Progress of a Small Snow-Diorama. All the work is from John Cubbin (www.ztrains.com)


I think this snow diorama will be the same size as the bridge diorama... just a bit bigger than the first diorama... maybe 9" x 24"... or something close to this... I'll have to see what would work best.

I had built up several different foam shapes for the snow scene, but again I just was not overly happy with any of them... each had good elements, but nothing that I liked completely. Until this past Sunday. I now have a foam shape that I think will be just what we wanted. I have added foam, cut foam, added foam, etc. and I think this one will be terrific. I have more trees on order for you, and I've had to contact Woodland Scenics directly for their Flex-Paste as I was having a very difficult time finding it through the online dealers I generally use. We're in good shape now, and I think it will be just a couple of weeks for completion. Your snow diorama will be ready for October! It will soon receive it's coats of the Flex-Paste (which I hope to do in a day or two when the paste arrives), we'll see good progress. I've had a few small issues with the wood shop regarding the diorama bases, but nothing to concern yourself with. They had actually produced two bases the same as the previous, smaller size diorama base. They've taken them back and are making new ones to the correct new size. All in all, I'm happy with the way this has shaped up... of course time is always the issue, but I think you'll be very pleased. I'll send photos as soon as the Flex-Paste coats are on.


Hi Jürg, A couple of interesting things, first, the snow diorama. As I was shaping it after the first coat of latex paste, I realized that a nice, gentle steam right down in front running from left to right might be a really nice touch. I want to do this to give more of a feeling of movement to this piece. We can play with some very cold looking water. Essentially the water would travel over three very subtle levels, left to right. On the lighted / abandoned caboose... I'd like to place this on the same (top) level as the main track, but behind it a bit, separated by rock / trees. This will force the viewer to peer in a bit more to see it. I think this will be a fun element. Also, I'm shaping the base of this diorama so that it gradually rises up from the wood frame, rather that the more abrupt angle I had on the first piece (see attached illustration). I do like that abrupt angle, as I think it gives the piece a more rugged feel, but I think this gentle angle will work better with the softer look of the fresh water / snow. It's getting a good look to it, as soon as the new cuts are pasted, I'll send photos.

As I wait for the paste to dry, I wanted to send you a (very rough) Illustrator sketch to make sure you like this. As you can see the single mainline as the dead line with the caboose will be on the upper level. I made a cut in the rear of the hills, as this gives the dead line of track a place where it would have gone. Also, the cut adds a nice left / right balance to the whole piece.

There is quite a drop from the track level to the water level, roughly 2 inches. From the top of the diorama base to the top of the highest peak is roughly 7 inches. Though not as complex as the first diorama... I'm really trying for more horizontal surfaces that will "catch" the snow... this is one of the reasons I have the edges a bit more tapered, as in the earlier diagram I sent.

I'm thinking again about facing both portals outwards just a little bit to maximize the view when you look at it from straight on.

I do think the scenery may be even more prominent on this piece than the first. The single mainline will total approximately 18 inches, with the dead line on which the caboose sits being about 8 or 9 inches or so.

One thought I'm having as I write this (and after I drew the sketch!), is to have the track being a slight "S" curve instead of a simple curve. The portal on the right would be more parallel with the right edge of the diorama base. I think I like this idea better Jürg, as it doesn't look too symmetrical.

Actually this is an interesting point... many times I like to change details around a bit as I'm working. A new idea will present itself as I carve the foam. The trick here is... I want you to be satisfied with my ideas... even if they get changed as I'm working.

I'll write again later today after I decide on the track angle. Photos this time... I promise!

Later....Just want to pass along 3 photos of the basic shape prior to rockwork being laid in. As you can see, the rockwork and snow will be very important to this. Now more contours will be added as the rocks go in, but I wanted you to get a feel for it.
I realize the photos I sent you are a bit "bare"... the snow scene will fill up very nicely!

I forgot to include this photo the other day... this shows the soil being applied in layers. To keep the soil layers relatively thin, the diorama must be turned to allow for the dry soil to be applied to a flat surface. The rock formation on the far left is 7 inches about the base... pretty tall. These rocks have had a couple of base color stains applied, though it's difficult to tell in these photos. These photos are taken from a distance... I want to save the up-close photos till it's more filled out. Hard to tell here in these photos, but I believe this will be the best piece yet. As I mentioned this has been the most difficult piece to build, but it's going to be stunning.

Hi Jürg, I had your shed in place, in gypsum, but I had to take it down... it was just too clean... looked too new. Tonight I cast another one then... aged it. Essentially this was a matter or breaking it apart the then gluing it back together, then filling some of the seams with additional gypsum to look like old concrete repairs. When painted and weathered this should look wonderful AND there are no worried of breakage. I'll cast this tomorrow in RTV, then the final shed will be in resin. This is the only way this could be achieved... with all the age cracks, this would not hold up in even strong gypsum. I REALLY want to get this piece done Jürg... The snow around this piece is going to be beautiful, and the close-up photos should be outstanding. Just a little more smoothing, then we're ready to cast.

I worked that shed a bit more... chipping away then reapplying "mortar" to further simulate the look. I'm so conscious now of the macro shots... more than I ever have been. As you can see from the photo... you are mixed (pink RTV) and the 2 shed molds are poured and under 45 lbs. of pressure. This RTV has a 24 hour time. I then additionally cure them for a few hours in an oven... the molds will be ready later today.

I've just now removed the pink molds from the pressure chamber and they are in the oven curing. In the attached photo you can see what had to be done... 2 complete sets of molds. The blue mold was made from the "clean" styrene master shed. The pink mold was made from the "aged" master I made by breaking up a gypsum casting from the blue mold then reassembling it. The pink will be used for casting the resin. You never know how the piece will look until you cast, paint and weather it. A sort of long and messy procedure for just this "simple" snow shed... I know, but I'm hoping it was worth it. I'll cast in a little while from now... by tonight. I do like the mold making... MOW cars might be good. I would like to begin with a very simple design, just to get my feet wet with it. Also I think I will use AZL trucks and couplers as they have metal wheels.

Have the initial cast here... this will look much different with paint and weathering but this gives an idea. I think this will work nicely. Very anxious to get paint on this!

Ok, I have an initial coat of paint on... this is with no weathering yet. I really like the detail of the old and eroding concrete. Also I like the areas that look look concrete patch jobs.

This is going to look great with your trains!

Here is an overhead look. The white areas (behind the shed / under the bridge) are all areas that I've had to keep cutting and filling to get to the right dimensions and height. The track at the bottom is about 2-1/2" below the top track. This really has been a struggle with this piece!

I have been tearing out rocks more than I'd like to say, then building back up again. As you can see... and I have to do some additional rock casting in the morning. The attached photos (I just took them) show you why I don't
like sharing this work before it's done :) It looks like hell at this point in these photos.

As far as snow covered... yes, but not completely. This short bit of road will add a lot to the finished look. Also... a full abutment is too much for a simple gravel road. I'm using a single "wing" from the bridge abutment set... this wing will act as the entire abutment...
As I said, I'm going have to marry this damned diorama... LOL!

Ok, here are a few photos... but this is not really a fair look at the piece... still...

This is Reynard's fence... I've bent it quite a bit and weathered it to give it a beat-up feeling. I like this stuff!

Here are a couple of shots. Some of the larger talus will be removed, but this gives you an idea. This is closer to done than it looks!

Just wanted you to see a couple quick photos.

Here are the 3 different snows I spoke of. I think I prefer the NOCH... what is your view?

A quick photo for you...

I have been having a heck of a time getting the trees / snow to look right together. As always my major issue is the trees and how they look in macro pictures. I really like this look I'm working on today. It's time consuming but I think this really captures cold in Z scale.

I'm glad you like the snow! I've sort of decided to go with all this type of tree... bare, all over and none of the others I was working on. Frankly I was pleased initially with the tree armatures I bought from Chine... but when you see then next to real wood... they look a little weak. I've been selecting and planting these bare trees today. With the snow effect I think it will all look quite good.

This seems to be the heart of this piece... trees. I still am not overly happy with ANY Z scale trees and I've purchased most of them. From 2 feet away many look good... in close-up shots they do not. On the bare trees... believe me if I could find bare trees with a thick branch stricture at the top I'd kill for that! Even the branches I'm using now were ordered from a craft supplier.

Here is some all bare-tree scenes:


And this one especially:

Now on this last one the photo is taken at ground height, so you do not necessarily see the tops of the trees, just the snow on the branches... this is how I can see a bare-tree only scene working.

Attached are two very fast pictures I just took... the snow is too heavy, but you can see a couple of small evergreen trees. You can see here why (I believe) the snow has to be done very gently. These are rough photos but give an idea of what some evergreens would look like. Also I'll be adding more high, bare trees.

I have been working on your trees most of the day and I'm still not overly satisfied with what I'm seeing. This has become the sticking point on this piece. I simply cannot find an great way to do a tree in Z... Hell... I have not even seen a great tree in Z scale. There are some "ok" trees, but not great. The more I look, the more I see why "great" trees ( http://www.canyoncreekscenics.com/frm_deepwoods.htm ) cost so much... they are little pieces of art all by themselves. And this is in the larger scales, not N or Z. I spent today at several craft shops in addition to driving around... looking for and cutting small dead ends of small bushes in hopes of finding good material. I then took some of the Chinese wire trees and worked on them for a few hours. The results you can see here. The wire trunk and limbs are too thin. I have previously bought both an aerosol as well as a quart can of liquid rubber in hopes of "thickening" up the trunk and branches. I tried that previously but was not happy with the results. As I write this I'm very, very unhappy about this tree business, and right now I'm at a real loss as to what to do here. I can't even tell you the amount of time I've tried to get these trees right... and I'm not having the results I want.

I'm trying one more thing tonight... covering the wire wrap trees in a brushable latex. I'm hoping this will give it a thicker truck and more realism when painted. The other photo here is of some of the bare trees... these I think will work when some snow is on them.

This has been a maddening experience here... and for you too... I know. Still... we wanted a snow scene and I think we have to continue. If this latex works... I think we will have the problem taken care of.

Here is a shot of the tree trunk from last night... the one with the white latex on it. I think we'll go with this :)

I have been racking my brain over trees and fine branches... how to do it? I think I have something here... I'm adding an incredibly fine lattice work to some of the existing dead tree structures... I really like this, though it's murder on the eyes... LOL! In addition I've been chopping debris for under the trees. You can see how the conifer tree blends in with the dormant deciduous trees. I have a little over 30 of these in different sizes that I've had to prime, then paint by hand to give them good looking trunks and branches.

These trees, as you know, have been a real pet peeve of mine for sometime now. It really bothers me that we have such trouble getting good, organic looking trees with lots of irregularities in Z scale. These trees are
killing me on time of course... but I think this newest technique I have is quite good. Once the snow goes on this should look sensational. In addition I think the conifer technique is very good as well. The combination of conifers and these bare trees should be amazing. Now that I have the tree techniques to where I like them... the trees should be just a few more days. Then snow.

Remember that hill by the tracks with all the trees? That got cut down BUT I wanted to leave some "scrub" around to be in the foreground photos... adds texture. There really are a lot of subtle angles from which to shoot here.

You can see a few of the early test evergreens... the real ones will of course look better. Still very muted... when the snow is added this will be a good contrast. I do believe this will be the finest piece.

Really what I have to do now is finish the evergreens and snow. MAYBE some water under the bridge, but am not sure on that just now.

My problem... I really do always want the next piece to be better somehow, more realistic... it just eats the time up though, trying one technique then another.

The other pic titles "armatures" shows your trees. These begin as thin wire armatures, then are hand painted with a think latex covering. This adds appropriate body to the trunks and limbs. They then get a coat of aerosol rubber, then in this step a coat of an aerosol beige paint. Next each one gets hand painted to give a realistic bark appearance. It seems like a lot of steps, but I'm working towards superior trees!

I'll begin the hand painting tonight.

I'm now planting all your evergreens... have to make a few more actually... but am hoping to begin snow by tomorrow!

Here's a look at the trees :)

I took a few photos of snow tests today... now I have the LAST decision to make here... Powdered snow of melting snow. The earlier model rail pics I sent links to were of powdered and fresh fallen snow: http://www.gatewaynmra.org/layouts/mkq-snow01.jpg

Now I've got a semi-powder look going in the first three photos here. The last photo is an HO scale piece, and it gives the feeling of melting snow. I see the difference as more "clear" areas of undergrowth with the melting snow, rather than a big blanket. So this is the decision... powder or semi-melt. I'm sort of leaning towards semi-melt.

I feel pretty good about this...

This is a dark photo but gives a long view of the piece. Please let me know what you think.

As I mentioned I had to flood the snow areas a bit in order to insure the snow would not detach while shipping. As I woke this morning I saw something just a little unexpected, but interesting... a little color bleeding from the soil up through the bottom of the snow in some areas. Initially I was not pleased and was getting ready to recover these areas with more snow... then I began looking at it more and reconsidered. It does add a little subtle color variation in the spots where it appears. Now it's not all over the place... but it is interesting and may work with the close-up photos. Your call... what do you think?

Here are 2 very quick (not particularly good) photos for you. In these photos you can see the snow is a bit heavier on the left side. While I do agree on maybe a bit more snow near larger trees, I have to be careful not to cover up all the ground cover... the contrast between the snow and ground cover will be important in your photos.

The more I look at how some of the soil bleeds through the snow, the more I like it. It really adds an incredibly subtle color shading.

Your dio is secure in its base (and looks beautiful, but I'm biased!) and today I will be going around the edges to cover the thin band of poly adhesive with snow. I just took 2 quick photos but they really don't do it justice. The additional coat of water was poured yesterday... now it's just a matter of cleaning up edges and possibly one more skim coat of Envirotex.

I'm really just now debating on the final water surface... a high gloss or a more satin finish... this really is the last step prior to packing. Although not as sexy as the high gloss... the sating finish will be more durable and possibly give a slightly frozen look. I'm going to snap a few pics right now...

OK, the first 2 are close up of the satin / frozen look. I have to say I like this look I think rather than a high gloss. It has sort of a lonely, frozen look to it I think. The other shot shows the final soil, then snow I had to add at the very bottom, right next to the wood base. I think this gives the piece a nice finishing touch.

I'm in the very final moments of what I can only hope will be a peaceful breakdown here in New York. I know you didn't like the water... I wasn't crazy about it either. I've now repoured it a couple of times... like in the other diorama. Very nasty. I'm really trying for a more frozen look... what I've just done is to repour the epoxy... add a few dead tree trunks and roots to the epoxy, then add small "lumps" of snow. The snow is then soaked by the still wet epoxy... hopefully forming what will look like ice.

It is difficult to gauge exactly how much snow to add as it becomes saturated by the epoxy very slowly. Since the epoxy dries over the course of several hours... this makes it a bit more difficult.

Still I'm hoping this achieves the right look.

I'm glad you like this effect! This morning I've vacuumed off the excess snow and can see that once the Envirotex dries hard (not tacky), I'll go back in and add a bit of white snow on top of some of the ice, as in the earlier photos. Also the epoxy and snow's appearance has changed a bit overnight during drying... the ice "chunks" seem a bit more prominent. If you like I could do a light pour of epoxy over these chunks to minimize them? Up to you.

In this photo I'll try to explain the process I've been working with. When the Envirotex is wet... I add snow on top in places. Some of the snow becomes saturated (this is the hard ice), but at the point where it stops being saturated... I'm left with show that simply will blow-off once the Envirotex is dry. This has been a trial and error procedure. What must be done in the morning (Sunday, not Monday!) when the Envirotex id bone dry... I will manually add little bit of snow in spots on top of some of the ice and adhere it to look natural. Overall I like this ice... and the little snow addition in the morning will cap it off.

So much of this dio has been with new techniques and materials... it has been a challenge... but again, I hope you feel it will be worth it!

One thing I really wanted to achieve with this piece was not the regular snow you see on model railroads. Too much "pretty" white for me, to my eye it looks nice, but a bit toy-like in this smaller size. I really wanted to capture "grit", as well as the snow. In the far shots... it looks more melting... in the close-ups... snow really is prominent. I like this duality.

In this shot you can see the low-adhesion tape I put on the wood... don't want to get any Envirotex on this nice oiled base.
It's interesting... from this "far" shot, the water/ice looks very small... but it has taken a lot of time to get to where I want it.

BTW The dio is roughly: 25.25 inches long x 10.25 inches deep x 8 inches high

Lots of hot glue and fiber tape... this box could now carry a car engine!

Thank you so much John!