Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Super Tree Tip and a Country Road

A pasture scene almost ready for static grass and foreground trees.

Super trees, marketed by Scenic Express, are perhaps the best looking tree armatures on the market today - at least if the goal is a tree covered hillsides. The weakest part of the Super Tree is the slender trunk compared to the rest of the tree. Planting them in mass effectively minimizes that limitation. Of course, the scene will benefit immensely from some true foreground trees. I have a couple of ways to construct this that I may cover in a future blog post. 

But there's one other issue with Super trees that I haven't seen addressed in any of the videos, articles, or other tips I've seen published about using them. 

Look carefully at the top of most of the armatures and you'll notice a "crown" at the very peak of the tree. Look at the dark orange tree in the center of the image below:

Typically there's a gap between the top of the main "mass" of the tree and this little extra crown shaped branch. While it's acceptable sometimes it's usually something that doesn't look much like the growth pattern of a real tree, and therefore makes it obvious that this is a Super tree and not an oak, maple, elm, or whatever.

The easiest solution is to nip off the crown. I usually do this after the tree is planted. I simply look over the trees, identify the odd-shaped or unusually large "crowns" and snip them off the tree. 

Only about 70% or so of the material in any average Super Tree box is really usable. But don't throw the bits and pieces and oddly curved armatures away - they're useful for making those foreground trees. 

Dirt Roads

I've been experimenting with using sanded tile grout for a dirt or gravel road. This is a mixture of a dark and light tan, as well as a medium gray. I simply applied it to the surface of the layout, smoothed it with a putty knife, and then misted it with water mixed with alcohol. This is the first layer to build up the basic road. I need to go back and add a second finish coat - at the that time I'll add some planks to between the rails to create a road crossing. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Snapping Into Focus

The unpainted foam is a dead giveaway that the scenery isn't finished in the junction corner. 
But there are enough of the basic elements in place that I can tell the scene 
will meet my original vision for this area.

All model railroads start with a vision. Then there's the construction - when saws, drills, plywood, screws, and wires replace all other aspects of the hobby. This phase can be disheartening, and seemingly never-ending when a large layout is involved. The more artistic side of the hobby is put aside in an effort to get the railroad operating. 

Sometimes the modeler tells all who will listen he is so interested in operation that he's having too much fun to build scenery. Frankly, I think it's often not a lack of interest but . instead their enthusiasm for more construction - of any kind - has sucked the fun out of the project and they simply don't have the heart to press on. 

But someone once wrote that scenery is the "the most critical 1/16th of an inch." After all it's what everyone sees in the end. But it's too often the last thing that's done - which is why so many railroads never make it past the plywood pacific stage. 

The background hills are nothing more than painted foam with some ground up leaves added as a forest floor texture. Next step will be to plant the trees. The trees will be fairly dense on the hillside in the center - mostly to mask the unnatural steepness of the slope. But I need make sure the trees don't completely hide the backdrop painting. 

But for those who feel that scenery is at least as important as operation know there's a magical moment - when the layout starts to look less like a "train table" and more like the railroad scene we first envisioned. It snaps into focus. And it often occurs before the scene is "finished."

It's been a busier last few weeks than I had planned - a trip out of town and a couple of intense work projects made more onerous by the current remote working environment have left me feeling like a hollow shell by the time the dinner bell rings. But I have managed to get some puttering done in the basement. I didn't have the heart to install (more) Tortoises. Perhaps I was looking for a project where I, and anyone else, can immediately see that progress has been made. I'll get back to the Tortoise installation chore, but in the meantime I've gotten most of the base scenery landforms roughed in for the junction scene. I even managed to get a car shed and ball signal built up to protect the junction. Was there ever a ball signal at Sheldon Junction? I don't know. I've never seen any proof that there was. I've also never seen proof there wasn't. But a ball signal between a branchline and a shortline hardly seems to out of place and frankly seems a necessity. For the record the ball signal and car shed are a BEST Trains kit. An easy couple of evening build. 

When did your vision for your railroad, or even car, locomotive, or structure build first start to realize your vision? In other words, when did it snap into focus? 

Here's a higher view of the in-progress scene. I find it's easier to complete the scenery on the far side of the track before starting on the foreground scenery.