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  • Simple Styrofoam Baseboards

    TOP LEFT: You should complete the major portion of your trackwork before "sinking" the ties into the Urethane foam baseboard. Hold the track in place with straight pins. The foam is soft enough so that holes can be drilled by merely twisting a sharp file or you can drill it with a hand drill to route the switch machine and power wires underneath. Try out all forms of operation for a week or so to be reasonably sure the tracks are where you want them - changes are easy to make now. BOTTOM LEFT: This scene's realism would be marred if the track were sitting on top of the baseboard like the piece under this "giant's" finger. You can use fine-grain Urethane foam for the baseboard of your yrads to make flush-fitting track easy. It's the most effective way to have more realistic track in N scale and it'll work for small layouts in HO or 0 too.
    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 38 1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 39

    Every once in a while some innovative model railroader will come up with an idea, technique, or material that makes modeling a bit easier or more realistic. We can't say who started using styrofoam plastic for model railroad baseboards, but the first time we saw it was on Jim Shiff's N scale open pit mining layout; the same layout featured in the Summer 1971 issue of 1001 Model Railroad Ideas. Modelers have used the material for scenery and for insulation since it was first introduced but never for a complete baseboard. Jim's " secret," to our eyes, was that he had discovered a type of styrofoam that was far finer than the type that is used for packing Japanese radios and the like. The material Jim found is actually called Urethane foam and it is similar to the material used by florists but far harder. If you live in a major city you may b e able to find a supplier under the telephone book's yellow page heading "Plastic, Foam." We also found that several building supply firms and lumberyards carried a new roof insulation material that is almost the same. The "stuff" you want has the density of the florists material but is about as hard as the common white packing material. We've seen it in white, a marbled biege, and green but the color is not important since you'll want to paint it anyway the stuff will literally powder off in your hand if you don't seal the surface with a coat of paint.

    The best application we've found for the material is for the small shelf type of layout like an industrial or freight yard. You can obtain the Urethane foam in several thicknesses; the most common and useful one is about two-inches. This material is self-supporting for a span of about two-feet. A lightweight framework of 1x2 lumber is enough to support chunks of the material up to 4x8-feet. The material has very little holding power - if you hand-spike your rail to individual wood ties, stick to the proven materials for baseboards; the cardboard like Homosote or Upsom board wallboards. The Urethane foam is only use ful for those who use sectional or flexible track with plastic ties already "spiked" to the rails. Even with these types of track we'd recommend that you hold the track in place with at least one-inch nails or s traight pins. The main reason we like the material is that it is so easy to "sink" the ties into it up to the level of the bottom of the rails. Most railroad yard and industrial trackage, and the majority of the track on some branchlines, has been used so long or was laid right on the ground so that the ties have all but disappeared from sight leaving only the rail and a dim outline of the ties showing above the ground. With a conventional typ e of baseboard the "ground" must be built up to the level of the rail's base web with sheets of cardboard or a layer of plaster - both difficult and time-consuming operations. With the Urethane foam all you have to do is mark out the location of the track, remove the track, and rub away the powdery foam material with a hard typewriter eraser until enough has been removed to allow the track to "sink" into the baseboard up to the rails. If you do decide to use the Urethane foam for the baseboard, we'd recommend that you use this method of "sinking" the track for its greater realism and, more importantly, because the depressed "troughs" you make for the ties will hold the track in place far better than spikes could.

    TOP LEFT: Once you're sure of the track's position mark all around the edges of all the ties and the switch machines (if they're beside the track like those used with most brands of sectional track). Use a felt-tipped pen. TOP RIGHT: The track sections should rest deep enough in the baseboard so that only the rails and the plastic "spikes" show when viewed from "ground" level. Sinking the ties does more to improve the realism of N scale's slightly oversize track than anything you can do. Even the most common HO scale brands of track (that use code l00-size rail) have rail that is a good bit larger than it should be. MIDDLE RIGHT: We mixed brown and beige house paint to get an earthy color. Next, a powdered paint filler used to give traction on floors and boat decks was mixed into the paint. The "mix" was then brushed into all of the "troughs" we had sanded with the eraser to accept the track. BOTTOM LEFT: Lift up all of the track and use a rough typewriter eraser to literally rub away the powdery Urethane foam from the area that was beneath the ties using your pen-marked lines as a guide. The eraser will scrape the foam into a powder that can be swept or vacuumed away. Remove only enough to let the tops of the ties be flush with the top of the foam baseboard. Check the depth frequently with a short piece of extra track so you don't dig too deep. Model railroad shops sell a track cleaning eraser called a "Bright Boy" that is perfect for the job. BOTTOM RIGHT: The track should be replaced while the paint mix is still wet so the paint can act as both ballast and glue to retain the ties. Keep the paint layer thin beneath the switch's moving parts so they aren't painted solid.
    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 40    

    The track is held in place, temporarily, with common straight pins or similar-size and length nails. When the final position has been determined the edges of the ties are marked off and the foam below them rubbed away into powder with a rough eraser. A mixture of plain Latex wall paint is used, along with an abrasive-type filler sold by better paint stores to give a rough texture to floors and boat decks, in a mix that is simply brushed into the troughs where the track will lay. The track is replaced while the Latex paint and texturizer mix is still wet. The mix acts as both simulated ballast and glue to hold the track in place. If you want even more ballast you can mix equal parts 6f powdered glue and scale ballast like that sold under the Campbell and B&H labels. Pour the mix onto the track and distribute it exactly where you want it with a fine brush. Then spray on a fine mist of water and a few drops of detergent from a Windex type spray bottle. Be sure to keep the ballast and glue mix away from the points and other working parts of any switches.

    TOP LEFT: You can apply additional ballast with your fingertips and spread it into the places you want it with a paint brush. Remove any excess and any that falls into the working areas of the switches. If you mix an equal amount of ballast and powdered glue you can keep the ballast permanently in place by simply spraying the ballast with water mixed with a few drops of detergent. Allow to dry and vacuum away any excess. MIDDLE LEFT: When the track is completely in place you can finish off the exposed portions of the baseboard with a coat of the Latex paint and filler mix. When the paint dries it leaves a rough, earth-like, texture. BOTTOM LEFT: We covered the areas around what would later be a coal mine with a sprinkling of scale coal while the Latex paint was still wet. Other areas received a thin coating of green-died sawdust to simulate grass. BOTTOM RIGHT: Life-Like and others make styrofoam baseboards that can be used as "main line" trackage for the yard-like layout we are building. The Life-Like layout uses a much coarser grain foam than the florists-fine Urethane we suggest - these commercial layouts are heat-formed to get a smooth surface; something beyond the scope of the modeler.
    1001 Model Railroading Ideas - Winter 1971 - Page 41


    The one-inch thick sheets of Urethane foam can be bent enough to be used as baseboard for the hillclimbing grades of a mountain-type model railroad if the material is glued and nailed securely in place. A plain knife is all that is needed to cut the material into straight strips and curves to match your track plan. The only reason why Urethane would be used for this type of construction, though, is to save weight on a portable lay out or on a very small N scale layout; Homosote or Upsom board would, again, be best for the "country" and mountain portions of most miniature railroads. Use the Urethane for the yard and industrial areas or for the smaller portable railroads.

    Article Details

    • Original Author 1001 Model Railroading Ideas
    • Source 1001 Model Railroading Ideas
    • Publication Date Winter 1971

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