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Building a Deck Bridge

Someone asked me how I build my deck bridges and if I would post a how-to.  I am delighted to do that.

I use balsa wood slats that I buy at Michael's.  I either use a section of Luan for the face of the deck bridge, or in the case of the following pics, the subroadbed spline itself.

I found an old pic of the subroadbed spline that acted as the basis and provided the faces of the deck bridge.

This pic shows a piece of balsa that I cut to length for the uprights.  I use a pair of locking forceps to hold it.  I apply a thin bead of Super Glue on it's edge.  It attaches to the face instantly.

I use a piece of a paint stirring stick as my spacer gauge as I glue successive uprights.

I leave a small space from the top of the slat to the top of the deck facing for a long piece of balsa that I glue with the flat side against the tops of the uprights.  The bottom slat is done the same way.  A little patience is needed here to let the Super Glue bond while I bend the slat around as needed.

That done, I then glue another slat on top of the first slat.  This second slat is glued on with the narrow edge on top of the wide edge of the first slat.  It creates a rail to contain the gravel.  I don't glue down ballast as a rule because it's heavy and it won't really go anywhere.  Also, if I want to make a change to the track by - say, putting a track trip in later, that is easy to do if the ballast isn't glued down.  Gluing down ballast when using vintage steel track is problematic.  The water used in the gluing process rusts the track.

When it's all glued up, I go check my emails or something for a few minutes to let the glue finish curing.  Then I come back and spray wet-on-wet spray paints.  I use cheap flat black and Rustoleum primer.  I like the color combination.

And here is the finished facsimile of a deck bridge, all dry, ballasted and the track rails cleaned off.

Total build time - given that the face was already in place - about one hour.  You may notice a few imperfections on the deck facing.  That is no accident.  I distress the facing a little bit before I begin the process, if it isn't already so.  Since I don't bother with super-detailing rivets and such, I like the defects and feel that they add a "weathered" or "old" look to the bridge.  There may be some who will mention that a curved deck bridge is utterly preposterous in prototype.  The weight and vibration of the train would tear it apart.  And they would be right.  Deck bridges that span a curve are really made up of several or more sections of straight decks upon which curved track is laid, with pillar supports underneath.  This is a toy hirail layout.  I doubt my family will ever notice.  Shhhhhhhhhh!  Don't let on. lololololololololol

Test Video

I have uploaded a test video to YouTube.  It shows two trains running around most of my new layout.  It is short and to the point.  I didn't use a fancy camera and there is no long intro with intensive graphics.  Here is a link to it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYWJtyLdvTU

OBTW:  I added some livestock to Jonesy's Farm


I also squeezed in some storage for my meager roster.


I'll add one more slender set of shelves below the light switch.

I spent the past hour building a deck bridge.  One more to go.


Here is the last one to do, when I get all the dang Super Glue off my fingers!


Someone was sharp enough to point out to me that I don't have one scale mile of track on this RR, as I had previously thought.  I really have FIVE SCALE MILES OF TRACK!!!!!!!  So this RR really IS a branchline!  That's great news!

Some Maintenance Issues

I had to replace a 6' section of curved track today.  When I hand-laid it, I knew I would have to replace it someday and it turned out to be sooner, rather than later.  In general, I'm not real happy with my hand-spiked track using short, vintage rails.  It's proving to be unstable as to gauge and I think it will only get worse as the weather changes.  True, I could spike down the rails at every tie, but that is quite tedious.  All-in-all, I gotta say that the appearance of the hand-spiked track is not appreciably better than sectional track, once the sectional track is fortified with added wooden ties, spray-painted flat black to cammo the tie insulators and ballasted.  I don't think the appearance of the hand-laid track is better enough to justify all the effort it takes to lay it down.  So, I'll pick up a box of junk track at York and use that to slowly replace the hand-spiked track with re-bent sectional track.  An upgrade to Gargraves would be nice, but expensive; especially when you consider all the cork roadbed I would need!

I also went around and did a lot of paint touch-ups to my "oatmeal".  Now that it is fully cured, there have been cracks opened up that need colored in.  No big deal.  Actually, it was a good opportunity to add some color to areas that I thought were a little drab anyway.

Well, real RR's have on-going maintenance and so does my hirail RR!  I wonder what future maintenance projects will entail.  We'll find out soon enough!

My "Oatmeal" Recipes

I’ve mentioned many times how I build scenery by using ”oatmeal” that I make.  Several people have asked me what that is.  I thought I might as well publish it.  There are several variations.


  1. Paper-based blow-in insulation, water, Plaster of Paris, white glue.  The mix should be wet, but not dripping wet.
  2. Sawdust, water, Plaster of Paris, white glue.  This recipe will yield a sharper or more rugged terrain.
  3. A combination of 1 and 2 above.
  4. Same as 1, 2 or 3 above, but with ready-mix joint compound added to make it creamier.
I think you will be surprised at how much water it needs to make a good mix!  This recipe needs about a month to cure fully.  But I paint it and apply ground covers after a day.

I apply one of the above mixes over a hard-shell base.  It can be used to create texture by leaving it very rough, or it can be used to make very rough places smoother.  I think of it as a “poor-man’s Scultamold”.

When I want rock faces, I either stick plaster casts on the terrain with big globs of “oatmeal” or just make rough rock-like shapes out of the “oatmeal” itself as I am working to cover an area.

02/15/2011:  Sorry folks; not too much going on right now that shows.  I just got done either throwing away or selling some residual items left over from building this RR.  I don't believe in keeping anything around that I'm not actually using or have no plans to use.  Look at everyone else's train layout.  Tons of boxes and crap under the table and stuffed everywhere.  Not this guy.  The only thing on my York list this April is a linker Hudson in excellent or better shape.  I should visit some toy stores and doll-house miniature places to get some whimsical stuff for the RR.

Upgrading Electrical Pickup on My Steamers

I've mentioned a few times about upgrading the electrical pickup on my steamers.  Here is how I do it.


The first pic shows a truck with slider pick-up shoes.  This truck was harvested from a junker #293 steamer.  Otherwise, the sliders are available as repro items and if you have a truck with a post, or mount a post on a truck (I have done it, so it's possible), then you are in business.  Notice that I have also soldered a wire from the pick-up and taken it inside the tender to the other pick-up wires.  It probably is not needed, but I figure that everything I can do is a help.


This second pic shows diesel shoe boxes cemented in the truck.  To make an even more solid connection, I thinned the metal tabs down a little on the shoe boxes and drilled very small holes through the sheet-metal truck side frames.  Then I inserted the tabs through the holes and bent them over.  A dab of flat black paint makes them virtually invisible.  Next up will be to solder a wire from the shoe box to the inside of the tender.  Note that these diesel shoe boxes will not fit into the knuckle truck sintered side frames.

02/08/2011:  Just finishing up on the accessories, etc.  I installed a semaphore in case I want to run two trains.    I'm currently using two pressure track trips and it seems to be working reliably.  I figure that any vintage animation or illumination that I can add is a good thing to add interest - as long as it isn't too expensive.  I believe that I have that Semaphore located in a good position.  I think I will be able to stop a given train anywhere on the layout to do something and not have to worry about a collision.  I'll have to experiment with parking a train at various places to see what happens.  Hopefully, the other train will always get stuck at the Semaphore until I release the held train and it finds it's way to the Semaphore release trip.  I wired the Semaphore base post wire through an on/off switch so I can turn it off if I only want to run one train.  Anytime I wire up something to get activated with a track trip, I also wire it through an on/off switch so I can stop the madness whenever I want. lol 

Starting To Upgrade...

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am upgrading my steamer locos by removing the reverse units and hard-wiring them to run in forward only.  Works on this RR.
The slider shoes I've added are enhancing electrical pick-up nicely.  I'm further enhancing that by adding a wire to run from the slider shoe box to the pick-up wires inside the tender.  I'm not leaving anything to chance - electrically.
It is now becoming fun to stand in one spot and watch the trains recede away from me - towards a far corner of the large layout - sometimes disappearing briefly.  Nice.  Then they emerge and slowly start coming towards me, chuffing huge volumes of smoke all along the way.  Nice.  Now I'm thinking that it would be a good idea to sound a whistle in a far corner of the layout.  I have an activating button for that whistle in the far corner, but how hard would it be to wire a whistle button in at the other end of the layout.  Not too much.  I have the wire.  I have the technology.  We can make him stronger - faster.  Wait a minute.  Wasn't that the tagline from the Six Million Dollar Man?