Sunday, 18 October 2015

Building a Highway Sign


Building a roadside sign to place beside a highway is one of the simplest projects you can do yourself on your model railroad. While there are many commercial ready-made signs available on the model railway market, finding the perfect sign that gives your model railroad a sense of local geographical placement often requires the modeler to do-it-yourself. In my case, I wanted to reaffirm that my highway overpass was a single lane, semi-outback highway in Australia. So what better way to convey that to viewers by adding a kangaroo caution sign.

From my desk beneath my bookshelf layout, I designed my kangaroo road sign on my computer.

I started by trawling the internet for a photo of a Kangaroos Next 10 km sign. You see them everywhere through rural New South Wales. But when it comes to finding a photo that you can scale down in size and print to use as the basis for a sign, its hard to find a clear front-on photo that hasn't got a tourist jumping in front of it like they are in a Toyota add. Even when I found a clear photo, I still had to run it through Adobe Photoshop Pro to align it horizontally and crop out any unnecessary background detail before re-sizing it and printing it from my laptop. Next I pinched the Corn Flakes box from our kitchen, found a section of the box that had a plain grey area, cut this out and glued the cut out paper road sign to the non-printed box side using some PVA wood glue which doesn't bleed the dye from the printer ink.

Covering the sign's surface using a roll of adhesive school book covering protects the ink from ever bleeding.

Next up, I cut a small square of clear adhesive book covering that my kids once used to cover their school books with, and when the glue has dried, place it down carefully over the printed face of my road sign. Rubbing this down gently using the smooth side of the scissor handles will ensure that there are no air bubbles visible. The book covering simply gives the printed paper some protection against fading or water splashes from paint brushes or glue that would otherwise make the home printer dye bleed.

Using a Corn Flake box for the backing of my sign saved me the trouble of painting the back of the road sign.

Then I cut the shape of the road sign using scissors and a very sharp hobby knife. As added insurance, I always make two signs, just in case I stuff one up. When finished, the back of the sign will be the plain grey-white coloured side of the Corn Flake box, which saves me the hassle of having to paint it.

A good model railroad is in the details, such as my warning sign. Kangaroos Next 10 km.

Finally I glue the road sign to a scrap piece of model rail, in my case I cut a 5 cm piece of N scale rail and painted the top 4 cm of it with the same silver paint pen marker I used for the handrails on my cement plant. I then made an incision into my modeled polystyrene foam rock using the tip of a sharp hobby knife, and pressed the bottom 1 cm of the sign post into place using a very small amount of PVA wood glue to keep it secured.

It's only a small project I know, but standing back and looking at the before and after photos of my highway overpass, I am just as proud of the 4 cm tall kangaroo sign as I am of the overpass itself. Anyone looking closely at the above photo would instantly recognize this as being Australian. Best of all, the sign adds some presence to what is essentially a 6 cm deep shallow relief piece set against an otherwise blue backdrop. Its a perfect disguise for trains coming and going from my layout.


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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil