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Beginnings of a Modular Layout, or how I picked up yet another scale…

An abridged version of this report will be published in the ETE Express, No. 118, 2nd Quarter, 2008.

N-Scale Module for ETE-CNY Chapter Layout | Latest | Deutsche Version


As many of you have been able to follow online, the Central New York Chapter of European Train Enthusiasts embarked on a modular layout project in December of 2006. Basis for the layout is the n-scale Bend Track standard with some modifications. N-scale was selected because it allowed for more scenery in a limited space and because given our diverse nature of scales it dominated least and there was an abundance of stock. The Bend Track standard was selected because it allows for the creation of a functional “round-and-round” layout with two modules, making it ideal for our small chapter. The Bend Track standard was also attractive because it allows modules of almost any length or shape (with 24" depth), viewing from both sides, and avoids having an "operating pit." For standardization, and because most of us don’t have woodworking shops, we decided to go with Sievers Benchwork. To date we have 5 modules in various states of construction. All participants in the project are free to scenic/design their modules as they wish. While not ideal in the sense that there will be little continuity between modules, it does allow everyone maximum freedom of expression. What follows is report on the construction of my module segment, in a scale with which I had no experience or investment in whatsoever.

Thematic Genesis:

Thematically this module is set in Germany's industrial Ruhr Valley sometime between the mid-50s and mid 70s. It could just as easily be set in the DDR, my other area of interest, in a scenic hotspot such as Bitterfeld. This means that scenery is the antithesis of bucolic alpine meadows. Scenic elements will feature a river which has lost all of its natural charm and become a sort of open sewer, with the Emscher in the Ruhr region serving as my model. On one side of the river trees and some green will form the transition to the next module. A row of rather-run down workers' housing and small industrial building line the road that crosses over the tracks on both sides of the module. A retaining wall is the transition to the next module on that side. Having visited and lived in that region my memories are vivid, and what I couldn’t remember was easily found online at sites like Drehscheibe Online.

Construction Begins:

Once the Chapter had agreed on the standards and our module specification, I quickly began work, and by mid-January had made a good bit of progress. As Bend Track is very flexible in regards to shape and length, I decided to make my segment three feet long to allow it to easily fit in any of our cars. Included in this length are cardboard strips at the end that strengthen the foam and ensure a flat mating surface. The module top itself only rests on the frame and legs (locked in place by the river) so that it can be removed to work on elsewhere.

Click on images to enlarge.

Topographic contours were made by building up layers of pink foam insulation, or cutting it away as in the case of the river. This was then covered with spackle and sculpted further. After the riverbed was painted a suitable murky color, Woodland Scenics’ “Realistic Water” was poured, and retaining walls using printed sheets from Scalescenes put in place for the underpasses. The track was only temporarily put in place to allow for a wiring demonstration during our Chapter's meeting, during which the first structure, the Bergbau-Grill was also built a product of preparations for a quick demonstration of card modeling techniques. This allowed the “workers” to grab a quick curry-wurst between construction shifts. The street-level the Grill is resting and the outside retaining walls will be glued down when ballasting has been completed.

The first major scratchbuilt elements for the module were the two bridges that span the river. Finishing these was a priority so that the track could be permanently adhered and ballasted. Inspiration was gathered by viewing bridges spanning the Emscher from above via Google Earth, videos, print publications, and kit manufacturer's catalogs. These gave a sense of the style and proportions of the bridges in relation to the track, railroad stock, and landscape. While some details will invariably be off, I believe I captured the general proportions and overall feel of the originals they are based on. Google Earth was an amazing resource because the quality of images for the region allowed me to zoom in to a great level of detail and the angles and time-of-day for the images showed construction details, including those created by shadows.

Bridge under construction | Completed bridges spanning the river
Click on images to enlarge.

As in nature, I made the river first and was then left to find/make the appropriate length bridge. As it turned out, the span was either too wide or narrow for a commercial product, necessitating scratchbuilding and providing wonderful challenge. Both bridges are made entirely of card and have been detailed and weathered. The base paint color is black acrylic with a rusty overcoat and grime. Paint was applied with an airbrush. The image above shows both finished bridges in final position with the track ballasted. The surface where the street and structures will be placed was then glued into position, but not before the track was cleaned and an engine test run on each track.

The street is made from n-scale (but oversized) Noch cobblestones with sidewalks made from pattern sheets by scalescenes. Both were weathered and distressed, the street with large areas of patching.

The Structures:

The Bergbau-Grill | Smail industrial building
Click on images to enlarge.

After the Bergbau-Grill, the next structure was a small industrial building adapted from a downloadable card model. The basic kit was expanded to double its size by printing out and modifying several more kits. Following construction it was weathered and then selectively covered in ivy. On the module the building is behind a wall with an old sheet metal gate, waiting for someone to re-occupy it. For any number of reasons, this would mark the end of construction for about five months.

In August, work had restarted in earnest largely motivated by our Chapter’s test of the modules at the end of September, and I wanted to be as close to finished by then as possible. Next, the residential structures scratchbuilt using images on the Busch background CD, Stipp card relief models, and printed sheets and kits from Scalescenes. The technique applied is as described in my article "Modeling Structures in Card," published in Express, No. 112, 4th Quarter, 2006. The only significant difference was that everything was half the size, and details particularly challenging to cut out. The retaining wall was a Scalescenes kit.

Click on images to enlarge.

Condition of structures and detailing will reflect postwar realities that existed well into the 60s, especially in depressed or industrial/workers areas, East or West. This includes braces to secure walls on the structures to either side of one that no longer exists, a result of war damage or subsidence due to mining activity. Backyards were also walled in. A Quonset hut kit from Clever Brothers was added to a vacant lot. As this was based on an American prototype, windows and doors were made more German by replacing with printouts from a Gleimo kit that fit almost perfectly. Also added was a bus shelter kit by Scalescenes. While an English prototype, it fit in well with the region. The kit is available as a free download in a variety of scales. Structures were pre-weathered and had ivy adhered prior to securing on the module and final weathering.

After the structures were glued into place my attention turned to scenery. Trees were made using the natural Scenic Express Supertrees, bushes and weedy lots added, and for some cheerful color, sunflowers from kits by Busch. Then, figures and other small details were secured in place. Finally, the module cardboard edging was completed and sealed with Tyvek tape that was painted black along with the frame to protect the soft foam from wear and make the whole module more durable. To make transport of the module easier, a wheeled dolly was constructed of pvc tubing that allows us to roll the module to and from the car and inside venues.

Click on images to enlarge.

The first test assembly of the modules was held on September 29, in advance of the public unveiling of the layout at the Central New York Train Fair in Syracuse, NY on November 3-4. The test revealed a few problem areas (as there always will be with things like this), and work is still in progress on 3 of the 5 modules. Nevertheless, the trains all ran well, and it was good to see that the concept worked. It was even nicer to see the progression that had been made on the other modules in the intervening time. Click here for a brief video of trains meeting on the bridge. Requires QuickTime.

Conclusion, Or Just The Beginning:

Because we really need to add yet another layout and scale to the household, my family and I decided to build some additional modules to add to our Chapter’s capacity. My wife is constructing an end and module with a quarry scene and our daughter constructing a smaller straight segment with Gaststätte and Wildpark, both complete at publication of this article. I will also be building an endmodule so that we can run our two trains independent of the Chapter. In order to fit on the dolly all will all be based on a three-foot frame, overhanging as necessary. By not permanently attaching the tops to the frame, it will also be possible to connect the modules on a table or other flat surface. Standardized “blocks” under the module raise them to the same level and give space for wiring while Velcro can be used to snuggly connect the segments. All this will ensure maximum flexibility and fun.

Hope working on scenicing her "quarry" end module | Sofia building a kit for her module

Sofia's (center) and Hope's (right) modules connected together with Peter's (far left). The modules were connected in the living room and now Peter must really start with his end module so that we can run trains.

The Other End Loop:

Finally began construction on my end module in mid-February and quickly made progress. The module consists of two levels with the flats and other buildings over the loop. To ensure easy access the loop is painted black on in the inside making it more or less invisible, yet providing interesting viewing as the trains go through (for those at that level, like kids that love tunnels). First, completed construction of Walther's "gasometer" (used to store the gas created as a by-product of the coking process) and then scratchbuilt two blocks of pre-fab cast concrete flats as well as the little garden shacks in the "grabeland," an informal community garden usually on land owned by the DB. The factory was scaled down to the assembly hall shown (could be anything from locomotives at Krupp in Essen or railroad wheels at the Bochumerverein, or other heavy industrial products) with a an overgrown vacant lot adjacent. To make the trackage more interesting, a siding was added next to the gasometer, the turnout also doubling as a connecting piece to the next module.

Click on images to enlarge.

Click on images to enlarge.

"Aerial" View of Our Modules:

Click on image to enlarge.

With the completion of this module, my foray into n-scale layout construction is concluded. While distracting (or detracting dependent on mood) from my H0 layout, this project has provided (and no doubt will continue to) some great opportunities to further develop my modeling and detailing skills as a series of compact dioramas.I do, however, look forward to hooking them together in our livingroom, or at shows. In the context of our Chapter and ETE, I hope it continues to develop and that others take up the challenge and join us in building modules. Likewise individuals outside our group are invited to adopt the spec and join us at meets with non-straight modules being especially encouraged.

Below a screengrab from our local Train Fair's website slideshow showing me with the modules and a young fan. He was so happy to see the trains he came back the next day and made it onto a video. More on my Blog, Papphausen. Enjoy!


Peter's & Hope' s Märklin Trains © 1998 -
Peter D. Verheyen
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