Colorado Loop Layout Build
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
A 2x3' N Scale Mountain Layout
Ok, so this project started back in the spring as part of a simultaneous build of four layout projects. The base of the layout was built from a 2x3' pine plank I picked up from Home Depot that was framed up with 1x4' poplar boards. I also attached a couple of the 1x4 boards to the bottom of the layout to help prevent the base from warping and to provide a recessed area for wires.
Next, I cut a sheet of 2" thick insulation foam board to fit the opening created on the layout base. I glued that in place with regular wood glue, and then cut to size another 2" thick sheet of foam board for the next layer. I cut up additional pieces and stacked them up to create the rough scenery profile and also put the loop of track on the layout so I had a guide for where to cut and place pieces of foam.
Once the pieces were cut to size I glued and nailed them to the base of the layout. For the larger mountain on the left, I glued and nailed most of the pieces together, but not to the base of the layout so I would have access to the tunnel area until that was completed.
Now, you might be noticing that this doesn't look like the finished layout. Well, we will get to that later on, but I decided to change things up halfway through the construction.
Anyway, with the foam in place and roughly carved to shape, I mixed up a large batch of sculptamold to which I added some brown paint. I then added this to the bottom portion of the layout, leaving the mountain part unfinished since I wanted to complete the tunnel area first. You can see here how things looked at that point.
Before laying the track I scraped clean the foam areas where the track would be placed. Once I figured out the track placement, I connected a pair of Kato Unitrack rail joiners that have power leads attached to one end of the loop. I wanted the wires to come out of the side of the base, so needed to make a pathway for the wires. I could have just used a drill, but just so I would have a chance to play with fire, I heated a threaded rod with my blow torch and used that to melt a nice clean hole through the foam.
Then I did use my drill to make a hole through the side of the base since it is hard to melt your way through a piece of wood. I used the threaded rod to melt a bit more foam to make sure the holes connected, then threaded the wire through the hole. With that done, I used hot glue to attach the track to the layout base.
Next, I soldered the plug socket to the wires coming from the track, putting some heat shrink tubing over the solder joints. I then soldered the connector from the Unitrack joiners to the cable that had the plug that fits in the socket I used. I then plugged the wire into my Rokuhan battery-powered controller and to the layout and did a quick test run to make sure everything worked ok.
I painted portions of the layout brown, then soldered most of the rail joints. With that done, I painted the rails with a Testors rail-brown paint pen. Then, I covered the tunnel area with dirt and ballasted that section of track, soaking everything well with diluted matte medium.
With that done I was able to glue and nail the top section of the mountain to that portion of the layout. When trying to glue on one of the tunnel portals I promptly broke it but was still able to get it glued in place with a liberal helping of wood glue. For the other portal, I just cut a piece of foam to shape and then glued that in place.
It was time to finish the base scenery at this point so I made another large batch of sculptamold, and covered the remaining foam base, and also reworked the river area.
I next covered the layout with dirt and ground foam and filled the river bed with some gravel and coarse dirt. The layout sat this way for a couple of months since I didn't like how it looked, but I also didn't know exactly what I wanted to do.
After a while, inspiration hit, and I decided to add more terrain as well as a mine scene. So, I took out the smaller bridge and another section of track, using a soldering iron to melt the solder so I could remove those track sections. I then put in a #6 Kato right-hand turnout and hacked away at the smaller mountain on the right side of the layout to make room for more track. Next, I cut up more insulation foam and stacked it in the middle of the layout, hot gluing it in place once I had it arranged as I wanted.
I mixed up a big batch of sculptamold and worked that over the new foam base. I should have carved the foam so I wouldn't have needed as much sculptamold, but I was too lazy to do that. I had to mix up two more batches to get everything covered, but when I did, it turned out pretty nice I think.
It took about a week for the sculptamold to fully dry since it was so thick and the humidity was fairly high. Once it did dry I covered everything with a brown wash, and then the next day came back with a black wash. You could do a couple of washes with other colors as well, such as one that was more yellow, and another more of a burnt umber color, but just doing the brown and black wash usually produces nice looking rocks provided both washes are thin enough. To make things pop more I always do some dry brushing with grey paint. I don't like to use white for highlights since it can end up looking too bright, but a light or medium colored grey paint usually does the trick ok.
With the painting done I sifted dirt over the entire layout then sprayed everything down with isopropyl alcohol and then diluted matte medium. Once that dried I came through and sprayed on the glue mix where I wanted grass and then added a layer of static grass. I mixed a few shades of static grass in the hopper before applying it to the layout so the grass wasn't a uniform shade of green.
Next up I needed trees. I picked up this box of 100 Heki trees for about $30. They look pretty fake out of the box, so I wanted to paint and flock them. I tried out different techniques, but what eventually seemed to work the best was to paint them all a flat black, then spray them down with a deep green color. I sprinkled on flocking to the wet paint, then let that dry. Then I came back and sprayed them down with glue and more flocking. For the second batch, I just dunked the tree in a bowl of matte medium and then rolled them in the flocking material so I wouldn't waste as much. You can see what the trees looked like after having some flocking applied. I think they are definitely better than how they looked out of the box.
To install the trees, I just poked holes into the scenery with a screwdriver and glued the trees into the holes with a dab of wood glue.
At this point, I wanted to get the rest of the track ballasted. So I spread out the ballast on the remainder of the track, used a soft brush to shape it, then sprayed the track down with alcohol and then the glue mix.
I decided at this point to add a train station to the layout as well and wanted to have a dirt access road to the station. I needed to build a crossing first, so cleared away some of the ballast I had just put down. Then I glued down the steel crossing plates from a woodland scenics kit using CA. The pieces that attach to the outside of the rails have part of the plastic cut away to fit over the track spikes. So, be sure that section is glued down facing the rails.
Instead of building up the road with some plaster, I just made the entire thing out of fine dirt. I dumped enough dirt to make a smooth road up and over the crossing, using some sheet styrene to pack it down and smooth it. This was then soaked with alcohol and matte medium multiple times.
I forgot that I needed a hole for the wires from the station to go through since it is lighted. So, I drilled that, trying not to make too much of a mess on my new road surface. I glued the station in place and then added more ballast to allow for passengers to walk from the platform to the passenger car steps. I then added more dirt and glue to continue making the road smoother.
With that done, it was time to move on to building the mine for the layout. I decided to use the Walthers Glacier Gravel Company kit. I've used it in the past and like the kit. I wasn't going to be able to build the kit exactly as it shows, although it ended up being closer than I thought it would be.
Anyway, I cut out most of the main kit pieces, writing the part number of each piece in pencil on the piece itself. Then I traced out each piece onto some chipboard, labeling those pieces as well. This way I could cut them out and build some of the kit using chipboard to figure out how I was going to arrange things without worrying about damaging the kit pieces.
I assembled most of the bottom sections of the kit, then placed it on the layout. Using my tallest piece of rolling stock I figured out how much of the wall sections would need to be cut away to allow for trains to pass through the right side of the structure. I also needed another wall inside the structure so cut another one of the kit pieces to fit inside and serve as a wall alongside the main opening.
Now, with these chipboard pieces cut in the way I needed them, I was able to use them as templates for the actual styrene kit pieces. Once I had cut all the kit pieces to size and sanded the edges I could being assembling the kit.
The kit assembly goes pretty quick for the main mine structure, and I used some 1-2-3 blocks to help keep things square. Once I had the base section done I took it back to the layout to make sure it still fit ok, then proceeded to build up the rest of the structure as the kit directions showed.
To paint the structure, I first spray painting everything in flat black, then I painted everything in a stone/beige color. I wanted the metal sections of the structure to have a heavily rusted look and so then painted the structure with a brick red color. I needed to then paint the concrete areas again, so I used some cardboard to cover the sheet metal portions and painted the concrete areas again.
With that done, it was time to finish assembling the structure pieces. The kit includes a dual loading bin that extends out from the structure, but I only had room for one bin, so I had to cut down those kit pieces. The conveyor belt sections are trickier to assemble, and I don't like how they look when assembled as directed, so I built them a little differently. I painted those the red color as well, then dry brushed everything with grey and added a black wash to the structure.
At this point, it was time to wire up all the lights. I put this off since it is the least fun part of the layout building, but needed to get it done. I picked up some Woodland Scenics just-plug street lights as well as a lighted pickup truck. I drilled holes for the wires for those items, but there is no chance that you can thread the very thin magnet wire through 4" of styrofoam. So, I taped the wires to a piece of metal tubing and then used that to fish the wires through the holes. The lamp on the woodland scenics train depot is not lighted, though the structure itself is. So, I just broke off the light, drilled a hole through the layout in that place, and put in one of the street lights in that location as well. I fished through the wires from two lights I glued inside the mine as well and then had all the wires sticking out the bottom of the layout.
I mixed up some ballast and matte medium to make a paste I could spread around the base of the mine to help hide any gaps and to help secure it in place. I did have to shim up one side of the structure using some chipboard, but that was all hidden by the ballast paste. I glued the structure down with wood glue, weighted it down, then applied the ballast paste around the edges of the structure. I added the loading bin and conveyor belts. I mixed up some dirt and matte medium to help secure the sides of the conveyor along the edge of the layout. I then used some CA to glue down the pickup truck and to glue in the street lights.
I needed to wire up the lights to the Just Plug controller as well as to the battery holder. I played around with different ideas and then decided to glue the battery holder the back up a small project box. This would then fit inside a larger project box, and to make the opening in the lid I heated up a knife with my blow torch and then cut through the plastic to make the opening I needed. A hot knife will cut through styrene super easily. I next cut openings in the layout for the battery box as well as to partially recess the light controller box.
The wires from the lights weren't long enough to reach the controller box, so I had to solder on some extension wires. I then put the wires through a hole I drilled from the side of the layout through the base and hooked them up to the controller board. I had to also solder a wire from the controller box to a toggle switch, from the toggle switch to the battery holder, and then from the battery holder to the controller box so I could turn the lights on and off with a switch. Next I hot glued the controller box and the battery box into the back of the layout. A quick test showed everything was working properly. I didn't show this, but I glued some magnets onto the toggle switch box and the base of the layout so it will stick in place but can still be easily pulled out to change the batteries.
Then I glued the wires to the base of the layout, added some wood strips to help protect them, and then glued on some pieces of chipboard over the wires to prevent them from being snagged and ripped out.
The last main scenery item to complete is the river and waterfall. I once again used Evirotex Lite 2 part epoxy along with cotton balls for the waterfall. I mixed up a cup of the epoxy, stirred it well, and then stretched out some cotton ball pieces. I soaked the cotton in the epoxy, then draped the soaked cotton onto the layout where I wanted the waterfall to be. I worked on multiple pieces of cotton to build up the waterfall and the rapids area above the waterfall.
Once I had the waterfall mostly done, I poured most of the epoxy into the bottom river area. Then I poured some along the upper river area as well, letting it run down where it wanted to. I added a little more cotton and got that arranged until I thought it looked good.
The epoxy will develop bubbles as it dries and you need to pop those bubbles before the epoxy hardens. I like to wave a lighter over the epoxy to quickly pop all the bubbles, though you can also breathe on it through a straw to remove the bubbles.
I came back and did two more layers of the epoxy on the bottom river area to fill it out over the next couple of days. I didn't want to pour it all at once since the middle was fairly deep, and I didn't want to risk the epoxy cracking or not curing fully if I did it all in one pour.
While the water feature was curing I painted the wood trim on the layout a flat black, then came back and touched up the scenery along the edge of the trim.
When the first coat of paint was dry I lightly sanded the trim and then added a second coat of black paint.
To finish off the trim areas I mixed up some matte medium and gloss medium, about 2/3rds matte medium to 1/3 gloss medium to create a satin finish. I applied two coats to the trim to help enhance the look and add a layer of protection to the trim.
Once the water feature was cured I came back and touched up the scenery around the edge of the water. The epoxy likes to creep up into the surrounding scenery. That sometimes looks good, like wet dirt along a river, but in other cases, it doesn't look right. It is easy enough to add a little glue and additional dirt or ground foam. I also added some turf in other areas around the layout and glued in a few more trees as well.
The last thing to do was to add a layer of gloss medium on top of the epoxy. I managed to scratch the epoxy in places when touching up the scenery, and so that was easy to fix with a layer of gloss medium. Any time you have a water feature that is looking dull or gets scratched, that is an easy way to restore a shiny luster to the water feature.
So, there it is, a 2x3 foot N scale layout featuring steep mountain terrain, a waterfall and river, a mine scene, a bridge, a small train station, and plenty of trees. I like how this layout turned out and a key takeaway here is that if you get halfway done building the layout and don't like how it is turning out, then change it. This layout turned out much better than it would have had I continued building it as I originally planned. Usually, I don't know how a scene should look until I start building it, and this was a case where I had to keep working at it until it turned into both a realistic and an interesting scene to look at.
I hope you enjoyed this project, and be sure to watch the website and YouTube channel for some new projects I'll have out during the coming months.
Here are pictures of the finished layout along with a video of the layout construction.
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