Hobbies: Creating Model Train Scenery To Scale

Some simple and fun ideas for building mountain area scenery on a model railroad layout, including step-by-step instructions and list of materials needed.

The hobby of model railroading is a great way to express one's creativity. Building your own little world on a table in your house can bring out one's artistic side.

So how do you go about creating this world of yours?

First go out and look at the world around you. Find areas that fit into what you wish to have your model train layout look like.

For the purpose of this article we are going to go with a mountain town.

Obviously the first thing to do is to go find a nice mountain area to walk around and look at. Figure out what kind of rock formations and such you wish to recreate in your layout. Look at how the trees are growing and how the grass grows around them.

To get a mountain feel to your layout we will first build ourselves part of a mountain. You can quickly build up the mountain by laying down sheets of Styrofoam and shaping them to the desired shape of you incline. You do not need to be neat about this part of it. Just get the Styrofoam to fit the basic shape you are trying for and glue them down. I would not recommend building to the full desired height with Styrofoam if you think you might wish to build a tunnel through your mountain. I find Styrofoam to be hard to dig trough when making tunnels.

Now take crumbled up newspapers and place those on top of the Styrofoam, working up to you desired height. Once you have the newspaper placed, cover them over with strips of plaster covered cloth. This is where you can do a fair amount of the shaping of your mountain. Just mold the cloth to the desire shapes as you are placing them. If the cloth is too wet this will be hard, so you might let the cloth dry some and then try to shape it if you are having problems getting it to stay in the shape you desire. Just get the general shape here; you will do the details later.

Now let the cloth dry. After it has dried and has the basic shape you are after you might wish to add another layer of cloth to reinforce the shape. Basically feel how solid the first layer of cloth is and if you are fine that it will hold up to any added weight then you can move on, but multiple layers are best at this point.

Once you have gotten a solid enough shape for your mountain then it is time to layer on some plaster. This will be heavier than the plaster cloths, so if the shape it not solid enough it could cause your mountain to collapse inwards. At which point you can either start over, or try to figure out how to work such a thing into your design. Mistakes can often be altered to add to the interest of your layout.

At this point you will need to figure out how you wish to create the rock shapes on your mountain. There are many ways to do this. You can put real rocks or plaster molded rocks straight on you layout. These are normally heavy though and can cause problems if they are placed on less than solid areas. You can get rubber molds or make your own rubber molds and use that on you plaster as you go. This is an easy way to get rocky shapes. Of course if you do not have many molds then you will end up with some repeating of rock patterns, which is not overly noticeable unless you know what to look for.

A way to get a layered rock feel is to just place the plaster on and let it dry. Then take a metal pick and just start scrapping away at the plaster at various angles. You really just have to go at it. You will start to see a layered rock look appear. Just go with it. There really is not much advice to give for this part of it. You just keep on scraping away in all directions with the pick until you get the layered rock look that you like. Some times you might have to rebuild a little if it is not coming out right. Keep working at it until you get the rock look you want.

Now it is time to color your rock formations. Simple plaster dyes that you can find at any hobby shops are fine for this. Think back to what you have seen in nature and remember that generally rock formations have a good rang of colors to them. For the layered rocks a good idea is to try and make the different layers different colors or different shades to get a better feel that there are different kinds of rocks there. Just think of what you saw in nature and try to copy it.

Now you can make a tunnel through your mountain if you wish to. If you used newspapers as the main bulk of your mountain, it should be easy to do. Just figure out where you wish for the tracks to go in and chisel a hole in you mountain there as well as where your tracks are going to come out. Dig out the newspapers that are in your way, or if you used Styrofoam for the full height you will have to dig through the Styrofoam. Be careful to not collapse your mountain from the inside. It is a good idea to take some plaster covered cloth and smooth out the inside of your tunnel once you have dug it out. Also to give you tracks something solid to be fixed to, lay down the plaster cloth in a few layers along the bottom of your tunnel.

Now we get to the fine details. If you wish to have grass somewhere on your mountain it is real easy to do. First of course, figure out where you are going to place the grass. Take some white glue and smear the glue in the area you wish to have grass. Hobby shops sell a great variety of colored powders to make grass with. I recommend picking up a few different colors so you can get a good mix of colors on your layout. Sprinkle the grass over the area you have prepared with the glue. You can do this by hand or use a strainer to get a more even distribution of grass. Feel free to mix colors and such to get a more random feel and make things more colorful. Once you have your grass the way you want it you can place a few trees as you please. There is a wide range of scaled tress out there, depending on price and realism. Once more just think about what you saw in nature when you are placing the trees to get as realistic as possible of a feel for your mountain.

Now you can go and place whatever little extras you desire. There is such a variety of scenic accessories at most hobby stores that the main limit to what you can do depends on how much you wish to spend. An old wooden fence or a small abandoned cabin or some such thing is very easy to find and can add some nice detail. I like to try to hide something in my scenery or put in a joke of some kind in there.

Now let's put a road going by our mountain. Just figure out where you wish for the road to go and smooth that area out either by layering on more plaster or by shaving off plaster. But get a good flat area for the road. A dirt road can be made in the same way as you put in grass. Just buy some gray or brown or whatever colored fine sand, often sold in the same kind of package as the grass powder, and sprinkle it over the area after covering the area with glue.

If you wish to make a concrete road then there are a few ways to do this. You can buy pre-made roads from your hobby store or you can try to make them yourself. A way to make them yourself is to use some thin cardboard and cut out pieces the size of the desired road. Paint the pieces gray or black and glue them down, although I have often found it helps to hammer in a few small nails at the edges to keep them from pulling up on you.

Add cars, people, animals and buildings as you desire to complete your scene. Glue down little bushes and such, which are often found with the grass powder, around your layout to add just a little more detail to it all.

Remember that most of what you do on your layout does not have to be permanent. You can always pull-up the trees and road or scrap away the grass to make area for new ideas. So do not feel like you are trapped by your first try at scenery and just allow yourself to play around and figure out what look you wish to have.

© High Speed Ventures 2011