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Secrets of the Best Scenery for Your Model Railroad

Oct 9, 2007
More newcomers to model railroading are discouraged by the thought of making scenery than by any other aspect of the hobby. They will tackle carpentry, wiring, and complicated layouts even if they've had no experience before, and will operate a complex pike like real-life dispatchers. But they keep saying that they haven't had time to get around to scenery yet; they want to wait until trackwork is definitely finished. Since it never really is definitely finished - everyone plans certain changes ahead to improve the layout or enlarge it - scenery making is postponed and postponed again.

There is no need to give up. But there are a few things you should learn before you can approach the making of scenery with the enthusiasm and interest it deserves, the same enthusiasm with which you tackled layout. First, most of the beautiful pictures in the magazines show only one small part of a layout that happens to be finished. You can be quite sure that the rest of the owner's pike is pretty bare and much like your own. Why not follow his example and make scenery a little bit at a time?

The job can then be a small one. You can finish it in not many hours of work and gain great satisfaction and encouragement from its completion. And it is just about the cheapest thing you can do in improving your layout - less expensive by far than new trains, cars, switches, track, and so on.

One of the first accessories anyone buys is a station, so let's start with that. You have a station of some kind at a point along your track - large or small passenger station, freight station, or a combination. If it is a passenger station in a village or town it needs a parking lot near it.

Draw on the board an area for the parking lot, cover it with glue or dark-brown paint, and sift ballast material, sand, or crushed slate on it. (You can buy crushed slate in different colors at your hobby store, but homemade material will do just as well.) If you have none of these, use some sifted dirt itself to simulate dirt, or sawdust dyed to the color you want with Tintex dye or stain. But don't make the surface too even; no dirt or gravel parking lot is even.

With a stick or pencil put in a few ruts, especially at the entrance; make a couple of bumps and potholes for cars to break their springs in. Do not make the edges too even, or the color too uniform. After the base material is set, add a few drops of adhesive here and there, where cars would be parked, sift onto them some black sand or dirt or coffee grounds or gravel. Smear it around a little so it won't be too even, and you will have the stains where crankcases have dripped oil, as all crankcases do.

A road may have fences running alongside it, and the parking lot is likely to have fences around it, or around three sides. A neat, strong fence is simulated with short pieces of thin dowel for posts, with wire - not shiny - strung between.

The posts can be stuck in the plaster or similar material at the edge of road or parking lot while it is still soft. If one is a little askew it will look even better. You can make other types of fences from small scraps of thin wood, such as that used for cigar boxes, cheese boxes, and strawberry baskets. Or you can buy balsa and other small woods, easy to work, at a hobby shop.

With a crossing, you need a warning signal. You can make a standard railroad crossing sign yourself, out of small pieces of wood, and letter the right words on it, preferably faded. Or you can buy a flashing signal with lights and/or warning bell, or even a crossing gate, and actuate it automatically with a track trip.

Such simple additions, yet they can make a real difference to the level of your enjoyment of your model railroad.
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