Nine Christmases ago I made this little N-scale layout for my step-father-in-law. It suffered some wear and tear and never really lived up to my vision, so this year I stole it, updated it, and regifted it back to him.
Years ago John told me about his childhood train set. He remembered the thrill of watching the steamer come around the curve and the way he described it, I knew: He was one of us.
I try to encourage John’s inner model railroader, and sharing the hobby with him has opened up some common ground and allowed us to know each other better.
See? It’s not just about playing with trains.
The layout is a plywood box about 26″ x 18″ x 4″. The terrain is several layers of carved foam insulation. The track plan is an oval with one siding, and is operated by a DC powerpack.
Two things stand out when I consider the man my kids call “Grandpa John”: A love of sailing and (like most sailors) an affinity for fine spirits. He is also an incredibly kind man who treats people with generosity and grace. But sailboats and booze are easier to model.
Accordingly, the single industry is a backwoods distillery called John’s Hooch. Out back I made an illegal-looking still from a thumbtack, a short piece of metal tubing and some wire.
I always intended the central scene of the layout to be a lake with sailboats, but when I first built the thing I had neither the budget nor the time to pull it off. I settled for a dry creek bed and a Design Preservation Models building on the bank.
This year I filled the creek with layers of hydrocal. When the plaster dried, I sanded it smooth and filled any holes with lightweight spackle. I brushed the surface with black laytex paint, then feathered in some tan near the beach area.
The boathouse is an Imex model. I cut a sheet of styrene the width of the building and about an inch longer. I made a dock out of the overhang by covering it with scale 2x6s. I glued the first plank on a 45-degree angle across the dock using CA cement. When it was set firm, I simply worked my way across the dock one board at a time, letting them hang over the edges. Once I had all the boards in place, I trimmed them with a sharp hobby knife and a straight edge.
I then glued the building to the styrene foundation with CA.
Lengths of round toothpicks serve as the pilings and the roof support.
I glued the building assembly to the layout with white glue, then graded around it with fine ballast secured with diluted white glue.
The sailboats came from Wiking sets. They are supposed to be rowboats. I trimmed the oarlocks from the top of the gunwales, then drilled holes in the front benches for masts I made from the sprues the boats came on.
The boat at the dock got a stowed sail sculpted of Squadron White Putty. The sail on the other boat is a piece of clear window glazing painted white.
Once the boathouse was in place and the boats were ready, I filled the lake with water. I used EnviroTex Lite, a two-part clear resin.
After the resin had set for about two hours, I floated the boats. They sank straight to the bottom, which fortunately was shallow enough that they still look afloat. EnviroTex takes 12-18 hours to fully cure. I’ve used it only once before and I like it, but still don’t have a handle on when to put things in so they don’t sink.
Finally, I went around the layout and updated the foliage. I added a few new Woodland Scenics trees and some ground foam where the old scenery had chipped.
This little layout was an OK diorama to begin with, and now I think it’s pretty good. It won’t win any contests, but it gives a latent railroader the thrill of watching his own trains.