Sunday, October 9, 2011

Beginning to Lay Turf

Over the last month the layout has been getting a bit more attention with more scenery being done. The hill near the town has seen the most attention with the curved rock walls being cemented into place and then getting a coat of paint and dirt to blend them in.

Here is a photo showing them after just having been glued in with plaster. The joins have been neatly smoothed over and textured so as to match the rockwork itself.

And here is a photo showing the hil itself with them all in place. It sure make driving a drain around feel a bit better with the wall in place and not straight vertical white plaster.

Next I tried a bit of ballasting to see the result. Yes I know you ballast last, but I just had to see how it would look. So I did some under the bridge which already had some grass and dirt on one side already. It looked good and hence has spurred us on. The trains looked even better swinging through under the bridge now.

I did the gluing of the ballast using my old tool - a small eye drop bottle with a very fine hole. This has always been a real pain as you had to squeeze it hard and it would clog and had such a small capacity. I’d also tried in the past a sauce bottle, but they are not fine enough and give way too large a drop size when you need to control it at that fine level.

So I’d seen that Xuron has some nice bottles, so I got one in. It was a Xuron 820, which is a 2 ounce bottle with needle adapter and 0.020” I.D. capillary tube (blunt end needle).

The plastic it is made of is nice and soft, yet strong enough it doesn’t let the fluid just flow out everywhere. That combined with the 20 thou needle means nice small drops can be released, but you can also make it flow like a fire hose (very fine one at that) if squeezed harder. They also do a 10 thou ID needle, which I will probably get to check out as well. But for this work the 20 thou is perfect for me.

Of course before applying the glue on the ballast I wet down the ballasted areas with wet water. This was made of a litre of tap water with a soup spoon or two of isopropyl alcohol and the usual dozen drops of detergent. All this put into a good pump pack like one of those Hills branded ones. Then I sprayed all over the ballast and then ad only then was I ready to glue it down.

I was using a 50/50 Aquadhere/Water mix with some drops of detergent in it to fix the ballast down.  Actually it probably has about 10% more water added to it for good measure, so I'd say it is now 40/60 Aquadhere/Water with a good dozen or two drops of detergent in a litre. I found that using the bottle in fire hose mode was very easy and very controllable and I used about three runs up each side of the rail and one down the centre to do it nicely to the white wet colour for the ballast. It actually made it quite a treat to do ballasting for a change. When dried it was all nice and solid and you couldn't see that any glue had been applied - it was invisible.

Probably what also helped me a lot with the ballasting was using a good brush to brush out the ballast and to level it etc. I’d always just used an artists largish brush and it just wasn’t nice. This brush was like a sheila’s blush brush except all the bristles were the same length such that it can stand up on the bristle tips. They are also nice and soft like a girlie brush.

The brush was a Model Expo JS154 Super-Soft Modeller’s Dusting Brush. It is not long, only 4½” (11.4 cm) from tip to top of handle, but once you get the hang of it, it is great. The width of the brush head is just wider tan N scale track ties by about 3mm either side or so. The trick to me in using the brush for ballasting, seems to be to hold the brush vertical and only apply enough force that it never pushes below the sleeper tops by more than a few thou (1/4 mm maybe). I was able to do my best ballasting to date using these new tool finds.

So on the day of the good ballasting experience with the new tools, the station got all the ballast laid except for up against the platforms for now. Gee it looks good now looking at person height on the layout with a train coming through the station.

After that bit of ballasting, it was time to go lay some dirt over the hill itself right up to the edges to cover the fresh glue/plaster from the walls being joined to it.

So the usual 50/50 white glue and water mix was used, but with some brown type acrylic artists paints (about 2½ bucks at a 2 dollar shop) added to it so the mix would partially soak into the white plaster parts to colour them in case dirt gets chipped off the surface to expose the white. Onto this was of course sprinkled a good dose of local dirt from just up Kremzow road in Brendale.

This dirt is a fine clay type silt based soil. Very low in any type of organic matter and hence doesn’t shrink too much or have any life in it. So after a bit of crushing, I place it through a number of sieves so that I have fine dust, small sand sized, medium sand sized, and of course large – up to 3-5mm sizes of dirt.

It is so easy to go out and find sources of this around the area. I also have a red coloured one we also use on the layout. So a good sprinkle of the fine and a bit of small and medium sand sizes was applied to the hill all over it to give a good base for the grass that is to come.

Next I got into sprinkling down some of the fine dirt between the three mainlines and between the outer lines and the rock walls. This will make it almost ready then to ballast. Also a sloppy mix of plaster was poured at the base of the left hand slope of the hill to bring it level with the towns main road. The buildings will sit a lot more level now and not sop towards their back boundaries.

Over the last week some of the Fine Turf ground foam from Woodland Scenics has been applied. We are mainly using Burnt Grass colour with some of the dark and light greens being thrown in here and there to give variety.

Once again the 50/50 white glue and water mix came out and this time was put into a sprayer (another good one like a Hills)  and sprayed all over the dirt areas in probably 1 square foot areas at a time (30cm x 30cm) until it was wetand white coloured. Then the ground foam was sprinkled on. Then move to the next square foot and repeat. Later on we’ll wet it again and do static grass on top of this to finish it off nicely. Even without the static grass, it is looking pretty good and is a damn sight better than plain plaster or even the brown paint we had a while back.

The road on the left side of the hill is only brown paint for now until the bitumen can be laid as we did on the railway crossing.

Since we were in the mood, Peter got into it and finished the timber on the aisle way of the large mountain. We’ll paint it shortly and this will now protect the foam of the mountain being accidently bumped and dented all the time.

Since the white glue was already out and the brushes wet, there was still time before knock off to do a bit of dirt scattering on the big mountain. So out with the brush and 50/50 glue/water mix and some more dirt has been sprinkled on the layout. Managed to get about half the mountain done for now. The left has now been dirtied and the right is waiting.

In the above photo you can see Peter’s first trees in the forest for the mountain. We will soon setup a production line and mass produce these wonders of modern technology – puff balls.

You take a golf ball sized chunk of polyester fibre, the stuff in cheap pillows or fish tank filters or the small bag sized piles you get at a two dollar shop (4 bucks for 100 gms) or from a large haberdashery or such - about 10 bucks a kg which is a hugh pillow size. It is all used for toy stuffing too. You then roll it into a rough ball shape. Don't make it too round - you don't see round trees unless they are in pots in your back yard. Next you spray it with some black paint. This gets rid of the “white” problem .

Once dry, you get out your Black & Gold brand hair spray (or nick your missus can if you are game) and spray the puff ball and then roll it in Woodland Scenics “Fine Turf” of the desired colour. Plonk it on a toothpick until dry.

Next get out a pair of sharp scissors and cut the ball in half. Voila! Now you have two tree tops for your forest. I reckon between the use of the “Fine Turf” and the “Course Turf” ground foam products from Woodland Scenics which have about 4 or so colours that would suit a forest, we’ll end up with a nice variety of colours and textures to the mountain. We might also get some of that JTT Scenery Products brand of ground foam as its colours are different to the Woodland Scenics colours and will add to our variety. For the test we only used one colour as per below:

We’ll use real trees with trunks like maybe the real cheap trees and some handmade ones for the first 3-4 inches from all edges and then use puff balls in the middle. We will also probably put a few tall real ones in amongst the puff balls to add some big height differences and uniqueness. Maybe a pine tree or two towards the top of the mountain.

The back corner between the big mountain and the river has also been “dirtied” ready for grass to be planted.

The railway crossing is really starting to look something now that ballast and dirt and the first layer of grass like substances are down.

See you next time I blog away - I'm starting to really like this doing scenery stuff!


  1. Nice. Where did you get the little mine houses?

  2. Now that's how slack I am - a comment has been waiting for an answer since mid-October.

    So sorry for the delay.

    Those little mining dongas are actually just printed up paper with some styrene stumps and a folder paper set of stairs. Over time members build up a lot of scans from magazine or even by programes such as that one from Evans Designs so we can print out various builds like these and even design them ourselves.