Platform and Vegetation

I’ve been plugging away at the diorama and have made some progress. Although progress has been slow it has also been steady. For me landscaping is done in layers over time. For example I installed the crossing and although it looked rough it will do while I work on other areas. Then I’ll come back to the crossing and tidy it up and then move to work on other areas and so on and so on. Sometimes it’s not clear how a feature should look until other areas start coming together so I don’t like to consider any area ‘finished’ until the end.

Here’s where I’m at:


I painted the platform edges – made from basswood and meant to represent repurposed ties – in grey paint and then ran my chalky finger over the grain to give it a weathered look. I think it came out great and represents the weather-beaten look of old worn wood. While I’m pleased with the cracks in the asphalt so far, at a later date I will add some potholes, grass and I will darken the cracks to emphasize them more.


I tidied up the crossing a little and it is starting to look much better. I’m intending to clean up the surface as it still looks messy. I’ll be adding more details at a later date such as grass edges and different shades of dirt and dust.

The edges where the crossing surface and the ballast are looking more prototypical. I’ll add some vegetation to help blend the transition more.
Looks better but still plenty to do before I am happy with it. I’ll be adding some vegetation to soften the edges and I’m going to rework the surface as I want to have a cleaner look (not too weathered).


There are small ditches either side of the entranceway. I like to use a mix of natural materials for these little vignettes. I have store of different grades of rocks and sand and any grades I’m missing I grind up in my pestle and mortar. I’m still not brave enough to use paint to enhance the colors but moving forward I’ll build a few test vignettes and see how best to combine natural materials and paint to create an attractive scene.

I have a range of natural materials (here being used as weights) which I use for landscaping. Most has been collected from railroad rights-of-way. I always take jars with me on my railroad photography trips and if I see a color or texture that I think I can use then I just fill one of my jars. Natural materials scale very well but sometimes they photograph very flat and boring. I think they need to be enhanced with paint or chalk but have yet to take the plunge myself. I’ll experiment with paint once this diorama is finished.
I used tacky glue for the rocks and then added a second finer layer of sand and dirt which I glued down with alcohol, and diluted Mod Podge
Then I added grass tufts which I stuck down with tacky glue.
then I clipped and blended the grass to crate a more realistic vegetation scene. I will be adding more layers of vegetation at a later date.

Brick path

I had some Micro Mark embossed brick paper laying around and decided to use it for the surface of the path at the rear of the depot. This has been the only risky feature I have built so far as I had no idea how it was going to turn out. I built a few tests to practice laying the brick paper down as well as test weathering. The result is ok for the moment and I will come back to it at a later date.

I downloaded several photos of brick paths to give me an idea of how to weather and add vegetation. I really liked the brick and sand effect in this photo. My version will use less sand.
The working area. I had my photo book, my test and the diorama at hand while I worked.
Once the brick paper was stuck down I gently weathered the surface with a dark chalky finger tip. I then started adding grass tufts.
I added grass tufts over sandy bases. The sand was stuck down using diluted Mod Podge. I have more work to do here: blend the tufts, sand and brick. Reduce and randomize the vegetation: it looks a little too ordered right now and some of the tufts need thinning.

Thanks all!



It’s been a while since I last posted as I was away visiting Eastern California. I went with a pal of mine to explore the southern end of the Carson and Colorado Railroad that shut back in 1960. We visited Keeler, Lone Pine, and Laws. It’s nice to see that so much remains to be seen especially at Keeler which retains the original depot building, the talc plant and some of the track layout near the original locomotive service area.

The talc plant. It is in pretty good condition considering it shut many years ago. There was a narrow gauge locomotive being stored there which I believe is being slated for restoration.
I have many pictures of the depot which is well know among fans of the Carson and Colorado. We are lucky to still be able to see it and it is a real shame no one has made any effort to restore it beyond what you see here. I’ve seen a few models based on this depot and it is definitely a great modeling subject.

3D Printing

I first got into 3D printing a few years ago. At that time I used Sketchup to design railroad features that I wanted to add to my last layout. However instead of printing at home I sent the designs away to Shapeways who printed up the design and sent me back the result a couple of weeks later. Since then printers have dropped in price and are now able to produce very high quality work for a very reasonable initial outlay/cost. It seems to have become a huge part of the hobby in the last few years and the time seemed right to finally invest in one myself. I watched a few YouTube videos on how to choose a printer and which printer would best suit my needs and then settled on the Elegoo Neptune 2. It cost around $200 from Amazon and arrived disassembled a few days later.

I had to assemble the printer before I could use it. I watched an assemble video, followed the instructions, and after a couple of hours I had a working 3D printer.
There is a small learning curve involved in getting things working correctly – leveling the bed, understanding filaments and printer settings – but once done I was able to create my first print.
A pretty good result I thought. As I get to know the process better I should be able to improve the quality of the print. I spray-painted this figure and gave it to my wife as a small gift.

I’ve been busy with the diorama so I have not had a chance to use the 3D printer for a few weeks but as I start adding details to the diorama I am hoping to start making them by printing them: details such as crossing bucks, telegraph poles, fences, benches etc. I have decided to use Fusion 360 as my design tool and still have to get up to speed with the software. Also, there are various websites online that allow you to download drawings and plans by other modelers – sometimes free and sometimes for a price – which is a huge timesaver if you need something quickly.


1.  Grade Crossing

I used some ties to protect the flangeway gap. I sanded down the ties to match the rail height and lost some of the stain. I will recolor the ties at a later date.
I used my test roadway that I had completed a while back to fill the gaps. I still need to finish the ends and smooth them down. The difference in width between the roadway and the crossing will be dealt with at some point. I’m doing a lot of rough modeling at the moment but will start fine tuning features and colors once all the main features such as driveway and platform are completed.
I added some sandy mix to the edges of the crossing and then smoothed it down a little. It is looking a little rough at the moment but will look much better when I go over the area again and improve the ballast and general coloring.

2. Drive and parking area

I cut up a large piece of card taken from my cardboard box. I keep as much cardboard as possible – cereal boxes, Amazon boxes etc – and have created an invaluable supply of card materials. I used this card as a base for all the remaining elements. The goal here is to control the relative heights of all the elements in relation to the track. Track levels in relation to the surrounding ground play a huge role in the atmosphere of a railroad – especially when poorly maintained. I did not want the trackbed to be above the height of the surrounding ground – I wanted the reverse – the track to be level or sunken beneath the surrounding ground. This card base is meant to give me control over the height of the elements.
I cut the card to fit snugly around the trackbed and meet the roadway.
I created a small mold for the parking area using soundproofing tape. The tape allowed me to easily create curves where needed.
I used my formula of Woodland Scenic Foam Putty, water, and various light colored gravel to create the sandy mix. I wanted the parking area to be the same color as the road so I used the same formula as the roadway.


I poured the mix into the mold. I will be able to easily sand down the surface to get an even height once the mix has dried.


Two days later the mix had dried. I pulled up the surrounding tape and had a nicely formed parking area. Still plenty to do but a good starting point.
A view of the overall area after I had stuck down the card base. I’ll fill any outstanding gaps etc with some of the original mix that I have stored.

3. Platform

Before starting on the platform I did a quick study of the prototype. I decided that I wanted an asphalt surface with railroad tie edges similar to these photos. This meant that could finally test out my asphalt technique developed last year.
The platform is made of two layers: a base to bring the platform up to the level of the parking area and then the platform itself that sits on the base. This ensures that the platform surface and rail tops are at the same height. I used the original planning platform card to create the base and then built a mold around the edges using soundproofing tape.
I created a second thin base from thin card and dropped it into the mold. I removed the tape where the ties act as a border. This is not a necessary step but things worked out fine.
And into the mold I poured the asphalt mix made from water, Woodland Scenics Foam Putty, and asphalt powder from Arizona Rocks and Minerals.
After a couple of days it had dried. I pulled up the platform carefully from the mold and sanded it down.
One of the reasons I used the foam putty method was that I wanted to create realistic cracks in the asphalt. The putty that’s sits on a thin card base, when dry, can be bent to create natural cracks. If you run a knife or in this case, pipe cleaners over the cracks and then return to a flat shape the cracks can be made visible. You can then weather the surface further by wiping chalk or dust across it to highlight the slight gap that has been created.
This is the result after adding some cracks. All weathering is generally done in layers over time (much like the prototype) so I will continue working on this in finer and finer detail. These are just broad strokes to begin with.
The next step will be to glue down the platform but I am happy with progress so far.

Thanks all.

Diorama trackwork

The track laying is mostly done. I’m 70% happy with it. I find that even though natural materials scale very well they tend to be a bit flat and boring. The way to spruce things up would be to use paint or details with color but I’m very reluctant to start messing with the current state of things. I can probably add some color – rusty rails, rust stain across the ties, as well as some details such as trash and leaves around the ties and the edges. I will do this at a later date.

Here are some of the steps:

I gave up on the Micro Engineering track and decided to hand lay both sections. I want to be able to landscape the trackbed before the rails are laid down.
I kept reference photos close at hand and made notes of the steps. The order of things was important.
I used various methods to weather the ties such as a Dremel, weathering pen and knife. I also used balsa wood to represent very rotten ties. The wear and tear scales very nicely on balsa wood.
I created a goopy mix from Woodlands Scenic foam putty and various grades of ballast which spread over and around the ties. I was trying to create a surface that I can carve and shape with a knife onto which I will eventually add ballast.
After a couple of days drying the surface was ready to work on.
I spent time sanding down the fill, cleaning off the ties, digging ties out, creating different levels of ground from tie to tie – sometimes level with the tie surface, other times sunken well below.
I ground up three or four grades of gravel taken from one of my jars of stones collected on walks along railroad lines.


And started laying ballast starting with the finest grade first. The final grade is just a few larger ballast grains dotted here and there. No need to go overboard on that final layer.
The ballast is just a base, other colors will be added. This is the view just before gluing down. The profile of the ground and ties are meant to change over the course of several ties.
The result after gluing. Time to start the ground cover detailing.
I have a jar of fireplace ash taken from the bed of an abandoned railroad (a fire had been started on it). I used the ash to provide some color and texture variation. It really has a nice weathering effect. I will have to re-stain the ties as they have lost much of their original color.
Once I was relatively happy with the ground color I started adding some vegetation.
Things really started to come together once I had completed the first layer of vegetation. More will be added later.

Laying Rails

I decided to use the British Brook-Smith method of laying rails. The method was described by Iain Rice in one of his 1980s books on hand laying track. The method involves gluing rivets into the ties onto which the rail is soldered. I had to adapt it to American standards and I would say I only had partial success: it was slow, messy, damaged ties, and it was difficult to keep the rail in a straight line etc. Nevertheless I will continue to use the Brook Smith method and intend to create a bunch of tools to help speed up the track laying process.

Holes are drilled and rivets are glued with 2-part epoxy every five ties.
I decided to pre-paint the rails. I wanted a color as close to the roadbed as possible. In the end painting the rail first turned out to be a mistake: the coat of paint was easily damaged and flaked off as I worked on sticking the rail down. I found it easier to paint the rails once it was stuck down.
Nevertheless the first color I chose turned out to be a good base to build additional colors upon – such as rust.
I soldered the rail to the rivets and then painted them. The team track is a little more rusty than the main line. I intend to add another coat to both to bring out the color more. I don’t particularly like the tie coloring on the main line. I would have preferred it to be more uniform – it looks very messy. I could redo it but for the sake of keeping going I will leave it as it is and just tinker with it here and there.

Finished (kind of)

I still have to add details such as rail joiners across the gaps. A glaring omission is the tie plates – something I will add when building the next layout. Also the rail sits a little high above the ties in places. I intend to build various jigs to make the track laying faster and more accurate – this was just a test run of the Brook-Smith method. I’ll add more color via leaves, rust and more vibrant ground cover. I want to see how the diorama develops before adding too much new color.

Nice to see things coming together.
The ground levels in various places are really important to me. I like ties to be fairly sunken, have no ballast profile and for the surrounding ground to be at the same level as the ballast. The track level serves as a foundation to the levels and heights of all the remaining elements such as the road, the parking area, and the platform.
There is going to be a grade crossing at this end. Sadly some of my nicely weathered balsa wood ties are going to be buried.
The team track was meant to be code 50 but in my enthusiasm to get it done I completely forgot about it and laid it in code 70. You can see the rail is a little high above the ties here. I have to perfect the Brook-Smith method to lower the rail and incorporate tie plates. That will be the goal for the next project.
Still lots to do to make the trackbed pop a little. I need to add colors but will wait until the remainder of the diorama is built before doing that. For now this track work is a good foundation for the rest of the diorama.

Thanks all.

Track bed tests

I’m a huge fan of track, trackbeds, track profiles etc. I spent the last few years amassing a huge collection of track pictures (20000+) located here: I don’t really have much interest in modern locomotives or modern railroading – I’m more of late steam, first-generation diesel guy – and generally spend my time browsing Morning Sun books for inspiration. I photo, video and sketch track and for me modeling good trackwork is one of the most important parts of the hobby. For a long time I thought I was the only one on the planet who cared about modeling good looking track but then I discovered Facebooks groups with hundreds of like-minded souls with the same love of track and all attempting to reproduce in model form the wide variety of colors, textures, materials, landscaping, profiles, weathering and technical characteristics of trackwork. I’ve been hugely inspired by the work on these Facebook groups and would like to produce something that matches the quality of the modeling. So with that in mind I spent the last two weeks working on the roadbed of the diorama trackwork trying to figure out how to produce something credible.

These are a few of my own photos. I have a library online of track photos to work from that are taken from my cycling trips to operational, non-operational and abandoned (but in situ) railroads around the Bay Area. I have an electric bike which allows me to travel wide distances but still get in close to the action. The above photos are some that I have had printed out for framing. They will be mounted on the walls of the modeling room but give you an idea of what I’m generally photographing when I go out.
In order to use photos for reference I have them printed out at my local Walgreens – same day printing. I not only use my photos but will also take pictures of Morning Sun illustrations. I find it easier to use small versions on the modeling table than have to prop up a book with the risk it will get damaged or stained in some way.
I bought these small photo albums to sit alongside me while I work. They were pretty cheap and can be bought in bulk. (
I’m slowly organizing my books into categories. As I’m working on roads and track at the moment these two were my first working booklets. I will eventually have other books devoted to bridges, trees, grass etc.

Track Modeling

I decided to start with a test to figure out some methods, effects, what works, what doesn’t work. I have various test beds for track and was able to use them to try out various ideas and to provide a modeling road map and modeling destination when I eventually start building the trackbed.

This is an older test platform I built four years ago. Luckily it had a few clean sections for me to try out ideas. This is a good example of the kind of preparation that goes into modeling. I would say that 60% of my time is spent testing ideas away from the main ‘build’. The fact that modeling on the final build is a mostly one-and-done situation I want to be able to get it ‘right’ the first time (no such thing as ‘right’ of course). I’m sure every experienced modeler has had that moment of panic when one’s carefully laid plans go sideways on the final build and days have be spent, first calming down, and then second scraping everything off in order to set up again – which in my case can take days. Test platforms such as these reduce those situations. By the way I’m all for seat-of-pants modeling and there are definitely times when that approach works best.
The goals for these tests is to get the ballast line and surrounding ground at the same level as the top of the ties – there should be no ballast shoulder. I’m trying model poorly maintained right-of-way with even less maintenance on the team track. I’m aware that all I have to do is just dump a load of Woodland Scenic’s HO ballast on the model and then level it with a straight edge. but instead I’m trying to create a situation where I can carve the ballast profile in the same way that a sculptor can sculpt a piece of marble. I want to be able to control, from tie to tie, the way the roadbed profile changes. The variety of texture, wear and tear and weathering effects that can be found in trackwork can be quite considerable and is something that I want to model. In this photo I took Woodland Scenics foam putty, dumped some sand and ground-up stone, mixed it with water, and spread it over the ties. When dry I should be able to carve out a credible ballast profile.
This is a variation of the above test but this time, I used foam putty heavily diluted with water and just poured it around the ties so that it flowed and then leveled out. It was a really nice effect and one that will use another time. One issue is that the water surface tension ‘pulled’ the foam up the sides of the ties. That was an effect I didn’t want and next time I will add a bit of dishwashing liquid (or use alcohol instead of water?) to reduce surface tension.
This test used some ballast that I ground up from stones. I was able to get several grain sizes using a pestle and mortar and filtering the results using a variety of tools including kitchen sieves and sifting pans. Worn road beds tend to be a mixture of different grades of ballast and surrounding soil that has blown or flowed onto the road bed and so I needed different grades of ballast which I mixed with fine dust. It was a pretty good effect. One thing to watch out for is using ballast that is overscale. Standing an HO figure next to the track will help me remove any ballast grains that are too big and I can already see that there are several that are too big in this photo.
Sifting stones after they have been ground up in the pestle and mortar. I use gold miners’ sifting pans and kitchen sieves.

Final Test

I decide to take what I had learned from the quick tests (done over several days) and apply them to a final test.

I quickly built a new test platform. Years ago I built a tie-spacing tool that allows me to quickly hand-lay ties. I have since bought the Fast Tracks tie jigs as they have a range of spaces that match mainline, secondary and branch tie spacings.
Weathering ties once glued is much easier after they have been glued. It is a multi-part process – Dremel, knife, weathering pen, hand-carving, and sanding. This is the first time I used my Dremel to wear down the wood – much easier than doing it by hand – and I was very pleased with the results. One has to be careful not to overdo it – one only needs a gentle treatment to begin with. The wood grain should be as fine as possible otherwise the weathering starts to look over-scale. Hand-weathering and carving is next followed by a little sanding to remove burrs and blend in the worn grain effects.
There are two types of test that I use: dry tests (no glue) and wet tests (glued). This is a dry test where I just dumped some ballast mixture on the test and added some color to the ties just to see how the weathering would come out. Looked pretty good: the weathering was not overdone and wood grain and carving came out nice. I didn’t glue this down and once done I just tipped out the ballast.
This is the start of the wet test. The method involves spreading Woodland Scenics Foam Putty over and around the ties so that ties are more or less buried. I’ll sand the top surface once dry and then start carving out the profile. Once the profile is carved I’ll color it and then add layers of different grades of ballast.
This is result. I used three grades of ballast starting with the finest (almost dust) and then gently added larger grades. I also colored the ties using some marker pens and let the dirt add another layer of weathering to the wood. I felt that was heading in the right direction and decided to use this technique for the diorama. There is still plenty to do such as add vegetation, dig out ties, create pot holes but for the moment this was a good foundation to build upon.

I will post on the final diorama version in a few of days. I’ve almost completed it and it’s worth writing up a full post on that build alone.

Thanks all.

New Kitchen Units

My work folks finally finished installing the kitchen units in the modeling room. I now have plenty of storage for my mini-tools, a work surface for my spray booth, hot and cold water plus a sink. I’m happy to see the whole room finally come together especially as year ago this room was just a dusty shell. I still have to add some more pictures and more paint storage racks and I will get to that in the next couple of months.

The kitchen units came from Ikea. They were cheap but are still pretty good quality – good enough for a ‘making’ space such as this. I had a pal install the units while a plumber connected up the water and installed a water heater – I no longer have to clean up in the main house.
I have numerous mini tools, materials, and odd bits and pieces that need storing. I bought these takeout containers to store these items and use the kitchen units to store the containers.
The room is starting to come together. It’s been a real grind over the last few months trying to get everything organized but I now feel I am at the end of this stage and will now be able to concentrate on modeling.
The ‘pull’ shelves contain all my materials such as ballast, static grass, flock and natural materials (branches, rocks, leaves. They also hold paint, glue and liquids such as alcohol and white spirits. The top shelf holds larger and occasionally used tools. I’m in the process of getting things better organized as it’s easy to keep buying things and lose track of them over time. Labelling and organizing in a logical and consistent manner saves me time and energy (looking for stuff) in the long run.

Sandy gravel road

I continued working on the gravel road. The thinking behind the work is that I wanted to try to keep things as clean as possible with not too much weathering or contrast or change of color. I wanted to add different textures of a consistent color and just use different shades of that color: eg use a base color and have it be a little darker at time or a little lighter at times but never using a new color. The base texture is the original foam putty mixed with sand as described earlier – now it was time to add stones, rocks, sand etc.

I stuck to my rule of practicing and searching for materials, methods, and techniques before committing the final build to the model and as such these next pictures describe a test – not the final. The lessons taken I from this test will be put to another attempt (already begun) next week.

I carved out the corner to match the curve in the backdrop. I’m really pleased with the way this road surface has turned out so far. It looks and feels like a great starting point for the weathering that I am about to start: the color matches the backdrop pretty well and I’m going to try to just add sand, rocks and stones of a similar color to enhance the texture. These will be added in layers.
I like to model to a plan – even if those plans go astray at some point – and so I drew out a quick drawing illustrating features of sandy roads that I observed in collection of real world photographs.
I experimented with some dark chalk to bring out the texture and give the impression of a worn and recently used road. Even though I went easy on the weathering I still felt that I overdid it. On the final build I will probably not use this effect.
I have a variety of tools to help with the weathering. This tool is actually an airbrush needle. I wanted to create some very fine potholes and this tools was perfect to create very small indentations – barely visible from a distance but all too visible by a camera placed close by. Lines, holes, paint effects have to look as if they were ‘made by nature’ and not look like they were made by the hand of ‘mod’. Tools like this help but plenty of time has to be spent crouched over the surface while gently digging away.
After gently scratching away I created this little pothole. It’s not visible from a distance but very visible if you put your phone camera on the layout/diorama.
I’ve discovered the art of creating my own modeling and landscaping materials. Previously I would search far and wide for gravel or sand that was the right size for whatever I was working on. What I only just found out was that stones are really easy to grind down. All one does is grind them down using a pestle and mortar and then filter the result using a variety of tools including kitchen sieves and sifting pans. I get four grades of grains that are perfect for my purposes. I needed a very white colored grains for the road. The grains in the were my first experiment but unfortunately they have too much color in them. I spent the next couple of days searching the local area for white gravel.
I used some of the grains on the road surface. I’m definitely heading in the right direction but this still does not look right: too much color in the sand. The grain color needs to match the road surface a bit more closely and possibly could be a little brighter.
I was able to find some white stones around my house. I grabbed a few and brought them home to grind up and place on the road surface. The effect is better but in this case the contrast between the road surface and the stones is a little too strong. On my next attempt I can either lighten the road surface to match the white stones, use the white stone powder in the road mix, or just darken the stones a little using chalk or spray the surface with a diluted paint mix. I’ll play around with this till I get it the way I want it.
I next wanted to figure out how to tie everything down with glue and also observe how glue effects the model. I used two methods, both using Modpodge and water, one using an ink dropper and the other using a spray bottle. The above picture used an ink dropper. I tried to stop the liquid from moving the miniature stones and sand around but to some extent you lose control over the result.
The second method used a spray bottle. In this case the liquid did not move anything around and proved to be the better method overall.
This is the best picture of the result that I could find but unfortunately does not really show the final effect that well. In both cases the Modpodge left a very slight milky sheen on the surface. The weathering and other effects were nicely tied down but lost some of their ‘edge’ and natural matte finish. It may require me to run some dust over the surface to bring back more a natural look. Of the two methods the spray method did a better job overall and I will use this method on the final version.
I decided to experiment with static grass. This was my first attempt. There were a couple of problems: one the contrast of the green and sandy color was too great – I will mix in much more dried grass color next time – and secondly the grass was too thick and lacked any blend at the edges. I actually don’t want much grass on the road and want the road surface to to be fairly clean but at least I could see how not to do it from this test.
I clean up the grass, I thinned it and tried to blend some of the edges. It is looking better but still not great. Nevertheless it was good practice.
I added a few grass tufts. I like to use SuperGlue for tufts as I find using static grass on white glue tends to splay the tufts in different directions. If I use SuperGlue I can just hold the tufts in my fingers and stick them into the glue. Once dry I thin them a little. I think the effect is much more realistic.
So anyhow this was just a test to work out some methods for building a sandy road. It has been really helpful and I learned alot and will continue to play around with it. I have another road surface already built – hopefully the final version – and will start weathering it in a few days.

Backdrop prints arrived

Just got back from Europe having been delayed a couple of weeks by Covid. It’s great to be back at our house and our daily routine: I missed my various activities such as drumming and especially modeling.

While we were away my printed backdrop arrived. I ordered two copies of the same print which at $15 per print is not cheap enough to print too many times. However I do intend to make changes to it so another couple of prints will be ordered for the final model. I intend to swap out the sky for a new sky with fewer colors – just white clouds on a clear blue sky. My theory is that fewer colors on the diorama make color matching easier and the final model more pleasing to look at. I also may move the mill over to the left so that the user has an unimpeded view of the works.

I ordered two prints of the same backdrop. One for use on the diorama and one to work with on the bench for color matching the road, the grass and other elements so that the foreground blends nicely with the background.
I did a loose fit of the backdrop before sticking it down. It came with a lower white border which needs to be removed. The road on the diorama needs to be matched with the position of the road on the backdrop. By doing this loose fitting I was able to mark the base with two lines to help me position the backdrop and the diorama road that still needs to be built.

I used an Xacto knife to cut away the lower border. The base of the model needs to slide under the backdrop while allowing the backdrop to curl around the corners
The backdrop has been stuck down. I used spray glue and it took a couple of attempts to get the positioning right. I used Elmers spray glue but may change the glue to another brand as I may need to reposition the print before it sticks too hard – something what was difficult to do with the Elmers glue.
The diorama base needs to slide under the backdrop at the corners. I marked the curves on the base to make sure to not model over them. If I did that then the base would not slide so nicely. Another thing to note is that I don’t yet know the height of the road and so I cannot yet match the road on the diorama to the road on the backdrop. Once the diorama road is finished I will have to reposition the backdrop road to make a better match – another reason that this backdrop is not the final version.

The corners are effectively hidden by the curve in the backdrop.
The diorama as it currently stands. All good so far, no major hiccups and time to start modeling. I will also start tinkering with the backdrop this week probably starting by swapping out the sky.

Backdrop fitting

I printed out the temporary backdrop and stuck it loosely around the base of the diorama. I am about to start modeling and need it to help me to position elements such as the road. Although a high quality printed version is on its way to me I may still refine the backdrop further.

The backdrop frame is built for the base to be moved into place when the modeling has been completed.

The backdrop – although a poorly printed temporary version – really helps me see how thing are coming together. My printer is not particularly good – the colors are not accurate – and as I intended to ‘bounce’ many of the backdrop colors onto the model I need to have a higher quality picture put in its place. As mentioned above I have a printed version with more accurate colors being mailed to me. However I think I may make more changes to the backdrop so I’m not finished with it yet.

I’ll be starting on the road first. I will have to match the roadway fade which means modeling a sandy colored dirt(ish) road. That wasn’t my original intention as I really wanted the road to be a grey asphalt. Nevertheless I like the sandy color and will build the road on the desktop and keep working at it until I get it right. I can take as long as I need to get the texture and color right. I’m in no hurry. Looks like I may have to move the road up a bit to match the height of the model road – an example of some of the changes I may still need to make.

I may also move the mill a little over to the left as the whole scene seems a little unbalanced.

The sky is a little too dark. I can swap it out for a lighter version taken from another picture if necessary but I’ll wait until I get the printed version before making such big changes.

I’ll install the printed version in a couple of weeks – after the holiday.


I glued the foam base to a piece of hardwood and first step is to build the road and the ditch alongside. I’m trying to figure out if I should stick the track onto a card base or just lay the track directly to the foam.

Here’s a birds eye view of most of the elements I need to build. I’m going to start with the road and the ditch. The carpark will be in asphalt. I also need to figure out what kind of track weathering I want to do.

Diorama frame and backdrop

This week I finished the diorama frame. I created sides by cutting up three pieces of hardboard bought from my local art store. The diorama is 20 X 10 inches so the sides needed to be two pieces of 10″ and one piece of 20″. All the pieces are around 7″ tall. I framed the left and right sides with 1/2 inch lengths of wood (is there a name for that wood?). The rear board is just stuck to the left and right frames and is not itself framed. I used glue throughout to build the framework. Fairly simple.

The complicated part was deciding how to work on the diorama away from the backdrop and then fit the backdrop to the diorama once completed. I decided to create a separate base from hardwood, build the diorama on top of that and slide that base into the backdrop frame once completed. That way I can work on the back of the diorama and have easy comfortable access for my various tools such as the static grass applicator.

The diorama base and the frame are two separate pieces. I will install the backdrop on the frame but work on the diorama separately on my work bench. Once completed I should be able to just slide the model into place. It also means I can fit the backdrop immediately and not worry about damaging it when modeling towards the back.


Because I have stream running parallel to the road I need to be able to dig down beneath the level of the track. To do that I need to raise the level of the model and then dig out the stream. I decided to used extruded polystyrene to raise the level. I also purchased a foam cutter and used it to cut the foam to the size of the underlying hardboard. It will be glued to the hardboard and will be able to slide in and out of the diorama frame.


I continued to return the various planning elements to the board to make sure things were still looking good. All good so far.


I really like this image below. I like the strong colors, the country lane and the horizon of trees and farm. I decided to use this as the base for my backdrop. As mentioned before I already did a quick treatment to see if this was a direction I wanted to go. Like most things, the more time you spend on the task of creating a backdrop, the better it will be. However it is my least favorite task in modeling and I encounter enormous resistance to working on it. Nevertheless I did not want to rush it so I decided to spend this whole week working on it bit by bit and I eventually got to place I’m happy with.

This image was downloaded from Google. I typed ‘Indiana countryside’ and this was one of the first images that appeared. I have since purchased a license to use this image so that I have a clean version clear of watermarks and legal right to use for various purposes. I’m going to use as many elements as possible – tree, road, sky, farms, but will have to heavily rework the image to stretch it left and right and adjust the road to meet my road on the diorama head on.


Moving to my computer in the main house (with three monitors), I used Photoshop to do a trial run of finding and positioning elements. I figured out which Photoshop tools and filters I would need and got a rough layout to print and test on the model. I cut out images roughly, I added an oil paint filter, added a house and some other trees. On the next version I will go and adjust everything at pixel level which will sharpen things up. I will also choose better artwork.


Even though I have a computer station set up in the train room my three work monitors in the house are set up nicely for graphic work. I was able to print out the scene into four separate pieces, stick them together, and add tape the temporary backdrop to the model.


I added back the planning elements to get an idea of how everything was looking. Pretty good I thought but changes would need to be made. I did not like the oil painting filter. I used it to hide imperfections and artifacts left over from bad cutting and pasting. I decided to try to use the original photo as much as possible and just do a better job of adding layers. The three pine trees are good but the wrong color. I decided to find new ones. The house at the back is nice but I decided to try to find a taller structure that would rise above the depot and could be seen from the front. I should be able to get to a final version on my next attempt.


Here is the final version. It would take too long to walk through the various steps that got me to this point but in short I used cloning, blurring, smudging, stretching, copy and paste and resizing. I also worked at pixel level to tighten up edges and clean areas. The road took a while. It now lines up with the diorama road. I am going to match the color of the diorama road with the color of the road on the backdrop. That means using sandy gravel instead of asphalt. I will use asphalt for the depot parking area instead.
A closeup of the area behind the depot. I added a mill to rise above the depot building. I also found some nice trees that matched the overall color scheme.

I sent the backdrop file to the printers ( and will receive it in a couple of weeks. I will use my temporary printed version while building the diorama.


So with the space planning out the way I turned back to the backdrop this week. I did some explorations with Photoshop to re-familiarize myself with some of the functions and filters. I’m still deciding which way to and I have several options:

  1. Grab images from Google (pay for them if necessary) and create a montage.
  2. Take my own pictures out in the countryside with northern California having to stand-in for the Indiana countryside.
  3. Use a some kind of Photoshop filter to convert the final image into a painting-like backdrop

Here’s what I grabbed from the internet:

I searched for ‘Indiana countryside’ in Google and found these images. I played around with them in Photoshop to see if they would work for the diorama. I especially like the bottom image. I would have to work on the road and reposition it to meet the roadway on the diorama. It can be done but it may take a few attempts.


As a web developer I have some Photoshop skills and know how to cut, crop, duplicate and add filters (plus a whole lot more). I did a quick treatment just to see if this direction was an option. I duplicated the tree, and created three more; I cut out the road and moved it around; I added a paint filter. I really like how this has turned out so far and may continue on this path. It takes hours to do this properly so it’s best if you just do a quick test to see if you really want to invest the time.


On the other hand Sonoma County (70 miles north of San Francisco) may have to stand in for Indiana countryside. Near the town of Healdsburg is some very attractive countryside with the added benefit of being fairly green compared to the dry landscape found in other parts of California. I can get up there in an hour and a bit, hop on my bike, and take all the pictures I need. I can also add the oil painting filter to blend in several scenes if necessary.

Anyhow with that preliminary exploration of Photoshop I decided to get started on the backdrop structure. Things had to wait until the weekend as I needed to reorganize my drum room. I needed to clear the space – remove one of my drum kits – and bring up my power tools. The adjoining room to the train room is going to house the power tools. I’m waiting for furniture to arrive to place the tools upon.

Drumming: one of the reasons it took me so long to get back to railroad modeling. In order to keep good neighborly relations I had to have a sound proof drum booth built. Now I can practice in the middle of the night and no one can hear a thing! My neighbors are very happy. The area in front of the booth is going to house my power tools. A table is arriving this week for my mitre saw and drill.


With access to my power tools I’m building the backdrop frame. These are the sides and I’ll work on the rear this week. Once that is done and built I’ll turn back to the imagery for the backdrop.

Road Tests

The road tests are going ok. My first attempt produced something to practice with. I’ll be ready in a couple of days to produce another road surface. My jig was not sturdy enough for a repeat test so before I can do anything I need to make a better reusable one.

I’ll post the complete steps once I have figured it all out and produced something that I’m happy with but for the moment I’m essentially creating a flowing mix out of various ingredients and pouring it into the jig. It needs to be able to flow around and fill the space.


After a couple of days the mix has settled and dried. I added little pulls to pull up the road base but unfortunately the jig itself warped and distorted – I’m going to build one of out wood this week.


You can bend the whole surface to create cracks. When the surface settles back flat many of the cracks remain and look like authentic cracks found in asphalt. The cracks still need to be worked on by rubbing them, scraping the edges, and pulling the underlying card apart. I’m going to use a Swedish dish cloth as the base as I want to be able to pull the road surface and have it NOT settle back exactly as before, so preserving the crack profile better. I’ll have more on that next week.


Not perfect yet but definitely heading in the right direction. I’m going to experiment with different bases (not just a card base), darker colors (by adding more black to the mix), patches, crackle paint and other things to make it look more authentic. I’ll post progress next week.


During my time away from modeling I took up railroad photography. Most of the pictures are just to document the scene but every now and then I took one that I thought would look nice on the wall. Here are a couple of pics that arrived this week. The library is located here

I have a library of 20,000 images of active, inactive and abandoned railroad track mostly around the Bay Area. Some pictures are nice enough to frame..


New tests, old tests.

I have a testing schedule which I will work through over the next weeks:

  1. Road surfaces – working on this now – see below.
  2. Matt varnish –  I’m looking for the perfect matte varnish – one with no sheen! working on this now – see below.
  3. Trackbeds – I’m going build some more railroad trackbeds to test different grassing and track weathering ideas.
  4. Ammo oil brusher –  New product test. I’ve been watching military modeler videos on weathering and they recommended this product.
  5. Grass static applicator – I need to get better at using my static grass applicator. I’ve seen so many fantastic example of grass on model railroads and want to try to do better job myself.

Old tests either completed or nearly completed:

Crackle test is done, see other post on this. Weather-It is done – I found the product to be no better than the alcohol and ink method. Winsor & Newton Pigment markers – still have to purchase and test the missing shades of grey but so far they have been fantastic and I look forward to using them in my modeling.

New tests currently been conducted:

Asphalt road surfaces

Yes I have begun. I am glad I waited a couple of weeks as it gave me time to think things through. The test is the first step to creating a roadway surface for the model. As I want to build, color and weather the roadway on my desktop and then move the final result to the diorama I wanted to split the test into two parts.

  1. A test bed into which I can slip different road surfaces to give me an idea of how things are looking. This will have a grassy side to replicate the grassy side of the diorama (and generally a road in country).
  2. A reusable road-surface jig into which I can pour the road surface mixture. I want to create lots of variations of road surface and this jig will allow me to create one after the other.
The test bed. I want to be able to slide in road surfaces that have been created in the jig. The sides will act as grassy borders to the road surface.
The road surface jig. I’ll be able to reuse this to create as many road surfaces as needed. The jig allow me to pour in a road mixture, let it dry, extract the result to then color and weather. Note my pajamas  – it’s around 6am.

I’ll post the step-by-step methods of the test when finished.

Matte Varnish

I’ve been very disappointed with the various matte varnishes on offer and wanted to spend some time trying out various products until I strike gold and find a matte varnish that does not have any sheen. I find that in photographs of models, most that have been given a coat of matte varnish have a slight unrealistic glow. That’s what I want to avoid. I’ll be working on this test this week.

These are what I have on hand. If I am unable to find a varnish without a sheen I’ll continue looking.