Gas Station Corner Module

New Life for a Corner Module
MPRR Clinic Night Archive

Clinic Photo Gallery

The empty module ready for rehab.

Above: The empty module ready for rehab. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

Fixing the mainline tracks.

Above: Jim Delany repairs the mainline tracks. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

Removing the siding.

Above: Removing the siding from the module. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

Adding the new siding.

Above: Adding the new siding to the module. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

Fixing the mainline tracks.

Above: Adding foam hills to the module. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

Removing the siding.

Above: Repaired track and new siding painted and ready for scenery. Photo Credit: Dan Delany

Clinic By: Dan Delany
Clinic Night Date: June 14, 2009

As the club began our planning for the 2009 NMRA convention and National Train Show, we came to the realization that in order to maximize our layout space and show off our newest personal modules, we were going to need a few new modules. The three modules we needed were: a new 4’ lift bridge with three tracks, a 4’ module to transition between a logging corner and the rest of the layout, and another corner module with three tracks. We were laying the plans to build these three modules when club member Henry Curtis came to the rescue and volunteered the use of his unfinished corner module. Although we still needed to build the lift bridge and 4 footer, using Henry’s corner would allow use to immediately get rolling on getting it ready for the show.

Dad and I decided to make this the focus of our efforts during a Sunday work session in August of 2008.  The layout plan called for using the corner between a new yard module and a new junction module. We decided to build the scenery and trackwork to match these two modules to try and keep as much visual continuity as possible. Since both of these modules have three tracks (two mainlines and one inside passing track), the decision was made to remove the outside passing track on the corner. Once this was done, our attention turned to the interior of the module. The corner did not have any scenery, but a road crossing had been started on the left side of the module, and we decided to keep the road in place, and repair the crossing where the fourth track had been. The module also has two sidings off the inside passing track. Due to the location of the road on the end of the yard module, we decided to remove one of the sidings, and realign the other siding into a new location. The new siding is capable of handling two 50’ boxcars beyond the road crossing, and will feature a loading dock and crane.

While dad worked on the new siding, I went to work on the scenery. The end of the yard module features a forested hill sloping towards the rear of this module. I scrounged up some pink insulation foam, and started to create a hill on the rear of the corner module which matched up with the hill on the yard module. The hill was also extended along the rear of the module to hide the control panel for the module, which was built into the top of the module. Once the foam was glued in place and shaped, I covered the hill with a thin layer of spackle to smooth things out.

While the hillside was drying, dad had finished the new siding and went to work doing some maintenance on the mainline trackwork. The last few times we used this corner, we noticed a small vertical dip in the mainline tracks right next to the road crossing. Occasionally we’d see an uncoupling in the area, so we decided that if we were going to rebuild the module, we ought to fix this glitch in the trackwork. Dad used a long straightedge to determine the location of the dip, and the carefully removed the track nails. Since the track had already been ballasted, lifting the track was a delicate operation. Once it was lifted, thin styrene strips were used to shim the area, and the track nails were re-inserted.

As the work session was winding down, we used the last few minute to carry the module outside to paint the newly installed siding with our “camouflage” brown paint. With this done, the module was set aside to dry and we left for the Sunday night club meeting.

Over the course of the next couple of Wednesday night club work session, Dad and I tackled paving the road, and adding base scenery to the hill and from portions of the module as well as adding the new electrical harnesses.

We began this round of the project by adding a hillside along the entire front of the module, from the road all the way to the end of the module. The hill was contoured to match the small hill on the front of Stu’s Pennsy Yard module, and will eventually be covered with trees. The hill was built up using pink high density insulating foam, and was carved using a razor saw and Stanley Surform tools. Final shaping was accomplished using sandpaper. Once I was happy with the contours, I covered the hillside with brown earth colored paint.

As the paint was drying, I turned my attention to the road crossing on the right side of the module. The crossing was in need of a road, and I set out to add a road which ran to the rear of the module, slightly curving to the right at the end. I use Woodland Scenics Smooth-It, along with their paving tape, to lay out and build the road. The paving tape is self adhesive, and makes quick work of delineating the road. Smooth-it is a plaster product similar to hydrocal, which is mixed and poured to form the road. You can use a small piece of plastic to screed the road, and make sure the road is evenly and completely covered with Smooth-it. This is a good activity to do at the end of the night, as it takes a few hours to dry.

After a week of drying time, the road was more than ready to be finished. To finish the road, I peeled off the paving tape, leaving a clean edge of pavement, and began sanding the road surface smooth. The Smooth-it sometimes dries with air bubbles trapped in it, and its necessary to fill these in prior to painting. For this I use regular lightweight spackle, applied with a putty knife. Once this dried, I gave the road a final sanding with fine grit sandpaper and vacuumed off the dust in preparation for painting the roadway surface.

The surface was painted a mix of Woodland Scenics asphalt black and concrete grey, which gave the road a weathered asphalt look. I just mix the two together until I get a decent asphalt “grey” color. As the road was drying, I turned my attention to the scenery. With the front hillside shaped and painted, I decided it would look better with some rock outcrops, so I grabbed some Woodland Scenics rock molds and some hydrocal and cast a about a dozen different rock formations. The hydrocal dries quickly, and I was ready to de-mold the rocks in about an hour. With the rocks in hand, I went about placing them in different arrangements on the hillside until I had what I felt was a realistic scene.

I’ve found that dry fitting the casting before I glue them in place is the best way to create a realistic scene. I do a lot of mixing and matching, and usually trim both the base scenery and the rock casting to fit. Once I had a scene I was happy with, I attached the rocks. I used two methods to attach the rocks. For some of the small outcrops, I used a hot glue gun. For the larger rock formations, I used Sculptamold to hold them in place. The Sculptamold was also used to blend the rock formations in the surrounding hillside.

Once the rocks were installed, they were stained with paint washes to a reddish color. Most of our rock formations are the standard mix of greys, so I wanted to do something a little different. I mixed some brown craft paint with water, and flowed it over the rocks. After a couple applications, I went over them with a thinned black wash to darken the deeper crevices in the rocks. Lastly, I dry brushed the tips of the rocks with a light brown paint to highlight them.

With all this prep work complete, it was time to add scenery to the module. For the base scenery over the whole module, I used Woodland Scenics green grass and burnt grass blends, with some darker soil areas mixed in. added the gravel road using buff colored fine ballast, and a gravel pull off areas to the right and left of the road using a mix of grey and brown fine ballast, burnt grass turf and soil turf. For texture on the hills, I used a mixture of medium green, light green and burnt grass coarse foam. The trees are scenic express Supertrees. For this module, we used smaller trees, grouped tightly together to fill in the narrow hills on the front and rear of the module. This gives the illusion of the edge of a larger forest, and gives a much more realistic layered look to the treeline.

As a rule, I leave my ballasting to last, or a close to last as possible. I began ballasting the module after the scenery had completely dried. This way its easy to get nice, crisp ballast lines between the scenery and the ballast. The first step in ballasting the mainlines is to add a strip of fine cinder ballast along the outside of the roadbed (the cinder strip). From there, I work my way inwards, finishing with the ballast between the ties. For our mainlines, we use Woodland Scenics fine grey ballast, with a little bit of fine cinders mixed in. For the spur, I used a mix of fine grey, brown and cinders, as well as some fine soil and burnt grass ground foam to make the spur look a little neglected. Once all the ballast is in place, I spray it with a wetting agent, and glue it all in place at once with a glue/water mixture. I did all the ballast on the entire module at one time to keep the possibility of disturbing my own work at a minimum.

With this work complete, the module is looking better than ever. The next steps are to add details and structures to finish off the module, then get it packed up and ready for our next show.