How to make a river for your railroad layout

Thomas has very kindly shared how he made his river scene.

If you missed it, it’s here.

“Thank you for your comments and suggestions. It is actually N Scale not HO.

The big rocks are from my childhood. I lived near a river like this, and I wondered where the huge rocks came from.

There was a mine fairly close to the river and back before they had to break up the rock and haul it away, they just dumped them along the river and some rolled into the middle.

As to “How To” 1st staple ordinary screen to the sides, and bottom. It will naturally form cliffs and indents. Use plaster of paris and cover the screen.

Make some of the bottom thicker and thinner, leave it a little bumpy. Go to your hardware store. They usually have quarts of mismatch paint for $1.00. Pick out some browns, grays, blues and yellows.

Just mix a little of brown and yellow till you get a color you like. Tip don’t mix it totally so you can get different hues. Then paint you ground cover of the sides of the river.

When you get your cliffs and sides the way you want, if you use rocks like I did place them where you like them. Mix a thin batch of plaster and carefully push it in between rocks this locks them, and you don’t have gaps while forming the banks.

I painted the first layer blue and then mixed some white it to make it lighter blue and painted just some spots here and there. Do not make theses spots square, feather it out. LET EVERYTHING DRY OR IT WILL CRACK when you put the next layer on I learned the hard way.

Next layer is satin clear, AFTER DRY, put a thin layer of Loctite Crystal Clear all purpose caulk leaving some a little thicker in spots.

Let this dry about an hour then very lightly with china bristle brush go back and form some swirls and waves. This will look milky as it dry’s DONT freak out it will dry clear. When it is all clear it is dry.

Repeat this only use some of your blue and yellows to make different shade of greens and yellows. Paint the caulk in spots and feather it. Use different shades all along the river.

Then repeat clear and caulk above.

The next layer of paint is greens and yellows again only even different shades then before. also put a few spots of feathered white after the greens and yellows dry. then put a fairly thick coat of clear let dry, feather spots of white and then the layer of caulk.

This is your finish layer of caulk so let it start to dry and go back with your bristle brush and carefully pull up your swirls and waves.

Remember this is the layer that will be seen. After this layer dry’s take a thin tipped brush and lightly paint the wave caps. DON”T OVER DO IT, you just want a foamy look, all the layers of white underneath adds to this look.

That’s it! Hope these tips help. I love all of your tips that Al publishes also.



(Thomas’ original post, with pics, is here)

And two things you really shouldn’t forget about:

Now’s the time to bag a deal with the ebay cheat sheet.

And only a few days left with the Big Kahuna deal.

That’s all this time. Please do keep ’em coming.



15 Responses to How to make a river for your railroad layout

  1. Jim Aspin says:

    Thanks!! 🙂

  2. Jim says:

    Many thanks. I will be trying your way soon,

  3. cole says:

    I made the same mistake and when using the realistic water from woodland scenics i t either cracks or stays white forever if you don’t wait for it to dry

  4. stephen morris says:

    Many Thanks.
    I am in the Process of Building my first Serous Layout in the Loft I have all of the ingrediants to start this Project, and find your “How to” Web site invalueable.
    Keep up the Good work.

  5. Bullfrogeh (Ontario) says:

    Fascinating. Thanks for the very detailed explanation. My mountain creek will now become the benefactor.

  6. Marion says:

    Thomas, first let me say that I, too, recall seeing huge boulders in a river in a when I was a child. When I saw your river yesterday, it really brought back the memories of camping trips with my parents.

    Secondly, your river is awesome, and I so appreciate your sharing your techniques with us. My husband and I are in our late 70s, and just added a room onto our home for HO modeling! Illness and a couple of broken bones have slowed us down, but we are now ready to resume the project. He has the bench work finished, and while he did that, I went back to building kits (with a broken arm). Now we can do some track-laying, and start the scenery. I am so anxious to put your suggestions into action. A BIG thank you!

  7. Cheryl says:

    Thank you, Thomas, for taking the time to talk us through your method. I’m trying to put the project together on a tiny budget, and tips like this just go to prove that you can do amazing things with little money and a lot of left brain thinking!

    The boulders in the river are a wonderful idea! One of those “ah ha!” moments.

    Thank again for taking the time to share with us.

  8. chris says:

    many thanks

  9. Mike Wilson says:

    Thanks for the ‘How To” Thomas, I keep of these in a folder and my layout is going to be in my garage/shed so I’m hoping to try and start a layout when it gets a little bit cooler (just had 5 days of low 40 degrees C).

  10. Rod Mackay says:

    I used that clear casting resin, like they use for those paperweights you used to see with flowers or clock parts or whatever set in the clear plastic, for a river scene once – never again! It took something like a fortnight to dry and set fully, despite mixing it (as I thought) very carefully to get the proportions right, and all the while it stank the house out with a scent like fish rotting – luckily it was in the garage but even so it seemed to seep up through the floor. My name was mud! Also, despite putting up a clamped plywood masking board (I wanted a see-through section at the baseboard edge) it managed to find it’s way through the join by capillary action and form a puddle on the floor. Live and learn, eh?

  11. Arty says:

    Excellent! Thank You, I’m doing an ocean scene and your “how to” works out great!

  12. Thomas:
    Thx so much for sharing your “How To” do scenic water w boulders etc. Following your guidance will be something I’ll personally experience on my layout as presently I’ve stayed with creeks only- nothing larger. Again job well done with both features- the free pictures and the free explanations on “how to”. Thank you; thank you, thank YOU.

    Harold Jr.

  13. Michael says:

    Any Photos or Images? Examples?

  14. I think you did a fantastic job. Care to do mine? 🙂

  15. Peter Bayley-Bligh says:

    Helpful useful tips – thank you

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