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In the 40s and 50s my mother made a mountain and tunnel for our Christmas layout. She made it out of a very stiff brown paper from which she could form the tunnel and the arising mountain. She was then able to put animal and other figures on this paper. Does anyone know what this paper was and if there is a current source for it?

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I've seen it used in place of the traditional cardboard tube that gift wrap is rolled around when it's packaged at the paper plant.

They used to use a proper tube to make the roll stiff so that it could shipped and handled by consumers without wrinkling the paper on the roll.

Lately they're getting away with using a 8" or so long piece of the paper you describe as a "starter", this starter and the gift wrap are rolled together.  As more gift wrap gets rolled on, the diameter of the roll increases and the tightness of the added gift wrap itself, together with the heavy paper starter, ensures plenty of stiffness.

Needless to say the starter remains at the core until you use the very last few inches of the roll, when it suddenly appears, popping out in place of that old-fashioned tube.

You'd have to buy many rolls of gift wrap rolled up in this way in order to get enough heavy brown paper to make a mountain, but at least it's a start.


Last edited by Mellow Hudson Mike
@POTRZBE posted:

It was very stiff yet was bendable and then held its shape.

Precisely.  This paper at the heart of the rolls of gift wrap is also very stiff but bendable.

I've done some searching and found this.  75lb Builder's Paper.  It looks plenty thick:

Perhaps you could get them to send you a sample to check it out?

Here's the link:

     Heavy Duty Builders Paper Roll - 75 lb Construction Paper (Brown) (5/20/23) |


Last edited by Mellow Hudson Mike

If you can’t find builder’s paper, because so many people use Tyvek, etc. now, some kitchen supply places have heavy butcher paper that’s about the same weight. Packing paper used to work for crafting, but it’s thin now. Other things that work, based on almost sixty years of building stuff for myself, nephews, niece and Scouts:

Thick paper grocery bags. The local supermarkets still have them if you ask, or you can usually find them at a commercial kitchen supply. Most gift bags are too thin now.

Dollar-store metallic gift wrap. The colorful print kind is thinner. Metallic paper will hold decent creases.

Newsprint roll ends if you still have a local paper. The paper will be the usual thickness, but some spray adhesive will give you a good sheet of plain (easier to paint over than actual print) paper. The cores are very solid. The leftover plain paper is useful to a lot of schools and can also be used for various giant origami projects (no, really!)

Cardboard half-gallon round ice cream tubs worked for tunnel shaping and are reasonably O gauge when you open and trim them (temporary kid railroad experience with snap track panels…)  If you’re doing HO, you might want a quart and N is pint-size. Remember, it’s a struggle but somebody has to eat the ice cream. They don’t take paint well, so figure on cheap masking tape lining.

If you’re around a contractor or big box lumberyard, offcuts of PVC pipe may be usable for a good many project supports. Chunks of leftover French drain can also be used for tunnels, same deal as the ice cream tubs. Cardboard concrete forms are likely more expensive than you’d want for light duty.

As a last resort, you can substitute with beer or soda cartons. Open the more carefully than usual, pull apart the seams and lay them out flat once they’re empty. Let them get slightly damp. You should be able to peel off the top layer with the printing on it and have that and a thick plain paper sheet, both with one fuzzy side that is actually useful for some things.

I used Sears Textured Paint, a powder that was mixed with water to make a paste was used, with paper towels,  to cover the aluminum screen wire to make my mountian.  Textured paint was used by painters to add swirls to ceilings to hide the tape seams and may not be available now but something similar should be available.  It has proven to be a great mountain material and did not crack and is much lighter than plaster of Paris and is more durable than paper mache and not susceptible to bug attack.  The textured paint was used to soak paper towels that were laid on the wire screen to form the surface.  Several layers and coats were used.



Last edited by Choo Choo Charlie

Check out Shaper Sheets by Woodland Scenics. Heavy aluminum foil backed by thin cotton batting on one side. Measure and cut to the needed size. Pieces can be joined.

Wad up the shaper sheet, then restraighten to obtain a rock interior in the tunnel. Paint the cotton batting side.

We used a round Quaker Oats box to give a basic form to the tunnel, hot glue does a quick/good job, portal entrances from Scenic Express. If you want photos, let us know. This really works and it is easy and fast.

Mountains are a future project and we will probably use Shaper Sheets on parts of it.

This might work, on the job site and happen to have a roll. You can get at Lowe’s.



This looks like the stuff that store-bought painted and decorated tunnels were made of back in the 1950's.

Quite heavy, and probably pressed and trimmed in a steel die.  Green and brown paint on the sides, a little white paint on top with sparklies for snow.

Presto! Instant tunnel for your small temporary layout, like you would place around a Christmas tree:



Images (2)
  • mceclip0
  • mceclip1
Last edited by Mellow Hudson Mike

If you're looking for just a basic, free-standing tunnel and mountain, try cutting and gluing some 3/4" or 1" foam board pieces into the basic shape (with portals if you want) and covering with some spray foam they sell at the big box stores (get the one that has minimal expansion properties). Cover with some plaster cloth, then paint and add turf, trees and animals as you like. Couldn't be easier.



Images (5)
  • TUNNEL 1
  • TUNNEL 2
  • TUNNEL 3
  • TUNNEL 4
  • TUNNEL 7

Or, if all else fails and you're willing to depart a bit from the retro tunnel look, you could also use scrap styrofoam and leftover landscaping materials, even add a makeshift campfire scene on top:

tunnel 2

tunnel 3

I put this together a couple of years ago for my brother-in-law's seasonal layout, as a drop-on addition to his existing track plan.


Images (2)
  • tunnel 2
  • tunnel 3
@laz1957 posted:

I use 15 lb. roofing paper, tar paper used under the shingles, for inside of my tunnels. I cut it to size, wad it up, step on it, unravel it then staple it in place inside the tunnels.  Cheap and looks great.

Or, you can find a stone wall graphic, print it on cardstock, and line your tunnel with it:

tunnel 2a

I've also used embossed foam board, using a squared-off copper pipe section to create a stone block effect that I blackwashed and fitted just inside the tunnel portals on my layout.


Images (1)
  • tunnel 2a

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