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Layout Scenery Part I – The Mountain

Layout Scenery Part I – The Mountain

Completed mountain forest scenery

I’ve been excited to start the actual scenery on my layout since I began this project over 2 years ago, and finally, the time has arrived. Building my layout thus far has been mostly a step-by-step process, starting with benchwork, then track, electrical, plaster terrain, etc. This one step at a time progression always meant that I knew exactly what I needed to work on, and what my next steps were in the construction of my model railroad. However, once I finished my hard-shell terrain a couple months ago, I realized that I now had several options as for what project I wanted to tackle next. It was now time for the scenery stage. I soon though realized that the ‘scenery stage’ was quite a broad term and entailed pretty much the rest of the construction on my layout. I needed to break down this scenery step into more manageable stages, so I decided to fully complete one section of the layout at a time. With that plan in place, what a better section to start on then the main feature of my layout, the mountain.

Creating bushes with ground foamFine and coarse foam ground cover

I’ll first start by saying that I don’t really have any evolution photos of the scenery on the mountain but only before and after shots. This is because I did a lot of experimenting with different ground cover and techniques, and before I knew it, my scenery was pretty much complete before I even considered taking photos. So instead, I will describe the materials used. The terrain and rock croppings were already previously painted (see my Painting the Terrain post), so I didn’t have to worry about this step.

Start of tree line in the backgroundCompleted mountain forest scenery

I started by liberally applying thinned white glue with a paint brush directly onto the painted terrain, spreading it over about 6” by 6” sections at a time. I then sprinkled Woodland Scenics earth-blend blended turf over the wet glue. The earth-blend turf seemed to really compliment the tan colour paint I had used on all of the hard-shell terrain. I used the same firm’s green-blend turf to then highlight certain areas, such as more level areas where green grass would be more prevalent. I had a rather large gap between the bottom edge of my backdrop and the mountain terrain, so I filled this space using light green lichen, also from Woodland Scenics. Everything was then sealed in with a light spray of thinned white glue.

Mountain forest scene details with ground foam, trees, and talus

Trees were the next step, which I had previously completed putting together (see my previous post). I started with smaller trees in the background, placing them quite densely so they would blend into my backdrop. As I moved forward, I used increasingly taller trees which seemed to add a bit more depth to the forest. I also found that placing tall and short trees side-by-side made the terrain look steeper than it actually was. I didn’t use the supplied bases that came with the trees armatures; instead I drilled small holes directly into the plaster terrain so I could attach the trees using the small insert pins at the bottom of each tree. Any plaster dust that came up from drilling was carefully blown away with a can of compressed air.

Completed mountain forest sceneryCompleted mountain forest scenery

Bushes, coarse turf, underbrush, lichen, and other various types and colours of ground foam were added next, mostly all from Woodland Scenics. This step took a lot of trial and error and paying around with different materials to achieve the look I wanted. However, nature is quite random and has a lot of variety when it comes to colours and plant life, so applying the different scenic materials in a haphazard manner only adds to the realism of the forest scene. I chose mostly Woodland Scenics material because the different ground foams and colours can be easily combined in any way and still look natural, which is a great, fool-proof method for first-timers!

Scenery using Woodland Scenics ground foam and field grass products

To finish the scene, I added natural talus rock that I found in the coulees near my home. I added small tuffs of Woodland Scenics field grass in random areas, and added any additional details in spots that I may have missed. For deadfall, I used small wood pieces that I carefully picked out of a bag of old potting soil, as well as real deadfall I found in nature.

Scenery using Woodland Scenics ground foam and field grass productsMountain forest scenery

I’m quite happy with the final results, and will continue this process across the rest of my background mountainous scene over the next month. It makes sense to finish the background scene first, as I wouldn’t want to be reaching over a completed foreground scene to work on it.

Completed mountain forest scene tree-line

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Scratch-Built Garage

Scratch-Built Garage

Scratch built styrene garage – front left view

I’ve accumulated a small collection of scrap styrene over the last year or so, mostly from buying bulk bags of assorted styrene pieces from Evergreen (which in my opinion is a great deal by the way). A couple of the larger scraps I had consisted of various corrugated patterns, so I decided to try my hand at building an entirely scratch-built structure. I decided to keep the design simple for my first attempt, so I planned out a small garage/workshop, measuring about 2.5” x 5”. The design includes 3 overhead bay doors, 4 office windows, and 2 single entrance doors; the front having a half-length window. I also kept the size of the building to a minimum as my layout is quite limited for real-estate at this point. 

Scratch built garage walls cut from scrap styrene sheetI started by first planning the design of my building on paper, noting all the wall, door, window, and roof dimensions to ensure that they scaled down to realistic HO measurements. Using a new blade, I carefully marked the measurements on the backside of the styrene sheet, then scored the outline of the wall using a straight edge. I used a square and ruler to double check the measurements after every score line I made, ensuring that the walls were kept square and equal. I then gently flexed the styrene to break each piece apart. I fixed any rough edge with sand paper and a hobby knife.

Painted overhead and entry doors cut from styrene

The overhead doors were cut from scrap v-groove pattern styrene, and the entry doors from standard smooth styrene. For the main entry door, I cut a half-length opening for a window, and added strip styrene for the insert trim. I masked the very outside edge of all the doors so I could easily add glue to these unpainted areas when attaching the doors to the backside of the walls. The doors were then all sprayed with light aircraft gray paint.

Installing trim on scratch built garage walls using strip styreneAlmost-completed walls of scratch-built garage

I hand painted the corrugated steel walls with a mix of blue and steel gray enamel paint, mixed 1:1 with thinner. After letting the 3 coats of paint dry for 24 hours, I glued the overhead and entry doors to the backside of each wall. I then added trim to the doors using 1.5mm x 1.0mm strip styrene. I used the same strip styrene on the base of the building to represent a foundation, as well as for building the window frames.

Garage structure with internal supports before roof installationScratch built styrene garage – roof detail

The 4 wall pieces were then glued together, and extra styrene support pieces were added to the interior for extra rigidity. The roof was a single piece of v-groove styrene, scored and carefully angled down the center to fit the slope of the building. After airbrushing the roof a light gray, I carefully glued it to the main structure. After making a couple touch-ups to the paint and trim, I weathered the walls, doors, and roof with a variety of powdered pastels. I then sealed in all the weathering details with 2 light coats of dull-coat.

Scratch built styrene garage – front right viewScratch built styrene garage – rear view

Once the structure was dry, I added clear styrene pieces to the backside of the walls for window glazing. The final step was to add a black cardstock divider and floor to the interior of the building so no white plastic could be visible through any of the windows. I am quite happy with how this little project turned out, and can’t wait to mix it in with my other model buildings.

Scratch built HO scale styrene garage

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Walthers Northern Light & Power Kit

Walthers Northern Light & Power Kit

Walthers Cornerstone Northern Light and Power kit

One of the last and largest structures for my layout is a Walthers Cornerstone Northern Light & Power kit that I recently purchased at my local hobby dealer. I knew before I purchase the kit that I wasn’t going to keep it as a power plant, but the size of the building and its large, round-top windows were definitely selling features. My plan for the building is to place it in the vacant space between the track leading into the right lower mountain tunnel portal, and the road passing around the turn-table area. The building houses the Pioneer Press Daily Advertiser as its tenant, complete with a custom built interior and printing press. I chose the Pioneer Press Daily Advertiser because I’ve always had an interest in printing and journalism, and because I already had the company name on a Woodland Scenics dry-transfer sheet.

Painting main structure with brick red Humbrol EnamelPainting main structure with brick red Humbrol Enamel

Like all Walthers Cornerstone kits, all pieces are precision molded with quality materials. Besides the 4 walls, roof, one-piece chimney, and base pieces, the kit includes an under-track hopper kit, roof support trusses, an internal firewall, roof vents, and the separate windows and doors. The separate windows and doors are my personal favorite, as they make painting much easier and convenient as there is much less masking required. Before I started painting and assembling, I carefully cut each piece off of its plastic carrier structure and trimmed/sanded off any spurs, and washed each piece in warm, soapy water.

Painting main structure with brick red Humbrol Enamel
I started by carefully assembling the 4 main walls, ensuring the structure was kept level and the walls joined at a perfect 90 degrees.  I then painted the main structure with brick red Humbrol enamel, thinned 3:1 with thinner. I also used the same paint colour on the chimney and firewall pieces. At the same time, I also sprayed the windows and doors with Testors light aircraft gray. I didn’t remove the windows at this point from their carrier, making them much easier to paint in one easy step. Other small components, such as the roof vents and trusses, were painted with metallic aluminum paint.
Masking kit in preparation for painting trimMasking kit in preparation for painting trim

After the main structure dried for 24 hours, I masked the entire building to prepare for painting the trim and foundation. I used the same light aircraft grey colour that I used on the windows for the trim, which took about 3 coats as I was brush-painting them. Once the trim had completely dried, I made any necessary touchups with either the brick red or light aircraft grey paint using a fine detailing brush. I then weathered the entire building with powdered pastels and sealed it with 2 coats of Testors Dull-Coat.
Masking kit in preparation for painting trimCompleted trim with light aircraft grey enamel

I felt that the roof pieces lacked any detail, so I used trip styrene to add a bit of this lacking detail. I first divided each roof panel into 4 equal sections by gluing 1mm x 1.5mm strip styrene directly onto the roof. I then glued a piece of the strip styrene along the total length of the edge of one roof section. I made sure this piece overhung the roof panel slightly, thus covering the gap between the 2 roof sections once they were assembled on the structure. The entire roof was then spray painted flat black.
Roof modification and enhancement with strip styreneRoof modification and enhancement with strip styrene
For the large double door, side entry door, and overhead bay door, I used dark green enamel to add a bit more interest to the colour scheme of the building. I masked off the door frames and transoms so they would remain the light grey colour I had originally coloured them. The last step was to weather the doors with dark powdered pastels and seal with a final coat of dull-coat. The windows were also weathered and sealed with the same method.
Painted and weathered windows glued to clear styrene sheetPainted and weathered windows glued to clear styrene sheet

The clear styrene window glazing included with the kit is less than satisfactory. The glazing is thick and oddly obscured, so I opt to use clear styrene from Evergreen, which is thin and almost perfectly clear, looking much more like real glass. After removing each window from its carrier, I carefully glued it to a clean sheet of the clear Evergreen styrene. I glued each window side by side to get as much use out of the styrene sheet as possible, leaving only a large enough gap between each window to accommodate a razor-blade. After the glue had dried, I carefully cut each window with a sharp hobby blade, and trimmed off any overhanging styrene where needed. This process went much quicker than anticipated, and before I knew it, I had a nice pile of glazed windows ready for installation.
Installed firewall and roof support trusses
Before installing the windows, I first painted the interior walls with dark grey enamel. I also scraped the paint off of the surfaces of the windows and window openings where glue would be applied for a stronger bond. I then applied a small bead of glue around each window, and mounted it to the inside of each opening, pressing down for several seconds to ensure it was properly seated. Once the windows were all installed, I added the 3 roof support trusses and the firewall section.
Installing lighting in between roof support trusses with rigid steel wireInstalling lighting in between roof support trusses with rigid steel wire

Lighting was next. I didn’t use the styrene light diffuser box I had used in previous models, mainly due to the fact that this building’s interior is completely open and visible due to the large amount of windows. I instead wired 2 automotive 12v bulbs between the roof support trusses, using rigid steel wire to support each bulb. I originally wired the bulbs in series, but they were too dim at 12 volts, so I adjusted the wiring to a parallel circuit, allowing the bulbs to glow much brighter at the same voltage. The wire leads run down the back wall and exit out of 2 small holes in the structure’s foundation.
Custom built printing press

Interior structure at rear of building behind the firewallScratch built printing press and interior mechanics

The interior was by far the most challenging task of the whole project. I knew the staple piece of equipment for any press company is the printing press itself, so I immediately went to work scratch building a large press from scrap styrene. Once the press started to look somewhat realistic, I sprayed it flat black, and detailed it with metallic aluminum rollers and highlights. The final and most imperative detail was the print itself, which I created in Photoshop and printed as a long strip on standard printer paper. I then glued 2 printed strips directly to the press, weaving it in between the rollers.
Top view of forward facing interior detailsScrath built styrene printing press with printed material

Custom built styrene interior details including printing press
For the rest of the interior, well, it was pretty much just random pieces, shapes, and parts thrown together in an attempt to make the inside look like something industrial and factory-like. The large box-like structure with the grate on top, sits behind the interior firewall and really only serves to fill the large interior void. Its intended purpose is completely up to the imagination! Just remember, the interior will be mostly out of view from the outside but getting just a glimpse of any interior parts when looking at the building makes it entirely more realistic and believable to the viewer.
Weathering roof panels with powdered pastelsWeathering roof panels with powdered pastels

Finishing the roof was next, which included installing the painted roof vents, followed by weathering. My first attempt at weathering was with my preferred method of powdered pastels. I spend about 45 minutes carefully applying the light grey powder with a soft brush, but when I added the dull-coat to seal it, the light coloured pastels almost completely dissolved, leaving me with barely-noticeable weathering effects! I instead opted for dry-brushing the roof with steel enamel paint.  Once dry, I glued both roof sections to the main structure.
Northern Light and Power Kit – front viewNorthern Light and Power Kit – side view

Northern Light and Power Kit – with smoke stackThe Pioneer Press Daily Advertiser

This kit was undeniably a lot of fun to build. It is currently the largest structure I have ever put together, and only took me one and a half weeks to complete, working for a couple hours each evening. I might still be able to fit one or two very small structures on my layout, but definitely nothing as large as this one. I must say that the feeling is almost bittersweet that this kit is finished. Guess I will just one day need a much larger layout.
Walthers Cornerstone Northern Light and Power kit with interior lighting
View of scratch built printing press through large round top windowInterior lighting of the Pioneer Press Daily Advertiser building
Built up Walthers Northern Light and Power kitBack side of Northern Light and Power kit
The Pioneer Press Daily Advertiser

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Traffic Lights – Part I

Traffic Lights - Part I

Completed scratch built HO scale model railroad traffic light

The same day I was putting the final touches on my Northern Light & Power kit, my little box full of green, yellow, and red 2mm LEDs arrived in my mailbox from eBay, thus kicking-off the start of my next project: traffic lights! I have two ‘T’ intersections on my layout’s road system, both of which I wanted to be controlled with traffic lights. I wasn’t satisfied with many of the commercially-available light systems that are available in my area, as most were un-realistic and far out of scale, not to mention expensive. The ones I did like however, wouldn’t fit correctly on my roads as I had built them slightly too narrow.

Faced with the issue of cost and adaptability, I decided to attempt my hand at building my own traffic lights. I had previously built my own trackside signals (see here), so I figured traffic lights would be quite similar, even though I wanted to build these a bit more to a prototypical scale size then the trackside signals. My model street lights are based on a common North American style with a curved light standard which holds the traffic lights horizontally over each controlled lane of traffic.

Styrene traffic light face plates with light shadesStyrene traffic light face plates with light shades

I started by cutting the face plate for each traffic light from thin styrene sheet, then carefully drilled 3 – 2mm holes in each face plate, spacing each hole 1/8” apart (center to center). For the lens shades, I used a single hole punch to punch out round pieces from very thin styrene. I cut the styrene disk back 2mm from its edge, trimmed each pointy edge, and shaped each piece by gently rolling it between my fingers until it had the correct curve to fit over each LED. I was able to make 2 shades from each styrene disk. I then glued 3 of these directly above each hole on the face plate.

Traffic light face plates painted flat blackTraffic light face plates painted flat black

I masked the backside of each face plate, and sprayed the front flat back, figuring that it would probably be easier to paint these prior to installing the lights. I masked the back side to prevent paint from getting on this area, which would need to be removed anyways when it came to gluing the LEDs to the face plate. I then counted out 6 LEDs in each colour (red, yellow, green) and tested each one with a resistor and power supply to ensure each one worked.

3/36” copper tubing cut to 4” lengthsBending copper tubing 1” from one end

For the light standards, I used 3/32” diameter copper tubing, which I cut into 4” sections. I cut the sections at 4” so I had extra length to insert into the pilot holes in my layout when it comes to installing these. I needed to thread 4 wire leads through each, so the wires needed to be quite thin. I found an old computer hard drive ATA cable, which is comprised of several dozen very thin insulated wires, so I cut this up and saved the wire leads. I then threaded 4 wires through each copper tube, one for the green, yellow, red LEDs, and common ground. There were only 3 colours of wire however (red, blue, and white), so I just used a second white, marking it with a black sharpie for use as the common connection.

Four thin wire leads threaded through each copper tube supportCopper tube supports ready for traffic light installation

Once the wire leads were threaded through each copper tube, I bent the top of each tube to an almost 90 degree angle about 1” from the one end. I bent the curve over a thick marker container to keep the curve uniform and round. It’s also very important to make sure that the wire leads are pre-installed in the copper tubes, as the tube needs the internal support when bending. Without the wire leads inside, the copper tube would simply collapse and kink.

2mm red, green, and yellow LEDs glued to the back of each traffic light face plateLEDs on backside of face plate with anode (+) connection on top

By this time, the paint on the front of the face plates had dried, and it was time to install the LEDs. I first cut off the long connectors to each LED with flush cutters, leaving only a small portion protruding from the back of each LED. I then glued each LED with CA to the back of the face plates, making sure the anode (+) connection on each LED was on the top position. You can distinguish what side is the anode connection on most LEDs from the curved profile on the base of the LED itself. The cathode (-) side is flat and squared off, and the actual connection lead itself is usually shorter than the anode.

Soldering the common connection to the cathode (-) on all LEDs together

Now for the fun part; soldering the connections to the LEDs. I used a small cardboard box which I cut a notch into for the front of the faceplate to fit into for support. The common (-) connection was the first one that I made. For this, I used one of the metal leads that I had originally cut off of the LEDs, spanning it across and soldering it to all three cathode connections on the LEDs.

Soldering the wire leads to the anode (+) on each LEDCompleted connections to each LED on back side of traffic light

For the controlled (+) connections, I carefully soldered each wire lead from the copper tube supports to the anode on each LED. I soldered the red wire to the red LED, the blank white wire to the yellow, and the blue one to the greed LED for each traffic light. The other white wire, which I previously marked with a black sharpie, was soldered to one end of the common connection. When soldering the wires, I made a point of positioning each wire so it would easily exit off to one side of the traffic light (the side facing the support column). This made the back of each street light look a lot less cluttered and easy to work with.

Back side of unpainted traffic lightBack side of traffic light painted with black enamel paint

Once all connections were made, I gently and carefully (and I stress the gentle part), pulled the wire leads at the base of the copper tube supports, slowly bringing each traffic light closer to the support column. After I had positioned each traffic light right up against the copper tube supports, I adjusted each light so it was positioned level to the ground when positioned upright. The wires provided enough rigidity that no glue was required to fasten the lights to the support column. I then painted the back side of each light, including the connections and face plate, with 3-5 coats of black enamel paint, making sure I put on enough coats that no light was visible from the back of the traffic lights when lit.

Front face of scratch built traffic lightCompleted scratch built HO scale model railroad traffic light

The final step was to paint the copper support columns an aluminum colour, for which I used Humbrol metallic aluminum enamel. With the traffic lights now complete, they only now need to be installed and connected to a traffic light controller on my layout. I am currently exploring a couple of options for controllers, including building my own. That will all however be in my Traffic Lights – Part II post, which will hopefully be up sometime this summer. For now, I will return back to my current task of building more trees.

Completed scratch built HO scale model railroad traffic light

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Traffic Lights – Part II

Traffic Lights - Part II
A note about this post: I do not take any credit for the design of this circuit, not even for my own rendering and modifications of the circuit schematic. I instead turn the spotlight on Rob Paisley and his website, who has without a doubt spent an unimaginable amount of time, effort, and talent developing dozens of model railroad circuits that ultimately make our layouts achieve things we never thought possible. The intent of this post is to only describe my experience of applying and constructing Rob’s designs on my own layout. Please visit Rob’s website (HERE) , which has a wealth of wiring information and useful model railroad circuitry.

-Tyler

Traffic light controller circuit
If there is one thing that I learned from building my layout thus far, it’s that the most time consuming, frustrating, problematic, and complex projects usually are the ones that are taken for granted, often fading into the background or going unnoticed when combined with all other aspects of the model. And my traffic lights were definitely no exception to this. Now, I’m not exactly saying my traffic lights go unnoticed, (they are definitely a nice feature) but I myself somewhat took for granted the electrical complexity behind making all the lights synchronized, especially because I was building the entire system, from lights to controller, completely by hand. I know commercial controllers are available from $40.00 to $100.00 (or higher), but doing it myself just seemed more appealing.
Last year while searching for methods to synchronize model traffic lights, I came across Rob Paisley’s 20 output sequencing circuit (HERE). Rob had designed a circuit that essentially created 20 separate outputs that progressed one at a time from 1-20 in a continuous loop. When combined with a novel lighting circuit, synchronization of an entire intersection in both directions is accomplished within the 20 output steps, then repeats. I am going to refrain myself from even trying to go into detail on the particulars of this circuit, as Rob Paisley has already explained it in depthon his website. Rob’s site includes detailed diagrams and parts lists, as well as in-depth explanations of how the circuits work. Rob also offers commercially built circuit boards and kits for this and other circuits he’s designed on his website, but nonetheless, I was determined to build it myself.
Wiring diagram for traffic light controller circuit
After placing my parts order with Mouser Electronics (using the parts list off of Rob’s website), I went to work putting together my own wiring schematic for this circuit, as shown above. I made my own schematic for 3 reasons. First was because I wanted a plan of the entire circuit, from the controller right to the lights on the layout. The second reason was to plan the actual layout of the circuit board. I drew the schematic in a way that I could literally plan exactly where every connection and lead would go when building the actual circuit, ensuring that everything was spaced correctly so I didn’t run out of room on my PC board. The third and final reason was to better understand how the circuit itself worked. Even though Rob explains the function and how this circuit works in detail on his website, if you do not have a good understanding of it yourself, then it will be a lot more difficult to construct and even harder to troubleshoot. I am no electronics expert myself, so I spent a lot of time researching each component and IC, finding and reading the datasheet for each one as Rob recommends on his website.
Traffic light controller circuitTraffic light controller circuit using Rob Paisley’s 20 Output Sequencing Circuit
Once all of my components arrived from Mouser, I purchased a 2200-hole PC board from The Source, and eagerly went to work putting it together. I used my schematic almost exclusively to construct the circuit on the PC board, marking off each completed component and section of the circuit with a highlighter to ensure I didn’t get lost or miss a connection, or worse, make a wrong connection. Double, triple, and quadruple checking my work against my schematic as well as Rob’s original wiring schematic almost guaranteed no major errors were made.
Soldered connections on the backside of traffic light controller
I used my soldering iron to make all the connections on the back of the PC board, and used bare steel wire for the leads between connections. Special consideration needs to be made for spacing of connections that pass over each other, which requires the steel lead to pass up through the PC board, over the existing connections below, and then back down through the PC board to its intended location. Care must also be taken when soldering connections that are right beside each other, as it is easy to unintentionally solder two separate connections together. There were also several spots on the PC board where the soldered connections were shorting out on each other because they were so close to each other, so I carefully used a razor blade to “scrape” the space in between each connection, ensuring the connections were no longer touching.
Soldered connections on the backside of traffic light controller
You will probably notice when comparing my schematic to Rob’s schematics that the LED traffic light portion of my circuit utilizes PNP transistors to control the LED lights, whereas Rob’s examples show the LEDs connected directly to the 20 outputs. The reason for this is because the 20 outputs of the circuit are LOW (negative). To control the red, yellow, and green LEDs of the traffic lights, the LEDs need to be supplied with a common positive (+) current, connected to the anode of each LED, and a separate negative (-) ‘controller’ lead connected to the cathode of each LED, and then to each output of the controller. However, I built my traffic lights the opposite way, with a common negative and separate positive controlling wires. Thus, my lights could only be controlled by applying separate POSITVE current connections to each LED, where the 20 output circuit controls the LEDs by separate NEGATIVE current connections to each LED.
Soldered connections on the backside of hand built traffic light controller
To get around this issue, I applied Rob’s wiring schematic where he explains how to use the 20 output circuit to control high-current bulbs by utilizing PNP transistors as switches. In other words, instead of directly controlling the LED lights by having them directly connected to the 20 outputs of the controller, I used the 20 outputs to control the PNP transistors, which act like switches, either allowing or stopping the separate positive, high current (12v) flowing through to the bulbs. The transistor’s switching capability is controlled by its base terminal, which is connected to the 20 outputs of the controller. I then simply replaced the high current bulbs with resistors and my LED traffic lights.
Controller, terminal strips, and hardboard base ready for installTerminal strips fastened to hardboard base
Once the circuit was completed, I needed to make the connections from the controller to 2 – 10 position terminal strips, which I would then later connect each traffic light to. To do this, I first cut a piece of tempered hardboard, to which I attached the 2 terminal strips along the bottom edge. I used ¾” brass flat-head machine bots applied from the back of the hardboard to fasten the terminal strips, allowing the hardboard base to lay flat. I also installed an additional 4 bolts through the hardboard base to support the circuit board, allowing it to be secured without having its bottom circuitry come in contact with the hardboard base.

Completed traffic light controller moduleCompleted traffic light controller module 
The final step was to connect each positive output on the circuit board to the screws on the terminal strips.  I used high-quality phone cable to do this, which is convenient because most telephone cable contains a red, green, yellow, and black wire, making it easy to colour-code each terminal based on what colour LED will be connected to it. I have a total of 6 traffic lights on my layout, so a total of 18 separate LEDs, 6 of each colour, and one common negative, so a total of 19 connections. The first 9 connections will control 3 complete traffic lights in a north-south direction, and the following 9 will control the other 3 complete traffic lights in an east-west direction.
Traffic light controller installed under my layout with leads connected to LED traffic lights
After I had attached everything to the hardboard base, I installed the entire module unit under my layout. The circuit requires a 12 volt DC power source, so I connected it to a 12 volt terminal on a previously installed power terminal strip. I had already installed my actual traffic lights on my layout’s intersections, running the wires to the underside of my layout through 1/8” pilot holes. I utilized telephone cord again here to connect the traffic lights to the terminals on the controller module. After connecting each traffic light to its corresponding power terminal on the control module, all that was left was to test it. And just like that, I now had working traffic lights on my layout!
Working hand made HO scale traffic lightsCompleted model traffic lights
Well, it wasn’t really “just like that.” I spent days and countless hours pulling my hair out for over a week, testing and trying to locate small short circuits that arose over and over again on both the control module and in the traffic light wiring itself. With so many small connections so close to one another, it’s pretty much impossible to get it right 100% the first time. There were nights were I literally had to walk away from the entire project in frustration, but after sleeping it off, I always tackled it the next day with a fresh and positive attitude. In the end, the final result was a working, fully automated, synchronized traffic light system, which I will definitely never take for granted. And to be honest, if others don’t notice it, it’s only because it’s working how it should.

Check out my YouTube video showing my hand-built traffic lights and controller based on Rob Paisley’s 20 Output Sequencing Circuit in action!

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Layout Scenery Part III – Downtown

Layout Scenery Part III - Downtown

Town view from trestle in front of house
Constructing the main town site of my layout was my next major scenery project. It consists of my Walther’s Merchant’s Row II, DPM Other Corner Café, and Kate’s Colonial Home kits; all set around the circular main street, with my Walther’s White Castle Restaurant kit overlooking the scene from up the street. The amount of actual buildings is quite limited due to the terrain and size limitations of my layout, but the few buildings I do have for my town scene do give a good representation of a full-sized urban town. It was also this space limitation that determined the town’s circular layout.
The town site sits on an area that I had previously allocated for a small pond, but I decided early into my layout’s construction that building a town site would be a better utilization of the space. The pond will just have to wait for another layout. I had also already previously planned the overall layout of the town site, including the street, sidewalk, and building locations, so all I needed to do at this point was start laying down scenery.
 
Installing styrene sidewalk to roadwayAdding sifted dirt to edge of roadway

I had previously used Woodland Scenics Smooth-it to create a large, flat area to which the town would sit upon. After sanding and painting the entire area the same gray colour as my roads, I made paper templates which represented the footprint of each building. The templates helped me ensure each building would have a good fit around the small, circular roadway, as well as the overal downtown plan.  The painted and weathered styrene sidewalk I had built was also glued down at this point using construction adhesive.
 
Application of foam turf ground coverInstallation of Atlas Hair-pin and White Picket fences

Blended turf was next. This would represent the green spaces between the buildings, as well as the yard of the house. The turf in the yard of the house was applied a bit greener then the rest of the town’s green space to represent better upkeep and maintenance. I used an Atlas White Picket Fence kit to border the yard of the house, and an Atlas Hairpin style fence kit to fence in the backs of each green space from the tracks behind the buildings. I used superglue to fasten the fences to the layout.
 
Unfinished future property for White Castle Restaurant kitAdding sifted dirt for the road’s shoulders and parking lot

Leveling the gravel parking lot for future restaurantPaper template for adding turf to edge of parking lot and shoulder

My Walther’s White Castle Restaurant kit is located just up the road from the downtown area, situated at the corner of one of the two t-intersections on my layout. I decided to have a gravel parking lot for the restaurant, so I started by lying down and leveling sifted dirt, and cementing it down with isopropyl alcohol and thinned white glue, applied gently with a small pipette. After drying for a day, I applied blended turf to define the median between the shoulder of the road and the parking lot. I used a paper mask to prevent the turf from drifting onto the main parking lot (as seen above, bottom right).

Chain link fence frame template drawn on scrap length of woodBrass rod cut and mounted over template with masking tape

Finding model chain link fences in my area was proving to be difficult, so I turned to the internet to see if I could make my own. After finding several helpful articles, I easily made my own simple fences using brass rods and tulle I purchased at a local fabric store. I started by drawing a scale 6’ tall chain link fence template on a small scrap piece of wood. I then cut .81mm brass rod into the required lengths of each fence post, and taped them directly over the template with masking tape. A full 12” brass rod was used as the main rail along the top, and a 12” length of music wire was used as the bottom support rail.

Soldering the brass rods together to form the chain link fence’s frameThe completed chain link fence frame

Installation of white tulle to brass frame using super glueTrimmed tulle after glue has set and completely dried

I used my soldering iron to carefully solder the support rails to the posts. A bit of sanding might be required after making the solder joints, as the solder can leave a large, unrealistic joint. The next step was to lay the tulle over the backside of the fence’s frame with superglue. I found that superglue worked the best to attach the tulle material to the brass rod. Once the glue had fully dried, I used flat-head trimmers to gently trim the access tulle from the frame.

Painting tulle and brass frame with metallic gray acrylic paintCompleted and installed scratch-built HO scale chain link fence

Installed White Castle Restaurant kitInstalled White Castle Restaurant kit with telephone booth

Painting the fence was next. For this, I used metallic gray acrylic paint, ensuring all of the brass rod and tulle material was fully coated. After bending the fence to the appropriate angle, I used super glue to fasten it to my layout. I had a little trouble with this particular installation as the terrain wasn’t level, so I had to bend the fence on its horizontal access, which caused the tulle material to bind in some spots. Many of the small defects in the tulle (that were caused from bending the fence), were easily covered and hidden with shrubs that I added after installing the fence.

Styrene center median and sidewalk under constructionInstallation of tree onto inside base of median

Base of median filled with sifted dirtFinished median, complete with ground cover and bushes

The center median and sidewalk for my downtown scene were completely built from scratch using bulk styrene. The sidewalk was built to match the existing sidewalk that was included in my Merchant’s Row II kit, so determining sizing and spacing was quite straight forward. I used a dull hobby knife and metal straight edge to etch the concrete expansion joints into the styrene, and painted everything light aircraft gray. The median features a center-raised green space, topped with bushes and a large deciduous tree. I started by gluing the tree to the inside base of the median, and then filled the median with fine sifted dirt. After cementing the dirt in place with thinned white glue, I topped the dirt filler with blended green turf, and various shrubberies.

Installation of street lights through pre-drilled holesLayout under construction on August 31, 2012

All of the street lamps were purchased off of eBay, and run off of 12v DC. I did add a 100ohm resistor to each lamp however, as running them at 12 volts seemed a bit too bright. To install the lamp posts, I simply drilled a 1/8” hole into the layout, and ran the street light’s leads through to the underside of my layout. The lamp posts were a bit too loose in the 1/8” holes, so I solved this by wrapping a small piece of electrical tape around the underside of the base that fit into the hole. This made everything nice and snug. All of the buildings were also installed by this point and electrical connections were made for lights to leads that run to the underside of the layout. None of the buildings are fastened to the layout, which makes removal much easier if work is required on any of them in the future.

Installed Kate’s Colonial Home KitOverview of main town site

The final details I added to my downtown scene were accessories from a Walther’s City Accessory kit. I carefully painted each accessory and placed them where necessary along the sidewalks, attaching them with superglue (which came in especially useful when installing the tiny parking meters). The original blue US Postal Service mail boxes were painted red to represent Canada Post mail boxes, and include hand-cut white Canada Post logos.

View of town site from the midpoint of the wooden trestleAlmost-complete town center

Sidewalk details from Walther’s City Accessories kit Sidewalk details from Walther’s City Accessories kit in front of Merchant’s Row

I obviously still need to add the ‘final’ details to my downtown scene to fully complete it, which would be people and vehicles, but that is something that will be completed in the near future. My town, as well as the streets and the overall railroad, still disappointingly need to be named too, so if you have any good ideas, please send them my way!
 Sidewalk details from Walther’s City Accessories kitCompleted downtown street details

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Atlas Water Tower Kit

Atlas Water Tower Kit

Atlas Water Tower Kit
I purchased an HO Atlas Water Tower kit quite a while back, even though I originally had no intention of using it on my layout. This was mostly because my layout wasn’t going to be set in the steam-era, and lack of space on my layout. However, now that most of my structures are situated on my layout, I decided that that maybe I could make room for it after all. And as for it being from the steam era, well that hardly mattered as there are still many original water towers standing today, some still even currently being used. The water tower will stand in front of the turntable, directly to the left of the signal tower, and will service directly on the main line track.

Unpainted Atlas Water Tower kit pieces
The first step was to paint the components that made up the main structure. The Atlas Water Tower kit shows the completed model painted with a light green tank, however I opted for a more generic look by painting the entire structure brown. I started by spraying each piece with Camouflage Brown Krylon paint, then letting them dry for 48 hours. The brown base coat was quite dark, so I mixed several washes of brown enamel at different shades, and randomly painted different pieces of the superstructure with the different shades of brown. These slight colour variations add a more realistic, natural look to the overall wood structure. The same process was also used on the vertical planks that make up the main water tank.

Water tower under construction
Assembling the pieces was quite straight forward, and all the pieces fit snugly together. I needed to scrape off paint on every joint of the tank’s support structure to ensure the pieces slid completely into each other. For the roof, I first painted it flat black, then dry brushed it with satin aluminum enamel paint. I finished it with orange powdered pastels to represent the presence of rust. Once the entire structure was together, I weathered it with various powdered pastels and sealed everything with 2 coats of Testor’s dull-coat.

Atlas Water Tower Kit
A final detail that isn’t included in the kit, but is highly recommended, is the chains and counter-weights that support and raise/lower the water spout. You can represent these with black thread; however chain link has the most prototypical look. I found some small chain link in the jewelry clearance section at Walmart, which I then cut to length and painted black before installing it onto the model. Even though the chain is a bit larger than a prototypical sized chain, the look is quite convincing. Now that the model is complete and installed on the layout, I’m definitely happy that I decided to use it.

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Layout Scenery Part IV – Bringing It Together

Layout Scenery Part IV - Bringing It Together

Main overview of Ty's Model Railroad Layout
I find it quite amazing how fast things sometimes come together. I’ve been working on this project for just under 3 years, and even though it’s a ways from being complete, it’s definitely now past the 90% mark. While building a project like this, you constantly wonder what the final result will be. You meticulously plan everything out, trying to achieve a certain look and feel, and even though you have a good idea of the direction you’re heading, you never quite know exactly how everything is going to come together in the end. This is especially true if it’s your first go at building a layout.
Then it happens; that most exhilarating part of model railroading that so many modelers talk about – the part when everything all of a sudden comes together. And what a grand and epic moment it is. After all of those long evenings planning, painting, plastering, sanding, nailing, wiring, cutting, and gluing, you finally get to see the results of your efforts. I reached this point with my layout just last week.
Left half of my layout under constructionConstruction of the parking lot using plaster
I had previously posted about completing my main-street town scene which took up almost one full half of my layout, so here I will cover the second half of the layout, which includes the turn table and represents more of an industrial setting. The first steps I took here were to prepare my layout for the building structures. I used plaster to build a parking lot behind the turn table which my Cutting Scissor’s Co. and scratch-built garage buildings would sit on. After sanding and leveling the plaster, I painted it with the same coloured paint I used on my roads.
Adding sifted sand to benchwork before adding structuresConstruction of the parking lot using plaster
My Pioneer Press (Northern Light & Power Kit) is to sit upon a gravel lot, so I used sifted sand and applied it directly to the plywood base using diluted white glue. At the same time, I also started the process of adding the same sifted sand to the turn table area and track. I ended up having to lay the sand down quite thick in this area to make it almost level with the tracks. I used a pipette to first wet the sand with isopropyl alcohol, then used a second to apply diluted white glue. After drying over night, I noticed that some large cracks had developed in the sand. This required reapplying more sand to fill in the cracks and sealing with white glue.
Industrial section of my layoutCutting Scissor's Co. and scratch-built garage building installed
Before positioning the structures on the layout, I drilled holes through the benchwork for the power leads to pass through for lighting. At the same time I also drilled holes and installed the remainder of the street lights along the roadways. I then carefully positioned each building onto its intended position. The leads to both the buildings and street lights were then wired to the rest of the electrical system beneath the benchwork.

Left mountain tunnel portals with ballasted trackIndustrial section of my layout
Fencing was added next. I used a section of fence from an Atlas White Picket Fence kit that I painted brown in front of the Pioneer Press building. For the turntable yard, I surrounded it with custom built chain link fencing (explained in my Layout Scenery Part III – Downtown post). The rest of my structures were added at this point, including the signal tower, water tower, freight station, and 2 small shed structures made from spare pieces.
View of main roadway and track at center of layoutStyrene platform used to cover Atlas remote switch machine

The switch machine controlling the turnout into my turntable has been an eyesore since it was first installed. I wasn’t able to install an under-table machine here like I did on my other turnouts, so now I had to find a way to cover the mechanism. To do this, I built a small platform out of styrene, which I then painted and weathered to look like concrete. I then added small railings made of brass rod. The platform then sits on top of the switch machine, conveniently hiding it from view. Now you might ask, “What exactly this platform is for?” Well, I’m not exactly sure. But one thing I can tell you is that it looks a whole lot more believable then that big black ugly switch machine! It blends in well with the rest of the scenery and goes mostly unnoticed anyways.

Installed Atlas water tower and Atlas signal towerPioneer Press building (Northern Light & Power kit)
Main overview of Ty's Model Railroad layout

Vegetation and greenery where added next. This included adding ground cover, bushes, shrubs, and trees to the remainder if the layout and to blend separate scenes into the surrounding terrain as needed. I still have a few small places to touch up and a few foliage elements to add, such as little grass tuffs, but overall the main scenery elements are complete.
View of converging mainlines in front of water towerTurntable yard shed
Ballasting the remainder of my track was the last major step. I didn’t have much left to ballast at this point, as I ballasted most of my track section by section over the last year. I did however have to take some extra time and precaution when ballasting all of the turnouts at the front of my layout. I had to make sure that I didn’t get any glue onto the turnout’s moving parts, so I used a fine paintbrush to apply small amounts of glue around the ties. After carefully adding the ballast, I vacuumed up the excess and ensured the turnouts moved smoothly. I finished the track by weathering it with black powder pastels.

Control panel with industrial section in background
Currently I am working on completing some nighttime lighting effects that represent a moonlit sky, which I should have complete in the next few days. I am also currently on the hunt for vehicles, figures, and other scenic details needed to complete the finer details of my layout. Street signs are also on my current to-do list.  

Center section of layout looking towards the town centerCutting Scissors Co. and scratch-built garage buildings
 
 
SEE MY UPDATED POV VIEDEO OF MY LAYOUT:
 

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Lighting – Day & Night

Lighting - Day & Night

Layout with accessory lights and nighttime lighting mode

Adding proper lighting to a layout can literally turn it into a completely different model, and goes far beyond the main ceiling or valance lights. Installing accessory lighting allows details and scenes that were once typically less noticeable (such as detailed building interiors), to now be a main focal point. I knew from the start that I wanted lighting on my layout. This would include interior lighting on most of my buildings, street lamps, and some type of night-effect lighting to illuminate the overall layout.

 
To assist with adding accessory lights as I constructed my layout, I planned all of the wiring into my master wiring plan at the start of construction. I pre-installed power bus wires under my benchwork, and installed switches on my control panel to turn power to the bus wires on and off. The bus wires are powered directly by a dedicated, 12V 2A DC power supply, and are split into two separate circuits, accessory 1 & accessory 2. These two circuits are each controlled through two automotive-type relays connected to a corresponding toggle switch on the main control panel.

Overview of my layout with daylight lightingOverview of my layout in night mode

The majority of my structures had lighting installed during their construction (see any of my posts regarding structure kits for details). I left a long wire lead protruding from either the bottom or side of each building, which I then passed through a small drilled hole in my benchwork and tied it into the pre-installed power bus below. Any visible wire leads on top of my layout were simply hidden with scenery material.

Close up detail of brass street lampAutomotive-type relays used to switch on accessory 1 & 2 circuits

The brass street lamps along my streets were installed with the same method, however I did need to wrap the base of each lamp a couple times with electrical tape to provide a snug fit once I inserted them into the drilled holes. The street lamps are rated for 12 volts, but a full 12 volts produced way too much light, so I added a 110 ohm resistor to each street lamp to provide a softer, more realistic glow. Both the building lights and street lamps are wired onto the accessory 1 circuit.

Industrial section with daylight lightingIndustrial section with nighttime lighting

Accessory lighting on your layout is most effective when, quite obviously, the room that houses your layout is dark. However, having a completely dark room, void of any light, is much too dark and the majority of your layout will not be visible. You can create low levels of ambient room lighting by simply dimming the room lighting, but this is only effective if you use halogen or incandescent-type bulbs as most fluorescents are not dimmable. If you use fluorescent lighting (like I do), you will need to completely turn off the lights. More so, dimming your layout room’s lights still doesn’t create a realistic night-time light, so the most effective method (in my opinion), is to have separately installed “night mode” lights.

Industrial section with daylight lightingIndustrial section with nighttime lighting

For this “night mode” effect lighting, I wanted to recreate a moonlit scene, so the light needed to have a soft, bluish-white glow. To create this type of light, I constructed three light diffusing boxes out of styrene measuring 2 1/2” x 4 1/2” with a curved diffusing lens protruding out from the base by about 1 ¾”. I then installed one super bright white and one super bright blue LED into the base of each diffuser box, about 1” apart from the center. After adding the proper resistors to each LED, I wired all three of the diffuser boxes to my accessory 2 lighting circuit and installed them to the ceiling above my layout.

Town center section with daylight lightingTown center section with nighttime lighting

The diffuser boxes combine the intense light from the blue and white LED’s and emits an even, soft bluish-white light similar to moonlight. This emitted light provides just enough of a natural nighttime effect that the entire layout is still visible, while allowing your scenery lighting to stand out and be the main focal point.

Night mode styrene light diffuser box installed over layoutStyrene light diffuser box installed beside main layout mini-spiral florescent bulbs

As I mentioned before, I use fluorescent lighting for the main lighting of my layout. I originally had installed standard incandescent bulbs over my layout, which were fine during construction, but recently changed to mini fluorescent spiral bulbs. I use 6 of these bulbs (3 bright white and 3 warm white) in combination to produce a bright, natural daytime light. I found that incandescent bulbs alone produced way too much yellow-red light, and the typical bright white mini spiral florescent alone produced an unrealistic blue hue. I also uninstalled the large florescent ceiling light next to my layout, as it cast a very blue, overpowering light onto the right half of my layout.

Overview of my layout with accessory lights and night mode activated

Street lamp and vehicle at nightOverview of my layout in night mode

 

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Layout Scenery Part V – Details

Layout Scenery Part V - Details

Typical weekend downtown scene

I haven’t had much opportunity to work on my layout this last month, but in the few spare moments I have had, I’ve dedicated it mostly to adding scenic details. These details include traffic signs, additional foliage, figures, and vehicles. It is amazing the amount of detail products readily available by literally hundreds of different manufacturers, and really comes down to just deciding which products to use to achieve your desired look or level of detail.

Typical weekend downtown scene

The first details I added were from a Walther’s Cornerstone City Accessory pack, which included garbage cans, pay phones, fire hydrants, bike racks, mail boxes, and parking meters. These parts require assembly and painting, which isn’t that bad as you then have free range to customize them as you please. I did this with the mail boxes by painting them red to resemble a Canadian Post mail box instead of a blue US Postal Service box. I used these parts almost exclusively in my downtown scene, but did use a few details elsewhere on my layout.

Printed street signs mounted on styrenePrinted street sign mounted on styrene

Printed street sign mounted on styrene

Street signs were next on the list. I couldn’t seem to find commercially-made signs that offered the type and style I was looking for, so I turned to creating my own. I found high-resolution sign images online, then used Adobe Photoshop to scale them down to a prototypical size. Most provinces/states have online traffic standard manuals posted online, which I found useful for sizing. I printed the signs out on 5×7 photo paper at Walmart, then cut each sign out and glued it to a thin sheet of styrene for extra rigidity. I trimmed the styrene right to the edge of each sign with sharp scissors, making them nice and tidy.
 
Printed street sign mounted on styreneCoca-Cola billboard mounted on styrene frame

Styrene sign posts were glued on next, then painted an aluminum colour, along with the back of each sign. I used a dull, almost dead black sharpie to colour the edge of each sign black so it would seamlessly blend the white edge of the styrene into the black border of the sign. Using a new marker seemed to bleed into the photo paper, thus the use of the almost-dead black marker. I then glued the signs to the scenery with superglue. At the same time, I also built a billboard sign out of scrap styrene pieces and a printed Coca-Cola sign.
 
Pedestrian figures socializing in front of White Castle RestaurantWoodland Scenic Accents - dock workers at freight station

Train mechanic figure standing in front of signal towerDock workers opening a wooden crate

People figures were probably the most enjoyable details to add, as they really brought the layout and scenery to life. Most of the figures are from Woodland Scenics, and a few from Model Power. I still have neglected to give my layout an exact era, and as a result some figures seem a bit dated, while others are much more modern. Overall however, everything seems to blend together almost seamlessly. Woodland Scenics offers an amazingly large selection of detailed figures and scenes, and there are still several figures that I will be adding in the near future.

Woodland Scenic Accents - Dock WorkersWoodland Scenic Accents - Train Mechanics

 Woodland Scenic Accents - Backyard BBQWoodland Scenic Accents – Backyard BBQ

Vehicles are proving to be much more difficult to find than anticipated. Cars and trucks for the steam and transition eras are large in selection and availability, but more modern vehicles, especially North American prototypes, seem to be almost impossible to come by, are costly, and have a small selection. Model Power seems to be the most promising as far as selection, even though most of their models are European makes. Atlas had a run of North American vehicles, but I currently cannot seem to find any other than the two Ford Explorers I purchased last month. Adding more cars and trucks will most definitely be an ongoing process!

Tool and storage shed details in rail yardWoodland Scenics tool shed kit

Scrap pile behind rail yard maintenance shed Wooden pallet and parts from the Walther’s Cornerstone City Accessory pack

My latest detail was a small woodland Scenics tool shed die-cast kit which I installed into the turn-table yard. This small structure is highly detailed, and comes with several separate tools and details that you can use elsewhere on your layout, such as I did. Other details I added were small benches that I purchased off of eBay, as well as wooden pallets from a local hobby shop. Scrap pieces, such as left over rail and small pieces of scrap wood, all can be used as well. I added a small pile of scrap rail and lumber right behind the work shed, and used unwanted spare plastic wheels on the turn-table spurs to represent a locomotive repair area.

Woodland Scenic Accents - Train MechanicsIndustrial area and train maintenance yard details

Train maintenance shed and surrounding details

 

I don’t think there can ever be enough or too much detail, and that the only limitation is your imagination. Detail is what truly prevents a model from ever being entirely complete, as there is always something that can be improved upon, well at least in most cases. After 3 years of construction, the skills I have gained are significant, and there are several items and details from the beginning stages of my layout that I now want to re-model or enhance. I am sure that any future time spent on my model for the rest of its existence, will be dedicated to adding and enhancing details. Oh, and rolling stock.  

Ty’s Model Railroad

ArialArial view of Ty’s Model Railroad layout

Arial view of Ty’s Model Railroad layoutArial view of Ty’s Model Railroad layout

Ty’s Model Railraod layout on February 21st, 2013

 

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