Model railroad scenery tips

I have a collection of model railroad scenery tips for you today:

“Hi Al,

I always enjoy the pictures and tips that you post. Today I like to share an easy way to make trees. I used the dried flower stalks from a plant named Astible and spray painted them a dull green. In my opinion they look pretty realistic.

You may post this if you think it’s worth it.


model railroad scenery tips

(Guenter’s trees made me think of Martins’s excellent ‘tree how-to’. If you’ve not stumbled across it yet, it’s here.)

“Hi Al,

I think possibly the best tip I could give to anyone coming to the railway modelling scene would be to decide what it is they actually want from the hobby.

Some people are model makers and want a place to show off their modelling skills. These are the ones who build a fantastic looking layout which is very realistic and in which the trains are secondary to the task.

Others are railway fanatics and simply want a layout that shows off their locomotives and their rolling stock. The scenery and buildings become secondary and often unimportant. There are layouts with no scenery whatsoever.

Then again, do they want to sit back and watch the trains go by or do they want to get really involved in the operation of the trains? In which case, do they want conventional controllers or the new fangled DCC? Or, perhaps, one of the computer programs that actually control the electronics for you (take a look at CATrain – a free download for Windows)

What I am saying is ‘plan’, ‘plan’, ‘plan’!

Be realistic. Make sure that your trains can actually traverse your immaculate scenery and/or make sure your track plan offers enough interest for your rolling stock … a twelve car Orient Express needs somewhere to go and would probably need a forty foot layout to be anything close to realistic.

But most of all – do what you want to do. Don’t take any notice of what the Jones’ have done, as long as it works for you, it’s fine. There is nothing stopping you running a Thomas the Tank Engine set – even at sixty-five years of age.

Just enjoy it,

Alan …”

“I have several model railroad scenery tips tips to send along.

One is to save the rigid plastic forms that fit over any of the many items we buy all the time, ie here in the states everything seems to come packaged inside rigid plastic glued to a cardboard bottom.

Most of these see thru rigid plastic forms are designed in round, square or rectangular shapes, but some are molded to fit the item itself which provides some intriguing shapes for the creative modeler. You name it, everything from light bulbs to computer parts come sandwiched between these materials.

I save the plastics all the time for a variety of things. They get cut to the right size and are windows for my home made buildings.

If I get really creative with an interior I put skylights in the tops for a peak inside the rooms. I make all my buildings, sheds and so forth from scratch. Just cut out the appropriate size window, use indelible magic marker or cut outs from paper for the window decoration, glue them to the plastic and when all is set glue the window into the opening.

I used a larger one (a flat rectangle) for a view into my tunnel. It sits over the tracks supported by the tunnel sides. Almost all of them have flanges on all four sides to be glued to the cardboard packaging so they provide a nice flat edge all the way around for stablizing them on the tunnel frame. I made a sculptamold landscape top for it that fits like a hat on a flat head. the plastic top is hidden unless I want to see inside the tunnel. It lifts off easily as does the plastic top for servicing the track if necessary. The sculptamold top has trees and foliage. The seams were thin enough so they were not seen unless you looked closely, but I recently made another with little flaps all the way around to hide the seams. I’ll send you a picture when I get the time.


“Al – I’ve used red velvet and white lace from Doll House material to use as curtains & trim for the business car and private car on my layout.

Dave C”

“Just read email and comment I’ve looked at made me think I should contact you, I don’t know if these have been suggested before but here goes, I once purchased some look alike coal off ebay I then went to my local pet store and found the self same thing in the fish tank department the black gravel give a realistic look and a 3kg bag cost the same as 2 x 100g bags on ebay.

Secondly, abrasive paper especially the black WET & DRY type is ideal for roads and car parks, for the high class roads the RED OXIDE paper serves the same purpose with the finer grit looking more realistic.

I, like many of your other readers look at loads of plastic rubbish before it gets discarded, it’s surprising what a rough up with abrasive paper and a coat of grey primer paint sprayed on changes the looks of even the oddest pot, tub, straw etc….

Keep up the good work.


Model railroad scenery tips:

“In reference to hills and cliffs, I have found on many fine layouts, the cliffs to be clearly ‘Trowelled’ and not realistic. Here in New Zealand, we have thousands of river (water) or Weather etched terrain to model from.

River cuttings can bed done by layering polystyrene (polyfoam) foam held in place with wire (DO NOT glue this will leave glue lines and lose the effect) and spray with Solvent Based spray paint. this will effectively weld the layers and give that weathered look. For Rock Cliffs, I do the same thing tufting ledges as they would appear in real situations.


“To make hills, fields and rock faces cheaply and quickly, I have always used strong brown wrapping paper (got 2 sq metres from our local furniture store) – cut roughly to a bit bigger than the area to be covere.

Crumple the paper up as tight as you can – smooth it out again (roughly for rock faces – smoother for hills) – using clear Bostic stick one edge down using 1/4″ overlap – then trim the other edge to 1/4″ overlap and stick it down in the same way – rubbing smooth

If it’s quite a big piece then some crumpled newspaper underneath will help to support it. Once dry (10 mins) you can paint it with any suitable paint (I used Homebase satin green, brown or grey) and sprinkle with coloured sawdusts while still wet (use a sieve) and hey presto, 24 hours later it has all set solid. Vertical rock are painted grey or brown, and when sprinkled with green grass it sticks to the horizontal surfaces – quick and easy. I can complete a whole section in a couple of hours..! Note: try not to get Bostic on your fingers – excessive amounts can dry the skin…


“My ‘best model railroad scenery tips’ for modelers in any scale is never, EVER get married … sorry but i got’s no pics fer that one … no need to reply – just sayin


Pondered over publishing the last one – but seeing as it made me laugh so much….

Anyway, it doesn’t matter if you want to lay track, make trees or weather your engines, it’s all in the Beginner’s Guide.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their model railroad scenery tips.

That’s all this time folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

Latest ebay cheat sheet is here (updated daily).



25 Responses to Model railroad scenery tips

  1. Gary Inman says:

    I made my hills and tunnel cover from Thormo insulation the one with the silver foil on one side that i accured from builders skips. I carved the shapes using a bread knife, guled into place on the base board with PVA glue and then covered them with Chicoppe cloths dipped in white fine wall plaster, applied and moulded then sprayed it with warm water from a spray bottle. Once set I mixed poster colour paints in the spay bottle and srayed over the entire hill. i mixed a dark shade for detailing behind rock edges. Lasty I painted the rock faces by hand and stuck some dark gray garden slate peaces painted with clear vanish (after glueing) to give a just rained effect. Good for the uk climate.

  2. Ben Hawkins says:

    Looks Good and Great Information

  3. Roy Forbes says:

    Great tips thank you. Incidentally I used a felt tip or a highlighter to colour paper then cut it into 4mm wide strips and glue it on the inside of my 00 gauge house widows for really effective looking curtains.

  4. NJ Mark says:

    I used rigid foam insulation for my mountain/tunnel. I glued pieces together then carved out what I thought looked like a mountain. I then covered it with a layer of paper mache that I bought (with a 40% off coupon) at the local craft store. The paints I used to cover it were samples from the home improvement store. I added real stones that I found outdoors and painted them with the same colors then glued them in place. When I figure out how to send a picture to share, I will.

    Happy railroading NJ Mark

  5. Donald Lango says:

    Here is a tip for making your own oil storage or refinery , or even making a model larger , if you do any kind of plastic models keep the frame work that the model pieces come on , cut to size needed , you heat with a lighter to bend where you need to , for storage tanks you can go to any hardware store and buy PVC (plastic pipe ) caps and other parts , choose cap that works for your scale. sand off all part numbers then paint , or leave them white and get decals from hobby shop to decorate tanks and use plastic pieces from earlier for pipes to connect tanks to refinery , have fun with it

  6. Ron Schultz says:

    Great tips and for the “don’t get married ” its also a good one . but better yet before the wedding take the bride to be on a rail fan trip and she how she reacts.This will give you a big heads up. maybe buy her a train set and watch the reaction .

  7. Ennis Hackman says:

    I’d like some info on making molds out of silicone caulking to mold small parts in


  8. Dr Bob says:

    Very notable suggestions, except for the last one. Marriage is a wonderful ‘hobby’. The more you work at it the better it becomes. You’re right Al, it does seem kind of humorous.

  9. David Murray says:

    I started a little diorama that goes in the pantry and enables me to fiddle about when it’s far to hot to ‘go up top’ (attic bedroom model layout). My little ‘downstairs’ effort is on a piece of scrap wood I found that’s 50″ x 15″. Just a single track emerging from a tunnel and alongside the platform. This gives me a ‘platform’ (excuse the pun!) as I’ve become very keen on copying the work of George Iliffe Stokes. His buildings are just amazing and I’ve managed to get hold of a copy of his 1958 book and a Model Railway Journal issue 13 from 1987 that featured a 17 page article on George and his model buildings.

  10. Ian Mc Donald says:

    great tips will be using them on my layout.

  11. David Murray says:

    Very good tip: “don’t get married”. I ‘m single and lived on my own for 31 years now. I have a small cottage and can do exactly as I please.

  12. Eldrege Driver says:

    I wish I could Make a RR that looks as good as some of you folks do, They are so nice.

  13. Joe L says:

    First, I would like to address the marriage tip. If it weren’t for my wife of 43 years, my layout would still be a circle of track around the Christmas tree! Today my layout fills what was once my patio. My trains augment our Department 56 Christmas village. She has all of the artistic talents in our family. We ended up moving the trains to our enclosed patio and have a layout that is four feet wide and forty feet long. While visiting Wyoming, my six year old son was on a mission to collect fire wood and came back with dead pieces of sage brush. He said look dad I found these trees for our village. They are are a fantastic looking tree that would fit any layout. Another tip for fields is to use corrugated cardboard and peel off one side and it makes great plowed fields, not an original idea on my part. Anyway, just wanted to let you know how much I look forward to seeing all of your posts. Hope my input will help in some way.

  14. Tom C says:

    Hello and good morning to all you railroaders.
    A few months ago I ask about what to do with old computers iPads printers and shredders . That I have laying around the house. If I can use anything out of them for my layout?
    I don’t know if there was any response that I missed.
    Please let me know before I get rid of them.
    Thanks Tom C

  15. Susan Cannon says:

    Ahem – my two cents on the “never get married” suggestion is to find a person who is either into modeling (like me) or into dollhouses. Both hobbies use SO many common tools and bits. I know one thing – if anything happens to my hubby, I’m coming straight here for his replacement!! LOL.

  16. TOM SAWYER says:

    ON MARRIAGE AND MODELING RR: I have been married 2x and widowed 2x, During both (one for 26 yrs, and the other 25 years), I built several layouts, Now that I live alone and retired, I rarely touch a layout, I need a new wife so I can get back into the hobby,

  17. Some great tips. I had to check on Guenter’s Astilbe, sometimes called Goats Beard. This is a shade and dappled sun-loving plant, which blooms in early spring (June). We will plant some next year as they make for great trees as Guenter showed, and our front yard has 9 mature trees for shade, a perfect place for this flower I think. Sedum also makes a nice tree.

    MN Dan

  18. Tom,

    You just have to find your own Becky Thatcher. Sorry for the bad joke.

    MN Dan

  19. Lester Larrew says:

    One of the first tips was “Plan, Plan, Plan,” I’m retired Army (retired in 1974) and there is an old saying about the 6 P’s. “Prior Planning Prevents Putrid Poor Performance.” The 4th P is what is used in polite company, but it is actually the slang word for urine.

  20. Norton W says:

    @ Tom C.

    Tom, there are plenty of things you can do with computers and iPads that will enhance your model railroad. Example: Get Al’s printed buildings with the computer, and “Presto”, you have a use for the printer too. Don’t like how it came out, there’s your shredder use. Admittedly it takes some time and expertise, but if you have those items to dispose of, you obviously know enough to use them this way. Wither either the computer or iPad, you can run trains, control turnouts, control lighting, the list is becoming more endless as time goes on.

    I recently saw an ad for color changing LED bulbs that look like regular light bulbs and promptly thought about replacing all the LED lights in my track lighting for the layout with them so I could have Daylight, Dusk, Night, and Dawn, without using dimmers.

    Often these thoughts come deep in the middle of the night, which is a totally different problem.

  21. Will in NM says:

    Great suggestions everyone! Tom C: There’s an article in the January 2022 Model Railroader issue about using old computer power supplies for your model railroad accessories and lighting. Unfortunately, I gave away all my old desktop PC’s a few years ago, so I don’t have any old ones sitting around to scavenge parts from. I might have to make a trip to a local thrift shop or two to find some cheap PC’s for that purpose.

    As for wives, my first encouraged my model railroading hobby but the three kids we had together kind of put the kybosh on my hobby time. By the second wife and three more kids I had taken up woodworking instead of trains as my hobby. Now I’m unmarried with plenty of space and money for the model railroad I want to build, but taking care of my current partner who’s developed dementia takes pretty much all my time these days. Still, I wouldn’t trade her for a supermodel.

  22. Erick says:

    Look good, Would like to see more.

  23. Ted Eggleston says:

    I’d like to find a Blue Ray miniature video camera that I could mount inside rolling stock, or even on a flatcar that would enable me to view the route of the train on a remote site while it is in transit. I see videos on this site that do just that. So any information would be so appreciated. Thank you

  24. Brian Olson says:

    Great ideas here, and a a reminder that our layouts are just that. Do what space, finances and creativity allow you to do. The only rule to follow is “Have Fun.”

  25. Ray Martin says:

    If the computer parts are being scrapped out, look for gears and other mechanisms that can be used for flat car loads. CPU fans can be made to look similar to large water turbines or similar fan structures.

    Dangerous Dave has commented several times on small video cameras on his camera cars. Getting something in Blue Ray may be hard but I have 3 different small cameras that will fit on HO scale cars. I have 1080P videos from an Akaso EK7000 that are scary when blown up on a 24 inch monitor as the train passes between yard tracks on 2 inch centers. Since the camera is 2.4 inches wide it made for some interesting times. I usually use 1080P resolution but the camera is capable of 4K video if desired. The others are less than 1 inch wide although I have tried them yet since the layout is being rebuilt. They also are limited to 1080P resolution. Some time on the internet should provide some ideas of what is available.

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