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Thread: Making A Hillside Letter

  1. #1
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    Default Making A Hillside Letter

    Decided to make a hillside letter on my layout. There are about 500 of these overlooking small towns and cities in the western U.S. (Read more about them here: https://jaredfarmer.net/curios/hillside-letters/) I wanted to build an N-scale version for my layout's town of Cortes, California. I basically made mine out of sheet styrene, cut, painted and weathered.

    Here's one example, located in the town of Chadron, Nebraska (article).

    Many hillside letters represent the first initial of a town or school. My town would also have a letter "C," but I decided to inject a little personal meaning behind it.

    First of all, I made the letter 34 scale feet long. Why 34? I was 34 years old when I started building my layout in 2006.

    Next, the letter would have a collegiate-style font and colored dark red/cardinal/maroon. I graduated from the University of Southern California, and I borrowed the font style from USC's logo. The color cardinal is one of the school's colors, and the hillside is covered with California golden grass. Gold is the other USC school color, so the cardinal and gold (along with the USC logo font) is a reference to my alma mater. As far as the town is concerned, the dark red color would refer to the red rock outcroppings on the hills.

    I started off by downloading a USC logo image off the Internet, isolating the "C" and sized it to 2.55 inches (34 feet in N scale) at 300 dpi, printing it and cutting it out with scissors. This was my mock-up and template.



    Next, using a ruler, I traced out the outline of the letter on a sheet of .040" styrene, which consisted of straight lines and 45-degree angles. The mock-up came out to be one scale foot too short, but not to worry; I just extended the long side of the letter accordingly.




    Using an X-acto knife and a ruler with a cork backing as a straightedge, I scored and cut the outline of the letter. I sanded any rough sides flat. Here was my model!




    How did the letter get up the mountain in the first place? I'd like to suggest it was built out of several pieces of 6" thick concrete hauled up the mountain, then pieced together like a puzzle. So I lightly scored lines in the letter with my X-acto to represent this.




    I wanted to give the letter a flat surface to rest on and be glued to, so I sanded the face of the hill flat.




    Next, I primed it with Tamiya primer and sprayed it with acrylics. I didn't have cardinal/dark red, but I *did* have Bright Red and Cappuccino (dark brown)-colored craft acrylics. So I mixed them and thinned it with 70% isopropyl alcohol before airbrushing it on.




    After about a week to let the paint cure, I sprayed it with Testor's Dullcote. After it dried, sprayed on my india ink/alcohol wash. I didn't see much of an effect, so I blotted the letter with a paper towel. The result was some white sploches, which turned out to be something I wanted. The letter sits on top of a hill and is exposed to direct sunlight for most of the day, so naturally its paint would be somewhat faded. So the discoloration was actually perfect!


    The scored lines of the concrete pieces vanished after my application of primer (which was probably too thick) and paint, but it wasn't a big deal.




    Next, I glued the letter to the hill with adhesive caulk (I had a bare section reserved when I applied the surrounding static grass), and brushed on Aleene's Tacky Glue within the bare middle part of the "C." Then, I applied static grass over it.




    After applying static grass, the grass in and around the letter looked too tall, partially deforming the shape of the "C" from a distance, so I asked the town's local Civic Club volunteers to bring their hedge cutters and cut the grass (I used my electric beard trimmer to do the job).



    And now, the finished result!


    Metro Red Ln (Metro Red Line)
    Under the streets of Los Angeles


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    Looks great! And I love how you made it so personally meaningful.

    What do you use as your scenery base? Is that just tinted plaster?
    "Do Not Hump!?!?! Does that mean what I think it means?!?"--Michelle Blanchard

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    Quote Originally Posted by ranulf View Post
    Looks great! And I love how you made it so personally meaningful.

    What do you use as your scenery base? Is that just tinted plaster?
    The hill, you mean?

    It's a bunch of stacked blue and white styrofoam, cut with a WS hot wire foam cutter, and a layer of Sculptamold to smooth out the gaps and rough areas. Some parts have plaster rock molds.
    Painted with craft acrylics.

    The hiking trail was just cut with a hobby saw and smoothed out with Sculptamold.

    Metro Red Ln (Metro Red Line)
    Under the streets of Los Angeles

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    What a cool idea! And well executed by you. I never heard of these 'hillside letters' - learn something new every day.

    Dave

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    Very unique idea!
    Rob

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    Funny... I literally just yesterday saw one of these - the "M" for the University of Montana in Missoula, MT - in a geology video. It always strikes me as odd when coincidences like that crop up.

    Nice work on your letter. It's certainly a unique addition to your scenery.
    Never mistake a guy who talks a lot for a guy who has something to say...

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    @MetroRedLn
    Very nice execution. First time Iíve seen this modeled.
    Brilliant!


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    Every so often I see something that makes me say, "This could be a neat magazine how-to article." Here's another one.

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    Way cool idea for a layout. As mentioned, I don't think I have seen it done before. Well done.
    I had no idea what thread title meant until I opened. Fun surprise.
    Steve - Jugtown Modeler..............Don't know enough about railroading yet, but scale modeling is my life..............Web-Folio

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    hahaha nice lawn mower or is that a field mower ?

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    There are other letters:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillside_letters

    There are also commemorative numbers:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battalion_Park

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    Unique idea for layout scenery.

    In Idaho and Montana these are so common it seems that every college and most high schools have them, but I've never seen one modeled before. Some are concrete like yours; perhaps more of them are painted large cobbles/small boulders (saves you from hauling the cement up the hill.)

    Yours is exceptionally well maintained --- leaving the grass long would be more prototypical in this neck of the woods.

    If anyone wishes they could include this feature on their layout but don't have a convenient city next to a big hill... another alternative are concrete arrows that were used to mark airways, before radio navigation was common.

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