Casper Layout

Modeling – The Present – The Casper Layout

This page shows current construction on the layout. Every now and then, when the page gets too long, I'll move everything into the appropriate link just below. Enjoy!

1 January 2021


Hard to believe it's 2021 already, isn't it? Time keeps flying by! For my New Year's eve festivities, I spent time collecting dirt from the backyard, turning it into something usable on the layout, and ballasting a bit of track for the first time since about 1973. Yes, that's 1973. Here's how it went...

I went out to a bare spot of dirt in the back yard and scraped a few shovelfuls up into a plastic bucket. Took about five minutes. Then I took it inside and let it warm up for awhile (it was about 20 degrees F outside). Meanwhile I dug out two cookie sheets I bought a couple days ago at WalMart ($1.49 each) and set them up on the table. I spread dirt onto the cookie sheets at about the thickness of the sheet's raised edges and popped them into the oven at 350° for 20 minutes. This was done to dry out the dirt and kill any insect eggs or seeds in the dirt. After the dirt cooled, I pulled out the cookie sheets and the dirt looked like this - about what it looked like going into the oven.

Then I poured the baked dirt, rocks, lumps and all, into a large pickle jar and shook it vigorously. This broke up the chunks of dirt. I trotted down to the train room with my jar of dirt to continue processing, by sifting the dirt into different sizes. I used two different strainers for this. The coarser one on the right I used to sift out the larger chunks of dirt, rocks and weeds. It has the little vanes that move back and forth across the screen, which helped break up any remaining chunks of dirt. The fine one on the left I used to filter out the really small, powdery dirt.

By sheer luck, the mouth of another pickle jar was just the right size for the coarse sifter to sit in it. I poured half-sifter sized batches of the raw baked dirt into the sifter and began squeezing the handle repeatedly to move the vanes. Filling the sifter more than halfway tended to jam the vanes. As I worked, I began getting a goodly amount of mixed coarse and fine dirt in the jar.

After doing the first sifting operation, I shifted to the finer sifter and ran the sifted dirt through it, giving me two different sizes of dirt particles. Here you can see the difference between them.

When I was done, I had these three jars of dirt. The large jar, which is the stuff that wouldn't go through even the first sifter, I'll probably just dump back out in the yard.

I was getting ready to ballast the CNW track that runs above and behind Casper yard, and now that I had the sifted grades of dirt to go with the bags of "Pink Lady" ballast I'd received from Arizona Rock and Minerals a couple days earlier I was ready to go.

So why did I need the dirt?

Well, the CNW line to Lander was never a Class 1 mainline, so I didn't want track that looked like this:

I wanted it to look a bit more like this instead (except for being standard gauge, of course. This pic is from the Cumbres & Toltec narrow gauge railroad), with ballast mixed with quite a bit of dirt. A bit better maintained than this, but this is the overall idea:

So by trial and error I wound up mixing four tablespoons of ballast with six tablespoons of the fine sifted dirt (from the jar labeled "Dust"), plus two tablespoons of the coarse sifted dirt, which is just slightly smaller than the ballast. The track looked like this before I applied the ballast mixture:

And like this afterwards. Almost exactly what I was going for!

So far so good! Now I just had to glue it in place.

Never having done this before, I decided to just glue down a short stretch. I used the traditional method - wet thoroughly with alcohol, then add diluted white glue as the final fixative. After doing that I had this:

And that's where I left last night. I went to bed not at all sure I would get the desired results. Looked like a mess to me! But this morning I went down and took another look and, other than still being slightly wet, it looks fine. The glued down area looks much darker, but it should lighten up as it dries. More to come later...

About mid-morning today I went down to the train room to see how the glued-down ballast looked.

I'm kind of surprised - it looks pretty good! It isn't completely dry yet, which I think is why it's still darker than the unglued stuff. It's taking longer to dry than I thought it would - after 24 hours it's still damp.

3 January 2021

I finished and posted my January layout update today.

The roundhouse is almost completely reassembled. Just a few doors to reinstall. Is it my imagination or does it look more substantial than it did before?

7 January 2021

I've gone back and worked on the C&NW ballast the last few days. The entire strip is done (all six feet of it) with the first try, and it's time to go back over and add more where it's a bit bare. Here you can see that the edges of the cork roadbed are too exposed in places.

So I went back over some spots and cleaned them up by adding a bit more ballast to hide the edges.

I also added a new, slightly weathered reefer to the layout. This makes 20 total now. Another thirty or so and I may have enough!

8 January 2021

After the ballast dried overnight, it looked this this morning.

Looks like I'm ready to add scenery around this stretch of track!

9 January 2021

Last night I removed the wax paper covering the backdrop in the area where I was ballasting. It took about half an hour to get that six feet off cleanly - the wax paper was pretty well stuck to the Celluclay!

But I did get it off, then posed a train on the track. Here it is:

Today I thought I'd try out my new Scenic King static grass applicator from Woodland Scenics. Since I never did this before, I thought it might be a good idea to test it out on a scrap board first. Hey, thinking ahead!

I got a short chunk of 2X4 out of the scrap wood bin, painted on a bit of diluted white glue (roughly 70% water), and applied some 2mm grass per the instructions that came with the applicator.

I'm sure glad I decided to try it before doing it on the layout. This is not what I expected:

A few strands are sticking up, but mostly the grass is laying down in the glue!

I used a "new" off-brand battery that's a few years old, so even though the light on the applicator comes on, maybe it doesn't supply enough amperage. Or may the diluted glue isn't conductive enough?

In any case, NOT a propitious start.

10 January 2021

I did some more experiments with the static grass applicator, and tried a few things suggested by the crew at the Model Railroader forums.

I replaced the battery with a fresh new one and tried the longer (7mm) grass. It worked much better! I also switched to Mod Podge matte glue. I didn't use the "anchor" that came with the Static King; instead I used a small nail tapped into the board a bit. I also tried just holding the ground clip close to the board, and that worked as well! Here's how one of the experiments came out.

So after a half dozen experiments, I dredged up enough confidence to try it on the layout. I spread a bit of Mod Podge along the backdrop and at the base of the ballast and in the "road" (the ruts in the plaster near the front edge) and applied first some 4 and 2mm grass, then switched to the 7 mm grass. Boy that stuff goes all over! Here's what it looked like before I cleaned it up.
Wow. More grass on the track than anywhere else!


After I vacuumed up the excess (which was about 3/4 of what I actually put down, it looked much better. Here's what it looked like along the backdrop.

And here you can see how pitifully small an area I did. But it's not too terrible. I'm heading in the right direction. Now I just need to figure out what order to do things in. I have to add some random green weeds and other ground detritus. Probably need to do that before I do the static grass.

13 January 2021

I think I'm getting the hang of using the static grass applicator.

I found an appropriate wall wart to power the unit, and that works much better than even a fresh battery. It generates quite a static charge on external power!

So I've added more to the scenery mix that I'm doing on the Lander branch, including some dark green bits to represent the occasional weeds that stay dark green well into the start of winter, and some oregano shavings that seem to work well for dead, dried organic material laying on the ground.

So here's the latest but of work along the rutted road, completed with a few posed elements to make the scene more complete.

17 January 2021

I'm improving with the static grass applicator.

I've finished everything I can do for right now, so I put the applicator away. Here's how the "finished" area looks:

I covered the backdrop with wax paper all the way down to the curve at the end a couple days ago, and began applying more Celluclay yesterday. One more batch will have it complete to the curve, and I can go ahead and add the finish scenery (dirt, ballast, etc.) along the rest of the wall.