Building a model railway, part 2: track and hills

Last time I covered how we planned the layout of the new railway.  I made the last step look rather easy: having got the broad-brush of the layout right, it still took a lot of tweaking with different radius curves, putting in and taking out short straights, before we got the various elements to sit sufficiently straight and parallel without too much strain on the connectors.  But once that was finally done, the next step was to glue down the parts of the track that were to be at ground level, and weight them with heavy books until the glue dried:

(This picture and the next are taken from the “east”.)

We used normal craft PVA, which is convenient because it’s cheap and water-soluable (we can fix mistakes).  Once that glue had dried, were able to slip in the U-shaped hardboard that I had cut to support the elevated section of the track (I had bevelled the edges with an angle-grinder), sit it on the Jenga-brick supports, and glue the track to that elevated section.

Once that glue was also dry, I glued the Jenga-brick supports in place — sitting under the track support, but also projecting inwards into the inner part of the curve for reasons that will soon become apparent.  We used stacks of one brick flat on its side and one lying on its edge to elevate the track to the desired level — about as low as it could be (to make the track elevation gentle) while allowing enough headroom for a train to pass comfortably underneath.  For the ascending and descending parts of the track support, we used various combinations of full-sized and mini bricks on their sides and edges to provide the necessary rigidity.

Once that was done and the track itself was in place, the whole project started to feel more real and solid.  The next step was to mould the hills.

When we made the old railway, we did this using thin sheets of polystyrene which we’d got from somewhere — we can’t remember where, now, unfortunately.  These we placed on top of each other, cutting each to shape to make incremental slopes, and then moulded plaster of paris over those slopes to make them smooth rather than stepped.  That approach worked well and we planned to do it again, but we couldn’t find the thin sheets of polystyrene that we needed — only big, ugly, hard-to-shape blocks that left huge amounts of super-light statically charged Polystyrene Sawdust Of Evil behind whenever we tried to work with it.

So instead, we used a different approach this time: strips of plaster-impregnated cloth, similar to those used in setting broken limbs or indeed jacketing large fossils.  We used scrunched-up newspaper to outline the desired shape, then laid soaked plaster bandages across the hills and allowed it to dry.  (This next picture is from the “southwest”.)

As you can see, we were building up a hill to meet the elevated section of the railway, and putting in tunnel mouths where it enters and leaves the hill.  The intention was to further build up the semicircular area within the elevated part of the track, and to put a ruined castle on top of it.

At the back of the board (“northeast” corner) you can see that the track goes through another tunnel, which has a hardboard lid, cut to fit the supports, and sitting neatly in place because of more mini-Jenga bricks glued to the underside of the lid such that the fit just inside those supports.  Using the area of hardboard cut from inside the elevated track support, I made a similar lid for the semicircular area, and then built that up by the height of a further on-edge Jenga brick.  This, too, was moulded using plaster strips, as was the hillside leading up to the tunnel at the back of the board:

You may notice at the front of the picture, just below and to the right of the tunnel entrance, is  small depression in the ground contour that leads underneath the lid.  This exists for the practical reason that it will make it easier to lift the lid if we need access to a stuck train, but also has an in-world rationale as a cave.  There is another one on the “north” edge of the castle hill.  These will need some careful modelling later.

How do you make a lid that doesn’t look obvious?  We needed to make it look as though it’s a contiguous part of the hill rather than a separate object perched on top — a mistake that we made with the tunnel lid on the old railway.  For the new one, I hit on a rather obvious plan.  Once the hillside of the lower section had set hard, I covered it with a piece of plastic sheeting that plaster won’t stick to. weighed down with more Jenga bricks to follow the contour of the hill.  Then I sat the lid in place, and laid down more plaster strips extending over the edge of the lid, sitting on the plastic sheet.

This works pretty well: once the new layers had dried, I was able to remove the sheeting, and the edge of the lid sat very neatly on the lower hillside.

While all this structural work was going on, Fiona was also working with Jonno (our youngest, just about to turn nine) on scenery.  In particular, they were building shedloads of trees, by attaching some weird kind of moss to twigs.  We want to make this into a fairly densely wooded area, so more trees are better.  They will come into play near the end of the process, but here they are waiting to be deployed:

We have somewhere north of a hundred trees, which will allow us to sprinkle them around with some abandon.

Next time, we’ll finish the moulding of the landscape and start to lay out the fields, buildings and suchlike.

For now — enjoy this:


One response to “Building a model railway, part 2: track and hills

  1. I’ve found that whenever Heavy Books are needed, I just reference Neal Stephenson; Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle (3 giant volumes), and Anathem .. that ought to be enough to hold a house down during a hurricane :)

    Sounds like a lot of planning to do all this; I will refer back in a couple years when my kids level up.

    Strikes me this terrain would also be useful in training your guys for miniature warfare; Speak Warhammer, and forever be poor.

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