Pete's Pumpkins

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Barn Raising – Part Two

With the landscape contours in place, Pete’s Pumpkins model railroad was finally starting to take shape, thus, it was time to add the barn. Having only previously scratchbuilt structures in N scale, I wasn’t used to the material needs of a large scale structure – I could build and entire N scale city with the styrene needed to build a 1:32 barn! Thus, I chose to build the barn from foam core, as it was significantly cheaper then styrene, and wouldn’t need internal bracing.

Foam core is a wonderful building material; it cuts cleanly, is quite rigid, lightweight, and has the benefit of not melting under the heat of a glue gun.

Construction went quickly, and in the course of an evening I was able to build the entire superstructure. The mitres etc. aren’t perfect, but that won’t matter as all of the surfaces will be sheathed in wood siding and metal roofing.

I carved out trenches in the baseboard (another benefit of Styrofoam scenery) and set the barn’s foundations into them so that the rear of the structure was built into the hillside. It was nice to see how the layout will take shape – however I do think that visually things are too heavily weighted to the left side, so I’m going to consider building a smaller building for the rear right corner to help balance everything.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tracks and Tunnels – Part Two

I managed to finish rouging in the second tunnel portal, and contoured the surrounding landscape.

I stained the wood portals with a mixture of burnt-umber oil paint / varsol, and then lightly over-sprayed everything with black spray paint. (I made sure I stained the wood before I started gluing the surrounding scenery as the glue would resist the stain later.) I applied a thick coat of white glue around the portals an added some loosely wadded balls of paper towel to help flesh-out the hills, and then applied a smooth layer of paper towels and white glue to refine the contours.

Finally, I smoothed out some of the surrounding scenery with drywall mud. I have come to prefer drywall compound over regular plaster because of its working time. Granted, it shrinks and is not as hard as plaster but as I’m not relying on the mud for structural stability, I’m not too worried. It’s also easier to sand, and cleans up very easily.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Tracks and Tunnels

Having given the track 24 hours to dry, I finished removing the ties in the areas damaged the previous evening without incident, and successfully ran a few test laps with Pete’s Speeder around the oval; all rail joins and turnouts were smooth.

I weathered the ties and rails by applying several light coats of different coloured spray paint, alternating light mists of black, tan and brown. I waited for the paint to dry before scrubbing the tops of the train rails with a fine emery paper, removing the excess paint.

With the track now complete, I focussed my attention to the tunnel. I ripped some scale 6”x6” lumber on the table saw, and with glue gun in hand, began installing the tunnel portals. A great deal of time and effort was spent trying to create a minimally-intrusive tunnel configuration – bearing in mind that both the upper and lower track levels needed adequate clearances, and the scenery would need to look moderately believable.

By evening’s end I managed to create one of the two portals. The configuration is absurd, as it would have been far more efficient to have simply created a bridge rather then a shallow tunnel, however I like the idea of the speeder disappearing into the ground, and hopefully appropriate scenery treatment will add some believability.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Laying Track – Part Two

Having managed to install the track the previous evening, I planed to spend this night testing, tuning, and removing / adding ties. I found that there was a kink at one of the joins along the spur at the rear of the layout, so I tried filing it back to scale. This was fruitless, as when I checked the rail spacing, I realized that the rails were about 1/16 too close – far too out of gage to be tuned, so I grabbed the rail nippers and cut the rails behind the joint. It’s at this point the evening started to go badly. No sooner had I cut the rails then the track on the rear of the layout sprang free from the roadbed.

It seems that the caulking didn’t stick to the roadbed.

To explain: I had to raise the grade of the track while I was installing the upper rails, so I decided to try a package of Woodland Scenics roadbed that I had kicking around the basement. This product bills itself as the quieter alternative to conventional cork roadbed, and is significantly cheaper. However, having tried it I can honestly say that I feel this is an inferior product…

Firstly, the roadbed was foam, which is great for sound dampening, but offered no structural support / rigidity for rail spikes etc. Secondly, no common adhesive bonded to the roadbed’s surface. The caulking peeled away easily from the surface, as did the white glue, and CA pooled into a crusty lump. Finally, I don’t know how the surface of the foam is going to react to solvent based paints.

Despite these headaches, I managed to reinstall the track and remove some of the ties on the ‘loop’. I’m very pleased with how well the track turned out around the loop, as the caulking held fast after removing every other tie, and the appearance was very convincing. I will definitely try this technique again on the next layout.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Laying Track

I’ve tried several different ways to lay track, but I haven’t found any technique that is a slick as using latex caulking as an adhesive. The technique is very simple; smooth a small bead of caulking onto the roadbed; pin the track in place; done! The major advantage of this method is the caulking holds everything in place. Caulking is not sticky, but quite tacky, and once the track is set it almost needs no pinning. If you don’t like where the track has been set, pull it up effortlessly, and reposition it. If too much caulking gets on the rails, you can wash it off with water. Caulking is also an effective glue with good adhesion, and once dry becomes waterproof – so you needn’t worry about you track springing free while soaking your ballast in watered-down glue.

It’s important to use transparent latex caulking – as opposed to the standard white. Some of the caulking will inevitably work its way up between the ties, and the transparent caulking will be virtually invisible, whereas the white caulking will either need to be carved away, or painted. On a previous layout, it wasn’t until I started ballasting that I noticed the while caulking peeking through the ties, and it was a real headache to remove…

N Scale Track at 1/32

In 1 Scale, 9mm track has a rail spacing of about 1 scale foot. The ties are 2x3s with an average spacing of about 6 inches. I wanted the ties to be spaced about 12 inches apart, so I chose to remove every-other tie. This was a disaster.

Using my rail nippers, I snipped between each tie, removing every second tie as I went. Once the ties were removed the tracks seemed a little flimsy; the ties freely slid back and forth, and the rails and were quite loose. I figured that once set into the caulking everything would be fine, so I soldered the first section of track to the turnout, bent it around the curve, and disaster stuck! The entire length of rail twisted, and all the ties flew off in every direction. I attempted to snap the ties back on, but each of the little spike heads had been broken off.

I removed the twisted rails (they will make lovely scale scrap) and replaced them with another section of track – ties intact. The sharp curves and steep grades put a good deal of stress on the track, but with enough pins everything held in place. I noticed another advantage of the caulking was that it still offered good adhesion in those places where the ties didn’t quite touch the baseboard.

Some areas of the track only needed an hour before they had completely dried. I took the rail nippers and removed a few ties to ensure that I could achieve the tie spacing I wanted earlier. Success!

I spent the next 10 minutes sweeping up all of the track shrapnel on the floor…

Fascia and Backdrop

One of the distinct advantages of an all-foam baseboard is that it is fairy rigid, and extremely light. On the other hand, it does stand up very well to normal abuse – dinting and chipping… As I had leftover Masonite from the baseboard, I elected to add fascia boards. I cut each of the boards to size, following the rough contour of the landscape, and then slathered them with white glue and ‘tacked’ them in place with hot glue, taping the corners with masking tape to keep the joints tight while the glue dried.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to add a backdrop, but as I considered my design it became apparent that I needed to frame my scene. I’ve seen layouts by Christopher Creighton and Brian Fayle at local exhibitions, and I’ve always enjoyed being able to view the layouts from all sides. However, the major difference between those layouts and mine is that their designs have a central subject, and track around the perimeter, whereas my focal points are located around the perimeter of the layout with the track. As such, it seemed that framing the scene with a backdrop would be a good idea, and at the very least would lessen the amount of detail I would need to add as now the audience wouldn’t be able to see everything.

(This is a plus as I still haven’t figured out how to deal with my poorly planned tunnel…)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Barn Raising - Part One

I decided that while I’m trying to figure out track elevations and scenery camouflage, I might as well start thinking about the only structure on the layout – the barn. I drafted the basic contours of a gambrel-style barn in 1:32 scale, and printed each of the plans at 100%. The barn has to fit atop the uneven elevations of the layout, so I added an addition to the side of the main structure to compensate for the rising track.

I’ll make some rough paper mock-ups of the barn, and move it around to see what works best, studying its position while I consider the track...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Speeder – Part two

I wanted to add a front grill to the speeder, but was having trouble finding a decent mesh material. I finally figured out that I could make a really convincing ‘screen’ with polyclay. I rolled some Sculpy out until it was paper thin, and then carefully rolled the knurled handle of my Exacto knife across the surface. The handle left a uniform diamond pattern in the clay which looked just like screen! I baked the clay, cut it to shape, glued it to the speeder and framed it out with some styrene strips. Now the engine won’t overheat!

I decided to paint the speeder with automotive primer as I liked the neutral colour, and I didn’t have any other colours available. Once dry, I sculpted some cushions for the speeder, pressing Pete into the clay to ensure he would sit level. I baked the cushions, gave them a quick coat of paint, and attached them with CA.

I weathered the speeder with some charcoal and real dirt, and fixed everything with some Testors Dullcoat.

I’m happy with the results, but have no illusions about what I’ve created. This is not a finescale model; there are no control devices, rivets, and the detailing is crude. I am still looking for something to represent the headlamp, and I need to figure out what I’m going to do with the rapido couplers. That being said, I’m starting to think of this project as a characture more then a model, so I think the design is a good fit for that standard.

My next challenge is to make some rolling stock…

Building the Baseboard – Part Two

I’ve used foam for landscape contours before, and found the only drawback is that the foam is a bit flexible, so pressure on its surface can cause indents. This is no big deal - unless of course you’ve applied some plaster or spackle atop the foam, in which case it tends to flake off. With this, I chose to apply a coat of full strength white glue and paper towels to the surface of the baseboard. This offered some distinct construction advantages: First, the baseboard is now rock hard – much like a plaster impregnated cloth, the glue/foam has made the surface of the baseboard virtually bullet proof. Second, I’m more confident attaching my track to this rigid surface as it will be more secure then the foam and cardboard alone. Thirdly, it’s important to seal the foam. I will be using spray-paint to colour the track etc., and I really don’t want any chemical erosion on my hillsides.

It is also now apparent that the tunnel I planned doesn’t really have the necessary clearances to look convincing. One option would be to just have one track pass over the other via a bridge, but I didn’t do much detail work on the sidewalls of the tunnel and I don’t want to excavate more material.

Time to head to the sketchbook…

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Constructing the Baseboard – Part One

Having finished (mostly finished) Pete and his speeder, I was finally able to calculate the clearances needed to construct the baseboard. The height of Pete in the engineer’s seat was just shy of 2 inches – a touch higher then I would have liked as this meant that the entrance / exit to the Pumpkin Pit would need to be on a 14% grade! I reasoned that this wasn’t a terrible incline for a narrow gage railway as there are examples prototypes railways with steep inclines; the Mt. Albert Tramway in New Zealand for one.

I transferred the original layout plan to a large sheet of boxboard, and then removed the areas between the tracks to create a cookie-cutter style sub roadbed. I traced this template onto several sheets of Styrofoam and removed the areas that corresponded to the tunnel. I glued the two Styrofoam sheets to a 1/8th inch masonite panel using regular white glue, and hot-glued small pine blocks in the corners of the baseboard for facia installation. I next measured the total run of each of the grades and cut out Styrofoam ramps, which I sectioned and again fastened to the baseboard with glue. Finally, I glued the cardboard sub roadbed atop the Styrofoam with a combination of white and hot glue, and temporarily secured the entire assembly with some finishing nails.

I was surprised how quickly I managed to complete the assembly, as well as how rigid the final structure is, and how little the baseboard weighs. Next step: contouring.

Monday, August 20, 2007

1n12 – A Quick Note About Scale

When I started this layout, I had no scale preference, just the requirement that the layout would make use of my leftover N scale track, and that it would represent a fictional narrow gage railway. I decided that I liked the proportions of 1/32 scale figures with my track and motive power, as well as the fact that I wouldn’t need to use a microscope to do detail work.

Having decided on scale, I searched online for examples of others doing similar work. I found two things: First, 1/32 scale is not popular. Second, apparently no-one is uses N scale track in conjunction with this scale!

Unconvinced that I was a pioneer in this area, I decided to contact the venerable Carl Arendt – the master of minimum space layouts, to see if he had any thoughts on what sort of designation this scale had.

In his reply, Carl stated:

I haven't heard of anyone working in 9mm gauge in this scale (though I'm sure that somewhere in the world... ), so you are pretty free to choose your own designation. My preference would be "1n12" (see my rather arbitrary scale/gauge chart at OTOH, the small but brave band who are pioneering 9mm gauge in G scale call it "Gnine". So maybe "1nine"?? It has a nice ring! And of course, the New Zealanders call it "9mil" regardless of gauge -- so "9mil-12" is a possibility, though rather obscure.

Thusly, I’ve officially adopted the 1n12 designation (although I am still partial to the 1nine moniker). If anyone else knows of others working in this scale, please contact me at:

Scratchbuilding a Speeder

I decided that the most practical design for Pete’s speeder would be a side-saddle design. The motor placement was too cumbersome for Pete to straddle, and I was trying to minimize the unit's overall height as much as possible. I took one last look at the drawings, discarded them, and started scratchbuiling.

I built a shell around the motor and drive using plain styrene. I was careful to ensure that shell didn’t interfere with the worm gear, while snugly fitting around the tops of the drive wheels. Using my thumbnail as a ruler, and some photos from (currently under construction) I ‘imagineered’ (and revised) the speeder’s dimensions until it looked like a plausible diesel unit.

Happy with the basic form, I went hunting for some detail parts. Scrounging about it my toolboxes produced some vinyl zip-ties, a 3M wire connector and some cable clips. Perfect! These bits of junk became the bumpers, exhaust pipes and the light manifold.

More to come…

Painting Pete

Satisfied with modelling job from the previous evening, I gave Pete a quick coat of paint. Using inexpensive craft paint purchased at the dollar store, I first primed Pete with a coat of white, and then applied successive coats of various colours until I had blocked in his basic features. I emphasized some of the highlights in his clothes by lightening the original shades and dabbing them atop the original colours until I was satisfied with the coverage – my goal was to use paint to distract from some of the modeling defects.

Finally, I watered down some burnt umber paint, and washed it onto the figure – paying particularly close attention to the facial features – and dabbing the excess with a paper towel, until Pete’s features were clearly visible.

I’m happy with the way the figure turned out. While I can only see his flaws, I do know that from a comfortable distance he looks good, and is somewhat more believable because of his muted colour scheme, and dull sheen.

If time permits, I’ll attempt to add some additional figures to the railroad, perhaps even a scarecrow. Until that time, I have dozens of pumpkins to model…

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sculpting Model Railroad Figures

I decided that now was the time to try my hand at sculpting some figures for the layout, as I needed to know what clearances were required when laying the track, and until my engine was done, and Pete (the engineer) was seated, I wouldn’t be able to start building. I did a little searching online and came across an outstanding article on, outlining how to create large scale figures using tinfoil armatures and polymer clay. I skimmed the article and decided that it was worth trying.

(I’m not going to bother detailing how I sculpted the figures, as thoroughly documents the process.)

Firstly, I used a wire armature for the body rather then tinfoil as it was more rigid and allowed my to pose the figure more easily. Using a proportional template ensured that the basic dimensions of the figure were correct. I systematically sculpted each detail starting at the feet, baking and re-baking the figure each time I added new details. The polymer clay tended to darken each time I baked it, so you can see how I started with the feet and worked upwards. Each time the figure was in the oven, I sculpted several heads in an attempt to come up with a suitable visage. By the time I had finished the body I had created about a dozen mediocre heads. I selected the best of the bunch, and attached it to the body with a bit of clay.

In the end, it took roughly three hours to come up with the figure, and I’m generally happy with it. The body is good, but the face is crude, large, and proportionally ‘off’. When I build my next figure, I’ll be sure to purchase harder clay, as the product I was using, Sculpy, seemed too soft and tended to melt in my fingers as I worked with it - which made modeling the facial features very difficult.

Oh, and I made some pumpkins…

(Please excuse the poor image quality)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Designing Motive Power

Having established a rough trackplan for Pete’s Pumpkins, I next needed to decide what scale I would be modelling in. I knew that I was going to use N scale track and motive power for the railroad, so I decided to draft up some freelanced engine designs in various scales to better assess how plausible it would be to transform my old Bachmann Plymouth MDT Switcher into a narrow gage gnat.

The three scales I chose to explore were O Scale, #1 Scale and G Scale. I was able to come up with some fairly pleasing designs, but was most intrigued with the plans designed in #1 scale (1:32). The current trackplan features tracks Pete’s pit – the tunnel beneath the ‘mainline’ track – which will have limited clearances, so the G scale plans are a bit too big. Likewise, I’m considering modelling the figures for the railroad myself, so the O Scale plans – while decent – might prove to be too challenging when it comes time to model some O scale people.

Here are the possibilities I came up with. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


The trackplan for Pete’s Pumpkins railroad is loosely based on Chuck Yungkurth's Gum Stump & Snowshoe model railroad – a small 1’x6’ switching layout published in Model Railroader in the 60’s. The hallmark feature of the Gum Stump & Snowshoe was the switchback arrangement that allowed for the mainline to cross over itself. I decided to reverse the elevations, eliminate the sidings, and join the original east and west tracks to create a continuous loop. The finished plan bears little resemblance to the original GS&S, however the essence is still there.

In an attempt to add some plausibility to the railroad's design, I envisioned that Pete runs a roadside vegetable stand offering pumpkins to would-be halloweeners. In order to keep up with demand, Pete installed a make-shift narrow gave railway to transport pumpkins from the neighbouring fields to his barn. As demand is high, Pete is constantly transporting goods from the barn to the roadside stand via the ‘pumpkin pit’ – the underground access to the barn’s cellar.

The overall plan size is 18”x24” – just 3 square feet – which easily qualifies it as a micro layout (micro layouts categorically are those model railroads that are 4 square feet or less). The elevations will undoubtedly be steep, and the curves are tight, so creative scenicing will be paramount in order to create relative believability. Likewise, pumpkin season dictates that the layout be modeled in late fall, requiring autumn colours and withering vegetation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

About Pete’s Pumpkins

Pete’s Pumpkins is a micro layout I’m attempting to build in lieu of working on my somewhat larger layout. My larger N scale layout is a freelanced design roughly set in South-western Ontario Canada. While I have enjoyed working on this pike, there is some tedium as there are always some details to research, prototype equipment to purchase/make, or some buildings to scratch-build. As such, I wanted to try my hand at something simpler, so I’ve decided to build a microlayout.

Pete’s Pumpkins is a fictional narrow-gage railway set in the rural countryside used to transport pumpkins from the surrounding fields to Pete’s Pumpkins storage facilities – the barn…

I haven’t yet decided if Pete’s Pumpkins will be HOn30 or On18 scale, only that it will be constructed using leftover N scale track. The budget for the layout is $0.00, so the goal is to build the layout using little more then the cast-off rolling stock and common building that are laying around the house. Likewise, I’d like to see how quickly I can construct the layout, as working on my larger layout (which will never be ‘done’) makes if difficult to judge how quickly my skills have developed.

Thanks for visiting.