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Roads for your Model Railroad Layout or Diorama, The SMARTT Way

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Picture of Roads for your Model Railroad Layout or Diorama, The SMARTT Way
Almost every model railroad has villages and towns spotted across its landscape. What lends an air of reality to these features is the road work connecting them, turning a bunch of houses and shops and industrial structures into a living town that is a part of a larger world.  It may be tempting to just slap a coat of black paint on the bare wood of your tabletop layout surface and call it done, but the process involved in making a visually appealing road is not difficult or expensive. Many roads are asphalt based and this is an easy way for model railroaders to connect their towns.

I wrote this column for our December newsletter, http://www.smarttinc.com/content/newsletter-december-2011 , free for everyone to read and enjoy.
 
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Step 1: Sketch out the road

Picture of Sketch out the road
Let’s focus on a road across a relatively flat area. Draw your road to connect the two points you want to connect on the surface of your layout.  If your layout is an open grid (no hard surface except under the tracks), you will need to attach a flat substrate like plywood, preferably screwing it into place with flat head screws that will sink flush to the layout’s surface. Don’t use something that will flex easily. Make your road as wide as you need using a scale vehicle for reference. A lane of traffic will be about 20 percent wider than a car. Multiply this by the number of lanes you want your road to have.  A meandering country road may have only one or two lanes. A highway would have more. You can also leave space on a city street for a parking lane on one or both sides of the street. Add a little extra width to your country roads to allow for a dirt shoulder. For this instructable, we'll make a sample road.
SMARTTinc (author) 9 months ago
Great question! One of the great dioramists, Shepard Paine (I hope I've remembered the spelling of his name correctly) points out in his books that things in the real world are never simple plain colors. Tires are not truly black, concrete is not simply grey etc. The level of realism that you attain in your models is up to you. Model-making for the non-professional is supposed to be fun so you can do as little or as much as you like. How much effort you place into your efforts is your choice. For us, where realism is the standard goal, we strive to attain more than a single stock color. We present this as an option so you can consider moving beyond the basic level too.
Tatanka7899 months ago
Is there any thing wrong with black for asphalt and slate grey for concrete? That's what I've always done, but maybe I'm just being overly cheap... :)
jkimm71 year ago
what i do for the lines (if you want dashed lines) is, you take a paper clip and unbend the outside end and dip it in yellow paint and then you just place it on the spots you want and it makes a nice yellow line.
SMARTTinc (author)  jkimm71 year ago
Another interesting idea! In the smaller scales like N this would be a great time saver, but only on straightaways, unfortunately. Bigger scales like O and G need more realistic edges and corners to "sell" the illusion.
right it have this on my HO scale train set and it looks pretty cool but for the larger scales it needs to be a little bigger
I love models! I always thought they looked like so much fun!
SMARTTinc (author)  Penolopy Bulnick1 year ago
They are! and with the techniques you can learn on Instructables, not just from me but many autors, you'll find thay're easier than you thought! Give it a shot and make something!
chuckyd1 year ago
I notice in the photo above that the dry brush technique accentuated the brush strokes from laying down the asphalt color. Perhaps dabbing the wet asphalt paint with the end of a brush would give it a more realistic stippled look.. Also, curves in the road are usually wider than the straight parts.
SMARTTinc (author)  chuckyd1 year ago
Good point. I'll have to give that a try in the future. We tend to vary our techniques depending on the area and the substrate.
Strangely on projects, the road curves are as wide as the straight parts, but they modify everything when the road is begin made.
SMARTTinc (author)  Misac-kun1 year ago
Thanks, both of you. I had not been aware of the width issue on the curves. As we frequently have to be time conscious, there are certain elements that may be selectively ignored that are not obvious to most viewers.

For example, real roads are not flat but when seen in cross section are convex at the center. This raised portion, called the crown sometimes, allows for drainage into the lower edges, which often have gutters, another element often overlooked.

This kind of detailing is usually not necessary unless you are building an inticate contour map for a Dept of Highway Safety project. We let it go.

Another element overlooked on roads is the super-elevation, or banking of the road on a curve. The outside of the curve is slightly higher than the inside allowing inertia (centrifugal force) to press the moving vehicle into the road surface for better traction. We actually do this for operational track work as it makes the trains run better.

Keep those ideas and observations coming!
William9302 years ago
awesome! you should post an instructable for the stonework above the red truck in the first picture.
SMARTTinc (author)  William9301 year ago
Great idea! I'll put that on a burner for future writing!
Bosun Rick2 years ago
In step 8, if the painted surface is damaged, or comes up, you might consider doing a little 'Dept of Transportation' repair using more of the asphalt paint to put in 'tar strip' repairs just like the real world. a hypodermic syringe will make this easier to accomplish, and add even more realism
SMARTTinc (author)  Bosun Rick2 years ago
Absolutely! Real roads are seldom uniform.Nice tip.
mrmath2 years ago
I came here to declare SPAM, but found a well written instructable by a company that isn't pushing its wares at us. Nice job.
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