Middletown Railroad

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Middletown Railroad


Front Yard

This will be a work in progress for quite some time. The scenery is likely going to be the most time-consuming part of the project so in order to make it a bit more managable I have divided the scenery into layout areas. This page will deal which each area individually. A set of links below will take you to a page section featuring an individual layout area and at the bottom of each section there will be a link to bring you back to here. If any of the links are not active it is because that section has not been added yet.

Click on any photo for a larger version in a new window.

The Tunnel & Chapel Hill

I almost dealt with the tunnel and hill as one project area but I realized as I neared completion of the tunnel portion of the hill that once the tunnel is finished there is still a lot of hill to build and that portion of it presents far more challenges that just building a tunnel.

In an effort to save weight and save on plastering materials (more for time savings than for cost savings) I decided to build as much of the sub-structure as possible using foam board. The tunnel, hill, street plane, and scenic terrain will be mostly foam board.

Building a tunnel is all about clearances. I determined that I need 1 3/4 " of head room. I then temporarily laid a double track section on the curve and took side clearance measurements using my RDC-3 because at 85 scale feet it is the longest unit I will be running on the layout. Using carbon paper I traced a sectional plan of the hill and tunnel area. I then cut and glued the foam pieces that make up the tunnel walls. The tunnel roof was added and an access hatch cut out.

From there I had to lay out the street plan onto the foam table base and the foam hill base. I have still not decided how I will handle the access hatch where the road passes over it. I am leaning hard toward making the street portion of it solid and having an access hatch on either side. I will make that decision when it comes to actually working on the hill.

That pretty much concluded the work for the tunnel except for adding the entrances and painting the inside flat black. Those steps will be completed once the "tunnel assembly" is removed for laying the track. It is currently pinned in place temporarily.

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The hill always had a two-fold purpose - to provide a tunnel which would hide a train, creating the illusion that a train is either going somewhere or coming from somewhere, without losing any "land" that could otherwise be developed. From the earliest versions of the town plan it was to be a residential area. There was also a church included in the plan and so the hill was labelled Chapel Hill.

I have never been interested in creating a mountain as a scenic element. I wanted as much residential area as I could create while still making the hill as interesting and believable as possible. Much of the hill area would be flat area for structures. So the first item to be drawn on the plan would be the street and the house lots. The rest could be more elevated terrain.

According to the town plan I have room for four houses and a church. Since those areas have to be flat, the first job was to create the "plataeu" on which they will sit. Then that area had to be split for the inclined plane of the street. And actually, looking at all of that in its built form, I may change that to three house and a church. I have decided that he access hatch would be best sitting under scenic terrain without having any structures on top of it.

The four photos below show the tunnel unit with the access hatch cut; the addition of the small slope to the left of the tunnel entrance; the residential plateau added with the street marked for cutting; the cutout for the street plane; and the retaining walls in place.

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The next four photos show the first part of the street plane added between the retaining walls; the front tunnel portal and retaining walls added; the slope risers and the rear tunnel portal and retaining walls added; and the lower end of the the street plane in place. Some of the risers need to be trimmed in the area of the museum and the upper portion of the street plane has yet to be added.

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The final phase of the construction of Chapel Hill was to add the upper section of the street plane and create the higher portions of the hill that rise above and behind the residential area. At this point I realized that having the street cross the access hatch was going to be problematic even on a good day so the street portion will be fixed, with an access hatch along the side and another along the back.

With the route of the street finalized and the street plane in place, all that remained was to create the higher portions of the hill. I carved out a few basic foam shapes to be sculpted. The hilltops will be a mix of grassy area and treed area.

The next two photos show the street plane finished with access hatches to either side; and the foam blocks laid in place temporarily.

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After a bit more carving I started the plaster process. I used fibreglas drywall tape to provide some form to the slope risers. To prevent too much plaster being lost in the voids and to save weight I filled underneath with wax paper which removed easily later. With a couple of paint cans weighing the hill down I was ready for plaster.

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Having applied the base coat of plaster I turned my attention to another detail that would tie the hill into the rest of the backdrop later. I used foam to make a retaining wall and rock face similar to the rock face in rail cuts in many places including right here in Halifax. It was a simple matter of chipping away at the foam with a chisel until I got a look I liked.

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This would complete the hill until a later date when the street and other scenic elements would be added.


Ballasting the Track

I will not go into great detail about ballasting track because there are so many tutorials available online and in books, all written by more experienced modellers. I will give you a brief account of my ballasting experience with a few pointers I discovered by making a few mistakes. I would strongly urge you to read as many tutorials as you can find about the topic to familiarize yourself with the concept and the process before beginning the work.

The first thing I did was paint a brown earth color on my foam board. This ensured that in those few awkward spots, like in the switches (turnouts), where ballast has to be used very sparingly, I would not see the white primer showing through. Then I assembled the necessary products and tools for the job.

I chose Woodland Scenics fine mixed grey ballast. I made my own glue mix using 1/2 cup of a good quality white glue, 1/2 cup of water and 1 tablespoon 95% ethanol. For "wet water" I used a mix of 50/50 water and 95% ethanol. I used a medicine cup for placing the ballast, brushes for moving it about and shaping it, a spray bottle for wetting, and medicine droppers for wetting small areas as well as for applying the glue.

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I poured the ballast between the rails so it was about level with the tops of the rails and then using the brush and/or fingers I spread it along so the ballast spilled over the sides. I found this was just about the right amount of ballast to use. Make sure the ballast in the area between the rails is not higher than the tops of the ties. I then shaped the ballast along the edges.

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In the area to the west of the front yard I also laid down some earth colored sand for a service road that crosses the tracks. Once I had an area ballasted and shaped the way I wanted it I covered the surrounding areas with a few old towels, wet it down and applied the glue.

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Before ballasting the track that follows along the river I first had to build up the river bank with coarser stone. For this I used a larger ballast. I also ballasted the bottom of the sector plate pit but I used a different method there. I painted glue on the bottom and then spread a layer of ballast over the glue. I then wet the area with the spray bottle to help the ballast adhere to the glue underneath, When it was completely dry (about 24 hours later) I simply vacuumed up the excess ballast.

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Although I did not particularly enjoy the task of ballasting my track it is a necessary part of the job and I am very pleased with the way it turned out.
A Few Cautions:

There are as many recommendations regarding wet water formulas and glue mixes as there are people laying ballast. Experiment a litle. the mix ratios I gave above are a good starting point but try a few sample areas and do what works best for you.

When laying ballast up against any structure, item or surface that may be damaged if it absorbs water, MAKE SURE TO SEAL IT ON ALL SIDES AND SURFACES before placing the ballast. I would recommend a satin polyurethane, either sprayed or brushed. I ruined a perfectly good level crossing set that I made of balsa because I did not seal it first. As soon as the wet water and the glue hit the wood it soaked up liquid like a sponge and twisted beyond description. I was able to salvage a few of the parts. Two pieces had to be replaced.

A really neat trick for ballasting switches (turnouts) is to lay a piece of thin double faced tape down under the switch and before laying the swith in place spread a thin layer of ballast on the tape. The tape will hold just enough ballast that the switch will not look "empty" but it will not be thick enough to cause elevation problems. This will keep those pesky stray granules out of the switch parts. Note: this is not my own idea! I borrowed it from others.

As with all aspects of this hobby, the better you are able to "keep it realistic and believable" the more you will enjoy the finished product.


Streets and Sidewalks

I decided to ballast the track before laying down streets and sidewalks but the two were not completely unrelated and the double level crossing where East Bay Road crosses both mains had to be built before ballasting could be done in that area. I made the level crossing set from 1/16th inch sheet balsa. The fourth photo in this set also shows the river bank prepared for ballast.

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Next the base of the hill was addressed. The point at which West River Road on the incline meets the flat board at Main Street had to be made as smooth a transition as possible because the whole hill remains removable. With that task done I started cutting out street material. Drawn from the town plan in sections the streets were made of a heavy greay art paper and glued to the painted foam using a glue stick. Lines were added either before or after gluing.

Sidewalks were added after the streets were glued down. Sidewalks were cut from 1/16th inch picture matte, painted a concrete color and then weathered. In some places, like Acadia Square, the sidewalks are part of the base of the structures. The base plate for Acadia Square is seen pinned in place temporarily to check spacing.

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The last set of photos shows the streets and sidewalks from various angles. Some sidewalks will be placed when the structures in those areas are added.

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For a complete in-depth tutorial on streets and sidewalks see ...

Tutorial - Streets and Sidewalks



As of the end of September 2010 the park is near completion. Whereas the park and the library were developed as one integral project, notes regarding the park can be found on the Library Page. I will not be writing a tutorial or going into any great detail about laying grass and other bits of greenery in the park (or other areas) because I will not be doing anything with those that has not been done by many before me. I am essentially just following the instructions on the packages.

I will add a bit more detail to this section at a later time, including photos of some of the scenic areas of the layout but that will come later when more of that work is completed. In general, greenery - grass, trees and shrubs - will be among the last details to be done. Please check back again. Thanks!


Front Yard