The Val Ease Central Railroad ©

Taking Z Scale to the Public Around the World
(Text and photos © Copyright Jeffrey MacHan)

Lightweight Layout Techniques Used on the Val Ease Central ©, Part 3: Acrylic Landscaping

Note: the original photos illustrating this article have been lost (hard drive crash) but they will be replaced shortly with photos of the construction of Val Ease Summit.

Remember that photo of our layout construction supplies way back in the first article of this series? No? Well here is an itty bitty copy of it to help jog your memory. In the photo you would have seen†:

1. acrylic water base paints in yellow oxide, titanium white, ultramarine blue, neutral gray, raw and burnt sienna, burnt umber and mars black,

2. white glue and its dilute counterpart,

3. ground cover materials in various powders, clumps and colors,

4. plastic canisters and clear sandwich bags to store and apply the ground cover,

5. stiff bristle paint brush,

and you would not have seen†:

6. isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol in a needle tipped dispenser or spritzer bottle,

7. long hobby tweezers to grasp clumps of ground cover and other stuff,

8. hand vacuum cleaner to suck up the mess afterwards.

As you can see from photo #1, the painting technique used on the styrofoam base is not really the issue here. What we really need to think about is the choice of colors to apply. That choice depends on the type of rock that predominates in the geographic region that you are trying to reflect in your Z scale world.

The Val Ease Central „ is a fictitious branch of the Union Pacific some where in the Pacific North West. Being a prairie boy, my memories of the local mountains tends to see them covered with wheat or barley! Therefore in order to help me establish the proper setting for my railroad, I invested in a couple of UP picture books toget a look at some real trains and the geography that the various UP lines traversed. I also had the good fortune to have followed some major UP trackage in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Oregon.

The first thing that I realized was that the UP operates in some of the most breathtaking scenery in NA and second, that rocks can be a great variety of colors, from orange-red to grimy black. Not only that, but newly cut rock is usually a different color than its untouched neighbors. Granites are a range of grays, sandstones are a range of browns, shales are parallel layers of grays slanted in almost any angle and all of the preceding may be stained by water run off, oxidation, bleaching and by biological activity.

Centre Val Ease „ demonstrates three geographic features, a low lying river basin eroded into a sandstone layer and all bounded by basalt and granite mountains in the upper and background sections.

Based on this research I put my trust in my brush and began to paint the sandstone with a few dabs of yellow oxide right out of the tube onto various rock outcroppings. Then I dabbed on some raw sienna here and there followed by a dollop of burnt sienna at the highest point of the river plateau. With my seven year old utility brush, I then had some fun spreading and mixing the colors where they ran together, making blotches and following contours. I made sure that I had completely covered the styrofoam with the paint. Hint: donít mix all the paints donít want a single hideous mucky brown base color, do you?

I like to do small areas at a time in order to add ground cover before the paint has dried. In the case of Centre Val Ease „ , I covered about one square foot with paint then I got out my bags of Woodland Scenics ground texture materials. The advantage of doing a small area are:

  1. the paint acts as an adhesive for the ground texture,
  2. almost instant gratification since you get to see the result on a small section which you can then show off to your spouse or to your cat, which ever shows the first sign of interest!

Ground Texturing

Woodland Scenics grass comes in various greens and yellows. I like to dust the wet paint from above with dark green followed by dustings of yellow green on rock formations to suggest dry grasses. Hint†: donít cover the paint with a thick coat of grass material unless you are doing a lawn. You may want to add foliage clumps on top of the grass, so leave some paint uncovered to grip the other material.

The next step is to apply foliage clumps which will imitate scrub brush and bushes. Since I make my own fir and pine trees, I always have a bag of the materials that donít adhere to my trees. This is when the hobby tweezers come in handy to grab small amounts of foliage clumps and other remnants from the bottom of a sandwich bag.

I like to suggest that there are more than one species of bushes competing for space on my miniature world. Occasionally an area of dead or dried growth is simulated with autumn colored foliage clumps. There might even be an occasional bunch of wild flowers to brighten up the scene.

Donít expect the paint to capture and hold all of the stuff that we have piled on. Once you are satisfied with the ground cover, it has to be permanently attached. Get out your alcohol dispenser and dilute white glue. ĎWetí the ground with the alcohol followed by the glue. Go on to another section or let everything dry overnight.

Rock Faces

Have you noticed that once you decided to model rocks, cliffs and mountains that you have begun to take notice of the real things?

Rock faces have a lot of character. They are smooth, broken, cracked, scarred, streaked, rusted, bleached and invaded by living creatures.

In photo #2, the curved lead passes through a natural opening and a man-made cut entering the tunnel. I painted the natural rock face raw and burnt sienna following natural water run off channels.

Before painting the cut, I scored the walls vertically with the tip of a round tooth pick in order to reproduce rock drill scars. I applied burnt umber and mars black to this unweathered sandstone Then I lightly dusted the wet paint with the yellow-green grass material. For finishing steps, I plan to add greenery in crevasses and along ledges. Young trees may even take root along the bottom of the cut.

Hint: allow yourself to be inspired by the scenery as it takes shape before you. Let the landscape talk to you. As you can see from the photo, I havenít yet had a conversation with the terrain behind the chemical factory! I am always pleasantly surprised at the final result which doesnít always come out the way I had initially planned.

Bull Rushes

The next time that you have the opportunity to collect a mature seed pod from a bull rush stalk, grab one. I picked mine ten years ago and I am glad that I did...and, NO, I will not sell you any!

Wherever there is standing water along my right of way, I plant bull rushes. The real bull rush seeds (fluff) are like miniature stalks if the seed is placed at the top and the fluff is Ďplantedí vertically in the terrain.

First I cut a slit in the styrofoam with the paring knife. I then apply a thin bead of white glue along the slit. Using the hobby tweezers, I tease out some seeds and pick up a pinch in the jaws of the tweezers trying to keep the seeds at the top and the stems upright. This does not happen often but I keep trying!

Holding the tweezers parallel to the slit, I push the fluff into the slit with the back of the knife blade. If all goes well, the fluff will have been folded over the knife blade and the crease of the fold will have been pushed into the glue and Ďplantedí in the slit. If I am really lucky, there is no glue to be cleaned off the blade or the tweezers before the next pinch of fluff. When Iím done, there is a nice growth of bull rushes in the ditches along the right of way which can be seen in photo #2.

When everything has had a chance to dry, give the landscape an easy vacuuming with the Ďbusterí or Ďdevilí. Loose particles are guaranteed to find their way into locomotive gears and gum up rolling stock axles. This is also a good way to find out if you applied enough glue or not. Take heart, you know itís easy to fix.

Iím sure that weíll talk more about all of these techniques on the Z_Scale discussion forum at

Next time weíll build a pine forest!

In the meantime, "Donít Look for Perfection, Perfect the Look"

© Copyright 1999 Jeffrey MacHan

December 13, 1999