Thomas and Friends Trackmaster layout

The lad seemingly has always loved trains, I’m not sure when this obsession started, but it was long enough now that it feels like it has been forever.  One of his favourite train sets (yes, he has 3 different sets, sigh), is the Tomy (now Fisher Price) Trackmaster sets.  These are battery powered trains of a nice size for a toddler to hold with plastic track which is pretty hardy which is handy given how kids toys get quite a rough life.

Pretty much every day, we would get some of the track out, make him a little railway and he would play with it. The problems started when his baby sister started to crawl. Then she seemed to take great joy in crawling over to the track and yanking on a piece of it, the track all being connected together means the entire track was dragged towards her and we had a very unhappy little man on our hands!

The solution was decided to be a chunk of some sort of board and fix a layout to that. ‘It has to have hills’ my wife added, ‘oh and a pond’ wtf! This is turning out to be a project, not just nailing some track to a board.

Ok, first step was to decide if we had a big chunk of board, where would we put it when not in use, our little Edwardian terrace is already bursting at the seams. There turned out to be a reasonable gap under the sofa, so a bit of measuring later and I had a chunk of 12mm MDF en-route which was cut to be the biggest it could be and still fit under the sofa, between the legs.  I ordered a packet of little easy slide furniture feet to bang into the bottom to make moving it in and out easier.

When the board arrived we started playing around with different layouts, trying to make it interesting given the space available. Once that was done I spent a bit of time researching how to make hills for a model railway. The consensus on various forums and Youtube seemed to suggest foam insulation board was a easy material to work with, so off to Wickes to buy a suitable bit of foam I went. The next step was pretty simple, I just hacked off cunks of the foam board and roughly shaped them to look like hills building up to the bridge bit of the track.

The pic above shows the majority of the foam in place, just need to work out the bit across the middle where the bridge section is and then crack on and carve it to shape to look like a hill. All the foam is being held in place with hot glue from a handy gun I had kicking around.

After the carving was finished I took the opportunity to glue everything down with more hot glue. The track and foam are all now safe from the little hands of the sister! Next I ripped up a newspaper and mixed up a bucket of plaster of paris. The strips were dipped into the plaster and then applied to the foam, trying to give it a nice contour and look like a hill as I went.

After all this had dried for a couple of days, I gave everything a couple of coats of mat white emulsion. I have to admit at this point I was tempted to call it a snow scene and declare it finished.

I found a model railway shop over in Leyton where I picked up some bags of green ground cover and some gravel, the friendly chap there giving me guidance as to how to apply it and to make sure it stays in position. Before starting with the grass, I painted the hills in mat brown emulsion and the flat area around the sidings in grey. Once that had dried, watered down PVA (about 50/50) was brushed on and then the ground cover sprinkled over the top. The same was done for the gravel effect areas.  After all that had dried I sprayed a couple of thick layers of lacquer over the whole thing. Job done, toddler seems to like it, sis can’t pull it apart anymore and its easy to pack away at the end of the day. All round win then! And I can get back to the Diamon Demon which is still languishing unfinished.

Zoomster Trailer

ZoomsterSometime earlier last year we were given a Zoomster Racer, like the one you see in the picture on the left. Our toddler absolutely adores it and scoots all round the house with it. There is a little box under the seat to put toys in which is obviously always full!  One day my wife suggested making him a little trailer for it so he could carry more toys around with him. The company who make it don’t seem to make a trailer, but it does have a convenient hole cut in the base board at the back, which would make it easy to attach a trailer.  Hmm, this sounds like a plan then!


I pondered what shape to make it and how to construct it for a while and then settled on the following. I took it apart – thankfully it was all screwed together – and traced the bottom and one of the side panels onto some card to use as templates. I clearly didn’t need the bits sticking up for the handles, therefore I just mirrored the side panel about its middle, so the front and the back were identical, and the same as the curve on the front of the Zoomster itself. Then I would simply get the base and the sides cut out and sort out some end bits.  You can see the card templates over on the right. Next I took them to the friendly guys in my local wood merchant, Thomerson in Crouch End. Between us we selected a nice bit of 1″ thick ply for the base and some 10mm MDF for the top structure.  The guy in the shop had the idea of cutting notches in the sides and the end bits so they sort of slot together, which made things strong, and because he cut these out on his saw, much easier for me!

The two pics above show the component parts of the top and the base. The small bit above the base in the lower picture is what I’d come up with as a connector. I planned to cut two holes in this, one at each end, then using some 1″ diameter dowel and some wooden cupboard door handles fashion a couple of connectors. A picture will explain it easier than I can explain it! The first pic is of the removable connector to allow him to detach the trailer from the Zoomster, as you can see I just glued the handle onto a short length of dowel. In the second pic you can see I did the same for the trailer end, but trapped the connector in place by glueing another handle on the bottom. Sorted!

Returning home I started off by gluing the four bits of the top, clamping them to ensure a good bond.

I gave this all a couple of coats of undercoat, and a couple of a nice shiny grey topcoat which I had lying around (ok, ok, it was left over from painting the front door!).

Last bit of prep was to give the base a few coats of varnish, to save me the time of waiting for one side to dry and then doing the other, I simply hung it from a nearby washing line and did it all at once. I ended up giving it four coats to ensure a good tough finish.

With the addition of some carstors from eBay, and a few screws to hold the top to the base I was finished. We even found some Thomas stickers on eBay to jazz it up a bit.

And that was it done, it was filled to the brim with Thomas trains almost immediately and has remained that way and attached to the Zoomster ever since!