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Thursday, 20 December 2012

Thompson River Canyon Blog Edition 2

Thompson River Canyon 

In my last blog I went over my planning process and the beginning stages of this construction. In this blog I will be moving into the creation of the rock work and the snow sheds. Getting the rock faces looking as realistic as possible was daunting to me as my standards have increased but my abilities have not. Realism for me meant that the rock formations had to resemble what would really happen in nature. I specify a difference here because a rock face can be created to look realistic on a model railroad, however, they may not seem quite right when compared to a true rock face. This difference had puzzled me for a while, it wasn’t until a geologist approached me at the past train show and said “Would you mind telling the owner of this module that his rock face is geologist approved?” Needless to say, the man was very impressed by the structure of those rocks. They were at roughly a fifteen degree angle and followed that pattern across the entire face, just as rock would in nature. Now by no means am I good enough to recreate that incredible rock face from the train show, however, it did open my eyes to the way actual rock is structured. This gave me good direction for tackling the rocks of my tunnels. 

WARNING: When working with plaster, do not pour any of the plaster filled water down your sink. The plaster could       settle in the pipes and harden, quickly leading to a permanently clogged pipe.

To begin, I gave the entire length of the route a layer of plaster cloth. This plaster cloth made it easier to apply the plaster rock work. Plus it covered over any gaps in the foam which would otherwise fill with plaster and be a waste of said plaster. Plaster cloth is very simple to use and it creates a clean white surface to work with. To use plaster cloth, cut out a section roughly the size of the area you wish to cover, then place the piece in a shallow bowl of water for 10 - 20 seconds. With the cloth thoroughly damp, apply it to the surface you wish to cover and smooth it out. The holes in the cloth should fill when smoothing out the wet surface but if they don’t it is not an issue. Once the cloth has dried, you can do pretty much anything to it, paint it, apply ground covering, or in my case cover it in rock work. 

With the plaster cloth covering the entirety of the Thompson River route, I began construction of the seven concrete snow sheds. The sheds are being cut from 1/4” balsa sheet which is easy enough to cut with a hobby knife and a dremel. The sheds are designed fairly simply, they consist of a front face with rounded rectangular openings, large end walls that keep rock from reaching over the edge, and a few other small structural additions on certain sheds. With my version of sheds I have compressed them significantly to fit my space, this meant shortening the sheds, lowering the end walls, and omitting the triangular shape of the front wall supports. With the wooden shed pieces cut out, I glued them together and onto the layout with white glue, then gave them a thin, smooth layer of plaster to replicate the concrete look of the prototype. 

Now that the sheds have been put in place, I could begin the rock work around them. This process was quite hit and miss and I wanted to try to incorporate a unified slope into the rock face. Another detail I tried to include were fairly large recessions in the rock. The contrast between large outcroppings of rock and deep reliefs create a dramatic rock face. To get large detailed rock outcrops I used a Woodland Scenics [1] rock molds, this ensures a very good looking cast every time; something that I could not have done by hand. With a good number of these large rocks cast in plaster, I used more plaster to attach the castings to the mountain face. To make sure the casting do not fall off, I put a lump of plaster on the back of the casting and then quickly push it against the plaster cloth. This will not hold it well though, I had to work plaster around the casting to lock it in place and blend the rock into the rest of the mountain face. When applying the castings and other plaster to the mountain, I prefer to keep my batch of plaster small because otherwise it will dry before I can make use of it all. The best consistency for attaching the castings is where it can be scooped out and remain in a lump, just past its liquid point. The latest point in plasters drying stage, where it is very clumpy and almost beyond use is the best for applying right to the mountain face to create rock without a mold. Lastly, before the plaster applied to the mountain face has hardened, I like to dab all of the new plaster with my fingers to rough up the surface, getting rid of any smooth spots.

Now for the tough part, repeating this process along the entire length of the route. It will certainly take time and a fair mass of plaster, however, that’s the fun of it all. As it stands, my Thompson River route has a third of its rock work complete, with three out of the seven sheds built. Hopefully by the next blog they will be complete and photos will be included. Along with that I will explain my process of painting the rock faces and sheds, as well as some little details I’ve been adding to the trackside. 


[1] Woodland Scenics (1997-2012) Accessed December 15, 2012. Available:

This is by Tyler Fedoroshyn one of the great staff at Chinook & Hobby West

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

An HO Layout In Progress

This layout is by Tyler who works at our South store.
  • The Thompson River Snow Sheds in HO

    This is a project that has been sitting in the back of my mind for too long. I wanted to do some rugged mountain modeling with cliff faces that would be impressive to look at. I was too short on space to create a floor to ceiling mountain range but I knew some compromise could be found. I also knew there had to be grade built into my plan in order to avoid the mountains blocking my previous scenery. To do this I had to settle on a rather steep down grade to drop six inches below my current track level. A four percent is what it came out to be. Such a steep grade means helper service which just added to the appeal of this project.

    The snow sheds along the Thompson River are an iconic sight for the few remaining passenger trains that follow the route along the CN line. One of those trains is the Rocky Mountaineer which can just barely span the series of tunnels and sheds. They have taken a brilliant panoramic shot of their train spanning those sheds which I have been using to get my version as close to the real one as possible (see figure 1).

                         Figure 1- Basic foam mountain faces with Rocky Mountaineer panorama in the back ground. Panoramic photo source: Rocky Mountaineer [1].

    For me there was no time to waste in beginning this project, I did up a quick drawing of the proposed route and began construction (see figure 2). The benchwork was really just a simple shelf design, nothing pretty as the mountains will overhang and the skirting will cover the rest. I won’t go into any particulars about how I constructed the benchwork but rather I will lean towards the scenery techniques used through this series of blogs. 

                  Figure 2- Plan for the Thompson River route along current layout.

    With the benchwork complete, I went straight cutting some basic mountain faces from foam. The foam I used was salvaged from a roof repair, unfortunately for me this foam was fiberglass based and I was left with some irritated hands after avoiding the use of gloves. The foam itself did a great job though and being several inches thick it didn’t take long to build up the six inches of mountain face I was able to have. I tried to keep the foam carving rough to make the future plaster work as easy as possible. This is where a hot wire cutter (and some better foam) would come in very handy as it would keep the mess down and allow you to be even more creative with how you cut the foam. For the tunnels I drew an approximate track center line along the table top and used a tri-level auto-rack to make sure I had sufficient clearance through the tunnels. An NMRA gauge is also a good tool for this, however be careful as it won’t properly gauge the overhang around a tight curve. With the pieces of foam fully cut out (see figure 3), I secured them to the layout with a generous amount of hot glue (however I left the tops of the tunnel sections off until the track has been secured). There are certainly stronger glues you could use but I haven’t had any issues with hot glue, especially when the track work isn’t relying on the rigidity of the foam. If you are laying your track on a foam base I would strongly advise a glue which will cover the entire surface between the layout and the foam. It should also have enough flexibility to hold up to any flex and movement the layout may be put through.

            Figure 3- Basic foam design of the tunnels.

    Once the foam was finished, I began laying cork roadbed along the entire length of my Thompson river route. You could use foam roadbed which I’ve done it in the past, however I have grown to prefer the rigidity of cork and I feel it will keep the track level and aligned better than the foam will (with a 4% grade even the smallest of issues could be dangerous). To secure the road bed I used contact cement which provides a quick yet strong hold. I used Atlas code 83 cement tie flex track for the entire route. The concrete ties are prototypical to that portion of the CN line and has a very contemporary look which fits my modern layout well. To secure the track I used a very hot glue gun. It must be “very hot” to avoid any lumps if the glue has cooled before the track was properly laid. The hot glue is again quick which was important to me (being an engineering student, time is always at a premium). I soldered every rail joint to ensure good electrical connection, operational reliability, and realism because the prototype has welded rail meaning there should be minimal “click-clack.” 

    This project has been a lot of fun so far and I look forward to its completion along with every other step along the way. Hopefully I have inspired some of you to tackle that mountain railroading project you’ve been imagining. With some careful planning it doesn’t have to take up much space and in return it will cost you less in plaster. With the next blog I will begin the task of creating snow sheds and tunnel portals, as well as begin the plaster rock-work and show some other little details I have been adding. Lastly I would like to say that while I am modeling a prototype location and wish to be as accurate as possible, I don’t mind missing a few details along the way, it’s the big picture that I’m aiming for. So if I have misinterpreted any facts along the way I apologize and would be very interested in hearing about how it should really be from you guys. I will likely even change what I’ve done if it’ll help make this project as realistic as possible. 

    [1] Rocky Mountaineer Rail Tours owns the panorama seen in the photo, this is not my own image. Rocky Mountaineer (Copyright 2011).

    This is Tyler's Layout. He works at our South store and is part of the FREE-MO group. Please feel free to come down to our South store to talk to him, Jesse, John or Rob; at our North store Ross, Leigh or Ken.