Thinking Scenically


Steel City Division

October, 2001

By Bob Beaty 

Scenery (n).  stage settings; natural features of landscape that please the eye. 

Model Railroad Scenery: The crafted environment through which a model railroad operates, moves or is displayed.  Consists of location, terrain (topography), setting (urban, rural, mountains etc), structures, right of way, background elements, lighting and other visual effects that augment the overall appearance of the model. 

The Function of Scenery: 

·        Improvement of the realistic operation of the model railroad by providing a miniature environment

·        Lengthening the run of trains providing a feeling of “going some place”

·        Disguise some unwanted or distracting feature within the layout space. 

Where to start:

            Scenery is the one thing that can differ greatly from layout to layout. It gives the creative modeler the greatest opportunity to express his/her individuality.  There are many techniques, many visions, and many materials to use.  THERE IS NO ONE WAY to do scenery. 

            PLAN:  Before starting (most of us don’t) you need to carefully plan the scenes you wish to create.   Consider:

            Time period (era)

            Type railroad (Class 1, Branch, Logging, Ore carrier, Mining, etc)

            Steam, Diesel, Transition

            Urban, Rural, Metropolitan, industrial

            Geology: Mountainous, Plains, Coastal, Desert SW

            Space available for the layout, shape, double deck ?           

Make sure that all the scenes on the layout, considered together, form a realistic composition. (You will be happier and the nitpickers will be too). 

“Scenery is a permanent thing and we ought to have a preview of what it is going to look like before we build it.”  Frank Ellison 

            Conceptualize/visualize: In nature and prototype railroads, the rocks mountains and rivers were there first, then the rail road infrastructure was added.

            Research books, calendars, historical photos, travel brochures for typical scenic aspects of your potential layout.

No. 1 Rule: make your model scenery look like it was there first (before the track) not second.  

            Experiment/practice: Practicing off layout in a scaled down version will give you an opportunity to use different techniques and materials. 

·        Terrain building (Mock ups)

·        Painting (paint some tree on furniture your wife doesn’t want)

·        Special features [water: (Don’t use the real stuff), animation etc] 

Construct:   After you have planned, Visualized and experimented, you can consider construction. The type of scenery methods you use may be determined by your overall track plan, and layout support construction,

·        Hardshell, (Includes ZIP texturing)

·        Extruded Foam

·        Geodesic Foam

·        Paper Mache`

·        Plywood sub bed

·        Spline.

Consider not beginning scenery until all track work is complete and trouble shot. 

Pit Falls: Identify pitfalls such as:

·        Clearance problems

·        Reach impediments

·        Obstructions

Make sure there is room for hands, tools, wiring, electrical devices and of course—The Trains! 

Some Rules (to be broken if absolutely necessary.  You will know when). 

·        Never place a mountain over a turnout (track switch), or other potential derailing feature

·        Place the highest tracks in the background

·        Make sure all hidden track work is accessible

·        Allow as much space as possible between low level tracks that parallel higher track

·        Test run all rolling stock through all scenic construction during all phases of construction

·        Allow for space between tracks and the between tracks and the outer edge of the layout

·        The length of a tunnel is not as important as it’s height (train has to fit) but should be geologically relevant.

·        If you get stuck—Call Larry.


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