Sunday, August 9, 2020

Battle of Hoth module

Another of my passions, apart from model railroading, is mounting and painting plastic kits. I especially like those old Star Wars plastic kits that were sold as merchandising at the same time that movies were released. I collect all MPC and AMT/ERTL kits sold during the eighties and nineties and when I feel I need a rest from trains, I use to take one of the pending boxes I have and I build the model.

I was in total lack of inspiration to decorate an end loop for my modular layout after I did the "Rice fields" and "Mine" modules, so I decided to make a break and mount the following kit about the Battle of Hoth:

When I opened the box I realized all figures were really small, they could match with our N scale train models. Searched in internet, and this is a 1:156 scale kit. So... why not to mount this diorama in my loop?

These are all the pieces in this kit, very easy to assemble as most of them are complete and you only need to cut them from the blister:

The most time consuming task was to paint each figure:

I was missing some important parts to be represented in the diorama, but thanks to and the designs made by other people I 3D printed the following pieces:

Tunnel portal and Echo base entrance: designed by my own

Then I started building the "Echo base" as a kind of box, including illumination, RGB leds which allow me to make some nice special effects, and the Millenium Falcon, X-Wing and a couple of Snow Speeders:

And started planning the disposition of all elements:

Mountains reliefs were created using cardboard strips and hot glue, and all covered with plaster cloth. To make the rock walls you can put plaster and, while it is still soft, press with a crumpled aluminum fold:

I wanted this module to be interactive and very visual, so I installed red micro leds in the tip of the AT-AT Walker heads and a green one in the tip of the Ion Cannon:

I also tried for the first time to simulate explosions, fire and smoke following this guide:

Basically you need filling/stuffing material, normally used for stuffing for soft toys. Craft shops have this, but I bought a pillow in a poundshop which was filled of this material. To shape these fibers I made first a structure with chicken-wire. After painting it with black, yellow, orange and red paint insert a tea candle light. These tea candles are available in ebay and aliexpress and they are very cheap. The final result surprised me:

With everything in place, I covered the whole layout with Woodland Scenics Flex Paste together with Soft Flake Snow. You can check this video demonstrating the application of these products:

I installed an Arduino UNO and connected all lights plus a sound shield to it, and programmed everything to reproduce short scenes of the Battle of Hoth when a train passes or you move closer your hand to the front of the module like "using the force". Sorry because this video was recorded when the module was not finished yet:

Here you have some photos of the finished module:

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Coal mine "炭鉱" module

Following the "Rice fields" module I did the Coal mine (炭鉱 in Japanese) module. This module is inspired in the old great Yûbari coal mine exploited by Mitsubishi Mining. Yûbari is nowadays a city in Sorachi prefecture, Hokkaidô. It started working in 1929, producing 900.000 tons of excellent coal during its best years, and after exploiting different zones around the river Yûbari finally closed in 1990 as it couldn't compete against low cost imported coal.

Mitsubishi Minami-Yubari Coal Mine Precipitator. Source:

Mitsubishi Oyubari coal mine postcard / 1940, issued by Mitsubishi Oyubari Mining Works


This decoration was planned for an end loop of the modular layout of 70cm x 105cm. I designed it to have a minimum curve radius of 282 mm to allow shinkansens and long trains to pass and having a small yard to park some locomotive. One of the tracks of the yard is also a programming track.

In the electronics of this module it was also included a loop controller to invert the current when a train is completely inside the loop track.

I used my BQ Witbox 3D printer to print for the first time some original details for this module, like track buffers and tunnel portals:

After laying the track I made the mountains volumes mounting a wooden platform and using cardbox strips. Then it was all covered with plaster casts and added some rocks created with plaster and the Woodland Scenic rock molds:

To blender the rocks with the environment I applied fresh plaster and pressed it with aluminium fold while it was still soft. Stones were painted with Woodland Scenics rock paints and following the "leopard spot" technique that you can check in Woodland's web page:

Next step was to paint with acrylics those places to be covered with earth and vegetation and cover with earth colour, gray and black grout (that type of mortar used to fill the space between floor tiles) each zone of the layout:

Tracks under the coal mine building are completely fake as the geometry didn't allow me to add switches for that, but it was also my intention to simulate an abandoned coal mine with abandoned tracks as it really happened with the Oyûbari line used to transport the coal by train.

I bought a flexible Z scale track and some Z scale coal wagons to simulate the mine carts. The main coal building was a Faller 222205 "old mine" kit:

Last step was to add some illumination and details here and there:

I hope you liked it!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Module "Rice Fields"

In the middle of 2016 I decided to stop building my ambitious L shaped layout and try to complete a small module which I called "Rice Fields".

Building a layout is an exhausting work, it lasts for years and you can never see it completed. Each phase is tiring long in time. I spent one year making the perfect plan for the space I had, trying to fit as much tracks as possible. Then I needed another year just for the woodwork. Same time just to lay tracks... and you are forced to finish a phase to be to enjoy the next one.

I was able to complete the module in a couple of months and a short time after I completely disassembled the layout to focus my time just on building modules. It is much more satisfying to complete a job in a short time and to be able to work repeatedly in the different type of works you realize in this hobby (woodwork, electricity, tracks, decoration, electronics, ...).

About this first module, I was inspired by a photo I took in 2015 when travelling by train through Ôu Main Line from Aomori to Hirosaki at this point:

I was very surprised to see a graveyard between the rice fields, so I tried to reproduce this rural ambient in the module. There were also magnificent views of Mount Iwaki behind the rice fields:

I started with a standard two track straight module:

After laying and ballasting the tracks I used a 1mm PVC foam sheet to make the slopes and relief of the rice fields and the places to fit some Tomix farm houses:

I covered everything with earth colour grout, that type of mortar used to fill the space between floor tiles. On top of the grout I added static grass, and painted the bottom of the flooded rice fields. Water was simulated with a two component resin, the same used in jewelry and easy to find in hobby stores.  

I wanted to add more detail with a small freight platform. To illuminate the shelter I used a cooper strip and soldered SMD warm white leds:

Some more illumination, like street lamps:

There was no Toori in the original photo, but I wanted to try the possibilities of a 3D printer and I liked it:

And finally just small details as farmers, some tractors and different crops:

Here you can see the final result using one of my photos as backdrop: