Browse Articles » Layout Tours

  • Part II: Modeling Memories of the Bronx

    Part II: Modeling Memories of the Bronx

    By Frank Joyce 

    This is part II of a two-part series written by Frank Joyce as he builds landmarks and memories from his childhood in New York City. Look for the finished layout.

    My next project was a 1’ x 2’ diorama of an underground subway station. That idea got its start when I came across a sheet of styrene tile and thought it looked like a subway station wall. I made a removable “ceiling” and attached several strings of miniature holiday lights that run off battery packs. Like a shadow box, I wanted an opening on one end only so you’d have to look inside to see everything. I used curved track at the back and a gym locker mirror on an angle, butting a single subway car up against it. It appears a train is coming around the bend. It was an easy and fun build, and got me into making dioramas.

    The subway station diorama is installed below street level at the corner of the layout. Most of the signs inside are old matchbook covers. There’s a scratch-built newsstand, too.

    For above ground scenes, I like the idea of small, simple dioramas mounted to a base of thick styrene. Using the standard sheet size enables me to switch dioramas on and off the layout and change the scenes. So far, I have two different gas station dioramas, a diner, and a used car lot, all interchangeable.

    I’m planning a small taxi building next. During the times I was between layouts, these mini scenes were placed on a shelf above my worktable and, joined together, made a cool display for the HO scale vehicles I have enjoyed collecting over the years.

    One of the fun things about this hobby is that after you start working in scale you start to see everyday objects with a new eye. All you have to do is wander through an antique store or flea market and coasters, matchbooks, old magazines, and postcards become the source for unique scale signs for a layout.

    I used the barrel from a yellow highlighter marker as the smokestack to backdate a Walther’s tugboat on my layout. The tugs have a small section off an old doily, painted and weathered, as their bow bumper:

    I discovered Preiser makes a great set of HO scale birds – gulls, pigeons, crows, you name it. I have two sets scattered around the layout. It’s a very tiny detail but it adds so much to a scene. I placed some of the flying gulls on guitar wire and mounted them over the water.


    Modeling water:

    I experimented with several water products since I was going to have large areas of deep harbor to cover on the layout. I came up with a simple formula: a sheet of black styrene as a base* and Woodland Scenics’ “Water Effects” applied with an artist spatula.

    I cut the styrene to fit my water areas, made sure the area was clean, and used the Water Effects straight onto it. No base coat of any other water product is necessary. The Water Effects is so thick you can use it right up to the edge of the layout, thickly, without it dripping or leaking – so you don’t need to create any barriers to keep the product from finding your floor. I used a diamond-shaped artist’s paint spatula and applied the product thickly. Think of icing a cake, the Water Effects acts and works the same way. I just made sure I kept all of my “waves” heading in the same general direction. I didn’t try to be perfect or uniform, because water doesn’t behave that way in a harbor. The thicker I laid it on the more opaque it dried later, giving the illusion of deep rolling water. It took almost three weeks to completely dry, but it came out really well, and I am still very pleased with the results.

    The great part: unlike the resins and other water products out there, Water Effects has the odor of white glue – not very offensive at all. Use proper ventilation, of course! You can also go back over areas again if you don’t like the results the first time or, like me, you want to add some churning water behind a tug.

    Here is the before picture with just the black styrene base:


    Almost completely dry:


    *I purchased a  48” x 96” sheet of black, 1/16” thick ABS styrene sheet (product # 45351 at $31) from US Plastics Corp., It came rolled up in a tube. One side was pebbled and the other smooth as glass. Your water area may be much, much smaller and Evergreen makes black styrene sheets in smaller sizes and thicknesses.


    For more information, contact Frank Joyce.

    Article Album (24 photos)

    Share - Report
1 comment