SCATTER " ground cover"


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Well I'm finally getting to that point in my layout construction. In the good old days ;) dyed sawdust was the normal scenic material. Today we have other materials available such as ground foam many grades and colors. Maybe there is other stuff available also I'm not aware of. I have to get everything by mail order so ideas for homemade scatter would be appreciated. I'd be quite interested in what everyone else uses and how you get it to stick to the plywood, foam, plaster or whatever. If anyone would care to share their ideas or methods I can assure you it will be appreciated.
Cheers Willis
I primarily use the old tried and true method of Zip Texturing. This used to be very popular before the introduction of ground foam. It was discussed in Model Railroader and several scenery manuals. The method is very fast, forgiving, and cheap.

What it is is a mixture of plaster and pure dry powder pigments. You used to be able to buy the pigments by the pound through Walthers but lately all I have found in there is small packets sold by Color-Rite. Lately I started buying my pigments directly from a manufacturer in 1 lbs cans.

The primary colors I use are Raw Umber, Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, and Burnt Sienna. I also use a color called emerald green but I haven't been able to find this for a while. It goes a long way so I still have about a half lbs left. I also used to use Chrome Yellow but I haven't been able to find this at all.

The formulas are really trial and error that I have adjusted over the years. To a cup (or two) of plaster I add a tablespoon of this color and a teaspoon of that color. I then sift them real well and put the final mix into a sealed can. When I need to cover an area I start with the lightest color first. Using a small fine sifter and a spoon full of the plaster mix, I do what I call tap-tap-tap with a plastic spoon. This puts an even coat of colored plaster over the area. After coating the area you use a very fine mist of water to dampen the plaster. Too much and it won't look like dirt. I usually make 3-4 misting applications over several hours to make sure the plaster has been completely wetted and set up.

Then I come back with a darker layer of plaster but I don't put this on as heavy. This gives the area some contrast and gets rid of the uniformity. Again I do the misting routine. When this layer has set I might add an even darker layer but very sparingly. Finally I add some green colored plaster.

Below is a picture which shows several techinques. All the ground cover is Zip Textured. There is some ground foam under the trees.
That zip texture was a good idea and still is as far as I'm concerned. Even if you plan on using ground foam over it, the color makes a nice looking base that should complement the ground cover.

Speaking of ground foam, has anyone tried making their own? Years ago I found a place that sold foam rubber, I think I had a chair redone or something. He had huge plastic bags of ground up foam that he used to stuff things with. Some were finer than others, from chunks about like turkey stuffing down to sawdust like chips.

I asked him where he got it. He replied he made it out of the scraps from cutting up foam for seat cushions etc. I asked him just how fine he could make it. "Fine as you want, right down to dust if you'd like...". Interested, I inquired how much he'd charge for what looked like a 20 gallon bag. I can't recall his reply, but it was something like 10 or 20 bucks. Now it's been a long time, but even then ground foam was sold in little baggies like dope, and sometimes seemed to be priced like it too. I always thought that when I got around to doing ground foam scenery I'd go buy a big bag from this fellow. I've moved since then, and don't know of anyone local that grinds foam, but I can't help but imagine it's cheaper in bulk. I'm not sure how I'd color it though...
Willis, on my scenery I guess I used a modified version of zip texture. After creating the hills from plaster, I sprinkled on plaster dust from one of those seives you use for flour. It falls like snow, sticking to just about everything but steep slopes.

I then wet it down, which made it harden and stick while still looking bumpy and uneven. Not nearly as nice as ground foam, but much better than smooth plaster.

I painted mine after it dried, using an air brush and earthtone and grass colors.
I guess I need to step in with some comments in favor of foam. I'm currently building an NMRA module that is supposed to look like western Pennsylvania, which has a very lush green growth in the summer. For the grass, overgrowth and bushes, I used Silflor made by Scenic Express and ground foams from Woodland Scenics and Scenic Express. This was my first attempt at using Silflor and I think with a little practice it can't be beat to represent a field of tall grass. The biggest drawback is it's price - it's expensive. You can see it by the track in the picture. I've used commercial ground foam extensively on our club layout and for the price it can't be beat. There are a variety of shades and textures available so your scenery can look very realistic.

I made a feeble attempt to make ground foam with a blender several years ago. After seeing my results, I'm sold on the commercial stuff. The texture was too course and my efforts at dying it turned into failure.

George D said:
I guess I need to step in with some comments in favor of foam.

No need to sell me on foam, you'll notice I said "Not nearly as nice as ground foam..." I'd not suggest using "zip texture" instead of ground foam, unless you're modeling a desert.

However, I do think zip texture under ground foam can help fill in any small gaps. Also it's a good way to get a decent looking scene quickly, until you can come back and do the foam.
> I'm currently building an NMRA module that is
> supposed to look like western Pennsylvania

Any particular area, or just in general? I grew up in that area...

> This was my first attempt at using Silflor and I think with
> a little practice it can't be beat to represent a field of tall
> grass. The biggest drawback is it's price - it's expensive.

Yes, it looks great. I'd love to do my whole layout like that, but can't afford it!
Thanks for the comments. I like to add paths to scenes, they're easy to do, add interest to the scene and they're cheap - the dirt came from my back yard.

modelbob Any particular area said:
I grew up north of Pgh. I won't say how many years ago, but I have vivid memories of streetcars in the city. :D There was Gulf gas station where I worked during Christmas vacation that inspired me to add the City Classics kit to the scene. I moved away after college.

here's my 1.75 cents worth:

for areas that need a simple representation of not-bare earth yet not highly detailed groundcover, I use a really fast and simple method. For detailed areas, the above seem to have the ideas down pat.

The basic dirt is, well dirt-colored latex-paint blended into the sculptamold papier mache base as it is mixed. So... now I have dirt. In south Texas, where ever there isn't grass, there's dirt. I suspect this is common in other areas.....;) So you should see dirt every where. Under all grass, there's dirt. I think this is an important detail. So even if you have a hardshell base, it should be dirt colored before you add grass. Dirt, clay, gumbo, sandy loam, calieche, whatever.

In the places that need grass, I take 2 cans of spray paint of slightly differing shades of green and spray them simultaneously in swirling or random manners. This allows dark green areas, light green areas and blended areas and some with neither (aka dirt!). Touch up with a single color if needed. Nature has many shades of green.

If the area needs a bit of texture, I sprinkle Woodland Scenics "grass" into the wet paint. It will take on the color of the paint somewhat, adds texture and variety. Variety is important, Woodland scenics colors are a bit too consistent for my tastes, adding it to the wet paint fixes that right up. Not all of it takes the paint color, some takes only a little, some none at all.

It's really quick, cheap and most of all looks realistic (ie; not too "neat").
Hi All, sorry I'm late getting online to jump in. My grandaughter who lives with us was in a car accident last evening, the car was a write off. I guess it was just a dislocated shoulder as she came to the MS group meeting this morning with me.
Hi ncng, Zip texturing, now that triggered some old memory cells, I had completely forgot about that, and just remembered I have a book by Bill McClanahan on scenery that describes the method. I remember trying a little of it on a 5 X 10 layout back in the 70's with a grey color for a mountain. As I remember it looked great, it made stone faces look real, however I couldn't get the boxes of pigaments. Sometime, somewhere on a closeout sale I came across a few boxes, maybe they are like rocks now instead of powder, I'll have to check. I believe McClanahan's method is to spray the plaster first with water, then shake or blow from a paper, the Zip mix over it.
That zip texture was a good idea and still is as far as I'm concerned. Even if you plan on using ground foam over it,
Hi Bob, Now this is really interesting to me because I have a large area ready to scenic, but I don't have a lot of ground foam made yet. So!! if I zip textured it for time being and wanted to add some ground foam later, how ( method) do you cement the foam on top of the texturing without ruining the texturing?
I made a feeble attempt to make ground foam with a blender several years ago
Hi George, yes the blender is not the answer as it just chops the foam. A few swear by it but most swear at it, and buy the comercial product. See my methods below. BTW that scene is gorgeous, it really has a lot of character.
well dirt-colored latex-paint blended into the sculptamold papier mache base as it is mixed. So... now I have dirt
Hi kenw, I believe the last time I was in Walmart I seem to recall some product "sculptamold" in the crafts area. I used to read about projects in the MR mag. that called for it but it wasn't available in this area then, I'll most likely be using all the suggestions here since the area I have to scenic is quite large. Doing the whole area using one method might lead to a layout boring to look at. I mean like the coal mines that were around here I'll bet you couldn't find a blade of grass within 2000 ft of one.

Speaking of ground foam, has anyone tried making their own?
Ah! now maybe I can contribute something to those who helped me with my problems. Yes I have two methods and are quite different and of course a different end product. The first is using a wire wheel on an AC powered motor, and the second is using a RIVAL (tm) electric food grinder. A hand powered food grinder works not too bad sometimes.
If anyone is interested I'd be happy post a description of each, but right now I have to shut down. Heres a picture with my home made ground foam, some colors are a bit wackey but it's just an experiment. I used latex paint then scattered the homade foam over the wet paint.
Cheers Willis
willis, when you do the sculptamold (I highly recommend it), blend in some dirt-colored latex (water-based) house paint when adding the water. It will make it tougher and the color will mix thru so when you cut it or make holes for trees, the white won't show.

shop around the home depot, lowes, ace, etc for mis-mixed paint. The one gallon I have has lasted for eons, so even if you have one custom-blended it's well worth the price.

I don't know if I thought of this or my subconcious recalled it from elsewhere but it is a huge helper.
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Thanks for the comments on my picture. I'm interested on how you made the ground foam. It looks like you have a nice variety of texture there.
nice variety of texture there
I'm not sure which method of production was used there maybe both.
The foam may be dyed before or after processing also with different results in coloration.
1 Cutting the foam in larger blocks and then dying results in uneven shades of the same color. this can be a desireable characteristic.

2 Dying the foam after processing results in an even shade of that color, this is not a desireable characteristic if spread over larger areas without adding other foam of a different shades or colors. Too much sameness.

The RIVAL (TM)Food Grinder is good for smaller batches. It mostly puts out a very fine grind although the result is not uniform in size.
Foam (Rubber) has a few undesireable characteristics in regard to grinding. Elasticicity (its ability to stretch and compress) Retentivity ( ability to return to it's original shape) and some more we also can do nothing about.
Cut the foam into small pieces ( shape unimportant) and feed small quantities to the grinder Have a bowl to catch the product.
The foam is difficult to grind and the grinding assembly becomes quite hot if too much foam is fed to it, the assembly can get hot enough to damage the plastic parts cool down periods may be a necessity. Also cleaning of the grinding assembly becomes necessary during the process, so it can be some what of a slow process but the results are excellent.

The wire wheel is some what simpler and can be some what messy. If you want to make a few large sacks of product, this is the way to go. Parts needed are an electric motor, a wire wheel. an Arbor to attach the wire wheel to the motor shaft, a lot of common sense ( depending on your setup it can be dangerous) and a cardboard box to catch the product.
The motor speed should not exceed 1600 rpm or you will be making dust. The wire wheel will have a tendency to grab the foam block you are holding ( caution) The lighter the foam block touches the wheel the finer the product, and the more you press the block against the wheel the coarser the product in fact it will come off in chunks that can be put through the grinder. Be very careful, wear a respirator don't wear any jewelery or dingle dangles that the wheel can catch since the motor required will be a fractional HP electric motor of 1/12 to 1/4 HP. Have to go now Diag. attached
Cheers Willis
The wire wheel method sounds like something I need to try. What do you use for dye?
Hi George, be sure to do it some where the family doesn't mind, there are times when tiny foam pieces fly, the wheel will create a bit of air current to help spread it around. :D
I just use the RIT(tm), TINTEX (tm), KIWI(tm) fabric dyes available at the grocery stores, Walmart, Zellers. A pair of rubber gloves, to squeeze and relax the pieces like a sponge to get the dye into it. Let the foam soak a day or two in it then put it somewhere to dry after giving it a squeeze to get the liquid out.

Cheers Willis