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I love structures...industrial, commercial, stations, etc. and they comprise better than 80% of the surface area of my present layout. But, I also love mountains, and unless my hunch is wrong, it seems few model railroaders have mastered mountain building. It is IMO the most challenging aspect of scenery; and as I've perused the last 30 years of O-gauge train magazines, there hasn't been many featured layouts with realistic-looking mountains.

Rich Battista has created superb mountains on his Black Diamond RR - and while I've watched his DVD on how to do them numerous times, I haven't mustered the courage to attempt his method. There's some others as well, including the late John Allen; and, the professional layout builders all have a niche in how they create mountain scenery.  A few years ago, and out of desperation, I submitted a scope of work for a mountain valley on my layout to a professional layout builder, a project that entailed about a 9' x 3' two-sided river valley, and the estimate was four times higher than what I was anticipating. I am talking the price of 4-5 Legacy Big-Boys. Needless to say, I endeavored onward myself.

My attempts at mountain building have been less than "great." I use 2" insulation foam covered with structolite or whatever product I can find from Scenic Express or train shows ~ they're kind of like a weak cement - and then use copious amounts and layers of water-based paints and scenery cover. This method is tedious and takes forever to get even something semi-decent looking. The mountain I created on my former layout, shown below, was my best attempt thus far; and I am now incorporating parts of that mountain as well as newly built sections on my current layout. This project took many months and countless hours of frustration as it went from hideous to acceptable. I hope to have something done by this Christmas, though that was my goal a year ago.

In the meantime, if you can share your mountains and secrets please do so...I need inspiration on this front.



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Honesty, it is hard to beat old-school hard-shell techniques. Define your contours using free crumpled-up newspaper or cardboard strips rather than expensive pink foam. Then drape it with paper towels soaked in thin plaster or some kind of glue mixture. Be sure to add an occasional escarpment using thin pieces of carved foam, broken ceiling tiles, or even real stone.  Next, paint the whole thing flat black and then dry-brush lighter highlights. Finally, sprinkle your favorite ground covering--the more variety the better.   This technique costs almost nothing, is not heavy, and looks great.


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Last edited by Avanti

Paul, I share your trepidation.  Would have loved to have seen a video of John Allen constructing his  G & D Squaw Valley mountain range.

Your effort far exceeds what I have done so far. Just ignore the critics, many of them have nothing.  A genuine craftsman is usually rather gracious.

Like your self, I have shaped some 2" foam multi layered basic shape small mountains.

However, for my large range I will be using expanded metal stucco lath.  That medium sure is great at drawing blood!

I have built up some long  12" embankments by hammering the lath over small chunks of lumber cutoffs which will be covered with casting gypsum fabric.

For the much taller mountain range  we will be taking full sheets of lath down to the new rip rap rocks surrounding a new interstate I-95  bridge abutment   and form a mountain shell over the large rocks with a 15 pound hammer.  The larger rocks may yield more dramatic Yosemite level of shapes.

Do not know what I am doing but that never stopped me.

Hope to pull it off in the early morning hours.

Paul,  I share your frustration having tried all kinds of different methods to create mountains and rock faces. I watched one guy carve semi solid "plaster" to get the rock texture he wanted. Looked stunning when done.  I am at the point where the next rock/mountain is going to use rubber molds for the angular rock faces I am looking for. I can model lots of different things but I give myself a D or C- at making mountains look realistic. I do have a backdrop mountain on TPRR which I am happy with - but its background scenery.  Lots of how to videos out there, try one that will work for your skill set. 

I had created a similar topic several months ago regarding mountains, gullys, and valleys (vertical modeling).  The main difference from what I see in most people's layout is that I want to take the consist up one side of the ridge, go around a peak, follow the ridge, and then take the consist through a tunnel over a bridge and back to standard fair.  I also wanted to take the landscape down through the base platform to create a gully that the bridge crossed over.  My focus for the mountains would be more tree based than rock formation with trees lining the ascent rail on the far side to slightly obscure the consist.

Basically, I wanted to add as much depth as possible to the layout.


Paul - I wish I had a suitable picture of my old layout showing the mountains and rock formations.  I will just say this - I have ZERO artistic skill.  I simply watched Rick Battista's video and did what he did.  Anyone who has the skill set to create the underground subway scenes on your old layout certainly has the skills to copy Rick's technique.  If I can do it, so can you!

- Greg

@Paul Kallus posted:

Avanti's mountains look great to I seeing real stone or rock molds in certain places or how did you achieve those outcroppings?

Hi Paul,

IIRC there are two pieces of real rock in that scene--both thin flat slabs mounted at steep angles and contoured in with Sculptamold. For the rest, I used various techniques. In a few places, I used crumpled-up aluminum foil as a "mold" for the wet plaster:

There may be a few bits of carved pink foam or broken ceiling tile here and there. In most places, though, I just relied on the natural sloppiness of the plaster.

As I mentioned, the real secret is beginning with a flat black coat of paint. Lots of folks find this crazy, but it is the only way to really bring out the shadow areas and other low-lights. It vastly increases the 3D look of the surfaces. You have to think like an oil painter--you paint the dark backgrounds first and then build up  brighter layers, ending with a drybrushed white "glint" of sunlight.


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Last edited by Avanti
@Greg Houser posted:

Paul - I wish I had a suitable picture of my old layout showing the mountains and rock formations.  I will just say this - I have ZERO artistic skill.  I simply watched Rick Battista's video and did what he did.  Anyone who has the skill set to create the underground subway scenes on your old layout certainly has the skills to copy Rick's technique.  If I can do it, so can you!

- Greg

I totally relate to Greg's comments, especially because I also have zero artistic skill.

If you feel the same way, don't let that hold you back doing model railroad scenery.

Using Woodland Scenics products and spray glue, if you are not happy with what you do, you can do it over until you are happy with the results.

Same is true with acrylic paints. They are very user friendly, and you can paint over and over again until you are satisfied.

Same is also true for hard shell scenery.

I also recommend booklets and other publications on making model train scenery. I don't have the names of them and the authors at the tip of my tongue at the moment.

Most of the hills on my layouts are made from stacked and carved layers of extruded pink foam covered by Mold-a-Scene plaster, cast plaster from rock molds, and pieces of urethane stone-faces.

The first two photos show the tunnel/hill on my 10’-by-5’ layout. Some plaster rock-mold castings were glued into the Mold-a-Scene. The rocks at the bottom are urethane stone-faces. The entire hill/tunnel lifts off the layout to make it transportable and for track access in the tunnel.


Next photo shows the northeast corner of my 12’-by-8’ layout. Same technique including some plaster castings.


Next photo shows the north hill on my 12’-by-8’ layout – the first that I did. The interior is a balsa wood egg-crate covered with plaster cloth, Mold-a-Scene and plaster castings.


Remaining photos show the hills at the south side of my 12’-by-8’ layout. All of them are layers of stacked and carved extruded pink foam covered with Mold-a-Scene.


I have not tried applying plaster to carved foam and then carving the plaster, but I think that’s probably the best way to get realistic rock-faces and crevasses. Mold-a-Scene does not lend itself to carving stone-faces.



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@dkdkrd posted:

All fine well and dandy...

But it helps to have some background music for this sort of project!...

But beware!...  After playing this through a couple times, you'll end up whistling the tune...and driving the spouse, kids, ...AND DOG!...crazy!

Unfortunately, I'm old enough to remember both the song and the artist.

Get a good BT speaker and tell Alexa to play some "rat pack" songs while you're building your scenery.

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