Sunday, January 22, 2012

New Scenery at SJ Cabin- Part 3

When I first began adding scenery to the layout back in the mid-1990’s, I used several different combinations of ground foam for just about all of the ground cover. Bushes were made from pieces of foliage clusters and foliage netting. The photo below of the tipple at Big Chimney shows what the basic scenery looked like in a number of areas on the layout.

I never quite achieved the look that I wanted, and I was always on the lookout for other techniques that might work better. Somewhere along the way I found the technique of taking small clumps of poly fiber and stretching it into small bushes which are then covered with fine ground foam. I’d give credit for this technique where it’s due, but I really can’t remember where I picked this up. These bushes were a vast improvement over my previous methods, and I added a large number of these to the layout. While I was getting closer to look I wanted, I still didn’t have the variety of foliage that I believed was needed to really create a convincing scene. Sometime around 2004- 2005 I started receiving the Scenic Express catalogs in the mail. The scenes made using the Silfor mats looked amazing, and I purchased several of the starter packs. Then sometime in 2006 I came across Joe Fugate’s website for his Siskiyou Line. The scenery clinic he presents here ( is absolutely incredible. It forever changed the way I view and construct scenery. The presentation offers a wealth of examples of variation in just about every aspect of scenery construction.  Joe is truly an expert in scenery construction, and his scenery on the Siskiyou Line is absolutely beautiful. From this point I began to look at different colors and textures and to experiment with different methods of adding bushes and ground cover to the layout. The results are evident in the picture below, which shows the same area of Big Chimney, West Virginia as in the photo above but after I re-did the basic ground cover and added new bushes and trees.

After much experimenting, I came up with the basic building blocks for my ground cover and bushes. Let’s start with the bushes. One variation of bush is made from lichen and covered with fine ground foam. I spray paint small pieces of Woodland Scenics lichen with Design Master October Brown spray paint. Once the paint is dry I spray on 3M Super 77 spray adhesive and the sprinkle the bush with either Noch Elm Leaves 08030 or Noch Lime Leaves 08020 (both of which came with a Super Trees Starter Kit) until it is covered. You could probably skip the brown paint, or sprinkle the Noch leaves directly into the wet paint and skip the adhesive spray. The picture below shows the various stages of completion.

The next bush is the poly fiber bush I mentioned above. I start by stretching a small piece of Woodland Scenics Green Poly Fiber FP178 and then place it on the layout. I add successive bushes until I’m finished with the area I’m working on. I then carefully spray extra strength hair spray (I use Suave Rave 4X Mega in an aerosol can- unscented) on the poly fiber. Next, I grab a pinch of Woodland Scenics Blended Turf Green Blend T49 between my thumb and forefinger and gently sprinkle the ground foam onto the bush. For those areas that I can’t get to with my fingers, I place a small amount of the ground foam on a small piece of cardboard bent in the shape of a ‘V” and gently blow the ground foam on using a straw. Lastly, I use Silfor Horsetail Foliage Poplar Leaf SF98022 and Woodland Scenics Foliage Clusters Light Green FC57 sparingly to represent other forms of ground cover and bushes. The picture below shows the various brushes and ground covers.

I should mention here that I work from photographs as much as possible, and the inspiration for the scene came from two photos on taken by Donald Haskel at Mt. Hope, West Virginia on the C&O. The links to the two photos are and

Before adding the bushes and ground cover, I made a few changes to some of the existing scenery. Based upon some comments from the first post on the MRH website, I decided to extend the foliage from the edge of the forest canopy toward the track. Also, based upon some good suggestions and comments made when I posted a blog about culverts on the MRH website (, I decided to change the area around the culvert. In the picture below you can see that I have painted a portion of the area between the tracks and the canopy with the basic dark green color and I have painted the area around the drainage ditch with same dark green color. This will allow me to add some foliage to soften the break between the dirt and cinders near the track and the forest canopy. I will also have the foliage cover the area right down to the base of the drainage ditch.

In the next photo, the basic ground cover has been added to the areas that were painted in the photo above.

Now it’s time to start adding stuff! One of my construction rules is to always work from the back to the front when finishing scenery, so I began by adding the bushes in the area between the track and the base of the forest canopy. The photo below shows how this area looked once the bushed had been “planted” but before the blended turf had been applied to the poly fiber bushes. The weird colors in the photo are a result of not changing the white balance on the camera. I had been taking some shots in my work area and the white balance was set to incandescent instead of fluorescent.  

The next step was to apply the blended turf to the poly fiber bushes and add ground cover. I added a 50/50 mix of Scenery Express Flock and Turf Spring Green Fine EX810C and Timberline Scenery Spring Meadow Green Fine 307 at the base of the bushes to represent weeds and foliage in the area between the bushes and the dirt. I also sprinkled a mix of Highball Products HO scale limestone and black and N-scale grey ballast in various places along the yard lead to add texture and color to the ballast. The last step was to add some N-scale black ballast to the engine lead track. I’ll weather this more after all of the scenery is complete, but the N-scale ballast will help form the base for the weathering. The last step was to brush any stray ballast off the tops of the ties.

At this point I mixed a batch of glue consisting of 1 part white glue to 3 parts wet water. I then wet the area from the outside of the ballast on the yard lead to the ground foam around the bushes with 70% isopropyl alcohol. I worked slowly, wetting an area of about 1’ and then adding the glue mix. Once the glue was applied to the entire area, I came back and sprinkled a light covering of dirt on any area that had previously been covered with dirt and sprinkled on a little more of the Scenery Express/Timberline Scenery mix of ground foam. While the dirt and ground foam usually dry just fine without this step, I’ve gotten in the habit of adding a little extra once the glue is down to help soak up any excess glue and to make sure that the finished product looks right. The photo below shows how the area looks at this point.

The dirt dried darker than I wanted, so I rubbed the area with my fingers to lighten it just a bit. I picked up this trick from Tony Koester in his article on constructing the Coal Fork Extension on his Allegheny Midland. I’m not sure I’m completely satisfied with just how this looks yet, and I may go back and redo the dirt area at some point.

Next, we’ll add static grass and more bushes and ground cover in the area between the tracks and the front of the fascia. As always, thoughts, comments and criticism are welcome.


  1. Tom love the difference a few bushes make to the line side, seriously love you scenery work! If I may add one suggestion for you to think about? I think that if you break up the foreground bushes & trees and add a rock cut in, and have it recessed back a little then add some super trees and bushes in front of the rock cut.
    I will try and find a photo or link for what I mean, I think this would add a huge amount of depth of field to this scene and break up the tree line a little.
    I'm sure with your skills in scenery it would make the great look absolutely fantastic...


  2. Jas-

    Great idea- I knew exactly what you meant as soon as I read this. My wheels started turning and I could see the rock cut and knew exactly where on the layout I had done this before. It seems I might have gotten into a bit of a rut with the bushes. I'm going to send you an e-mail via the MRH website- reply to it with your e-mail address and I'll send you some shots of just this type of scenery in other areas on the layout (I can't figure out how to include a picture in this reply). A slight rock cut along here would definitely add some variation and depth. I thought about adding some Super Trees but there really isn't enough depth to make it work. The area opposite the small structures is meant to represent access to the other side of the tracks so I don't want to crowd the scenery right up to the tracks (although as I write this I'm thinking that might be o.k.). I really appreciate the input- at the very least I'm going to add a small rock cut a little further away to help break up the tree line.


  3. Tom, your scenery is incredibly realistic! Can you tell me what brands/colors of foam turf you used for the original forrest canopy in the first picture (which was darker) and then for the re-done canopy? Thanks!


  4. Matt,

    Thanks for the kind comments. The canopy in those two photos is the same. The first shot was taken a long time ago with my first digital camera before I learned how to shoot manually. The difference in the two shots is the exposure time.

    The material used for the canopy is Woodland Scenics coarse turf in Medium Green and Dark Green and Flock and Turf Scenic Textures Spring Green Coarse. I originally used only the medium green and the dark green, hoping that the dark green would look like those parts of the canopy that are in the shadows. It looked OK in person but awful in pictures. I went back and removed most of the dark green trees and replaced them with ones covered with the Flock and Turf product. It's slightly lighter than the Woodland Scenics medium green and the texture is a little different. The color and texture differences really helped the overall appearance of the canopy.

    Tom Patterson

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