Model railroad mountains – Jim’s

Jim’s been in touch – he’s shared his model railroad mountains ‘how to’ on getting those rocks just right.

“Greetings, Al.

I’ve viewing your site for some time and I truly find it simply great. Every one has something to contribute to help others model layouts and to help keep interest in this hobby.

My Dad started model railroading with Lionel and the moved on to HO. As a young adult, I started modeling off and on for several years but never finished. Who really does or wants to. So since being retired recently, I thought I’d start again.

However, I now longer have space as I once did now living is Southern AZ. Here, we have no basements or attics. So, my one option was the garage. The layout dimensions are four feet by fourteen feet and the scale is HO.

Recently someone referenced using ceiling tile as a hardscape for rocks/mountains. I’ve had great success with this process.

I made formations trying to achieve a strata effect found here in the Southwest. I then applied hydrocal, then washes of woodlands products and dusted with scenic express products.

Color to me is everything. I then added some shrubs and rocks well that’s about it. I’m working on a caboose bed and breakfast/excursion area, a small town and some small yard for staging cars etc.

Again, thanks for the site.


model railroad rocks

model railroad rocks

model railroad rocks

model railroad rocks

model railroad rocks

model railroad rocks

model train rocks

HO scale rocks

model railroad rockface

HO scale model railroad

HO model train

HO scale model train

HO scale model train

Just stunning stuff from Jim. A huge thanks to him for sharing his model railroad mountains ‘how to’.

Please do leave a comment below, and if you have any questions I’m sure Jim will help!

The effect Jim has achieved – so simple and cheaply – reminded me of this stunning layout too.

It’s a another cracking ‘how to’, which with Jim’s permission, I’ll add to the Beginner’s Guide which is now stuffed full of good stuff (and also keeps this site going, by the way).

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



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here

61 Responses to Model railroad mountains – Jim’s

  1. Jan Boen says:

    Natural material… can’t get closer to real than using the real stuff 🙂

  2. Dave Bower says:

    Excellent scenics Jim, the colours & effects are very realistic. I think I may have a go with the ceiling tiles it works very well. Nice layout also, one of my layouts is a US theme here in UK. Regards, Dave B.

  3. Bill Holt says:



  4. Rod Mackay says:

    That’s a grand canyon you’ve got there mate! Well done.

  5. Tom says:

    We have been fortunate enough to be in the SW. Your creation of the strata and its color are perfect. And as I recall very desolute of vegitation.

  6. Dean Halls says:

    Hi Jim, the rock and colouration effect is excellent – it’s almost worth moving my railroad to use the same process!! Kind regards Dean

  7. Brian Messenger says:

    Nice layout Jim, the strata is excellent. Brian – RSA

  8. Gary says:

    All I said when I saw this was WOW!!! Thanks for sharing, and like you mentioned, since we NEVER finish, I see myself taking a crack at this method as well.

  9. Dominic P. DeMonte says:

    Unbelievable it has a blasted rock look. We have a lot of this kind of strata in the north country.

  10. Steve Roberts says:

    Brilliant job Jim, very lifelike. Steve R UK

  11. Robert Pagano says:

    For one who has restarted his love of model railroading and is looking for ideas to follow. I must say Jim…thank you for the inspiration, keep up the amazing work and I thank you….

  12. Laurence Johnston says:

    It’s amazing what us modelers find a use for. Easy to cut and shape yet very light.
    Great job Jim, nicely shaped and very realistic colouring.

  13. Richard Clay says:

    That was a fabulous layout. I am somewhat of a novice modeling in N scale and am doing a mountain railroad on 4×8 table. A lot of what you have in this display gives me some good ideas as my layout is about 80% complete but I have an undeveloped section that I haven’t decided what to do -probably a coal yard or a gravel pit -not sure but your layout has provided some inspiration.

    Thank you,

  14. Gene Pinson says:

    I am new to al’s site and Jim has done a fantastic job modeling strata from the western U.S. . Just one point of info:u could place some of ur tiles a little crooked as when the earth uplifts in certain areas and the striations tend to fold under and over each other.
    On to the question I have. I am doing a mountain sene such as u might find in the taller mountains of Europe. Has anyone have a interesting and easy way to model those type of mountains ? I am currently using wall board paste (mud) over chicken wire covered with newspaper soaked in diluted paste, so I will have to be an artist to pull off a realistic look. Suggestions appreciated.


  15. Rob S. says:

    Great work! Awesome. I’ll be ‘borrowing’ some of your ideas.

  16. wotta great idea…..using natural products
    and the detail is perfect
    good layout dude
    keep em runnin fellas
    stjohn in long beach calif

  17. David says:

    Brilliant job Jim.Like the use of ceiling tiles must try them.
    Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing.
    Dave R

  18. David says:

    Hi Jim. How did you cut the ceiling tiles to make them so realistic.
    Brilliant job.
    Dave R

  19. larry sheesley says:

    Great job on the rock strata; I have used the ceiling tile before and they do work great but you took it to the next level. As far as a caboose bed and breakfast, you might want to goggle Red Caboose Motel in Strasburg, PA. It has been there forever and they used all types of cabooses and have changed the interiors to accommodate sleeping arranngements and such. Really a neat place to go sometime if you are ever in Lancaster County Pennsylvania.

  20. Conductor Dave. says:

    Absolutely fantastic scenery Jim! It’s amazing what ordinary materials can be used on layouts. I have used ceiling tiles for track road beds in the past. They are easy to cut and file the angles on either side of the ties. Now I will have to check them out for rock formations! Thanks for idea Jim.

  21. Charles ZEIS says:

    I live in Law Vegas. Jim you got it down. Thanks for sharing nice lumber mill to.

  22. Joseph Stately says:

    Looks great Jim. It’s amazing what you can do with building materials. Would like to see more pictures of the layout.
    Joe (NJ)

  23. James Maitland says:

    WOW. Great work.

  24. walt emerson says:

    Jim, Very nice job on your layout, I really like the track design. walt

  25. Harold says:

    I am totally amazed by the great stuff people come up with here. Just hope when I get mine started it looks half as good.

  26. Jim says:

    Hi Dave R. You can lightly score/scribe a curve or straight line on the face of the tile for the desired effect and snap and pull apart. Glue them together for the height and depth apply hydrocal.

  27. Jim says:

    Then you can color/texture with thin washes for your desired effect.


  28. Tim Morlok says:

    Great job Jim! One warning some older ceiling tiles were made with asbestos and should not be used! Some have fiberglass or other fine particles so I would recommend always using a dust mask when working with them.

  29. Joe Wright says:

    Thank you for sharing with us Jim. Some great ideas there and food for thought.

  30. Ian Mc Donald says:

    great job looks so real.

  31. I like the way jim did that. i’m modeling an area in cen. wis., in the US. my area is flat as a pancake. i’ll need to invent a reason for modeling cliffs.

  32. Les Hatley says:

    Nice job, great imagination with the use of materials.
    Love to see more!


  33. KERRY HELTON says:


  34. Chuck Bartunek says:

    You’ve got some really great ideas that turned into great landscapes.thank you for sharing

  35. Tim K says:

    Thanks for the scenery ideas and the pictures. Excellent work

  36. GeneC says:

    Wonderful job on the cliffs! Its great to see some of the buildings,, and other structures, in a layout that I have had for 25 years or more just waiting to be put to use. Thanks for the tips.

  37. Rob says:

    The track is very well done. The technique for the rugged rock faces is also well done. I find the scale of the cliffs and the engineering of them way over-sized and half of the rock face material could be removed to a stunning effect.
    …just sayin’…

  38. John Reynolds says:

    Very nice
    A scenic “Tour-de Force”

  39. Fran Odyniec says:

    Love the way Jim did that cut behind the freight yard.

  40. Ray says:

    Hi Jim, a very nice effect. I am doing something similar at the moment and was wondering if you could tell us what colours you used and how you built them up as the final result is spectacular.

  41. ARNIE STEINER says:

    Great job Jim!! The use of ceiling tiles is a wonderful material when modeling stratified rock formations. Makes the detailing of rock a simple task rather than trying to hand carve such intricate natural rock detail in plaster or extruded foam board! You’ve done a bang-up job with this medium.

    I recently visited the Grand Canyon in your ‘backyard’ of AZ. I was thinking about how stupendous a vista would look using early steam along the Colorado River and an emulation of the West Rim of the Canyon. The near mile high stratified walls (using ceiling tiles) with the great tall pines flanking the shores of the river would make the task a more do-able project.

    Thanks again for sharing your beautiful work. — Arnie, Staten Island, NY

  42. Jim Sulkosky says:

    Looks great Jim keep up the great work.

  43. Jerry Lizardo says:

    Nice Jim. Bet you wish for more room. The Cajon Pass is a long run. I used to work as a train man for the SP out of Glendale. Finished another career of 27 years in Anaheim. Moved to Idaho and am building a retirement layout. Isn’t it fun to finally have the time to do this!!

  44. ROBERT K SCHWORM says:


    Ceiling tiles are “homosote” available in sheets at the lumber yard too. Gives a great shale look. I notice your ballast and yard gravel…what are you using for this and where do you shop for it?


  45. Ron Nelson says:

    Excellent you hit it right on. Thanks Ron from Flordia

  46. Gerald says:

    Absolutely great effect. Won’t work on my layout but is still stunning. I am curious about your wall background. Are those photos? Ties in nicely. Great work over all.

  47. Warren C Gobin says:

    Very nicely Jim, it looks real keep the good work.

  48. Charles Hagerty says:

    Hi Jim, great idea with the ceiling tiles. I’ll try that on my layout. I was trying to figure out what I was going to use fo my rock face. Thanks again for the great tip.

  49. Bill Holt says:


  50. AWESOME!!

  51. Jim McQuillen says:

    Jim, really liked your lumber yard. Not many of those around any more what with Home depot and Lowes.
    Great job, overall!!

  52. DJfromNJ says:

    Great job, Jim. You have captured the dry southwest beautifully! And the lumber yard is a nice touch. Work smarter (ceiling tiles), not harder is my motto.

  53. Chuck Holsclaw says:

    Jim, I love your layout! I too have used ceiling tiles on my layout. So easy to use and looks great. I wondered if I should cover with plaster before applying color. Now you have answered my question. I haven’t colored mine yet. Your formations look great! So realistic.


  54. Bruce H says:

    Hi jim
    Gorgeous pics. Glad to have seen first hand. Perfect detailing and coloring.

  55. Will in NM says:

    Jim, Great job on the layout! Nice set of photos describing your southwest scenery technique. I like the lumber yard too — it’s a lot like the True Value lumber yard in Kanab, Utah. My only suggestion would be to tilt some of the ceiling tiles at an angle from the horizontal because very little of the southwestern U.S. rocks are perfectly horizontal due to the geologic forces that split and tilt the overlying limestone and sandstone rocks. The colors you’ve chosen are spot on as well as the sparseness of the vegetation. Pelle Sjoeborg of Model Railroader Magazine had an excellent article a few years ago on creating desert landscapes. Thanks for sharing your wonderful layout pics.

  56. Mark T. Pianka says:

    Very Nice!!

  57. Erick says:

    Look pretty kool.!!!!!

  58. Brian Olson says:

    Your layout, gasp, ROCKS!

  59. David Gott says:

    I too use ceiling tile to make rock/landscape formations, I also break them into smaller pieces and make rubble and as irregular landforms. I have even put it in a blender with water and made a sort of slurry

  60. Tod says:

    Jim, et al,
    I can’t help but draw a similarity between model railroaders and Einstein. Einstein seemed to be able to teach the seemingly unteachable to simpletons like myself and because of it I can calculate the length of a flash of light of any power and duration if I were able to catch up to it and trim my speed to the speed of light! Crazy complex, but explained so brilliantly! I truly gaze with amazement at so much of the many talents so many of you share whilst keeping it simple enough for me to see the process. I’m still amazed but gain confidence through osmosis! Thank you all for your time and dedication to the art of realistic art balanced with history.

  61. Mark Becker says:

    I am planning to start an HO layout in the basement this spring. Pretty excited about it. Fortunately my brother up 8n Wisconsin has volunteered to come to my house and wire the layout. He has a big layout in his basement near Wausau Wisconsin. I have to decide to use DCC or standard wireing.

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