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How-To Guide: Design and Build Model Railway Village

My aim with DIY projects around the home is to look for innovative space-saving ideas and save costs on materials by recycling.

Village Church, Roads and Fields

Village Church, Roads and Fields

A Model Railway Village in the Making

Welcomes Careful Train Drivers!

And Railway Enthusiasts

Welcome to a tour of Nathanville model railway village in the making, with photos, videos, and a detailed description on its constructions. If you’re thinking of making your own model railway village, or wish to expand upon your existing railway model, then I hope this how-to article packed with advice and tips gives you the necessary inspiration,

This Model Railway Village layout (in America, railroad village) was designed and built in our loft many years ago and was named after my son (Nathan); it was the founding name for my first website which was originally dedicated to the Nathanville Model Railway Village.

Nathanville is a fictional self-supporting model railway village set in a valley surrounded by hills. On one side of the village, and protecting it, is a 'Military base, docks and an airfield', and on the side of the village is agricultural land on the hill top earmarked for housing development.

The village, serviced with its own underground train system, has access with the outside world through a network of rail links.

Smokey Joe

Smokey Joe

Nathanville Model Railway Village in action

A short video I made years ago of our model railway village set up in the loft.

Layout and Construction of the Model Railway Village

The Original sketch plan map upon which the whole layout and design of Nathanville Model Railway Village was built.

Layout Plan

The Site Plan below (not to scale) shows the general layout as it currently stands. You may notice when comparing this plan to the actually layout that:-

  • The large areas behind the main station (centre), and the agricultural fields on the hill to the right, are still to be developed. Some of the agricultural land, measuring 61cm x 91cm (2ft x 3ft) being earmarked for residential development e.g. a row of semi-detached houses,
  • The waste ground behind the train station to eventually be a goods depot, and
  • The green patch of land next to the vicarage is also ready for residential development.

Below is a quick guide of the railway village in the making, with a step by step description for making various aspects of the model village including the:-

  • Churchyard and Grave stones
  • Base table
  • Railway (railroad) tracks at HO Scale
  • Roads
  • Scenery
  • Buildings and accessories
  • Military base, including airfield and docks
  • Transport system and underground (subway)
Nathanville Railway Village and Layout Plan

Nathanville Railway Village and Layout Plan

Layout Base Table

The Making of the Table Top

The frame and legs for the base tables were constructed with 2" x 3" (25mm x 75mm) softwood timber.

The frame for the main table top was made no wider than 4ft (1.22 meters) as access is from both sides and it is difficult to stretch more than 2ft (0.6 meters) to the centre of the board from either side.

The table top was covered using tongue and grove loft flooring boards, as this is more than strong enough to take the weight of the model village and railway. Sections were cut out of these boards for the military docks (shipyard), the valley and a small river running the width of the table.

Laying The Railway Tracks

HO Scale Model Railway Tracks

To ensure your design will work properly you need to test the layout of the track before you build any of the scenery.

Therefore I laid and tested the track (in accordance with my plan) before making the valley, docks and hills; so as to ensure that there was no doubt on where to cut the baseboard for the valley and docks, and where the tunnel entrances into the hillsides would need to be.

The main board supports four railway circuits, of which one has a sub-loop hidden beneath the airfield.

Therefore, the main village train system can support up to five trains (four in operation at any time). As a train on the outer circuit enters the hill under the military airfield that train can be stopped, points changed, and the train on the other sub-loop started.

Thus, one train enters the hillside and a moment later another train emerges. The points that control this operation are wired to a central control making the operation seamless.

The system on the underground (subway) operates in a similar way; two main tracks, but with one sub-loop.

King George V model railway train

King George V model railway train

Scenery and Accessories

In this model, although most of the fences, gates, level crossings and some garden effects in the vicarage garden were purchased accessories not all the props were bought, as this can prove expensive.

For example I made the trees and hedges from sponge, and I also made the greenhouse, garden shed and flower bed in the vicarage garden.

• The greenhouse was made from plastic sheeting cut to size and stuck onto a matchstick frame.

• The shed was made from small bits of wood, and

• The flower bed was made from small bits of sponge ripped to shape and painted in a variety of colours.

All the buildings in the village are made from plastic kits, and painted; although you could use cardboard buildings (most model shops sell them), but plastic kits are more realistic and more durable than cardboard.

Roads and Fields

The roads were made first by pencilling the outline, painting the roads on the surface of the main baseboard with black paint then sprinkling tarmac effect scatter on the wet paint. The road leading to the agricultural land was made by cutting 3 mm plywood to shape, and finished by applying a very thin layer of sand/plaster mix to the sides, to fill any gaps (especially at the ends), and to give a smooth road surface.

Grass, soil and other surface finishes were achieved in the same way; using green paint for grass, brown for soil etc., and sprinkling with the appropriate colour scale modelling scatter.

The scatter I used in this model comes in a wide variety of effects, and is designed specifically for model railways. These should be available from most modelling shops, where you can also buy a wide variety of accessories for model railways and villages e.g. trees, hedges, people and buildings etc.

Trees and Hedges

To make these I generally used sponge, cut to size and shaped, as this is an ideal material for making hedges and trees, and once painted and stuck in place can look very authentic.

Although there are many different ways you can make the trees, for a lot of the trees in my model I used hard sponge (the type used for packaging), but any sponge would do. I chose the hard sponge because I found it easier to break bits off to achieve the desired shape and effect. Although I did also use Polystyrene to make some of the trees, which can be carved into shape using a Stanley knife, and breaking small bits off with your fingers to get irregular shapes.

I made the tree trunks from small bits of dowel gently pushed into the base of the tree and stuck to a small square piece of 3mm plywood. The plywood base I used to hold the tree trunk is a small piece of 3mm plywood with a hole drilled into the centre (the same diameter as the dowel), to create a firm footing for the tree. Once made and painted, with water based paints, the base footing of the tree can be glued to the railway layout wherever desired.

The hedges were made from foam sponge, typically of the type bought for washing up; the foam being cut to size with a sharp Stanley knife to get a clean cut, to give the effect of hedges neatly trimmed. These were then individually painted with green water based paint and stuck together onto the baseboard with glue.

Hills, Cliffs and Valley

The hills on either side of the layout (supporting the military airfield at one end, and agricultural land at the other) and the valley in the centre were all made from 3mm plywood, which was then supported in place by a 1" x 1/2" (25 mm x 12 mm) softwood frame. The frame was glued and where suitable tacked to the main baseboard using wood glue and 1" (25 mm) panel pins.

Likewise the plywood was then glued and tacked in place (onto the frame) using wood glue and tacks; using as few tacks as possible, as when the glue dries it gives a strong bond anyway.

The tunnels were cut in the plywood before gluing it to the wooden frames; both ends of the hills have access panels to allow for track maintenance e.g. in the event of a train getting stuck or derailing inside the tunnel.

Once the glue dries the plywood can then be coated with a thin layer of sand and plaster (50% sand, 50% plaster mixed together with water to make a smooth paste). The plaster can be applied using a putty knife to give a rough rock like finish. For further effect, the rock face can then be spay-painted with a dark mat grey undercoat car spray paint; and before the paint dries, scale model gravel can be sprinkled down the surface of the rock face.

I made the valley sides that extend from the main baseboard down to the underground level with 3 mm plywood in the same way as I made the hillsides.

Churchyard and Gravestones

Making Gravestones from Lollypop Sticks and Matchsticks

Following the tradition of how local village communities are established and grow, the Church and Vicarage are at the heart of Nathanville village. Most of the gravestones in the churchyard were made with Matchsticks and Lollipop Sticks.

The lollipop sticks are ideal to make the base and headstone for the graves, the headstone being carefully cut into a curve at the top to represent a typical gravestone. These were stuck together at right angles with a little glue and matchsticks cut to size to form the bottom edge and sides of the gravestone.

Once the glue had set each gravestone is painted as desired, and once the paint has dried dab a little glue in the centre of each gravestone and scatter scale model gravel over the graves, as shown in the illustration.

The two tombstones in the model were made from pieces of lollipop sticks and the cross made from small bits of softwood.

Tombstones in Village Church Yard

Tombstones in Village Church Yard

Model Gravestones made from matchsticks and lollypop sticks

Model Gravestones made from matchsticks and lollypop sticks

The Military Base

The military base overlooks Nathanville village, and during times of unrest protects it. The airfield and gun defence on the hilltop has external and internal access to the barracks and docks below by steps and lifts. air, ship, train and road bring in supplies to the military base, and where necessary transported onto the village by rail.

  • The military base is separated from the village by the main river. A training camp is situated adjacent to the village car park on the other side of the main railway line.
  • The Military airfield is heavily guarded by defences, which also overlooks and defends the village.
  • The Barracks, just below the airfield is the centurial point of defence and is situated between the airfield and the docks.
  • The Military dock which separates the village from the Military base also brings in supplies from afar for the military base and the village. Trains then transport village supplies to the village main train station.

The Military camp is the only part of the military on the village side of the docks, and plays an important role in defence. Not only is it used for training but also in an emergency acts as an advance attachment in the event of the village requiring ground defence.

For added protection from air attack, a network of roads and rail run underground.

Military Docks

Military Docks

Access to the Airfield

External access to the military airfield is by steps and lift.

  • The steps were made from 1/2" (12 mm) wood cut diagonally in half and stuck to 3 mm plywood using wood glue.
  • The lift was made from 3 mm plywood stuck together with wood glue and a clear plastic front mounted using contact glue.

The lift actually works; using thin string wrapped around a small metal bar (to make a handle at the top of the lift shaft). For the effect of metal, the lift sides were painted using aluminium air fix paint.

Model Airfield

Model Airfield

Bomb Crater

A recent bomb crater, where a vehicle was unfortunate to drive into just moments after an imaginary explosion, was made by making a hole in the 3 mm plywood, packing it with stiff card (shaped into a hollow) and coating the card and surrounding area with a thin layer of sand/plaster mix.

Bomb crater

Bomb crater

Military Docks and Base

  • The dock (shipyard) was constructed by making an opening in the surface of the main table, and then fixing a piece of loft flooring board to the underside of the table frame; thus giving a depth of 3" (75 mm) below ground level.
  • The railway bridge over the dock was made with 3 mm plywood.
  • For the military base in the hillside, arches were cut into the plywood, and before fixing into place the surface was coated with brick effect wallpaper used for scale model buildings.
Military Base

Military Base

Main Train Station, Car Park and Valley

The main train station and subway are the village's main link to the military base and the outside world; although there is also access to the neighbouring villages and towns by country road.

The car park overlooks the valley, so if you are a little late and miss your subway connection you can wave goodbye to your train as it disappears through the tunnel? In such cases, the waiting room provides cheap coffee and all day breakfasts.

Valley Carpark

Valley Carpark

Local Village Underground Railway Service (Subway)

Most modellers when they want to add height and dimension to a model railway village use crossover and gradients, which is very commendable. I was not so ambitious; I built a separate underground instead. The net result is a layout 12ft x 4ft which can support 8 trains (six running simultaneously); five trains on the main surface and three underground.

Subway Construction

The underground (subway) was made with a gap of 8" (200 mm) between the underneath of the top table and the top of the lower table to allow sufficient room for access when laying the track and for maintenance. The subway table has a hole in the middle (also for access) and although not as long as the main table (only 8ft (2.4 meters)) it juts-out in front of the main table by about 6" (150 mm). The subway table is supported by the same legs supporting the main table top.

Model underground (subway) railway station

Model underground (subway) railway station

Level crossing on underground (subway).

Level crossing on underground (subway).

The Model Railway Village Layout

Nathanville Model Railway Village Layout photo courtesy of Rob Cousins

Nathanville Model Railway Village Layout photo courtesy of Rob Cousins

Building a Layout

Replica or Imaginary

When designing and making a model railway layout you have many choices including whether it's to be authentic or imaginary.

Below are polls, reader’s feedback comments and videos of stream trains and railways from across Britain that may help to inspire you and help you decide what kind of railroad layout you would like to embark on designing and making.

Beamish Train Station

Beamish Train Station

Do You Go To Work on an Egg or Some Other Mode of Transport?

LNER 985 Train at Station

LNER 985 Train at Station

HO Scale Model Railroad Track

Starter sets tend to be just a small circle or oval of track with train, carriages, speed controller and power pack.

However if you've never had a train set it's a good place to start, and if you get hooked you can always buy more track, points and accessories to expand your layout in any desired way.

If you already have a small layout then these trains sets make great expansion packs.

To expand your train set further then invest in additional tracks which are Life-Like straight and curved.

The great thing about model railways is their flexibility, starting with a starter kit or two, expand with additional track, trains, carriages and accessories; and try a few layouts before designing and laying out your own railway model village in your loft or spare room.

Then the fun really starts with designing and making all your own scenery as you evolve and expand your own model railroad either to an authentic reproduction of a real railway or your own imaginary railway village.

Puffing Billy Built by George Stephenson in 1815

Early Day Steam Engine at Beamish

On our holiday trip to Beamish, a living museum of life in North West England in the Victorian Era, we had the privilege to take a ride on Puffing Billy built by George Stephenson in 1815; and a golden opportunity to film our experience, as shown in the video clip below.

Victorian Railways

Transcript From a Victorian Newspaper on Nathanville

A newspaper article saved by George Burgess in his Victorian Scrapbook

* 2s. 7d mentioned in the newspaper article below is just over 13p in today's decimal currency in the UK (about 20 cents); albeit, at the time it was a lot of money.

Victorian Railways

Victorian railway trains

Victorian railway trains

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2007 Arthur Russ

Your Comments

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 13, 2017:

Sorry for not reply earlier Robin, an oversight by me; my genealogy website is

Robin Forlonge Patterson from New Zealand on November 05, 2015:

So this is what keeps you off Familypedia! Understandable. But where's your own genealogy site that we link to? "Several hundred Baglin on Nathanville's Genealogy Family Tree".

anonymous on March 01, 2013:

I love stopping back here to live out this wonderful dream with you. Am noticing several blessings from the fall just didn't hold as I go around Squidoo and am pleased to be able to refresh them....usually that can't be done for about a year, so some kind of glitch back then.

DebMartin on October 29, 2012:

Truly interesting. My Dad and brothers had the basement full of the train thing when I was a kid. I liked to watch. But mostly, I like taking the Algoma Central Railroad to my favorite Northern Ontario fishing camp. Riding the rails to the great northland. ;-)

anonymous on September 25, 2012:

As an interesting read, I recommend it to my lenses.

vancouverpropertylink on April 26, 2012:

I remember loving playing with trains as a kid!

vancouver real estate blog

anonymous on November 19, 2011:

I just discovered a whole lot more wonderful content under this guest book. I chose the egg option, I sit on my white fitness ball most of the day working at was the closest thing!

stevetyke on August 06, 2010:


build model railway layout has got some great attention to detail. Really enjoyed the lens and will pop back again to see how it is going.

Arthur Russ (author) from England on December 11, 2009:

@anonymous: Hi Mike, thanks for your comments and link, your Christmas Train Set website is a great visit.

Arthur Russ (author) from England on December 11, 2009:

@anonymous: Hi Mike, thanks for your comments; your Christmas Train Set website is a pleasure to visit and view.

anonymous on December 10, 2009:

Hey killer lens and great content. I'm you won't mind that I linked to this lens from my Christmas Train Set website. http;//

Robin Forlonge Patterson from New Zealand on March 06, 2009:

Good work, Nathanville!

I bought a small trainset for my children. Half a dozen "landscape" features that one could plonk anywhere. Then we added bits from purchases of old sets. Had enough electrics to run two trains at once.

After the children had left home, my wife sold the lot to a sob-story con-man for $10.

My liking for trains began when I visited my grandmother in Khandallah, Wellington (New Zealand). She lived at 2 Lucknow Terrace just across the road from the Simla Crescent Railway Station, I loved hearing and watching the electric units gliding up and down the line. Nothing like that in Dunedin, where I lived. There were passenger trains out to Mosgiel in the west and Port Chalmers in the north-east (just a distant memory now), but they had steam engines pulling them. And I never lived close to them.

MrMarmalade on November 19, 2008:

I have always admired you enthusiasts put so much time and effort into building your model Railways.

love them but no skill or patience.

Did buy a house once and the Gentleman had built his railway all around the inside under the house and out into the back yard which was big. He only went outside with his trains on fine days. He told me it had taken almost 20 Years to build.

Made you a favorite and Five Stars

Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on October 12, 2008:

What is it about trains that make them so fascinating? Even young children who have never seen let alone experienced a train ride seem to love them.

dc64 lm on August 27, 2008:

I so love trains. I have lived near enough to hear the train in the distance, and there is just something I like about it. No trains run where I live now, so I have to visit marvelous lenses like this to get my fill! 5 stars for sure.

delrond lm on August 20, 2008:

Nice lens - a real insight into the nathanville model railway village. I am impressed by how much detail there is.

Do you mind if i link to this lens from mine:

Model Railway Trains? Any problems please shoot us a message.

Janet2221 on June 25, 2008:

Terrific lens! Lensrolled to my Train Birthday Party lens. :)

anonymous on April 13, 2008:

Model railroading is my hobby of choice. The world you create, where you create it, and how much time you spend in it... is entirely over to you. A highly recommended hobby!

gwkell lm on March 02, 2008:

Thanks for the great lens. I'd like more information about Catering Services and Model Railways.

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on February 10, 2008:

Fantastic lens. I'm really jealous, having grown up in England and always wanting to have a model railway, but never had space in the house to put one. I did a lot of modelling, but form your photos yours knocks the spots off anything I did. Great job and a great lens too.

anonymous on August 07, 2007:

Great lens! I voted 5 stars - I invite you to check out mine too, and rate it for me! Live Streaming Video

renoman on July 23, 2007:

Luv this lens! I'm retired Signalman from Southern Pacific RR...gave u *****'s. Please rate me if u get a chance!

brookehudson on July 11, 2007:

Interesting lens. I love the pictures of model

Karendelac on July 09, 2007:

What a wonderful hobby, I enjoyed your lens and rated it 5 stars. Best wishes,

Karen at Karens

Kinkade Art Store

anonymous on July 03, 2007:

I have always loved model trains, although I've never had the patience to construct my own model. Kudos on beautiful work!

gods_grace_notes on April 16, 2007:

I go to work on the wings of my imagination!....and I love this lens! Great job!


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