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Scale Modeling Tips & Tools Monthly, Issue #015-- "It's A Dirty Job..."
April 15, 2008
April 15, 2008

Playing In The Dirt...Again

You probably thought you were through playing in the dirt decades ago and probably can't even find your little red bucket and shovel.

Depending on the size of your modeling project, You may wish you could.

There are very few scale modeling forms that sooner or later don’t have to deal with the ground whether it is landing on it, sailing around it, fighting on it or railroading over it so let’s examine what it takes for convincingly modeling our most common surroundings.

I am working on a small switching module and once the track, buildings and a rock cut are in place, there is minimal area available for ground cover.

First off, I built up the rock cut using for ceiling tiles to provide the armature for a coating of paper mache rock. I like working with paper mache, it is not as messy as plaster and doesn’t need a coat of paint just to cover the white. Paper mache finishes to a nice rock-like gray. I apply the paper mache with a fork and in the gently sloped areas, flatten it with moistened fingers to provide a base for a grass slope.

The ceiling tile when it protrudes provides the “walls” with a different texture. I work with it in both flat and vertical placement. First I break the tile into 6-7 11/2” strips. Breaking is the key, you seldom find straight edges in nature. Some of the best breaks are those that shear across the edge giving it a slope.

Use the tile back-side up or to the front, adds to the gray rock coloring. Instead of cutting off the tongue and groove edges, gently and carefully work the blade (point first) of a utility knife into the edge until it is up to the hilt. Pry up. You will end up with an uneven gouge in the edge and you get a bonus, a piece of rock with a flat surface.

This you glue to another flat surface as a stand alone rock or part of an outcropping for the rock cut. Done right, it provides a decent looking ledge that will hang above a train as it protrudes from the surface of your cliff.

As much as I can, I like to use the Brer Rabbit philosophy “Its What You Do With What You Got That Pays Off In The End”, when it comes to creative ground cover. For instance, you will seldom find an 80 to 100’ rock cut without a talus base. I went out in back of my apartment and scooped up five pounds of left over sweepings of roadside sand.

I ran it through two different sized spaghetti first and then a standard kitchen strainer and put the results into three baggies. For my N Scale layout, the largest is about the size of a freight car when, the smallest (besides the dust) is about the size of the beads on sandpaper.

Start with the largest first and dribble it across the top of your vertical ledge. Let it fall like Mother Nature intended. Some of it may bounce quite a ways, don’t rush to coral it at the base. When rocks fall from 100 feet, they tend to bounce away from where they first hit.

Follow this up with the medium sized “rocks” and then the finest grain material.

The thing I like about using common sand I the fact you end up with multi-colored “rocks” similar to the colors found in rock which you find in your area.

7 Ways To Motivate Your Modeling

I often find, specially now that I am beyond 60, my motivation to get going needs a good kick start the flow of my modeling juices.

It's frustrating, isn't it? You define tasks that you need to accomplish, you gather the resources needed , and set the time and place to get it done. You notice it's not getting done. You wait some more. It still isn't getting done. What you need is:

Motivational Help

1. Develop your own plan in outline form so you go through the same steps with each model you begin. Do it on your computer or PDA so changes and updates are easily executed.

2. Don’t model in silence. Provide your modeling area with music, a good source is the Cable TV music channel.

3. Movies, Photographs, Drawings -- What the eye takes in can be a stimulus to your motivation to pick up the knife, the brush or the tweezers. In addition they bring to life the detail you are trying to emulate. Do not get bogged down in research but knowing the history of your subject helps in its recreation. Google Images and model railroading forums are valuable resources I couldn’t be without.

4. Talk to get motivated. I know once I tell my wife about a phase of the layout I am going to build, I feel a sense of commitment to carry it out.

5. Seeing the finished project stimulates my desire. I imagine it finished. Here again, pictures of layouts I am emulating provide an inducement to get to work. Also, of the project will bring in money, it will take precedence.

6. How do you eat an elephant—One bite at a time. You will get more done more quickly by breaking your modeling project into modules. Then take any small step; you’ll want another.

7. Find your niche. You will be much more motivated if what you are modeling is something in which you have a sincere interest.

Share Your Successes and your problems

Be an active participant in Internet forums which focus on your modeling subject. I currently have a dozen of them bookmarked in my favorites and check in with each weekly. They are valuable for a number of reasons:

• Relationships - good forums can be incredible communities with a lot of good personal interaction between members. Some of the people that I have worked with more closely over the years are people I have met in forums.
• Learning/Post Ideas - one of the best parts about participating in a forum is that as you use them you’ll find yourself with a lot of new knowledge and potential post ideas. Forums are full of threads from beginners in topics asking questions. Grab these questions and answer them on your blog. You can also get scoops on stories from forums if you monitor them well. There are plenty of forums out there on most topics. Go on a forum hunt today and when you find one that has a similar topic to your modeling niche sign up and become an active member. To find them simply search Google for ‘your topic forum’ (try a few of your main keywords).

Columbus Had It Right...
Even In Models Ground Ain't Flat

So many layouts you see these days are built on Styrofoam insulation bases making bench work a snap, it is about the right size, easily worked and easily cut.

Resist the temptation of building your layout with a flat yard or switching area, it is not prototypical. Columbus proved the world isn’t flat. Granted, he had bigger things in mind than your little layout, but the principal is still the same. Your layout should have small hills and mini canyons. Even pavement isn’t really flat—many potholes where you live?

Most foam board molders would be horrified by this technique. Find a particular flat spot on your layout, place your elbow in the middle and lean on it. Yup, you want to break the nice flat surface you painted or provide a major dimple in the flat pink or blue surface you are working with. If space allows you might try a couple of them.

Pick another smaller, flat area. Give it a thumb gouge, the idea is to provide a spot where water might puddle or pond as well as providing small dips and swales in the landscape.

But the world is not only depressed, you will find a variety of bumps, nodules, protrusions and terrain warts in your average backyard, back lot, or back 40.

Start with a conservative spreading of rocks that exceed the size of a freight car door in your scale (kind of a neat place for a hobo or a hunter to sit).

Now add the paper mache. Mix up a batch which will provide you with enough to spread over the target area and cover it to the depth of an eighth of an inch. Don’t worry about smoothing it, you are trying to create blobs and swells with no apparent pattern. Try not to cover the rocks you just dropped. If it looks to smooth add a few swells.

Before this coating dries, this is a time to add “landscape junk”, occasional twigs to represent logs, a few more rocks (smaller than a freight car tire) in a hit-or-miss array, a plank or two that look well aged. Remember, you are trying for the WOW! Effect, not the “oh yuh, there’s another one”.

Get out your sand bag (usually the finest sifting of your dried yard covering). Before spreading, thoroughly soak the area you are working on with water from a mist sprayer. Keep the sprayer handy. Now spread random blankets across the patch you are working .

Mix a dark and light “grass”--I use Woodland Scenics Fine Turf Green Grass and Burnt Grass in a cup saucer. Grab your handiest pincher (thumb and forefinger) so you actually spread your grass in clumps to result in random bare spots..

Speaking of pinches, we need some dark earth. My preference is dried coffee grounds (after they have performed their primary function). To make my supply I move it from the filter and spread it on a flat oven-proof tray covered with aluminum foil. I heat at 300 degrees for an hour or two. Once it cools, I pick up the edges of the foil and drain the powder into a baggie (you can never have too many baggies in your hobby room).

I use baggies for all three sizes of sand and stone, and my coffee grounds. They also serve as weights when I am working on structures.

Now, using the coffee grounds as dark earth patches, with your 0-2-0 drag bucket, deposit sprinkles of your dark earth on the grass, the patch should look mostly green.

Like the looks? Grab your spray bottle again and this time, mist from a high level to the point where you soak the surface you have been working on.

The final step is to secure the whole thing. I mix a white glue 50-50 with water and apply it with an eye dropper. You can also drip it on a drop at a time, but you will find the eye dropper more precise..

Let the patch rest for 10-15 minutes. Use the mister again to apply more water. The object of this final application is to spread the white glue droppings.

Now size up your work. Is it ready for prime time viewing?

If you are not entirely happy with the look, grab a spatula, scrape it all of and try it again.

Advantages Of Being Over 50

Got this in my email inbox the other day, the problem is, a lot of it fits.

1. Kidnappers are not very interested in you.

2. In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.

3. No one expects you to run--anywhere.

4. People call at 9 pm and ask, " Did I wake you ???? "

5. People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.

6. There is nothing left to learn the hard way.

7. Things you buy now won't wear out.

8. You can eat dinner at 4 pm.

9. You can live without sex but not your glasses.

10. You get into heated arguments about pension plans.

11. You no longer think of speed limits as challenge.

12. You quit trying to hold your stomach in no matter who walks into the room.
13. You sing along with elevator music.
14. Your eyes won't get much worse.

15. Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.

16. Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the national weather service.

17. Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them either.

18. Your supply of brain cells is finally down to manageable size.

19.You can't remember who sent you this list and you notice these are all in Big Print for your convenience.

Modeling Tips You Can Use

Cutting It Close

It takes a sharp blade to make accurate, quality cuts when working with paper stock. The best blade for the job is the Snap Blade knife. You won't find one easier to keep razor sharp (just clip off the tip). You can open it with one hand, they are light and you won't find a cheaper knife. They normally sell for about a dollar, I found a three-pack in a Dollar Store for a buck.

The cheaper the better. You don't want rugged metal ones, like those offered by the big box stores; they are bigger, heavier, costlier and no better. What you want is a cheap all-plastic made-in-China throw-away that should cost no more than a buck.

Save Your Plastic Waste

It seems we are locked into a pattern of throwing away plastic food containers two or three times a week. I am getting in the habit of snagging those that will serve a higher purpose.. I like the hard plastic (black bottom, clear top) and use them for several modeling purposes:

• Corralling parts for a kit bashing project I am working on so they are in one place.
• They serve as a palette for glues and blobs of paint.
• For RC racers they are handy in your pit kit to store tires, small hand tools, replacement parts, wires, batteries Xacto knives, extra screws and zip ties.
• Such plastic boxes, often stackable, lend themselves well to storing and cataloging model railroad rolling stock.
• They are handy for storing the myriad of detail parts in an organized fashion in place of the all-to-common junk drawer.
• They are durable (just ask your average dump manager) and are easy to replace.

There are many plastic food containers with a variety of clear covers which are ideal for modeling glass windows and in some cases, airplane model canopes.

Until Next Month...

Make It Your Best Effort!

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