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!

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 15

This is just what the quiet little tourist town of Maple Valley needed. First, Sylvia Meisner disappears without a trace. Folks here are still in stir about it. Sheriff Pete Terkinberry is almost at his wits end, not to mention he’s still healing from a bad fall in Sylvia’s basement. There have been rumblings of replacing the sheriff with someone who can solve the case. I don’t know what else could be done at this point. There is no evidence leading anywhere!

Next, there was the effort to delay the start of tourist season which almost caused an uprising. Then it was discovered Randy Herbahl forgot to invite Buck Wills and the Wagoneers to the Founders Day Celebration. Lucky for Randy, the group was still able to come. I’m quite sure he would have been run out of town if the Happy Harmonettes became the entertainment for the event because of his mistake.

Now it seems we have another emergency.

Maple Valley folks were shocked this morning to discover a huge flying ship had landed over Wittington. The circumstances are similar to Sylvia’s disappearance, and they are equally disturbing. No one heard the ship land. No one knows where it came from. Folks were not even sure what it was until someone climbed up on the Maple Valley River Trestle and took a picture of it. It does indeed appear to be a flying ship of some kind.

The Maple Valley Council is in an uproar because Mayor Thrashborn activated the Gulliver Emergency Response Team without their approval. This is just not done in Maple Valley. No other mayor in the history of Maple Valley has dared to activate the emergency response team without council approval. There will definitely be an investigation after the emergency has been resolved.

The response team, which consists of several residents of Maple Valley, made its way to the site where the craft landed. So far, the team has done nothing except stand and watch. There does not appear to be any danger at this time.

For now, the emergency response team will keep a close eye on the craft and report back to Mayor Thrashborn. The only comment made by anyone on the team is that the being inside the craft appears to be humanoid, and is rather good looking. “If he were the same size as other folks in Maple Valley, he might even be one of us” someone was heard to say.

My suspicion is a simple explanation will be discovered. Unlike the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner, this craft is tangible. It has shape and size. It appears to be somewhat familiar, even inviting. The very troubling thing at this point, is the craft is blocking the railroad lines. Freight and passengers will not be able to move until the craft is either moved, or leaves of its own accord, which is rather frightening. No contact has been made with the being in the craft. Although the being has a humanoid appearance, there is no indication of an attempt to communicate.

This episode could also have been titled, “This is What Happens When You Have One Too Many Hobbies.”

Model Railroad Progress on the Maple Valley Short Line

I am thrilled, excited, relieved, exhausted, and happy to report track on the entire Maple Valley Short Line Railroad is finished! Well, the track is all in place. Installing ballast is yet to come.

This model railroad is the largest layout I have ever built. I started with a blank canvas three years ago and today am very proud of my progress. I have never tried using latex molds for plaster rocks but I think they look terrific. I also have never painted backdrops before, but am very happy with the results. I am just getting started with ground cover, and I plan to use a ton of Woodlands Scenic weeds.

The long outside loop has been operational for several months. When I get tired of slow progress I run a train around the layout several times and I’m immediately enthused again. For a kid who loves trains, there is nothing like listening to the clicking sound of the wheels as they roll over the track, through turnouts, and over bridges.

This is also the first time I have ever tried making my own trees. A large layout, depending on the kinds of scenes desired, requires a lot of trees. I have several from previous layouts but not enough for this one. I followed Luke Towan’s tutorials with step-by-step instructions to build trees with floral wire. It’s very easy, but requires time and patience. I quickly discovered the clipped wire ends are very sharp! Luke Towan’s videos can be found on YouTube. There are many videos for just about everything necessary to build a beautiful layout.

There is still so much more to accomplish! I insulated several blocks throughout the layout, which means a lot of wiring. This is the first time I have not used a common rail, so I will use buss feeds throughout for DC power. I also plan to use Atlas Snap Relays for turnout signals. Several years ago I made my own two-light signals using plastic pre-fab, non-operating signals. I drilled out the red and green lenses and replaced them with real lights. I soldered resistors into the feed wire, through a two-way switch and wired them directly to my AC accessory power supply. They looked great, but were essentially non-operating because I didn’t use the snap relays. This time I will.

Since I used 1 1/2″ extruded foam for the base of the layout, I’ll have to drill through the foam and the plywood deck to provide wire access for feeds to the rails and turnouts. I had big plans to use under-the-table switch machines and linkage. The more I thought about it, the less bold I felt. I decided the resulting appearance on the layout wasn’t worth the potential headaches. I’m not purchasing all new fool-proof tortoise switch machines. I’m using my old Atlas machines that still work fine.

My next project is placing, rearranging, then rearranging again, then finally moving all the manufacturing and retail buildings I have. I plan to paint streets and lay gravel roads for rural areas and around factories. I love lighting the buildings so that will be another wiring project yet to come.

Writing “Scandal at Maple Valley” has delayed my progress on the actual railroad, but I don’t regret it! I’m fourteen episodes in and I don’t plan to stop any time soon. The most recent episode included lyrics to a song I made up just for the band, Buck Wills and the Wagoneers, called, “Mama Drinks Whiskey From a Coffee Cup.” I am thrilled to announce the song has now been set to music and recorded by one of my very talented daughters-in-law. I couldn’t believe it! It’s fantastic, if I do say so myself! So, one day, we will release the fictional song for real!

Here’s to many more years of progress on the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad. Happy model railroading everyone!

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 14

A real miracle happened in Maple Valley! A miracle to the folks who live here at least. Do you remember Randy Herbdahl? Of course not. Probably no one outside of Maple Valley knows who Randy Herbdahl is, but everyone here knows him. Six weeks ago, Randy Herbahl was the least favorite person in town. He was in charge of contacting the entertainment for the Founder’s Day Celebration. His wife, Joneel, found the letter he thought he mailed to the group, inviting them to Maple Valley. Everyone was sure the Founder’s Day Celebration was doomed. No one wanted to hear the 80-year-old Happy Harmonettes try to sing when everyone knows their talent was questionable sixty years ago.

Randy apologized to the village council and said he was willing to take all the blame for spoiling the celebration. Several on the council thought his offer strange when there was never any question whose fault it was! Randy forgot to mail the letter! So now the village council had to come up with some kind of plan to keep the Happy Harmonettes off the stage.

After an hour of panicked discussion, Mayor Alvin Thrashborn suggested calling the group, apologizing, and pleading with them to come in spite of the mistake. It would be a futile attempt but they had to try.

Miracles do happen! Buck Wills and the Wagoneers, the number one group on country radio, were the headline stars at the Maple Valley Founders Day Celebration!

The council decided since Randy forgot to mail the letter, he should be the one to call Buck Wills and invite him to Maple Valley. To everyone’s surprise, especially Randy, the group had the date open and accepted the invitation! Instead of being the object of scorn, Randy was a hero. Mayor Thrashborn wished he had made the call.

It’s not every day a show like Buck Wills and the Wagoneers comes to Maple Valley. Everyone lined the streets as their tour bus rolled into town. You can see it in the photo parked in front of Sylvia Meisner’s house!

To honor Sylvia, and to remind everyone how important it is to keep looking for her and hoping she comes home, the deck on her house was used as the stage for the Buck Wills show. As you can see, it was a great success!

The crowd loved hearing all of their favorite Buck Wills and the Wagoneers songs, like:

She Sneezes When I Kiss Her
Wagon Wheels Rollin’
Hog Tied Tongue Tied
Lamb Fry Pie
Moonlight Swimmin’ at Noon
Rattlesnake Soup
My Blue-Eyed Baby Lied, and
Tip The Outhouse Over.

Every song was great, but everyone cheered wildly when Buck Wills and the Wagoneers sang their #1 hit song, still nailed to the top spot on the country charts after thirteen weeks, “Mama Drinks Whiskey From a Coffee Cup”!

By special permission, we are allowed to include the lyrics of this great song!

Mama drinks whiskey from a coffee cup
‘Case the preacher comes around.
She’s afraid if he saw her
He’s say she’s hellfire bound.
She never knows when he’ll show up
It could be any day.
Mama drinks whiskey from a coffee cup
‘Til the preacher goes away.

She was on her second cup
When the preacher climbed the stairs.
He sat down on the porch with her
Like he didn’t have a care.
She offered him a coffee
Said, “Don’t mind if I do.”
She got right up, went in the house
To fetch the preacher’s brew.

She poured his coffee carefully
And placed it on the tray.
When she offered him a cookie
He bowed his head to pray.
When she looked up he had the cup
And took a little sip.
Great surprise came to his eyes
When whiskey crossed his lips.

Mama drinks whiskey from a coffee cup
‘Case the preacher comes around.
She’s afraid if he saw her
He’d say she’s hellfire bound.
She never knows when he’ll show up
It could be any day.
Mama drinks whiskey from a coffee cup
‘Til the preacher goes away.

Mama held her breath and waited
While the preacher sipped again.
He said, “This is the best dang coffee
There has ever been!
Would you pour me another
And then one more again?”
Whiskey in a coffee cup
Became the preacher’s friend.

Mama drinks whiskey from a coffee cup
When the preacher comes around.
Now that he’s a drinkin’ friend
She won’t be hellfire bound.
She doesn’t care when he shows up
He’s welcome any day.
They drink whiskey from a coffee cup
‘Til the preacher goes away.

They drink whiskey from a coffee cup
‘Til the preacher goes away.

(“Mama Drinks Whiskey From a Coffee Cup” Lyrics by Dale R. Parsons
Copyright 2021 by Dale R. Parsons.)

The crowd cheered so loud and long they sang it again! I really think Buck Wills and the Wagoneers enjoyed coming to Maple Valley as much as we enjoyed having them!

The Maple Valley Founders Day Celebration was a terrific success. It was great to see all the residents and many visitors enjoying themselves on a beautiful day in Maple Valley. For the first time in many years, no one was injured during the East Side vs West Side badminton game, even though there were sixty-three people on the court at once! Rackets and birdies were flying in every direction! There were so many people in the game, not many were left to cheer.

Sheriff Terkinberry was released from the hospital after getting several stitches. You may recall he got a search warrant to enter Sylvia’s house. While he was trying to find the light switch in the basement, he tripped over something lying on the floor and hit his head on a cabinet. He feared what it might be, but was relieved to discover he had tripped over a rolled up tent lying on the floor. He found nothing in the house indicating where Sylvia might be or what has happened to her, if anything.

Sylvia Meisner is still missing. We are no closer to finding her than we were eight weeks ago. In spite of the drama surrounding her disappearance, life in Maple Valley goes on. Maybe the concern we all feel for Sylvia is bringing the residents of Maple Valley a little bit closer.

I’m sure there are some still trying to find a way to make the mystery about them instead of Sylvia. That’s just the way some people in Maple Valley think.



Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 13

It was really only a matter of time before the search for Sylvia Meisner became more serious. Oh, not that folks haven’t been serious already, they are. They’re serious about a lot of things like taking care of all the visitors to Maple Valley that arrive, literally, by the trainload every day. They’re serious about making sure no one else in Maple Valley knows more about Sylvia than they do.

In spite of our many flaws, the folks in Maple Valley do really care about Sylvia and we wish her back. But with everything that has happened in town since she disappeared, I wonder what kind of place Sylvia would return to if she walked back into town today. There have been arguments with participants almost becoming physical. Rumors became gospel. Some close friends are distant because they don’t agree on what steps should be taken to bring Sylvia home. I don’t understand how they can argue about bringing her home when they don’t know where she is!

The Burthrap twins, Ver and Vee, were at it again yesterday, but this time Sheriff Terkinberry left them alone even though Nona Merthon called him four times while the twins were screaming at each other. Nona couldn’t tell the sheriff exactly what they were arguing about, she just assumed it was about Sylvia again. For all she knew, they might have been fighting about whose turn it was to do the dishes or clean the toilet.

Things have been pretty quiet at the Ya’ll Sit Cafe. Shorty and Hannah work very hard to keep up with all the patrons who come in on the Old General. It seems the first thing folks do is head for the cafe. Maple Valley has succeeded in creating a mystical sort of feeling that makes visitors want to stay, and staying always includes eating, or maybe just drinking coffee. I happen to believe Hannah Cloverton makes the best coffee anywhere in Kertok County.

The cafe is a favorite spot for townsfolk, too. It’s not very big, but then nothing in Maple Valley is. Except for the railroad. The cafe sits in the middle of town where it was built as a saloon in 1892. The saloon closed in 1907 and the Ya’ll Sit Cafe opened the following year. Shorty’s great grandfather, Morris Cloverton, was the first owner and cook. The Cloverton family has owned it ever since. The tables are square, seating four. There are three long tables with room for eight, and, oddly enough, those are the ones preferred by customers. The walls are a light blue, the curtains are red and white checkered. The floor is the original wood boards. The kitchen is not hidden in the back but is open for everyone to see. Shorty enjoys talking to patrons as he prepares their orders. Hannah waits on customers and pours coffee. A favorite among customers is Shorty’s pancakes and eggs breakfast. He doesn’t share his recipe with anyone. I eat breakfast at the cafe every Monday morning because it’s the best way to start the week.

You probably noticed Beulah Filden and Lulane Hilvertosh in the photo. The two seem to create trouble, or at least talk about trouble, wherever they go, and it’s not surprising they showed up at Sylvia Meisner’s house. (In case you don’t know, they’re the two are standing over on the left, and you can tell just by looking at them they’re gossiping. Beulah is wearing the red hat. Lulane is filling her ear to the brim.) Beulah hasn’t been seen outside much since she tried to pass a petition to postpone the start of tourist season. Maple Valley folks were pretty upset about that. Evidently, enough time has past so Lulane and Beulah are back to their old habits.

The news of the day and the reason so many people are standing around Sylvia’s house is Sheriff Terkinberry went to court in Kertok County for a search warrant so he could enter Sylvia’s home. While he would have preferred to keep that news quiet, search warrants are routinely published in the Kertok Weekly. The sheriff’s plan was known throughout Maple Valley before he had a chance to search the house. True to every characteristic of Maple Valley, folks were outside the house waiting to get the inside story before anyone else could.

Sheriff Terkinberry wasn’t surprised to find the front door of Sylvia’s house unlocked. Folks in Maple Valley don’t often lock their doors, but in this case the sheriff felt an intense concern. If Sylvia planned to be gone for a prolonged period of time, she certainly would not have left the door open. At first glance, nothing seemed to be out of order. Everything in the living room was undisturbed. A hardcover novel on a table caught the sheriff’s attention. He carefully picked up “Death Calls at Midnight,” by Shander Noffsin, and opened the front cover. Inside was written, “To Sylvia from your Special Friend.” “Who is the special friend?” the sheriff thought, “and why was the book signed that way? Does special mean ‘secret?’ Does special mean ‘admirer?’ Does Sylvia know who this special person is, or was he or she a mystery? And why capitalize special friend?” The thoughts racing through Terkinberry’s head only made his job more difficult.

He walked into the kitchen and his concern increased. In the sink were several knives. It appeared they had been used and washed, dried, but then left in the sink. A folded towel was lying nearby. The sheriff noticed a plant on the window sill was beginning to wilt and thought it strange the plant was still alive when Sylvia has been missing for a month. He looked back into the living room and noticed another plant in the same condition. Still alive.

A feeling of dread crept over his body as the sheriff opened the refrigerator. He knew the contents would clearly reveal Sylvia’s intentions when she left home the last time. Inside was an unopened container of milk, some fruit, a small jar of jelly, and something very strange. Lying on the bottom shelf was what appeared to be a fresh rose, with a note beside it. “To Sylvia from your Special Friend.” The dread the sheriff felt was turning to full alarm.

Sheriff Terkinberry climbed the stairs to examine the bedrooms. One bed was neatly made but with no pillows. The other bed was made but several pillows were piled up. He assumed, because of other furniture in the room the first was the main bedroom. Why did Sylvia have so many pillows piled up in the second bedroom?

The bathroom produced even more questions. The medicine cabinet was completely empty, which calmed the sheriff a little because Sylvia would have taken most of the items if she was going on a planned trip. The bathtub, however, caused more questions. It was filthy. It looked as if someone bathed a dog with a terrible shedding problem. He couldn’t explain it.

The place he dreaded the most was saved for last. Swallowed by the dark and wet basement, he stumbled over something as he tried to find the light. This was the first time since becoming sheriff Pete Terkinberry wished he had chosen another job.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 12

In case you haven’t been following the news in Maple Valley on a regular basis, I will fill you in. Sylvia Meisner disappeared nearly a month ago. Several people saw and spoke to her one day, she was gone the next. In fact, figuring out who the last person to speak to Sylvia actually was became a hot item of contention, sadly enough. Folks in Maple Valley always like to find a way into the spotlight. We are bothered by not being included.

In the photo, you can see what was left of her car. It was discovered under three tower bridge by two people who happened to be jogging by. They reported the car to Sheriff Pete Terkinberry who started an investigation and quickly confirmed it was Sylvia Meisner’s car. The sheriff demanded the car be left at the site to protect all the evidence, but he soon realized there wasn’t any. The wreck was finally taken to a garage where it was dismantled. Every piece of the car was examined, and nothing of any use to the investigation was found. The car was torched completely.

Who put the car under three tower bridge? No answers. Where was the car burned? It seems obvious the fire was not under the bridge because there are no burns on the timbers. And no one saw the fire even though the bridge is very close to Maple Valley. The car was wrecked and burned somewhere else. Was the driver Sylvia? If so, where is she? Did someone steal her car, wreck then burn it to cover evidence, then move the car to the bridge? That is a lot of difficult work when they could have left the car where it was destroyed. It makes no sense, unless there is some kind of message we are supposed to figure out. I don’t know. No one else does, either. At least, that’s the way it seems.

If you walk by three tower bridge today, this is what you’ll see. Everything seems normal again. Appearances are deceiving. I don’t think anything in Maple Valley will be normal again. How can someone everybody knows disappear without a trace? Neighbors are going back to normal things and I’m afraid they’re going to forget.

Sylvia is a nice person. She was, is, or was neighborly. That’s what I mean. Even I am getting caught saying things like, “She was neighborly.” I don’t know if she is a was, or still is. It’s tough. She’s gone, but maybe she’s just gone for a while. Who knows? She made, or is making her own mark on Maple Valley. She is a talented artist, or is at least someone others might call an artist. She painted signs for businesses. They’re very colorful and attractive. The problem to some people is that the signs are for businesses that don’t exist. She painted and placed them in spots around town where they would be seen. Why would someone do that?

An odd thing happened today. People gathered where the car was found under three tower bridge, and the Reverend Shermer from Maple Valley Church said a few words. He is the one in the photo nearest the bridge tower. He asked for a time of silence so people could think about Sylvia and ask for her safe return. Then folks met at Sylvia’s house and did the same thing. Not everyone goes to church in Maple Valley, and there were people at the two gatherings who don’t attend Maple Valley Church. I suppose that’s a good thing, unless they were just there to watch.

There is still talk around town about having a psychic come in to try to find Sylvia. How would the sheriff decide which psychic to use? Would he have psychic auditions? There are lots of psychics around like palm readers, but who knows whether they could really help? Would the town council have to pay the psychic? Does the person get paid even if they can’t find Sylvia and she doesn’t return? I don’t know what to think of that idea.

On the brighter side of Maple Valley, the Annual Founder’s Day Celebration is just a week away. This is an important event in Maple Valley and has been celebrated ever since the first settlers came to the valley. At least that’s what the oldest residents of Maple Valley say.

Like the Independence Day Celebration and the start of tourist season in Maple Valley, lots of exciting attractions will keep everyone busy for the entire day. The highlight of the day will be the mincemeat pie eating contest in the middle of town, followed by the annual west side vs east side badminton game. Everyone who lives on the west side of 2nd Street is Team West, everyone living on the east side is Team East.

Plenty of first-aid supplies will be on hand with those who have volunteered to treat everyone who is injured during the badminton game. Maple Valley folks are serious about this game because of the bragging rights it gives to the winners. Everyone who wants to play is on the team, and everyone is on the court at the same time. Last year there were twenty-seven players on Team West, thirty-two on Team East. Several injuries occurred, the most serious being a gash suffered by Homer Gawlmand when Minnie Surrifin hit him in the face with her racket. Other minor injuries like welts on the head from being whacked by a racket are to be expected when close to sixty people are playing badminton on one court, all trying to keep six birdies in the air at the same time. It’s a favorite in Maple Valley!

Tourist season is off to a great start. So far, there haven’t been any issues with the Old General. Six round trips per day is a lot to ask from a steam locomotive that was built in the 1800s, but the Old General’s performance has made everyone proud. I even sneak a ride in the engine as often as I can. One of these days I’m going to sit in the engineer’s chair and take the throttle. That will be an exciting day in Maple Valley.

How I Painted Backdrops for My Model Railroad – Part 2

I can’t stress enough that you can do this. Believe me, if I can paint backdrops and have them turn out half-way decent, you can do it too.

In Part 1, I included a list of the paint colors most often used for painting backdrops. All of the paint is acrylic, which cleans up easily with water. When you start painting your backdrops, you will start by using light colors on the highest parts of your canvas (whatever your canvas material may be. I chose to use foam board.)

Obviously, not being an artist, I’m not including mixtures that will give you exact shades of colors for your backdrops. With me, it was trial and error. If you are an artist I don’t think you’ll be spending time reading this anyway.

In the photos you can see the mountainous look beginning to take shape. I used a mixture of blue and grey to paint mountains furthest away, the lightest blue is sky. The light shade of green below the blue is the first layer indicating the next mountain range.

The beautiful thing about painting in layers is that you can really mess up the first layer, (like I did many times fighting with my shaking hands), and totally fix and change it with the next layer. You don’t want perfect tree tops anyway. To me, a great amount of variation is best, just like you would see in a real photo or in person. Let your brush go and find your way as you dab the paint on.

I allowed each layer to dry before starting the next layer. If you lay wet paint on wet paint, the colors will begin to mix on the canvas and on your brush. Maybe that will work for you, but I didn’t want to take the chance.

With each layer of tree-covered mountains, the colors get darker, indicating the mountains are closer. In the middle photo is the beginning of a river, indicated by the white curved triangle, giving the appearance of the river coming toward you.

I definitely made mistakes, but was able to manage them pretty well. In the photo on the left, there is a light area that doesn’t look great, but I can live with it. I also left some large grassy-appearing areas in the foreground that I will make smaller by placing 3D trees on the layout in front of them. Placing trees on the layout is my next big project.

The section of backdrop in the photo on the left is my first attempt. It’s not great, and I changed it a little by painting pine trees in that appear closer, and adding rocks at the bottom. This one will again be doctored by placing trees and foliage in front of it. This one is on the right end of the layout, so it isn’t in a prominent spot. I’m happy with the other backdrops, and to me, there is an illusion of distance to the horizon. Structures, trees, and ground cover will blend the contrast between the rocky areas and the green backdrops.

Shading is an important part of painting backdrops. In any scene, whether in a photograph or a painting of landscapes, there is a source of light so there are light and shaded areas. As you can see on the painted pines, the left side is lighter, indicating light coming from the left. It also appears to give the tree a rounded shape. I used a small paint brush to blot the pine trees into existence. The individual pine trees in the center photo were made with a fan brush. The important thing to remember about indicating a light source is that it must be consistent throughout your backdrop paintings. You don’t want some areas appearing as if the sun is on the left, and others on the right.

Including roads and rivers in a backdrop is another challenge because, somehow, you have to make them appear they are coming toward you. This is accomplished by the use of a magical vanishing point. Perspective in drawing or painting is how objects are made to appear closer or more distant and still remain in proper size relation with each other. A road, for example, seems to disappear at the vanishing point, (which is why it’s called a vanishing point!), and comes toward you where it is widest, closest to you. You are looking at a flat painting, yet you see a road or river coming toward you. Magic!

I used perspective to paint a small cabin and a shed on the backdrop section in the left and center photos. The shed is smaller than the cabin. Vanishing points and shades of color were used on both structures, so instead of looking like flat squares, they appear to be 3D structures. Painting a curved road is a little tricky. You’re still moving it toward the vanishing point but adding a curve while still creating the illusion of distance away from you.

I didn’t want the Maple Valley river to end at the backdrop, so I had to paint the river, allowing it to vanish somewhere in the distance. For a rank amateur, I think it turned out pretty well! The wooden bridge nearest the backdrop will be a road connecting industries on either side of the river.

When all the painting was finished, the foam boards curved as a result of the paint drying and constricting. Ughhh! I didn’t want to just glue them on the wall because I was afraid they would come loose. So, lacking any other solution, I held each foam board, painted/curved toward me, put pressure on the back side and pushed until the foam board buckled. I did that about every two inches the entire length of the board. Result? The foam board was straight and the paint did not crack, miraculously. I was at the point of either total disaster, or breakthrough results. Luckily, the end result was great. I used hot glue to fasten the foam boards to the cinder block wall, and they are secured tightly.

Finally, as I mentioned in Part 1, there are several YouTube videos demonstrating backdrop painting that were very helpful. I am including a list, and I encourage you to watch them if you are considering painting your own backdrops.

How To Paint Model Railroad Backdrops with Rob Spangler – YouTube

Model Railroad Adventures with Bill E103 – The Joys of Painting (A Backdrop 😄) by Request – YouTube

Painting a Model Railroad Backdrop – YouTube

Learn How to Paint Mountains – Acrylic Painting Lesson by JM Lisondra – YouTube

Paint Basic Rocks by Stream – YouTube (I watched this one over and over again!)

If you search “Painting Model Railroad Backdrops” you will find dozens of examples.

I wish you luck in your efforts to paint your own model railroad backdrops!

How I Painted Backdrops for My Model Railroad – Part 1

First, let’s get this straight. I am not an artist (and maybe you’ll agree when you look carefully at the photos of my backdrops.) The only time I have ever taken an art class was in the 7th grade. Mr. Nagle gave me good grades for my drawings but my interest in art didn’t grow. I have an uncle who is an incredible artist and taught art for many years. Our daughter is a gifted artist, and also teaches art. The talent skipped a generation.

My HO scale model railroad, The Maple Valley Short Line, is the most detailed layout I have ever created. It’s also the largest. The layout is shelf-style, twenty-one feet long, three feet wide in the middle sections, four feet-seven inches on the ends. The layout is still a long way from completion and I have already been working on it for three years. This layout includes my first attempt at painting backdrops.

The walls of my train room are cinder-block. I first painted the walls white, thinking that would probably be enough, as I did the same thing in my last train room. As my layout progressed, I realized I wasn’t going to be satisfied with white walls as a backdrop. Our daughter offered to paint the backdrops for me, but I was determined to do it myself. If it turned out terrible, I would live with it, somehow. If it turned out great, then so be it.

I first considered painting directly on the walls, but decided the mortar seams between the blocks would be too obvious. So, my next task was deciding what kind of material to use as a canvas. I bought poster-size thick paper but my daughter said it would buckle. I decided to use foam-board. I had no idea how foam board would respond to acrylic paint, but I knew I didn’t want to mess with oils.

I didn’t trust my artistic imagination enough to come up with convincing mountain scenes, so I went to the single greatest source of everything you can possibly need. Google. Since my layout has a rocky/mountainous landscape, I used photos of the Smoky Mountains as my examples to paint. I was not surprised there are innumerable pics of mountains on Google, but I wanted a particular look with mountain ranges close up and miles away. I found fifteen, or so, pictures I was happy with and used them as my inspiration.

I first tried laying paper over my computer screen and tracing the outline of the mountains. That idea didn’t last long. I was left with freehand sketching, which is what I was most afraid of, and for good reason. I have battled with essential tremors for many years, and they seem to be getting worse. I’m left handed, but had to teach myself to be right-handed. I was not at all certain I could do anything more than make a mess, painting with my right hand. Through a combination of left and right-hand painting, I was able to get the job done. Some trees look better with my left hand, others look better with my right. I don’t know.

A great decision I made was cutting the foam board to follow the outline of the most distant mountain range, leaving enough space to paint sky above it. To get the desired effect, I had to be sure the outlines of the mountains were NOT consistent with each other. For the right effect, there has to be an appearance of distance between the mountains, which is accomplished by the shades and darkness of the paint colors. Lightest colors are the most distant mountains, darkest are the closest. Tree detail is most visible close-up, detail fades as distance increases.

How did I learn all of this? Through the miracle of YouTube! You can learn almost anything on YouTube! I watched many videos of people painting backdrops. (I have to say, however, there are many unhelpful videos in which the person spends most of the time talking rather than demonstrating. And still other videos are more an example of how not to be a comedian than how to paint a backdrop.) Enough complaining.

In the videos I learned there are several colors consistently used for backdrops. Raw Umber, Permanent Black, Cerulean Blue, Hookers Green, Raw Sienna, Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow, and Matte Fluid Medium, which is used to thin and make the paint go farther. You will also use several plastic containers with lids, and several different kinds of paint brushes.

The secret to painting great backdrops is believing you can do it, then working with the colors until the mixtures are exactly what you want. Be patient, don’t try to paint too much at one time. Give the layers plenty of time to dry. Keep the vision of what your layout will look like in front of you.

In the next post, I will include the details of how to paint in layers and how to make distance come alive in your backdrops.