bench level.

As before, I begin with the water feature. I first cut a large piece of .040 styrene sheet to fit the flat area below the bench top where the lake will be situated. I then penciled in the shoreline and removed the styrene sheet and placed it on a flat, level work space. Next I formed the lake bank with sculptamold and a strip of .125 x .125  styrene glued down about one inch out from the edge of the sheet. This strip will form the far shoreline and will allow one inch of flat lake shore area between the lake and the line where the piece abuts the back drop mountain silhouette tree line. This will allow me to place a line of very small trees on the far bank and thus help to hide the transition from scenery to backdrop.

lrcross2 Styrene sheet lake bed with bank and barrier. Notice the calculations for the amount of Magic Water needed in pencil on the lake bed floor.

one package on Magic Water will cover 2 sq ft (288 sq in) to a depth of 1/8 inch, so:
if sq in of the lake bed  is ~200) / sq in per package (288) = x (oz need for lake bed) / oz per package (18)
x = (288 x 18)/200
x = 12.5
I'm using an 1/8 in barrier strip, and I don't want it a full 1/8 inch deep, so:
for 3/32 inch deep (that is 3/4 of 1/8 inch) 12.5 x 3/4 = 9.3 oz
So I'll mix 10 oz. - 6.6 of bottle A and 3.3 of bottle B.
q iLRCROS3 Lake floor and banks painted and detailed ready to pour Magic Water.
lrc4 Lake in place after the pour and a 48 hour drying period. Ready for rock walls and ground cover and landscaping etc. 
lrc5 Almost finished scene. This little finger of a larger lake is just the end of a small cove. Notice that a section of the main lake is visible beyond the near backdrop mountain.  I am pleased with the slightly muddy color variation in the water as it transitions ffrom the near shallows to deeper water.
lrc6 Here is a view of the cove looking under the bridges. I am very pleased with the forced perspective, the illusion that the cove opens into a larger body of water, and the look of the far shore line.

Second Annual Train Room Clean Up

I have temporarily stopped working on the layout in order to do a another complete train room clean up. The last one was in August 2017. This one involved covering all my work with light plastic dust covers, building some shelves in the aisles behind the back drop walls, getting everything except my tool boxes off the center bench and everything off the train room floor, reorganizing my storage areas, and finally, a complete floor sweep-down with sweeping compound, followed by a thorough mopping of the floor, and a thorough vacuuming of all unfinished sections of the bench. and all of the nooks and crannies behind the backdrop wall. Dust is the enemy, and an annual train room clean up is a must. This one took two full days of work. I also plan a thorough track cleaning with alcohol, then brite boy, and finally a very light application of  No Ox A Special, a corrosion preventing paste I have been experimenting with.  

s New storage shelves behind the backdrop wall.  These well labeled shelves contain all my electronic parts and spares; spare locos and rolling stock and associated spare parts, unbuilt structure kits and kit parts, styrene sheets, figures, vehicles, and all my detail parts.

All of my scenery building materials, foliage, ground cover, rock molds, sculptamold, etc is stored in boxes under the bench along with boxes of all of the stuff I salvaged from the A&BR1,
cu2 Wire storage area  behind the backdrop wall
cu3 Paint, glue, etc storage behind the backdrop wall.
cu Clean train room. Whew!

Laying Out the Little River Industrial Section

With the completion of the Little River Crossing, I can now move on to the next section of the South bench, the Little River Industrial area. This is a large, flat, raised area (2.5 inches above zero bench level) with a spur and a siding off the main line in the center of the space, and the east/west main highway running along the bench edge. Beyond the four lower mainline tracks and the yard lead that run along the back side of the industrial area, there is a bench-level, flat area for track side warehouses with about 8 inches or so of space to work between the tracks and the backdrop wall silhouettes - an ideal spot for some foreshortened, half-building warehouses.

The first order of business is to layout the location of the all the factories and warehouses in this area in a rough kind of way, and then to cover the plywood with homasote; install and wire the track; and glue down the highway, streets, and paved parking areas.

lri1  A rough layout of structures, track and highway.
ebt Homasote installed. track laid, and roads etc. in place. 

Next I moved the near industrial buildings aside temporarily and completed the area beyond the tracks next to the back drop. This involved completing my little meadow with its flat photo wall attachment and installing and detailing a series of half buildings interspersed with flat building photos all placed about 1 inch out from the backdrop. I then filled in the tree line behind these structures and flats and added a few trees in front along with some walls, paving, fencing, shrubs and other details. Finally a installed a small forest between the meadow and half buildings in order to make the transition from distant forced perspective to the full scale half buildings.

Completing the area next to the backdrop1: small pasture with forced perspective. On the left, the section of the pasture with the small herd in the far distance is a flat photo pasted onto the backdrop.  I adjusted the color of the grass in thisphoto using PhotoShop to exactly match the color of the the grass ground-cover blend I use to the 3D meadow in the foreground. I can see from this photo that the light colored tree in the right/center needs to be smaller. 
Completing the area next to the backdrop2:  A half building Ford Factory tackside flanked by a vacant lot with a flat cut out of an industrial supply warehouse against the backdrop and the lake in the distance. 
Completing the area next to the backdrop3: A combination half-building and flat cut out of an old factory. I scaled the factory on the computer, adjusted the coloring in PhotoShop and then painted the half-building dock and bays to match. This half-building with the dock is actually the other half of the Ford Factory Building in the previous scene.
Completing the area next to the backdrop4: Finally on the far right of the scene, I have three mill buildings: distant mill  in the background beyond includes a parking are in the foreground ( I have adjust the color of the parking area to match the 3 dimensional parking area); the red brick mill on the left is a flat cut out, and the one on the right is a single panel from a DPM model with a flat piece attached to make the fore-shortened side visible on the left side of the building. Walls, shrubs and fencing add layers of depth in this limited space. 
Lri1 The Industrial Area near completion. I plan a large gravel pile and a frontend loader behind the dump truck. 
lriu2 The Industrial Area near completion. 
lri3 The Industrial Area near completion. I need to line the roads and add some traffic. 
lri5 The Industrial Area near completion. I plan a line of trees between the gravel edge and the track, but I'll wait until I ballast the track before installing these.
lri6 The Industrial Area near completion.. Overview. 

Installing Layout Lighting for the Little River Industrial Section

There have been several discussions of layout lighting in this blog hertofore and several schemes were put forward. I have yet to detail the final plan so  I though it might be nice to follow up with an example of the prefered technique. Here is an example from the layout light installed a Little River Industrial.

llr1 Here are two buildings with LED lights installed: two 5mm warn white LEDs in each building.  Note the " leaks" around the base. I'll dealk with that later.
llr2 Here are the associated LEDs and the resistor for the 12 volt circuit. Note the labels that correspond to the Little Rive Liayout Lighting Barrier Block, and the indication of the leg that has the resistor (#12) in this case. This circuit worked with no resistor, but it was a bit too bright, and after a little testing, one 680 ohm resistor in parrell with four bulbs did the trick.
llr3 Here are the layout lights barrier blocks for the little River Industiaon Section mounted on the wire mounting board: one block  for the positve (blue) side and one for the negative (geen) side. Note that there are 16 LEDS in all, four groups of four LEDs. The groups are wired  in parallel with four  bulbs in each group wired in series with a 680 ohm resistor. Unlike the DS64 switch machines, which are also powered by the 12 volt supply (brown/white), the layourt lights are on a switichable (brown/white/black tape) on/off circuit that employs a  relay triggered by a DS64 output. So I can turn them on and off using TrainControler.

Wiring an Additional BDL168 for Altamont Yard, Little River Siding, and the Auto-reversing Sections.

Wiring up the track at the Little River spur and siding demands that I attend to some unfinished business, because the spur will connect to a sixth BDL168. which I have not yet installed.  Tis will contain the orange power district, which will contain BLD detection zones 1 and 2 fed by PM42 #91
providing detection for the seven spurs of the the yard ladder and the Little River Spur; and sections 3 and 4, the gray and gold districts respectively, zones 3 and 4, fed by PM42 #90 sections 3 and 4 respectively, both in the auto reversing mode, providing detection for the two auto reversing blocks, that is to say   Altamont Terminal Traverse/100-9 and Altamont Yard Traverse/100-13.

Mounting Board labels and labels for the new BDL 168 and revised labels for the PM42s to reflect the addition of three more power districts to include 8 more track blocks and the 2 auto-reversing Sections.

Here is the new BDL 168 with its mounting board and interface. This will supply block detection for 8 tracks of the yard ladder and for the two auto-reversing sections, the Yard Traverse and the Terminal Traverse.

Finally a Workable Dustcover

After several failed designs. I have finally worked out a scheme for dust covers for the A&BR2. I have been working on this on and off for a while now, and in the interim, I have been using very light weight, (.007) plastic painter's drop cloth just draped over the layout. This works, but I get the feeling that every time I take these covers off or put them back on I am stirring up dust. Also, they are a bit hard to handle and store. This week, after doing some more reading, I hit on the idea of using rigid, light weight, foam insulation sheets.

I went to Lowe's to see what was available, and I purchased two sheets of 3/4 in poly, foil covered sheathing (about $11 each),  and two 10 foot length of 1/2 plastic pipe at $2 each. The idea was to cut the poly sheets to match a section of layout and then suspend it above that section using the back drop cutouts, the mountain tops, and short sections of the pvc pipe as supports. The pipe sections were supported by small 2 x 4 blocks drilled to accept one end of the pipe, and screwed to cross-members of the bench work.  It was necessary to drill a 7/8 " hole in the layout above each support block, so the blocks were placed so that I could easily hide the hole (under a building, in  place that was not visible, or behind or under some shrubbery etc.)
Finally I glued some sheet poly side-curtains to the ridge foam top and voila.

dc1 Here is  a photo of three of these pvc supports installed . In this case the fourth corner of the rigid foam sheet will rest directly on the mountaintop.
dc2 Here is the same section with the rigid cover in place. Note the cover here has not yet been cut to match the bench below, and the side curtains have yet to be attached. 
dc3 Here are two sections of the finished  new dust cover in place with a bridging sheet between. 

I have numbered the sections and glued envelopes to the top of each foam sheet to store the associated pvc supports. These sheets are light, easy to handle, and they can be stored out of the way against the wall in the aisle behind the backdrop. It will take 10 of these large sheets and six small bridging covers to cover all the bench work attached to the walls, and three more to do the center section. I estimate it will take no more than 10 or 15 minutes to cover or uncover the entire layout when it is finished. Best of all, unlike the drop cloths, while the layout is under construction, I can run trains every now and then without removing the dust covers. I have found that, if I do not run trains every 2 weeks or so, things can tend to get squirrelly. Also, I want all the track fully tested and perfectly adjusted before I apply the ballast.

In Praise of NoOX A Special

For the last 6 months or so I have been experimenting with a product called NoOX A Special, a paste that one wipes on the rails to increase conductivity and prevent tarnishing. There has been a lot written about this stuff and the most thorough article I found was on the N-Scale.net website. Here is a quote.

 No-Ox (plastic safe) is a rust preventive with a corrosion inhibitor system that prevents the formation of oxides. It penetrates and chemically treats metals to convert the insulative, naturally occurring, oxide coatings to a surface that is a conductor.

Thia article also gave detailed instruction regarding the use of No  OX:

All contaminants such as plaster, glue, or oil, should be removed prior to No-Ox application. The steps below are all VERY important and none should be skipped.
1. Use a mild abrasive such as fine sandpaper or a brite boy on all rails to remove any oxidation.
2. Wipe all rails with a rag and alcohol to remove any dirt and fine particles.
3. Vacuum all rails to ensure cleanliness.
4. Put very thin smears on your finger and rub it on your rails. The total amount of NO-OX-ID “A SPECIAL” that should be applied to 500’ of N scale track is about ¼ teaspoon. If you can SEE No-Ox on rails, you are putting TOO MUCH on! DO NOT APPLY MORE!
6. Run all your locomotives, EXCEPT ONES WITH TRACTION TIRES, (no rolling stock yet) over all of your track for at least 2 hours. You may notice some wheel slippage and skipping, (DO NOT PANIC) this ensures that all wheels get treated with No-Ox.
7. Remove all locomotives from track and wipe all rails with a clean rag to remove any excess product. Don’t scrub, just rub.
8. Wait 24 hours. 
9. Wipe rails again. Rag will be black. 
10. For locos with traction tires, turn them upside down, connect track power so that wheels turn. Put a small dab of No-Ox on a Q-tip and apply to all wheels that DON’T have traction tires. While wheels are still turning, use a clean Q-tip to remove any excess No-Ox.
11. Run trains and forget about cleaning your track except for occasional light vacuuming.

The results I got in my experiments seemed good, but without doing the entire layout, I felt they were inconclusive because dirty sections of track can foul clean sections as whee la get dirty and cause contaminates to migrate.

Anyway, as I posted in this blog, about a month ago I did a complete train room clean up, including thoroughly cleaning all track, and applying No OX A Special to all track generally following the above instructions. I ran some trains at that time and everything ran smoothly. I then covered the layout and returned to working on the new sections.

Today, after I built the dust covers, I removed them, and ran trains again for the first time in a month. Everything ran absolutely perfectly. Before the No Ox, I had always experienced all kinds of track cleaning problems after a long period of inactivity. Things were always sluggish, tarnish had built up in spots, wheels got filthy, etc. It always took a good cleaning of track and wheels to get things running smoothly again. No more! After running a bit today, I cleaned wheels and the wipes I used came away perfectly clean. I experienced no stalls at all except in the area where I had been working. Here I found a few tiny glue spots on the track that had to be removed. It was amazing and very satisfying,

The jury is still out, but unless I encounter any unforeseen problems, I must conclude that this stuff is great.
1-16-2019. After 4 months, I have not had to clean track. This stuff is GREAT! What a difference!

Building a Worker Housing Area on the South Bench

With the completion of the South bench industrial area, I can now move on to the adjacent worker housing section. The center piece of this section is a raised flat area for section and row houses, a cafe, and a small store, all between the roadway along the front edge of the bench and the cut containing both pairs of mainline track, the yard lead, and the entrance to the industrial siding.

As always, I began with the bridge, the roadway rough-in, and the area next to the backdrop (in this case a high rock wall cut with a tree line on top and flat mountain cutouts behind.)  Here there is only an 1 or 2 inches between the track and the backdrop wall, but a lot can be done to create the illusion of depth in this narrow space. Most notable is the line of trees along the top of the cut rock wall with the 1/2" homasote mountain cutouts behind.
wh1 Here is the flat worker housing area with the bridge and roadway installed and the rock face cut wall completed.
wh2 Here is a closer look at the detail of the rock cut forced perspective. I am pretty happy with the illusion of depth achieved here, but what does not show up well in the photo is the flat cutout of a road disappearing iinto a forest at the end of the 3D road beyond the bridge. I think it needs to be lighter in color, so I'll do this in PhotoShop and reprint it. to size.

Next I'll complete the application of the homasote over the screen and on the flat homosote terrace and paint it with my base color. At this point I will stop work on this scene and ballast the track behind so I do not have to do the ballasting work reaching over finished structure and trees.

wh3 Mainlines, siding, and roadway all cut through low rolling hills with crossing and flat terrace for worker housing beyond. Here the walls and rock face are in place, the sculptamold complete and the base coat of paint applied. After I ballast all the track in the cuts, I'll work on the ground texture and gorund cover, foliage and trees in the long nnarrow strip between the cuts. Then I'll start on the housing sturctures, which will go in the flat area in the upper right of this photo along both sides of the roadway.

Ballasting Track

One reason I have yet to ballast any track is that I wanted to fully test all track by running trains to ensure that there were no problem spots. Once the ballast is down, it is a bit more difficult to make track alignment adjustments. I now feel that I have completed enough testing to begin laying down ballast where I need to, with one exception, and that is the yard crossover and the yard lead behind this worker housing section. Before I begin ballastng here, I'll wire up the lead and the auto reversing crossover and thoroughly test this track and the associated turnouts by running trains on these sections.

9-28-2018 With the auto reversing section wired up and a few hours of testing running trains over all the turnouts and track behind the industrial area and the worker housing area, I will now ballast the these sections. Even though this is N scale, I like to use a mix of colors of HO scale ballast. I use woodland Scenics Fine Ballast blend. Some dealers do sell N scale ballast, but the stuff is so fine it really does not look like stones
after the glue dries, but rather more like a solid mass.

There is nothing magical about my technique: I paint the areas around the track with my basic base earth color, and after it is dries, I paint these areas again with a coat of un-thinned white glue being careful not to get any glue on the sleepers; I then pour the ballast, smooth it out with a finger, a soft brush, and by tapping on the bench, and work it in between the ties where there is no glue; using a chef's squeeze bottle, I then very gently wet it all down with a 50/50 water/alcohol mix and then, again using a chefs squeeze bottle or dropper of some sort, I carefully and generously apply a thin white glue/water/alcohol mix (one part glue to one part water to one part alcohol, and a drop or two of dish washing liquid), all the while trying not to disturb the ballast, (I try not to touch it while it is wet); I then carefully blot up any excess with the edge of a paper towel, and vacuum it all after it dries for about 48 hours. It dries hard, but can be wet again if adjustments are needed. I usually go back and touch up, sprinkling dry ballast where needed, wetting it first with
with water/alcohol and then applying the thinned glue mix. Along with this touch up, I often add a few spills of coal or sand or whatever here and there to add realism and to break things up a bit. Finally, I might do a little dry brushing to get a slightly dirty look, and add a little burnt green turf here and there. Last of all I clean the track, and run trains to test for good electrical continuity. It generally take a while to find and clean all the spots where glue got on the track or where ballast stuck to the side on the rails. 

b1 Here is the track ready for ballasting.
b1 Here is the completed industrail area with the ballasted track behind.
b2 While I was at it, I ballasted the track on the industrail spur and siding.
b3 Here is the completed ballastng.I have only to finish the retaining wall on the right and add a few details (weeds, coal spills, etc.)
Now I can begin working on the strip of rolling hills between the cut in the center of this photo.

October 2018

Landscaping A Narrow Strip of Rolling Hills

With the ballasting complete on the spur and in the wide mainline cut between the backdrop and the worker housing section, I can now turn my attention to the strip of rolling hills between the two ballasted areas. I plan to have some forested areas here, a few small grassy areas, and two small vegetable plots with a small vineyard and orchard. I took these plans into consideration when I laid down the Sculptamold, fashioning some rows for the garden plots, smoother areas for the grass and orchard and slightly rougher and darker areas for the forest floors. Looking at this preparation, it occurs to me that I need a small gravel road to access the two gardens, so I'll add that roadbed using Sculptamold and paint it with my red-earth base color. When that is dry, I'll add ground texture and then ground covers, shrubs, and then trees and other details to the entire strip.

wh4 Here is one of the garden plots and the newly added raised, gravel road.
wh6 And on the other side of the crossing roadway, a grassy field
wh5 Here is the entire completed strip of rolling hills with the railway cut on either side.

Worker Housing

Now I can move on the the worker housing area. Before I lay out this area along the front of the bench, I will finish building all the structure kits. Having all the structures complete really helps in scenery planning because I can move them around in the space until I get the exact look I want. I have four on hand (a cafe and three, frame row houses salvaged from the A&BR1,) and I have eight new kits to build (a store, some frame row houses, a few section houses and two two story rooming houses.)

wh7 These little Blair Line and Laser Art kits each take a few hours to build. I have been away, but now that I am back, I will try to build one a day, and then move on with the layout of the area by the middle of next week. 
wh8 I have completed enough of the kits now to lay things out. Here is the placement for the structures for the worker housing area. I can now install the lights, add the ground texture and ground cover, scrubs and trees and detail the scene.
wh9 Nearly completed worker housing area.
wh10 Completed worker housing area - night view, I'll go through and black out some of these windows with black tape and add some shades with thin light tan masking tape.  
before Rolling hills and worker housing area on Sept 20th.  
after Near completion - October 30.

November 2018

Track Laying for Altamont Yard

When I laid all the mainline track last year, I put in all the turnouts for the large classification yard and installed Tortoise switch machines, but I left the rest of the yard unwired with no track laid. A few months ago, I wired up the auto-reversing yard crossover. The time has now come to complete Altamont Yard

ay1 The first orders of business are to lay track and wire up all the turnouts. Here are all the track sections weathered and wired up with droppers and connectors ready for installation. Notice I have not only already installed all the turnouts for the ladder and the run-arounds, I have also installed almost all the 1/8 inch cork underlayment and penciled in all the track centerlines.
ay2 Here is the completed track laying roughly tacked in place, but not glued down. At this point I have also installed, wired, and programmed all the DS-64 stationary decoders for turnout control, wired all the yard blocks with block detection, and progremmed stop points, sound location, and speed limits in each block. The next move is to do some extensive testing. To do this I have created some temporary yard testing schedules in Traincontroller to automatically run all my trains over all of the track in the yard. When I am sure that everytings is in pefect alignment, I will glrue down the track, insert sleepers ti fill the voids where the track joiners are, and finish the dwarf signals for the ladder. 

Marrying the Layout to the Backdrop Along the South bench.

Now that all the track for Altamont Yard is in place, I can turn my attention to the long, gentle grade that runs along the backdrop wall of the South bench. I have pervioulsy completed all the backdrop silhouttes between this track and the wall, and I am ready now to all scenery detail along the edge of the grade. This is the area where forced perspective is important, and I plan some rock-faced cliffs,  a long retaining, wall, and some streep forrested slopes to break things up. The grade includes a bridge over a small finger of the lake, so I'll have to deal with that as well. 
ay3 The long grade against the wall before appling scenery. 
ay4 Here is the rough-in for the rock faces and retaining walls alone the back of the South Bench. Next I'll tie all these piecs together with sculptamold and then paint, texture, and landscale.
ay11 Here is the nearly finished strip. Most of the forced perspective here is accomplished in the last inch or so along the wall using thin, but nonetheless three deminsional, rock face cuts with small trees lining the top of the cliff, and a few forest floor photographs pasted to the near shilouettes under the foliage canopy for depth. In this case, most of the illusion of depth is accomplished by using larger clumps of foliage to articulate the near edge of the tree canopy in contrast the the smaller clumps and the finer textured foliage material behind. A sparse row of slightly larger trees is then added to the top of the rock face on the bench side of the high line track.

Here is a photo sequence detailing the entire length of the strip.

ay6 ay7
ay8 ay9 ay10

December 2018

Modeling Altamont Yard

With all of the yard track laid and wired, and all the scenery along the backdrop wall complete, I am now ready to create Altamont Yard. The yard was planned and laid out back in 2015 (see post on Yard Design dated 08/25/2015.) It is a double entry classification yard with entrances/exits from both the North and the South side double-track mainlines with an auto-reversing yard crossover and a single lead accessing both the North and the South AD (arrival and departure) tracks, a six rung yard  ladder, two runarounds, a staging track, a caboose track, and an auxiliary track for shops and loco/car maintenance.

ay Here is the yard schematic from TrainController as it appeared in 2015. The current version has different block turnout numbers, but the design has not changed.

At the time I designed this yard, I had a general ideal of what structures were needed, and most of what I needed was on-hand from the old A&BR1: a yard office, the Southern Railway Division HQ building, the main shop building, two shop buildings with track pass-through, two yard towers, and some miscellaneous freight buildings, warehouses, and sheds. So, the first order of business was the take all of these structures and place them on the layout and mark all their locations.

This done, I next laid out all the roadways in the yard, and sketched-in any topography. Most of the yard is flat, but I do have two  hills planned just the add some interest and to brake things up a bit.  There is a hill with a cut for the main road descending down from the worker housing area at the East end of the yard. 

ay12 Structure placement and rough-in the topography, roadway, and paved areas at the East end of Altamont Yard.
ay13 Sculptamold, paint, texture, and ground cover for roadway cut at the East end of Altamont Yard. I'll not add trees until I ballast the yard entrance track behind this scene. I have painted the flat between the yard entrance tracks my earth color to allow a little earth to show through here and there. Now I'll add the intra-yard roadway and then ballast, 

Correcting Problems with the  Mountain Silhouettes

I have noticed in some of these photographs that when I  use a1/2 inch homasote mountain silhouette covered with course turf to simulate a distant mountain I am getting a unnatural "squared off" look along the top of the mountain. The solution here is to glue a fine, clump turf, tree line along the top edge of the silhouette.  I'll now go back and correct all the offending silhouettes. I can't believe I went this long with out correcting this flaw. Actually, I did notice it months ago, but until now I have not considered a solution.

Offending "squared off" 1/2 inch homasote mountain silhouette.
Corrected silhouette.

I also sense a problem with the flat, blue, .015 styrene, silhouetes that form my most distant mountain ridges. This most distant layer is just too flat and too hard-edged looking. I need to do something to soften it and give the illusion of great distance. Despite my success with the backdrop clouds, I am no great artist when it comes of painting. Still, I learned that cloud painting is really not so much about artistry, as it is about learning specific techniques. I learned these techniques from an online "how-to" video. So, lately I have been watching videos online that demonstrate the techniques involved in painting distant mountains, and yesterday I found one that demostrated the use of a watercolor wash. This looked promising. It is simple and could be applied to the light blue silhoutes in place.

wcv Watercolor technique in the online video. The artist here uses a very thin, washy, blue-grayn applied very wet with a brush, and then he pulls the color down and softens it with a fine water spray bottle and blots it with a tissue. What he is doing here is putting the mountain tops in the clouds. What I need to do is just soften the moutain silhouetes by adding some misty color variation, 
ay8 Silhouettes before. The trick here is to get the same effect on the hard laxtex painted styrene that the above artist gets on soft, absorbent, watercolor paper. 
mst This really did not work so well. Painting on the hard surface caused the water mist to run uncontrolably. I tried to soften the result with some latex gray dry brushing, but the results were not good.
ntbb Atfter some experimentation, I was able to get a passable result by dry brushing the silhouettes with layers of dark gray and green latext wall paint. Notice on the right, I have also experimented with a tiny tree line, which I think will work, I did this in black with a sharp felt tip marker. I need a dark gray and an olive green marker,
mt3 The question is, is this better than the solid blue? The dry brushed mountains look closer are more realistic, but they may still reflect my lack of painting skill.
mt4 The old blue mountains look cleaner and  more distant although much more styeilized. It think this is better, so I'll repaint the dry brushed mountains light blue and keep what I had to begin with and end this wild goose chase.

January 2019

Track Voltage Anomalies

It has been a month of wild goose chases. After spending over a week fooling with the distant mountain silhouettes over the Christmas holidays, I began the year with a second journey to no end. About two weeks ago, I inadvertantly discovered that I have voltage on all of my track, even when track power was turned off. With track power on, everything works fine, but with track power off, I am getting 3.4 volts on the A rail and 2.3 volt on the B rail. In the track power off condition, I am also measuring a one-way short across the rails in all of my undetected routes, but not in any of the BDL168 detected blocks. This short is only present in one direction. 

I began by testing the Digitrax DCS100 Command Station in the track-power-off mode with no track attached, and the voltage was minimal. As I reconnected track power,
the one-way shorts reappeared and, district by power district, the voltage incrementally returned:  the more track I added, the higher the voltage.
I ran these test again with my spare DCWS100 and got the exact same results. I then bypassed the 2 PM42s and the problem persisted. I then, one buy one, unplugged all the BDL168 cards (both from their individual power sources, and then from the 22 pin edge connectors.) Again the unwanted voltage decreased incrementally with each card removal, but it never disappeared. With all cards removed the voltage was still 2.2 volts on the rail and over 1 volt on the B rail. I was stumped. After a slew of chats with the Digitrax Help Desk and a few telephone conversations with a Digitrax technician, he was stumped too.

We decided that, for the time being,  we would 
let it be, since it seems to work fine, but I must say I am not really completely happy with this.

I somehow suspect the PM42s, but Digitrax has my spare in for repair, and owing to their considerable woes during Hurricane Michael, I can not say when I will get it back. The presence of the one-way voltage suggests some kind of diode or bridge rectifier issue, but there is nothing to say that this short is related to the voltage issue. Perhaps I have the troubleshooter's nightmare, two different but inter-related problems at once. Also I wonder about the validity of the DCS100 ground-to-rail measurement when the powered is turned off. What exactly am I measuring in this scenario? If I preform this measurement in a district that has track power completely disconnected from the PM42, I get very high and erratic voltage readings, but then I am trying to test across two discreet systems connected only by the ground and by loconet.
Finally, I went on the Digitrax User Forum, and asked for help. I did not get any troubleshooting suggestions that I had not already tried,  but I did get a few  indications that a few others were experiencing the same thing.

1-14-2019 At the behest of a Digitrax tech, I did one more comprehensive series of documented tests, starting with everything on the layout off and unplugged (zero volts on the rails), and one by one activating and plugging in each device starting with the DCS 100. The result was the same incremental increase in track voltage (with track power off) that I had seen before. The table I made to document these results clearly pointed to the fact that each device had some small voltage "leak," some as high a half a volt, some as low as .1 volts. So the problem is cumulative and is probably par for the course in an aging system like mine. When I get my spare PM42 and BDL168 back from Digitrax repair, I can confirm this by replacing the two worst offenders. In the meantime,  I'll live the this conclusion as the end of the story.

Axillary Power Supply Failure.

Somewhere in all of this testing, I fried the 12volt/5 volt axillary power supply. This was a cheap little unit made by Meanwell. I think it shut down a few times on inadvertent temporary shorts, and then gave up the ghost. I did find a fried output wire on the 12 volt side. Whatever the cause of the failure, I ordered another supply(Meanwell RD125A [12volt 7.7 amps/5volts 7.7 amps] about $30), and with this one I added line fuses (5 amps) on both outputs and the recommended load for each side in the form of loading resistors (24 ohms on the 12 volt side and 2.5 ohms on the 5 volt side - that is, a calculated .5 amps and 2 amps respectively, which are the published lower ends of the current ratings for the two leg of the unit.) For whatever reason these loading resistors got way hotter than I had calculated. (I probably miscalculated the wattage needed.) So I went back to loading with the 12 volt auto taillight bulb on the 12 volt side only before the fuse so the load is still present even if the fuse blows. This seems to work well.

Returning to Work on Altamont Yard

At last, I am back to work on the yard. The first order of business is to install the rest of the inter-yard paved roadways, and then finish painting all the yard's roadbed cork underlay earth color, and finally to ballast the entire yard.

ay14 Ready to ballast. Here are most of the two inter-yard paved roadways and the entire yard painted my basic earth color so a little dirt can show through in spots where the ballast is thin. The plywood on the right will support a low hill, which the far road will ascend leading to a flat spot a the summit where the Southern Railway HQ building and a large shop will overlook the yard below. At the far end of the paved road on the right, I plan to place the yard office, a small yard entrance tower, and the main yard control tower along with a few small sheds etc. The wider paved strip on the left will get a line of small freight houses, and the short axillary track, which dead ends into the plywood section will get two through-track repair shops.  
ay15 I have completed the first section of ballast, including all the track behind the forested area along the road coming down from the workers housing section. Now I can add trees to that forest while I am waiting for the additional ballast I ordered to arrive. I can also detail and install the three large track-side buildings beside the south siding along with their interior lights. But before I start with landscaping and structure modification, I will clean and test all the newly ballasted track. I strongly suggest that ballasting be done in reasonably small sections, and that each section be throughly cleaned and tested  before moving on the the next. After each cleaning, I re-treat the clean track with and thin application of NoOx Special A (wonderful stuff), and then I wipe it clean again.

Here is a view to the west showing the roadside forests and adjacent refurbished buildings in the background with yard towers beside the lead and the newly ballasted and cleaned track area behind.
ay16 Here is the same section looking eastward. Now,on with the ballasting.
ay17 With the mainline track next to the backdrop wall and a good portion of the yard ballasted, I can begin on the small hill at the west end of the yard. Here I have roughed in the terracing and the roadway, and positioned the two through-track train shops as well as the yard office, the large shop building on the hill, and the division headquarters building behind that,
ay18 Here is closer view of the rough-in. Now, I'll finish the roadway and the ground cover, and install the retaining walls, landscaping and the rock cliffs. Then, I'll complete the ballasting.
AY19 Here is the yard ballast complete and the finished low hill at the west end of the yard with  through-track shop. the yard office, the large shop, and the division headquarters surrounded by some trees and landscaping.
ay20 I re-routed the main highway, fashioning a crossing grade to connect with the wide roadway that runs between the mainline track and the yard ladder. I'll add wooden planking between the rails and install and program a flashing crossing gate here.

February 2019

The Altamont Curve


As mentioned before, there can be no tunnel on the Altamont Curve because there is no access from behind the backdrop wall. Like the Little River Curve, I have fashioned a low ridge between two cuts that accommodate the the two sets of mainline tracks to allow track access from above. As much as I would like to have a forest on top of this ridge, I really can't, because it would make reaching over the ridge in order to service the far track behind too difficult. I'll have to settle for a long, narrow, high meadow with a few trees here and there for effect. I will create a little forest around the tunnel entrance and in front of the high retaining wall behind the steel viaduct supports.

ac2 Here is the other end of the highway disappearing into a tunnel through the retaining wall in the roughed-in curving ridge line that runs between the two sets of  mainline tracks on the Altamont Curve.
ac3 Here is the scene with the Sculptamold applied..
ac4 Here is the first, base coat of paint
ay5 Here is the finished Altamont Curve. I haven't used many trees along the ridge because the reach-over to access the track in the deep cut next to the back drop wall is a long one, and a forest of delicate trees would defiantly make cleaning and servicing track there difficult. Except for the two service hatches, this is the most dificult spot on the layout to reach, so Murphy's Law of Model Railroading tel me that I will undoubtedly experience the majority of my de-railments in this cut.

Ballasting the Westridge and East River Sections and Other Finishing Details

At this point I have substantially completed the Westridge Section on the Northeast bench and all of the scenery on the South and East benchs. Before I move on, I want to add lights to the buildings at the west end of the yard and then go back and take care of a few unfinished details. Most notably this will involve ballasting all the track on the North and East benches, and adding lines and landscaping to a few roadways in these areas, as well as completing the depot platform at East River and adding trees to a couple of forest areas that I have left open to allow access to areas behind them.
This will take a a month or two. Once this is all done, I will have completed all of the Northeast, the South, and the East bench scenery, and I will move on the Fitzhugh and the Fitzhugh Curve on the Northwest bench, which will probably take as long a 6 month to complete. I will then tackle the West bench and the city of Altamont, which will probably take over a year to complete. When that is finished, I will turn my attention to the long center bench. Constructing the City of Altamont and the completing the center bench section will take several years.
Unfinished details - South, East and Northeast benches

f1 2/15  Finished installing telephone poles along roadways and mainline track on the South bench. Here  are five of the 50-plus poles on this long stretch of bench. 
f2 2/16 Ballasted track on the Little River Curve, and added a retaing wall along the creek bed between the mainline tracks.
2/17 Today I worked on the little creek that runs betwenn the two sets of mainline tracks on the Little River Curve. Also there was a lot of trackside and rock face landscaping to complete in this area, and I fashion the little water fall you see here using Woodland Scenics Water Effects and some cotton
f4 2/19 Began ballasting on the East bench.
f5 2/20-22 Ballasted the East River Depot area, mainlines and sidimgs, and installed a five section covered platfrom with LED lights, figures and other details. (This is the plaform I wired up a couple of years ago - see page 1 of this blog entry for 9/23/2016.) Five parallel 12 volt seitchable circuits each with 4 3mm white LEDs and a 6.8k resistor. 
f6 2/24-26 Completed the East River platform and installed landscaping around the depot and on the rock walls beside the main highway that runs along the right side of the front edge of the East bench. Added lights to the depot and labeled the East bench layout lighting distribution barrier blocks.
f7 2/27 - 3/3  Completed finishing work on the East bench. Completed ballasting - added lines and landscaping  to roadways north of the depot - detailed the crossong grade - added a few signes to retaing wall b the depot - worked on a few unfinshed structures in the town of East River - placed  trees in the forested area on the front edge of the East bench near the Easrt River Curve - glued turf tree line along the top of the "squared off"  mountain silhouettes on the East bench (see post of 12/16/18)
3/4 Began ballasting on the East section of the South bench..

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