Anatomy of an Epic Scenery Fail

Affiliate Disclosure: We may receive a commision from some of the links and ads shown on this website (Learn More Here)


Lazy Daydreamer
Grab a tall glass of your favorite beverage, this post is somewhat long-winded.

You're all familiar with the cliche "two-steps-forward-one-step-backward", right? Well try this one on for size: fourteen (14) steps backward. That's right, two weeks' worth of scenery work had to be totally razed and done over. The lesson I learned here is that static grass, once planted, is totally unforgiving of mistakes. Hopefully some of you can learn from it - without the pain.

* * *
I'm trying to simulate a spur with a long lead-in track thru an undeveloped field that is overgrown with grass - a situation where track that was laid decades earlier has been almost completely buried by wind-swept dirt, with just enough exposed rail surface for a train to be pushed and/or pulled over it maybe once every few weeks. The right-of-way [ties & ballast] is completely hidden and is supposed to blend in with the adjoining earth. Well, after I'd planted the static grass on the field and around the rails, I could see that the ground under the rails just didn't look right. The grass fibers had failed to hide the latex "sheen" of the dirt-colored paint surrounding the rails, and when viewed from above [at the angle which my guest operators would see it], it just didn't look natural.

I tried several minor patches to try and make the latex "dirt" surface blend in with the adjacent earth, but each attampt only made it look worse - here you can see where I tried to apply a water-down darker color paint between the rails, the grass fibers didn't stay standing straight-up. Instead, they soaked-up the paint and formed ugly brown clumps:

At this point where I decided to scrape away all the static grass on the latex surface, paint it a more appropriate color, and re-plant new grass over it. I was using a small chisel to do the scraping when it hit some kind of hidden obstacle. When it suddenly broke free - with the full force of my arm pushing behind it - the blade veered off to the right and ripped thru the middle of the adjoining hill area, heaving up chunks of grass-covered plaster....OOOOPs!

There was no way I could possibly cover up that damage and apply new grass that would blend-in with the original grass; so I chiseled-up and swept away the entire area that I had started on two weeks earlier.

This time, I also cleared away the ballast from under what was to become the "overgrown" track. With a generous soaking of 91% iso alcohol and a surplus jeweler's screwdriver, it came up quite easily. If I had taken this extra step the first time, none of this problem with mis-matched surfaces would have happened. Gotta love that 20-20 hindsight...

I had a bag of aquarium sand on hand, perfect for filling-in the voids where the gray ballast had been. WS makes their ballast out of crushed walnut shells - great for maintaining their original color after applying a fixative, but terrible if you want to cover it with anything it later on. It swells when it gets wet, similar to rice - I learned that lesson the hard way when I did static grass on my cement plant spur this past Christmas.

While the glue was still wet, I figured I'd sprinkle on some "earth" turf.

I had to apply a second layer of earth turf after the first one dried, in order to hide the shadows of the ties underneath. This ground beneath the track will need to match the adjoining hilly terrain. As soon as it driied, I roll-tested it with a surplus Atlas truck, mashing it down beside the rails' inner sides until it rolled smoothly.

Sidebar: When I placed a replenishment order with Scenic Express, I got a set of Silflor "pathway" strips - marketed for placement in the middle of 1:87 scale dirt roads. I discovered they were also sized to fit perfectly between the rails - hot dang!

...but unfortunately, a locomotive truck gearbox won't clear them - you can see how high their dense webbing protrudes in this end profile shot:

I've reached the limit on the number of photos for one post - have to do another one.



Lazy Daydreamer
Since Silflor grass strips weren't an option, I needed to apply static grass the regular way - which I had hoped to avoid because the stray fibers sometimes fall flat across the rails, interfering with rolling and electrical pickup. Then I had a "lightbulb" moment: I could put some girders over the rails to keep the adjacent grass fibers upright! I decided to try an experimental 10-inch application of grass to test my theory.

First I soaked the earth turf with watered-down Elmers...
View attachment 44065

...then I sprinkled down liberal amounts of 4mm fibers. I waited for the cement to dry overnight, and the following morning I did the roll performance "acid test" - running one of my sound-equipped geeps over the grassy stretch, back and forth a few times. I was quite relieved to see that it worked, without the sound being interrupted:


At this point I was satisfied that I'd be able to run trains over grass-embedded track, so I went ahead and re-created the hilly field using Sculpt-A-Mold plaster mix. I've decided I like that better than the WS Mold-a-Scene since it provides a much longer "working" time (30 minutes as opposed to 5 minutes), allowing better blending of the mounds:

Of course, Sculpt-a-Mold has the downside of taking several days to fully cure. When it was dry, I went ahead and slathered-on latex "dirt" paint and sprinkled earth-colored turf powder over that.

Finally, the goal that eluded me the first time has been accomplished: The ground beneath the spur track is now the same color as the hilly field. Now I just need to re-apply the static grass, hopefully next weekend.


Well-Known Member
I agree with wheeler1963, Thank you for sharing that. I had to rebuild part of my layout due to a change in direction and it isn't fun, (OK it is as I see new possibilities). You may have saved someone else time and trouble in the future.


Grandson of ALCO Bldr

This picture looks like a couple of locomotives hit the ground! lol wow! Excellent work and thank you for sharing. Incredible!

I love seeing this process and in general everyone's work and progress. Learn, learn and learning....


Lazy Daydreamer
I agree with wheeler1963, Thank you for sharing that. I had to rebuild part of my layout due to a change in direction and it isn't fun, (OK it is as I see new possibilities). You may have saved someone else time and trouble in the future.
Patrick - reading about other men's disasters spared me a lot of potential anguish, I figured now it was my turn to "give back".
Hi gang, I finally got around to finishing the job of recovering from this failed scenery project. When I signed off two weeks ago, I had just finished putting down a base layer for the new static grass - to make sure that the ground surrounding the rails was the same color as the field itself. My plan at that point was to wait until the following Saturday (Feb. 14) before tackling the task of applying the grass itself, since I would need ~3 consecutive hours of interruption-free time for preparation and execution. But Murphy had other plans: I discovered I didn't have enough of these Plastruct 3/16" H-column strips to use as rail covers (this pic is from 2 weeks ago):

My LHS didn't have any Plastruct girders in the size I needed, so I wound up using that allocated time making my own rail covers from Evergreen strips, and got too tired to go any further.

I spent the next few evenings sifting different lengths/shades of static grass fibers into their designated [labeled] dixie cups. That process itself can be very time consuming, because the fibers in their plastic bags get clumped together tightly and will not sprinkle out effectively if put directly into the applicator that way. I'm glad I did the de-clumping because, on Thursday I found myself with unexpected free time and decided to go ahead and apply the static grass.

This time I decided to do the spur and the open field areas all at the same time rather than separately; I wanted the grass around the rails to blend-in with the surrounding field grass, as if nature had reclaimed the track roadbed. I tried to get different blends of colors in random areas; however, I used a single shade ("Autumn") around the turnout - since the pre-made Silflor tufts that I planned to use there are all that color.

Here is an overhead view of the whole area - well, 90% of it at least - immediately after I removed the rail covers [the "bald" spots were intentional]:

There was an unintended consequence of using thinned Elmers white glue: Capillary action caused it to be sucked up-and-under the rail covers, so I had to spend an hour scraping the dried cement off the top of the rails with a jewelers screwdriver. I didn't want to risk using an alcohol-soaked Q-tip, since stray alcohol might spill on the adjacent grass, soften the glue, and ruin the grass.

I took an Athearn Genesis geep to test-run over the track. It required several passes forward and backward, with intermittent cleaning and vacuuming of stray grass fibers, before the loco could successfully run the entire length of the "overgrown" track without hesitating. But at least I did get it working!:D

Here is what the grassy spur looks like from an operator's perspective:

...and here is a trackside view...

...and finally, the Silflor tufts planted between the exposed ties near the turnout:

Now, hopefully I'll get all this construction mess cleaned up quickly... is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.