Wednesday, December 18, 2013

082 The Navajo Mining Railway - Power to the People! Building a Fleet of Folks

My philosophy of model railroading, as I've written many times before, is this:

Railroads are about people, not trains.

Let me explain.  No train exists without the work of multitudes of people.  Engineers, designers, craftsmen, construction works and all the many people that make the trains go.  Nothing about a railroad operates or exists without people.  The story of the railroad is a story about those folks involved and their stories.  By focusing on the people, the story that is the railroad really comes to life.

You can bash a Bachmann HO 44-ton loco into a rugged On30 Center-Cab diesel for your railroad!

See how people really make the model come to life?  This is a Boulder Valley Model's conversion kit that has been heavily detailed and using Arttista figures in O scale.  I encourage you to visit Boulder Valley as they have some incredible On30 stuff!  Photo on Boulder Valley site.

So people are important on the layout...and you need a lot of them.  In O-scale a painted figure is $5-$7 each, unpainted is about $3 with two hours of work to decorate it.  Even a small layout like mine can easily use 100 people.

Here's what I see wrong with most layouts:
1.  There are not enough people
2.  The people on the layout are not painted correctly
3.  There are not enough varieties of people
4.  People are often from the wrong time/era, or dressed wrong
5.  The painting of the people is usually too bright
6.  Model train figures are too thick and often out of scale

I've seen many a work site model on a railroad with five people.  In the 1920's a lot of labor was done manually and a job site would have workers scattered everywhere.  You may have a choice of about 6-8 figures in HO scale that might fit the bill, and from their you are duplicating.  If they are prepainted you'll have Darrel, my brother Darrel and my other brother Darrel all working at the same site.

Here are some solutions to the problem of population:
1.  Start gathering people before you build your layout!  Don't wait!
2.  Every time you go to a hobby shop or train show, buy some people.  Build your collection!
3.  Learn how to paint miniatures...and change the paint schemes on painted models
4.  Learn to change the figures and customize them
5.  Make your own!
6.  Start a people swap with friends, or five friend "people" on their birthdays!

Make my own you say?   Why yes!  It is possible!  In fact, I've found that if I sculpt a good figure I can get exchange that figure for MANY castings of it with a figure supplier, who are always looking for more masters.  I have tinkered with this, the carving of "greenies" as they are known.  Greenies are made from a special two-part epoxy that is workable and bonds to itself.  Greenies can be turned into spin cast molds which produce metal castings.  Or resin castings if you prefer.

Below are some links to get you started.  Follow along with me on future blogs as I make some Navajo miners for the layout!

Will from Storm the Castle's How To Series on Sculpting:
Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -
Part 4 -
Part 5 -
Part 6 -
Part 7 -
Part 8 -
Part 9 -
Part 10 -
Part 11 -
Part 12 -
Part 13 -
Part 14 -
Part 15 -

Michael Chartres from across the pond:

Sculpting figures:
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3
Part 4:

Painting figures:

Painting fantasy miniatures
Part 1:
Part 2:

Casting figures from Will at Storm the Castle:
Part 1:
Part 2:
One part mold:

Other educational links:

Take some time to look at these videos and consider making your fleet of folks!

1.  Can't find what you need?  Build your own!
2. is a great source of how to videos on most every subject
3.  You can never have enough people on your layout


  1. I've tried to do this. It's really hard to sculpt a person from scratch and make it look correct and convincing. Our eyes are trained to immediately recognize the figure of a person and anything that's slightly off sticks out like a sore thumb. What I have seen some really great work on doing is customizing figures. This is something I'd eventually like to master. However I see a lot of O scape people cast in pewter. This seems much harder to customize than plastic.

  2. Good point Titus on casts that are made in pewter. I usually recast them in resin, and hack them up from there. We'll be doing some of those here on the blog.


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