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The SNR has some unusual construction methods, but there's a reason behind each diversion from the mean.  Join me for a look at the development of the valley at Misty if you'd like to see how it goes together.

Here's the Cornelis-Imperial Co.'s tipple #3 at Misty, W. Va..  Misty is the helper cutoff point at the top of the westbound ruling grade (to the left), where the tortuous 3% climb gives over to the Appalachian Plateau.  

The tipple sits in a 3x3 alcove surrounded entirely by block.  (The walls on either side support the concrete floors of the kitchen and dining room above, and the rear is a chimney foundation.)  


At the beginning of our story, the tipple kitbash is finished, and has long since begun generating loads for ops, but beside the backdrop and some roughed-in cribbing, that's about it.

First order of business is a concrete retaining wall for the right-side hill.  Concrete walls on the SNR often begin with either foam-core or veneer plywood -- veneer in this case.  I fill and sand the edges with putty, then paint with latex using horizontal brushstrokes -- which suggest both old-school board-formed concrete, and, the casual small-batch pours as were used in the day.  A first weathering pass using a wash of India Ink and alcohol gives it a decent streaked and sooty look.   

Although it takes more time, many of the SNR's scenery sections are removable, especially in hard-to-reach areas -- such as a 3x3x3 concrete-block alcove at 58" off the floor.  I build the frames out of heavy cardboard, with wood used for added strength in certain cases.  Here the first piece is tacked to the backdrop with the desired contour sketched out on it.

After a few evenings, the right-hand hillside's contour has sprung into existence.  The challenge with this method is making the structure strong enough to resist not only handling, and Cincinnati's jungle-like summer humidity, but also the immense contracting force generated by the drying scenery shell.  Nonetheless I enjoy building in cardboard, because other than obscuring my fingerprints in thimbles of dried carpenter's glue, it creates a lot less mess than wood, lends itself to fine-tuning, and can be worked in increments -- all of which fit both my disposition and my available time.   

After a similar effort for the left side, the valley starts to come to life. Unlike in nature, where the hills come first by a few million years, and Man skives them off to build more Man-stuff... on the SNR at least, the retaining walls come first -- and the hills grow into them.  This approach provides numerous opportunities to "enjoy" the stress of getting it all to come together -- from the backdrop to the hill slope to the track alignment to the wall height.  It's another reason I prefer using cardboard -- much easier to tweak one's creation with a utility knife, than with a saw.

Next up, a web is created for the shell to adhere to, using roofing felt.  Looks a bit like the Appalachians are disrupting the space-time continuum, doesn't it?

I like the roofing felt because it is thick but pliable, can readily be cut into strips, and glues easily and solidly -- but can be held in place with clothes pins or thumbtacks while the glue dries.  It also helped that I had half a roll left over after building my shed, so it lent itself to experimentation.  

I'll usually queue up a stockpile of the felt by cutting a million or so 30" strips in one session, while watching a football game.  I set up a station with a scrap of plywood on the pool table, across from the TV, and use an aluminum straight edge and a utility knife.  It's great for relaxation and forbearance while the Bengals implode.  (Utility knife on the pool table, you ask?  Living dangerously keeps you young.)

The removable section approach demonstrates its value here.  On the layout, all the little form-fitting pieces on the right end are 3' from the aisle, in a 3' high box, 5' in the air.  Words can scarce describe how not-fun that would be to construct in situ -- and we haven't even talked about planting trees yet. 

"Stupid, stupid papiér-maché!" - Toad, of Toad Hall, The Wind In The Willows

Yes it's true, the majority of the landform shell on the SNR is done like in a 4th-grade art class, with papier-maché.  I use plaster for cuts, fills, rocks, roads, etc., but it's Appalachia -- everything else just needs to hold up trees.  And beyond being sufficient for that purpose, papier-maché offers similar advantages as the cardboard forms do -- it's easier to work with in small batches than plaster, and on the whole, actually less messy.  It also weighs next to nothing compared to plaster, which is good both for mobility and for not collapsing the cardboard structure.    

The papiér is contractor's paper -- the stuff used for protecting floors during a remodel.  It's fairly similar to grocery bags, but available in big rolls from the Mega-Lo-Mart.  Tearing it into strips a million at a time is another useful mechanical distraction from a Bengals game.  I'd like to tell you I had half a roll of it left over too after our kitchen project, but I think I may actually have bought this one on purpose.

The maché, so to speak, is 50-50 white glue and water.  Couldn't be simpler, and white glue is available by the gallon from the Mega-Lo-Mart.  The soaking tray is made out of aluminum flashing, so that it could be exactly the right size.  

The paper adheres to the felt strips like a champ, and dries tight and smooth like a drum skin, if you follow a couple of easy tips: 

  1. let the paper soak thoroughly in the glue-water mixture -- 30 seconds or more 
  2. prime the felt (and any other webbing) by brushing some glue mixture onto it first  
  3. tear any cut edges of the paper strips so the seams will feather smoothly
  4. brush on a topcoat of glue-mixture at the end, to help make sure the seams are sealed. 

With the shells complete, the base coat of latex paint ("Soil") suddenly has Misty looking like hillsides are jutting into the 3D world out of the 2D backdrop -- denuded though they may still be.  Around this time I also built a very abbreviated freight dock to define a spotting location for mine supply cars.  

Time for ground cover.  This stuff is pretty orthodox -- mostly Woodland Scenics ballast and cinders, with a lot of spilled coal made from... coal.  The main drive and parking area has a combination of cinder paving and gravel ground into mud, which is done with plaster and washes of the "Clay" latex color, and a free-rolling HO vehicle.  Also the water tower foundation has been secured and scenicked in. 

Ready for trees!  The first step in forestation is to cover the fringe and clear-cut areas with a grass base and weeds.  The areas along the aisle that would be seen from inside the woods are covered with shades of brown, to represent the leaves on the forest floor.

Here's another plug for removable sections -- trees can be planted on the workbench, from the comfort of a cushy old office chair, rather than while standing on one's head.  Especially given that the trees need to be trimmed to the correct height and trunk angle, studied for correct placement, and hot-glued to the shell in a vertical orientation, trying to accomplish this in a 3x3x3 box would beget orthopedic damage -- and frankly, constitute mental cruelty.  

The trees are another novelty specific to the SNR.  For a discussion of what, why, and how, see Suffolk Northern Ry.: OK What's Up With Those Trees?

And here's the finished (-ish) project.  Scrub growth has been applied along the outer edge of the woods, but it could still use some detailing, with additional shoots and weeds, to "organic" it up a little.  

At last, trains can emerge from the Misty Summit tunnel amid a proper forest, as one would expect in the middle of nowhere.  Along the aisle, the forest floor itself is scenicked, since from this angle the viewer would be standing in the middle of the woods.  

As with the scrub growth (and really, most of the layout!) the water tank needs a general upgrade and improved detailing.  But for now at least, the whole scene meets the critical "good enough for operations" bar.  

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