Posted by: bgtwindad | July 13, 2011


  by BGTwinDad
, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Well, it’s been a little while since I’ve posted here, and that’s not a good thing.  To my two or three loyal readers, I apologize.  There’s actually been quite a bit going on in the background, including sending my Zephyr Xtra back to Digitrax for warranty repairs TWICE, a family vacation, a bunch of software writing, and believe it or not, some actual layout construction.

What better way to get the blog back to “active” status than to coin a new term:  “Terrafoaming” … rather silly perhaps, but it’s a mangling on “terraforming” – the (so far fictional) engineering process of shaping or forming a planet into a desired form – and the common (and near-exclusive on my layout) use of extruded polystyrene foam to build basic ground contours on a model layout.

In the photo above, you can see my latest efforts in this area.  Since I got the fascia installed (on 3 sides at least), I’ve begun building up the large hill on the right-hand end of the layout  The hill will feature a removable top to provide emergency and service access to the tracks beneath.  The two mainline curves penetrate the hill, with a double portal at the front side and a single portal for the inner loop at the back side.  The outer loop goes through the rear fascia to the rear staging area.  A turnout on the outer loop forms one leg of the new wye, which exits through its own tunnel portal.

Finally, the tail of the switchback in town also penetrates the hill.  This will be modeled as a steep, overgrown cut leading to an abandoned tunnel portal.  The story is that this was the old mainline, and was replaced by the newer one at some point, relegating the old line to its current use.

To build the hill, I first crafted a set of “pillars” which form the lower half of the hill and present a stable, level base for the removable hilltop.  These pillars fill in the spaces between the tunnel portals and form the lower face of the hillside.  In the back corner, between the fascia walls, a triangular pillar provides a base for the platform.

Atop the pillars goes a single solid sheet of foam that forms the base of the removable upper half of the hill.  This will be carved to blend in with the pillars.  The hilltop itself will be formed from expanding spray foam.

As of now, the pillars are (mostly) constructed, except for one area where I need to correct the hill shape, and except for the detail work around the tunnel portals.  Next up will be carving and shaping the hill into a believably natural shape, followed by paint, ground cover and trees.

One of the key parts of this project has been simply getting started.  For a long time, I was unsure how to tackle the hill, and literally afraid to do it the wrong way.  Seeing work progressing on some of my online friends’ layouts caused me to realize that all I had to do was get started, and it would happen, and that if I did it “wrong” I could just rip it out and change it.  This realization was very cathartic, I must say.

I’ll keep you posted, of course!




  1. Hi Twindad,
    I’ve been following along for a while now and have enjoyed watching the CH&FR take shape. Good to see some work getting done on the scenery.
    I have an idea for the mine branch if it’s not too late. If you remove the switches connecting the branchline with the inside staging track, straighten out the mine branch to run parallel to the staging yard, you can re-use the switches to add a run-around track so that the locomotive can run around the empties and lead the train back down to the mainline. Just a thought I had.
    I’ll be looking forward (as always) to your next update.

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