The discussion about detailing track tends to focus on tieplates and four spikes per tie. While the myriad details are important, so is the right of way itself.

A mistake I made on the old layout was making everything flat. I did raise the track up a bit, but could have given more attention to the shape and structure of the roadbed and surrounding areas.

With flat benchwork, it’s easy to flop down a chunk of sheet goods or cork and start laying track. However, I only have a small footprint to deal with, so there’s no excuse for not modeling the right of way properly. And, like characters in a novel, each aspect of the scene contributes to the story. This is an older right of way that hasn’t seen a lot of maintenance in recent years. There will be many layers of vegetation, ground cover and encroaching trees to tell the story of the line and also screen the transition to off stage areas.

To begin, I added another layer of 1-1/2 inch foam on top to raise the track level. I made certain this layer had gentle slopes on each side as though the fill had eroded over many years. The section I used from the old layout used to be double tracked and to carry this theme to the end of the cameo, I left a generous shoulder on one side of the single track to represent the former roadbed.

After crossing Mill Road, the fill begins to transition into the built up areas near the grain elevator. Even though the buildings aren’t modeled, we can infer their proximity and presence by the changing character of the land. I admit that I missed an opportunity by not lowering one or both sidings to enhance drainage of the roadbed as they come off from the running line. It would have been relatively easy if I had thought of it in time.

The single track roadbed has generous natural slopes for the material used. I added a layer of plaster cloth to cover the styrofoam and painted it with burnt umber craft paint to get rid of the stark white appearance. Coming layers of natural dirt and basic ground foam will yield a simple foundation for finished textures and vegetation.

The fill on this side of Mill Road gradually transitions to flatter ground as you approach the location for the grain elevator.

The ground on both sides falls away from the roadbed and lends an open feel to the scene. Vertical elements like line poles, fencing and trees will be carefully composed to frame sight lines and enhance the composition. As you can see, the basic soil layer is now in place.

A different aspect of this layout is how the track is the highest part of the scene. Of course trees and utility poles will be higher but the ground falls away on both sides and coupled with the backdrop, this gives a sense of spaciousness that I don’t want to loose (photo above). The open feeling mimics the character of farm country and adds greatly to the sense of place.

These posts have now caught up with the actual work. I’m in no hurry with this project because I’m enjoying the process of making decisions and changes as the scene takes form. It’s relaxing, the way a hobby should be.



  1. Matthieu Lachance

    Mike, this series of articles about cameo layouts are quite interesting and I’m quite glad you share your thought at a moment I’m facing the similar challenges. As you pointed out, roadbed topography is probably the most overlooked track detail even if it is absolutely fundamental in getting things to look right. Ditches can make quite a huge difference on how we perceive the right of way and how the roadbed is indeed “alien” to the natural topography of the land. As you mentioned, this topography and the different vegetation that grows there can truly help to define what is railway property and what is not, without having to clutter the layout with obnoxious clues. As am I rebuilding a large section of our club layout, these questions do matters to me and I agree, taking time to take decision is also part of the hobby. I’ve had quite a few interesting discussions recently with Jérôme about track elevation, ditches depth, where tracks should be buried in ballast or in weeds, where vegetation is encroaching the right of way. These details matters because they support the story we want to tell and share. A few people were surprised I destroyed many feet of already ballasted track that was relatively fine by most people’s standard. I told them the scene indeed looked OK, but didn’t make sense at all when you took in account the layout theme. By the way, your hand drawn roadbed cross section is gold… I would dream of seeing a book published about these mundane but non trivial subjects illustrated with such brio!

  2. Håvard Houen

    You make a lot of very good points, Mike. And the diorama is coming a long nicely! The drawing of the road bed section is beautiful, and I understand that it is not meant to be to scale. But it illustrates a very common mistake that modellers make: Making fills too steep. A dirt/rubble fill is very seldom steeper than about 2:1 (22,5 deg). You often see modellers make fills steeper than 1:1 (45 deg).

    From your model it is of course obvious that you are aware of this, as the modelled fill has a realistic slope. But I thought it could be worth pointing out this for less experienced modellers.

  3. mike

    Matt and Havard,

    There are many small decisions that seem insignificant yet add so much to the impact of a model. We obsess over many things that add so little and ignore items that would enhance the realism greatly. I’m gratified you both appreciate the difference.