A show stopper at a model train show doesn’t have to be big. Sometimes it can be very small, like Malcolm Anderson’s Big Trees narrow gauge layout.
A model railroader since the early '70s, Malcolm was a teenage member of the Vancouver Model Railroad Club in the top floor of the CN Station. Today he lives in Regina, after living in various parts of Canada.
Until about five years ago, he had a small HO scale layout that he took to shows. Then he was inspired to try an On30 layout.
Making a small narrow gauge layout fit Malcolm for a couple of reasons. First, he has always lived in smaller spaces, so he has never had a large layout.
Second, he has always been more interested in structures and scenery more that operations, so a small layout that features those things was a natural thing for him to do.
The layout is only 60 by 66 inches—he says many people can’t believe how small it is, considering all the detail it contains.
It’s made of six 18 by 30 inch modules made from 3/8th inch baltic birch cabinet grade plywood. The sub-roadbed is 1/2 inch plywood. The modules connect together with hinges with removable pins which ensures complete alignment every time.
The scenery is made of extruded Styrofoam to keep the weight down. There is minimal rock work; most of the layout is covered in forest undergrowth.
Bushes in the undergrowth are made from furnace filter material, pulled in half and painted flat black. Malcolm then sprays on adhesive and adds ground foam, along with twigs left over from tree making.
This, he says, provides a “flexible thick ground cover.”
The locomotives and rolling stock are made by Bachmann. “They are affordable and dependable,” he says, adding “my loco's have logged about 100 hours and are still going.”
Malcolm finds working in a larger scale easier on the eyes when detailing the layout; the small size of the modules makes for easy handling. “I can work on a module in front of the TV upstairs instead of being a basement troll,” he says.
As for the name? The layout has about 50 trees, between 80-100 scale feet high with the tallest one 200 scale feet.
Malcolm uses various mediums to make trees, but the most success comes from using 2 x 2 straight grained cedar boards. He cuts the wood to a rough conical shape on the band saw, then finishes them on a belt sander with 60 grit paper.
Next, he carves the trunk bark detail with a saw blade, using it like a scraper. Cut-offs from the cedar boards are used to add root detail to the base of the tree. The branches are made from caspia, which is used for floral displays.
When done, Malcolm stains the trunks with an india ink/water stain mix, then sprays the finished trees with dark brown acrylic paint.
After that, he uses spray glue to affix ground foam to the branches. When done, he uses artist spray fixative to make sure the trees don't shed too much.
Malcolm says it takes about five hours to make each tree, but he doesn’t mind—it takes his mind off work.
All but one of the structures are scratchbuilt. The station is all styrene and is patterned after Woodland Scenics HO scale kit. The general store is a much-modified Banta kit. Other buildings are made by using foam core covered with coffee stir sticks.
Malcolm has shown the Big Trees layout in Regina, Moose Jaw, Edmonton and Calgary.
People often ask him how the trees survive travelling from show to show; they do need occasional re-flocking and repair, he says, but “it is surprising how resilient they are.”
For Malcolm, making the portable display layout is a way to share his love for model railroading—and show off the possibilities of narrow gauge.
“The layout is designed as a show layout,” he says, with the two separate loops of track on two levels keeping viewers interested.
The vertical scenery makes it easier for tall and short people to view the layout, he says, and the trees make the viewer have to look into the layout to see the details and trains.
“It was a lot of fun building the layout and I keep adding and tweaking the scenes I time goes along,” he says.