HO scenery for model trains – Dan’s

The talented Dan has been back in touch with pics of his HO scenery for model trains:

“I know not everyone has a lot of space when building a layout. You use what you have. That is the name of the game.

First impressions are very important. When I built my layout, I spent quite a bit of time working out what I wanted visitors to see first.

As you have seen, my layout is designed to have many scenes along the way around the layout.

Also, remember my layout is a scenery first layout. The other 7 I have done or worked on were operations AND scenery layouts. The B&M comes to mind.

On my layout, the first part you see is the part I am about to describe in this post. This was also the last part to be finished.

After just a few construction photos, I will spend more time on the detailing I have done. There will be lots of detailed photos. This is intended to show that in a 5 by7 foot section there is a lot to see without being too busy.

The overall scene is of a road leading from the layout. The road goes to a resort. In my case “Burnt Lake” a hot spring. Santa Fe has the Grand Canyon. I just did not have the space for

The railroads often built resorts near great scenic vistas. They did this to keep passengers riding during the winter. The western ski resorts are an example.

The only way in or out is via train. The train arrives on the upper trestle on the way to a small station. This view sets the scene for the visitor as they walk around to the right and see the station.

This post will conclude the major rocks scenes. If there is interest, I can show more of the flatter parts seen in the track diagram.

If Al permits me to continue, I will have the rivers I have done, and some other layout sections I have done.

HO scenery for model trains:

This was the last section to be done. It shows the mainline (ballasted) going down to the lower level staging and run through.It is a 3 1/2 % grade. I duplicates the Route over Raton Pass the highest part of the passenger route of the Santa Fe.

benchwork for ho scale

Magic of ceiling tile rocks in place.

benchwork for ho scale model railroad

Here you can see the mainline on the lower level and the upper track to the station at Burnt Lake. The long track to the upper left was to be a tunnel. I realized that a long cut would be more interesting. Sometimes you make changes as you go. Don’t be afraid to adjust to make it better.

ho scale plaster mountains

Roads often take gullies or natural cracks in the rocks. A road will run down from the station to the road crossing leaving the layout to the resort. The objective is to make it look natural.

ho scale plaster mountains

My basement (always an advantage) has a “mud room.” The previous owner was a fisherman and had a half bath and an old kitchen sink pit in. The sink is a great place to clean bushes.

The wall on the left was white. I painted, full sized, the view from the el Capitan lounge car. The color of the interior is as I remember it when I rode it in 1957.

In the distance is what you see when entering the basement.

This what they see first.

ho scenery for model trains

The diagram of the layout shows the area as you walk in. As I mentioned before, if you follow a train around the layout, your back is always turned away from the scene in front of you.

HO scale track plan

The area around the Burnt Lake station and engine facility

ho scenery for model trains

Now I will start with the detailed sections. The trestle was built from a Campbell curved trestle kit. This was done in 1967, long before I built the layout. I used creosote stain from True-scale, I think.

When I built the large trestle I did not want it to be this dark. Rivet counters have told me that a crossing shanty should not be this large. Once they hear “my story” they understand.

The crossing guard lives in the shanty. He works only when a train has arrived at the Burnt Lake station or passengers are going the station.

Notice the van waiting to cross. They are owned by the resort. The only way to or from the resort is via train. Also, my era is 1958 to 1961. In the US the stop signs then were YELLOW. This helps to reinforce the setting.

ho scenery for model trains

The view as you move around to the right as you view the Burnt Lake station area.

ho scenery for model trains

A train approaching Burnt Lake station.

ho scenery for model trains

The trains need to be serviced before leaving. Santa Fe trains out west burned oil rather than coal. Oil was more plentiful back in those days.

ho scenery for model trains

I scratched built the oil tank and crib work. Once you do a trestle these are easy! I believe I have seen a kit to do the same thing several years later. At the time it cost $65. Mine was from left over lumber and an old tank car.

There is a lot of activity when the tourist train arrives. The tourist train is modeled after Death Valley Scotty’s train. He was a gold miner and wanted to set the speed record for the La to Chicago run. Te station is to the left of the photo. This the Walther’s 90 foot turn table.

ho scenery for model trains

Over all view of the pit. Look carefully just above the water tower…..

HO scale turntable

A lineman working on the wire. I have a very good modelling friend. When he came to visit he asked, “where are the electric lines for the turn table?” I went back and installed them. To make sure the wires are not ignored I added the line man.

HO scale workman

HO scenery for model trains:

I added a turn table operator.

HO scale turntable

Just below Burnt Lake station the trains go in and out of a tunnel creating another mini scene. Here a rail fan. (train spotter) If you go back to the overall Burnt Lake view you can see the tunnel opening. One thing I never do is place people without a way to get to where they are. There is actually a path to his position.

model railroad diesel tunnel

The other tunnel behind the photographer.

model railroad tunnel

As you first walk in and see the trestle, to the right is an over look for resort visitors. It is a short walk from the resort to the station.

HO scale model train scenery

Another overlook.

model railroad cliff

Looks like the honeymooner’s found a quiet place in the woods!

model railroad trees

Passengers waiting for the train.

HO scale figures

General view of Burnt Lake station. The steamer to the left is one of Death Valley Scotty’s 2-6-2 Prairie locomotives on display for visitors. Again you see the resort vans waiting to take visitors to and from the resort.

HO scale model train scenery

The road from the resort to the station.

model railroad scenery

A look down into the gully.

model railroad ravine

I was working on another layout for a friend. He is a fire fighter for the state natural resources department. He wanted a fire tower on his layout. Sooooo, I realized I needed one, too. They are N scale so they did not over power the trees.

model train trees mountain

By the way there are 1,200 pine trees here in the mountains. I use them to give a sense of distance and altitude. For example, between Winslow and Flagstaff the land goes from dry desert about 6000 ft. to 7,000 feet at Flagstaff. No trees in Winslow.

I have mentioned that I always line the tunnels with the rocks if you can see into them.

This finishes the look at First Impressions. There is an oddity in this photo. Most likely only a Santa Fe modeler will see it. Let me know if you see it.

model railroad tunnel locomotive

Thanks for looking,


A huge big thank you to Dan for sharing his narrative and HO scale model train scenery pics. Stunning stuff.

I did enjoy reading his thought process on planning the layout – you can really see how much went in to it.

If you missed Dan’s last post – another stunner – on his trestle bridge, it’s here:

HO scale trestle template.

That’s all for this time folks.

I know we’ve had a run of stunners, but remember, this site is for all layouts and all scales – it they don’t have to be draw dropping for us to enjoy.

So if you have a layout, a scratch build or what ever, please share.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

24 Responses to HO scenery for model trains – Dan’s

  1. Rich B. says:

    Just amazing, a few of these layouts certainly on the level and beyond even of John Allen. Like the lower front fascia vs curtain coverings.

    Just wonder if Pines (Spruce?) are actually sparse and distanced covering rather than more in clusters and groves? And no, I will never have such a thing myself. Do admire those with the space, time and funds that do these things though. Imagine your actual quarters being that shanty and you the crossing guard lmao, own small world in itself. Sure, that was Twilight Zone episode from the 1950’s.

    Regards Again, Rich

  2. Scott says:

    I can’t believe I get to be the first to comment today wow what a stunner 😮 😯 🤩 – I’m collecting trees for my American Flyer West Rock scene in New Haven Connecticut- (Near Gilbert’s Factory) I’m approaching 1000- good to know I will need more !!! Thanks for all the details – studying the two diesels in the last image for the Santa Fe mystery question – are they the correct era ? I think so an F unit and maybe a Fairbanks Morris ? The livery on the nose of the F unit ??? I’m just not sure I can find the “oddity” can’t wait to hear your reply !!! I love the reference to “rivet counters” – there are critics in every hobby – a very helpful post for me – my entry view is a portion of the Thomas Via Duct across the Patapsco River on the B&O in Relay MD. Excellent point that this first impression is most important !

  3. Don says:

    wow, what a setup, incredibly well done.

  4. Jeff J says:

    Holy cow that is impressive. I’m always amazed at many of the beautiful layouts. These posts always give me a boost of energy and motivation to continue my work. I just wrapped up my layout plan but there is room for changes as it is being built.

    I love the details that you’ve put into this layout and the lliytle Easter eggs one might call them. I think things like that are great and I have similar ideas for mine as well.

    Again a fantastic layout and wonderful job on your scenery.

  5. Gerald Kaminsky says:

    What an incrediable imagination with top notch workmanship.

  6. Brian Olson says:

    Now I know why someone invented the word “WOW”

  7. george zaky says:

    Great work. Your thoughtful planning results in a super layout with a theme. I am the opposite of a rivet counter type and would rather see a whimsical yet well made piece of art. Your creation is definitely a great work of art.
    Thank you for your time & effort to enlighten us fans.
    Big Al
    Another Ooh Aah morning with my cup of Jo. Gracie.

  8. Jim says:

    I think the Santa Fe diesels shown are an F unit and a F/FP 45.

  9. santafedan says:

    `Jim, is the winner! The FP 45 was the last passenger locos for the Santa Fe in 1967. I just had to have a set. A slight time warp.

    Rich, the evergreens, Pondarosa pines a long needle tree, are all over the Santa Fe where I model. My pines are not correct. No one makes them. They are rather densely placed. They would not be in “groves” as such. The ground below is pretty dry. When you walk around the Forrest, even thought the canopy is over you, it looks pretty open. The best part is that kind of pine smells of butterscotch in the mornings. I spent a month in Flagstaff and that aroma was there every morning.

    As an aside, I purchased the trees. I did not have time to do them. I bought 50
    at a time .

  10. John Bullock says:

    Dan, yes! The first impressions we all have of your layout is nothing short of fantastic! I can just imagine your visitors eyes when they first see this! Where do we look first?

  11. Robert Brady says:

    span tastic. I hope you have derailment proof RR trains u don’t show how to fix a derailment in the tunnels .
    The Critic

  12. matiSon says:

    Dan, everything is great. The whole downstairs area is really something special. I have one suggestion, and it is not a criticism by any means, because what you have done is well beyond my abilities.
    The picture where you say- This is the thing that people see first: I would take that sheer flat wall and turn it into a cliff or a mountain side, going almost to the floor. No need for trains or buildings. Trees and rock formations would be awesome, and would create the illusion that everything flows together. What I mentioned would only be for that one side that is approached first.

  13. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Dan…..WOW!!!! what a layout…..what a room…..where is that? Gorgeous…all the trees.

  14. Bud Backus says:

    Just a short comment. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!

  15. Connie fine says:

    Great layout, great scenes, put a camera on that train so we can ride too, that would be awesome

  16. jeff says:

    Everything that needs to be said has been……….But still WOW!!!!!!!!!! Inspiration for me as well.. Keep up the posts

  17. santafedan says:

    Gary, I am south of Indianapolis.

    Connie, I will have some video later.

  18. John Hauser - LINY says:

    I marvel at your HO layout, the breath of detail and variety is amazing.

    John LINY

  19. Regel L Bisso says:

    The only thing I would suggest is modification of the trees. They look like Christmas trees whereas that area has mostly Ponderosa pines which do not. Otherwise, great job.

  20. santafedan says:

    Regel, if you find them, they do not exist as far as I know, you can buy the 1,00+ tress and I will plant them.
    You do the best as you can whit what is available.

  21. John P Verrengia says:

    You have learned the saying LESS IS MORE because your layout is very well done. Just enough…

  22. Mike MACKOWIAK says:

    For the novice builder ,what is the final cost of your layout..very nice but out of my price range…

  23. robert dale tiemann says:

    massive detail i love it. lots and lots of work. well done.

  24. santafedan says:

    Mike, I have no idea as to total cost. When asked that very question. (It happens a lot.) I ask how many golf balls have you lost? How many fishing lours have you lost?

    It was over a period of years. I did not scrimp at the cost of something that would make a difference in performance. The ceiling tile cost nothing. The school had open houses twice a year. They change the tile that the students marked on or poked holed in them. I had all that I could use.
    The power packs were a product called a Hogger. They were expensive. They are plug in walk around throttles. I was going to make my own walk around throttles. The parts were hard to find. The Hoggers are still going after 40 years.

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