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Nixnie - 1

Ted Polet

1 - the idea

At the start of this project it was known as 'the demo layout' - an idea born around 2006 when I thought it would be a good idea to build a small demonstration layout in 009 to promote 9mm gauge narrow gauge modelling for the Dutch 009 Group. It is only 80x55cms and features a midget-size station with a passing loop, and a siding to a brickworks. The theme of the layout isn't really fixed, but most of it is light railway/industrial, although it will be built to accommodate some of the smaller C&DR stock if needed.

Nixnie is a name halfway Dutch and South African slang and could be translated as 'nothing at all'. The funny part of it is that the layout was thrown together using all kinds of cast-off bits and pieces that somehow came together. The baseboard is a sandwich of 50mm styrofoam between a sheet of chipboard and a sheet of three-ply. The chipboard came from the attic and the styrofoam from a spare sheet found under the ground floor of the house which I insulated against the cold over 20 years ago. In one corner I cut away the upper sheet of plywood and some of the Styrofoam, so a river bed and a short trestle bridge could be planned. When the plan evolved from its early shape, I had to widen it by about 4cm to be able to get the trackplan in the limited space.

Original plan:

The baseboard takes shape, back in 2006:

The contours of the river bed:

The best way to determine clearances: run the longest and widest vehicle you have over the track, holding a pencil against it:

2 – the idea evolves, and track is laid

The successive plans show how the idea evolved from a simple mine served by a siding, and a fiddle yard behind a backscene, to the latest version which has a backscene along part of the centre of the layout. The backscene terminates in a clump of trees, with the scenery virtually wrapped around the end. Thus a scenic setting is created which continues from one end of the layout, in a U form, to the other, following the curve over the river bridge. The plan will speak for itself – it even includes an off-stage connection through the sliding door of an industrial building facade which is part of the small station.

Final plan:

Initially I wanted to use a minimum radius of 22.5cms, but this proved to be impossible, so I came down to 19.5cms. The track is mainly re-used sectional track and a piece of Roco H0e, all of which came from earlier layouts. Only the points are recent Peco. The track of Nixnie was laid in the spring of 2011, subsequently wired (in a very simple manner) and tested with the available rolling stock. This went all right apart from one or two glitches with long wheelbase Egger coaches which I planned to use on the line. Even fixing the two-wheel bogies didn't help very much although it improved things. I think I need better wheels under them.

The track as eventually laid in 2011, with simple wiring installed:

Trying out the idea of a centre backscene during trial running:

Trial running in the sunshine outside:

3 – further development and structures

In preparation for the Dutch Group meeting of April, 2011, I fitted the backscene and added most of the structures. The backscene was fitted along one side of the layout and at an angle, slightly off-centre. Its position was largely dictated by the size of the Pola brickworks which I built in the mid-1970s and never used for anything. I cut off part of the building so it would fit in the available space. The river bridge was made re-using stripwood offcuts that came from a scrapped TT layout I once built for my sons.

The other structures are two small kits by Pola and Faller which I bought new, and an Airfix standard gauge van which I was given by Lee Bryant at Expong a few years ago. A water tank was made up using two spare pillars from the Pola brickworks and a Tri-ang TT milk tank given to me by Tom Dauben, and a small kit of a builders’ caravan which serves as a PW hut. More is to be added, but this is sufficient to show what a motley collection of materials went into the layout up to now. All buildings have been weathered using simple methods. The brickworks still has its basic 1970s weathering using dirty thinners.

The trestle bridge across the river:

The backscene forms a central 'spine':

Initial ballasting in the station area. Spreading and levelling the ballast in dry condition,

taking care to leave the moving parts of the point clear:

Flooding the ballast with a solution of PVA glue, water and detergent from the side of the ballast,

taking care not to flush it away (more about ballasting later):

4 – initial scenery

The river bed was modelled with rock represented by cork bark offcuts that came from the same TT playing layout mentioned before. A few small pieces of slate were added. More work is needed here because the bottom will have to be detailed before pouring in the epoxy. The funny thing is the river has no source – it starts in the clump of trees and its source is camouflaged by low branches. Elsewhere on the plywood baseboard I added small contoured patches of Styrofoam. All Styrofoam contours were then covered in a hard shell made of toilet paper and white PVA glue.

In preparation for the Valkenburg show of 2011 I pasted computer printed backscene sheet on the plywood panels, using wallpaper glue – an error as the brown dye from the plywood came through the paper. I will have to re-do this. I also ballasted some of the track, with dry ballast spread between the sleepers and the glue flooded in, dissolved in water with a little detergent added.

During the Valkenburg show I ran short trains and in the meantime made the scenic cover in the river area. A mixture of plaster, PVA glue and black dye was spread over the ply base and some of the underlying hardshell and cork. After drying, this was covered bit by bit, using Woodland scenics ground cover, and rubberised horsehair for bushes. Finally, trees were added – these are inexpensive ready-made trees made of ‘Meerschaum’ and ground foam, by Heki.

The scenery after the work done during the Valkenburg show:

Close-up of the siding entering a sliding door in a shed, which hides a future fiddle yard:

The water tank against a green background of Heki trees:

Goods train shunting the brickworks siding:

An overview of the river area. Note how the clump of trees hides the end of the backscene:

5 – rolling stock

Most of the motive power and rolling stock I will use came to me by error and chance, and most of them was given to me. A few can be seen in the photos. They include a Peco Jeanette, a Chivers C&M Barclay ('Chevalier') normally used on Rae Bridge, a rebuilt Egger diesel, various draisines I built just for fun, and Roco and Egger H0e stock, which will soon be augmented by two Parkside Dundas Ffestiniog type bogie coaches.

However, during the Valkenburg show I found that using very short trains of C&DR stock on the layout is possible as well. I have several railcars, small engines and short 4-wheel stock that don’t look out of place. So this layout seems to be very versatile. More about rolling stock later.

6 - improving the backscene

The backscene as described earlier was made by pasting computer prints of landscape photos on to a thin ply backscene sheet. The dye of the plywood unfortunately stained the pictures, so I made new prints and fixed these over the old ones. I used acrylic primer to paint out the original (stained) sky on the old sheets. After the primer had dried, I applied wallpaper paste to the old backscene. Finally I positioned the new backscene sheet over the old, just like redecorating a wall.

Pieces of backscene sheet cut to shape:

Applying wallpaper paste to the old backscene:

Pressing the new paper sheet home:

7 - modelling the river bed

In September, 2012, after a long interval due to extreme modelling block I took Nixnie out of storage to have another go at the scenery, shortly before the 2012 Valkenburg show. The first area to have a look at was the river bed. Note that the river appears from nowhere, hidden by the trees. The bottom level is a sheet of chipboard closed off by strips of thin ply which are a continuation of the contour boards along the edge of the layout. The river banks are styrofoam with a papier-maché cover, as explained on the previous page.

I first started to model the bottom of the river in dry condition, applying coloured plaster reinforced with PVA glue, and embedding gravel and small stones. The trick here is to seal the bottom and create low dams at the top of each waterfall, so a pool forms behind when I start pouring the resin.

Now I let it dry out for a day and a night before starting the more serious work of pouring the resin. Meanwhile I busied myself with the scenic cover at the station side.

The river bed base is bare chipboard and a few ply 'steps' for the waterfalls:

No this is not what you are thinking it is! Messy, isn't it? But it doesn't smell. Mixing the plaster powder with water and black dye.

Top it with a dressing of PVA glue and mix carefully to get reinforced plaster:

The mix is put on the layout and prodded into odd corners. I made up low dams on the edge of each waterfall at the top of the picture, but this doesn't show up very well. Note the colour is much darker than that of the dried plaster on the river banks. This is done deliberately because it dries up much lighter:

Using a paintbrush with water, I clear most of the plaster from the cork rock formations in the falls, so their texture becomes visible again. Note the wet pools in the soft plaster. The water will be absorbed quickly, if not by the plaster curing process then by the chipboard below:

Next I add coarse gravel and boulders. This comes from a huge pack of aquarium grit I bought at a pet shop 20 years ago. Note the coarse stuff is accumulated at the edges of the flow, not in the centre:

Adding fine gravel (coarse sand with fine rock dust) all over the river bed makes it look remarkably like a dry river, don't you think? The fine stuff is pushed into the wet plaster mix by tapping on the surface with your fingers. This enables you to flatten the river bed into a tray shape. The plywood edges of the outflow are about 2-3mm tall, enough to keep the epoxy in when it will be poured (I hope!):

8 - more ballasting!

Whilst waiting for the river bed to settle and dry out, and the loose gravel I flooded with PVA mix to stick to the plaster where it had come loose, I decided to tackle a large area of ballast around Nixnie station. I used two sizes of (I think Bush or Heki) ballast, and a bit of the rock dust mix used on the river bed. If you think the result is rather coarse for 009 you are right, but it wasn't left in its illustrated state, as narrow gauge ballast is often clogged with sand and ash.

Note the balsa strips glued along the rails where a road will cross the track. There will be a small space beside the station building for a road vehicle to turn. This is indicated by the black lines on the baseboard. The station building, by the way, has been jacked up a little so it is on the same level as the platform.

The next day: the track ballast which I applied dried out and I'm pleased to say it all stuck together without having to drip more glue in. I learned my lesson when ballasting Rae Bridge when I had to repeat the job three times! I ran a trial train over the layout and didn't even have to clear any ballast particles from the track - I only had to clean one point blade.

9 - the waters start to flow!

Next I tackled another messy job which is not without risk. I poured the epoxy into the dry river bed made the day before. The risk is mainly in the epoxy mix, which has to be exactly right or you will end up with a gooey mess that won't cure. Important - before mixing the components make sure they are at least 15 degrees Centigrade. I use an epoxy resin set (not polyester!) with measuring pumps which I use for boat repairs. The job can also be done with a simple repair set for surfboards etc without any sophisticated pumps, provided you measure the quantities correctly with pencil marks on the stirring stick. I use a clean glass jar to mix the stuff. Mind you need good ventilation and you refrain from inhaling the vapour. The two components are stirred for a few minutes until tiny bubbles form in the mix.

Pouring the resin into the river bed is best done by using the stirring tool to drip the resin into place. Pour a small quantity from the jar along the stick and make sure it all lands in the right spot. Pour from the top of the waterfalls initially, so the resin flows naturally. It can be seen to flow down in the third photo. Later you can add resin at the bottom so the gravel flats in the foreground are covered.

Using the same stick again, the resin is prodded into tight corners, until the surface has evened out. Gravity will do the rest, so it is advisable to put several layers of newspaper under the layout to catch any resin dripping through. I had to put a small wedge under the front of the layout to prevent an overflow.

The epoxy resin components and the glass mixing jar:

After vigorous stirring...

After pouring the resin, use the stick for prodding the mix into all the corners:

The resin evens out into a mirror-like surface:

The resin is left to cure overnight and should be rock hard after 12 to 24 hours, provided it is left at room temperature. The next morning I found a glassy surface with the gravel and boulders on the bottom showing through, just as I intended. The last photo shows the waterfalls which still needed some work. The resin level had dropped a little, probably as it soaked into the plaster. Apart from adding some white water, the resin level at the top of the falls and the intermediate level had to be raised a little.

10 - waterfalls

With the basic resin 'water' in place, creating white water on the tiny waterfalls is next. There are various methods to do so, probably better than mine, but here is my approach. First I glue tiny tufts of cotton wool on the waterfall faces, just below the start of the downward slope. The top of most smaller waterfalls is smooth, only when the flow increases, air is sucked in which makes the white water everybody likes so much. The cotton wool is glued on using 10 minute epoxy.

Next, the level of the 'water' above the falls is topped up with a bit of newly mixed resin, so it starts to flow over the brim and reaches the cotton wool. The resin is prodded into the cotton wool so it is saturated. The result is a greyish and rough patch of resin on the downward slope of the waterfall. Do not use too much resin, as some of it always collects at the bottom of the fall and we don't want a huge overflow to ruin the glassy surface below. In this case there was a slight excess of resin, but it didn't turn out too bad.

Cotton wool glued in place:

About 18 hours after putting in the resin, it had set so I could drybrush the falls with white acrylic paint. This has to be done very carefully not to overdo the effect. The semi transparent grey sheen of the resin below has to keep, and the (matt) acrylic paint only serves to brighten up some parts of the surface:

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