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Laying a Riverbed, Step by Step

January 23, 2009

The bridge is in place with the rivebed to comeOne of the luxuries you’ll probably have as you build your future riverbed is that you won’t have previous scenery attempts lying in the middle of your project. I had to level out an entire canyon before even starting my river.

Here’s what it looked like BEFORE:
HO scale canyon

HO scale gravel quarry and collapsed tunnel

I use a lightweight way to build my hillsides, as covered in Woodland Scenic’s “Scenery Manual” which is basically old newspapers, junk mail etc crumpled up into little balls, taped to the board with 2 layers of plaster cloth and a thick layer of sculptamold atop the plaster cloth. They came down without a fight using a small hacksaw to cut through the plaster cloth.

The Canyon

A great tip I learned to recycle sculptamold is to heat up a large pot of water on the stove, then bring it out to the train room an ladle the hot water atop the sculptamold. The sculptamold turns back to the watery mush it was when you first mixed it, and can be recycled over and over. It even absorbs some of your scenery material like the ground foam and dirt, which adds to texture when you use it for scenery next.

The Bridge and track is laid atop blue foam foundation

The first part when planning a river that will include any rail or road bridge is to build the right-of-way and get it to a point in which it runs reliably, then begin scenery.

Once the track is laid down, shape your banks surrounding the tracks with care to observe how real rivers create banks. Erosion is typically a large part of the character of a riverbank, and trees are the only barrier to preventing the entire banks from being swept away in a flood. Hard stone outcroppings are also elements that add character to a river.

anatomy of a river

Looking at the above diagram, one can observe some of the neat features you can add to your river scene to add some more detail.

Other riverbed types would include small stones (don’t use ballast for this) and clay riverbeds.

Model River Diagram

As you can see in the diagram above, I cover the ENTIRE riverbed in an uneven, but somewhat smooth and thin layer of sculptamold. This makes you river look 100% more natural and gives that neat fast-flowing ripple effect that makes your eye think that the water is actually moving.

Dry Riverbed

This is what the dry riverbed looks like with the layer of sculptamold down and the silty riverbed of decomposed granite in place. Any dirt you apply atop the sculptmold MUST be applied over a layer of FULL-strength white glue to prevent us from having problems when we paint the riverbed next. (It will also create a nice layer between the sculptamold and the acrylic glaze.)

Bridge Abutment
Here’s a closeup of the bridge abutment in place, with low wooden retaining walls on either side to prevent eroding the mainline behind the stone pier.

Using techniques in the PREVIOUS ARTICLE on how to correctly paint your riverbed, we take our paints and paint DIRECTLY on top of the dried dirt. (make sure to use a medium sized 1/2 inch wide disposable paint brush)

Painted Riverbed

In the next article, we’ll cover how to pour the river, it’s easier (and in some ways harder) than you might think.

Riverbed from the air

2 Comments leave one →
  1. glenn permalink
    May 17, 2011 9:37 pm

    I’m a scale diorama builder & Fine Scale Modeler. This is a great series fore me as I have stage 4 emphysema & am on oxygen – & can’t breathe most solvents or fumes. I’m really im pressed with this article and want to see the other parts if thats possible. I really don’t can’t afford another subscription just wish I could! thanks for letting me share this one .

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