Sylvanau ... Scenery

Ballasted Track

Plaster Work

On my N-Scale layout, I used the "hard shell" technique. The hard shell is formed using Hydrocal, which is a type of plaster that dries to an exceptionally hard form. The shape of the hills are formed from scrunched up newspapers held together with masking tape. Paper towel strips are dipped into the wet Hydrocal and placed on the newspaper form. The Hydrocal cures to a hard grey solid that's difficult to work with. But then, you add Plaster of Paris on top of that to form a smooth, workable surface. Or you can use rubber molds to form rock faces on the sides of the hills.

For this layout, I wanted much more gently rolling hills, much like the landscape in Mecklenburg. And so I chose a different technique, that old classic, chicken wire. Since the chicken wire already provides strength, I'm using normal Plaster of Paris instead of Hydrocal. Also, Hydrocal isn't easy to find, except in small expensive batches at a local train store.

For either technique, it's important to work in small batches at first. Plaster sets quickly, and hardened Hydrocal is especially difficult to remove from the mixing bowl. I usually make a batch of 300ml of plaster mixed with about 150ml of water. After laying down strips of paper towels soaked in wet plaster, I take the excess plaster in the bowl and spread it over other areas of plaster to smooth them out.

Ballasted Track

Ballasting the Track

An air-brush is handy for painting the track. Just spray over all the track, and then wipe the paint off the rail tops. When the paint dries, clean the rails again with a rail cleaner.

The ballast is spread over the track and roadbed. I glue the ballast using acrylic matte medium diluted 50% by water. (Matte medium is similar to regular white glue, but dries to a matte finish rather than a glossy finish.) The glue is spread by spraying "wet water" over the ballast. ("Wet water" is water with some liquid detergent, which helps break the surface tension of the water and helps it spread rather than bead up. Kodak Photo-flo is a popular alternative to detergent.) The glue should take about 18-24 hours to dry properly. If the ballast dries sooner, it usually means that not enough glue was applied.

Once dry, clean up the excess ballast with a vacuum cleaner.

Overall view of layout

November 2001

The west end of the layout has the mainline running through the countryside. In the right background is a small village consisting of a couple of N-scale houses, leftovers from my N-scale days. In the foregound is the village of Sylvanau, consisting of about five buildings, including a thatch-roofed barn, and a couple of houses.

With the duck-under section, the entire main-line loop is more or less complete, and so I can now run trains around the layout. A couple of sidings need to be added at the other end of the layout, and the port spur line will have to wait a while.