How to make a train diorama – Tony’s update

Tomy’s been back in touch again with the part 2 of his ‘How to make a train diorama’:

“Good day Alastair,

“This is a follow-up to my previous post. For those who didn’t see the previous, I am building a diorama based on Don Brekon’s wonderful print “Riverside Local”. I am just modelling the right side of the painting- ending at the river bank.

riverside local painting for diorama

It is OO on a 18”X20” base. My previous post ended at this point- with the basic terrain being laid down in plaster. So here we go: How to make a train diorama.

diorama plaster base

After the basic terrain was set, I put down a quick coat of color. The colors aren’t that important- they won’t show in the end, but they are a helpful guide to laying the ground cover. They also prevent any white plaster showing through.

In the pictures, you may notice the Inn and various details, such as trees, come and go. The point is there is a lot of experimentation as you build scenery- it rarely looks right the first time. And the photos are not in exact sequence as I illustrate certain points.

adding base color

I next turned my attention to the rail bridge and footpath tunnel. I had assumed that I would be able to find a portal and basic girder bridge to match them in my parts bin and, if not, find them on line. I didn’t have any luck finding ones that looked right so I decided to scratch build.

I started by taking various close-up photos and experimenting with printing size. Once I got the size I needed, I just printed out a bunch of copies on card stock. Then it was just a matter of cutting balsa and card and building up the tunnel and bridge in layers. It came out pretty well, but it was a lot more work than I had planned.

model train tunnel print for diorama

model train print for diorama

I used Alastair’s sheet of brick walls for the inside of the tunnel and bridge. I can see that sheet having many uses.

How to make a train diorama:

Once the basic bridge and tunnel were in place, I built up the pathway to the correct height and built up the bank with chicken wire and plaster.

wooden tunnel for diorama

Next I started on the ground cover. There are many ways to install grass etc. and I use a simple method that I have used for many years. I have a few dioramas that have been around a long time and the scenery has held up well. I always work in pretty small areas. I think this allows for accurate details- plus, when I mess up, there is not that much to be removed to start over!

I first put down some Elmer’s glue-all or wood glue (they work equally well- I think they are pretty much the same- with a little coloring in the wood glue!). I just lay down strips and spread the glue with my finger. I then pour some ‘grass’ or other cover onto a folded index card and sprinkle it on.

model train brick

How to make a train diorama

There are many brands of grass and I have at times made my own, but for this project, I have used all Woodland Scenics. I like the products, and if you look for them on sale or on Ebay, they are not too pricey.

I also am very impressed with their wide range of products and how they are continually coming up with new ones. I figure they are doing a lot for the hobby and I will give them my support when I can.

Fine Turf Burnt Grass looked the closest in color to the painting and it came out pretty well. After doing a few areas and letting them dry, I give it a quick spray of scenic cement. This will change the color and texture a little, but in this case it came out to what I was looking for. Working in small areas takes more time, but I think is worth it.

When I got down to what will be the river bank, I covered it in layers. First an earth, then grass, then a darker coarse turf and then a little bit of lighter coarse turf. Each layer is done the same way- glue and then spray. I fiddled around with mixing a few colors for the road/path because the color in the painting is a little unusual.

I finally just settled on Fine Buff Ballast and I think it has come out looking right.

How to make a train diorama

How to make a train diorama:

Before finishing the ground cover, I built up the woods at the back of the scene. I think the placement, type, and size of trees is one thing that can make or break a railway scene. If a tree is in a location that has been planted (a front garden, perhaps), then it can be any size, type or color.

If it is part of a wood, though, all the trees need to work together to create the scene. First size- they won’t be all the same size! And color- they won’t be all the same color!

In this case, I picked the largest tree first. In most cases, we don’t really model the true size of trees. Notice in the painting, the largest tree is almost twice as tall as the Inn. We rarely use trees this tall- but they will look right (the one I used was listed as ‘O’ scale). I then picked out the various other trees that are visible.

How to make a train diorama

Once the trees were in place, I continued with the ground cover. When I got to the bank and tree line, I put down about 4 layers of various colored ground cover. Although it will be in the background, some of this will show. I then added various shapes and colors to complete the bank and wooded area.

How to make a train diorama

The area next to the road (on the right) is out of the picture. I decided to add a flowering hedge – for a little color.

How to make a train diorama

Now I am basically at the point of completing all the details. I will be leaving the track, river and rear of the building semi-complete so that I can eventually fit it into my layout. I have a feeling that the details- mainly the people in the painting, will be difficult.

There are 13 different figures in the painting- all in specific poses. A quick look through my (rather large) box of figures tells me that I am going to have a hard time finding specific ones so I’ll just try to get as close as I can.

Hopefully, I will complete this before the end of the year. Stay tuned.


A huge big thank you to Tony for sharing how to make a train diorama. I’ve very much looking forward to the next update.

That’s all for today folks.

Don’t forget The Beginner’s Guide is here if you want to keep yourself busy and have fun too.

That’s all for today, folks.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

27 Responses to How to make a train diorama – Tony’s update

  1. Lee Kulas says:

    Hi Al,
    I still think an annual subscription fee of $36.00 is appropriate. You are providing interesting, informative and motivational content 6 days a week. You’re providing a forum for all of us Railroad hobbyists to exchange pictures, ideas and post requests for help, advice and encouragement. Aside from the cardboard structures and backdrops which are great and a steal at any price, yo are the “glue” which holds us all together!
    A subscription fee of $36.00 per year for all of this is a bargain. Many of us spend that much (or more) on eBay for a model, structure, couplers, tools, scenery, etc. every month! I’m sure many of us have subscriptions to various Model Railroad magazines which cost about the same, and frankly, provide very little content versus advertisements. You provide a wide variety of content and zero advertisements, and I enjoy your daily updates a lot more than a monthly list of articles.
    In my humble opinion, $36.00 per year is affordable, worth it and frankly a bargain. That’s about $0.12 per day! I’m hard pressed to buy ANYTHING on this side of the “pond” for $0.12!
    Come on fellow Hobbyists, let’s band together and do the right thing for Al; REMEMBER, Al’s not becoming “rich” off of this endeavor, but rather WE are becoming “rich” with the amount of information, camaraderie and enjoyment Al unselfishly provides 6 days a week for our mutual enjoyment.

    Lee from Boston

  2. Lee Kulas says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Well to back up my words of support and encouragement for Al, I’ve purchased the following: Beginner’s Guide (now my 3rd copy!), All the buildings (which I’ll probably never make) and Printout scenery.
    So, here in the States, we say “put your money where your mouth is”; Come on people jump in and support the cause!

    Lee from Boston

  3. Erick says:


  4. Larry says:

    Hi all,I’m new to the group and would be willing to pay$36 for all the info you provide. This is a great site!!

  5. David Hodges says:

    I have always enjoyed the tremendous amount of information received from your website and hope you will find a way to keep it up and running. I am aware that you cannot continue IF the cost is not being shared with all of us. I must admit that the scenery and buildings offered really are of little interest to me as my layout is quite complete without these items, however if you can establish an amount needed to cover your expense to continue the site, I believe that your subscribers would have no problem paying an annual fee. Please consider this – and thank you for ALL you have done!

  6. Grant McIntosh says:

    I agree with Lee from Boston. We probably waste that much money in a year and don’t get what Al provides.

  7. Colin says:

    Well Tony, What can one say! One of the finest scale scenes that have been displayed on the site. I appreciate it is not yet finished. I think the secret you have found is the trees and ground cover. The trees in particular are of a great scale and look like trees in a natural setting. The ground cover is very good and again looks natural. As I said I appreciate it is not finished and trying hard to comment I would suggest that the path is just too perfect. A well worn path would show wear and tear, bare bits weeds etc. But that is being very critical.

    Message to Al

    I would like to thank you for all your time and trouble in running the site. I am sorry that I cannot help but circumstances are such that although I love model railways I am not in a position to construct one myself or purchase any of the amazing deals you have on.
    I do hope you can continue


  8. Brian Messenger says:

    I agree with Lee from Boston, I will personally support his idea of an annual fee of $36.00 and would go with it. ($3.00 a month) is already very cheap for all the information, tips and photos that appears on this blog.
    Please guys, help a real gentleman (Alisdar) with this as it would be very sad to loose it.
    Brian RSA 🇿🇦 – hall of fame member and an avid follower and contributor to this blog.

  9. Robert Douglas says:

    do you have any printed versions of Beginners Guide? Am old school and electronic versions of anything are often beyond me.

  10. Brent Jensen says:

    Hi Lee,

    I couldn’t agree more! We have just formed a model railroad club here in the Sierra Foothills and Al’s postings have provided much inspiration.

    Our activity is ramping up, So Al will see some purchases from us this week. Totally agree on the subscription angle also.

    Model railroading is all about family, friends & community, sharing our passion for our hobby!
    Al shares that passion and enthusiasm weekly and should be supported.

    Thanks Al, we really appreciate all your efforts.

    All of us at the Calaveras Model Train Club 🚂

  11. Gary Manganiello says:

    Hi Guys….… come on let’s support this site…… I have the beginners guide but purchased the Closing down Sale for the $18.00 in support. Many of the comments are right…….. we spend more money on ebay and magazines and hobby stores (probably buy stuff we really don’t need but like for our layout).

    This is a site that provides tips, information, ideas, pictures and videos that help us make our layouts better. This is a site where you can ask a question or pose a problem and REALLY GET AN ANSWER…………

    Come on….make the commitment……. LET’S SUPPORT AL!.

  12. NJ Mark says:

    I’m ready to sign up. I purchased the Beginner’s Guide when I first discovered this site and use it often; it’s a great reference. $36 per year is nothing compared to the insight and inspiration I get from all of you, thanks to Al. Cheers! NJ Mark

  13. Jon LaRoche says:

    Well I have to agree that you need to expand your product line. In this case you ae already most of the way there: the introduction of an online model railroader’s magazine. Of course, supported by reader’s subscription fees.

    Considering that a great many of us like to do rugged scenery, I’d also like to suggest that the printable product line be expanded into a line of traditional alpine buildings.

  14. John Ulffers says:

    Been out of the field for a long time. However in the 50’s I was given a very small layout and 3 engines. Every thing was hand made including the switches. All of the 3 engines have open frame motors the are rated for 6 volt DC. I am open for comments and recommendations.

    John Ulffers in the midwest USA

  15. Karl Plantinga says:

    Al, please,please,please, consider the annual fee of $36.00.
    Your blog is worth a lot more. For all us railroaders this is what keeps us together.

  16. Don Stine says:

    Hi Al,

    I have just purchased my third copy of The Beginners Guide, The Gold Key, The Silly Sale, and The Big Kahuna, not because I needed them, but because WE do, if it will help keep your site open. If it Isn’t enough to help, then I will still have acquired a huge bargain.

    As has been previously stated, a $36.00 subscription fee works out to $3.00 a month. I can not think of anything else I do for ten cents a day that even begins to give me the pleasure that your site has brought me. You and all of my friends out there have become part of my “family” and I look forward to your visits to my mail box.

    I have been heavily involved in a web site for my shipmates from the Viet-Nam era, and understand the expense and hours that is involved. A subscription fee would not only be acceptable, but welcome – sign me up!

    You have provided many hours of joy, not to mention the precious knowledge you have all imparted by allowing me to be vicariously involved with the model railroad that I have not yet been able to build myself.

    Don of the Desert

  17. Steve Ruple says:

    I have already purchased all of the sale deals that you have advertised. I hate to see you close the site, I’m in the beginning stage of building a model railroad and have been watching all of your emails and have learned so much from everyone that has sent in articles on their railroads. Please think it over carefully before you close your site, because I will sure miss it.

  18. Norman Rosen says:

    I also purchased again the beginner’s guide and print outs for the second time. I don’t know who your friend is but EVERYONE HERE IS TELLING YOU THEY ARE WILLING TO PAY A SUBSCRIPTION FEE! We are all your friends, so please listen to us. You need help in managing this (no charge) let me know.

  19. K. R. Harwood says:


    I’ve had your beginner’s package, golden key and various building print outs for some time. For me rebuying these items would be superfluous. However, I agree with many of the other posters that a modest subscription fee would be entirely acceptable. I also believe that you would be entirely justified in setting incremental annual price increase for the print out structures.

    I hope you can find a way to keep the site up, as I enjoy making your print items.

    Best of luck wherever your decision,
    K. R. Harwood in NJ

  20. Greetings Al

    There is some precedence for encouraging support for blogs, especially those with that include a video component. As examples, both Jenny Kirk and Sam’s Trains have a category or categories by which one can support their venture. None of it is a hard sell, in anyway demeaning to the presenter or any suggestion of charity. It is just sensible!
    I should think that those who are able would be more than happy to sign for a modest monthly contribution of a pound or two. It might make up the difference and allow you the freedom to continue your immeasurably valuable contribution to the model railway/railroad community.
    Have a think, my friend !~ Chris

  21. Soren, formerly SorenES says:

    Al, You provide so much fun, interest, and social “glue” to us all. I am absolutely with you on an annual fee af $36 – come on man, do it!

  22. Richard Meyer says:

    Your diorama of the Brekon painting is truly remarkable. If it weren’t for the
    T-11 wainscoting in the background it could be the actual scene. I wonder what
    the artist would have to say.

    You have much support for a $36 subscription fee. Someone mentioned we
    waste that much in a year. I’m sure most of us waste that much in a month.
    Even though I have no room for a layout I enjoy the numerous posts. Therefore,
    I will be sending you a subscription fee . If it doesn’t come to pass, do NOT
    return the check. Maybe it will help to offset your past expenses.
    Richard from “the colonies”,
    Columbia, Missouri

  23. Gerald Westphalen says:

    To Robert Douglas, I also prefer a printed out version the Beginners Guide. So I printed it out my self and put in a binder. I used quality paper and it came out nice.

  24. Martin Glaze says:

    I think you should an address for all of us that would like to send you a check for $36.00. Heck I blow that much in a week. I want to keep getting your posts.


  25. I am willing to pay a subscription of US$36.00 annually. That is hardly anything to pay for this site. I have had the privilege of having some photos of my layout posted here. So, thank You Alastair for this. I hope You will continue to publish this site.

  26. Robin Walker says:

    Hello Alastair
    I too am very keen to see you continue running the site and would be pleased to contribute the UK£ equivalent of $36 per annum to see it continue. i have no layout at the moment but have gained plenty of ideas for when the time comes.

  27. Larry Paxton says:

    It would ruin my morning coffee routine if I didn’t have your daily email! Sign me up for $36 annual fee if you choose to take that route. Larry

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