RITES OF PASSAGE FOR A MODEL RAILWAY - 3 Base Boards, Track, Basic Trackside Scenics

Preparation: plan your track and surrounds

The small 'Ayton Lane mpd' signal cabin on THORALDBY. Peco 'Streamline' and 'Setrack' Nickel silver Code 100 track Etched brass levers, white metal instrument shelf and other details, brass window etches, plastic amchair and desk, white metal figures
The small 'Ayton Lane mpd' signal cabin on THORALDBY. Peco 'Streamline' and 'Setrack' Nickel silver Code 100 track Etched brass levers, white metal instrument shelf and other details, brass window etches, plastic amchair and desk, white metal figures | Source

Designing your baseboard to match the layout

Elaborate form of tail-chaser. With scenic additions this layout could be interesting, on a 'profiled' layout with undulating scenery it could be exhibition standard
Elaborate form of tail-chaser. With scenic additions this layout could be interesting, on a 'profiled' layout with undulating scenery it could be exhibition standard | Source
Hale station layout, another potential end-to-ender that could also be incorporated on one side of a circuit
Hale station layout, another potential end-to-ender that could also be incorporated on one side of a circuit | Source

Base board basics

Well we've got this far, so that shows there's some commitment on your part.

Base boards, eh? This is serious stuff now. The point of no return. Got a scribble/note pad, pencil and flexible tape measure? This is where you've already made up your mind about a) what shape your basic layout will take, b) where you're putting/storing it for readiness to work on it when you've got time (this is known as the 'round tuit' factor, where when someone asks what progress you've made on your layout you say 'Before I can get started I have to get a round tuit, they're in short supply these days'), c) is, in the event you do get a 'round tuit' you can make headway before the phone rings and you're the only one in the house/flat/palace*.

*Delete as befits. Doesn't really matter if it's someone trying to sell double glazing, but how do you know without lifting the phone? It could be Grandad asking for help with hanging his curtains.

Take yourself to the part of the premises (see asterisked* above) where your layout is to be situated or stored and write your findings as follows:

a) Total length of available space; whether you want a 'tail-chaser' or end-to-end along two, or even three walls;

b) Number of unit(s): even if you're building a model railway that's not going to be exhibited anywhere, you need to divide the whole length into workable units, including any corner units you'll be working on. These units will need to be labelled, so you don't lose track of where you've got to and either miss one out or duplicate one;

c) Length of unit(s): assuming you've worked out (b), this will give you the comfortable working length that you can handle on a worktop/table;

d) Depth of unit(s): this is the measurement from front to back (operator's side to wall or public viewing side, and depends on how much scenery you want on either side of the running line(s). If you've got curves, you're going to have lots of scenery in the corners that you need to work out a use for;

e) Working height of unit(s): depending on unit 'profile' (allowing for overbridges, cattle creeps - short cuts under a railway embankment for livestock herded between pastures/grazing sites, i.e., cattle or sheep, or even goats -, rivers/waterfalls/inclined planes from mines connected to storage or exchange sidings); this is also where you work out if you've got enough head room in a loft or cellar for a layout that's at least waist-high to the average adult individual, say 5'-9" (1.72m), because this will be a comfortable height to work at for most people (I include the fair sex in this, because many males/modelling groups leave scenic or other minute details to wives/girlfriends/sisters or daughters they can rope in for the simple fact that the fair sex have as a rule smaller fingers to get into tight spaces and are thus well-equipped to handle fiddly bits;

f) Supporting framework: you will need to know how your railway will stand either at an exhibition or at home for working on/display purposes. If the railway's going to be portable, for exhibiting, a framework needs to be devised that will support your units when linked together - the solution to this purpose will also serve a home layout - and will stay linked in case of accident ('belt and braces', a Yorkshire insurance solution) should someone lose their balance or whatever;

g) Unit connecting devices, come in various guises such as coach bolts and/or male/female studs that help with locating unit ends. You can use coach bolts on their own, but you can't use the studs on their own because there's still a need to hold them in place, such as flat hooks on the outside edges that can be slid over bolts. The only problem with this solution is they need to be hidden or covered. You can combine coach bolt connectors with brass baseboard track-end protectors (made by C&L, product ID: C1012) - these are added by means of small flat-headed screws to the end of each unit in pairs or however many tracks over-run between baseboards, because you can't usually guarantee sidings will stop short of a unit end if you're working to someone else's track plan or a particular station diagram.

This task alone will see you through a few cups of tea/coffee and biscuits or even sandwiches. The next task will test the thickness of your wallet or depth of pockets.

Base board materials. What are these? Again, depending on whether you're going to be carting it to exhibitions over a season or more, or whether it's staying put.

The Baseboard units

Lightness is an issue. You wouldn't want to lug some elephantine unit around between the workplace and the layout's 'home'. If you're lucky enough to have a cellar as big as mine, it's not such a worry in one respect, i.e, distance from workbench to site. But there's still the business of lifting the unit into place. So the message is: keep it light. For crossmembers planed two inch X one inch (5 X 2.5cm) or two inch X half inch pine is good enough, and for the outside edges/ends you can use three inch X half inch (7.5cm X 1.25cm). The half inch depth is sufficient for strength. How many crossmembers you use depends on the length of your units, but on average a foot apart (30.5cm) should work out right, and the ends are preferably screwed on. Use dovetails for the crossmembers by all means, but you will need a strong wood glue for durability.

Trackbed and 'formes' can be made from ply. What is a 'forme'? Say you've worked out the contours of the land on either side of the running lines/sidings, you can cut them from one side of plywod sheets cut to the length of each unit using your contour template and screw into place with the bottom of the frame level with the bottom of the 'forme' or side panel. The track height per unit will be determined by short lengths or height formers of cut pine screwed on top of the crossmembers from beneath and measured ply screwed down onto the height formers before the side panels are attached. This gives you a solid skeleton on which to take the project to the next level.

You can also use ply as formers for laying the 'topsoil' onto. The 'topsoil' is the non-railway scenery, the embankments, fields, hills on either side of the trackbed or connecting track formations where you have a junction or sidings... you name it. You cut your 'topsoil' formers according to how many you want, and to add to ends where you want continuity of scenery, adding backing pieces behind the unit end crossmember to support the former from behind. Screw or staple (if you have an industrial stapler) the former to the backing pieces rather than use wood glue. Cut a horizontal open slot into the top of the former to fix down the trackbed to match across neighbouring units, and do likewise for the intermediate formers, screwing them into place against the crossmembers (you've got the measurement between the bottom of the framework to the trackbed top? Good on yer)! Drill holes through the formers or leave space for running cable under the trackbed to link up at the ends by means of push-together wire-connectors.

Track-laying

Now the framework's all together, the trackbed down and the ends in place, it's time to think of the whole reason for the baseboards: The track itself needs some thought. Peco has different codes of thickness, and older stock won't run through Peco 100, the checkrails on the points/turnouts are too close for any ready-to-run loco's or stock made before, say, 1990. Kitbuilt loco's or stock built with early Romford wheels won't pass through the checkrails without lifting either. Gibson or Maygib wheels are OK. Code 75 is much more tolerant, but still won't allow earlier Rovex or Hornby through, so re-wheel or sell it at a swap-meet! Kit-made track from C&L is recommended for EM-Gauge or Scalefour track, and is amply suitable for modern Bachmann or Hornby etc.

Points or turnouts - depending on which side of the 'Pond' you're from, but from here on I'll be using 'points' - come ready-made or in kit form. Check out the modelling press, Model Railway Journal (MRJ) at the top of the market for finescale modellers, Hornby Magazine or British Railway Modelling in the centre-ground. Pick your own source, mix and match or stick with one brand. However, these magazines all produce good research material and photographic detail as well as close-ups of the models. Wild Swan, the producers of MRJ also print quality paperback books on model-building, with first class colour photographs. Silver Link is another publishing company who produce good quality paperback guides, such as Nigel Adams' LAYOUTS FOR LIMITED SPACES and Trevor Booth's BASEBOARD BASICS & MAKING TRACKS. Hornby Magazine brought out their own pullout series BUILDING A LAYOUT with hints and tips from several experts including wiring the layout.

Assuming the make and gauge/scale of track has been decided on, make templates (C&L produce these for all their pointwork) from flimsy or greaseproof paper and lay them out according to your trackplan to get an idea of how much space they take up. There are differing degrees of turnout on pointwork for all uses, from branch lines, loco sheds and sidings to main line and express routes. The faster your trains will run, the wider the curve will be to make the model look more than a collection of trainsets, straight out of the box. If you're planning on exhibiting, you're showing others the quality of your mettle. Skill and imagination shows, no matter what the financial outlay!

Wiring the layout

There are books and supplements from all the model railway press giants including HORNBY MAGAZINE, BRITISH RAILWAY MODELLING (BRM), RAILWAY MODELLER (RM) etc. Looking through my 2007 BRM binder the other day I noticed a piece by Mick Nicholson in the March, 2007 issue called 'Wiring For Beginners' between pages 56-61.

There is also a supplement from RM ('Shows You How' series No21 @ £1) titled 'Wiring the Layout' Part 3, a sixteen page booklet covering point/turnouts and crossings for 12v DC and DCC layouts, Single and Double Slips, Diamonds and Double Junctions. For instance on page 5 there are diagrams headed "Principal methods of switching frog polarity on 'live frog' points". Opposite is a diagram of a 'OO/HO' three-way code75 point produced by Peco. Worth tracking down.

Feeling 'Clubby'?

If you're thinking of involving others, why not start a club of your own? That way you gather different skill levels together, and like-minded modellers who may have experience. Depending on your numbers, you will need a) a treasurer, b) a club secretary and possibly c) projects secretary. Any others would be a luxury you don't need. As you gather members - assuming you've got some good ideas and you don't have people leaving in droves because you've turned into another Stalin - you can think of a newsletter, either in the form of printed circulars or e-mail attachments to regular letters. Put your ideas to the membership and watch for waverers in a show of hands that usually points to second thoughts.

Groundwork/Trackbed

If you have a track diagram and photographs/images of an existing or closed station/line for a particular period of that railway's history then you've just got to work out any contours from that. Many clubs select their location from maybe a batch of diagrams, not too far from home, and take a working party for a day. What may be useful are older buildings still extant, period photographs will help identify their purpose. Measurements can be taken if the site is still accessible, otherwise you need to contact site owners/lessees for access. Usually you will have to go on a non-working day or public holiday. Photographs of the surrounding area may come in use, taken by you or from archive material (printed with permission). Approach railway societies, who might have material/copies for sale. Be specific about what you need. You don't want to be a nuisance... "Er, sorry but..."

If you're doing a 'freelance' layout, i.e., one based on an area but with your own plans, you might still approach societies for background material. Go on a field trip to an area, take pictures of landscape for backdrop etc. Get the 'feel' of the area, look into the 'tangible' history (buildings that might have existed), architecture and so on. These will all help to determine your layout.

Once you know what 'ground' the layout occupies, the next step is to cut strips of cork sheet to the shape of your track formation. This gives you the height from the basic trackbed to the rail tops which, chamfered, gives a good rendition of profile that a district permanent way inspector would be proud of. It also mutes noise. If you've never heard the progress of trains on a layout when there's no cork underlay, you'll soon be converted. Grey foam is also available (see suppliers), and mutes noise equally well. Some model railway manufacturers such as Hornby produce underlay for its own track, but having seen other modellers' layouts and done my own I prefer to cut mine from sheet. Besides, my track of choice is Peco Code 100. Sidings can be but are not necessarily the same height as the main running line(s). Exchange sidings are the link between a mineral system and railway company network. Storage sidings, as the name suggests, are for standing wagons ready for use or as refuges for 'cripples' (stock taken off trains because of defects, or stored pending district auditor's request for scrappage reports).

Cut the cork/foam roughly to shape and fix into place using pva glue when you've determined where track goes/fits. Once the track is in place the edges can be trimmed as closely as deemed fit. Consult period photographs to check for track profile according to the era modelled, for instance in earlier days the North Eastern used ash ballast on country branch lines, sidings and loco sheds, whereas they used fine chipped granite for main routes under very wide radius pointwork to minimise 'roll' over junctions.

Proprietary track units can be pinned down and ballasted later or fixed in place as you go along, laying the track in place and infilling between sleepers and between running lines with the aid of a dropper (such as you'd buy with eye drops) or brush laden with a mix of diluted pva glue and watered-down washing-up liquid. I've used a brush to drop the solution onto the ballast but I'm told the other method is as good, and the result is convincing. DO NOT lay the ballast close to working point blades, as they may be clogged! In real life the engineers left crossovers fairly clear of ballast, in case it interfered with the blades (imagine a train running through a junction and coming to grief because a lump or more of ballast was caught in one of the point blades). Again, check photographs, dvd's and video's (if you've got a working video player 'BEHIND THE SCENES - on the right track' - FL0401 produced by Fast Line Photographic Ltd/Telerail shows how track was laid and ballasted on the LNER near York and Darlington).

C&L sleeper 'webs' come with the sleeper spacing to British scale (proprietary Peco or Hornby track is produced in mainland Europe to HO scale, therefore 3.5mm between rails and too close), and the sleepers as bought have the 'chairs' spaced for S4, EM and OO. It may be worthwhile buying this if accuracy is crucial, otherwise not to worry. Once the ballast is set at sleeper-top height and the sleepers painted only a nit-picker would gripe!

Take your time. A rush-job looks bad, and mistakes can be made.


How about something ambitious?

Here's a worthwhile layout to build, Battersby is on what was once the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Railway with exchange sidings for the ironstone wagons from Rosedale, high up on the moors via Ingleby Incline.
Here's a worthwhile layout to build, Battersby is on what was once the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Railway with exchange sidings for the ironstone wagons from Rosedale, high up on the moors via Ingleby Incline.
More ambitious is Northallerton.  Here the Leeds Northern's line ran under the York, Newcastle & Berwick Rly (ECML) to Stockton-on-Tees. Avoiding lines link to the Up line to York (right), a connecting line from Ripon ran up into the Down platform
More ambitious is Northallerton. Here the Leeds Northern's line ran under the York, Newcastle & Berwick Rly (ECML) to Stockton-on-Tees. Avoiding lines link to the Up line to York (right), a connecting line from Ripon ran up into the Down platform
From the Ordnance Survey, this is Northallerton, showing the lines in 1892, long after the North Eastern Railway came into being (from the Leeds Northern, York Newcastle & Berwick and York & North Midland railway companies
From the Ordnance Survey, this is Northallerton, showing the lines in 1892, long after the North Eastern Railway came into being (from the Leeds Northern, York Newcastle & Berwick and York & North Midland railway companies
Tynemouth Station had six bay platforms, three at each end and an additional one off the shorter platform (bottom left) in 1906 with a massive gantry (NER: 'signal bridge') at one end, see left, station throat
Tynemouth Station had six bay platforms, three at each end and an additional one off the shorter platform (bottom left) in 1906 with a massive gantry (NER: 'signal bridge') at one end, see left, station throat | Source

Notes:

Battersby: originally Ingleby Junction, then Battersby Junction, was built by the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Railway from Picton Junction (on the Leeds Northern between Northallerton and Eaglescliffe). With eastward and northward extension through the years the branch was built to Whitby via Glaisdale and Grosmont, and via Nunthorpe Junction (for the Guisborough branch) to Middlesbrough. Ironstone from Rosedale East and West mines was brought by the Ingleby Incline down to Battersby for the works at Stockton and the Bell works at Port Clarence opposite Middlesbrough over the Tees. When a link was added through Great Ayton the wagons went to Middlesbrough via Whitehouse Junction and then east to Dorman Long Works at South Bank and Grangetown.

Passenger traffic ran from Stockton to Whitby via Eaglescliffe, Picton, Stokesley, Battersby and Grosmont until 1954, with a variety of motive power including Class A8 4-6-2T, B1 4-6-0 and, G5 0-4-4T from Stockton and Whitby sheds. Traffic ran from Middlesbrough only from 1954 via Battersby (until 1958 also along the coast route) for Whitby and Scarborough. From 1958 motive power was .the diesel multiple unit (dmu) and branch pick-up goods still steam hauled until the mid-1960s;

Northallerton: originally built by the Great North of England railway, the company became the York & Newcastle Railway, then the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway. The Leeds & Thirsk, later Leeds Northern built a line via Harrogate and Ripon in 1851, under the main York-Newcastle (upon-Tyne) line with later links via Boroughbridge Road Junction up to the main line at George Hudson's insistence (see: TRAVEL NORTH 43).

The end result, by the early 1900s was that expresses could run from Leeds City Station via Harrogate and Ripon to Northallerton and Newcastle (for Edinburgh and Glasgow) behind Neville Hill allocated Class A3 4-6-2 Pacifics. Diversions also took this route via Starbeck to York when engineering works or accidents closed the East Coast Main Line between York and Northallerton. Work on the line between Northallerton and Darlington saw diversions come via Stockton and Eaglescliffe from Newcastle and Sunderland. The Queen of Scots express Pullman service from London ran via Leeds, Harrogate and Ripon to Edinburgh and Glasgow, taking the Boroughbrige Road junction south of Northallerton station and non-stop through.the station in the Darlington direction. Passenger trains from Newcastle via Sunderland took the York link at Northallerton for York and Kings Cross or elsewhere (some to Bournemouth or the West Country with Southern Railway and after 1948 B R Southern Region stock. Freight to Teesside ran northward under the ECML, southward under via the link around Northallerton Station through what was the Low Level station, under again and around onto the southward Up slow line to York and further (see diagram) or under for Leeds or onward to the west coast..

There was also the bay platform at the north end of the station (on the Down side) for trains to Bedale, Leyburn and Hawes in Wensleydale, and on to Garsdale Junction on the Settle-Carlisle line in Midland Railway territory (later LMS, then B R Midland Region).

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* Battersby and the Ingleby Incline are dealt with separately on this series in the page RITES OF PASSAGE... 26: NON-LOCOMOTIVE OPERATIONS;

** There is a more detailed account of the railway from its inception and progress at Northallerton from 1841 at "TRAVEL NORTH - 43: WHAT CHANGED A Peaceful County Town..."

One of a broad library of 'how to' publications by this publisher in building and running a model railway. Planning and tracklaying is a basic requirement to a working railway, whether model or real: 'Working from the ground up', build the trackbed profile according to what kind of railway you want: branch line, main line, curves and reverse curves, motive power depot(s), station(s). Enjoy the read.

Tracklaying advice

In my December 2011 edition of the Hornby Magazine (issue 54) I noticed on pages 44-47 an article on Tracklaying with period photographs of the real thing undertaken in the1950s in the West Riding between Leeds and Manchester, and a view taken in 1969 of the Newcastle diamonds - sorry nothing to do with gems, girls. Indications of track grades show what is available from manufacturers/outlets of finescale track as well as standard proprietary marks. There are also useful links in the article, with the following manufacturers/outlets:

Peco: www.peco-uk.com

Hornby: www.hornby.com

Bachmann: www.bachmann.co.uk

International Models (Tillig Track): www.internationalmodels.net

C&L Finescale: www.finescale.org.uk

SMP: www.smpscaleway.com

Arnold: www.ontrack.co.uk

There is a sort of disclaimer, in that while the list is not exhaustive - there are many makers/outlets in the market not listed - but what is available in the article is a broad spectrum and as such the best known on the British market. (There is a plethora of available makes on the US/Canadian market that would need to be researched through trans-Atlantic sources, but for British modellers who wish to follow their scene Peco and Hornby track is suitable for HO railway building. Spacing between sleepers on Peco and Bachmann track, being 3.5mm scale and made in Austria is smaller than would be on the British prototype, based on 4mm to the foot).

There's a company that advertises in the Model Railway Journal called Red Dog who specialise in baseboard fittings.

This doesn't mean you have to be a finescale modeller to buy their products, just that finescale modellers do. They are at 9 Harcourt Bradwell, Milton Keynes, MK13 9EN - sorry, no website - and there are some big names that are associated with the product such as Roundtree Sidings (diesel era image, they have a website, just enter roundtree on your browser) and 'Kirkby Stephen West'.

Track - as seen or as perceived?

Track profile, showing different layers of rail bed on a main line. This is how a permanent way engineer would see a main line profiled. As a modeller you could economise on two of these layers
Track profile, showing different layers of rail bed on a main line. This is how a permanent way engineer would see a main line profiled. As a modeller you could economise on two of these layers
This is, or rather WAS Verney Junction station. You can see the overgrown platform on the left. You'd have to consult an old Ordnance Survey map to see where the junction was in relation to the station site
This is, or rather WAS Verney Junction station. You can see the overgrown platform on the left. You'd have to consult an old Ordnance Survey map to see where the junction was in relation to the station site | Source
Track re-laying on the preserved Swanage Railway in Dorset, SW England. Preserved railways often need to review their permanent way needs to avoid unnecessary expense
Track re-laying on the preserved Swanage Railway in Dorset, SW England. Preserved railways often need to review their permanent way needs to avoid unnecessary expense | Source
Norton Junction sidings, West Midlands. Rakes of empties were gathered and allocated where needed at collieries. In pre-nationalisation days coal merchants owned fleets of wagons to be run from particular collieries to their depots
Norton Junction sidings, West Midlands. Rakes of empties were gathered and allocated where needed at collieries. In pre-nationalisation days coal merchants owned fleets of wagons to be run from particular collieries to their depots | Source
This could be anywhere, on any branchline, partly overgrown, maintained only up to freight or slow running (20mph), light railway standards
This could be anywhere, on any branchline, partly overgrown, maintained only up to freight or slow running (20mph), light railway standards | Source
Horbury West, near Todmorden on former Lancashire & Yorkshire metals in westernmost part of the West Riding of Yorkshire
Horbury West, near Todmorden on former Lancashire & Yorkshire metals in westernmost part of the West Riding of Yorkshire | Source

Short of room or 'readies'? Here are a few ideas that will see you whistling in no time. You too can indulge in your hobby, even if you live in a one-room flat. Another in the same series of books, Nigel Adams' edition gives you an insight into creating a layout that will take up little space (or finance).

Basic scenics - forming the landscape for your railway to pass through.

Congratulations, you've reached this far. It's going to get harder to shake you off from now on! What's going on in your mind now that you've fixed down your track, got the apertures in the framework for any and all cables for control?

What's the lie of the land? OK, but this has to be very basic, there are things to add that any scenics can't interfere with. If you're going to motorise your pointwork and add remote control signals - whether colour light or semaphore, you've got to keep at least an inch (2.5cm) clear either side of the track formation for drilling and mounting signal gantries or posts. You may want to link signalling to pointwork, as some do. I can only say this, consult the available literaure. It is possible to do this, but I haven't. I'm a bit lazy that way myself, you see. Still, heigh-ho, there you go. That's where being a club member has its advantages: you always have specialists. They'll give you hints and tips, encourage you to experiment and avoid the pitfalls of hastiness. They may even help you on specifics, such as installing controls. Did you leave somewhere to mount a control panel? There are ways of doing this. Listen carefully, I will say this only once ('allo, 'allo, I've heard this one before)! You can either keep a central area clear to one side of the layout and build a baffle to ensure it doesn't interfere with yours or your spectators' perception of the layout, or you can mount a panel on the back of the scenery former and drill through for later cable-laying. If you're thinking of using DCC control, this panel could be for the master controls for points and signals and an over-ride for running trains in the event of being at the central point when you need to carry out overall control from one point. These are just ideas to bear in mind. Meanwhile, back to the basic scenery, a how-to:

a) chicken wire pinned to the lateral scenery formers. This allows you to make last minute changes, like 'fisting' hills or cutting walls that lead to a tunnel mouth or bridge.

b) Cut card strips and fix down to the lateral formers with staples or adhestive. Again, the industrial staple gun comes handy for a quick 'fix'. Allow time for setting with pva/wood glue. Stretchers can be laid down lengthwise before another layer is 'threaded' through. The good thing about having ply unit walls is that when the basic scenery is complete you can set the unit on its side to attend to the wiring on the underside of the trackbed after the top surface has been dealt with. This is when the cabling to the controller can be connected.

'Threading' card strips can be fun - and messy with it! - in adding dollops of pva to the uppers or unders of the strips where they cross over the first lot, so it pays not to have the strips so close together you can't thread the next lot. Leave about a finger's thickness between the strips going either way. You don't need to rush this stage either. You will find there'll be an area of the station where the ply touches the front and back of the unit, this is where a level crossing will be added and buildings mounted at a later stage. Leave this part until then, including road surfacing. You could stick down a layer or two of thin card in the centre of what will be the road for the 'camber'... Allow space for the planking/board approach that older crossings were blessed with. Study photographs/images of the period for where buildings and platforms reach in relation to the crossing, such as crossing keeper's cottages, signal cabins/boxes and neighbouring structures (pubs, shops, houses, chapels, you know) and perhaps pencil them in roughly with a joiner's pencil. Once the crossed card strips have set comes the 'topsoil' stage. 'Modroc' is a trade name for muslin impregnated with plaster. Other brands exist, but for our purposes 'Modroc' will do. Cut it into short strips, dunk it a few strips at a time into a shallow bath - a used and washed-out breakfast spread tub will do, half-filled with H2o - and left a minute or so before lifting out onto the crossed card. How you get through this is up to you, but I did it the width of the unit along from end to end between track bed and side wall. Don't lean over the track bed with the plaster dripping onto the track, turn the unit round and start again. One drawback with 'modroc' is it can stay damp for a long time if not ventilated properly, and the cross-hatched card might sag under its weight if it isn't closely 'knitted' or solid enough.

An alternative to cross-hatched card strips is styrene sheet. You might have the odd electrical household appliance box still in your attic/cellar. If its not likely to be needed - the contents might be out of guarantee or the contents can be fixed at home - take the styrene sheet packing and cut to size with a hot knife. You can 'shape' the scenery with the same knife once the styrene has set in place. To fix in place use wood glue or pva. Any spirit-based adhesive will just melt it. Use a hot knife for 'shaping', otherwise you'll finish up with white bits everywhere and styrene has a habit of attaching itself to everything - hands, clothing and carpets included. The advantage of using foam is its flexibility. Use a 'surform' scraper or dig out clumps of foam, again with the aid of a hot knife. You can 'plant' lineside buildings and trees either into, or onto it, spray paint it and add flock over diluted pva/wood glue.

A backscene can be screwed onto the back later on if needed, but meanwhile take the 'topsoil' to the edge, overlap and trim off excess from the front. Your backscene will cover the overlap at the back, not that it matters. Out of sight...

Where a building should stand away from the trackbed area, but still within the scope of the scenery - I usually allow a front to back measurement of about 16" (40cm), which gives scope for a reasonable amount of scenery either side of the trackbed - a ply base can be 'floated', i.e., measure, cut and screw a section of, say, one inch X half inch wood at the right level between two crossmembers on which to fix the building's base. Pin down or use wood glue and be generous with the base area of ply. Walls, gates or fences might need to be added. Scatter can be added later, for the time being you have your basic scenery/landscape. Keep consulting your images for where walls, outbuildings, sheds etc stand in relation to pubs or farms and mark them out again for later.

By now you'll know where to put your signals, telegraph poles and other trackside vertical entities. Mark them out, beginning with the signals. you should have a signalling diagram for that particular section, and a position for the signal cabin. Are you going to have cabling from the point levers and signal posts to the signal cabin? Mark out where these will go, but they can wait until you've got your signals assembled and mounted in situ. I knew a fellow member of the North Eastern Railway Association whose father had been a signalman at Dalton Gates near Northallerton. He drew the types of signals and their positions on a track diagram I sent him for my later reference.

(Funnily, I was on a walk along the Eskdale Railway between Battersby and Grosmont and reached Glaisdale. About to visit the cafe on the station premises, I turned into the car park. Lo and behold there he was, large as life with his wife. The cafe was about to close and he offered me a lift to Grosmont - I think, where the NYMR's cafe was still open. Small world, eh?)

Next: Signalling and superstructure (trackside detailing)


Give yourself some grounding. Take a trip through this dvd and soak up the information you need if you're a newcomer to railway modelling, or remind yourself of a few things you might have missed before. A useful guide either way

Mind the gap - Bridging and Viaducts

Plan the viaduct's course, will it curve to accommodate the railway or will it determine the course of the railway?
Plan the viaduct's course, will it curve to accommodate the railway or will it determine the course of the railway? | Source
Beyond the planning stage, work out the approach, the landscape profile and the sub-strata
Beyond the planning stage, work out the approach, the landscape profile and the sub-strata | Source
This brick-faced concrete structure is a model on sale through ebay, complete with graffiti (see under bridge, far pier) and streaking. On the right layout this would be a centrepiece, but it would have to be large scale - not your average branch
This brick-faced concrete structure is a model on sale through ebay, complete with graffiti (see under bridge, far pier) and streaking. On the right layout this would be a centrepiece, but it would have to be large scale - not your average branch | Source
This Superquick kit closely resembles a stone structure (very well printed!) and would be ideal for a rural or even city layout.
This Superquick kit closely resembles a stone structure (very well printed!) and would be ideal for a rural or even city layout. | Source
Embed the viaduct, get the railway done first, surroundings later. You'll have picked up a few tips by the time you've got that far, changed your mind or turn it into plain fields with hedging. Choices are infinite, tractors, combines, livestock...
Embed the viaduct, get the railway done first, surroundings later. You'll have picked up a few tips by the time you've got that far, changed your mind or turn it into plain fields with hedging. Choices are infinite, tractors, combines, livestock... | Source

From the Ground Up

Basic scenics? How basic does it get? Well, there's a whole range of tools and plastic or metal products you can buy to get you going - where would we be without tools? - for a full list contact;

Eileen's Emporium (trading name of Russan Limited) web address: Unit 19, 12 Highnam Business Centre, Newent Road, Gloucester, GL2 8DN, 0117 230 0045, e-mail sales@eileensemporium.com

Scenic materials next:

Historex Agents, Wellington House, 157 Snargate Street, Dover, Kent CT17 9BZ, 01304 206720, e-mail Sales@Historex-Agents.co.uk

A wide range of scenic scatter, 'snow', 'water', 'rust' and adhesives amongst other products in the Deluxe Materials range. Historex also have merheaterials etc for dolls' houses and model planes.

Modellers Mecca, 450 Albion Street, Kingswinford, DY6 0JP, 01384 278206, e-mail biton@modellers-mecca.c.uk have a range of scatter, ballast, cinderbed, landscape and roadway. You can buy a trial pack at £2, a standard pack at £3.30 or bumper economy pack at £5.28. There's a 'come again' Bulk Bag at £21, equivalent to 5 Bumpers of one colour. Again, see the range, there's even 'Dry Stone Dyke' to build up.

Ten Commandments, 20 Struan Drive, Inverkeithing, KY11 1AR, 01383 410032, e-mail tencommandments@btinternet.com, web address www.cast-in-stone.co.uk, a broad range of cast scenic items, wagon loads and goods platform items. Anything from a coaling stage to palletised bags and pallet jacks as well as tunnel mouths and road works detritus.

Realistic Modelling Services, 01304 825849, e-mail kjwarren@ntlworld.com produce scatter to represent gorse, ,moorland peat, Daisy Field, tree scatter and coarse texture. All packs 25g @ £2 per pack unless listed otherwise. Think what your layout can look like and work towards it. Experiment is the keyword!

There are some more helpful hints in the back issues of the popular UK railway modelling press. For instance, with HORNBY MAGAZINE (Ian Allan Publishing), April 2011 a supplement was added titled BUILDING A LAYOUT - Developing The Scenery (Discover how to create realistic scenery with Hornby Skaledale and Skale Scenics). The results shown in this supplement are achievable by the average modeller, with ballasting, scenic formwork, ground cover and detailing. You can never get too much advice when it comes to aiming for realism, and you can give it your own personal touch. Don't forget, this is just advice. How far you take it is for you to determine.

Additionally there are articles you could look back over in BRITISH RAILWAY MODELLING (Warners Publishing), in the January, 2007 edition between pages 42-47 Nigel Burkin presented his 'Scenic Modelling' piece including the use of plastic mesh or cross-laid card, lightweight Hydrocel (similar to Modroc but lighter) from Woodland Scenics. There's a product analysis of the Loctite Glue Gun and replacement glue sticks.

*A new publication came my way today (May 10th, 2012) courtesy of Hornby Magazine's June edition: a free Special Sipplement sponsored by Bachmann Europe plc, 'SCENECRAFT'. The topic of this special is 'Barrenthorpe Shed' in 'N' Gauge, although it could just as easily be modelled in 4mm/7mm. There are great images inside, courtesy of Mike Wild who led the project. Such detail as is included in the model in 2mm scale has only been mastered so far by the Model Railway Club's 'Copenhagen Fields' (I was taken downstairs in their Keen House HQ to see progress being made by MRC member/DOGA Secretary, Stephen Siddle). From page 6 to page 11 the supplement takes you through the planning stage, tracklaying, scenery and buildings and turntable installation. There is a list of products used in the construction and three pages of classified small ads for businesses that could help you put together something similar.

** STOP PRESS**

A new booklet came today with my November, 2012 copy of HORNBY MAGAZINE. Titled 'HORNBY MAGAZINE SCENIC HANDBOOK - Learn How To Develop Your Scenery', the contents includes tips from regular magazine writers on how to apply various types of materials from ballast to buildings, grass to greenery, scenics and structures, trackside to trees. Materials and models suppliers are listed together with contact details. Instances and suggestions for good application are shown in 'how to' photographs of layouts and dioramas. Take heart if you're a beginner, the road to perfection may be stony but achievement has a few shortcuts compared with the 'days of yore' when materials were fewer and harder to come by in order to make layouts more realistic. Looking back, I would say now has to be the best time to pick up tips with what's on the market increasing in range.

Signal cabins, signals and track

Box on stilts :9F 2-10-0 and Iron Ore bogies from Tyne Dock for Consett pass Green Lane near Washington, Co. Durham. Note the signal gantry and long twin bracket this side of the elevated box.
Box on stilts :9F 2-10-0 and Iron Ore bogies from Tyne Dock for Consett pass Green Lane near Washington, Co. Durham. Note the signal gantry and long twin bracket this side of the elevated box.
Hessle near Hull. D49/1 62720 'Cambridgeshire' with suburban passenger working. Cinder ballast. Note also late LNER type triple doll bracket signal at the left .
Hessle near Hull. D49/1 62720 'Cambridgeshire' with suburban passenger working. Cinder ballast. Note also late LNER type triple doll bracket signal at the left .
 Whitby yard with A8 4-6-2 tank and either J21 or J25 tender loco in front of vintage triple doll signal
Whitby yard with A8 4-6-2 tank and either J21 or J25 tender loco in front of vintage triple doll signal
Hull Docks, steam and diesel shunting side by side on lines ballasted with ash
Hull Docks, steam and diesel shunting side by side on lines ballasted with ash

Reading List:-

Not a long list this time:-

LAYOUTS FOR LIMITED SPACES by Nigel Adams, publ. Silver Link Library of Railway Modelling 1996, ISBN 1-85794-055-5:- See Amazon link above;

MAKING TRACKS by Trevor Booth, publ. [as above], 1993, ISBN 1-85794-006-7:- Accomplished work, exhaustively researched and good b&w images full of atmosphere with diagrams and drawings, sketches and close-ups both of models and the real thing.

HORNBY MAGAZINE Special Supplement with the March, 2011 edition of the magazine from Key Publishing, Peterborough, edited by Mike Wild. Colour images showing control mechanisms, track laying and wiring diagrams.

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Comments 2 comments

alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Your instructions talk about using ply, which I'm guessing is plywood here in the U.S. But in the second photograph,what is the thick gray material. Is that foam? Much of the hobby here is moving to foam as subbase, but it's typically colored white, blue or pink. Voting this Up and Useful.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Thanks, alocsin. It is plywood I referred to. Nobody here adds the 'wood' bit because we assume it's wood anyway. As to the grey surface, I'm not sure whether it's the base board colour or not. The white under the track is more likely to be foam. We generally get foam underlay in grey and creamy-white here, but someone might have carpet underlay. It has been recommended. Generally the grey type is used by serious modellers and the cream-coloured material is purveyed by the likes of Hornby. The foam 'dampens' the noise the stock can make on the rails if underlay is not used, especially if you've got DCC 'steam-' or 'diesel-sound'. It can be off-putting I suppose if you've got a steam whistle going off as the train passes through a cutting/tunnel portal and you hear this thunderous racket as the stock rumbles over the board! I've never seen blue or pink underlay, though, but when you're at an exhibition (unless the exhibitors are still in the stahes of completing their layout) you only see the finished product. Have you looked into the galleries at RMweb yet? There might be something there of use if you're in the planning stage of a project. The site was bought recently by Warners, who publish the magazine "British Railway Modelling", and stage annual exhibitions at Alexandra Palace (once the BBC's transmitting station)and elsewhere up and down the UK.

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