By Mike Isenberg
I wanted to have some type of a layout on which I could run a few of the Standard Gauge trains I still own. I had almost no prewar accessories left, so I looked at non-traditional styles including so-called "hard-shell" layouts, the type HO operators build. Why can't I scale that up for Standard Gauge I wondered? Searching online for articles about building that way turned up this site:
The gist of the article is using cardboard strips in place of hardware cloth/screen-wire as a support for the shell. I liked that idea as I always have plenty of cardboard lying around. I cut a large stack of strips, as I planned the shape of my layout. It would have to be two-tiered, as I had to be able to run at least two trains at once. In hindsight, I wish I had made it three levels; there is room between the top & lower level for a third trackbed. Anyway, I still had my plywood 6' x 13' layout up from when I had a "tinplate" style Standard Gauge layout and all the plywood from my long gone "O" gauge Postwar layout. I cut mostly 2"x4" pine legs for the upper level, I used heavy lag screws and carriage bolts to attach everything. It had to be strong enough for me to get up on. I knew it would be tough to reach everything for wiring, scenery and maintenance, so I decided to cut two "manholes" through both levels, now I can stand on the floor, or even a small ladder, and reach every spot.
I am no scenery artist, so I looked at photos online of real mountains, and other layouts of many gauges, finally by trial & error a vertical and horizontal shape to the shell emerged. I made my own simple portals of 1" pine, painted them gray to simulate stone. I then started roughing in the shape of the shell with the cardboard strips. I thought about all the plaster it would take, and what a mess it would make. My trainroom is a spare bedroom I claimed years ago, and it's carpeted. I decided I would not go the plaster route. Instead we (yes, my wife Kari was there through this whole project) used newspaper & wallpaper paste for paper mache to form the shell. I put heavy clear plastic over the carpet, it caught most of the mess. We would lay 3-4 layers of paper & paste, let it dry for 4-5 days, taking that long even during heating season to dry. It took about two months to get it formed and dry. One advantage was that as the thick layers of paper dried, it wrinkled in an irregular way, looking something like rock/dirt. We are still occasionally adding real rock and trees. I wanted at least one bridge, so on the upper level I made a ravine, that left a spot for a Lionel prewar 104 bridge and with the ravine below, a spot on the lower level under it for a small hobo jungle.
I used an old plastic model of a '32 Ford pickup truck, weathered, and found some hobo figures, scattered some junk around, then used my Christmas tree "flicker" bulb campfire scene I had salvaged with I dismantled my O gauge layout.
I later decided to make a platform to fit over one of the access manholes and make that into a mountain village, using Lionel prewar houses, a 442 diner, and Britains metal figures. It's all wired to a busbar underneath, so it can be lifted off as a unit. It's low enough the base doesn't show, just a village peaking up over a ridge.
This project was incentive to learn how to make Scenic Express "Super
Trees", an interesting process:
This layout will never be in "Classic Toy Trains" or win any scenery awards, but it was fun to build and is a fun place to run trains. Both levels have tunnels so the trains disappear on every loop, there is something to be said for that, it beaks up the "round & round" of toy trains. I thought about how to create a finished look to the inside of paper mache tunnels, as they were, they were just plain ugly inside. I finally hit upon using long narrow strips of thin black artboard, applied as an upside down U over the track. I applied them one over another somewhat in the fashion of Armadillo plates. Getting them in place INSIDE the tunnels was a real trick, but it was worth the work and strain.
I often think, "What can I add here, or there"? This winter I plan to ballast the track. The layout will be a work in progress for a long time, I expect.
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