Painting the Rails

I spent the past couple of evenings with a pack of Testors CreateFX markers, painting the rails of my module. Even on a module as small as mine (there’s probably about ten feet of track) it took several hours.

The paint markers I used. You can see a sample of unweathered track behind them.

First I painted the sides of the rail with ‘Rail Brown,’ being careful not to paint over the switch points. In an effort to make them blend in a bit, I also painted over the uncoupling magnets with this color. Then I painted the ties with ‘Rail Tie Brown.’ Finally, I painted two coats of  ‘Rust’ over the sides of the rails, and also painted the bumpers. I was purposefully sloppy with the Rust color, as I wanted to allow for some variety.

The finished product. I’m still waiting for ballast to arrive (I ordered Kato ballast, which is intended to match the color of the roadbed). After I ballast, I will simulate oil sprays and spills, and also spread some rust powder in some areas.

After every pass with paint, I quickly followed up by swiping a microfiber cloth (the kind used to wipe eyeglasses) over the top of the rail. This helped to ensure that paint would not build up and potentially cause derailments or connectivity issues.

Don’t Give Me No Lip

Weeks ago, after completing the surface of the module, I left the frame a little bit taller than the area it surrounds. This was mostly due to laziness, but I assumed the lip would look okay after I made a little spackle-slope. It didn’t. After that, I assumed it would look okay if I painted over it. It didn’t. For a hot minute, I supposed I could live with it. I couldn’t. It’s been haunting my dreams.

See for yourself: the lip is very evident in this image, which I had originally uploaded in my “Spackle and Paint” post a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in that post, the lip runs around the entire perimeter of the module, making the surface of the layout “like a very shallow dish.”


The dreaded lip, which looks nothing like a hill.

I had been living under the assumption that the rectangular lip would finally look okay after I sprinkled some ground foam and placed some bushes and trees. I was probably wrong about that. Regardless, this morning I woke up with the sudden realization that the buildings will be placed so close to the edge of the module that the roads and lots servicing them from the outside will necessarily be forced up a slope due to the lip. That simply wouldn’t look right. Roads, and especially lots, that are so close to a building should be fairly level.

So, I did what any self-respecting human being would do: I went into work a couple of hours late today (don’t worry, I made up for that). In the meantime I brought the module onto the porch and put an orbital sander to the frame until it met the module surface. For good measure I rocked the sander a bit in a few places to create topographic variations along the edge, but these are very slight, curvaceous, and natural-looking.

This evening I painted the bare areas. It still needs another coat, but already I am much happier. I prefer layouts with surfaces that simply cease to exist at the edges, without any frame or fascia. In my opinion, this enhances the realism of a scene and helps me to imagine that the landscape goes on forever.

The module immediately after sanding. I should have just done this weeks ago, before I painted the surface.

Before I sanded it, the frame on this corner was two or three millimeters higher than the rest of the surface, and the slope I had made out of spackle did very little to hide it.

Before I sanded it down, this picture would not have been possible. The frame obscured the tracks from low angles like this. In this particular photo, you can see where I accidentally nicked the outside of a rail with the orbital sander. Luckily, it didn’t affect the top of the rail. The damage will disappear after I weather the rails. More on that in my next post.

Switching Gears

A brief update on the cardstock kits I’ve been working on.

I’ve really enjoyed working with the Metcalfe kits, but because I am standing so close to the structures while shunting I can’t help but notice their folds and overall ‘flat’ texture. They would be perfect if they were set further back on a larger layout, but they aren’t quite what I had imagined in terms of detail.

I plan on keeping the Metcalfe kits, as I will likely use them on a larger expansion. For now, though, I am packing them away in favor of laser-cut and styrene structures. I’m still planning on modelling a brewery, but brewery kits are difficult to come by. I would love to build a Heljan brewery kit, but that model has been off the market for a long time.

Heljan’s N-scale brewery was actually an HO kit outfitted with N-scale doorways. Some modellers were deterred by that because the building overpowered their scenes. I, on the other hand, was hoping for just that.

A few model railroad supply sites claim to have a few Heljan breweries stock, but upon inquiry they’ve been quick to correct the mistake.

I will be looking into buildings that are suitable for repurposing and/or kitbashing into a brewery, and will report back soon with results.

Papercraft (Part 2)

I decided to start building the Metcalfe brewery kit yesterday. This time, I also pulled out a can of Testors Dullcote, which will help to protect the cardstock from humidity, spills, etc.

I sprayed the front and back of each sheet, then let them dry overnight.

The next morning I started the real work. After punching and cutting the first sheet of the main building, I colored the edges with a pigment marker. This was an experiment. It was not a good idea. The pigment quickly bled into the paper, causing dark patches to creep out around the windows. I gave up on the marker for edging, and went back to using colored pencils. Here, you can see the sloppy edging. Oh well.

The pigment markers were better utilized on the absolute backside of the card, where it wouldn’t be able to bleed onto the face. Here, I am using the chisel-tipped side of a dark gray marker to darken the underside of the eaves. Much faster and ‘cleaner-looking’ than colored pencil.

Here I am almost finished assembling the storehouse. The trickiest part is lining up the windows and doors, but even that isn’t too difficult. Otherwise, with just a little dexterity these things practically build themselves.

It’s not finished yet, but this is after about an hour’s worth of building. I called it a night, though–I’d rather take my time and get it right.

Coupler Conversion (Part 2)

A few days ago I received the replacement pilot for my 0-6-0, so I set to work installing the Micro-Trains magnetic couplers. After a few days of practice, I am now able to assemble and install one coupler after about three or four tries. Each attempt takes a couple of minutes, but it beats spending two or three hours trying to figure out how to hold the things together. I’m now able to assemble and install them with my bare hands.

Anyhow, they work! They are a bit fidgety, which is to be expected. Also, the rear coupler sits about half a coupler too high, so I will likely need to insert a shim to bring it down a bit.

One of the biggest issues is how easily they uncouple when they are above the magnet. This was especially problematic because the turnouts, which are close to the magnets, caused the engine to jerk and shimmy a little. This allowed the cars to catch up ever so slightly, just enough for the couplers over the magnet to gain slack and pull apart.

The rear coupler’s a bit too high, but it works for now.

The front coupler, attached to the replacement pilot.

This afternoon I spent a few minutes sanding down the plastic insulators and wheel guides on the turnouts to make them a bit more level with the track. This reduced the engine’s stutter, and the couplers are holding better. Still, they often uncouple when stopped over the magnets. This may have to do with the weight of the cars. I had put some bolts in the boxcars to bring the weight to an even ounce, but I think they might be a bit too heavy. After the engine stops, their inertia keeps them moving forward, so there’s no need to back up the engine to cause the couplers to disengage. My next step will be to fidget with the weight of the cars to find the ‘Goldilocks’ zone.

Here’s a video of the couplers in action.

Coupler Conversion (Part 1)

Now it’s time to get operations in order, starting with magnetic uncoupling.

I got a Micro-Trains 1133 coupler conversion kit in the mail a couple of days ago, and set aside some time to replace the standard knuckle couplers that came equipped with my 0-6-0. While I’m not too keen on the cost of Micro-Trains couplers, my understanding (based on forum conversations on the Web) is that they are good enough to warrant the price tag.

The reason for the season: magnetic trip pins.

Tools of the trade.

The instructions. Q: How the heck do I make sure I don’t trim off more than 0.006″ from the “T” on both coupler halves?  A: I don’t. I just trimmed a tiny shaving off. Hopefully that will be okay.


The old knuckle coupler, still in place. There is no articulation on these couplers (i.e. they don’t have opposable thumbs). These are held on by tabs pressed into slots under the pilot. To remove these, I simply stuck a hobby knife under one side and pried it up.


Out with the old…

With the factory-installed couplers removed, it should be just as easy to put in the Micro-Trains assembly, right?

Not quite.

The first frustrating bit was getting the shanks onto the spring. Holding them so that their backside points were aligned while inserting them into the metal adapter was essentially like holding a tiny, volatile pipe bomb. I used various tweezers, etc. to achieve this, but eventually I got wise to it and wrapped them together with dental floss before inserting into the adapter. I swung the adapter down into place in the plastic gear box (another fidgety procedure, as the fragile cross-ends of the shanks preferred to fold into the gear box rather than slide into the open slots), and then I slipped the dental floss out. After numerous attempts I started to get into a rhythm.

The real tragedy occurred when attempting to fit the whole thing to the engine. It didn’t fit well. I made dozens of attempts at turning over the assembly and getting it into position without the contents spilling out (which I achieved, again, by wrapping with floss and then slipping the floss out). I had test-fitted the box while the contents weren’t inside it, and snapped it in place, but it wasn’t easy even then; it required some force. With the adapter in the box the fit was very tight. I needed to use a tool to press it into the slots once the clips were lined up, and after a half-dozen attempts that tool slipped off the gear box with enough force to snap the front end off the pilot.

My wife is a surgeon’s assistant, literally, which was helpful. She assists with very precise eye surgeries, so she has a keen ability to use small tools and assist with such things. More than that, she keeps her cool in frustrating situations like this, and she helped me to keep mine as well.

The next morning, I ordered a new pilot for my 0-6-0, and I decided to practice with the broken pilot until the process becomes easier. Also, when I removed the broken pilot it suddenly struck me that I was making it harder for myself by keeping the pilot on the engine (as the instructions imply I should). With the pilot removed, I am able to attach the coupler assembly without flipping it over, and I can press the tabs into the slots without putting pressure on the front end of the pilot. Just this morning I made an attempt and got it within five minutes. Live and learn.

I will post an update after the new pilot comes in.