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 Construction of the Heartland Express Model RR


Club Layout

Club Layout Photos

Layout Construction

Membership Info

Club History


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The NEW HCRR -- Layout Reconstruction Underway

All the scenery on the AM Express was created using the techniques developed by Dave Frary and described in his book How To Build Realistic Model Railroad Scenery published by Kalmbach Publishing. All our scenery was constructed using Dave's water soluble method over two inch blue foam board. In most cases, an area of scenery up to three or four feet long was done in a single evening by only a couple of club members. All the modeling work you see on this site was done in only 8 months! The super detailing on the AM Express is just beginning.

Members would begin the scenery building process by carving out the basic shape from extra pieces of foam board then generously applying either a spackling compound or plaster of Paris directly over the board. While the spackling was still quite wet members then applied thinned water based acrylics in a variety of earth tones. A variety of colors were used side by side then were gently mixed by spraying on "wet" water. (water with a drop of kitchen dish soap). Before anything could dry, the ground foam, blended turf materials, trees and other scenery materials were applied and sealed with thinned white glue with a drop or two of liquid soap. By doing everything while it was wet the scenic materials all began to absorb the colors surrounding them and took on a very natural effect. When the entire thing dried all was then needed was to come back and touch up with an airbrush any areas that didn’t dry to member’s satisfaction. This is actually a very simple technique that works great and anyone can easily learn to do it! But a word of caution, when using the water soluble method be careful about getting plaster, paint and white glue on previously laid track and turnouts! If nothing else, this will really tick off many of your fellow club members! Not to mention requiring a lot of extra clean-up around the turnouts.


The AM Express is covered with thousands of trees! We estimate there are over 5,000 trees on the layout, mostly handmade by a variety of club members during work sessions. We arrived at this number by roughly counting the number of bags of raw material required knowing we could get about 100 trees from a bag of "candy tuft" (see below). The pines on the mountains (over 600 of them) are commercial trees, however we individually flocked each one with green blended turf scenic material to give them more fullness. The balance of the trees were made using a variety of dried flower arrangement materials which can be bought in almost any craft supply store. We have found Michael’s craft supply to have the best variety. A favorite material is called natural Candy Tuft. It is nothing more than a dried "weed" but when it is airbrushed with a variety of realistic greens and browns and the trunks painted brownish gray they take on the look of very real trees in N scale. Another great material is sold through hobby stores by a company called Scenic Express. These trees have great fullness and are created by flocking the "weeds" sold by Scenic Express with their finely ground scenic materials. In all cases, we first sprayed the "weeds" with a mixture of dark brown and light gray water base paints prior to flocking.


There are a lot of different types of water on the AM Express. There is calm stagnant brown water, nearly dry creeks, calm clear lakes, cascading waterfalls, rapids, and a fast running river. None of the "water" is actually more than a few millimeters thick! But it looks really deep in many places. The 1600 scale foot Kokomo River which runs near the town of Dogwood on the opposite end of the "G" from the mountain area is 100 to 150 scale feet wide in most places. This was the most challenging of all the water projects. Jim Santaella, Gene McNamara and Steve Lucas began by cutting all the blue board away in the winding river shape wanted. The cut was made about 4 inches wider than the finished scene to allow for the molded rocks which would line the edge. The bottom of the river was then replaced with the smooth side of a masonite board facing upwards. Once the rocks were molded and cut to fit using commercial rock molds they were airbrushed with a variety of reddish browns, browns, grays and earth colors. Once that had dried a watery thin layer of plaster of Paris was poured into the entire bottom of the river about ½ inch thick to seal the foam board and the masonite. Then the bottom was airbrushed using a water based acrylic color called phathalo green. This is absolutely the best color member’s have found for simulating clear or semi-clear water!! You can find it in craft stores under the brand name Delta Ceramcoat. It is thick, so thin it appropriately before trying to spray it with your airbrush!

Working on the white plaster of Paris the thinned phathalo green was sprayed lightly at the edges to make it appear that the river’s sandy bottom is showing in the shallow areas. In the center of the river, and all the deep areas, the paint was sprayed much thicker giving it the effect of deeper water. And in the deepest water a thinned flat black paint was used to simulate the appearance of really deep water. The entire thing is actually flat, but once the "water" polyester resin was finally applied it looks just like a very deep fast moving river with very shallow edges.

The rapids at the top of the river were poured first. Members began by putting down aquarium filter floss in all the areas where the water was to appear to be bouncing and moving. Then a clear polyester resin was poured. A second member "molded" the "white water" with a hair dryer set on low heat. Caution, the polyester will set quickly if you use a lot of heat! By blowing it on cool you can push the resin into "piles" of water and make it really appear to be moving.

The rest of the river was made by pouring a thin layer of the polyester resin over the airbrushed bottom. If you plan to use this technique make sure the foam board is totally sealed with the plaster of Paris before using the resin. Polyester resin will attack the foam board and you’ll find all your river on the floor in just a few minutes! Once the resin had hardened the river’s surface was airbrushed again with highly thinned phathalo green. This second coat of airbrushed paint really helps the illusion of water and the finished effect is surprisingly real. When the airbrushed paint was dry members brushed on acrylic gloss medium using a swirling motion with a ½ inch brush.

All the "still" waters on the layout including the two mountain lakes, Dry Creek, Coyote Creek, the "cow pond" and others were created by simply using EnviroTex two part resin poured thinly over plaster of Paris which had been airbrushed with reddish browns to simulate muddy water or the phathalo green as described earlier. Be careful not to allow anything to touch the EnviroTex while it is wet. More than once members tried to get swimming mosquitos out of the ponds and streams to no avail. The best thing you can do once anything foreign gets in is to put a clump of scenery material over the offending insect or flaw to simulate a submerged bush or tree!

At the extreme "western" tip of the layout is one of its most impressive parts. The mountain division tip consists of Deer Lake, complete with a herd of deer, which falls into a steep waterfall we call Bear Creek Falls that is the beginning of Bear Creek. At the base of the waterfall the water actually appears to be rushing through a series of culverts past a couple of black bears. The waterfall was created using a combination of aquarium filter floss and clear silicone aquarium sealant which was brushed downward across the filter material. Once the silicone had dried a dilute coat of "oyster" white paint was applied with a final coat of clear gloss medium to bring back the shine of falling water. The edge of the waterfall is covered carefully with clumped foliage material to hide imperfections in the silicone.

The water rushing through the culverts at the bottom of the falls was created using clear polyester resin poured over aquarium filter floss. Before the resin dried it was possible to "pick" at the floss to very effectively create the impression of fast moving water. The effect is quite realistic.

After the scenery base work was done we then spent a lot of time "planting" weeds made from Woodland Scenics materials as well as placing clumps of Woodland Scenics ground foam material to resemble bushes over any and all scenic areas that did not look as good as expected bare. Our work attempting to create lifelike scenery still continues, and will likely continue for as long as we all are "working on the railroad". Right now we're adding track signals, road signals, crossing gates, several hundred more people and at least 1,000 more trees! Plus we're adding a lot of detailing. The town of Dogwood is also undergoing a major "renovation". We're adding almost 3 times as many storefronts and buildings and refinishing the streets and roads. Watch the site for more photos as the work progresses!.

If you're an N scaler in South Florida, or want to be an N scaler in South Florida, please come and join us. The "work" gang can always use help, and lots of new ideas!

For more information on scenery methods used on the A.M. Express, contact: Steve Lucas


AM Express takes great pride in being featured in the January-Februay, 2000, issue of N Scale Magazine.

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