Making grape vines for a vineyard

Ten years ago I created vineyard using some Faller 18190 kits. Now that I have moved the winery onto a bigger hill, and also intend adding a terraced vineyard, I realized that I was going to need a lot of new grape vines. In fact, I was going to need about 47 meters of HO scale grape vines! Buying such a large number of vine kits was out of the question so I set about to make my own. I had to find a method that was cheap, and able to be scalable for the quantity of vines I needed to produce.

I have now completed adding additional vines to the vineyard and I am documenting the steps I used to create and plant the vines here.

My first attempts were to see if I could simply make 'very narrow hedges' using vegetation material. I tried gluing green flocking together in an aluminum rail to which I had applied some vegetable oil. It did not  work out well. I tried painting some gauze bandages green and then adding leaves, but the process was slow and laborious. I also realized that such 'hedges' could not be applied to a curved hill. I needed individual plants.

I decided to use toothpicks as the stems of the individual plants and somehow make a flat area to represent the leaves of the vine. I bought 1000 toothpicks on amazon for $13

In digging about for lacy fabric in my wife's sewing kit I came across some tulle. It is a very fine gauze-like mesh and I decided this would make a good base on which to apply the vegetation after it had been painted green. The roll of tulle we had was not enough for a strip of material a couple of cm high and 4700cm long, so I needed to buy a new roll. I looked to see if it was obtainable already green, and low and behold, it is available in green, and is relatively cheap. A roll of green tulle, 6" wide and 100 yards long was available for $5.99

I then had the materials and had to design a way to put them together. I decided to make a triangular piece of tulle to be glued onto each toothpick. I needed to cut the roll of tulle down to make a roll of it just about 2cm wide. While it was still in its original roll, I used a long bladed knife to cut off the end of the roll.

It cut through OK but was a little bit uneven.

I then had a narrow roll of tulle that was in danger of getting all tangled up so I sandwiched it between two yoghurt lids so that I could draw it out of a hole in one of the lids.

The toothpicks needed to be a darker brown, so I got them all into a plastic tub and in poured in some diluted brown paint.

And then I spread them out to dry on some newspaper.

I visited my friend Hein and we decided we could probably make a cleaner cut through the roll of tulle using his bandsaw. We wrapped the roll of tulle in some metal sheeting and pushed that through his bandsaw and we did indeed get a more even cut.

Now that production could start, I covered the work bench with baking parchment paper , then cut the tulle at alternating angles like this:

 Onto each piece, I placed a toothpick that has been dipped in white school glue.

(Initially, I cut the toothpicks in half but I soon gave up on that as it was not worth the effort.)

Once those were dry, I painted glue onto the tulle and covered it with a 50%-50% mixture of Dark Green and Light Green Woodland Scenics Coarse Turf and let it dry. Once dry, I flipped each vine over and painted the second side with glue and added the fine turf mixture to the second side.

At one stage I ran out of parchment paper so I used some wax paper. I initially thought it was better than the parchment paper because the glue crept back onto the tulle, being repelled by the wax paper.

However, when the glue dried I found it had stuck to the wax paper way more so than the parchment paper and they were tricky to peel off the paper.

I therefore went back to using parchment paper. A putty knife gets the vines off easily.

When one repeats a process many, many, times over, one starts thinking about ways to make it more efficient. I thought that having to do two passes of gluing and adding turf and waiting for each to dry was taking too long. I then decided to dip the bare vines into the glue

 and apply turf to both sides at once.

This process was indeed much more efficient and, in fact, left fewer gaps that had to be have turf applied again.

Installation on the layout was relatively fast in comparison to making the vines...

To mark out the rows I measured the offset from the previous vines and inserted a thumbtack at each end of the row. I then aligned my laser line through the center of the two pins.

In order to get the laser line to project downwards and shine onto both sides of my hill, I clamped some wood onto the joist above to hold the laser level above head height.

It was then fairly simple to drill a series of holes along the line with a hand drill.
When drilling, I kept the drill perpendicular to the ground and also in the plane of the laser line.

(If you have cloth material below your landscaping, resist the temptation to use a power drill or to drill too fast, otherwise you may experience this disaster!)

I drilled, drilled, drilled...
and drilled..

and then I vacuumed up all the dust...

Planting each vine was very quick and very satisfying... I dipped the end of each vine into some school glue and pushed it into the next hole....

This part went very quickly..

I am happy with the results

More information on the winery hotel.


Overview of layout February 2018

Here are some general pictures of the layout as at February 2018

Senklerdorf is a small village with commuter rail (S-Bahn) service. It features a farm and an old ruin on the hill overlooking the village.

Engine yard in the foreground with Senklerdorf in the distance at top left, and the mainline and the branch line to access Senklerdorf on the right.

The mainline and branch line merge into the main station (Wilsnack).

Boxes are lying in the area that will be the main city.

Then there is a large mainline running across a big valley and through a hill covered in grapevines, past a small lake that feeds waterfalls that cascade down the valley.

Beyond the lake (still dry in this picture) is a terraced area for more vineyards.

Open areas will be wooded hills.

The mainline loops over itself and goes past a pond and into a mountain.

Here is a scrollable panorama


Philips Hue light control now integrated into my train control software

I have some Philips Hue lights in my train room and I use them to simulate sunrise, sunset and also the Aurora Borealis in one area of the layout. Until now, I controlled the lighting with a separate program. I decided to incorporate that functionality into my layout control program as events that can be configured to alter the lights in any possible manner.

Here is my ICE 3 train going past the sunset....

I now have a new type of event in my software that allows me to tell any of the lights to change to any color or brightness that the light supports over any time period.

Configuration screen for a Hue Light event
(c) Dale Schultz 2018

This allows me to chain a number of these events together to create the sunset, sunrise and aurora. For sunrise and sunsets I control the brightness of the lights illuminating the landscape in a non-linear fashion and also independently change the brightness and color of the lights behind the backdrop.

By having this functionality in my program I can now also combine it with the switching of lights as well as sound effects, etc. For example, when I run a thunderstorm, I now have lightning flashes synchronized with the thunder!

I have tried to create a video of the sunset, but neither our video camera nor my phone do a good job of handling the changing light intensity, but I will try again to document how it looks sometime.

Added Special Options descriptions to SO list of Intellibox

Some years back I added the ability to retrieve, and log, every Special Option (SO) value of the connected Intellibox. The log can be saved as a text file. This provided a nice way to keep track of what they are.

This week, I decided to enhance the logging to also include the descriptions of each option as well as the values if they are known. Here is a sample of the result:

The descriptions were extracted from an HTML file created many years ago by Rob Hamerling with input from some of the original designers of the Intellibox, and he was happy to allow me to use the data.


Benchwork construction

One of the first things one must tackle when building a train layout is how to construct the benchwork. (Before the benchwork has been started, I find it best to paint the walls and ceiling blue (sky) and mount any backdrops.)

I make my benchwork from cheap lumber commonly sold at building and home improvement stores in the USA. They are called 2x4 studs (actually 1½" by 3½") and typically come in 8' lengths. Don'y buy too many at a time, they can warp and twist if you don't use them for too long.

I mount these studs to the walls at floor level as well as at the desired height (lowest track) of the layout surface. I then build a framework using joist hangers and drywall screws in a horizontal plane. Support is then provided by studs at 45° from the stud at the floor level.

This produces a very strong foundation without legs at the front edge - allowing excellent access and storage below.

For benchwork that does not run along a wall, such as an area that protrudes into the middle of the room, you cannot escape having some legs. For those I create adjustable legs from, studs.

Once the framework is in place and supported with the diagonal braces, drill a bunch of holes in the framework for threading wires. When you have done that, drill a whole bunch more, because you will need more than you think.

Thread the main bus wires. You will need the following bus wires:

  1. Common ground (Heavy guage, I use brown)
  2. Track power digital signal (Heavy guage. I use red)
  3. Accessory power (I like to use 12 Volts DC, Heavy guage, I use white)
  4. Multi-strand cable for track detection feedback wires.

In addition you will later be installing wires for signals and various accessories.

Bring track power close to where you expect the tracks to be. If you expect to have multiple power districts with boosters, decide now where those districts will be and provide separate track power to those areas. Don'f forget to run wires from your power supply to where you control area will be too.

If the upper surface is going to have a slope, you can use ¼" threaded rods to hold a sheet of plywood at the appropriate height. I drill a hole into the framework, then drive the threaded rod into the hole. To drive the rod, lock two nuts together at the top and drive it in using a drill with a socket that matches the size of the nuts. Once in, unlock the two nuts and move them down the rod to whatever height is needed. On top of that I thread a strip of wood or metal to provide support for the plywood roadbed.

Once the supports are in place, you can add the plywood that will support the track.

Adjust the heights, then hold the plywood down by adding a washer and another nut.

I suggest using ⅝" plywood.

In places where there you need to support multiple layers, rods can be added as needed.

For layers that are horizontal it is also easy to make supports by cutting short lengths of wood and screwing them to the sides of the frame. This allows the plywood to be securely fastened down from above.

If track is going to be hidden by upper layers of benchwork, lay and wire up the track (including train detection) that will be hidden before covering it. Test it thoroughly.

In order to prevent the wires from an upper level from fouling trains below, I partially screwed a series of 1/4" screws into the underside of the upper layer before installing the board. Then when I lay track above, I drill through and thread the wire through the hole and then lead it to the nearest screw, wrap it around twice and pass the end between itself and the board and then lead it down to below the lowest level where I tap into the bus lines...

Add LED lighting on the underside of layers that are above hidden tracks.

Plan on hanging curtains on the front edge of the layout so that one cannot see through the landscape.

Once you have the top benchwork in place, you can at last start laying visible track!


Layout photography

This page is an attempt to provide some tips on taking decent photographs of your train layout. Some of the original text dates back to September 2006 and I have now updated it in places where the technology has changed.

Some people have asked how I produce such nice sharp images of my train layout so I thought I would describe the techniques that I use.

Camera selection

I used a digital camera, initially a Nikon Coolpix 5000 which produced 5 megapixel images. 5 MP is way more than what is needed for images for the web and I usually had to reduce the size and resolution before posting on my web pages. I then used a Canon PowerShot pocket camera for many years, and I now use my Android Nexus 6P phone!

Here is what is important.

  • Minimum focus distance. Thankfully, many digital cameras now have excellent minimum focus ranges such as 2 to 5cm
  • Ability to select aperture priority mode. The camera must be able to let you select the aperture. This is important for controlling depth of field.
  • A self timer. This lets you set a delay before the camera takes the picture.
  • A fold out viewfinder is nice to have.
  • Ability to switch the flash unit off.
  • The smaller the camera the better, as it is easier to place a small camera on the layout itself.
Sadly, my phone camera does not allow aperture control. It does however have automatic HDR (High Dynamic range) which produces wonderful high resolution images. I typically have the camera in my pocket so it is very hand to pull out and use, especially when documenting progress, etc.


  • Switch the flash unit of the camera OFF. The flash is usually way too intense for close up work and the camera does not have enough time to react and end the exposure before everything in the foreground is burnt out (over exposed)
  • Try to get as much constant lighting onto the subject as possible, but having said that, the lighting should resemble the real world as much as possible, so do not create the illusion of 4 suns in the sky by having 4 lamps at different positions, producing 4 shadows for every object!
  • Do not put hot lamps near the models as it may simply melt the precious models. These days very bight LED lights are readily available and very practical. You do not need a huge amount of light anyway as you will see.
I have a very bright LED light on its own tripod. I have taken some pictures with it as the sole light source which produces realistic shasows.

Depth of field

If using a phone camera, you may not have aperture control so you can skip this section.

Depth of field is the area that is in focus. The smaller the aperture the more depth of field you will get. Small apertures have the larger numbers, such as F8, f11, f22. The closer the subject is to the lens, the smaller the depth of field. Since we are photographing tiny models, we generally have to be very close to the subject and that is why it is critical to compensate by using as small an aperture as possible.

Small apertures however reduce the light getting through the lens, so in order to get enough light we need as much light as possible or we increase the duration of the exposure, or both.  Once you have maximized the amount of light using reasonable means, such as room lighting or positioning an additional light in place, the rest is done by long exposures.

Positioning the camera

Since we need fairly long time exposures, we have to ensure that the camera is still during the exposure. This rules out hand holding. You could use a tripod, but that limits you to scenes near the edge of the layout. You can also get very small tripods that can be placed on the layout as well but this is not very practical.  What is practical is a very small beanbag and or a couple of small wedges that can be placed under the camera in order to direct the lens in whatever direction you need. This is where a viewfinder that can swivel comes in handy.

Positioning the camera right inside or on the layout produces a point of view that closely matches what a person on the landscape would see. The closer you can get the center of the lens to the ground the better. This is how we see a loco:

Try to include some human interest... like these hikers watching the train...

Taking the picture

Place the camera on the layout. You may be limited to space on the tracks (take care the camera does not short out the tracks if the layout has to be powered up) or on a road or in a field.

  1. Set the camera to its macro mode if it has one, and its minimum focus.
  2. Set it to the minimum aperture (select aperture priority often marked 'A' and the highest f number  f8, f11, f22)
  3. Set the camera to use the self timer
  4. Position the camera using the wedges or beanbag to frame the picture. Watch out for distracting things in the background such as windows, wall lights etc. Ensure the camera itself is not shading the subject
  5. Press the shutter release and then step away so that you are not shading the subject area

By using the self timer, you reduce the vibration and movement of the camera that results from your finger pressing the shutter release. It is even better than a mechanical remote shutter release. Some high end cameras have an infra red remote release which would also work well.

The exposure may take 20 or 30 seconds. It needs all that time to get enough light in through the small aperture.


The long exposure times make it very easy to simulate train movement. Once the exposure has started, simply move the train either by hand or with a locomotive. It does not have to move very fast or far...

Some examples

First, not what to do...  taking a picture from a bird's eye view does not produce a view with which most of us are familiar..

This looks unsettling for those of us who do not spend much time up in the air. Even a pilot may feel a little uneasy going down at this angle towards mountains. This type of shot is only good for documenting the progress or how to build the layout. By taking the camera down to the track level you get a much more natural image:

Choose interesting perspectives:

If you have a backdrop image, use it.

Don't be afraid to make even longer exposures for night scenes.

Remember to switch loco lights on etc.

An example of movement