Before adding scenery to your HO or O scale model trains toys, first determine the theme, location and layout.
Theme: Consider the theme or purpose for the setting you want to achieve. Is it a passenger train, a military base, or some other setting? The location should be considered, such as if you want the train to travel through towns to and from its destination. Think about the era; do you want your trains toys to be vintage or modern? Your setting and scenery should reflect the overall theme of your train set. Keeping the scenery consistent with the era and theme will keep your train realistic looking.
Location: Decide where you want to display your model trains toys. You might build it on a shelf or countertop for more permanent mounting. You could create an intricate design in which your train runs through the walls (near the ceiling) of your house, traveling from room to room. A different town or factory could be in each room. (Of course, the downside to this type of track is chasing down derailments, but it would be an interesting hobby.)
Layout: After you know the theme and location, plan the layout for the track, terrain, structures and finally, the scenery. The scenery must work within the constraints of the space available and it should compliment your scale model trains. To get some ideas on what you can do with scenery, there are books available from hobby shops. Another source which is faster and cheaper is a Google search for “train stations” or other related keyword phrases. When you find a real train station, then choose maps, then the Satellite tab and zoom in for a view of the scenery around a real station. You can model your station after that or use parts of it for your own design.
To get started with laying out the scenery, draw a rough sketch design on a piece of paper to get an idea of where you want to place different items. After you have a plan that you like, use a pencil to lightly draw directly on the surface of your layout, whether it is a plywood board or wherever the scenery will be positioned. Plan for height and depth based on the scale of your trains.
Use either construction foam (spray-on kind) or plaster to build hills. The spray foam insulation can be painted and cut to fit your style. Spray the foam on a working surface where you have room to work, away from your actual layout, shaping it to the bottom layer of the “hill.” Trim the edges until you are satisfied with its look. Add more layers, spraying and trimming each time, until your hill is the correct height. Be sure the layers fit together. Once you are satisfied with the hill’s height and shape, glue each layer together with a product like Liquid Nails. Hold the layers together with toothpicks until dry. Once dry, you can glue the hill to your board, making it part of your scenery. Let this sit aside while you continue adding scenery.
Begin adding ground cover materials around the track. Your hobby store should have several sizes and shades available; a mix of colors and sizes will provide realistic settings for a wide variety of trains toys. If you will be painting or trimming any scenery near the tracks, be sure to cover the tracks with masking tape.
Decide the placement of trees, grass, and other ground covers before moving to the next step. Be sure you have marked the board with the location of each item.
When you are ready to use ground cover, brush an earth-colored brown paint onto an area a few feet square. Your ground cover will stick to the paint as the paint dries. Add some broken branches or more ground cover to enhance your scenery. Continue this process around the board, being sure to protect the tracks as you work.
If you added water to your scenery, be sure to check that the water flows easily, but doesn’t gush and therefore cause damage to your track. The complexity of your water scene determines how much containment you will need for the water. Simply adding a green paint with shimmers gives the illusion of a small pond.
Once the ground cover is all in place, it’s time to add your trees, animals, or other items to your scene. Be sure that purchased items are the same scale as your scale model trains. Your towns can include traffic lights, building, cars, people, and pets. Browse your local hobby shop or an online store for items that fit your theme, whether it’s early steam engine or modern supersonic trains.
Once you’ve mastered these simple scenery-building basics, you can add intricate designs, holiday-themed elements, and trees and scenery that reflect the change of seasons. As your train set expands, you can add detailed cities, construction sites, and other scenic items as you choose. Have fun with your designs. Take pictures, keep them in a photo album so you can see your progress, and have a record of your changes.
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Joe Kanooga is a father of two kids, a successful business owner and the author of numerous articles about scale model trains. Click here to download our free trains toys guidebook filled with hobby tips, ideas and information.
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