Model Railroading: How to make realistic mountain rock faces

I talked with some friends of mine this past week who are doing their own model railroading, and one of them told me an interesting technique for making realistic rock faces.  Since he is from West Virginia, most of the exposed rock faces he sees are the angled sedimentary rock layers, especially along the major roads where the construction crews had to dig into the mountain to lay a steady grade.  His trick to reproduce this effect on his train layout was discovered just over his head: ceiling tiles.

What he does is he buys a few ceiling tiles at the local hardware store and breaks them up into chucks about the size of an envelope.  With these chucks ready to go, he will stack them up like bricks with the rough edges exposed towards the track and/or the viewer.  Since natural rock faces have all those rough edges with little nooks and crannies everywhere, the broken tile edges provides that irregular shape which would be difficult to reproduce otherwise.  For a more natural look, instead of placing the tiles flat on your layout, try placing them on a slight angle sloping up towards the highest point of your mountain, mimicking the upward thrust of the crust which created the mountain millions of years ago.  To create this slope, you can either place a small wedge under the first tile, or simply cut a small strip of ceiling tile and place it under the leading edge of one tile, making sure to cover up the gap with some material or scenery.

When it comes to painting the tiles, you need to keep in mind that these tiles will absorb water (paint) quickly.  However, he uses water based paint just for this reason.  Using a large stiff brush, he applies a few coats of paint to the tiles, allowing each coat to soak into the tiles and dry before applying the next coat.  He does not recommend using spray paint (which I used in my layout described in the prior post) since the spray doesn’t fill in the holes enough, making the scenery look incomplete.  For the colors he uses, he recommends a few shades of the same color to create additional texture and realism.  For mountains he recommends shades of gray, while for canyons he uses browns.

So if you do not want to use styrofoam and plaster stripping like I did on my mountain design, try this ceiling tile trick for yourself.  Remember, make sure to use new tiles purchased from the store to avoid the possible exposure to asbestos.  Some old tiles from a few decades ago contained the cancer-causing agent, and we don’t want anyone to become sick while enjoying their hobby.  Happy modeling!


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