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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Making the Scene with Hobbyist Jeff Zeleny

Making the Scene with 
Hobbyist Jeff Zeleny:
Model train enthusiast gives 
tips on landscape creation
(Appeared on 12/12)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Hills. Rocks. Grass. Trees. Most of us take them for granted. But when it comes to integrating them in model railroad set-ups, they’re anything but trivial for hobbyist Jeff Zeleny. They are key to making a model railroad come to life.

A model railway scenery workshop that Zeleny was scheduled to conduct at Fairfield Museum and History Center on Beach Road Sunday afternoon Dec. 12 was cancelled, but he connected with Patch by phone to share some tips and techniques.

Zeleny has been model railroading for the past 30 years, starting and sticking with HO scale trains. He is a member of the Fairfield-based Housatonic Model Railway Club and maintains a 45 ft. x 30 ft. layout in the basement of his Fairfield home. On the side, he also helps individuals plan, repair and build all different scales of model railroad set-ups.

“I’m knowledgeable in the art of model railroading, including scenery, and the owner of Hobbytown asked me to do a clinic at the museum aligned with the museum’s December train month,” said Zeleny. The Housatonic Model Railway Club, in fact, created a set-up for the museum’s Holiday Express Train Show, which is currently on exhibit.

“Scenery is the difference between looking at a piece of wood with track on it to a scene where your mind envisions a real train running through the countryside,” said Zeleny. “When it comes to scenery, you are only limited by your imagination.”

Zeleny noted that the concepts for doing scenery really haven’t changed much over the years. “The nice thing that we have today is the multitude of resources available through the internet including how-to videos, instruction books and CDs, to guide and teach the average person how to fulfill their image of what they want their railroad to look like.”

The hobbyist said that some people create scenes of mountains, hills and trees, while some create scenes of buildings, roads, and industrial areas. “The basic scenery – hills, trees, grass – is very easy to do and comprises using newspaper, cardboard, plaster, paint and commercially available trees,” he said.

Zeleny suggested that a good way to start is to decide on the topography you want to create. For a hill, you can use cardboard strips glued or stapled in a crosshatch pattern to your set-up’s wood base in the shape you want your hill to be. Then you mix up plaster, dip strips of paper in it and cover the mound. You let this dry and then use acrylic paint in an earth tone to color it. “You should try to be realistic and match real earth tones,” suggested Zeleny.

At that point, Zeleny guided, you can leave it a hill or add plaster castings of rocks. The castings are made by pouring plaster in rock-shaped molds. When dry, these are removed and placed on the hill wherever appropriate. As poured, these are white, so you will want to colorize them with paint. To effect New England scenes, Zeleny says paint shades burnt umber, yellow ochner and black are popular.

Zeleny said you actually “wash” the rock with a small amount of diluted paint and a brush, and create a speckled pattern. Then a mixture of India ink with a drop of dishwashing soap and some water is sprayed on the rock creation to blend the colors and bring out the rock’s highlights.

Ground cover is the next important element and deciding on the type is key. For grass, there are 20-30 different types and colors of artificial substances available through hobby stores or online. To select areas of your hill, you brush on a mixture of matte medium glue, water and dish soap then affix your grass.

Trees are the final basic elements. “You can buy an already-made commercial tree or assemble them from kits. Or you can pick weeds from the roadside in fall, dry them and shape them in the form of a tree,” said Zeleny. For the trunks, Zeleny sprays on brown paint. Then he dips them into a glue/water/soap mixture and next into a canister of ground cover. These are hung upside down to dry, then affixed to the hill in punched holes with white glue that dries clear.

There are many variations to scene creation, said Zeleny, and buildings are a whole other level of dimension. “It’s about fooling the eye, similar to when you go to a play or Broadway show where they create scenes that make you think you’re somewhere you’re not.”