Steven's Reviews > How to Build Realistic Model Railroad Scenery

How to Build Realistic Model Railroad Scenery by Dave Frary
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May 25, 12

bookshelves: model-railroading
Read in September, 2010

Laying tracks and getting the trains operating is the first step to having a satisfying model railroad layout, but it’s just the beginning. After that, there are structures to build and scenery to create. Structures usually come with instructions on how to put them together, and placing them on the layout is relatively straightforward, since most buildings are essentially a rectangular solid (or slight variant thereof). But making landscape scenery, such as bushes, trees, mountains, tunnels, and heck even track ballast, is not as straightforward. Most of the supplies, like bags of ballast or packs of plaster wrap, come with minimal, or sometimes no, instructions, and frequently following the instructions exactly will make your job harder. Dave Frary’s book is a boon for those of us who would like to make nice landscapes but don’t know how. He’s been doing this for decades, and he knows all the tricks of the trade. This book is packed with hints, such as the idea of putting a layer of sculptamold on top of plaster cloth material to strengthen it.

This book takes the mystery out of model railroad scenery. Dave guides you step by step through the process of making “hardshell” (the surface for your scenery) for mountains and hills, making realistic looking grass, fields, ballast, and foliage, making trees, making water. Just about any landscape item that might occur to you is listed in the book with detailed instructions on how to make it. He has step-by-step pictures for some of the items (though not all), and gives away lots of “trade secrets” that will enhance your modeling experience. Perhaps most useful is the array of variant approaches Dave offers. He spends the most space and goes into the most detail of his favorite methods, but he explains how to do the other methods as well, in case you prefer trying a different one (or have to, based on available materials). He also warns you which procedures are messy or hazardous and how to avoid accidents with each product.

This book is accessible, and written to appeal to just about anyone who is interested in model railroad scenery. It’s probably too basic for highly experienced or veteran modelers, but even so can provide a valuable reference book (“What was the recommended water to sculptamold ratio again? Dave will know!”). And it’s extremely useful for those of us just starting out, because of how methodical the explanations tend to be. When you have graduated past ovals of track on the dining room table and are ready to move on to making scenery, Dave’s book is an excellent first step.
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