Building Realistic Model Train Scenery – Mountains & Rivers

Building Realistic Model Train Scenery – Mountains & RiversThere are so many different things you can do to improve the scenic effects on your model layout that there is no difficulty in finding subjects to choose from. No matter what part of the trackage you look at, something needs to be done. Let’s look at the building of a miniature mountain.

To build a realistic mountain, make a frame and over this tack wire window screen. Now mix about three quarters of a pail of sawdust with enough paint to get all the sawdust wet. Mix it up good until all the sawdust is the consistency of damp cement and colored as you wish (green for grass, brown for earth, etc.)

Then take a trowel or strip of wood and smear the sawdust over the mountain frame. After you spread it, form it into ridges and depressions, hills and valleys with your hand. If you mixed several colors of paint with the sawdust you will get a particularly realistic landscape with perfect blending of shades.

Let the sawdust dry on the wire for a few days and then with oil paints and a stiff brush daub – not paint – flowers, grass, rocks, etc. By “daub” I mean take a brush with, say, light green paint for grass, and use the brush just as you would tap a person on the shoulder – up and down, not strokes. In this way, as the brush comes up the oil paint forms little blades of grass. After a little practice you will get the hang of it and find it will dry hard and realistic in a short time.

You can also drill holes easily in such a mountain for trees, bushes, etc. Where you want boulders, use a little gray and then streak over the gray with a darker color. Paint and work in the darker color until it looks realistic to you. You can stick twigs and small limbs in this mountainside and daub the branches with green and then sprinkle green sawdust over the limbs while the paint is still wet.

To build a river make you bed and banks out of the sawdust on a framework and allow it to dry. Then take some dark blue paint with a little light mixed in and add a bit of white. Stir it just enough to mix, but not too much so that the colors form into one shade. Now pour this in the riverbed so that it flows down the riverbed like water. Let it flow by itself and when it dries if you mixed it correctly you’ll have a true-to-life river or brook. Then you can put cattails, bulrushes and trees along the bank to complete the scene. A cow drinking (or if the country is wilder, a deer) will add a final touch as will other things that will suggest themselves to you.

About the author

Bill Murphy

Bill Murphy

Bill Murphy is an avid model railroader, offering advice for model enthusiasts on the YourDiorama website. For more helpful tips and information, visit

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