The woods are lovely, dark and deep

With apologies to Robert Frost…
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I’m waiting for some detail parts to arrive for my tobacco kilns, so I’ve set them aside for now. Instead, I’ve been working at the other end of St. Williams – the west end where (on my layout, at least) the line passes over Stone Church Road then plunges into the Lynn Valley en route to Port Rowan. With time on my hands this weekend I pulled the wire tree armatures from this area and turned them into finished trees, following my usual take on the Gordon Gravett method.

This area has looked pretty much like this since last summer:
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Now, it looks like this:
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Much, much better, I think.

Before planting any trees, I added fence lines between the road overpass and the trestle. The white-painted boards and posts near the overpass nicely frame the scene:
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I did not bother adding the white boards at the other end of the fence as it’s out of sight – and I’m not going to add fences between here and Port Rowan because I feel they’ll clutter the scene unnecessarily.

Once the fences were in place, I added bushes along the fence lines, then shorter trees behind those, then taller trees behind the shorter trees. My tallest trees are about a foot high and create a leafy canyon through which the line runs. In effect, it’s a short tunnel – a view block to separate St. Williams from the Lynn River and give operators the feeling of going places:
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At the other end of this new stand of trees – near the trestle over the Lynn River – I planted trees in arrangements that would disguise the point where the river meets the backdrop:
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Since the forest here is supposed to continue beyond the fascia, the tall trees at the front of the layout have leaf canopies only at their top. The branches in the forest are devoid of leaves for the most part. This provides an interesting view of a train as it rolls through the valley:
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(Note the ferns on the forest floor. These are HO scale details from JTT-Microscale and I’ll be planting more throughout the forest.)

Finally, I added a visual reinforcement of the ambient audio in this area by installing a mated pair of cardinals in one of the trees. (These are from the same source as the Redwing Blackbirds in the meadow at Port Rowan.) Now, when people hear a cardinal call, they’ll be able to see the source:
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(Hmm: It looks like there’s another male in the distance at right. Get ready for a noisy territorial sing-off!)

This newly scenicked area will give visitors a better idea of my plans for the rest of the Lynn Valley. That said, I planted about 20 trees here over the weekend and based on that I expect I’ll have to build another 80-90 trees to complete the valley scene. Fortunately, the armatures – which take the longest – can be twisted while watching TV, minding a pot of stew in the kitchen, etc., so it shouldn’t take that long.

Besides – I’m inspired now, and keen to see the completed valley!

Cattails at the trestle

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I haven’t had much time to work on the layout this month but over the weekend, I made some time – just enough to get started on planting cattails along the banks of the Lynn River.

I ordered 10 packages of HO scale cattails (plus other goodies) from JTT Microscale – the same folks who make the HO scale corn I’ve used in St. Williams. Each package has two dozen cattails in it, and over the weekend I used six packages to create three stands of cattails along the stretch of river near the trestle:
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I’ll use the remaining four packages to add some cattails near the twin-span steel girder bridge, then decide if I need to buy more. Each grouping of cattails is located on the inside of a curve in the river, where the water is a little slower: I avoided outside curves since water tends to erode riverbanks in these locations. The water flows left to right in these photos, so at the sharp curve near the trestle I located the planting after the curve, in the lee of the flow.

To plant the cattails, I drilled holes in the scenery base using a Dremel tool, dipped the end of each plant into a blob of Weld-Bond, and stuck them into the holes: easy-peasy. The Magic Water I used for the river drills extremely easily. But the sand I used as part of my ground cover does a great job of ruining drill bits – it’ll take the point off a bit in no time, and I wrecked two bits while planting six packages worth of cattails. The lesson: Use cheap bits in readily available sizes.

Keep in mind that this is early days – I have a lot more vegetation to add along the banks of the Lynn River, especially in this stretch that flows under the trestle. I will need to create many, many bushes and small trees to line the banks – but these bulrushes will add a different texture to the scene. I think it looks better already!

UPDATE: I originally called this post “Bullrushes / Cattails at the trestle” and used the term interchangeably. As reader Neil Froese notes in the comments, they are in fact very different plants. So I’ve updated the post accordingly. (Neil: Thanks for this – and it’s one of the reasons I write the blog. Now I know more about cattails and bullrushes. Cheers!)

Greener Scene

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I decided, after much consideration, that my summer scene was just too hot and dry. The grass was baked to a golden straw colour – more reminiscent of California than Canada. So yesterday, I addressed the problem: I airbrushed the layout.

Having had great success using acrylic artist ink to tint the resin when I poured the Lynn River, I returned to this particular well. Sap Green from Daler Rowney was perfect and airbrushed beautifully right out of the bottle: no thinning necessary. (During and after spraying, I ran the paint booth – which is co-located in the layout room – and wore a mask.)

I added green in random splotches and stripes, being careful to not hit the backdrop or the river surface. I shot between the weeds and other plants and didn’t worry about complete coverage – this was weathering on a layout-sized scale.

My focus was the large expanses of meadow in Port Rowan… the banks of the Lynn River… and the larger areas of grass in St. Williams. But anywhere that I thought looked too burnt and dry got a spray. After leaving it alone for a few hours, I went back and buffed the rails to remove any ink that settled on them.

The green has helped blend everything together better, and the layout looks more like southern Ontario now. I’m glad I took the trouble to do this!

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Return of the Giant Hogw… er, Fern

Turn and run!
Nothing can stop them:
Around every river and canal their power is growing!

I recently wrote about finding scale fern plants from two suppliers. I decided to give the ferns sold by Scenic Express a try so I ordered a bunch and they arrived today. (Well, sort of: More on that in a moment.)

They are invincible:
They seem immune to all our herbicidal battering!

I opened a package and put four clusters of them – one package worth – under some in-progress trees in the Lynn Valley to see how they look:
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Well, they’re very good looking, but…

As I noted in my previous posting, Scenic Express did not give a scale for these plants. Their website described them as approximately a half-inch tall.

They’re actually considerably taller.

Botanical creature stirs – seeking revenge
Royal beast did not forget.
Soon they escaped – spreading their seed
Preparing for an onslaught – threatening the human race!

Giant Ferns! Run! photo GiantFerns-02_zpsefdba853.jpg
(Poor guy: He doesn’t stand a chance.)

I definitely can use these plants. But as they stand, they’re about twice as high as the ferns in my back garden (which grow slightly taller than the deck of the baggage wagon). To make them work, I will snip apart the clusters into individual fronds and glue the pieces into the terrain as I detail this area. That’ll reduce their height to something realistic. As a bonus, I expect the finished scene will look much better with the fronds spread out more.

Experimenting with products and techniques isn’t confined to 70s prog-rock…

Heracleum mantegazziani!

One of the great things about ordering from Scenic Express is they always – without asking – provide a parcel tracking number. This makes it easy to track shipments online through either the USPS or Canada Post websites, or even via the Canada Post smart phone app. That helps me plan my day – I know whether I’m expecting an international package so I try to be home when the mail arrives in case there are taxes to pay.

Checking the app this morning, I saw that my ferns were to arrive today (“out for delivery” the app reported). The letter carrier arrived and had packages for both my wife and me – but no ferns. I didn’t think anything of it – maybe the package didn’t make it onto the truck.

So imagine my surprise when I checked the app about a half-hour later and the app reported “Package successfully delivered”! I checked the porch again: No package.

I suspected the box went to the wrong house. So I whistled for the dogs and they got another walk as we went around the neighbourhood looking for the letter carrier. Fortunately, I spotted the Canada Post delivery van a couple of blocks from home and caught up with the carrier.

We talked about it and I showed her the tracking info. I don’t think she’d ever seen the app. She told me that she’d delivered three packages to one other house on our street, and that someone had received them at the house. But she wouldn’t go back to check with them. So I did.

I rang the doorbell and explained the situation, and sure enough – my package had been delivered to the wrong address.

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“Well, it says here that I delivered it somewhere, so I guess that’s been successfully delivered…”

Gordon Gravett v3 on the way

I’ve just gotten off the phone with Shirley Rowe at Wild Swan Publications: My copy of Volume 3 of the scenery modelling series by Gordon Gravett is on its way.

This volume covers grass and general landscape – including weeds, wild flowers, hedges, roads, pavements, mud, puddles and rivers. In short, all that stuff we should put under Gordon’s wonderful trees.

108 pages – £24.95 plus shipping. But it’ll be well worth it.

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Ferns

Here’s more stuff I don’t need to know about…

These ferns by military company Eduard are photo-etched and scaled for 1:72 – a bit tiny for S, but that’s okay when one’s talking plants. I use HO scale scenery items on the layout all the time.

Click on the photo for more details:
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Scenic Express also offers ferns, in two styles. No scale is given but they measure approximately 0.5″ tall.

Click on each photo for more info:
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Scenic Express Fern Plants photo Fern_Plants_zps0dadd33b.jpg

Used sparingly, these would look right at home on the forest floor in the Lynn Valley.

Time to tackle St. Williams

While working out how to handle the LCL traffic at St. Williams, it occurred to me that it’s probably time to focus more on this area of the layout.
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M233 at St. Williams west photo M233-StW-West_zps28961473.jpg

I’ve done an overall first pass of scenery on the layout, but the Port Rowan area has received a lot more attention in this regard, with the addition of second-wave elements such as weeds and bushes. Port Rowan has also benefitted from the addition of a few finished structures such as the coal dump, the section house, and the team track barn.

St. Williams has crops, but no fences. There are no trees, no weeds, and no bushes. The team track area has one finished structure – the grain storage building I’ve relocated from Cheltenham – but the station area is still 100% mocked up.

And I’m in the mood to tackle the very modest St. Williams station. (Much more modest than the original, Grand Trunk-era station, which was similar to the one I have to build for Port Rowan.)

Interestingly, this web site says the station still exists as a storage shed somewhere…

No promises on when I’ll get this done. But stay tuned.

More weeds in Port Rowan

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I continue to add “character” to the railway lands in Port Rowan. The latest example is a spray of weeds and small bushes near the station (inspired by the above photo):
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These weeds are Silflor products (white “Baby’s Breath” and purple “Heather”) that I picked up from Scenic Express. The directions call for poking a hole in the scenery but I trim the plants to size, dip their toes in a small puddle of full-strength Weld Bond, and set in place with tweezers. The static grass provides plenty of support while the glue dries (and the glue dries clear). I find this approach is faster but also makes it easier to be random when placing each plant. Randomness is key to creating a meadow, versus a garden. I like how this area is shaping up and the plants look great, even in close-ups:
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There’s more to do here – I’ll add some larger bushes, for example – but already it’s adding new texture and creating more engaging views:
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(Sharp-eyed readers will note that the Blue House is back on Chestnut Street – along with a mockup for another structure. More on that in a future post…)

Transplanting

Following my post earlier this week on adding weeds and bushes to the coal track, I had a wonderful phone call from my friend Bill Kerr. He really likes what I’m doing with the scenery (which is very high praise since he does brilliant work in this regard). He did, however, offer a couple of good suggestions, which I acted upon.

Bill noted that 50-60 years of coal dust around the bin itself would’ve killed a lot of vegetation, including all but the heartiest of weeds. Makes sense to me. So, I did some transplanting last night.

As a reminder, here’s how the scene looked earlier this week. The weeds are quite thick below the coal dock and up each side of the concrete bunker:
Coal Track with more weeds photo CoalTrack-Weeds-03_zps0f11f2c2.jpg

I’ve now thinned out this area, removing all but a few weeds in front of the concrete wall and adding some sand/gravel around the walls:
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I think it looks a lot better for a couple of reasons. First, it looks less like the coal dealer is planting a garden around his bin. And second, it makes the coal bin stand out more from the rest of the scenery along this track.

The weeds did not go to waste. I simply moved them elsewhere. Most went to the embankment at the end of the coal track:
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Following another suggestion from Bill, I used the rest to narrow the path up the embankment so it looks more like a footpath (seen just to the left of the switch stand in this photo):
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Thanks Bill – great feedback!