Model railroad scenery is the stage upon which our actors,-the trains-perform. We construct our scenery in the same way that technicians build movie sets to give the illusion of distance or texture. Employing the magic of forced perspective, we can make a few inches of space appear to be an endless vista of forest, hills, and mountains. Even a crowded complex of industrial buildings with fire escapes, chimneys, and rooftop water towers can be simulated in an incredibly small area. We create these effects with painted backdrops and compressed model buildings as well as staged scenes that lead the viewer to believe that what they are looking at is more than what they see. The optimum result that we want to achieve, however, is a realistic and dramatic framework to showcase those highly detailed locomotives and freight cars that we take so much pride in.
I have seen a few layouts with a very small but impressive amount of model railroad scenery. Even a backdrop painted sky blue gives that added dimension of great distance to an otherwise plain and un-realistic model railroad. It does not require great artistic talent to paint distant landscapes or wisps of cloud on a backdrop –besides, if you don’t like your effort-paint over it with white and start over. I speak from experience here. Not only painted landscapes, but whole sections of completed scenery, sometimes including track, have been devastated by my disappointment with the final appearance. I often drool over pictures of other modeler’s scenery and try to re-create their work on my own layout and though I seldom come close to copying the same effect, I am often strangely pleased with the result. As a consequence, I have lost the hesitancy to attempt almost any scenery building project and in the process picked up, by accident, a number of new techniques.
Scenery planning begins with the track plan. Unlike the real thing, we design our landscape to fit around the track. One of the biggest mistakes modelers make in our effort to get as much track laid as possible is to fail to allow enough space for scenery. Develop an idea of what features you want to include on your layout and estimate how much space it will require to model them. Pay particular attention to clearance factors where track is concerned. Think carefully in all dimensions,- up, down, vertical, horizontal, over and under- The trains, those featured stars on our layouts, must be able to roll freely with enough space to twist and turn through our trees and tunnels without impediment. Keep your NMRA track and clearance gauge close at hand and use it often to make sure your track has a clear path through your scenic features. Proceed slowly and construct the scenery foundation in sections, checking clearance often and if possible, run a short train with your longest cars through the sections to ensure that no hidden obstacles pop up. It is surprising how many unforeseen problems this last step will uncover.
Once you are comfortable with your plan, begin building your model railroad scenery. The additional pages of this chapter will present a step-by-step approach to the creation of realistic scenery.
Step by step procedure for Building Scenery