Model Scenery Roads

Model train road

Model scenery roads are often the last things we think about when modeling trains. We’re so interested in getting the trains up and going and the scenery built that roads somehow seem secondary and unnecessary. However, those roads are ever present in our environment and they need to be included to make our railroad layouts seem realistic.

In addition to being realistic, roads are also very useful in …

• Helping to direct the viewer’s eyes through particular scenes.

• Establishing some connection and continuity between scenes.

• Connecting one level of trains to another so that the 2 levels don’t seem disjointed.

• Creating a forced perspective, such that if the road narrows as it goes deeper into the layout, the scene itself looks deeper than it really is.

• “Enlarging” your layout by setting a mirror at the end of a road surrounded by trees and shrubs so that it looks like the road goes beyond the confines of your layout.

• Adding a human element to your model railroad scenery. You can include people loading their parked cars, getting in wrecks, arguing with policemen, walking their dogs on the side of the road, etc.


Dirt Roads

Probably the best way to make a dirt road is to use Sculptamold as the base of the road on your layout surface. You can form ruts on top of the Sculptamold while it’s still moldable to look well traveled.

Then paint it with tan or earth-color. While the paint is still wet, sprinkle fine sand or fine tan ballast or even sifted dirt on the surface. Dave Frary suggests using baseball diamond dirt for your model scenery roads.

When it’s all dry, vacuum up the excess dirt. If necessary, apply a second coat of diluted paint and sprinkle more sand, ballast or dirt on the surface once again to get a good even covering.

Plant some weeds and small rocks (talus) along the sides of the road; add road signs, tractors, trucks and people.

You may want to create a ditch along the side of your road. If you’ve used foam as a base for your layout, it will be easy to cut a small ditch along the side of the road, paint it with earth color, add ground foam, weeds, rocks, culverts, etc. to add realism.

Paved Roads

You can buy these model scenery roads ready-made with centerlines and everything, but it’s hard to get them to curve or conform to your terrain very well. They’re fine if your road is perfectly straight or used within rectangular city blocks, but they’re not well suited for curvy country roads.

To make your own paved road, you will need to make a form on each side of the planned road with ¼ inch wood or styrene strips glued to the layout surface.

Then make a soupy mixture of Sculptamold and pour it into the area between the form strips. Smooth out the surface with a small trowel or use another strip of styrene to scrape the excess Sculptamold off the top of the road using the side strips as a guide.

After it dries, remove the side forms. You may need to file the edges of the road to taper them into the layout surface. Paint the road dark gray. Then apply the surrounding scenery, with fine ballast or gravel on the sides of the road then grass or bushes further away from the road. Add a few grease spots or cracks or potholes in the road as you wish. Dry brush a hint of 2 black blurred streaks the width of a model car along the length of the road in each lane to simulate evidence of lots of traffic.

You can even buy little manholes (or make your own) to put in the road if you wish. Cut out little pieces of paper to lay on the side of the road to look like litter. Don’t forget trashcans and street lamps, and any other detail you can think of to make it look more realistic. Take a picture of a local street scene and try to simulate the details in the photo on your layout street scene.

If you have a very steady hand, you could paint the center stripes and side stripes with white or yellow paint, or use a stencil to air brush the stripes. Or, if you prefer, buy thin strips of colored tape to apply as the centerline and along the sides of the road.

You can add sidewalks to your model scenery road using the same method you used to make the streets, only paint them a different shade of gray and scribe the surface of the sidewalks to make them look like they were laid in sections just like real sidewalks. Then use a thin black wash to enhance the crevices so you can see them.

Traffic light

Traffic Lights!

Once you have your road system completed, you may want to think about installing traffic signals. This would really add to the realism of your layout, especially for your small towns or city streets, and particularly if the lights are automated. This is not difficult to do. You just need the right stuff and the know-how. Check out the highlighted link above!

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