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Nixnie - 2

Ted Polet

11 - improvements to the trestle bridge

Next I busied myself with the bridge, concealing the N gauge sleeper web. Most prototype trestles had the rail spiked to the deck, but not all of them. I looked up some photos on the web. So it's a camouflage job, like so much in scenic modelling ...

To hide the N gauge sleepers I put in a narrow wooden bridge deck and guide rails. The guide rails are Plastruct I section profiles slightly lower than the standard N gauge rail. These were painted rust colour and glued to the sleeper web. Then I added balsa planking between them and painted these a basic rust colour:

I found a few photos of trestles with the deck closed at the sides (above the carrying beams) with planking on top, so I compromised by boxing in the N gauge sleepers. Probably it is all wrong, but then using N gauge track is all wrong! I completed the job by painting and weathering all woodwork:

12 - Hagrid's

Perhaps you remember the nondescript industrial gable end that disgraced the end of the siding at Nixnie. This was made up of old kit parts and scrap, and includes a gable end from the Pola brickworks, some ill-fitting windows, doors from the Ratio goods shed and various pieces of strip, even two lengths of N gauge rail. This paragraph tells how it was painted and weathered.

As this was the last structure to paint and weather at Nixnie before I add bushes, trees and final details, I took the ultra-flat low relief 'building' from the layout and set to work. First the basic brick colour was put on - Tamiya hull red:

Next, I picked out individual bricks in other colours, and I painted the window frames, the 'steel' building framing and the doors dark green. After painting I put in mortar courses by floating in various thin washes of acrylics: light grey, dark grey or black:

I found a sheet of crumbling rub-off letters to put on the door...I thought Hagrid & Co would be a good idea. If you slide Hagrid's door aside, there is what will be the access to the fiddle yard! So Hagrid's magically exchanges one train for another...:

13 - the grass starts growing

...and trees as well! I made up the platform with a bit of very old pink coloured modelling plaster between the balsa strips, which I then toned down with grey. Next I did a little detail work around the station, adding a fence, a station seat (bashed from a Faller park seat kit) and an outside oil lamp. I also put a small loading crane, I think by Vollmer, on a plastic base which has been placed outside Hagrid's.

The main work done was adding ground cover, shrub and trees to the station area. As my Woodland's of a certain shade was almost gone, I went out and bought the nearest to it which I could find at short notice... I thought! A packet of Busch ground foam, which upon arriving home proved to be a very artificial green colour. I did a bit of landscape in it and then soaked some in a thin wash of ochre acrylic paint to improve matters.

First I smeared PVA glue liberally on the grey plaster scenery base. This is spread out with a fingertip (scenery building is messy!) then I sprinkled it with various shades of ground foam. After the glue has set, the excess foam is vacuumed off with a cloth over the suction mouth to catch the loose particles for re-use:

By this time I was so fed up with the poisonous Busch colour that I soaked a large amount of the stuff in a wash of paint, spreading it out to dry on a wad of newspaper. Some of it was used wet, to complete the work, but this was exceedingly messy. It's better to wait until it dries and use it afterwards. I also had to tone down some of the foam that had already been put on the layout:

Here is a first glimpse of the end result. I added rubberised horsehair and various dried mosses to create bushes and brambles, then drilled holes in the scenic cover to receive the Heki 'Meerschaum' trees I have used elsewhere. The down side of this stuff is that they are fragile and there is too little variation in colour, but the advantage is you have some sort of wooded area up within half an hour:

I will now let the photos speak for themselves, showing that it is possible to create a Col Stephens atmosphere in 009, in a very small space. The area photographed is about 60x25cms, as the curve on the right hasn't yet been fully landscaped. Note the way the trees in the corner hide the aperture in the backscene where the track comes through. On the other side there will be a similar scenic block, trying to create the impression of a tree tunnel for the trains to move through.

I hope you like this little transformation from an almost bare layout to a wooded scene, which took only a few hours!

Some notes on the brickworks area

I decided to revise the original track plan again due to changes needed in the brickworks area in view of siting the wagon turntables. The problem here was that I wanted some space on the siding to run a locomotive over without crossing a turntable.

Some changes were made to the original Pola brickworks kit. Many years ago I added a clay storage bin in the open space between the buildings, which probably isn't very prototypical. Also, the incline which was on a bridge deck, was filled in so it's on an embankment. And finally I applied a form of weathering I wouldn't use today, just running durty thinners over the brick detail. But basically it is still the Pola kit, which may not be correct in all respects but is a very atmospheric structure. Here are two photos of a rather battered looking brickworks and the trackwork and wagon turntables. The track is ordinary N gauge track, but as it will disappear in the ground cover that won't be a problem. The incline track will include a (static) winding cable and a wagon.

The clearances are enough to permit a rather wide CDR engine to stand on the siding and leave space for skips etc. on the industrial track. Note the single wire from the main line to the siding carrying the power across the point. There is an insulated fishplate in the main line.

14 - more ballasting

Although I wrote about ballasting before, I think the following sequence is better, as it shows the process in more detail. A few moments before writing this I completed the ballasting process for the area around the brickworks. Some of the sidings will be treated with coloured plaster wash as the surface is still too coarse, but for the moment it will suffice.

First, the dry ballast is spread on the track. I start with the coarse Busch grain and fill in some fine grain ballast. The point is handled very carefully to avoid the moving parts. The baseboard has been painted track colour underneath and note this will not be ballasted at all. Also note there are some grains that strayed into the flangeways (second photo). These will be removed by flipping them out with a tiny screwdriver:

A stiff paintbrush is used as a bulldozer to clear most of the area between the rails (the 'four foot' in SG parlance). This has the effect of throwing the ballast outside the rails and creating a ballast 'shoulder'. Next is an image showing how the point has been cleaned up meticulously. A particle in the flangeway is lying too deep to bother us. Note some rock dust and sand mix has been added to the ballast, outside the track:

The curve made up of N gauge Setrack sections is ballasted over the sleepers, to hide most of the N gauge look. This will be subject of some discussion later:

The sidings and the wagon turntables have been ballasted as well. Here however, the initial surface will be filled in further using grey plaster, resembling mud and loco ash, and obliterating the sleepers and part of the rail, so it will look like much lighter track:

Now the glue/water/soap mix is flooded in, most of it from the side, but the kind of syringe I use runs very lightly so it doesn't squirt the particles away. So it can be dripped from the top as well. The mix I use is about 10:10:1 PVA:water:soap.

This is continued until a milky solution is visible between the ballast particles. Add some between the rails as well, as the solution will creep in only slowly from the sides. And stay away from the moving parts of the point, wetting the ballast outside the stock rails is enough, and be very careful with the glue between the frog and the checkrails:

Even with the wet ballast, the look of the area is much improved:

some additional notes on track and ballast

The ballast as initially applied covers the sleepers of the N gauge track, which led to some comment on the NGRM forum where I published this tale before. Covering the sleepers results in worse drainage of the track, but this was not generally appreciated in Victorian and Edwardian times. Up to about 1870 many railways and even main line railways had their sleepers covered. The Isle of Man Railway continued this practice until the mid 20th Century.

The use of N gauge rail on Nixnie is unprototypical, but was resorted to in order to create a stable curve radius, and to re-use some old track I had available. So I accepted some compromise. The ballast will be flooded with coloured plaster in order to tone it down and reduce its neatness. The end result will look somewhat like the first photo below, like ballast clogged with sand and ashes.

Below: a short session with a coloured plaster mix resulted in a grey 'industrial' scene which, together with the track ballast, was left to settle for the night. The plastic baseplate of the brickworks has been touched with the plaster mix as well so the texture will continue across the join. The colour is still a little uncertain as thinly covered areas always dry out quickly and in a very light colour.

As you can see, similar to the station scene at Nixnie, the ground texture looks fairly coarse, rather like a slate quarry with all kinds of slate rubbish on the surface. Much of it will eventually be covered in vegetation, but the exposed parts and some areas of ballast will have to be smoothed by touching up with a thin wash of plaster. There will be pathways linking the buildings that have been trodden flat. The large open space to the left of the works may be used as a rubbish dump, or possibly as a storage area for brick. I'm not yet sure what would look best in the model.

clogging the ballast with sand and ashes

Normal H0 and even N scale ballast is too coarse and obviously will not do for a narrow gauge railway, unless subjected to further treatment. Badly maintained ballast, which I think is typical for at least some NG railways, will clog up with sand, ashes and weeds between the sleepers. So where ordinary 009 track is concerned, it has to be filled with something representing much finer material.

Apart from that, the N gauge track on much of the layout has to be concealed. In some prototype cases like the Isle of Man Railway, narrow gauge track was deliberately covered with sand and ashes over the sleepers, a relic from Victorian times. On some industrial lines a layer of rubble and mud covered the sleepers due to neglect. So what is needed in both cases is a treatment that will clog up the ballast particles and turn them pale grey, with some gravel showing through, as can be seen in colour photos of the Isle of Man Railway (see Robin Winter's book on the IMR), or on industrial railways.

Using plaster and black dye, a very thin wash of grey plaster is mixed:

This is then applied to the ballasted track with a paintbrush, and subsequently flooded with water:

Now we have very wet track which has to dry out. Note that in the sidings not used for normal running, the cover has gone up almost to the railhead, giving an impression of light industrial track. Some of the ballast applied earlier will come loose, which enables us to wash the particles away from the sleepers in the 009 track. In the N gauge track we will leave the mix to cover the sleeper web, but the flangeway has to be cleared. This is done with a small screwdriver as soon as the plaster starts to set so it still is pliable. Further cleaning is necessary after all has dried out, as the track will be unfit for operation unless all traces of plaster and dye have been removed.

15 - final scenic work

I should really say, final scenic work for the moment, as there is a lot of work to be done still, both on the scenic cover and on 'cameo' scenes. But for the Valkenburg show the present level of detail should be sufficient.

The photo below is a close-up of the buried N gauge track with ballast particles showing through and the surface clogged with mud and ashes. The plaster turned out too dark (the colouring process is difficult to control) so I added a light wash of light grey acrylics and water.

Next here are a number of improvements to the Nixnie station area. Some trees have been replaced by darker green specimens, and a lot of green ground cover appeared. First a railcar enters the station from the curve on the right. Next, a diesel loco hauling a short goods train from the tree tunnel. Note how the backscene has been closed off more effectively by additional bushes and small trees. Again, some different leaf colours are in evidence.

16 - behind Hagrid's door

The fiddle yard behind Hagrid's had to be a very lightweight affair. It is suspended from the actual Nixnie layout using two beams screwed to the sides of the layout, but it shouldn't upset the balance. So the structure was made using lightweight 4mm plywood and light softwood about 40x12mm. Along the edges low ridges were added to prevent stock running off. The fiddle yard is still glaring white, but like the layout front it will be painted black, including the surface with the track on it. The track again is left-over N gauge sectional track and two Minitrix tight radius points, all used before. Who said that railway modelling is expensive?

Behind the sidings is ample space to store additional stock off the track and out of sight. Finally, I noticed it is easy to ram the sliding door with a train when you don't see it's closed. Perhaps I should add a switch isolating the fiddle yard once the door is closed.

some notes on operation

After the layout reached this stage of completion, I did some operating trials, using the new fiddle yard, and I have worked out a few useful sequences. They can be done using H0e stock like the Egger coaches and Roco skips, and a few small locos I have, but alternatively using the short C&DR stock shown in many of the photos. I can put all I need onto the fiddle yard and shuffle some stock round. It's not a real shunting layout but a running layout to keep the audience amused. But it has some interesting properties despite its small size and awkward sidings which put restrictions on what you can do.

It is possible for instance to run a passenger train counterclockwise, hold it in the platform and exchange a train of skips at the brickworks for a train of bulkhead wagons through the 'magic door' giving access to the fiddle yard. The passenger train can do a bit of shunting and drop a goods wagon in the siding at Hagrid's. This blocks the access to the fiddle yard, but the train of skips at the brickworks can now run a circuit of the layout.

It is important to realise this is a minimum size layout taken to extremes. Not like a pizza layout, but still with very limited running potential. Adding a foot or perhaps two feet in the middle would create a layout 110 to 140cms in length, with space for sidings and more industry. This would still be a very small layout but much more interesting to operate. Building such a layout would take twice as long as it took me to build Nixnie.

Here is another view of a train coming into the little station, this time made up of ordinary 009 and H0e stock: a Peco Jeanette with Egger coaches, and a Minitrains Baldwin with Roco skips in the siding. And a view of the brickworks with a train of Roco end bulkhead wagons and an Egger bash...

some notes on scenic detail

Hagrid's has gained a small crane, but at the time the base wasn't yet sunk into the landscape. The building is now flanked by trees and bushes. The other side of the tree tunnel through the backscene, with the steam tram passing through. Again, the backscene, which is very close to the track here, has been closed off by bushes at ground level. Note the creeper on the tower of the brickworks - it was made 30 years ago with sawdust flock, which I left as it was.

Below: the tram loco and its little train crossing the bridge. More bushes and different trees have sprouted along the stream. The curve towards the shack in the station area has all but disappeared from view. Next, another view of the brickworks. Geologically the presence of a brickworks near a stream with a waterfall is doubtful - where would they get the clay? Someone suggested clay from a glacial source. Well, it's only a demo layout! The steam wagon has been borrowed from Dunalistair.

Finally, the mess left by two weeks of frenzied scenery building. I could well and truly say my modelling block was a thing of the past!:

some notes on the second-hand structures and track on the layout

The funny thing is that the brickworks and every other structure except the bridge comes from a cheap or a second-hand plastic kit. Not everyone appreciates that these plastic kits, although perhaps not always correct in what they represent, offer excellent detail that can be brought out by a little weathering. Although the brickworks is probably the worst example as it has only been treated with dirty thinners!

Even if you buy secondhand structures at a swapmeet, hack them around a bit and treat them with a little paint, you can have very reasonable structures for your layout. Apart from the structures, most of the track on the layout was re-used and Nixnie was generally built from left-overs, clearing out the dusty cupboards. I don't think much more than about 80 pounds of new material was used to build the entire baseboard, layout and scenery. That is good news for any modeller with limited means.

17 - Final work, and a small accident

Shortly before the Valkenburg show I completed the last work on Nixnie. I painted the layout front and sides and the fiddle yard black. In addition I fitted a switch to the sliding door at Hagrid's. This involved cutting a rail in the siding and laying wires under the door to a microswitch glued on the backscene. The switch is worked by the door, which has a handle on the back. When I cut the rail I accidentally cut through three wires running under the siding - a risk of having the wiring above the baseboard. These were a track link and illumination wires running to the shack at the other end of the layout. So I had to dig up all of the wires and repair them. The lower photos show how the area looked after the ground cover had been repaired. I also added a link between two rails in the fiddle yard so I can access the kickback siding under power.

Finally a shot in direct sunlight, made as the black paint on the layout sides was drying out in the attic room. After more running trials I was ready for the Valkenburg show!

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