Display Planning & Building

Who am I, just a little Bio about me

I started playing with trains around 1965. And naturally it was with the trains that my dad had which was Lionel. And real trains was also a major player in my dad's life, he worked as a brakeman for the Patapsco & Back River Railroad which was Bethlehem Steel's railroad that serviced their Sparrows Point steel mill. At one time I applied to work for the railroad but that did not happen which was probably the best thing for me. And since my dad was also a volunteer firefighter I followed him to do this in 1967, along with my 3 younger brothers. In turn I did become a professional firefighter in 1971 which I still do both today because of my love to help people and one who still loves trains. I started building train displays in my parents basement in the 60's and around 1970 I helped build a Christmas garden in the volunteer fire station I belonged to, it was only there for 1 year since we could not get the word out that we had one. After I started  working for the Baltimore County Fire Dept. I started helping out the firefighters at the Dundalk fire station #6 with their construction of their annual Christmas garden in 1975. Their Christmas garden was one of only a couple others still left in the Baltimore area and dated back to the early 30's. After helping them for a couple of years their Christmas garden became history as it ended in 1977.

Also in the mid 60's while I was in Boy Scouts and at week camping I received my nickname "Spike" well that name has stuck with me like glue. Ask any firefighters who know me 'do you know Paul and they will most likely say Who?' Now if you ask for Spike they most likely say yes I know him. So now you know where the Spike's Wonderland of Animation came from. In 1972 & 1973 I was awarded the Silver Springs Trophy Award twice which is awarded to the person who does the most work towards fire prevention in their community in the State of Maryland along with the F. & M. Schaeffer Award in 1973 which also awarded to me for doing the most work towards fire prevention in the State of Maryland. I also was recognized as doing the most towards fire prevention in Baltimore County. 

And by this time I had already started building my own animated displays and this was due to most of my Lionel train accessories not wanting to work when I wanted to show them to my friends. So I wanted animated items that would work when I wanted them to so I could show them to my friends. That is when I decided to make my own animations and the first one I made was in 1973 and that was Santa, sleigh & 6 reindeer flying in the sky. And by 1980 I was selling some animations that I built and the most famous by far was the operating fire scene which was 2' x 3' and featured a ladder truck squirting water into a burning building which had simulated fire inside, it also featured firefighters climbing ladders, a ladder truck extending it's ladder, a ladder truck with it's ladder turning, a ladder rising & lowering it's basket, firefighters putting up a ladder, firefighters raising a extension ladder and firefighters pulling hoses. And over the many years I have designed and built hundreds of different animated items. Which includes circus acts, amusement rides,  zoos and marine world, mining scenes, construction and road construction scenes, sporting events just to name a few. Some of my favorites animated items were the operating dam which used REAL Water or the circus trainer and the tiger that would run around the ring and jump through a flaming hoop as the trainer would raise his whip to make the tiger jump through the hoop. Another favorite was the dog that would run from a house to it's dog house time after time as it would disappear from sight.

After I joined the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company in 1981 I came to learn that they wanted to have a Christmas garden. So at the first meeting of the Christmas garden committee I showed them the fire scene, woman hanging up clothes and a backhoe digging. I told them if they wanted to that I would lend them my trains and accessories if they would pay for fixing or repairing anything that broke or stopped running. They agreed to using my trains and the rest is history. The firefighters at the Dundalk fire station gave us everything that they had left from their Christmas garden which was not much. Over the long period time without having the Christmas garden most of the items they used disappeared. We did get the day and night time lighting pieces, the animated highway pieces, the dark blue cloth used for the top of their display which was 10' x 32' in size and what remained of the HO trains & accessories (they used all HO trains in their garden) which for the most part were broken and busted up. Not one train engine was left. The fire company allotted us $600 the first year to work with which most of it went to the wood needed to construct the platform. The platform was 10' x 30' in size and made out of 2" x 4" bracing and 1/2" plywood decking and I designed the platforms to be inter changeable with the largest ones being 4' x 8' in size. Also each platform had extra bracing underneath where the roads would be. The roads were used by us to walk on the platforms so we could build and maintain the garden, only once during the construction of the 25th garden did I step where I should not have. In my basement I had my train garden set up all year round which meant I had to disassemble it to use at the fire station. The time frame that I told the members would be needed to construct the garden was 1 month and that it would be open by the first Friday in December.  The Christmas garden's first year we had to work and operate in was difficult to say the least, we had to work around hall rentals that were booked for since the garden was in the hall that we used to rent out for parties. Which also meant that our hours for operating the garden changed a lot and since most of the bookings were on weekends hurt us because of the public not knowing when we were open or closed. And through all of this we still managed to have over 16,000 visitors to come and see the First Christmas Garden.

From 1986 to 1989 I was contracted to build a Christmas Train Garden for the Keniworth Mall in Towson MD. The first year that I did the Christmas garden it was built on top of the water fountain that they had at the time. After the first garden at the mall they did away with the water fountain that was attached to a stairway to the second floor and they replaced it with a smaller water fountain and the gardens after that had the Christmas garden built around the water fountain. And during those years I also built and sold the mall some of my animated displays and these units were used by the group who took over building the display. And this group that took over also claimed that they built these animated items which in turn they did not build these animated items and they even lied about this fact on a Maryland Public TV documentary program.

In 1988 I built and displayed a Christmas train garden for the then Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen and this a small 4' x 8' garden which was placed next to his office in the Baltimore County Courthouse.

In 1989 to 1991 I assisted the Maryland State Firemen's Assoc. with designing and building a small Christmas train garden in the Maryland Governor's Mansion while William Donald Schaefer was Governor of Maryland.

In 2004 I was contracted to design and construct a Christmas Train Garden in a vacant store front on The Avenue at White Marsh. After talking to the management staff prepared and submitted 2 plans for 2 different window fronts in the same vacant store. I then received the OK to build just the garden in the main window. This was 2 level display featuring the theme of the then newly released movie The Polar Express. The garden featured 2 Lionel O gauge trains with one being Lionel's Polar Express. The garden was set up to run on a timer which allowed the garden to start at 9 AM and to stop at 11 PM daily.    

Maryland Traditions thru the Maryland State Arts Council has chosen me as a Master to teach the art of creating Christmas Train Gardens for their Master-Apprentice Program for 2011. Maryland Traditions spotlights living traditions and rewards master artists in the performing, material and building arts. The hallmark of the Master-Apprentice relationship is the time-tested method of passing on knowledge, by example, with mentor and student working side by side. Maryland Traditions Master-Apprentice Awards began in 2003 to offer the opportunity each year for up to ten successful applicant teams to benefit from intensive, systematic encounters of their own design, culminating in a specific product or goal. We are proud to share a glimpse of their experience today and encourage applications for future apprenticeships.

What is a Display?

A display can be made up from anything you own, collect or want to sell and put in such a way to show these items to others who will find this interesting.  Also size does not matter for a display, large or small  some people do not enough room in their home as others may. You could just have a small shelf to work with, but you could still impress your friends with a display of this size.  Whether these items are collectibles or not that is not important but to use these items in such a way to spark interest in others is. Your items may not valuable to others but they be priceless to you. These items can be and are not limited to things like houses, figurines, trains or vehicles, or it may be items from your childhood. One important factor that plays into any display is the creatures imagination. Your imagination is used by trying to foresee in your mind what you want the viewers of the display to see. Just like in most stores they want you to purchase some items more then other items. They will put these items in in certain locations where most customers need to go by and see this display in a way that will make the customer to buy these items. So in turn this is what you would want to do to make your display more appealing to its viewers, naturally you should want your display to be the best.

What is a Display called?

A Miniature Railroad, Model Train display, Villages of Houses & Buildings, Christmas Gardens, Putzs, and Dioramas are just some of the names that displays can be called. These names can change from region by region even  though they are still the same type items being on display. And these different names can also change as you go around the world. The names have developed over time by the people that have viewed them and  along the way  those same people may change what they had seen and whined up call it something other then what it was called. Take for example where I have lived my whole life in Baltimore, Maryland model trains put up around the Christmas holidays are called Christmas Gardens, and these same displays in upper Penna. are called a Putz and this came over here by the Germans in the 1800's.

* From the area in which I live these displays are called Christmas Gardens. The ideas and techniques described here can be used with planning & building a display of any size. But this is my process in which I use in my display building and it even works great for large displays. The last display that I designed and helped build was 18' x 44' in size and took 4 1/2 weeks to build. *

What is a Christmas Garden?

It is a temporary display of miniature items, now days most have a model train in them. And usually the builder starts setting it up around the Thanksgiving holiday. With a large majority of them going under the Christmas tree and completed before Christmas time in a persons home. Sometimes these Christmas gardens are displayed in a area where some of the garden can be viewed from like a large window by all who pass by. This was largely done in the cities and small towns until the mid 50's before automobiles became a major way of transportation and the mass exodus started from the big cities to out in the country. Items displayed can be of whatever a individual personally likes and nothing has to be in scale. It is your display and anything goes put in anything your heart desires. So a Christmas Garden's main name came from a display that is up and running during the Christmas holidays. Some fire stations in the Baltimore City & County had elaborate gardens, some started in the 1930's and many were still in operation until the late 1960's then many died out before the 70's At one point from 1978 to 1980 there was only 1 fire station left with a display and that was in Baltimore City at Cross Country Blvd. The Dundalk fire station in Baltimore County had a Christmas Garden from the early 30's to 1977. Then in 1981 the Wise Avenue Vol. Fire Company brought Dundalk's Christmas Garden back to life. And now today there are many Christmas Gardens to be seen across our State.  

 Where did Christmas Gardens start?
Since I've only been around  for just a short time this is what I learned. This tradition that came over from Germany with the immigrants in the late 1800's and that is where the name got its started. The Germans started making clockwork miniature trains around 1880.

Christmas Garden vs. a Village Display

Most Christmas gardens incorporated houses and buildings of some kind in them, early buildings where made of paper and cardboard. Later on in the late 40's some manufacturers started making plastic houses. The 1960's was a very bad time for the model trains. With the space race and then came the model race cars, model trains took a road south for a little time. In the early 70's trains had a slight rebirth but not like their hayday in the 50's. In the late 70's came a new line of houses by the Department 56 company with the first ones called Snow Village and these buildings were made of ceramic and had a shiny finish to them. And all of these were made over seas and lacked detail in the buildings. In 1984 they started making new buildings of porcelain  and these were called Heritage Village which were slightly smaller in size compared to the Snow Village line. And these were mostly sold by seasonal places and they were pushed as just Village displays that only incorporate the use of their porcelain or ceramic buildings being the main focus point. And that they could be used in small settings like on a mantle or small tables. By the mid 90's the quality of the Department 56 improved dramatically and it only took a short time for them to share a space together in a display. 

Christmas Garden vs. Model Railroad

Some Christmas Gardens incorporate the use of model trains in them. The early Christmas Gardens may have incorporated the use of wooden trains. The biggest factor in a Christmas Garden is that anything goes size wise, items do not have to be in scale with one another. As where model railroads focus on modeling after a real railroad with lots of train tracks usually holding many model trains, which may be are the focus point. Also almost all Model railroads are built to the scale of the model trains. Model railroads most of the time are a permanent deal and usually they are a work in progress.

A great display vs. a good display ......So what is a great display?

A great display is one that receives a lot of attention, it may look realistic, themed or from a fantasy. But the key to it all is that the garden grabs the attention of the viewers. Take for example here is 2 Christmas Gardens one is 10' x 24' it has 3 trains running on it it has a couple of big towns a farm and a railroad yard, it also has many trees and people in it and the Garden even looks like a postcard that you would find at a gift store. The second Garden is only 4' x 8' in size it has only 1 train running with one small mountain on it with one small town on it. But the second Garden has the following there are skiers coming down, a man comes out of a building as the train goes by, in the school has kids in the playground with some on swings, a see-saw, and a merry-go-round, a woman in the rear of 1 house is hanging clothes up on a clothes line, behind another house is a man in a hammock, there is a backhoe digging a hole and a dump truck dumping it's load, and there is Santa going down a chimney, a dog chasing the postman, a deer on the mountain is moving it's head and a man putting up a billboard. Now which one do you think would grab the most attention Garden 1 or 2. Now what if I told you that every item described in Garden 2 actually moves, which one do you think would grab the most attention and also keep the viewers there for awhile longer and even strike up a long conversation. A good display may be attractive but it will most likely not hold a persons attention for long.                                                                                                                                                                

Keeping it Simple

A Christmas Garden does not need to be complex to be great, most of the time the simpler that a garden is the better it might be. At times people make things more complex then they need to be. Simple ways cut the construction time down where complex items force you to take more time to perform a task. An example is a switch track at the back of the garden that now has become very difficult to reach since you have completed the garden. Now here as you operate your trains in front of your friends your train has a major accident near this switch. Now how long do you think it will take you to clean up this mess. To me having switch is inviting a derailment to happen, now don't get me wrong I'm not telling you not to use switch tracks, just keep these in areas that are very easy to reach. I just want you to keep in your mind of these little problems that may create very big headaches during your operation of your garden. Some of the problem areas that you need to keep in your mind as you plan your garden are and not limited to the following things.

switch tracks and areas of uneven places in the track

mountains in which your trains travel through

operating items that may not work all of the time and items that may brake down (items that have caused problems in the past)

and any areas that you have very limited access to, put in your plan ways to access your whole garden 

Planning your display

      Planning your display is just as important as building it. I will tell you the methods that I have used over the many years of designing and building displays. There are not many people who can build a 900 sq. ft. display from scratch in 1 month's time. It all comes down to planning, whether it is 4' x4' display or one that 20' x 50' I will teach you the things necessary to build a display that will turn heads in amazement over your display. To tell you the truth I have the most fun in building displays because I never build one the same. I like using fresh ideas and mixing them in with things of the past. This way people will love to see your displays, if your displays are the same as in the past people will stop coming because they will think "Aah we've see that last year let's not go". With me it's like Christmas and I'm playing Santa and I'm bringing something new this year. The planning part of your display will address many topics and items, which may not seem important to you at this time. But if you do not address certain items before you start with the construction. You may find yourself in situations where you windup undoing a task just to perform another task. One of my main believes is to do something right the first time then you will not have to worry about redoing it later on.
     Another part of the planning process is for you to make sure that you have all of the materials that you may need for the construction part. It may take you some time at first to figure out what materials and tools you may need to have on hand, but you will find out that it will cut your construction time down by leaps and bounds. How much time do you waste on hunting for something that you need right now to complete a task. How much time does this set you back? Was this on your list of things that you needed to have of hand before you started? Or oh I don't have this item I thought I had and now I have to run out and buy it, only to find out that it took me 5 days to finally go out and get it. Or, should I have bought that item 3 months ago when I saw that item in the store. These are just some of the things that we need to ask ourselves at one time or another.
     The following items need to be addressed for your plan to come together and work. Some items many not need to be addressed if your plan does not call for the use of one of the items listed. These items are listed in the order that they need to be addressed. Some items may not seem to be important to you at this time, but I believe this process will help you in overall planning stages. Some may not agree with what I have found to work for me, and that is OK. The display is part of you and a reflection of you and everyone is different and I don't want you to change your ways of doing anything. I'm just going to tell what I have found to be very important in planning and building a great display. And please believe me on these findings that I have learned. For the people who are Village collectors the buildings are near the bottom of my list, because there are more important issues that need to be addressed first. Too many people feel that they need to put every item that they own into their display. This becomes a fatal mistake in many displays because everything has become over crowded and there is not enough space to put everything in your display. When your display becomes over crowded and it will appear too busy for most people and they will loose interest in your display quickly.
     So now it's time to get out your pad of paper and pencils. Some of the other things I like have at this time are colored pencils (I like to use these for drawing my different train tracks, elevations and special areas) graph paper (for my final drawing normally I use 1 square for a 6" x 6" area, 4 squares would then equal 1' x 1') a ruler, eraser, and a measuring tape.  A list of all the items that you already own, even the items you do not plan to use. Have you ever come across a item that you forgot to have, and then you find this piece after the display is done and then say "Darn, I could have used this". And something I also like to have around is any books or magazines that you may have to use as reference tools. These are not necessary to have but I find them useful. Not to copy after, but by me seeing a photo in a book or magazine can trigger in my mind something that I may have thought about doing long a go. Here is where your imagination from long ago be brought back to life in your mind. So now its time to read about the items that go into your plan.


Where are you going to build your display? This may seem like a simple question, but where you put your display may have great impacts on what you can do with your display. Whether it is a small table or a very large display, where it is placed has bearings on what you can and can't do with your display. An example would be a display in your living room or dining room, you may not want to use real water or attaching lights and accessories from your ceiling. You may need to design a small table display to be viewed from all sides or maybe just 2 or 3 of the sides, but this has a bearing on your design. Another factor in your planning you must take into consideration is having access to your display. Its not a good idea to put your display up and then find out later on that you can not reach your electric panel. Or how are you going to supply the electric to your display, you definitely do not want people stepping on or being tripped by electric cords running to your display.   


This is really up to you and how much space you have to work with, but one of the most important consideration is in having access to all areas of your display. You need to have access for the construction of your display whether it is in your reach or whether you built your platforms where it allows you to get on top of or able to come up from the bottom of your display. I can say from first hand experience that something will always happen at one time or another, and then you will find a need to fix something. And if you plan on having some large mountains or elevated platforms this will require you to have a larger than normal area to work with. With the use of mountains you will lose from 10% to 30% of your working area due to the mountainsides and slopes. But my personal feelings is that mountains add so much more to a display. They adds a new dimension then just having a flat display, in reality there is no comparison with a display using mountains. And I will be telling you more in depth about of mountains in the mountain section.


Here again this is a personal judgement call, if you already have and use a height that you feel comfortable with then stick with it. I have found a height of about 30" for your main level to be best to work with. And depending on your display bases or elevated platforms that you use I have found that increments 10" to 12" for elevated platforms seem to work best. I have also dropped some sections to a height of 18" from the floor to do some special things. Like mountains a dip below your main height we allow you to do some special things like adding bridges, rivers and waterfalls. Back 2001 at Department 56's 25th celebration they had every building that they ever made on display and they even had 'O' gauge trains operating. But I felt that the height of their displays was way too high because if you were in a wheelchair or a child you could not see most of their displays properly.


Use of trains

The addition of trains to Christmas Gardens helps provide a mode of transportation, which have been around since the early 1800's. It also adds a element of movement into your garden. Steam engines were available for use in the 1800's to 1960's time period. Electric locomotives were available from 1880's to today and diesel locomotives were used from the 1910s to today's time period. Trains were in real life to move people and supplies from one location to another. They were a life line for the towns that they went to the need for food and materials was vital to their survival. And how else would Santa get his supplies needed for his factories to make all of toys and gifts that he needs to deliver for Christmas.

Gauge vs. Scale there is a difference

There is a difference between gauge and scale. Gauge refers to the space between the train tracks outside rails, O gauge track which is 1 1/4" wide. Many people do not realize that 'O' 'O27' & Super 'O' track are of the same gauge. All 'O' gauge trains can run on all of these different named O gauge tracks. The major difference is in the scale, even though these 2 terms 'gauge' and 'scale' are sometimes used interchangeably, technically, they're different. Scale refers to the size of an item that is in proper proportion to the same item in real life. The size of the trains are sometimes are not made to true scale but the track is a standard width for trains to run on. An example is Lionel trains which produces only some items that are to scale but the majority are made in gauge, which means that they will operate on the same track but the gauge items may be smaller or larger, then real trains. Now for the 'O' & 'O27' names, both tracks are the same gauge (same distance between the outer rails) 'O27' track will make a 27" circle, 'O' track which is a heavier made track will make a 31" circle, and 'O' gauge Fastrack makes a 36" circle. And you can purchase different diameter track to use up to 138" diameter track. And it does not matter which gauge or scale trains that you are dealing with there are plenty of options as far as which gauge of you are working with you can still purchase different diameter of track for them. Now to scale, an example is 'O' scale and it is 1/48th or 1:48 in in scale to it's real counterpart. Most of Lionel's trains are not made to scale, most are smaller then scale and only a few are larger then scale. But they do make some true to scale, and these are more expensive then their run of the mill trains. Now here comes the kicker most engines and some cars require a larger diameter track to operate on most scale engines need at least O54" with some needing over O72" track to operate on. And when you go to a hobby store make sure you know what track you need please don't in and ask for Standard gauge track, this was Lionel's 2nd gauge of track which was introduced in 1906 and called it Standard Gauge and they even trademarked the name. And some Standard gauge trains are still produced today which in size they a slightly larger then G gauge. 
Most of the Train Scales made today are 
Standard Gauge 1:27
G Gauge  1:22.5
O/O27 Gauge  1:48
S Gauge  1:64
OO Gauge 1:76
HO Gauge  1:87
TT Gauge  1:120
N Gauge  1:160
Z Gauge  1:220
ZZ Gauge  1:300
T Gauge  1:450

Here are some train engines in different gauges. Starting from the left is a G gauge engine, O gauge engine on MTH Realtrax, O gauge engine on O gauge track, an On30 engine which operates on HO track, and HO engine. Please note that the 1st 'O' gauge engine shown here is in black is smaller then a 'O' Scale engine, the next 'O' gauge in black & red is larger then a 'O' Scale engine, then we have the On30 engine in red, black and gold boiler front this engine is being claimed as a narrow gauge 'O' engine.

Which gauge of trains are best for you
HO gauge - pros & cons
 Pros -  high detail
  Many models to choose from
  2 rail tracks
 Cons - easily derails
  Parts usually brake easily
Hard to put back on track
  Value usually decreases rapidly
  Tracks need to be almost perfectly level
2 rail tracks systems can create some electrical problems

On30 gauge - pros & cons
 Pros -  high detail
  2 rail tracks
 Cons -  easily derails
  Hard to put back on the track
  Very limited selection to choose from
  Tracks need to be almost perfectly level
2 rail tracks systems can create some electrical problems

S gauge    - pros & cons
 Pros - fits well with Heritage villages
  Runs on 2 rail track
  Does not derail easily
 Cons - limited models to choose from
  2 rail tracks systems can create some electrical problems

O gauge   - pros & cons
 Pros - fits well with all villages
Easy & fast to set up & operate
Easy to put trains on track
  Easy to set tracks up
  Does not derail easily
Many models to choose from
Value usually increases
Can be purchased to run on 2 rail tracks
Cons - expensive
Most Run on 3 rail tracks

G gauge   - pros & cons
Pros - goes well with d-56 figures
  Runs on 2 rail track
 Does not derail easily
Cons - too large for d-56 buildings
 2 rail tracks systems can create some electrical problems

Accessories for Christmas Gardens

OK, what is an accessory? You may say what? Well an accessory is just about everything you have in your Christmas Garden. Now why is that? Buildings and people could be accessories for your trains. Or your trains could be accessories to your houses. Now why is that, if your trains are the main focus point to Christmas Garden then everything ease is an accessory to the trains. I could own a large collection of different miniature Santas that I want to be my focus point of my Christmas Garden then everything else I put in my garden is an accessory to my Santas. So you see almost everything that is in your Christmas Garden could be an accessory.

My next question is where can you find accessories? Again the answer is just about every place. Places where you would not even think of is where you can find accessories. How many people have went to a cake decorating store. There you would not even believe to what you might find. The bigger stores like this is where you can usually find all kind of things like tons of people of different sizes and doing just about anything. Toy stores is another great place to find different things and where can you find the some of the best things. Usually right as you walk in where they have all the little packets of items for parties. And now you have many other places to start your searching like all of the dollar stores, novelty stores and even flea markets can be great sources to help find items that can be used as accessories.

You can start off by making a list of things that you would like to find to be used as accessories. Do you want to know a little secret about finding things to use as accessories? You know the list I told you to make! That list should not be too long and then stick it in your wallet tucked away. If you go hunting just for certain items, my bet is that 90% of those items you will not find. Most of the things that I have found have been things that I was not looking for. You need to first keep your mind open to the fact that all year round you will look for anything that remotely be used in a future garden. Have your mind debate whether or not to purchase what you are looking at. And if you do not buy these items now, most likely when come back to get them they'll be gone. Also keep your eyes open for accessories all year round because some finds will only come once in a lifetime. You have the world at your finger tips just like you are reading this, on the world wide web. Just be careful on what you see and read on line, some things may not be as they appear on line.          

The Scale of Department 56 Buildings 

I have collected and worked with model trains for over 45 years now. I have also been building animated displays for model train people for over 30 years. In all my years of building model train layouts I am always looking for ways of improving each layout. It was a few years ago when I first noticed the high detail work in the Department 56 products. I wound up buying some accessories that year from the North Pole Village. But what intrigued me was the fact that Department 56 was using HO trains with their villages. Then they introduced the so called HO trolley, which does use and run on HO track but the trolley body size is more like O gauge size. This was more like On30 from Bachmann well before their release of the On30 gauge trains. So with my start into using Department buildings and accessories I became curious about their sizes and compared them to model trains. And below are just some of my findings after taking the measurements from the buildings and accessories and converting to real life objects. 

      In building train layouts it is important to get all of the items that you are going to use to be very close in the same size category. This adds realism to your display. The most common sizes of trains are:
HO gauge which is 1 inch to 87 inches
              a 2 inch tree is 14 1/2 feet tall in real life
S gauge which is 1 inch to 64 inches
              a 2 inch tree is 12 2/3 feet tall in real life
O gauge which is 1 inch to 48 inches
              a 2 inch tree is 8 feet tall in real life
G gauge which is 1 inch to 24 inches
              a 2 inch tree is 4 feet tall in real life

Here are some different gauges of people, standing in front of a G gauge train on the left, O gauge train in the middle & a HO train on the right. Starting from the left is a Snow Village ceramic person, next is 3 different types of porcelain figures from the Heritage Village collection, next is a G gauge person with a wheel borrow, 2 O gauge people and 2 HO workmen.

Standing in front of a Department 56 New England Village house is a Heritage Village boy, with a O gauge boy next and a HO teenager on the right. Notice the difference in their sizes compared the front door of the house.

      My personal feelings are that O gauge trains like Lionel, MTH, K-Line etc. are a much closer match for the Department 56 buildings and accessories then the HO trains which D-56 first sold to go along with their buildings and accessories. Department 56 then sold a On30 train set that was built by Bachmann. The buildings are slightly small for O gauge but the accessories are slightly larger then the O gauge, where as the buildings are much larger then the HO gauge and the accessories are gigantic compared to HO gauge.

      Here are some examples of Department 56 products using measurements to compare them to HO and O gauge. The above photo shows buildings from Christmas In City, Department-56 is on the left next is a Plasticville O/S split level house, which is next to a Plasticville HO split level house and the building on the right is a HO Kentucky Fried Chicken building. These buildings are sitting in front of other Department-56 buildings from Snow Village, New England Village, Dickens Village and the North Pole Village.

*One man band is 2 1/2 inches high, the dog standing on it's back legs is 1 1/4 inches high.
*One man band in O would be 10 feet tall and the dog would be standing 5 feet tall.
*One man band in HO would be 18 feet tall and the dog would be 9 feet tall.

*J.D. Nichols toy shop is 8 inches high, 7 inches wide, 5 inches deep, front door is 1 1/2 inches high, and about 2 1/2 inches high per floor.
*J.D. Nichols in HO is 58 feet high, 51 feet wide, 36 feet deep, front door is 10 feet high and about 22 feet high between the floors.
*J.D. Nichols in O would be 32 feet high, 28 feet wide, 20 feet deep, with a front door 6 feet high, and 10 feet high between the floors.

*Captains Cottage is 5 3/4 inches high, 6 inches wide, 4 inches deep, front door is 1 1/4 inches high, and approximately 1 3/4 inches between the floors.
*Captains Cottage using HO gauge in real life would be 42 feet high, 43 1/2 feet wide, 29 feet deep, front door 9 feet high, and roughly 13 feet between floors.
*Captains Cottage using O gauge in real life would be 23 feet high, 24 feet wide, 16 feet deep, front door 5 feet high, and roughly 7 feet between floors.

Differences Between

Department-56, Plasticville, Lemax & other Manufacturers of buildings.

As you can see in the photo above, all of the Department 56 buildings tower over the 2 HO buildings. And most of these Department 56 buildings are from the Heritage Collection (porcelain type) and the Diner behind the Plasticville O/S house is from Department 56 Snow Village Collection (ceramic) which is larger then the Heritage buildings. Now what I grew up with was the Bachmann Plasticville houses which are color molded plastic houses. And we would use the old style Christmas lights under them and when we would turn off the lights in the room all of the houses would light up the color of the light bulb that we had put under them. The one draw back is that the molded plastic was usually the same color for the house and some of the windows & doors (which you had to put together) and the roofs were a different color. Most of the colors were the same for each style building and occasionally the companies would change the colors of the buildings. Each of the companies making these buildings was a little different, most of them were made as a snap together building kits which would allow you to take them apart for easy storage when not in use. Most of the boxes that these snap together houses came in are only about 2" thick which makes for easy storage. But now most companies that sell model houses, sell them already assembled. And there are manufacturers who will sell you kits of houses that you have to assemble them by yourself and most of the houses are made to scale.

Some of the Companies that produce houses and buildings are

Atlas,   Bachmann,   Berkshire Valley,   BTS Structures,   Carole Towne,   Design Preservation Models,   Department 56,  

Hawthorne,  K-Line,   Lefton,   Lemax,   Life-Like,   Lionel,    Marx,   Model Power,   MTH,   Plastruct

But most of them come already assembled which creates a storage problem because their boxes are bigger then the building. This means you may need a lot of room for storage just for your houses and this problem comes with all of the ceramic, porcelain and acrylic houses too. But what is offset here is having much more in detail on the house. Over the years the quality and details in these houses has increased tremendously. So the people who collect these style of houses instead of trains have a greater need for storage. And this storage issue with village collectors becomes a year round problem because you still need the storage area for the boxes when you have your villages out. Even some of these buildings become monsters in size with some of them over 24" in height. But it is not height as much as the footprint(length x width) that a building takes up. This especially becomes critical when you have a small layout, a small 4' x 8' has only 32 square feet to work with. And if a building of yours takes up 1 square foot(12" x 12") that is one valuable piece of ground if you have train in this garden it may take up around 20 square feet, subtract the 20 square feet and the 1 square feet for the building. Now you have used 21 square feet out of 32 square feet that now only leaves you with 11 square feet to work with. The biggest difference is in the accessories that are associated with their buildings. Department 56 and Lemax accessories are extremely larger in proportion to there buildings as you can see in some of my photos.

In the above photo are Bachmann's Plasticville houses which are color molded plastic houses and this is how they appear with Christmas lights under them and with the lights off. This is reminiscence of the 50's and 60's time period with the widely used plastic buildings in Christmas train gardens.

Animation and what it does?

  Animation adds movement and excitement to a display, it is some means of making inanimate things come to life with movement. Everyday as we look around there is movement going on all around us.

A photo is worth a 1000 words. But in the photo above what you can not see is the water squirting from the ladder truck, the firefighter putting up the ladder, the 2 different firefighters going up and down ladders, the fire ladder truck with it's basket going up and down, or the other ladder truck with it's ladder turning. Or the 5 baseball players and the scorekeeper moving as they play baseball in the background behind the building on fire.   

What it adds to a display

  Like in real life most of the things that are going on around us are moving. A display is our own little world in miniature and if there is no movement it is like just looking at a dead world. I try to have as much animation in a display as possible; I want my world to be alive and
 full of movement. I have had about 250 different animated items in one display at one time. Animation also attracts attention to certain areas to enhance it.

Special Themes (Carnivals, circus, golf course, etc.)

From the start you need to have an idea of any special themes that you may want to incorporate into your display. For an example a circus will need a space of 3' x 8' to 4' x 12' dedicated for just the circus. A miniature putt putt golf course will need about 18" x 18" as opposed to a regular golf course which may need at least 3' x 4' to look halfway decent. Here is a list of just some of the special themes that need space allocated for you to insert them into your display. Here are some of the ones that I have used over the years. Fire scene, Farm, Carnival, Circus, Amusement Park, Sea World, Raceway, Movie Studio, Military Base, Zoo, School yard, Outdoor park, Winter activity area, Baseball game, Football game, Soccer game, Lakes and Ponds, Industrial area, Fantasy of Lights, City or Town area, Construction site, Logging Camp, Coal mine, Automobile factory, Steel mill, Drive-in movie theater, Jurassic Park, Golf course, Miniature putt putt golf, Winter festival, Junk yard. Naturally you cannot use all of these together. But two rules I follow in planning and building a display is to Never Have It Look The Same and to Always Change Some Of The Themes from year to year to keep a display looking New & Different. Make a list of the different themes that you would like to incorporate into your display


Platform bases

The platform/display bases are the surface and supporting pieces that will hold your display. They can either be made to accommodate your display or you can use table surfaces to hold your display. When you make your own platforms you are not limited to what you can do with your display. As where using surfaces which you damage limits what you can do. One rule to follow for platform size is not to have a distance from the edge of your platform that is greater than 3' to the back of the platform, which has no access from the back, or a distance greater than 6" if you have access from each side. Any bases with greater sizes then above should be built strong enough to hold twice your weight. Most of the bases that I have built have 2" x 4" lumber for support framing with 2" x 4" legs and ½" plywood tops for my display bases and usually I keep the larger display bases in standard sizes of 4' x 8'.

Mountain placement

Mountains add a sense of dimension to a display. Mountain tops can hold their now scenes on them and they can hide things below their surfaces. Mountains also help make trains disappear from sight; this will be discussed later in the transportation section. There are some guidelines I follow when placing mountains into a display. If a display is placed up against a wall this gives you an opportunity to only have to build 3/4 of mountains since the backsides can be placed against the wall, or better yet is if you can place the mountain in a corner since you only have to build 2 sides instead of 3 or 4 sides. Another point is if you have a display that has a long front distance, it is best to have at least 2 mountains and these should be placed on or near the each end of your display. I have found that the ends of a display look better with mountains placed near or at the ends with the main level of your display in the middle. With the use of elevated platforms you can easily create nice mountains. But whether you incorporate small or large mountains into your display these will add better appearance to your display as opposed to having all flat ground. You have to plan for mountains before hand and remember that the sides and slopes of the mountains will eat into the flat areas of your display. On a average these slopes and sides will require an area at least half as much area as the total height of the immediate hill or mountain that you are working on (example is if you have an elevated platform that is 12" high then the mountain side will come out about 6" from the top elevated platform side). The more mountains that you have will somewhat limit the total amount of surface area that you have to work with.

Elevated platforms

Elevated platforms provide working areas (for scenes, buildings, etc.) on different levels. These levels can vary from a few inches in height to around 1 foot in height. The platforms are usually smaller in size than the main base level. If you cannot reach any area of the elevated platform than the platform must be able to more than a persons' weight. Again if you do not have access to all of the areas of a display (including above and below those areas) you are inviting problems to happen that you cannot reach. And in turn if a problem does happen in an area that you do not access to than the problem cannot be corrected.

Animation placement

Once you have figured out how you want the bases to be laid out for your display. Then you can start adding in the other features that you want to incorporate into the display. Next comes placement of large animated scenes such as motorized highways, skiing hills, D-56 accessory tracks or any animation display over 18" x 18". These larger animations need to be placed in conjunction with the modes of transportation and waterways that you plan to use. Since each of these items can infer with one another as far as placement goes you must make a decision on which items are most important to you and what type of visual effect that you want to achieve. The most important item of this group of items should be your first train followed by a waterfalls and lake.

Transportation right of ways (train tracks, roads, cable cars, rivers, etc.)

The modes of transportation is important to any display since these are the ways the people in your miniature world move about from one area to another. One item I missed while talking about trains is the fact that HO gauge trains take up half the room of O gauge trains which is TRUE, but that statement is only true when using HO building and figures with the HO trains in a display. From my photos you could see that D-56 buildings and figures are more O gauge than HO. So if you are using HO gauge trains with D-56 in a display then the HO are the same as if you were using O gauge trains. Transportation routes are dirt roads for people, animals and early cars, asphalt and cement roads for people and cars, waterways for boat traffic, railroad tracks for trains for transportation between towns, and airports & airplanes for modern towns. You need roads to go from building to building and from town to town. And these roads are also needed to connect homes and villages, which may be on different elevations together. But you need rail service to connect the towns together. And all of these means take up room in a display, anywhere from a 3" to 6" wide area. Here again if you have 3 roads in a town that are parallel to one another this alone will use 10" and up to 18" of your working surface area. This is another reason these items need to be drawn in. One of the most important factors in using any model train is to make it disappear from sight. No matter if you are using one train to 10 trains at a time these trains need to disappear from sight at some point. Making a train disappear from sight gives perception that it traveling a greater distance than what it really is. Remember when I said to keep things simple; well when you use trains the simple things will keep the trains running with minimal problems. The use of switch tracks and crossing tracks increase the your possibility of having train derailments. Another item which causes many train derailments is the use of to many curve tracks grouped together like having a long snake, but it is the constant turning that creates the problem in a derailment, going side to side puts much stress on the back of the train. It is best to use many straight tracks and as few curve tracks as possible. Another factor for train derailments is the diameter of the curve track that you may use, the smaller that a circle of track forms increases the chance of having a derailment. Curve track comes in different diameters and it best to use the largest, which can be accommodated on your display. With the use of mountains and tunnels you can create many illusions of your trains appearing and disappearing from sight.

 Waterways (real & artificial)

The use of water in a display adds another dimension to your display just like the addition of mountains. Lakes and ponds can be used as stand alone (no need for streams or rivers to either supply or being fed) but if you plan to have waterfalls you need a pond or lake on both ends one to supply the water and another to receive the water. Using real water vs. using artificial water, it does not matter which one you use because both with take up about that same amount of area. I have found using real water to be very easy and by far the most realistic. But no matter what type and form of water you intend to use, these items need to be addressed in the planning stage.

Special projects (junkyard, playgrounds, Christmas tree lot, etc.)

For the most part special projects add a touch of realism to your display. Most of the time these special projects are something you remember from your real life experiences. Whether it was the playground you grew up with as a child or maybe years ago you remember going and getting a real Christmas tree for the first time. All you have to do is replay the video that is tucked away in the back of your memory of those times. One of the things I have found to work for me to jog my mind is to listen to Christmas music as I work on my display plan. Sometimes the music will help you to recall the days from years ago and some of the things you experienced.

Building Placement

I know that this is a group of people who collect village buildings. And I believe most of own more buildings then we know what to do with. But as I mentioned earlier it is a fatal mistake to try to use every building we own. If you are going to build a display and you want it to look as realistic as possible then you need to allow room for all of the accessories that bring a display to life. If you want to display all of your houses, you are probably better off just using shelves to display your houses sitting next to one another. Pick out some of your buildings that you really want to feature in different areas. After you have picked out your main buildings then pick out some of your other buildings that would work well together with the main buildings. Here are some examples of some groups that could work together in certain areas. In the country you could have DV Dursley Manor, NE Harper's Farm & Farmhouse and CIC Consulate together in an area. Or near a stream DV Denton Mill, NE Bluebird Seed & Bulb and AV Grist Mill would look good together. In the mountains the DV Staghorn Lodge, NE Semple's Smokehouse and AV Bernhardiner Hundchen can be grouped together in an area. These are just a very few of the many building groupings you can have. Another idea is to have your larger buildings behind your smaller buildings. And kind in mind to have the buildings best sides facing the lines of sight since most D-56 buildings have a bad side. Instead of having one large town, try having some of the buildings grouped together and have different sections in you're towns using different accessories and trees to separate them.


If your display has a backside (a side that is against a wall or a side that cannot be viewed) then you need to address the fact of having some kind of background to hide that backside. If you do not have access to that side to work on your display than you will need to address this problem early on. First you will need to know the size of the area that will need to have the background. You need to figure out how wide the background needs to be and the height, which is measured from the lowest seen point of your display to the highest point, which could the top of the highest mountain that you have planned. If you are planning to use a rolled background material like D-56 sells, then that area will have to be a height that is less than the total height of that material. Some backgrounds can be pieced together like the starry night background but if you are going to use a background that has villages, etc. then you will have problems piecing together these types. If the area is large, you may need to think of alternative ways to create your background. One-way would be to use either drywall or plywood for your background, which will need to be supported in some way. Then you can paint in you're background and it could be as simple as painting it all a real light blue shade to resemble sky and then paint in some white clouds. In the planning stage you must figure out the materials you will need to put up your background and to have those materials on hand before you start construction.

Electrical needs

Another consideration that needs attention is the electrical needs of your display. First how close are your electrical outlets to your display? Are these receptacles across from you're display where it could interfere with people walking? Do you have enough electrical outlets is supply all of electrical needs? Make sure you use extra heavy extension cords that have multi-tap receptacles at the end. Do you have the proper accessory adapters needed for your accessories? If you want your accessories to last do not mix and match accessory adapters the voltage and milliamps may be different then what is required.


Are you going to use additional lighting to create different effects for your display? There some options that you can incorporate into your display like using black lights or dark blue floodlights to aid your nighttime scene. Or you may want to use a set of Christmas twinkle lights that has the chase light feature, these bulbs can be pushed through your background in places that simulate the sky to have twinkling stars. Again you need to have these items on hand before you start the actual construction of your display

Drawing it on paper

The next thing to do is to make a sketch of area that you plan to build your display in. When you draw this on paper it is best to use a ruler and use 1 inch for every 1 foot of space that you intend to use. If your space will not fit on one sheet of paper you can either scale down your drawing example ½" equals 1 foot or you can tape other sheets of paper together to make the paper the size you need to draw on. After you have your main level drawn in you would next draw in your elevated platforms if you plan to have any. Keep in mind the areas you will need for your special themes. Draw in the placement of any large sized animations that you plan to use. Draw in any train tracks if you plan to use any and if you plan to use more than 1 train then draw each train track a different color. Next if you are using elevated platforms you need to shade an area 6" to 12" from the edge of the elevated platforms over the section that is below that elevated section (you could have a few elevated sections on top of one another). Draw in any ponds, rivers or waterfalls that you maybe planning to use. Draw in your roads allowing for buildings to be placed between the road such items as another road, mountains, train tracks, etc. allowing about 1' of space for building placement. Also label each different area to what you plan to do with each area.

Using graph paper

Using graph paper is the next step except for each square block use 3" in real life for each side of a block (so 4 blocks across and 4 blocks up, 16 total blocks would equal 1 square foot of area. Use the same format as drawing it on paper from above but now you can draw in each animation and building you plan to use. THIS IS ONLY A GUIDE if you draw in 10 buildings does not mean that you can fit 10 buildings in there if your accessories take up more area then you planned on.


Materials Check List & Gathering your materials

One of the most important parts of planning a display is gathering up all of the tools and materials that you will need to construct your display. You cannot continue to build if you do not have all of the needed materials on hand. And the first item is to make up a checklist of all the materials and tools that you will need to build your display.

Building your display

Now that is time to start construction of your display, remember what I stated at the end of the planning stage “have all of the tools & materials needed to construct your display at hand" And it best to cover the area that you will be working in with a heavy plastic to protect your flooring during the construction phase.

Platforms - base & elevated sections

Whether you use a table, basket or any other pre made device to set your display on is considered to be your base platform. You can also build your own base platform and this can be done by many different methods. One method on building your own platforms is to construct them out of wood. Again this depends on how large of a display you plan on building. If your display is 6' wide or less and you can work from each side of the display, then it can be constructed with smaller lumber (example use 2" x 3" studs and build a frame for your platform, up to 4' x 8' in size and each frame should not be larger then 4' x 4' in size. An example is a 4' x 8' frame would have one cross member in the middle to form 2 - 4' x 4' sections on the one frame. And since you can reach all parts of your display you can use a 4' x 8' x ¼" plywood to cover the frame. Remember that the smaller sized wood can only be used in a display where you can reach every spot of the display without getting on top of it. For larger displays where it will require you to get on top of the display you will need to use heavier lumber. The support frame should be made of 2" x 4" studs and use ½" plywood for the platform tops. This will allow you to have a sturdy platform to support your weight. The frame studs can be joined together will the use of 3" drywall screws, screws will hold the framing together better than with the use of nails. The number of cross braces is dependent on how many you would like to use but you do need at least one to help distribute the weight that maybe placed on top of the platform. Also remember that some of the studs will need to be shorter than the actual size of the platform top. Example a 4' x 8' platform can have 2 - 8' long studs but the 3 cross braces cannot be 4' long, they will need to be 4' minus the total width measurement of the 2 - 8' long studs. After the platform frame has been assembled you can then attach the ½" plywood top to it, here I use 1" drywall screws to attach the top to the frame. Next would be the legs to support the platform and these can be of the length of your choosing, I prefer legs made of 2" x 4" and 30" in length for my main level. We use 2 - ¼" bolts to attach each leg to the framing, the 2 bolt holes that need to be drilled should be offset to help against leg twisting. We counter sink each outside hole ½" deep x the size of the washer that you will be using for the ¼" bolts, this will allow you to have nothing protruding from your framing and it also allows you to connect 2 platforms together without having gaps between the platforms. First use at least a 6" clamp to hold the framing and leg together, place the leg against the inside corner of the frame, if you screwed or nailed the fame together do not position the holes for the legs into the framing stud that received the screws or nails, so not to drill into them, secure the leg & frame together in one corner with use of a clamp (the spring loaded clamps of today are very easy to use). Now you can drill one hole for a bolt through both the framing & leg. After drilling the hole, next countersink the bolt hole in the framing piece. Use a 4" or 4 ½" x ¼" bolt with 2 washers one on each side. After the first bolt is attached you can then remove the clamp and drill the second hole like the first and use another bolt to finish attaching the leg. Then do the same with the other 3 legs. If you are using more then one platform you can attach them together like the method for attaching the legs. Position the 2 platforms together making sure that the tops of the platforms are level, you may need to add a small shim under legs that are uneven and use a clamps to hold the 2 platforms together and then you can drill your bolt holes. You need to have at least 2 bolts to attach a 2' section, 3 bolts for up to a 4' section and use 4 bolts for an 8' section. For elevated platforms use the same methods as above but here you only need to have shorter legs for the elevated platforms. Here again I prefer to use 12" legs for all of my elevated platforms. The 12" high platforms will allow you to have 8" of clearance underneath the elevated section, which is a good height for running trains under.

Access Points

You need to have access points to get to places that you cannot reach. If there are areas that you cannot reach from the front, back or sides then you may need to have access from underneath the platform. In this case if you have large elevated platforms you may want to cut away parts of the plywood that is under the elevated sections to allow you access from underneath.

Train track

Here you want to position the train tracks in the areas that you have planned for and work around areas that you have not planned for, an example is, maybe now there is a platform leg in the way of your planned route, so you will need to modify tracks to accommodate these items. Depending on how long your track is will depend on how many power connectors will be needed for your tracks. You should have a connector for each 20' of track used this will help distribute the current through the tracks allowing for a smooth performance. If you are using more than one train and they are running parallel to one another then you have to make sure that your trains do not collide with one another. One way to check this is to have a train on the outside track and to have a train locomotive that has the largest overhang (front and back parts of a locomotive that sticks out when the locomotive is on a curve track) and bring this locomotive around the turn that leads to the parallel sections and see if the trains touch.


Before you start putting your track together, inspect each section of track for signs of corrosion, as this will hinder the flow of electric in the track. When putting your track together make sure that your entire track connects up tightly, if you have loose connections this will break down the electrical current flowing in your track. Another factor is to make sure each section of track butts up even to the other piece of track (no gaps in the tracks). Make sure that you inspect each area of the platform as to where the track will be run to make sure that the platform is level (track run over uneven levels can damage the track when you anchor the track down and this will cause derailments at these points). Secure your entire track down to the platform with the recommended fasteners, information on which kind to purchase can be found in the instructions of your train set since different types of track may require different fasteners. After the track is secured down carefully run your fingertips over all of your tracks to make sure there are no uneven places in your track. Before you start construction of mountains or the use of other materials, which could be spilled or dropped onto the tracks, in these areas such as tunnel areas you will want to cover your track with newspaper. After you have finished with your construction phase and you are ready to test your train, you will first need to check your track one final time. This time carefully run your fingertips between the track rails to make sure that nothing is protruding up through the rails and also looking for any type of screws, nails or staples that maybe laying between the rails because these items can cause a short in the electrical current.

Major animated items

I consider major animated items to be animated pieces that are larger then normal or ones that need special attention to where they are placed like skiers where you may want to blend in your mountains into them. Or you man want to have small platforms that are just large enough to mount an animation on and to build these into your mountains. Another example would be an accessory track where you may want to hide part of the track from sight by having it go under a mountain.


Here you can incorporate either a premade background or if you have a little artist touch inside of you, then you may want to try to paint your own. But first you need a material for your background, and there are many ways you can do this. One-way is to use  ½" sheet rock for a wall which can be painted on or you can attach premade scenery paper to. Using sheet rock will require using spackling to cover up the seams and screw holes and light sanding to smooth out the surface. After that you can paint the total surface a real light blue paint and then paint in some clouds. Or you can add to the scenery by painting in some towns or mountains. Also instead of using sheet rock you could use Lauan  1/4" plywood. You can also use heavy cardboard to form a wall and use a cloth material over top of the cardboard to form your backdrop. One item that will not look right on top cardboard is the pre made paper backdrops because the ribs of the cardboard will show.

Water (lakes, waterfalls, rivers, etc.)

There are various ways to make water, I am going to discuss two different methods, and the first will be on using real water and a way to make fast artificial water. I have been using real water for 30 years and I feel that it safe and easy to do if you take certain precautions. Always build the banks of your waterways at least 1" higher than the highest level that you have planned your water level to be. Also if you are going to build waterfalls then The materials needed to build a real water lake, river and waterfalls, - extra heavy plastic sheeting like the kind used as a protective covering over a tablecloth, glue sticks and a hot glue gun, heavy duty staple gun, ½" staples, drill, jig-saw, 1½" drywall screws, ½" plywood, 2" x 4" boards, ½" x 1" boards, assortment of spray paints, different sized stones, small pump with a rating of about 240 GPH (also check the head pressure example is if you have a waterfall that is 5" high top to bottom then you need a head pressure that will flow 6" high, tubing to fit the size of the pump discharge, a flow control value for the size of tubing, a U shaped clamp about the size of the tubing.


For a simple waterfall you need 2 holding ponds and 1 waterfall section. The waterfall section should not have a steep slope (a steep slope will cause much splashing of the water). Cut out your pond bottoms from the ½" plywood, add 2" of space all the way around the inside dimension of the pond. Construction of the bottom pond frame, use short pieces of 2" x 4" (these can be scrap pieces of wood) lay these short pieces out in the shape of the pond with the long sides facing up then place the bottom piece on top of the 2" x 4"s, put two screws into each 2" x 4" through the bottom plywood (check to make sure that no screw is protruding through any board that could put a puncture hole in the plastic lining). After your bottom pond frame is done the next item to work on is the top pond frame, which should be slightly smaller then your bottom pond. This is constructed is a similar manner as you did for the bottom pond the only difference is that the top pond needs to have a spill section incorporated into it for the water to flow from the top to the bottom. This section should be less than ½ the height of the pond banks and should be on the inside of the outside dimensions of the pond. After the top and bottom ponds are secured into place with some small drywall screws you can then proceed to the next step. Next you would build the waterfalls part, measure (from the bottom part of the top pond at the spill section to the inside back part of the bottom pond) and cut out a piece of plywood as wide as you want your waterfalls to be. Attach the top part first using screws and then attach the bottom part and this will be the bottom part of the waterfalls. Next measure for the top pieces of the waterfalls (from the top most part of the spill section of the top pond to the bottom pond about 4" forward of the back of the waterfalls and add 3" to that measurement for these parts to extend 2" above the top spill section. Secure these 2 pieces into place, one to each topside next to the spill section of the top pond to the bottom pond. After all of the pond and waterfall bracing is secured in place you can then check for anything that may puncture the plastic and eliminate these problem areas if you find any. Next always start at the bottom pond and work your way upwards when working with the plastic and always have a overlap of the plastic which should cover the entire bracing for the ponds and waterfalls. Secure the plastic to the bottom of the pond with the use of hot glue and then to all of the side braces with the glue working from inside out. Always make sure that the plastic is always higher then the bracing so water will not leak out. As you work your way up the waterfalls first secure the plastic to the very back part first and then to the front part of the waterfalls making sure that the waterfalls is in on big U shape so that the water will stay to the back part. After the waterfalls is glued into place work on the top section starting with the spill section, glue all the plastic down securely to make sure that this is the lowest point of the pond so the water will flow down the waterfalls and not over the sides. After you have done that you can then glue down the rest of the top pond. Place the pump into the bottom pond with the intake side of the pump to the bottom of the pond and to the side of the waterfalls that may be hidden from view. Run the plastic tubing from the pump to the top pond with a flow control device in the middle of the tubing and secure the tubing to the top bracing around the top pond in the rear of the pond. Your ponds and waterfalls are almost done now, all that is needed is to paint the ponds and waterfalls using spray paints, paint the entire ponds and waterfalls a mixture of brown, black, tan and gray colors and then you can add some blues to the bottom of the ponds with the darkest blue in the centers to give a sense of depth. Build your mountains around the sides of the ponds and waterfalls making sure that you do not puncture the plastic. After you have completed building your mountains you can then add water to your ponds for testing, add water to your top pond until the water starts to flow over the spill section, then add water to the bottom pond and fill your bottom pond until it is about 1" from the top of the pond and stop. It is now time to plug in your pump and adjust the flow control valve until you feel that your waterfalls looks best and test your waterfalls out, look for any signs of leakage, and if any are found empty the water out of that section and dry it thoroughly and then you can seal that area with a clear silicone sealer. The easiest and quickest way to have water is to use a thin piece of Styrofoam about 1/4" thick, cut it to the dimensions you want your water to be and then wrap it with blue colored plastic wrap, keep wrapping it and changing the overlaps (the more plastic wrap in some areas will give it appearance of depth. Put into place and you are done, quick and simple.


Mountains can be built in many ways. The first way I will discuss is by using ceiling tiles which can be found at all of the large hardware stores and most stores throw away the broken tiles and these are the ones that work the best since you will be braking them up. Before you start breaking the tiles you should wear a paper style respirator that covers your mouth and nose to protect yourself from the fibers that are caused by breaking the tiles. It is also best to either brake the tiles outside or to seal off the room so that the fibers will not travel outside of the room. You want to break the tiles into 3" to 6"wide strips and these strips can be in various lengths. Next you need to have plenty of wood glue and drywall screws on hand for the construction phase. Start with securing the tiles in place by using the glue and making sure that the broken edges are facing out to give the appearance of cliffs, occasionally use a screw to secure the tiles in place this helps to secure them while the glue is drying. Mix up the pieces of tiles by using different lengths (similar to laying bricks) this will make your mountain very stable. After you have the mountain built your can finish it by adding color to it by either spraying the mountain with a assortment of colors, Here I would use dye (Rit dye) in spray bottles and your dyes must have a strong mixture of concentration, 1 package of dye to 1 spray bottle. It is best to have 1 spray bottle for each color that you would want to use (dk. Green, lt. Green dk. Brown, lt. Brown, black, & tan). The other way is to add a coat of compound like Structo Lite (only sold at select building supply companies it is a mixture of concrete and plaster, and when it is dry it is almost as strong as concrete) you only need to have a mixture that is like paint and brush it on then after it is dry you can then paint the mountains with the dye.


Another way is to use chicken wire, miniature white Christmas lights, and cotton batting. First secure the chicken wire to your base platform by using a heavy-duty staple gun. Then shape the wire into the shape of your choice and then you can secure that end in place. After all of the chicken wire is secured in place you can start the next phase, which is to start on one end, which has access to an electric source and attach the Christmas lights to the chicken wire in various positions until all of the chicken wire is covered by the Christmas lights with each light being about 3" apart. Then after all the lights are in place you can cover the mountain using the cotton batting making sure that inice glowing effect.s heavy through out, so you cannot see the wire through the cotton. And when you plug in the lights your mountains will take on a


Another way is to use wire screening (like for a screen door but make sure that it is metal) and Structo Lite. Secure the screening to the base platform with use of staples, next you need to help shape the screening with the use of small pieces the left over wood and with the use of crumpled up newspaper and then secure the rest of the screening in place. Next cover the screening with a coating of Structo Lite (this mixture should be thick almost like mud) with your hands and here you may want to use rubber gloves to protect your hands. After the mountain is dry you can then paint with the use of dyes like that explained in the first part.


Roadways are easy to do; the easiest simplest method is to just paint in your roads with a flat black latex paint. Another method is to use black felt like the kind used in roofing, cut out the pieces you need about 6" wide and use hot glue to secure them to the platform after it is secured you can go back and use either a white or yellow paint marker and draw in some dashes or solid lines to separate your roads. For snow covered roads after you put your snow into the display make the snow heavy on the streets and then lightly pull some cars, trucks and arts through the snow to make it look traveled on. For dirt roads you can use a product like Like-Life's earth or Woodland Scenic's earth material and do the same method as the snow covered roads.


You can either use items, which you have purchased over the years that other people have made or you can try to build your own. Building your own is time consuming and requires a great deal of patience because a lot is done and learned through trial and error. These items should be placed all around and not concentrated into one or two areas. With placing them all around your display will create more interest in viewing your display. Place your animations in the desired locations that you would like to have them and mark and cut in the  holes or spaces needed for there final placement.

Electrical needs

Here is where you need to use caution to avoid getting shocked or for possibly starting a fire by overloading a circuit. Main electrical feeds from your wall sockets should have heavy-duty circuit breaker bars. Do not use regular extension cords since these are made of light duty cords and the longer these cords are means you will be creating more electric current resistance in the cords, which could cause them to overheat.

Buildings, trees, walkways, accessories, figures (filling in your display)

To me this is the easiest part, start at the back or farthest point that you can reach. Working first from your farthest point back to the front. By now if you have not already cut in or run power cords or wires for your houses, operating accessories and lights into your display now is the time to lay everything in place so you can your mark the location of your buildings where you would like to have them so you can cut in holes for their light cords. Make sure that you allow room for your accessories and trees to make it realistic. You can either paint in your sidewalks using white or gray paint, or you can use pre-made sidewalks or make your own and this can easily be done by using thick pieces of white or gray cardboard and drawing in the sidewalk cracks and hot gluing them into position. Place in your trees and here you may want to use something like caulking to secure your trees down so that they will not fall over. Next place in your accessories into position and then you can sprinkle in the covering of your choice (grass, earth or snow) here it is easier to make your device for sprinkling by using a jar and in it's lid make some holes with a nail and hammer (make only small holes for a fine materials and larger holes for a courser material.



With lighting you can set the mood that you would like your display to be seen by. You could have your display go thru a whole day cycle, morning, day, evening and night. And you can use lighting to hide parts of your display by using higher concentrations of light on your main part of the display and to have areas darker to hide things in the room that you have a display if you do not a background for your display. Here you can add effects to your display with the use of lights. You can use yellow floodlights to make it look like the sun rising, blue floodlights to have a evening setting and black lights for your nighttime scene. With black lights you can use fluorescent paint on houses, vehicles and other items that you want to come to life with light. You can also use a set of clear Christmas lights that have a chase light feature; these lights can be incorporated into your background to give you twinkling stars in your sky. Use a drill with a drill bit the size of the light bulbs and drill the holes from the back and insert a bulb into the hole and this way you can use the next light bulb to measure the distance to where you want to make the next hole. And to really make it look realistic you can use a timer to control all of your lights to  have a day to night and night to day scene.

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