Sieve Experiments

My soil sieve arrived unexpectedly early so I took advantage of the sunny weather to experiment outside and see what I could come up with. I started with some of the contents of a leftover bag of limestone screenings with thoughts of producing my own ballast. (When it’s not cinders, ballast in southern Ontario is usually limestone.)

The sieve came with three different meshes: 1mm, 3mm, and 5 mm. 1mm is about 2 O scale inches so about right for ballast. Or that was the theory, anyway. What I failed to account for was all the smaller bits and outright dust that also passes through that mesh. What I got was good “dirt” material but not ballast.

I then hunted around the house for something with a finer mesh. I was partially successful in that I found a bit of plastic screening but it looks to be about the same as the 1mm. I tried sandwhiching it between two of the screens and did get some “ballast”. I think it looks darn good but the amount produces is such a low ratio to the total material processed that I could not reasonably produce enough to do even a small layout such as Comstock Road.

Not to be discourages, I decided to use the “dirt” as a first texture layer on the foreground test scene. It is undeniably an improvement over brown paint.

Next I need to round up a suitable brush for stippling on glue and shoot some grass on this thing.

Foreground Staging: Useful Scenery Practice

I have been sporadically putting in the foam scenery base of Comstock Road but with no sense of urgency. I think that part of that lack of drive is due to a bit of uncertainty about the next steps. I know what they are, more or less, but have not done some of them in a long time (mixed Sculptamold in various consistencies and configurations) or ever (applied static grass). What I need is a practice project with low investment, material or emotional.

Coincidentally, I have been using my scheduled reading time to catch up on my pile of partially read model magazines and came across the perfect project concept. In the November 2020 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, George Dutka presents the idea of foreground staging. This is a small, simple, scenicked diorama used to provide foreground in layout photography and hide the front fascia. It also provides a way to temporarily deploy structures that don’t otherwise have a home. (If you are familiar with George’s work, you will know that he probably has an extra structure or two about the place. 🙂 )

Given the narrow depth and close to the edge track locations of Comstock Road, some foreground staging is something I can definitely use. The entire scene in front of the traverser will only be about 6″ deep. The diorama is inherently expendable and quick. So I am off! I have gotten as far as the “paint the Sculptamold” phase but am stalled a bit on some materials.

I am assembling appropriate ground textures from local sources, a process much slowed by the current Toronto area lockdown but not impossible. Hopefully, once I get ahold of some suitable sieves I can get this done. With curbside pickup and online shopping only, I can’t stroll the housewares aisles looking at the size of the meshes in the strainers so I have resorted to the online retailing behemoth for a set of soil sieves. Now we wait. And collect and dry used tea bags. By the time I get this done, I should have shaken out all the bugs in a basic scenery system.

As a thoroughly unimpressive illustration of the concept, here is what the aforementioned foreground track looks like with and without my work-in-progress foreground bit held in front of it.

Including of a structure to frame an edge will require a steadier setup than board held in left hand and phone in right. George recommends accumulating a suitable stack of boxes.

About That Foam Scenery

During some of my scheduled shop time, I have been working towards getting all of the spaces between the tracks filled in with foam. The first priority to is relieve my anxiety about any derailments involving rolling stock making a fast trip to the concrete. Nothing even close to that has happened and I am generally well pleased with operational performance so far but it is still something I worry about.

Getting all those non regular shapes cut and fitted is time consuming and got me thinking about what I might do differently next time. I haven’t really settled on anything but I did want to share what I have learned about this approach. Queue the list.

  • Retrofitting foam is fiddly and time consuming. No matter what methodyou chose it will take time and probably involve a mess somewhere.
  • I have tried tracing the shapes onto the underside of the foam from below. This is awkward and not as accurate as I hoped. I always have to trim things down.
  • I have tried “routing” the shapes by tracing the edges from above using hot wire tools. This produces closer shape matches but has the various drawbacks of hot wire tools. Ironically, the Hot Wire Foam Factory router tool doesn’t work as well as the “knife” tool. The router is too short and too thick.
  • Foam board aka extruded polystyrene rigid insulation is very slow to cut with hot wire tools. The Hot Wire demo videos all depict white foam “bead board” and are clearly the intended material. I will consider using that instead for future projects if I don’t need the structural feature of the rigid foam.
  • Polyurethane glue works a treat but squeezing the bottle (LePage 200ml) for long beads is hard on the hands. I have resorted to using a quick grip clamp as a squeezer.
  • T-pins are great for holding foam bits together while the glue cures. T-pin use number eleventy-one.
  • Fumes from hot wire foam cutting are unpleasant. duh.
  • Getting the pictured foam in along the back edge strongly validates the removable backdrop design. It would be a real bother to do from the front.
  • Ditto having the layout lighting working.
  • Glue instructions say to dampen surfaces prior. Choose a stable container for your water supply. Just sayin’…

I expect to have everything roughed in sometime next week and will probably roll straight into some final contouring with additional layers of foam and sundry coatings. I have a jar of Foamcoat I intend to try out in addition to the traditional Sculptamold.

This Thing is Lit

While things have been off and on lately, I have finally managed to get the LED strip installed on (in?) the valance and wired up. The wired up part is only to the valance end as evidenced by the unsightly cord and power brick perched on the layout at back right. It should not take much more effort to get some concealed wires going down the back of the wing. I just need to settle on how to get from there to under the layout in a easily disconnectable manner.

I am happy with the lighting result but the intensity is on the weak side for photography. I will almost certainly add a second natural white strip in the not to distant future. I might make it switchable so I can vary intensity to suit.

I think that I will next have a go at complete the basic landforms and roll right into mocking up buildings.

Light Support

I have finally got the non-hobby project out of the shop and am unstuck on the infrastructure to stick the LED light strips to. As I previously discused in Lighting Mockup, I am going with a simply box. Two strips of 1/4″ birch plywood reinforced with some small blocks and held together with screws and glue should be robust enough.

The only downside is that I need to paint the things before I can actually stick on the light strips. Thus, the assembly is the first bit of Comstock Road’s top hamper to get painted. And the only bit that will be white to maximize light reflectivity.

Here is the assembly in progress shot. Note to self, need yet more clamps!

Lighting Mockup

As stated long ago, I want to light the layout with the actual lighting solution so that I can eliminate variance in light from the colour selection problem and this requires the prerequisite infrastructure. I have happily arrived at that point! Next up is working out how to actually mount the chosen LED strips to the valance/pelmet (I previously referred to it as a pelmet but I am going with valance since it is the more familiar word).

Questions to be answered:

  • One “daylight” strip or a daylight and a warm white?
  • Is one strip bright enough?
  • Can the strip(s) be mounted parallel to the baseboard (facing straight down) or does it need to be angled?
  • Do I need something to shield the back edge to direct light down?

The internet is full of various opinions on these questions with no clear consensus. I thus set out to experiment and determine what works for me. I cut a 4′ long cardboard strip and stuck lengths of both types of strip (the excess not needed from 5m rolls for Comstock Roads less than 4m length). After some practice soldering wires to the pads on the strips, I had a working light.IMG_20200711_140748211

Actual experience was informative. It was immediately obvious that the addition of the warm white strip made the overall effect way too yellow for my taste. (1970’s summer smog is not what I want to remember!)

I am unconvinced that one daylight strip is enough but it is at least adequate. It also has the advantage of only needing the default power brick for a power supply. I have decided include space for a second strip but not delay things on its’ account.

The default straight down mounting seems to be close to enough. The spread of light is more than enough to shine well above the backdrop edge so no need to aim it further back.

Here is the test shot with just single LED strip, no room lights and a car on the front track.IMG_20200711_164101780

You can see in the first photo where I put a bend in the cardboard to simulate some sort of backside restriction of the light arc. The LED strips are bright and nobody looking at the layout from the back is going to appreciate looking in the direction of the strip so something needs to block that. As well, any illumination above the top of the backdrop is wasted and perhaps a distraction anyway.

Here is my makeshift back bend in action. I am not excited by the angled shadows on the tall side boards but I can live with that. If people are looking up there, I have lost their attention anyway. With room lights on, the shadow is also much less prominent.


After some sketching and pondering, I think I will go with a simple right angle back of appropriate length rather than fooling about with an angled piece. Ease of construction isn’t my usual motivator but perhaps I am undergoing character development!

No Visible Means of Support

Way back when, I set a goal of getting Comstock Road self-illuminated so that I would be choosing the best colours based on the actual light conditions. (Or at least the best that I can). I have finally got the enclosing infrastructure to the point of proving that my light support concept can work. The first dry fit is pictured with a clear span of just over ten and a half feet.


The only support is the two visible clamps holding the light support to the side wings. Both side wings now have their front flush mounts to transfer weight directly downwards. I will be adding a couple of clips to each end of the top/side joins for the permanent attachment. Also missing is the front layer of hardboard.

The two sections are hinged together on the bottom edge with the biggest strap hinge that would fit which is not as bit as I would like. In place, the hinge is in tension and easily does the job but when moving the piece separately it is prone to twist. Definitely the weak link. A draw latch holds the back face together at the top but the two together are no match for the leverage of a six foot lever on either end if care is not taken.

It looks like it will do for the first iteration but I expect that it won’t take many outings before a second version gets developed.

I Meant To Do That


When I started this blog, I said I was going to share the mistakes as well as the things that go well. In a non-trivial design oversight, I implemented the above atrocity.  That is the backdrop extending about two inches into the space that the traverser used to travel through. First time operating with the backdrop up was a vocabulary expanding moment.

I cannot claim this was a failure of measurement since I failed to consider the traverser travel altogether. I think the much attentuated construction process allowed me time to forget about such an obvious thing.

On the bright side, the traverser is still usable as-is! The restricted movement means less flexibility and I am not sure that isn’t a good thing. Of the three tracks, the back one can reach the back siding and the runaround track. The center track reaches the runaround and the main and the front track just reaches the main. Effectively, there is a notional runaround with a turnout to the back siding and a storage siding off the main. Much more plausible than the full range of traverser movement. I think I shall keep things as they are and see if I like it. If not, I can rework that backdrop piece to clear things up later.

Flush Mount Clips for Detachable Backdrop

Waaaaay back when, I briefly mentioned flush mount clips in my baseboard plan for Comstock Road. I bought them from Lee Valley Tools and have finally got to the point of actually installing them.


These clips are only 1/8″ thick when together and provide a rigid enough attachment to keep backdrop sections upright on their own. Any sort of serious lateral force would be a problem, though, so I am making a tradeoff for speed of assembly and disassembly. The sections just drop into place with no fussing around. At least once I figured out the best way to mount them.

The product description specifies #6 screws but the ones available to me don’t fit entirely flush in the holes in the clip or are at least nigh unto impossible to get exactly flush. (The photo above shows the #6’s) The tightness of the fit between the two pieces makes any protruding screw top an problem. I did the first side piece with #6’s and it is a jam fit. I then tried #5’s for the other side and they work a treat. So 5’s it is if you plan on taking things apart often. I will have to redo the first side at some point soon.

Here is the stage left end with a back section propped in place for the photo.IMG_20200527_143937521

The backdrops will take a bit longer than anticipated due to a design oversight. The backdrop is supposed to clip onto the back of the baseboards and span the section gap. (Two 4’6″ pieces will do the visible part before the fiddle yard.) Also spanning that gap on the back is one of the clips holding the sections together… I will have to do something like frame around those points and cut suitable holes. I am not sure what the solution would look like if I planned for this but I have enough leftover 1×2 to bodge up something that will work.



Woodwork Complete

Yesterday, I finished assembling the frames for the backdrop and light bar for Comstock Road. Other than whatever accessory mounting work might come along, that concludes all the actual cutting of wood with only the gluing of hardboard panels and installing mounting hardware left to make things actually useful.IMG_20200523_135222617

I came up with a better temporary assembly jig by putting the framing square on the outside. This allows me to just bang both pieces into the corner and clamp; much more efficient than having to separately align the ends with the square on the inside.

Hopefully, I can get the panels glued on over the next day or so and start getting things mounted. If all goes according to plan, Comstock Road should look dramatically more complete in just a short time. Of course, some actual scenery wouldn’t go amiss, either…