Maine On2 layouts – Bill Kerr’s SR&RL

Bill Kerr and a group of friends built this large layout based on the SR&RL in the basement of his Calgary home featuring 60″+ radius curves and great scenery.


Heading Picture: This area is typical of Rick Reimer’s  scenery on Bill’s layout, click on it to get a larger copy and take some time to look at the various features like wild flowers etc. In layout terms this is heading North from the Covered Bridge area and into the Avon Roadway and Swamp areas on the way to Rangeley.

Bill’s layout was located in the basement of his Calgary home, occupying a 640 square foot area at one end. The space was nearly 40 feet long and the width varied in three steps from 18 feet down to 11 feet 8 inches. The layout was started as a Proto-48, standard gauge layout based on Bill’s recollections of the Canadian National Railway from his youth. A plan of this original proposed layout is shown below.

Sometime after the first sections of hand-laid track had been completed, Bill decided that he liked the idea of a Maine 2-foot gauge layout better, and Rick Reimer reworked the P:48 layout design into the On2 version shown below.

Bill was a big fan of the SR&RL, and the layout follows that line northwards from Strong to Phillips and then onto Rangeley and Marbles. A non-prototypical bridge connected Marbles to Strong for a continuous running lap of 105 feet for open houses. When operated in the end to end mode, the run from Strong to Marbles was 95 feet long.

Bill’s Maine Two Foot modelling “must haves” were to build the Phillips Roundhouse, the Covered Bridge and the Salmon Hole Bridge in full scale/size, and his “wants” included Marbles Station and the Dickey Road Underpass. Rick Reimer managed to fit all this into the available space and use the existing benchwork. The SR&RL On2 layout featured 60” minimum curve radii and used #8 turnouts. Bill is on record as stating that his focus for this layout was more on the scenery than operation, meaning that he chose to use the space available for realistic settings and full scale structures rather than cram in unrealistic amounts of track work. Most of the scenery shown in the following pictures was done by Rick Reimer with some assistance from Bill Kerr.


Construction of the On2 layout started in 1998. When Bill published photographs of the layout as it was being built, a number of people asked questions and we have collated some of Bill’s replies to allow him to describe how he and his group built the layout;-

“The yards (Strong, Phillips and Rangeley) are 1/2” plywood, cookie cuttered to create different contours with Homasote for roadbed.

The rest is standard L girder construction, using a riser system developed by a club in Calgary.

The top of the riser is cut off, then nailed back on with a single nail. This allows it to pivot. Strips of hardboard 1″x8′ are then run between risers (risers are situated from 12″ to 16″ apart). We used 1/8″ hardboard, if I was to do it again I would use 1/4″ for more rigidity. The top of the riser being able to pivot, gives more gluing surface, and creates a natural curve between risers. Homasote is then glued on top of the hardboard for roadbed.

The track is handlaid and depending on situation, I will use HO cork roadbed or lay the ties directly on the sub-roadbed if I am not modeling any embankment.

Scenery is all styrofoam base. It is so easy to glue and shape, that I will never probably consider anything else. Make a mistake, glue some more styrofoam back on and re-carve.

We use a two part expanding poly-urethane foam that sets up in 30 minutes. D@#$% stuff, glues anything to anything. I get the glue from a local Taxidermist, in 2 kg (1kg or about a liter per bottle) lots for about $40. It comes in two parts, A & B. Should be mixed in equal weights, but equal volume works out to be pretty close.

We just use Dixie cups (usually between a 1/4 to 1/2 cup) for measuring, depending on area to be covered. Mix both parts in a clear plastic bowl, the type your foodmarket puts salads into. Wait about a minute until it starts to foam, pour it over the surface to be glued, spread it with a cheap spreader, we use cut up cardboard, because you do not need a thick layer for this stuff to work, apply second piece, and add LOTS of weight. Check alignment for a few minutes, as the glue has a slippery period, where the pressure of expansion will actually push the piece to be glued around. The glue is like plaster, use clean utensils, or otherwise it can start to set up real quick.

We make sure we have throw away clothes on the night we work with it just in case.

We lay the styrofoam on in level layers. Depending whether we are going below track level or not, depends at what level we start. It varies as we work our way around the layout.

We literally lay the styrofoam over the track roadbed and trace its path from the bottom, then cut the styrofoam to fit up to the roadbed. Build up layers as required with lots of excess. I would suggest a minimum of 2″ below your roadbed, which allows you to add minor relief and avoid that the earth starting at the roadbed and always going up from there effect.

Then we carve the styrofoam using old kitchen knives. The serrated type work well. Forget about hot wire cutting, smelly, maybe poisonous, and not as effective. We also use handsaws, box cutters, coarse rasps (that one is messy), anything that cuts styrofoam.

Nice thing is, when doing hillsides, you carve your contour as if the track is not there. Then you go back and create the cuts or fill. The result, the scenery looks as if it was there first, and the roadbed came later.

Sometimes it is the expansion (up to 8 x its volume) that causes my problems of flexing (where the foam is trapped in a confined space). It’s the expansion I like, great gap filler when you make a mistake.

Styrofoam base makes planting of trees very simple. Poke a hole and push the tree in. Don’t like the final effect, pull, fill in hole and replant! I will probably have easily 500 trees on the layout by the time I am finished.

All of the pictures are of our groups On30 modules, scenery base is styrofoam. Even the mountains. Modules probably do not weigh more then 8-10 lbs.

One night we glued a chisel to the bottom of a module by mistake ;^) The chisel happened to have been left on the floor, and the module paced on top of it while we were holding everything in place waiting for the foam to set up. Shows just how effective “two part foam” is. My recommendation, forget white or yellow glue, liquid nails, PLx00. “Two part foam” fills in gaps, sets up in about 30 minutes, and then can be carved like styrofoam.

Regards Bill”

The On30 modules referred to are shown in the FAQ blog posting Maine On2 layouts – Scenery Extra – Bill Kerr and the Calgary Monday night crew do scenery, click here to view on another browser page.

The pictures attributed to Bill and Gary Graham with the MaineOn2 FAQ’s 2013 header were taken between 2002 and 2006 and were originally posted on the groups Fotopic site and the first version of this blog write-up. Bill’s original captions from Fotopic are shown;- Bill said/wrote “….”.

David Woodhead is a professional musician and modeller based in Toronto just a few blocks away from Trevor Marshall. Dave is on the road a lot and often manages to combine these trips with railfanning. On one occasion, back in 2007, he visited Bill at home in Calgary and has provided a set of pictures recording the visit. Thanks Dave!

Bill and Gary’s pictures were essentially staged pictures to show selected areas of the basic layout and scenery techniques or to record events at group work nights, whereas Dave’s more impromptu pictures record the layout (and layout room) at a later date with all the usual extra’s that seem to accumulate on and under most layouts. Dave’s pictures are useful because they show much more of the layout, including area’s under construction.

The pictures are arranged in sequence to follow the route of the line northwards from Strong to Phillips and then onto Rangeley and Marbles. This is basically around the walls in a clockwise direction from the entrance in model layout terms.


Picture  1: This is the view that would greet a visitor as they entered the layout area, looking at Strong in a Northerly direction.


Picture 2 : Bill wrote “Track to left connects to Marbles for continuous running during open houses.”


Picture 3 : Bill wrote “Strong throat at the Forster toothpick sorting building. Yes, we built the layout strong. That’s Gary Graham changing a switch for the third time.”

Picture 4 : Strong looking North to Phillips with the mock up of the Forster Mill disappearing off to the right. Bill wrote “Gives you an idea of the terrain planned.” Note the gently rising track using the cookie cutter method.


Picture 5 : Looking back (southwards) at Strong and the Forster Mill.

Picture 6 : Looking back (southwards) towards the Dickey Road Underpass from Salmon Hole. The weird dark shape in the background is a set of coveralls hanging from the ceiling. Note the trail of polyurethane foam glue attaching the fascia to the scenery in the foreground.


Picture 7: Looking Northwards across an unfinished Salmon Hole.


Picture 8 : Close up of one of the Salmon Hole abutments. Look at those weeds!.


Picture 9 : Heading North from Salmon Hole the line runs around a small farm field called Potato Patch with a storage shed for some old farm equipment. Gary Graham built the tractor and the shed.


Picture 10 : Bill wrote “This is Potato Patch, source of some potatoes for the cannery. If you look close, there are potatoes at the feet of the farmer. (good use for HO ballast ;^)” That’s a 60 inch radius curve in the background.


Picture 11 : Bill wrote “This is Potato Corner where the track rounds the Potato Patch.” Note the 60 inch radius curve in the background.


Picture 12 : Cardboard templates and mock ups show the position and extent of the buildings at Phillips. Bill wrote “The Car Works #23 gives you an idea of the size of the planned roundhouse facilities.”

Picture 13 : A view southwards looking along the extent of Phillips.


Picture 14:  Another view of Phillips showing Bill’s characteristic cardboard mock-ups of the passenger station and the freight house.


Picture 15 : Still heading North and looking back into Phillips, with Bill Kerr in the background. Bill’s other interests included hiking and distance running. Both activities doubled as potential scenery items scouting trips. You can see some foraged plant tops drying on top of the layout, and some finished trees stuck in the scrap piece of foam behind.


Picture 16 : heading North from Phillips and looking back across the Covered Bridge area, with landscape still under formation. This view shows Bill’s methods of stacking of expanded polystyrene sheets and gluing with 2 part urethane expanding foam to form the scenery contours particularly well. Bill obtained the expanding foam in small quantities locally from a local taxidermist who bought in bulk, and noted that the mixed material was extremely sticky and seemed to get everywhere. It was difficult (impossible) to remove from clothing – hence the old coverall in some pictures.


Picture 17 : Heading North from the Covered Bridge area and taking a long look back from the Avon Roadway area, with Phillips in the right hand corner and Strong across on the middle left.


Picture 18 : A better view of that tree, and remember it pre-dates the Gordon Gravett books on trees!


Picture 19 : Bill wrote “Now that is what I call a nice good looking tree to the right! Leaf and added branch structure from Selkirk Scenery, added to natural branch cut from a tree along the Bow River in Calgary.”  


Picture 20 : Bill wrote “I always liked the scene in Avon of the Rail Auto #2 (2nd) pulled off to a small temporary siding, the Vose car stopped talking to the B&B crew cutting the grass. The truck in the background is S scale which creates a nice forced perspective.” Weeds and flowers are made using Selkirk Scenery materials.

Bill was often asked how this scene and scenery were made. Here is one of his typical replies;-

I get a number of requests on how the roadway was done. The scene was the work of Rick Reimer, I was the student learning. This was before we built some On30 modules.

The dirt road was inspired by a picture on the SR&RL around Avon, between Strong and Phillips. It can be found in the Peter Barney SR&RL Handcars, Railcars and Railbuses book on page 18. The road crew was swathing weeds, with the Vose and #2 rail-auto stopped for the picture.

I use styrofoam for the base of my scenery. The base layer just came up to the homasote roadbed, which the ties were on. To get the elevated road portion, a 1/2″ layer of styrofoam was glued on. I use 2 part polyurethane foam from a taxidermist as a glue. Expands to 8x its volume, so it’s a great gap filler as well! The results just seem so much more natural for me, and you get away from the flatness of a scene. The road has a very natural slope at its edges.

Styrofoam was added to both sides of the road on the back wall to create the hills. Starting with the track below the styrofoam level really helps to get away from the look of the track always being on top of the scenery.

The road was roughly laid out first, for the slight curve.

The contours for the scenery were then carved using old kitchen knives. The serrated type work well. Forget about hot wire cutting, smelly, maybe poisonous, and not as effective. We also use handsaws, box cutters, coarse rasps (that one is messy), anything that cuts styrofoam.

Rick’s motto, cut away anything that is not scenery. Once the scenery was determined, then the embankments and cuts were cut in for the track. It is much easier to visualize the contours when you only have small slots of track running though the contour. One of things I like about styrofoam scenery, you can always glue some more on, or take more off if it does not look right,  Try that with hardshell once it has set up!

The road was then shaped to the final scenery contour. Ended up with a slight hill that is emphasized by the picture being taken from below the road level. You may notice that the road has fill to bring up to track level track from the layout edge.

The styrofoam was given a thick coating of paint that is similar in color to the fine sandstone that is used for the base color. Sandstone is sifted onto the paint while it is still wet. Once dry another sandstone coating is sifted on, then soaked with water mixed with some methyl hydrate (we use methyl hydrate instead of soap) to eliminate the water surface tension, and then a diluted white glue solution. Methyl Hydrate seems to dry faster.

For the road, the embankment received a coarser application of sandstone. The road surface then received a heavier application of sifted sandstone. The sifted sandstone was allowed to overlap the embankment, so everything blended in. Once happy with the appearance, soaked with water mix, and applied diluted white glue.  If it doesn’t look right before gluing, vacuum the dirt off, and try again ;^). While the road was drying, the S scale truck in the background was “lightly” run over the road in both directions to create the tire ruts.

It really was that simple.

The long grass is the blonde wig method.

Weeds are created by giving the grass area a shot of 3M Super 77 glue, and Selkirk leaves dabbed on the area. Don’t sprinkle, it does not look right when sprinkled. The flowers are applied the same way, in much smaller amounts. Yes, there are yellow and purple flowers in the scene.

The wig material, I am now getting year round from Wal Mart. It is in the personal hygiene area (toothpaste/hair shampoo section). For $3 you get about 1000x times the amount you get in a Woodlands Scenics grass package. And it’s synthetic, Trevor can tell you about his layout being attacked by monstrous O scale moths that munched on his Woodland Scenics grass ;^).

The soft sandstone comes from bluffs about 10 minutes from where I live.  It comes in chunks that we smash into smaller pieces. Sifters were made from ½” and ¼” metal screen from the local hardware store. Gary Graham found a 1/16” food sifter that his wife was throwing out. The fine sifter was found at a $1 store, it’s about 3” in diameter. What is left over from the fine sift, we use for ballast.

The hill, and curve of the road really helps the forced perspective with the S scale truck in the background. I like how the chrome just shines through the background shadows as the truck come into the light in one of the pictures.

The wall and inside of the trees were painted black to give the dark shadow of coming out of the woods.

Hope that helps.

Regards Bill

Editor’s note: Year round – Bill had previously used Halloween wigs which were seasonal.

The On30 modules referred to are shown in the FAQ blog posting Maine On2 layouts – Scenery Extra – Bill Kerr and the Calgary Monday night crew do scenery, click here to view on another browser page.



Picture 21 : showing a view across the Avon Swamp, with the Vose road car parked by the side of the Avon Roadway having just watched (inspected) a passenger train heading southwards to Phillips.

Bill commented “The picture of the swamp does not show it well, but the swamp contour continues on the other side of the track, so the track literally looks like it is on fill. Nothing worse then track that looks like it is on absolutely flat terrain, with this method (stacked styrofoam) you can create small cuts and fills easily.”


Picture 22 : Close up view of the weeds on the edge of Avon Swamp made with Selkirk Scenery materials.


Picture 23 : Around the corner into Rangeley with partially formed landscape.

When discussing the stacked styrofoam scenery method Bill referred to this picture, saying “this is another swamp to be made at one end of Rangeley, the slope runs up to the corner which is coved. You can just pick out the yellow glue lines between each layer. This area will eventually be heavily treed to help hide the corner. The track running into this area will have a log rollover like in camp six, to hide the fact the track is so short.”

This picture shows the subroadbed changing from hardboard spline to half inch plywood, and also shows the styrofoam block raised above the track level before being carved into scenery.


Picture 24 : A view of the Rangeley area under construction. This picture shows the stages from basic plywood table top, homasote roadbed, individual ties and then rail quite well.


Picture 25 : A view of the Marbles area. This view shows the style of cardboard mock up that Bill used to quickly show the size and style of a structure. Photocopied drawings stuck to the sides greatly enhances the mock-up.  Also note the gaps between the track & roadbed and the first layer of the styrofoam scenery which will easily be filled in with the expanding poly-urethane glue used in scenery construction.


Picture 26 : An under baseboard view showing how the bench work was supported from the wall and details of the framework supporting the plywood table top and the very neat wiring.

David Woodhead as noted at the start of this posting above is a professional musician and modeller.Dave’s own blog is at  and his modelling pages start at For Dave’s visits to Trevor’s Port Rowan layout see;-

Many Thanks to Dave Woodhead, Gary Graham and Stuart Edmondson for their contributions.

Tailpiece: Bill Kerr passed away in July 2013, and the layout was dismantled later in the Fall.


7 thoughts on “Maine On2 layouts – Bill Kerr’s SR&RL

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  2. I believe Photo 12 is Phillips, not Strong as captioned. Great layout work, great photography, many thanks for sharing.

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