My first layout- some questions

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by stormfather, Apr 24, 2007.

  1. stormfather

    stormfather Member

    Hello everyone, I'm a month away from graduating college and have wanted a model railroad ever since I was a little kid, when I'd get depressed when the christmas train went into a box for another year. I've been reading up on model railroading a lot lately and have been reading these forums, though this is my first post. I've been working on my first setup (HO scale) and have been learning a lot.
    Space is really tight, but I wanted something that I could run in a continuous loop, so I ended up going with a 4x4 board. I'm modeling a small mining railroad on the brink of bankruptcy in the American southwest during the depression. There's a small town, three quarters of the way to dereliction, an old ramshackle mine, and possibly (space and $ dependant) some type of quarry. A chain gang is hard at work clearing a small landslide that's covered the main road, and a prison guard, with the help of his faithful hound, is hunting down a fugitive that made a break for it. Meanwhile, a professor from a big museum back east has made the find of a lifetime, and he and his hired hands are busy excavating what he hopes to be a complete T. rex! Some desperate souls pan the creek for any trace of the gold that once flowed so readily from these now barren hills, and an abandoned Spanish mission bears silent witness to it all from the sun-baked hills.
    I'm not modeling anything prototypical and I'm not really trying to build something with operations (I'll leave that for the next one, which will hopefully be much larger). I've got a Bachman 4-4-0 and have been putting some buildings and whatnot together for the last month or two. I'm using DC, since there's only one train, and keeping costs down is a major issue.

    As far as the layout goes, I've been building it with foamboard. It's been a lot of fun, though I have had some hang-ups (getting spraypaint to stick to foamboard comes to mind.) The layout itself is divided in two by a creek, and I've finished all the landscaping for one side. I guess its time to lay down the ballast and the rails, but I honestly have no idea how to do it and I really don't want to mess up my landscaping!

    How exactly do I lay down the ballast and rails? I'm using flex-track.

    Also, where can I get some 30's hopper cars?

    Thanks, hopefully I can get a picture or two up once I've got some more work done on it (and can get my hands on a digital camara).
  2. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Welcome StormFather...!

    That's a great back story to your layout! Have you been inspired by Malcolm Furlow, Dave Frary, and Carl Arendt ( Sounds like maybe... ;)

    First you need to decide if you want roadbed or not. This is available in cork or foam, and gives the impression of nicely raised gravel bed for the ties and rails. I am guessing maybe not, given the condition of your railroad...!

    In taht case, you can lay the flex directly on the foam. If you use an adhesive caulking spread very thinly with a putty knife, and pin the track in place while it dries, it should hold well to the foam. If it oozes up between the ties, you've put too much on. You can also use liquid nails (but be sure to get the kind that is safe for foam...!).

    Run your trains over the track several times in both directions, etc, to make sure there are no problems before ballasting. To ballast, simply pour the ballast on, smooth/profile it as desired witha foam brush, wet with "wet water" (isopropyl alcohol can also be used) using an eyedropper, and then secure with a 50-50 mix of white glue and water.

    30' hoppers, like ore cars, can be had from a number of manufacturers. You might want to look at eBay for some. I know in Canada, the latest President's Choice steam engine came with ore cars. I would guess that many people buy the set only for the engine, so you may have some luck there.

    Hope to see the pictures soon!

  3. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Hi stormfather, and welcome to the Gauge.:wave:
    Because I've answered this question several times and am too lazy to type it out again, I've copied it from another thread. In addition to what's shown below, paint the rails before ballasting. There are other ways of doing ballasting and to see them, use the "Search" function located near the top of any page. Just type in "ballasting", and settle back for lots of reading. :D Here's my method, which worked well for me:

    Originally Posted by Biased turkey
    People in Ontario are very cheap. Here in Québec a "pure" rubbing alcohol is 70%.

    You're right about that: I'm so cheap, I don't use alcohol at all, well, at least not for the train layout. [​IMG] [​IMG] However, part of the reason that some people have problems with ballasting is that they tend, for whatever reason, to skimp on materials. I use white glue thinned 50/50 with hot tap water (mixes faster), and water with a couple drops of dish detergent added as my "wetting" agent. If you have a slope that is so steep that the scenic material or ballast rolls off it, precoat the area with full-strength white glue. I use a 1" paint brush to apply it: being cheap, I make sure to wash it out after using, but you can also buy cheap throw-away brushes that will also work. I spread the ballast material and/or ground foam from paper cup and, in the case of ballast, use a 3/4" soft brush to spread it around to where I want it. Don't skimp on the ballast: if it rolls down the slope of the roadbed, add more until it stays where you want it. It's not really that expensive, and it'll improve the look of your roadbed. When you've got everything where you want it, flip that soft brush around, lightly grasping the ferrule between your thumb and forefinger, and with the handle laying across the rails, lightly and rapidly tap the handle with the fingers of your free hand, all the while moving the brush along the track. All of the loose ballast that's laying on the tie tops will "magically" bounce to where it should be. If the area that you're ballasting includes any turnouts, apply a bit of plastic-compatable oil to the tie tops over which the point rails move, then park the points in a mid-throw position.
    Now, using a good quality sprayer, capable of producing a fine mist, thoroughly wet the area with "wet" water. Start by spraying upward and letting the droplets fall onto the area until it is dampened. If you skip this step, you risk disturbing the scenic material with the force of the spray, and it 's not much fun to try to re-arrange wet scenic foam or ballast. When the area has been dampened, you can spray more directly. Thoroughly wet the scene: the thicker you've applied the scenic material, the more "wet" water is needed. You need to get it right down to the hardshell/foam/roadbed, or you'll end up with the glue mixture forming a crust on top, which is not bonded to the layout. You will find, on areas where the ballast is quite deep, that water will pool in low-lying areas, a sign that you've applied enough wetting agent. This step is as important as applying the glue mixture if you want to achieve a good bond.
    I use a plastic glue bottle to apply the glue mixture. It has a fairly small opening that allows the liquid glue to come out in drops, or in a stream, if I squeeze the bottle. Don't skimp on the glue. I used to use thinned matte medium, but for the price of two small bottles of the stuff, you can buy a gallon of white glue which works just as well. Because you've thoroughly soaked the area, those droplets of glue will spread readily throughout the landscaping material. Again, on thick areas, the glue mixture will pool in low spots. Don't worry about it: once the water evaporates, there'll be little residue left.
    Work in a pattern to ballast track. I usually work down the centre of the track, then go back and do each side in turn. Because of the run-off problem noted above, I usually do the trackside ground cover at the same time. When you've saturated the scene with glue, clean up your tools, and go do something else for a day or two. Scenery is like a pimple: if you keep fiddling with it, it'll get uglier.
    When the glue has finally dried, clean your track in the area. I find that there's not much in the way of glue on the railheads (the trains seem to run fine), but the tops of the rails are somewhat discoloured. Also check those turnouts to make sure that the points aren't glued to the ties in spite of the application of oil. A little back-and-forth action with your finger should free up any problem areas.
    On track with not too many turnouts, and fairly flat terrain close to the tracks, you should be able to do at least 15' or 20' of track in a couple of hours or less.

    Sorry for using an old picture, but the scenery elements around the track, including the ballast, sub-ballast (cinders), and rip-rap are over an inch deep in some places, all firmly fixed in place, and all applied at the same time.

    I hope that this will get you started with your ballasting, and I look forward to seeing some pictures. :thumb:

  4. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Cheap hoppers, suitable for the 1930s, are available from Horizon (formerly Athearn) and can often be found at your LHS in the "used" area. They come in three styles: ribbed side, offset side, and composite side. The composite side hoppers look the oldest, but are actually models of hoppers built during WWII, to conserve steel. :rolleyes:
    Not the best pictures, but the only ones that I could find.

    ribbed side


    offset side

    Sorry, but no photo of the composite style, as they're too new for my 30s-era layout.;)

  5. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    One suggestion for making "wet" water: get a dishwashing liquid squeeze bottle that has only a dribble in the bottom, just before your wife (or mother) throws it out and fill the rest with water and shake to mix. This can usually be diluted more before using.
    The worst problem with these applications is drops of water (even wet water) landing on the ballast and causing a ball. A fine mister will fix that -- again wife or mother may provide a bottle that held hairspray.
  6. Biased turkey

    Biased turkey Active Member

  7. MadHatter

    MadHatter Charging at full tilt.

    stormfather, that's some cool ideas you've got there! Hope you will take some pics!!

    Oh ja, welcome to the Gauge!
  8. stormfather

    stormfather Member

    Thanks for the input, everyone! I just checked out Micro/Small Layouts for Model Railroads, there are some amazing ideas there! I've tacked my rails down with pins and it seems that the whole thing works, despite some tight turns and steep grades (the layout is inspired by the Durango & Silverton). I'm going to hold off on ballasting until I've got all the secenery finished, however, to make sure that all the track goes down evenly. Also, I need to save up a little to buy a soldering gun to connect my track. Hopefully I can get my hands on my girlfriend's beloved camara some time soon and get some pictures to post. Once I start, I'll make a new thread in the HO section to document my railroad.
  9. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Member

    Welcome to the Gauge!

    Seems like we're of a similar mind. Here's a progress pic of the BAD Western.
    I look forward to seeing your pics.
  10. stormfather

    stormfather Member

    I've checked out, it's a great resource for getting the most out of a small area. I don't think I'm going to use roadbed, I want the layout to have a very rustic feel (I probably would've been better off with HOn3, but I've already got a loco and trackin HO scale.)

    I'm using the Durango & Silverton as an inspiration, but the layout itself is freelanced. I've taken some pictures but I don't have them on my hard drive yet, once I gewt them I'm going to start a new thread in the HO forum about the development of my layout.
  11. Biased turkey

    Biased turkey Active Member

    Welcome stormfather
    Yes , Micro/Small Layouts for Model Railroads is a gold mine for people with limited space for a layout. But the way I understand it is that most HO layouts are for narrow gauge ( HOn ). I might be wrong here.
    This link is not bad it's for N scale only but it might give you some idea.
    Mike's Small Trackplans Page

    It's a wise decision to postpone ballasting until all the scenery is done. That's the way all the model railroad books I've seen so far suggest to do.
  12. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    While many of the layouts in Micro/Small layouts were built in narrow gauge, there's nothing to prevent you from expanding the design slightly to build it in a bigger scale/gauge.

    For instance, a lot of the HOn30/HO9/HOe layouts use curve radii from 6" to 9". The 6" radii usually require a custom coupler setup. HOn3, depending on how small the equipment is, generally needs 12"-15" radius curves. HO standard gauge can usually get by with 15" radius (18" if you want 50ft cars) on a micro/small layout.

    The real advantage of using narrow gauge is that the facilities and scope of operation are so much smaller on the prototype. This often allows a more believable scene in tiny spaces. But there are also plenty of examples of standard gauge that had very small locomotives and facilities.

    just my thoughts, but your choices
  13. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    And most of those narrow-gauge layouts also assume small 4-wheel European/industrial-style cars. Assume, as already noted, at least twice and usually three times the dimensions to model US standard gauge.
  14. stormfather

    stormfather Member

    The biggest picture I can upload is 620x280? Ouch.

    Below are a few pictures of my layout (Or the completed fraction, at least.) First, a panoramic (well, as panoramic as a 620x280 jpg can get) view of this edge of my layout.

    On the far left is the mine, in the middle you can see a place where an old avalanche has been filled in behind a rockwall (by the unpainted plaster), and on the far right you can see the bluffs and the caves therein.

    The train will run along the ledge from the mine to the termination of the ledge under the caves, where it will cross the canyon on a bridge. There will be a creek in the canyon, as well as some vegetation.

    Also notice my opulent living conditions, complete with three course banquet (Peanut Butter Creme Double Stuff Oreos). I live in a one room hole and this blasted railroad takes up more space than I do!

    Attached Files:

  15. stormfather

    stormfather Member

    Here are close-ups of the aforementioned mine, the rockwall, and the bluffs and caves. When all is said and done, the rockwall will be painted stony gray and I'll stuff something behind the caves so you can't see clean through the layout.

    Attached Files:

  16. stormfather

    stormfather Member

    Dr. Carter, from one of the big museums out east, has made the find of a lifetime with this well preserved Tyrannosaurid. One picture has too much flash, the other has too little. This needs to be touched up a bit, I'm going to plaster him in there a little better so it doesn't look like he's about to jump out.

    Attached Files:

  17. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member


    Take a normal image with your camera. Then use a free program called irfanview to first crop and then resize it to fit comfortably on your computer screen (or the limits allowed by the forum). Remember, computer displays use only 92 dots per inch (dpi) rather than the 300-600 (or greater) dpi used in printing. So the 620x280 is actually about 6.5" by 3" on a computer screen. If the file size is still too big to upload, adjust the jpeg compression level while resaving.

    I use this technique all the time with photos for eBay. I open the photo in irfanview and resize the largest dimension (in pixels) to the max allowable by eBay, while keeping the aspect ratio constant. I set the jpg compression to best quality, since eBay cares about pixel size, not file size.

    just some thoughts
  18. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Member

    Your dino looks great! What did you do to weather it?
  19. stormfather

    stormfather Member

    Actually, it was like that when I bought it. I got it in an educational toy store; when I saw it I knew it had to go on my layout!
  20. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    hey Storm-

    There are plenty of good scratchbuilders and kitbashers on this forum who have made buildings for cheap. You can make some pretty convincing buildings out of a cardboard cerial box, some white glue, and some 50 cent acrylic paint from the craft store. If you havent done so yet, spend some time searching the forums for some excellent ideas. Harold's website also has some GREAT ideas - and if you havent seen it yet, check it out. I think it is Pacific Coast Air Line Railway - On30 Narrow Gauge for Everyone

    For hopper cars, don't rule out ore cars. the tichy wood ore car kits look pretty neat, and they come two kits for about 12 bucks.


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