December 28, 2001
Now that we had laid the track sections that would be inside the mountain we can start building the mountain and other landscape features.

The first items we installed were the profile boards.  These thick pieces of foam go around the outside edges of the base and, when cut, form the profile for the mountain and other land features.  The pieces are attached to the base with a low temp glue gun.  The tall pieces that form the mountain profile are held together and reinforced with interlocking foam pieces that are hot glued in place.  The profile boards seemed rather flimsy when we first started to install them but after they are all up and hot glued they're surprisingly sturdy.

Next, we cut and fashioned the pieces that would form the tunnel walls and the tunnel portals.  The tunnel walls are cut out of 1/4" thick foam and the tunnel portals out of 1/2" thick foam pieces.  The tunnel portals have to be cut fairly exact, but the kit includes patterns for the portals, so it's fairly easy.  There are no patterns for the tunnel walls but they are simple rectangles and the dimensions are given in the instructions.  The tunnels walls are a little tricky to install because they curve to match the curve of the track.  The hot glue alone won't hold them to the curve, so we used Elmer's white glue to glue them to the sides of the track foundation and held them in place with lots of T pins until the glue dried (overnight).  

That's about it for today.  Tomorrow we will hopefully finish up the foam work and move on to creating the mountain and landscape features.  We are looking forward to completing the foam so we don't have so much clean-up work to do after we quit for the night.  I don't know that I mentioned it before, but I was sleeping on the couch hide-a-bed that's in the same room as our layout.  So, each day, after we finished working, we had to clean up the room so I could open up the couch when it was time for bed.

December 29, 2001
Now that we had the profile boards glued in place, it was time to cut the boards to form the profile of the mountain and surrounding landscape.  The kit comes with full-scale templates of the profile, so layout was simple - just cut out the templates, pin them around the perimeter of the boards, and trace the profile onto the boards with a marker.  The kit comes with a grease pencil for marking the foam, but we found a Sharpie® permanent marker works better.

To form the profile you simple cut the boards along the profile line.  The kit recommends using a "foam cutter" for this job.  I'll admit a foam cutter would probably be faster and it would have definitely been less messy, but we didnt' want to spend $35.00 for a tool we would likely only use once.  So, we opted to cut out the profile with a saw.  

We first tried using a keyhole saw with a metal cutting blade, but it was difficult to cut the tight curves in the profile and the teeth weren't really fine enough to smoothly cut the foam.  We decided we needed a coping saw to do this job.  Coping saws have very fine toothed blades and are able to cut very tight corners.  Besides, they cost under $10.00 and it's a tool that would be useful on other future projects.   (In short, it was a good excuse to buy a new tool).  We went to the local hardware store and bought one.  It worked great (although it's still messy) and in no time we had the profile cut out.

Next, we cut out pieces of 1/4" foam to use as roofs on the tunnels.  When the roof pieces are installed, the track section inside the tunnels are practical in-  accessible, so we hoped we had done a good job of laying the track in the tunnels.   The only foam left to install were the pieces that would provide the 2 level areas where buildings would be located.  The plans don't provide a lot of detail on building these level areas, but after a little trial-and-error, we soon had the 2 areas hot-glued in place.   We were now finished with all of the foam work.  

Before we could start adding the landscape features we needed to run wiring for the track.  In our rush to get the mountain built, we almost forgot about the wiring.  We could have done it latter, but now is the perfect time because we can run the wire between the foam pieces on the top of the table where they will be out of the way and hidden.  We used some 18 gauge solid copper wire that I have had for years.  I found the partial spool of wire (over 100') in a field that had been recently worked over by an oil company seismograph crew.  I assume they either lost it or threw it away.  Anyway, it was perfect for this job.  We ran a set of wires to two different sections of the track, one to the section of track at the front of the layout and to the section of track at the back of the layout.  This should provide plenty of juice for this small layout.  We then spliced the two sets of wires together so that we only had one pair of wires to hook to the power supply.  We drilled a hole through the bottom of the table near the front left hand corner and ran this pair of wires through the hole and left about 2' of wire hanging out of the hole.  We would cut of the excess after we hooked up the power supply.

Now we can actually start building the mountain and other landscape features.  The layout kit calls for using crumpled newspaper to make the foundation for the mountain and other landscape features.   This is really easy to do and it is one of the jobs that is well suited for an 8 year old.  There's really no way to do it wrong.  Just loosely crumple up sheets of newspaper and stack them around until you like the look.  We used the Grand Island Independent, but I suppose the New York Times would work in a pinch.  The only time you have to be concerned about how the paper is arranged is if you want to form a mountain stream.  But even this can be done after all the paper is in place and you start applying the plaster cloth.

The final step in mountain building is to apply the plaster cloth over the entire layout.  Before we began laying the plaster cloth I must admit that we were a little concerned about the strength of the newspaper foundation.  The paper is is very loosely waded and just kind of lays in place - not packed solidly.  But that's how the instructions said to do it, so we trusted it would work.  It was getting late and we were getting tire, so we decided to postpone applying the plaster cloth until tomorrow.

December 30, 2001
Today we turned what looked like a haphazard pile foam and newspaper into a very realistic looking mountain layout.  The secret to this trans-  formation is the  application of plaster cloth over the entire layout.  Applying the plaster cloth is fairly easy but somewhat messy.  Also, you can only work with strips about 1' long, so it goes kind of slow.   The cloth is so limber after you soak it in water that anything over about 1' long is near impossible to work with.  The kit comes with a very generous supply of plaster cloth, so we overlapped each piece quite a bit.   The general procedure is: soak a piece in water, loosely lay it over the paper, then smooth it out and spread the plaster with your fingers letting the cloth drape into the various nooks and crannies created by the paper wads.  At first we tried to smooth out the folds and creases in the cloth, but soon discovered that these irregularities actually made it look more like real rock formations.  Once we stopped trying to be so careful and meticulous, the process went a lot faster and the results looked much better.

Like I said, once we got the hang of it, laying the plaster cloth went much faster.  By faster, I mean faster than when we first started.  I  don't mean it went fast.  In fact it took us all day.  Next is laying the rest of the track and adding the scenery.  We'll describe that in the next episode.

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