Build Journal: Flintrock Highway

Rainsford Saturday, 2/13/2021

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Howdy all,

I stumbled onto 3dBotMaker's YouTube channel a week or so ago, and my wife and I are hooked. I've been model railroading my whole life, but with the addition of a "quarantine kitten" to the family last year, I had been looking for something a little more durable while my trains cower with fear in storage. Hot Wheels track sections were available at the local Dollar Tree, so $5 later I was clearing the top of a bookshelf and going at my cardboard supplies with a box knife.

My concept is to go for a 20th century open highway theme, utilizing nearby Flint Hills scenery as inspiration. My wife and I are big into steampunk, and so I'm planning on collecting a stable of all the "old time" style castings I can find. (I already have one of the "Old No. 3," somewhere, I just need to pull the correct HO scale flat car from storage and pop it off...) Black and white newsreels of the latest races with silent film cards for commentary will likely appear on YouTube at some point...but first the track needs built!

I have to admit, I have an ulterior model railroading purpose in building this track - I've always wanted to test out lightweight open-frame cardboard and hot glue module construction I have seen used for some portable model railroads - so here's the start of a track section, with the hill profile cut x2 and bridging cut to the width of the track's underside channel glued between.

By spacing the walls of the track profile to line up with each notch on the outside of the connector channel on the underside of the track, the track fits snugly into the profile with a good surface area for gluing.

Next up, after assembling two tracks with profile supports and sandwiching them together to get a two-lane road, is adding the 3" bridging front and back to get a full width of 9" and meet the front and rear profiles.

Here's the completed framework of the first 4'-0" module. I'll be keeping a 2" high base on all the modules, so the "zero elevation" at the creek bed is 2" above the bookshelf/table.

And here's the completed first day of work! Gluing the 3" wide strips of cardboard (cereal box chipboard at extremely curvy locations) over the framework to form the ground plane makes it rigid, I swung it around a bit without hearing too much popping and cracking from the hot glue joints. Since it is basically a hollow speaker box underneath, it is a little noisy when cars run on it, but I might try stuffing it with wadded paper or plastic bags to take care of that.

I'm pleased with how it is turning out so far, and tomorrow plan to finish the profile of the hill for the homestead with the road curve below at the end of the 2'-0" module, paint the track, and apply scenery. With luck, we'll have some inaugural Valentine's Day races!

Let me know what you all think!


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jdensillegg 2/13/21

Love the construction method. That grid system will keep it light and strong. I'm excited to see the steampunk elements as well. Nicely done!

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Mike70 2/13/21

It's amazing what can be done with time, cardboard and a sharp blade when combined with inspiration and creative thought! With the amount of available cardboard from my daughter's Amazon/Target online shopping I may just have to give this a try!  How large a project will this be in length? Great job, keep up the progress reports!

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Rainsford 2/13/21

If you do want to try this construction method out, I recommend wearing gloves, because with the Arctic temperatures we've been having around here, the cardboard sucked what little moisture remained in my hands out and they're definitely hurting today!!!

For now, I only have 6'-0" of bookshelves, but there's no reason I can't eventually add another 2'-0" flat straight module between the hills and the finish line curve. I also have one leftover piece of track that I am going to turn into a one-lane bridge to come off the curve at the front, to a catch bin on a chair.

The curve is there so if I have space, the whole track could continue along another wall...

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Rainsford 2/14/21

Day 2 of the build -

I smoothed over the joints within the modules with shipping label stickers cut to size, then applied Liquitex gesso to the track. Gesso has become my secret weapon when painting plastic, as it will stick and not flake off when bent, like some spray paint will do. (I learned that trick from the wargames folks painting 1/72 figures made from bendy plastic.) I can't spray paint right now anyway, since it is so freaking cold outside!

I did a quick template to figure out the elevations on the hill corner, and then cut apart the road section to trace onto the module.

Here's the whole thing with the homestead on the hill and the gesso applied to the track, as well as a few areas of cardboard that will get painted later - rock outcrops and the creek bed.

My wife walked by and saw the rock cut at the curve, and said "that looks extremely Midwestern, so misson accomplished." :)

Then some nearly instant cat-proof springtime grass, thanks to a perfect mottled green calico print from JoAnn's Fabrics. I went in intending to get the tye-dye green fleece they always have in stock and that I've made some wargaming grass mats with, but this has a tighter pattern and more natural green color that will require less paint to make it look passable. I painted on Mod-Podge and stuck it down, and then went back over the edges with Mod-Podge to keep it from fraying and make sure it says down.

First coat of gray on the road, and I'm calling it a night! Tomorrow I'm going to use some thin frozen-food-package cardstock for the hill contours at the homestead, and then start adding the details!

  • Looking absolutely amazing so far! Really professional stuff. — H3zzard
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Rainsford 2/14/21

Day 3 -

I got the contours sorted out on the homestead hill with thin cardstock and hot glue, and was then ready to Mod-Podge the grass.

Grass over everything, finally. Next step, adding the fence to complete the curve, and starting to add other vegetation.

Overall view at the end of the day. I need to let it percolate overnight to figure out where I need other clumps of brush and flowers to balance everything out, and just how much I might need to tone the grass down with some darker green mottled in.

The fence is a paper model from Dave Graffam Models (, that I glued to a strip of cardboard curved to the road, and hot glued down. Then I Mod-Podged the face of the fence, to seal it and keep it from wearing as cars rub along it. Once I collect a few period advertisements and get them printed, I'll put a few of those on it. I tested how it works, and it scoops cars around to the exit at the future bridge nicely.

The creek bed is still a WIP, with more grass and flock needing to be added, but I jumped ahead and got the trees in just to assess the overall effect was going right. Bits of paper towel tube form the ends of the concrete culvert poking out on each side of the road.

I think this road is probably just boiling up out of my subconscious memories of driving around Missouri and Kansas, looking at it from this angle...

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SpyDude 2/15/21

As an avid micro-ferroequinologist and steampunker (Wild West Con!), this does my heart proud.  Awesome work, good sir!

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redlinederby 2/15/21
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Just wow on this one, all around. Props for the planned steampunk theme, certainly overlooked in the hobby and one I enjoy quite a bit. 

And mega props for the cardboard construction and build out. It's always good to see someone use a "simple" method for building...just a reminder that you don't need to be too fancy to make something fun. After the Rookie Rally, I have some plans for my track and I'm going to have to reference your methods for sure.

Thanks for sharing the build thus far, it's great to see and will certainly inspire other track builders. Can't wait to see it race and in video.

This is really inspiring seeing you bring that to life from cardboard and paper. Really nicely done! Thanks

way cool man nicely done

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TomKeegan 2/18/21

Oh yes.  I am excited for your track.  I love Steam Punk and your skills are amazing.  I also "converted" my model rail road skills to diecast racing.  I learned that the construction of a functional racing track is a science/physics experiement all on its own.  The drop angles and approach angles on the turns are particularly tricky.  Best of luck.   

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Rainsford 2/22/21

Thanks for all the comments guys!

More progress --

Start line - still trying to figure out a start gate, I might incorporate something into the banner poles somehow.

And, a finish line. All the people and details here are removable overnight, so the cat doesn't carry them off.

If anyone wants to know how I made those 55 gallon barrels, I can start another thread on that. They are paper models from and originally 1:32 scale, but they are still relatively easy to make in 1:64 when printed at 50% size. I put short lengths of dowel inside so they wouldn't crush.

I put my Cricut machine to work for the 3-rail fence, which is "planted" using toothpicks glued to the back side at the posts. I then glued some "heraldry" type logos to it to create some pit stalls, thinking in my steampunk world each team is like that of a medieval knight. (Looks like the Castrol team is digging through a box of Hot Wheels looking for a new chassis for their entry that actually rolls worth a darn...)

I like the look of the white rail fences - probably because of staring at all those racing sets in the LEGO catalogs when I was a kid that had white fences as the main scenic item.

I added some packing-tape-reinforced 3-rail fencing on the opposite side of the curve from the board fence, as I realized if I have a one lane bridge eventually, the cars will need to be funneled to it or might end up in the abyss. I glued some vintage signage to the board fence to give it some color.

Other details --

Started working in some white aquarium gravel for the limestone that litters the shelf-like rock outcrops in the Flint Hills. (Oh, and the "translucent" linen start and finish banners are paper - the words showing through on the back is just a photoshop trick!)

Well, the pit stalls ARE in the splash zone if there's a mishap on the final stretch to the finish.

A few counties in the Flint Hills were still open range until 1920, so THAT will be interesting.

Overall view --

I got the base painted "museum diorama black" so it all floats. I'm going to pause on this for a bit and work on finishing some customs and modding the cheapo old-time cars and trucks I found in one of my train bins so they actually roll well enough to produce a result other than DNF! That, and pump up the level of steampunk! (There could be some Thomas the Tank Engine/Hot Wheels bashing going on soon...)

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SpyDude 2/22/21

This is turning out REALLY nice. Props to you for making such a cool themed racetrack.

Those 'cattle crossing' signs reminded me of the old BurmaShave signs for a few seconds there. :) Great work in the fences, too.

As for the starting line, you may need to design a pin-drop system that rests against the front bumper of the vehicle, then drops  away straight down (like a vertical drawer slide mounted under the track.) That would be minimal showing above the surface of the roadway, and would not interfere with the cars passing over the ends of the pins.

You know..... Hot Wheels DID come out with a track worthy version of Thomas the Tank Engine ........ just sayin' .......

  • I knew I had seen a Thomas on a YouTube thumbnail somewhere... — Rainsford

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