Hiding the End of the World

The priorities I had in mind when I designed my layout were these:

  1. Operations
  2. A stage upon which I can photograph my models.
  3. Large enough to create the impression of a large industry.
  4. Small enough that I can build it, given my limited leisure time.
  5. Easily expandable if things go well.

With these priorities in mind, I chose at 12 foot wall next to a crawl space in my basement, and I think things are going well so far. I’m modelling a small, somewhat outdated and specialized paper plant the produces high quality fine papers. But even in 12 feet, I had to give up many parts of the factory, and fudge others, in order to make it work. Part of the fudging involved two long staging tracks that represent the woodchip unloader and a place to unload a number of different liquid raw materials. I put these under the crawl space at one end of the layout.

It was a challenge to deal with making the transition between on-stage and off-stage less obvious. I couldn’t completely conceal the transition, but I’ve placed buildings in such a way as to make it less obvious.

In the photo below, PC 9574 is arriving at the plant and coming on-stage from a staging track that will eventually connect to the modelled portion of North Tonawanda yard. For now, I back trains onto the staging track before an operating session. The building in the foreground was placed to make it difficult to see the hole in the sky where the train comes on scene. The dashed green line shows the bottom of the wall, which doubles as the sky backdrop.

In the foreground of the photo below, the closest track goes to the woodchip unloader, which is completely off-stage. The second track is where tank cars are unloaded. I’ve sketched the outline of a building that I haven’t placed into the scene yet. The idea is that it will help to conceal where these two tracks slip off the edge of the world. At least, that’s the plan.

Foreground building

New Structure

I’ve been working on the buildings and scenery in the area of the paper plant where the branchline comes into the scene at the back, and where the staging tracks go under the crawl space. Like nearly every layout I’ve seen, mine has places where the tracks disappear into a black hole. I’m making those places less obvious with the careful placement of structures.

The newest structure on my layout is a plain metal building in the area where the various chemicals are unloaded from tank cars. Think of it as a building flat at the front of the layout. I’ll be painting it tomorrow, then adding a roof.

Here's the newest structure. The tracks in front of it lead to hidden staging of woodchip cars and tank cars.

Here’s the newest structure. The tracks in front of it lead to hidden staging of woodchip cars and tank cars. This is actually the reverse angle of what an operator will see. I sat the camera on the layout to get this shot.

This shot puts the new structure building in perspective. The track on the right is where trains enter the scene and the two tracks on the left are staging. Again, this angle is not possible from the layout operators perspective. The new structure is only visible from behind.

This shot puts the new structure in perspective. The track on the right is where trains enter the scene and the two tracks on the left are staging. Again, this angle is not visible for the layout operator. The aisle is on the left.

This shot shows the evolving scene. Many elements are still missing, but the scene is starting to come together.

This shot shows the evolving scene as viewed from the aisle. Many elements are still missing and incomplete, but the scene is starting to come together.

A tighter photo of the same scene as the previous.

A tighter photo of the same scene as above.

I’ll post more when I get the building painting and weathered. Thanks for looking!

What’s New: Structures, Transfer Caboose, Concrete

As I was drafting this post to my blog I realized it’s been quiet on here for a while. Five weeks, to be precise. Surprisingly, my site stats didn’t fall off, which tells me that people are coming back to read through my old posts. I’m pleased to have been writing this blog long enough that there’s some depth here, and doubly pleased that people are actually reading old posts.

Sometimes, projects move in such small increments that there’s not much to report. Compounding this is fact that I’ve been engaged in more thinking than doing. I had to sort out a few things before I could move ahead.¬† So here’s what I have to show for five weeks of work.


The scene above is far from finished, but it’s far enough along that I decided to pose some rolling stock and take a photo. Staring in the background, you’ll see that I’ve been working on one of the buildings in the paper plant. This is where some of the processing of the pulp and chemical additives takes place. In the middle of the frame is a brand-new Bluford transfer caboose that I bought today and placed directly into this scene. To the left are two of the nine tank cars that I bought from Atlas over the winter. Each needed some work to get them on the rails, and over the past weeks I’ve finished two of them. The most recent work that I completed was the concrete surface in the foreground. This will eventually be a tank car unloading area.

That’s all for now. I’ll try to work faster so I can post more frequently ūüôā

Tangent Scale Models X58 Boxcars

Here’s a shot of the North Tonawanda switcher bringing two empty PRR X58 boxcars into the International Paper plant on Tonawanda Island.


These are the new from Tangent Scale Models. Mine arrived from Action Hobbies Kingsville on Monday. They’re really nice models, but that comes as no surprise to me; Tangent has established the highest standard of quality.

I have two of the now out of production Rail Yard Models resin kits for these cars. The Tangent RTR model is of equal quality, perhaps slightly better in a couple of small details. The Rail Yard kits took many hours (80?) for me complete, and they cost me about the same amount of money. I’ve created a “category” in the menu on the right side of the screen, so you can click on that to see my posts about X58 boxcars by both Rail Yard and Tangent.

The Rail Yard kit was superbly designed, and mine built up into the best models on my layout (until now). I happened to buy mine the month before Rail Yard closed, and I was quite disappointed when to learn that I wouldn’t be able to find more without paying upwards of $120 on ebay. Given the fact that the Tangent RTR model buys the hobbyist a ton of free time to work on other projects, I expect to see the used market value of the Rail Yard kits to drop substantially. And on that note, I’ve budgeted to buy a few more Tangent X58s, but if you’re one of those people who has hoarded away a stash of Rail Yard kits that you can’t sell and will never build, do be in touch with me. I’ll rid you of the burden ūüėČ



New Milestone: Structure Cores

I’ve spent the past week or so pushing to complete the structural core of each of the buildings on my rendition of the International Paper plant on Tonawanda Island. ¬†I’ve reached that goal, marking another milestone in the construction of my layout.

There are a few minor buildings that I will eventually build, but the construction of those will be slightly different. ¬†I chose to build all of the large structures from .080″ styrene in order to make them more stable and allow for fewer braces. ¬†Thick styrene is a bit more difficult to work with, and the fact that I started with a 4′ x 8′ sheet presented a few unexpected difficulties, mostly around handling and snapping such an unwieldy piece of plastic. ¬†I eventually worked out a system by which I would use a utility knife to score and a wall corner to snap the plastic.

After using up a 1 oz bottle of plastic welding adhesive that I bought for around $8 from the hobby store, I wised up and bought some adhesive from the store that sold me the styrene sheets.


This setup cost me $15 for 16 oz of adhesive, and $3 for the applicator. ¬†I already had the pipette for decanting. ¬†I’m always in favour of supporting hobby stores, but this was one of those projects where I was using such a large volume of materials that it made sense to buy in much larger quantity. ¬†Despite the savings that I realized, I would suggest that the vast majority of hobbyists will never actually use more than a few ounces of adhesive over the course of a couple of years, and so this approach might not make sense for you.

I’ve built a very stable core for each of the large structures, over which I plan to add a veneer of styrene to represent the surface of the building. ¬†The few photos that I’m working from indicate that the buildings at the factory appear to have been made from a range of materials over a period of time. ¬†The veneer that I choose for each building will reflect that. I’ll cut openings in the core of the structure to allow for windows and doors to be installed into the veneer. ¬†The only exception to this will be a long building that will serve as a flat against the wall. ¬†That building will have windows that are frosted and mounted directly to the building core.

Here’s a tour of the plant buildings. ¬†Remember that all of the exterior details are missing, as are all of the small buildings. ¬†Of course, the entire array¬†of tanks related to the digesting, bleaching, colouring, and chemical recovery processes are also missing. ¬†I’ve pulled some of the colour out of the photos to make all of that stark white plastic show up better in the photos.

Finishing, Packaging, Shipping


The photo above shows the warehouse and shipping structure on the right.  This building will have rows of windows running its length, and represents a kind of mirror image of the actual building.  The two tracks that enter the shipping area either work as load-through from track 1 to track 2, or off-spot storage on track 2.  There are three spots on each track inside the building.  This is also where some of the packaging materials will arrive.  The building to the left of the warehouse is the finishing/packing building, and the next building over is where the paper machines are located.  The track in the foreground is the bulk coal storage area.  Not only is coal unloaded and stored on the ground here, but coal is also loaded back into hoppers and shuttled to the power house.


Paper Making Machines

The photo below shows an overview from the reverse angle of the same location.  The  shipping/warehouse is on the right.  The buildings housing the paper making machines are the large building in the middle with the peaked roof and the building attached to the front of it.




The next structure (below)¬†is the annex to the paper making building where materials for treating the paper and pulp are received. ¬†Shipments here will include kaolin, dyes, bleach, and other things related to making paper I haven’t quite figured out yet.

IMG_9554In the photo above, the two boxcars are spotted where the doors into the structure will be.  The boxcar on the left is spotted in a location that can double as tank car unloading facilities.  Facilities for that will be in the foreground of that spot.  The building on the far left of the above image is a very compressed rendition of the chemical recovery boiler. Some small buildings and tanks related to the liquids recovered at the boiler will populate the space between the two boxcars and the two tracks in the foreground. Note the 55 ton hopper hiding in the background.  That will be barely visible under a covered unloading pit.


Power House, Tank Car Unloading

In the photo below, you’ll see that same hopper car spotted in the location where the unloading pit will be. ¬†I have to alter the tracks here a bit, so I’ve laid two Fast Tracks switch templates in the locations where I’ll be installing them.



In the above photo, the building behind the hopper car is the power house. ¬†The building in front of the hopper car is the chemical recovery boiler seen in¬†the reverse angle from the previous photo. ¬†There’s a track that sneaks between the hopper car and the recovery boiler that goes to the two spots occupied by the boxcars in the previous photo. ¬†The two tank cars in the foreground are spotted on another track I have yet to install. ¬†Sulphuric acid and chlorine¬†are received here.


Wood Chips and Digester


The last area of the plant is in the above photo, taken from the reverse angle of the previous photo. ¬†This is where the paper making process begins, and as a result, this whole area has fewer large structures and will eventually feature lots of tanks and piping. ¬†The chemical recovery boiler is on the right, and the same two tank cars are to the left of it. ¬†The track in the background is where inbound trains arrive from North Tonawanda yard. ¬†A¬†building flat against the backdrop¬†will represent two buildings where pulping takes place. ¬†The track that goes off to the left at the front edge of the layout splits into two tracks. ¬†One track is where boxcars of wood chips are spotted, and the other track is for more tank car unloading. ¬†Again, this whole area at the left of this photo will be populated with tanks and piping related to the digesting of pulp and the storage and processing of the various other liquid stuff that comes in tank cars (I’ll need to do more research on the details).


Looking Forward

Even a small paper plant like the one I’m modelling is a vast and complicated place. ¬†I had to do some serious compression to make a reasonable rendition of a small plant in 12 feet of layout. ¬†I can’t recreate the actual track plan, and I can only really make buildings that are inspired by those that were at the plant. ¬†Still, I think I’m on my way to achieving my goal of representing the place and the traffic¬†with some¬†accuracy.

These structure cores double as nice placeholders for the finished buildings that they will eventually become.  They also bring me that much closer to having more realistic operating sessions.  I can begin work on the buildings that I know about (like the warehouse) while I continue to research and identify the complicated operations at the other end of the process.