Creating Model Train Landscapes with Realism
The earth is not flat and neither are model train landscapes. In real life, rails are laid with consideration to the terrain. With model train landscapes, the hills, ravines, and mountains come after the rails. You can buy pre-fabricated landscapes such as small mountains with tunnels but you can add much more realism by creating the geologic features with inexpensive materials. Here are some ways modelers create realistic model train landscapes.
The first step is to build the framework for your model train landscapes. In order to do this, you have to construct the framework out of a material that can be bent and manipulated into the general shape of the geologic feature. One popular material for building scenery framework for model train landscapes is regular corrugated cardboard. Take the cardboard and cut into strips about one inch wide and perpendicular to the direction of the internal ribs. Crisscross the strips to form a type of webbing that can be shaped into a mountain, small hill, or ridge. The strips can be joined together with white glue and clamps or even stapled. The ends of the strips at the bottom of the geologic feature can be attached to the surface with a staple gun.
Window screening is another method for building the framework for model train landscapes. It is a little more expensive than using cardboard but it provides a strong mounting surface and is easily manipulated. Shaping window screening is accomplished by using wood blocks underneath to create raised points throughout the terrain feature.
Consider access points when you are building the framework for your model train landscapes. If you are building a tunnel through a mountain, make sure the back of the feature is open so that you can reach in and take care of a derailment. Also consider the overhang of your longest rail car on any curves. You don't want to build your model train landscapes where a railcar would scrape because of overhanging on a curve.
Use plaster of Paris to create the terrain surface for your model train landscapes. Mix plaster in a 2 to 1 part mix (2 cups of plaster to 1 cup of water). One method for creating the plaster surface is to dip strips of paper towels and lay them across the framework. If using window screening, you can apply the plaster directly to it. Should you need to extend the setting time of your plaster, you can add a teaspoon of vinegar to every 2 cups of water in the mix.
Apply another surface for rocky features on your model train landscapes. What some do is pour plaster in molds with wrinkles representing rocks. These molds can be bought but you can make your own too. Making your own mold involves taking a sheet of aluminum foil and crumpling it into a ball and then spreading it out again shaping it like a bowl. Pour plaster into this makeshift bowl and when it dries you will have a rocky texture from the wrinkles in the foil. Then, cement these rocky pieces to the surface of your mountain. You can use plaster to fill in gaps between the pieces.
Finally paint your model train landscapes and apply grass and shrubbery. What some do is actually add earth tone clothes dye to the plaster giving a good start for later application of grass and shrubbery. Others will paint the plaster with artist's acrylic paints in various earth tones such as burnt sienna.