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Model Railroad Scenery


Model railroad scenery is one of the most important aspects of building a model railroad.

Note that the word railroad and railway are interchangeable in many parts of the world.  Here is a listing of helpful hints:

(1)  Do not select large model railway or railroad buildings if your layout is smaller than 4 ft x 8ft.  Although your buildings are to scale, the horizontal distance that the train moves is most often not.  For example, if the train travels in a straight line a distance of 3 feet across the model train track, this represents a distance of 87 times 3 ft = 261 ft in Ho scale.  Now if you choose to use a building that is 261 ft in HO scale it would occupy 3 ft on the layout. This would be disturbing to the eye since when we observe an actual 8 ft section of track we tend to want it to represent several miles and not 261 ft.

Hence for HO scale housing,  using smaller buildings on the order of  three  inches wide by six  inches deep by three inches high are more pleasing to the eye.  For commercial buildings,  four inches wide by six inches deep by five inches high are more than sufficient to represent heavy industry. Now for something like N-scale the housing and commercial building dimensions would be about one-half the size that they are for HO scale.

It is also possible to have a very small layout, coffee table size whereupon the buildings could be even smaller and possibly use fewer of them to give the layout a more pleasing impact to the eye.

Now if  you have a large layout, 200 ft by 30 ft, it would not make any difference if you used skyscraper type buildings in one corner, they would look realistic.

(2)    Model train scenery should have one or more themes, i.e. farm country, city scenery, river life, logging, mining, industries, etc.  The purpose of a theme is to give the train a purpose for traveling between two points on the layout such as traveling from a coal mine to a coal processing plant and then possibly to a steel mill.  Another example would be a train that is on a commuter run between several towns or cities. The number of themes is a function of the scale used vs the layout size.  An N-scale train layout on a 4 ft by 8 ft layout can easily accommodate two to four themes, while an Ho layout on a 4 ft by 8 ft layout can probably accommodate one to two themes.

(3)    Model Scenery must reflect the scale of your layout (O gauge, HO gauge, N gauge, etc.) In addition, model train buildings, bridges, model railway figures, vehicles structures, trees, model railway stations, back scenes or backdrops, model railroad tunnels, and model railroad signs must reflect the era being modeled.  All of the above items are generally sold to reflect the particular scale of your train set.  Now as far model railroad signs are concerned, the hobbyist can very often search the public  library or the internet for information associated with a particular railroad such as the Pennsylvania,  New York Central or Union Pacific, etc.

(4)    If at all possible to use model railroad signals that agree with the railroad company being emulated. For example, if you are running New York Central  trains, you should also use signals that emulate New York Central signals.

Again, the public  library or the internet for information associated with a particular railroad such as the New York Central  signals or Union Pacific, etc.

(5)  Model railroad lighting such as street lighting, station lighting, and building lighting should also reflect the railroad scale and era depicted.  There are plenty of books available which reflect the steam era, the diesel era as well as the transition era (steam to diesel) of the 1950’s.  These books generally have plenty of pictures which will depict the above items.

There are many manufacturers of  lighting products made specifically for model trains such as Model Power, Miniatronics and Walthers just to name a few.  They are available in most of the train scales.

(6)    Model railroad landscaping which includes grass, bushes, trees, mountains and water must also be to scale.  As stated before the above items are generally sold to reflect the particular scale of your train set.  Woodland Scenics sold by Walthers  carries many of the aforementioned landscaping items. Refer to Table 3 or a complete listing of Model Train Manufacturers vs Train Scales.

7)    Model railroad ballast used to create roadbed comes in different sizes to reflect the scale of the model railroad, and in different colors to emulate the stone used for the railroad’s location. Again, check the public  library or the internet for information associated with a particular railroad such as the New York Central  signals or Union Pacific, etc. After doing your research, again check Walthers for supplies.

8)  For additional scenery ideas try visiting as many model train shows as possible. There is a chance you will be able to view model train layouts with associated scenery for the most popular model train scales such as HO, N, and O.

9) Toy Trains for younger children are generally set up to circle around the base of a Christmas tree or merely as a temporary track layout set up by the child himself.  Hence, Model railroad Scenery as used by the adult hobbyist is not used.

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