The first step in adding ground cover to a Lionel train set is choosing the season you wish to display. Winter ground cover will obviously be different from summer. Even fall and spring ground covers will be markedly different. Consider the look you wish to achieve for your Lionel train set.
Winter ground cover generally includes a facsimile of snow. Snow can be created by using virtually any white powder, such as baking soda, flour, dry plaster, or even white marble dust. Sprinkle your white powder around your train set, then mist it with a 1:1 mixture of white glue and water, with a drop or two of dish soap to allow the mixture to flow.
Spring or summer ground covers include grass facsimiles, which are created using ground foam and the same water/glue mixture described above. Ground foam is available from retail stores in various colors, but it can get quite expensive, particularly for detailed train sets.
Luckily, ground foam can be made using ordinary chair padding and acrylic or craft paint (available at any craft store), and an old blender. The chair padding should be cut into small cubes (about 1” around). The blender should be loosely filled with the cubes and turned onto a low speed. You may need to use an old dowel to push the cubes down into the blades. You may also need to add a small amount of water to “lubricate” the blades. When the foam has reached a sufficiently fine state, you can turn the blender onto a higher speed and add a small amount of paint to the mixture. Let the paint mix with the foam for several minutes. If there seems to be too much paint, add a few more foam cubes and allow those to be chopped and blended into the mixture. When you are satisfied with the mixture, spread it out on a sheet of cardboard or heavy paper and allow it to dry overnight.
Fall ground cover is a much duller color than spring ground cover. Browns can be mixed into the ground cover using sand or dirt, or by using the methods described above to create foam with a dull brown paint color.
Creating trees, bushes, and rocks will be an adventure limited only by your imagination. Many companies sell premade trees or tree kits for train sets, but often you can create your own trees using supplies that you already have. Trees can begin with twigs that you find in your own yard, with balsa wood, wire, twine, or any number of supplies. Bushes can be made from lichen, which can be purchased in small bags in craft stores. You can also use a sponge, cut to size and painted a realistic color.
For large rocks, use rubber molds with plaster. You can glue together several molds and fill in the gaps with small amounts of plaster to create cliffs, canyons, and other large rocks. Paint the plaster a brown-gray color with watercolors or acrylic paint. For small rocks, you can use an ordinary piece of gravel or any other small stone.
Finally, there are many ways to add water to your train set. One of the easiest ways is with epoxy resin- tiny cubes that are melted and poured into place, then dry clear. You can add a drop or two of acrylic paint to simulate muddy water if you like. However, don’t be afraid to experiment with other supplies to create a variety of effects for your train set! These ground cover techniques will work just as well for any brand just the same as they will for a Lionel train set.
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Joe Kanooga is a father of two kids, a successful business owner and the author of numerous articles about Lionel train set toys. Click here to download a free train set guidebook filled with hobby tips, ideas and information.
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