Modeling with the Wrecking Crew

Model Railroad Club

By Bob Beaty

 The Wrecking Crew Model Railroad Club is a 100 % NMRA club located in Birmingham, Alabama.  Their layout, The Locust Grove and Western, is a modular HO scale layout depicting North Central Alabama in the mid-1950’s.   As part of our Charter, we are dedicated to promoting the hobby of Model Railroading and sharing tips and techniques with fellow modelers and the public.  This hand out is one of a series of Modeling tips provided by the club.

 Modeling Water Effects

There are several reasons to model water on your Model Railroad.  Water was here before trains.  Railroads followed the line of least resistance, normally river beds. Water effects on a model railroad add a scenic touch, getting lots of “oohs and Ahs”. Water effects are easy to model and add life to a scene, whether a large river, a meandering stream or a puddle. 

Study the prototype.  The more you understand the subject the better the model will be. Water in nature takes on many colors, surface textures and movement.  Man’s interplay with water adds unique details and artifacts to a scene.  Some of the artifacts are detrimental to the environment but an interesting addition to any modeling scene. 

Take Reference pictures: Remember what you see is more so the surrounding environment that the actual water itself.  The banks, the bottom, the plants in and along the banks, algae and flotsam and jetsam in the “water column,” water movement and finally the water surface itself.

             Prepare the environment carefully first.  The more time you spend on this phase the better your water model will be regardless of the substance you use.

            Prepare the base.  Whether plaster, foam or some other product, it has to support material and provide the necessary contours and banks.

             Prevent leaks.  Ensure your prepared base is leak proof. Most of the current products will seep through the smallest pinhole, creating a mess.  Not recommended for a carpeted train room.  The bed must be absolutely watertight.

            Add the scenery.  Ground texture, soil, rocks, tree limbs and ground cover.  Experiment to get the look you want. 

Some effects:

Seeing the bottom.  Populate your stream or lake with logs, trash, fish, rocks, junk etc before you pour whatever you intend to use.  Note this process does not lend itself to a gloss paint approach. 

Ripples and Waves.  You can produce ripples and waves with applications of gloss gel Medium or Woodland Scenic’s “Water Effects” product applied after the surface is set.

Wakes. Use a gel product or clear caulk with touches of white  paint.

Rapids, and water falls.  Use a combination of gels, white fiber fill (pillow stuffing) and painted highlights.  Also WS water effects products , can produce an effective waterfall. 

How we prepared the river on the LG&W

The surface of the river was prepared by poring and smoothing plaster for an even surface.  The banks were made from sand and  “Sculpti-mold” to form a textured surface. The banks and surrounding ground was painted an earth color and covered with appropriate colors of ground foam, held by a diluted glue and water solution.  Scenic materials, ground foam, twigs, rocks, bushes etc were added to give “life” to the bank areas. The center of the river was spray painted a dark blue-black color and the edges were sprayed with a light earth/mud color.  

After the paint had thoroughly dried, two coats of artist’s Gloss Medium were applied and allowed to dry.  Ripples and waves were then made with Artist’s Heavy Gloss Gel Medium, using a spatula or palette knife.  After these “ripples” had dried, several coats of Min-Wax Acrylic Varnish were painted onto the surface and final details were added. 

Maintenance:  The surface can be wiped with a damp cloth to remove dust and debris, and additional coats of Acrylic varnish can be applied later to “liven” up the water. 

Some materials to use:

There are (some say) ten way to do water.  They are:

Gloss paint                                          cheap

Acrylic shower door                            Not expensive

Acrylic Light diffuser                            Not expensive

Actual Water                                       Messy

Acrylic based liquid products

(Gloss medium, gloss gel, etc)          Easy, medium cost

Casting Resin                                     Smelly, toxic

Enviro-tex                                            Easy, good for flat water

Enviro-tex plus an acrylic medium     Easy better for moving water

Plaster and Paint,

with ripples from texture paint             A neat effect, seal w/ varnish 

E-Z water (Woodland Scenics)          Pain in the A--

Realwater (Woodland Scenics)         Not bad

Clear bathroom caulk                         Smelly, clean up a chore

Glass (clear or mirror)                        a challenge but doable


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