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Principal / Main  I  El Valle de Iguala en HO  I  The HO Scale Iguala Valley  I 
La Maqueta en un Vistazo  I  The Layout at a Glance  I  Diagramas / Track Plan  I  Fotos  / Photo Gallery  I
  I  Fotos 2/Photo Gallery 2Acerca del Autor / About the Author  I  Vínculos / Links  I

The Iguala Valley at the Rio Balsas Railway features an ideal setting for a small layout builder:  a branch line used for a short train that delivered commodities to the industrial area, a daylight passenger train and the terminal for all southbound freight trains.  Add several medium size industries over a mile of plain and straight track, and you have the perfect prototype for a model railroad.
In 1997, after nearly 100 years of service connecting Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Iguala and several mining towns, the train service was discontinued. Two General Electric B23-7 locomotives and some of the rolling stock used for transporting grains, agrochemicals, sugar, cement, fuel, and iron ore sat inert on the tracks at Iguala station. 
These motionless freight cars and the small industrial area inspired me to create my HO scale model.  While I didn't faithfully recreated the Iguala industrial area of the Rio Balsas railway, I did use the original setting as a guide for the track design.
My objective was to build a small but interesting layout that would provide me with hours of fun both building it and playing with it, while leaving the remainder of the room available for use as a guest bedroom.
After reading "A bookshelf HO layout with Staging" on an October 94 Model Railroader issue, my original plan for an oval 4x8 layout was quickly discarded.
Referring to the "South Plains District" project railroad series, I quickly got inspired and started bouncing off my ideas with my father.  With enough encouragement and reinforcement about what a fun and interesting project this could be, I quickly started drafting a track diagram for a shelf layout.
Drafting and designing the plan was the easy part. Implementing it was going to require some creativity, as my biggest challenge was going to be able to import to Mexico all of the necessary items readily available in the U.S.  Basic, simple items like track and rolling stock, would have to be mail ordered using the web and catalogues, and somehow, make it through the customs process in one piece and somewhat on time, as this process can take about 10 weeks if everything goes along smoothly.  I also identified locally produced materials that could be suitable for a roadbed, like Cellotex and EVA rubber sheets, a light weight polymer used for shoe soles.
To prevent dimensional changes, I painted the Cellotex base before installing the track components.  The base was painted with two coats of vinylic paint, first a clear sealer and then a tan color coat.  EVA rubber strips were glued with UHU glue to the Cellotex base and the track was nailed to these rubber strips.  Sifted mortar sand provided the look and feel of crushed gravel ballast.
The track I used is mostly Atlas code 100 flex track, with a few sidings with code 100 snap-track. Turnouts are a combination of Atlas #6 for the main track and #4 in sidings and industrial spurs.  Manual ground throws and switch stands are used to operate turnouts.
The wiring is designed for conventional block control and allows for operation of two locomotives at the same time. Cabs, blocks and sidings are controlled with Atlas electrical components. Each block section has Atlas terminal joiners for electrical feeding.
While I finished to build a set of TAT-V walk around throttles, I converted a couple of Tyco power packs into hand-held throttles, installing the resistor and the reverse switch in an electronics project box. I used coiled telephone cable to connect them to the transformers located below the central shelf.
For all terrain surfaces, I used a spatula to apply a mixture of plaster, Portland cement and sifted sand to the Cellotex base. When the mixture was nearly set, I molded it by hand to texture and contour it.  Once dry, I base painted it with light tan latex paint, I then used orange, brown and light blue paints to create different soil tones.
The Huisache covered hills seen in the region were replicated with Styrofoam blocks covered with paper mache. I then applied a coat of plaster wash over the paper shell and used the mold and paint technique described before. From the finished product, it is hard to tell that the hills started as recycled packaging and old Sunday newspapers. Stained sisal twine proved to be the perfect material for making miniature Huisache shrubs that I glued into their spots.
For the ground cover I used a combination of sifted dirt, sand and homemade ground foam in different coarseness and shades of green.
To recreate the industries seen by the side of the track, I used poster board, PVC curtain strips, PVC tubing and corrugated cardboard to design and build small structures.  I also built a plastics processing plant and a TOFC ramp not really found in the real Balsas railway line.   Since I only needed a trackside view for the buildings, most of the structures were built as shallow relief models.  To add a weathered look to the buildings, I sponge applied rust and/or light gray acrylic paint, touched with graphite powder.

I first painted the background wall with a spray gun and acrylic paint diluted with ethyl alcohol.  Ethyl alcohol speeds up the drying up process and prevent runs and drips.  I blended in three different shades of cerulean blue paint.  A lighter shade near the layout, gradually darkening the tone toward the ceiling.  Next, I drew outlines of mountains and low hills using cardboard templates, filled in the shapes using a brush and various shades of tan acrylic paint, adding depth and details with grayish-blue paint.  This effect created an illusion of great distance.  For the clouds, I made cardboard templates to air brush over the template edges with oyster white paint thus quickly creating a light, diaphanous looking clouds without having to use any faux finish techniques.
The sides of the dominoes were painted in a dark forest green color, followed by the installation of jacks for the walk-around throttles, a small panel for electrical controls, and boxes for car cards and uncoupling tools in front of each industry.
Industrial luminaries provide the room lighting.  These are fitted with slimline fluorescent lamps with a high color rendering index and a color temperature of 5500 °K. This way the layout colors are enhanced and I can take pictures using daylight photographic film.
Although the Iguala Valley is quite flat, the trains in the prototype had to have enough power to pass through the Sierra hills. I used two Athearn GP38-2 locomotives to exemplify the need for enough power to pull the train through the sierra located just five miles away from the industrial area. I re-geared these locomotives with Ernst kits to improve performance at slow switching speeds.
Most of the rolling stock are models from MDC, Accurail, Atlas, Walthers, Athearn and Bev-Bel Mexicana Series.  All cars and locomotives, including some recycled Tyco cars from my first HO train set, have been weathered, weighed and fitted with McHenry knuckle-style couplers. 
As you can see in the track diagram, there is no staging yard in the layout.  The prototype used the passing sidings to store cars while switching the industries, and that's the way I planned the operation. Each operating session employs one or two persons to perform all required movements.
A switch list is used to forward freight cars, or it can serve as a guide to set up car-cards and waybills.  Freight trains are scheduled for chemical freight (cement, plastics, fuel and lubricants), for grains and general freight (corn, beans, sugar, molasses, machinery), or as an iron ore unit train. All trains have a maximum of seven cars plus two locomotives and a caboose, with the exception of the passenger train that has only one locomotive and a coach car.
The train on the north main track at the beginning of the operating session is considered a train just arriving at the area. The operator takes the train, performs the needed pickups and setouts according with the switch list, using the passing sidings for storage, and comes back as an outbound train to the north main track at the end of the session. The north main track represents the connection with the rest of the railway system, and it is used as a fiddle track to move cars on and off the layout by hand. Cars leaving the layout are stored in drawers located below the shelf. The south stage track represents an iron ore mine located beyond the layout, and it is used to store open hoppers with removable loads. It can also be used to stage the passenger train while it's time for the return trip.

I enjoy working on the layout and it has provided me with many hours of fun. While I do not have plans to enlarge it, I do see improvements such as adding details to the scenery and structures to make them look more realistic, improve the rolling stock performance using metal wheels and install a digital sound system with on-board speakers. In sum, future additions and technological upgrades to keep up the layout for what it was created: having fun with a model railroad.

Principal / Main  I  El Valle de Iguala en HO  I  The HO Scale Iguala Valley  I 
La Maqueta en un Vistazo  I  The Layout at a Glance  I  Diagramas / Track Plan  I  Fotos  / Photo Gallery  I
  I  Fotos 2/Photo Gallery 2Acerca del Autor / About the Author  I  Vínculos / Links  I

Layout, design, drawings and photographs © 2001 Carlos B. Sánchez Damián
Created September 15, 2001