All the scenery on the AM Express
was created using the techniques developed by Dave Frary and
described in his book How To Build Realistic Model Railroad
Scenery published by Kalmbach Publishing. All our scenery
was constructed using Dave's water soluble method over two inch
blue foam board. In most cases, an area of scenery up to three
or four feet long was done in a single evening by only a couple
of club members. All the modeling work you see on this site was
done in only 8 months! The super detailing on the AM Express
is just beginning.
Members would begin the scenery
building process by carving out the basic shape from extra pieces
of foam board then generously applying either a spackling compound
or plaster of Paris directly over the board. While the spackling
was still quite wet members then applied thinned water based
acrylics in a variety of earth tones. A variety of colors were
used side by side then were gently mixed by spraying on "wet"
water. (water with a drop of kitchen dish soap). Before anything
could dry, the ground foam, blended turf materials, trees and
other scenery materials were applied and sealed with thinned
white glue with a drop or two of liquid soap. By doing everything
while it was wet the scenic materials all began to absorb the
colors surrounding them and took on a very natural effect. When
the entire thing dried all was then needed was to come back and
touch up with an airbrush any areas that didnt dry to members
satisfaction. This is actually a very simple technique that works
great and anyone can easily learn to do it! But a word of caution,
when using the water soluble method be careful about getting
plaster, paint and white glue on previously laid track and turnouts!
If nothing else, this will really tick off many of your fellow
club members! Not to mention requiring a lot of extra clean-up
around the turnouts.
The AM Express is covered with
thousands of trees! We estimate there are over 5,000 trees on
the layout, mostly handmade by a variety of club members during
work sessions. We arrived at this number by roughly counting
the number of bags of raw material required knowing we could
get about 100 trees from a bag of "candy tuft" (see
below). The pines on the mountains (over 600 of them) are commercial
trees, however we individually flocked each one with green blended
turf scenic material to give them more fullness. The balance
of the trees were made using a variety of dried flower arrangement
materials which can be bought in almost any craft supply store.
We have found Michaels craft supply to have the best variety.
A favorite material is called natural Candy Tuft. It is nothing
more than a dried "weed" but when it is airbrushed
with a variety of realistic greens and browns and the trunks
painted brownish gray they take on the look of very real trees
in N scale. Another great material is sold through hobby stores
by a company called Scenic Express. These trees have great fullness
and are created by flocking the "weeds" sold by Scenic
Express with their finely ground scenic materials. In all cases,
we first sprayed the "weeds" with a mixture of dark
brown and light gray water base paints prior to flocking.
There are a lot of different
types of water on the AM Express. There is calm stagnant brown
water, nearly dry creeks, calm clear lakes, cascading waterfalls,
rapids, and a fast running river. None of the "water"
is actually more than a few millimeters thick! But it looks really
deep in many places. The 1600 scale foot Kokomo River which runs
near the town of Dogwood on the opposite end of the "G"
from the mountain area is 100 to 150 scale feet wide in most
places. This was the most challenging of all the water projects.
Jim Santaella, Gene McNamara and Steve Lucas began by cutting
all the blue board away in the winding river shape wanted. The
cut was made about 4 inches wider than the finished scene to
allow for the molded rocks which would line the edge. The bottom
of the river was then replaced with the smooth side of a masonite
board facing upwards. Once the rocks were molded and cut to fit
using commercial rock molds they were airbrushed with a variety
of reddish browns, browns, grays and earth colors. Once that
had dried a watery thin layer of plaster of Paris was poured
into the entire bottom of the river about ½ inch thick
to seal the foam board and the masonite. Then the bottom was
airbrushed using a water based acrylic color called phathalo
green. This is absolutely the best color members have found
for simulating clear or semi-clear water!! You can find it in
craft stores under the brand name Delta Ceramcoat. It is thick,
so thin it appropriately before trying to spray it with your
Working on the white plaster
of Paris the thinned phathalo green was sprayed lightly at the
edges to make it appear that the rivers sandy bottom is
showing in the shallow areas. In the center of the river, and
all the deep areas, the paint was sprayed much thicker giving
it the effect of deeper water. And in the deepest water a thinned
flat black paint was used to simulate the appearance of really
deep water. The entire thing is actually flat, but once the "water"
polyester resin was finally applied it looks just like a very
deep fast moving river with very shallow edges.
The rapids at the top of the
river were poured first. Members began by putting down aquarium
filter floss in all the areas where the water was to appear to
be bouncing and moving. Then a clear polyester resin was poured.
A second member "molded" the "white water"
with a hair dryer set on low heat. Caution, the polyester will
set quickly if you use a lot of heat! By blowing it on cool you
can push the resin into "piles" of water and make it
really appear to be moving.
The rest of the river was made
by pouring a thin layer of the polyester resin over the airbrushed
bottom. If you plan to use this technique make sure the foam
board is totally sealed with the plaster of Paris before using
the resin. Polyester resin will attack the foam board and youll
find all your river on the floor in just a few minutes! Once
the resin had hardened the rivers surface was airbrushed
again with highly thinned phathalo green. This second coat of
airbrushed paint really helps the illusion of water and the finished
effect is surprisingly real. When the airbrushed paint was dry
members brushed on acrylic gloss medium using a swirling motion
with a ½ inch brush.
All the "still" waters
on the layout including the two mountain lakes, Dry Creek, Coyote
Creek, the "cow pond" and others were created by simply
using EnviroTex two part resin poured thinly over plaster of
Paris which had been airbrushed with reddish browns to simulate
muddy water or the phathalo green as described earlier. Be careful
not to allow anything to touch the EnviroTex while it is wet.
More than once members tried to get swimming mosquitos out of
the ponds and streams to no avail. The best thing you can do
once anything foreign gets in is to put a clump of scenery material
over the offending insect or flaw to simulate a submerged bush
At the extreme "western"
tip of the layout is one of its most impressive parts. The mountain
division tip consists of Deer Lake, complete with a herd of deer,
which falls into a steep waterfall we call Bear Creek Falls that
is the beginning of Bear Creek. At the base of the waterfall
the water actually appears to be rushing through a series of
culverts past a couple of black bears. The waterfall was created
using a combination of aquarium filter floss and clear silicone
aquarium sealant which was brushed downward across the filter
material. Once the silicone had dried a dilute coat of "oyster"
white paint was applied with a final coat of clear gloss medium
to bring back the shine of falling water. The edge of the waterfall
is covered carefully with clumped foliage material to hide imperfections
in the silicone.
The water rushing through the
culverts at the bottom of the falls was created using clear polyester
resin poured over aquarium filter floss. Before the resin dried
it was possible to "pick" at the floss to very effectively
create the impression of fast moving water. The effect is quite
After the scenery base work was
done we then spent a lot of time "planting" weeds made
from Woodland Scenics materials as well as placing clumps of
Woodland Scenics ground foam material to resemble bushes over
any and all scenic areas that did not look as good as expected
bare. Our work attempting to create lifelike scenery still continues,
and will likely continue for as long as we all are "working
on the railroad". Right now we're adding track signals,
road signals, crossing gates, several hundred more people and
at least 1,000 more trees! Plus we're adding a lot of detailing.
The town of Dogwood is also undergoing a major "renovation".
We're adding almost 3 times as many storefronts and buildings
and refinishing the streets and roads. Watch the site for more
photos as the work progresses!.
If you're an N scaler in South
Florida, or want to be an N scaler in South Florida, please come
and join us. The "work" gang can always use help, and
lots of new ideas!
For more information on scenery
methods used on the A.M. Express, contact: Steve Lucas