Tasha Oates updated January 4, 2011


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  • Spread-On Streets and Highways

    By Clyde Queen, Jr.

    This technique uses common Joint Compound (available in most hardware stores) simulate either concrete or blacktop streets and highways. An al­ternate technique, using ScaleCrete modeling compound, appeared in the August 1992 issue.

    Many of the roads we travel on have a common look to them. Most are made from asphalt and crushed rock, while some are made from concrete. Roads that are lightly traveled are usually surfaced            with gravel or dirt. Roads don’t retain their new look for long and will quickly age from oil leaks and tire marks left by vehicles, along with nature’s own weathering. Other things to model which you’ll find on or near roads are storm drain covers, manhole covers, sidewalks and painted lines.

    Laying down the joint compound is much like frosting a cake. Apply a thin layer of about 1/8 inch between the lines.

    Using a wet cellulose sponge, smooth out the many bumps and depressions left by the putty knife.

    I have found that the fastest and easiest ways of modeling asphalt roads with very little cost involved is by using joint wall compound material, which can be found at any hardware store. Joint wall compound (or simply joint compound) is intended for finishing seams between pieces of sheetrock or wallboard. It comes in a premixed, ready-to-use format.

    In making roads for my model railroad layout, I first lightly draw an out­ line on the board of where I want the roads to go. Most two-lane streets and roads are between 12 to 14 scale feet wide from centerline to shoulder or curb. This certainly can vary depending on the locale. Other factors such as two lanes merging together or parallel parking along a road will certainly change the width of the pavement.

    After lines have been marked, I then use a putty knife to scoop some joint compound onto the board. I lay down the material as you would if frosting a cake. Trying to keep within the lines, I attempt to get a thin layer that is pretty much even. After the compound is laid, I dip the putty knife into water and lightly drag the knife across the compound, getting out as many bumps and depressions as possible. Then, taking the putty knife, I scrape off the excess compound that has crossed the boundary lines. The compound material needs to dry for at least eight hours, but I find that if I wait more than two days, the compound is very difficult to smooth out. So I will usually lay it in the evening, then the following morning, I smooth down the road using wet sponges. Do not sand the joint compound with sandpaper without wearing a respirator or mask because dust may cause eye, throat or upper respiratory irritation.

    I first use a wet cellulose sponge and proceed to rub out many of the lines that were left by the putty knife. The sponge acts as a medium grit sandpaper, but without the dust. By continual wetting and rinsing out the sponge, I quickly smooth down the joint compound. Next, I’ll use an Extracell sponge the same way. This sponge acts like a fine grit sandpaper.

    The Extracell sponge acts like a fine sandpaper, making the road surface very smooth for your vehicles. As with both sponges, take long rubbing strokes so as not to cause any depressions.

    Use full strength Floquil Concrete paint and apply with a wide brush. Brush strokes should be with the length of the road.

    Cut your dry transfer lines from the sheet and lay them in the center of the road. By using a burnisher, rub the dry transfers carefully, making sure you have rubbed the entire line into the road.

    The road will need to dry completely before we can paint it. The same method can also be used to make parking lots. I usually will use a 3-inch putty knife to lay down and smooth the compound on a larger surface.

    I apply Floquil Concrete paint full strength with a brush to provide the basic color. You could airbrush the paint on the road, but I find using a paintbrush eliminates the possibility of overspray on what scenery I may have already completed.

    When the paint has dried, I use either Model Graphics colored tape by Woodland Scenics yellow (MG 763) or white (MG 760), depending on the type of lines I need. When I apply the lines, I first cut away either single or double lines from the sheet using the thicker lines that are provided. Depending on the type of line or lines desired, I then place the cut line in the middle of the road. Using a burnisher, I then proceed to rub on the dry transfers. When rubbing with a burnisher, I take light strokes so as not to destroy the dry transfer. White passing lines are about 5 scale feet long with 15 scale feet between each line. It’s best to look at the roads you are modeling to determine what type of lines are needed and their placement.

    Next, I use an X-acto knife and scrape dark grey and black pastel chalks into a fine powder. Using a stiff brush, I then place the fine powder in the center of the lanes. Oil deposits and tire tracks build up toward the center of the lane, while at stop crossings and parking stalls you’ll notice a heavy concentration of oil deposits left by vehicles. I find this to be an enjoyable step, be­ cause it allows me to be a little creative, while my roads start to look like the real thing.

    The final step is to spray Testors Dull Cote over the road. Not only does it seal the dry transfers and pastels into place, it also changes the road from a concrete to a light grey color.

    Details can really add to a road. Smalltown makes great looking sidewalks, while SS Ltd. Makes sewer grates and manhole covers. Details such as these can now be added.

    Road/Rail Crossings

    Sometimes our roads and tracks must meet, either at a crossing or sharing the same right of way. The most common situation is where roads and tracks join at railroad crossings. The track will normally be somewhat higher in elevation than the road it crosses. At times, wooden timbers or steel or rubber plates are used between the rails, not only to protect the rails from damage, but to ensure a smoother ride when vehicles cross. There are, however, many less traveled roads that simply run asphalt, framed by timbers, all the way through the crossings.

    Use a stiff brush when applying the fine powdered pastel chalks. Darker black color goes into the center, while the grey color is brushed on the sides.

    Testor's Dullcote is sprayed over the entire road, not only to seal both the pastel chalks and dry transfers but also to lighten the color of the road.

    All the materials you need to create inexpensive, great looking asphalt roads.

    Joint compound can also make good looking grade crossings. Make sure when it is laid that you clear enough material away for the flangeways before the compound dries. Vehicles look right at home traveling on the main boule­ vard of town. Sidewalks, fire plugs, street lights and street signs add a lot to the street scene.

    Another example of where streets and tracks meet is what’s called  “street trackage. “ In many            cities with little space available for both rail and vehicle traffic, the two will often share the same right of way. Tracks will run down the middle of the street leading to sidings for factories and warehouses. At times, street trackage will also lead to a wide area protected from passing traffic and used for team tracks. These team tracks are used to transfer freight between railroad cars and trucks.

    In making crossings of street track­ age, I apply the joint compound just as I would in laying down a road, covering up all the ties and rail. Then, taking the putty knife, I draw along on the top of the rails, removing the compound from the railhead. After giving the compound enough time to dry so it’s still a little soft but not sticky, I run the edge of the putty knife down the flangeway of the rails. The compound will slightly buckle around the flangeways. Many times, in looking at roads with tracks in them, you would think that they just lay asphalt completely over the track and let the trains make their own flangeways because of how ragged the asphalt is around the rails. This technique duplicates that appearance.

    If you like that look, however, bear in mind that the compound must be lower than the top of the rails in order to allow the rails to be cleaned by a track cleaner block. A spacing of between Y64 and Y32 inch from the top of the railhead to the road surface is a good rule of thumb. After I have smoothed out the road trackage with sponges, the entire road is then painted.

    Trains will also leave oil deposits around the track. To create these deposits left by passing trains, I lightly brush on black pastels chalks randomly around the trackage. Testors Dull Cote spray is again used to seal the surface. For fresh looking oil spots, I thin down Testors gloss black and use a small brush to let the excess paint drip onto the road surface.

    My final step is taking a Bright Boy track cleaner and rubbing off all the paint and compound that was left on the top of the rails.           


    Article Details

    • Original Author Clyde Queen, Jr.
    • Source Railmodel Journal
    • Publication Date April 1993

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  • mario ribis likes this
  • Rick Phipps
    Rick Phipps Once again, thanks Tasha. Great article.
    January 4, 2011
  • Paul Coats
    Paul Coats I'll second that emotion! I've got this one bookmarked, too. I'll be using this soon, I hope.
    January 4, 2011