The Importance of Research in Model Train Scenery


When you are beginning to build your layout you need to remember the importance of research in model train scenery.

You will want to have the most authenticity in the buildings and structures that you add to your layout and you can’t do that without doing your homework. This homework means research and this research is centered on the type of structures and buildings that were present in the era and timeframe your track layout is placed in, as well as the setting.



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No matter what the scale of your train layout is there will be no shortage of buildings, structures, water features, stations, depots, connects and houses available for purchase. Of course many model railroaders choose to make their own scenery and structures. Regardless of which choice is made, it is still vital to research the correct items for your time frame and setting. By setting we mean the landscape – is it a city, a small town, countryside with fields of grain, or mountainside with coal mines and shacks.

Because realism is the most significant factor in the building of your layout, research for that realism and authenticity is critical. It will certainly detract from the impressiveness of your layout if you feature mostly a 1950's small town but add in a movie theater from 1980. If you are doing an old west scene you certainly do not want to inadvertently place a car from the 1920’s into your scene. These are extreme examples but they do show why research into your chosen era in time is so critical.

Not only do you want to research what the buildings and structures of the particular era you are featuring are architecturally, you will also want to know what color the buildings were painted in that era. Then you will need to know the best way to weatherize your scenery as well. It is the attention to the littlest details that will make your scenes the most authentic. If you are doing a rural scene or a small Appalachian town in the 1940’s and 50’s things like pumps at outdoor wells for drinking water and outhouses are critical because of the lack of indoor plumbing.

There are many ways to do your research. The history of model railroading is rich and colorful. Many people will start immediately to look for history and pictures on the internet. There is nothing wrong with this as the internet is a source of immense information. There will be plenty of images and pictures of the buildings and structures of the selected timeframe online. Perhaps the best way to do this online research is to choose your location and time period and then ‘Google’ it. When the search results come up just select ‘images’ at the top of the page and you will see a wealth of pictures from that time and place.

A more exciting manner of research is to research how others have actually depicted model train scenery throughout the past sixty years or so. This is not as inexpensive as looking up the time and place online. If you have the means to travel, you can indulge in your hobby by taking in the many historic train and scenery layouts around the country in galleries, museums and public places. The model train scenery you will be able to take in range from a New England town in winter in the 1930’s, or a California gold mine excavation in the 1940’s and 50’s. You will see mountains with coal mine settings, farm towns from the 1930’s with grain elevators and surrounding fields of gold.

Hard as it will be not to get totally caught up in the fun and excitement of these trips and seeing these train setups, remember you are there for the purpose of research. Get as much information as you can about the scene and its select time frame and location. Ask the builder of the layout if you can learn what they did in respect to research before they built this setup.

One additional way of doing your research would be to focus in right away on a specific town and location. For instance you know you want to portray Marietta Ohio in 1954. Look up that specifically or look for county and city records. There are many ways to research and assure the authenticity of your layout.

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