How green is my valley

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been pushing myself to get the trees done in the Lynn Valley. I’m almost done with building the trees – almost. I’m guessing that I have another half-dozen trees to do, each about eight inches tall. They’ll go in to the scene along the fascia near the water tank.
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I lost count, but I’m confident that this area has more than 100 trees built from individually twisted wire armatures. It sure has changed the look of this portion of the layout.
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I still have some detailing to do. For example, there are spots in the foreground where I’ll insert deadfall, saplings, and ferns and other forest floor plants under the trees. And I want to do another weeping willow to the right of the river in the above photo. Then there’s the rest of the layout: I estimate I’ll need another 50 trees for St. Williams and Port Rowan.

But I can see the light at the end of this Green Tunnel – and yes, it’s a headlight!

Morest Forest

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I’ve been working at the west end of the Lynn Valley – adding more trees and adding canopy to some bare tree armatures that have been in place for a while. In all, I’ve finished more than a dozen new trees for this area. It’s making a big difference.

New additions include some smaller trees on a peninsula between the track and river, just west of the trestle:
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The area around the Lynn Valley Tank has filled in nicely…
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… although I still want to add more trees between track and fascia. (Not too many, though – I still want to be able to enjoy the water tank!)

The scene around the steel girder bridge is also filling in nicely…
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… although more trees are needed in the foreground here, too.

Finally, I’ve started adding trees to the transition area between the west end of the Lynn Valley and the east end of Port Rowan:
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With the additional trees, I feel the views are richer and reward more careful observation. There are scenes to “discover” in the Lynn Valley now…
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As noted, I need more trees – particularly in the foreground. I’ll add those as fast as I can twist armatures, add bark texture and create canopies.

Halfway through the tree-eating Lynn Valley

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(Click on the image to enjoy a larger version)

As anybody who has planted trees on a layout can tell you, layouts eat trees at a frightening rate. There are approximately 50 trees in the above image – most of them scratch-built by me, using my variation on the techniques I learned from the Gordon Gravett tree books. And yet I’m only about halfway through adding trees to the Lynn Valley area. I’ve basically done the trestle scene on the Lynn River.

That said, I think trees are important and must be convincing on a layout so I’m very pleased with the progress on this scene. For the longest time, the “grass and occasional evergreen” in this area made it look more like something in the western mountains. The addition of so many deciduous trees to this area conveys the desired feel of Southern Ontario. What’s more, their height and placement – including trees between viewer and train – help disguise the fact that I was forced to use a fairly tight radius through the valley.

Still to come: more trees – a lot more trees – to the right of this scene as I head towards the water tank and Port Rowan. And I see a few spots in this area where I can add some bushes. But for now, I’m enjoying this transformation on the layout.

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Trees and trestle

I’ve been doing more work around the trestle in the Lynn Valley – and I’m really impressed by the difference all the new trees make to the scene. Here’s a sampler:

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More words in the fullness. But I’ve burned through a Wallin-sized bottle of extra-hold hair lacquer and despite running the paint booth while doing this, the stuff has given me a headache. Plus – every time I shake my head, Selkirk Leaves fall out of my hair.

Time to get outside.

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!

Willow weep for me

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I built this weeping willow yesterday, using techniques from the excellent Modelling Trees – Volume 1 by Gordon Gravett. I crafted a wire armature then filled out the branches with strands cut from a cheap “Elvira / Morticia Addams” style wig purchased last Hallowe’en, knowing that eventually I would put it to good use. The leaves are by The Selkirk Leaf Company. The tree took about 2-3 hours to make, plus drying time.
(For more on trees, check the Tree Category on this blog.)

I designed this tree to soften the transition between the Lynn River and the backdrop. It leans over the river, almost touching the water, where the river makes a sharp bend to disappear from view:
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I’m pleased with the effect – and with how this scene is coming together. There are a lot more trees to build, but I have several armatures twisted and ready to coat. Fortunately, my general forest tree doesn’t take nearly as long as a willow!
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The word always sets off the Genesis song of the same name in my head, but I braved the earwig and added ripples to the Lynn River this afternoon:
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(Click on either image to view a larger version)

I followed techniques described by Gordon Gravett in the third volume of his excellent scenery books.

Doing the two segments of the river took about an hour and the tools were simple – a fan brush and a pot of gloss gel:
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This is just the right amount of movement in the water, I think. I’m pleased with the life that this imparts to the river and can now continue to add scenery to the (Tony) banks…

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!)

Swanning about

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The Magic Water two-part resin has cured and I’ve been able to restore the swans to their proper place in the Lynn River.

I like the reflection of the swans in the water. To keep the water surface nice and shiny, I will have to remember that the vendor, Unreal Details, recommends cleaning with an “anti-static plastic cleaner”, which can be found at a hardware store near the plexiglass.

And that’s one of the reasons I write stuff like this down in a blog…

Muddy Waters

No, not the blues legend…

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I’ve always been hesitant when modelling water. I’ve tried several systems that have failed me for various reasons. But last night I decided it was time to Man Up and pour the two sections of the Lynn River depicted on my layout.

This time, I decided to use Magic Water – a two-part resin from Unreal Details. It was my first experience with this product, and I’m really pleased with how the water has turned out – so far. (I say “so far” because the resin is still curing. It takes about 24 hours to set, and it’s only been about 12 hours as I write this.)

I mixed the resin and hardener in several small batches, adding a few drops of Burnt Umber acrylic artists ink from Daler-Rowney to each batch prior to mixing.
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As the Magic Water instructions say, mix well: I set a timer on my phone and kept stirring until the alarm went off, to ensure I didn’t shortchange this part of the process.

The instructions also warn that this stuff pours like water. It’s actually a little thicker: it pours like cooking oil. But I believe the instructions when they warn it will find even the tiniest hole in your river bottom and flow out. That said, even before I installed the riverbed I knew that I would be trying this system – so I planned, from the start, to create a water-tight riverbed. Here are some of the steps I took:

– I made sure the riverbed was as level as I could make it – not only front to back, but also side to side.
– For each section of riverbed, I used a single (un-spliced) piece of 3/4″ plywood as the base.
– I made sure there was plenty of plywood to either side of the actual, modelled piece of river. This gave me ample space to which to attach the foam board that I used to create the riverbanks.
– When the riverbanks were installed, I coated everything with a couple of layers of hydrocal.
– When adding scenery to the riverbanks, and detailing the river bottom, I used generous amounts of thinned Weld-Bond to make sure everything was solidly glued in place. The Weld-Bond also sealed the plaster and any holes I may have missed.

I obviously did a good job on my preparations, because the Magic Water stayed on the layout. When I checked this morning, the floor was resin-free under both sections of the river. Phew!

There’s very little wicking, although when the resin has cured I will have to add some bushes along the shoreline in a few places where the resin did wick into the adjacent scenery.

I’m especially pleased with the brown tint. I think the ink was a good choice. And I like the reflections I’m getting off the river.
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The truly magic part? I had just enough material in one package of Magic Water to do both sections of the river. It couldn’t have worked out better if I’d planned it!