Palmer Divide Raceway

Intro  

When I was a kid, like everyone else, I had a slot car track. Well, actually, it was Dad's and mine, but you know how kids kind of take things over.  We had some Aurora Model Motoring track that we ran off an old train transformer that was eventually replaced with AFX as that came along.  But the one thing I never had was a permanent layout.  I used to devour the annual AFX handbooks and the catalogs from AutoWorld.  I used to love looking at the layouts that were so real and I would spend hours designing my own in my mind.  My layouts were hurriedly built on the floor, and just as quickly taken down.  But the bug never left me, and I finally have found the place, time, and the resources to realize my dream.  

I am aware that many books and articles have been published about how to build a track and create scenery.  However, each person sees and does things slightly different from the next person, so I feel there is always room for more of the same.   

That being said, there are numerous people that influenced me in building my track.  Some of those folks are Greg Braun, Jason Boyes, Luf Linkert, and my good friend Steve Berry.  My thanks to each of those gents who somewhere along the way answered a ton of questions from a ďnewbieĒ in the hobby.   Thanks to places on the Internet such as Slot Car Illustrated, Home Racing World, Slotcar Place and Slot Forum, there are outlets to share this creativity with others.  Many thanks to those sites for furthering this hobby through their efforts.

Choices

Choosing to build a permanent track raises several interesting questions.  What kind of cars do I like to run?  What type of look or era do I like?   Do I want to use plastic track or route my own?  What area of the world is this track supposedly in?  Is this a track I can live with for a long time?  Pretty heady questions!  Iíll answer these questions for myself since Iím the one writing this article.   

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Play with different layouts and get a feel for the circuit

Table Construction

A major consideration in building a permanent layout is size.   Iíve seen many smaller layouts that were very effective and high in driving fun.  In my case, I have a small, unfinished basement that Iíve been able to use about half of.  It allowed me to have a 5 x18 foot maximum table.  I probably could have gone 6 feet wide, but I wanted enough room to walk around both sides of the table.  This also means marshalling the track is much easier than having to reach across a very wide table.   I have children, and this was important to me.   

I modeled my tables after the excellent write-up on Greg Braunís site (www.hoslotcarracing.com), so I wonít repeat that here.  The one change I made to mine was moving the legs to the outside of the grid.  I felt that this would give me better stability.   Since the entire table was to be 18x5 feet, I was concerned with making it moveable.  Therefore my tables are actually 6x5 feet each and bolted together.  The legs are also removable, so that two people can actually move the tables up the stairs if needed Ė like when I finish the basement off.   Iíve also ďmodifiedĒ the scenery to that the tables can come apart, but more on how I did that in the scenery section.    

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Table Construction

Elevation changes are great ways to lengthen a layout, and allow for interesting scenic opportunities.   In order to get my elevation changes done as smoothly as possible, I wanted to use a continuous piece of wood.  Therefore I actually cut the top of the table out around the raised areas.  I then used a ďTĒ type of brace underneath that to fasten it to.   On one end of my layout I didnít cut anything, but simply raised the base itself and braced it at an angle.  My elevations are a maximum of 9 inches off the main table top.  Note:  something to consider is the overpass height if you have one.  Make it at least 4 inches high from the top of the track to the bottom of the overpass; otherwise it will be difficult to get your hand under the track!  

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Elevation Construction  & bracing

Another consideration is how to keep the cars from running off the table.  There are many different methods to do this, but I chose to use the method that Luf uses when building his gorgeous, routed tracks.  I used ľĒ mdf wood as a backing for scenery and attached it to the outer perimeter of the table.  I cut a line of the rough silhouette I was looking for Ė in this case hills.   I attached aluminum screen to the top of this with staples and then to the track board.  This allows hills to be built along the edges of the track.  I can tell you that Iíve never had a car leave the table since doing this, and trust me when I say Iíve done some crazy driving to test it!  

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Scenery Backing

Laying Track

With the tables done and the elevation changes in place, I begin by squaring up the track.  One thing to realize with elevation changes is that  as the track is being pulled into different ways, it  will cause some minor joint mismatches.  This is due to the track being two dimensional and flat, and the surface being more three dimensional.  Somewhere you will probably have a small 1/8Ē or 1/16thĒ gap at one or two joints.  That wasnít a problem for me as they occurred where the track was permanent and I was able to fill the gaps.  To fasten the track to the table, I use silicone caulk.  I do this for two reasons:  it is easy, and the track is easily removable later with a simple putty knife.    I dab a spot of silicone caulk every few inches under the track and use a nice, flat, heavy book or other item to hold it until it adheres properly.     

Where the track crosses the joints of the table, Iíve cut the locking portion of the tabs off to allow the track to simply slide out as the tables are separated from each other.   Make sure you are ONLY cutting out the locking portion, not the whole tab Ė after all the, track still needs to fit together!  

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Cut Track Tabs & shimming HO cork shoulder

With my Sport track being a little on the narrow side, I wanted the illusion of making it wider as well as having some sliding room for the cars.  For this I used a mixture of stock Scalextric borders and HO railroad cork.   I simply incorporated those into the layout of the cork and blended them in as best as possible later on when doing the scenery.  I shimmed the cork to be as close to the track height as possible.  The shims were simply poster board or cardboard cut to fit under the cork.   Another method would be to trace the track out onto another ľĒ mdf board and cut the track area out, but my crude jigsaw didnít make clean enough cuts for me to be happy with the results.  Iíve seen it done better elsewhere though, and it does look excellent. 

Painting the Track

This step will either satisfy you, or drive you completely nuts!  Depending on where you live, most pavement is not pure black; it usually has shades of gray showing through.  The next step was to remedy this and make the track realistic.  Remember, this is me talking; each person has their own preferences!  

A few words of caution:  the track will be very durable, and allow you to clean it with a damp cloth.  I am even able to scratch mine with no visible damage, however, do not apply masking tape to it, or youíll take off chunks of the paint.  Why the paint does this, but stands up to everything else, I believe is due to the nature of latex on plastic.  Thereís just not enough ďtoothĒ for the paint to truly grab onto.  Also, if you do this step while the track is apart, make sure the contacts donít have paint on them before assembling them or you will have electrical issues!  

I begin by taking a light gray latex based paint and thinning it in a container.  I use plain water to do the thinning.  The consistency when done is about the same as milk.  I use a 1Ē foam brush to paint it on.  I put on a thin coat, wiping the rails with a clean rag when done.  The pebble surface of the track will appear as the paint dries.  If the color is not to your liking, by all means put on a second coat when the first is dry.   Remember that two light coats are MUCH better than 1 heavy coat!  Ask me Ė I had to strip the first coat off several pieces as it looked very fake!  

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Example of gray painted track 

As for the HO cork I used, I painted all of it black before performing this step.  It turned out very well and mimics the track surface.

Weathering the Track

After the track is down and dry, I used Lufís method of making it look like itís been patched and cracked.  I used a darker gray latex, not as diluted as the initial track coat, and using the foam brush again, simply painted areas to look like asphalt patching.  I randomly applied these around the track.  After that dried, a simple Sharpie marker was used to place cracks on the surface of the track.  

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Weathered Track

Scenic Base

Previously Iíve mentioned using aluminum screen for the scenic base.  This is not the only way to do this, but it is one that Iím familiar with, and is easy to do.  I only use the screen where Iím covering the openings caused by the elevation changes, or from the table surface to the sides.   I lay the screen out how I think the slope of the land should look and staple it down.  I also place objects, such as blocks of wood underneath the screen to cause hills, bumps, etc to be created.  Those are removed after the coat of plaster is dry.  To give the tables the ability to be separated, I only screen up to the edge of each table.  That leaves a small gap, but weíll cover that in a minute.   

To cover the screen I use a product called Sculptamold that is available in most U.S. hobby stores.  Following the directions on the bag, I mix the Sculptamold and use my hands or a common dinner fork to spread it over the screen.  I try to vary the texture as I place it.  It goes on in a fairly thick coat and dries completely within a day.  As it is drying, I move each table at the joints.  This creates a crack in the plaster along the table joints.  Paint and turf will cover this hairline crack, but allow the tables to be completely pulled apart!  When dry, the Sculptamold can be sanded, cut, and shaped, to suit your needs.  I remove the blocks of wood at his time.  The screen now has no problems holding its shape as the Sculptamold dries very hard.     

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Applied Sculptamold as Scenic Base of layout 

For my rock outcroppings, I purchased two different Woodland scenic rock molds.  I again use the Sculptamold to cast these.  These dry enough to handle within a Ĺ hour, so once I make about 6 of these, Iíll place them while drying another batch in the molds.  To place them, simply ďglueĒ them onto either bare screen with Sculptamold or hot glue,  or place them over an area already covered with Sculptamold.  I blend them in to the background and each other by manipulating the plaster with my fingers.  To give the rock outcroppings variety, I often break the casts into smaller pieces or turn them at different angles.  This keeps any repetitive rocks from appearing.   

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Rocks being molded into hill    

For flat surfaces I simply spread the Sculptamold around, adding small bumps, etc. to keep the landscape from becoming dull.   I run the plaster all the way up to the edge of the HO cork in order to make it all pull together properly. 

Adding Texture and Color to the Scenery

This is the area that I was most concerned about.  Iíd never done anything past the plaster stage on my train layout.   I emailed Jason Boyes with a few questions on how he makes his tracks look so real.  After receiving some excellent advice, I started off.  Using his advice, Iíve actually gotten a pretty quick system down now for doing the turf.     

I begin by painting the rock areas first.  The reason for this is that they make a larger mess.  I use an earth tone latex paint  to paint the rocks, but then mix gray and black latex paint diluted 1:1 in a spray bottle and spray that over the wet rock areas.  I mixed the color to roughly equal that of India ink.   Most train stores have stuff already premixed if you are worried about the color.  This step is what gives them a fantastic definition, and in my mind MAKES the rock.  Youíll notice that the spray has run down to the base of the rock, soak most of it up with a paper towel.  Youíll be painting over that soon enough.

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Rocks in various stages of painting & highlighting

I start on the rest of the landscaping by painting an 8x8" patch of landscape with the same earth tone latex paint used on the rocks and sprinkle on turf.  I stop sprinkling turf about an 1Ē from each edge in order to give myself somewhere to blend the paint of the next area into.  Then when done with that patch, I move on to the next and continue the process.  The turf I use is made by Woodland Scenic and I use a shaker bottle they sell to spread it.  The color for this first step is their "Blended Turf Grass".   When that is dry, I use a spray bottle filled with diluted craft glue (Elmer's Glue works too) and spray an 8x8" area and add a ďMedium Green TurfĒ.   Then when done with that patch, I move on to the next and continue the process.   Once this coat of turf is dry I repeat the process with the ďBurnt Grass Turf" color.   I try to do a larger area at one time, so Iím not changing the turf in my shaker bottle as much.   

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Turf in various shots 

All of the above are Woodland Scenic colors. Remember that I am trying to achieve a semi-arid look and that your color selection may be drastically different.  I also purposely don't try to make it a thick, perfect carpet of grass. I like some "dirt" showing through.  When everything looks the way I want it, I spray a final coat with the diluted glue again to finish the hold.   When everything is totally dry, I vacuum the area to pick up any extra material that may be loose.  Once this step is complete, vacuuming the area is possible since the material is now completely stuck down.  I do this as a regular part of my cleaning of the track. 

Trees

Without having a green thumb, you can plant an entire forest that never dies.  I purchased the large bags of plastic tree kits sold by Woodland Scenic.  In my case, I used the mixed bag of Pine trees that were 6-8Ē tall for the large trees and the 4Ē trees for saplings.  These trees are extremely easy to make.  Simply follow the directions on the bag to twist them into shape and paint.   I paint mine several different colors.  I use brown, tan, and black as my base colors.  I dry brush the brown on, followed by the tan and then the black.  By dry brush I mean not painting the tree heavily, Iím attempting to get the look of texture, not solid color.   

There are many different methods for placing the greenery on the trees.  One of the two Iíve tried is to ďpaintĒ the craft clue on the branches, rip off a piece of clump foliage and hold it in place for a few seconds.  The trees look ďfullerĒ this way, but that is very time consuming.   Any easier method is to fill a large zip-lock bag with a Medium Green Turf ď and then ďpaintĒ the craft clue on the branches, and throw the tree in the bag.  Shake it all about for a minute; pull the tree out and Presto!   A completed tree.  Now, keep in mind that Iím modeling Pine trees only, not deciduous Oaks, etc.  Those are done completely different from my method.  A final spray of diluted glue from the spray bottle keeps the foliage on the tree.  

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Trees ready for planting & method 1 &2 

To plant the tree, simply drill a hole slightly smaller than the base of the tree, dip the bottom base of the tree in craft glue, and press it into the hole.  I attempt to get the trees pretty straight, but in nature, none really are so I donít worry about them being perfect.  

The hardest part of placing trees is figuring out where they should go.  What looks natural to one eye may look very symmetrical to another.  I try to make them random as best I can.  

For bushes, I use Woodland Scenic clump foliage broken up into small pieces that I glue down where appropriate.

Wiring

Iím no electrical expert, so Iíll leave that to others.  I used Greg Braunís excellent site as a reference for wiring my layout.  Iíve wired my track with two driverís stations (on opposite sides of the table with banana jacks so I can hook up different controllers.  Both lanes are independently wired with Ninco power packs, and have in-line fuses.  I have 1 power tap about Ĺ way around both lanes to ensure even power.  The power is very good, and the wiring was pretty easy.  If you have questions, most folks are able to post good diagrams of how it all goes together.  

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Wiring to track, main block and driver station 

I did use only the middle table to house all the electrical.  This was done in the event I do need to move the tables, all the wiring is self-contained.  This means the driverís stations, power feeds, and taps at the Ĺ point of the layout are all in the middle of my middle table.  Too easy!

In Conclusion

So, thatís where Iím at right now.  Is the layout complete?  Not by a long shot.  Iíve still got one corner to finish, and a pit area to think about.  Iím also designing my own pit building and grandstands in the flavor of the day.  Iím toying with the idea of a functional pit lane.  Iíve seen it done and I just need to take a deep breath and go for it as time allows.  I also want to make many more trees.  It is amazing how insignificant 80 trees on a layout of this size look.  

Can anyone do this?  Yes they can.  If you have the ability to handle a paint brush, a fork, and a shaker bottle, anything is possible.  Just plan out what you want and go to work.  I find this type of work to be incredibly relaxing after the kids are asleep Ė just me, my dog, cat, and a good radio station.  

I admit to being the kind of person who likes to look at a car driving by at eye level.  I really admire model railroaders and the realism they evoke.  Hopefully, we'll see people re-think slot cars and understand that as beautiful as these cars are, you need a suitable backdrop to show them off.

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I'd like to thank my wife and children for bearing with Dad's "toys".  They wouldn't have been possible without you!

Please feel free to email me with any questions you might have.  I'm always happy to help others!

dreinecke@msn.com

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