Modeling the Railroad Salvage Yard – Step 1: Base, Track, Accessories and Scenery

22 08 2012

This week we’ll get down to business on our next blog modeling project – the railroad bone yard. You can follow along and build one of these for yourself, or just adapt these tips to your own modeling projects.

Building the Base

For our first project, we’ll prepare the base for the yard. Since this is going to be a portable demonstration piece, a panel of 3/4″ plywood was selected for the “platform.” Our yard measures 30 inches x 24 inches but you could make yours any size or shape that fits on your layout.

Foam Base

After testing the fit to locate track and accessories, a scenic base of pink insulation foam was added to raise the ground level.

After playing around a little with the operating accessory and some of the trains that would become part of the yard, I positioned and fastened down the track. This siding consists of two 10″ and one 5″ sections of straight FasTrack. About one inch of the track extends beyond the platform itself which will actually be useful if this should ever become part of a larger project. The connecting pins at the rear of the track were removed to allow it to fit flush against the edge of the platform. The track was secured with 3/4″ No. 6 screws.

After the track was in place, a layer of 1/2″ thick foam insulation was placed over the rest of the platform. This brings the scenery grade closer to the top of the FasTrack ballast. Bevel the edges of the foam where it meets the track for a tighter fit. (Most industrial spurs don’t feature well graded and ballasted track! This extra step will add a lot to the realism of the final scene.

accessory placement

Simply trace accessory bases and cut out the foam for an exact fit.

The Lionel 6-37958 Southern Pacific Scrap Yard accessory was also located and its outline traced on the foam. A hole was cut in the foam to allow this to sit down in the scenery too. And a hole was made in the plywood for the wires from the accessory.

Now the foam sheet can be glued into place around the track and accessory using white or wood glue. Once dry, we’re ready for scenery.

Roads, Sidewalks and Ground Cover

You’re already at the point where you can begin adding the scenery to the yard. Our scene starts at the edge of the yard which is presumed to be along a city street. We won’t model the street itself, but will include the sidewalk and driveway into the yard, including paving over the railroad spur.

Sidewalks

sidewalk base

Strips of hardboard form the base for the sidewalks.

Start with a base for the sidewalks. I ripped 1 inch wide strips of 1/4″ hardboard (you could also use plywood our anything else handy) to create a base for the sidewalk. One strip would have been enough for the normal thickness, but to get it above the height of the rails I had to double up. The extra-thick sidewalk will soon be buried in scenery anyway. Leave an opening where the driveway and track will enter the yard.

sidewalk details

After spreading a thin layer of plaster, details can be easily carved into the sidewalk. A steel ruler makes great expansion joints.

The concrete for the sidewalks and the pavement for the road will be made from dry mix drywall compound. For more information on how to do this, look back to our previous scenery blog on making roads.

For the sidewalks, only a very thin, but even layer of the drywall mud is needed to give the look of concrete and provide a surface for carving and painting later. You’ll probably spread the mud for both the sidewalks and the road at the same time, but I’ll separate the two projects here for clarity.

sidewalk paint

Apply thin washes of acrylic paint to build up the concrete color gradually. A thin black wash will bring out the details.

Once the plaster has dried, you can carve curbs, expansion joints and even other cracks, patches and details into the plaster with a hobby or utility knife. A one inch wide steel ruler or straightedge makes the perfect tool to create even expansion joints in the sidewalk.

To add color, begin with a light wash of thinned gray acrylic paint. It’s always better to start with a very light color and build up more in layers.

After the initial concrete color has dried, highlight all of your details with another thin wash of black paint or dye. Again, I think adding a little gray to the black paint helps soften the color and prevents darkening everything too quickly. Wipe any excess off of the tops of the sidewalk, allowing the wash to collect in all the crevices.

Roads

For the road, apply a heavier layer of the plaster over everything – including the track.

road plaster

For the driveway, spread a heavy coat of plaster over all the paved areas, keeping it even with the top of the rails and tapering it toward the shoulders.

Start with the pavement over the track itself and then feather it out from there. Simply scraping your putty knife across the top of the rails will create a smooth road profile even with the rail heads.

Next, taper the shoulders of the road down from the outside of the track to the foam scenery base. This will provide a realistic drainage contour.

flangeways

Use an old set of wheels or trucks to add flangeways in the wet plaster.

To create flangeways in the road, drag an old wheelset or truck back and forth through the plaster before it sets. The drywall mud will give you plenty of working time. Remaining details can be carved in after it has dried.

Color the pavement with successive washes of gray or black paint. Most asphalt grays as it ages, so a mix of both colors applied in thin washes will build up to a nice finish while highlighting details.

While you’ve got the plaster out, spread a little around any gaps between the accessory, track and foam base to close up the holes.

Ground Cover

To quickly finish the rest of the scene, we’ll add a coat of dirt and stone. To read more on how to apply and even make your own groundcover, again you can refer back to our previous scenery blog.

Glue

Apply a liberal amount of white glue to the base and smooth it out prior to adding ground cover. The tubular track seen here will provide the base for our caboose “office.”

Our ground in the yard will be a mix of gravel, ballast and dirt. To achieve the desired look, a mix of store-bought and natural (gathered from the backyard) products were sprinkled all around the lot and glued into place.

Spread the cover very carefully around all of the moving parts of the operating accessory to be certain not to interfere with the mechanism.  You can also add a little real ballast and dirt to further blend in the FasTrack.

scenery

After applying the ground cover, wet with alcohol and add plenty of diluted white glue. Don’t worry, all those puddles will dry clear.

Spray the lot with 70% isopropyl alcohol and then apply a liberal coat of white glue, thinned to 50% strength with water.

I applied glue very carefully around the accessory with a pipette to keep it out of moving parts. Then just to be sure, the accessory was turned on and allowed to run until the glue completely dried. The result: you can’t tell where the accessory base ends and the rest of the scenery begins.

That’s enough to cover for this week. We’ll finish detailing the scenery once all of the other big details are in place. Next week we’ll need to start scrapping some trains. Get your old shells (and maybe a box of tissues) ready.

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