How to Easily Make Trees for Your Model Railroad

I want to be clear that any links or referrals I include to experts in model railroading are an effort to be helpful and not a result of having any kind of sales affiliation with them.

Many helpful skills in model railroading can be learned by watching YouTube videos. Just about any question you have or any project you want to complete on your railroad can be found on YouTube. Such is the case with making trees for your model railroad.

My purpose in watching all kinds of model railroading videos was saving money, which I have been able to do. I do not consider myself an expert in the hobby, but I have been able to complete some pretty impressive scenes on the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad by getting help from other modelers. From placing foam risers, to making plaster rocks, to scratch building an incredible trestle and tower bridge, to building printable houses, to painting backdrops, and finally, to building wire trees, there are videos for all of it!

One of the best examples of expert advice, in my opinion, can be found on Luke Towan’s videos of the Boulder Creek Railroad. This guy is amazing! I followed his examples for building my bridges and digging out the Maple Valley River on my layout.

If you have a large layout, you’re going to need a lot of trees. You can purchase tree kits at your local hobby shop but they’re pretty expensive. I purchased a 250 ft. coil of 22 gauge floral wire at the store for less than $5.00. So far, I’ve made twenty trees and used about half the wire. That’s a huge savings!

I apologize for the dark background of these photos. You can find Luke Towan’s tutorial on making wire trees at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FNQTxX_jT4 but I finish my trees a little differently than Luke does in his video.

I have the most success using a smaller gauge wire. Be careful while you are making your trees, the ends of the wire are sharp and will draw blood! A lighter gauge wire is not so dangerous.

  1. Start by cutting 7 12-14 inch lengths of wire.

2. After cutting the wire lengths, fold them in half. Holding the folded end of the wires, twist the wires tightly 7-8 turns while keeping the two sections of wire apart. (Use more twists if you want a taller trunk.) Also, the number of wire strands you use will determine the thickness of your tree trunks. You will quickly discover the smaller gauge wire is much easier to twist.

3. Practice will make perfect as you learn to make wire trees. I suggest dividing each of the two bundles of wire in half. Combine the two inner bundles and tightly twist them together 4-5 times. Then tightly twist each of the remaining bundles 4-5 times.

4. Divide each of the bundles in half again and twist 3-4 times. Fold each of the bundles in half and twist them 3-4 times. The result will be a loop of 2-3 wires at the end of each bundle as you see in the photo.

5. This is where I finish the process differently than Luke Towan demonstrates. I clip off the top of the bundle loops so that the remaining “branches” each have 2-3 wires. To me, this is much simpler and provides a nice looking tree.

6. I am not going to set the trees in plaster and detail the roots. Rather than separating the loop at the bottom of the tree, I use pliers and twist the loop, then flatten the end. I use a piece of foam to hold the trees for the final steps.

7. Paint the entire tree with latex and allow it to dry. Put another coat of latex on the main trunk and large branches as necessary.

8. When you are happy with the trunk and branch latex covering, paint the entire tree with a brown acrylic paint. (Use a matte finish so you don’t have a glossy finish like this. I will rub a brown turf mixture on the trees to get rid of the shine.)

The final step is spraying the branches with adhesive, then rolling the tree in foliage mixture and pressing the material onto the branches. Shake the excess away. Luke Towan suggests sprinkling some turf mixture over the tree.

There you have it. This is the easiest way, in my opinion, to add as many trees as you want to your layout with very little expense.

I would love to read about your layout. Let me know what kind of techniques you’re using. I still have a lot to learn. Happy model railroading!

Scandal At Maple Valley – Episode 16

Stories are swirling in Maple Valley. This isn’t new to anyone who lives here. News in Maple Valley means people are talking about things that other people wouldn’t consider to be news at all. But because Maple Valley is such an important tourist destination for thousands every year, we tend to think things that happen in Maple Valley are more note-worthy than they actually are.

Such is the case with the Ladies Who Mean Well club that meets every Tuesday night in the basement of Maple Valley Church. The ladies held their annual election of officers last Tuesday. There was quite a bit of campaigning going on in the weeks before the vote. Wanita Havertons has been president and vice-president of Ladies Who Mean Well for nineteen years. In fact, Wanita started the club in her living room so she felt it was only right she should be the president and vice-president, positions she was honored to accept and continued to thank club members throughout the years even though she was essentially self-appointed.

Well, some members of the club, with a roster of eleven ladies, said it’s time for leadership change. Wanita heard of it and immediately started telling folks in town how important it is to have qualified and experienced officers in the club. The fact Wanita was talking to everyone including visitors to Maple Valley who came in on the train didn’t seem to bother her even though, according to the club bylaws she wrote, only club members can vote to elect officers. Wanita Havertons is no longer president and vice-president of Ladies Who Mean Well. An almost audible sigh of relief rose from the members after the election.

Everyone in Maple Valley is still basking in the glow of the amazing Founder’s Day Celebration. Buck Wills and the Wagoneers put on a great show and we’ll be talking about it for years to come. Folks could be heard singing, “Mama Drinks Whiskey From a Coffee Cup” for several days after the show. In fact, there is a rumor a young singer in Maple Valley wants to record it! How exciting for the home town folks to listen to one of their own on a real record! Nothing like this has ever happened in Maple Valley before!

Members of the Maple Valley Railroad Trustee Committee met on the spur to talk about needed repairs. A great deal of money was paid to reapply ballast to the track and committee members are not happy with the work. They plan to force the company to return and complete the task to their satisfaction.

Members of the Maple Valley Railroad Trustee Committee are probably like a lot of other groups. There are a few who really work, and others who like being on the committee. In the photo you can see Don Shibberly using a shovel. Clint Blassiton leaning on his shovel. Barney Hergels with his hands in his pockets. Greyson Newrey reading a paper. Thankfully, Jefferson Glosterick showed up with coffee for everyone.

The railroad trustees really do important work. It’s not easy running a live steam railroad, even if it’s only twenty miles from one end of the line to the other. Many visitors ride the rails behind the Old General every year and Maple Valley folks are thrilled to be known for the railroad.

Certainly the biggest news of the week is Sheriff Pete Terkinberry decided to use a psychic to see if any clues to the whereabouts of Sylvia Meisner might be uncovered. The news met with varied response. Some folks were happy, others confused, some angry. Reverend Shermer of the Maple Valley Church felt obliged to say something negative about the decision, so he did. The truth is, a few members of the church told the Reverend he would be replaced if he didn’t object.

The evening Miss Wonderment (no kidding, that’s really the psychic lady’s name) came to Maple Valley, the scene was perfect. A storm was brewing behind dark clouds. Crows were seen circling over Maple Valley, which for the moment people said was strange even though crows fly over town every day. Lightening flashed as thunder rolled in the distance. Only the sheriff and two council members accompanied Miss Wonderment into Sylvia Meisner’s house.

The group stepped into the house carefully and Miss Wonderment tripped over the rug lying in front of the door. The men helped her up and she quickly regained her composure. “That is surely a sign,” she said.

They watched as Miss Wonderment moved slowly through the living room and into the kitchen. “I feel a strong sense of hunger,” she said softly. “Hunger and thirst, rising from the depths of my being. Yessss! Yesssss! I feel it very strongly!”

“Should I get her something to eat?” whispered Frank Klipton to Merv Wersher.

“No, you idiot! She’s not really hungry! She’s sensing something in the air! Just shut up and listen!” Merv yelled quietly.

Miss Wonderment climbed the stairs with the sheriff, Frank, and Merv following closely.

“Yesssss! Oh, yessss!” she screeched. All three men were ready to leave.

When the psychic entered the bathroom she screamed, “There it is!! There it is!! There it is!!” She didn’t offer an explanation.

Miss Wonderment led the group back downstairs and she insisted they all sit at the kitchen table and hold hands. Frank and Merv refused, but the sheriff convinced them they should, as representatives of the town council.

“Oh! Ohh! Ohhhhhh!!” Miss Wonderment howled in a kind of melodic chant. “Ohhhh, yessssssss!! No!!! No!!! No!!!”

At that moment, Miss Wonderment broke wind so loud it would have made an elephant proud.

The three men did everything they could to keep from laughing, but it was useless. First, Merv spewed through tightly pursed lips. Then Frank hooted with laughter. And finally, even Sheriff Terkinberry couldn’t take it anymore. Then trying not to laugh only made them laugh harder. The three men were crying before it was over.

Finally, they settled down. Miss Wonderment stared at them.

“You know,” she said, “I really don’t have anything. Nothing. Sheriff, that will be eighty-seven dollars.”

“Frank, write her a check and let’s get out of here.”

Printed Buildings on the Maple Valley Short Line – How to Print and Build Structures for Your Layout

Through over fifty years in HO scale model railroading, I have wide and varied experience building structures for my layouts. My first balsa and cardboard kit was the Purina Feeds Mill I was very proud of. I no longer have it and wish I did. Another was a scratch-built cabin my uncle and I made together in 1970. He is a very talented artist, now in his eighties, who skillfully drew the planks on the walls and the shingles on the roof. I just copied him. I no longer have the cabin I built, but I do have his. I also have several scratch-built structures my uncle made with balsa and foam board which will soon take their place on the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad. Photos of them will appear in future posts.

I have many kit-based buildings made of plastic. They look fine and they’re easy to light using wheat-grain bulbs for just the right amount of light shining through the windows. Until last year, I never would have believed I could build attractive structures using paper prints. Once I started, it was hard to quit! It was really fun!

I searched the internet for printable structures in HO scale and found many to choose from. Obviously, it’s important to have a good printer, which now, almost everyone owns.

The website that I believed offered the best variety of structures was https://modelrailwaylayoutsplans.com/model-railroad-printable-buildings/. The copyright and designs are owned and offered by Alastair Lee Ltd. On the website, several bundles of building designs are offered. Here is the great part! Once you buy a bundle of designs, you can print them as many times as you want! I paid about $17.00 and was able to print immediately!

I got carried away, but it was so much fun! I think I built about thirty of these little houses. Then I made some improvements by adding basswood posts, a pergola, and decks.

This is an example of a printed house. (I accidentally printed it in the wrong scale so part of the house was cut off.) I printed mine on off-white card stock. After printing, I used adhesive spray to attach the print to another piece of card stock. I suggest not using heavy cardstock because folding will be difficult.

Using an X-Acto knife, and a metal ruler for straight lines, I cut out each piece. However, I added tabs (white angular area) to each of the edge lines including the bottom. This provides more gluing area so the joints are much stronger. After cutting, I very carefully (do not cut all the way through) scored the outside of the fold edges which makes the corners sharper.

I used heavy card stock as the base for each of my buildings. I cut out the middle to provide easy access for lighting. On most of the houses, I included extra base area for a deck or porch.

There is obviously a learning curve. My skills improved as I built for structures.

“Build Your Own Lincoln Sites” is another printable building website I used. These are free and the prints are high quality. The cutting lines are highly detailed and the instructions are easy to follow. As you can see in the photo of my building, I added facia to the roof line and a balsa deck to the front.

This building from the same website turned out great. You will discover how important scoring the folding lines is when it’s time to finish the graduated edge of the building roof. A little bit of touch-up with some paint on the front completed the structure.

I printed a few pages of full color miniature advertising posters. I cut out several with attractively varied colors and glued them to the building. Another option is to scratch them lightly with a knife to give them a weathered appearance. (The billboard at the top of the wall is on the original print.)

I am very happy with my printed buildings. I still have a lot of scenery work to do. I am presently working on wiring the Maple Valley Short Line. I also have to get the next episode of Scandal at Maple Valley finished!

I used printable structures because the cost is so low. Search the internet and you will find just the right printable structures for your layout.

I would love to read about your layout. Please comment and let me know about your progress!