The Farm In The Landscape

The Farm In The Landscape

Well, many of our railway layouts ignore the presence of farming.  Alright, an awkward corner that needs filling often has an incongruous field with a few grazing sheep.  But I think we miss a great opportunity in many cases not including ‘working farms and buildings’ on our layouts.  They have always been an integral part of the scene and in fact many branch lines came into being as a result of the need to move livestock to market, milk to the towns, and food to the processors and markets.

What then is the advantage of having a farm on your layout?  They can occupy a small or large area dependent upon what is available.  Farm buildings are relatively easy to construct and they, along with the animal incumbents bring the area to life.  The farmyard itself can feature any number of cameos; chickens being fed, operating threshing machines, horse drawn carts working in the yard loading and unloading, sacks of corn, bales of hay or straw, etc.  The opportunities are endless and the scenes can be as busy or quiet as you wish.

The purpose of this article is to illustrate by a series of photographs some of these intimate farm and associated market cameos.  Remember those milk churns, sacks of potatoes or corn that are currently on your station platform have emanated from somewhere.  I hope this set of photographs may inspire you to develop the railway’s association with the local agricultural scene or market and add what can be a great area of interest to that awkward empty area on your layout.

I can just remember the traditional farms of the 1940s and endeavour to recreate the atmosphere of those days.  For those not quite as old as me, or perhaps or who need reminding, I have listed some suggestions to help in the building of the model farm.  In real life farmers never threw anything away and buildings were just left to crumble, or were crudely repaired.  Farmyards and tracks were either very muddy or parched dry.  In both cases the ruts and potholes remained.  Buildings were usually constructed of local materials; stone, brick, wood and very importantly corrugated iron.  It was really a case of whatever material came to hand or was cheap!  Having endeared myself to the farming community, let us now consider the model itself.  Because of the often run down state of buildings, they can be a good starting point to practise construction in model form.  You can let your imagination run riot, since no two buildings ever appear to be the same.  Try using materials you would not usually consider using – card, modelling clay (Das), cartridge paper, wood veneer and Plastikard.  One word of caution though when using Plastikard.  Whilst being ideal for making windows and doors etc it is probably ‘too perfect’ for use on farm buildings.  It can of course be scored to represent wooden planking and then ‘scratched’ using coarse sandpaper but it is often quicker to use framer’s mount board (the acid free type) or indeed cartridge paper to make distressed doors, etc.  When using framer’s mount board carefully peel away the top surface to reveal a rough inner core.  This readily takes watercolour and is easy to create a distressed look of peeling paint and neglect.

The buildings themselves should always be stuck to the base board.  Not too firmly in case you wish to remove them in the future.  Once securely located on the base board this is the starting point to make them look as though they are united with the ground and not just sitting upon it.  I generally plaster the surrounding ground right up to the buildings’ walls thus making sure there is no gap between building and base board.  This joint is further disguised with weeds and grass.  Also remember that if, for example, you have a stable door that is open, allow the plaster to enter the building and paint the external ‘mud’ and that of the inner stable floor the same colour.  Then allow straw (plumber’s hemp) to spill out of the stable door and into the yard.  I suggest parking a rusty piece of farm machinery right up against the wall of the building and allow long grass and weeds to partially envelope it.  All these little suggestions help to sit the building firmly in its surroundings.  There is nothing more toy-like on a layout than seeing gaps around the base of a building!

The Farm In The Landscape - by John Mileson

When using any form of material to represent grass, eg foam, scatter, hanging basket liner or ‘static’ grass, make sure the colours are subdued.  So often a layout is spoilt by the use of vivid greens.  These may be alright in the spring for new pastures but colour generally throughout the year is not usually intense.  This is one reason I always use hanging basket liner for the majority of my grass areas.  This fairly coarse material is ideally coloured for all year use and is particularly easy to use.  Make sure the base board is coated with undulating plaster before using your chosen medium.  Nothing looks worse than a dead flat field or area of grass.  I always coat the plaster with Wickes Textured Wall Finish, then with watercolour, paint the entire surface a dark brown (sepia).  Then any exposed areas, for example, tracks, areas around gateways, etc, can remain un-grassed and require no further attention.  Obviously in these gateways and along tracks some grass will appear to grow but only in small patches.  Don’t be tempted to overdo the grass in these well worn areas.

Then of course along hedgerows, along verges and field edges the grass needs to be coarser and longer.  This is one of the reasons I use hanging basket liner for every application, simply because it can be trimmed to whatever length is required.  Scatters, etc, are only used to give variation in texture and colour, though in very small amounts, being glued to the surface of the hanging basket liner grass.  The liner can be trimmed using scissors or electric razor, and no other colour is added to this.  I think it looks about right, but I do know others who disagree!  Oh! One other thing I should mention, is to make sure that when purchasing the liner, seek out the brown/green type as some can be rather gaudy in colour.  The liner is often sold in sheet form off a roll.

When I first moved to Northamptonshire some forty years ago, the farms in the county, as with many other counties, were mainly mixed and usually involved some form of crop rotation.  Animals were a major part of most farms, indeed all the fields around my cottage had livestock, cattle, sheep, horses and even geese.  Over the years they have all disappeared and arable farming has taken over.  What has also disappeared or have been neglected are the hedgerows and fences.  In recreating a farm of the mid-1900s we have the opportunity to ‘replant’ these hedgerows and fences.  They were a crucial part of keeping the livestock from straying, and of course had to be constantly maintained.  I still use the traditional modelling method of making hedgerows from rubberised horsehair, pulling it about a bit to open it up, cutting it into lengths and spraying with adhesive and dipping into scatter material.  Once the surplus scatter is shaken off the finished hedge is not too dense.  Placing these hedges on the layout should be done with care, since hedgerows are not just in straight lines.  They follow lanes, streams and contours and often act not only as field boundaries but also those of the parishes.  Gates, wherever possible, always gave the easiest access to the home farm or to the nearest lane.  Trees were an integral part of the hedgerow giving shelter from the elements to the livestock, (notice how cattle always shelter beneath trees from the hot sun or rain), and should therefore be interspersed along the hedgerow.  There is always the temptation to plant small trees in the landscape.  I prefer one or two mature trees, and those on my layout are approximately 17” high, the equivalent of 60’.  Even at that size they do not represent fully mature trees of some of our more common species!

The photographs accompanying this article will I hope illustrate some of the points made in the text and may inspire you to include ‘a farm in your landscape’.


John Mileson

March 2013

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