It’s been a while since my last update but believe me I worked hard. Even if the results are small, this requires to be careful and spend time on each little detail. Especially if, like me, in your daily job you can backup or just “⌘+Z” whenever you make a mistake. Real life is hard for people like me!

Last time we talked I was just finishing my tunnel. It just needed the most important part, what makes it a tunnel and not a trench: the roof. I’ve been really careful painting the walls, applying the brick walls so the roof needed to be dark as well.

You know the recipe here: lots of glue, some heavy books and a good night rest! :-)


This part is not only the roof, but also the top of the hill where I will put the shrine. I was able to “play” with styrofoam again and make what will be a path to the top.

I also leveled the wall on the left a bit lower. I will be smaller and will make the general shape feels more natural.

Tunnel portals

Now it is time to finish my tunnel by adding the two portals. I bought them from Tomytec and they needed some paint job to look really great. I did that in two steps:

  1. First a really really light black paint diluted to diminish the gloss and reenforce the contrast (the liquid paint gets stuck into the cracks of the wall making them darker).
  2. Then brushing the reliefs with an almost dry white paint. This makes the stone look irregular giving it a more realistic view.

You can see the differences between the painted wall on the left and an untouched one on the right. It’s a subtle work but that’s what makes it look realistic.

See now the final result with the cut portal that will be against the wall, the attending wall and the main portal. I added some weathered details such as darkening the top of the arch (it’s usually made by the passage of steam or diesel trains, my tram is electric but who knows if the town hasn’t been electrified recently), adding a bit of rust next to the tracks and simulating some green foam on the floor.

My portals are now ready to be installed and glued!

Making the portals stick with glue was not easy. So I went the hard way and put tons of glue on the back. They look solid there now!

I did almost the same operation with the stone pattern I bought for the long wall. As this wall is curved, instead of risking that the long sheet starts to move (or pop-out!) someday, I just cut it in four parts. It’s a bit less interesting visually but I can later play with the cracks by adding materials or just covering them with thinner bricks. As I wanted to bend the panels a little bit, I had to heat them a bit with hot air. I kinda melted part of one… oops. but I’ll hide that part behing bushes eventually. :-D

Heating and bending the panels allowed me to applying the closer to the styrofoam on the back.

Here’s the current look of the layout. I’m really glad with the results. It’s a stressful job for me as I told your in introduction but I’m really enjoying working with my hands on physical objects instead of pushing pixels.

Plus, almost everything I do on this layout, I do it for the fist time. The result on my workbench and the effects on clearing my mind are totally worth the work!

Next steps are finally setting the town-floor and plastering the hill.

Never thought the hill and tunnel would require so much work. But I want to do things properly so I’m taking care of every single detail! My tunnel being small, I need to make it as dark as possible if I want to make it look good. So I had some work to do before “closing” the hill.

I eventually decided not to ballast inside the tunnel. It seemed like an unnecessary effort. So I just painted all the interior with black acrylic. It’s matte and dark enough to make the tunnel a bit realistic.

I protected the rails so I would be able to paint even the bottom of the plastic ballast without risking to stain the tracks.

I initially intended to use sheet of foam around the inside of the tunnel portal to prevent reflexions of light on the walls. But my tunnel is in a curve and my radius is extremely small. Despite different testing, I had some troubles putting that foam. This wasn’t a really good option in the end.

I found my solution in a train fair: sheets of black foam that are especially made for tunnels. It’s dark, non reflective, sticky on the back and they are made too look like a stone/brick wall!

I threw away the packaging so I don't have any reference for this product…

I also painted in black all the edges to prevent any sight of the white foam and applied the walls sheets. The result looks perfect and the inside of the tunnel is now completed!

On the following picture you can see (on the right) the separation between the permanent wall and the little door I made to access the inside of the tunnel. I took really good care at the painting to avoid any sight of white.

Except for the roof, my tunnel is now completed. Just to be sure, I gave my tram a last try before closing everything on it because I won’t be able to acces those parts easily after.

Not only it fits perfectly, but it looks amazing while crossing the hill!

After a long time without working on my layout, seing the tram run and realizing that I eventually finished a small part motivated me to go further!

Go Tecchan, GO!

Now that my base work was done and that I had an approximate idea of what the layout will look like, I needed to start working on the final steps of the ground: building the hill.

Cutting the styrofoam is not real hard but it’s a bit of a hassle: it can get really messy and you better have a hand vacuum cleaner nearby.

I needed three layers (each being 2cm tall) to arrive to the perfect height, so I did the same work three times. Glued everything, put my best and most heavier design books on it and let it rest for a couple hours!

Once everything had been set up, I made a test with the tram to realize that I have been a bit optimistic on the clearance: the tram was touching at some points and was really close almost everywhere. Bummer.

I had to trim a lot of foam with a cutter. Again, not hard but you get white foam balls everywhere in your house (and on yourself) and the noise is close to the sound of nails on a chalkboard…

Eventually my tram passes perfectly. I put the middle piece and glued it. There’s no turning back now! ;-)

Later will be too late to pick this option so I made an opening in the back wall to access the tunnel in case of troubles. I also bought a black stone wall sticker that I will later use to darken the inside of the tunnel. But just to be sure no white will remain, I painted all the edges.

Here is what it currently looks like with the tunnel portal taped on it.

Next steps: ballasting the tracks before closing the tunnel.

This one is a typical example of nostalgic/memories purchase. As you may already know, I spent 6 months in Japan in 2010 and lived in Fukuoka for almost 3 months. This is simply the train I took every morning to go to school (japanese classes)…

This is a 4 cars train with front and tail lights. Comes with the usual sheet of stickers to put on and uses rapido couplers.

The prototype

This 5000 series runs on the Tenjin (Fukuoka) – Omuta line on Kyushu. It’s operated by the Nishi Nippon Railway Company (Nishitetsu) that runs other lines around Fukuoka, the Tenjin-Omuta line being the longest. Nishitetsu also operates buses as well as highway coaches.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

This line has the particularity of having a standard 1,435 mm gauge instead of the 1,067 mm Cape gauge used all across Japan (except for the Shinkansen of course). It runs almost paralel to the JR Kagoshima line and allows comfortable connexions to various touristic places such as Dazaifu or Yanagawa from the Tenjin center of Fukuoka. It usually runs in coupled formations in order to make longer 9-12 cars trains (they exist in both 3 and 4 cars sets).

With it’s bright blue color and the famous and weird asymmetric windshield, it’s quite an usual train to see! I didn’t love it at first sight but it became so iconic of my stay in Fukuoka and my life in Japan that I had to love it in the end!

The model

It was my first Micro Ace model. As I heard lots of good thing about them and the fact that this 4 cars train costed me the price of a 6 cars Shinkansen: I was expecting a lot.

Mission accomplished: it looks perfect. I have nothing to say about the molds. It’s probably easier to make this kind of “boxed-design” trains than a rounded Shinkansen nose but Micro-Ace did a perfect job on this one!

I relly like the windows on this train. From the windshield to the cross shaped side windows, it’s really an original design.

It looks like a classic train with it’s shape but the bright blue gives a modern look. That makes a mixed feeling when looking at it. It’s the kind of trains you don’t forget easily (I guess). The few markings are nice but as usual: I never take the time to put the stickers on.

The motor car rooftop and underbody are well detailed. The pantograph is metallic and it’s “out of the box”: nothing to add (where it’s common to have to add antenas or other details on Tomix/Kato models). Seing the price, I guess it’s the least to do!

I’m a little disappointed by the proximity of coupled cars, the gap is wide, probably due to rapido couplers. Strangely, the gap isn’t the same between all the cars, closer around the motor car. But I’m really being picky there, it’s an awesome looking train.

It runs well and it’s a pleasure to see this light blue little squared snake crawling on the tracks. I’m really happy I got this train, first because it’s nostalgic, but also because it’s original (compared to the more usual Shinkasnen and Yamanote stuff) and looks great.

What I like:

  • It’s the train that I rode every day in Japan
  • The bright color scheme
  • The windows, especially the windshield

What I don’t like

  • The rapido couplers
  • The price (I would have loved coupling multiple units if this was less expensive)

Prototype infos:

  • Operated by: Nishitetsu
  • Country: Japan
  • Type: EMU (electrical multiple unit)
  • Service started: 1975
  • Service ended: still in service
  • Max speed: 110km/h

Ii you’re following Tecchan’s Facebook page, you might have seen that I recently received a parcel from Japan containing scenery parts. I really needed those things to keep working on the layout just because I have to see the real size of stuff to plan the rest.

I needed a real life draft of my layout!

The houses and various buildings help me evaluate the size of the town parts. I also took a set of Tomytec cars so I could try different roads width.

But more important: I had to have the tunnels portals to be able to know the real size of the tunnel and the minimal height of the hill as well. (not seen in the pictures as there’s not much to see)

So I spent some time this weekend building various Tomytec buildings and put them on the layout to have an overview of what it will look like! I already had two buildings, the catenary poles and the Lawson (convenience store) on the left.

I haven’t had time yet to work more on it but even raw like the layout is starting to look cool. I really feel like I’m going somewhere!

Next step: building the hill with the tunnel under it!

I started this project almost a year ago and so far the only things I was able to do were:

  • running the tram
  • setting up the rails together (which took me roughly 43 seconds)
  • spending hours on Hobby Search to see what kind of scenery work I will do…

But after posting my train depot post on the Centram the other day I was in a good mood to work on my layout.

If you need a reminder on the project, I invite you to read my first post on the topic. Quick summary: I will use a shelf from an IKEA Billy bookshelf to build a mini tram layout on a 27 x 76cm space.

Track plan for my first layout
It will use a combination of tram tracks and regular ones.

Big enough to build a real layout and not a diorama, and small enough to have it fit in our appartement without disturbing anything (or anyone! ;-) ).

The particularity of this layout is it has two sides: an urban and a nature/tunnel area. It’s maybe a bit strange to make a two sided layout on such a small space (especially knowing that 3 sides will be blind) but I think the whole thing can look nice and really japanese looking.

The base of the base

You have to start somewhere! As I plan to make a pond and why not a river, I decided not to work directly on the board but use a 10mm styrofoam base. This will also allow me to easily add electric poles (I don’t plan to use any LED for the moment), trees and other things by just “planting” them in the foam instead of gluing them on the board.

Then I simply reported the shape of my tracks on the styrofoam. This helps me visualize the layout and I was able to place the position of the hill and the tunnel under it.

Base styrofoam board

Now that I have the base and the plan, I just need to make the elevation. I reported my shapes on another board of styrofoam and made the first layer of the hill. I’ll probably need 4 or 5 more to be able to close the tunnel. I’ll make rough shapes withe the foam and planned to use plaster to make the later work. An opening to access inside the tunnel in case of trouble is also planned.

First part of the hill

I decided (like many others do) to put the feeder cable into the tunnel so it’s invisible. Using a Dremel tool, I dug a gutter to pass the cable. The foam is really fragile so I used staples to reenforce it.

Wire gap

Now that the base work was done, I glued my tracks to the board using a glue gun. Simple and incredibly effective! I will ballast the tracks so I don’t really care it’s visible for now on. It looks really strong, glue-gun is my new friend!

Final work for the day!

Next things I need to do are finishing the hill and place the thinner foam that will level the ground to the tram tracks (you can see that I already placed o part of it on the left of this picture). Then I’ll start working on the painting, grass, trees and ballast and eventually buildings, people and details!

As I don’t have enough room at home to make a permanent layout and I’m sometimes frustrated by not being able to work on scenery, I thought working on a mini tram layout would be a good idea! So… I needed a tram! A gift from my girlfriend for my birthday!

Toyama Centram, Kato

It’s an articulated tram manufactured by Kato. It has front, tail and internal lights and can run on Finetrack’s shortest radius: 103mm. Which makes my planned mini-layout only 27cm wide.

This tram runs in the city of Toyama, Toyama prefecture, Japan since december 2009 and is operated by Chitetsu. It comes in many liveries (White, Silver and Black) and runs on one of the three light rail lines of Chitetsu inside Toyama city.

image credit: Wikimedia Commons

I have to admit I’m not “related” at all to this tram: I’ve never seen it in real and never even set a foot in Toyama. But I needed a tram for a mini layout and I thought it looked really nice, especially in silver.

Kato seemed to have a nice success with it’s tram tracks and the Portram model. But I was not a huge fan of the color scheme of the Portram. This one combines silver and black and light green-tinted windows.

I enjoyed a lot the articulated “accordion” part in the middle. It seems not particularly fragile as you could think it would be. And it allows the tram to negotiate the tightest Tomix radius: 103mm.

Here on the 103mm curves. It looks like it could negotiate an even tighter curve.

I was surpirised to see the internal lights when I ran it for the first time. It’s perfect for this kind of rolling stock but as usual with internal lights: it looks a bit sad with nobody inside… Adding N scale people inside could be a trouble as the floor is really high because you know: they have to but the mechanics somewhere. I’ll probably give it a try someday, but it’s not a priority… At least as long as the layout is not completed!

Because it is a tram, I wasn’t expecting it to run fast: it does not. But it sure runs perfectly. Smooth, silent and really stable. A real pleasure to see it slide on the rails.

It’s definitely a nice model even if it’s not a breathtaking one (nothing to do with the excitation of a new Shinkansen ;-) ). I’d really love to finish or at least progress a little bit on my layout to see this one running in the decor, entering a tunnel and running an a miniature city!

What I like:

  • Cute short tram
  • Internal lighting
  • Accordion :-)

What I don’t like

  • not much…
  • doesn’t have the charm of older more rustic tramways

Prototype infos:

  • Operated by: Chitetsu (Toyama Chihō Railway)
  • Country: Japan
  • Type: Tramway
  • Service started: December 23rd, 2009
  • Operating speed: 40km/h