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Just checking in gang... the finger is working. It's a little stiff, but I'm playing guitar again. The triggering is gone and today will be the first day back in the shop since the surgery. I finally got my wedding ring back on it yesterday so the swelling is almost gone. It's a minor ordeal, but the payoff is good. If you ever get trigger finger (and some percentage of you will), the surgical solution hurts, but it's momentary and the results are a fully functioning finger. Hopefully, this is the last one that I get.

For the uninitiated, trigger finger occurs when the first pulley in the chain up the bottom of a finger thickens and starts putting friction on the two tendons that are confined within. As a result, the tendon develops a bulge which exacerbates the situation. These pulleys are necessary to keep the tendons against the finger instead of bowstring out when you apply pressure. When you bend your finger at the 2nd joint, the bulge exits the pulley. When you try to straighten the finger, the bulge can no longer easily enter the pulley it just left. In the beginning, the tendon bulge enters with a clicking or snapping feeling. It then gets more inflamed and begins to get sore which causes everything to get worse. Eventually, the bulge can no longer re-enter the pulley under its own power and the finger locks (triggers) in the bent position. You can force it straight with the other hand and it's very painful.

The docs don't know why some people get it and most don't. It may be inherited. It comes to people susceptible to gout. It may also come from repetitive motion, which in my case is what I'm ascribing it to. Playing guitar and building models most of my life has used my hands a lot. My orthopedic surgeon son in law disabuses me of this theory saying he has patients with triggers who do no more with their hands than operate their TV remote. We agreed to disagree. 

If the doctor wants to do the release externally using a the sharp edge of a hypodermic needle, be aware that the pulley can grow back if it's not completely severed. That's what happened in my case. This same finger was released percutaneously about 15 years ago. The pulley re-grew and triggered worse than it did the first time. The only way to really be sure that the strap is fully severed is to surgically open the palm and see what they're doing.

Today, I'll be finishing up the tunnel portals and figuring how much Masonite I need to buy to profile the mountain.

Thanks for the good wishes.

It actually occurs more with women than men. It's not life threatening. It's just a royal pain in the butt once it starts really locking up. Until then, you live with it.

Wish her luck on the next knee. Today's orthopedics do wonderful things. Now I've got a hip pain that my son in law quickly diagnosed as "trochanteric bursitis". It's an inflammation of the lubricating sack on the outside of the bump on your thigh bone. I did a little gardening and came away with that. It was actually more painful than the finger surgery. Go figure. Getting old has its downsides. Once I found out that it's "just" bursitis, I relaxed. My hip and knee joints are doing quite well, or at least that's what I've been bragging about. I didn't want to have to eat my words. Bursitis is an inflammation. Heck! I used to have bursitis in my shoulder when I was in my teens and 20s. I can handle this.

Got to run some errands and then I'll get into the shop... finally. I'll have to chase all the cellar spiders away who like to take over when the air is quiet in a space.

I did get into the shop and even though a little sore, the hand did fine. I was able to finish sand all that patchwork plaster and then repaint the "concrete", plus do a bit of weathering. All of this took about an hour and half. Instead of taking them outside and respraying that finicky Rustoleum sand paint, I used a mixture of Tamiya colors. I cobbled together some form of concrete tan using medium gray, flat brown, flat yellow, buff and white. It was strictly a hit or miss operation. I use the glass bottles that are available at the hobby and mixed up a full ounce hoping that it wouldn't run out before finishing all four portals. It lasted plus there's some more if needed. 

As can be seen the joint compound corrected the disintegrated foam. It greatly extended the time it took to create these portals, but the fix worked and I didn't have to scrap them. Lessons learned: Don't use solvent spray can paint on green foam!

Portal Repair Comp 2Portal Repair Comp 1\

Before trying them on the layout again, I airbrushed some dark gray "soot" under the portal's top and then let it feather out over the top of the portal.

Portals Comp 4

They probably need more weathering. They're not attached so that will come. Behind the portals is my cardboard mountain contour. All the tape let go over the three weeks that I was out of commission. I put it back together for these pics. It's a pretty big mountain considering the size of the railroad. What you're seeing is just a two-d approximation. When it's filled in with all the contours it will be massive.

Here's another shot of the mountain "range". One of my ideas calls for another O-96 switch just in front of the right side inner-loop track which will then tie to the stub siding at the layout's back. This will then create another passing siding of sorts and provide a track to pass in front of the coal mine that planned for the curve in front of the mountain. King Coal may be on the decline, but not on my railroad. I've got a lot of steam power that still needs coal. None of my steam engines are oil fired.

Portals comp 1

The portals will be directly screwed to the layout via those angle blocks that back them up. More structure is going to be added in that indented section at the rear curve. I have the material to make another short L-girder to extend across that space and provide more surface area for the new track and the coal mine.


Images (4)
  • Portal Repair Comp 2
  • Portal Repair Comp 1
  • Portals Comp 4
  • Portals comp 1


I just read your thread about your finger. Last Monday I had to get a shot in my right middle finger for "trigger finger". Being left handed and living in a right handed world, I use my right hand quite a bit. The shot seamed to have worked. the doctor said he can give a shot two or three times before he operates. I am happy to hear the operation went fine for you.

Happy modeling friend,


Alan Graziano

Al, welcome to my world. I'm a righty and the left hand serves as a c-clamp most of the time holding onto everything that I'm working on. Thus my arthritis in my left thumb is worse than the right and I've had more trigger finger problems in the left than the right. Also, guitar playing as a righty means the left is clamping the heck out of the neck to do bar chords, etc. All of this over-stresses the left hand. I firmly believe that trigger finger is a repetitive motion type injury, especially if you're gripping hard over many years. The shot corrected my long finger on left hand, but ultimately didn't work on the ring finger. Always go with the shots first... Achem's Razor. Three shots of cortisone starts breaking down the tendons which is something you don't want. The surgeons don't touch the tendons when they do the release. They do explore it to make sure it's in good shape. So here's to the shot doing the trick.

Well thank you. Be sure and go to the first part in the Layout Design forum. It covers painting the walls to laying track. "New Layout vs. Old - Build Thread" It's only 6 pages long, not a monster like the current thread.

Well, after a long hiatus, between the healing finger and a miserable cold, I finally got back to mountain building. I needed to buy a 4 X 8 sheet of 1/8" tempered hardboard (Masonite), and really couldn't figure out how to get it home. In the past I had the sheets cut at Lowe's to be able to get it into my car, but I really didn't want to have to spend the time to reconstruct it since I needed the full 8' length. I asked the Lowe's associate and he said sure they can deliver, it's just a $60 minimum charge. Okay... let me understand this. I am buying an $7.99 product, but it's going to cost me 8X more to get it home. What's plan B. A nice man (named Kevin) was overhearing our conversation. He had some large boards he was buying and had a pickup. He asked me where I lived, it wasn't to far out of his way and he offered to bring my hardboard to my home. He waited until I bought the other items I needed and then we loaded the product into his gorgeous new Ford F150. I offered him money and he refused saying that I would pay it forward for someone else. He even helped me get the large and unwieldy sheets (I bought two) into the basement. This then allowed me to show him what this was going to become. I got the usual "WOW" when I turned on the lights to the train room. He really enjoyed the visit. There are nice people in the world (especially in Louisville).

Kevin was a kindred spirit. He's a UPS retiree, has grandsons and is a wood worker. He quickly understood what my railroad project entailed.

I took the cardboard mockup and traced it onto the sheet while it was leaning up against my work tables. Both sides of the line would be used with each half representing the two adjacent corners of the mountain's back.

Mountain Pattern Trace

I manhandled the sheet into the layout room and got it onto my cutting table where I saber sawed the profile. Using various quick clamps I positioned the two pieces to understand how the corners would align. I clamped a piece of 2 X 2 to serve as the corner post. The contour worked form me and the tunnel portals will be easy to the incorporate in the total

Mountain fitting pieces

I had to trim the end in the foreground so it would taper down correctly. I also had to trim the back piece so it cleared the electrical outlet. As much as I abhor the unrealistic appearance of that outlet, it's vital to the railroad since it's the main power feed for the whole enchilada. 

IMountain Fitting Pieces 2

I took the pieces back to the cutting table to fasten some bracing on the bottom and fasten the corner piece to the back since I wouldn't be able to reach those screws when in position. I then installed strategically placed wood blocks chopped from a 1 X 2 that will serve as anchor points for the cardboard contour strips. I may need more than I have. We'll see how it goes. If I need more, I'll glue them on since the back will no longer be in position to screw them from the rear. (that sentence sounds a bit more risqué than what it was describing).

Mountain Profile Done

Mountain Back done

I have to buy some more 1 X 2s and 1 X 3s for additional bracing and the various supports needed to support all that cardboard. I may install some Masonite profiles running fore and aft to for more support. With an 8' X 8' footprint, this mountain is going to take a ton of terrain material and landscaping, not to mention all those trees. One step at a time. Don't let the overall size to be a hindrance to work and creativity. If I thought that way, I wouldn't have started building this monster RR in the first place.

I buy finger-jointed dimensional stock at Home Depot. It's premiered, and is very straight. I don't care about the finger joints and they're probably stronger than the wood is without them. They're much less expensive than clean pine and I built the whole new section of the RR with it including all the new L-Girders with absolutely no problems. It's not available in Lowe's for some reason. 

I was seriously considering not building the mountain last week when I awoke one morning. I was thinking that there would be very little space to fix any derails that occur within the tunnels. I was relieved since it would mean a much simpler project to landscape the right end. I went downstairs and checked that area and determined that I did design the sub roadbed to have sufficient space inside the mountain to handle derails. They occur there sometimes due to track misalignments that are caused by shifts in the swing-out door geometry. So the mountain build was back on. 

I'm not convinced that I'm going to build a coal mine there. I'll design the mountain's slopes so it will support one if I decide to go ahead with it.



Images (2)
  • Mountain Profile Done
  • Mountain Back done


I am glad you have recovered enough to get back to the layout!  The mountain is large, but a large layout needs a large mountain in my opinion.  I'm sure once you get rolling, it will be a great addition tot he layout.

Thank you for telling the story about Kevin helping you get the Masonite home.  Yes it is nice that there are a lot of folks out there willing to give a hand.  I like his attitude.  It is also gratifying to know he was able to appreciate the effort and talent that went into building the layout thus far.

Gee, I wonder why that is? I was able to get to that page in conducting a search. Try searching on the topic title and see what happens.

I got more plank material today and got back to work on the mountain. First I built another little L-Girder that's going to bridge that v-shaped gap that I left in the mountain area. I'm not even sure why I did it that way. It was to increase access to the back of the layout at that location, I think. But, I want the mountain to extend out to the natural inner edge AND I want an area that would be suitable for a coal mine if I go ahead with that project. To that end, I'm also going to add an O-96 switch and some O-88 Ross curves to bring a connection to the stub spur that off the back passing track. That track would pass under the coal tipple. Unfortunately, I don't have the real estate in that area for any multiple tipple least I don't think so. I'm at a disadvantage since RR Track is not available for Mac and all of my planning was done on that software using Windows. I've asked Russ Becker to have some sympathy, but he is disinclined to spend the time to do native OS coding. I could run Parallels and run Windows on the Mac since it has an Intel processor, but that involves buying a native copy of Windows which means more $$$. I would only want Windows for two programs, the aforementioned RR Track, and CorelDraw.

Just as a primer since the thread that I described all this L-Girder stuff is apparently not easy to access any longer, let me quickly describe making a girder.

After cutting the web (1 X 4) to length, I measured and cut the flange (1 X 2) and clamped it to the web using quick clamps. Work the clamping from one end to the other to draw out any warp that may exist. Regardless of the warp, when you bring them together this way the girder ends up very straight.

L-girder Fitting

Using a speed bit which drills clearance, pilot and countersink at the same time, drill the flange into the web. Undo the clamps and apply Titebond wood glue, and then screw the flange back together in the pre-drilled (and aligned) holes. The screws are only there to clamp the girder together while the glue sets. Once it's cured, you can remove the screws. They're no longer needed and furthermore, they will invariably be right in a place you want to drive another screw. Murphy's Law.

L-Girder Production

I try to use SPAX star-drive (Torx) screws whenever possible. These are the finest wood screws I've ever used and are available at The Home Depot (not Lowe's). 

SPAX Screws

The shank portion is a smaller diameter than the thread portion which theoretically eliminates the need for clearance holes to ensure a good clamp. I specifically said, "theoretically" because I like to drill pilot holes if only to make it much easier to hold screws while I'm driving them with the DeWalt while looking up under the layout. Incidentally, each box has it's own fresh Torx driver specifically for SPAX screws. I started using them in Germany (they were a German brand), but they are now being manufactured here too.

Here's the girder in its place, but not fastened. I'm going to hold off on that until the mountain framing is almost complete for that access I spoke about.

New Girder

I'll run joists over top to attach risers to which I'll attach the rest of the stuff. Now onto the mountain.

Using my big piece of cardboard, I drew the contours for the mid-former. I decided to have one more contour former to fill out the mountain before adding various vertical and horizontal sticks to which I'll attach all those cardboard strips.

Mountain Former Template

I cut out spaces for the trains to pass (sort of mini-portals) and then cut out the template with a utility knife. I traced it to the other piece of 4' X 8' Masonite I bought (glad I bought two), and manhandled it onto my layout where there are no buildings so I could cut the profile with the saber saw.

I put it back in place and messed around with track clearances to make sure that my biggest car will fit. At first it didn't and I had to remove the piece two more times before I got it with enough clearance where I won't have to worry.

Mountain Former Clearance

I stopped working on this mid-piece since I hadn't fastened the big fascia pieces to the layout. I didn't want to make final connections of the mid-former without the two big pieces being fixed in place.

The beauty of L-Girder is how easy it is to modify and attach stuff too. Since everything is so open you have access below for all sorts of stuff, not withstanding adding mountains or running new wiring. You don't have to drill new holes in large timbers like you would in an egg crate frame made out of 2 X 4s. Using some small 1 X 2 x 5" blocks I quickly made the pieces necessary to hold the fascia in place. Having that corner post tying the two sides together plus holding down the bottom edge to the layout makes it surprisingly rigid.

Fastening Mountain Fascia 1Mountain Fascia Fastening 2

I still have to add some reinforcement to the mid-former and then attach it to the joist it's sitting on. I will have to come up with a scheme to attach it vertically to the corner post since it's coming in at a 45 degree angle. I'll find a way. I just did. A couple of blocks coming in from either side would act as a clamp grabbing the mid-piece. I would use glue to hold the blocks to the back piece since I can no longer get behind to drive screws forwards.

Here's a wider angle view.

Mountain Former FIt

Tomorrow, I add that reinforcement to the mid-piece and then start figuring out how to build in all those intermediate supports before adding the cardboard strips.



Images (9)
  • L-girder Fitting
  • L-Girder Production
  • SPAX Screws
  • New Girder
  • Mountain Former Template
  • Mountain Former Clearance
  • Fastening Mountain Fascia 1
  • Mountain Fascia Fastening 2
  • Mountain Former FIt

When waking this morning, I mulled over connecting the mid-former to the corner post and came up with a couple of mitered cleats that would nest into the corner post. When I got into the shop I cut some cleats and trapped the hardboard between them. I had pre-drilled the holes for the screws so I didn't have to fight it while up on the ladder bending over the mountain's edge.

Corner Cleats

Cleats Installed

The bottom edges were reinforced like I did with the back pieces, and then these were fashioned to the angle joist with more 1 X 2 cleats.

Mid-Former Install

It's not very strong, but it's all stable and will be okay when the cardboard strips are in place. I've been noodling using window screen for the contours, but it's pretty hard to work with and doesn't like compound curves very much.  After getting the mid-former in place, I decided that the portals needed to be permanently fastened so I could begin contouring to them. I checked and double-checked clearances with both the MTH car rack and my 3rd Rail Allegheny. The car rack ran into clearance problems in its middle when it was in the curve and the Allegheny with the boiler swing overhang. After some adjustments, both pieces of equipment passed through with no hangups. I did notice a completely non-related problem.

My swing door interlock is not working. The indicator LED on the panel goes from green to red when the latch is lifted, but the power is not being cut to the adjacent tracks to the open gate. And that's really upsetting. I really need this interlock to work flawlessly every time. I noticed it a couple of weeks ago when running a demo for a guest, and now that I think about it when my GG1 went over the edge last year, I thought it was due to flywheel inertia, but perhaps it was because the power never went off. I'm going to have to open the panel and check out the relay. I know the one that powers the indicator and the time delay circuit are working, but the one that kills the main power may not be.

I made two picks of the overall view of the mountain so I can draw contours and better understand what I want to do now. I moved the outer loop portal back so it was closer to the height of that fascia board.

Portals in Place 2Portals in place 1

On Monday, perhaps I'll start putting some strips and supports in place. I'm not looking forward to all the plaster and paper towels this beast is going to take to cover it all. Oh... and I ordered one O-96 Ross-Ready switch and four pieces of O-88 curved track for that spur extension. I'm annoyed that I haven't a scrap of OSB or ply that I can press into service for this new curved section. I'm going to buy just a couple of small pieces. One quarter of an O-88 circle takes a lot of real estate out of a piece of OSB, therefore, I may buy a half sheet and if I have to, join a couple of pieces together.


Images (5)
  • Corner Cleats
  • Cleats Installed
  • Mid-Former Install
  • Portals in Place 2
  • Portals in place 1

Without having RR Track to test the new interchange curve, I imported a JPG of the layout design into GIMP, (a poor man's PhotoShop) where I cut and pasted the O-98 LH switch and four pieces of O-88 curve into the space that the new track would occupy and the curve fits and clears the tunnel entry with sufficient space to give me some landscape options. Whew... that was one long run-on sentence. I used to get grief about that in school.

With the curve fitting, I again went to Lowe's and got one more piece of 5/8 OSB to make the sub roadbed. In the main layout construction I literally used every scrap of OSB I had. It's not expensive, a little less than $15 for 4 X 8, but I can't that in an Acura. So I had the fellow cut it into 3, 32" X 48" pieces which nicely fit in the backseat area. Since I was chopping it into small pieces, pre-cutting it this way didn't cause any trouble.

Here's the pieces roughed out and just laid into the space. I'm going to wait until the track arrives from Ross to make the final fitting, especially where the big curved piece with butt up against the existing sub roadbed on the right side. There's no rush, but I decided it will actually be better to have this additional layout structure in the front of the mountain to support me when I'm working on the back reaches. It's also important to lay in the final topographical contours of the mountain's slopes.

New Interchange 2

I may ending up moving that portal back an inch or so just to provide some more clearance. I used my "Rota-tape" again to good use. If any of you remember back three years ago, I used this MicroMark tool to draw the curves on the OSB. It's a tape measure with a pin at the center of the head, and a pencil lead on the tape's end. The tape is calibrated to allow for the distance to center. You pull it out to read directly the radius you want, push the pin into the surface and scribe the curve. It's better than trammels since it's so easy to adjust. I made the pieces 10" wide so it's 50" radius on the outside and 39 on the inside.

New Interchange 1

Again, L-girder facilities adding this stuff. A couple of new joists, some risers cobbled together out of 1 x 2s, and there you have it.


Images (2)
  • New Interchange 2
  • New Interchange 1


 If I understand correctly, you are weaving cardboard strips and then covering with some form of mesh and plaster. My suggestion is instead of window screen which an be unruly, there is self adhesive drywall mesh that comes in a 6 or 8 inch roll. I double layered this and then added plaster. Just be carefull in brushing on the plaster as it will dip through. I am sure there are other mixes, but I like the plaster for its drying time and ability to take paint. Just a thought.


Ray Marion 


Ah... the grandkids. They're coming back tomorrow from a trip to Europe with their parents and then leaving for 4 weeks of sleep-away camp this weekend. Then upon return they're headed to California to visit their other grandparents, and then school starts in mid-August around these parts, so I probably will have zero help from them. The oldest it turning 15 in a month and his interests are leaning elsewhere although he's still interested in what I'm doing. The younger one, primarily helped because his "older brother" was doing it, so I'm sure how much of his help is forthcoming. They have a ton of outside interests with music and tennis, plus social life that their days are completely filled. That's all okay. They're growing up great and the RR served its purpose. For me, it's still a blast so I ain't stopping.

For plastering, I use hardshell technique with gysolite-soaked paper towels over the cardboard frame. The dripping through is not a problem. A bigger problem is shaping the frame well enough so the "Cardboardness" of its nature isn't so obvious requiring too much Scupltamold to hide it. I just bought two more bags of it at Scale Reproductions which makes 3 on-hand, I'm probably going to need three times as much. 

Ross shipped the track today so I'll be able to final form the sub roadbed. I'm holding off doing any more shaping until i have the track. I bought some more Spax star-head screws at THD today also. Lowe's, for some reason, doesn't carry this terrific product.

Also today, I got released from my hand doctor so that's on its way to be fully rectified. Any of you out there developing trigger finger problems, the surgery is not too awful. The incision heals in two weeks, the insides take about a month longer, and it takes about 6 months for it be fully normalized. The surgery hurts, but so did the trigger finger and it didn't work either. At least with the surgery out of way, I'm able to anything with that hand including getting my guitar chops back.


Wow, the grandsons are busy!!  Sorry for you, they won't be helping, and have other interests, but we have to encourage them in what interests them.  My dad wasn't interested in trains; I am, our girls never were, but we encouraged them to develop their own interests.

I'm glad the trigger finger is pretty well healed.  Thanks for the comment on how long it usually takes, as my wife is developing one.

Glad I was able to share information that was valuable. 

While the track is supposed to be here tomorrow, I really wanted to get that subroadbed piece fitted so I got creative. I made tracings of an O-88 LH switch and O-88 curved track and then made paper cutouts of them with enough fidelity that I could use them to final fit the subroadbed. It was crude, but it worked. 

Mocked Up Curve

After getting the take off angle how I wanted it, I went underneath the layout and marked the joint line with a fat Sharpie. I cut the angle with my Skil Saw.  Meanwhile, I had stabilized the straight piece on the other end and then traced the mid piece to get its two joint planes. I cut some cleats to tie it all together and pre-drilled clearance holes for the SPAX 1 1/4" screws.

I screwed all three pieces together and tried it on.

Mocked up Track 2

I took the belt sander and cleaned up the edges since the fascia board goes back onto this edge and it works best when the joints are nice and fair.

Tured Edge 2Trued Edge 1

I also put on the cleats on both ends that will support the new roadbed. These are the cleats to join the tapered end to the existing layout. The clearance holes are pre-drilled with makes it much easier to drive screws from overhead when you're under the layout. I use the flexible extension on the DeWalt exclusively when I'm working below so I can hold the drill near my shoulder inside of up in the air while driving screws. The star drive screws don't cam out like a Phillips and you don't need lots of pressure to hold the bit in place.

Interchange support cleats

With the roadbed piece built, I permanently fastened the new girder in place. I needed to use a stand-off block on the left end to ride over top of the Simpson Strong-Tie angle junction plate that holds the old girder assembly.

Girder Spacer Block

The girder's held in place with 1/4" carriage bolts, nuts and washers. On the other end, it's a 90° joint. In this instance I screwed the block to the girder using 3 SPAX screws and then clamped it to the other girder. After checking the joint for squareness, I drilled with the 1/4" clearance drills and used carriage bolts to hold it in place. There are three, which is overkill. I wasn't getting good clamping with the first one and wanted to add some more. This girder will be holding my 172 pound weight so I made it solid.

Girder Junction

The last thing I did today was to cut and attach the 3 new joists. I put up a datum string line to set their outer position so the fascia would go on nice and straight. It's easy to put in joists. Clamp the joist in place, drill a clearance hole upwards from the flange just up to the joist (on and angle), and then screw them in place with one screw on each end. I use a 2" SPAX screw for this. They don't need lateral strength and when the risers and roadbed go in, the whole thing is very rigid and strong.

Interchange Joists placed

I'm going to fit the roadbed assembly on again tomorrow since I think I should make a longer joist for the 3rd one in the background. The curve extends out over the edge and I'll want the joist cantilevered out a little further to give more support.

Tomorrow will complete this carpentry project just in time for the track to arrive. I may hold off actually laying the track until all the mountain mess is complete. I will probably put down the Flexibed vinyl roadbed at this point, but no track nor ballast. This part of the layout is now very over-built since it has three sets of girders in an area that would normally have only two. In fact, I wish I would have decided to build this added track when I did the first build, but again, that's the beauty of L-girder, it's adaptable.




Images (8)
  • Mocked Up Curve
  • Mocked up Track 2
  • Tured Edge 2
  • Trued Edge 1
  • Interchange support cleats
  • Girder Spacer Block
  • Girder Junction
  • Interchange Joists placed

Hi Trainman2001,

I built 3 of this type of mountain with contours. I had to have them portable or removable. I made horizontal supports out of 1" x 1" that I ripped. I then put a block at the top below the peak. I drilled a pilot and installed a screw eye that could be used to lift the mountain. The screw eye can then be taken out when installed.

I first tried aluminum window screen and pinched it to shape and stapled it to the contours. I then painted (brushed on) a thinned mix of drywall spackle. it didn't fill the holes that well. I should have used plaster. Then I painted it.

The second try is a two piece assembly to hide the electric panel for house. I have a 44" tunnel base with contours about 46" high. Same construction and aluminum screen. Only this time I tried a Dave Frary tip that he used on a museum layout. I covered all of the pieces with Great Stuff foam used for sealing cracks and such around the home. It expands and becomes rigid creating a relatively lightweight shell.

This method worked great until it time to carve it. The stuff is hard. I used everything I could find. The best tool turned out to be electric carving knives. It was slow and painstaking for an almost 4' x 4' structure. I gave up and didn't finish it. But, the concept works.

Then, I discovered a thread where a member had used a 4" angle grinder with a metal cutting disk. I ha to access the panel and tested the grinder while it was off of the layout. Bingo! Use the grinder for rough shaping and whatever else you have for detailing.

I tested a few chunks that I cutoff with the standard artist acrylic coloring method. I left any air holes and such. The black was for the first coat needs to a little thicker then when working on plaster. The dry brushing the colors it works the same.

I'll add some photos later of my learning experiences.

This method is fast. This method does make the land form removable and portable. Now that know how to attack the foam, I like it much better.

Oh, the first mountain never progressed past framing. I haven't built that layout yet. Long story...

Thanks Carl. This mountain (and the rest of the layout) is going to have to have a bunch of C4 to take it apart. While the L-girder assembly is basically a screwed-together affair, the rest of the hundreds of pounds of plaster and sculptamold isn't going anywhere. 

As planned, the new interchange base is in and painted. The track came by UPS this afternoon and I ran downstairs after dinner to lay the tracks on the new base and see if, in fact, they were would fit. They did. My paper doll method was close, but not exact, but it will all work. 

I make cleats out of 1 X 2 cut to about 5" for both the riser and the head. I pre-drill all the holes using the clearance drill for the SPAX screw. The riser gets two holes to attach it to the joist, and the head gets four holes; 2 to attach it to the riser, and 2 drilled vertically through the head to attach to the subroadbed. I had a starting point, the cleats attached to the existing straight section. I used a long level and clamped a cleat three joists away and set to level and then cross level and drove in one screw. I recheck both directions again, make any slight mods and then drive the second screw. Now that I have one cleat that's level with the existing platform I level the next cleat between this one and the datum point. With two in place, I put the level across the first two and then just push the third to touch the level, clamp it and screw it home.

Leveling 1st Riser

I screwed on cleat into the three new joists and then set the subroadbed. I first screwed it tight to the cleats at either end and then to the three new cleats. For the remaining cleats, I just push them up tight to the subroadbed and clamp them. I put the screws in the riser and then screw it to the subroadbed. After putting in one per joist, I went back and added some more where the overhang was a bit much. To test it, I sat on it and I don't think it flexed an 1/8". It's amazingly strong.

RIsers in Place

These last cleats were placed flush to the edge so they'll serve as additional places to attach fascia. It's good to think about where the fascia's going to attach at this stage of the build. I've learned that by lots of experience. You can see here that the new roadbed looks very flat.

To finish it off, I threw a coat of Behr Ultra dirt-colored paint, first as a good base color, but more importantly to seal that awful OSB, which I call "Instant Splinter Board" or ISB. You look at that stuff the wrong way and you'll get a splinter. Before painting, I took the Dremel with a cutoff abrasive disk and ground down any screw heads that penetrated the surface. The 1.25" SPAX screws were just a tad long, and depending on how deep the head penetrated the board determined if and how much point was exposed. If they're exposed, you will get cut. Again, I've learned this from lots of experience.

Curve Finsiehd 2Curve FInished 1

The last thing I did was add a little piece of triangular stock to the little spot on the switch end.

Last bit

I'll paint that piece tomorrow.

Here's the track roughly laid out on the new subroadbed. It needs a little straight piece to bring the curves into tangent with the straight track. The straight piece will fall right under where the coal tipple's going to go so it's lucky. Now that I look at it, I'm wondering if I can't add another #4 switch on the straight section that would give me a two track tipple. We'll see. I find cutting and fitting Ross track is much easier than with Atlas. I use an abrasive wheel with the Dremel's Flexishaft. You can make very precise cuts this way.

New Track

I'm still thinking that I should stop with the track now, get the mountain underway and then lay the track. I know it will all work. It would just be more track to mask and keep away from plaster. So tomorrow we get back to the mountain.


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  • RIsers in Place
  • Curve Finsiehd 2
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  • Last bit
  • New Track

Well, the thought about being removable and light-weight is that you can take the supported contours to a work table for the build and finishing. I know that you have a system that works for you. I found it handy to be able to work on the landform off of the train table.

I suppose that you can still do that using your method. Just add supports to the contours where they are and then lift them off.

Thanks for detailing the benefits of L-Girder and your methods. It should be helpful to many. Add some tags to this thread so others searching will find it.

Here's a photo during the disassembly of my test layout.  The hump mountain (spackle on screen) covered the front of the cast radiator, the biggie hides the electric panel and the failed portable spiral module. Mountain is good - I used 1/8" board for spiral and it wasn't strong enough. The two pieces are meant to be transported and placed onto LCCA small corner modules.

Oh, the grandkids table photo, just because. Cranky still complains...



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Last edited by Moonman

I like you having the Thomas Track for the grandkids. You said the spiral didn't work. Any plans to redo it with stronger materials.

I cut and fit all the track today starting with the switch. I has to align perfectly with the swing gate track. I then cut and fit the Flexibed that goes under the switch gluing it down with Loctite Panel and Foam Adhesive in a caulk gun. I'm using this for the Flexibed-to-base joint and Liquid Nails Construction Adhesive for the Track-to-Flexibed joint. The panel adhesive has good tack so the Flexibed more or less stays put. I laid the switch over the existing track and held it down with a weight (in this case a brick) and marked the cut line on the existing track. Using the Dremel with the Flexible shaft and a fiber-reinforced cut off wheel I cut the existing track and pried it up with a putty knife. I then vacuumed up all the old ballast and removed the old Flexibed under that track. 

I re-attached the switch and traced its outline on the base. I then cut Flexibed in several pieces to build up a good base for the switch and ultimately ballast. Reattached the switch and proceeded to attach the entire string marking where the tangent hits the straight and then cutting the straight to correct length. The full-length curved sections weren't quite lining up square with the straight. I needed just a few more inches of curve to make the full quarter turn. In the track scrap box I had a piece of leftover O-88 that had a feeder line solder to it. This was perfect since I wanted to add another feeder in this new section of track. With this small curve in place I was then able to measure and cut the intermediate straight track. I think this slight mismatch is due to the O-88 not containing a full O-88 track segment so you need a bit more to make the full 1/4 circle.

All of this would have been much simpler if I could have designed the whole deal in RR Track, but alas, it doesn't work with a Mac. For this little teeny section of a big layout, hand fitting and trial and error worked fine. I sure couldn't have built the rest of it this way. Also, I export my RR Track design into a graphics program to accurately draw all the subroadbed pieces. As you can see, my paper cutout method made a subroadbed that doesn't accurately align with the track. By making them 10" wide, it didn't cause a problem. If I would have made them narrower I might have run into a problem. As it is, the track curve is graceful and aligns well on both ends.

Track Aligned

With the curve fit, I traced the outline of the whole deal with a fat Sharpie and cut and glued the remaining Flexibed in position. I again used a bunch of heavy objects to hold everything in place. The adhesive gives you some working time so after gluing everything I placed the track back onto the new roadbed and pushed any roadbed that wasn't aligned well with the tracks.

Gluing FlexibedGluing Flexibed 2

With the roadbed drying, I was finished with the track for the day. I'm going to paint the rails brown while off the layout instead of gluing the track down and then schlepping the compressor and airbrush into the train room. I'll spray it in the workshop. I'm also going to wait until the mountain's done before finally fastening the track. This way I can crawl all over the new piece without screwing anything up.

I checked my wire supply since I'm going to have to run two-conductor all the way from the control panel to operate this new switch. It has to run from the panel, under the deck bridge across the back of the layout and then up to that switch. The wire can't go the other way since the swing gate breaks the path. I have lots of two conductor that will work, but it's in a bunch of short sections. I will splice it all together. I don't need any heavy gauge wire since I'm going to keep this circuit that same as the stub track's

Then I opened the panel and to troubleshoot why the interlock circuit is not working. I did some tests and found that power to this area when on the Green Circuit (right-hand throttle on the Z-4000), the circuit cut off properly when the latch was lifted. But when power was fed through the Red circuit (LH Throttle) it stayed on. That immediately told me what's wrong. Each circuit feeds through its own relay. Obviously the red relay is not functioning. I will order another and replace it. The points must be sticking. Unfortunately, I didn't use relay bases and soldered all the wires directly to the relay. Not a big deal, just a bit more work. I took a pic of the relay so I know what I'm ordering. There's really nothing else it could be since all the other wires are tight and unmoved and the relay's the only functioning part of the circuit. While the panel's open for this repair, I will prepare it for the new switch control that will be on it.


Tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday's Father's day so happy father's day to all of followers of this treatise who happen to also be men and fathers. I'll be back on the layout on Monday.


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  • Track Aligned
  • Gluing Flexibed
  • Gluing Flexibed 2
  • Relay

I ordered the two new relays with sockets from Jameco Electronics on Friday and they were at my door step today. I started to make the transition. The sockets are too big for the piece of plexiglas that I was using as a base for the interlock circuits, so I cut a piece of hardboard and screw-mounted the relay socket to it. I didn't have much time today so I just started rewiring the new sockets. At least now, if a relay fails I just pull it out and plug in a new one. It had screw terminals so I'm using spade lugs instead of soldering everything. I also did a test run of my largest diesel (turbine) engine through the tunnel portals to make sure it cleared. It did.

Relay Sockets

The wiring behind this is frightening, isn't it. That's the kind of complexity that cab control brings needing 6 wires to each DPDT toggle switch; three wires to route the power and three more to activate the red and green pilot lamps. If I was to have used DCS, you'd only need a pilot light on the yard tracks, all the rest would be tackled by the DCS. Oh well...

Tomorrow I'll finish reconnecting the interlock. Can't afford to chance running the trains without this safety feature. If the normally open points did freeze closed, I wonder what did that and what to do about it in the future?


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  • Relay Sockets

It's not easy, but every wire is labeled and every termination is labeled. It's just a matter of pulling on one end and seeing what moves on the other. I'm still not sure how I could have done it to make it less a mess. I have 36 track blocks and 26 switches (soon to be 27). Each DPDT has 6 wires and each switch controller 3. The wires are actually bundled and captivated by strategically placed cable ties, but they to make it hard to trace wires. I've seen other people's panels that are much cleaner, but maybe less complex. If I was just controlling blocks and not having cab control, it would just be a DPST toggle and 1/3 less wires. Somebody ought to put out a primer on wire organization. Maybe I will...

Pat, the wiring going to the face plates isn't really that much different. Once they go to the terminal strips your cabling is much better. And you're not running that second wire to the DPDT switches. That's another 26 wires to route and you need a separate terminal strip for the all the red feeds and all the green ones. I'm calling them red and green since there's a red light on one side of the Z-4000 and a green light on the other. I also have an additional LED at each block to register whether it's being powered by the red or green throttle. That's another wire from each DPDT. Plus each of those LEDs has to have a current limiter resistor in series with it, so more soldering and more shrink tubing. I'm not being defensive here. It's that Cab Control just adds a ton of complexity. I'll have to keep it even when I finally get DCS since I'll be running about 80% conventional control. All my field wiring is home run so when DCS arrives it will work with my system. At least I built that into the design.

I'm completely flummoxed! I installed the new relays, even can see their points opening and closing as it's supposed to, but the power to the track is staying on. Somehow, something is back feeding voltage into these circuits. I ran out of time working with it today, but was completely unhappy with the results. I am almost certain that this circuitry worked correctly when I first assembled it, but I can't be sure. Tomorrow I'll keep at it. I really don't like running this railroad without that disconnect interlock working. I've had too many close calls and one engine going over the edge to run without protection. I must be missing something very obvious. When I measured the two NO contacts on the relay base (no relay in place) and had continuity when the wires were connected to either end. The wires were making a circuit from the outside in. I need to think about this some more.

On another unrelated front, we received our new Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. We had a 35 year-old Eames knockoff from a defunct company, Plycraft. We had it recovered 3 years ago, and I had to get the tilt mechanism welded when it developed fatigue crack that extended 270 degrees around the base plate. But it was finally too uncomfortable to sit on and as a Father's Day, etc. present we ordered a real Herman Miller Eames when they went on sale in May.

HM has been manufacturing this chair since its original design by famous industrial designers Charles and Ray Eames. Eames designed this molded plywood icon in 1949, and it was adopted by HM in 1956. It's in many modern art museums in the USA and it's seen on many TV shows and fines homes. The chair is still hand built in Holland, Michigan. At our age, my parents had long since stopped investing in new things especially furniture. My wife and I are not at that stage in our life and find new things keep you young.


Rather than dump the old chair, we moved it downstairs to the shop so my wife will have a "better" chair to sit in when we have to go downstairs during tornado drills. I have my reasonable old desk chair that sits at my workbench, but my spouse only had bad old folding chairs. Now that problem is solved. I'll keep it covered with a sheet so it won't be disgusting and covered with plaster and saw dust when we need to press it into use.



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Not to come off as wise guy but, is the power wire connected to correct terminal? Also can you isolate powered tracks before and after swing gate one at a time maybe by accident that power feed connected to out going side of relay by accident? 

Now when gate is closed are the swing gate tracks powered up now? Or unpowered?

not trying to agitate just trying to help.

Just trying to stimulate the thinking process. Seeing you have green side working undo power from track input and outputs now connect or use some alligator type jumper wires connect the 2 wires from red relay to know good working green relay if issue same then issue is with the track power wires.


Last edited by StPaul

In reading your response and then re-drawing the circuits as they now are, I had an epiphany. Why am I worried about turning off the power to just those particular blocks? It creates a complication having to isolate them, and makes troubleshooting much more difficult. I'm going to re-wire the interlock to interrupt the mains coming in from both throttles before they get to any blocks. That will eliminate any back flow or leakage that I'm getting from other blocks. I would only have to trace two wires into and out of the interlock circuitry. I should have done it this way in the first place. If the gates open, I don't want trains running anywhere. I generally do not run more than one train one a loop so shutting off the entire layout will have no operational disadvantage, without the complexity. I have a tendency to over-engineer stuff. I will make this change tomorrow and see what happens.

Jon, thanks. It is quite a chair. We got the standard walnut with the chocolate leather (also in the standard line) when you get into the more exotic woods and finishes the chair can jump almost 2 grand. It's expensive enough as it is for us. It's really comfortable. There's a reason why it's been sold for over 50 years. The only thing different is they no longer use Brazilian Rosewood as they did originally. My dad as a child (after 1910) had a square piano made out of solid rosewood. It was a terrible piano and replaced by a Steinway Vertigrand that was built in 1905. The rosewood piano then served as a table surface in my grandmother's tailor shop. After her passing, my father had to pay a salvage man to remove it. I'm sure, just the Rosewood today would have been worth something. The Steinway still exists. It's in my son's home where my two granddaughters are learning to play piano. You can't beat a Steinway.

RE: the railroad. I am going to change that wiring to what I suggested yesterday. I'm going to splice the two circuits together that are currently going through the interlock and bypass it, and then interrupt the main two lines coming in from the transformer, thereby shutting off track power to every section when the gate opens, and ensuring there are no other current paths to energize those track sections. Furthermore, I would be assured that momentum can't carry the trains into the breach when the power shuts off. Converting to the relay bases simplifies switching around wires to different configurations versus soldered as they were before.

While the panel's open, I will wire up the new switch controller and mount it on the panel.


A thought on:

"I'm completely flummoxed! I installed the new relays, even can see their points opening and closing as it's supposed to, but the power to the track is staying on. Somehow, something is back feeding voltage into these circuits."

With some Z-Stuff switch motors connected to 1008 relays when the relay clicked the motor would not switch. It turns out the red LED's lights on the switch motors (part of the circuit) were 'leaky' and let too much voltage go through. So even though the relay worked the LED prevented the motor from switching. Maybe something like this is wrong wrong with your LED's?


Well... I made the change and it worked perfectly. I interconnected the main power entry from both throttles through each relay and back. Now when the gate latch is lifted, all trains stop everywhere. This is better since I will immediately know that this is what's happening, instead of having power shut off to the blocks adjacent to the gate. It was a much simpler arrangement. I took the previous wires and simply joined them together. Because I'm feeding both throttles into the control panel, it took two relay circuits to control. One DPDT relay could do it, but I also have a DC circuit controlling the Red/Green panel LEDs that show that the gate is open. The red is on the normally closed contacts and the green on the normally open. It's green only when DC energizes the relay coil through the microswitch being depressed. When the microswitch opens, the relay coil shuts off and the normally closed contacts are engaged lighting the red LED.

With that problem solved, I mounted the new switch controller on the panel. I sharpened a drill with a more acute point angle so it wouldn't fracture the plexiglas panel. But it didn't work. As the drill exited it grabbed and cracked the panel with four radiating cracks. I applied some plexi solvent cement into the cracks to prevent further cracking. I fasten the switch controllers to the panel surface using RC servo foam tape. It's very strong. I had to attach three extension wires to the controller to reach the junction board at the panel's back and then add another three position terminal strip for this new controller. 

The three wires from the controller are green, yellow and black which is common and connects to the grounding buss on the panel. The other two connect with the leads at the other end on the Z-1000 switch machine. On that end there's a red lead that ties into a 14 VAC buss also in the control panel. I needed a three-conductor lead that runs from the panel to literally the furthest most point on the layout. It's about 35 feet. To make a cable, I am piecing together all the 3-conductor scrap I had in my cable box. I had a number of 2 and 3 foot pieces. I twist the conductors together using a Western Union splice, solder them, and apply shrink tubing. When the session ended today I had about 3 more feet to go to reach. My wife asked if it wouldn't have been easier just to buy a piece of the right length and I said sure, but this didn't cost me anything and I'm using up what was a waste product.


Tomorrow I'll finish all this splicing and will wire it all up. Then I'll paint the track, and start building the mountain again. I think I'm procrastinating about this mountain thing since I'm not quite sure about the rest of the support structure and am not relishing all the plaster mess. It not one of my favorite things.


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    Sorry I didn't catch up sooner. The relay bases were the way to go for sure, especially if you are using 2 or more of the same relays. Trouble shooting any suspect relay just becomes a quick swap to see if the problem moved with the relay.  Even on bases with hidden (bottom side) terminals, testing wires, or testing with them, you just pull a relay to expose the female terminals, and use a meter's probes there. The use of a relay socket is one of those things that seems like overkill till it comes in handy, then your very glad you did it

    On thin plexi, try a dull bit and/or even run the bit in reverse, to heat and soften the area with friction, then forward to cut. Thicker stuff, alternate and heat well just before cutting to finish the hole. I first learned to heat plastic playing with an old building toy set. It used a plastic drill-driver to spin and friction melt plastic rivets into place. I was trying to remove them with my  geared hand drill but kept cracking the thin plastic sheets once the rivet head was off. Gramps saw this and then taught me to sand an old bits tip dull to stop grabbing on the cold plastic, and cut on the soft, and/or melt 100% through it spinning in reverse.

    A great toy for me , but they stopped producing it long ago. I'm sure it was because of some less careful kids burning their fingers more than just a bit, or they were breathing the melted plastic's fumes till they were ill  .  Lots of fun though.


 Nice chair! And I'm sure "Auntie Ray" would've appreciated your appreciation.

  I didn't even make the connection till I stumbled on a photo of her doing research on the chairs. I remember hearing "Herman Miller" and Eames a lot growing up, but didn't really know why till I saw her photo.  She was either a very close friend of my Grandmother, or a distant relative, but my aunts called her "Auntie Ray" and she doted on me a bit when visiting. I don't remember ever meeting, or hearing about Charles though.

   We've got some possible one-off, padded fiberglass seats, with bright orange, heavy vinyl upholstery & tan trim, in the stacking DF series (? DF ?- H.M. logo embossed & tagged, but faded, or not fully marked on the tags, and I never found the exact chair/leg/upholstery color combo to know the series for sure. I also had a tan set on a swiveling, rolling, pedestal base, similar to yours, but 4 aluminum legs with a tapering 2"-3"  flat, vertical, profile . Made in the same tan, a chemical spill of some kind melted the vinyl on three before I moved in.  

   I'm looking at the forth tan DF right now, sitting in front of a mini-light table (drawing/drafting) that's fast become my work desk, and testing track since I mounted an 0-19" oval on it.

    Though still very comfortable, I'm awful jealous of yours .My uncle has a similar lounger but "puffier" and in a deeper "woody brown"/ "woody brown", and the stool too. But the stool has 3 taller side panels, and is a squared off, puffier cushion, on one end, and then an arc tapers down like yous on the other (it was once here too).

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