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Akita Mountain

Tom C

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Having spent the last three years building seven n scale Canadian Pacific steamers from pretty much scratch, my creative/artistic side has been left a little neglected ! So, I have decided to build a micro layout and realize a long dorment dream of a buddhist monastery on a snowy Japanese mountain side 

Now a photo before you all nod off. (er, your perches that is, not the mountainside!!)


This is the first time I build a layout that will be taller than it is long ! It mesures 540mm long and 630mm high to the top of the pagoda and 280mm wide.


Akita prefecture lies in the north of main island Japan. Snowfall is over one hundred inches and temperatures can drop to -30c It is a rimote and sparcely populated part of Japan. The railway was built in 1921 to serve a coal mine and a string of small mountain villages. It was elictified through out with an overhead catenary. Two tiny electic locos and a handful of freight cars worked the line along with a soltary passanger car. The line closed in 1956 when the coal seam ran out and the rails ripped up a year or so later. Tragically, nothing apart from a few embankments and the tunnels remain to show that there was ever a railway in this pictoresque countryside. Think what a beautiful tourist train it would have made. Presavation was not too high on the agender back in the cash strapped 50's  😐

The model;

I really like the 3D effect of soaring cliffs and the high level rope bridge. The landscape will be covered in deep snow and a smell of incence and wood smoke hanging in the still winters air. Tourists and worshipers mill at the station as pesants and monks go about their business.


One of the buildings will be an inn and another a saki store. Akita is well known for its high quality saki. The temples and pagoda will be paper kits from Sankei and the rest will be kitbashed/scratchbuilt.  All will be lit, along with stone lanterns beside the pathways. The figures will be heavily modifide Preiser persons. 'Oh look', 'here comes a couple of them now' 


I covered a couple of businessmen with plastic filler and then carved their robes out of it. One might say they've seen the light 😄 A fine couple of chaps to oversee construction of the temples. 


30% of my school was Japanese so I grew up surounded by their culture and it left a deep fasination with all things Japanese including my beautiful dog (sadly no longer of this world)


She was an Akita inu from Akita !! hence some of the insperation to model that part of the world.

I am using Tomix mini track with electric points.


Here's a photo of the baseboard. The big hole is to alow access to the inside of the mountain for wiring lighting etc.


More photos as and when.


Go well you all



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I took a little time to carve some foam board and make a mock up to get a better idea of what I was doing.



I can see streight off that the little river on the right needs to be more of a canyon to give a more dinamic feel to the bulky front panal. I also feel that the two pagodas are a bit sandwiched together. 

I will now have a nice weekend playing with ideas 🙂

Edited by Tom C
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4 minutes ago, cteno4 said:

Wow! Wonderful mock-ups!




Thank you. There's nothing like a mock up to get a better feel of what's going on. What works in 2D doesn't always transfer into 3D ! It saves tears later on. It's kinda fun too 🙂

I'll give a big shout out to HobbySerch Model Trains for, to the best of their ability, giving the dimentions in the discriptions of the buildings they sell. 👍 It means I can make a scale foam model of one and see how it fits before ordering. It helps to do this when one is working with such a small space.   

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I completely agree, space filling mock-ups really are super important. I work in exhibit design and even though designers are great at 2d to 3D and visualizing in their head we always do space filling mock-ups and models as it really does register s different way in the brain. Cad just doesn’t do it the same way, it’s something about the process that really helps with finer details and ideas and inspiration. Sadly cad is taking this over in current cultures to absurd levels... I’ve worked with architects that have admitted (horrifyingly even to clients) that they can’t draw! Their work showed of it and they had a hard time in meetings even communicating visual or spacial information. Very sad.

anyhow great work. Did you slice all that foam up with saw, knife or hot knife? 

yell if you have any specific models you want base sizes/shapes or other details, I have a lot of them here and happy to measure or scan any for you.





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Jumping the gun a little, I made a foot bridge and a fine lady crossing it.




The footbridge is made of plastic, wood and paper. The hardest part was drilling the angled holes through the posts. You can see in the photo below how the drill bit wanted to break out of the sides of the posts. I broke a few (posts) but got there in the end. The snow is a mix of plaster, wall paint and wood glue witch is then covered with a coat of Faller 'sparkeling' snow paste. I found that if I didn't add the wood glue, the snow was too fragile and cold get knocked off the handrails. It's a pitty the sparkles don't show in the photo as they add a touch of frosty magic.



Here's how I made the lady:

The other figure was the starting point and is placed alongside as a comparison. I use Tamya putty which I apply in blobs. It drys quite soft and I carve it with a sharp knife. I grafted on a new right arm and tied her hair up in a bun !!!







Before and after. 




Quite a 'charming' lady 🙂


Her umbreller is made out of paper with a bit of wire as a handle. She took about three and a half hours to make. I need about therty little people for the layout 😯


Jeff, I carved the foam with a sharp knife. It still needs a lot of carving as what you see is just to get a feel of things. 


Are people able to see the photos in the first post of this thread ? When I click on them they appear tiny !!!



Edited by Tom C
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42 minutes ago, Tom C said:

Are people able to see the photos in the first post of this thread ? When I click on them they appear tiny !!!



They look just as tiny to me.

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Kudos! wonderful bridge and lady! Love the parasol! Simplest additions like this can really make a huge difference. Nice craftsmanship on the bridge.


you can help on the drill breakout by clamping two of the pieces of wood together and then drilling thru the top one and partway into the second. Wastes some wood but having a sacrificial pice clamped firmly to the back can prevent most of the breakout issues.




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The little monks that didn't show up so well in the first post.  I made them in the same way as the lady on the bridge.



A couple of splendid chaps with an inlightened outlook on life 👍


Edited by Tom C
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8 hours ago, cteno4 said:

Tom, what figures are you using to start from?




Hi Jeff,


I'm going to give you the long winded and, just a tad embarrassing, answer, just because it's kind of a story and stories can be fun. 🙂
I am a freelance carpenter. To be independent and make it work, you have to be a bit of a businessman. I'm not at all. In fact, I am probably the worst business person in the world. I never charge enough and I often run at a loss! 🙃
The last two years have been really tough and the spending on model trains had to be kept on a tight leash. So, even though I stated in my first post that I would use Preiser figures, I've used some Very Cheep ones from China. Therty for something like three dollars posted for free on Ebay. 
This state of affres had to change. When I started looking at the cost of buildings for this little layout, I almost passed out. The main pagoda is around seventy dollars alone !!! Something had to be done to get some money. So, I have started working in the evenings posing for an art class. Male models are in high dimand, probably because women are less inhibited then us chaps about getting their err, 'kit' off. 😯 I don't know who was more embarrasded, the art students or me ? Anyway, I got my first pay cheque in, and, did I buy better little figures with it ? Nope, I got a bit excited on the Hobbyserch website and bought a little loco and some wagons instead ! The preiser figures will just have to wait as little locos are far more fun. 😁

There you are.The lenghts some of us go to just to buy model trains ! I call it, modeling for modeling !!! True dedication to the hobby. 

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that’s got to be the best lengths I’ve heard of someone going to for their model trains! That’s dedication. You have your priorities straight in my book. You can just sit there and think of the model the sitting is buying and how you are going to detail it and time will fly.


doh! Sorry missed that in the first post, thought they looked like the pressers. They are nicely moulded figures and I got some cheap a long time ago on ebay with the same ideas of modifying like this. That was pre tomytec days and all their figures have gotten me very lazy! The cheap Chinese architectural figures are not worth modifying as pretty poor moulding or shapes for modifying. They are good for background crowd scenes at the deeper distance. Good for platforms and sidewalks where it would be a fortune or a lifetime of modeling to do them all with nice figures. But which some nice figures on the outside to catch the eye the rest can sort of blur into the out of focus masses in the mind’s eye.


the sankei pagoda is very nice. If on a budget, have you looked at the fujimi kits? They’re colored plastic and good moulding and decent as is but with some good prepainting with an airbrush with some flat paints and some weathering it could be quite nice. Third the price but I expect a bit more in shipping these days. Might also want to look on ebay as they show up here in the us second hand.





they are on Amazon.co.jp if shipping is just crazy as Amazon has the best bulk DHL shipping rates in these covid times when cheaper shipping. It may make it small packet surface mail which would take a couple of months but could be cheap shipping. May have to do one model at a time with these for small packer surface as they are larger boxes




your carpentry talent shows up in your prototype, all beautifully cut and positioning well thought out, comes from your woodworking experience! 

hopefully business will pick up, folks here have seriously turned inward and doing a lot on their homes and you can’t even hire a carpenter for like 6 months!






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I got myself into gear and finished making the base board. 






I'm loving its 3D feel. It looks more like one of my wood sculptures than a base board ! 


Now I will fill it with foam board and start carving.  Probably the part I injoy most 🙂


It's easy to forget when we build our models, that the landscape often drops below track level. 


Jeff, Thanks for your kind words. I will save up for the Sankei pagoda. It will be so prominent that I would like to go with the best. I have however, ordered a Fujimi temple so I'll see what it's like when it gets here.  Business is brisk here too, I just don't charge enough !

Edited by disturbman
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If you click on the "..." at the top, right handside of your post. You can select "edit" and edit the content of any of your posts.

Edited by disturbman
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I've been carving foam and having a ball with the aestetics of the layout. trying to throw out what a layout 'should' look like and just see it as shapes and forms.

So, here goes;

I have deepened the river canion and formed an overhanging cliff to create tention. Tention helps to captivate the eye.

Showing it in context
Apart from the 'squiffy' pine tree, I love the drama of of what will be the rope bridge. At this angle, the two cliffs work in unison. Little things like this make me smile 


And, to the other 'end' of the layout. All 6" away !!! I want to keep things calmer here so as not to detract from the lady on the footbridge (next photo)

In her rightful place, the center of attention. The backdrop is just to see how I feel, not necasserily how it will look. The little steps will be blendid into the hillside with snow. There will be lots of them all up the mountainsides.

And finally, the main gate to the temple. It will have a wide set of steps leading up to it from a footbridge across the canion. One can't have too many steps 😅 The buildings are just held together and do not represent excactly how they will look.


At the moment it is all about getting the 'feel' of things. Actual scenic work is still a way off.

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Wonderful work Tom! You should have been a designer, your visual planning is superb (woodworking thought really is a form of design).


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1 hour ago, cteno4 said:

Wonderful work Tom! You should have been a designer, your visual planning is superb (woodworking thought really is a form of design).


Mr. Jeff,


Those are some very kind words but not entirely deserved by myself.


I have to confess to feeling like a bit of a cheat. There is a lot I haven't said about myself. I design and build everything from kitchens to complete houses. I practice many forms of art but mostly wood sculpting eg.






When I take this into conceideration, I feel that I should be doing something a lot more creative with my layout. My aim is to make it say something. My deffinition of art is when an object speaks louder than the sum-total of what it is. I want to see if I can apply this in my model making.  One day, the finel post on this thread will be the proof of the pudding. In the meantime, lets see what happens ? And enjoy the ride.

Edited by Tom C
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The Sake seller,

Dave was somthing of a curiosity to the tourists who came to buy his sake. For, despite his excelent mastering of the language, he was clearly, under the layers of grime, a white skin. Politeness ment that nobody ever asked how he came to be in this back water of rural Japan. All that was known was that he came and settled many moons ago and that he made the best sake this side of Senboku. And that's saying something !

Every day he wheels his cart down from his little mountain dwelling laden with sake barrels, and sets up shop by the railway tracks. Despite being well liked and accepted, the locals could never quite understand why his attention was so destracted when the daily train pulled in ?

As the day draws to a close, Dave lights up the stone lantern to attract the last of the retreating tourists. It has been duly noted that he is naver seen without a mug of sake in his hands. The monks mock him a little about consuming his profits, but, being a little 'merry' he always takes this in good humor 


The cart is a kit by Sankei. The lantern is drilled out plastic with fiber optic down the middle. The sake barrels are 2mm plastic rod. The sake seller is Dave 🙃

Have you noticed that 'Hot stuff' by Donner Summer can be interpreded both ways ? 🤔

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