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Scenery detail on the BNSF Kootenai River Sub, a part of the RiverRail Operations Group in La Crosse, Wisconsin. You may think of Model Railroading as simply another hobby best suited for the basement, but you would be missing out on so many other great aspects. Take for example the photo to the right, taken on Dave Waraxa’s BNSF Kootenai River Sub model railroad, a part of the RiverRail Operations Group in La Crosse, Wisconsin. So, if it is not just another hobby, what other exciting things are there in Model Railroading?
The design of a model railroad can be as simple as how the bench-work will be placed in the room to the location of every building, tree, and scale figure. Before any of the visual arts can be created for the railroad, you will need a base to work on.
Imagination can come in very handy here, and you might not think to use plywood strips and drywall to build benchwork, but the folks at RiverRail have pretty much perfected this method of construction. In nature, the scenery is provided by nature for the real railroads, and in fact they move and destroy that natural scenery to make room for tracks, bridges, and tunnels.
Various stages of Scenery on the Great Northern Railroad, part of the RiverRail Operations Group in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Today’s model railroader has a wide array of products available for creating scenery on his or her empire.
As we can see in the photo to the right, taken on Ed Klein’s Great Northern Railroad, again part of the RiverRail Operations Group in La Crosse, Wisconsin, building up the surrounding hills and other features is the first step.
The level of scenery you apply to your model railroad will like be different than your friend’s railroad. Mike Lord expertly scratch built these structures for Dave Waraxa's BNSF Kootenai River Sub railroad, part of the RiverRail Operations Group in La Crosse, Wisconsin. However, the most versatile method, and one that is sure to provide you with unique structures, is the art of scratch-building.
The photo to the right is an excellent  example of a large industrial structure built to fit a unique space on Dave Waraxa’s BNSF Kootenai River Sub railroad.


Though I have only touched on a few artistic methods needed to build a railroad, I hope that you can see just how much more there is to model railroading than just playing with toy trains. Model Railroading combines so many different crafts and artistic forms that there is certainly something for everybody in the hobby. With the help of other members, this scene includes detailed rock cuts, ballasted track, and generous ground cover. This can be anything from a shelf type diorama, a portable module, or a permanent installation in your home.
Others have used dimensional lumber and plywood, some have used lumber and foam insulation, still others have used hollow core doors. In the world of the model railroader, we have to create all the beauty that nature cannot provide, with one exception, a garden railroad.
Some of the most common items are foam, ground foam rubber, paint, stain, and even natural materials such as dirt and stone.
In the foreground we see pieces of foam insulation that have been stacked and painted brown. Scenery can be as simple as painting the bench-work brown or green to applying a small amount of ground cover, to building great mountains. This method of building structures ranges from combining multiple kits, to using only parts of kits, or using materials such as balsa wood, styrene, and ready to use detail parts to create the pieces needed.
Mike Lord used a combination of kit parts, molded styrene, and ready to use detail parts to create this structure which also hides the approach to a staging yard (right side of structure). You need to design the railroad to fit the space you have as well as to fit what type of railroad and operations you want in your railroad. No matter how much time and effort you put into building your railroad, remember that this is an art form, and in the end you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Proper planning to be sure that the space is used optimally, but also providing room for the viewer or operator can be a daunting task. Generally though, the plan is really a guideline for what the completed project will look like, and modelers license will take hold allowing for changes during construction.


Regardless of what you are building, you must first construct the bench-work on which to build your railroad. Regardless of the method used, a solid, sturdy surface is necessary to allow for smooth operating of your railroad when the time comes. I will not be getting into the detail of how to create scenery in this article, but will provide some insight into some basic methods. Behind the trains this same method is covered with plaster with some initial coloring added. One suggestion that I make to you is that you make sure your trains are running well before covering the tracks with tunnels, hills, and other large scenery – your back will thank you later if you need to make repairs. There are three methods one can use to create those structures: pre-built structures, structure kits, and scratch-building.
A unique space such as this would be difficult to fill with pre-built or even kit-built structures.
Then you need to install the tracks, structures, and scenery to bring the railroad to life. Some will use computer aided software design, others pencil and paper, and others trial and error. However, I would not recommend using dimensional lumber for anything more than legs as warping is very common which could lend your railroad unusable.
Obviously the quickest is to use pre-built structures offered by many manufacturers, or if you want a little extra control over your structures you can start with a kit and change the paint and detail to your taste.
You will also need to decide and plan for how you will operate your model railroad empire, and whether or not you will invite others to enjoy your labors.



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