What's New & How To
Our ever-changing "What's New & How To" feature will highlight everything you want to know about MRC products and your hobby and market trends. There'll be how-to articles and new product announcements. You'll find FAQs on our products, new videos and fresh modeling concepts. Start exploring and come back often to check out the constantly updated information and current hobby ideas.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Using JTT Sunflowers and JTT Corn Stalks.

Using JTT Sunflowers and JTT Corn Stalks.

JTT’s series of scale trees and landscaping continues to blossom with new and unique scenery products, including flowering hedges, corn stalks, sunflowers, tomato plants, fruit trees, grasses and more. These and other introductions have led to requests for techniques and ideas for creating more realistic layouts. This is the first in a continuing series… we’ll start with an article by Tom Staley on using JTT Sunflowers and JTT Corn Stalks.

I have been doing landscaping and teaching scenery classes for many years. When JTT introduced sunflowers and corn stalks, I was like a kid in a candy store. I always wanted to put sunflowers and fields of corn on my layout and now I can.  Both the sunflowers and corn stalks are available in HO scale at 1” and in O scale at 2”. Mixing both scales of sunflowers gives you a natural look. It enables you to mimic nature by showing both young and mature plants in the same area.

What I especially liked about both the sunflowers and the corn is that they look so real. Talk about putting the “WOW” in your layout, this will do it.  They are colorful, affordable and available. If you think about it, most modelers have too much green on their layouts. Adding JTT sunflowers with their yellow, brown and green hues, and bright, detailed corn stalks give you color, realism and pop. They add interest to your layout.

Landscaping Tips You Can Use

Prior to planting the sunflowers, sprinkle JTT leaves on the ground where you plan to place your sunflowers. Then make a 50/50 combination of white glue and water and mix well. Using an eye dropper put several drops of the glue mixture on the leaves. You’ll see the leaves darken providing a true, earthy look.

Before planting JTT corn, rake some leaves to make small, raised rows. You may want to put a few drops of alcohol (found at the drugstore) on the rows. Modelers refer to this as breaking the tension. Then, using an eye dropper, apply white glue. The alcohol helps the leaves absorb the white glue delivering more natural looking results. Once the leaves are prepared, you can plant your corn.

Putting sunflowers around old buildings, bridges, windmills and in your gardens is one of the easiest things you can do to add authenticity to your layout. Anyone, regardless of skill level, can do this and get excellent results.

Visit your local hobby dealer and start adding JTT scale landscaping and scenery products to your layout, you’ll be delighted with the final results.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Tiger in the Grass

JTT landscaping, including trees, flowers, hedges, corn stalks, grasses, gravel and more have become popular staples for hobbyists of just about every stripe... Model railroaders, dollhouse crafters, students with school projects, architect’s and others. One key niche where MRC-JTT Scenery Products has proven invaluable is plastic modeling for scale military and automobile dioramas. Matt Wieczorek sent us some photos and info on one of his JTT augmented projects.

A Tiger in the Grass: A quick project.

As I started to put a 10” x 6” display case around my Italeri 1/35 scale Tiger Tank, I started thinking something was missing. Then it dawned on me, the Tiger called out to me to add something else. I began thinking about a setting, creating a scene. Then it struck me, the Tiger would look good if it were laying in wait in a field of tall grasses.

With that thought in mind, I went to work with JTT landscaping products. I used the three items listed below, to create a very simple, but effective environment.

First, I painted the base flat black and let it dry. I then coated the base with some diluted white glue, and sprinkled on JTT’s Autumn Blended Medium Turf #0595108. While the base was still wet, I added the tank and rolled it back and forth into the base to leave some track marks. Once the tank was in place, I fixed it with white glue to keep it there. At that point I added some covering to the tracks and around the wheels of the tank. I left this dry overnight, and started on the next steps.

I took some of JTT’s tall field grasses, Golden Brown Field Grass #0595085, and Natural Brown Field Grass #0595084. I mixed them together in my hand then cut them into different sizes so they would look natural once planted. When I had some at the right lengths, I dabbed the bottoms into a pool of white glue, and placed them randomly around the tank itself. In the end, I achieved the base look I was going for. I also added some more of the ground cover in the areas where I needed to fill in bare areas spaces. This worked well. Now, I have a Tiger in the grass waiting to pounce.

An Italian Fighter Blends Into the North African Desert

An Italian Fighter Blends Into the North African Desert

I wanted to build a World War II Italian Fighter plane.  Being of Italian descent, and having an uncle who served in North Africa with the American Army in 1943, I have taken a special interest in this theater of war. The model chosen is a Hasegawa 1/48 scale Macchi C.202 Folgore. I wanted to create a desert scene where the subject plane blends into the base… which is the reason camouflage paint schemes are used. This model won a First place in the Air Category at our October monthly meeting and is in the running for Model of the Year in the air category.    

I started with a 10” inch semi-oval wooden base. I covered the entire base with white glue and applied a layer of Golden Straw Turf #0595116 and Yellow Straw Turf #0595118, then waited 24 hours for it to dry. I then applied a layer of Fine Tan Gravel #0595304, using diluted white glue which I sprayed on the base. After this dried, I applied Dark Green Foliage-Fiber Clusters #0595068 in small, tight patches using thick white glue. I then added a 6” Royal Palm Tree #0596010 and a 9”, slightly cut down Palm Tree#0596009. I planted them by drilling holes and then applying CA glue. I think the finished product speaks for itself. I had never used or built bases for my models before. These easy to use JTT Scenery Products made “landscaping” simple. 

In the future, I expect to present all my models on finished bases.

A German Panzer Races Across Poland in 1940

A German Panzer Races Across Poland in 1940 


As a member of NJIPMS, I participated in a group build of a 1/35 scale Tamiya AFV. I chose the Panzer Type 2 Ausf F. I usually don't put my models on a base, but thought that this would be a good time to step up my presentations. I wanted to create a scene of a tank racing cross country through the fields outside of Warsaw, Poland in September, 1940. 

I used an oval-shaped wooden 8” base. I applied white glue and added Burnt Grass #0595121, Moss Green #0595122 and Forest Green #0595094 Turfs. When they dried on the base, I used thick white glue to add Dark Green Foliage Fiber Clusters #0595059 and Natural Brown Field Grass #0595084. I then drilled a hole in the base for a 6" Ash Tree #0596058. 

All the products I used were from JTT Scenery Products. I am proud of the finished product. Thanks to JTT Scenery Products and Model Rectifier Coporation with their fine line of easy to use products, I can see my Panzer tank in action rumbling through Poland

1941 T34/76 Russian Tank in the Ukrainian Countryside

Articles and layouts by Vince D'Alessio, member of NJIPMS

1941 T34/76 Russian Tank in the Ukrainian Countryside

As a member of NJIPMS, I took part in a group build of a Tamiya 1/48 scale AFV. I chose the T34/76 1941 version Russian Tank. This model recently took best out of the box at the Hudson Valley Historical Miniatures Guild Contest. This is my second attempt to build with a base. I chose a wooden pine 11” by 8”. My concept was to capture a vision of the T/34 in motion, moving into position to cut off the German advance through the Ukrainian countryside.

I first applied white glue to the base. Then I added Ground Cover Turfs, Soil #0595113, Earth #0595128, Golden Straw #0595116 and Burnt Grass #0595120. They were allowed to dry for approximately 24 hours. I then added Blended Turfs Green #0595105 and Autumn Blend #0595107

I sprayed finely diluted white glue on top of this and allowed it to dry for 24 hours. Next, I wanted to add gravel to the edges of the base. This was done by applying Earth Medium Blend #0595311, again sprayed with diluted white glue and allowed to dry for 24 hours. I then placed Flower Bushes #0595505 using thick white glue to position them. Next came two trees, a 5” Live Oak Tree #0596043 and an 8” Pine Tree #0596027

I planted them by drilling holes and applying CA adhesive. I am very happy with the finished base, as it adds yet another dimension to this award winning model.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Plant an Orchard on your Layout

The following article and layouts by George Riley, Railroad Model Craftsman
Plant an Orchard on your Layout

Properly modeled, orchards can enhance a model railroad's scenery as well as providing a potential source of traffic. Several packs of JTT Orange Trees were used to create this orange grove scene; nearly any type of orchard can be modeled by planting the proper trees. Add a processing or packing plant nearby and your railroad can have a new customer in no time!

From their earliest years in operation, the railroads played a crucial role in feeding the nation’s growing cities. Food stuffs and agricultural products were among some of the first consigned revenue producing lading to ply the rails. Fruit and nuts from recently planted orchards shared space with the vegetables, grain and livestock that funneled into the rapidly expanding eastern and Midwestern cities during the first half of the nineteenth century.

While orchards were not a uniquely European enterprise, the Native Americans had originally planted orchards in the pre-Columbian era; they spread from coast to coast during the westward expansion of these immigrants. From the citrus groves of California and Florida; to the apple orchards of the Mid Atlantic and Midwestern States and the peach orchards of Georgia and the Carolinas, fruit production and processing plays an important part in the country’s economy and provides an important seasonal revue stream to many railroads.

Properly modeled, orchards can enhance a model railroad's scenery as well as providing a potential source of traffic. With a little research and by carefully observing the scientific practices of fruit production one can present a realistic model of this common agricultural enterprise.

Begin by laying out the area that will be planted on the layout or as is the case of our orange grove, a piece of birch plywood that will later be added to the layout. Orchards are arranged so that a tree will produce the maximum yield in the minimum of space while allowing access for cultivation and harvesting. Holes were drilled in rows two inches apart with three inches between each row to accommodate a service path and still leave space between the trees. Another ‘trick’ used to make the orchard look larger was to lay out the rows on a curve. This fools the eye since while we can easily measure by eye the distance of a straight line while a curved line’s length is much more difficult to determine.

After the holes for the trees were drilled the board was sealed overall and the surface was primed and painted. This step not only helps stabilize the board and limits the effects of seasonal humidity, but also prevents the plywood from warping and the plys from separating when using water based glues and water to apply the ground cover.

A coat of 75% white glue or matt medium mixed with 25% water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid is applied over the entire surface to hold a thin layer of dirt onto the base. Water with a few drops of dishwashing liquid or denatured alcohol is then sprayed over the earth cover. Lightly wetting the dirt allows the adhesive to wick up through the ground cover to lock the earth in
place. Too much water will often cause the earth layer to crack which in many situations makes for added realism. Allow the dirt layer to completely dry before proceeding with the application of grass.
Leaving a roughly on inch earthen path between each row, apply a coat of the glue/water mixture over the earth ground cover. Add your choice of grass material to the glue and over spay with a light mist of the "wet" water. Allow the ground cover to dry completely. Once the grass layer is completely dry remove any excess material and give the entire area a light overspray of hairspray from a pump spay bottle. Inexpensive non-scented hairspray in pump bottles is readily available a most dollar stores.

Short static grass was used on the orange grove model to good effect. One does not necessary need to use a static grass applicator for this step since inexpensive squeeze bottles are available that yield good results when working with small areas.
Give the base an over all dry bushing with a light tan paint to accent the ground cover and add highlights. Plant the fruit trees in the predrilled holes. Hold them in place with a clear drying PVA glue such a Aleene’s Tacky Glue or Woodland Scenics Scenic Accents Glue. Several packs of JTT Orange Trees (Item #0592121) were used to assemble our orange grove scene. Nearly any type of orchard can be modeled by planting the proper representative fruit trees. Add a processing or packing plant nearby and your railroad can have a new customer.
*A version of this article was published on Railroad Model Craftsman Extra Board - March 2013. All photos are taken by the author George Riley. 

JTT Scenery Quick Tips

JTT makes a world of scenery that adds that professional touch to any model railroad, military model, diorama or even doll house.

All of the products are easy to use and will yield superior results. To illustrate some of the many ways that JTT Scenery can be used here are some quick, simple and effective scenery tips.

JTT Scenery Detail Sheets are a quick way to fill in that open patch of ground be it a vacant lot, small pasture or overgrown field. These sheets also let one model different environments and seasons.

Step 1 – Cut the sheet to fit the space. This can be done using a pair of scissors or hobby knife.

Step 2 – Remove the Kraft paper backing
Step 3 – Glue in place using scenery cement, matte medium or white glue. Once the glue is dry blend in the edges with some loose ground cover and the scenery is done. Simple, Easy, Fast.
Add Curb appeal to your residential areas.
The addition of flowering plants, shrubs and bushes around the yard will really add to the realism and detail of any residential scene.
Plant a vegetable garden out back.
Most family run farms as well as a lot of homes have a small plot set aside to grow vegetables and herbs for the kitchen. A couple of packs of JTT HO or O scale corn plants is a great start to any garden. Add a few rows of row crops and even a tomato plant or two to round out the selection. This will not only add detail, but will also be a focal point that will draw attention to the scene.
Mix and Match different products to replicate different times of the year.
A set of JTT O scale pumpkins coupled with some JTT dry vines sets the scene as the pumpkins are ready for the fall harvest.
Add Biodiversity to your project.
In the real world one will see a wide range of different plants in any scene. Don’t limit your model world to just a few species. Add a stand of JTT cat tails to that wet spot by the pond or some tall try grass, some dry leaves and a tree behind the shed.
Use different scenery products to create different seasons.
JTT scenery comes in a wide variety of seasonal types. Winter, spring, summer or fall can easily be realistically replicated. Here JTT dead tries, dry vines, loose leaf ground cover and dry leaf foliage branches create a convincing late fall forest scene.

Click here to learn more about our JTT line of Scenery Products

Friday, September 23, 2016

Model Railroading: A Multi-Dimensional Hobby - Part 3

Model Railroading: A Multi-Dimensional Hobby - Part 3 - Track Planning

This is the part 3 of a series of articles exploring the changing face of model railroading and how it continues to evolve into a contemporary, varied, fulfilling and exhilarating hobby.

The last article discussed the development of the benchwork for the layout. The main job of the benchwork is, of course, to hold up the track. So it begs the question of what to consider when developing a track plan. This article will take a high level look into the various considerations of track planning. Note that this is only a high level look. Dozens of books have been written discussing model railroad track planning ideas. Additionally, hundreds if not thousands of track plans have been presented in various magazine and on-line articles. Furthermore, there are on-line groups that have members who constantly discuss the various nuances of different track plans. This article is a very brief introduction, I encourage you to do additional research as your track plan is developed. A lot of time goes into a layout, so it’s best to invest some time up front to be sure you end up with something you like.

Yards are busy places where the railroad breaks up and makes up trains.

Track Planning Basics
Before pulling out a pencil and pad, or even your favorite software, take some time to consider what the purpose of your layout actually is. If it is your first layout, it’s probably best to keep the track plan simple; perhaps a loop with a siding or two. This is also ideal to get some techniques and skills developed before embarking on a larger project. On the other end of the spectrum is to model a specific prototype or a large operating model railroad. Some folks want to model a particular scene or region or develop a specific operating scheme. This can be a lot of fun, bringing together hobby interests with researching history. Most people shoot for something in between. 
The next step is to develop a list of “givens and druthers,” a term coined by the late John Armstrong, generally considered to the dean of track planning. Check out his book “Track Planning for Realistic Operation” for an excellent treatise on this topic. On this list “of givens and druthers” identify all the key elements you want included in your plan. Givens are, of course, the elements you really want. Druthers will be elements that you would like, but are negotiable. Also include some design criteria such as:

  • Minimum Radius: what is the ‘sharpest’ turn you would like to see on the layout? This will generally define the type of equipment you can run. The last article included some considerations on track radii, presented again for reference: Model railroad radii are generally categorized into “sharp,” “conventional” and “broad” curves. The following table summarizes these for some of the most popular scales:
Curve Category O-scale HO-scale N-scale
Sharp 36” or less 18” or less 9” or less
Conventional 48 — 60” 24 — 30” 12 — 15”
Broad Greater than 60” Greater than 30” Greater than 15”

  • Maximum Grade if you are using differing elevations. Grade is generally expressed as a percent. One percent grade means it will raise one foot per hundred feet of run; 2% = 2 feet per hundred feet. Of course, feet of rise are pretty extreme on a model railroad, so generally it’s measured as so many fractions of an inch per foot of run. A practical maximum grade on any layout is around 4% with 3% allowing for much more reliable operation. Many owners limit their layout to 2% or less.
  • Clearance between tracks. For trains to cross over each other, there has to be enough space between the tracks. In HO, for example, this is typically considered no less than 3”. Less than that, and it makes supporting the track difficult, or if even less, risk of tall equipment not fitting through the crossing.
  • Height above the floor. Placing a layout close to the floor makes it uncomfortable to operate. However, if small children are going to be using it, keeping it within 2 feet of the floor is probably good. A very comfortable height for building and operating is roughly 3’ above the floor. Moving into the range of 40”- 50” provides a much more realistic perspective when running the trains. Some layouts extend even higher, reaching above head height. These are generally associated with double-deck layouts, allowing much more model railroad to be built within a fixed area.
  • People space. Sounds obvious, but it is so very tempting to fill up a space with a layout only to find there is barely enough room to get in and out of the space, let alone if others are there as well. A good rule of thumb is to provide 3 feet of width along the layout for people access; less for short distances if needed to accommodate some design feature; more if there will be people congregating in a certain area like yards.
  • Reach access. While layouts with large expanses of scenery look great, access will always be required to build the scenery and track, as well as to repair and maintain the layout as required. A good standard is to be able to reach everywhere with no more than 30” from the nearest edge of the layout. This will be reduced if the layout is higher. Some layouts are much narrower, with widths or reach-in depths of 16” or less.

Once a concept and criteria have been developed, the next step is to develop some conceptual sketches. These are not necessarily exact, but close to scale, showing the major pieces of the plan: the space available, the main line, maybe some constraints. So pull out a sketch pad (one with graph paper works very well), a soft pencil and an eraser. Optional is a straight edge and compass or circle template. Box out the space you have available. First step is to lay in the key curves of the mainline. Get a feel of the radius and diameter of the curves as it is laid in the available space. You may be surprised how quickly the space is consumed! Once the turns are defined, connect them with straight segments and look at the overall track plan. Does it make sense? Then move on to adding some locations for cities, signature scenes or other elements. 
As mentioned, a lot of inspiration can come from books, magazines and on-line. Some of these plans may have elements or signature scenes that really appeal to you and you would like incorporated. In those cases, print out the plans and designs of interest to approximately the scale you are sketching in, and cut out the part that appeals to you. Between the paper and pencil, and optionally taping the elements onto the area you would like to see it, the plan can be developed to include your designed segment. Keep in mind plans can be flipped or mirrored to make them work better. Most home PC photo viewers have the option of easily making these edits.

A remote industry along the tracks can make an interest scene and provides enjoyment in switching.

As the plans are developed, some additional considerations should be addressed:

  • Parallel tracks spacing
  • Curved track spacing
  • Avoiding S-curves — trains have a hard time negotiating them. If you have to have S-curves, provide a short straight segment of track between them.
  • Keeping at least 2-3 inches between the edge of the layout and the nearest track.
  • Any kind of reverse loop — a place where the tracks loop back on themselves, will require special handling of the power feed.

Most people find they will develop several dozen sketches as they sort out options and ideas. As mentioned, a lot of good ideas can be found looking through track planning books and articles. The internet also is a great resource for ideas. Sketch, gather more ideas, modify, resketch... repeat. Once you have a plan you like, go through the checklist and criteria again to see if there were any compromises. If you see some, go back to the drawing board. Fudging dimensions in the planning stages guarantees problems later on.

S-curves can be bad if they are short radius and without a straight section of track between the turns. Open up the curves and add a little straight section, and they can become center-pieces of the layout scenery. Sidings are to provide a place where trains can pass.

S-curves can be bad if they are short radius and without a straight section of track between the turns. Open up the curves and add a little straight section, and they can become center-pieces of the layout scenery. Sidings are to provide a place where trains can pass.

A few other points to be considerations as the track plan is developed :

  • Continuous run vs not. A continuous run design allows a train to endlessly circle the layout. It’s a great way to “just run trains” as well as to allow locos to be broken in without a lot of fuss. That said, if you don’t have the room for a complete turnback, a simple “point to point” layout can be fun too. The prototype railroads rarely have turning loops, and most trains are run point to point, where they are broken down at each end of the run.
  • Mainline vs switching areas. Is your interest in running long trains through rambling scenery? Do you like the idea of running a local in and out of industrial spurs to pick up cars? Both can be fun.
  • Staging. Staging is a place for storing trains when not needed. These can be open, resembling a yard, hidden, say behind a partition, located in another room, or above or below the layout itself.
  • Freight yards. A place to break up and make up trains.
  • Passenger Terminals. A place for passenger trains to originate, terminate or pass through.
  • Sidings. Tracks to allow trains to pass each other.

A congested industrial area can keep an operator busy for the better part of an evening!

Detailed Design
Once the rough layout of the conceptual track plan is developed, the work moves into developing a detailed design. Until now, sketches were sufficient, it now becomes important to detail each and every element of track. This can be done either by the old fashioned pencil and paper method or by a CAD program. If going the pencil and paper route, it’s often helpful to purchase a template to make sure switch angles are correct, radii are consistent and so forth. CAD programs range from free downloads to fairly sophisticated packages that include a 3D rendering of the completed layout. Some even let you run virtual trains on the computer, a good way to test run your layout before the first stick of wood is cut!

Keep in mind cross-overs are s-curves. Here we see 85' cars negotiating a #6 crossover. Note the off-set on the car ends. Doable, but not at high speeds. #8 switches would have done much better here. Longer cars look better on larger radius curves.

Once the detailed track plan is completed, it’s a good idea to copy it or print it out, and hang it up someplace and let it gel for a while. You will likely find the plan requires tweaks, adjustments and modest improvements. That’s fine. Mark up the drawing and make the changes. The track plan will never be perfect, but once it reaches a level of comfort, it’s time to start building. Even once building starts, it is likely that you will find some adjustments and changes that are necessary or even just desired. That’s OK.

Make It Happen
As mentioned, this brief article only scratches the surface of track planning. I strongly encourage you to get a few books on the subject. Check out some track plans that appeal to you. If you have the option, visit a few layouts that are similar in size and concept to what you are interested in building. Share your ideas with others and ask for feedback. With a good plan, you will find the layout will come together nicely. Track planning can actually be as much fun as developing the layout itself. It is, after all, a hobby. Enjoy the process!

Author: Detlef Kurpanek

NOTE: Finding the right Track Plan
Probably the best track planning book I have every come across is “Track Planning For Realistic Operation,” by John Armstrong.  There are a lot of other track planning books out there as well. Find one that fits your interests, budget, and available space. Another resource is Model Railroader’s track planning database:  http://mrr.trains.com/how-to/track-plan-database  Any internet search will also yield dozens of plans. Finally, don’t discount considering prototype locations and “selectively compressing” the key features into the layout space you have available.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Model Railroading - A Multi-Dimensional Hobby - Part 2


A Multi-Dimensional Hobby - Part 2 - Benchwork

This is the part 2 of a series of articles exploring the changing face of model railroading and how it continues to evolve into a contemporary, varied, fulfilling and exhilarating hobby.

The last article talked about the amazing breadth of the hobby - ranging from research and design, to operations and recreating a segment of history. In this article, we will be looking at the benchwork required for a model railroad.

Benchwork is the foundation, the basic support structure for the model railroad layout. Over the years, different approaches to benchwork have developed. Traditionally, the first step in graduating from simply setting up track on the floor is to a sheet of plywood, framed out in some fashion to prevent sagging, supported by legs. Most common is the classic “4’x8’” sheet of plywood, which provides enough width to make a useable, albeit tight turn and enough width between the turns to allow a little straight run for a few sidings and some scenery. A quick internet search or even paging through some track plan books will generally yield dozens of track plans suitable for the 4x8 tabletop.

Before we go much further on the topic of benchwork, a word about track curve radius is in order. Trains are large, long, moving machines, and on the prototype (full-size), they need a lot of room for making a direction change. A “tight” turn on the prototype is on the order of a 700’ radius, and is generally reserved for industrial spurs. Translating this in to HO scale would require over an 8 foot radius - of course twice that or 16’ diameter for a full turn back! Naturally this is not practical for most layouts. As such, compromises need to be made to allow model trains to be run.

Here we see all three benchwork methods in use. The layout to the left is a conventional table-top construction. It uses two sheets of foam to allow some relief of the scenery by cutting out sections of the foam. Lower right is an example of open grid benchwork. Scenery is able to rise above and below the track.Above that section is an example of classic shelf style benchwork. Shelf brackets support a framework of 1x4 boards and plywood.

Model railroad radii are generally categorized into “sharp,” “conventional” and “broad” curves. The following table summarizes these for some of the most popular scales:

Curve Category O-scale HO-scale N-scale
Sharp 36” or less 18” or less 9” or less
Conventional 48 - 60” 24 - 30” 12 - 15”
Broad Greater than 60” Greater than 30” Greater than 15”

The reason curve radii are important is they define the requirements for the track plan, and consequently, the benchwork. Note for example, a 4’x8’ table top is wide enough to accommodate an 18” radius turn of 180 degrees on each end, with a little to spare (18” - 1’- 6”; since it is a radius, there’s a need for 2X for diameter, or 36” or 3’-0”). Theoretically a 24” radius curve will fit on a 4x8, but keep in mind the radius is measured from the centerline of the track. If a 24” radius will be used, the centerline of the track will fit on the 4x8 plywood, but half the track at the ends will be overhanging the edge of the table.

The other element to be aware of when configuring the track radius is the maximum size of equipment that can be run. If the layout will run short cars and short locomotives, a sharp radius curve standard may not be a problem. There are many logging lines that have been modeled in HO with track radii of 16” or even less. However if the desire is to run long steam or diesel locomotives, perhaps trailing a crack passenger train of 85’ cars, broad curves are in order. There are some longer cars that manufacturers will claim can be run on conventional curves, but keep in mind their operation will likely be compromised (don’t try to back them up!) and they will sure look a lot better on a wider curve.

Generally, track planning and development of benchwork will end up being a compromise between the two. Rare is the model railroader who feels they have all the room they need to run the equipment they want. Make the choices that make sense to you, and stick with them. On that note, many model railroads go so far as to write up standards to assure they don’t compromise their own design. The standards include specifying minimum radius for the layout, maximum length of cars and even required clearances to the edge of benchwork. But all this is fodder for another article.

A variation of the table-top 4x8 is what is called a “cookie cutter” type design. The flat table-top 4’x8’ leaves little opportunity to provide scenic elevation changes and vertical relief to the scene. The cookie-cutter layout concept is to take the same sheet of plywood and cut a pattern into it that will allow segments to be raised or lowered relative to each other. Spacer blocks are provided to support elements of the table relative to others. It might seem minor, but even 2-3 inches of relief remarkably enhances any layout. Note that these pieces do not need to be cut apart. A lobe can be cut into the plywood and raised, allowing for the connecting plywood to create a smooth vertical transition to mount track or roadways between the differing elevations.

There are some notable drawbacks to the table-top design, primary of which is it is a darn big intrusion into a room. A 4x8 requires access all around. The table top is too deep to reach across. Therefore some kind of access is required along the back, even if narrow. This causes the table to protrude even further into the room. This is fine as a small layout in a spare room, perhaps an unused portion of a basement or even garage. But if a larger layout is desired, or if space is at a premium, other options must be considered. After some time with the trusty 4x8 layout, most modelers will move into another design. Enter the shelf layout.

The shelf layout, as its name implies, is set up not unlike a bookshelf would be. Brackets affix to the wall, and some kind of shelf is provided to develop the layout. The shelf can be as narrow or deep as desired, but typically is not less than 6” deep to leave room for scenery, nor is it generally more than 24” deep to allow reasonable access to the back (as well as the practicality of supporting a shelf that deep). The shelving system can be set up around the entire room to create a loop or even spiral if additional run length is desired, or just run along one or two walls. Note that shelf layouts really do not have enough room for a “turn-back” on the shelf itself (unless in the smaller scales). However, the linear design generally allows for a more natural and realistic flow of scenery. Another advantage is the wall immediately becomes available as a backdrop to the layout. Painting of the wall or even photo murals can be used to enhance the visual depth of the model. Similarly, a second shelf can be placed above the layout, provided with a valence, creating a convenient place for adding layout lighting, as well as framing the layout into a visual vignette.

The most flexible approach to benchwork is the development of a true independent structure. These are generally developed using individual pieces of dimensional lumber and plywood. They are pieced together in a lattice framework of legs, joists, risers and track subroadbed. They will also generally incorporate provisions for the support of backdrops and fascia to provide a finished look to the layout. “Open Grid,” as this benchwork is called, allows the modeler to place the tracks anywhere and at any elevation. Scenery can drop below the tracks, or tower above. It is entirely up to the individual. There are many books on the subject and it is worth reading a few of them to gain understanding of the different designs and methods of this benchwork.

Open Grid benchwork is also by far the most complex to develop, however, it is by no means out of the reach of ordinary hobbyists to build. Rather than technical knowledge or craftsman skills, what is required most is patience in working through the details. A quarter-inch vertical off-set may not appear to be much, but will cause significant problems later on when setting the track. That said, it is still easily correctable through the use of shims and sanding. Careful planning, some basic skills with wood, patient assembly of the pieces, and an eye toward the final goal will yield a very satisfying and reliable structure.

The backdrop of a blue sky is constructed of masonite. Above that is a valence of black painted masonite to provide a finished edge. On the front of the layout are signs, control panels, operations paperwork boxes and some shelves for convenience. A masonite facia provides a clean, finished front to the layout.

Before we leave the topic of benchwork, it is worth discussing a little about the actual track support, the “subroadbed.” Track needs to be supported. Additionally this support has to provide a few additional things: it needs to be smooth, without sudden changes in height. It needs to be sturdy enough such that it will not sag, particularly over time. It also needs to provide a means of accepting nails or at least some means of attachment of the track to the sub-roadbed. Traditional plywood has done well for all these elements. Plywood should be at least 3/8” thick, and most modelers prefer 1/2". However plywood is very hard to hammer small track nails into. Additionally with the plywood acting as the bearing surface for the track, the track will be at the same elevation as the scenery. On the prototype, tracks are generally set on ballast, raised above the surrounding terrain. So often a strip of cork is installed over the plywood and before the track is laid. Cork roadbed is sold with a pre-cut edge to mimic the natural slope of the ballast. This provides a realistic elevation to the track, while providing a soft surface to smooth out any irregularities or gaps. Besides cork, some modelers prefer a paper-board product called Homosote®. This accepts nails quite readily and has the added advantage of deadening sound. A relatively new option is the use of insulating foam sheets (the solid sheet type, not the white beaded type) for both subroadbed and roadbed. It provides a lighter structure and is easily cut and shaped. Attachment of the track can be by conventional track nails, scale spikes or even wire brads. Some modelers prefer their track to be attached with caulk or other non-solvent based glue to get rid of any evidence of oversized nailheads when the layout is complete.

Each of the benchwork and track subroadbed styles have their own best application and advantages. Often multiple methods will be used in developing a layout. For example, there may be a peninsula in the room using the open grid benchwork; tracks will run along the wall using a shelf system, and a yard area perhaps will use a conventional table-top method. Feel free to adjust the designs to suit the need.

Benchwork may appear to be a daunting element of model railroading. However, it is really is not that difficult and can even be fun to develop. Different approaches and designs allow it to be adjusted to meet the needs of the layout. While there are some design and construction considerations that need to be made, the work is well within the capability of any individual interested in doing so. And once completed, you will be ready to move into the next phase of building the layout - laying track!

Author: Detlef Kurpanek

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Model Railroading: A Multi-Dimensional Hobby - Part 1

Model Railroading

A Multi-Dimensional Hobby - Part 1

This is the first in a series of articles exploring the changing face of model railroading and how it continues to evolve into a contemporary, varied, fulfilling and exhilarating hobby.

Model railroading.  What does it conjure up in your mind? Maybe you know of a family member that was into model railroading.  Perhaps it was a grandfather or dad who had an attic empire that somehow ended up in boxes.  Perhaps it was a family tradition to set up a train around the Christmas tree.  

Or perhaps you were given a train set as a gift, you set it up, ran it and then it was put away and forgotten.  Does that mean model railroading is a hobby that was appropriate for an earlier generation and in light of today’s electronics and video games has lost its luster and faded away?  

Not on your life! Model railroading is alive and well.

The years and miles are evident on a hard working F7 as it passes workers taking care of unstable track. The weathering on the locomotive reflects the look of a machine with decades of service. The track workers pose suggests the hard work necessary to maintain a railroad. In the background ordinary telephone poles, cyclone fencing and some buildings add authenticity. Modeling the things we see every day along the tracks delivers realism and brings your layout to life.

There are more hobbyists in model railroading today than at any other time in history.  The hobby is enjoying renewed popularity around the globe with an estimated 400,000 adherents, and approximately 250,000 in the US alone.  What keeps it interesting is its multi-dimensional aspect. What keeps it current is the huge and growing selection of models, fresh equipment and advancing technology.    Some of the facets of model railroading include wood working, electronics, sculpting and model building, electronics, even history and research.

Trains can still be run on DC power packs, but many hobbyists are enjoying digital command control (DCC) where power is fed to the rails all the time, and a superimposed carrier signal sends command to the locomotives of interest.  With DCC, gone are the toggle switches, endless hours of sorting out control wiring, and the cry of “who’s got my train!”  Instead the trains are run via digital control.  Handheld cabs send data to a central controller, which in turn broadcasts the control data across the layout.  Each locomotive has a decoder that responds only to the commands directed to that specific locomotive.  As a result, you are free to run your trains anywhere on the layout.  You become the engineer, looking down the track for the correct signal indication or clearance, or work a particular industry or branch line.  With DCC, you really can just run your train.

Entry level models are being produced that have details and operability that was only dreamed of in top-of-the-line models a couple decades ago.  Today, mid-priced and top end models accurately depict equipment tailored to specific prototypes, even down to variations within a model series.  Hobby shops carry locomotive models that are either basic engines or equipped with sound systems that generate 16 bit sampled sounds recorded trackside from the specific prototype engine.

Scenery too has come a long way from the days of painted plywood and zip texturing.  Sure, that still works fine and many like the simplicity.  But today there are enormous amounts of scale landscaping available with unbelievably accurate scenic details.  For instance, MRC-JTT offers a host of tree species as well as well as “ready-to-plant” specific flowers and grasses of all types.  You’ll find vegetables of every variety as well as fruits and fruit trees. If nature has it, you’ll find it on the market.  Dyed sawdust has come a long way as well, with offerings of ground foam in a spectrum of colors and textures as well as sheets of “fields” pre-textured and ready to lay down in that vacant lot.  Super realistic scenery does not need to be the result of hours of painstaking work and professional talent.

An SP locomotive just outside the yard creeps through the tenements. As the cities grew, the areas "by the track" often became dilapidated and run down as industry and residents built new facilities further out. This presents a creative opportunity to model the grittier side of life. Run down apartments, dead-end roads and unused tracks suggest an area that has seen seen better days. Weathered track and buildings, a few people, and compressed spacing of elements convey the feeling of an aging town center.

So what about this hobby?  Is it worth a second look?  Will it keep you interested?  The answer is a resounding yes!  Unlike a lot of other activities, model railroading is a unique, multi-dimensional hobby that draws on a huge variety of skills.  Chances are one or more of the needed skills will pique your interest to get into the hobby, and developing skills in the other areas will keep you in.  For instance, the setup requires some kind of supporting framework.

This can be a simple sheet of plywood on sawhorse stands, or an elaborate system that is built into a spare room, basement, attic or garage.  Developing the benchwork, as it is called, involves planning, design/drafting, and some carpentry.  After that, track needs to be laid, requiring skills in translating plans to reality and skills in measuring and assembling components.  Once the track is down, the power needs to be connected, pulling in some work in electronics and wiring.

Scenery follows, with the addition of buildings, hills and valleys, rocks and plants.  This is a very creative part of the hobby.  Scenery can range from developing a narrow gauge railroad set in the high mountain peaks to an industrial setting in a gritty urban environment.  Buildings, ground cover, plants, grasses and miscellaneous details create the setting while backdrops add depth. 

Besides the layout, the rolling stock can be a hobby in itself.  Build up a unit coal train.  Assemble a premier passenger train.  Like switching cars?  Pull together a lonely local freight working some sidings. 

Once assembled, bringing the layout to life can deliver as much challenge as you want.The train does not just have to go around the loop, but can be “operated” in a prototypical fashion with timetables and destinations.  This aspect can be shared with friends to create a model of a real operating transportation system.  Some folks take this to the next level and research specific prototypes in specific places and dates in history, recreating a certain scene or region in exacting detail.  In essence, it’s the creation of a miniature world... designed and built to your specifications!

The different facets of the hobby also keep it fresh.  Bored with laying track?  Go back to a place where the track is complete and create a park scene where some kids are flying their kites.  Tired of scenery?   Return to customizing a piece of rolling stock.  Even after a layout is “done,” there are plenty of opportunities to go back and rework or enhance different scenes.  Adding lights to buildings and streets; adding signals to the routes; put in a vegetable garden next to that house; populating everything from doorsteps to the train cars adds life to an otherwise sterile scene.  It’s totally engaging and can ignite your imagination and creativity, without the risk of becoming a stale, repetitive hobby.

So what if I don’t know how to do some of this?  If you’re concerned with the time involved or the skills needed, don’t worry.  Most any aspect of model railroading can be provided in a pre-assembled or kit form.  For instance, benchwork and wood working can be taken care of in a few hours by using kits and pre-fabricated modules.  These are typically even shipped right to your home.  They go together more easily than prefabricated furniture, and nothing is required other than setting them up in your spare space.  Many of these have finished surfaces to look every bit as good as the other furniture in your home. 

Electronics not your bag?  Control systems, such as MRC’s Prodigy Advance DCC train controls are designed to be simple plug-and-play systems, which require a minimum of work and essentially no knowledge of electricity, and yet provide a truly sophisticated and powerful command control system.  They can provide years of service with capabilities to grow with the needs of the layout, without being difficult to set up. 

Scenery too has the flexibility of being worked with as little or as much as desired.  Many craftsmen enjoy spending hours, perhaps detailing the interior of a scale garage with workbenches, shelves, tools, even oil cans.  But there is also a wide variety of models of structures, ready to be set down, pre-loaded with details and atmosphere.  Besides structures themselves, people, vehicles and miscellaneous details can be assembled from dozens of sources to create a believable scene with very little investment in time.  In fact, one of the enjoyable aspects of the hobby is each layout and even each scene in a layout is truly a unique vignette, reflecting the creativity of the modeler.

Model railroading is truly unique in its ability to encompass a significant number of crafts.  It is flexible to match your skills, budget and vision.  Each aspect can be developed in easy to assemble kits, or can be hand crafted, taken as far as you like.  Model railroading provides continual challenges for the seasoned veteran or can be simple enough to be embraced by a young child.  In the following chapters we will look into each of these aspects of model railroading. 

Model railroading is unique and remarkably multifaceted.  Rediscover this classic hobby.

Author: Detlef Kurpanek

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Review of #12541 - F-16C USAF Multirole Fighter kit by Academy

F-16C USAF Multirole Fighter

Published: July 6th, 2016     
Product Image
Box Art
Reviewed by: 
Camden & Dave Koukol, IPMS# 46287
Scale: 1:72
Company: Academy
Price: $20.00
Product / Stock #: 12541


Developed in the 1970’s and first fielded in the early 1980’s as the US Air Force’s lightweight multirole fighter-bomber to replace the F-4 Phantom and A-7D Corsair II, the F-16 Fighting Falcon established itself as one of the most capable, reliable, and cost-effective aircraft in US Air Force history. One of the specialized roles the F-16C inherited from the F-4 was that of Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD), in Air Force parlance known as “Wild Weasel.” F-16C Block 50 and 52 aircraft equipped as Wild Weasels began production in 1991, and still serve as USAF’s primary SEAD platform.

Source: IPMS/USA Reviews -