The Secret To Model Railroading

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Most model railroaders have a narrow view of their layouts. They only see what their happy with and can’t seem to recognize the mistakes that make other layouts look better than their own. In this article I’m going to tell you the secret to making your scale model train layout the best it can be.

The real secret to creating a scale model train layout that looks realistic and impressive to others is perspective. Not the type of perspective that we use to create artificial depth to your layout but rather the perspective that the model railroader needs for how he views his layout as compared to the real world. To really make a great layout you have to be able to view different elements in your layout as they compare to the outside world.

The basic model railroad elements that you need to look at are your trains, your landscape, your buildings, your people and your roadways. Every one of these elements has key features about it in the real world that we sometimes fail to carry over in our layouts. We’ll look at them one at a time.


1. Trains – Look at your trains and think about how locomotives and rolling stock appear in the real world. First off, they are not the pristine pieces of equipment that most layouts would indicate. Everyone knows about weathering but so many modelers have an unnatural fear of doing anything to their trains that would lower their value. Why?


Are you really going to sell them off someday? Whose enjoyment exactly did you buy them for? Weather away. Get the most enjoyment out of your trains by creating the most realistic trains you can have. I even go beyond just weathering and actually will break off or bend a few pieces here and there. In the real world trains are used and get damaged.


2. Landscape – Does your landscape look like the real world? Take some time and walk outside. What do you see when you look around your neighborhood. You know what I see? I see that the trees tower over all the buildings. There are bare spots in the grass. There are wet spots were puddles seem to always form. The creeks and streams have trees that have fallen over into them. The shrubs are not perfect in front of every home.


3. Buildings – The obvious thing about buildings is weathering, but in the real world most buildings actually look pretty new for most of their lives. What they are though is cluttered. Bicycles are on back porches. Garbage cans exist behind or beside every building in the real world. An auto repair shop is going to have tons of extra parts sitting around outside that they just don’t know what to do with. Every manufacturing facility has tons of junk leaning against the building in areas that the general public doesn’t see.


4. People – What do people really do in the real world? They hang wash in the back yard. Young men hang out in groups on the corner. People sit and wait on walls and curbs, not just park benches. The carry bags with them as they shop downtown. When you’re in your car take notice to what you see people doing outside along your way. What do you see people doing in your own neighborhood? Duplicate these acts in your layout.


5. Roadways – In the real world painted lines fade. The blacktop varies in shades of grey or black. Accidents happen. Refrigerators get dumped along the sides of less traveled roads. Cars break down along the highways. These are real things that you see in the real world. Cars have dents and rust. You get the picture.


As you can see, making some detailed changes can add a sense of realism that will make your model train layout stand out from other layouts and give you much more enjoyment. Best of all, these details can be added to existing layouts, they don’t necessarily require that you start any of your layout over.