Most model railroaders are men, and many of those will probably feel that the wife or girlfriend doesn't always share the same passion for the subject. This was also the case for me, up until a couple of years ago, when things suddenly took an unexpected turn.
My girlfriend Vigdis didn't care much about what I fiddled with in the hobby room. From her perspective it was a lot of sawing, cutting, sanding and gluing as I was building the framework for my layout, which was for her totally uninteresting, but she accepted that I did it and came with feedback and comments whenever I asked her. When I eventually began laying the track I noticed, however, a growing interest for what was to come, namely landscape and what would be visible on top of the layout. She admitted that yes, creating scenery and building models and stuff could be fun to try, but the trains running around was not that important. She looked around the shelves in the storage room for a suitable subject to start with, and picked up a Jordan kit of an old Ford model A. Not exactly a beginner's kit, but she started on it with great enthusiasm!
This car was her first kit ever, and unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take pictures before it was finished, but her second kit, also a Ford model A, I was lucky enough to document the construction of. In time, a third Jordan kit was started on, but beyond that there was no desire of any trains or a layout of her own.
Until September 2011, when we made a weekend trip to the city of Hamar to visit the MR fair at the Norwegian Railway museum. Tore Hjellset with his hobby shop Togbutikken was among the stands, and he had brought along some beautiful H0n3 models from Blackstone. Vigdis just fell in love with the small narrow gauge engines, and probably visited Tore and his stand at least 3 or 4 times before finally picking up a D&RGW C-19 engine, four freight cars and a caboose. The seed was sown!
With the choice of rolling stock, railway company and time period was also decided, and now it was time to find out a bit more about the prototype. Since neither Vigdis nor I had a clue on American narrow gauge railways, we had to search a lot on the Internet. In addition, she ordered a DVD: Denver & Rio Grande Multimedia Kit, which contains a lot of information as well as photos, maps, and various track plans of different stations.
The narrow gauge lines of the D&RGW in the 1930s were mainly confined to southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, and Vigdis spent much time studying the various maps and images of those areas. She knew what she wanted, the challenge was to find it.
Some of the places she considered were Chama (CO), Cumbres (CO), Embudo (NM) and Ouray (CO), and she also made track plan suggestions in XtrkCad based on the prototypes. In addition, there were made some track plans without any specific prototype, some of which also ended up in full size on the living room floor, complete with temporary buildings and water towers made of corrugated cardboard.
Still, she was never quite satisfied and unable to decide. To get started with the construction, she decided to start with a small diorama of 50 by 60 cm, which subsequently could be inserted as a section of a larger layout. The diorama would also serve as a platform she could practice on since she had never done any of this before, so she chose to include several different elements (water, mountains, a bridge, etc.) on the diorama.
To reduce weight, the landscape was built up with styrofoam sheets and spray foam cut to approximate shape, and covered with a thin layer of a cement based compound called Husfix. She then sprinkled on some soil from our backyard that had been dried, crushed and baked in the oven for a while before it was sieved and sorted into different grades, and finally she went over with various ground foam materials from Woodland Scenics. The rock formations were also originally made of Husfix, but she didn’t find the surface structure of those rocks entirely satisfying, and so new rocks were cast in plaster and glued to the diorama, before being "washed" with different heavily thinned colors (raw umber, burnt umber, yellow ocher, gray and black).
To protect the styrofoam base, she cut profiles from 6mm plywood and glued along the edges.
The trees and bushes are made from Heki Natural Trees. These are very fragile and brittle right out of the box, so she softened them up with water before dipping them in diluted glue and rolling them in WS ground foam. To impose sunlight, a lighter tone foam was sprinkled from the top, before everything was fixed with hairspray. The water is WS Realistic Water poured in two layers. Each layer is about 3mm thick, and the first layer was stained with a few drops of blue and green.
One detail that just had to be part of the diorama was an American wooden trestle. The trestle was scratch built from styrene and wood, based on photographs and drawings Vigdis found on the web and the DVD. The cabin is a wood laser cut kit from Bar Mills, and the boat and figures are from Preiser.
When the diorama was almost finished, Vigdis decided that she would add an outhouse by the cabin as a last detail. This was also built from scratch using styrene strips, with prototype framing and individual boards for the walls. The roofing felt is made of fine sanding paper, and the outhouse interior is complete with both toilet paper and a picture of President Woodrow Wilson (not meant as an insult to our US friends, just a tongue in cheek equivalent to the fact that most old outhouses here in Norway used to have a picture of the Norwegian royal family, don’t ask me why.)
Now it has been a while since the diorama was finished, and Vigdis has got her own train room in the basement. There she is well underway with the construction of a sectional D & RGW shelf layout around the room, but that's another story ...