Selecting a prototype railroad

New scale new prototype. I have started my journey to north american railroads with a lot inspiration from Lance Mindheims books. Thus I was attracted by the modern prototype and CSX Transportation.

On the FREMO-meeting my son ran switchers in the yard and an Alco RS-1 for the local jobs. My daughter loved running steam locos and waiting for the water to be refilled. So the new timeframe should be right in the transition era, late 1940s to mid 1950s. This allows running steam locomotives besides diesels.

To allow the use of the rolling stock and especially locomotives in a wide timeframe on FREMO meetings, it would be nice to use a railroad company that has not made large changes to its paint scheme. Additionally it would be nice to allow to operated it in interchanges with other railroads.

I did some research and looked for the available models for different railroad companies. I discussed the candidates with my kids and finally we  settled on the Union Pacific Railroad. It fits my criteria. The paint scheme has not been changed radically and the UP operates in a large area and thus interchanges with a lot of other railroads in many locations. The kids like the colors. So here we go now.

Tipped over

Last weekend my kids and I were guests at a FREMO-meeting of the local americaN-group. The subject of this meeting was set in the early transition era with a focus of steam operations. I’m more into diesels nevertheless it was a lot of fun. We stayed for a little more than four hours. Most of the time we spent holding a throttle and running trains.

My seven year old daughter was a little reluctant and didn’t want to run a train on her own in the first place. After we had completed our first “jobs” she ran a steam powered passenger train from the staging yard into the large yard. I helped her with coupling and operating turnouts and she enjoyed it a lot. Especially filling up the water tanks of the locomotive, which was symbolised with hourglasses: “There is an hourglass that takes five minutes!”

My nine year old son ran the trains on his own and just needed help with uncoupling. He likes switching most and his special love is running locals with some switching at the local industries.

On our way home the kids where enthusiastic and wanted to build some N-scale modules on their own. As I was thinking in this direction before, it didn’t take a lot work to convince me. So I’m tipped over towards N-Scale.

Plaster, Trackwork and Groundpreparations

IMG_3844After the preparation of the backdrop and the installation of the lights the plastering continued. The first coat of plaster was sanded to remove any rough bumps and to detect spots with too less or no coverage. I mixed up a new batch of plaster with 45 minutes of working time to fill the some holes and make some corrections to the landscape. After drying this the whole plaster was sanded again. I vacuumed the layout and cleaned the track – which is not so enjoyable with K-Track. A slow test-drive ensured smooth operation of Märklin locomotives.


IMG_3845Before painting the plaster, I decided to give my new airbrush a try and painted the rails. Before spraying the rails, I covered the “Pukos” with some tape to reduce the amount of cleaning that will be required after painting the track. To paint the rails I used a mix of black, rust and leather brown email colours from Revell and about the same amount of thinner. I like the result. The paint covers the shiny code 100 rails very good and makes them less dominant.


The plaster got a basic coat of wall paint. I made a mix of yellow and brown for the area around the drainage channel. For the rest of the layout I added black to this mix and painted all visible surfaces.

IMG_3853IMG_3852When the paint was dry, I started ballasting the track. A while ago I ordered a sample package of ballast at Koemo Modellbahnschotter. It consists of six 40 ml bags of different ballast colours. I made a test with every single single type. For this layout I have mixed all colours. The uncoloured types stood out pretty obviously. To blend them in I added a small amount of “dirt” and rust weathering powders. That worked well so I the games could begin.  After applying the glue, the ballast looked much darker.

Oldershausen Testdrive

I prepared the mount for the LED-Strip-Lights. The strips are equipped with an adhesive tape and have and illuminate with an angle of 120 degree. To maximise the light yield and reduce the loss I cut an strip of wood at an angle of 30 degree. This strip and the LEDs should be mounted at the very front of the cover, directly behind the fascia. I made some tests with this installation before fixing it in place.

I was quite satisfied with the results and fixed the LEDs in place. After the installation I could not resist and had to unpack my lovely Athearn Genesis GP38-2 and switch some cars.

The GP38-2 runs good and sounds great. I used Märklin K-Track with long turnouts. These can be used for the typical “Punktkontakt” (Pukos, third rail in dots) AC locomotives but it can also be used for DC locomotives. Sadly not all DC locomotives can cope with the “Pukos” at the turnouts as they are higher than the outer rails of the track to prevent any shorts. Sadly this locomotive seems to lock up at the Pukos with the couplers. So I could not enjoy a smooth run but nevertheless I am motivated to get this project done and proceed with an US switching layout as my next project.

Painting the Backdrop and Clouds

After the backdrop was fixed my daughter and I could move on and paint it.  The first color we mixed was pretty blue. Too blue. Thus we added some black and white to tone it down. Now we got a nice blue-gray background which imitates a normal day. Now we may add some clouds.

After the paint dried, we created some paper stencils for the clouds. We tried spraying the clouds as I remember seeing in TMTV Juli 2014. I guess we did reuse the same stencil to often. Additionally the spray can was too small and didn’t work very clean. My wife doesn’t like the look of the clouds and thinks they look to uniform. May be we will repaint the backdrop and the clouds later but for now they will stay. Regarding the photos: The camera of my iPhone has collected some dirt, so all the dark fringes in the fuzz in the pictures is not used as backdrop color 😉

HO vs N. A devastating comparison

The last few days I spent a quite some time with track planning. I planned two very comparable layouts, based on Palmetto by Lance Mindheim. My first version is in HO. As I am used to this scale and I was pretty sure that this is the scale to go. Then I tried the same (or similar) in N scale. There are #10 turnouts available for the Atlas code 55 track. Awesome!

The result is devastating. I created a N scale version that is 25 % shorter and uses only 60 % of the real estate. Additionally it uses #10 turnouts instead of #8. The scene has a much more generous look and might cope with more rolling stock without unrealistically cluttered.

Switching layout like Lance Mindheims Palmetto in HO and N-Scale compared.
Switching layout like Lance Mindheims Palmetto in HO and N-Scale compared.

I am now in a scale-selection-crisis. I have excluded N scale due to my crafting skills – or better the lack of them. I thought my space would allow my to create some interesting HO scale layouts and operations. I’m sure it does. But I must acknowledge that I like the Idea of this spacious scenery and “tiny” trains a lot. I will visit a FREMO americaN meet in two weeks and hope to experience some nice, prototypical operations. I will have a look at the models and their quality. My kids will accompany me and their opinion will certainly be part of my considerations. That might tip me over in the either or other direction scale.

Playing with plaster and laying track

The culvert was fixed in place with plaster. The kids used the opportunity to give the landscape a basic shape. And they had fun doing it.

After the plaster has dried for a while, we glued the tracks to the surface. We used any that was in reach to fix it down, while the glue could set.

Oldershausen Mockup with backdrop



My vision for this small layout is using a display-style (lightbox?) fascia. As this layout is intend for learning and experiments I wanted to try a curved backdrop. I want my kids to have fun with this layout. Currently they not as tall as I am, so I had the idea of curving the background from the back to the top. This leaves me with square corners on the left and right, bit I hope this can be covered up with some scenery.

After building the the support structure for the backdrop, I tried to bend the hardboard into the curve. I thought this thin hardboard is flexible enough. It is not. It is so stiff that I accidentally punched a large hole into the hardboard. This will be fixed later.

With the finished backdrop I could not resist to setup a quick mockup of the overall design. The LED-Stripes for the lightning are held in place by pushing them into small gaps in the framework. The fascia will be painted black to reduce the distraction and focus the interest on the layout itself.