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Home  >>  Articles  >>  How To

How to: Create Non-Permanent Scenery for HO Scale Race Track

Published: December 19, 2010

How to: Create Non-Permanent Scenery for HO Scale Race Track

by Mark Minter


I don’t know about any of you, but this is something I’ve been struggling with for quite a few years, and I think I’ve finally developed a workable solution. If this has been posted before, I apologize. But since I was working up another “island” I thought I’d try my hand at documenting the process. Hope you find something you can use here.

The problem is simple, and I believe pretty common. How to give a temporary track, that nice high level of detail of a permanent track? I don’t leave my track up year-round, for many reasons. So I’m usually building a new one each fall, and taking it down in the spring. But I really enjoy detailing the track for a slightly higher level of realism. I’ve made buildings, and enjoy that. Plus, they’re easy to move around, and to pack up. But the detail scenery has proven far more difficult to make to my liking. The most notable problem is the tendency for this stuff to fall over. From billboards to trees, they all were too top heavy.


So, after years of half-heartedly trying to come up with something that would work, I finally stumbled on a plan. The problem was everything had too small of a foot print. I just needed to increase the footprint wide! In my rush to try this out, I grabbed the nearest material I had, chipboard. This was easy to cut and paint; and readily available in the endless supply of cereal boxes my family empties on a regular basis. But, as it turns out it is very susceptible to warping, and not looking so good. So that was out.

Next I tried plain old sheet styrene. It was easy to work with, and easy to get a hold of. So after a few different trials with this, I have concluded this to be the best solution.

Please follow along as I work through the very simple construction of a “Pine Tree Island” that I whipped up one Saturday morning for my track…

Step one: work up a piece of styrene to the size and shape that you’re looking for. In this case, I was just making use of a scrap piece that I had no other plans for.

After the shape is defined, I went back with my Dremel, and rounded off the edge, all the way around. The goal is to eliminate the sharp corner, to look a bit more natural.


Step Two: paint the base. I use simple acrylic craft paint straight out of my wife’s craft box. Again, these are easy to use, easy to clean up, and cover just about everything. I start with a dark brown color over the whole thing. Followed by a lighter sand around the perimeter, finished with a green. It’s important to cover the ENTIRE thing, even though I cover a bunch of it with more material.


Step Three: the fun begins! This is where I start added scale rocks and stones, sand and grass. I generally use Woodlands Scenics material. This should be available at hobby or craft stores in your area. I use simple Tacky Glue to secure the rocks, and the Scenic Cement for the light stuff. I like to start with the big stuff, and let the little stuff filter itself in. It’s now starting to look like something other than a block of plastic. At least to me.


Step Four: After letting the ground work dry pretty good, I selected a few trees to use. This was pretty easy, since these were the last three in the bag. I picked up a few bags of these for a very reasonable price and the local monthly Train Show. And they work well for this application. Simply drill the appropriate sized hole where you want a tree, apply a bit of glue, and plant the tree. Let everything dry for a few hours, and you’re good to go.


This method produces decent results, each detail is able to be used over and over, in different locations, and is fun to do. Above all else, it’s easy to do! Take your time, and give it a try. And don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out perfect, almost nothing in nature is perfect.



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