Sunday, January 22, 2012

New Scenery at SJ Cabin- Part 3

When I first began adding scenery to the layout back in the mid-1990’s, I used several different combinations of ground foam for just about all of the ground cover. Bushes were made from pieces of foliage clusters and foliage netting. The photo below of the tipple at Big Chimney shows what the basic scenery looked like in a number of areas on the layout.

I never quite achieved the look that I wanted, and I was always on the lookout for other techniques that might work better. Somewhere along the way I found the technique of taking small clumps of poly fiber and stretching it into small bushes which are then covered with fine ground foam. I’d give credit for this technique where it’s due, but I really can’t remember where I picked this up. These bushes were a vast improvement over my previous methods, and I added a large number of these to the layout. While I was getting closer to look I wanted, I still didn’t have the variety of foliage that I believed was needed to really create a convincing scene. Sometime around 2004- 2005 I started receiving the Scenic Express catalogs in the mail. The scenes made using the Silfor mats looked amazing, and I purchased several of the starter packs. Then sometime in 2006 I came across Joe Fugate’s website for his Siskiyou Line. The scenery clinic he presents here ( is absolutely incredible. It forever changed the way I view and construct scenery. The presentation offers a wealth of examples of variation in just about every aspect of scenery construction.  Joe is truly an expert in scenery construction, and his scenery on the Siskiyou Line is absolutely beautiful. From this point I began to look at different colors and textures and to experiment with different methods of adding bushes and ground cover to the layout. The results are evident in the picture below, which shows the same area of Big Chimney, West Virginia as in the photo above but after I re-did the basic ground cover and added new bushes and trees.

After much experimenting, I came up with the basic building blocks for my ground cover and bushes. Let’s start with the bushes. One variation of bush is made from lichen and covered with fine ground foam. I spray paint small pieces of Woodland Scenics lichen with Design Master October Brown spray paint. Once the paint is dry I spray on 3M Super 77 spray adhesive and the sprinkle the bush with either Noch Elm Leaves 08030 or Noch Lime Leaves 08020 (both of which came with a Super Trees Starter Kit) until it is covered. You could probably skip the brown paint, or sprinkle the Noch leaves directly into the wet paint and skip the adhesive spray. The picture below shows the various stages of completion.

The next bush is the poly fiber bush I mentioned above. I start by stretching a small piece of Woodland Scenics Green Poly Fiber FP178 and then place it on the layout. I add successive bushes until I’m finished with the area I’m working on. I then carefully spray extra strength hair spray (I use Suave Rave 4X Mega in an aerosol can- unscented) on the poly fiber. Next, I grab a pinch of Woodland Scenics Blended Turf Green Blend T49 between my thumb and forefinger and gently sprinkle the ground foam onto the bush. For those areas that I can’t get to with my fingers, I place a small amount of the ground foam on a small piece of cardboard bent in the shape of a ‘V” and gently blow the ground foam on using a straw. Lastly, I use Silfor Horsetail Foliage Poplar Leaf SF98022 and Woodland Scenics Foliage Clusters Light Green FC57 sparingly to represent other forms of ground cover and bushes. The picture below shows the various brushes and ground covers.

I should mention here that I work from photographs as much as possible, and the inspiration for the scene came from two photos on taken by Donald Haskel at Mt. Hope, West Virginia on the C&O. The links to the two photos are and

Before adding the bushes and ground cover, I made a few changes to some of the existing scenery. Based upon some comments from the first post on the MRH website, I decided to extend the foliage from the edge of the forest canopy toward the track. Also, based upon some good suggestions and comments made when I posted a blog about culverts on the MRH website (, I decided to change the area around the culvert. In the picture below you can see that I have painted a portion of the area between the tracks and the canopy with the basic dark green color and I have painted the area around the drainage ditch with same dark green color. This will allow me to add some foliage to soften the break between the dirt and cinders near the track and the forest canopy. I will also have the foliage cover the area right down to the base of the drainage ditch.

In the next photo, the basic ground cover has been added to the areas that were painted in the photo above.

Now it’s time to start adding stuff! One of my construction rules is to always work from the back to the front when finishing scenery, so I began by adding the bushes in the area between the track and the base of the forest canopy. The photo below shows how this area looked once the bushed had been “planted” but before the blended turf had been applied to the poly fiber bushes. The weird colors in the photo are a result of not changing the white balance on the camera. I had been taking some shots in my work area and the white balance was set to incandescent instead of fluorescent.  

The next step was to apply the blended turf to the poly fiber bushes and add ground cover. I added a 50/50 mix of Scenery Express Flock and Turf Spring Green Fine EX810C and Timberline Scenery Spring Meadow Green Fine 307 at the base of the bushes to represent weeds and foliage in the area between the bushes and the dirt. I also sprinkled a mix of Highball Products HO scale limestone and black and N-scale grey ballast in various places along the yard lead to add texture and color to the ballast. The last step was to add some N-scale black ballast to the engine lead track. I’ll weather this more after all of the scenery is complete, but the N-scale ballast will help form the base for the weathering. The last step was to brush any stray ballast off the tops of the ties.

At this point I mixed a batch of glue consisting of 1 part white glue to 3 parts wet water. I then wet the area from the outside of the ballast on the yard lead to the ground foam around the bushes with 70% isopropyl alcohol. I worked slowly, wetting an area of about 1’ and then adding the glue mix. Once the glue was applied to the entire area, I came back and sprinkled a light covering of dirt on any area that had previously been covered with dirt and sprinkled on a little more of the Scenery Express/Timberline Scenery mix of ground foam. While the dirt and ground foam usually dry just fine without this step, I’ve gotten in the habit of adding a little extra once the glue is down to help soak up any excess glue and to make sure that the finished product looks right. The photo below shows how the area looks at this point.

The dirt dried darker than I wanted, so I rubbed the area with my fingers to lighten it just a bit. I picked up this trick from Tony Koester in his article on constructing the Coal Fork Extension on his Allegheny Midland. I’m not sure I’m completely satisfied with just how this looks yet, and I may go back and redo the dirt area at some point.

Next, we’ll add static grass and more bushes and ground cover in the area between the tracks and the front of the fascia. As always, thoughts, comments and criticism are welcome.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

New Scenery at SJ Cabin- Part 2

I seem to have developed the habit of getting an idea for project in one area of the layout, working on that project for a period of time and then moving on to another project in another area of the layout. The projects have ranged from completing the bench work in one area to completing the scenery in another. While I have certainly enjoyed the variety of the projects, this approach hasn’t helped much in terms of completing large sections of the layout.

At this point in time, all of the track and electrical work is complete, ninety percent of the basic scenery shell is complete, the fascia and valance are in place, and roughly fifty percent of the scenery is finished. The room is carpeted and the lighting is complete. I am finally at the point that I can spend a large portion of my hobby time on building structures, finishing scenery and building engines and rolling stocks. And this leads to my next project- finishing the scenery at SJ Cabin.

SJ Cabin sits at the east entrance to Hollister Yard on my layout and controls all movements entering and leaving the yard along with through traffic on the main. The rough shell scenery has been in place for almost six years now, and the track work much longer. The photo below shows how this area has looked for some time now. I scratch-built the standard C&O cabin back in the late 1980’s and scratch-built the signal maintainer’s shed, section tool house and privy sometime in the 1990’s using standard C&O plans.

You can see Part 1 of this blog on the Model Railroad Hobbyist website at:

After adding the basic ground cover, the next step was to semi-permanently attach the structures to the scene. But before this step was completed, I needed to make a few additions to the structures. The platform at the end of SJ Cabin was built using Evergreen HO scale styrene 4”x8”s and scribed siding. After painting the platform grey, I attached two full length ties to either end and two half-length ties in the middle as shown in the photo below.

I used a small screw driver to gently scrape away the scenery where the ties on the bottom of the platform will rest. I worked slowly on this, removing small amounts of scenery and then test fitting the platform. I wanted to make sure that the platform was level and that the edge of the platform matched up with the concrete foundation. The platform was then glued to the scenery using white glue.

The rails from the two sheds to the tracks are made from Micro Engineering ties and strips of 1/16 x 3/32 basswood. I stained these using a custom mix of dark tie stain made with 50% Floquil Poly S Grimy black and 50% water with a drop of wet water added (one teaspoon of liquid detergent to 16 oz. of water).

If you look back at the first two posts in Part 1 on the MRH website, you can see that the masking tape along the ridge of the two roofs had started to lift up in numerous spots. I decided to replace this and re-weather the roofs prior to attaching the structures to the layout. When I built these buildings many years ago, I believe I may have used drafting tape to simulate the tar paper roofing. Drafting tape has a lot less “stick” than regular masking tape. In recent years I have used regular masking tape and haven’t had any problems with it lifting. After re-painting the roofs, I weathered them using ivory black and white artist’s oils and mineral spirits. Once the roofs were finished, I glue the sheds in place with a small amount of white glue. After the glue had dried, I glued the rails in place. SJ cabin simply rests on the concrete foundation and is not fastened with any glue. This will hopefully prevent any damage in the event someone bumps the structure during an operating session.

With the structures now in place, the next steps will be adding more vegetation and ground cover.