Sunday, May 8, 2016

Maizerets: Sayonara Plywood Central

It's been years since I did scenery on Hedley Junction. My most recent try at scenery was my small Harlem Station project which ws useful in getting some worthy experience.

When I visited yesterday, I was more than fired up in completing some scene than ever. Nicely build and weathered structures and rolling stock amount to nothing if they are set in a least than realistic miniature world.

Beware, this post will be heavy on pictures.

I decided to work on the simpliest scene of the layout which is the staging area in D'Estimauville. The general landforms are all in place and it was ready to get a coat of scenic material.

Here's the area at 7:00 PM before any work started:

My first concern was to get rid of the unrealistic flat lands behind the double track mainline. This area will be heavily forested and I prefer to plant trees in floral foam instead of fiberboard.

The fiberboard was cut  and removed. The area was then filled with irregular 1/2" slices of floral foam. I didn't care about their precise alignement because some sanding would do the job.

I've seen many tricks to shape floral foam, including scrapping the edges with a metal spatula, using rasps, knives and other such tools. But this time, I found out sanding the surface with a medium grit sanding block yield the best results. It's fast, doesn't make to much of a mess and you have absolute control over the process. The best part is that is merge the landforms seamlessly and realistically. No near to plug holes and cracks like before.

Once done, the result was a gently rolling surface similar to what you expect to see in forested areas.

Next step was to use drafting paper to locate the road parallel to the tracks. The spacing and dimensions are exactly prototypical. As you can see, I entertained for a while the idea to include the bike trail that runs along the track since 1986-1987. But I refrained because it made the scene look cluttered. Also, in this par tof Maizerets, the trail isn't near the track. Less is more! By the way, the road will be made out of cardboard and painted before installation.

At this point, a batch of universal mud was mixed and applied along the roadbed. Actual pictures of Maizerest show the ballast to be at the same level than surrounding ground. The surelevation is quite minimal. Carefully using a spatula, I shaped the mud in such a way the track now looks to be part of the terrain. It seriously improved the appearance of the whole. At this point, I must stress Murray Bay Subdivision was never a big mainline. Most pictures, even the oldest ones, show that grading was minimal: they dug the ditches and put the material on top of the roadbed then ballasted. After few years, everything sank to ground level.

Then, everything was blended together with a generous coat of paint. I usually work with a dark brown, but this time, I mixed it with the gray paint used to paint road. It gave a color much similar to the dirt I used. I left the dark brown somewhat intact in forested areas.

At this point, I followed up Trevor Marshall's scenery technics described in the Road Show last year. I like Trevor's approach. It's intuitive and you can work as you go. The key thing is to work the scenery as a multiple layer thing, just like the real life. Also, I didn't care to wait the paint was dry. In fact, wet paint is an excellent way to cement scenic material.

The first step was to sprinkle dirt over wet paint using an old nylon stocking. I got the trick from Gordon Gravett's books and it works pretty well. If you want a light coat of dirty, that's the way to go because you don't get irregular spreading patterns caused by a spoon or a cut.

After that, I scattered more coarse dirt, small rocks, crushed tea leaves and some olive-color ground foam. While the application was generally random, I did follow the topography and made the spreading pattern irregular and random to some extent. There's no straight lines in nature.

After the dirt application, I sprinkled a heavily coat of ground oak leaves in the forested area. Maizerets is full of trees and thus dead leaves are everywhere. This trick is from Mike Confalone and works wonder. I think next time I'll use different colors dead leaves for more variation. This custom-made mix beats any product on the market supposedly made to represent forest floor. Seriously, a mix of branches and green ground foam doesn't make any sense at all!

According to my spring photos of the area, lots of leaves are also still visible on the right of way and tracks themselves. For this reason, I applied leaves here and there. The leaves blanket was soaked in wet water then received a generous coat of diluted PVA glue.

Finally, it was time to apply some static grass! This is my first ever use of this technic and it was less scary than I thought. But before that, let's talk about the choice of color. As you may know, the layout is set in late April-early May. In Quebec City, it means trees are leafless but grass is starting to get green again. Over the last week, I observed grass everyday when going to work to better grasp the color variation. First of all, the idea every grass is dead and straw-colored when the snow melt is bullshit. Nature is much more subtile than that. In fact, yellow grass is mainly dead tall grass still standing or crushed into a thick blanket by snow. Where grass isn't very tall, the dead grass isn't that much visible and you can see green colors while the snow is still melting. To get it right, you must try to recreated a patchwork of green and yellow grass. Some area are blended, others are mostly green and others are yellow. If it rains, in a matter of hours, the grass will be green as if it was summer. On the layout, I decided to make it appears as if it didn't rain since the snow melted.

And here's the result after 5 hours of work. It was now midnight. Be aware that the glue isn't dry yet and colors will likely vary. I'm quite satisfied with what I got. I'm aware this is only the first coat of scenery and lots of bushes, trees, gravel, grass tuffs and dead tall grass will have to be added. What I like, is that scenery dwarfs the tracks and makes the layout appear larger.

And now enjoy the ride!


  1. It looks great so far! I'd love to see it when it's dry.

    1. Thanks Steve! I'm curious too, I won't see the result for a while...

  2. What terrific progress. Well done!
    - Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

    1. Trevor, following your scenery tips made it a bliss. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!