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2. Weave in horizontal
strips and staple (or
hot glue) where strips
cross. (Stapling is
much faster and easier,

Some scenery
but requires a
pliers-type stapler.)


3. Lay on surface
of hand-sized

paper towel 4. Apply finish

strips dipped in surface with

Materials and;
soupy plaster
(messy method),
or plaster cloth
putty knife,
using plaster
(messy), or

strips (neat
method). Plaster (very neat).
techniques for trans- cloth is sold
in hobby shops.
is sold in

1. Hot glue vertical
1"-wide corrugated hobby and
forming a Plywood cardboard strips craft shops.
Central into a realistic
y in place.

B ;
model railroad
een procrastinating? Sooner or
later all the track is laid and wired,
the trains are running, the equip-
ment has been detailed and weathered,
and you can no longer put off building
scenery. Fortunately, it’s easier today
than it was, say, 20 years ago, thanks to
all the quality scenery products now
available. You can get nearly everything
A. Cardboard Strip Method

Color and texture

Once we’ve modeled the ground, it’s
time to paint it. Lots of modelers
choose browns that are too dark. Soils
are lighter than we think, plus our lay-
out lighting doesn’t approach the inten-
sity of sunlight. Medium tan in a flat
latex wall paint works very well for
model railroad scenery.
Increase flexibility by bending
while pulling across a handy surface.


1. Inexpensive
Cut strips across
the corrugations.

(particularly with
messy methods).

2. Fast (particularly
on broad expanses).

3. Easily modified.

1. Need carefully
applied finish layer
to hide outline of

2. May need
modifications to
obtain final shape
you need at a well-stocked hobby shop. Usually we thin the latex paint desired.
Remember that no stretch of scenery about 50-50 with water, brush it on, 4. Lightweight
(particularly if 3. Messy (unless
has to last forever. If you don’t like it, and then begin sprinkling scenery mate- Sculptamold is plaster cloth and
you can just knock it out and try again. rials on immediately to take advantage used). Sculptamold are
(Lots of fine modelers have done just of the paint’s adhesive quality. We can used).
that more than once.) You’re out only a
few bucks worth of materials and
you’ve gained valuable experience. Like 1. Stack up layers cut 2. Smooth surface with hot-wire Advantages
most everything else in this hobby, the from foam insulation tool, knives, Surform tools,
board; 1" and 2" whatever works. (Hint: Hot-wire 1. Controllable, easy to
more you do it, the better you get. thicknesses work well. tools are great.) That’s it. You’re achieve the shape you
Bond with Liquid ready to paint the surface with want.
The three elements Nails for Projects. tan latex paint.
As my friend Bob Hayden says, there 2. Lightweight and quite
durable (especially good
are three elements of scenery-making: for modules and
form, color, and texture. Get all three portable layouts).
right and your scenery will be right. 3. No wood formers ever
Let’s start with form, the shapes of needed.

things. Your best friend here is obser-

vation. Our memories don’t serve us

well; looking at the real thing and study-
ing photos is much more reliable. 1. Slow, particularly if
After considerable squinting and building a large layout.
hand waving over imaginary contours 2. Expensive if foam
you’re ready to start. Figure 1 shows insulation board is

two popular techniques; I’ve listed some purchased. (Scraps

can often be picked up

advantages and disadvantages with at construction sites.)

each. Modeling with extruded foam First foam
layer supported 3. Can be messy, although a
board is extremely popular with today’s Fig. 1 MODELING SCENIC FORMS by wood risers. hot-wire tool eliminates
modelers, so if you have difficulty B. Foam board method much of this problem.
choosing, choose that.
To unify a rock surface apply plaster
Fig. 2 ADDING GROUND COVER 2. Sprinkle on scenery materials
(sand, ground foam, etc.).
between castings and use a knife to carve
the wet plaster so it blends with the cast-
1. Paint surface with
thinned tan latex paint. 3. Bond by ings. (A palette knife works best for me.)
with diluted Painting rocks
detergent Most modelers use artist’s acrylics,
added. usually out of tubes. They dry quickly
and clean up with soap and water.
(You’ll note that the materials we’ve dis-
cussed here are all water-soluble. Gen-
erally this means you can keep working
without waiting for work to dry thor-
4. Sprinkle on more
oughly, can clean up easily, and won’t
materials, spray get chemical reactions.)
y; again. Repeat
cycle until
desired results
When painting rocks I begin with a
thinned coat of white, but many model-
ers go straight to work with colors. For
are achieved.
the most part we stick with earth tones:
burnt umber, raw umber, burnt sienna,
and raw sienna. Of these burnt umber
(a rich brown) is the most useful. You’ll
also need some Titanium White and
Mars Black to lighten or darken colors.
CASTINGS Squeeze out short ribbons of paint
on a palette, a white dish, or whatever is
handy (as long as it’s white so you can
see the colors). Keep a cup of clean
water handy (change it frequently), and
start mixing with your brush and paint-
ing. This may sound artsy and difficult,
but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

Washes and drybrushing

Several special painting techniques
will prove helpful. The first is washes,
wherein you flood an area with a thin
solution of paint, applying it with a large
1. Paint rocks with acrylic 2. Flow on black wash with 3. Lightly drybush to highlight
paints, let dry. wide brush, let dry. surface detail. Don’t overdo it. brush, say a 1" or 11⁄2" flat. See fig. 3.
Besides being good for establishing a
color base, this technique is also useful
sprinkle on sifted real dirt, tiny rocks, als. Otherwise you can end up with a later in the painting process. You can,
ground-up leaves, or kitty litter, but the crust that breaks away, revealing still for example, apply a thin coat of dark
favorite material today is ground foam. loose materials underneath. color that will settle into nooks and cran-
This is plastic foam (the material For small areas spray on “wet” water nies and help bring out the detail.
inside seat cushions) ground up and (water with liquid detergent added), Another technique is drybrushing,
dyed. Woodland Scenics is a major then apply the adhesive (mixed the same wherein you dip the brush into paint,
manufacturer. A variety of grinds (from as for spraying) with an eyedropper. wipe it dry on a paper towel, then brush
fine to coarse) and colors is available. vertically over raised surfaces. (Yes, an
Rocks all but imperceptible amount of paint
Bonding scenery materials Lots of modelers carve rocks in plas- has remained on the brush.) A 1⁄2" flat
As you build up scenery materials ter as it is setting up and some get good brush works well for this.
you can bond them in place by spraying results. For the rest of us a better, faster All I’ve attempted here is to touch on
them with a dilute mixture of adhesive method is to cast rocks in rubber some primary concepts, techniques,
from a household plant sprayer, as molds, available at hobby shops. and materials. For a wealth of further
shown in fig. 2. (Clean the sprayer after- Plaster of paris, patching plaster, and information, get Dave Frary’s book,
ward if you expect to be able to use it molding plaster all work well for casting How to build realistic model railroad
again.) I like to use matte medium, an rocks. Just mix the plaster to a thick scenery, published by Kalmbach.
acrylic varnish available from art sup- cream consistency and pour it in the Give scenery modeling a try. It’ll
ply stores. A good ratio for spraying is 5 molds. Either let the castings set up in make a tremendous difference on your
parts water to 1 part matte medium. the molds, then glue them to the layout, layout, and if you don’t believe me, just
Adding about a half-teaspoon of liq- or else keep an eye on them and as sprinkle some green ground foam on a
uid dishwashing detergent will help the they’re setting hold them in place on the stretch of plywood next to the track and
adhesive penetrate the scenery materi- layout to cast rocks in place. run a train by. What a difference! 1

ighly detailed, prize-winning foreground scenery doesn’t The scenery techniques Sam Swanson uses on his HO scale layout
have to be time-consuming or overly complex. In fact, and award-winning dioramas are fun, convincing, and most impor-
with a little effort and research, building show-quality tantly, simple to duplicate for your own model railroad.
scenery can be fun, easy, and rewarding.
My scenery techniques were inspired by a convention rama, Hall Hollow. It is an Appalachian valley coal mine sur-
clinic given by late MODEL RAILROADER staff member Art rounded by muddy roads, dense brush, rock outcroppings,
Curren in the 1990s called “Scenery as I See It.” The main and wooded hills, adding realistic texture to the scene. 1
point of Art’s clinic was that density, shape, size, and color
vary greatly in nature. As a result, the more texture you can Sam Swanson, of Cincinnati, Ohio, enjoys scratchbuilding
add to your scenic details such as trees, brush, and under- highly detailed structures. Having won many awards for his
growth, the more realistic they’ll appear to the viewer. modeling work, his Hall Hollow diorama, as seen in this article,
Follow along as I take you step-by-step through the process won first place for On-line Display at the 2001 National Model
I used to build the scenery for my HO scale model contest dio- Railroad Association convention in St. Louis, Mo.
SCENERY Landscaping from the foam up
By Sam Swanson • Photos by the author


For a solid foundation I use extruded foam insulation
board. I build the rough topography by stacking layers of
foam, holding them together with Liquid Nails for Pro-
jects adhesive and bamboo skewers. After the glue dries,
the land features are easy to define using a serrated-edge
paring knife. Other tools that work well for shaping the
foam include a Surform tool, a rasp, various wire brushes,
and even sandpaper. (A Shop-Vac is also a handy item to
help control the mess.) Next, I pencil in roads and track-
work with a permanent marker, and cut spaces for struc-
ture bases that will be incorporated into the scene.


I use track spurs and roads as leading lines to guide
viewers into a scene. Typically the lines provide a color
contrast – dark-ballasted rights-of-way versus light clay
roads – and each helps catch the viewer’s eye.
For rail spurs, I glue flextrack into place with a thin
layer of Liquid Nails spread on top of the foam roadbed. I
then spread soil and ballast around the track and secure it
with diluted white glue (two parts water, one part glue).
For dirt roads, I mix fine clay soil with diluted white
glue to a consistency of peanut butter as seen in the photo
on the right. Then I spread it on the roadway about 1⁄8"
thick and work in ruts with the end of a paintbrush. Next
I sprinkle dry clay on the non-rutted areas and let the road
dry thoroughly. For the final touch, I rub the road with a
stiff brush or my finger to give it that dusty, hard-packed
clay road appearance as seen in the photo below.
The bulk of the outcroppings on the diorama are
carved from the same foam insulation board I used for
the base. I score and snap 2"-thick foam pieces and glue
them in place to start the rock formations. I then carve
and sand the outcroppings until I am satisfied with the
lines and shapes of the rocks.
Next, I use a four-step finishing system, as shown in
the photo. First I paint the outcropping with a suitable tan
color. In the second step, I stain crevices and shadowed
areas with a thinned complementary dark color of paint.
For the third step, I add texture to the rocks by what I
call the “soiling” process: affixing fine clay to the rocks
with diluted white glue. I brush diluted glue over the
painted/stained (and thoroughly dried) surface. Then I
sprinkle or brush the clay liberally on the rock face and let
it dry completely before proceeding.
As a final step, I drybrush the rocks with lighter colors
of paint to highlight and accentuate the texture.


To give the ground the proper look, I use an assort- I consider everything from grass tufts, bushes, brier
ment of soils, rock debris, and ground foam to create thickets, and weed accumulations to be underbrush.
my basic ground cover. For your layout, consulting pic- The two materials best suited to modeling underbrush
tures of the area you are modeling is a must when mak- are jute twine for grass and commercial poly fiber for
ing these color selections. bushes and thickets. They have the “fuzzy quality” that
I start by painting the open foam areas between the Art Curren stressed as important in model scenery and
track, roads, and rock outcroppings with a flat interior simulate the dense undergrowth found throughout my
latex tan paint. I then add soil and fine ground foam, modeled region, the Appalachian hills.
along with talus (rocks sloughed from outcroppings) To create large areas of thicket and weed underbrush
around the rocks. To vary the soil color, I use two quickly, I use thinly stretched mats of poly fiber covered
strengths of diluted white glue: The stronger the glue with several different colors of fine ground foam fixed
mixture, the darker the color of the soil when it dries. in place with either maximum-hold hair spray or
For the area I model, foam colors include a variety of Testor’s Dullcote. I use the same colors as the ground
greens, browns, and yellows. I commonly use eight dif- cover and prepare a variety of color combinations, often
ferent colors, starting with Woodland Scenics Green placing different colors on the front and back of the
and Earth blends. I let the ground cover dry thoroughly mats. To make wildflowers, I add dashes of Woodland
before adding any other scenic details. Scenics no. 48 flower mix to a few of the poly fiber mats.
When installing them in the scene, I vary the under-
brush mats by mixing up the colors, shapes, and densi-
ties. I stretch the mat so some of the ground cover
shows through and glue it in place with beads of full-
strength white glue.
With the poly fiber underbrush in place, I add more To make the dense stands of deciduous trees that
detailed individual underbrush items including grass characterize Appalachia, I use three different types of
tufts, bushes, and saplings. trunks covered with fiber and clump foliage, as well as
For grass tufts, I stain and tease jute twine. When fine ground foam. My goal is not to model specific
dry, I plant the tufts in holes in the foam base and species, but to vary trunk and foliage sizes, shapes, and
secure them with white glue. You can also use grass colors enough to produce realistically wooded hills.
tufts to make small bushes by gluing fine foam to the For my homemade tree trunks, I use sunflower roots
jute fibers for leaves. and various twigs. They’re realistic and free! I preserve
I make simple bushes from poly fiber or tree foliage the natural trunks by allowing them to dry thoroughly
balls sprinkled with fine foam. I typically use bushes in over a couple of months and then submerging them in
heavy undergrowth areas to provide some vertical a pool of diluted white glue. Later, I add a 3⁄8" length of
shapes and vary the texture of the underbrush. .020" brass wire to the base as a mounting pin.
For saplings I use the small twigs that break off To make larger trees, I combine sunflower roots and
when making trees and top them with a ball of twigs. Sometimes I thicken the trunks by sculpting root
commercial fiber or clump foliage; both work well and bases from Duro Master-Mend green epoxy and then
provide variety through color and density. I use paint the roots to match the rest of the tree trunk.
saplings to bridge the transition from underbrush to I also use Scenic Express SuperTree commercial
the wooded areas, much as they do in nature. kits for their light and airy appearance.


To add leaves to the trees, I use Woodland Scenics
fiber and clump (or cluster) foliage. The key to making
realistic trees is to cover the sunflower and twig branches
with many small puffballs of teased foliage material indi-
vidually glued to the branches. I start near the bottom of
the tree and work out and up along the trunk and
branches, gluing the foliage balls on with white glue.
After those have had time to set, I fill in any unwanted
open spaces by gluing puffballs directly to each other.
When dry, I highlight the treetops by dusting them with
light-colored fine ground foam, holding it in place with hair
spray or Dullcote.
I install the trees on the diorama last, only after all the
other scenery has been completed. First I test the place-
ment of the trees in the scene, either individually or in
groups of three or five. Once I am happy with how they
look, I plant each tree by pressing it firmly into the foam
base, securing it with white glue.
With that, your lush, textured Appalachian scenery is
finished and you can to amaze your friends with your
realistic re-creation.
Western scenery
How-tos for handling the subtleties of arid scenery
in foreground locations
By Pat Gerstle • Photos by the author

any modelers are drawn to trackside, as fig. 2 shows, is a few feet of from railroad wall calendars. The pho-
Western scenery: snow-capped rocky soil, some scrubby bushes, and tos are large, very high quality, and pro-
mountain ranges, twisting maybe some larger rocks and a hillside vide a detailed view of the railroad and
canyons, endless deserts, and pine behind the train. This article is about its surroundings. Nothing helps like the
forests. I suspect some modelers even how to model this up-close-to-the-action real thing, however, so I have an equally
choose the location before they choose a trackside detail. large collection of personal pho-
railroad. The photo of Clear Creek tographs. For general how-to on
Canyon, Colo., (fig. 1) is the sort of Research scenery, I recommend Dave Frary’s
scene that inspires us to model the West, Among my primary references for How to Build Realistic Scenery for Model
but what we usually see when standing colors and general scenes are pictures Railroads from Kalmbach Publishing.
In fig. 3, I have cut and glued some
2"-thick blue foam to form the base of a
small rise on which a mine will be
placed and covered the foam with plas-
ter soaked towels or gauze. I then
painted this base with a soupy mix of
plaster to fill in any holes and thin
areas. Next I added rock castings, fix-
ing them in place with plaster and
painting around them with the plaster
soup to blend them into the base.
Finally, without waiting for the plaster
to dry, I painted the ground and cast- Fig. 2 TRACKSIDE SCENERY. At trackside,
ings with the base color. you rarely see big vistas; usually you see a
Western scenery is mostly beige with relatively shallow scene of rocks and grass.
some light tans and reds thrown in. I
use Sears no. 770 interior flat latex
diluted with an equal amount of water.
Brush it over everything except the
rocks. On the rocks, mix one part paint
with two parts water for more of a
stain. Now wait for things to dry, then
brush on some dilute raw umber for
reddish highlights. Finish with your
favorite black wash (either very thin
black paint or India ink and alcohol) to
bring out the details. Your finished
scene should look something like fig. 3.

Ground cover Fig. 1 CLEAR CREEK CANYON. This view typi- Fig. 3 BASE TERRAIN. After shaping the
The next process introduces most of fies the scenery of the West, but few layouts basic landform and adding rock castings,
the surface details, and most of the sur- have the space to model such large vistas. Pat paints the whole area a light tan.
face detail in the West consists of LOTS
of rocks, of all sizes, scattered and piled Now scatter small patches of the turf
everywhere. I used the following Wood- and grass around – not a lot and con-
land Scenics products: talus (fine, centrated in the areas where moisture
medium, coarse, and extra coarse in Buff would collect. To fix the groundcover, I
and Brown; ballast (fine and medium) spray on a coat of “wet water” (water
in Buff and Brown; turf and coarse with one or two drops of dish detergent
turf in Yellow Grass, Burnt Grass, added so that it soaks into the ground-
Earth, and Soil; clump foliage in Burnt cover). Then I use an eyedropper to dis-
Grass, Light Green, and Fall Mix; and tribute a 50/50 mixture of white glue
field grass in Natural Straw, Harvest and water. Make sure the ground is
Gold, and Light Green. thoroughly saturated with glue.
I also use finely sifted dirt and gold- Only when all is solidly dry do I
mine tailings I gathered from the area plant the larger shrubs and trees. The
I’m modeling. I make a palette of these shrubs are clump foliage and the trees Fig. 4 ROCKS AND MORE ROCKS. Woodland
materials by placing them in empty are pines and aspens from K&S Scenics talus and ballast provide a wide
tuna cans in a box lid. Scenery Products. A lot of the shrubs range of rock sizes to work with.
Start by painting a small area (about are placed near the larger rocks because
one square foot) with a thick coat of moisture collects in the shadows.
full-strength white glue. Now drop the The last thing I add is the field grass
large talus pieces randomly and in – I love this stuff! I add clumps in all
groups over the area. If the area is shapes and sizes around larger rocks
sloped, place more toward the bottom. and in gullies. I think by striving for
Next, drop the medium talus around, realism in the area you would see up
followed by the fine. Use more of the close I’ve captured the look of Western
medium and lots more of the fine. Put scenery without trying to include the
some of the medium and fine talus snow-capped back range! 1
around the large and randomly distrib-
ute the rest over the whole area. Con- Pat Gerstle is a computer programmer
centrate the talus in gullies, stream who lives just outside of Lexington, Ky.
beds, and at the base of rock forma- His primary modeling interests are Fig. 5 PLANT LIFE. Plants don’t dominate
tions. At this stage your scene should scenery and photography. This is his first Western scenery, but they’re needed. Concen-
look like fig. 4. published article. trate them where water naturally collects.
steps to
Easy scenery you can make
with ceiling tile
By Joe Whinnery • Photos by the author

ne of the nicest comments I’ve heard about
my layout came during the 1997 National
Model Railroad Association convention.
Some visitors from back East said the sedi-
mentary rock formations on my HO scale East-
ern coal-hauling layout looked real, and that
they knew exactly where the actual scene was I
had modeled!
That is the essence of model railroad scenery
– making it look real. The technique I model
rocks with is time-tested but perhaps new to
some of you. Beside getting great results, it’s
easy and inexpensive.

 Re-creating dramatic scenes such as this is part of the fun of

building scenery. Joe Whinnery relies on a time-honored technique to
make typical Appalachian rock formations for his HO scale Eastern
coal-hauling layout.

 The Appalachian Mountains are layers of sedimentary rock that the

massive collision of two continents forced upward. In some places –
like this scene on Cranberry Grade at Terra Alta, W. Va. – the rock lay-
ers folded into elongated arches and troughs. Ceiling tile built up in
layers, textured, and painted can re-create this dramatic effect.
Ceiling tile unlimited Planning pays off
I prefer ceiling tile for creating large sedimentary rock for- Before grabbing my carving tools, I take some time to
mations typical of the Appalachians. I’ve also used plaster cast- plan how I want the scene to look. As was mentioned in Part
ings with good results because the rubber molds duplicate the Four of Tony Koester’s Coal Fork Extension series (Septem-
textures of real rock. But I’ve found most rock molds are too ber 1998 MODEL RAILROADER), Africa and North America
small to effectively and efficiently create large rock expanses. have probably collided at least twice in Earth’s long history,
In the same vein, extruded foam board makes fine rock sur- and the last collision created the Appalachian Mountains.
faces, but it’s more difficult to achieve the layered look I wanted. And during one of the continents’ earlier collisions, tectonic
Ceiling tile has many advantages. It’s inexpensive and plate action compressed many sedimentary rock layers, cre-
easy to find, cut, shape, and color. But make sure you buy ating arches called “anticlines” and troughs called “syn-
new ceiling tile at a home-improvement or hardware store clines,” which are prevalent in the Appalachians.
rather than scrounging for castaway pieces from an old I wanted some sections of my scenery to reflect this sig-
building. The discarded stuff might contain asbestos – nature geological effect, so I tilted some ceiling tile layers
model railroading is supposed to be fun, not hazardous to upward with a small wedge of material, such as a door shim.
your health. And always wear a dust mask when cutting Got your new pieces of ceiling tile and some tools? Good,
and carving ceiling tile. then let’s make some rocks! 1

TILE PIECES. Snapping pieces of tile over the edge of BUILDING UP LAYERS. Stack layers of ceiling tile to
1 a board creates a clean edge. Score the white side with a
screwdriver, utility knife, or old hacksaw blade, then gently
bend the tile over the board until the piece snaps off. It’s a good idea
2 the height you want the rock formation to be. Glue each
successive layer to the one beneath it with white glue or a
thin layer of an acrylic adhesive such as Liquid Nails for Projects.
to do this step outdoors because of the dust it creates. Weight or pin the pieces together until the glue dries.

CARVING. This is the messiest part of the rock-making PATCHING. Mix up a small batch of Sculptamold (a clay
3 process, so make sure you do it outside and wear a dust
mask. You can carve ceiling tile with a wire brush, a
straight-slot screwdriver, and broken hacksaw blades. Use the wire
4 and paper product available at most hobby shops or from
Walthers at and patch any significant
gaps in the tile with it using a palette knife (available at most art
brush in a long horizontal motion to get a layered look, and the stores and some hobby shops). The Sculptamold shows as white
screwdriver and hacksaw blade to make deep, vertical fissures. Refer areas against the gray tile and, after it dries, it will take paint just
to photos of real rock formations and use your imagination. as well as the ceiling tile layers.

C eiling tile is a handy material for making easy and realis-

tic sedimentary rock formations like those typically found
in the Appalachian Mountains. Coloring the rocks is as sim-
ple as airbrushing or brush-painting earth-tone acrylic washes
over the sealed surface.

Tools you’ll need include:

❑ straight-slot screwdriver ❑ palette knife
❑ old hacksaw blade ❑ 2" paintbrush
❑ dust mask ❑ shop vacuum
❑ wire brush ❑ airbrush (optional)

Meet Joe Whinnery

J oe’s interest in railroading started in grade school when his

uncle worked as a brakeman for the Baltimore & Ohio’s St.
Louis Division.
After a tour in the Army as a photographer, then college,
Joe’s interest in model railroading revived. His current layout
is an HO scale Eastern coal hauler drawing on the B&O,
Chesapeake & Ohio, and the Chessie System. The 13 x 30-
foot layout has earned the National Model Railroad Associa-
tion’s Golden Spike and Master Scenery awards, and it was
one the layouts participants could visit during the 1997
NMRA convention in Madison, Wis.
In addition to his career as a professional photographer,
Joe works at the Brass Whistle, a hobby shop in Loves Park,
Ill., near Rockford.

SEALING. Get rid of the “fuzzies” the wire brush caused by  More on our Web site
5 brushing water over the tile face. This step keeps the porous
tile from soaking up too much sealer. Leftover tan-colored
latex paint makes a great sealer. Let the sealer coat dry completely
For another basic technique you can use to make
realistic rocks, visit MODEL RAILROADER’S Web site at There you’ll find an article
before applying any other colors. Tile that’s too wet can break apart. on how to make rock castings.

COLORING. It’s best to color your rocks under the same SOIL AND VEGETATION. After blending the existing
6 kind of light that’s over your layout. You can use an air-
brush or brush-paint. If you brush-paint, apply thinned
acrylic earth tones over faces, then spray the rocks with water to
7 scenery base around the rock face, add vegetation and soil.
Kudzu, a noxious weed prevalent in the South, often covers
rock faces. Finely sifted dirt or gravel gives the appearance of soil
blend the colors. An airbrush lets you do more precise coloring, such that’s been washed down the face of the rock. To simulate kudzu,
as simulating a layer of shale in sandstone. You’ll get better results make a light pass with spray glue over stretched-out brown or green
with several light passes of the airbrush rather than one heavy pass. polyester fiber, then sprinkle medium-grade ground foam on the fiber.
Splendor in the grass
Modeling knee-deep grass with a new
material and methods
By René Gourley • Photos by the author

s a youngster I spent many quiet In 1998, I received a German model
afternoons sitting in a trackside railroad magazine which had some
field about a mile from my home superb photos of scenery with tall grass
while the breezes rustled through the that made me look twice. The article
tall grass. The rails shimmered brightly indicated that the scenery was made
in the afternoon sun while birds soared using products from Silflor, a German
overhead and the field resounded with manufacturer of scenery materials.
the sounds of summer insects. Ulti-
mately my patience was rewarded when First sample
the blare of a distant air horn brought Silflor makes a variety of grass mate-
me to my feet so I could see the oncom- rials as shown in photo 1. My first sam-
ing train. ple was a square of winter pasture. This
The tall grass along the right-of-way mat represents grass that’s been stand-
never saw a mower so some of the ing for some time so the leaves closest
plants tickled my chin when I walked to the ground are still green, but the tall
through them. blades have been bleached by the sun.
Over the years, I’ve attempted a The fine nylon fibers are tightly packed,
number of techniques to duplicate these providing an excellent representation of
high grasses in HO scale using fake fur, a densely planted field of standing hay.
twine fibers, and ground foam. Unfor- Turning the sample over, I found the
tunately, ground foam evokes leaves grass is woven into a backing of heavier
and foliage better than it does tall, ver- fibers. You can pull this substrate apart
tical grass, and fake fur comes on a to produce a scattered, irregular field of
woven backing that’s too dense. hay. See photo 2. The grass never gets
1 2 3

4 5

1. VARIETY. Silflor’s grass comes in short bristle spring, summer, and winter colors. The
autumn mat has the longer bristles to simulate tall grass. Other mat colors and textures sim- Sources
ulate forest ground cover, moorland, pasture with weeds, and pasture with long grass.
Silflor Products are available from
2. THINNING GRASS. As delivered, Silflor’s grass is too dense for the scrubby growth along the the following mail order companies:
right-of-way. Pull it apart until the grass begins to look more realistic.
Blue Ribbon Models
3. GRASS AND SOIL. Once the mat has been teased out, it’s glued down to a layer of soil using P. O. Box 333
white glue. Some of the soil will show through between the clumps of grass. Swampscott, MA 01907-3333
4. GRASS APPLICATION. Set the mat on the wet glue and press it down with tweezers to pre-
vent matting. Adjust the clump positions as needed with tweezers. Trim off any excess grass International Models
after the glue has dried overnight. 22 Harold Rd.
Birchington, Kent, CT7 9NA, UK
5. ADD DIRT. Use fine sifted dirt, worked into the grass mat with an old toothbrush, to hide
the substrate fibers. Then flood the area with wet water and diluted white glue.

sparse, but clumps spread farther apart the space. The spaces in the mat require blades of grass back into view (photo 5).
until they detach completely. As the application over a painted surface or Flood the area with water wetted with a
clumps pull apart, some of the grasses one that has a soil texture so an appro- few drops of dish soap, followed by
fall over, but enough vertical blades priate color shows through. See photo 3. diluted white glue to secure the soil.
remain to represent late season grass. Full-strength white glue is the pri- The next morning, or when the first
Being nylon, the blades of grass are mary adhesive for this grass mat. glue dries, add some fine dark green
shiny so they reflect light in a distress- Spread the glue liberally in depressions ground foam and a few bits of chunkier
ingly unrealistic manner. Fortunately, and anywhere you plant the grass. The light green foam and glue it down to
this sheen is easily remedied with a fine white glue soaks in and dries transpar- represent some of the other plants
spray of matte medium. I use an air- ent, making a permanent bond that mixed into the grass.
brush to keep from gluing everything holds the grass fibers upright.
together in a big mess. I can apply this Use tweezers to press the grass mat Patience rewarded
dulling spray before or after planting. into the glue as shown in photo 4. Avoid These steps take a few evenings to
the temptation to press with your fin- accomplish, although it goes fairly
Planting procedures gers as that results in a matted jumble. quickly when I work on several areas at
The photos show how easy it is to The tweezers also comes in handy to a time. It’s a small price to pay for the
duplicate the coarse grasses and under- make minor adjustments. Don’t worry if chance to go back to those youthful
growth common along the railway the edges of the mat overlap the glue summer afternoons of lying in the grass
right-of-way with the Silflor grass mats. area as they can be easily trimmed once listening for the first sounds of a train. 1
It takes a little time, and the materials the glue has dried overnight.
are somewhat more expensive than To hide the substrate fibers, pour the René Gourley, an S and HO fine scale
dyed sawdust. finest dirt you can get over the area. Use modeler, recently moved from Canada to
Begin by stretching and teasing the a retired toothbrush and your fingers to England, where he’s a consultant for a
mat as far as it will go. Then cut it to fit work the dirt into the grass and pull the computer database company.
A tale of
three creeks
These waterways illustrate both
variety and consistency

By Jack Burgess
Photos by the author

e’ve all heard that variety is the spice of life. It’s easy to the casting resin, using brown and green tints for the
to follow this advice when adding scenery to our lay- first layers and green and blue for the middle layers. The
outs. But if we add a little of this and a little of that, final layers I poured clear. These darker colors emphasize
we soon have a mishmash of scenes that don’t relate the deep, slow water.
to each other in a realistic way. On the other hand, In contrast, just the first layers of casting resin for Black
distinct scenes are essential to helping portray dis- Rascal Creek were lightly colored with green and blue to
tance and variety. result in a clear, cool creek.
The solution is to take clues from nature, so slightly dif- Once the casting resin had cured, I dappled the surface of
ferent scenes can be developed which will be realistic and the creeks with a coat of acrylic gloss medium.
also faithful to the prototype.
As my prototype, the Yosemite Valley RR, left Merced in Bear Creek
California’s San Joaquin Valley and headed for Yosemite I duplicated the dense wild bamboo covering the banks of
National Park, it quickly crossed three creeks: Bear Creek at the real Bear Creek using Woodland Scenics field grass (fig. 1).
milepost 1.35, Black Rascal at 1.90, and Fahrens less than a I applied it by cutting small clumps and gluing it in place
mile later at 2.70. with white glue. This was tedious but produced the look I was
Regardless of proximity, these crossings are all unique. after. While there is a tendency for the material to lean over,
Bear Creek has relatively uniform banks covered with wild just keep pushing it up. As the glue dries, it will finally hold
bamboo. Both Black Rascal and Fahrens flow along non- position. Using sticky white craft glue rather than regular
native eucalyptus groves with occasional sycamores or cot- white glue also helps.
tonwoods along their banks. Once the bamboo was in place and the glue had dried, I
used a moustache scissors to trim the material to a relatively
Initial modeling even length. Since the banks of Bear Creek were covered with
All three creek crossings have standard YVRR concrete bamboo, little further detailing was needed.
abutments, so I made a mold and cast the six abutments
from Hydrocal plaster. I scratchbuilt the bridges from Black Rascal Creek
prestained stripwood and n.b.w. (nut-bolt-washer) castings. In contrast to Bear Creek, Black Rascal (fig. 2) is more typ-
Next I installed the bridges and roughed in the scenery ical of the meandering creeks draining the foothills in the
with plaster. I used real dirt to form the banks. Merced area. Moisture in the adjacent ground allows the grass
The water for Bear and Black Rascal Creeks is casting to remain green during the hot summer months.
resin that I poured in layers 1⁄8" to 1⁄4" deep. Since Bear Creek To duplicate these conditions, I airbrushed Noch electro-
is relatively deep (a scale 10 to 12 feet), I added color directly static grass a light green. The willows which encroach into
Engine no. 28 crosses Fahrens Creek on Jack Burgess’ HO Yosemite
Valley RR. It’s one of the three distinct creeks he models.

Fig. 1 BEAR CREEK. The deep, slow water is perfect for fishing, so
Jack added a raft and a youngster whiling away an August afternoon.

the creek are a combination of Woodland Scenics field grass

and flower pieces from dried artichoke heads dyed light
green. (Dried artichoke flowers can be found in craft stores.)
Since the area next to the bridge seemed an appropriate
watering hole, I mixed diluted white glue with fine-grained
clay soil and spread it on the banks. I gave the muddy area a
light coat of acrylic gloss medium to make it look wet.

Fahrens Creek Fig. 2 BLACK RASCAL CREEK. To complete the meandering creek
Unlike Bear and Black Rascal Creeks, Fahrens (fig. 3) is scene Jack added a steer and muddy hoof prints.
modeled as a dry creek bed, typical of the Merced area in
mid-summer. I used Woodland Scenics field grass to model
the bullrushes along the creek banks, hot-gluing it in place.
Cattails were made with short pieces of fishing monofila-
ment which had been dipped in white glue and allowed to dry
to form the heads. I then painted the heads brown.
I used fine beach sand to form the creek bottom and
bonded it in place with diluted white glue. The sand was
added after the field grass was in place, covering the hot glue.
Portions of the real Fahrens Creek banks are covered with
wild blackberry vines. To model this, I started with small
poly fiber balls covered with ground foam, bonded the foam
with hair spray, and glued them in place with white glue. A
light sprinkling of red foam replicated ripening blackberries.
Modeling scenery accurately requires no more than
observing nature and, sometimes, developing techniques to
reproduce what you observe. Detailing scenery can be a relax-
ing diversion from working on the rest of the layout. 1

Jack Burgess, who models the Yosemite Valley RR circa Fig. 3 FAHRENS CREEK. Detailing on the dry creek bed included
August 1939, contributes frequently to MODEL RAILROADER. adding cattails and bullrushes.
Cajon Creek

visit Cajon Pass at least twice a year road to the north of the tracks; we
How to model to shoot photographs and collect walked up a short trail where we found
information for my HO Atchison, a small, clear lake nestled in the center
this meandering Topeka & Santa Fe. In January 2000 I of the San Andreas fault line.
was exploring the pass with Al Bowen, a Water seeping up from cracks in the
mountain stream good friend who is well versed in the ground formed the lake, providing a
history and geography of the area. source of water flowing through the
My question for him that day was, pass year-round. I was amazed to be
By Ted York “Where does the water come from?” standing in a dry landscape looking at
Photos by the author Despite the dry desert look of the pass more water than I had imagined.
some water always flowed down Cajon But modeling this water would be a
Creek. In the many times I’d been there, little different from what I had seen on
I had never looked into the creek’s most layouts because Cajon Creek is
sources. Al promptly drove up a narrow very shallow and clear, reflecting the
F irst I prepared the streambed, using
cardboard strips to form my scenery
base then attaching cheesecloth with
there’s a lot of plant life, much of it
very green in spring.
Next I soaked the material with iso-
hot glue. Next I painted on two coats of propyl (rubbing) alcohol so the glue
plaster of paris mixed to the consistency would penetrate. I used a coat of
of latex paint. To form the final scenery diluted Elmer’s white glue to fasten the
I came in with a coat of casting plaster ground cover.
about the consistency of cake batter. Before working anymore on the
I formed the smooth areas of the stream I weathered the bridge and abut-
riverbed by spreading the plaster with a ments. My weathering materials are on
spatula, then smoothed it as it set up by the messy side and I didn’t want to get
simply rubbing the plaster in a circular them on the finished “water.” I applied
motion with my hand. a very dilute wash of black shoe dye
I modeled the concrete under the and isopropyl alcohol on the abutments.
bridge (the Santa Fe called them con- I used chalks to streak on the rust and
crete blankets) with sheet styrene dirt colors that wash down from the
scribed to represent expansion joints, bridge. Finally, I painted a thin wash
then installed it with casting plaster. on the bridge, using a very dilute mix of
On many areas along creeks, the the tan latex paint I used on the plaster.
bank has eroded leaving the top layers
of soil hanging. Modeling this was quite
simple with a sponge. I put some plas-
ter on an area then used a damp sponge
to push it toward the bank. As I did,
excess plaster moved up and over the
sponge. I pushed down upward bulges
with my hand, smoothing it out like I
did the riverbed.
Dabbing at the plaster with the
sponge as it sets up gives the plaster a
soil-like texture. After the plasterwork
was done I gave it a quick coat of a Ted used a sponge to push the plaster
light tan latex paint. into shape, forming the eroded banks
Then came the fun. I filled paper along the riverbed.
cups with dirt sifted to various grades
and began tossing it over the riverbed.
Since my stream was only a small por-
tion of the entire bed and very shallow,
I used dirt to form the channel that
would contain the water.
I added various shades of ground
foam on top of the surrounding banks.
Even though I’m modeling the desert

Before finishing the creek Ted weathered

the bridge and abutments so he wouldn’t
get the weathering materials on the fin- After the plaster set, Ted painted it with
ished stream. light tan household latex paint.

A young railfan watches from below as a GP7

helper, lashed to the rear of a Santa Fe
freight, crosses Cajon Creek, a year-round
source of water.

color of the streambed itself, varied by

shadows from the surrounding rocks,
vegetation, and clouds passing over-
head. The following photos and cap-
tions take you step-by-step through how
I modeled my steam. 1

Ted York’s previous byline in MR was

a story on detailing Union Pacific FA-1s.
C orrectly coloring the water-covered
portion of the streambed is one of the
most important things if you want a
realistic-looking stream. I studied pho-
tographs of the stream and decided a
greenish brown was needed. I used tube
acrylics for the project and experimented
until I found suitable colors. I painted
most of the stream with a raw sienna and
white mix, but for the deeper mossy bot- To give a realistic look to the water Ted Ted drybrushed white where there might be
tom I used an olive green mixed from painted the streambed with appropriate a rapid movement of water, like around
black, yellow oxide, and white. acrylic paint colors. rocks and down the concrete blanket.
I kept a separate container of water
handy to dilute the acrylics as I applied thin wash of the sienna down the con- water, such as down the concrete and
them, watering down the paint as much crete blanket. around rocks. Don’t overdo this though,
as I could and still have it cover the dirt. Next I drybrushed some streaks of unless you want major rapids.
I first painted the riverbed the raw olive down the concrete to give the look If you care to add junk to the
sienna mix, then added the olive color, of moss build-up where the water flowed streambed such as brush, and old tires,
alternating between the two so I could over it. Finally I drybrushed some white now is the time. Let the paint dry before
blend them while wet. I also painted a on areas that might have rapid moving going on to the next step.

I used Enviro-Tex Lite two-part epoxy
resin for water. The fun thing about
this product is that if there’s a way for
the resin to escape from your streambed
it will. I was confident my streambed
was leakproof except for the layout edge.
Sealing this escape route was quite
simple: I sandwiched a synthetic sponge
between wax paper and a piece of
Masonite hardboard. I ran a couple of Sandwiching a sponge between wax paper Notice how the epoxy has creeped into the
screws through the Masonite, attaching and a piece of Masonite stops the Enviro- riverbank along the water. This can be
everything to the fascia and forming a Tex from “escaping” the layout. covered with ground foam.
tight seal. The epoxy won’t stick to wax
paper. Just be sure the dam extends far
enough to each side of the stream to pre-
vent epoxy from going around the sides.
The epoxy instructions tell you to
pour a maximum thickness of only 1⁄8". If
you need it thicker make separate pours,
allowing the epoxy to cure between each.
My project took two coats. I used an old
brush (old, because it’s the last time
you’ll use it) to direct the epoxy. I also
brushed a little on the concrete blanket;
I didn’t want it to be very thick there. Here’s the finished epoxy prior to applying Ted brushes on several coats of Mod Podge
Once I was satisfied with the pour, I left the Mod Podge. It’s too smooth to repre- to build up the ripples that are found in
town until morning to avoid the tempta- sent moving water. moving water.
tion to touch the stuff and mess it up.
Be aware that Enviro-Tex tends to It took three coats, spread at random, to the Mod Podge goes on white, it dries to
creep up the bank; it also cures as build up a nice textured surface. a nice shine.
smooth as a sheet of glass. I was model- On the concrete I pulled the brush Not only does the water now give the
ing moving water and needed ripples, so down the slope to get a look of downward illusion of moving down the streambed,
I bought a small bottle of Gloss-Luster movement. After that set up I applied it also gave the appearance of distorting
Mod Podge at the local arts and crafts more, this time pushing the brush down- the light as I looked into the water.
store. Gloss Medium will work as well. ward to spread the bristles as I had done Another nice feature is that if the water
I used a paintbrush to spread the with the rest of the stream. I did it sev- starts to look dull after a while, I can just
Mod Podge over the cured Enviro-Tex, eral times in the same spots to give the grab the paintbrush and give the stream
pushing down on the brush and spread- effect of water moving down in sheets as another quick coat of Mod Podge and
ing the bristles to form a ripple pattern. I have often seen on spillways. Although it’ll be good as new.
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