In a previous post, I wrote about scratch-building small cabins with balsa wood. By trial and error, sometimes resulting in more error than success, I filled in the window frames without actually making windows. I simply framed the space and added some trim.
I decided to try my hand at building paned windows that I could make in advance and pop them in place as I’m building new structures.
I first drew a template I could use repeatedly. A fellow modeler suggested covering templates with wax paper to prevent glued pieces from sticking to the template. Brilliant! (I then remembered my uncle building a plane from balsa and using wax paper to protect the template.)
I measured the windows on several of my plastic structures and many of them are about the same size, 3 x 5 on the HO scale ruler. I drew pane lines evenly across the window space.
I cut strips of thin balsa about 3mm wide and glued them together on the template. I use very small balsa material for the panes. I first painted the balsa and stood the pieces in a jar for drying. I cut the pane material just wider than the frame width and length. I glued the horizontal pieces to the frame, then put a spot of glue on the panes and the frame to hold the veritcal piece in place.
I think these windows look pretty good for a first attempt. They might still be a little large for HO scale, but not by much.
My first idea was to use two layers of framing and glue the pane material between them. That didn’t work well. The frames were too thick. After the glue has dried, I cut the trim back leaving a more realistic appearance.
After framing the walls, I drop the finished windows in place, gluing them to the studs. I then finish the walls by adding siding. Once the four walls are completed, I trim the edges for a smooth fit and glue them together.
I’m hooked on making these little cabins. I’m getting better at framing more quickly, and I build a few at a time. On recent models, I included the gables with the wall framing, making roofing easier. I don’t enjoy making roof trusses.
This frame is going to be a retail space on the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad. The large window and double door looks great. It may become the Ya’ll Sit Cafe in Maple Valley, owned by Shorty and Hannah Cloverton. (They’re the ones – among several others – who were sued for the unfortunate demise of Mrs. Madeline Overweist after a bat landed on her face outside the cafe.) The BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team is still working on the problem.
This is a template I recently finished for a larger scratch built structure. The building will be a two-story model with a first-floor extra room and a shed attachment. The numbers on the template correspond with measurements on the HO scale ruler.
Scratch building is a lot of fun. I have always enjoyed the scenery-building process of model railroading almost as much as running trains.
I am really looking forward to finding out what happened with the lawsuit brought against several prominent members of the Maple Valley town council. The lawfirm of Skellson & Skellson served Shorty Cloverton with the suit at the Ya’ll Sit Cafe a few days before Christmas.
One thing is certain. The Scandal at Maple Valley is not over. Not by a long shot.
Sheriff Pete walked into the Ya’ll Sit Cafe on Monday morning, just like he does every week. Something felt different. He didn’t know what it was, but he had the eerie sense he should sit by the door instead of taking his usual seat at the counter.
“Good morning, Hannah!” he said.
Hannah Cloverton looked up but said nothing.
Pete noticed a few people turned to look at him. He knew them and nodded. Nothing.
He picked up a copy of the Maple Valleyan and was surprised to see his name on the front page. “Questions Swirl Around Sheriff Terkinberry” the headline read in bold letters. “What is this?!” he almost said outloud.
Hannah startled him and Pete dropped the paper face down. “Do you want to order, Sheriff Terkinberry?” Hannah asked.
Pete saw a stranger in his friend’s eyes. “Hannah, you haven’t ever called me ‘Sheriff Terkinberry’. What’s going on?”
“Would you like to order now?” she asked.
“Yes, Hannah, I’ll have the same thing I’ve had every Monday morning since the first time I came in for breakfast twelve years ago.”
“What would that be, Sheriff?” Hannah Cloverton asked.
“Hannah, what is going on? Are you okay? Is something wrong?” Pete asked.
“No, sir, why do you ask?”
“Why do I ask? Are you kidding me? You just called me ‘Sir’!”
“Sheriff Terkinberry, would you like something to eat, or not?”
“Yes. I’ll have two scrambled eggs with onion, bacon, hashbrowns, toast, and coffee. Please,” Pete said, perturbed.
Hannah wrote the order down as if she hadn’t heard it a hundred times before and might forget. She left without saying anything more and returned to the kitchen.
Pete picked up the paper once again and started reading.
“Questions regarding the behavior of Sheriff Pete Terkinberry have residents of Maple Valley concerned. A confidential source told this reporter, ‘Sheriff Pete Terkinberry allows people to see him in his boxer shorts.’ This reporter asked, point blank, ‘How confident are you that Terkinberry wears boxers? Could you be mistaken?’ My source responded, ‘I don’t make mistakes like this.’
“Outrage has swept across this town. With tourist season just a few weeks away, shock, dismay, and horror are words that have been spoken in the wake of this devastating news.
“Questions roar in everyone’s mind. Will Sheriff Pete Terkinberry resign? Will he be removed from office? Will the town council act quickly enough to repair the tattered remains of this battered community.
“This reporter has been on the front lines of news for several months. I can tell you, without equivocation, this has shaken Maple Valley to its core.
“I’m on the scene for you. Derk Quimberz, reporter, The Maple Valleyan.”
Someone grabbed Pete Terkinberry’s shoulder and shook him. “Pete!! Pete!!”
Pete opened his eyes and was surprised to see his own bedroom, with Alvin Thrashborn standing over him.
“Are you alright?! You were yelling about someone named Derk Quimberz! Who is that?!” Alvin asked.
“What are you doing here?!” Pete yelled.
“Don’t you remember? We were supposed to go fishing this morning. I banged on the door but you didn’t answer, then I heard you yelling, so I came in. Your door was unlocked.” Alvin said.
“It’s always unlocked.” Pete said, sitting on the edge of his bed, trying to find his way through the fog.
“Get up, we have an appointment with several big bass,” Alvin said, walking out of the room.
“Who is Derk Quimberz?!” Alvin yelled from the kitchen.
“I don’t know! Some reporter who doesn’t like boxer shorts!”
Everyone in model railroading, from those just getting started with the first circle of track to those seasoned folks with several layouts under their belts know how easy it is to quickly spend a lot of money.
Swap meets can be a model railroader’s best friend.
I love going to model railroad swap meets. It can be overwhelming with so much to see and choices to make. The good meets have rows and rows of tables with a wide variety of gauges from N scale to G and everything in between.
Just because it’s a swap meet does not mean prices are going to be rock bottom. You have to patiently search to find those great deals. There are many displays with folks who regularly do train shows. Some prices are no different than can be found in local hobby shops.
Yesterday, I attended the Railroad Days Train Show in Durand, Michigan. This is an annual event, but this was the first time for me, so I didn’t know what to expect. The show was held at the Durand Middle School. I couldn’t believe the number of cars in the parking lot!
We paid the five dollar entrance fee and started hunting. I already have plenty of locomotives and rolling stock. (I know that sounds like blasphemy, but my shelf-style 21 x 4 feet layout just won’t realistically hold any more.) I have more buildings than I can use. What I need most is junk. It’s the stuff lying around that makes scenes look realistic. Old tires, rusted bicycles, piles of broken pallets, window frames, and paint cans. Junk.
As I was about to enter the second large room of vendors, I spotted the treasure I was looking for. A box of junk for $5.00. I couldn’t believe it! I could see right away this was the find of the day. I thought it would be rude to dig through it, so I handed the owner a five dollar bill and thanked him before he could change his mind.
The first chance I had, I carefully searched through the items and everything convinced me I had struck gold!
I don’t run long passenger cars on my layout, so the four packages of car diaphragms will probably not be used, at least not for their intended purpose. Piled against the side of a building they will look terrific. I’ll improvise a spot for the elevated conveyor system. The little caboose-shed will look great with a little bit of weathering.
The small stationary crane is fantastic! Hidden down in the box were eleven small sheds including two outhouses! Scenery treasures!
A sandwich bag was packed with wheels, trucks, couplers and other junk. Some of the trucks are spring loaded. This load of stuff will be perfect for the engine house yard.
I have been making my own windows for the cabins I’m scratch-building. I found several packages of HO scale windows!
The barrels, tanks, and other items are metal. Just the stack of barrels is $12 at the hobby shop! The box of stuff got better with each item I pulled out.
One of the things I was looking for at the model railroad swap meet was vintage automobiles and trucks. I’m modeling the 50’s era, so finding the right vehicles at a good price requires some diligent searching. Once again, I uncovered a treasure!
I was a little kid on Christmas morning! A ’56 Ford T-Bird, a ’59 Chevy El Camino, a 40’s delivery truck, a ’57 Chevy Bel-Air, a 40’s Buick police car, and a ’55 Chevy Bel-Air Sport Coupe. The T-Bird, El Camino, and the ’55 Bel-Air are metal. Beautiful! (These were not in the junk box. The vehicles were purchased from a retired middle school teacher/assistant principal. It was great fun talking with him and he gave me a fantastic deal!)
The police car is especially important. Pete Terkinberry, the Sheriff of Kertok County, who lives in Maple Valley, has been using his own car for county duties. The police car was purchased from the Chicago Police Department when they ordered all new vehicles. Sheriff Terkinberry is looking forward to using a real police car to patrol Maple Valley and the surrounding area. The Maple Valley town council voted unanimously to purchase the used patrol car. They also approved the purchase of plane tickets for Sheriff Terkinberry and Mayor Alvin Thrashborn to fly to Chicago to retrieve the car and drive it back to Maple Valley.
Probably the discovery that was the most fun was this Maple Valley box car. My layout is the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad.
I plan to make Durand Railroad Days and the Model Railroad Swap Meet an annual event on my calendar!
Strong model railroad benchwork will guarantee stress-free HO scale, or your favorite scale, railroading for years to come.
Linn Westcott’s magazine-style book, “How to Build Model Railroad Benchwork” is a great resource for information about a solid structure for your trains and scenery. Whether you plan to use an open-grid style, or a table-top layout, Westcott’s book will be helpful to you.
Since my plywood sub-roadbed was only about a 1/4 inch wider on either side of my cork roadbed, it didn’t leave enough room for attaching the strips of cardboard for the foundation of my ground and rock scenery. I made it work, but I wished I had built it differently. I have not used open grid since then.
In my opinion, no model railroad is ever finished. At least not for me. There is always something more to do. I find that scenery and detail is just as fun as running trains. On this my third layout, I plan to use more detail than I ever have before.
Model railroading is a great learning experience. I have already made several mistakes on my third layout, but I’m not starting over. The most important mistake I made is the narrowest part of my benchwork is 36 inches. The ends are 54 inches. My original braces weren’t long enough so I had to attach additional 1×3 pieces to both sides so the brace arms to extend them to the edge of the bench. Leveling everything was a challenge. The two sides of the arm had to be level, and the brace itself had to be level with the next brace arm, and so on.
Keeping in mind that model railroad benchwork is the foundation of future enjoyment will carry you through the tedious tasks.
Attaching the braces to the cement block wall was tough. But they’re not going anywhere. I used an impact driver and 1/4 inch cement screws that are 3 1/2 inches long. I went through several drill bits. I drilled through the 2×2 inch leg brace with a wood bit that made a mark on the white cement block. I then used the cement drill bit to make the hole. The impact driver fastened the legs to the wall very easily.
To accommodate my choice of 26 inch radius curves on each end of the layout, the benchwork is 54 inches deep. I am pleased with my progress so far, but the benchwork really is too deep. Reaching across to work on scenery is going to be difficult, but I will manage.
When I was satisfied with the benchwork framing, it was time to put on the plywood sub-roadbed. I had some plywood pieces from my previous layout so I used them, plus some additional new 3/8 inch plywood. I measured and cut the plywood so the ends come together between the two sides of the 1×3 inch brace arms. I then drew lines on the plywood indicating the brace arms. After drilling counter-sink pilot holes I used 1 1/2 inch screws to fasten the plywood to the brace arms.
These are photos from my first shelf layout. It was only 24 inches wide in the middle, and just wide enough on the ends to hold a 22 inch radius curve. I run parallel mainlines so I can operate two trains simultaneously.
My next post will include details about applying sheets of foam to the plywood.
I started working on my backdrop factory two years ago. I don’t have enough space on my layout to use the factory as a free-standing kit. I started by cutting the pieces down so they could be glued together side-by-side. I have four inches of space between the wall and the rail siding.
I was not satisfied with making the factory a totally flat backdrop, so I brought the center portion out three inches for depth and so I could put lights inside the building. Gluing the pieces together was the easy part, especially because of the terrific industrial backdrop painting I purchased to go behind the factory.
Building the backdrop factory included a lot of starts and stops. I stood the pieces up against the wall so I could imagine how the factory should look. The most obvious feature of the factory is windows. I decided to block many of them.
I finally decided to tackle the backdrop factory job once and for all. I glued the remaining pieces together, leaving the factory at a whopping fifty inches long. My decision to include an array of lights meant I had to figure out how to display them from various windows offering separate views. I didn’t want to just put a light bulb behind the facade and hope for the best.
I have lots of wires and lights from my previous layout. I first had to refresh my understanding of wiring lights in series or parallel. I have a few bulbs that are 6v, most are 12v. My accessory power supply is 12v, so I wired 6v bulbs in a series of two, dividing the voltage in half. All the other bulbs are wired parallel.
Here’s an over-simplified explanation. Light fixtures have a positive and negative lead. In series, the fixtures are wired lead to lead, the beginning wire and the last wire are connected to negative and positive leads from the power source. Every light bulb drops the power feed by the voltage of the bulb, saving 6v bulbs from being burned out by a 12v feed.
In parallel, all negative and positive leads from each bulb are connected to the negative and positive feeds from the power source. Hint: That doesn’t mean if you have twelve bulbs you have twenty-four feeds going to the power source. The negative wires can be connected together, and the positive, then connected by two feeds to the power source. This is still parallel wiring. When wired parallel, each of the 12v bulbs will receive the same power from the source.
I love foam board! I pondered ways to make the light sources appear different so the windows don’t all look the same. I decided to make small boxes out of foam board and glue them to the back of the factory backdrop.
I still was not satisfied with just putting lights in different size white boxes. I thought about painting the inside with varying colors. Nope, not good enough. I decided to print color pictures of factory and workshop interiors and glue them to the inside of the boxes. So, the entire box interior is colorful.
It wasn’t until after I glued the boxes in place that I realized I blocked too many of the windows and it was almost impossible to see the beautiful interiors of the lighted boxes. So, I cut open the boxes from the back and took out some of the material covering the windows.
After taping light fixtures and wiring in place on the back of the factory boxes, it was time to test the lights for the first time. I was pleased to see every bulb working perfectly. I stood the backdrop factory up and looked in the windows. Beautiful! Granted, the windows have small panes, and the backdrop factory will stand against the wall on the back of the layout, so it will be difficult to see detail, but I know it’s there.
I securely taped all the wiring connections and also connected two long leads to the positive and negative feeds to the lighting system. I fed the two leads through the layout bench surface to be connected to the power source below.
One area of the factory backdrop has a blank brick wall that needed something. I printed some 1:87 scale signs. I rubbed the color print with sand paper to “weather” the signs. I cut several of them out and glued them to the wall.
The top of the boxes glued to the back of the facade provided nice support for the foam board roof that I made for the backdrop factory. I mixed some light gray and black acrylic paint with some matte medium and painted the rooftop. It was now time to permanently place the backdrop factory on the layout.
The Maple Valley Short Line Railroad is coming together. I still have a long way to go, but when I look back at all the photos from the beginning, it’s amazing how good the layout looks. The addition of the backdrop factory is an important accomplishment.
Model railroading starts with a fascination with trains. I guess that’s obvious. But why trains? What are trains? Aren’t they just huge semi-trucks with steel wheels instead of rubber, rolling on rails instead of roads? There are one, two, maybe five or six or more incredibly large engines, pulling anywhere from ten to one hundred and more huge cars loaded with items bound for destinations around the world.
Why not model semi-trucks? Does anyone have a “layout” made of winding roads full of trucks pulling trailers? I don’t think so, or maybe. But millions of model railroaders build layouts, large and small, with tracks carrying scale engines pulling scale trains. G scale, O scale, S, HO, N, and tiny Z scale provide a very wide range of opportunities for enthusiasts to live in their fascination with trains.
A model railroad is a work of art that begins with a blank canvass. The canvass may be a room measuring twenty-one feet by seven feet, like my own train room where I am building a shelf-style model railroad. It may be a larger room with only enough space for a four by eight feet layout. The important thing is the canvass is anywhere you choose, and will hold any dream you build.
Building a model railroad is identical to writing a novel, only different. Some people begin writing a novel with an idea but the characters are born and develop as the story is created. Other writers know their characters inside and out before the first word is penned. Still others begin with a blank sheet of paper and the story and characters create themselves. Sometimes characters do things the writer didn’t expect. Main characters become belligerent and demand freedom to change story lines on their own. Model railroads do that, too.
My Maple Valley Short Line demanded benchwork that would be strong enough to carry my own weight. I’m not a small man, so that was no easy task. The wall brackets were fastened to the cement blocks with three-inch masonry screws, after I drilled pilot holes in the wall. The drill bits in my impact driver had to be changed after drilling just three holes.
I attached the brackets to the wall leaving no more than twenty-four inches of space between them, which increased the strength of the bench. These brackets were used on a previous layout which was only twenty-four inches deep at the center. This layout is thirty-six inches deep at the middle, so the bracket arms had to be lengthened. I chose to attach a 1 x 3 inch board to each side of the arms, making sure the boards were tight against the wall, increasing arm stability. To provide even more stength, I attached a 2 x 2 inch support between each bracket, making sure each was level with the top of the bracket arm.
A good novel has layers of subplots adding suspense and apprehension about what the resolution might bring. Model railroads do the same. A layer of 3/8 inch plywood was added and attached to the bracket arms as the base of the layout. A layer of 1 1/2 inch extruded foam became the visible base. This is the same kind of insulating foam builders use in new house construction. Foam is a popular base as it makes attaching additional layers easy. I attached the foam pieces to the plywood with Liquid Nails.
When the base layer of foam was securely fastened in place, the obvious next step in the story was to build a bridge. Ahh, the first subplot. Who could have known the Maple Valley Short Line included mountains and a river when only a flat pink surface was visible? Every artist sees far beyond the simple strokes with which a masterpiece begins.
After completing a perfectly wonderful bridge, the next logical step was to build a larger trestle-style bridge, and then another. At this point in the story, characters begin to ask questions of the writer who created them. They start conversations with each other without asking permission.
In a novel plot there is a rise in the action. Trains will have to rise four inches to the height of the bridge decks. The solution to the problem of taking trains from the surface of the layout to the deck of a bridge is styrofoam risers. Grade percentage is an important consideration when choosing a riser. I wanted my locomotives to be able to pull many cars to four inches without difficulty. The result is sixteen feet of 2% grade. However, reaching the bridge height is not the only problem. Bringing the trains back down to the surface is also necessary, requiring another sixteen feet of 2% grade. Problem solved.
The next task was digging a river in the foam so the trestle-bridge would look terrific spanning it. Having never done it before, I decided the best way to create a river was to just start hacking away at the foam with a utility blade. I scraped, sliced, pealed, scratched, dug, and gouged until I was somewhat satisfied with the appearance of my foam riverbed.
I had to be careful to dig out a convincing river without exposing the plywood, so I only had 1 1/2 inches to use. I then used plaster-saturated paper towel to line and shape the riverbed, making sure the plaster material was thick enough to seal the surface and prevent epoxy from seeping through.
For a couple of months, I battled with how best to secure the trestle-bridge to the riverbed. I tried to avoid cutting down to the plywood, but ultimately for fool-proof stability, I did just that. I held the trestle in place and marked where the posts touched the riverbed. I then cut a rectangle a quarter inch wide, and just longer than the width of the posts. I glued basswood pieces, one at a time, in each of the gaps until they were the exact height needed to support the trestle. I was pleased to find the trestle rested securely on the footings. I glued the trestle permanently in place.
At this point in the novel, the characters were behaving themselves predictably. They stood back and let me do the work. The risers were finished, the trestle was rock solid. All eyes were on the process of laying cork roadbed on the track lines. I am suspicious when characters are quiet. Sometimes I don’t trust them, but please, don’t tell anyone I said that. Every writer and model railroader knows the thin line we walk between working a plan and a plan working us.
I avoid things I’m worried about. I’ll put them off until I can’t go on without dealing with the problems first. I don’t like being backed into a corner. When my plot included rise and fall, which all good plots do, I was trapped by the need for realistic gradual fall-away from the top of the risers to the surface. This is the point where I started listening closely to ideas from the characters. Some of them were stupid. Others caught my attention. Finally, a solution was found.
I cut strips of cardboard twelve to fourteen inches long. To determine the height of the strips, I measured the height of the riser from the point where cardboard would be attached, to the point it would end. On the cardboard, I marked the shorter measurement on one end, and marked the longer measurement on the other. I drew a line between the two points. I cut the carboard one inchbeyondbut parallel to the line. The extra inch creates a gradual, more realistic, fall-away from the top of the riser.
I placed the strip on the floor, then using the corner of a piece of 2 x 2 to hold it tight, I pulled the length of the strip under the corner edge of the wood to crush the cardboard cells. This makes the cardboard more flexible, especially helpful on curves. I then folded the the carboard on the line.
On straight sections of track, using masking tape, I secured the straight edge to the top of the riser. I taped the angled edge to the foam surface. If I was not happy with the angle, I repeated the process, but increased the height measurement until the fall-away angle met my approval.
On curves, there are a couple more steps. On the straight edge of the cardboard, I make a cut one quarter each deep, every half inch, the length of the cardboard strip. On the angled edge, I cut an inverted “V” about an inch and one half deep. This allows the cardboard to follow the curve and still maintain the same fall-away angle from the top of the riser.
When the cardboard was secured, it was now time for huge sloppy messes. Lots and lots of them. But that is a story for another day.
Sheriff Pete Terkinberry is determined to find out what happened to Sylvia Meisner. She disappeared several months ago. Her car was found under Three Tower Bridge, completely destroyed by fire. No evidence of any use was found in, on, or near the car.
In December, while a crew of volunteers was hanging Christmas lights on the bridge, three letters were found scratched into the timbers. D-S-L. The group didn’t think much of it, one suggested the letters might be someone’s initials. A few days later, one of the volunteers talked to the sheriff and told him about the letters.
Sheriff Terkinberry went out to the bridge and climbed the timber. Sure enough, the letters, D-S-L were found, carved into the wood. He could tell the wood had been cut recently.
Then, just before Christmas, a plate of cookies was left on the front porch of five homes in town, including the sheriff and Mayor Alvin Thrashborn. A card was attached to the wrapping on each plate. On the cards were written the letters, D-S-L.
After Christmas, Sheriff Terkinberry made a big mistake. He asked the good folks of Maple Valley to help him with a “small project.” Without telling them the significance, he asked them to suggest what the letters D-S-L might mean to them. Big mistake.
Reading the suggestions reminded the sheriff of watching a game show called “Are You Crazy?” where the clue is “Opens a door” and the contestant says, “Pudding!”
Pete Terkinberry was standing at the kitchen sink in his boxer shorts when someone ran in the back door.
“Don’t stop looking!!” Vee Burthrap yelled at the top of her lungs.
“Vee, what are you doing?! Pete yelled, scrambling for his pants.
“Don’t stop looking!” Vee yelled again. “Don’t stop looking!”
“What in the world are you talking about, Vee?!”
“The letters on the bridge! Don’t stop looking! D, S, L! Don’t stop looking!”
Sheriff Terkinberry sat down at the table and rubbed his face with his hands, trying to wake himself from a bad dream.
“Vee, thanks for your help, I really appreciate it. But, don’t stop looking is not what the letters mean. I’m sorry.”
“How do you know?” Vee asked.
“Sylvia has been missing for seven months. No one, not one person has heard anything from her. I’m sorry, but I think we have to assume, at this point, something terrible has happened to Sylvia,” the sheriff said.
“But what about the plates of cookies?” Vee Burthrap asked.
“What cookies? What are you talking about?” trying to dissuade Vee from asking any more questions.
“Quintin told me he got a plate of cookies before Christmas, and so did you and Alvin, and a note with the letters D-S-L written on it,” Vee answered.
“Quintin wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about that,” Pete said softly.
“Why not!” Vee hollered.
“Vee, listen, someone is playing games. Cruel games. I didn’t want anyone to know about the cookies and the message because I need to find out who did it. And when I do, I’m going to find a reason to charge them with disturbing the peace,” the sheriff said.
Vee sat down at the table, suddenly realizing perhaps the sheriff was right.
“Can I offer you some coffee?” Pete asked.
“No, thanks,” Vee said quietly.
“Vee, we’re going to get to the bottom of this. One way or another we’re going to find out what happened to Sylvia. I would like nothing more than to believe she is going to come back to us, but with every day that passes, I think it’s less likely.”
Vee Burthrap stood, and without saying another word, left Pete Terkinberry’s kitchen.
I recently discovered a surprising fact on my model railroad. I don’t have enough trees! After setting about thirty more pine trees, I took a good look over my scenery, and, sure enough, I have to make more trees.
Thanks to so many great modelers who post terrific videos on YouTube, I have learned how to easily make amazing looking trees in a relatively short amount of time. I use Luke Towan’s procedure for making floral wire trees, but mine are a little less detailed than his, which works fine for me.
I use 26 gauge, green floral wire. A word of caution, even though 26 gauge is not stiff, the ends are still sharp and will easily poke into your skin if you’re not careful!
You can tell this floral wire is quite old – $1.57 at Walmart. I recently paid about $2.50 for a two-hundred fifty foot roll.
Cut 14 pieces of wire, about 13 inches long. (If you want your tree trunks to be thicker, use more wire. But remember, more wires will make them more difficult to twist.
Fold the wires in half.
3. While gripping the end, and placing your index finger between the two strands of wire, begin twisting the two strands together tightly. (Since the wire is so thin, the twisted wires will easily hold their shape.) As you can see on the HO scale ruler, the trunk of this tree will be about 14 feet tall.
4. Divide the wire ends into three strands, approximately the same number of wires in each.
5. Twist the three strands individually, making three main branches. (If you want to have more branches from the trunk, separate the wires into smaller groups before twisting them.) My branches on this part of the tree will be about eight feet long.
6. Divide the wires coming from the three main branches into two strands, each with approximately the same number of wires.
7. Twist the new strands of wire, making smaller branches. Using this example, you now have six smaller branches extending higher into the tree.
8. Fold the end of each strand back over the branch, leaving a loop on the end. While holding the loop tightly, and holding the wires against the branch, twist the loop so the wire ends wrap around the branch.
9. Repeat the process for each of the strands of wires.
10. Using a good hobby wire-clipper, cut each of the loop strands. 11. Using a pair of pliers, grip the wire ends and twist into small branches. (Some of the wire pieces may come off, but that’s okay. 12. Adjust the branches until you’re happy with the look of the tree. 13. Using the pliers, grip the bottom loop of the trunk and flatten it. (Luke Towan, on his Boulder Creek Railroad Tutorials, cuts this loop and creates roots which will be secured in place on the layout with plaster. You may want to use that detail as well. I choose to drill a hole and glue the trunk in place.)
14. When you are satisfied with the shape of your trees, it’s time to cover them with liquid latex rubber. I purchased this jar at craft supply store. Using a small paint brush, cover the entire tree with latex. Once dry, you will want to add at least one more coat to the trunk and heavy branches to reduce any chance of wires showing through.
You are nearing the end of the project, and you can already see your trees are looking great! Just a few more steps and they’ll be ready for placement in your model railroad scenery.
15. I use Acrylic Burnt Umber to paint the entire tree. I have several here that are ready for foliage.
16. I have used a couple brands of spray adhesive, but am happiest with the results of this brand. Wearing latex gloves, spray the branches of the trees, being careful not to get spray on the tree trunks.
17. While the spray is still wet, dip your tree into a bag of foam foliage. Twist the trunk in the foam, and pinch the foliage onto the branches. Shake the excess foam loose and set your completed tree aside. Do the same process with each of your prepared trees.
This is an easy way to make lots of great looking trees for your layout. I will have to make many more until I’m completely sure my model railroad, The Maple Valley Short Line, is fully saturated with trees.
When you’re making plans to build a model railroad, scenery is going to be a big part of it. If you want your layout to be at all convincing, and I can’t imagine starting a project like this without deciding to make it as realistic as possible, trees are going to play a huge role.
If your benchwork is already complete and your track is in place, now is the time to start planting trees. That is, if you already know where your buildings are going to be. You have spent plenty of time in the hobby shop, and you know tree kits are quite expensive. If you don’t plan to use a lot of trees, maybe a tree kit from the hobby shop will work fine. Otherwise, you’ll want to find trees at swap meets – the model railroader’s best friend.
I was lucky enough to find two complete pine tree kits, about thirty trees all together. The first job is to twist the tree armatures as they are flat in the kit. I hold the top with a pair of pliers, and twist the trunk until I’m happy with the look.
As you can see, the trees have a small tip on the trunk. They come with a plastic base, allowing you to stand the trees without making them permanent. Don’t bother with the stands. You want your trees to be permanent.
The kits come with a bag of dark green foliage. Many of my conifers are covered with a home-made light colored foam. I prefer the lighter color to the dark foliage in the kits. I have many trees of both.
When I finish twisting the trees, it’s time to spray them with adhesive. I only spray as many as I can complete in a few minutes, while the spray is still wet. Yes, the adhesive is still sticky when it dries, but it works a lot better if the adhesive is wet.
After I spray the branches, being careful not to spray the lower part of the trunk, I dip the tree into the foliage bag and squeeze the foam onto the tree. I shake off the excess and the tree is finished.
I completed all of the trees in the photo in about an hour.
My layout has semi-mountainous, rocky scenes with both conifer and deciduous trees. I planted most of the deciduous trees in areas where my houses and buildings are. The mid-section of the Maple Valley Short Line is an industrial area with a few trees along the painted backdrop of hills and trees.
I made many of my deciduous trees with floral wire. They are easy to make, and anyone can do it. I start with fifteen pieces of 26 gauge floral wire, about 12″ long. Wire length determines the height of the trees. Holding all the wires together, I fold them in half. Then I twist the folded end, making a tight loop. I separate the wire ends into branches of about five or six wires each, leaving about 1 1/2″ of twisted wires as the tree trunk. I twist the branches tightly, leaving about two inches at the ends. I then fold the branch ends in half and twist them, making a loop. I cut the wire loops, making the ends of the branchs.
I twist the heavy loop at the bottom of the tree as tightly as I can with a pair of pliers. I then use pliers to crush the loop, leaving a straight trunk. Some modelers divide the wire pieces at the end of the trunk to make roots that will sit above ground and be secured in place with plaster. I choose not to do that. Instead, because I use 1 1/2″ extruded foam as a base for my layout, I simply poke a small hole in the foam where I want the tree to be planted.
When I’m happy with the shape of the tree, I paint the entire tree with latex. More than one coat is needed on the trunk and large branches to cover the twisted wire. After the latex dries, I paint the tree with burnt umber acrylic paint. Then I follow the same procedure I use with the tree kits.
I poked holes in the foam base, then marked the holes with a piece of balsa. Rather than planting one tree at a time, I found it easier to mark several holes and place four or five trees.
To permanently plant the trees, I first tried white glue. I immediately found the time it takes for the glue to even begin to dry is far too long. I decided to use a glue gun instead, and it works great. I simply apply hot glue to the base of the tree and plant it in a hole. About thirty seconds later I have a permanent tree, firmly planted.
So far, I have planted at least fifty or sixty trees on the Maple Valley Short Line. I can see it’s time to make more.