Christmas Is: Delightful!

Delightful is really the only way to describe Christmas. Whether everything happened the way it was supposed to or not, the beautiful holiday came and went, and it was and is delightful.

Today, I chose again to not only look closely at the Christmas tree which is still lighting our living room, but to take pictures. I do it because, as I wrote previously, it is so easy to forget how special each ornament is and how each contributes to the beauty of the tree.

I’m thankful for artificial Christmas trees. There are no needles on the floor, the tree didn’t stop soaking up water two weeks ago. We bought a new tree this year. It’s 7 1/2 feet tall, but it’s more narrow than the old one. We also bought new lights, the LED type. We weren’t sure whether we liked the new lights, but after a few days we were used to them.

We have candles in every window I’m still turning on each night. The twinkle lights on the house will be on longer than normal to show support for all of our great first-responders and front-line workers in the fight against the virus.

The small tree is our Jesse tree. Each of the handmade ornaments relates to a Scripture and devotional about the lineage of Jesus back to King David and his father, Jesse. In anticipation of Christmas, each day we do the reading and place an ornament on the tree.

In one church I was privileged to pastor, there was an older couple who loved Christmas, I think more than anyone I had ever met. They had no children of their own but were young at heart and loved everything Christmas represents. Each year, they began decorating their home in September. In literally every room of the house there was a beautiful Christmas tree. Every year they provided a beautiful dinner at their house for the staff and volunteers of the church. It was amazing.

The couple’s appreciation of beautiful Christmas decorations extended to the church building as well. They provided beautiful garlands and floral decorations. They insisted on using real Christmas trees. Big ones. Two were fifteen feet tall, the middle tree was twenty, all were decorated with lights and ornaments. The trees were on the stage and had to be wired to the walls to keep them standing. They were beautiful, but what a mess.

Being the never-ask-for-help kind of person I am, and I don’t say that proudly, it’s a terribly uncaring trait, after Christmas I took the trees down myself. All fifty feet of them. I somehow pulled them out the side door and in so doing, removed the few remaining short Douglas Fir needles left on the well-dried and brittle branches. Luckily, I avoided impaling the beautiful grand piano and didn’t break any of the specially-made stained glass windows. I spent an hour literally shoveling pine needles off the floor. The next year I insisted on artificial trees. I was surprised when they agreed.

What is it about cats and boxes? Yellow kitty was willing to suffer the indignity of having bows stuck to her fur as long as we didn’t take her tiny little gift box that wasn’t much bigger than her front legs.

One of the highlights of Christmas this year was having an opportunity to show my grandson the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad. He was impressed. Last year we gave him a collection of O gauge trains and helped him get it running. O gauge trains are much better for small hands than the HO (Half-O) that I model.

I still have a lot of work to do, but I now have the outer main line in full operation. I was excited to see the trains running across my scratch-built bridges for the first time.

Probably during the next week we will begin thinking about returning all of the Christmas decorations to the closet. It’s sad but also brings a sense of accomplishment when everything is returned to a pre-holiday appearance. It is also easier when there aren’t a lot of lights to turn off before going to bed. But for today, and surely tomorrow, the decorations are still around us and the lights are still beautiful.

The Peanuts Gang bulb was hand-painted for me by a friend. Amazing. The candle salt-and-pepper shakers belonged to my grandparents. My aunt made the snowman when she was a school girl. She is now in her eighties. My wife’s mother made the lighted ceramic church for us many years ago. All of the Christmas decorations have their special place and each helps make the holiday special.

Progress on the Maple Valley Short Line

My last model railroading post was in September. I was elbows-deep in plaster powder and working hard to move my layout project toward some kind of coherency. Now, after almost 80 pounds of plaster, trials and failures with various mixtures of acrylic paint, I am really pleased with the Maple Valley Short Line. It’s almost time to begin laying track.

Placing and painting the plaster rocks I made using Woodland Scenics molds was a challenge. I watched several videos for inspiration but it finally came down to just doing it. I immediately discovered how quickly liquid plaster hardens when it contacts the plaster rocks. I took a few missteps before getting it right.

I decided exactly where the rocks, large and small, were going to go before I mixed plaster. I had all my tools close by, paper towels handy, then prepared the plaster. After attaching the rocks to the plaster surface I let them dry completely before starting the process of filling the spaces behind the rocks and blending with the surrounding area.

I was again faced with preparing exactly the right consistency of plaster to allow for working with it before it solidified. The best option for me was to mix only enough plaster to work on a couple of rocks then starting over again. Using painting tools I worked the plaster into the background until I was pleased with the appearance.

Some modelers paint rocks before placing them into the layout. I decided to fasten the rocks and then paint. It was much easier to blend the rocks into the surrounding area by painting last. If I made a mistake, it was easy to mix up a little more plaster and do a repair. My paper-towel-plaster-saturated-squares worked nicely for creating a realistic-looking rocky background.

Applying plaster to the insides of my short tunnels, three of them, was another learning experience. I scooped up some plaster in my hand and reached into the tunnel, smearing the mix on the walls and roof. After each application I waited a few minutes before inspecting to see whether I needed more. When the inside was finished, I applied the plaster portals to the tunnel face then painted the inside with a gray wash.

I was faced with the task of painting the pink extruded foam base of the layout, which meant deciding on the perfect color. I chose a sandy-dirt color which I bought at Home Depot. Just a quart was plenty for covering the entire exposed pink foam. The flat paint mixture resulted in a pleasing base color for applying ground cover during the scenery process. I used some grass-dirt-foliage remains from a previous layout to begin spreading over the wet paint.

When the plastering was finished, it was time to begin painting. I started with a yellow wash using a quart-size dollop of acrylic mixed with water. I sloppily covered the rocks and surroundings. I then applied light tan, using the same mixture ratio. I splashed the paint on, not trying to completely cover the yellow but just enough to let some show through. I allowed the yellow and tan to try.

I then applied a mixture of grey, blue, a drop of black, brown, and green, diluted well, to the area. I allowed the paint to flow down the rock face, again without trying to cover it. I dabbed the paint mixture here and there until I was satisfied with the result.

I spent a couple months trying to decide how to seat my scratch-built trestle on the river bed. I considered several possibilities and decided none would work well. I finally realized the best option was to do as real bridge builders do, go down to bedrock. I positioned the trestle, marked the river bed, then cut out the plaster and foam all the way to the plywood base. I then replaced the trestle and used basswood pieces to build up the foundation to the bottom of the bridge pilings.

Obviously, the most important point about placing a trestle is that the bridge deck is perfectly level with the approaching cork roadbed. To accomplish it, I used two small modeling clamps to attach a twenty-four inch piece of yardstick to the bridge deck and laid it on the roadbed approaches to the river.

My bridge near the town of Maple Valley wasn’t as difficult to deal with. It’s a deck supported by three wood structures so leveling everything was much easier. Preparing the area under the bridge with some ground cover and weeds before gluing it in place makes the scenery task a snap.

It’s time now to begin placing turnouts and thinking about wiring. I use DC cabs and have depended on common-rail for past layouts. For the Maple Valley Short Line I’m going to run buss feeds for the entire layout. I have scratch-built signals for blocks I will wire with Atlas Relays. I’m going to use a separate power source for all accessories. I am also going to use a separate cab to operate trains on the various spurs including the line running to Maple Valley.

I have been working on my layout over two years but recently I’ve been making exciting progress. I like to have several projects going at the same time and this year has been no exception. When I work on my layout, I have quiet jazz playing on my phone, a hot cup of coffee within reach, and try not to get distracted.

Believe it or not, laying flex-track is easy compared to everything I’ve already done. This is the most detailed layout I have ever built. The biggest challenge remaining is painting the backdrop. The paper visible in some of the photos is just to protect the white walls from plaster and paint splash. I was going to use a paintable material on the wall as a canvass but my daughter, who is an art teacher and accomplished artist, recommends painting directly on the wall. She has even volunteered to paint the backdrop for me. I might want to do it myself. We’ll see.

Plaster of Paris Progress on My Model Railroad

Using Plaster of Paris in model railroading is a messy process, but the outcome can be amazing. In my last post I wrote about using cardboard for the underlayment around my risers. So far it has worked very well and I am pleased with the progress.

I use small squares of paper towel covered in wet plaster, then lay them on the cardboard right up to the edge of the cork roadbed.

I made the mistake of not covering the roadbed with tape so I have a little bit of clean-up to do, but that won’t be a problem. It’s all going to be covered in ballast material anyway.

I am using Woodland Scenics rock molds for the first time in my model railroading life. I am really happy with the results! The detail is fantastic. The difficult part will be placing them in such a way that there isn’t a predictable pattern. A few of them broke when I removed the mold, so there is definitely a learning curve in making rocks.

I first purchased dry Plaster of Paris in a one pound container which I quickly used up. I then purchased two more of the same size which didn’t last much longer than the first. A two pound bucket would certainly keep me going for quite a while. Wrong. Pouring rock molds takes a lot of plaster.

Plaster of Paris is mixed at a ratio of 2:1, two parts powder, one part water. It doesn’t matter what kind of scoop is used but it is important that the measurements of powder to water be exactly two to one.

I find that one cup of powder to a half-cup of water is the perfect amount to use before it begins to set and gets away from me. I work as quickly as I can, dipping the squares of paper towel in the plaster and laying them in place. I leave the pieces bunched rather than smoothing them.

I was really concerned about how my scratch-built risers stretching across the middle of the layout would look. With the “ground” reaching from the roadbed on a slant to the layout surface, I think I’m on the right track. (No pun intended, but it’s a good one!). I’m getting anxious to complete the plastering and start painting.

My rock production line requires a lot of patience. I have four molds and I pour them all at one time. I first rinse the molds and lay them out with support under the edges so they lie flat. I mix the plaster and pour. The most difficult part is waiting for the plaster to cure. I wait twenty-four hours before I do anything. I then carefully peal the molds away from the new rocks. Voila! Beautiful! It takes a couple more days for the green rocks to turn white.

Model railroading is a wonderful hobby. I’m not a master modeler at all. It’s not my plan to try to be one of the best. The point is, if I’m happy with what I create on my model railroad, then it is the best.

Choosing not to compare my model railroad, my writing, my piano playing, myself with anyone else has been a tough lesson to learn. I’m still working on it. If I do begin to compare myself with others, I tend to come up short. If I decide what I’ve done is better than anyone else, I’m wrong again. It’s enough to be satisfied with what I’ve done and choose to be happy with the results.

When I work on my model railroad, I always have music playing, either Earl Klugh radio on Pandora, or country music on FM. With a cup of coffee close by, I’m happy.

Good luck with your model railroading

A Messy Model Railroad is a Happy Model Railroad

Before you get upset and say something you might regret later, let me explain. I’m making progress on my model railroad and I’m excited about it. It’s been a long time since I spent more than an hour with my layout. In the last few days I’ve probably spent fifteen hours with The Maple Valley Short Line.

I don’t claim to be an artist so mixing paint colors has never been a familiar task. To me it’s a matter of meeting a need and mixing until it looks presentable. There is also the challenge of the paint’s response to plaster and how it will look when it’s dry. So far so good.

Model railroading is a lot of fun and there are many rewards on the path to a finished layout. Part of the excitement is that a layout is never really finished, at least not for me.

This piece is the result of my first use of a latex mold. I think it turned out pretty great. I’ll paint it with a grayish wash and touch it up with some highlights of darker and lighter shades. What I’m not sure about is how many of these I can get away with using. I have smaller molds as well so I’ll mix them around the layout

This model railroad represents several firsts for me. I have never modeled a river before and I have already made some mistakes. I made the river area too wide for my bridges so I had to adjust the width in a few areas. I also had no idea how expensive the water-pour mixtures are. Ugh! Oh well, I’ll work around it. I’m going to use a deep-pour clear mixture. I left chunks of plaster on the river bed which should be visible through the hardened water material.

I’m also in the process of building another bridge. Because I didn’t leave enough space between the beginning of my incline and the end of the decline, it’s necessary for me to place two #6 turnouts end-to-end so I can move trains from the outside to the inside mainline, and vice versa. They will come together over the river! (Another mistake.)

These are my tools for building bridges and just about everything else. I use a lap board with a measuring-cutting pad. To begin construction I use a piece of 1 1/2 inch foam about the same size as my lap board. I pin and glue the basswood and balsa piece by piece. We have enjoyed several Netflix series while building great scenery items!

Back to my messy model railroad. I like busy-ness. I like stuff. I’m not good with tools because I have a terrible habit of not putting them away. I leave them where they were needed, so I have about a dozen screwdrivers. I like the look of a mess as long as there are good things happening.

Some day the paint, plaster, brushes, containers, tape, and all the other clutter will be gone. What remains will be a fantastic model railroad. Just after I drive the golden spike I’ll start thinking about how I can change the layout to make it better. That’s the way model railroading works.

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Where’s my coffee?!

Model Railroading Scenery Techniques

I’ve been struggling with a couple of things on my model railroad. I love my scratch-built basswood and balsa bridges. I used dark brown spray paint and I had to decide how to apply weathering finishes.

I used a mixture of Ceramcoat acrylic paint, light gray, dark brown, a little yellow, a little red, and green. At first, I used too much green and I had to make some adjustments. After I stirred in a pint of plain water I ended up with a grayish wash that after a couple of coats looks great.

The second thing I’ve been trying to figure out is how to blend the styrofoam risers into the surrounding areas. I had an epiphany! I didn’t want to cut strips of cardboard as there would have been a ton of them. I thought of a way to use cardboard, cut it on a 2% incline, then fold it down to meet the layout base.

My first step is to hold a piece of cardboard against the riser and use a marker to draw a line its entire length. I transferred the mark to the opposite side of the cardboard so my finished piece is not backwards when I apply it.

After I transferred the line to the opposite side of the cardboard, I used a straight edge and a blade to cut 1/4 inch above the line. The extra space above the line is the distance between the outer edge of the riser and the fold.

Next, I used the blade to score just the outside layer of the cardboard. I then folded the cardboard on the cut. I used a piece of wood to mash the cardboard to crush all the cells inside, making the cardboard much easier to work with. Then I laid out a piece of 1-1/2 inch tape, sticky side up, the length of the cardboard. I carefully placed the small folded area against the tape, leaving 1/4 inch.

I carefully picked up the cardboard and tape, then set the edge of the cut section against the outside corner of the riser. I pressed the tape extending from the edge of the cardboard onto the riser surface. I then folded the remaining cardboard down from the cut to meet the layout surface. I pressed the remaining tape down onto the cardboard.

I now have a grade from the side of the riser I can live with. I’ll lay plaster-covered paper towel squares on the cardboard from the edge of the cork roadbed to the base surface. I’ll doctor it up with tools and paint washes so the finished grades don’t look like paper towel covered with plaster.

Another little trick is to score the cardboard on the opposite side of the radius so it is easier to tape around a curve. I cut the tape as well so it’s easier to secure to the riser edge.

Recently, I’ve been spending more time working on the layout and I’m happy with my progress on The Maple Valley Short Line.

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Model Railroading Beats Covid Stress

Model railroading is a terrific way to lose yourself in details that have absolutely nothing to do with the media, bad news, worse news, health scares, or Covid.

It’s been almost four months since I worked on my model railroading project, The Maple Valley Short Line.

Part of model railroading, at least for me, has been anticipating but not being upset by the feeling of hitting a wall. My motivation to build disappeared. Today I reactivated and found it.

Even as I stood in front of my layout, it wasn’t until I actually started measuring, cutting, and gluing that I began to feel motivated.

I discovered installing scratch-built bridges is difficult. Making sure the bridge deck is the same level as the cork roadbed which means boring holes in plaster and foam takes time. When it’s done, it will be fantastic.

Plaster is a necessity in model railroading if you’re seeking for realism in your scenery. It takes time and is messy, but well worth the effort.

I have been challenged by the need to cover my styrofoam risers and blend them into the scenery in a way that looks realistic. I’ve thought about covering crumpled paper with plaster, but wondered about mold forming on the paper from the moisture.

I thought about using cardboard strips with plaster, but with one to four inches across thirty-two feet of riser, that is a lot of cardboard to cut and cover. I’m still working on it. I think I’ll use a combination of paper towel and pieces of foam dipped in plaster.

Gluing cork roadbed is time consuming but so rewarding! Covid stress floats away like a crumpled leaf in the wind. Cork roadbed is a model railroading task that you start and finish even though the layout still has a very long way to go.

The river I decided to dig across the middle of my layout added a tremendous amount of work, but I’m excited about how it’s going to look. This will be my first time using the epoxy mix that becomes “water”. I’ll paint the plaster first then pour the magic liquid.

Model railroading is a lot of fun. It provides a great opportunity to see what can be done. Everything is changeable, there really is no such thing as a mistake.

I can’t wait to see my steam locomotive rumble across this bridge. The extra work setting and leveling this scratch-built model is more than worth the time.

I can start placing my nickel-silver flex-track any time. That’s when the layout really starts looking like a railroad. I’ve been working on my model railroad for a long time already. Every step has its own rewards.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can start setting all the houses and buildings I spent last winter creating. Trees, grass, weeds, junk, sticks, fences, rocks, stones, lights, signals, backdrops, ballast, and more junk. Love it.

All this makes me want more coffee. Model railroading and coffee. Inseparable partners.

Foam Risers or Not? Cork Roadbed or Not?

Photos and Blog by Dale Parsons


My first layout was a learning experience, as I guess they all are. There was a lot of “what not to do.” I planned carefully, and even had trains running on sub-roadbed and track that was tacked temporarily. It was not until after the track was permanent that I realized some important mistakes.

The most costly mistake I made on my first layout was that my inclines were too steep. I created them by estimating the space I had and how quickly I wanted the train to return to ground level. That’s fine if you have a ton of space, but it will mean steep inclines, as it did for me, if your space is limited. My layout was a “L” shaped reverse dog bone design. I like watching trains going over and under each other. My steep inclines meant my engines could only pull a small handful of cars.

That layout was never completed because we moved. I completely dismantled it. The only parts I kept were the track, buildings, and trees.

My second layout was single-level. No climbing or descending. No hills or tunnels. No inclines to worry about. It was basically a switching layout with a full loop so I could run trains constantly, which I prefer.

When I dismantled that layout because we were moving again, it was a much easier task. Virtually everything was salvageable. Even though I glued and nailed the track down, it came up very easily. I kept all of the pieces.

The track has been through the mill. When I took the first layout apart, we moved to a house where there was no room for any railroading. All of my track was in a box in our barn. After a few years, I took it out. Most of it was covered with everything mice leave behind. I considered tossing it, but then I thought about how much nickel-silver track costs. I bought a couple of track cleaning blocks and started scrubbing. I’m still using that same track with no problems.

We moved to the house where we presently live. Hopefully, the last time we will move. My new layout is basic, no clever design schemes, just two mainlines for simultaneous train operation and some sidings. There is a long branch line that runs from one end of the layout to the other. The destination is Maple Valley. The train running the line will be a vintage model engine like “The General” and a few cars. Passengers will board the train at “Little Town” on the opposite end of the layout for the ride to Maple Valley.

My first big decision was whether or not to use Woodland Scenics risers. As you can see, I did, and I am so happy I chose to use the 2% incline/decline. A 2% incline means I need 16 feet of space for the track to be lifted four inches. In the middle of the photo, you can see where the incline and decline comes together with about two feet to spare. It’s just enough room for turnouts from both directions so I can choose to move trains to or from the longer outside mainline.

My next question was how to attach the styrofoam risers to the extruded foam base. I chose undiluted white glue which I bought in a gallon jug. I pinned the riser where I wanted it and drew a line on either side of the riser with a black marker. I removed the pins and the riser. I brushed white glue on the foam base the length of the first riser. I then replaced the riser, pinned it in place, and weighted it down with anything I could find. I left it overnight to dry.

I have seen some videos where modelers put masking tape over the riser before installing the final roadbed. I started to do the same but removed it because I was afraid if the tape came loose the roadbed would be loose as well.

The next question was whether or not to use cork roadbed, and as you can see I chose the cork. I didn’t use it on my last shelf layout. I ballasted the track without cork and it turned out alright. I’m glad I chose to use cork this time as it looks more realistic to me.

I used undiluted white glue to attach the roadbed, using the same method I used with the foam risers. I first drew my track plan directly on the pink foam using exact radius templates for the curves, and a yard-stick for the mostly-straight areas. I lined the inside of the cork against the track line mark and made another mark on the outside of the cork, and also marked the end of the cork piece. I removed the cork and applied glue to the foam. I pinned the cork down with 1-1/2 inch “T-pins” on the bevel. Once I had both sides in place, I weighted the cork. I laid as much cork at one time as I had weights for. I then left it overnight.

I didn’t buy turnout foam, instead choosing to cut the cork to fit the turnouts. I might regret that, we’ll see.

My next task was making a curvy 4 inch riser to meet the ends of the two 2% inclines on either end of the layout. I chose to make my own rather than buy an additional package of risers from the hobby shop. It was a lot of work but I’m confident it will work fine. Since I took this photo, I have cut two tunnels through my homemade riser.

The riser is two pieces of 1-1/2 inch foam plus a 1 inch piece between. I drew the design on a large piece of paper, cut it out 2 inches wide. I placed my paper template on the foam and cut it with a razor utility knife. I then glued the three pieces of foam together with white glue, weighting them heavily.

When I was happy with the way the risers turned out, I glued them to the foam surface and pinned them in place. I weighted them and left it for a couple of days.

I have about ten or fifteen more feet of cork to apply, then I will be ready to start laying track. I have to decide where my blocks are going to be and plan my wiring lines accordingly.

Model railroading is a fantastic hobby. It is especially fun to take photos and videos as steps are taken so it’s easy to see how much progress is being made. I’m learning that slow and steady is best. Now that I’m retired, slow has taken on a whole new meaning.

I need more coffee.

Strong Model Railroad Benchwork – More Helpful Details

Photos and Blog by Dale Parsons

In this post I’m adding some additional details and photos that will be helpful to those who read the original post, “How to Build Strong Model Railroad Benchwork.”

This is a close-up of the braces I made for my first shelf-style layout. These are the same braces but I had to adapt them a little bit for my current layout which is quite a bit larger than my first shelf.

The leg and arm brace are both 2×2 pine. The gusset size depends on how long your arm brace is going to be. I like things flush (OCD), so the bottom of the arm is flush with the bottom angle of the gusset. There are three #8 x 1 inch screws on one side, and two screws on the opposite side of the gusset holding the arm brace. There are three screws on either side of the leg into the gusset. The bottom of the leg rests on the floor.

You can’t see them in this photo, but there are two concrete screws anchoring the leg to the wall. One is just below the gusset, and one about half way between the top of the brace and the gusset.

The concrete screws anchoring the leg to the wall are visible in this photo. Just two screws hold the leg firmly. It’s not going anywhere!

Bosch 3/16 inch concrete impact drill bits are necessary for making screw holes in the wall. I used 1/4 x 3-1/4 inch concrete anchor screws. With these screws it is NOT necessary to put anchors in the wall before placing the screws. These are fantastic for a quick, rock-solid hold on the brace leg.

I have one brace on each of the outside walls. The braces are about 50 inches from the back wall and are perpendicular to the remaining braces. I left 4 inches of overhang across the entire front of the layout. In this photo it’s clear that I used two 1×3 inch joists on either side of the arm brace. My first shelf layout was only 24 inches deep in the middle, 48 inches on the ends. To use these braces again I had to add additional pieces of 1×3.

As I said in my previous post, this layout is 54 inches deep on the ends, 36 inches across the middle. I wouldn’t recommend building a shelf layout this wide, but I’m tall so reaching across won’t be that difficult. Using a step stool to work on scenery at the ends will work fine.

My train room is 21 feet long. My layout braces are approximately 32 inches apart. The last braces on either end are just 12 inches from the outside wall. I measured the distance between each of the braces, then cut a 2×2 inch piece to length and fastened it to the wall using the same concrete screws I used on the legs. With the braces 32 inches apart, I was concerned there might be some “give” in the surface of the layout between the braces. I used 3/8 inch plywood for the bench surface, which is not super sturdy. My bracing makes up for it.

In this photo, the original 24 inch joist pieces are visible, plus the additional 1×3 pieces I added to extend the length of the joists to hold my 36 inch bench. The horizontal 2×2 pieces I attached to the wall are also visible.

After I was satisfied with the placement of the braces, I added facia across the front of the braces to make a solid foundation for the edge of the plywood surface. I will probably attach a piece of thin material across plywood edge for a finished look.

**Mistake alert! Be sure to use a square to assure a 90 degree angle at each of the braces before attaching the facia! This is experience speaking. It’s never fun to have to re-do something.

When I added the 3/8 inch plywood deck, I measured from the center of the brace to the next brace center, and cut the plywood accordingly. By doing that, the edges of the plywood came together in the middle of the joists, creating a solid connection.

When all of the plywood surface pieces were firmly in place, it was time to begin laying down the extruded foam. I almost decided against using foam. It was actually my wife who talked me into it because of the versatility it provides with scenery and track placement. I had also decided not to use elevated track, which meant no mountain areas, no trestles, no inclines and declines. Again, my wife helped me see the light.

I decided to use 1 1/2 inch foam rather than 2 inch. It was a minor cost savings, and I didn’t think the extra 1/2 inch would make that much difference. I measured and cut the foam to fit and made sure I was happy before I started applying glue. I used Liquid Nails to apply the foam, then, as you can see, I weighted the foam and left it overnight. It worked great. I’m very satisfied with my progress so far.

While I am working on my layout I always have music playing and a hot cup of coffee close by. There should be a coffee flavor called HO Railroad. Hey, wait a minute! That’s a good idea!

How to Build Strong Model Railroad Benchwork

Blog and Photos by Dale Parsons

Your dream of a beautiful model railroad will ultimately be no better than the benchwork holding it in place. Any model railroad worth building is worth the time and effort it takes to build unshakable benchwork.

My first permanent HO layout was built on open-grid, I-girder and truss benchwork. I followed Lynn Wescott’s old book detailing how to build, step-by-step, open grid benchwork. His drawings, lists of materials, measurements, and photos made the work easy. I have to admit, however, I was disappointed with the way my benchwork turned out. I found the open grid design made scenery building far more difficult.

How to Build Model Railroad Benchwork, by Lynn Westcott, who was a master in model railroading and everything that goes with it, is a terrific manual for building a great layout.

Since my plywood sub-roadbed was only about a 1/4 inch wider on either side of my cork roadbed, it didn’t leave enough room for attaching the strips of cardboard for the foundation of my ground and rock scenery. I made it work, but I wished I had built it differently. I have not used open grid since then.

In my opinion, no model railroad is ever finished. At least not for me. There is always something more to do. I find that scenery and detail is just as fun as running trains. On this my third layout, I plan to use more detail than I ever have before.

Model railroading is a great learning experience. I have already made several mistakes on my third layout, but I’m not starting over. The most important mistake I made is the narrowest part of my benchwork is 36 inches. The ends are 54 inches. My original braces weren’t long enough so I had to attach additional 1×3 pieces to both sides so the brace arms to extend them to the edge of the bench. Leveling everything was a challenge. The two sides of the arm had to be level, and the brace itself had to be level with the next brace arm, and so on.

My new train room is twenty-one feet long, and I’m using every inch of it for my layout. The room has the same shape as the train room in our last house, which is kind of cool. This room is longer, but more narrow. The opposite side of the room is lined with shelves with mostly stuff we don’t need. Just as long as I have room to get from one end of the layout to the other, it’s fine with me. One great thing about shelf layouts is the room it creates underneath. Lots more storage area.

Attaching the braces to the cement block wall was tough. But they’re not going anywhere. I used an impact driver and 1/4 inch cement screws that are 3 1/2 inches long. I went through several drill bits. I drilled through the 2×2 inch leg brace with a wood bit that made a mark on the white cement block. I then used the cement drill bit to make the hole. The impact driver fastened the legs to the wall very easily.

To accommodate my choice of 26 inch radius curves on each end of the layout, the benchwork is 54 inches deep. I am pleased with my progress so far, but the benchwork really is too deep. Reaching across to work on scenery is going to be difficult, but I will manage.

When I was satisfied with the benchwork framing, it was time to put on the plywood sub-roadbed. I had some plywood pieces from my previous layout so I used them, plus some additional new 3/8 inch plywood. I measured and cut the plywood so the ends come together between the two sides of the 1×3 inch brace arms. I then drew lines on the plywood indicating the brace arms. After drilling counter-sink pilot holes I used 1 1/2 inch screws to fasten the plywood to the brace arms.

These are photos from my first shelf layout. It was only 24 inches wide in the middle, and just wide enough on the ends to hold a 22 inch radius curve. I run parallel mainlines so I can operate two trains simultaneously.

My next post will include details about applying sheets of foam to the plywood.

Thanks for reading.

Dale

An Exercise in Patience

Are you tired of waiting for patience?

Model railroading is a great exercise in stretching your ability to wait for something good to happen. My current layout project began, literally, on the floor. The room I am using was a storage place for all the overflow stuff. I had to move, package, stack, sort, discard, retrieve from the discard bin, and re-stack, so that I could actually begin building a model railroad.

I’m trying things I’ve never done before. This is definitely the most pain-staking, detailed layout I have ever attempted. The bench-work is very sturdy. In fact, I have been ON TOP of the bench several times, working on the styrofoam risers, also something I have never used before.

I purchased the risers from Rider’s Hobby Shop in Flint, MI. I’ve had layouts with mountains for the trains to climb through, but the inclines were too steep, so the engines could only pull a few cars. Not this time! I’m using 2% inclines, which require 16 feet of space to lift the train four inches. Since my layout space is 21 feet long, I have plenty of room for a 2%, four inch lift! Voila!

I have two total loops, so I can continuously run two trains. The town of Maple Valley is going to be an attraction for those who climb aboard the old-fashioned passenger cars, pulled by a vintage steam engine. Beautiful!

Back to patience. It has already taken me over a year to get to this point. I still have not placed a single section of track. The bench work is incredible. The 1 1/2 inch foam underlayment is terrific. The 2% risers are all in place. The scratch-built bridges are really cool. They still have to be painted. Mountains are beginning to take shape. I have built a huge number of houses and buildings. I am scratch-building floral wire trees. Also something I’ve never done before.

If my plan was to run trains as quickly as possible, I would have quit a long time ago. Here’s the point. The process is the fun! But, the process is also the patience growth time. The secret is to be pleased, or at least “okay”, with where I am right now. If I do my best with each step of the process, then I can leave the layout at any time along the way and be satisfied.

I am not yet where I’m going. The goal line is not placing the last tree and bit of model grass. The process is the goal line. It isn’t stationary. The goal line is constantly evolving. The beautiful thing about model railroading is I can change my mind at any time, just because I decided to do something different.

Life is not fixed. It’s a process. Constantly evolving. Patience is a project of effort, trust, and satisfaction.

Coffee please.