Thursday, September 24, 2015

N scale Thompson River Canyon 6: Conclusion

Now for the fun part—painting the scenery!

But first, this note: Many modellers who use extruded Styrofoam for scenery cover it with plaster cloth or some kind of goop before proceeding to the final step.

I have never understood why they do that; painting directly on to the Styrofoam has always worked just fine for me.

Besides, with a portable layout like this, the goal was to keep it light—not add extra weight from plaster cloth or goop.

Choosing the Paint

Like I did with my HO layout, before starting to paint I checked out the mistake section of my local home renovation store. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose—I won this time. here was a litre of mis-tinted grey/beige paint for sale for a fraction of the regular price. I used this as a base paint.

I also bought some cheap acrylic paint at the dollar store: White, black, burnt umber, and brown.

Painting the Canyon Wall

My goal was to create a canyon that was mostly beige/grey, but not uniform in colour. Depending on what time of day a photo of the canyon was taken, or in exactly what area, the colours can vary—some photos make it look very light grey, others are more multi-hued. I decided to go for the latter.

Top view, showing what it looks like to have a
one-foot high canyon wall in N scale.

I started by putting on some of the base paint, then squirted on white, brown or black to add colour. 

My first attempts were too dark, so I went back and lightened them up. Fortunately, this kind of painting is very forgiving. Don’t like it? Do it again?

When the paint was wet, I sprinkled on a bit of green ground foam. At first, I added too much—there is very little vegetation in this part of the canyon. When it was dry I scraped some of it off. There may still be too much, though.

When the paint was dry, I dry-brushed on some white and light grey to highlight features in the canyon wall. I also added other highlights where I thought it could be helpful.

The view looking up.

At the left end, I added a number of Styrofoam “rocks” and “boulders.” (Those pieces I saved when shaping the wall.) I made this area mostly grey for contrast.

Overall, I think the effect is good, even if not exactly like the prototype. Best part is that if I want to change it, I can just start over again!

Painting and Ballasting the Track

After the canyon walls were painted, I painted the track. For me, this is possibly one of the more critical things any modeler can do to try to achieve some semblance of plausibility on a layout.

In my mind, nothing says “toy” louder than unpainted track. Visitors may not know much about scenery, trains or structures, but everyone knows that track isn’t silver.

I painted the track with a mixture of black and brown. Only one side is painted, since that is all you can see.

After the paint on the track was dry, I added ballast.

I used a mixture of grey, black (cinders) and brown for my ballast. I find that using a mix prevents the ballast from looking to uniform and tidy. In this case, I mixed three parts grey with one part black and one-half part brown.

I affixed the ballast with my usual method of “wet” water and diluted white glue.

After the track was painted and ballasted, I glued the sheds to the layout.

Painting the Water

For the river, I used a mix of Ceramcoat black green and deep river green. These paints are a bit more expensive, and available only at a craft store, but worth it to achieve the look of a realistic river.

I painted deep river green, which is lighter, along the shore, to suggest that it isn’t as deep, then painted black green out to the edges of the layout.

When done, I put on a coat of gloss medium to make the river look wet and shiny.

Again, depending on the time of day, and whether it is overcast or sunny, the colour of the river can vary. This seemed like a good choice for me. Plus, I already had those paints on hand from my HO layout!

Next . . . 

Next up, I will finish the other side of the layout. This will represent a part of the canyon where the walls are less steep and the ground more beige and sand colour. That will be my winter project.

Overview of the layout.

And there you have it: The Thompson River Canyon in N scale. It took me just over a month to build the layout and complete this scene. It's nothing special, and not especially elaborate. But I think it conveys the impression of the prototype that I am trying to make.

And it helps me to remember and honour my brother-in-law, Ken Epp—which I will do this weekend when the layout is unveiled at the annual Mega Train Show here in Winnipeg.

My brother-in-law, Ken Epp, at last years Mega Train
Show, a few weeks before he died.

Read the previous post about making the canyon walls.

To view all the posts in this series, click here: Thompson River Canyon. 


  1. The layout looks great ... an excellent tribute to your late brother in law.

  2. How small is this world. A good friend and myself built a display N Scale layout based on and called Thompson River Canyon back in early 2000. It was published in N Scale Railroading.
    Your canyon walls look very similar.

  3. Indeed! Your layout was one of my inspirations. It is featured on my blog here: It was also in Canadian Railway Modeller.

  4. As a Newbie, I am always searching online for articles that
    can benefit me. Thank you