Building an outdoor model railway – the Mendocino Coast Model Railway & Historical Society way


We took a lot of pictures during the construction process. Use the link on the left, or click here to see these photos

There aren’t many of us (14 at the last count).. we are mostly geriatric … we ain’t got much money and we want to have a gigantic railway .. how?

Louis Hough, our bard has suggested that any railway we build should be called the BBHP (Begged, Borrowed, Half-Price). We certainly learned to re-cycle as you will see.

Our club objective was to re-create a logging railway that might have run in the Redwood Empire somewhere around 1925 through 1940 when steam was still king. The G Scale railway you’ll see in the pictures and movies was a little over 120 feet of track. G scale is approx 1:24 or half inch is a foot in the real world. 100 feet translated to the real world is about 2400 feet/800 yards. To re-create the California Western Railroad’s Skunk (CWR) ‘s 34 mile trip from Fort Bragg to Willits you’d need one and a half miles of G Scale track and an acre of land. The bottom line is that you need a lot of compromises. We could not/cannot ”do it all“ so we chose ”scenes“ from the real world and connected them by track.

Most garden railroads are on the ground. We are mostly old and gravity is much stronger when you are old – once on the ground it is VERY hard to get up. So we decided to raise our railway. When we did we realized that in fact you look at the world straight on and don’t look down – which means we think our railroad looks more realistic ‘cos you are looking at it like you see the world.

For the show we selected scenes from our master layout plan and fitted them together to make a cohesive whole. The bases to the sections were constructed from pallets we obtained for free from the local Brewery by (painfully) sawing them up. The tops of the sections consisted of 2 by 4’s (bought) topped with sheets of CSX (bought). The tops are coated with a thick coat of mis-tint we obtained from Norvells (our local paint store) which sealed the CSX – very necessary as we are literally on the sea coast.

One of our scenes is an imaginary gorge located down near Elk where the logging trains of the L.E. White Lumber Company ran across two Howe truss type bridges that spanned a gorge. To create this (and all the other) diorama/scene(s) the approximate contours of the gorge were created using chunks of styrofoam cemented together in tiers. This “roughing-in” provides the general shape of the bottom and the sides. The foam is not painted since it will soon be protected by concrete. Window screening (left over bits from North Coast Glass) is attached to the foam to further refine the contours. Roofing nails are used to hold the screening in place.

Concrete is mixed in small amounts, about one quart at a time: the recipe is 1/3 Portland cement, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 fine sand. About a half inch, or a bit more, is sufficient to cover the screening. It is applied by hand and spread about to simulate the rocks and earth. Using small amounts allows more time to create the desired effects. Haste is eliminated since each batch of concrete combines readily with that already applied. The concrete can be further sculpted and patched (artists call this “pointing”) as it cures. Once completely cured, the concrete is covered by a coat of Gesso (bought), to seal the surface. Acrylic paint is applied in various hues to simulate earth, rock and even vegetation like moss and lichen. With concrete scenery we can even have water in the creeks. If the concrete chips or breaks it can be easily patched with more concrete.

The bridges and tunnel are all made from old growth redwood rescued from an old garage door. To the extent possible stainless steel bolts are used in their construction. The other structures and models have been scratch built by members from wood and styrene. The trees are pieces of tree limbs topped by artificial Christmas trees acquired in Walmart’s after Christmas sale. The track is bought (mostly second-hand). The rolling stock and locos belong to the members. The town is made from plywood scraps from the Floor Store faced with photos taken by one of our members, John Wylder.

The railway you see in the pictures took about 1,000 hours and (exclusive of rolling stock) cost about $1,200.