As I work on the MTL Waterfront Project track, I thought I’d also like to also get to work on a pair of desktop layouts for the upcoming holidays. I’ve previously built about a dozen of these pieces for customers, and this time out I decided to build a pair at the same time I’m building the Waterfront Layout.
The design of these layouts is as basic as can be, using perfect ovals of Micro-Trains flex track. The idea is to take the simplest possible “track plan”, and elevate it through the scenery and overall presentation. When most people begin in model railroading, they begin with an oval. They’ll then add a passing siding or a spur track and add on from there. That basic oval however is the seed of what becomes, for many of us, an amazing lifelong hobby.
My goal with these layouts is to recapture the simplicity and wonder of that beginner oval with the technical aspects involved in making a modern Z scale layout really pop visually. I love the idea of making an amazing desktop toy that is both fun to run and nostalgic at the same time.
When building small layouts like this, the track work has to be virtually perfect geometrically or it can look a bit “off”. Also with tight curves, you run the risk of less than smooth running around curves if the track isn’t dead on. As much as I like working with flex track, it “gives” a bit when trying to lay the track in a perfect shape.
Years ago I made a simple jig using washers and mending plates to form my oval shape. The washers are spaced so the flex track snaps gently in to the jig, allowing positive positioning. This jig has worked out well for me, giving me the finished shape and making for an easy transfer to the actual layout.
The curves are superelevated by using plastic shims when the track is transferred to the layout and even though the layouts are small, this is a detail that’s a lot of fun to watch, seeing a locomotive bank just slightly around the curves. The curves have easements of course, due to the nature of the flex track, so mid-sized locos such as the current line of Geeps run smoothly with no binding.
The layouts are built on a base of 1” DOW foam using expanding polyurethane foam for the scenery. I usually apply a couple of applications of the expanding poly foam for height. On a small layout, I like to have the trains “hide” a bit behind the scenery when running. Once the poly foam cures I cut my initial shapes, then apply a couple of coats of Woodland Scenics Flex Paste. The paste adds strength to the foam without being brittle.
At this point, I’ll now begin to cast and add the larger rocks from molds. Much of the foam in this photo will get cut away, shaped and have the rocks embedded below the surface to make them appear more organic, rather than having it appear as if they were just attached to the side of a hill.
Lots of detail work to come of course to bring these layouts to life but I do like this stage of construction, as the layouts truly are a blank canvas.
Category: Ztrains Build Corner