Turning the Corner

Turning the Corner

Trying out scenery techniques

By Ernest H. Robl

With the process of clearing out the room where my layout will be built being long and tedious, I’ve been working on smaller projects that will later be installed on the layout.

Actually, I’m not sure which is the cause and which is the effect: Am I working on the small projects because clearing the room is taking so long? Or, is clearing the room taking so long because I keep getting distracted by other projects?

In any case, along the way, I have been trying out some landscaping techniques. This is an illustrated report on one of these projects – what I was trying to deal with, and what I came up with.

This is actually a project that I “finished” a couple of months back that I thought might be worth sharing. (The reason I put finished in quotes is that I will undoubtedly do some additional work on this project once it is installed on the layout.)

The situation

Near the end of my planned branch line, the tracks make a sharp turn to the right – required by the fact that the tracks need to deal with a corner of the room. That’s the entrance to the small station of Kleinbach, using a curved turnout.

I considered several possible options with what to do for that corner, one of which was to put the tracks in a tunnel. But, ultimately, I thought I would try to simulate part of a mountainside having been blasted away to accommodate the curve in the tracks. I decided to try this by just using layered foam sheets.


Okay, some background first: For Kleinbach (small creek in German) and its associated industrial tracks, I plan to use some of the large array of Kleinbahn tracks that I have left over from my previous layout.

Kleinbahn is a small Austrian manufacturer, whose track is by no means as realistic as the Roco Line I plan to use on most of the rest of the layout. The main advantage of using Kleinbahn track for this section is that I already had a lot of it, including many powered turnouts and electric uncouplers – and by using it, I am saving several hundred dollars over buying additional track.

With enough scenic work, including ballasting, the “ugly” track shouldn’t be that obvious.

I’m also aware that, in general, you don’t want scenery to come right up to the background wall. In this case, I thought it was better to ignore this principle in order to fit in a little more track for the Kleinbach station.

The process

I began by temporarily assembling the sectional track that would lead into the Kleinbach station on a large sheet of paper. I traced the approximate location of the track with a pencil. I used this as a template to mark the lowest level foam sheet.

Then, I began cutting the foam sheets, each set back about an inch from the previous level. I used a long-bladed hobby knife, as I intentionally did not want perfectly smooth cuts. I also used foam sheets of different thickness to keep the step pattern from being too uniform.

Once glued together, I sprayed the assembled piece with several shades of gray paint. The sides got a darker shade and the tops a lighter shade, as would be the case with top surfaces getting more sun.



Two views of the “carved” hillside cliffs with the tracks on a temporary base. The first image shows that I couldn’t cut each layer from a single piece of foam, so the left wing was assembled separately – and not yet painted in this view.


Another view showing the base layers of paint and the add-on section on the left.


As shown above, the basic concept turned out reasonably close to my expectations. But, I quickly came to the conclusion that even with some vegetation and trees, this piece would look rather boring.

So, I began making “rocks” to liven up the layers. For this, I used some salvaged pieces of cork roadbed, which I broke up by hand. In some cases, two or three layers were glued together to make the larger rocks.


The broken pieces of cork roadbed, before painting.

These pieces were then spray painted – again using multiple shades of gray.


About this time, I realized what this scene really needed was a small stream cascading down the side of the mountain.

So, I carved the path for the stream, lining it with some of the pre-fabricated rocks. I purposely carved the route at a slightly curved angle, so as not to make the scene too symmetrical.

The carved out sections then got a bit more paint to blend them in.

That was followed by the addition of some vegetation to the top surfaces.


The scene is beginning to take shape. The stream is in place, and I’m now starting to add pine trees.

I had a few pine trees left over from salvaging my previous layout – which never got to the point of having much scenery – and doing other small landscaping tests. But, it quickly became obvious that I would need a lot more.

Two packages of Busch trees later, the scene was mostly filled in.


The basically completed scene, with lots of trees and even some hikers (Preiser figures) added.

To add a touch of color and interest, I used several Preiser figures of hikers at various levels.


What did I learn from this project? Probably the most important lesson was that streams are not that easy to model – particularly if you use the wrong type of material.

Woodland Scenics makes (at least) two different types of compounds for modeling water. One is designed for flat surfaces, such as lakes and rivers; the other is for waterfalls and other special features.

I began by using the first compound, which is extremely liquid – and didn’t work very well for coating the rocks. It also takes a long time to set/thicken. I found that one way to get around this is to put a small amount of liquid in a bottle cap and let it start to thicken before applying.

That worked – but probably not as well as if I had used the waterfall compound to begin with.


Another look at the mostly completed scene.

When I install this scene in its place on the layout, I will touch up the water, as I will need to have a pool of water at the base of the cliff – and a continuation of the stream to drain that pool. Most likely the stream will go under the tracks to the edge of the layout. A small bridge or culvert would work.

I’m already working on another small scene that also includes some water. This time the water should be easier to do, now that I know a littler more about what I am doing.


As always, comments are welcome. Keep in mind these were quick photos to document progress of the project. I’ll go for more elaborate lighting once I get to the actual layout.


One Response to Turning the Corner

  1. Gordon P says:

    Nice work, Ernest! I have used the Woodland Scenics water on two layouts, and have never been happy with it. The Realistic Water never hardens totally – anything set on it will sink in after a short while. When I was salvaging my last layout to build the present one, it was a real pain to extract the dock, tour boat and river freighter from that media. I am currently using Envirotex Lite resin, a two part CLEAR epoxy that I got at Michaels. Much better results.

    I also find that a wire brush, the kind used to clean files and rasps, works wonders on roughening up the Styrofoam layers for added realism.


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