The plan for the Christmas break had been to complete the staging section of benchwork and lay the staging tracks.   However I wanted the ability to get things running on the main yard first so I turned my attention to getting the yard tracks fully wired and operational under DC power.

The layout is being wired for DCC but purchase of a DCC system and installation of decoders in locomotives is at least a year away, so in the interim I purchased a simple DC power pack and connected it to what will become the DCC main bus lines.

I made a fold-down holder for the DC power pack using some scrap pieces of wood and small hinges.  When operating sitting down (which is how the layout was designed to be viewed) the power pack is left in its folded down position.   If operating standing up it is flipped up to horizontal.  The lightweight power pack is simply mounted to the holder using Velcro strips.  This holder will likely be removed when DCC throttles are acquired, but for now it looks great and works well.

Best practice for wiring is to make sure every piece of track (no matter how short) has its own set of feeders.  I followed this practice and the result was a huge nest of wires under the layout.  Currently they have been roughly taped to the benchwork underside in order to tame them somewhat.  Eventually once the DCC system has been installed and is working the wires will be more neatly mounted.

Wire gauge in New Zealand is typically expressed in mm diameter (not AWG), but the key wire gauges I used roughly translate as 14, 18 and 22 AWG.  I used stranded 14 gauge wires for the main bus.   Soldered to these at regular intervals were stranded 18 AWG pig tails.   These pig tails were then connected via terminal blocks to groups of solid 22 AWG track feeders.

On previous layouts i had just soldered everything together and never had an issue.  Having heard more than a few stories about mystery short circuits from hell where the only diagnostic tool was cutting soldered feeders, I decided that terminal blocks would be a better approach.

I also soldered green 22 AWG frog feeders from all the turnouts but these are not connected to anything yet.   I am either looking at SPDT switch operated turnouts or using Frog Juicers.

Note that all the track feeders were soldered to the track back during the track laying phase.   They had simply been dangling in the wind for 6 months.   Despite that step being complete, I had estimated that it would be a couple of weeks work to get the bus and feeders all connected together.  In the end it took maybe 4 days working on and off in 2 hour blocks.

With the tedious wiring underway I cleaned up the layout room and placed some stock on the tracks and took some fun cell phone photos.   I wasn’t going for artistic moodiness but a few of them turned out that way anyway.    Apologies for use of CN and CP RS-3s though.   They are just stand-ins until I get the correct BCR shells on.


My first trip back to Canada in 3 years included a stop in Vancouver for the 2018 Vancouver Train Expo at the Pacific National Exhibition Forum.  It had been 4 years since I last participated so it was great to catch up with everyone, see some great modelling and attend an operating session on the N scale Dawson Creek subdivision.

It was also an opportunity to stock up on 1970s era appropriate equipment.   I obtained a couple of Atlas Classic RS-3s that will be used with the Briggs BCR body shells.   I also purchased a number of freight cars including some hard-to-find True Line Trains PGE and BCR boxcars and some CP and CN 40 foot boxcars that will be used in grain service.

On the layout front, things will likely be quiet until the Christmas break at which point I hope to complete the staging shelf and get things running under temporary DC power.

The last few weeks have seen the backdrop landscape and clouds finalized.   Because the Fort St John area is so flat it was a challenge to get the illusion of distance while using a very low horizon line.    I followed the techniques in Mike Danneman’s book “Painting Backdrops for your Model Railroad” especially the sections on Midwest backdrops and clouds.

I used standard acrylic artists paints and was able to get a nice late summer field colour scheme with minimal mixing.

The clouds were a bit of a challenge to get right and a few isolated cumulus clouds I started with never looked right so I just gradually added more and more until I got the “Big Sky” feel I was looking for.   In retrospect a plain blue sky would have been easier!


The last few weeks have seen the backdrop get painted a basic blue, some fabric skirting mounted along the front to hide all the various boxes and some painting and weathering of ties.

The skirting was sourced from the Spotlight chain of NZ stores.   Ties were weathered using inexpensive craft paints and was done by randomly painting ties various shades of grey and brown using both washes and dry brushing techniques.


Fascia Painting Update

August 11, 2018


Spent the last few sessions painting the fascia and lighting canopy with a nice brunswick green.  I considered some other colours but I have always used dark green on prior layouts and I see no reason to change.

I feel like the layout presents itself very well now even in its unfinished state.  The next step is to get the backdrop painted in a basic sky blue before moving on to either some wiring or kit building.

Several days to myself this week allowed for a burst of productivity.   I finished what I call the “rough terrain”.   This is either plaster cloth over cardboard webbing (for the east end of the yard), or pieces of foam roadbed sheets to form various flat industrial areas and building pads.    I used a general purpose filling compound (Spakfilla Rapid) from Bunnings to blend the roadbed into the terrain and to fill any gaps.




I painted the whole terrain with a rough coat of a generic beige colour that approximates the clay soil ground colour of that part of British Columbia.    I just picked up a couple of inexpensive test pots from Bunnings. (Colour is Dulux of NZ “Linton” if any one wants to know).

My intention is to eventually go over the rough terrain with sculptamold or a similar product and repaint with the same base coat.    For now the goal was to get rid of the white plaster and black foam mashup look of the terrain.

I pre-weathered the track the easy (but messy) way,  using a spray can of Rustoleum flat black paint.    This required extensive masking of the backdrop, fascia (and room walls) to avoid overspray.   Proper ventilation is (obviously) required for this.  By working slowly, stopping frequently and spraying the track in small sections it is possible to do this without creating clouds of paint fumes.   I also ran the vacuum cleaner and held the hose end near to where I was spraying.  I am not sure if this actually sucked up spray paint fumes but it felt like I was at least trying.



A key part of preparation is masking the point blades of each turnout so they don’t get covered in spray paint.  I just used small pieces of tape on the point blades before spraying.     A standard abrasive track cleaner easily removes the spray paint from the rail tops after painting has been completed.


I will still paint and weather the rail sides and  ties, but a coat of flat black spray paint is a quick way to get rid of the shiny model train track look.    The room preparation and point blade masking is the most time consuming part of the process.


Some more progress…

July 22, 2018

With tracklaying largely complete I wanted to get the layout looking slightly more presentable rather than dealing with connecting a bunch of wires together underneath it.

I made a start forming the basic terrain shell at the east end of Fort St. John yard.  This was done using a web of cardboard strips covered in masking tape.  The next step is to create a hard shell of plaster cloth over this base.   The west end of the yard is largely flat so it will be a case of just filling in any gaps with joint compound

The front profile board was created from a several pieces of foam core, while a cosmetic fascia panel was mounted on the layout support frame work.   With a little over six months of work under my belt I am quite happy with how things are looking.