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Repairs and upgrades on the In-ko-pah Railroad

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  • Repairs and upgrades on the In-ko-pah Railroad

    January of this year was the fifth "birthday" of the In-ko-pah Railroad. I broke ground right around New Year's in 2005. After five years of construction, modeling, and fun, this year has been the time to do some repairs, maintenance and a few upgrades. (I've posted a couple of these previously -- for instance, the paved road in Dos Manos and the completed bakery.) Here's a look at some of these projects, in roughly chronological order...

    First off, in January I tried an experiment to improve the appearance of the concrete stairs at each end of the layout. When originally built, I used crumpled foil sprayed with Pam to apply colored mortar to the stairs, giving them a stone-like texture:

    But I wasn't very happy with the color. So this year I brought a couple small stones to Home Depot and had some paint made to match. Then I used these paints, plus mixing in a few other shades as needed, to make the steps blend in better with the real rocks. So far I've only done the steps at the west end. Here's how they look now:

    Last year I completed a major project to rebuild parts of the mountains on the eastern end of the layout, making them considerably taller in the process. But there were still a few places that needed work -- old sections with too many gaps showing between the rocks. I filled these in with mortar, and in some cases, thin stones. Then I went over the whole eastern half of the mountains and added "talus" made of colored mortar mixed with small rocks and dirt. Here's an example:

    With the talus in place, the next step will be to install some plants -- so I spent a lot of time in April making hundreds of artificial, scale shrubs and cacti. I made several types of generic "sagebrush", some flowering brittlebush, a lot of cholla and barrel cacti, some tediously hand-sculpted beavertail cacti, and dozens of ocotillos. But I'm holding off on installing them until I get some other projects finished.

    The lower corner of the west end of the layout was built partially on fill, and has gradually settled a little bit. This caused a large crack across the middle of the mountain, and broke up the mortar holding some of the rocks together on the side of the mountain. Then rainwater running down into the crack washed out some of the soil from behind the rocks.

    First I worked on the side of the mountain, pulling out rocks that had come loose, then cementing them back in place. I forced mortar into the remaining gaps and inserted thin stones as needed. In some places I used a crude funnel to pour liquid mortar into the spaces behind the rocks. Then I went to work on the large crack across the middle of the mountain. I removed bits of rock and dirt, then poured thin mortar into the crack. Small stones were then shoved into the crack to restore the mountain's appearance.

    There is a long trestle across the front of that mountain, and some of the bents shifted downward along with the mountain, giving the track a slight rollercoaster effect. I unscrewed the stringers from the displaced bents to restore the smooth grade. I still need to insert some shims between the stringers and the tops of the bents.

    Along the bottom of that same mountain, there were some areas of rock that was mostly dry-stacked. Here's one example:

    It was stable but I didn't like the appearance, so worked on that for a while, filling the gaps with mortar and thin rocks. It looks much better now, and will probably hold up a lot better too:

    The vast majority of plants on my layout are artificial, but I do have a handful of live plants. One of these had grown enough that it forced the rocks apart, causing one slab to fall over onto the tracks. I transplanted it to another location off the layout, repaired the damage, and will eventually add scale plants in its place.

    Here's another area where I made some major changes. Originally the base of the cliff here was farther back from the tracks and consisted mostly of random, loose rocks. I built up and refined it, and then added a ridge of rock between the tracks. I don't have a "before" photo, but this definitely looks a lot better now:

    Parts of that same cliff, near the track coming out of the tunnel, also needed some work. This area was one of my first attempts at simulating a solid, sheer stone face, and I was never happy with it. It looked too disjointed and had large gaps between the stones:

    I filled in the gaps, added some stone, and got it to look more presentable:

    I did the same thing around this tunnel, and also rounded the top of the tunnel opening:

    The biggest project so far this year has been to increase the height of the big mountains on the western half of the layout. I did a little of this last year but wanted to go much further with it. Here's what it looked like at the end of last year's project:

    And here's how it looks now. The top of the cliff is up to two feet higher now:

    Another "before" shot, looking east from the west end:

    And "after":

    Here's a view from the top of the hill, looking west, prior to increasing the height of the mountains:

    And here's how it looks now. I still need to do some work to the backside:

    One reason I wanted to make the mountains so much taller is to provide a little "wall" along the top of the hill. As it was before, I was worried that I or someone else, might take a misstep and go over the cliff.

    I'm planning to level out the path, add some gravel, and plant flowers along the fence. And maybe next year, I'll raise the top of the mountains to match it, along the eastern half of the layout.

    Another project, which is ongoing, has been to improve the interior of the tunnels by adding more texturing. Some of this won't be visible from outside but will look better when I do onboard videos. Also, there are two tunnels in the center of the layout that have large openings between them, for access. These unrealistic openings were visible even from outside the tunnels. I made removable, textured plugs to fill these openings. You can see pics and read about it here:

    I still have a few other maintenance projects lined up... For instance, the crane on the Cliffside Mine has faded significantly, so I need to repaint it with better quality paints. I also need to repair the spout and counterweights on my water tower, and the handrails of my first ore bin. And of course, I need to get all those new miniature plants installed.

    One last thing... today I experimented with "stitch" function on my digital camera, and put together a panoramic view of the layout:

    Here's a link to the full-sized image. It's a large file, about 5.9mb:

    (Edit: I can't get the link to the file working, so just go to the link below and download it from there if you want to see it.)

    I hope I haven't bored anyone too much with all this stuff! If anyone's interested, there's a few more pics and details on my website:


  • #2
    Here's a couple pics taken while I was building the mountaintop extension, to give you a sense of just how big these mountains are and how many rocks I had to haul and cement into place.

    It would have been complicated to remove the mine structures, so I left them in place and just had to be extra careful working around them.


    • #3

      I want to comment on your railroad but seeing these photos just leaves me speechless,

      a fantastic piece of work !!!!



      • #4
        Ray, those are dome inpressive mountains and a great railroad. Always moving forward and inproving as we go is the way of model railroading.



        • #5

          I'm a little speechless too ... and most certainly impressed! Always enjoy your projects ... from the tiny little details in your interiors to the massive mountain building.


          Chambers Gas & Oil -- structure build

          Quality craftsmanship with a sense of humor! []


          • #6

            Those are impressive mountains I was shocked when I saw the actual height.



            • #7
              That is one fine layout Ray.

              Must be one tough workout hauling those rocks to the top and then still having to balance.

              Pictures like these will never bore us.


              • #8
                Boy, this is a lot of fun to read about! Looks great (and I bet you're having a blast building it.)

                Modeling 1890s (because the voices in my head told me to)


                • #9
                  I like what you did to the stairs. I fear Shela is hiding up there someplace. I expect to see Golom leading Frodo and Sam up those stairs.

                  Yes, I'm kidding but I really do like the stairs.
                  It's only make-believe


                  • #10
                    Ray, I was impressed with the first set of photos as I really enjoy outdoor layouts and yours is certainly one of the nicest, but when I got to the second set of photos, showing you at the top of the mountain, my jaw dropped! Good lord man, that mountain is HUGE! How tall is that? That must have been some serious work, looking at the number of stones you had to stack up to get to that height. It looks awesome!


                    • #11
                      Thanks! There are times when even I am amazed by the sheer size of it and the massive quantities of stone. Not to mention all the concrete blocks which help support much of the stone, and all the mortar. It's no wonder I had to replace the springs and shocks in my SUV!

                      From the base of the mountains along the front of the layout, to the highest peak at the rear of the layout, is 14-15 feet. Our patio is another three feet below the layout so when you look up at it from the patio it's really impressive.

                      The layout fits in an area measuring 50 feet wide by about 24 feet deep. That includes the steps at each end, and a narrow path in front of the layout.