This article is the first in a series written by Tom Oxnard chronicling his project to build the town of Ashland on his Boston and Maine layout.  Read along as Tom discusses his thought processes and construction techniques as he raises Ashland off the plywood benchwork.

November 2014

Since my Open House after the Fall Seacoast Division NMRA meeting on Oct 18, I have been reworking the town of Ashland on the shelf in the first room in my layout area, in fact I am creating a town where there was no room before !  Here is the process that I am going through to build the town.

The shelf is only 18 inches deep and only had the train station and the freight house (click here to read the story behind building these structures).  I wanted to add the beautiful old grain elevator that is hidden behind a growth of trees in the middle of Center Ossipee.  Last year Doug Hartwell and I went exploring and took several pictures... that got me started on redesigning the shelf and town.  That was my primary objective, and I have an idea of the town I want to create, but no details worked out.

This article is the second in a series written by Tom Oxnard chronicling his project to build the town of Ashland on his Boston and Maine layout.  Read along as Tom discusses his thought processes and construction techniques as he raises Ashland off the plywood benchwork.

December 2014

This month I have been working on the landforms and the backdrop. I have raised the street level another ¼ inch behind the train station and moved the station 1 inch to the left to accommodate the curve in the road. I raised the road to the backdrop another ¼ inch as well.

I went out looking for a scene to photograph that had clapboard buildings in a town with a slight rise, and was able to find a perfect scene in the next town from me, Epping, NH. I took about 20 pictures from different angles and chose the one you see in the picture. The angle of the buildings and road is important to you. If your buildings are close to 90 degrees to you, they will not recede into the backdrop, but the building eves will be more horizontal. If you take the picture from a more acute angle, the buildings will recede faster, but the eaves will drop sharply to the horizon, and may look less natural. My picture seems to be about 45 degrees. The church is slightly enlarged in this picture (same photo but church enlarged). I printed the backdrop pictures on Staples Card Stock 65lb paper. I then mounted it on to mat board and painted the roofs gray, to hide some of the electric and telephone wires. I still have to blend the road into the backdrop.

Next I built an HC's Mercantile background kit from Laser-Art. I altered the kit by removing the large front gable. The model sits on an angle for some interest. The important point is that the roof ridge needs to be horizontal, so the angle to the roof can only be in the backside roof, which you don't see.  The building to the left is scratch built. With the gable end facing out there is no concern of the visual effect of an angled roof. I will put trees between the buildings to hide the cut-off look.


Next I moved to the left end of the shelf and built a slope behind the freighthouse, with Styrofoam. This allowed me to raise the backdrop pictures from LARC Products by 1 inch. This backdrop is a combination of 4 different photos. I have built up the space between the freight house and the station with 1 inch of Styrofoam on ¼ inch of foamcore board. That will be shaped as the area gets developed.

This article is the third in a series written by Tom Oxnard chronicling his project to build the town of Ashland on his Boston and Maine layout.  Read along as Tom discusses his thought processes and construction techniques as he raises Ashland off the plywood benchwork.

January 2015

During the 3rd week of this project I worked on some of the scenery to have it presentable for the Tour de Chooch. I took another picture that will be placed across the street from the church on the backdrop. This obviously is on a very different angle; directly from the side. I found a nice white building in Exeter that was visually open with no trees obstructing the view of it. Unfortunately there was a row of cars parked there. After printing the correct size and mounting it on matte board I painted over the cars and sprinkled on some light grass to simulate bushes and the placed bushes made with polyfiber in front of the house.


I placed the stone wall (random cut, urethane by Scenic Express) behind the station. I then painted the streets with a mix of black and tan latex paint. I dry brushed some of this paint onto foreground part of the backdrop street to blend the transition. I like to use spackling for the roads because it simulates the variations and roughness of the asphalt. I then painted all the borders brown and sprinkled on dirt and ground foam. I wanted to get some elevation rise behind the station to the town. Half of that is with the stone wall, half is with the ground slope created with the spackle.


Next I placed wood posts along the road way, some stained and some painted white. These are 3/32 inch dowel. I start a hole with an awl, some times enlarge it with a screw starter, dip the tip with white glue, push the long dowel into the hole, and cut it to the right height with a rail cutter. The sidewalks are styrene scraps, about .070 inches. I placed bushes between the buildings. They are made from black polyfiber, sprayed with hairspray, and covered with green grass.


Around the freight house I have covered the ground with dirt, grass, weeds, and bushes. The tracks have finally been placed. I am building up the land in the middle for future buildings with Styrofoam and spackle. Next I scratch built a typical factory business behind the freight house. It is a half building, built on the same random cut stone wall material. The wall is made of urethane and easy to cut to whatever size is needed. It is glued onto the Styrofoam with Liquid Nails. This is a fairly simple building that I built using several different window sizes that were left over from past projects.



To view the first two installments of this series, please click on the links above on the left side, under the "How To Articles" heading.

This article is the last in a series written by Tom Oxnard chronicling his project to build the town of Ashland on his Boston and Maine layout. Read along as Tom discusses his thought processes and construction techniques as he raises Ashland off the plywood benchwork. Thanks Tom for a great series !

February 2015

This past month I finished contouring the landscape, roads, and hill with Styrofoam and Spackle. I sand it fairly smooth but still like to retain some potholes and imperfections. I painted the roads with a mix of black and tan. I finished placing a variety of guard rails along the road and down the hill to the freight house and put more sidewalks in the town.

In the area between the station and the freight house I scratchbuilt two small buildings: a larger storage shed with vertical boards and battens (1/16th inch sheets from NESL), and a smaller yard office with coal bin (from Tichy) and stove. With those in place I was able to cover the terrain with brown paint, dirt, mixed coarse turf, and some sand.

I created stairs down to the station with a variety of plaster stairs from my "left over" box, and some other plaster stair-size pieces. You can easily use styrene. I cut pieces of the urethane Scenic Express "random stonewall" to fit around the stairs and glued them in place with Liquid Nails. All the stonewalls get dry-brushed with a little SP Lettering Gray, some Concrete, and a little Earth, and then weathered with an India ink wash. The stairs rise behind the station 1 3/8 inch from the parking lot to the road through town.

I finally built the corner building with a first floor storefront from Smalltown USA (part 699-3), and a scratchbuilt upper story. The angled buildings seem to give more of an illusion of depth. I added interior detail to this corner cafe because of its prominent location and large windows, including rug (pictures from an advertisement), tables, counter, diners, and waitresses. In Exeter we have Gerry's Variety and Trackside Cafe in the old train station. I took pictures of those signs at 3 different distance settings and printed the appropriate size to fit into the upper windows of the storefront.

I finished adding 3 dormers and a cupola to the Ashland Furniture Co., along with scenery around the foundation. It is 1 ¼ inch deep. I next built 2 town buildings with other Smalltown USA (parts 699-1 and 699-2). These were modeled after 2 buildings in downtown Exeter and were built fairly quickly because they were half buildings. Each has different corbels that make them interesting, and are 1 inch deep. The interiors were detailed with store pictures and people. I placed trees (Scenic Express Supertrees) and shrubs between the stores.


The road then curves out of town to the left. I wanted pictures showing this and tried a variety of pictures from a commercial CD. None seemed to be right, so I went out with the camera again and took several pictures from the side (about 30-45 degrees). I combined 2 pictures with stores, house and church. One picture had a car in front of the store, so I painted over it, dusted it with burnt grass, and placed a small bush in front of that. I blended the road into the picture with Spackle and paint. The sidewalks are made from styrene and are narrow ("forced perspective"). I placed 2 telephone poles with Berkshire Jct "E-Z Line" as wire coming out of the electric wires of the picture.

When taking a picture of a row of buildings, it is important to have the walls and building corners vertical. Sometimes the buildings on the left may lean inward and the buildings on the right may lean inward. If that happens you can take pictures of each building separately, or take the one picture, cut out each building, straighten them to vertical and splice them together. You can also use Photoshop.

I finally ballasted the track. This is the part I least enjoy. I added Wood Grade Crossings from Blair Line, and built the road using styrene. I added a thin coating of Spackle to the top of the styrene for a more realistic surface. Lastly I placed some white wood posts along the RR station parking lot. I still have to add some more details like telephone poles and lines, store signs, street lines, signs on the grain elevator, and cars.

It's been fun to try to squeeze this much into a 10 inch deep space. The width of the space helps it be more realistic.

Processes I use in creating a scene:

  • Make a footprint and diagram of the area I want to model.
  • Arrange the scene where the buildings will be, starting with your major structures, and where the roads will be.
  • Incorporate land rising, angled buildings, and layers of objects from front, middle to back for added interest.
  • Build cardboard mockups of the buildings I want, either to buy as kits or scratchbuild.
  • Creating backdrop pictures is easier because of digital cameras, computers, and printers.

To view the first two installments of this series, please click on the links above on the left side, under the "How To Articles" heading.

I have modeled the Boston and Maine RR for a long time, but in name only. It is a freelanced tour of New England from Boston north to the White mountains of New Hampshire. Over the recent years I have enjoyed gradually adding some prototypical structures and have named several of my industries for actual businesses that were serviced by the B&M. You can get to the B&MRR Historical Society website and find that list of names.

This past year I expanded the northern end of my railroad into a classification yard along an 18 inch shelf and wanted to add some background structures and businesses there. I looked through my B&M books to find the right station and freight house that were typical of upstate New Hampshire. There were many good examples, but I could not see enough detail from the pictures, and it was hard to get the feel for the size and scale of the structures. And most of these were black and white photos with no indication of the colors that were used.

In the fall of 2012 Doug Hartwell and I took a road trip to see a few remaining railroad buildings in the center of New Hampshire. One of our stops was at a beautifully restored Ashland station and freight house near the foot of the White Mountains. We took several pictures of the buildings, and these were enough to make me want to scratch build them.

When you want to build a real life structure, it is important to gather as much data as you can while you are on site (or obviously measurements from a document). You want to take lots of pictures from all angles possible. Then take more pictures close up. You can scale the building with "story poles" (poles marked every one foot); you can measure with a tape and record it in a notebook; you can have a person of known height stand next to the building; you can measure the width of one clapboard and then count all the clapboards on the wall; and you can measure the size of a window or door. Unfortunately we did none of these things except take pictures, and one has Doug standing nearby but not very close.

Before I started the construction project I estimated from the pictures that the doors and windows were about 7 ½ feet tall. I bought some Tichy windows that looked to be the right size and shape. These were large 6/6 double hung windows (44" x 90") on the sides and ends of the station, and similar height 4/4 double hung windows in the center. I also bought the appropriate panel doors. Once I knew the dimensions of these Tichy windows that I was going to use, I was able to draft a drawing of the building on graph paper to the same scale, making front and side views. I also knew the size of similar structures on my layout.

Drawing of Station Building

This is where you have some artistic license. You can scale your building larger or smaller whether it is in the foreground or background, depending on your needs. I am more concerned about getting the overall proportions correct, and less concerned with getting the exact dimensions correct. Lengthening or shortening a building may still keep it looking prototypical. Of course by adding or removing a whole story, you may lose the accuracy that you are wanting, but you may still make an interesting building. Once you have your drafted plans, the construction of the station is straight forward. Obviously a sharp hobby knife and an accurate scale ruler are important.

The details of the building are what make it more unique. Study your pictures carefully and you can then make: the angled roof supports; all the trim boards; the shingled center gable end with artistic detail; the signals and pole with ladder and supports; the chimney; the lights; the signs; and the color scheme. Getting the appropriate colors on a field trip or from pictures is a huge achievement. In addition you may get to see and record some natural weathering.

The freight house is next door. It has different windows, but otherwise the process is the same. I started my architectural drawing with my Tichy windows, then freight doors, panel door, and the appropriate spacing and proportion. Here the standard height freight platform helps you with dimensions, and I'm sure you have other platforms on your layouts that are freight car height.

Some people have told me that modeling reality is easier than freelance because you have all the details in front of you, and you don't have to struggle with something imaginary. And if you see it in a picture, you can usually model it. Scratch building is an important skill to learn, especially if you want to pursue your NMRA Achievement Program Certificates. You have to use this skill in Structures, Cars, Prototype, and Civil Engineering. So get out there, take some pictures, and try building interesting and unique structures for your layout. You don't have to use a tape measure, and it doesn't have to be an exact replica, but it may become something that fits just perfectly.



  Left Side of Station (the Prototype is on the left, the Model is on the right)
Right Side of Station (the Prototype is on the left, the Model is on the right)
Freight Station (the Prototype is on the left, the Model is on the right)