Graduate Express (N Scale)

The Graduate Express layout was commissioned by a local hotel (the Graduate) to be installed in the glass top of the main front desk. With this installation, we faced many challenges.

The most severe limitation on the construction of this project was that we had only 5 weeks from the initial request to final delivery and after design and procurement, we only had 2 weeks to actually build the project. This meant we had to keep it relatively simple and use mostly ready to run scenery items.

The entire layout space measured 141″ x 21″ and we built the layout 1″ less in each dimension in three sections to allow for installation. The height was severely restricted to a mere 6″ including the sub-roadbed and base. These width and height limitations required that we use either N or Z scale and the lack of structures, vehicles, and figures in Z scale dictated that we build the layout in N scale. As always with any layout, a stable and rigid base is necessary but because of the overall height limit, we did not use our usual foam base but instead chose aluminum composite sign material provided by a local printer (Bailey Printing, Inc.). This material worked very well and was not too expensive. We will be using it again.

On the aluminum base, we installed our usual foam and foam board substructure for the scenery and track. We used Instant Roadbed from Scenic Express as our roadbed. This (very!) sticky material is difficult to work with in complex track plans and is a little too soft for heavy trains but it works fine for N scale and it is a good solution in situations where pins or nails are not possible. As you can see in this view, the wires are above the aluminum plate- all wires had to be run through the scenery and we installed concealed hatches to access the junction points.

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After we add Sculptamold (the white rocks) and let it dry, we apply Mold-a-Scene plaster from Woodlands Scenics to make the final ground detail (the light brown and greenish painted areas). Whereas Sculptamold is very hard and nearly impossible to work after it is dry, Mold-a-Scene plaster can be shaved and shaped later if minor corrections need to be made. It also is less messy around fine details and is easily removed from painted surfaces if you do make a mistake. The roads are made from Smooth-It (the light grey) and the crossings are stained wooden items made by Blair Line.

All the structures are wooden except for the gas station (a Ready-Built from Woodland Scenics). The houses are all from Laser-art. The General Store is one of my favorite kits from Blair Line. In this construction view the church has not been added yet.

As always, we painted the track, this time before installing it.

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These are views of the city almost ready for people and final details. The entire street system was built using sheet styrene so it can be lifted out to get to the wiring underneath. All the street lights work and most of the city buildings have lights as well. All structures but the restaurant are Ready Built by Woodland Scenics and the town design was largely dictated by what was available from this company. These structures come ready to use but we apply a little extra weathering and a few details (or in the case of the firehouse, a LOT of extra weathering).

The lines are dry transfer decals. The streets and sidewalks were airbrushed in various greys and the cracks applies using Bragdon Weathering powders.

Most of the vehicles on the layout are ready made from Woodland Scenics and Custom Metal Works but a few were actually little tiny model kits. Of special note are the garbage truck and fire station ladder truck. I apologize for not having a better camera for pictures of these tiny remarkable masterpieces.

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This is an overhead view of the farm. The structures are Ready-Built by Woodland Scenics with additional weathering by Rail Tales. The cow pasture is our ‘Green Field’ mix surrounded by photo-etched brass barbed wire fence. The fence material is very realistic (and sharp!) but is so fine it does not show up well in photos. The hayfield areas are our Prairie Mix and the hedgerows made from Foliage Clusters.

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These are views of the completed town area.

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Every small town has a baseball field. This one also has an abandoned quarry that is now a local fishing hole.

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These are views of Schuyler (or a town like Schuyler). The company style houses, old general store, old gas station, small church, and abandoned rail station are all based on items in and around Schuyler, Virginia. There are over 100 figures in this town if you include the funeral at the church.

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This layout was very challenging because of the many limitations but the final result is stunning, especially when viewed in person.

Rail Tales would like to specially thank Gary Whistleman for building the wooden structures and for staging most of the scenes: we could not have gotten this done on time without you…

Also a special thanks to Mike Pierce for painting many of the figures and the track, and to Bob Minnis for building the vehicles that needed building, especially the wonderful little fire engine.