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One of the challenges of working with a "shelf" type layout (mine is only 27" deep in most places) is trying to make use of the available space for some scenic features. There are few features more interesting than tunnels cutting through big mountains, but the operative word "big" can be elusive. Another challenge for me personally, not to overstate my situation, is working on scenery from a seated position. Here's the link to my layout thread on OGR, which explains more:

Happy Valley Railroad backstory

I decided to build a mountain across one end of the layout, but I also wanted to keep a small spur line in the foreground with an operating ice house. The tunnel would be approximately 9 feet long and curved along its entire length. One big consideration was figuring out some sort of detachable segments to provide access for track maintenance or even derailments. A related consideration was making the mountain in modules. I could then place each section on a workbench to do most of the scenery work.

Here's what I came up with--a method not unlike building a boat upside down. I cut "ribs" from 3/4-inch insulation board, using a 100-watt hot knife to cut the outlines and tunnel openings. [NOTE: Polystyrene foam board gives off toxic smoke, so either insure that you have ample ventilation in your space or wear an appropriate respirator. I have a heavy-duty exhaust fan installed in my train room for that purpose.] The spars to maintain rib spacing were made from scrap pieces of insulation board glued and screwed to the ribs. I used clear Gorilla glue and 3-inch #6 sheetrock screws, which work nicely using a small cordless screwdriver.  The tunnel openings were tested frequently with the longest cars in my inventory to make sure I allowed enough clearance.

I built the skeleton in four sections. Once the sections formed a good fit, I covered them with plaster cloth. However, instead of wetting the cloth first, I cut dry strips and fastened them to the ribs with a staple gun. Once the whole section was covered, I sprayed the surface liberally with a spray bottle and activated the plaster. It drooped a little, creating a "covered wagon" effect, but that will be mostly hidden by scenery.

The middle two sections will be removable (see photos). I fastened a "rock outcropping" made from foam to the left-hand removable piece: it will serve as a sort of pull  knob for detaching that segment, after which the right hand segment is easy to lift off. The two end pieces will be firmly secured to the layout. The section at far left is by far the largest. It barely fits through a 36-inch doorway, yet I can easily hold it with one hand (although it's bound to get heavier as scenery details are applied). It is topped off with a neat Lionel rotating beacon.

That's my progress so far. The next step will be to attach Shaper Sheet to disguise the joints between the segments, then begin some light plaster work and start adding scenery. I'm trying to force perspective, so the sheer side walls will have minimal vegetation. The tops will get the full treatment, and I'm making some of my own trees.

Hopefully I'll have some more progress to share soon.

Beacon MT 1Beacon MT 2Beacon MT 3Beacon MT 4Beacon MT 5

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Last edited by BruceG
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Bruce, Your timing is great for me.  You have given me ideas of how to approach the project on my layout as well.  I won't have such a long reach of hidden track, but from the beginning I have planned on making removable scenic sections.  For me it is the ease of working seated and to allow access to wiring from the top since I have to make use of all the under the layout storage I can.  Also, at 64 I know it will be harder and harder to get under the layout as time passes.  I really like your styrofoam rib method and spraying the plaster cloth after it is placed dry.  I am excited to see your work progress!!

Last edited by Mark Boyce
@Mark Boyce posted:

Bruce, Your timing is great for me.  You have given me ideas of how to approach the project on my layout as well.  I won't have such a long reach of hidden track, but from the beginning I have planned on making removable scenic sections.  For me it is the ease of working seated and to allow access to wiring from the top since I have to make use of all the under the layout storage I can.  Also, at 64 I know it will be harder and harder to get under the layout as time passes.  I really like your styrofoam rib method and spraying the plaster cloth after it is placed dry.  I am excited to see your work progress!!

Thanks, Mark. I will definitely post some progress updates.

@RSJB18 posted:

Great idea Bruce. I'm interested to see how you hide the seams between the removable sections.

Bob

My plan is to use Shaper Sheet to create a sort of irregular flange that overlaps the neighboring section slightly. I might even try doubling the thickness. It shapes easily and stays in place once a layer of plaster is applied to the cloth side. Photos to come soon.

It seems to me that the joint between the segments can be eliminated by connecting all four sections together, covering the gaps with plaster cloth, and creating a single structure that can be lifted off the layout for track access. The bottom edge between the mountain and the layout can be concealed with foliage, rocks and trees more easily and realistically than the joints between the segments, and the hill will still be light enough to remove. I used this technique for a hill and tunnel on my 10'-by-5' layout which will be presented in an article in the February/March issue of OGR magazine.

MELGAR

Last edited by MELGAR
@MELGAR posted:

It seems to me that the joint between the sections can be eliminated by connecting all four sections together, covering the gaps with plaster cloth, and creating a single structure that can be lifted off the layout for track access. The bottom edge between the mountain and the layout can be concealed with foliage, rocks and trees more easily and realistically than the joints between the segments, and the hill will still be light enough to remove. I used this technique for a hill and tunnel on my 10'-by-5' layout which will be presented in an article in the February/March issue of OGR magazine.

MELGAR

Unfortunately that idea won't work in my case. If all four sections are joined together I'd have to lift a "mountain" that's 9 feet long and curved, all while sitting down. There would be nowhere practical to set such a massive piece. Also, at that length it would be structurally very weak. The beauty of the four segments is that each one is plenty strong. Only the two middle sections need to be removed to access the entire mountain area--it's easy to reach into the end sections from either side.

@BruceG posted:

Unfortunately that idea won't work in my case. If all four sections are joined together I'd have to lift a "mountain" that's 9 feet long and curved, all while sitting down. There would be nowhere practical to set such a massive piece. Also, at that length it would be structurally very weak. The beauty of the four segments is that each one is plenty strong. Only the two middle sections need to be removed to access the entire mountain area--it's easy to reach into the end sections from either side.

Bruce I must admit and admire you and your thought process really thinking and planning it out way ahead. A tip of the hat to you sir and I admire your work. I to will be watching the progress and thinking that I may have the perfect location on my layout for much the same design. Keep up the good work.

Here is the next challenge in the modular mountain process: hiding the vertical joint between the removable sections. I cut two strips of Shaper Sheet (Woodland Scenics) and doubled over each piece lengthwise, aluminum side in. This stuff is heavy duty. It cuts easily as long as you use good, sharp work scissors or shears, but you'll make a mess trying it with undersized or lightweight scissors. I worked it into the desired shape and attached it to the edge of a removable section with a staple gun. You can see how it already hides the gap without adding any ground details. Once a layer of plaster is applied to the cloth side of the Shaper Sheet, it dries as hard as a rock and that curving "flange" will keep its shape. With careful scenic landscaping I can hide it even more. I'm confident that it will  hold up as a foundation for plaster and scenery details. Elsewhere on this modular section are some rock shelf outlines formed with Styrofoam. They'll be covered with plaster and foam putty. Ditto for the rock outcropping formed with green polystyrene insulation board: it's the "handle" for lifting out the removable segment. I hope to have the first plaster/foam layer complete this weekend--at least for the middle two segments.Shaper Sheet 1

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Last edited by BruceG
@RJT posted:

Bruce I must admit and admire you and your thought process really thinking and planning it out way ahead. A tip of the hat to you sir and I admire your work. I to will be watching the progress and thinking that I may have the perfect location on my layout for much the same design. Keep up the good work.

This kind of enthusiasm is really helpful! I'm happy to let anyone peek over my shoulder.

So far, at least, the idea of using of Shaper Sheet to create overlapping flanges for the removable modules seems to be a good plan--though time will tell. The most effective way to use Shaper Sheet is to coat the fuzzy cloth side with thin plaster, which interacts with the cloth to create a rock-hard and rugged layer. Shaper Sheet is pricey, so I chose to save a few bucks using Hydrostone from Capital Ceramics (see photo) which sells online for about $15 for a hefty 5-pound bag. I mixed it thin--about like syrup--and applied it liberally to the Shaper Sheet using a throw-away bristle brush. I also coated the entire module with a thin layer (after lightly wetting it first with water from a spray bottle). The plaster stays runny for about 15 minutes, then starts to set quickly. I got about 95 percent of the module covered before the mixture got too stiff to work with a brush--so working fast is recommended. It doesn't pay to get too hung up on the little details during this first layer. It dries quickly into a hard finish that adds a lot of strength without adding much weight. And it's just a foundation.

I then applied Foam Putty (Woodland Scenics) along the seams of the flanges as well as the Styrofoam "rock outcroppings" so that they blended in with the landscape. Foam Putty is really fun to work with and it's amazingly light. I used about half a pint on this module, so the whole mountain project will probably require two 1 pint containers.

After everything dries I'll add another thin layer of Hydrostone in a few places, at which point the module will be ready for its base coat of paint.

I'm keeping loose track of the various costs involved with this project, and so far it has been relatively inexpensive. I'll provide a breakdown upon completion.

HydrostonePlaster 1Plaster and putty 1

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  • Hydrostone
  • Plaster 1: The first layer of Hydrostone has been brushed on.
  • Plaster and putty 1: Foam putty is a great product for filling gaps and blending materials.
Last edited by BruceG

I have enjoyed working on the modular mountain over the past couple of weeks. I'm especially impressed with Shaper Sheet (Woodland Scenics) and it's strong, lightweight performance, not to mention it's ease of use. Here are some sequential photos of the mountain modules (the middle two will lift out of the finished mountain) with final hard-shell coating. Shaper Sheet was applied in some places over the plaster cloth layer, while plain Hydrostone covered other sections. I made lumpy "rocks" with Sculptamold, which is really fibrous. The two end modules are bulky, and every ounce of paint and scenery adds to their awkwardness in lifting.  I'm still able to pick them up one-handed, but I'm glad I didn't make them any larger. It's easiest for me to place them on a table or my garage floor while working on them. My plan is to finish nearly all of the ground cover (except for trees) on the tops and back areas of each module, then fix the two end pieces in place before finishing the lower frontal areas. At that point I'll have to get help for "planting" scale trees, as the mountain tops will be out of my reach.

The photos show various shades of gray depending on how much pigment I added to the Hydrostone (artists acrylics work fine). I experimented on each of the modules, adding just a few blobs of black right out of the tube. I then sprayed all of the modules liberally with a thinned "wash" of black, using a household spray bottle. After the wash dried, I went back over the "rocky" areas with some dry-brushed gray. At this point the "rocks" look unnatural, but just wait!

For ground cover, I chopped up real leaves (dried in the garage for a week) in a cheap blender. The chopped leaves were combined with plain sawdust to make a nice looking mixture resembling dead leaves, which I poured into a shaker canister. I made a thick "paint" using water-soluble tile glue tinted with raw umber. This was painted directly onto the shell and the "dead leaves" were sprinkled on while it was still wet. For extra adhesion, I wetted the ground cover lightly with a spray bottle of plain water, then applied thinned white glue with a large eyedropper. This actually goes much faster than it sounds.

Once all the modules have their basic ground cover, I'll apply low-level foliage, downed branches, and other forest details. My techniques are partly based on various articles and tutorials, blended with a lot of experimentation. There's no need to be painstaking, because much of the final effect is an illusion anyway. My foremost goal is to keep the two middle modules light enough and strong enough to be moved in the event of a derailment inside the tunnel.

I'll send the next update when I get these modules back on the layout.

Mod mountain 1Mod mountain 2jpgMod mountain 3Mod mountain ground cover 1Mod mountain ground cover 2

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Last edited by BruceG

This is looking really good.  Like @Mark Boyce said, we're also right at that stage on our layout where we want to do a mountain-tunnel feature in one corner.  I'm going to share this with dad and see if this a good approach for us.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to PM me here. It's definitely a work-in-progress for me, and I can share a lot more of what I've learned.

@RJT posted:

Excellent work Bruce look forward to seeing them all in place on your layout. I do have one very series question for and that is what are those BFG Radial TA’s attached too besides what looks like Craiger Mags? Being an old street rodder have not seen either in a long time!

That's my '67 Mustang ragtop, Rick. It sits on American Racing rims, has the original 289, and is upgraded with an overdrive tranny, hand controls, reclining buckets seats, and more. What can I say, I'm a car guy. When it comes to hobbies, I'm not a monogamist.

Bayside 8

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I am a car guy also a passion for mid 60’’s Ford had two Futuras a 64 and 65 both with 289’s. 65 was stock and the 64 i converted the right way. Made this for a friend of mine that lives in Snellville when he sold his 65 Ragtop for an airplane still don’t let him live it down. Two Mustang guys not to far apart should get you  two together he now has I think a 66 Coupe  

6FA6DBBF-9DFD-4ED6-96CF-F0692780D36D

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@RJT posted:

I am a car guy also a passion for mid 60’’s Ford had two Futuras a 64 and 65 both with 289’s. 65 was stock and the 64 i converted the right way. Made this for a friend of mine that lives in Snellville when he sold his 65 Ragtop for an airplane still don’t let him live it down. Two Mustang guys not to far apart should get you  two together he now has I think a 66 Coupe  

6FA6DBBF-9DFD-4ED6-96CF-F0692780D36D

That's a neat display idea using a grill ornament. What a classic running pony!

@Ron H posted:

Speaking of mustangs, I road raced a 69 Boss 302 in the early 70s and a real POS 76 mustang in show room stock  in 1976 at Texas World Speedway. The 76 dropped its oil pickup 5 laps into the race. I wish I held onto the Boss. Great race car with a great motor.

Makes you wonder: what's an original, unrestored '69 Boss 302 worth these days? I remember some great Hot Wheels cars patterned after that fastback (I'm 62).

@NeophyteMRR posted:

Looking great, Bruce.  Is this the only part of your layout left to complete or are there other areas you are going to work on once the tunnel is complete?

Thank you! It's only the second area to get scenery attention on the actual layout (not counting backdrops). I completed the mountain stream before placing two bridges and trackage over it. Now the tunnel is underway and will cover most of the 180 degree curve at one end of the layout. I think I'll tackle the opposite curve next, as the corners are the hardest areas for me to reach. Once I get to the regular shelf-type bench, the scenic stuff will go much faster.Bridges 3

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  • Bridges 3

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