The Light at the End of the Terrain Tunnel
My grandpa told me, “If you want to learn how to cook make yourself a nuisance in the kitchen.” I never did figure out the ingredients for nuisance but that message has led me to model railway stores as a source for wargames terrain and advice on how to make it. When it comes to realistic miniature scenery model railway enthusiasts have all the best toys and ideas for what to do with them. All aboard for a tour of the Credit Valley Railway Company and you’ll see what I mean.
Another kitchen related ‘grandpa-ism’: “Proof’s in the pudding.” I had reason later in life to ponder if the ‘proof’ was actually an adult’s secret ingredient but, back on topic, the message is applicable to our topic. The finished product either speaks (or whispers apologies) for itself.
The above are shots from the Credit Valley Railway (CVRCO) model train store. Even the most jaded wargamer will concede that you’ll be hard pressed to find better miniature terrain anywhere. So, we’re onto something here. Let’s work from the ground up. Next stop!
While the CVRCO might have a better selection than most stores of its kind you’ll find model train stores in general have everything you need, and then some. What’s better is that a good store is staffed by people who really know what they’re doing and are happy to teach you their craft. Woodlands Scenics – the Warlord Games of miniature scenics – has excellent starter kits and ‘how to’ guides both in stores and with video on-line. You may not need to create the same underlying structure that a full train layout might need (steps 1 to 3 in the picture). The surface preparation and techniques used to make that surface look photo-realistic, however, are just what we’re looking for (steps 4 and 5).
Apart from the obvious uses of ready made trees, plants, tufts, and fields and at least two dozen different lengths, colours, and thickness of static grass and flock, there are also bits and pieces that you won’t find anywhere else. The terrain scratch-builder, in particular, will find everything they need – graffiti, doors and windows, DIY building kits, and ranges of paint that you’ll not find at your game store.
Without question model railroading is one of the most expensive hobbies of its type and ready-made trees for six bucks a pop quickly add up! I strictly limit my purchases to materials used to make the finished product and, further, stuff I can’t get anywhere else. Build-your-own-tree kits or longer types of static grass flock, for example, are hard to find but I don’t buy ready-made trees and tufts. I make them myself. Likewise for things like jungle plants that can be had easily at the Dollar Store. Finishing touches like graffiti decals and flowering plants or cornstalks, however, are worth it because they’ll raise average terrain to something really eye-catching and these bits are difficult to make at home. Look a bit deeper and you’ll find paint ranges you’ve never heard of before or things like generic off-brand weathering powders are cheaper at train stores than your local game store (if indeed they even carry them). There are always bargains to be had amidst the more expensive kit.
With all the materials at your disposal what remains is to look at the train layouts and choose something you’d like to replicate or include in your wargames terrain. Regardless of what you choose as inspiration the staff will be happy to tell you how to build it. Simply ask, “How do I make a terrain piece that looks like that?” Don’t be afraid to ask questions and do make yourself a nuisance in the kitchen.
End of the line. Thanks for riding along. Here are some more pictures by way of inspiration.