Heritage Model Trains Article

Perfect HO Model Train Layouts


How good is your imagination? Better than most, deeper than mine, or truth be known, you are stuck and don’t know where to begin. Let’s work with an HO scale model train layout and use a relatively simple process by using the correct materials and techniques. Our family has completed two room-sized HO model train communities. Take it from me – you will improve on it every day. Best advice would be to have some photos handy.


We used Styrofoam sheets to cover our plywood base, and glued them into place; then covered this with plaster-cloth purchased in rolls -- similar to the kind doctor’s use on broken bones to set them. Just cut them into pieces easy to handle, dip in water and lay it on the Styrofoam. Hopefully you have built up some of these to look like hills, ditches or jagged rock formations. All can be covered with the plaster cloth.


Model Train Scenic Display


Once your plaster cloth is dry you can paint it rather roughly; don’t be fussy, with acrylic water color paints. This dries rather quickly, so you can make some thin Elmer’s glue and brush areas that will be grass or moss and lay some of those sheets in place. Grass does not have to be all one shade either, mix and match some of the selections you find in clear plastic packages at your hobby shop.


A wild-flower affect can be realistic by using some of the rust-color or gold as in goldenrod. Sprinkle these here and there in your grass – make it look like the weeds that grow in an empty lot; sort of random clumps.


The mountains will be painted in shades of tan, brown, or grays. When it dries, dry brush some black in a narrow band horizontally across the rock to look like strata. Try not to be exact; we are not painting a stripe.


Planting buildings and houses would come next because they have to be glued into place, and roads must be designed –  with purchased roadbeds you want those also to be glued in place. Trees and shrubs will come next. With a hole-punch perforate the landscape and use a drop of Elmer’s in the hole, then plant the tree.


Forest deadfalls are always realistic, with broken limbs and these little sticks can be purchased but I gather them free from my back yard. I do plant some broken trees and glue twigs at the base to look like an old dead tree. Shrubs are always near trees, houses, or roadsides. They also grow in crevices of the rocky cliffs. So do be liberal with your shrub plantings.


Making your trains, buildings and bridges look less-than-shiny-new as part of the realism of your layout. Dry brush lightly some gray/brown paint on sides of buildings, train engines, tops of billboards and of course the bridge structures. Make them look like they have weathered many a storm, smog, or even graffiti.


Vehicles and people are last to put in place. As we did our layout, we completed a farm in one corner. Next we completed a park with café, a church, park benches and a bait-shop that led down to the water’s edge. You don’t have to wait to see a completed portion of your layout. After all, gratification pushes you onward.


All Aboard….



Esther Smith, author

Heritage Model Trains