Category Archives: Model Railroad

Some Scenery for the S&NY Pt. 2

Due to work and the holidays, progress on the scenery project has been slow. Another factor is that I have never created model railroad scenery before, and I do not yet have a standard workflow. As a consequence, I tend to get immobilized by decisions regarding what to do next. Hopefully that will diminish as I get some experience, and progress will be quicker.

This week, I was able to assemble some “SuperTrees” from Scenic Express. They do indeed make very nice trees, but assemble is the operative word. The “trees” are actually a dried Scandinavian weed or somesuch (I am told), and come all matted together in a large box. They are quite fragile and brittle, and the process of trying to separate them creates numerous small “tree fragments”, some of which are useful as smaller trees and shrubs, some of which are too small to be of use. I am using the techniques outlined by Tony Koester in the May 2014 Model Railroader article, “Trees in 60 Seconds”. The actual instructions that come with the trees recommend soaking the trees in matte medium, coating them with the flock leaves, and hanging them upside down to dry. Like Mr. Koester, I don’t have time for that, and the only place I would have room for that process is the garage, the ambient temperature of which is currently around 15 degrees F.

Instead, I used the article as a guide, first painting the trees with flat grey primer, followed by a heavy dose of high-hold hairspray, then flocking with Noch leaves. The Noch leaves are relatively expensive, but do go a fairly long way when using this method.

Many of the trees are curved as well, which adds a separate set of issues. They usually cannot be straightened without breaking the tree.

With those caveats, they do assemble into very nice trees:



One thing that is not made clear in the model railroad press and blogs, is how to glue the dang things to the layout. As I mentioned, they are very fragile and brittle, and are often curved. I initially poked a hole in the scenery base with an awl, then dabbed some full-strength white glue on the lower trunk and stuck it in the hole. Unfortunately, some of the trees tend to lean, so I switched to a hot glue gun instead of trying to keep the trees vertical while the white glue set. This works better, but the downside is that the hot glue sometimes will show at the tree base, and will have to be touched up with paint or covered with ground foam.

Once I had a group of trees in place, I slid a piece of clean paper behind them to protect the backdrop, and misted them with dilute matte medium. My hope is that this will cause the leaves to adhere better and make the entire tree a little less fragile. Time will tell on that one.

As I said, the results are really worth the effort, in my opinion. I will not use them on the entire layout, only in scenes relatively close to the viewer. I plan on using good old puffball trees on more “distant” hills and ridges. I’m not sure yet how to manage that transition visually, but I have a vague idea or two for now.

While the trees were drying from the matte medium, I applied some rock castings to a hillside:


This area will represent an abandoned cut from the old Central Pennsylvania Lumber Co. logging railroad, so I figured it would be a good place to get my feet wet on the whole rock thing. My thought is that if it doesn’t look satisfactory, I can cover the whole area with brush and trees, since it is supposed to be “abandoned” anyway.

One thought I had over the past month while slogging away at this phase of the layout, is that the model railroad press and the popular bloggers never mention what a chaotic mess building scenery is:


Building convincing model railroad scenery requires a lot of different textures and colors; which means an incredible amount of different materials and colors, each with their own techniques, pitfalls, and modes of spillage.



In turn, this means an incredible amount of “stuff” gets scattered all over the rest of the railroad:


I think a close ratio would be about 6 cubic feet of materials and mess for one square foot of scenery. However, 1 square foot requires the same supplies as 100 square feet, so I figure I might as well scenic a decent sized piece of real estate while I’m at it. The chaos does get old though…(To Be Continued)

Some Scenery for the SN&Y

I have not had much time for creating new posts other than the “Wordless Wednesdays” due to other commitments and spending time getting the model S&NY in shape. The railroad ran pretty well for op-session #4 in early November, which put me at a crossroads. Which direction should I go next? Get a few more locomotives painted and DCC-equipped? Build more cars for the on-line industries? Or start scenery?

After polling the SNY operating crew and my wife, the unanimous consensus was “scenery”. So, scenery it was to be.

I decided to start at the Wheelerville area of the layout for a couple of reasons. This area would require the most backdrop detail of just about any area on the model railroad, there would be a mix of terrain types, there were only a couple of buildings required, and most of the meets of opposing trains during an op session occur here so the crews would have something to look at besides bare plywood and homasote once some scenery is done. Never having built scenery before, I figured it would be a good spot to get up to speed on a number of skills.


Job 1 was to mask the sky backdrop and paint the track. I covered the movable part of the turnouts and gave the track a coat of Rustoleum Camouflage Earth Brown. This is a good, dark rusty brown color that will be a good foundation for weathering and ballasting the track. I used a paint respirator to avoid losing any brain or liver cells, and it didn’t stink up the house. (Much…)

Next, I masked off all of the track to keep off scenery materials and paint.


Next, I built up a lattice of cardboard strips hot-glued together to form a foundation for the landforms. This part actually goes very fast if you have a supply of strips prepared. It is ok if parts of it are a little flimsy. A hard shell of later material will stiffen it up in short order.



For the next step, pieces of red rosin paper were hot glued to the latticework. I had read about this technique and wanted to give it a try. A 100-foot roll is about 7 bucks a Lowes’. Alternatively, you could use plaster cloth over screen or masking tape. There are numerous techniques and variations. I used this one because it seemed fast, easy, and cheap.



The rosin paper is then painted with full-strength white glue. Lowes’ and Home Depot sell Elmer’s White Glue by the gallon. It takes overnight to dry.


Next, “ground goop” (a mix of dirt-colored latex paint, white glue, Celluclay, vermiculite, and a dash of Lysol) was troweled on over the paper. This was allowed to dry for a couple of days. I then experimented with dark brown sanded grout as an earth “base” for the colored foam that will mimic grass, weeds, etc. I wasn’t happy with the results and abandoned that effort. I wasn’t happy with the color of the ground goop, either, and painted it a darker shade. Future goop will be made with that darker color. Once the goop is dry, the paper has a nice hard shell.

MoreGround Goop-2

Once everything was properly “gooped” and painted dirt color, near and far horizon lines were lightly chalked on the backdrop, and distant mountains and the outlines of fields in the middle distance were painted on.





After those layers were allowed to dry, the darkest tree shadows were stippled on.


Progressively lighter green layers were dabbed on with a final stippled layer of highlights, and dark warm grey lines for tree trunks and branches.




Lastly, I tried various colors and brushes to paint in the distant hay and corn fields. I had to re-do this part a couple of times until I was satisfied with the look. This field will be partially covered by 3-D scenery, so I didn’t add much detail.


This field was to represent corn, and needs to blend in with several rows of model corn. Below is a mock-up with 3 rows of Busch model corn in front of the cornfield on the backdrop. The bases of the model corn have been painted dirt color; the stalks have yet to be dry-brushed with greens and tans to give some texture. I think the effect s good so far, and hopefully will look even better once the model corn is touched up and actually planted in the scenery base.


To be continued…


LDSIG 2014 Documents

Just wanted to make the handouts for the layout tour tomorrow available in digital PDF format, in case anyone is interested:

Welcome to the SNY

Also, here is a trackplan of the model S&NY:

TrackplanBackdrop andFascia

Op Session #2

After 4 months, a job change, and college graduation for daughter #1, I was able to free up a Saturday  (31 May) to host Op Session #2 for the model S&NY.

I approached #2 with a great deal more trepidation than #1, paradoxically because #1 was deemed  a major success by the participants. So, the bar had been set, and standards must be now be upheld!


Adding to the mystery, only 4 of the original 6 crewmembers were going to be able to make it. This turned out to be a good thing, as I was curious how a smaller crew would work out. (Pretty well, in fact.)

Despite the intervening 4 months, I was only able to make a few changes/improvements to the railroad: I got about 20 more cars weathered and on the layout, and I replaced 10 of the original CV turnout frogs with metal frogs from Proto:87 Stores. I also developed a tentative timetable schedule of trains.

The extra cars made a big difference, as there were now sufficient through cars to allow the “Fast Freight” (as the real S&NY called it) to make a third trip if necessary. Also, there were now enough through PRR hoppers from Marsh Hill to Towanda to necessitate the coal extra to do more sorting of cars in Marsh Hill yard. In addition, I changed the train instructions so that all the local switching at Newberry is done by the Fast Freight crew, rather than the Mixed train crew. This balanced the workload a bit more, and I think made all three jobs a bit more interesting and time-consuming in a good way. My goal is to have the crews busy enough to keep interest and focus up, but not too much to feel harried. After all, the S&NY was a struggling Depression-era shortline, not the PRR mainline.

The timetable was developed with input from the crews during Op Session #1; I had the fellows try to keep note of the times when they arrived and departed each station and how long the work took. Here is the trial version for Op Session #2:

SNY Timetable001

The timetable worked well for the first third of the session, but after that departed from reality too far to be of much use. After the first trains got to their destinations, the station work took FAR longer than I had allowed in the timetable, and the schedule fell apart. Adjustments will be made for the next session.

Since we did now have a timetable of sorts, I was able to act as “roving dispatcher” for a while, and wrote the very first orders for the railroad:

Op Session 2-4I have been studying this book, which is essential for learning timetable and train order operations for a model railroad:

19 East, Copy 3

I still have a lot to learn, as the “form” on the model orders is not quite correct. When referring to trains by number, the order should read, “NO 4 ENG 113 MEET NO 21 ENG 2784 AT MASTEN” We didn’t write any clearances in the interest of time, but I think eventually we will include those to add authenticity. The model forms are available from Micro Mark, and are really a bit too small, but will work ok for now.

Here is a real order and clearance card from the S&NY from 72 years ago:

Op Session 2-6

Op Session 2-5


There were still a few electrical glitches – the Bachmann 2-8-0’s had intermittent pick-up troubles, hopefully a wheel cleaning will fix that. I had remotored and painted a PFM Ma&Pa engine, which shorted intermittently between the cab and tender deck in tight curves. I have a fix planned for that problem which should not be difficult. The original CV turnout frogs continue to short intermittently at the closure rails, and I now plan to replace ALL the frogs with metal frogs from Proto:87. This will take a bit of time, but will eliminate that problem all together.

Despite that, I think Session #2 was a success, and I think the crews will agree. Interestingly, some of the fellows prefer one-man crews, and a couple think 2-man crews is the way to go. I think though for the time-being anyway, I will not INCREASE the number of people invited to a session.

Lastly a couple of photos from the session:

Photo by John Webster

Photo by John Webster

Fred L. works the NYC/RDG interchange at Newberry with Train 21.


Photo by John Webster

Photo by John Webster

Eastbound Mixed Train 4 works upgrade around the Masten Loop, crossing over Pleasant Stream.

First Op Session 25 January 2014

This past fall, after around 11 years of construction, my model version of the Susquehanna & New York Railroad had nearly reached a stage of completion where a preliminary shake-down operating session was possible. Having some extra free time over the 2013 holidays due to an unexpected job change, I decided to shoot for late January 2014 for the first op session. After assessing what truly needed to be done, I embarked on a frenzy of last-minute car-building, waybill and car-card writing, and place-marker creation to culminat in the trial op session on the evening of Saturday, January 25th, 2014.

So, with much trepidation, I sent out an email invitation to 6 fellows who I consider to be “serious” model railroad operators who I am familiar with from previous op sessions over the years at other local railroads. I figured these guys could appreciate what I was trying to accomplish with the model S&NY, and at the same time bring in their collective experience for constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement.

Braving single-digit temps and blowing snow showers, all 6 gentlemen (including a trio driving from Cleveland) made it for the session. After a quick brief on the background of the real SNY and the construction of the model version, and a quick orientation to the railroad, we commenced. The model SNY had finally come to life after 11 years!

Brad W. looks over Newberry yard prior to departure of Train 6.    Photo by John Webster

Brad W. looks over Newberry yard prior to departure of  eastbound mixed Train #6.
Photo by John Webster

As expected, several issues immediately became apparent. Right out of the gate, I had failed to specify clearly that 1st class train #6 was a mixed train, and that instead of a caboose, the crew should build the train with a combination car on the rear. THAT caboose, in turn, was to go with a light engine to Marsh Hill yard. It only took a couple of minutes to sort out, but it sent my anxiety level through the suspended ceiling. Having “lived” with the railroad for so long, I just took it for granted that “everyone” would know that trains 5 and 6 were mixed. Hoo boy, what ELSE had I overlooked in my hasty preparations?

Westbound empty hopper extra returns to home rails after clattering across the junction of the PRR Elmira Branch and the PRR P&E line.  Photo by Don Murphy

Westbound empty hopper extra returns to home rails after clattering across the junction of the PRR Elmira Branch and the PRR P&E line. Photo by Don Murphy

A second issue related to location, location, location. The first thing crews want to know, if new to a particular railroad, is “Where am I?” The second thing is “Which direction is to my right and which to my left?” I had designed the SNY such that the viewer is always looking at the railroad from the south facing north, with east to the right and west to the left, so the second question was not a problem. However, despite trying to label everything prior to the session, I did not label each town adequately. I had put town name signs on the bill boxes in each town, but they were not conspicuous enough for unfamiliar operators juggling throttles, uncoupling picks, and train instructions.

A niggling but recurrent problem had to do with some of the turnouts, particularly in Marsh Hill yard. Some of the engines’ tender trucks caused shorts at the frogs. These were all Central Valley number 5 and 6 turnouts with a fabricated plastic frog. A design flaw apparently allows the backs of the tender wheels to short the two closure rails where they insert the plastic frog. I had run into this problem the day before the session, and painted the offending rails with clear nail polish as an expedient temporary fix, but I didn’t do it to all of them. A contributing factor may have been the extremely dry air from the cold weather allowing the wheels to arc at the frogs. I will probably replace these frogs with all metal frogs from Proto:87 as time allows. These metal frogs were not available when I built Newberry and Marsh Hill. The newer sections were built with Proto:87 turnout kits, and we had zero issues with these, aside from one frog I had inadvertently powered with reverse polarity.


Another issue cropped up later in the session, when the crew manning trains 21 and 22 tied up early. I literally had no more cars on the railroad to be moved, and I had over-estimated the time it would take for these to trains to complete their switching and make their runs. The fellows were good sports about it though, and were content to browse some of my collection of SNY ephemera and kibitz with the two crews still working. However, I will make a concerted attempt to get more cars on the railroad to allow for a third through-freight run and/or balance the station work with trains 5 & 6, the crew of which finished up nearly 40 minutes after everyone else.

Eastbound through freight train #22 and westbound empty coal extra meet at Masten, PA. Jerry J. checks his paperwork I the background.   Photo by John Webster

Eastbound through freight train #22 and westbound empty coal extra meet at Masten, PA. Jerry J. checks his paperwork in the background. Photo by John Webster

There were also occasional minor difficulties due to unfamiliarity with my control system. I use CVP EasyDCC, while all of my crewmembers use Digitrax. This diminished as the evening wore on, however.

On the plus side, being meticulous during construction, while slowing the overall progress, has paid dividends with the relatively small number of trackwork “gripes” to be fixed; mainly the frog-shorting issues detailed above. I believe the labeling of ALL industries and turnouts helped the majority of switching go smoothly. The EasyDCC system handled 4 radio throttles with ease, and there were no problems with the control system whatsoever. Having a finished and carpeted basement, with good lighting helped the guys enjoy the evening and the railroad more, I believe; and having the fascia complete over the entire railroad added to the appearance despite the complete lack of scenery. I was quite worried that the whole concept of modeling an obscure pre-war shortline railroad might not “work”  and the trackplan would be inadequate to the task, but the extremely favorable and positive comments from the fellows after the session has put those fears to rest.

On the whole then, I think the first session was a great success, despite the minor glitches. Everyone left with smiles on their faces, and I have already gotten inquiries regarding when I will run another session.


Masten Loop bridge

The last bridge project I have for now is the deck girder bridge at the apex of the “Masten Loop”. This was a long, looping curve on a grade east of the sawmill town of Masten, PA by which the S&NY crossed from one side of Pleasant Stream to another while gaining altitude out of the Pleasant Stream valley. From there, the route looped back toward Masten before turning northeast to reach the summit of the grade between Ellenton and Wheelerville, PA.

1944 USGS topo map, 1927 Survey, Canton quadrangle

1944 USGS topo map, 1927 Survey, Canton quadrangle

I do not know the actual degree of curvature of the loop, however according to 1925 S&NY employee timetable No. 43, Special Instruction 23c.,”speed of trains around Loop Curve north of Masten is restricted to 12 miles per hour.”


Below is a postcard view of the bridge over Pleasant Stream near the apex of the Loop, shortly after construction in 1906:

Postcard view of Loop Curve near Masten, PA ca. 1906

Postcard view of Loop Curve near Masten, PA ca. 1906

Compare the pristine abutments in the above view with the crumbling remains visible through the saplings in 2000:

Photo by author

Photo by author

The rebar “cage” is presumably to prevent chunks of disintegrating concrete from falling onto the dirt road below. Note someone has built a camp directly on the old roadbed. I wonder if they are ever awakened in the dead of night by phantom trains blasting from out of the past through the kitchen, ghostly whistles shrieking….

The Masten Loop Curve and bridge is a major scenic “Layout Design Element” (LDE) on my model version of the S&NY, and conveniently located at a turnback curve at the end of a benchwork peninsula. Model railroaders often bemoan the difficulty of disguising these peninsular turnbacks ( I believe Tony Koester tongue-in-cheek referred to a common solution  as “Mandatory Trestle over Cliché Creek), however in this case the real thing IS the solution.


Photo by author

Photo by author

Here is the site for the model bridge at the apex of Loop Curve.

Since the bridge is on a grade (never again!) I wanted to ensure good alignment between the roadbed ends and the bridge deck. I used a technique I found online where the bridge itself is built over an aluminum channel that is anchored, in this case by epoxy, to the roadbed at either end. As it turned out, I ended up with a small vertical curve at the right-hand side of the bridge. Hopefully this will not prove to be a major problem in operation, as redoing the bridge would involve major surgery.

Photo by author

Photo by author

Here the channel with the Micro Engineering deck girder bridge sides in place for a test fit.

Photo by author

Photo by author

The abutments were scratchbuilt from thin poplar and styrene. There is a niche for someone to produce a line of concrete abutments tailored for the various Micro Engineering bridges. Chooch Enterprises has a limited number, but they are mostly not suitable.

Photo by author

Photo by author

The abutments were sanded and primed, then coated in vinyl spackle and the impressions of the wood formers simulated by drawing a styrene “comb” across the spackle. The spackle was allowed to dry, then sanded enough to allow just a faint hint to remain. Following this, they were painted a concrete color and weathered.

Photo by author

Photo by author

Photo by author

Photo by author

The finished product.

Scenery has yet to be installed, but the fascia has been put in place. I tried to create a semi-“Bellina-drop”  with the fascia panels as view-blocks to limit viewers from getting a look at an entire train as it climbs around the Loop. Hopefully this will subconsciously add to the impression of the railroad struggling to work its way through the narrow mountain valleys, and make the run seem longer to operating crews.


Photo by author

Photo by author


Time will tell if this is a success.


Carbon Run Bridge

While we are on the subject of bridges, I’ll make a brief mention of another bridge project, this one the SNY bridge over Carbon Run just east of Laquin, PA. Below is a topographic map of the area from 1945. Note the S&NY railroad is not there, but the roadbed follows the course of the unimproved road ( and IS the road in places) seen on the map. When I visited this area in 2000, the State game lands and township roads were in many places on top of the old SNY roadbed. Since the recent flooding in this area, this may no longer hold true, and the old R-O-W may have been obliterated in places.

USGS Map 1945. Powell Quadrangle

USGS Map 1945. Powell Quadrangle

Below is a photo of the Carbon Run bridge from my field trip in 2000:


Photo by Author

I had room for a representative model of the bridge at the east end of the model version of Laquin:


Photo by Author

Photo by Author


The model version is a stock Walthers through-girder bridge on scratchbuilt abutments, and is quite a bit larger than the real bridge. However, the goal is an operational model railroad, and in this instance a reasonable stand-in was put in place, rather than take the time attempting to scratchbuild a more accurate model. I hope this will be a reasaonable compromise once scenery is in place.




Mystery Bridge


Bill Caloroso- Cal’s Classics

Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

I am not sure of the exact location of this bridge along the SNY right-of-way. I have seen “High Bridge” mentioned in some sources, but I am not sure if this is the referenced bridge. I have traced the RoW with the aerial photos from the late 1930’s on the PSU Penn Pilot website, but the resolution is not adequate to resolve the details of any particular bridge.

Author's photos

Photo by Author


Photo by Author

In December of 2000, I shot these photos of abandoned bridge abutments along Pleasant Stream between Marsh Hill and Masten. This could be the location of the bridge; hard to tell since the surrounding vegetation has changed so much. Also, there is no higher vantage point on the west/north side of Pleasant Stream to duplicate the angle of view in the original photo, unless it was shot from the other side of the creek. There was major flooding along Pleasant Stream in the fall of 2011, washing out road bridges and greatly altering the landscape of the narrow valley. I attempted to repeat the trip in the fall of 2012, but the road was still in such bad shape (I was driving the family’s Honda Odyssey van, not my 4wd truck) I was forced to turn around and head back to Marsh Hill after covering only about 2 miles. Consequently, I have no idea if these crumbling abutments still exist.

Photo by Author

Photos by Author

Photo by Author

These photos illustrate my feeble attempt at representing this bridge on my model version of the SNY. It was kitbashed using an Atlas Warren truss deck bridge, Micro Engineering bridge bents, and a Micro Engineering deck girder bridge. The concrete abutments and pier are scratchbuilt from wood and styrene. Unfortunately, I realized too late the real bridge used a Pratt-type deck for the longest portion, not a Warren like the Atlas model, and the overall proportions of the model are pretty off, compared with the prototype. Nonetheless, my goal was a “good enough” representative structure, not an exact replica. The main goal is an operational (model) railroad, not a museum diorama, so the bridge was put in place, some scenery forms roughed-in so the fascia could be applied to the benchwork, and I moved on to the next project.