Scenery: Ballasting

April 2, 2020

Following the completion of the base texture layer the next step was track ballasting.  I used Woodland Scenics fine grey ballast.   Other options are of course available, but in New Zealand we often have to default to what we can buy locally and Woodland Scenics products are generally widely available in Auckland’s few hobby shops.

Ballasting was done in the standard way (there is no shortage of articles and online content describing how to do it).  I basically used a small teaspoon to apply the dry ballast and fine soft paint brushes to position it in place.    Extra care has to be taken around turnouts of course and it is better to slightly under-ballast turnouts just to be safe.

After carefully sweeping any rogue grains of ballast off the side of the rails and tops of ties, a small perfume mister was used to apply a mist of 70% rubbing alcohol to the ballast.  This breaks the surface tension for the final glue application.   Woodland Scenics Scenic cement was then applied with a small eye dropper. The alcohol allows the glue to flood through the individual grains rapidly with minimal disturbance to their position.

In progress and completed ballasting work.  It’s not particularly difficult but it does require a lot of patience.  I found doing a set length of track (12 inches) every day was the best approach to avoid frustration.

Ballasted section of the yard.  Taking extra time to remove odd stray grains of ballast from rail sides and ties really pays off

When the glue has thoroughly dried (I allowed 48 hours) I went over all the ballasted sections and removed the inevitable odd grains of ballast that had shifted during the application of the glue.   A small flat head screw driver worked well for removing grains stuck to the side of rails and tops of ties.     Although a bit tedious, I found taking the time to do this step dramatically improved the appearance of ballast (especially in photos).

While I was tidying up the ballast I also took the time to touch up a few ends of ties that had been stained white by Scultpamold using cheap black craft paint.   The final steps were to give the track a good vacuum, check all points moved freely and then clean the rail heads.

Scenery: Base Texture

March 31, 2020

Over the last couple of months I have been slowly working on the base scenery treatment for the layout (texture, ballast and grasses).   The first step was to apply a basic ground texture layer which is described here.

Although Fort St John yard is quite flat (in real life as well as model form) there are some natural terrain variations. I built up the track above grade on cork floor tile and foam road bed in order to simulate some below grade variations such as ponds, ditches and culverts.    Sculptamold was applied to smooth these small terrain features and this was painted with a light grey paint.

Base texture application at various locations on the layout (Hay field test area will be described in a future post).

With the paint still wet i sifted on a base texture layer of sanded tile grout.  I used a medium grey and buff mix in about a 70/30% ratio aiming for about 80% coverage over the paint layer.   A very light dusting of Scenic Express ‘Desert Dust’ fine ground foam was then sifted over the tile grout.   When the paint had dried a small roller was used to compress the texture into the surface.   In trafficked areas a nice effect can be made my running fingers up and down through the applied texture to compress and smooth it out even more.

Scenery Experimentation

January 25, 2020

With summer in full swing in the southern hemisphere I am firmly in ‘dabbling’ mode with the hobby at the moment.    I have been using the corner of the layout where the line leaves the yard to go to staging as a scenery test bed of sorts, just doing an hour here and there trying out some techniques.

There were 4 things I wanted to try,  Gravel roads, dirt/gravel surfaces,  grassy banks and agricultural fields.    The gravel roads and dirt areas were created using various shades of sanded tile grout.   The grassy banks of the embankment on the main line was created using different colours of Woodland scenics static grass.   The agricultural field was created using Woodland Scenics fine turf ground foam over a tile grout soil base into which plough lines had been created using an old comb.

I have re-done a lot of the areas several times and have generally tried not to get too attached to the outcome and just play with different effects.    It is very easy to just scrape off scenery that didn’t work and try again.   An example would be the field, which looks OK, but is possibly a bit green for the late summer look I am going for so I may attempt a late summer hay field instead.   My only tip is to write down in detail the techniques you try so that if you get a result you like, you know exactly how to do it again.




The two Kaslo Shops Cabooses are now complete, just in time for the new year.  This last week saw application of weathering and installation of glazing and couplers.


Weathering was a simple wash of thinned Tamiya German Grey applied mostly to the yellow areas to tone them down.   Black Bragdon weathering powder was then dusted over the model with heavier applications on trucks and underframe and some subtle vertical streaking applied to the body.     A spray of Dullcote was applied to seal all the weathering before glazing and final assembly.

Glazing was formed from clear plastic (I used an inlay from a Micro Trains freight car box) glued inside the body using CA glue.    I then filled the window openings from the outside with several applications of acrylic floor polish.   I used Pascoes Long Life brand but in North America I would have gone for Future Floor Wax.   The Pascoes polish goes on milky white but dries clear and helps impart a more glass like reflection on the clear plastic glazing.

Microscale short shank body mount couplers were installed using CA glue.   Small mounting screws are provided but they would need to be trimmed to avoid sticking through the floors of the end verandas.   I chose to just glue the couplers in place.   I am aware that brittle CA may not be suitable for holding couplers in place over the long term but we will see.   If not I will use a two-part epoxy for a stronger bond,

It is important to add weight to these models as they are very light.  I added two 1/4 oz peel and stick weights to the car body floor before the cupola and roof sections were glued in place.

Overall I am very happy with the appearance of the final models.    This is not an easy kit to build and I was quite surprised how long they took to complete.   The advantage of operating a small layout is that these two cabooses will be sufficient for most train movements.  I also have a Briggs PGE caboose kit that will provide for some extra trains once it is completed.

For now 1851 and 1886 look very much at home under the wide open skies at Fort St John.


Largely complete BCR 1851 at Fort St John

Work has continued steadily on the two Kaslo Shops BCR cabooses (or ‘Vans’ as BCR called them).  It has been quite a time consuming build but with painting and decals now complete they are almost finished.  Smoke jacks are not included with the kit so I used Miniatures by Eric CPR Caboose Stack (NS3) which I fortunately had in my parts box.    I imagine it would be possible to scratch build these parts from strip styrene if you were sufficiently patient.

After careful masking, the cabooses were brush painted using True Line Trains BCR/PGE Light Green and Dark Green.  Handrails and end steps were painted in Humbrol enamel yellow,  Window frames were carefully picked out using a Humbrol silver enamel.  Various photos consulted show the window frames to appear as either silver or light green (highly variable by road number and date).  I just think the silver framing looks better so went with that.

Basic painting complete 

Microscale has an excellent decal set for BCR cabooses with the full time span from PGE to BC Rail colour schemes covered (Microscale 60-931).   The white striping was a bit of a challenge especially on the caboose ends and some of the fine car data is incredibly tiny and requires a steady hand and use of a magnifier to place.  I applied a gloss coat before and after applying the decals in order to minimize the appearance of the decal film.

Decals complete (including some tiny car data labels that require a magnifying glass to read)

Road numbers assigned were 1851 and 1866.   1851 was chosen based on a photograph showing that van at Beatton River, a notable north end subdivision division point, in September 1978 (my modelling year).

Next steps are to correct a few fit and finish issues and then apply Dullcoat before and after final weathering. Window glazing needs to be added and the roof sections and cupola need to be glued on permanently.  Weight will need to be added because currently these are extremely lightweight.   Couplers will then be installed and these two vans can be put into service.

20191201_112312Basic assembly complete..   Handrails were extremely challenging.

I have started building a pair of the distinctive BCR wide vision cabooses as they will be a key item for BCR trains of this era.

The cabooses are Kaslo Shops resin kits which I have had in my kit stash for many many years.  They should still be available from Central Hobbies in Vancouver.   Atlas did at one time make a N scale cupola caboose in BCR colours but it really is not prototypically correct even in the basic dimensions.

This particular Kaslo kit are is complicated and requires quite a bit of skill.  I have lots of experience building plastic kits of all types but I find resin can be tricky.   The kit is a series of flat parts (i.e body shell is not ready formed). CA glue (which does not bond instantly) needs to be used and the parts are quite brittle.

Kit instructions however are pretty good and if you take it step by step over a series of evenings it can be quite and enjoyable build.  The handrails however are not for the faint of heart….  More on that later.

The kit does not include trucks so I used some Micro Trains (1001) Bettendorf Trucks I had in my parts bin.    They are not exactly correct so they will likely be swapped out for something better in the future.  Body mount couplers will also be installed.

Before starting the kit assembly I sprayed the under frame piece with flat black.  Remainder of the body assembly proceeded as per kit instructions and progressed quite quickly.


Basic car body complete

Next step was installing handrails.   I really struggled with this part and wish that the kit had come with an etched fret.  Wire is not provided so I sourced some fine wire from my parts bin. Instruction includes templates for bending each piece.  Some were relatively easy L shaped bends but the caboose has distinctive curved handrails on the sides that were a real pain to shape properly.

The end handrail stanchions required drilling four #80 holes through very thin resin.  I first created the stanchion as an inverted  U shaped wire and then fed up two straight wires to form the two centre railings.   Even after all this incredibly tedious work they still do not look quite right so I really wish the kit had come with parts for the end railings.

Handrail assembly took essentially a week of evenings (and some strong language at times) and is probably the biggest issue with this kit.    Even now it is complete I am still not particularly happy with the end handrail stanchions but it really is the best I could achieve.   Hopefully some weathering will distract the eye.

Basic assembly and handrails completed.  Project should move a bit faster now.

The next steps are installation of a few detail parts and preparation for painting.


565 and 571 largely complete, awaiting a few final details

The last couple of weeks have seen completion of the decal application for 565 and 571.  The Microscale decal set (60-783 British Columbia Diesels 1972-1984) was used.  I applied a Tamiya gloss coat before and after the decals and then sealed the completed shells with a spray can Tamiya flat coat before weathering.

The white lining was quite challenging to apply and needed to be cut and positioned carefully using a small paint brush, but the final result is very pleasing.

Weathering was done by applying an initial wash of Tamiya German grey which was then repeated several times on the yellow handrails and pilots.   A secondary wash of thinned acrylic black was then applied with a focus on the roof, carbody filters and underframes.   Bragdon black weathering powders were then used heavily on the roof and underframe with a lighter overall application to the rest of the models.  A final application of Tamiya flat coat from a spray can seals the weathering.

I went heavy with the weathering to match prototype photos from the late 1970s which show many RS-3s in quite a dirty condition with the yellow handrails and pilots being almost completely obscured by grime.

Next steps are a bit more targeted weathering of the fuel tank and trucks and the installation of a few small detail parts coming in from overseas.    Cab glazing needs to be added also, but for now they are largely complete.