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.

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?!