Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tricking Myself Into Finishing Scenery

It's amazing what a little push can do.

On my list of projects for 2012, I'd added "Patch holes and gaps in the scenery and fascia", and I was mostly thinking of the orchard scene on the curve between San Jose and Campbell.

This area had some of the earliest scenery on the layout as I defended against derailing trains falling to the floor. I tried hardshell based on childhood memories and quickly went to foam and sculptamold about halfway through this curve. I'd also gotten the fascia height wrong early in the layout, and the scenery on the curve either ended an inch above the top edge of the fascia, or sloped away unrealistically from the track. Although I'd added the start of an orchard scene on the inside of the curve early-on, the scene had languished for years. This wasn't one of my favorite scenes, and it wasn't one of the more attractive parts of the layout.

I also had my first real test of whether I was going to stay close to my chosen prototype, or was going to use the "San Jose - Los Gatos branch" as inspiration only. Channeling my teenage modeler, I thought "oh, some elevation change would be nice in this corner!" and started building a dip or gully in the corner of the layout. About halfway through and elbow-deep in plaster, I realized that the actual scenery south of San Jose would have been perfectly flat. Sudden soul searching - am I modeling a specific prototype, or just whatever scene I wanted? I made the explicit choice that day to keep going on prototype modeling; the gully got filled in, and the scenery looks like the Valley floor between San Jose and Campbell. More importantly, I kept making decisions to keep the layout as prototypical and accurate as possible, and I've been happy with that choice. But if you look under the layout, you can still see the shape of that inappropriate gully in the underside of the scenery.

[Before photo]

So, thanks to the ProRail deadline, it was time to gut all that scenery. Over the last couple weekends, I ripped out some of the scenery, replaced the fascia, and put down a new scenery base. Today was the more photogenic day; the new scenery got covered in dirt (sifted from the garden), ground foam, and trees. The photo just above shows the layout before all this work; the photo at the top shows the scene today.

The amazing part is that I really was intending to get rid of the holes in the fascia to give the layout a more finished look. However, as I've found before, sometimes if I just get started on some project - especially one with a smaller, less challenging goal such as "replace the fascia but don't worry about the scenery", I'll have the momentum to keep going and deal with the bigger, nastier problems -- how to design the scene and getting past the fear that the scenery might not come out looking very good. Getting moving on a lingering project like this often means that I get inspired to keep going... and finishing the scene is the result.


The road through the center of the scene is supposed to be Meridian Road, just south of San Jose. The canneries are about a quarter mile up the road on the right hand side. The gas station on the right is a model of the Barnsdall / Rio Grande gas station in Goleta, California. Although there wasn't a gas station on this location, it's a model that deserves display. The buff gravel driveway also adds color to the scene.

The left side shows an orchard, barn, and drying yard. The barn on the left side of the road (just being built this weekend) is DeLoney's Barn from Showcase Miniatures - very detailed, very California-appropriate, and it's been falling together quickly. The tank house in the back is scratchbuilt, as are all the drying flats of apricots in the back. The shed in the left foreground is a cutting shed that will have a scene of women preparing the apricots. The grass in front is a Silflor "California Gold" sheet - it's pricey, but pretty stunning in smaller areas like this. Once the scenery dries, I'll be adding the Silflor clumps to disguise the edge of the sheet.

The backdrop at the back of the scene ended about an inch above the top of the finished scenery. That was partially poor planning, but I'd also had problems getting larger sheets into place when the benchwork had already been built and track was already in. To cover the gaps, I cut 2 inch wide strips of styrene, cut rough tree-shaped scallops into the top of it, painted it a bluish-green, and glued the strips to the backdrop to hide the gap. I also added ground foam and Woodland Scenics fine-leaf foilage to the tree strip to further disguise the backdrop.

The orchard ate a lot of trees; the temporary trees formerly in the orchard only filled three rows, so it's time for me to start building trees again. I use the Woodland Scenics bendable tree armatures for the orchard trees because they're cheap and are short enough to look orchard live. The wilder areas (Alma and Wrights) gets Supertrees. Although the Supertrees are more fragile, there's less reaching into scenes up there, and the lacier trees look good in a forest scene.


  1. This progression from fixing something easy kicking off harder projects sounds oh so familiar. The new scene looks very good already. Looking forward to detailing.

    Is that light reflecting on the styrene edge of the background, or is the edge actually lighter than the green hills?

  2. It's the cut edge of the styrene - I did some extra trimming after painting, and some of the edge is still showing white, but didn't notice the problem til after gluing it in place and starting the dirting. I need to touch that up!

  3. BTW, still to be done: finish ballasting the track through the scene, finish the other half of the gas station gravel drive, and spackle / paint ground around the gas station. The gas station model sits on thin styrene, and the sculptamold's not very level, so I glued down a piece of 0.060 styrene sheet to provide a level surface, added a curb of 0.060 x 0.125 styrene to make the curved driveway, and filled the resulting depression between the road and foundation with the buff gravel. The driveway looks pretty great in person, so I'm looking forward to finishing the other half and decorating the area behind the gas station.

  4. I like your version of the Barnsdall Gas Station very much. The proportions look good. Did you have any measurements/drawings to work from? I am planning/researching to scratchbuild the station in 1:87 for my next project.

    Well done.

    Best wishes,

  5. The Rio Grande gas station was built from plans in the April 1979 Model Railroader. If you can find a copy (or know someone with the Model Railroader all-time DVDs), you can get exact plans as well as photos of many of the details. The photos of exposed beam ends, carved moorish detail, ad tower details are worth it, and the photos have thirty years less weathering than current photos.

    Rough dimensions: main tower, 16'3" square, 27'5" to eaves, 39'10" to top of dome. One story front and back: 14'5" wide, 12'3" deep, 12'3" to eaves, 15'9" to roof peak.

    1. Thank you!

      I may be able to find a copy of the 1979 MRR issue on the internet (Ebay?). And thanks for the primary dimensions.

      Best wishes,