Case Study - Scenery

The Concept & The Reality

Inevitably, there comes a time when the vision of the track plan becomes becomes the reality in your hands. That is, as much as I wanted to replicate the above perspective drawing for my own railroad, there comes a time when you realize that you won’t be replicating someone else’s vision. It will be yours.  Doing the scenery is often when this issue arises.

I was able to place the 8970 station building, the 8971 freight station and the Kibri gravel facility. Finding the two station buildings was easy (since I had them squirreled away in my collection of kits), but finding the older Kibri gravel works kit proved to take a bit longer. This structure eventually turned up on eBay, but I later found out that Kibri has issued a structure kit which includes the gravel loader. Please see here.

There are six residences in the middle of the railroad, one of which immediately was replaced by one of my favorite Kibri structures, the White Horse Inn building, here.  This would begin the process of customizing the perspective vision of the track plan into my reality.

There were several things I wanted to retain.  The solitary residence at the far left of the perspective drawing was important to me. Initially, I had chosen to place two Märklin 8964 residences, but they proved to be far too large for this small railroad, becoming scene stealers because of their size. They were replaced with several Kibri residential structures.  A Vollmer residence was placed across the street from the White Horse; this structure was big enough to possibly have a small shop such as a bakery.

Overall, the small village feel of the 6.2.1 perspective drawing has been retained, but I could not resist several other little tweaks.  Most notable was placing a steam locomotive service facility in the short siding at the lower right (where a VT97 railbus is parked in the drawing). I knew that I wanted a steam locomotive on the railroad, and ultimately chose an 8803 Class 24. Adding a steam service facility resulted in the addition of an 8996 water tower and two water cranes.  One water crane (purchased from Shapeways) was placed at the engine facility and the second was placed on the main line.  I kept moving the tower’s location around until I found a location that did not disrupt the scene view I wanted. The addition of the steam locomotive meant that I needed a coal supply for the locomotive.

The need for a coal supply for the locomotive produced an interesting turn of events for the Kibri gravel loader.  The gravel loader was repurposed into a coal loader, the only visible component of a coal mine in the area.  This is not that uncommon, with the mine head, support structures (tool room, miners’ change room, ventilating equipment) and the mine entrance set on the opposite side of the hill, beyond the perspective view (please see this note). In operation, the steam locomotive would take on its coal fuel at the mine tipple, with water, sand and other necessities being supplied at the storage siding.

What I’m Not Satisfied With

Earlier, I used two Märklin track bridges over the railroad, one at each end.  I did this out of expediency, but I was unhappy with their appearance. They were soon replaced with something fabricated, replaced with something closer to the vision of the perspective drawing:

At this writing, I have been focused on getting the 6.2.1 railroad out of my shop and into my office at home. And, as we are fond of saying, a model railroad is never truly complete, and that is clearly the case here.

Scenery Technique

In looking back upon my fifty years of model railroading, my choice of technique has always been limited to a degree. In the early days, it was limited by my available funds, but as time passed it became limited more by the available technology.  In the construction of the 6.2.1, I also tried to use up what I have accumulated over the years, but as the project progressed, I went ahead and spent more money to get the right combination of structures.

For many years, my scenery technique was the traditional paper towel with plaster of paris that most model railroaders choose. This technique has been honed to perfection and it is a good choice for many model railroads.  Plaster of paris on paper towels is also very sloppy, especially the way that I work. So, in light of the small size of the 6.2.1 railroad, I decided to use Woodland Scenics foam sheets for the scenery support.

It is important to differentiate the Woodland Scenics foam sheets from other foam products.  The Woodland Scenics product can be cut with a hot wire cutter, while others must not be cut in this manner because of toxic fumes.  Foam sheets are far less messy that traditional paper towel scenery. So, too, the inclined risers of the Woodland Scenics’ system made things much easier.

As with other aspects of this project, I would change my mind about certain things as the work progressed. So it was with the foam side profile boards.  My 6.2.1 layout frame was designed with these profile boards in mind, but it soon became apparent that I was not going to be satisfied with the outcomes. So, I switched to a hardboard profile board:

Once the profile boards were fixed in place, I used segments of IBL cork roadbed to create support for the highways and roads. Once all was in place, I sanded the cork smooth.  In the scene above, the Märklin bridges are still in place, but they would soon be replaced with homemade bridges, which are discussed here.

I cut blocks of Woodland Scenics foam, glue them in place and then use the hot wire cutter to shape things. A long bladed knife was used to finish the shapes.  Once in place, Woodland Scenics Foam Putty was used to fill in small gaps between the foam pieces. 

In a break with tradition, I actually purchased a can of custom latex paint in a dark brown color.  And, in another break with tradition, I used Noch static grass to provide the initial ground texture. In part, this was because I had a quantity of static grass and Noch puffer bottles on hand, but it also was an effort on my part to get a somewhat different appearance for the railroad’s scenery. Once the initial texture was applied, I followed up with Woodland Scenics clump scenery foam to hide and cover unsightly areas.

Highways and Roads

As noted above, the support for the road inclines used Woodland Scenics graduated risers covered with IBL cork road bed. Once in place, the cork was sanded lightly to smooth out irregularities. The center of the railroad layout is a town square which was made by using Noch self-adhesive cobblestone.  I used their N-Scale product because that was what I had on hand and the difference is not noticeable. 

I had originally placed the station platform, so the cobblestone sheet was placedflush with the platform; the other three corner buildings were placed on top of the cobble sheet. On one corner, the Kibri village inn has its own base. The other corners had houses which were mounted on plastic sheet which represented brick pavers.  Although all were meant for N-Scale, but they can be used in Z-Scale with little notice.

Leading into the town square, I used Busch flexible asphalt self-adhesive tape.


Many of the pages on this web site are nostalgic looks back at the early days of scale model railroading, but I’m not nostalgic for the early days of model railroad scenery.  No, today is much better and trees are what really complete any model railroad scene.  What has emerged is a two-tier approach to miniature timber; there are “specimen” trees and there are less expensive “bulk” trees.  The specimen trees are highly detailed and, by extension, expensive. The bulk trees are not as detailed but are not as expensive. There’s a place for both on a model railroad.  The most important thing is that the trees be appropriate for the general scene, thus no palm trees or cactus plants are likely to be seen in the rolling hills of the Germany of the 6.2.1 layout.  In the scene above, many of the trees that are visible are specimen types from both Woodland Scenics and JTT.   

Woodland Scenics has a series of trees called “Woodland Classics” that are available in types such as Early Light, Cool Shade and Hedgerow.  Although I understood what Woodland Scenics was trying to do, and tried to use them accordingly, I view my experiments with these different trees to be inconclusive.  On the other hand, they don’t look bad, either. The big determining factor was tree height, never above 2”, appropriate for a Z-Scale railroad.

At the same time, bulk trees make a difference for the model railroad scene because they allow you to fill in the areas between the clusters of specimen trees. Consider the scene below:

On the left side of the photo are some specimen trees, and there are others interspersed in the scene, but there are also bulk trees used to fill in the gaps. And, to the upper right of the photo, you can see a large group of bulk trees that slowly blend into the backdrop artwork. This gives the model railroad depth.

Over the years, I’ve probably spent a small fortune on model trees, especially on my Gauge 1 railroad, Amstetten.  The only real rule is to use odd numbers of trees in each placement (except, perhaps, for that lone tree at the top of a hill). They’re worth the cost.

And in looking at this railroad, I realize that it may be the very best work I’ve ever done. And I know, that like every good model railroad, there are still lots of little things to do which will make it better.

I wish you the same pleasure.

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