Scenic Ridge with Ballasted/Weathered Unitrack

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by retroguy1953, Jan 12, 2007.

  1. retroguy1953

    retroguy1953 New Member

    Hello forum members. After reading postings on this site for a long time, I've decided to register and talk a bit about my current layout.

    I first got into N Gauge back in the late 80's. After considerable research I decided to build the famous Atlas Susquehanna and Gulf Summit 4x8 layout.
    It was a large layout that offered me the ability to run multiple trains, add a turntable and a significant switching yard. I constructed it from plywood using 2x4 benchwork and was generally pleased with the result. Unfortunately, before I had a chance to finish the layout I ended up moving and the layout was damaged in shipping. The weight and stress on the benchwork just proved too much, and I ended up dismantling the whole thing and salvaging as much track as I could.
    As I knew that future moves were probably in the cards, I next decided to make a long, straight layout that could be easilty attached (and detached) from a wall.
    This layout also proved to be a disaster to move and was also subsequently damaged beyond repair.

    For a long time I had no involvement in railroading, but in the late 90's I purchased a couple of Kato Unitrack sets and pulled my trains and buildings out
    from a box occasionally and ran them on temporary setups. About 6 months ago, I again became interested in building some sort of a small LIGHT WEIGHT
    layout, and looked at Scenic Ridge. I chose Scenic Ridge for a lot of reasons. First of all, the size was managable and it was light weight. I thought that the track
    layout was interesting for a folded loop layout, and it had a 50/50 nice mix of city / country. Having worked with Kato Unitrack for a long time, I greatly liked the
    flexibility and bulletproof connectivity. Unitrack is great stuff and worth every penny. What I don't like about Unitrack, of course, it the way it looks. The uniform
    plastic roadbed is very unnatural in a highly detailed scenery setting, but I read discussions from folks who have ballasted and weathered the track, and liked what I saw.
    So, I decided to build Scenic Ridge with Kato Unitrack. The Scenic Ridge track plan is on the Kato USA website, and that was my start.

    I decided to use Unitrack road crossings, signal light, and the longer Truss bridge -so I made a simple modification to the standard Scenic Ridge Unitrack plan.
    One of the big problems with Scenic Ridge is the 4% inclines. I have a large number of older N locos without traction tires. After mocking up the track
    on the layout (20 minutes using Unitrack), I found that several of my locos could not handle the steep incline. I purchased some additional 3% starters
    and 1" risers, and overlaid these on the outer loop - creating a long split 2.5% incline. Now all of my locos can run on the layout (at least in 1 direction).
    The mix of 2.5% and 4% inclines forced me to change the road system plans slightly, and my main town street dead ends in a parking lot instead of continuing
    on another highway. It seems to have worked out fine.

    I decided to be a bit more creative when cutting the oval foam platform for the town area, and made it irregular and split-level. Also, I knotched the 2 inch
    foam risers to give them a more natural look. The instructions for Scenic Ridge go into a lot of detail on how to properly create newspaper wads
    for filling the mountain area and I followed them carefully. Wadding newspapers tightly is a slow, tedious process and people often take shortcuts.
    In order to give the terrain a truly natural lumpy look the newspaper wads need to be tight so they will not collapse under the weight of wet plaster cloth.
    9 out of 10 Scenic Ridge layout pictures on the internet have mountains that look collapsed and unnatural, so spend a lot of time (at least a whole day)
    making small tight potato-like wads and you will be much happier with the result.

    I attached the rock castings using sculptamold instead of hydrocal. I also filled in ALL of the tiny swiss-cheese holes in the plaster cloth with scultamold and it is very natural looking. I stained all rocks and earth with UNDILUTED WS Earth pigment mixed with Burnt Umber and Yellow Ochre. I applied the turf and trees sparingly
    so it wouldn't have that golf-course look. It turned out much darker and rockier than the instructions and I think much better. I also ditched the pathetic culvert that came with the kit and added some larger stone bridge facades and made a real river. I used WS Realistic Water and it's OK - not terrific, but acceptable. It shrinks a lot more than I like and is not as glassy as I hoped for, but too late now. Maybe EnviroTex would have been a better choice...

    I attached the Unitrack to the plaster cloth covered risers with the WS Low temp glue gun, gluing a few sections of track at a time. The locos ran perfectly after being glued down. I then purchased TWO BAGS of matching Unitrack ballast, which I applied with undiluted white glue on the sides of the track bed. I sprinkled ballast in the center and smoothed it with my fingertips. I squirted WS Scenic cement directly on the ballast and smoothed it with my fingers. After it dried, I ran my finger and a plastic
    scraper over the track bed, and brushed on Bar Mills black/rust weathering powder. I used Floquil Enamel Paint magic markers (rail brown and rust)
    on the rails and was finished painting the rails in about 30 minutes. I cleaned the track surface with paper towels and paint thinner. The resulting track
    has all the benefits of Unitrack - i.e. positive joining, self levelling, solid electrical conduction - with the appearance benefits of ballasted track. I'm very happy with it.
    Every loco and piece of rolling stock runs perfectly on it.

    I bought the DPM Town and Factory building kits and assembled all the buildings except for the Kitt Transfer building. I carefully hand painted each building and very lightly weathered them. I mounted either an LED or an incandescent light in each building. Some structures also have Miller Enginnering animated neon signs attached,
    as well as fire escapes, roof air conditioners, etc. I also built and added the fabulous Miller Engineering Gulf Gas station, Pink Elephant Car Wash and stainless steel
    Parkway Diner along with internal electroluminescent lighting. I built (but have not yet installed) some MicronArt brass telephone poles. I am still waiting for
    my EzLine to arrive.

    I did not like the plain nature of the Kitt Transfer building and re-cycled some of my 20 year old Faller factory buildings. I mounted the buildings on painted and weathered styrene sidewalks, and added fancy Brawa street lights. I am in the process of installing and wiring NJI Crossing Signals and semaphore signals.

    The layout is supposed to model the 1945 through 1965 American small-town period so I have accent details and vehicles from this era. I still need to complete some of the accent details and add some Preisser and WS figures, so I will be posting new pictures in a bit.
    The lights and animated neon signs are powered by a Radio Shack 12V Power supply. Track is powered by an MRC Tech II. No DCC for me yet.

    What you will see here represents about 4 months of weekend and evening work. I have a few more weeks of tweaking and touch ups to do, but the following photos will give you the general idea.
    If you are thinking about Scenic Ridge, also consider Unitrack - you will be very happy you did.
    Comments are most welcome!
  2. retroguy1953

    retroguy1953 New Member

    Photo Set 1

    Here are the first set of photos.

    Attached Files:

  3. retroguy1953

    retroguy1953 New Member

    Second Set of photos.

    Here are additional photos.

    Attached Files:

  4. Cannonball

    Cannonball More Trains Than Brains

    That turned out to be a great little layout! Looks like your hard work is paying off. :thumb:
    I love the lighted buildings. It makes me want to get one of these for my daughter's HO set more than ever now.
  5. Herc Driver

    Herc Driver Active Member

    You know what I like about this forum...every once in a while someone shows up and *blam* drops a great looking layout bombshell on everyone just like this one.

    Comments??? Let me start by saying what a nice looking layout you've built. The sidewalk details, buildings, roads, not to mention the scenery work you've done is impressive. The little things like the fire escape, signs, window shades, billboards, all really make for a believable scene. Those DPM kits turned out well...I built four of them so far and would have liked mine to look as good as yours...nice and straight walls! Those are tough to hand paint too (boy those nscale window ledges are tiny!). Your water looks great and so does the variation in ground covers. My compliments. Really nice work. How 'bout some close up pictures of the street scenes?
  6. retroguy1953

    retroguy1953 New Member

    Street scenes...

    Thanks for the nice comments folks.

    Herc, you are right about those DPM buildings being very difficult to paint. My wife is an artist and she showed me how to sit and hold the models correctly, and she pointed out the virtues of expensive precision brushes.

    With regards to more street scenes, I'll post some more shortly once I have had a chance to attach the figures and micro-detailed elements. Here are a couple of additional street photos taken with the night lighting. I cannot stress how much realism comes from the Miller Engineering animated neon signs. They are thin photoluminescent panels and make the street look like a micro-Vegas! Truly wonderful detailing accents that add color and chasing patterns in fabulous ways.



    Attached Files:

  7. train1

    train1 Member

    Great work Retro ! Next time don't wait so long to post your next layout for us. You added a lot of interesting 'tweaks' to make this project work better and it shows.
  8. Nazgul

    Nazgul Active Member

    What a great personality this layout has!:thumb: All of your hard work has really paid off!:thumb: :thumb:
    The buildings, water, ground-cover, lights...all come together to "pull you in" and make you WANT to see more!...keep it up!
  9. SR39

    SR39 Member

    Great job. I am also doing the Scenic Ridge. What great inspiration you have given me with your layout. I love to do scenery and buildings but that is a way off since my kit is on order. The benchwork is ready.
    One question, Did you use only foam for the base or did you use plywood as an underlayment? I really would like to use foam because it is so easy to go through with wiring.

  10. jcoop1

    jcoop1 Member

    Could you post a close up of the unitrack?

    I have tonnes of it and hesitate to do anything more perment because some of it is the light grey some is darker and it looks bad when hooked together....

    it does work well though

    If I could detail it like yours I would jump into it.

  11. retroguy1953

    retroguy1953 New Member

    Thanks for the compliments folks.

    SR39 - I only used the foam base. No need for a plywood base at all. I took the three base panels and stuck them together edge on edge with a bunch of T pins. I then used the WS low temperature glue gun and ran a continuous bead of glue down the crack (front and repeat on back) making sure it was well smeared on both sides. Ten minutes later it was solid enough to work on. I had two empty cardboard boxes that were the same size (about 24" tall) and I placed both of them under the foam base sort of like two pedestals holding up a glass tabletop. I built the whole layout on those cardboard boxes in the garage. BY the way, if you are using Unitrack instead of Altas track, then flip the base on to the unprinted side and lay unitrack on top. Mark the location of the track with a pen, and lay the foam risers centered on the Unitrack path outline. The curves are a little bit different between Atlas and Kato, so just use the blank side and it will be less confusing. You can just eyeball where you need to add the tunnel portals and grade starters.

    I highly recommend buying and using the WS low temp glue gun. It really speeds up construction as you don't have to wait for white glue to dry. I hardly used any white glue at all. Also, get a hot wire foam cutter and buy some extra 2" risers and 3% starters so you can finess the outside curve to far less than 4%. I start my 2" incline on the outside curve right at the leftmost tunnel portal, and it takes the entire distance around the layout all the way to the far right portal. Don't worry about the 9 3/4 curves - with Unitrack you are bulletproof. You will not derail. It may look a bit extreme, but the long rolling stock likes it fine.

    As far as wiring goes, yes I did plenty of it. I bought some small diameter aluminum tubing at the hobby store, and use it as electrical conduit. It makes getting the wires through the layout a snap. Just shove the wires in the pipe, and push it through the foam while twisting it. The pipe pokes through cleanly, and you slide it off leaving the wires.

    Jcoop1 - Here is a photo showing stock unitrack next to my ballasted work. Big difference in appearance. The trick is to buy Kato brand Unitrack matching ballast. It is formulated to dry to the exact color as the Unitrack plastic roadbed, and has little white and black specks just like the roadbed. So switch areas that you want to keep ballast off look perfectly integrated. I used the Floquil magic markers to paint the rails and it was quick and easy. So, OK some of the rust color brushed the tops of the ties, but it's one hell of a lot easier than using a small paintbrush...

    Brushing a bit of black and rust colored weathering powder in the center between the rails is quick and produces good results. Again, smear undiluted white glue with your fingertips along the edge of the plastic trackbed, and pour the ballast directly from the bag through a small hole. As you pour, you will see it level up and hide the plastic trackbed ridge. The white glue keeps it from sliding down the slope of the plastic trackbed. I tried pre-wetting the ballast with a "wet" water dropper, but found that I could just as easily use the WS Scenic cement sprayer directly on the top of the rail and control the flow pretty well. A lot faster, and it really didn't disturb the ballast too much. The Kato ballast is very fine and seems to absorb water quickly. By the way, good luck on finding the ballast - it is currently in short supply.

    I have also just finished wiring up the factory area and I'm thrilled with the new lights and animated signs. Here is a pic of that too.

    Continuing my micro-detailing and will post more photos shortly.



    Attached Files:

  12. SR39

    SR39 Member

    Thanks for the info Retroguy. You have given me a lot of helpful tips and I certainly will use them. I was hoping that I could use layers of foamboard to make wiring a little easier. I have built a frame using 1x2's and have attached folding legs from an old layout. Looking forward to getting started as soon as the kit gets here. And who knows when that will be. I ordered it from a supplier on the internet that I have found is not the fastest for delivery. Thanks again for the help.

  13. Papa Bear

    Papa Bear Member

    Nice layout! :thumb: I've used Unitrack on my last 3 layouts and love it. I haven't tried weathering it yet, but may give it a try after seeing your photos. Love the lights and lighted signs, too.
  14. retroguy1953

    retroguy1953 New Member

    Some of the micro-detailing

    Hi Folks.

    I have made a bit of progress on the layout and thought I'd share a few photos.

    I built some Micon Arts brass telephone poles and wired them with Ez-Line from Berkshire Junction. What a terrific product Ez-Line is. It is a stretchy polymer that not only looks great, but is significantly snag proof. It is easily affixed to the insulators by CA glue.

    I also finished wiring and installing the NJI grade crossing signals, and hooked them up to a Circitron flasher module. I'm in the process of adding the figures and small detail props, and I will post a few more pics as I near completion.



    Attached Files:

  15. jcoop1

    jcoop1 Member

    Thanks for the pics,

    I love the weathered unitrack.

    may have to jump into it.
  16. berraf

    berraf Member

    Thanks retroguy for magnificent pictures of your layout!
    It looks so real and you have put a lot of details that looks just great.
    The houses, the signs, the track, the whole theme.....looks great :)
    And give your wife my regards and thanks for the support with your layout...
  17. Herc Driver

    Herc Driver Active Member

    That EZ line looks great. I used thin black thread and like the color but not the dust it collects.
  18. Biased turkey

    Biased turkey Active Member

    Very nice layout Retro. It has a bit of everything. I like the night pictures of the buildings.
    A slight detail: in a building, not all the rooms at the same time have the lights turned on .
    I recognize the Model Power Lowenbrau brewery , I built it too.
  19. retroguy1953

    retroguy1953 New Member

    High Res Pics and Video link

    Well folks, my layout construction and this thread are probably coming to an end. I will putter around with the layout a little over the next month or so. I was thinking of adding a chain link fence around the factory area, and that will probably be it. If you just keep adding and adding it ends up looking cluttered, so I guess knowing when to stop is important too.

    For those who are interested, I have posted some high res pictures in a Google album. This is the URL:

    There is also a 2 minute low res AVI video that shows the layout under it's lights, so you can get a feeling how the Miller Engineering animated neon signs work with the theme.

    Thanks all for your kind words. Look forward to seeing more Unitrack layouts!

    Have fun!


  20. Hoghead

    Hoghead Member

    Excellent work Retro, right down to the fine details!

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