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San Luis Valley in eight square feet

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  • Member since
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  • From: CO
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San Luis Valley in eight square feet
Posted by pt714 on Monday, February 05, 2018 10:13 AM

Hi everyone!

It's been two years since I last came to this forum, and the same amount of time since the trains came out. I moved from Pennsylvania to Colorado (about six hours away from my prototype, as luck would have it), downsizing everything I owned to fit in my midsize car. This meant that my HO-scale San Luis Central, with its rural switching prospects, had to come down and very little was saved. Looking at one small duffel bag to hold all my model-related projects and tools, I held each piece of rolling stock and determined if it held personal significance to me, and 90% of my choices ended up being scratchbuilt, kitbashed, or hand-painted (or all three). All of them I could tell a story about how I built it and why it was important to me.

Two years and a trickle of a budget later, this led to an epiphany: every layout I have created has gotten smaller, their footprint shrinking as each car's story and attention to detail becomes more important. Among the few non-rolling-stock creations I saved were five of my handlaid turnouts, and I decided for this next layout, all of the track will be handlaid. Though I'm not going Proto:87 by any margin, I plan to pay attention to detail in each project to create something personally significant.

Photos to come soon,

Phil

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Posted by mlehman on Monday, February 05, 2018 12:44 PM

Phil,

Your story holds great significance, since many seem to be troubled by lack of space, budget, or time to varying degrees. I think you're right that finding the meaning of what you do, the quality of your modeling, is more important that any quantitative metric.

I've been relatively blessed when It comes to our hobby: a generous space, enough time to do much of what takes time, and a budget that was sufficient to build my empire, even f that is mostly in the past now. I have more than what I need and consider that it's enough to enjoy the hibby even when I can no longer generally afford the latest and greatest.

You picked a great prototype for a limited space. Anyone who's ever been to the San Luis Valley know how expansive it can be. Until you get close to its edges, the mountain backdrop that surrounds the SLV looks much like, well, a backdrop. There's most of your scenery and whenever you are able to create that effectively and fit it in your budget, it'll be something you can roll up and take with you (more than likely).

Track arrangements at various location differed, but were similar enough you could get away with swapping structures, etc to change the layout to something else entirely with relatively little effort. Likewise, many structures in the ag-based economy were very similar.

I think you're off to a great start here, because having plans that you are pretty sure you'll be able to meet the expectations of usually results in more satisfying modeling.

BTW, if you haven't already discovered it the Rio Grande forum that has been on Yahoo is a great place to learn more. There are several SLV-focused members who would be happy to give you assistance if needed. However, now that I'm thinking about it, you may have already heard that from me before as your user name seems familiar. Good luck!

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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  • From: Rimrock, Arizona
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Posted by SpaceMouse on Monday, February 05, 2018 12:56 PM

pt714
Two years and a trickle of a budget later, this led to an epiphany: every layout I have created has gotten smaller, their footprint shrinking as each car's story and attention to detail becomes more important

I hear you. I moved from PA to AZ three years ago and just this week I started an 80 sq ft layout in my garage. I saved 14 turnouts--not hand layed, but Fastrax. The layout seem just about the right size.

Chip

Building the Rock Ridge Railroad with the slowest construction crew west of the Pecos.

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Posted by Colorado Ray on Monday, February 05, 2018 1:41 PM

A true eight square feet as in 2' x 4' or eight feet square as in 8' x 8' = 64 square feet?

Ray

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Posted by SpaceMouse on Monday, February 05, 2018 2:54 PM

Colorado Ray
eight square feet as in 2' x 4'

Dang I read that as 80. I should wear my reading glasses when I'm using a laptop.

Chip

Building the Rock Ridge Railroad with the slowest construction crew west of the Pecos.

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  • From: CO
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Posted by pt714 on Monday, February 05, 2018 9:53 PM

Thanks for your encouragement, Mike! You did give me a lot of helpful advice on the older layout incarnations back in '14-15, and I continue to be grateful for your wisdom. The valley is a pretty magical place-- you sink into a zen-like state, and then it just seems to go on forever. I've kept the Grande Gold newsletters within reach-- they're a treasure trove of info.

Colorado Ray

A true eight square feet as in 2' x 4' or eight feet square as in 8' x 8' = 64 square feet?

Ray

True eight!

I lifted a design idea from M.C. Fujiwara (mcfunkeymonkey) to have a 1'x4' box that could unfold to make a 1'x8' shelf (his own plan lovingly taken from Byron Henderson-- credit where credit is due.) All of the wood came from a single reclaimed 80"x24" folding slatted closet door. In the future, I can plop this on a shelf, keep it open and put a valance on it, but for now, it can fold up and is easily stored.

The hinges will be hidden by two removable structures.

Track plan is essentially a refinement of my last layout plan: a single runaround at the end of the line in Center, CO, with the double-ended spur serving a potato storehouse and a team track, a small depot at one end, and a stub spur for an oil storage facility. Across the stream is one more spur for a grain elevator at the far end. 1-foot cassettes holding two 40' cars each can be supported on that end by the hinged section that folds up to complete the box.

Phil

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Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, February 06, 2018 2:18 AM

That's an interesting and practical design. Nice execution by you, too.Thumbs UpYes

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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  • From: Phoenix, AZ
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Posted by bearman on Tuesday, February 06, 2018 2:38 AM

Hey, that is pretty neat, can hardly wait to see when the track is laid and some scenery.  As for the San Luis Valley, took a vacation years ago in the area and spent a little time in the San Luis valley.  Ran into a cattle drive on the road and my baby (then) daughter thought it was the greatest thing to see.  The ares is, indeed, magical.

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by pt714 on Monday, February 12, 2018 10:07 AM

Weekend's been quite productive-- on Friday my order of ME code 83 and code 70 rail arrived, along with some other Fast Tracks goods and some electronic components for building a throttle. I'm using an Arduino Uno I've had on hand for years, one of the few gizmos I saved in the move. Here it is, connected up on a breadboard with a 10k pot and an H-bridge:

Now someone is going to think an Arduino is way overkill for a DC layout with one loco, a few LEDs and hand-thrown turnouts. And they would be absolutely right! However, I happen to have it on hand (free's a good price), and I keep some of my (limited) Arduino programming chops alive by putting it to use this way. It also means I can build a throttle that takes up virtually no space, useful for a layout this small.

As an added bonus, the Arduino's PWM signal can be modified to be out of hearing range, so there's no electrical hum coming from the motor. The result is VERY smooth, VERY quiet low-speed running.

Track is progressing, too:

My procedure actually does not involve spiking the track at all, but to use occasional PC board ties to keep the rail in its shape (and as added security at the hinged section) and then eventually use Pliobond to secure the rail to wooden ties once they are stained and secured in place. Both of these techniques I've used successfully in the past, and I'm combining them here to give myself the option of adding tie-plate detail in between.

 

All for now,

Phil

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Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 7:03 AM

Phil,

Good progress! The trackwork looks great. You're gonna just cut the rails to let it fold up?

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by pt714 on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 9:12 AM

That's the plan! The trackwork sits in three large moveable pieces right now, and the 'arms' reaching out of the turnouts have four PCB ties wherever they cross folds (two for each side of the hinge), so once I fasten them permanently I'll cut the rails in those places. The rail height is just below the center point for the hinge, so it'll swing away when it folds up.

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Posted by pt714 on Friday, February 16, 2018 4:56 PM

All tied up this week. 

I had been reading this week about "weathering" wood furniture with ferric acetate, made by placing steel wool in plain white vinegar. Different wood types react to the stain differently depending on their tannin content, and I found that priming basswood with super-concentrated black tea (which is full of tannins) deepened the rich, gray, sun-blasted color of the stain on the ties. I really like the way they've come out. Apparently, allowed to steep for a longer time (and allowing the steel wool to fully dissolve), the solution gets more brown and rust notes in it, which will be great for detail work and brushing rust onto the ties later on.

Rails are tacked in place with nails so they don't go anywhere-- still need to sand down the tie tops, wire up the feeders, paint the rails and PCB ties, and install tie plates (still debating that) before permanently affixing the rails. All that said, it's nice to be able to work with them in place to check all the clearances.

All for now,

Phil

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  • From: CO
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Posted by pt714 on Wednesday, February 28, 2018 9:14 AM

Rail painted, wired and tied down with Pliobond-- I decided to skip the tie plates, partly due to cost, partly because while the SLC absolutely doted over its sole locomotive, they were never as fastidious about the track-- stray ballast, dirt, weeds and shrubs all along the right-of-way. With all that detail between the rails, I doubt the tie plates will make enough of a visual difference.

Electrical testing and rail continuity across the sections went well-- there's one vertical kink at the hinge that I'll need to address, but most everything else is smooth! 

I also began testing out some scenicking ideas. I had a couple of scrap 2"x3" foam blocks lying around, so I made up some ground goop, slabbed it on, and had my first go planting some sagebrush, rabbitbrush and some various and sundry weeds. I'm aiming for early autumn-- some of the brush will be flowering, some yet to flower, others will have lost their leaves.

I used lightweight spackle in the goop mixture instead of Celluclay, then mixed the two in equal proportions later on. The Celluclay imparts a much rougher texture and makes the block significantly heavier-- I might use a little bit of that if I need more 'tooth' in a spot. Also, sagebrush is a pretty unruly plant, but I can see in the sunlight that some of those branches are marching to the beat of a different drummer (nothing a quick snip or two won't fix, though.)

Phil

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Posted by pt714 on Friday, March 16, 2018 5:53 PM

I've been in ballasting mode for the past couple of weekends-- using a mix of different tile grouts and a little fine sand to get that short line 'dirt' look.

Can't beat real sunlight. Behind, you can also see the beginnings of the sagebrush fields. Here's a bird's-eye of the whole thing, unfolded (click for a larger view):

All for now,

Phil 

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Posted by pt714 on Sunday, March 18, 2018 11:55 AM

One more update: I took some time yesterday to scratchbuild a loading dock for the team track-- figured if I was planning to build up all the structures from scratch, I had better start small! Weathering done with the same ferric acetate solution as the ties.

Phil

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Posted by pt714 on Saturday, May 12, 2018 3:19 PM

Ballasted turnouts successfully (without freezing any of the moving parts) and did some track/electrical testing this week. Little by little over the past month, the foundations of a few scenes have been coming together. For the stream crossing, I salvaged the deck of one of my small scratchbuilt trestles from the last layout, re-worked and re-stained it, and made new bents. Built up the water from layers of paint, acrylic gloss gel, and Mod Podge.

On the other end, I installed the dock for the team track and built up a road crossing nearby.

 

All for now,

Phil

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  • From: CO
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Posted by pt714 on Thursday, May 17, 2018 10:04 PM

Seems a little silly to post a track plan well into ballasting and scenicking, but having worked on slight variants of the same track plan in the past two layouts, it wasn't as much a priority to share it. I do sketch things out occasionally to make minor changes and also to work out the scenic elements-- here's the most recent one:

As far as the real work, this week I spent a little time off-layout to build staging. I had some two-foot steel angle that I had picked up cheap some weeks ago (from the same used construction place where I found the bi-fold doors for the layout.) At the time I figured I could probably use it for something staging-related, and ended up cobbling together these cassettes.

The wooden base sits just off the layout on two swinging L-brackets and brings the cassette even-level with the rails.

I used neodymium ring magnets to keep the tops clamped on:

Nell gets her own cradle, made from aluminum angle with a friction-fit top, and a rerailer for the base:

Nice to have some of my rolling stock out of the boxes and bubble wrap, that's for sure-- I figure I'll eventually make a couple more one-foot cassettes to hold the remainder (only got about 13-14 cars, so I'm most of the way there.)

Back to scenicking. Thanks for looking,

Phil

SPV
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Posted by SPV on Thursday, May 17, 2018 10:23 PM

Really great looking work! And a cool prototype choice. I'm a big fan of the various little Western shortlines long ago disappeared, and I'm enjoying following your progress.

 

Chris

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Posted by pt714 on Sunday, May 27, 2018 6:55 PM

Thanks, Chris! Believe it or not, this shortline still exists-- and has existed independently for 105 years. 

This week I received from overseas a couple of packets of different-colored static grass from WWS to play with. I made a DIY flyswatter applicator some time back but hadn't had a chance to really test it until now, making some small prep blocks out of spare foam and ground goop. (This is my first go-around with static grass, and I want to get comfortable with it before adding it to the layout proper.)

The first block incorporates some dirt (tile grout) and a few different kinds of bush material experiments, including faux fur, flax and ground foam-- the best of the lot IMHO is the Woodland Scenics yellow foliage, which I think makes a very convincing rabbitbrush (bottom right):

This second block I was just trying to work on a more convincing layering for the static grass. This is mostly 4mm with some 6mm thrown in, a lot of browns added to highlight the last of the summer green:

Thanks for looking,

Phil

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Posted by pt714 on Sunday, August 05, 2018 3:13 PM

 

Finally got the controller put together!

The Arduino core is capped with a motor shield to handle speed and direction. I added a power switch/LED and a few capacitors to smooth everything out.

This is designed to have a minimum of dangling wires and maximum portability. The layout will plug into a 9V wall wart via a barrel jack on the side, then the controller plugs into a phone jack up front (two wires source from the wall wart, while the other two provide juice to the track, no batteries needed.)

A little more progress on the river, as well:

Thanks for looking,

Phil

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Posted by pt714 on Friday, August 10, 2018 9:18 AM

A couple of months ago I put up an 11-foot shelf that spans one wall, plenty for the unfolded layout and room for cassette staging, as well. I finally set everything up this week, now that I have consistent electricity to the rails.

Rail height is a little tall at 79", but that's what had to be done to clear the window. (I operate atop a stepstool.) It's out of the way, too, which is important in a room that serves as two kinds of offices, a creative studio, a workshop, and a bedroom.

Phil

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Posted by pt714 on Monday, August 13, 2018 8:49 AM

Yesterday, I decided to go ahead with some detail work on Nell that I had been putting off for ages. When I first got this brass PFM Ma&Pa 2-8-0, I made lots of modifications to it-- some structural (re-motoring, installing all-wheel pickup) and much cosmetic (swapping positions of the domes and bell, new headlight, Westinghouse cross-compressor replacing the stock single, scratchbuilding the doghouse.) These were all done about two years ago or so, but there were some details left out-- the ones that were most obvious to my eye were the small 'cowcatchers' that extend past the footboards, and the spark arrestor atop the stack:

  

Nell also had an identical pilot in the back, since she was never turned around on the SLC's 13 miles of track and made all her northbound trips in reverse.

I started out with a frame of square .040" styrene rod for the base, and planned to use .030" round rods crimped at the ends to make the guards. This worked well for the outer guards:

Quickly, though, I ran into trouble with the inner guards. They're supposed to bend in, beneath the coupler, and I found that I wasn't getting what I wanted with styrene, so I switched to solid wire (hard to keep totally straight, but more flexible.)

Even so, I was having trouble keeping the wires glued in place evenly and neatly. I wanted a design that would still leave the coupler boxes accessible should I need to replace them in the future, so I soldered together these little 'chips' to keep the guards in place:

 

This attaches to the coupler box cover, and the whole thing can come off as a unit with the cover.

The SLC used a number of different spark arrestors on Nell, some of which were quite ugly. This one shown in the photo above is the most elegant design (and the one which I believe she wore in 1948, my prototype year) so I decided to model that. I took mesh from a very fine tea strainer and cut it to size, then molded solid wire into rings to keep it in place:

After painting and touch-up:

Thanks for looking,

Phil 

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Posted by pt714 on Sunday, August 26, 2018 9:22 AM

This week, I spent my hobby hours on backdrops and lighting. With the layout so high up on its shelf, it was obvious as soon as I laid it out that lighting the space would make an immense difference. Again, everything has to be removable, so I bought a pack of 14"x22" cardstock-- heavy enough to take paint, light and flexible enough that I wouldn't need a lot of framing to keep it in shape like wallboard (which I used for my last layout's backdrop.) Maybe doing it again I would have looked for larger pieces, for fewer seams, but I made do-- and it's easy to fold up into a small space if I want to save it next time I move. I blue-taped it in place to check fitting: 

While building my previous layout, I found some awesome LED strips on Amazon, from a store called Lighting Ever. Each one is $8, comes rolled in a 5-meter (16.4 feet) single strand, and is cuttable to desired length with adhesive backing. I bought one of their warm white strands (about 3000K), which I remembered looked better to my eye than the daylight strands (I had bought both before, as well as red and blue strips to try different effects.)

I also bought some cheap blue spray paint at Home Depot for the sky color. At first, while outside spraying, I was worried that the color would be too 'aqua', but it toned down once I hit it with airbrush whites and greys, and it looks even better with the warm white LEDs in place. The seams maybe take away from the realism a bit, but for now they don't bother me too much.

The San Luis Valley is a flat, high desert flanked by mountain ranges, so I brush-painted the range in with acrylic once I had everything in place.

Thanks for looking,

Phil

  • Member since
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  • From: CO
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Posted by pt714 on Saturday, September 29, 2018 10:29 AM

It's been about a month and life swept me away from time to work on the layout for a little bit. But I did make some time to start on structure-building and a little scene composition. I bought two Walthers structure kits, the Trackside Oil Dealer and the Farmer's Co-op Grain Elevator, which should give me adequate plastic to bash into the structures I want to represent.

One of the challenges of a shelf layout this narrow is capturing the expanse of the prototype within a really small footprint. Most buildings will have to be flats (or almost-flats) in order to locate them realistically, especially along the runaround, but I'm playing with some ways to keep it interesting.

'Flat' doesn't necessarily mean 'parallel with the backdrop', and taking one or two buildings off the 'grid', just like running track at an angle to the benchwork, seems to work wonders for opening up some space. With so little room to work, though, I have to get creative:

I also made a raised area for the oil storage tanks, using some sheet styrene and framing it with weathered wood. Its purpose is to hide the hinges that allow the layout to fold up, on the nearside of the tracks (the ones on the other side will be hidden by a small, removable warehouse):

The tanks will sit atop this, with piping, fencing and a stairwell to reach it from ground level. I changed the rightmost tank into an older design by scraping off the welded seams and replacing them with Archer rivet decals:

Still a long way to go-- I sprayed all of these with some Testor's silver enamel as a base coat, but am waiting to do any more painting until I've decided on their location in the scene to provide the best views.

Prototype research: I did get down to the San Luis Valley this month (I make a trip there every year) and took some pictures in the right season for what I'd like to model, late September-early October.

Bonus: exploring south, I also saw Cumbres Pass with the aspen leaves changing, which was just gorgeous-- and the beauties that inhabit that stretch of the mountains are almost enough to pull me over to the narrow gauge side.

Thanks for looking,

Phil

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