While not indigenous to every region, many layouts typically feature natural scenery dominated by lush greenery and grass cover. As the first signs of Spring begin to appear here on the east coast of the United States, we figured we’d take the opportunity to examine several methods for adding traditional spring or summer grass to your railroad.
In the early years of model railroading, sawdust was the go-to product. Preceding the development of professionally created modeling materials, it was cheap, easy to come by, and generally had the right appearance. The dust would be applied to the layout in much the same way that we apply certain modern ground covering materials today; with a layer of clear-drying adhesive before being sealed. The down side to this method of course, was that it didn’t come in appropriate colors (although some early scenery manufacturers did sell it pre-painted). The modeler would, in most cases, have to use methods ranging from blending the dust with a water based paint, to applying the natural, untreated material to the layout, and spraying or painting it with the desired colors.
While this is still a perfectly acceptable option, and can work convincingly for a variety of ground cover types, there are now plenty of materials to choose from, designed specifically for this purpose.
Grass Mats are by far the easiest option for quickly adding a natural appearance to your layout. Perfect for train sets or railroads with simple scenery, they can be applied directly to the surface of the layout with ease. Generally made out of either a thin layer of fine granular material or soft fiber material, mats can also serve as a relatively unobtrusive base to build future scenery upon, and can be molded to adapt to to the contours of your landscape.
For modelers looking to create a more realistic appearance, grass mats can easily be cut and incorporated into appropriate scenes, such as areas which require a neat, manicured appearance. Some manufacturers additionally offer small grass mats designed to bring realistic elements into wider scenes, complete with textured ground cover and pre-installed shrubs or vegetation.
Turf or Flock
Perhaps the most well known form of ground cover is turf. Also known as scatter or flock, turf is popular for it’s ease of application, and versatility of use. Turf is essentially an evolution of the sawdust method, coming in a similar consistency, and available in a wide variety of pre-colored options. One of the greatest attractions to using turf is the ability to easily blend color tones to create a realistic texture. If something goes wrong, you can just as easily cover the area again.
Turf can be purchased in varying degrees of thickness from fine to coarse, allowing you to replicate everything from neatly mowed grass to wild undergrowth, and can be found in multiple color varieties, allowing for use not only as grass, but dirt, gravel, sand, ballast, and more. In terms of ease of application and versatility of use, turf is hard to beat.
Static Grass is a relatively recent innovation in the modeling world and undoubtably provides the most realistic results. Made up of short synthetic fibers, static grass reacts to the static charge provided by a specially built applicator. After ensuring that your surface is covered in an appropriate adhesive, you can apply the grass via the applicator. The charge created by this device will cause the grass to fall and stay in an upright position, creating an authentic looking 3D grass effect.
Much like other materials, static grass is available in varying sizes and color tones, and for the best results, can be used alongside turf textures to create a truly varied and realistic natural scene. Due to the more complicated nature of this method however, static grass is probably the least cost effective; requiring the purchase of an applicator in addition to adhesives and the materials themselves. Nonetheless, if a realistic scene is your goal, this method will be well worth the cost.
All this being said, it’s important to consider your layout when making a decision on grass material. Static grass will look stunning in O or HO scale, but may not be necessary for an N or Z scale layout, where the fine texture of turf will give an equally desirable effect for less cost, and less and complication. Similarly, if your focus is on operations over scenery, or if you’re simply getting a first layout up and running for a younger member of the family, the durability of grass mats might be an important factor to consider. These are all tried and tested materials, and no matter which you choose, they’ll be sure to take your layout to the next level in terms of realism and enjoyment.
Static Grass Images Courtesy of Woodland Scenics