Friday, November 13, 2009

Model Kit | Atlas White Picket Fences

Also from my e-Hobbyland order -- an Atlas Picket Fence and Gate set in HO scale, sheep not included!

The set comes molded in pristine white plastic so I just had to give it a once over with ModelColor 005 Ivory.

Model Railroad Plastic Fence
Atlas Picket Fence & Gate Set

As I mentioned in an earlier article, ModelColor's line of water-based acrylic paints makes for fast cleanup -- just run the paintbrush under running tap water.

Model Railroad Plastic Fence
Painting the picket fence with ModelColor 005 Ivory

Once painted, I had to cut the fence to appropriate lengths.

Gluing the corners with Tamiya Cement I placed the fence so that it fit squarely around the house.

Model Railroad Plastic Fence
Atlas Picket Fence installed. Note hinged door and glue blob on upper window -- whoops!

I also had to decide on the positioning of the picket fence's 'gate', relative to the front door of the house. I figured the best placement would be to position it off-center from the front door -- left slightly ajar in this pic.

Yes, the door is hinged to the door-frame and can be opened and closed. The house is from a Pola Windmill set I purchased locally.

A little green shrubbery, courtesy of Busch, adds to the realism.

That's what I like about taking pictures of my layout. Somehow, pictures reveal certain details that we may have overlooked.

Like the huge blob of Tamiya cement on the corner of the upper casement window of the house above!

Below is the windmill scene on my layout before I installed the Atlas Picket Fence. Looking at the pic I realise that I still have to cover the base of the windmill with ground cover to hide the plastic base and make it blend into the landscape. Details, details..

Model Railroad Model Kit
The Pola Windmill set includes the windmill and the two houses I placed on each side.

More model kit buildings on The Sunny Model Railroad:

Western Homestead Shanty by Life-Like models

Country Chapel by Faller

Sanding Tower Model Kit by Faller

Constance Signal Tower Model Kit by Faller

Woodland Scenics | Fine Leaf Foliage Part 2

Here are couple more trees I made up with Woodland Scenics Fine Leaf Foliage. I really like the Fall Mix as it adds some nice color -- reds and yellows -- to the overall layout. Things would look overly green and pretty monotonous otherwise.

Woodland Scenics Fine Leaf Foliage looks much more realistic than the usual lichen that most hobbyists use to make their own trees. In fact, after using Fine Leaf Foliage, I took all the 'lichen trees' off my layout!

Woodland Scenics Model Railroad
Woodland Scenics Fine Leaf Foliage attached to tree armatures with PVA glue
I attached the foliage with little of PVA glue, careful to try and get the little 'branches' on the foliage to attach to the branches on the tree armatures.
PVA glue is great -- it takes a while to dry but once it sets, it provides a very firm bond and is nearly invisible.

Woodland Scenics Model Railroad
Woodland Scenics Tree Armatures. Gotta get rid of those sprues and conceal the bases with ground cover!
I still need to remove the little sprues still attached to the bases of the tree armatures, glue the bases down and conceal them with ground cover.

Woodland Scenics Model Railroad
Woodland Scenics Fall Mix adds a splash of color behind the Country Chapel

As you can see, I've recently added telegraph poles to my layout -- been looking for these for ages. I'll talk about them in another instalment soon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Woodland Scenics | Fine Leaf Foliage

I decided I wanted to accent the various shades of green on my layout with some Fall colors of reds, orange and yellow.

And as usual, as if to thwart my plan, the local hobby shops only stocked green foliage and turf. Light green, medium green, dark green, olive green. Any color as long as it was green.

Woodland Scenics Model Railroad
Woodland Scenics Fine Leaf Foliage - Fall Mix

High on my e-Hobbyland list was Woodland Scenics Fine Leaf Foliage Fall Mix. The accents that some reds and yellows would provide would be perfect to add some color to my layout!

Woodland Scenics Model Railroad
Woodland Scenics Fall Mix includes three main colors

And no other product on Woodland Scenics range matches their Fine Leaf Foliage for texture and detail for tree-making. And believe me, I've tried a few of 'em:

  • Lichen -- Doesn't look natural at all on a layout despite being a natural product. Or maybe I just haven't found a way to use it well

  • Clump Foliage -- Good for bushes, and creating large clusters of trees

  • Polyfiber -- Good when sprinkled with Fine Turf and/or Coarse Turf to create a 3-dimensional 'raised' effect. I've used this combination to create fir trees

  • Underbrush -- A clumpy sponge-material like Clump Foliage; same use

Fine Leaf Foliage is a whole different kettle o' fish. An all-natural product, the foliage is a matrix of little 'leaves' and branches. When attached to a standard tree armature you end up with an extremely detailed tree. Fine Leaf Foliage costs more but the results are well worth it.

As a bonus Woodland Scenics also supplies a very large tree armature in the package. I decided to deck this tree out with the three colors in layers.

Woodland Scenics Model Railroad
Large tree armature included in Woodland Scenic Fine Leaf Foliage Fall Mix

Woodland Scenics Model Railroad
A mix of all three colors from the Fall Mix were glued on in layers with PVA glue

Monday, November 2, 2009

New Model Railroad Model Kits Just Arrived In The Mail!

I placed an order about two weeks ago with

I paid for my order through PayPal and spent the next couple of days with fingers crossed hoping that e-Hobbyland wouldn't send me an email saying that several items were back-ordered and that they would ship when the items were in stock.

Model Railroad Model Kits
My e-Hobbyland order arrived by US Priority mail.

An earlier experience with a particular (European) mail-order company really left me hanging.

I received an email after placing my order stating, "There are items in your order that are out-of-stock. Your order will ship once we receive the items from our supplier". Thinking that it would take, at the very most, a couple of weeks for them to receive the items from their supplier, I waited.

I let that order ride for a good 3 months before I got tired of waiting. I mean, c'mon, how hard is it to indicate out-of-stock items on your mail-order website? They have a strange way of doing business. And this from one of the most established European model railway specialist dealers, too.

Model Railroad Model Kits
My e-Hobbyland order. The possibilities beckon.

Not so with e-Hobbyland.

e-Hobbyland's website is clearly laid out with accurate descriptions, prices and pictures of their items. And they indicate out-of-stock items matter-of-factly.

They took about 3 days to process my order before shipping it. And it arrived by USPS within 9 days. (Bearing in mind that I live in Singapore!)

Kudos to I'll be back for more.
Stay tuned for more pics!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Model Railroad Hobby Shops | Sign Of The Times

Today, I visited one of less than a handful of hobby shops in my area that stocks model railroad trains. In addition to its bread-and-butter RC planes and slot cars, this was the only recently set up store that dedicated a modicum of shelf space to the model railroad hobby, specializing in the Fleischmann and Kato model lines.

Or at least they used to.

Whole shelves formerly devoted to model trains and track were now exclusively displaying slot cars, tracks and accessories. RC model planes loomed, suspended overhead. The store's train display, an N-scale Fleischmann layout sitting on top of a Noch mountain landscape had been packed up and according to the boss, "Moved to the warehouse." In its place was an RC helicopter display.

A single 12inch glass shelf displayed the solitary N-scale Fleischmann starter set and an HO scale Special Edition steam engine.

But I can't really blame them for this decision to reprioritize. The model railroad hobby has never been big where I live. Real estate is at a premium, and few households have room for a permanent railroad layout.

And in an age of fast-paced lives, faster-paced hobbies and instant gratification, few folks have the time, patience or inclination to plan and build a model railroad.

Sign of the times, indeed.

But it is precisely the slow pace of planning, building, landscaping and tweaking a model railroad that drew me to the hobby in the first place.

For that hour a day when I run my trains --while looking for new things to add on or modify that do not require drastically ripping up track -- I'm engrossed in an imaginary miniature scene of my own creation. And dreaming of soon moving to larger premises where I can really let my handiwork and imagination fly.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Model Railroading | Attaching Fleischmann Profi-Track to the Baseboard

This was the method I used to attach the Fleischmann Profi-Track to my baseboard.

Fleischmann Profi-Track has a plastic roadbed molded onto the track to simulate ballast. This saves us the trouble of ballasting the track ourselves with PVA glue and fine modelling ballast which can get messy. Really messy.

And ballasting your own track it makes it nearly impossible to remove later, without damaging it, should you want to remodel and change your layout.

HO Train Layouts Profi Track
Incredible detail of the ballast stones on the roadbed of every Fleischmann track 

I'm really a fan of the Fleischmann system because of the high degree of detail on all their products, both train and track.

Above is a pic of the detail in the roadbed. You can literally count every ballast stone!

And you can also see the fine wood grain detail on the railway ties to boot!

Using 3M 4011 Exterior Mounting Tape attached to the underside of the trackbed, I fastened the track to the foam level of the baseboard. 3M 4011 is made of some sort of rubberized material, is extremely sticky and very, very strong. As an unexpected benefit it also has sound dampening properties for quieter running.

And the good thing is that if I ever decide to re-do my layout -- which will not be too far into the future -- I can simply pry off the track without damaging it.

HO Train Layouts Profi Track
3M Exterior Mounting Tape

HO Train Layouts Profi Track
Attaching 3M Exterior Mounting Tape to the bottom of Fleischmann track.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Woodland Scenics | Adding Rail Worker Model Figures to a Model Railroad

I enjoy adding HO scale figures to my railroad layout, creating miniature scenes that add tiny pockets of activity and detail. Each one tells its own story!

Sometimes I'll go 'figure shopping' and look through the display rack to see what catches my attention -- that alone is enough to trigger the imagination and create ideas for possible new scenes I wouldn't otherwise have thought of.

Woodland Scenics Model Figures
Railway workers at work on a damaged sleeper.

Here I've depicted railroad workers repairing a damaged railroad sleeper and installing the new tie. The figures are from the Scenic Accents Rail Workers set and are affixed into their standing positions with Accent Glue.

Woodland Scenics Model Figures
Woodland Scenics Rail Workers

Woodland Scenics Model Figures
Notice the ground cover which is made up of layers of Woodland Scenics Earth Blend and Fine Turf 

I have a gap of one sleeper in my layout from where I attached Fleischman flex track to the regular Profi-Track. The metal rail itself is connected so that section of the track is perfectly functional. Having these railway workers work on the track, so to speak, sort of explains the missing sleeper.

One worker is even carrying the replacement sleeper on his shoulder!

Woodland Scenics Model Figures
Rail worker carries a sleeper on his shoulder

Woodland Scenics Model Figures
Woodland Scenics Rail Workers set includes a Hand Cart, seen here on the tracks in the background 

I'm all thumbs when handling tiny objects and trying to glue them down and this is where Woodland Scenics Gentle Grips come in pretty handy. Gentle Grips are tweezers with rubber tips that are umm.. gentle, and will not chip off paint like regular metal tweezers might. The rubber tips also give you a good grip on any tiny object you might be trying to grapple with.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Model Railroading | Model Train Help 4th Edition E-Book Review

Model RailroadingModel Train Help by Robert Anderson was one of the first ebooks on model railroads I purchased.

Divided into 6 parts on 6 separate pdf files, the tutorial-styled content brings the reader step-by-step through an extensive array of topics while providing many handy tips along the way.

Although this may vary depending on your level of experience, these are some of the topics that I found most useful:

Part 1:
  • The different model scales including references to the mostly British OO and O scales
  • Track gauges and their differences
  • Steel, brass, zinc-coated and nickel silver track and a photo tutorial on how to ballast track
Part 2:
  • Analog, DCC and locomotive decoders
  • What to look out for when buying locomotives and rolling stock, both good and bad
  • A photo tutorial on couplers, types and installation
  • How to build a baseboard and frame
  • Different layout plans for point to point, oval and out and back
Part 3:
  • Modeling landscape scenery including building tunnels and mountains, making rocks, lakes, and waterfalls, adding grass cover and making realistic trees
  • Adding buildings to your layout
  • Basic weathering techniques
Part 4:
  • Track cleaning methods
  • Wiring a reverse loop and wiring for 2 train operation
  • Hot frogs and insulated frogs (turnouts)
  • Calculating sloping grades for steepness
  • Track code and their meaning
Part 5:
  • Railroad yard design
  • Garden railroads and G scale
  • Airbrushing and spraying techniques
Part 6:
  • An array of model railroad plans in various sizes
Granted that a fair bit of the information you will find in this ebook can be found scattered throughout the internet, Model Train Help nonetheless proves to be a valuable and organized one-stop resource of useful and useable content.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Model Railroad Scenery | Creating A Realistic Lake Feature

I've always been fascinated by the realistic looking lakes and rivers I've seen on model railroads.

When it came to building the Sunny Model Railroad, I initially had plans to create a waterfall on the far left corner of the layout. After considering the amount of additional space a convincing looking waterfall would need and then looking at the space that I had to work with, I settled on a lake scene instead.

I imagined swaying palm trees, a man-made sandy beach and sunbathers and swimmers out to have some fun in the sun. I also envisioned a place nearby where they would park their cars and camper vans..

But back to how I created this pool of artificial water.

After much research and deliberation, I decided to go with Envirotex polymer resin to create artificial water the for the lake scene on my model railroad.

Envirotex comes in two liquid parts, the resin and the hardener. When the two components are mixed vigorously together it forms a paste that dries clear in about 72 hours.

Model Railroad Scenery
Building up 'water' in a model lake layer by layer with Envirotex. A few more layers left to go.

After I poured the mixture, and while it was still wet, I added the Woodland Scenics Field Grass to represent long water grasses you see in the pic.

Model Railroad Scenery
Adding Woodland Scenics Field Grass along the bank of the lake

We have to add Envirotex in several thin layers, giving each layer time to dry before adding the next layer to ensure that the product dries completely. The pic you see is the depth of the lake after pouring in the third layer.

Model Railroad Scenery
More Field Grass added. The 'rocks' at the bottom of the lake are actually cork chips!

Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out how best to create model HO scale fish which I can add to the lake. I'll then pour one final layer of resin over the fish for the final depth.

During the curing I covered the drying resin with the lid of a train set box. This was to prevent dust and loose scenery particles from settling on the surface of the drying resin and becoming a permanent fixture.

There are, of course, other alternatives to Envirotex.

Products by Woodland Scenics such as their Realistic Water come ready-mixed in thick liquid form and only have to be poured on and left to dry. They also have another product called E-Z Water which comes in the form of resin chips that have to be heated and melted over a stove.

I've tried Realistic Water and can say that the clarity and surface sheen of the cured product seems as good as Envirotex. I also misplaced a bag of E-Z Water that I had purchased early on --- which is probably a blessing in disguise. Molten resin is something I don't think I should be messing with..

I'll be adding more details to the lake scene very soon. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Model Railroading | Track Curve Radiuses with Fleischmann Profi-Track

This pic shows the upper and lower curves on the left of my split-level Fleischmann model railway. Both loops are completely independent of each other, with separate Fleischmann controllers.

 I'm using Fleischmann Profi-Track radiused at 420mm (16.5") for the lower track and 356.5mm (14") for the upper layer.

I recently posted this pic on and one of the readers commented that he was amazed that I was able to get this steam engine to take the upper tighter curve. Well, actually, he was doubtful if my trains managed to make that tight a curve.

But hey, this is Fleischmann, baby!

HO Train Layouts
One of my Fleischmann trains approaching a curve

I'm not familiar with American model trains, having never owned one. But it's something I will have to bear in mind if I plan on running a US-made model train with a longer wheelbase on my layout.

HO Train Layouts
Making the curve in Windmill Valley..

So far I've never had a train derail on my layout -- ever. That's another one up for German engineering I suppose.

HO Train Layouts
Love the detail on these Fleischmann trains!

HO Train Layouts
And round she goes, Fleischmann rolling stock in tow

Model Kit | Busch Oxeye Daisies

These are the Oxeye Daisies by Busch. At 1/87 scale, a keen eye and tweezers are required for putting these babies together..

Model Kit Busch
Busch Oxeye Daisies

This kit requires first painting the ends of the stalks a rust red before assembling the flower petals. These will form the center of each flower.

Then, the ring of petals (thankfully molded in yellow plastic) is slipped on the end of each stalk with a tiny bit of glue to form a complete flower. Each flower stalk is then glued on to the base. Definitely not for the faint of heart or weak of eye.

For an idea of the scale of these flowers, the fabric this model is sitting on is 300 thread cotton!

I placed the daisy beds on either side of the front entrance to the Chapel on the Hill. I imagine they are tended to by the local friar, perhaps?

Model Kit Busch
Busch Oxeye Daisy at the entrance to the Chapel on the Hill

Looking at the detail of this pic, I'm reminded that I need to cover the green plastic bases of the daisy flower beds with fine Earth Blend.

And I'm glad I had my Woodland Scenics Gentle Grips tweezers for this task!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Woodland Scenics | Masonry Workers Model Figures

Woodland Scenics makes a good line of pre-painted of scenic figures as part of their Scenic Accents range.
The worker shovelling sand into the cement mixer is from Woodland Scenics Masonry Workers set.

Woodland Scenics Model Figures
A worker shovels sand into the cement mixer. I used fine quartz sand -- but not fine enough for 1/87 scale!

For the sand I used decorative quartz sand from Ikea which is the finest white sand I've been able to find, but still a bit too large in grain size for HO.

Woodland Scenics Model Figures
Closeup of the not-so-fine sand. I'll need to grind these up finer somehow.

The pics below show the complete scene of masonry workers building a cottage.

This cottage kit originally came with shiny grey plastic 'brick' sides.

I brought out the brick detail by painting the shiny grey brick with a dilute coat of matte white first. Then, while the paint was still wet, I wiped off the surface, leaving the white paint in the crevices to enhance the outline of the bricks. The thin layer of matte white also got rid of the plasticy shine.

I've yet to paint the wooden frame of the roof though. Details, details....

Woodland Scenics Model Figures
A lone deer looks on as the workmen go about their job

Woodland Scenics Model Figures
I'll need to paint the wooden frame of the house to get rid of that plasticy look.

When time (and patience) permit I intend to re-paint and detail the figures on my layout, perhaps down to the facial features. But more on that later..

More model kit buildings on The Sunny Model Railroad:

Western Homestead Shanty by Life-Like models

Country Chapel by Faller

Sanding Tower Model Kit by Faller

Atlas Picket Fence and Gate Kit

Constance Signal Tower Model Kit by Faller

Monday, May 11, 2009

Model Railroading | Track Maintenance and Keeping Rails Clean

I learned early on the importance of keeping the track clean. Oxidization as well as dust accumulating on the nickel rails slows trains down, while especially dirty sections of the layout may stop them, quite literally, in their tracks!

Dirt and oxidation inhibits the electrical contact between the rails and the wheels of the locomotive. And if you have steel track on your layout, be prepared to perform frequent track cleaning to keep rust at bay!

Model Railroad Track Cleaning
Fleischmann Track Cleaning Wagon

Some common symptoms of dirty track:

  • The engine seems to lack power in certain sections of track and then suddenly lunges forward

  • At lower speed settings on the controller, the engine is at a standstill

  • The locomotive doesn't move at all

The above usually occur when we haven't run our trains for several weeks, when there is an increase in humidity or when we've just done scenic work. The PVA glue used in attaching scenery to a layout forms a thin, non-conductive layer if it should find its way onto the rails.

My method for cleaning track is to rub a piece of balsa wood on the offending section, followed up with a thorough rubdown woth some cloth swabs soaked in isopropyl alcohol.

Model Railroad Track Cleaning
A simple piece of balsa wood is abrasive enough for basic track cleaning

The balsa really helps in removing some of the more stubborn crud and doesn't leave any residue like track rubber cleaners do. Fine grains of rubber residue can get caught in our engine or wheel mechanism.

But if you do use a track rubber, vacuum up any remaining residue and you should be fine. I have a small, handheld, battery-operated vacuum cleaner used for getting at hard to reach crevices between the keys on computer keyboards. It's not too powerful and will not rip up the scenery like a household vacuum cleaner would!

If you have steel track, I wouldn't recommend regular, routine use of steel wool. It should only be used on very stubborn rust spots. Steel wool is very abrasive, much more so than track rubber, and using leaves tiny scratches in the rail that will only fill with more crud and rust in future. It's a good idea to go over the track area with a magnet to pick up any fine scraps of steel wool after you're done cleaning your track.

I routinely run my Fleischmann track cleaning wagon round my layout every now and then. It has rotating cleaning pads made of a soft felt material that are good for gentle maintenance but not as a substitute for balsa and alcohol.

Model Railroad Track Cleaning
Replaceable green felt pads under the Fleischmann Track Cleaning Wagon

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Model Railroad Scenery | Tunnels and Blue Foam

The first pic below shows the mountain tunnel exit on the upper level of my layout. I like to use various coarse turfs to accent the craggy rock -- these are by Woodland Scenics which I think look very natural in color and texture.

The 'stone' tunnel portals on my layout are by Hornby and Faller -- nice detail on both.

Model Railroad Scenery
Fleischmann train exiting the tunnel cut out of the mountain

It's always a good idea to apply matte black paint to the inside of tunnels otherwise the foundational material (in this case, blue foam) is obviously visible. Matte black art paper would work just as well for this purpose.

Model Railroad Scenery
Note the tight clearance of the carriage exiting the tunnel. Just enough room!

You can just make out the blue foam in the tunnel as the train on the lower deck approaches in the pic below. I used high-density blue foam for the foundation of all the scenery on The Sunny Model Railroad.

Model Railroad Scenery
Blue foam in the tunnel is visible as this Fleischmann passenger train approaches

The good thing about documenting this layout in progress is that I get to notice details and flaws that the camera captures.

Model Railroad Scenery
Fleischmann train entering the tunnel below Windmill Hill  

The fourth pic above shows the other tunnel at the opposite end. I hadn't originally planned for this tunnel but I needed a place to mount the Pola windmill and building set I had purchased on impulse.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.

So, I set to work with -- what else -- blue foam and created a tunnel for the Pola Windmill kit to sit on. I tried out a product called Celluclay instead of plaster for the landscape rock base. Celluclay is an instant, just-add-water paper mache product. And it took forever to dry. No kidding. It must've taken 2 weeks at least before I could paint it.

In the process it developed black and grey mold and mildew. Celluclay probably works well for small projects and, according to the instructions, can be dried in an oven. I had slapped it on pretty thick like I would plaster, which is obviously not the way to use it. The whole thing was also too large to fit in my oven. Not to mention the noxious fumes that burning blue foam would emit.

Gotta love that blue foam.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Model Railroad Scenery | Creating Depth When Coloring Rock Detail

I have two basic techniques that I use to color rock on my model railroad.

In the first pic below, I painted the rock with Nippon matte tan water-based paint. Some folks dilute the paint before applying but since my foundation is blue extruded foam, I would probable have had to go over it several times to completely conceal any exposed blue areas if I had diluted.

Model Railroad Scenery
Matte tan paint is the base color on The Sunny Model Railroad 

To create some definition, I then brushed over a wash of grey slate acrylic paint. The dark wash gets into the crevices of the plaster and brings out more detail. For a more striking effect you could also use very dilute india ink.

For the rock canyon detail in the second pic below, I colored the white plaster sparingly to make it look 'brighter' since it was in the background of my layout.

Lighter colors on rock occuring in the distance creates greater 'depth of field', giving the illusion that the structure is farther away. This is something that I stumbled on by sheer accident but it is a concept that I make a point of applying throughout the entire layout.

Model Railroad Scenery
To create the illusion of distance, color the rock a lighter shade than the rock in the foreground

To color this rock I used a light stain of yellow oxide acrylic paint using a dabbing technique. I then very sparingly applied dilute raw umber for some contrast. Finally I applied a very dilute slate grey acrylic wash, deliberately leaving some areas lighter, allowing the white of the plaster to dominate.

Model Railroad Scenery
The morning sun on the rock landscape 

Model Railroad Scenery
Another view of the rock landscape, this time through the trees

Friday, May 8, 2009

Model Railroad Scenery | How To Model Realistic Looking Rock Structures

And yet another article about model railroad scenery I contributed online:

If you've ever marveled at realistic looking rock scenery on model railroads and wondered how they were created, this article describes in detail how you too can easily achieve the same results.

Model Railroad Scenery
Rock structures are used to accent the landscape and add interest to the model railway layout

These are the items you will need:

· Newspaper
· Masking tape
· Plaster of Paris or Hydrocal plaster
· Acrylic paints in burnt umber, raw umber, raw sienna, white and slate grey colors
· Art paint brush and craft sponge brush
· Assorted items for shaping plaster, such as spatulas and plastic knives

The first step is deciding where that rock face, outcropping or rocky hill will be on your model railroad layout. Unless you're modeling a section of the Grand Canyon, bear in mind that rock structures usually emerge from areas of foliage and greenery. And it is precisely this contrast that makes the scene look interesting and real.

Before you proceed any further, cover any areas on your layout near the section you're planning to work on. Wet plaster drips and tends to get on everything no matter how careful you are.

Whenever I work with plaster, I tape over my railroad tracks with painter's masking tape and cover larger areas with cling wrap or aluminum foil. Aluminum foil is also great because, for this purpose, it's reusable.

Model Railroad Scenery
Using ClingWrap and blue 3M Painters Tape to protect the track from stray drips of wet plaster

Once you have decided on the placement of your rock scenery, make up several wads of small pieces of newspaper. On my HO scale layout I use sizes varying from 2 to 4 inches in length, in varying thicknesses. Use a size that you think is best for your layout scale. Larger wads will create bigger outcroppings on the rock face. Using masking tape, attach the wads of newspaper to the area where the rock outcroppings will be.

Cover the wads completely with the masking tape. Try to go for a layered arrangement that looks random and not man-made.

Model Railroad Scenery
Wads of newspaper will form rock outcroppings on the model railroad once covered with plaster and ground cover

Don't worry, it will look much better and come together with a very natural look after you complete the next few steps.

Mix up some Plaster of Paris or Hydrocal plaster following the instructions on the packaging. Hydrocal is very lightweight but considerably more expensive than Plaster of Paris.

Plaster sets quickly so mix up smaller quantities and work with it in small batches. Be sure to thoroughly rinse out the mixing container and spatula between batches as any dried residue plaster will interfere with how the new batch sets up.

Now comes the fun, albeit messy bit.

Using a spatula, apply plaster over the newspaper and masking tape wads. Remember to keep the texture random -- smooth in some areas, craggy in others. Use a plastic knife to add more detail to the rock face with vertical or horizontal striations. Notice how the newspaper wads beneath the surface give the rock a three-dimensional look.

Stand back, admire your handiwork and let the plaster dry overnight.

Adding color to our rock is the final step to complete scenic realism. I usually choose a combination of raw sienna, raw umber, burnt umber and slate grey acrylic paints. The colors should be diluted with water to a thin wash so that we are not actually painting the rock but staining it.

Using a paint brush or sponge brush, apply the washes in a random series of spots of burnt umber, raw umber and raw sienna. Go easy on the darker colors as they tend to dominate and, if overused, can make your scenery look somewhat somber. Then, apply a very dilute wash of slate grey over the whole rock face and over the other colors. The grey wash unifies the other color combinations into a very realistic look.

Finally, very sparingly dry brush undiluted white acrylic paint in areas for highlights and to create a sun-bleached effect.

Model Railroad Scenery
A shepherd watches over his flock of sheep from a rock outcropping. The rock was created by layering plaster over wads of  newspaper and then 'textured' by creating rock-like random patterns with a fork and a spatula. Shepherd and sheep figures are by Noch.

As you can see, it doesn't take exceptional artistic talent to create realistic looking rock on your model railroad layout. But use these ideas as a starting point and feel free to experiment with ideas of your own. Try different materials and coloring techniques. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what you may come with.

And don't forget, as scenic modelers we must constantly observe nature for an infinite supply of new ideas.


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