Structures: HO – Building A Diorama (Part III)

If you’ll recall from the previous post (Part II) in this series, I had just finished putting on a coat of Woodland Scenics ‘Earth’ pigment to my plaster cloth base, and had a small berm that I had attached a few hydrocal rock castings too.

Now it’s time to move on ahead and begin to add our first layer of landscaping.


Pic 1: Masking the berm

In Pic 1, I have used some tacky, but not too sticky, blue painter’s tape to mask off areas in which I did not want landscaping turf to adhere to.  First off, I masked off the sides of the diorama by placing the tape as flush as I could to the upper corners of where our surface edges meets the unpainted plaster edges.  Because the plaster is a bit porous and uneven, don’t expect it to be perfect…that’s okay.  Next I masked off the cork roadbed and rail that is on a diagonal.  Finally, knowing that I’d be spraying my glue mixture from above , I masked off my rock castings were they protruded from the berm as well…you don’t want your freshly painted rocks covered in turf do you?


Pic 2: First pass at fine turf.

In Pic 2, you can see I’ve already went ahead and masked the other side of the roadbed and track and have made my first pass using 60/40 blend of Woodland Scenics fine green turf and fine earth cover turf.  The earth cover turf helps tone down the fine green turf and make for a more natural look in my opinion.  I applied this using a shaker in small sections at a time to help control both the evenness of the application and to avoid making to much of a mess.  The fine turf is very light and very susceptible to static electricity and can get all over the place like sawdust or drywall dust if not careful.

Since my spray bottle was not working correctly, I actually applied the glue-like-wash with a paintbrush (pictured left).  The wash is a simple mixture of about 3 parts water to 1 part white all-purpose white glue that was mixed thoroughly before hand.  If you find that the wash is *too* thin, you can mix in a bit of more glue, but try not to exceed more than 1/3rd glue.  I then painted the wash on in 3″ x 3″ sections, and promptly added the turf before moving on to the next section.

During cleanup, make sure you wash out your paintbrush completely of any glue and you can use the brush over and over again.

In today’s post, you’ll note that I only covered 1/3rd of my base.  This is by design.  I really want to work on adding the ballast to the track, and I haven’t made a commitment to where I am going to place my actual structure yet, so I’m leaving the rest of the base unmolested for now.  As I continue, I will ‘paint’ on the glue wash for the remainder of the exposed base, but only for this first coat of turf.  In subsequent passes, I will indeed buy a new spray bottle to ‘mist’ the areas I will be adding additional turf colors and ground cover.


Pic 3: Adding ballast (inside tracks)

In Pic 3, you can see that I have removed my mask from the roadbed, but placed two strips of blue painters tape on the edges where my cut track meet the edges.  This is solely to keep the ballast from spilling over as I add it between the tracks and glue it in place (think of it as a dam).

However, before I even began to add the ballast, I decided to tone down (i.e. weather) the bright brass rails by using a solvent based paint entitled ’mud’ made by Testor’s.  I should have done this prior to hot gluing the track to the roadbed as it would have been much easier to handle, but this is one of those lessons you learn during a build that you’ll be sure to remember the next time around.

The Woodland Scenics ballast is also very fine, and a small bit goes a very long way, so be careful when pouring straight out of the bag.  Using the same brush (now dry) that I painted on my glue-wash, I *slowly* brushed the ballast into place between the railroad ties an inch at a time.  Again, because the ballast is very fne, very light weight, and susceptible to static take your time.  I used a tweezer to move and relocate some stubborn pieces.  When I was satisfied with my work, I ‘misted’ the track and ballast with a solution of ‘wet-water’.

‘Wet-water’ is basically a mixture of regular water with a drop or two of dish washing soap added in.  It’s purpose is to lower the surface tension level of other water based solutions so that droplets can be administered and flow easily between cracks, nooks, and crannies.


Pic 4: Inside rail ballast.

Using an eye dropper, I then placed approx. 3 drops of my glue wash to each ballast section between the ties and allowed to set and dry.  This last picture shows my progress thus far.  Note that I obviously did not do the ballast on the outside of the rails.  I’ll admit, I’m a bit stymied on how I am going to do to this with the 45 degree angle on the edge of the roadbed.  In my mind, I know how I could do this without making it look like too much ballast, but the process will be long involving me tilting my diorama at 45 degree’s at least twice (once for each edge) and waiting it out.  Another person I showed this to made the recommendation that I should sand down corner, and while this would indeed work, it will also take time (there’s not a lot of room) and be potentially messy as I will then need to clean up the cork before the ballast can be applied.  Decisions…decisions.  Anyone have advice?

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Structures: HO – Building a diorama (Part II)

Well, I didn’t get as far as I would have liked this past weekend, so consider this really Part 1.5 I guess.  I was hoping to get the corkboard roadbed fitted, cut, and glued into place as well as the railroad track, but didn’t.

Instead, I did attach some plaster rock castings to the rear corner berm, four in total (Pic 1) .  There are three on the front facing face, and one located on the rear.  They were affixed with a small batch of plaster I mixed up just for this.  I was going to try the glue gun again, but decided against this as the berm surface was uneven, and I wanted the gaps to be filled with plaster rather than air.


Pic 1: Rock castings applied and painted.

Using the leopard spotting technique of painting, I made two separate color washes with a 2:1 water to paint ratio.  The first was a yellow color, the second a brown (more like a burnt umber), and using a sponge tipped brush, applied the each of the two colors to 1/3rd the surface area of the castings.  Then  I brushed the entire face of each casting with a black paint wash, with a ratio of 3 parts water to 1 part black acrylic.

Perhaps it’s my phone camera, or poor morning lighting, but if you think at first glance this looks kinda ugly, I’d be right there with you in agreement.  It’s pretty evident in this picture where additional plaster was applied, but fear not.  This will in fact really cleanup much better once the other landscaping elements come into play.  All that excess plaster that kinda sticks out like a sore thumb right now, will disappear once ground cover, weeds, talus, and other stuff is added.


Pic 2: Ground pigment.

The same could be said for the second picture (Pic 2) today.  This is after I have applied a 1:1 ratio of Woodland Scenics ground pigment and water to the entire base.  The picture represents 1 coat.  I could always go darker by applying a second coat, but I’m not sure it’s going to be necessary.  The whole reason for this is try to cover every exposed ‘white’ area of the plaster.

Again, you’ll have to keep in mind this is just the foundation for building up our landscaping.  There is no building placed, no parking lot, no trees, no ground cover, nothing.  Once I begin applying the groundcover, this dull, drab, olive looking pigment will hopefully ensure that no glaring patches of white plaster is going to show through to the viewer’s eye.  I know it looks a bit uneven (the brush strokes can be seen)  in the above picture, but I attribute that once again to the lighting and the fact it was taken with a phone with flash.  The brush marks will not show in the final product…trust me.

The two freight cars are placed once again just for your benefit, so that you get a rough idea of what’s going on.

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Structures: HO – Building a diorama (Part I)

Now that the Three Finger Freddies structure is complete, I wanted to try my hands at an actual diorama.  One that would incorporate some various landscaping elements, some spare rail, figurines, and even some used rolling stock.  The idea behind this is to create a 3D scene, one that will continue to help me get practice when it comes to building my actual layout, and to also allow my creative wheels to spin and tell a story ala ‘Americana’ style.

So first things first.  In my mind I wanted to create a scene that would feature Three Finger Freddies, but also have some depth to it and incorporate other model railroading elements. The background would contain some railroad cars on some track, roadbed, and talus.  The foreground would contain an actual road, perhaps a parking lot with cars, some foliage and also trees.  But it would be an active scene, showing miniature HO scale people buying fireworks and milling about leading up the Forth of July.

I went to a local hobby store and settled on buying a single sheet of 1″ thick styrofoam.  1/2″ seemed a bit flimsy, but I was very limited in the dimensions that we offered.  Basically, everything was sold as rectangular sheets, in an aspect of ratio fo 2 x 1.  So, I purchased a sheet of 24″ x 12″ sheet of styrofoam and brought it home and arranged the various elements in a manner in which I thought would work as shown in the following two pictures:


Pic 1: Layout idea.


Pic 2: Layout idea.

As you can see in the pictures I have the main structure at a slight angle with some HO scale track and cork roadbed an opposing angle to create some visual interest and asymmetry.  As luck would have it the train shop I frequent was going to throw out all this old cork roadbed, and when I told the proprietor what I was doing, he gave me the roadbed for free. I purchased the individual pieces of track, and the rail stock ($4 each) you see.  I really like the Baby Ruth car, as it already lends a certain vintage look to the diorama without me even having weathered it yet.

However, the 12″ width of this sheet of styrofoam appears to shallow for the scene.  So I decided to cut off some of the excess length, and reattach it to the front giving me more of a square footprint.  Using a pencil, I marked off the sheet at 16″,and using a razor blade and a straight edge, carefully cut off 8″.  I will tell you now, that a razor blade is not ideal.  If you have a hot wire cutter or hot knife, I highly recommend using it for this procedure.  It can be done with a razor, but even making slow and multiple pass through cuts, it still leaves some rough edges and you must be very careful not to rush it as the styrofoam is delicate and leaves slightly rough edges.  You can smooth the cut edges with an Emory board or sandpaper, but again, you must go slow and in one direction.  Back and forth strokes, or speedy strokes will only make it crumble or damage further.

Using the excess strip of 8″ styrofoam I just cut off, I was able to remeasure and cut two new sections to attach up front with a glue gun (Pic 3, below).


Pic 3: Re-attaching excess styrofoam.

Notice that I had to do re-attach two (2) separate pieces, 1 longer and one almost square piece (the missing corner above),  due to the shape constraints of the piece I originally cut off. I used a cheap hobby craft glue gun and all-purpose glue sticks to do this.  I’d like to point out a few things here: 1) The glue gun should be set to ‘High’ heat when using all-purpose glue stick and also to wait a few minutes for the tip to heat up before you start pulling the trigger, allowing for the glue to get to the right melting temperature. 2) If you plan on using a glue gun for your layouts, invest in a good one.  This cheap little model is good for small, bursty uses, but not for long-term or large projects.  The glue sets faster than you’d think, the trigger is a bit tough to pull (i.e. not comfortable), and it goes through glue sticks pretty fast.

In the picture above, I have attached one piece already with glue and am weighting it down with an iron weight and a candle, waiting for the glue to set and cure.  I did this again for the small corner piece as well.  Once the glue was set, it still looked a tad flimsy to me, especially at the seams.  I just wasn’t sure how strong this all was never having used glue sticks before, so I wanted to add one more layer of strength, in this case a foam-core base.  So off to the store again where I bought a large sheet of 1/4″ foam board (You can find this at Target, Staples, Walmart, etc.) measured and cut out a square that I would then glue to the bottom of the styrofoam.

In my final picture (below), I went ahead and applied my plaster cloth strips as evenly as I could (bumpy side up) and formed a small berm with tissue paper at its core.  The black silicon tray that you see is some rock castings from Woodland Scenics that I made with plaster I mixed myself and waiting for them to cure before I remove them.


Pic 4: Plaster cloth added.

So what you see is a slightly square foot print bases, covered in a single layer of plaster cloth and a small berm in the upper left corner in which I will attach my plaster rock castings.  The track is shown to give a visual idea on how things are going to shape up.  I hope that my next post will show the painted base, rock castings (also painted), cork roadbed and track both cut and secured.

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Media: HO scale walkthru at West Coast Railway Heritage museum, Squamish, B.C.

Back in mid October, 2013, I had the chance to visit the West Coast Railway Heritage museum in Squamish, British Colombia (Canada).  You can find more information about park hours, cost, direction, etc., by clicking on the link I provided.

It was a fairly nice day where I took a lot of pictures (with both my phone and digital camera) and shot various small videos while walking the grounds.  I’ll post the galleries in future installments.

In the roughly 4 minute video I am sharing in this post, I am walking the length of the layout which is contained within two retired railway cars.  The layout is behind plexiglass, so you might notice some reflections.  The lighting wasn’t the best lighting either.  I tried to remain as quiet as I could, but you’ll hear some background voices.  Towards the end of the layout, you’ll note they are still in the process of some final construction.  There’s a lot of nice detail work here, however, there were a few section that need a little touch up care, but since this is strictly a volunteer club, I can understand why some section may look a bit ‘rough’.

As always, enjoy…


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Structures: HO – Three Finger Freddy’s (Part VI)

Okay, so if you read my last entry you know it’s been quite a year for me, but my current FOS build of Three Finger Freddy’s marches on.

In Part V, I had just gotten to fitting the cardboard roof into place and adding some optional interior details to give the structure some flair where the walk-up window is.

The next obvious step would be in adding the roof paper before the signage, chimney, and stove vent could be placed.  Also the optional 2×6″ rafters can be placed under the roof line eve if one chooses.  The paper sheet that comes with kit is pretty generic looking, and FOS makes note that one could paint it if desired.  By sheer luck I as I was cleaning out my garage one day, I stumbled across a few sheets of thick paperstock I was used for personal business cards many years ago.  While the card stock base was gray in color, it was speckled with very fine dark grey and muted black dots giving it a ‘granite-stone-like’ appearance.  It wasn’t much of a decision to use this as my new roofing material, so with a little patience of measuring and cutting, I made my own roofing strips that I attached with two-sided contact tape.

While still pretty stark gray in color, I knew that during the weathering process, I could add a lot more character and depth to it.  At this point I went ahead and decided I would indeed add the rafters under the eves, at least to the front of the structure.  I cut each one of these out individually, painted blue to match the trim, and then attached with white glue and tweezers.  I decided not to do the rear of the building as it would be a lot of additional work, that when placed on my diorama, probably wouldn’t be seen anyway.


Front – initial weathering (Pic 1)

Then if you recall, I built and painted the roof top sign back in Part IV which had just been placed aside up until this point.  Using a small drill bit, I made two holes through the roof and inserted the two longer posts (one on each far end) into the roof where it rested somewhat loosely until I could build the support structure on the back side of the roof (see Pic 2).  One thing that I’d like to mention again, (I mentioned this in an earlier post) was that I think I got some wrong bass-wood strips in my kit, so I had to improvise the support beams and cross bracing from other scraps I had lying about from other builds.  Before these glued into place, they were stained with MinWax, and then coasted with my 5% India Ink wash.

Once I was happy with the bracing in place and my sign was standing straight up and down, a mixture of black acrylic paint and white glue simulates the tar I dabbed on with a toothpick and ultra fine paint brush around the vertical support beams.  You’ll note I also used this same technique around the chimney (also Pic 2).

Before I get to the chalk weathering, it’s now time to add my painted white metal details.  Many of these can be seen in their original form in one of the last pictures I posted in Part I.  These extra details include the chimney, stove-pipe, wood pallet, trash can, telephone box, and barrel.  If you remember I first filed off any excess flashing then primed them with gray automotive primer.  I then painted these with a combination of both acrylic and solvent based paints then added a single coat of 5% India Ink wash again to bring out some details and mute any sheen.  I’m kinda proud of my chimney, however.  I wanted to make the grout between the bricks pop a bit and came up with an idea: 1) I liberally brushed on some ‘aged white’ weathering powder…..enough to get into the grooves between the bricks with my fingers.  Then, 2) using a pencil eraser, I ‘erased’ most of the chalky powder from the brick surface leaving only the recessed grout lines intact. 3) Finally, I sealed the powder in place using Testor’s Dull Coat spray.  4) Using my X-acto knife, I carefully cut into the roof a very snug fit for my chimney, and then using my back paint/glue mixture, “tarred” it into place.


Back – initial weathering and chimney detail. (Pic 2)

As you can see in Pic 2, (above), I added some paper signage to the back of the structure, although your probably won’t see much of it again.  Note the grout in the chimney, the tar at its base, and the chalk weathering done to both the walls and especially the roof to help tone down the roofing paper.

As far as chalk weathering goes I used the following: grimy black (roof and walls) , rusty-brown (the more pronounced downward streaks both on front and rear of roof signage where the wood beams are), grimy yellow (sections of walls), highlight white (roof), and moldy green (roof).  Once I was happy with the overall look, I gave the entire structure a spray of Testors Dull Coat (masking the windows with blue painters tape) to seal it all in.


3/4 view (Pic 3)

So, what’s next for Three Finger Freddy’s?  Well, I hope to create a stand alone diorama along with some used rail behind the structure and some weathered HO container cars.  I envision a roughly 1′ x 1′ styrofoam based diorama to practice my landscaping skills.  This will include an asphalt driveway, various HO figures, a roadside sign, trees, grass, etc.  I’ll consider that ‘Phase II’.

Categories: Structures, Three Finger Freddys | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2014 is here….And so is Willoughby Junction.

Train_2014I’ve received a few emails as to why the site seems a bit quiet.

I assure you, I’m still alive and kicking and hope to be reinvigorated this new year and get back to posting on a regular basis.

I know, I know…you’ve heard that from me before but I promise, sometimes life makes for some unforseen roadblocks and obstacles beyond our control, and certain hobbies and outlets take a back burner much to our dismay.

In a nutshell, my grandmother passed at age 88 this past October whil I was on my first ‘real’ vacation in over 4 years.  Then in November a legal issue I was involved with came to a head and is now finished.  While I can’t say I am happy I was involved in it in general, the outcome was in my favor, and now I can put that chapter of my life behind me.  Then as luck would have it, a few weeks back my 95 year old grandfather had to be admitted to a hospice care facility where he is currently residing.  Then my best friend in the world, my minature schnauzer, Frankie, had a brief medical scare that had me on pins and needles for a few days.

I’m happy to report Frankie came out on the other end, but he is approaching 9 years of age which is middle age for the breed.  God willing, I can only pray that I get another 8 years with him.

That being said, I do infact have some train related posts coming up.

To start, Three Finger Freddy’s HO build of the main structure is now complete and I will make the appropriate updates soon.

Next, while I was on vacation in British Columbia, I was able to visit the West Coast Railway Heritage Park where I shot both video and pictures that I will be sharing.

I plan on some additional book, video, and game reviews of various products I’ve gotten my hands on.

And of course, more structure and layout builds.

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Structures: HO – Three Finger Freddy’s (Part V)

After a lot of deliberation (fancy term for stalling because I had no idea on how I wanted to proceed), I finally got back to this build and added some new details that are not a part of the original instruction set.

First off, as you’ll recall from my last two posts in this build series, I hit a mental wall when it came to window treatments.  I didn’t like the fact that the windows and doors of an abandoned gas station just looked at blank interiors.  So with a little creativity I cut up various pieces of construction paper and glued them to the interior windows at various lengths to simulate window shades or curtains.  While this may have worked fine for the sides and back of this build, I didn’t like it for the front.  In the front of the structure you have a double door that would lead to the inside of the building, but instead upon close inspection the viewer would only see painted clapboard of a false wall.  Then where the open window is (far right of structure) a figure would be standing to hand out fireworks as money exchanged hands.  The problem I saw here was again, there was no real interior detail…just more blank walls.

So I had an idea.  What if I went to the Internet and Googled “Firework shelves” or “Firework stand interior”?  Well, that’s what I did and came across different pictures.  Problem with this, however, is that many of the pictures were taken at angles, or out or proportion, so that I was limited with ‘straight-on’ shots of fireworks on shelves.

After sifting through a few pages, I finally settled on a few images that I was able to combine, resize, and print out on my color printer (see picture below).


False Interior preperation.

Once printed out, I attached the trimmed images to thicker card stock paper, leaving tabs on either end which I could fold and then glue to the walls.  For the front door, I duplicated one of the images again, and trimmed it enough to fit in the space behind the door and attached directly to the painted clapboard with transfer tape.

You will also notice that I have painted about a quarter-inch of trim all away around the underside of the cardboard base roof.  Once the cardboard roof is glued into place, the blue trim will serve as the exposed eves to match the building trim itself.


Roof base attached.

This second photo doesn’t do a lot of justice for the overall build and progress.  It just shows that I have glued the cardboard roof into place, after scoring it with my Xacto knife at the apex so that it would bend at the correct spot.  The ‘tic’ marks shown on the roof are indicators to place the optional 2×6 rafters that are *ahem*, supposedly supplied by FOS (maker of this kit).  The problem is, is once again, the wood supplied for some of these extra details were not a part of the package, clearly a mistake.  This happened to me with another of his kits….the wrong wood, or mislabeled wood is never correct.

FOS has an ingenious way of ‘identifying’ the wood.  The wood tips are color coded to match a card supplied with the kit. 2×4′s are tipped blue, 3×64′s tipped black, 2×6′s tipped grey, etc.  Problem is, 1/2 the wood is never tipped, so I have to take time out to figure out which is which anyway, but in this case, none of the wood is tipped ‘grey’ to indicate 2×6, and after breaking out my HO scale ruler, and comparing all other pieces, it dawns on me that there are no 2×6′s, but I have extra 2×4′s.  So, Dave Fos, if you ever read this, please double-check your bundled wood before you ship your kits.  I’m 0 for 2 now on correct wood…sigh.  Well, since I have extra 2×4′s, this will have to do, and these will be my new rafters (next entry).


Interior close up

The angle is a little weird in this third picture (sans figures), but here you will see the interior panels that I created earlier are now in place, lending some additional detail and believability .  The 4 small windows on the top panel of the garage door still need to be dealth with, but I hope to get the rafters and rolled roof paper in place for the next installment.

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