While the major layout scenery is essentially finished, I was discouraged by the hodge-podge appearance it had taken on. So, as I’ve shared before, I removed much of the original scenery work and am in the process of redoing things.

The cause for my frustrations are poor initial planning and the thoughtless use of a wide variety of old and new scenery products and techniques, rather than observing and modeling from the real world.

There is a tendency that we all share to default toward habitual behaviors. I reached the conclusion that much of what we do in this craft falls into this category. Over decades, a cadre of scenery techniques have been well documented and certain commercial products long ago reached the tipping point of being the default material for a range of applications.

The problem I fell into was not paying close attention to how I used the newer products whose appearance was quite different from the existing layout scenery. The newer products represented a different season and set up a visual clash that bothered me.

Wild grass meadow reverting to forest

Looking at the full-size world, you will often find one variety of plant tends to dominate an area such as this meadow (above). I’ve used the sisal twine technique to represent wild grasses to good effect and the problem came when I started mixing in static grass fibers in sheet forms. The static grass sheets are a wonderful product but I didn’t use them well. There are practically no areas of my scenery that mimic short grass, which the static grass sheets are ideal for. It was the stark contrast between the intense green colors of the static grass areas and the more natural looking winter tones of the sisal twine that bothered me. I tried altering the color of the grass sheets with little success. Eventually, I decided one or the other needed to be dominant throughout.

S12 switching a Pennsy box near the mill on the I&W

With that thought in mind, I’ve been covering areas more thoroughly with the twine and bringing the wild, unkempt sections of scenery closer to what I observe outside (photos below). Sections that have been filled out with more groundcover, as in the first photo below, look much better than before. As my friend Trevor Marshall has demonstrated, wide swaths of open meadow and tall grass make wonderful looking scenes that truly complement the trains.

Sisal Twine ground cover

A shortcoming of many scenery efforts is a lack of verticality to the groundcover vegetation. Using the default scenery products produces a look-alike effect from one layout to the next. In this area I added taller weeds to simulate perennials like milkweed, thistles, maybe even bull rushes, since this is a low area that might retain ground moisture (photo below). My efforts with these are only a first attempt. The natural material I used for the plant stalks is far too fragile. So I’m experimenting with synthetic materials that will hopefully have more durability.

Sisal Twine ground cover with taller weeds

I’m well aware of the ease and speed of using static grass applicators; so please don’t inundate the comments with how much time I’m wasting by doing things my way. For me, the point of a hobby is not to save time or look for shortcuts but to enjoy doing something that helps me grow in knowledge, such as learning to see reality more accurately and bringing that understanding to the layout. Growing as a craftsman is the ultimate goal of my time.

Embrace reality: be a rivet counter.


  1. Simon

    Very nice.

    Is there such a thing as a “blade-of-grass counter”?


  2. mike


    I think they’re more prevalent in live steam and/or garden railways? 😉


  3. Simon

    In my experience, the live steam/garden mob are more likely to say, you can’t see the blades of grass (or rivets, for that matter) from 6′ away, so please don’t stand so close…


  4. bn3022

    I think it’s looking great Mike. It reminds me of a lot of the fields my buddies and I tromped across while rabbit hunting when we were kids.

    I especially like the contrast between the dead grass and the black cinders along the track. There’s a spur a half mile from my house that looks just like that.


  5. mike

    Thanks Ken. I used to take longs walks in the country. I draw on a lot of those memories during scenery work like this.