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Archive for the ‘Scenery’ Category

LED Background Lighting

After much research, and hesitation, I finally took the plunge and invested in an LED striplight system.  I got the kit from hitlights.com

After much research, and hesitation, I finally took the plunge and invested in an LED striplight system. I got the kit from hitlights.com.  The description for the kit is:  Flexible LED Light Strip Easy-Plug Kit – Multicolored SMD 5050 – High Density  SKU = LS5050_RGB300NW44K.  The 5050 designation is for a new kind of LED that is brighter, and the “high density” indicates twice as many LEDs per inch on the strip.  RGB means that each LED will put out the entire color spectrum.  The kit comes with a wireless controller that will program 20 different color combinations, about half of which are suitable for sky colors.  The bottom half of the controller is full of special effects that will probably not be useful for model railroaders, unless you want to have a disco night operating session.  I think, however, I could simulate lightning.

The strip is about 16.5 feet long, so I will eventually need about 4 strips.  Like all of these LED strips, you can customize the length by cutting the strip at marked intervals.

The strip is about 16.5 feet long, so I will eventually need about 3 more strips.  My background from Backdrop Junction is about 59 feet long.  Strips can be purchased individually along with the power supplies to feed them.  Once they are hooked together, one controller will manage them all.  Like all of these LED strips, you can customize the length by cutting the strip at marked intervals.   In these photos, I have not altered the intensity or the color, and you can see that the coverage from the LEDs is very smooth.

The strip comes with a peel-and-stick back, but I want to experiment with positioning,

The strip comes with a peel-and-stick back, but I want to experiment with positioning, so I tacked it in place with some bits of masking tape.  I may want to try mounting it on the 1×3 that holds my backdrop away from the wall, with the lights facing upwards, but I’m really pretty happy with the effect I’m getting now.

Here's a color that would work for a sunset, and there are three other blends in the red range.

Here’s a color that would work for a sunset, and there are three other blends in the red range.  These photos were shot with about half the regular room lights off.  The two buttons on the upper left corner of the controller increase or decrease the intensity of the light, which gives you even more combinations.

This could be several hours after sunset, or before sunrise.

This could be several hours after sunset, or before sunrise.

Closer to sunrise, with some light falling on the mountains.

Closer to sunrise, with some light falling on the mountains.

Moonlit night?  It needs some stars, but I'm not going to open the wall to install fiber optics!

Moonlit night? It needs some stars, but I’m not going to open the wall to install fiber optics!

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This project makes me feel like I'm walking through a trackless wilderness toward some undefined destination.  Several months ago I posted this photo of an idea

This project makes me feel like I’m walking through a trackless wilderness toward some undefined destination.  The reason for this is that in my 30 years in model railroading, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this idea tried with a backdrop.  Several months ago (10/24/12) I posted this photo of the concept of putting rope lights behind masonite ground forms to create the effect of sunrise or sunset lighting at the horizon.  I have since decided that I’m going to try Micro-Mark’s new three-color LEDs.  They will do everything I want to do in terms of blending the three primary colors in light (red, green and blue), to produce any shade in the rainbow.  They also come with an inexpensive controller.  My only uncertainty is how much light they will produce.  I wasn’t too happy with the low lumen output of my rope lights.

The masonite is mounted on the narrow edge of a 1x3 which sits on top of 2x2s that are lag screwed into the wall studs, and will support the layout benchwork.

In this demonstration set-up, the masonite is mounted on the narrow edge of a 1×3 which sits on top of 2x2s that are lag screwed into the wall studs. These 2x2s will also support the layout benchwork, which will enable me to minimize legs beneath the layout.

After a considerable amount of internet research, I decided to go with Dave Burgesws at Backdrop Junction for the printing of the backdrop.

After a considerable amount of internet research, I decided to go with Dave Burgess at Backdrop Junction for the printing of the backdrop.  This is what it looked like when it arrived, but let’s go back a bit….

Dave has several dozen high resolution images of different kinds of mountains

Dave has several dozen high resolution images of different kinds of mountains on his web site <backdropjunction.com>.  After a lot of e-mail discussion about what I was looking for, and the size I needed, this is the 59 foot long backdrop we designed.  It is one continuous image that was photo-shopped together from about eight different originals.  This is the “proof” that is posted on his website under Custom Orders.  Traveling from bottom to top it does a fairly good job of representing the terrain going from Durango up to Silverton.  There is no Animas River Canyon on the backdrop, because that is modeled on my layout as the central “roll-under”, and is seen from both sides.

Dave printed the backdrop on a special vinyl material he uses, and it has a self-adhesive "peel and stick" back, which makes installation fairly easy.

Dave printed the backdrop on a special durable vinyl material he uses, and it has a self-adhesive peel- and-stick back, which makes installation pretty easy.  He produced it in a series of sections, each about four feet long, with some overlap of the picture at each end.   You can see this in the photo above.  When installing the backdrop, the joints are overlapped, not butt-joined, and I was surprised at how well the image blended.  You have to look very closely to see where two sections are connected.  When I finish the scenery, I can also use judicially placed trees to draw the eye away from anything I don’t want to be seen on the backdrop.

Since the whole concept revolves around putting some space between the mountains and the sky, I had to cut the sky out of all the backdrop sections.  Dave and I had planned for this, and he didn't bother to try to blend the sky in the eight photos we chose to use.

Since the whole concept revolves around putting some space between the mountains and the sky, I had to cut the sky out of all the backdrop sections. Dave and I had planned for this, and he didn’t bother to try to blend the sky in the eight photos we chose to use.

After cutting away the sky, each section of backdrop was lined up evenly with the bottom of a piece of masonite, and the land-form outline was traced in pencil.  I am not left-handed, and that's why I had to use my right hand to take the photo, and just pretend to be drawing with my left.

After cutting away the sky, each section of backdrop was lined up evenly with the bottom of a piece of masonite, and the land-form outline was traced in pencil. I am not left-handed, but I had to use my right hand to take the photo.  I just pretended to be drawing with my left.

I didn't want the masonite joints to line up with my backdrop joints, so I started with a two foot piece of masonite; working with four foot sections thereafter.

I didn’t want the masonite joints to line up with my backdrop joints, so I started with a two foot piece of masonite; working with four foot sections thereafter.

This process necessitated drawing the oultine on two sections of masonite at a time before I could mount the first section on the rail.  Then the second section was lined up with the third, the drawing continued using the cut-away backdrop photos,

The process necessitated drawing the outline on two sections of masonite at a time before I could mount the first section on the rail.  I did this to achieve perfect alignment of the backdrop across the masonite joints.  Then the second section was lined up with the third, the drawing continued using the cut-away backdrop photos, and so on.

All the masonite joints were reinforced with with either 1x3 or 1/4 inch plywood on the back sides.

All the masonite joints were reinforced with with either 1×3 or 1/4 inch plywood on the back sides.

This is especially important to do in the corners for a smooth flowing curve.

This is especially important to do in the corners for a smooth flowing curve.  The next thing I did was to treat the top of the masonite with the same light blue sky color that was used on the walls behind it.  The top edge of the masonite does show a little, and this coloration helps it to disappear into the sky.

Here is the first section of backdrop clipped in place for alignment, before the peel-and-stick backing has been removed.

Here is the first section of backdrop clipped in place for alignment, before the peel-and-stick backing has been removed.

Dave Burgess recommends using a dry paint roller to smooth on the backdrop once the backing has been removed.  He has a video on You-Tube demonstrating this.  I found that by the time I cut away the sky, my backdrop sections were short enough that I didn't need to mount them this way, but if I'd have been working with all of it 24 inches tall, I would definitely have needed the paint roller....and a friend.

Dave Burgess recommends using a dry paint roller to smooth on the backdrop once the backing has been removed. He has a video on You-Tube demonstrating this. I found that by the time I cut away the sky, my backdrop sections were narrow enough that I didn’t need to do it this way, but if I’d have been working with all of it 24 inches tall, I would definitely have needed the paint roller….and a friend.

The process under way.

The process under way.  Step by step, and day by day, I found that I could make about four feet of progress each day.  That included mounting the 2x2s to the wall studs, the 1x3s to the tops of the 2x2s, cutting the sky out of the backdrop, tracing the outline on the masonite, cutting and mounting the masonite, painting the top blue, letting the paint dry for a day, and finally sticking on the backdrop.

I found that painting the top edge of the masonite caused a little ridge of swelling to form as the paint dried.  This had to be sanded away, and a second light coat of paint added.

I found that painting the top cut edge of the masonite caused a little ridge of swelling to form as the paint dried. This had to be sanded away, and a second light coat of paint added.

Except for sidings and yards, the layout track plan rises at a steady 2% grade, ,

Except for sidings and yards, the layout track plan rises at a steady 2% grade from Durango to the mining area above Silverton.  The backdrop has to rise, too, or it would gradually sink beneath the horizon.  I was concerned that I might have to stair-step the joints or something to accomplish this, but I decided to push ahead and incorporate the 2% rise in mounting the backdrop.  Despite the fact that there is 10 inches difference in elevation between the start and the finish of the backdrop, the 2% rise is barely noticeable.

And here is the end, and the most spectacular section, of the backdrop....the last ten feet above Silverton.  Even without the lighting behind it, it already begins to have a three dimensional feel to it.

And here is the end, and the most spectacular section, of the backdrop….the last ten feet above Silverton. Even without the lighting behind it, it already begins to have a three dimensional feel to it.  Thanks again to Dave Burgess of Backdrop Junction for all his help in developing this project.

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Oak Trees in the Fall

Joyce Kilmer once wrote that....only God can make a tree.  That's certainly true in the real world, but in our miniature realities, we can come pretty close to the real thing.

Joyce Kilmer once wrote that….only God can make a tree. That’s certainly true in the real world, but in our miniature realities, we can come pretty close to the real thing.

On my recent trip to Colorado I wanted to bring back some Sagebrush armatures with which to make some deciduous trees.  I don't think what we wound up cutting was sage, but it works just as well.  This plant has a very hard woody stem system, and grew close to the ground like sage.  It also has thorns, as you can see.  These two pieces have been rough trimmed, so that I could pack them in my suitcase.

On my recent trip to Colorado I wanted to bring back some Sagebrush armatures with which to make deciduous trees. I don’t think what we wound up cutting was sage, but it works just as well. This plant has a very hard woody stem system, and grew close to the ground like sage. It also has thorns, as you can see. I left the thorns in places where they worked to form branches, and cut them off where they didn’t. These two pieces have been rough trimmed, so that I could pack them in my suitcase. Yes, TSA searched my luggage, but they didn’t confiscate them, so I must not have been illegal.  You can see in this photo that they also have a very nice miniature trunk-bark texture.

After trimming the trunk and branch armatures to the shape that I wanted, I needed to insert something in the bottom of the trunk to hold these trees into styrofoam blocks while I worked on them.  I first tried small pieces of piano wire, but the rough cut on the piano wire ends wouldn't slide into the styrofoam as easily as I wanted.  It tended to tear it's way in, and not make a very solid grip

After trimming the trunk and branch armatures to the shape that I wanted, (the piece in the photo has NOT been trimmed), I needed to insert something in the bottom of the trunk to hold these trees into styrofoam blocks while I worked on them. I first tried small pieces of piano wire, but the rough cut on the piano wire ends wouldn’t slide into the styrofoam easily. It tended to tear it’s way in, creating a loose grip between the styrofoam and the wire.   So I turned to straight pins, and cut the heads off.  The heads, by the way, make great door knobs for other projects, so nothing is wasted. 

mmmmmmmm

The sharper points on the pins slid tightly into the styrofoam.  To secure the pins into the trunks, I drilled a 3/8 inch deep hole in the center of the bottom of the trunk, and glued them in with CA.  The pins will also make a good system for mounting the trees into the layout when I’m ready to do that.

A lot has been written in the model railroad press about the virtues of SuperTrees, sold by Scenic Express, so I bought their quarter bushel box full of material.

A lot has been written in the model railroad press about the virtues of SuperTrees, sold by Scenic Express, so I bought their quarter-bushel box of material.  This photo shows an armature with the little SuperTrees branches glued on.

I've used Aleene's Tacky Glue for years, but I have to thank Paul Scoles for pointing me in the direction of this extra fast drying version.  It really works great for securing the SuperTrees pieces to the natural armature.  If you work on about six trees at once, by the time you get back to the first tree, it's dry enough to add the next piece without losing the last one you added.

I’ve used Aleene’s Tacky Glue for years, but I have to thank Paul Scoles for pointing me in the direction of this extra fast drying version. It really works great for securing the SuperTrees pieces to the natural armature. If you work on about six trees at once, by the time you get back to the first tree, it’s dry enough to add the next piece without disturbing the last one you added.

The next step is to spray paint the the whole works with a color that will work for the trunk and the branches, unifying

The next step is to spray paint the the whole works with a color that will work for the trunk and the branches, unifying everything, and making it look like it’s part of the same tree.  I tried starting with a variety of grays on different trees.  I used Model Master 1930-FS 36440, Flat Gull Gray, MM 1233-Flat Light Aircraft Gray, and MM 1994-FS 36251, Navy Aggressor Gray.  I liked the last one best for a base for the oak trees, because it was the darkest, but I might try the Flat Light Aircraft Gray when I try to make Aspens.  I’ll need to find some more Aspen-like armatures for those.  After the gray I lightly over-sprayed with Tamiya TS-1, Red Brown to get a nice oak color. 

Woodland Scenics has been in the ground foam business for many years, but I didn't realize Bachmann had recently entered the market.  I bought some of their turf blend mixtures.  Nothing in nature is purely one color, so I really like these mixtures.

Woodland Scenics has been in the ground foam business for many years, but I didn’t realize Bachmann had recently entered the market. I bought some of their turf blend mixtures. Nothing in nature is purely one color, so I really like these mixtures.

When the trunk and branch paint work had thoroughly dried, I sprayed the tips of the Scenic Express SuperTrees pieces with spray glue.  You can use cheap hair spray, too, because it is very sticky.  Then I carefully sprinkled pinches of the green foam mixture to simulate green leaves.  I wanted to try to hit the branches, and not the trunk.  This is easier said than done, but a little on the trunk just looks like moss.

When the trunk and branch paint work had thoroughly dried, I sprayed the tips of the Scenic Express SuperTrees pieces with spray glue. You can use cheap hair spray, too, because it is very sticky. Then I carefully sprinkled on pinches of the green foam mixture to simulate green leaves. I wanted to try to hit just the branches, and not the trunk. This is easier said than done, but a little on the trunk won’t hurt.  It just looks like moss.

Now here's what I did to get that autumn look.  I sprayed the tree with glue again, and added pinches of the reddish foam mixture.  I tried to leave about half of the green foam showing, because I wanted variety in the color, and the leaves on a tree don't all change color at the same rate.  For a final coat, I glued on the lighter fall mix from Bachmann.  I'm pretty pleased with the look I achieved.

Now here’s what I did to get that autumn look. I sprayed the tree with glue again, and added pinches of the reddish foam mixture. I tried to leave about half of the green foam showing, because I wanted variety in the color, and the leaves on a tree don’t all change color at the same rate. For a final coat, I glued on the lighter fall mix from Bachmann. I’m pretty pleased with the look I achieved.

Here's a close up shot of the foliage.  The spray glue has a tendency to dry a little frosty looking, so I'll try the cheap hair spray on the next tree I do, but overall I'm very pleased.

Here’s a close up shot of the foliage. The spray glue has a tendency to dry a little frosty looking, so I’ll try the cheap hair spray on the next tree I do, but overall I’m very happy with this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Autumn Leaves

This isn’t really a new idea for creating ground cover, but it’s the first time I’ve tried it. Last Fall I raked up some leaves, and kept them in garbage bags in my garage for a year. I remember that I tried to collect them on a dry day, and I was glad to see that they had not mildewed. I also picked up a used blender at Goodwill for a very reasonable price.  Drying the leaves for a whole year probably isn’t necessary; it’s just the length of time it took me to get around to crushing them up.

After experimenting for a few minutes with how full to load the blender, and how long to run it, I found that about one handful run at about five seconds produced the best results. I had also pre-crushed the leaves in the bag as you can see in the lower right corner of this photo. If I ran longer than five seconds, I was just producing powder, or maybe Z-scale leaves! Pre-crushing the leaves helped to keep the run time shorter.

As you can see, one handful barely covers the blender blades, but it chops up quickly, and that speed avoids too much powder.

Here’s the finished product, and you can see that there is still some definition to the ground cover. One garbage bag of leaves probably produced enough scale leaves for my whole layout.

I have decided that autumn will be the season of the year for the Denver, Durango & Silverton Railroad. I think it’s one of the most beautiful times of the year in the Rocky Mountains. A number of companies like Scenic Express have come out with scenery products specifically geared to autumn. The yellow aspen trees are gorgeous, and the dried grasses make the coniferous trees stand out more. Today I gathered some yellow maple leaves in hopes that they will hold their color through the drying process.  This choice of season will also give some credulity to the “snowy area” I want to try above the Cascade Canyon Lumber Camp.  When I worked in Montana as a college student, we often had snow as early as September.

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As with all of these track plans, double click on them to enlarge the view. Now that the joint between the two long walls and the ceiling has been curved and painted, I am ready to start putting in layout benchwork supports that will be lag screwed to the studs in the wall. Before I do that I will mount and test the horizon lighting system.  The mountain forms, a two-dimensional, eigth inch masonite cut-out will run completely behind the layout, and sit three inches away from the wall.  The three inch gap is for lighting to come up behind the mountains, as well as to distance them from the sky.  It is represented in the plan above by the outer orange line.  The face of this cut-out will have a continuous photo blow up of the mountains in the area I am modeling.  This takes six inches of length and six inches of width out of my room, so I decided to re-draw the track plan to take this into consideration.  In so doing, I realized that I had a major track clearance issue in the upper right hand corner of the previous plan.  (See Track Plan Tweaks, 9/5/12)  For one track to cross over another in my scale, with my locomotives, I need at least 4.25 inches of separation.  I didn’t have it, and no amount of adjusting elevations was going to get it for me.  I went back to square one, and re-drew the plan with some major track re-alignments, so that there is only one area where tracks cross over each other (the Animas River Canyon in the center of the layout), and in that location, there is sufficient clearance space.

The base level for the benchwork is 40 inches above the floor. I drew this line around the room, and then installed my three rope lights. In the theatre, the sky backdrop, or cyclorama, is lit with banks of lights in red, green and blue. These are the primary colors in light. When all three are mixed, they blend to create white light. Different combinations of colors at varying intensities can produce any color in the rainbow. Red and Green mixed together, for instance, become yellow. You will note that this is different from mixing paint colors, where red and green mixed become brown. My idea is that I can rig these rope lights to three separate dimmers, and get them to function behind my mountain forms just like cyclorama lights on the stage. This is the theory, at least. I’m not sure these rope lights have the same output in lumens, or that the total output is going to be enough.

This is what these three strings look like with the other room lights turned off.

With less space in the middle of the plan, I needed to move the specifications out to a separate document, so I also added a color key. I’m sure there will be many other changes to make as I actually start building benchwork and laying track, but I am comfortable, at this point, with the track alignment and clearances. I did a grade calculation, and marked a point which represents the highest point on the railroad, which I have called “Grade Divide”. Look for it just to the right of the bedroom door on the plan. This is the midpoint of the eastbound and westbound tracks out of Durango that can be placed on grade. I took the total trackage, subtracted the amounts that must be level, like yards, towns, passing sidings, etc., and divided by two. This track configuration allows for a gentle 2% grade throughout the railroad, and puts the lumber area, Silverton, and the mining area at gradually higher elevations from Durango, as they are in real life.

Today I decided that the red, green, and blue strings just weren’t going to put out enough light by themselves. Since the objective of having the three lighting primaries was to create “white” light, I added a string of white lights, just to boost the lumens.

I also inserted a sheet of aluminum foil, shiny side towards the lights, to help bounce the light upwards. I think I’ll re-work the mounting system for the lights so that all four strings are lying flat, not stacked on top of each other. This will let the individual colors come through better when they are selectively dimmed.

I cut out a sample mountain form from some left over masonite that I had, turned on all four strings and had them bouncing off the aluminum foil.  I think I’m starting to get closer to the idea I wanted. I’ll keep tweaking this as I go along, but for now, I think it’s going to be worth pursuing.

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This is a resin casting for a corner junk pile made by Hamm River Model Products.  It’s a good idea to always thoroughly wash any casting with soap and water to remove any residue of mold release before painting.

On a casting like this, I will paint the entire piece with Model Master flat black spray first.  This automatically creates all the shadows.

Once the black is dry, you can use dry-brushing, stippling, wet-working or whatever techniques you want to create a variety of subtle color on the various elements of the casting.  Notice how putting the shadow in first gives the finished product a nice depth.

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How to get two small bridges out of one kit for a larger bridge.
Kit photo.  If you look at my track plan, there are two small bridges below and to the left of Silverton. On earlier versions of the plan, these were labeled “Howe Truss Bridges”, but the kit I got from Australia was for a McDonald Truss Bridge. This McDonald Truss Bridge kit is based on a prototype across Cox’s River at McKane’s Falls near Lithgow in New South Wales. Completed in 1893, the Heritage Listed structure is one of the oldest timber bridges in NSW and is significant as a surviving example of one of the largest of the type ever constructed in NSW. This classic 1880’s design by John A. McDonald was developed to solve maintenance problems of earlier Public Works Department designs which used single, heavy timbers. Replacement of individual hewn timbers was problematic without demolishing the bridge!
This photo from the kit shows a number of variations that can be built.  There are enough materials in the kit to construct a bridge about 21 inches long (84 scale feet). The two bridges I needed could only be about 6 inches long, so I decided to use the materials to make two identical small bridges.
There are enough materials in the kit to construct a bridge about 21 inches long (84 scale feet). The two bridges I needed could only be about 6 inches long, so I decided to use the materials to make two identical small bridges. In order to do this, I had to modify the plans for the bridge sides. This photo shows the plans for a shortened bridge, and the adjustment I made in the angle of the beams running to the thrust blocks.
Here are two of the bridge sides under construction. This kit from Australia came with balsa wood, rather than the basswood that we usually work with in this country. I was unsure of the strength of this material, but went ahead anyway. I had watched some videos of Australian modelers, and they really do nice work, and they work primarily in balsa. It may be that balsa is more readily available “down under” than basswood. At any rate, I was happy with the way the wood worked, and the final results were just as nice to look at as a basswood model.  Balsa takes an alcohol/leather dye stain very nicely, and quickly!
Here is one of my bridges with the connecting timbers in place between the sides.
One completed bridge with truss rods, nut-bolt-washer castings, and bridge decking. The bridge decking that was supplied was a harder wood. I think it may be mahogany. I also weathered the bridge with Bragdon Light Rust powder. I’ll put the track in place when I do my track-laying and position the bridges.
I used some of the left over materials to fashion bridge abutments for the project.
Detail of bridge deck and truss rods.
End view of bridge.
Close up of plate holding truss rods. Aside from the wood, and the rods themselves, everything else in this photo is plastic, painted and powdered to look like rusty metal.

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