Overgrown sidings

Have a look at this photo from the Keith Sirman collection (thanks, Keith!):

Overgrown right of way.

What do you see?

There’s the mixed train – The Daily Effort, as it was known – arriving at Port Rowan on what, at first, appears to be a single track line. But look closely to either side of the train and you’ll see two more tracks – the siding on the left, and the team track to the right. Those tracks are almost invisible in the grass.

It’s a great look that really captures the character of this far end of a lightly-used branch. But can it be modelled?

Maybe not to the same degree, but I’m going to try.

With the exception of the elevated coal track, I’ve finished spiking rails in Port Rowan, so I celebrated by painting the rails and ballasting the track. I airbrushed the rails with Floquil rail brown and left it to dry. I then cleaned the paint off the tops of the rails with an emery board.

For ballast, I used two different blends to achieve the look I wanted. I blended my own ballast from various Woodland Scenics products, adding lighter “dirt” colours to the ballast to be used on the siding and team track.

I applied this in the usual way: I poured it on, shaped it, then gave it a spray of water with some alcohol in it as a wetting agent. Instead of using a squirt bottle, I went to a kitchen store and bought a pump bottle for spraying olive oil. It produces a fine mist that won’t disturb the ballast. With everything wet, I used an eyedropper to apply Weld Bond glue diluted 50/50 with water. Then I let everything dry solid.

For grass, I use the Noch Grassmaster static grass applicator and only use Noch “Wild Grass”. Both can be found on this page at Scenic Express and of course many hobby shops carry these supplies.

I work in short sections. I sprayed more water to wet the ballast, then carefully applied my Weld Bond/water solution only where I wanted grass. Between the rails, I put a couple of drops between each tie. Between tracks, I basically flooded the area.

For the main track, I applied grass using the Noch Nozzle. It provides a little more control, but also releases less grass. For the siding and team track, I used the smaller of the two sifter screens that comes with the Grassmaster.

I was worried about the ends of the grass lying over the rails, so when everything was dry I hit the tops of the rails again with an emery board. I worked with the board at 90 degrees to the direction of travel and angled slightly in towards the centre of the track so the emery board would hit the inside edge of the railhead. I then worked in one direction – pulling towards the outside of the track – so that any blades of grass I captured between the railhead and the emery board would either pull out or be sanded off. After this, I vacuumed everything.

Did I capture the character of the prototype? Decide for yourself:

Overgrown track in Port Rowan.

I like it. I love how one can see individual blades of grass when viewing scenes from ground level:

Overgrown at rail level.

I also like how it looks from a normal viewing perspective:

Overgrown in Port Rowan.

And yes, it runs. I don’t have the layout wired yet, but I was worried about this so I clipped a couple of leads to the rails and tried out a 10-wheeler. No worries. (I’m sure that this is in part due to the fact that the locomotive builder, Simon Parent, incorporates all-wheel pick-up in his models. Thanks for that, Simon!)

I’m sure I’ll need to do a bit more work with the emery board once I have everything wired and can test the area, but even if I have to snip away a bit of grass I’ll still achieve the look I’m after.

The lesson? As a friend said, “One never knows until trying”. I wasn’t sure it would work, but I needed to try. And it did.

12 thoughts on “Overgrown sidings

    • Thank you, Matt.
      I probably should have experimented on a test piece – not on the layout itself. But sometimes, I’m reckless that way…

      • I should also say that it’s possible for this to work in larger scales like O. And I suppose with care one could do this in HO. So you wouldn’t have to switch to S.
        I’m enjoying S though. It’s the first time I’ve worked in 1:64, and I’m glad I tried it. I think most modellers should try something out of their comfort zone on occasion. The results may be surprising!

  1. I am a big fan of shortlines in the South, and I’ve often thought a Georgia Northern Baldwin, FT A, or SW8 would look great in O scale. I’m in HO, but you larger scale guys sure are tempting me.

    • Hi Tom:

      There is something really rewarding about doing a few things well in the hobby, as opposed to the more usual course of acquiring product and building a huge layout to support it.

      If you’re thinking about southern short lines in O, it sounds like you might enjoy taking the plunge. And you wouldn’t be alone. These days, I think more modellers are abandoning the popular scales/gauges (e.g.: HO standard gauge) in favour of those unique, challenging, but rewarding paths. I know a number of people working in Proto:48 (fine scale O) who made this choice, leaving their HO behind for good.

      I also fall into that category.

      My layout room would hold a lot more HO than S. If building this layout in HO, I could add a couple more towns – or even add the junction at Simcoe, Ontario and model part of the Port Dover branch as well. And I would have a much greater selection of locomotives, rolling stock, structures, vehicles and details. But I’m enjoying working within the constraints of S and find the scale’s “larger than HO, but not too large” character to be just right for standard gauge branch line railroading.

      Those southern roads do have their appeal. I have well-read copies of the two-volume set Slow Trains Down South by Mallory Hope Ferrell and there’s plenty of inspiration in them for an S or O scale layout. One line he covers is the Buffalo Creek & Gauley – and Brooks Stover is a well-known S scale enthusiast who has recreated the railroad in 1:64.

      So, there’s plenty of potential. Maybe you should do some exploring?

  2. Trevor
    I have been enjoying your blog for some time now. Your concept and execution has helped me shape my own layout plans.
    Your recent post on of creating grass growing between the ties really caught my eye. It is very realistic! I will give your method a try on a test track I am building.

    • Hi Gene:
      Thanks for the kind words – I’m flattered that you’re finding my humble work useful! Good luck with the grass and let me know how it turns out. I’m still tweaking mine to make sure it’s not interfering with the operation of the trains. So far, so good.
      Thanks for reading!

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