Layout Scenery Part III - Downtown

By Ty’s Model Railroad - 9/10/2012 11:17:00 PM

Model railroad town scene with Kate’s Colonial home and Merchant’s Row 1 kit

Constructing the main town site of my layout was my next major scenery project. It consists of my Walther’s Merchant’s Row II, DPM Other Corner Café, and Kate’s Colonial Home kits. These are all set around the circular main street with my Walther’s White Castle Restaurant kit overlooking the scene from up the street. The number of buildings is quite limited due to the terrain and size limitations of my layout, but the few buildings I do have give a good representation of a full-sized urban town.

Sifted dirt being added to the edges of plaster roads in a model downtown scene

The town site sits on an area that I had previously allocated for a small pond, but I decided early into my layout’s construction that building a town site would be a better utilization of the space. The pond will just have to wait for another layout. I had already planned the overall layout of the town site, including the street, sidewalk, and building locations, so all I needed to do at this point was start laying down scenery.

Green foam turf ground cover being added to a model downtown scene

I had previously used Woodland Scenics Smooth-it to create a large flat area to which the town would sit upon. After sanding and painting the entire area the same gray colour as my roads, I made paper templates which represented the footprint of each building. The templates helped me ensure each building would have a good fit around the small, circular roadway. The painted and weathered styrene sidewalk I had built was also glued down at this point using construction adhesive.

Atlas Hair-pin and White Picket fence pieces beings installed in a model downtown scene

Blended turf was next. This would represent the green spaces between the buildings as well as the yard of the house. The turf in the yard of the house was applied a bit greener then the rest of the town’s green space to represent better upkeep and maintenance. I used an Atlas White Picket Fence kit to border the yard of the house and an Atlas Hairpin style fence kit to between the tracks and commercial buildings. I used superglue to fasten the fences to the layout.

An unfinished space of plaster hard shell terrain beside completed railroad track

Sifted dirt being added to the edges of plaster roads and a parking lot

My Walther’s White Castle Restaurant kit is located just up the road from the downtown area, situated at the corner of one of the two t-intersections. I opted for a gravel parking lot, so I started by lying down and leveling sifted dirt. Using a small pipette, I cemented the sand down with isopropyl alcohol and thinned white glue. After drying for a day, I applied blended turf to define the median between the shoulder of the road and the parking lot. I used a paper mask to prevent the turf from drifting onto the main parking lot. 

Sifted dirt being leveled out for a parking lot

Paper template being used to mask sifted dirt while turf is added to the edge of a parking lot

Finding model chain link fences was proving to be difficult, so I turned to the internet to see if I could make my own. After finding several helpful articles, I easily made my own fences using brass rods and tulle I purchased at a local fabric store. I started by drawing a scale 6’ tall chain link fence template on a small scrap piece of wood. I then cut .81mm brass rod into the required lengths of each fence post, and taped them directly over the template with masking tape. A full 12” brass rod was used as the main rail along the top, and a 12” length of music wire was used as the bottom support rail. 

Chain link fence frame template drawn on a scrap length of wood

Brass rod for a chain link fence cut and mounted over a hand drawn template with masking tape

I carefully soldered the support rails to the posts. A bit of sanding was required after making the solder joints, as the solder left large, unrealistic joints. The next step was to lay the tulle over the backside of the fence’s frame with super glue. I found that super glue worked the best to attach the tulle material to the brass rod. Once the glue had fully dried, I used flat-head trimmers to gently trim the access tulle from the frame. 

A soldered brass frame for a chain link fence sits beside a hand drawn template

A complete but unpainted length of scratch built chain link fence using brass rod and tulle fabric

Painting the fence was next. For this, I used metallic gray acrylic paint, ensuring all of the brass rod and tulle material was fully coated. After bending the fence to the appropriate angle, I used super glue to fasten it to my layout.

A scratch built chain link fence installed between railroad track and an Atlas White Castle kit

I had a little trouble with this particular installation as the terrain wasn’t level, so I had to bend the fence on its horizontal access, which caused the tulle material to bind in some spots. Many of the small defects in the tulle (that were caused from bending the fence), were easily covered and hidden with shrubs that I added after installing the fence. 

Unfinished scratch built styrene sidewalks and center garden median laying on newsprint

A deciduous tree armature with ground foam foliage being installed into a scratch built center median

The center median and sidewalk for my downtown scene were completely built from scratch using bulk styrene. The sidewalk was built to match the existing sidewalk that was included in my Merchant’s Row II kit, so determining sizing and spacing was quite straight forward. I used a dull hobby knife and metal straight edge to etch the concrete expansion joints into the styrene and painted everything light aircraft gray. 

Base of a scratch built styrene center median being filled with sifted dirt

A scratch built center median complete with trees, ground foam and placed in the center of a downtown scene

The median features a center-raised green space topped with bushes and a large deciduous tree. I started by gluing the tree to the inside base of the median, then filled it with fine sifted dirt. After cementing the dirt in place with thinned white glue, I topped the dirt filler with blended green turf and various shrubberies.

A partially finished 4 x 8 HO scale model railroad layout with various scenery construction materials

All of the street lamps were purchased off eBay and run off of 12V DC. I did add a 100 ohm resistor to each lamp however, as running them at 12 volts seemed a bit too bright. To install the lamp posts, I simply drilled a 1/8” hole into the layout and ran the street light’s leads through to the wiring below my layout.

A streetlamp being installed into a pilot hole on the edge of a sidewalk along a road made of plaster

The lamp posts were a bit loose in the 1/8” holes so I solved this by wrapping a small piece of electrical tape around the base that fit into the hole. This made everything nice and snug. All of the buildings were also installed by this point and electrical connections were made for lights to leads that run to the underside of the layout. None of the buildings are fastened to the layout, which makes removal much easier if work is required on any of them in the future.

Sidewalk details from Walther’s City Accessories kit including parking meters, fire hydrant and postal box in front of Merchant’s Row

A sidewalk scene with details from a Walther’s City Accessories kit including fire hydrants, parking meters and a phone booth

The final details I added to my downtown scene were accessories from a Walther’s City Accessory kit. I carefully painted each accessory and placed them where necessary along the sidewalks, attaching them with superglue (which came in especially useful when installing the tiny parking meters). The original blue US Postal Service mail boxes were painted red to represent Canada Post mail boxes and include hand-cut white Canada Post logos. 

Model railroad town scene with White Castle, Other Corner Café, Merchant’s Row 1 and Kate’s Colonial Home kit

Kate’s Colonial Home kit with surrounding scenery including trees and a chain link fence

I obviously still need to add the ‘final’ details to my downtown scene to fully complete it, which would be people and vehicles, but that is something that will be completed in the near future. My town, as well as the streets and the overall railroad, still disappointingly need to be named too, so if you have any good ideas, please send them my way!

A downtown scene complete with scenery and several building kits surrounded by train tracks

A scratch built chain link fence installed between railroad track and an Atlas White Castle kit

A downtown scene with several plastic model kits surrounding a circular road with a center median garden

A sidewalk scene with details from a Walther’s City Accessories kit including fire hydrants, parking meters and a phone booth

Walthers Merchant’s Row 1 and DPM Other Corner Café kits with sidewalk details surrounding a center median garden scene

Sidewalk details from Walther’s City Accessories kit including parking meters, fire hydrant and postal box in front of Merchant’s Row

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  1. Looks great. I really like the scratch built center median.

  2. Looks just great, Gave me lots of ideas for my n scale town that I have been concerned with. Well done from Bowmanville, On.

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