Crisis 2017 Build Project 2: The Embankment

Mention Embankment and I automatically think of the London railway station where our good chum Sidney can oft times be seen slumbering underneath the arches, just a sheet of cardboard for a bed and a dog on a piece of string for company.  Here, however, we are looking at the more usual common or garden embankment where a section of railway is elevated above the surrounding terrain.  For our game at Crisis we need just over 6′ of this stuff, so no small amount.  what I wanted to ensure was that it was easily transportable, so not to long and not too heavy.
I must first declare that I was very fortunate to have played a great Ardennes game at the home of international modelling super-star and respected Slade Tribute Act, Alan Sheward.  There the maestro showed me his snow covered embankment which was built from a section of coving.  Yes, the stuff you see at the top of walls.  Rather than re-invent the wheel, I decided to copy Alan and do the same.
Now, when I last put up coving, it had a curved face and the rear was made up of three flat sections with a 45 degree bend between each.  So section 1 was flat with the ceiling and section 3 with the wall, leaving a flat section in the middle.  This profile was ideal for placing face down on the table and using the flat top as the surface for the railway.  However, what I didn’t want was a plaster section of coving, I wanted to use polystyrene as this would be much lighter and probably less likely to break apart than a rigid plaster one.
What I found was that try as I might, polystyrene coving is now curved, like this.

Not ideal.  However, what was ideal was that it was sold in 2m lengths which is 6’6″ in real money.  Just the right amount, so I bought it anyway.
wHat I decided to do was use a butter knife to spread Polyfilla onto the top to level this off as much as possible.  If you look at railway embankment you will see that the ballast is piled on the top and levelled off, so this could be replicated with the filler.
First I assembled the rail sections (bought on eBay for a tenner) into three main sections, one three lengths long, the other two lengths.  It’s much easier to then cut the coving to fit the fixed track lengths than cut the track to fit the coving.  So, with the track sections assembled I use them as my measure to cut the coving with a bread knife.  The Lard Island Health & Safety Manager tells me to be sure to tell you NEVER to do such a foolish thing as blades are sharp, life is precious and blood is messy.   Make of that what you will.

So, with my lengths cut, the butter knife was wielded.  or some reason I took four snaps of this phase, but at the risk of boring you, they do show how I created some small end pieces which allow for the track to run at an angle and not stop in thin air.

With that done, I painted the sides with VA and dipped them into a box of Sharp Sand before glueing down the rail lines with superglue.  I left each section for an hour with heavy stuff on top to pin them in lace while the glue dried.

Unsurprisingly, the result looked like this.

Okay, that’s the easy stuff done.  Next I mixed up a random selection of grit, sand and cork that I had to form the ballast.  With this prepared, I painted PVA onto the track and then wiped as much off as I could from the sleepers with my finger.  It’s a messy job, but not exactly challenging.  Ideal for me really.

I did the PVA in three sections, one side, the opposite side and then the middle of the track.  Each time I poured the ballast mix on, tipped the residue off into a sheet of paper and recycled it back into the ice cream tub I was using.

At each stage I wiped my finger across the sleepers to remove as much ballast from them as I could.  However, remember that this is a piece of wargames terrain, not an entry into the Model Engineer of the Year contest.  It doesn’t matter if it is imperfect.  The end result looked like this.

To add a modicum of strength, I added some caps to the end, cutting these from artists mounting board and sticking in place with a hot glue gun.  Simples.  
With that done, I coated the whole thing in nearly neat PVA, so adding just enough water to make painting it on easier and coverage complete.  This phase is absolutely key as it ties all of the component bits together and adds strength.

Let that dry overnight.  In the morning I added a second layer of sharp sand to the sides of the embankment (not the rails or ballast).  I let that dry and then slapped on a coat of bitter chocolate masonry paint, standard practice for most of my build projects as this strengthens and binds to compliment the PVA.

When this dried, and it does take some time so be prepared to walk away for half a day or leave overnight, I dry brushed up the whole thing with some domestic paints, leaving the central rail section alone for reasons which will soon become apaprent.

Taking an aerosol can of black car paint I sprayed right down the middle.  This will be the base coat for the rails and ballast.  Leave that to dry before drybrushing that with grey and very light grey before finishing off with a touch of white,
 The next step is to take a pretty robust piece of sand paper and run it along the tops of the rails to remove any paint, PVA or general gloop which has amassed there.  You’ll need a bit of elbow grease here but lay into it with a will.  Once done it should shine like a shilling on a sweep’s arse, which provides a lovely contrast to the general grubbiness.

With that stage done we are nearly there.  However, we are left with one issue which you can just about see in the image above.  At the point where the embankment meets the table the coving turns under itself, leaving and unsightly gap.  That means we can’t just flock the sides.  I gave this some thought and decided to take a look at some embankments locally.  What I noted was that away from the rails these are generally pretty unkempt with a mix of dense vegetation.  If I replicated this, I could give the embankment a “skirt” of vegetation which would then allow it to blend in with any tabletop surface.
A trip to Dunelm (no longer a Mill apparently) saw me pick up a green teddy bear fur throw for ten quid.  I trimmed off the edge and then cut uneven strips to create the skirts.  These I then stuck on with PVA.

With that dry I added some static grass to blend the fur into the embankment so that it looked more natural than a strip of dressing gown shoved on the end.

Not bad, but a bit monotone green, as the snap below shows.

I grabbed several aerosols from the work bench starting with brown and darker green and then dusting with yellow to get a bit of variation in colour.

Job done.  Here’s the finished article on my table.  I am pretty pleased with this.

This project was pretty damned cheap to do  The track was a tenner, as was the green fur.  The coving was three quid.  Everything else came from what I already have to hand, so twenty three quid for a lot of half decent embankment and the rest of the dead teddy bear can be used for fields.


15 thoughts on “Crisis 2017 Build Project 2: The Embankment”

  1. Rich, I must say I was pretty skeptical of the progress photos you started out with if this is gonna be any good…but reading through it revealed a pretty damn good looking piece of terrain. I have to ask, did you consider using the cork road bed made for railroad modellers? I used some and worked well. The ones I did are no where as taller…or have a high embankment as yours. I thought about making a second piece to go under my roadbed if I wanted to make it a bit taller. Currently my railroad line is used primarily for an urban-like setting; train station and yard. In some of the Campaigns booklets, there are a few maps with railway tracks…so I modeled mine to accommodate the maps.
    Thanks again for another do-it-yourself project.

  2. Greg, I’ve not see the cork stuff. If I was doing a lower, slightly raised railway line I’d be inclined to just buy some blue foam about half an inch thick and use that. I’d use the same methods, but chamfer the edges, use sand and then the ballast but no fur and only the odd patch of grass.

  3. Rich, No matter the project a person does, there is always something to glean from it no matter the level of work vested into the project. Its the little things that take the project over the fence. Thanks again.

  4. Well done Richard the finished item looks great and now usable in lots of games,cheers AL.
    Ps Ade sent you a link to Urban Construct , when I build the second half of Stalingrad starting next week im using there stairs for a tenement block I think you will find them usefull in your build.

  5. Another excellent terrain piece, and to “pin them in lace” was certainly a novel approach ;-).
    And, viewing your intro from a purely poochie perspective, surely it is the dog who can oft times be seen underneath the arches with your good chum Sidney on a piece of string for company?

  6. Great stuff Rich. At the risk of upsetting any who may be of a PC persuasion, unlikely I know, but your how to articles remind me of those old Rolf Harris painting clips where it all comes wonderfully together at the end.
    Thanks for the ideas and inspiration

  7. Lovely job Rich!
    As an alternative for anyone trying anything similar, I have used model railway ballast (it’s like very fine grit) poured dry onto the tracks and pushed into shape with a dry paintbrush. It’s then held in place with a mix of PVA, water and a drop of washing up liquid. If you drip this on with an eye-dropper, capillary action carries it through the ballast and results in a surprisingly durable track bed.

  8. Thanks for this!
    I was steered toward it as I posed a question on a FB thread asking if Mel the Terrain Tutor had covered embankments for wargaming, and a chap called Ludo kindly sent me this way.
    This gets funny now, because a year or so ago I made a Polders-themed table with a windmill and raised dykes, and I stumbled into exactly the same technique: coving with a layer of filler to blend it and then – again, with a nod now to one of your commenters above – some cork underlay along the top to provide the road surface!
    To bring it all full-circle, Mel saw my Polders-themed board and was impressed by my ingenuity with the coving…
    …so your excellent how-to, above, has realised that I knew the answer all along, but hadn’t thought of it: thank you!
    Physician, heal thyself.

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