Spackle and Paint

In the past few days, I’ve experienced a couple of failures. Fortunately I didn’t take pictures of either of them, but I assure you: they happened.

I tried to research techniques for filling gaps between the tracks and layout surface but really didn’t find much. So, I experimented.

I have a bag of Sculptamold which has been sitting around for the better part of a decade, so I figured I would give that a shot. For those of you who don’t know, Sculptamold is something like pre-mixed papier-mâché. You add water and get a fairly lumpy paste which is great for modelling, particularly for covering and filling surfaces. However, it was not good for filling in the gaps between my track and the surface of my layout. I ended up getting more Sculptamold on the roadbed and track than I was able to press into the gaps, no matter what tools I used. After a couple of inches of that, I gave up.

The following evening I decided to try something a bit more familiar: spackling paste. That worked beautifully. With a putty knife, I was able to fill the gaps in less than half an hour. Here are the results:

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I left a slight depression on each side of the track, which I hope will help when I fill out the sides of the roadbed with ballast.

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I also spackled a slope to transition from the layout surface to the frame. The whole layout is like a very shallow dish.

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I was extra careful not to fill the manual turnout switches with spackle. When it comes time to ballast, I will have to stuff something into these to keep the tiny grains from falling in.

Well, I thought this was just fantastic. It was an easy, fast, and satisfying project. I really felt like the whole thing was coming together nicely.

Then I thought, hell, why not make another evening of it and paint over the surface to give the ground some ‘ground-like’ color? I had seen this done on old Kambalch Model Railroader videos (I used to subscribe to that magazine, and sometimes they had DVD inserts), and it looked very easy. I remember that they used flat latex paint in those videos, and that they used green, tan, light brown, or nutmeg colors. This was essentially a ‘base’ for the ground foam, sand, ballast, or whatever else would later be spread over most of the surface to provide texture and vegetation.

As I think I mentioned in a former post, we recently painted our living room. We also painted our son’s room, and for an accent color he had chosen ‘Glazed Pot,’ which was almost the color of terra-cotta. We had plenty of that color left over, so I figured I’d use it.

I did a beautiful job painting the surface: I brought the paint right up to the roadbed without actually painting the molded ballast, and the very edge of the layout was a nice crisp line. I was a bit nervous about how bright the color was, though, so I decided to experiment on the second coat. Bad idea. My thinking was this: if I painted a second coat of ‘Glazed Pot,’ then quickly went over that with black paint using a smaller brush, I could create an irregular dark brown color by mixing in real time.

Never do this. I was assuming that latex paint would mix and flow like oil paint, but it wasn’t even close. The whole project got very sloppy and the paints didn’t blend well at all. Unfortunately, I had covered the entire surface of the module before realizing how awful it looked. By then, of course, the paint was already drying.

Aside from my brief struggle with the Sculptamold, everything up to this point had gone exactly as planned. Now, the layout was covered with a thick, tacky, ugly layer of paint. It had gotten on the tracks and on the sides of the frame, and had dripped down one of the legs. I had to remove the paint.

After going through the first five or six stages of grief, I retrieved a roll of paper towels, a toothbrush, a sponge, and a couple of gallons of water, then set to work scraping and smearing the paint off. It took all night, and I wasn’t able to get all the paint off the roadbed. The signs of my failure will forever be visible (but probably not noticeable).

After that failure, I took a break for a couple of days. I watched some television and read a couple of short stories. Yesterday, though, my remote turnout switches arrived in the mail, so this afternoon I figured it was time to put a final coat of paint on the module. It’s not as perfect as it was the first time around, but it isn’t bad. Here it is, still drying:

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Note the remote turnout switches in the lower right. For power, Kato switches can connect directly to the power pack and to each other, like Lego.

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