[Archive] Model Railroad Show Observations


I went to a model railroad show today to see how ‘the old timers’ create the terrain which they use to place their trains on. Not surprisingly, most of the methods they use are similar to the types used in creating scenery for wargaming, but there were a few things I picked up which I thought some people might find useful.

In order to create mountains and hills, they used high density foam. However, one difference I noticed was that the high density stuff was only used for a base piece above the plywood base, and for the final layer onto which the texturing was applied. For the interim layers, it seemed that any cheap styrofoam material was used, purely as a gap-filler. I’ve never seen that done before, and think it coud save a few dollars in the long run.

Also, as a way to create surface texture and disguise any joints between layers of foam, they’d use a mixture they would create by taking the layers of paper off the front and back of ceiling tiles - NOT the fibreglass type, the mulch-paper stuff - which was shredded and to which glue was added. This made an almost putty-like consistency which was then applied to the landscape - it dries really hard and very light, and very natural and organic-looking. To create sedimentary layers, a trowel was used to drag horizontally across the material, and tapping into it occassionally for irregularity. Painted and drybrushed, it looks great - add some flock or static grass and it looked really good.

All the landscapes are done as sections - they are so big, there’s no way they could ever be done as a single piece. Differently from wargames tables, the bases were included in the ‘modules’ of terrain - it seems that typically a wargames table is built and the terrain is placed on top. Might be an interesting thing to look at as a way to make an easily portable and tranportatable gaming surface.

However, the amount of scratch-building of structure all seemed to be kit-based - very few buildings were made from ‘scratch’ and even the non-stock buildings seemed to be textured with purchased textured plastic sheets instead of the custom methods you normally see used in warhammer terrain construction.

One thing I’ve got to say is that the attention to detail - and especially, the enhanced contrast and colour saturation used in painting most types of terrain for 28mm scale wargames - makes the wargames terrain a lot more dramatic and, in my opinion, better looking.

However, the electrics used in the railroad terrain were pretty amazing, and there are some of the fixtures (wall-mounted lanterns, etc…) which are very inexpensive and add a lot of character to the setting. I think that incorporating lighting like they do into a wargaming surface would be a great way to make it more dramatic and improve the look of the table. I really want to learn more about that for when I create a full sized table, instead of the 4’x4’ one I have presently.

Anyhoo, just a few observations. If there is a model railraod show going on near you, I’d recommend checking it out - you might also find an engine and some cars you could use to use to create your new Chaos Dwarf Steam Train!


Joking aside, it would be possible to use any sort of train to build a CD train ontop of.  You’d need to leave air vents so it didn’t get too hot (presuming they do get hot after a while).

I did once think of building a battlefield based on the dwarf underground train system, it wouldn’t have connected into a loop though.

Something I thought was interesting I’ve seen done before is using sheets of low density foam vertically, with gaps inbetween them, to form the basic shape of a hill.  Having the gaps makes it easier to cut out chunks for high level texturing.  Then you use plaster cloth to cover it, then plaster cast rocks or cork bark for detail texture.


re: they’d use a mixture they would create by taking the layers of paper off the front and back of ceiling tiles - NOT the fibreglass type, the mulch-paper stuff - which was shredded and to which glue was added.

There is a product I use regularly that is exactly this - its called Celluclay. It essentially ready to use papier mache. You take as much as you need, add water, and in seconds you can apply it. Its good stuff, but its only downside is that it shrinks a little as it dries. Its also very cheap. $6-10 Cdn will get you a box that will last ages for regular sized models and dioramas. If you’re doing table surfaces, maybe not so much.

Another cheap basing material used by regular scale modellers: florist sponge/foam. Get a brick of it, cut it to size, shape it then build your basing on top of that - ground clutter, etc.

Speaking of which: kitty litter is good as ballast, very cheap. Mix it with sand and you’ve got good instant earth basing. Instead of PVA glue to get it on the base, use Artist’s Acyrlic Matte Medium. Its thinking, dries clear and is much stronger. It isn’t cheap however ($15-20 Cdn)


Just read this line, and I think it might need a bit of clarification: “…they’d use a mixture they would create by taking the layers of paper off the front and back of ceiling tiles - NOT the fibreglass type, the mulch-paper stuff - which was shredded and to which glue was added.” Should read:

"…they’d use a mixture they would create by taking the layers of paper off the front and back of ceiling tiles - NOT the fibreglass type, the mulch-paper stuff - and taking the remaining interior fill material which was shredded and to which glue was added."

@GRNDL - Thanks for the tip about the Celluclay - the guys at the show were saying that creating this material was a really time consuming and labour intensive. Celluclay may be a solution!

Also, although most people used store-bought trees, the ones which were stratch-built were either wire-made, bulked out with florist tape, and then the foliage was added (prepurchased stuff). Other people used a type of weed which grows around here (the name escapes me) which look extremely tree-like when trimmed. However, the ones made with the limbs of this plant are extremely fragile. I’m thinking about going walking and picking up a few branches of this stuff and finding a way to make them more resilient - maybe by usung florist tape to make them stronger, or dipping them into white glue or maybe even latex housepaint a few times to strengthen them.


Np, yw. You can get Celluclay from Michaels in two sizes, IIRC.

Also useful for basing: dried spaghnum moss pot filler for flower arranging. I’ve used it as small bushes, and also if you mix it in with Celluclay and ballast, its good for roots, etc.


Hey! And I just got a 50% off anything in the store coupon from Michaels… maybe a drive to Kelowna is in order!

There’s a strange type of moss that grows on Pine trees around here, that I think will make great folliage for trees. It’s also a near-flourescent green, which looks suitably pollution-deformed.

Thanks for the tips!


Just a heads up on the price of Celluclay: At Michaels (a craft store here in canada) a 1lb box is $12.49 + tax, and a 5lb box is $34.99. I’ll be picking up the 5lb box - I got a 50% off coupon with the newspaper on Friday, making it extremely affordable!

Thanks for the tip - I’ve decided that this year I’m going to try my hand at scenery and landscape building, and this stuff sounds like just the ticket to get things happening!


Celluclay is pretty cool stuff - very versatile, IMO, especially if you have kids. Just remember that it will shrink a little AND try not to get it wet (ie: soaked) after its dry, it will begin to dissolve. Not drastically, though.


Just got back from picking up the Celluclay, and I’m looking forward to using it. And, it was 50% off, which was sweet! You can download Michael’s coupons@ www.flyerland.ca - the next time you need some supplies, check it out, it might save you some coin!

I’m thinking that it would be a great way to smooth out terrain features (like hiding seams between blocks of foam, etc…), and build smaller features. It also might take an impression from a rough stone if you wanted to texture it.

GRNDL, do you have any advice (or maybe some pictures of some work you’ve done) that I can look at, so I can get an idea of how to most effectively use it? If you did have any you could share, I’d really appreciate it - and any advice you could offer would be much appreciated!


I’m still learning to use it myself, so I don’t really have a lot to offer, but this page:

Snowy Groundwork and Brush (Modded from BK’s Method) – FichtenFoo

Is helpful. I learned about Celluclay from him, and much more. That guy is an amazing modeller and usually posts a lot of pics of the construction processes he uses. There’s a few models where he drops hints about how he uses Celluclay for bases.

In general:

1) create a general base from insulation or florist foam. (or just the plain base + polyfilla, etc) to shape it.
2) Mix up celluclay, optionally add ballast (sand, rock, kitty litter, etc)
3) paste on base. When less wet (ie: not wet on the surface, or slimy) use stiff brushes to damp down and shape the celluclay.
4) when dry (takes awhile, unfortunately), use matte medium/gel/PVA glue and sprinkle ballast/sand/etc.
5) finish base

Its worthwhile going through all this guy’s in-progress blogs. You WILL learn a lot. And its very inspirational.

Here’s a recent project I did with it:




I guess my best advice is don’t be afraid of it - experiment! Just mix up several batches of it and see what you can do with it. I basically use it like spackle/poly-filla.


Well, I think that this weekend might be the time to give this a try… the weather will probably suck, so craft time inside is a good way to keep everyone entertained and away from the television.

I’m thinking about building a modular table, but am a bit stuck on the size of the ‘modules’. I saw that the hardware store has 12"x12" ceramic tiles on sale for $0.49, and I thought that constructing something that was (tile base + blue foam + styrofoam ‘filler’ pieces + blue foam top + celluclay finish) might be a great wat to go. I’ve decided that: a) I need to be able to break the gaming surface down quickly for easy storage, b) It need to be able to have sufficient ‘height’ to dimensionalize well - so, for example, if I wanted to create a ‘pit’ I could cut down into the foam and actually make it look like a ‘pit’, and not a divot someone left while golfing, c) It needs to be re-arrangeable into lots of different configurations, d) Scatter terrain can go on the top (I found some 3" plastic hexigons at a dollar store which I’m planning on using for a base for tree stands, or similar)

I was initially going to use vinyl floor tiles as the base - because they are light, cheap, will offer rigidity, and I could actually cut them to let the terrain feature go right through the table - I’m thinking about creating a support grid, kind of like the type that supports a drop ceiling to support the individual tiles. Another idea is bolting old 15" LCD monitors to the bottom - facing up - to plug my laptop into and play animations of things like ‘evil swirling pit of death!’ or ‘lava pit’ or ‘whirlpool’, etc… which I think would be cool. I think that would look really cool. Might not happen (due to budget constraints) but still - a neat idea, I think, and pretty easy to do.

However, I think that a 12" tile might be too small, and was thinking about going 18".


Hashut’s Blessing:

12" is pretty good, actyally. It means that you can have any feature fairly central to it an allows you to break down the table for storage more simply. 18" is bad for any table size that isn’t a multiple of 3’.


I had wanted to do something modular, but the guess ranges put me off since it made guessing too easy. With all that gone it seems like an ideal way to go. Maybe mount them on something solid and heavy so they don’t move around during play, OSB or something similar is very cheap.


I was thinking about using tiles - especially since they are already 12" square, a uniform thickness, heavy(ish) AND on sale at the local DIY store for $0.49 each. It would save the hassle of any kind of table-saw work.

Thanks for the input!