Structure Bases

edited February 2013 in Scenery
Ken posted this open question back in his excellent HO tool shed build thread which can be found here....
Thanks Wes! Here's my dilemma....and I'd love to hear comments and thoughts....I'm building these terrific kits at the same time that I'm planning my early 1900s Pacific Northwest Logging Railroad. AS I mentioned, I find myself modeling the railroad around Brett's kits and don't have a specific place to put them yet. You guys put together these fantastic dioramas that I have to wait on until my layout is underway. I thought about putting together a diorama on the same material as my base on the layout then incorporating it in the layout but...I don't think that would work so good? Also, in reading ahead on my "stash" of kits, Brett instructs to attach various steps (flooring as an example) to the "base" that I don't have..hmm..
While revisiting Kens build thread earlier today this question struck home with me.

I have several ideas on this situation which I will post later and Bryan Brown already posted some ideas and insight back in Kens original thread.

I decided to re-open this discussion for members to share ideas and experiences regarding this situation.



  • Karl, thanks much for getting this topic some air time! I didn't pursue it as I thought it was in the wrong topic thread...but then forgot to re-open (thanks Bryan for your initial comments). Bryan just commented on my LineSide and I reiterated my frustration with not being in a position to work out a diorama. I followed an older tread on the Railroad Forum were Elliott was building his Logging Camp diorama and looked like he cut out sections and completed the diorama then re-worked it back into the overall scene. He did however, have an overall plan already in place. I'm mildly concerned that proceeding with my builds without knowing where they are going to exactly fit in to my overall layout plan may somewhat compromise the build with regard to how I choose the detailing and finishings on the structures, castings, etc. BUT...I can't stop! don't even ask me to.
  • edited February 2013
    Ken, I was pretty much thinking along the same lines as you when I started down this road 5 or 6 years ago.
    I was afraid to put the time into making a diorama for the structures as I had the grand master plan of them going into a layout in the future.

    This was the result......


    A bunch of mostly finished bare structures sitting on shelves with no real details.

    As you stated, it can be hard to put maximum effort into a scene when in the back of your mind you realise that you may have to undo some of the work to incorporate it into a layout.

    Here are my thoughts on the subject... right or wrong.

    Over thinking and or planning for the 'future' can really hold you back, so, I have started to build small dioramas on 3/4" foam bases. these can be easily incorporated into a future layout, when/if that happens.

    As you say not knowing exactly where a structure will go can make this difficult so what I have done is make the base the minimum required for the scene.

    Railroad camp is a great example of this.... the base only extends from the structure about an inch on most sides.


    This is enough to build a fully detailed and finished scene but, will not limit its incorporation into a layout.

    My tool and rigging sheds follow the same principal. Although I did add a track section to this diorama I fully expect and accept that I will cut this off when the time comes.


    This will be easily done because of the foam base with a simple sharp knife. however, for now it looks complete on my shelf and some simple scenery blending will make it fit seamlessly into it's final resting place.

    Even the recent O'Niells diorama only covers the imediate scene around the structure although it is slightly larger.

    My thinking is that I know I want the whole scene in the layout and not just the structure. Although I dont know exactly how the layout will look I do know how I want that scene to look, so now that scene is done.

    The more completed scenes I have to just 'plunk' down into the layout the less space there will be to fill in inbetween.

    So, my suggestion is to build the immediate scene around the structure which you know will be there regardless of where in the layout it may end up.

    More suggestions to follow..... hey, you asked !! ha.

  • When building your base make sure to use materials that you know you will have available in 5 years time.
    ie: dont use dirt from your back yard if you are planning to move to another state anytime soon, the dirt wont match, thats why I use grout.

  • What you are thinking is very doable. In fact that's pretty much how I am building my structures. What material will you be using as the sub-roadbed? I have built mine on several different materials:

    1/2" pink foam. Great material but thicker than my 3/8" homasote
    Homasote I do not recommend for a base as it will warp
    2 layers of gator foam. Excellent material and is the same thickness as my homasote but very expensive. I only used it for the tractor repair shed since the tracks needed to be level.

    Will be building the rest using pink foam probably.
  • I like your stack of dioramas, Karl. I can see it now, an article in MR called "An 8 level layout you can build (on a 4x8 sheet)"

    You make a good point about dirt. I get mine from one specific spot that I chose for its color and multiple textures. There's a long stretch of it on a road that I travel when heading up north. They recently expanded the road which opened up a wider cut into the side of the hill and it's now as far as they can go.

    As far as incorporating finished dioramas into a layout, I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that I'll have to do a certain amount of adapting to the diorama to get it to fit into the scene while trying to keep major changes to a minimum. For example, the bunkhouses from Essentials feature tracks on the front side. That won't work on my layout, so when I install it permanently, those tracks will come out and be replaced by a service road that continues on to other parts of the layout. Similarly on the Twin Mills, there's a run of track that will probably have to cut across the back corner of the scene. Both are minor changes and will require some work, but for the most part, the completed element becomes the starting point and I'll build OUT from there into the layout. Kind of like building a bridge for a layout: construct the trestle first, then build the "land" to accommodate it.

    Where there's too much of a question as to 'how will I fit this in?' I've gone ahead and built all the elements without completing the scene (the other components from Essentials are currently like that).

  • Karl, great perspective on this subject. Good to know others have mulled over this issue and I have a better sense of how I will be proceeding. Half the fun is the planning and I think if I keep my dioramas relatively small it will allow me to work on my skills in that area and provide a means to dovetail the diorama into my layout without too much trouble. Bill points out that of course some modifications can be expected, but I feel better about planning my builds with the overall layout plan in mind.

    I know this subject has been kicked around a great deal but something I have to nail down right away so my diorama base is right....what is the general feeling on base material? I want to be able to construct my layout and then rough in the base and later come in and cut out the section for the structure and diorama. Two thinner foam layers over hard base like plywood, one thicker foam layer over the hard base, etc..? I think this is one of those cases where you could get this info. from a myriad of sources and get just as many methods. I have found that just getting a couple of good solid experienced opinions and going with that method works well. Rather than scour the other forums, books, etc... I would like this groups opinion, like Bryan gave me above, as I respect and trust your experience and recommendations. -K
  • To be honest Ken for me the base of a layout depends on the topography, so, there is no easy answer.

    For me, flat areas will have a base (girder/grid/board, whatever) with a layer of foam on top for some negative contouring if desired.

    hillside areas will be well supported hardshell.

    There is no single answer, but... structures are generally built on leveled ground, or on stilts,

    that should make it easy for you.

  • Karl, so for basically level ground you would put one layer of the base material such as 3/4 inch dense foam board on whatever hard base you're using, then just cut out the section of foam board from the layout to accommodate the diorama base dimension made from the same material. Makes sense to me. How's your scratch water tank build coming? I had to order some additional paints before I start my SW Back Woods build.
  • Exactly right on the base situation Ken.

    Dont ask about the water tank.................

  • I too have been staring at my benchwork and trying to fiqure out what to do and day dreaming about more kits and modeling and how everything will fit into the trackplan I have. I really like the idea of completing a scene and adjusting if needed for trackwork. There is so much more to bulding than just finishing the buildings and so much more to the learning process by finishing the scenery and scene you are creating. I am going to give the pink insulation foam a try for the base. I really want to lay all the trackwork and make shure things run smoothly then fit the mini scenes in. Nothing worse than an engine derailing in a layout.

    I really appreciate the diorama thread that you did Karl and all the help folks give to one another on the forum. This is great!!!

  • Karl, Good sounds and now I have a good idea of how I will proceed. Getting excited about working on the dioramas. So what's up with the water ta......oops..sorry!

    Jim, Sounds like we are on the same page as well. I think I'll vary the thickness of my foam layer(s) depending on how much negative contouring (I like that Karl) I'll be doing in the different areas of the layout. The higher elevation areas such as hillsides, mountains, cliff tops, etc. will have to be planned out a bit more carefully for structure placement. A good number of my SW builds will be on relatively low relief areas. I still plan to tuck a few of the smaller structures into the high areas in addition to the typical logging equipment. -K
  • much negative contouring (I like that Karl) I'll be doing ....... -K
    Just remember where you heard it first !!

  • Duly noted oh wise one..still wondering about your.....I think the coloring of the stone pump house on mine is going to be the biggest challenge. Have not detailed a stone wall before so should be interesting. Will be giving it hell as soon as my paint arrives.
  • I was thinking about this thread today and how advantageous it is to build our kits as dioramas to be set into the layout...if that's what you choose. I am thinking about an expansion of my existing layout because O scale structures take up so much space. I have gotten the OK to do so but it will probably be 2-5 years before I can actually begin construction, at which time I hope to have the current layout near completion.

    While I was thinking this through something dawned on me. The sawmill location is within 8 feet of the logging area...and a fairly straight shot. I was toying with the idea of some type of a scene block but since I will build it as a diorama I can easily move the location of the mill. This way the mill will be on the other side of the room from the logging operations.

    It's nice to have options and building kits on bases to plant into layouts gives us that.
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