Christopher Brimley updated June 8, 2011


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  • Huron River Curve/Corner Modules

    by David Butts

    Photos by the author

    NYC E7 heads eastbound on the Michigan Central with passenger train next to the Huron River on the east corner module.
    Model Railroading - November 2004 - Page 26

    The New York Central was known as the Water Level Route. What comes to mind is the Hudson River, New Yorks most noted river on the New York Central. However, the NYC did traverse many other notable rivers such as the Huron River in Michigan. Since my modeling focus is the NYC operations on the Michigan Central in the late 50s through the 60s before the creation of the Penn Central railroad, I have chosen to represent the Huron River in Michigan for a set of curved/corner modules I built for my home layout and for train shows. The Huron River was very prominent on the Michigan Central of the NYC. My source of references on how to depict the river scenes came primarily from books, Michigan Central Trackside with Emery Gulash by Geoffrey H. Doughty and Trackside on New York Centrals Western Division 1949-1955 with Sandy Goodrick by Jerry A. Pinkepank.

    The topography of the modules is generally flat, and that is appropriate for the area on the Michigan Central that I am trying to model. My goal was not to have an exact duplicate of the locale but rather to capture its flavor. In addition to the Huron River, I tried to add interest to the modules by adding rock cuts, hills, trees and other greenery. I made extensive use of products from Woodland Scenics and Scenic Express. On one of the modules I have water on both sides of the double track, one side being the flowing Huron River and the other side being a marsh.

    Water scenes that I have seen on many modules at train shows tend to feature the water on the inside of the module. Conversely, I wanted the water scenes, Huron River, to be situated to the outside of the module. This more closely matched the river scenes I had seen in the aforementioned NYC books.

    Woodland Scenics has a line of products that I used to create the water scene on the modules in the accompanying photographs Realistic Water, Water Effects and Liquid Pigment. All of these products are easy to use and are water-soluble. Realistic Water simulates water and is poured; it does not require mixing, dries clear and is flexible, odorless and self-leveling. Water Effects provides the texture for waves and ripples and is applied with a brush. The Liquid Pigment, raw umber, provides the coloration or tint for the water. Other items and tools that will be needed for the project are:

    • Masking tape and clear rubber silicone sealer to dam the Realistic Water.
    • A bowl or jar for mixing the pigment into the Realistic Water.
    • Earth-colored latex paint, paintbrushes and wood paint stirrers.

    Typically, water should be the last scenery item to be tackled on a layout or module so that the white glues or matte medium used to adhere ground cover or track ballast does not bleed into the water and discolor it.

    Huron River west corner module in raw form with road bed and unshaped white beaded foam terrain.
    Model Railroading - November 2004 - Page 27

    The first step in the project is to shape the shoreline of the river, paint the riverbed and shoreline, add rock riprap and handle the other terrain features. My shoreline is formed using 1/4" beaded foam board from Woodland Scenics that has been shaped with a knife and rasp. I used Woodland Scenics Foam Tack to glue the foam board in place. To fill in the gaps and smooth out the foam board terrain I used Woodland Scenics Foam Putty and Flex Paste. Once the shoreline had been defined, I painted the riverbed and shoreline with latex paint in the appropriate colors. I used flat brown and flat black paint and Liquid Pigment (black and raw umber). The dark colors are used for the riverbed and the lighter color is used for the shoreline. The colors are blended dark to light to achieve contrast in depth. Next comes the rock riprap; it can be glued in place with white glue or Woodland Scenics Scenic Glue, which is a heavy, white-colored glue that dries clear and has strong adhesive properties. Once the rock riprap is glued down I give it a misting of alcohol and go over it with matte medium applied with a squeeze bottle.

    The rock cuts, hills and terrain undulation were formed with white beaded foam. I shaped the foam with a serrated knife, hot wire tool and a rasp. The rock cuts are painted with artists latex paints in white, gray and black with a wash of Woodland Scenics Liquid Pigment in the stone gray color. I started with a base coat of white then stippled and streaked in the gray and black to get the rock/stone effect. This technique was taught to me by my good friend and fellow modeler, Bill Ello of the Atlanta Fremo Society, an HO modular train club in Atlanta, Georgia.

    The second step was to apply the greenery on the modules using water-soluble scenery techniques popularized in Dave Frarys book, How to build Realistic Model Railroad Scenery. The ground on the module had been painted with brown or earth-colored latex paint. I coated the areas on the module to be greened with white glue spread out with a paintbrush. Then I sprinkled on Woodland Scenics earth blend ground foam using their shaker bottle. Additional layers were then added, consisting of other colors and blends of flock and turf from Scenic Express (summer lawn, farm pasture, alpine meadow, scrub grass, etc.). Using a spray bottle, I sprayed the ground foam, flock and turf with a light mist of alcohol and sealed it with matte medium. In my opinion, visually, the look of the scenery is enhanced by the variations in color.

    Elmers White Glue has been spread onto the module in preparation for the application of ground foam. Rock riprap has been glued to the shoreline, ground foam applied, and the rock cut has been painted gray.
    Model Railroading - November 2004 - Page 28

    Most of the long grass on the modules is a grass mat product from Scenic Express called Silflor. I used three colors of Silflor grass mat; Heki Wild Grass mat in dark and light green; and Woodland Scenics static grass in dark, medium and light green. The Silflor and Heki grass mats are torn into small pieces and glued into place and Woodland Scenics static grass is blown into place using a special application bottle (Noch Flock Applicator). I spread white glue onto the location to receive the static grass and then blew it into place with the Noch Flock Applicator. As I mentioned earlier, it is safer to scenic the module with ground foam and ballast before adding the water products from Woodland Scenics.

    For trees I chose several types of commercial products, various Woodland Scenic trees, Faller Firs, Scenic Express Super Trees, and Masking tape and rubber silicone applied to outside of module to provide dam in preparation of pouring of Realistic Water. Heki Small Pines and Deciduous. All trees are permanently secured in place with Walthers Goo. First I determined where the trees were to be located then I drilled holes directly into the module to facilitate planting the trees.

    As to the track, Atlas HO code 83 flextrack or Pilz HO code 83 flextrack was used. The latter is a product from Germany that I had available. All track was spray painted with Floquil Rail Brown, and the ties were brush painted with AccuFlex Weathered Black. I used Woodland Scenics gray blend ballast in the medium grit. The roadbed is a pre-cut Homasote from Homa-Bed.

    The third step was to dam the edge of the module so that the Realistic Water will not leak out once poured. I used clear rubber silicone sealer and masking tape to dam the edge of the module. The rubber silicone sealer takes several hours to dry, and it is important that it be fully dry before pouring the Realistic Water to prevent leaks. The 2"-wide masking tape is used to temporarily reinforce the silicone. Moreover, it is essential that the module or location on the layout where the Realistic Water is to be poured is level (flat).

    FM road switcher in the NYC lightning stripe paint scheme hauls a freight train east.
    Model Railroading - November 2004 - Page 29

    The next step is to mix Liquid Pigment and Realistic Water together in a jar to get the desired water coloration or hue. I chose to add a tint directly to the Realistic Water because I wanted the water to be brownish, as would be the case after rain showers or a storm in thespring. I started with a few drops of Liquid Pigment and mixed the ingredients slowly to minimize bubbles. Once the water coloration was right, the mixture was poured into the riverbed following Woodland Scenics directions. Depending on the depth of the water, the pouring and drying process may take several days. Woodland Scenics recommends each pour of the Realistic Water be no deeper than1/8"and then allowed to dry approximately 24hours before adding more of the water product.I like to let the module dry outside in the sun-light, as long as it is not too hot, because the drying process is accelerated.

    Water Effects was then brushed and stippled on to make the waves and ripples. Water Effects is a thick paste-like product that should be applied with a paintbrush in thin coats. I found it better to apply a thin coat of the product and build it up rather than apply a thick coat initially. It dries faster, and the texture of the waves and ripples is more convincing and manageable when applied in thin coats. Again,it may take a few days to dry completely, and it pays to follow the instructions spelled out by Woodland Scenics.

    In conclusion, I hope that this article will encourage modelers who have been thinking about adding water to their layouts or modules to do so. The array of products available from Woodland Scenics makes it very easy to make realistic and convincing ponds, lakes,streams, rivers or whatever body of water one chooses to make. With the exception of the Floquil Rail Brown spray paint, everything that I used was water-soluble, which makes clean up easier. The commercial scenery products available today make good-looking scenery within the grasp of all modelers with practice and patience.

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  • Roberto Arroyo likes this
  • Roberto Arroyo
    Roberto Arroyo Thanks for the info Christopher, I'm reserching, NYC for my next layout, and your input is greatly appreciated.
    June 8, 2011