Saturday, December 1, 2012

Lighting - Day & Night

Layout with accessory lights and nighttime lighting mode
Adding proper lighting to a layout can literally turn it into a completely different model, and goes far beyond the main ceiling or valance lights. Installing accessory lighting allows details and scenes that were once typically less noticeable (such as detailed building interiors), to now be a main focal point. I knew from the start that I wanted lighting on my layout. This would include interior lighting on most of my buildings, street lamps, and some type of night-effect lighting to illuminate the overall layout.
To assist with adding accessory lights as I constructed my layout, I planned all of the wiring into my master wiring plan at the start of construction. I pre-installed power bus wires under my benchwork, and installed switches on my control panel to turn power to the bus wires on and off. The bus wires are powered directly by a dedicated, 12V 2A DC power supply, and are split into two separate circuits, accessory 1 & accessory 2. These two circuits are each controlled through two automotive-type relays connected to a corresponding toggle switch on the main control panel.

Overview of my layout with daylight lightingOverview of my layout in night mode

The majority of my structures had lighting installed during their construction (see any of my posts regarding structure kits for details). I left a long wire lead protruding from either the bottom or side of each building, which I then passed through a small drilled hole in my benchwork and tied it into the pre-installed power bus below. Any visible wire leads on top of my layout were simply hidden with scenery material.

Close up detail of brass street lampAutomotive-type relays used to switch on accessory 1 & 2 circuits

The brass street lamps along my streets were installed with the same method, however I did need to wrap the base of each lamp a couple times with electrical tape to provide a snug fit once I inserted them into the drilled holes. The street lamps are rated for 12 volts, but a full 12 volts produced way too much light, so I added a 110 ohm resistor to each street lamp to provide a softer, more realistic glow. Both the building lights and street lamps are wired onto the accessory 1 circuit.

Industrial section with daylight lightingIndustrial section with nighttime lighting

Accessory lighting on your layout is most effective when, quite obviously, the room that houses your layout is dark. However, having a completely dark room, void of any light, is much too dark and the majority of your layout will not be visible. You can create low levels of ambient room lighting by simply dimming the room lighting, but this is only effective if you use halogen or incandescent-type bulbs as most fluorescents are not dimmable. If you use fluorescent lighting (like I do), you will need to completely turn off the lights. More so, dimming your layout room’s lights still doesn’t create a realistic night-time light, so the most effective method (in my opinion), is to have separately installed “night mode” lights.

Industrial section with daylight lightingIndustrial section with nighttime lighting

For this “night mode” effect lighting, I wanted to recreate a moonlit scene, so the light needed to have a soft, bluish-white glow. To create this type of light, I constructed three light diffusing boxes out of styrene measuring 2 1/2” x 4 1/2” with a curved diffusing lens protruding out from the base by about 1 ¾”. I then installed one super bright white and one super bright blue LED into the base of each diffuser box, about 1” apart from the center. After adding the proper resistors to each LED, I wired all three of the diffuser boxes to my accessory 2 lighting circuit and installed them to the ceiling above my layout.

Town center section with daylight lightingTown center section with nighttime lighting

The diffuser boxes combine the intense light from the blue and white LED’s and emits an even, soft bluish-white light similar to moonlight. This emitted light provides just enough of a natural nighttime effect that the entire layout is still visible, while allowing your scenery lighting to stand out and be the main focal point.

Night mode styrene light diffuser box installed over layoutStyrene light diffuser box installed beside main layout mini-spiral florescent bulbs

As I mentioned before, I use fluorescent lighting for the main lighting of my layout. I originally had installed standard incandescent bulbs over my layout, which were fine during construction, but recently changed to mini fluorescent spiral bulbs. I use 6 of these bulbs (3 bright white and 3 warm white) in combination to produce a bright, natural daytime light. I found that incandescent bulbs alone produced way too much yellow-red light, and the typical bright white mini spiral florescent alone produced an unrealistic blue hue. I also uninstalled the large florescent ceiling light next to my layout, as it cast a very blue, overpowering light onto the right half of my layout.

Overview of my layout with accessory lights and night mode activated

Street lamp and vehicle at nightOverview of my layout in night mode

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Layout Scenery Part IV - Bringing It Together

Main overview of Ty's Model Railroad Layout
I find it quite amazing how fast things sometimes come together. I’ve been working on this project for just under 3 years, and even though it’s a ways from being complete, it’s definitely now past the 90% mark. While building a project like this, you constantly wonder what the final result will be. You meticulously plan everything out, trying to achieve a certain look and feel, and even though you have a good idea of the direction you’re heading, you never quite know exactly how everything is going to come together in the end. This is especially true if it’s your first go at building a layout.

Then it happens; that most exhilarating part of model railroading that so many modelers talk about – the part when everything all of a sudden comes together. And what a grand and epic moment it is. After all of those long evenings planning, painting, plastering, sanding, nailing, wiring, cutting, and gluing, you finally get to see the results of your efforts. I reached this point with my layout just last week.

Left half of my layout under constructionConstruction of the parking lot using plaster

I had previously posted about completing my main-street town scene which took up almost one full half of my layout, so here I will cover the second half of the layout, which includes the turn table and represents more of an industrial setting. The first steps I took here were to prepare my layout for the building structures. I used plaster to build a parking lot behind the turn table which my Cutting Scissor’s Co. and scratch-built garage buildings would sit on. After sanding and leveling the plaster, I painted it with the same coloured paint I used on my roads.

Adding sifted sand to benchwork before adding structuresConstruction of the parking lot using plaster

My Pioneer Press (Northern Light & Power Kit) is to sit upon a gravel lot, so I used sifted sand and applied it directly to the plywood base using diluted white glue. At the same time, I also started the process of adding the same sifted sand to the turn table area and track. I ended up having to lay the sand down quite thick in this area to make it almost level with the tracks. I used a pipette to first wet the sand with isopropyl alcohol, then used a second to apply diluted white glue. After drying over night, I noticed that some large cracks had developed in the sand. This required reapplying more sand to fill in the cracks and sealing with white glue.

Industrial section of my layoutCutting Scissor's Co. and scratch-built garage building installed

Before positioning the structures on the layout, I drilled holes through the benchwork for the power leads to pass through for lighting. At the same time I also drilled holes and installed the remainder of the street lights along the roadways. I then carefully positioned each building onto its intended position. The leads to both the buildings and street lights were then wired to the rest of the electrical system beneath the benchwork.

Left mountain tunnel portals with ballasted trackIndustrial section of my layout

Fencing was added next. I used a section of fence from an Atlas White Picket Fence kit that I painted brown in front of the Pioneer Press building. For the turntable yard, I surrounded it with custom built chain link fencing (explained in my Layout Scenery Part III - Downtown post). The rest of my structures were added at this point, including the signal tower, water tower, freight station, and 2 small shed structures made from spare pieces.

View of main roadway and track at center of layoutStyrene platform used to cover Atlas remote switch machine

The switch machine controlling the turnout into my turntable has been an eyesore since it was first installed. I wasn’t able to install an under-table machine here like I did on my other turnouts, so now I had to find a way to cover the mechanism. To do this, I built a small platform out of styrene, which I then painted and weathered to look like concrete. I then added small railings made of brass rod. The platform then sits on top of the switch machine, conveniently hiding it from view. Now you might ask, “What exactly this platform is for?” Well, I’m not exactly sure. But one thing I can tell you is that it looks a whole lot more believable then that big black ugly switch machine! It blends in well with the rest of the scenery and goes mostly unnoticed anyways.

Installed Atlas water tower and Atlas signal towerPioneer Press building (Northern Light & Power kit)

Main overview of Ty's Model Railroad layout

Vegetation and greenery where added next. This included adding ground cover, bushes, shrubs, and trees to the remainder if the layout and to blend separate scenes into the surrounding terrain as needed. I still have a few small places to touch up and a few foliage elements to add, such as little grass tuffs, but overall the main scenery elements are complete.

View of converging mainlines in front of water towerTurntable yard shed

Ballasting the remainder of my track was the last major step. I didn’t have much left to ballast at this point, as I ballasted most of my track section by section over the last year. I did however have to take some extra time and precaution when ballasting all of the turnouts at the front of my layout. I had to make sure that I didn’t get any glue onto the turnout’s moving parts, so I used a fine paintbrush to apply small amounts of glue around the ties. After carefully adding the ballast, I vacuumed up the excess and ensured the turnouts moved smoothly. I finished the track by weathering it with black powder pastels.

Control panel with industrial section in background

Currently I am working on completing some nighttime lighting effects that represent a moonlit sky, which I should have complete in the next few days. I am also currently on the hunt for vehicles, figures, and other scenic details needed to complete the finer details of my layout. Street signs are also on my current to-do list.  

Center section of layout looking towards the town centerCutting Scissors Co. and scratch-built garage buildings

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Atlas Water Tower Kit

Atlas Water Tower Kit
I purchased an HO Atlas Water Tower kit quite a while back, even though I originally had no intention of using it on my layout. This was mostly because my layout wasn’t going to be set in the steam-era, and lack of space on my layout. However, now that most of my structures are situated on my layout, I decided that that maybe I could make room for it after all. And as for it being from the steam era, well that hardly mattered as there are still many original water towers standing today, some still even currently being used. The water tower will stand in front of the turntable, directly to the left of the signal tower, and will service directly on the main line track.

Unpainted Atlas Water Tower kit pieces
The first step was to paint the components that made up the main structure. The Atlas Water Tower kit shows the completed model painted with a light green tank, however I opted for a more generic look by painting the entire structure brown. I started by spraying each piece with Camouflage Brown Krylon paint, then letting them dry for 48 hours. The brown base coat was quite dark, so I mixed several washes of brown enamel at different shades, and randomly painted different pieces of the superstructure with the different shades of brown. These slight colour variations add a more realistic, natural look to the overall wood structure. The same process was also used on the vertical planks that make up the main water tank.

Water tower under construction
Assembling the pieces was quite straight forward, and all the pieces fit snugly together. I needed to scrape off paint on every joint of the tank’s support structure to ensure the pieces slid completely into each other. For the roof, I first painted it flat black, then dry brushed it with satin aluminum enamel paint. I finished it with orange powdered pastels to represent the presence of rust. Once the entire structure was together, I weathered it with various powdered pastels and sealed everything with 2 coats of Testor’s dull-coat.

Atlas Water Tower Kit
A final detail that isn’t included in the kit, but is highly recommended, is the chains and counter-weights that support and raise/lower the water spout. You can represent these with black thread; however chain link has the most prototypical look. I found some small chain link in the jewelry clearance section at Walmart, which I then cut to length and painted black before installing it onto the model. Even though the chain is a bit larger than a prototypical sized chain, the look is quite convincing. Now that the model is complete and installed on the layout, I’m definitely happy that I decided to use it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Layout Scenery Part III - Downtown

Town view from trestle in front of house
Constructing the main town site of my layout was my next major scenery project. It consists of my Walther’s Merchant’s Row II, DPM Other Corner CafĂ©, and Kate’s Colonial Home kits; all set around the circular main street, with my Walther’s White Castle Restaurant kit overlooking the scene from up the street. The amount of actual buildings is quite limited due to the terrain and size limitations of my layout, but the few buildings I do have for my town scene do give a good representation of a full-sized urban town. It was also this space limitation that determined the town’s circular layout.
The town site sits on an area that I had previously allocated for a small pond, but I decided early into my layout’s construction that building a town site would be a better utilization of the space. The pond will just have to wait for another layout. I had also already previously planned the overall layout of the town site, including the street, sidewalk, and building locations, so all I needed to do at this point was start laying down scenery.
Installing styrene sidewalk to roadwayAdding sifted dirt to edge of roadway

I had previously used Woodland Scenics Smooth-it to create a large, flat area to which the town would sit upon. After sanding and painting the entire area the same gray colour as my roads, I made paper templates which represented the footprint of each building. The templates helped me ensure each building would have a good fit around the small, circular roadway, as well as the overal downtown plan.  The painted and weathered styrene sidewalk I had built was also glued down at this point using construction adhesive.
Application of foam turf ground coverInstallation of Atlas Hair-pin and White Picket fences

Blended turf was next. This would represent the green spaces between the buildings, as well as the yard of the house. The turf in the yard of the house was applied a bit greener then the rest of the town’s green space to represent better upkeep and maintenance. I used an Atlas White Picket Fence kit to border the yard of the house, and an Atlas Hairpin style fence kit to fence in the backs of each green space from the tracks behind the buildings. I used superglue to fasten the fences to the layout.
Unfinished future property for White Castle Restaurant kitAdding sifted dirt for the road’s shoulders and parking lot

Leveling the gravel parking lot for future restaurantPaper template for adding turf to edge of parking lot and shoulder

My Walther’s White Castle Restaurant kit is located just up the road from the downtown area, situated at the corner of one of the two t-intersections on my layout. I decided to have a gravel parking lot for the restaurant, so I started by lying down and leveling sifted dirt, and cementing it down with isopropyl alcohol and thinned white glue, applied gently with a small pipette. After drying for a day, I applied blended turf to define the median between the shoulder of the road and the parking lot. I used a paper mask to prevent the turf from drifting onto the main parking lot (as seen above, bottom right).

Chain link fence frame template drawn on scrap length of woodBrass rod cut and mounted over template with masking tape

Finding model chain link fences in my area was proving to be difficult, so I turned to the internet to see if I could make my own. After finding several helpful articles, I easily made my own simple fences using brass rods and tulle I purchased at a local fabric store. I started by drawing a scale 6’ tall chain link fence template on a small scrap piece of wood. I then cut .81mm brass rod into the required lengths of each fence post, and taped them directly over the template with masking tape. A full 12” brass rod was used as the main rail along the top, and a 12” length of music wire was used as the bottom support rail.

Soldering the brass rods together to form the chain link fence’s frameThe completed chain link fence frame

Installation of white tulle to brass frame using super glueTrimmed tulle after glue has set and completely dried

I used my soldering iron to carefully solder the support rails to the posts. A bit of sanding might be required after making the solder joints, as the solder can leave a large, unrealistic joint. The next step was to lay the tulle over the backside of the fence’s frame with superglue. I found that superglue worked the best to attach the tulle material to the brass rod. Once the glue had fully dried, I used flat-head trimmers to gently trim the access tulle from the frame.

Painting tulle and brass frame with metallic gray acrylic paintCompleted and installed scratch-built HO scale chain link fence

Installed White Castle Restaurant kitInstalled White Castle Restaurant kit with telephone booth

Painting the fence was next. For this, I used metallic gray acrylic paint, ensuring all of the brass rod and tulle material was fully coated. After bending the fence to the appropriate angle, I used super glue to fasten it to my layout. I had a little trouble with this particular installation as the terrain wasn’t level, so I had to bend the fence on its horizontal access, which caused the tulle material to bind in some spots. Many of the small defects in the tulle (that were caused from bending the fence), were easily covered and hidden with shrubs that I added after installing the fence.

Styrene center median and sidewalk under constructionInstallation of tree onto inside base of median

Base of median filled with sifted dirtFinished median, complete with ground cover and bushes

The center median and sidewalk for my downtown scene were completely built from scratch using bulk styrene. The sidewalk was built to match the existing sidewalk that was included in my Merchant’s Row II kit, so determining sizing and spacing was quite straight forward. I used a dull hobby knife and metal straight edge to etch the concrete expansion joints into the styrene, and painted everything light aircraft gray. The median features a center-raised green space, topped with bushes and a large deciduous tree. I started by gluing the tree to the inside base of the median, and then filled the median with fine sifted dirt. After cementing the dirt in place with thinned white glue, I topped the dirt filler with blended green turf, and various shrubberies.

Installation of street lights through pre-drilled holesLayout under construction on August 31, 2012

All of the street lamps were purchased off of eBay, and run off of 12v DC. I did add a 100ohm resistor to each lamp however, as running them at 12 volts seemed a bit too bright. To install the lamp posts, I simply drilled a 1/8” hole into the layout, and ran the street light’s leads through to the underside of my layout. The lamp posts were a bit too loose in the 1/8” holes, so I solved this by wrapping a small piece of electrical tape around the underside of the base that fit into the hole. This made everything nice and snug. All of the buildings were also installed by this point and electrical connections were made for lights to leads that run to the underside of the layout. None of the buildings are fastened to the layout, which makes removal much easier if work is required on any of them in the future.

Installed Kate’s Colonial Home KitOverview of main town site

The final details I added to my downtown scene were accessories from a Walther’s City Accessory kit. I carefully painted each accessory and placed them where necessary along the sidewalks, attaching them with superglue (which came in especially useful when installing the tiny parking meters). The original blue US Postal Service mail boxes were painted red to represent Canada Post mail boxes, and include hand-cut white Canada Post logos.

View of town site from the midpoint of the wooden trestleAlmost-complete town center

Sidewalk details from Walther’s City Accessories kit Sidewalk details from Walther’s City Accessories kit in front of Merchant’s Row

I obviously still need to add the ‘final’ details to my downtown scene to fully complete it, which would be people and vehicles, but that is something that will be completed in the near future. My town, as well as the streets and the overall railroad, still disappointingly need to be named too, so if you have any good ideas, please send them my way!

 Sidewalk details from Walther’s City Accessories kitCompleted downtown street details