Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Moments of Indecision, or a change of basics?

 The three front modules of Hoskins sit in the garage staring at me every time I go in there, which is fairly often, certainly at least daily. There is something bothering me, at first I thought it was the alignment of the shop bought points that had me wondering if I should have hand laid the points? Yes, that  has really troubled me, but that’s not it. 

The centre module sat on its back, to save space. I picked it up and moved it. A little heavy, a lot actually. Then there’s the landforms, all hollow, more than I intended. Living in Brisbane the roaches are vicious, and they have taken to eating the landform from the inside out as it is a paper based product.

In early 2022  I’d attended a railway show giving a demonstration on landscaping as part of the NMRA stand. The basis of the work being a foam base that I’d bought from Bunnings and shaped then skinned with the plaster/paper mix I’ve enjoyed working with for ages.

The A-ha! moment came when one was compared with the other. The lightweight foam without holes, and the overly heavy pine frame module with the shell of sculptamold like Swiss cheese on the top. There has to be a better way!

The foam base is solid and easily worked, but there still needs to be a framework that it sits within so that each section can be joined together. Lightweight modules then with foam inserts for the landscape, and even the track laying, maybe. The need to investigate and explore what others are doing is my way forward from here. 

There are few shows to attend these days in Brisbane. It seems the dreaded Covid has had a knock on effect on our hobby. I’m not sure how to express this, maybe just to say that the stuffing has been knocked out of our enthusiasm level. An example of that would be the number of new layouts that make up the shows still going ahead, not that many. It is a conversation that has gone round in circles for years now, and I don’t want to start another circular discussion here, so I’ll stop.

So then what am I saying? Well I think what I shall do is create a foam version of the three modules, at least to the stage of laying track, and investigate where I go from there.

The blue foam that Bunnings is now selling is much better than the green stuff they’ve had up until recently. It’s sold in pieces of 1200x600mm in two thicknesses. The convenience of having it locally is huge, rather than having to order it in bulk from the supplier.

This re start may have to roll back to original plan and see if anything needs to change. My first thought is to re assess the track plan. There have been many discussions go on expressing changes or improvements, so this may be the opportunity. My first thought is that maybe I’m trying to squeeze too much in to an area not really large enough. Do I need to keep to three front modules or, dare i say it, should it be four?

Let’s finish today hoping you find away to reignite your passion in our hobby for yourself and those around you.

Get to the modelling bench!




  1. Geoff,
    I've been using styrofoam and, more recently, the Bunnings foamboard on top of a frame of 70*19 pine frames on Philip's Creek for over 20 years. This arrangement is extremely light compared to traditional techniques has stood the test of time and numerous moves.

    The frames are 600mm wide although the length varies slightly. Originally, I standardised on a 1800mm length but this has been compromised over time. There are intermediate supports every 300mm of length. Track is laid on top of the foamboard using an underlay of cork strips glued to the foamboard. This arrangement allows you to cut depressions and creeks without any compromise but modelling the Grand Canyon might require some extra planning. Another advantage is that it seems to be very inert in extremes of temperature.

    I have found that the Bunnings foamboard to be a great improvement over styrofoam. It can be cut easily with a hacksaw or, as I frequently do, with a bandsaw. I have found it is a bit more difficult to cut with a long knife blade but rasps etc work well. As always, a good vacuum cleaner is an essential asset.

    There are a few minor downsides mainly related to installing electrical connections and wire through the foam. In the lastest modules of Philip's Creek, I have been chasing wires to the edge of the baseboard and then routing them as required. Potentially a facia board may cover this. Also, keep minerals-based paints and solvents away from the foamboard although I did manage to spray track with a Rust-oleum paint recently with any significant adverse effects on the surrounding foam.

    Good luck

  2. Thanks Phil, good to hear that it’s been successfully used for such a long time. Learning from others experiences makes our own journey so much easier, faster, and with fewer mistakes, so thank you for sharing, Geoff.