That's a cool story, thank you for sharing! I have a soft spot in my heart for industrial designers. I went to Michigan State specifically to be an industrial designer. They had a program that "featured" automotive design. I was accepted at 3 other art schools, but MSU was my choice for that reason. As it works out, I was a jerk, (immature) and missed a pre-registration notice, skipped a pre-requisite and ended up getting into a tiff with the professor. Next thing I knew, I was out of the major and floundering around my first term of my JUNIOR year. It was a difficult time in my life. Ended up switching to industrial arts education. Became a shop teacher, then industrial trainer, then training manager and so on. Made lemonade. But I still really love good design and good industrial design.

Just to close the loop:

In addition to amazing bentwood office furniture, the Eames's are also known for a series of incredible short films. One of them is a 1957 short entitled "Toccata for Toy Trains". It is hypnotizing. You can watch it on YouTube:

I will seek it out.

I got all the wiring complete to the new track section.

For track power I screwed in a 2-position screw type barrier strip under the place where the new track sections pigtail will lie (I drilled a hole through the subroadbed at that spot) and tied a heavy 2 conductor line back to the last jumper spot on the (then) stub track. The track's pigtail was already soldered onto the piece of scrap O-88 curve that I used for the last little bit to complete the curve. This new section will be an extension of the block so I won't need another toggle switch. 

For the new switch my long, spliced three-conductor cable was actually a bit too long and I hacked off about 2'. I then attached a 3-conductor junction block under the hole drilled to carry the new switch's Z-1000 switch motor wires. These are Euro-style connectors and I use compression ferrules on the wire ends. They're a neat way to terminate wires with good reliability. I have a professional crimper for these. It wasn't cheap, but I've probably completed 1,000 terminations with it. You can get all this from Ferrules

I also have another tool that's terrific for under-platform wiring. It's an Arrow model T2025 staple gun with the semi-circular anvil and drives a curved-top staple that is perfect for clinching wires.

After running all the leads I tried the switch and it worked. The first pic is the new switch controller powered up. It's the AA switch. I'll have to put on a prettier graphic to match it to the rest of the panel. That's the trouble with clear panels with the graphics on the back. Very hard to modify. The second is the new switch with the LED indicating the divergent path. The switch is not fastened down, not painted and was removed for painting after the test was completed.

New Switch Control liveNew Switch Live

My older Z-1000 Ross switch machines didn't have the pigtails pre-fastened to the little internal circuit boards. They had set screws that pressed the wires down onto a solder pad on the circuit board. Getting the wire to seat just right was a challenge and they did let go periodically. Now the three wires are soldered to this board and are long enough to splice into the system wire. I run all field connections to junction blocks so pieces can be removed, fixed, etc., without cutting wires. The field wire has the 14 VAC feed and the panel switch has the ground. I have all of this occurring in the control panel. The ground line goes to a ground bus, and the 14 V (red) lead ties into a 14 VAC bus on the panel contact plane. I then run the 3-conductor leads to each switch in the field. The red wire splices to the red wire from the switch machine.


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I woke up thinking about support all the cardboard strips on the mountain's large surface area. I realized that in addition to the vertical profile line, I needed to establish the horizontal profile. So I thought of using horizontal sheets of cardboard supported at various places and at various levels. Before getting into it, I decided to finish up the track by painting the edges rail brown. This time, and especially since I'm painting the track at the workbench and not when its all glued down, I used some Tamiya grey primer as a first coat and then the Joe's Paint rail brown. It gave me much better coverage and very even coloration. I masked the track pins and the switch machine, but let the spray go where it will for the rest.

Interchange Track Paint 1

After painting and when it was mostly dry, I go over the rail heads with an alcohol dampened rag to remove all paint. After using the dampened part, I got back with a dry rag wrapped around a finger to remove the remaining film. The rust on the ties looks normal, and the little that gets on the center rail looks okay too. I know I posted this a long time ago, but there is an extant example of real track with a center rail. Some of the U.K.'s regional rail has track with a black (and hot) center rail. Rail looks really good painted.

Interchange Track Paint 2

Here's that 3rd rail. I took this out of a train window in London when there in 2000. I really couldn't believe what I was seeing. It made having three rails much less troublesome. My arrow is pointing at the wrong rail. Notice it's held off the cross-ties with insulators.


Now onto the mountain. I'm putting the cardboard that wrapped the Eames Chair to good use. I've been collecting cardboard for a while just for the mountain and right end terrain work. I started on the right side and made some standoffs to support the contour sheet. 

Mountain Contour 1

And here's the piece laying across. I will use a staple gun to fasten the cardboard to the standoffs. As I was doing this I realized that I didn't need all that depth. I only need cardboard at the contour face and enough behind it to provide some stiffness. I had originally cut a gigantic wedge to go all the way into the corner. I hacked off that back part, but needed to leave what's there to tie into those uprights. On the left side I will be more judicious in my positioning of the supports and use less cardboard.

Mountain Contour 2

One layer is not enough so I'll put a second and third layer. These will be supported by styrofoam blocks instead of lumber to reduce complexity and keep the whole thing lighter. I just has to support some hardshell plaster work and maybe some rock castings. On Monday I'll add more cardboard hopefully reaching the point when I can start weaving in the strips and then plaster. I've also been holding onto some styrofoam for a long time just for this eventuality.


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Back to Eames for a second. It stands to reason that a person that can design one of the coolest chairs ever, would also love toy trains. I wish I had met him. In fact, I'm sitting in that chair right now as I'm writing today's report.

After another long hiatus which included a road trip over the 4th, and then a week to decompress and spend more time playing guitar, I got into the shop and made some progress on mountain building. 

Just one more digression. I have two very nice guitars and am finally getting some skills back after the finger surgery, and I just discovered something totally cool. My MacBook Pro came with Garage Band included. It's a program that lets you record music in very complex and complete ways. I tried doing some guitar work using the computer's built-in mic, but it was terrible so bought a digital converter to take the guitar signal directly into Garage Band. That opens up infinite possibilities since there at least 40 amps simulated in Garage Band with almost any effect imaginable. But that's not the cool part. 

After messing around trying to record some original music, I found out that if I played a tune on iTunes, I could simultaneously play my guitar through Garage Band. Both sounds are excellent. This enabled me to directly play with a selected song and even match the exact tone of the guitars in the recording. It's amazing. I've actually started learning things from the 1970s. How bold can you get?

Now, back to the mountain.

Instead of continuing to use lumber to support successive tiers of cardboard formers, I chose some styrofoam packing blocks that I've been saving for this project. They don't weigh much, won't have to support much and I was able to cut them to shape using my MicroMark heavy duty hot knife. 

Mountain Former 2nd tierMountain Tiers Right SideStyrofoam Cut

Here's the cutter. I had to increase the heat setting so it would get through the thick stuff. It creates a little styrene smoke which is not so good on the eyes (experience talking). It cut fast and pretty straight and leaves no copious amounts to those annoying beads. 

MicroMark Hot Styrene foam cutter

I used Loctite Foam Panel Adhesive to hold the blocks in place. I'm using a hot glue gun to hold all the cardboard to cardboard joints. Thank goodness for hot glue. It makes a difficult and messy job pretty easy and quick. I added a couple of wood standoff to better support the back edges of the cardboard which was pretty floppy. Once all the basket weaved strips are in place, that floppiness probably won't matter too much.

I only did the formers on the right side and then wanted to start putting in some cardboard strips. I did this for two reasons: I wanted to get an idea of how it would go, and the formers needed some stabilization on the right side before I started adding them on the left. I wanted the woven strips to provide this stability and I believe it will work.

Mountain Weaving 2

I'm bending a tab on the strip's bottom that hooks under the horizontal former and gives me a place to put the hot glue. Even with this small amount done, it's already getting much more stable.

Mountain Weaving 1s

To expedite cutting a gazillion strips you really need to have one of these.

Paper Cutter for Strips

I got this for free when a publishing office was breaking up shop in town. It's not particularly sharp, but it's okay for my purposes of cutting strips and occasional paper cutting. Next session I'll keep cutting and adding strips. I only have three long sticks of hot melt adhesive so I'll be heading to Lowe's to get some more. 


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Just what did we do before they invented that stuff? I know what I did. I made a mountain on my first layout in 1957 out of chicken wire and paper mache. It stunk up the basement for a week while it dried. It's so much better now.


  I never liked hot glue much.  I might have plugged them all in(4 counting the cordless), maybe a dozen times total in twenty years

Since I started my layout scenery, I've used nearly a pound of sticks on it  . I bought two boxes on clearance sale for a buck each back in the early 1980's.

 You know I had a Blonde recliner die on me a while back when a side frame split. It must have taken a jig to hold  it and then glue it properly at the few areas with glue, an "all at once" assembly with no chance at getting right without total disassembly of some glued parts, and that just resulted in more splinters, and a broken handle on my favorite rubber mallet when I broke an arm and the handle with a simple miss  Into the giant garbage can it all went .

  Still it was 60 years before those leg angles took their toll on the grain, and the original owner, my other Grandfather was a very big man, like 6'8"-6/9", 260-280. It died under a relaxing 220lb "Vernor's Knome".

My pal looks like a tall Vernor's mascot

     I've used window screen, and everything in the basement closet. Woodfilller , spackle, plaster, and even paper mache with wallpaper paste.Weighs a ton

  I molded a brick wall on hardboard using latex woodfiller and a "food grade" brick mold before too. About 5 years old now with no issues.

Exercise day and wanted to hear the Presidents speak at the memorial service in Dallas so I didn't get downstairs until 3:30. That being said, it wasn't a wasted day. Cut and glued in some more cardboard strips as I was working down the right side. I also needed to build some support on the existing platform to support my weight as I need to access other parts of the mountain.  It is surprising how the woven structure begins to firm up sufficiently to support all the plastered towels which will follow. That little cardboard wall in the foreground is just another form of support for the strips. I'm going to add some more of these as I move across that broad, shallow area at the lower levels.


The towels will not hide the cardboard weave pattern. They will just build the overall shell. It will be up to Sculptamold and rock casting to finish out the topography in a more realistic manner. I may have to use paint brushes taped to a pole to paint this beast once all the plastering is done.

In the next pic, you can see a piece of OSB that just fit nicely between the mid-wall former and the two new 1 X 2" vertical supports I added today to give more support to the overhanging (and floppy) horizontal cardboard former. With this piece of OSB I will be able to kneel or sit on that portion of the layout without worrying about anything. I will also use this support of the left side when I start working on that. 


Sitting under the OSB is a piece of cardboard to protect the existing track that it's all sitting on. I find that if you spread the load, Ross track can take some loading without damage. Tomorrow will be a longer work session and I will hope to get the right side stripped and start on the left. Depending mostly on cardboard, I don't think I'm over-engineering this.


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Hi Trainman, Good work, as always. I just wanted to give a plug to for their rock molds. They were a bit expensive and I used 3 different molds to mix it up.

I have also seen videos from Lex Parker where he would make his own molds... Something you would do.



Thanks! I've looked seriously at Bragdon for the reasons you've given. At the moment I'm holding off spending too much on the rocks since I'm also working with Terry Christopher of Custom Signals to design the signaling system for this large pike. It's going to cost a ton of money depending on how complex and complete I end up going. I don't want the mountain to sap too much of that.

I've actually put out a feeler to Lex Parker to rent molds that he's not currently using. I have not received any response to this request. This mountain will be the last big rock job that the railroad will need so the cost of buying molds just doesn't make that much sense to me. I would love to just rent them (or borrow them...hint, hint). As to making them. If you've read what Lex went through to make his molds, you'd realize that most of us aren't in the geographical location to do that nor can spend the time doing it. I did make some latex molds for my curb cuts and it took a week to do it.

I got a lot done today! The right side is only hours away from having all its cardboard base completed. I made some more standoffs to support the strips over the longer runs using both styrofoam blocks and cardboard creations. They don't need much strength and they get stronger when a ton of strips are hot glued to them. For the cardboard standoffs I made a shallow cut with the utility knife to facilitate bending and then added some square reinforcements in back to hold them together. Hot glue used everywhere.

Mountain Build Standoff

Here's the whole raft of them glued in position. I gauged their height based on the height of the fascia boards.

Mountain Build Progress 3

With them in place I started adding strips. This time I found a way where I could sit on my "seat" with my legs hanging down into the layout and was able to work pretty comfortably only bending 90 degrees at the waist. I did all I could from that position and then moved to the ladder on the right side to do the rest. It's not strong enough to sit on, but it's sure strong enough to hold up plaster soaked paper towels.

Mountain Progress 4

Boy! That's a ton of cardboard and I'm not even half done. That being said, the under support would have to be much more robust if I was going to use screen or chicken wire. The cardboard exerts very little stress on the supports. I will grant that using wire would be faster. This process takes a lot of time.

One reminder: I wear leather gloves when working with hot glue and don't get burned. Period!

You'll notice that there's a blank spot in the middle. That's intentional. I mocked up the "Frenda Mine" that I'm going to create for the mountain side and set the height and depth of this ledge to fit this future model. It was much easier to build this in, than to do a drastic cut after the whole deal's done.

Coal Mine Mockup 2

Amazingly, the tipple falls right at the track location. That's totally luck since I didn't really measure that when I laid down the roadbed. The mine shaft will go straight back to the mountain and there's space for that.

I shaped the cardboard around the far right portal. The wall will be created as rock cut using Sculptamold as I did with the ravines. I also added cardboard on the extreme edge which will blend the mountain into the fascia board.

Edge TreatmentRock Cut base

I stepped away to look at the construction and realized that I would have to do the plastering of the upper and middle reaches before finishing the cardboard work at the lowest level, IF I still want to have the luxury of using my "seat" to comfortably reach those areas. If I were to cardboard all the way to the bottom, I'd have a heck of time working on those slopes. I need on of those MicroMark ladder thingies with the platform you can lay on over the layout. But I don't have one of those. If I was going to spend that kind of money, I'd buy a spray booth. I will plaster down to within a couple of inches to the lowest cardboard edge and then without needing a ladder finish the lowest level cardboard and plastering. These thoughts had not entered my mind until I was able to really see the size and scope of what's being created.

I also need to pay attention to when to install tunnel lining behind the portals. I probably should have put them in before covering them over with any cardboard.



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Thanks Max! It also fun to build all this stuff.

While I exercised today, I got to it early enough to actually get some quality shop time. Or... that was the plan. I needed to go to THD to replenish my hot melt glue supply and buy some more strip lumber. Again, my Acura's battery was dead. It was dead when we got back from the July 4th trip and I had to jump it from the Buick. It had a Die Hard battery that was just 3 years old. I took it to Sears and they found nothing wrong. So... I bought a trickle charger to keep it charged when we're on long trips. That was the solution until today when it was totally dead again. Again I jumped it with the Buick and took it back to Sears. This time they found the dead cell and I got $87 off due to the pro-rated warranty. While waiting for the car to be serviced I bought the aforementioned hot melt refills AND a new shop vac. My daughter borrowed mine several days ago and I wasn't very happy with it. It had a smaller than usual hose diameter which plugged easily and it was noisy. Each generation of shop vac I've had is quieter than the previous. I actually turned this model on at Sears to hear it. It's not bad, although my wife contends it's still very loud. It's a 6 hp model and had a 2.5" hose which is standard.

So... when I finally got downstairs it was almost 4 p.m. and didn't do a heck of lot. I did try out the new vac on the sawdust around my chop saw. It really sucks... literally!

So all I did get done was this little bit of transition near the coal mine area. The standoff directly in front of the hot glue gun was also added to support that long run.

Cardboard Slope

I really need to do the tunnel liners before I go any further or I won't be able to get to them. I don't want to make a big deal project out of it. I just want it to be black so you can't see the structure when you casually glance into the openings. From the control panel, the tunnels are far away and you really can't see into them. I though about carving them out of styrofoam, but then I'm thinking about just using cardboard. I know that folks have used crinkled aluminum foil and there are casting molds (in HO of course) to cast realistic tunnel liners. Some folks use outdoor corrugated rubber drain pipe cut in half, but I don't think I can find it with enough height to accommodate my enlarged portal openings without be simply huge. So ... any thoughts?


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The mountain is shaping up nicely.  For tunnel liners, I used scraps of blue Styrofoam and temporarily put strips of black duct tape I had for another project.  It's too shiny that is for sure, but better than open spaces.  For a permanent solution, I have thought of the crinkled foil, also, I have thought of putting in a carved plaster wall near the portals to represent the same stone the portals would be made of.  Kind of Pennsy style cut stone look.

I am of the crinkled aluminum persuasion. You really only need it where your sight-lines require it, which more often than not means only one side of the track. I have always found that it gets plenty dark inside the tunnel without getting compulsive.

tunnel atunnel btunnel ctunnel d


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Thanks for the input. I went with the crumpled aluminum foil. I woke up this morning thinking about building them out of plaster, styrofoam planks glued together and carved, and finally the foil. All the other methods just seemed to elaborate for a component that supports no load, is practically invisible and only has to look dark.

As usual, I tend to over-design and over-build, but the whole project just took an afternoon. I used Reynold's Heavy Duty foil folded over a couple of times and then built some cardboard framing. This added enough stiffness to make the whole deal work.

I first just folded and then crumpled the foil to see how it would work in the tunnels. I made no attempt to put a ceiling on the liner since it would be invisible to anyone other than someone driving the train.

Tunnel Liner First Fit

When the size looked right, I started to add the cardboard framing. I traced some of the Ross curves I'm using and cut the cardboard inside and outside curved reinforcements. These were hot glued to the foil. I used three longitudinal pieces and some cross pieces to form the frame.

Tunnel Liner Framing

On the outside curve, I had to trim some of the frame to clear the wing wall that will be in place on the outer tunnel.

Tunnel Lining Frame Trim

For the two tunnels on the right side I made liners for both sides since a view can walk over to that area and see the other wall. However, on the left side tunnels there's no way to view the near side wall so I didn't need to make liners for them.

Tunnel Liner Fitting 4

After they were all framed and shaped properly, I took them outside and primed them with Krylon Gray. It was hot out and the paint dried very fast, so I was able to bring it inside and air brush Tamiya Nato Black (like a weathered black) for the final color. This too dried quickly so I was able to get them installed on the layout again using hot glue. The results met my expectations and got the job done swiftly so I can get back to cardboard strips. The crinkled foil certainly looks rock-like.

Tunnel Liner PaintedTunnel Liner Complete 2Tunnel Liner Complete 1

I didn't install the tunnel liner on the lower left portal. In fact, I unscrewed that portal and set it aside. When I laid my work plank across the track to reach that back portal, it became very clear that access to that part of the mountain to do stripping, plastering, painting and landscape will be challenging at best and very difficult at the worst, and I'll be able to reach more to the back without that portal installed...yet. So... I'm going to stage the mountain building even more than on the right side.

That being said, I stared at the left side and realized that because all those little white blocks are facing in the right direction, I can use a different method of framing up for the stripping. Here's my attempt to draw what I'm describing. What you don't see are the stiffing ribs vertically glued under the cross pieces. I think I can stiffen cardboard sufficiently so I don't have to use hard board. Cardboard is so easy to work with being cut with a utility knife versus a very noisy saber saw. The only hitch is each piece needs to curve outward with a mountain-like contour. When I first drew this I had them as straight planks and realized I wasn't making a mountain... I was making a pyramid! This idea still may not work. I try it out and see. Otherwise I have to go back to adding vertical wooden supports to hold up the contoured cardboard layers.

Mountain Framing Mod

Tomorrow's Saturday so no more work. Monday I have a checkup (routine) and probably won't get anything done till Tuesday. Y'all have a nice weekend.


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Very smart idea for the walls... I wish I thought of that. I did molds and Hydrocal.

" I made no attempt to put a ceiling on the liner since it would be invisible to anyone other than someone driving the train."

Consider a ceiling if you intend to do videos.

There will be videos, but there still won't be a ceiling. Once you're past the first 10" or so they'll be no walls or liners of any kind so those first few inches don't bother me. I can't take credit for using foil, but I think my method of reinforcement using the cheapest material there is—cardboard from all the stuff we get delivered—is rather novel. 

I'm still building this mountain in my mind to see how I'm going to manage getting all the levels of cardboard framing in place, and, more importantly, how the heck am I going to get the plastered soaked towels to all those levels. I can't reach the far reaches from the platform's edge without actually being on the layout and that means I have to do it in stages, including the framing and the plastering. This will me some obvious joints between fresh plastered towels and those that have set up while I'm putting in more cardboard strips. I'll make it work.

Perfectly timed article.  I am just at the stage of building a tunnel and realized I needed a liner.  Your approach works for me.



I know exactly what you are going through, I  had a way different design in my head before my mountain was done.  My problem was to drop the track one foot at a 4% grade. That is about 25 feet of track on a small table with a 48 inch curve..

I also had a much longer tunnel to start with, then my wife said "who is going to see the train in a tunnel?" A good point so I made it way shorter... Maybe you need to talk to your wife? :-)






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Oh... my wife says that about the entire railroad. "What did you have to make it so big for?" I tell her, "Size does matter in diamonds and other things, especially model railroads." And if I complain about the amount of work she says, "It's your hobby... stop complaining!" She's actually pretty good at cutting through the BS and telling it like it is. That's why I married her 48 years ago.

I've held all the grades on the RR to less than 3%. Even with that, I've got problems with tender couplers on two of my 3rd Rail big Pennsy engines uncoupling with the passenger train in tow as it crests the grade. My MTH diesels have no such problem and I frankly haven't worked on a solution yet. My grades are truly shallow and the couplers should work.

Trainman2001 posted:

I've held all the grades on the RR to less than 3%. Even with that, I've got problems with tender couplers on two of my 3rd Rail big Pennsy engines uncoupling with the passenger train in tow as it crests the grade. My MTH diesels have no such problem and I frankly haven't worked on a solution yet. My grades are truly shallow and the couplers should work.

The problem you are describing isn't due to the grade per se, but rather the transition between grades. The transition has to be gradual or it will cause constant headaches. 

Could be. I did make sure that the grade's apex was not at a rail joiner. I also pre-bent the best I could the Ross track so the transition from grade to flat was a smooth curve. I also think there's something wrong with the coupler mounting. Right now the engine's sitting on the shelf. After this monster mountain building project is finished maybe I'll spend some time getting to a solution.

Got back in the shop today. I spent yesterday at Scale Reproductions buying the Revell 1:48 B-17 kit for my protege. I also purchased a Verlinden Photo etch and resin upgrade kit, AND an Eduard highly detailed radial engine and cowl set which is resin and photo etch. I'll build this model while plaster is drying on the mountain project. Having more projects than time is my idea of heaven.

So today I finished putting cardboard strips on the right portal area. So the right side of the mountain is as complete as I can get it before plastering. As I noted before, I have to be able to put my work platform in place to reach the flanks. Once that's plastered, I strip and plaster the remaining portion at the bottom.

Mountain Rt Portals Base 2Mountain Rt Portals base 1

I started to do the left side working on the top first. I found out that I can reach over pretty far from the ladder to frame and strip the summit. For the rest of the slope I can reach it from my work platform. The platform was cantilevering too far out into the layout and was getting unstable, so I fastened a temporary leg below the extremis and it keeps it nice and steady. The more I'm working on this, the larger this mountain seems to be. It didn't seem so humongous when I drew it into my RR Track initial plan, but it really is a beast.

As I note on my last post, I am running the cardboard "Beams" across from on attachment block to its opposing one. To make the beams, again I turned to double layer box cardboard (this one from the new shopvac) and then gluing reinforcing ribs underneath to stiffen them so they'll support the strips and plaster.

Cardboard Bracing

Working from the ladder I hot glued the top three cross braces. I needed to do some light clamping to keep stuff in place until the hot glued set.

Mountain Lft Upper Frames 2

It's going to look very much like my Illustrator sketch.

Mountain Lft Upper frames

I was able to strip the top two braces. It's an odd angle working from the ladder and after a short while my back started to kink up and I called it a day. I suspect this sides' framing down to where I need to hold off before plastering should be done in less than a week. 

Mountain Lft Upper base

I took this shop from the other end of the layout which shows the mountain's depth. From this view, I probably should bite the bullet and paint sky and clouds on that bare concrete end wall. Not right now though... You'll notice that one tunnel portal is removed and sitting on the opposite platform. I need it out to the way for the work platform. Once those uppers areas are complete, I'll reinstall the portal and finish up the bottom.

Mountain Status 1


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I am really jealous. The point you are at is my absolute favorite phase of layout-building. Once you start plastering, the whole layout magically transforms from work-area to terrain.  I also love the scale you are working at.

I hope you don't mind if I kibitz just a little:

In this part of the scene

I don't think you are going to like the final result. I think it will look like the jutting arm of the terrain was built to justify the portal rather than the reverse. No real tunnel would be built that way. If it were me, I would build out the steep contour in the foreground a bit and turn it into a cut right up against the foreground track.  Just my $.02

You're right. It looked that way to me too. It's just cardboard and I can change it quickly. I sort of got myself in a conceptual trap when I ran the strips to the portal's top. I will extend that portion out and do a cut just like I did on the other side of the railroad. Much better to find these things when it's just a bunch of paper products and not a plaster wall.

So based on Pete's input, I ripped out that wall next to the front right portal and redid it to make that portion a "rock cut". It required extending the cardboard support plate and then applying the strips to fill it all in. Before attempting to reconfigure this area, took an engine with a huge overhang, my 3rd Rail Pennsy S-1 and drew a clearance line around it. That's the "no-pass" line for the subsequent terrain. Speaking of terrain, has anyone see the new W-S foil terrain base. It's very clever and if my mountain weren't so freaking big I would like to try it. It's a very heavy duty foil backed by some form of fabric. You bend the foil any way you want to form a landform and then apply plaster cloth to the fiber backing to form the hard shell. The aluminum replaces all this cardboard. The downside: for 18" X 72" cost about $20. For a small HO mountain that wouldn't be so bad. For a massive O'scale affair, I would need 6 rolls of the stuff. So over $100 just to get the landform... no plaster, no paint, no ground cover, no trees. For small jobs it would be terrific.

Rock Cut Clearance Measure

Here's the piece of heavy board support by triangular cardboard deals that are packing directly from a shipping box that held my shopvac and cut to length. Everything as usual is hot glued. I'm using a ton of hot glue, I hope the fumes aren't too toxic. I find that the double layer board like this that held an LG flat screen TV, is good for structural stuff but less agile when doing the stripping.

Rock Cut Extension

Stripping was straight forward. I put in an intermediate strip behind to add some stability. I used some clamps for a minute or so until the hot glue melts.Rock Cut Assembly 1

Here's the completed "rock cut". The unfinished open area behind this is where my scaffold plant will go when plastering the middle reaches and will need a different contour because of the coal mine.

Rock Cut Complete

Back again to the left side. I finished stripping the top most portions that I could reach from the ladder, and then added two more tiers of cardboard framing. The bottom most has a vertical drop component since the block on the right is lower than that on the left. I just didn't want the cardboard plank to be a flat (boring) slope. This meant making a more complex cardboard assembly and lots of hot glue.

Mountain complex Framing 1Mountain Complex Framing 2

Here are those two in position. Next session I'll strip this and move on down the mountain. With the scaffold plank I can sit with my with my legs hanging down into the openings in the open grid layout framing and comfortably strip this part of the mountain. I'll have to do just a little bit sitting on my knees (UGH!) to reach the upper level. Plastering all this isn't going to be easy. I also used some staples on the ends on the blocks since I didn't trust hot glue alone to do the job. These are stressed joints and would be a disaster if they let go. I may also add a vertical support to the center if it ends up drooping too much.

Mountain Framing 2nd application

With all the reinforcement ribbing, those cardboard planks are pretty stiff and will hold the plaster up until it sets. I wouldn't want to stand on it. And the price of this pile is $0.00 plus the price of the hot glue (Sears 20 sticks for $7.95)


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Last edited by Trainman2001


You can add strips to two rows if you're only working on the project for an hour. I had to paint our great room's walls with four different shades of light browns to pick the one that's going to be used before we replace the carpeting that we've just bought. And then the HVAC guy came to replace the condenser fan which had developed an imbalance. So I finally got downstairs at 4:00. 

For the left side I'm simplifying the stripping since the cross pieces are wide enough to provide a lot of support without having to weave too many horizontal strips. I will probably be able to get one more row down before I have to start plastering. I will also strip the area by the back portal since I don't need to put my scaffold platform inside that area. 

Mountain Left Side more Strips 1

The little bit of weaving was just to add some rigidity in an area with a larger span.

Mountain Left Side more Strips 2

Next session I will finish up all I can before starting to plaster the upper reaches. I still have to mask all the track underneath and get drop clothes on the floor since my last plaster job made the floor a holy mess since I was using newspapers and they tended to get out of position. I also have to devise a clever way of supporting the plaster tray and toweling so I can do it while standing on a ladder or sitting with my feet hanging inside the layout.

As I look at this colossus, it reinforces my concept of using those large Masonite profile boards as a starting point. They keep me on track as to where the general slopes go so as I stare at this sea of cardboard strips it's really easy to fall into a "forrests and trees" scenario. I generally like the contours that it's following and the plaster and sculptamold will make it more realistic.


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Last edited by Trainman2001

Believe or not, that Pennsy S-1 is not the engine that has the greatest overhang in my stable. After gluing a bunch of strips today, I decided to try my 3rd Rail H-8 Allegheny on that spur and guess what? I have to make more modifications. The front just cleared the cardboard, but the cab didn't. And that's without any plaster or sculptamold. 

Clearance Problems in Cut 1

The front didn't actually touch, but the rear actually pushed into the cardboard.

Clearance Problem in Cut 2

This will necessitate another rework session. I need to move this wall back at least a half inch if I'm going to get any terrain into the area. Again, it's just cardboard. It's best to find all this out BEFORE any plastering.

I got all the tracks masked. Putting tape on the track that's already buried in the mountain was a challenge having to do it from underneath blind, but I got it done. With open, L-girder benchwork there is sufficient access to all that trackage except for the what's at the immediate tunnel openings.

I got another cross member in and then started framing the far left edge and the left, rear tunnel portal. I'm grinding trough lots of cardboard, but I believe that I'll have enough to finish the monster. Before I do any plastering, I'm also going to attempt to do some mural painting behind the mountain making some mountains receding into the distance. The point of view will probably be at the control panel. I will take pictures from there and do some design studies before attacking the wall. This needs to be done in that area now or else I really won't be able to reach it.

Mountain Status 3

I didn't like the way the mountain approached the portal so I added an extra layer. Otherwise, I was going to have to fill the whole area with plaster to build it out. Filling with cardboard is much easier to do this with.

Left Portal Change

This cross member was the last one that will span the entire width. It took a lot of ribbing to make it stiff enough to bridge the gap. Beyond this point, the design will change. I need to add another vertical former or two to build the contours between these two portals. It will not be just the mirror image of the right side.

Mountain Next layer lft side

Tomorrow, I may or may not be doing a mural. I do hate to cover over my happy little clouds.


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Ouch! We normally are looking to clear low objects and don't often mention the cab's roof on most steam actually kicks out even further up high. Forcing the model rear to shift to the outside and the nose to the inside, then the opposite directions, is a good idea too as they don't track exactly the same on each pass either. While your discovery is "larger", mine was deeper into being finished, consider yourself lucky .

I also found my diesel handrails stuck out more than I thought at a medium height too. SW; not even big! But they tick each lap. On the next loop I ran every loco. I "only" had 18 at the time, not a big deal. More like a night of fun to rest up

Mural? What are you considering? I like the little clouds too A lot! Sky like that and a mountain made me fall in love with NC and Penn. both. I'm a bit disappointed already Maybe adding a drawn horizon for more depth?

It was an afterthought to try the Allegheny in that spot since I had to reassemble that track again to test it. But I'm really glad I did. I've had trouble with the H-8 before. When I used Ross O-88 and O-96 at their natural 4" track spacing and ran long 18" (passenger) cars on the outer loop and the H-8 on the inner, the H-8 made kissey face with the car sides. It was one of the factors that forced me to widen my track spacing on curves to a minimum of 5" (and wider). The impact zone was even worse when a full-length, 21" passenger car. We modelers have the same challenges the 1:1 railroads do regarding track clearances.

Last edited by Trainman2001

Imagine finding out the hard way 1:1 !

I'm sure your mural will be fine, but I was having fun watching the mountain changing under the sky for a change instead of the reverse

Today was a mural design day. I'm a frustrated artist and not a very good one at that. In retirement I've had thoughts of going to classes to learn to do nice paintings. I tend towards realism, but I have a soft spot for American Impressionism especially Edward Hopper. That being said, I'm not foolish enough to start painting my walls without at least trying some ideas out.

My first three attempts were very amateurish and didn't reflect my mental image of what I wanted. In order of completion here's what I did. This first one had three sequential lumps that didn't represent anything. This was an inkjet print that I used acrylic paint to do the design. Even though it may look like it, I didn't paint this on the wall.

Mural Design 3

I took another crack at mountain shape. This wasn't as bad, but it still didn't do what I wanted.

Mural Design 2

Number 3 had larger hills, better palate control and showed the idea of having my high tension poles receding into the distance.

Mural Design 1

I showed this to my wife to see if it worked for her. She thought the mountains were too big. I agreed. So then I decided to do a bit of research. I went on Pinterest and searched out Appalachian Mountain vistas. I found two that really had the palate I was imagining. It showed me that the colors change as they recede in the distance, BUT they don't just get lighter green/gray. They turn blue/gray.

This one was a National Geographic cover.

Appalachian Vista

And here's another one.

Appalachian Vista 2

So using the first image's palate, I cobbled together this mockup. I drew the vista on another piece of paper, cut it out and pasted it on one of my previous failures. It's still crude, but I think I'm onto something and my wife agrees. This would look better when the model mountain is covered with something other than cardboard strips.

Mural Design 4

I'm still not happy with the colors. I will work to grey and tint more blue to the distance hills. I also like that it's not just one lump receding from the first one, but has overlapping hills with differing shapes and distances. I may have to buy latex wall paint to cover the area. I'm using cheap acrylic tube paints. It may be enough, but I'm not sure. The mountains tend to lighten at their bottoms due to the haze lying at lower level. I attempted to do that on the green one in the foreground. Another concern I have is the large quantities of foliage I'm going to need to cover the model mountain. I've been to Bob Bartizek's layout and he has tons of foliage covering his wonderfully rendered Central Pennsylvanian mountains.

While I know I don't have to ask, your input would be greatly appreciated at this time.


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I think your color progression / shadow vs light looked best on #3, but your shape has improved each time. For the haze, washes on a big wide brush for house painting.

I'm more a pencil/ink guy, and didn't do a whole lot of painting. I always watched Bob Ross for a refresher on how to approach different subjects whenever I could. If nothing else I'm at peace when the shows over, lol.

AtoZ Lewis posted:

What about putting the layers on 1/2 inch foam board to add 3 dimensional depth?

I agree. Coating shaped foam with ground foam or other materials can be very effective.

flats 2flats 4flats 5accessories 11


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Avanti posted:
Woodson posted:

Not trying to "hyjack" the thread, but Pete, where did you get your background?? Looks like the real thing!!

Partly hand painted, but the part you probably are asking about was printed from a panorama image I downloaded from Wikimedia.  Here is a recent thread on that topic:

Many thanks for the information and the link!!! I've been following the thread.. Amazing what I'm learning!!!

I didn't mind the hijack. Having the images printed instead of hand painting is a very practical approach. So far, the mountain has cost practically nothing except for $4.00 worth of lumber and $8.00 worth hot glue sticks. Getting printed backdrops will not be inexpensive. We don't talk too much about budgets on this Forum (or any other), but most of us have to manage our hobby expenses very tightly. I'm looking to adding some signaling, and depending of how sophisticated I get, it could cost a small fortune. So, I'm taking the cheap way out on the mountain project.

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