This project has been languishing for almost 18 months so I decided it is time to get it moving again. The delay was mostly due to an accident with one of the brittle resin long hood castings that resulted in it splitting. I was able to source a replacement hood part a few months ago.

The other issue with this project is that the mechanisms just never ran that well. I picked up two undecorated Atlas RS-11s a decade ago for an absolute bargain price and never really considered the elderly age of them at the time. As described in Part 1 of this post, the chassis were used to on a BC Rail CRS-20 project that I worked on back in 2013. Since the hard part of chopping the frame for the low nose had already been done for that project I was obviously keen to repurpose the chassis for the RS18s.

For the CRS-20 project I had replaced the wheels with low profile Northwest Shortline ones but, while the appearance was improved, the running qualities (which weren’t great to begin with) really suffered with the new wheel sets. I have no idea why but they did.

Recently, out of curiosity, I swapped back in the original Atlas wheels and it did seem to make a marked improvement on the running qualities. Once satisfied that these chunky-flanged wheels would negotiate my Atlas Code 55 turnouts I decided to keep them. Several nights of fussing around with pickup wipers and cleaning wheels and disassembling and reassembling the motor I got one unit to run nice and smoothly on DC power. The other one remains troublesome and just does not want to pick up power from one of the trucks no matter what I do.

One solution that does work well is to hard wire the two units together. I did a test by taping wires between the two halves of each chassis and I got flawless running. This is because you essentially get 16 wheel pickup. Combined with powered frogs this might be a good solution for some of those ancient mechanisms that we all seem to have.

The obvious solution is actually to replace these ancient 80s era chassis with more up to date (and DCC friendly) ones. This is something I may do in the future. It is worth noting that my RS-3s run fine as single units and have good reliable pick up from both trucks, even though they are still older Atlas Classic mechanisms.

For now I will forge ahead with painting and decals. The plan is to do one unit as BCR 606 and the other as PGE 610. These units were both known to work around Fort St John in 1978.

Layout Video Test #1

October 31, 2020

Not much activity on the layout front over the last couple of months as Spring has officially arrived in New Zealand with the consequent pull of warm weather, light evenings and outdoor activities.

I did however play around with some video this weekend, filming a few run-by scenes and stitching them together in the Windows 10 Video Editor (reasonably intuitive, if basic). I was able to patch in some generic audio from old railfan videos I shot in the area a decade or so ago. Not authentic MLW / Alco sounds unfortunately.

Now I know the process I will make an effort to post the occasional video. Scenes shown in this video cover basically the entire scenic portion of the layout which is only 11 ft long.

Fairwell fold-down layout section! You seemed like a great idea 2 years ago.

It has been a busy couple of months since the last update and I have spent the time getting the layout room organized and cleaned up as it is now apparent that this small room will also become a home office for the long term.

One of the design features of the layout that made sense before the advent of working from home this much was the hinged section of layout that allowed access to an occasionally used closet. The entire lighting canopy was also made hinged to fold up to allow access also.

The old arrangement. Lots of useful track but completely impractical in daily use.

That closet has now become heavily used because, in order to make room for a work-from-home desk, a large portion of my modelling boxes are now stored in it. Consequently the hinged layout flap has gone from design feature to design flaw. It is simply just too annoying to constantly have to lower and raise both the layout flap and the lighting canopy to get in and out of the closet.

The new arrangement. Loss of track and switching options, but significant gains in functionality for what is now a layout room and home office.

I made the decision to cut a section from the benchwork to allow the closet door to open without obstruction. The formerly hinged section is now permanently fixed in the up position. The lighting canopy was also cut back and a support post added to the front fascia.

The downside is that I lose some industrial sidings and the ability to switch cuts of cars from both ends of the yard now. The upside is that the Fort Nelson sub open staging track was retained behind the door.

While losing 2 feet of layout is not ideal, it does make the space far more functional. I am generally regarding this layout as the 3 to 5 year experimental project where I can make some mistakes before building version 2 and the folding flap is definitely something I aim to avoid in the future.

PGE Caboose – Part 3

August 28, 2020

I recently wrapped up work on the Briggs PGE caboose project and I am very happy with the final product.   Today saw application of final weathering and so the project is now largely complete.   It’s hard to believe something so small has taken 6 weeks to complete but, it was quite a complicated build and I have only really been working on it for a few hours each week.

In the last post I had expressed concerns at both the quality of the paint finish and the brightness of the colour.  I was able to improve both by lightly sanding the paint with very very fine sanding paper.  This smoothed out the imperfections and also faded the paint.    An application of Tamiya Flat Clear also dialed down the colour intensity a bit more to the point that it no longer looked toy like.

Decals were taken from the random collection of off-cuts I have in my decal box and i was very happy to find a PGE Map herald set that was suitable.   I chose to model PGE 1817 as I have photographs of it at Fort St John yard in my modelling period.

After decals I applied a series of very thin washes of Tamiya German Grey acrylic over the entire carbody.   I have made the mistake in the past of making washes too thick and trying to do the weathering wash in 1 or 2 applications.    This time I tried the military modelling approach of building up depth with numerous thin washes.   In this case I probably applied upwards of 20 washes of a very very thinned dark grey and end effect is very subtle and effective.   Acrylic washes dry quite quickly so applying this many is not as time consuming as it would seem.

I finished off the weathering with black weathering powders used very sparingly.   Steps and car ends received the most treatment (and even that was a very light dusting) with the roof receiving a dusting also.   Application on the car body was kept to an absolute minimum, primarily around the handrails and along the bottom.

When I am able to secure the supplies, I would like to replace the smoke jack with a Miniatures by Eric part(similar to the one used on my BCR cabooses).   The trucks also need to be replaced with prototypically correct Bettendorf types.   Currently I am just using stand in trucks from the parts bin.

For now PGE 1817 makes a nice addition to the Fort St John yard and will be pressed into regular service as well as on occasional work trains.


PGE Caboose – Part 2

August 8, 2020

With wire handrails completed the model was given a coat of grey primer and then several coats of a yellow which seems to match the various photos of the prototypes.   The prototype yellow has a definite orange tint and the closest colour match I could find was a Japanese model aircraft paint from the Mr Hobby paint range.   I used #58 ‘Orange-Yellow’ and after a few coats the orange tint is definitely apparent.    Unfortunately it is a semi-gloss finish so a few coats of flat clear will be needed to tone it down once decals have been applied.   I may also attempt a weathering fade to bring the intensity of the colour down a bit also.


PGE Caboose – Part 1

July 30, 2020

Taking a break from scenery now and back on to some rolling stock projects.   I recently started working on a Briggs models PGE Plywood Caboose kit.   I already have two completed BCR wide vision cabooses but photos of Fort St John and area in the 1970s show a large number of distinctive orange PGE cabooses also, so this one will be a nice addition.

Image link below shows PGE 1819 in the snow at Fort St John in 1978

I gained some good experience with the Kaslo wide vision caboose kits so I am now a bit more used to working with resin.  Overall the kit is well engineered with good instructions (available as a downloadable text file) and a nice fret of etched parts.

Currently I have assembled the major carbody components and installed the end steps.  As with the Kaslo kits, handrails need to be formed from fine wire (provided with the kit).   This is one job that will never get easier with practice and it took several evenings to get the model to the state shown below.    Particularly challenging were the railings on the cupola roof which run through a series of tiny eyelets which had to be individually installed into the roof first.    This would be a challenge in HO Scale but in N Scale it requires extreme patience!.

I am hoping that the coming weeks will see application of paint and final details now that the tedious handrails stage is done.

With the hay fields completed I spent some time going back over the base static grass layer.   The base layer was intentionally quite brown as it was to form a basic dry grass texture over which a more vivid green top coat would be applied

I spent a lot of time looking for the right shade of static flock for the top coat and in the end I went with Woodland Scenics Medium green (FS614) 2mm fibers and (to a lesser extent) FS618 4mm fibers.    These are not the fibers that come in the large plastic dispensers but rather smaller bags as shown below

For the top coat I used cheap hairspray as the adhesive.  I had read about this in various sources and decided to give it a go.   Unscented maximum hold hairspray is (obviously) the best choice.   It allows for multiple layers of static grass fibers to be built up and firmly attached all fibers to the base grass layer.    Only tip would be to mask off track and roads first because any stray hairspray in the wrong place that gets some fibers on it will be very hard to clean off once dry.

I did try 4mm fibers in some low lying areas but in the end found them a bit too long for N Scale and you can get a more subtle variation in height by just applying extra layers of 2mm fibers over the first application.

I allowed some of the base brown grass texture to show through and used the general rule that low lying spots, embankments and the borders of the hay fields would be greener than other areas.

An added bonus is that the foreground grass colour blends perfectly with the painted green fields on the backdrop.  This was entirely accidental and I am not sure I could have achieved such a good match if I had tried.  The overall feel i am aiming for is late summer so there is a case for dialing down the greenness in certain areas with a dusting of browns and straw colours.  The advantage of the hairspray approach is that it is very easy to control grass colour with additional layering where needed.

The scenery is now at what I call the ‘presentable’ stage in that to the casual observer the layout looks quite ‘finished’.   Obviously there are lots more scenic details to add but I will spend the next few months attending to some more motive power and rolling stock projects.

Scenery – Hay Bales

June 4, 2020


Hay bales dotting the harvested fields in the completed scene.  The green static grass top layer is a new addition that will be detailed in the next post.

The previous post detailed the methods used to create the harvested field scene in the corner of the layout.   This post details how several dozen hay bales were made.

The techniques used are virtually identical to those outlined in this video by Luke Towan

Luke’s video is for HO scale bales so obviously I did things differently for N scale.   Apart from scale the main difference is that I used strips of masking tape to make the bales, whereas the video shows clear tape being used.   I also added a pinch of static grass to my texture whereas Luke uses only jute twine fibers.

My steps for N scale hay bales are as follows:

  1.  Cut a 6 inch length of masking tape.   I used a 1.5 inch wide beige masking tape.  1.5 inch wide tape will yield three hay bales
  2. Mount the tape on a cutting mat sticky side up.  Secure ends with tape (sticky side down obviously).  Make sure you have 6 inches of tape between the two mounting pieces.
  3. Mark 3 lines along the tape at 3/8ths inch spacing and then use a sharp hobby knife to cut along the lines.  This is tricky because you are attempting to draw and cut on the sticky tape surface.  When completed it should look as below.  You can discard the excess strip of tape along the bottom.20200517_113102
  4. The hay bale texture is a mix of finely chopped jute twine fibre with a pinch of static grass.   Any jute twine will do but it has to be chopped very finely using sharp scissors and this is a rather tedious process.   Half and hour of chopping very fine off cuts (no more than a mm or two in length) should yield a big enough pile of material for a dozen or so hay bales.   Store the fibers in any storage container.
  5. The jute twine fibers are dropped on to the tape using a dabbing action, attempting to get a nice even coverage.   To lighten the colour a little I also dabbed on a pinch of Woodland Scenics ‘straw’ static grass fibers.   Use a roller or any circular object to press the material into the tape.
  6. Now carefully cut along one end of the tape and lift the first strip off the cutting mat.  Lifting with tweazers while separating with a scalpel works best. Cut the other end of the tape to release it.   Turn strip upside down and shake any excess fibres back into the storage container.
  7. Take a fine pair of tweezers and start rolling the tape.  After about 5 turns, extricate the tweezers (this is actually the hardest part of the whole process as they really don’t want to come out!) then continue rolling manually.    Once you have about half the length rolled, apply a light coating of PVA glue along the remaining tape backing and then roll up the remainder.  A final dab of PVA will seal the end, although you will need to hold the end in place for a few seconds for it to take hold.

    They key to a nice tight hay bale is to pull the tape away from the bale as you are rolling it in.  This creates a nice tight wrap and ensures that all bales are the same diameter.

  8. Repeat rolling and gluing process with the other two strips of tape.   Each strip of tape will yield 3 bales.  After that simply cut another 6 inch length of tape and start the process again.   It is quite time consuming but also strangely relaxing and the perfect task to do while watching TV.  It took me a couple of weeks of 1 hour work sessions to get all the hay bales I needed (which admittedly is quite a few).
  9. I secured the hay bales to the field with a small dab of PVA glue.   I applied a bit of downward pressure to make sure the bales sat firmly in the field.
  10. There was no magic calculation used to space the hay bales on my fields.  I didn’t want a scattering of sparse bales so I went for a fairly dense coverage spaced 6 inches apart.  This was more about creating a scene that looked visually interesting and photographs well rather than recreating the prototypical spacing of hay bales.


Next post will detail the application of a green static grass top coat that really brought the scenery to life.

One of the side effects of using rectangular hollow core doors for benchwork and following a prototype trackplan is that I ended up with a vast expanse of foreground benchwork at the east end of the layout where the line heads south towards Taylor.  Rather than leaving this as dead space or shoehorning in an unprototypical track arrangement I wanted to use it to create a real scenic statement piece.

Many of the most iconic railway photographs of the prototype in this region are of two-tone green BCR locomotives framed by late summer fields dotted with round hay bales.    I decided that this large foreground area would be a perfect place to recreate these scenes.  I created two separate hay fields, one each side of a road.  Both were populated with hand made N scale hay bales which I will describe in the next post.


Base hay fields largely complete and mass production of hay bales in progress.

There are numerous photos of hay fields online and while there is a large variety in appearance (largely due to regional differences), the key effect is generally a straw coloured harvested field which contains evidence of harvesting and bailing in the form of tracks and ‘lanes’ (similar to the stripe effect on a freshly cut lawn).   I assembled a collection of photos and went for a general look and feel that just looked “right” in my eyes.

My steps for the hay fields were as follows

Step 1. Base Ground Texture

The field surface (like the rest of the basic scenery) is Sculptamold over plaster bandages. First, I painted the Sculptamold with a base colour (very pale beige in my case). While paint was still wet, I sifted some beige / grey sanded tile grout (a 75% to 25% ratio) over the surface. This was followed with a sifting of Scenic Express “Desert Dust Fine”  to blend everything together. Coverage of base paint with these textures should be about 80% (i.e some paint will still show through) Then I followed up with a dusting of some Woodland Scenics Fine Turf ‘Burnt Grass’  (T44) over the base ground cover texture.

After allowing the paint to dry overnight I then used a small roller to to compress the texture into the terrain and vacuumed off any excess.

Step 2.  Base Field Texture

The base field texture aims to give the look of a harvested field.   Static grass is used from an electrostatic applicator but it is not essential that all the grass fibers stand upright.

I applied Woodland Scenics Scenery Cement to the surface using a pipette to flood the surface.  I then used an electrostatic applicator to apply the following base static grass mix.

6 parts Woodland Scenics straw static grass (FS616 2mm)
1 parts Woodland Scenic burnt grass static grass (FL633)
1 parts Woodland Scenic light green static grass (FL634)

A good full coverage was aimed for but I tried to avoid multiple passes that would have added excessive height to the grass effect.   Once thoroughly dry the excess was vacuumed off.

Step 3. Simulate Harvesting Patterns

I used a fine pencil to scribe harvesting / bailing marks in . The harvesting pattern is a series of ‘tracks’  0.5 inches wide and is separated by a 0.5 inch gap.  This is slightly wider than a standard 5ft wide bale (0.375 inch in N Scale). I marked a series of points 0.5 inch apart and traced a series of straight lines separated by 0.5 inch across the field. At the top I traced around a cap or circle of appropriate diameter to get the outside turnback curve. and hand traced in the inside curve. This process was repeated until entire field is covered.   I also marked out some tracks around the perimeter of the field also.

The tracks that have been just marked out represent the lanes where the hay bales will go. Their texture can be left as is but the lanes each side of them need to be treated with an application of Woodland Scenics ‘straw’ static grass (FS616 2mm) to create the distinctive striped effect.

With a small paint brush I carefully painted on Woodland Scenics scenery cement to all areas of the field outside the hay bale tracks as shown below.  It is best to do a small area at a time.


Scenic Cement is painted around the hay bale ‘lanes’ in preparation for application of straw coloured static grass.

Straw static grass was then liberally applied to the area with the electrostatic applicator.  When glue was fully dried I vacuumed off the area.  You will see a nice subtle striped pattern with the hay bale lanes being a flattened light brown colour bounded on each side by slightly brighter and higher straw textures.


This treatment will largely cover up the pencil marks from the previous stages. I found that gently tracing over these lane boundaries with a soft pencil again adds a bit of contrast and depth back to the texture, but this is optional and is largely covered up by the following step.

Step 4.  Final Details

To make the fields really pop required one last tedious step. Using a very fine brush I painted slightly thinned white glue over the lines just marked.  These lines should be no more than a couple of mm wide.  A dusting of WS burnt grass static flock (FL633) was applied along these glue lines using the electrostatic applicator.

When dry and vacuumed off, thin lines of brown static grass will remain along the side of the harvested lanes.  This really sets off the field and look like lines of hay trailing each side of the hay bales which are of a similar colour.

Completed hay fields (minus hay bales).

That is how the basic striped hay field was made.  In the next post I describe how to make N scale hay bales.

I wanted to get a basic level of scenery on the layout before moving back on to some rolling stock projects over the NZ winter. Application of a base static grass layer really brings the layout to life.    The prototype area is mostly croplands and grass so even a relatively basic grass cover really helps to capture the feel of the wide open spaces in northeastern BC.

For the base grass layer I used Woodland Scenics 2mm static flock fibres applied via a  home made electrostatic applicator built from an electric fly swatter.   The base mix is 2 parts Wild Honey to 1 part Burnt Grass.    This was applied over a PVA glue base which was stippled over the terrain base with a small sponge.

PVA glue is thicker and stickier than Woodland Scenics scenic cement and this seems to help the grass fibres stand up a bit better.   I added a layer of Woodland Scenics light green static fibres before the glue dried to add a bit of colour variation to the base grass.

I let the glue dry for 24 hours and then vacuumed up the excess grass fibres.  On some of the industrial sidings and lesser used track I applied glue in and around the ties to create the effect of grass overgrowth along the right of way.

The effect of rough gravel roads was achieved by carefully applying a small line of PVA glue down the middle of the road and also carefully along the road shoulders to give a nice defined edge.  It’s a bit tricky to get right and often requires some additional touch up rounds but on completion the effect looks very pleasing.

The completed base grass layer is still quite brown, which is fine for a late summer look, but more colour will be added with additional static flock layering at a later stage, along with various bushes, shrubs and small trees.

For now, the combination of a completed backdrop, ballasted track, ground textures and static grass will make a great stage for taking photos of the various locomotive and rolling stock projects planned over the winter months.