Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How To make Model Train Layout Mountains & Terrain

Track plan designed, Benchwork is Built, Your subroadbed and Track is installed. You have quite a few hours of running time behind you and your trains run on your railroad without derailing. You have done a fantastic job.  Now it's time to figure out how your model train layout's terrain is going to rise and fall as it twists and turns around your trackplan.

I like to "sort of" plan this out. When I design my track plan I only figure in a few key or signature elements like the highest and lowest points, where a major tunnel will be, or the biggest mountain etc etc. I like to leave the rest as sort of a - on the spot decision. You could call it the Bob Ross method " I think a happy little mountain lives here."  You need to start with those signature, major spots that you preplanned out first. Then tailor the rest to your liking. F9QKKU9UKBZY

How do you make a mountain in the first place? (a valley or dip in the terrain is made the same way just opposite elevation) There are 2 main construction techniques. The traditional ridged frame and apron approach vs the foam board or light weight mountain method (using foam board insulation glued together to create the height or carved out for a valley).

Cardboard Strip Apron

Wire Mesh Apron
 In the traditional ridged frame way of constructing mountains you first mark out your peaks or bluffs with some sort of ridged frame. You would also want to declare where any railroad or auto tunnels would be located and build them in. You could used 1x2 wood jutting up from your benchwork, or fixed to the wall. Then you could connect some horizontal pieces if needed between your vertical supports. For a very large mountain on my fathers O scale model train layout we used electrical conduit pipe and bent it, using the proper bender, as needed to get the contours we wanted. Once the framework of the mountain is in place then you need to give it an apron. The first method of creating an apron is using cardboard strips and "basket weaving" an apron that you staple to your mountain's frame. The second method is using wire mesh or screen that you again staple to the framework. The apron should then fall between your highest points and look like a real life mountain. Sometimes it takes some prodding and pulling to get the look you want, but it will happen. Then take your plaster cloth or paper towels soaked in plaster and drape them over your apron.

The lightweight method is completely different. simply stack up enough foam insulation board to get the height gluing the pieces together with a LOW temp hot glue gun.(regular guns melt the foam) Then carve your peaks, bluffs, and valleys using a combination of a hot knife, your trusty exacto blade, and a wood rasp for contouring. I like the foam idea maybe cause I am tired of the old ridged way. To get started I would look at the Woodland scenics website they have a whole system (called subterrain layout system) where you can build your model train layout entirely of foam. They have all the nifty foam tools available as well. Before buying all your foam I would check your local building supply they have foam board insulation there that you can use for a lot of it. Once you have your shape down most folks still like working with plaster (stainable, carvable) and end up laying plaster over the foam in some way or another. Don't forget to box out your tunnels first and then put your mountain over them. By the way it doesn't have to be solid foam either depending on what type of scenery you are putting on the surface and its size you may be able to just make an outer core of foam leaving a big hollow in the middle or back side. That happens to be one of the great features of foam board it works vertically too.

When your plaster dries your mountain will have its base shape.   If you don't like the way the apron fell you can add some more dimension to your mountain right on top to change the shape a bit.  You could crumple up some newspaper or lay in some more cardboard strips then plaster soaked papertowels over the top and feather them in.   Then you have to make it come alive with different rock outcroppings, stains, and the usuall turf and trees but that is a discussion for another day.