Unlike most people, model railroaders seek to plant weeds rather than eradicate them. A glance at just about any track will reveal weeds. My research on the Northern Pacific showed that the track maintenance budget appeared to fall off exponentially with the distance from the main line. On the Northern Pacific Project, I’d used ‘Weed’ ground foam to simulate plant growth between ballasted tracks. While better than unadorned ballast, it didn’t give the effect I was looking for.

I wanted a more 3D effect, but in N-scale that’s a big ask. The brothers Mindheim showed in the 90’s that realistic ground cover can be achieved in N-scale. There is static grass in N-scale friendly sizes, but weeds grow in clumps rather than uniformly. I’d seen a few articles in the hobby press that used fake fur to remarkably good effect, so I pursued this line.

Because I’m lazy, I preferred fake fur in close-to-grass colors, but the local craft stores only had white and some other colors not found in nature. And the fur is expensive, running close to $13/yd (fair dues: a yard of fake fur would be more than sufficient for this layout.) The articlesFuzzy yarn mention painting, but I’m looking to minimize time-to-effect. It’s a hobby; not a career. What the craft store did have was some ‘furry’ yarn. At less than $3 a skein, it was worth investigating. And, it was sort of green.


The idea was to apply CA at intervals, then cut the yarn and tease out the fibers so they resembled weeds. For coloring and structure I went over to the local Class II carrier (Portland & Western) and observed how weeds grew along the track. I found that in summer the weeds are mostly green with a few brown ones mixed in.

Off to the art shop. I bought a tube of Sap Green oil paint along with Raw Sienna for another project. For the brown weeds I went to a craft store for a Honey Brown acrylic. I bought a 12-pack of paper plates from the dollar store to serve as palettes, and started dying yarn.

The procedure was to put a dollop of paint on the plate, then use the appropriate thinner to make a wash to swish the yarn in. You’ll notice right away that I’m doing the exact thing I didn’t want to do. I’m human: what can I say.

After painting, the yarn looks thus:

Painted yarn for weedsThe procedure took some work. N-scale requires high tolerances and modeling 1′ tall weeds is somewhat exacting. Too much CA, and a half-inch of yarn is useless. Too little, and the fibers would separate. I finally figured out how to do it, and the results look good to my eye:

Weeds 1

Weeds 2

Weeds 3

The ‘planting’ procedure is to open up a hole with a round toothpick, and then use the toothpick as a planting tool to insert the weed. A drop of CA finishes the job. Yes, I checked clearances on the track weeds.

I’m pretty happy with the results, although the procedure is time-consuming. After painting, I can produce and plant about 8 weeds per hour, or 20+ during a baseball game. Like trees, though, hundreds of weeds may be needed to achieve the proper effect.  Now that I have the procedure down, this will be one of those ongoing projects when I’m not interested in doing something else.

I noticed that the green appeared too bright. I consulted with the local art store owner, and bought some paint that may be more pleasing to the eye.

Unfamiliar Places

Since starting this project, I find myself in places I’ve not frequented previously.  Craft stores, art stores, dollar stores. That I’m a regular at the hobby shop is a given. One of the pleasing aspects of the hobby is that to do it well, you have to pull together a disparate skill set. I’m still learning; but really enjoying,


In the hobby press the hot ticket for reliable operation appears to be graphite. After reading people sing its praises, I went to the local art shop and bought a bar of 2B graphite for 68 cents. I rubbed the rails, and after a few cleaning incidents, trains run better than ever. Because I’m in the scenery phase, there’s always something on the track or in the points. For the same reason trains might not run for a week.

Recently after a weeks hiatus, I ran a train around the layout. No hiccups at all. One of the forums stated that graphite is conductive enough that a bar across the rails will short the powerpack. I tried this, and it’s true. I’ve tried the transmission fluid method, but graphite appears to be the real deal.

Request for Information

The current layout project is building the coal trestle, and there’s a car pier to build after that. I researched NBW castings in N-scale, and they don’t appear to be common, if they exist One of the beauties of modeling in a smaller scale is that you can get away with far less detail than larger scales. I’m considering suggesting NBW fittings with fine wire inserted into the structure. Suggestions welcome.

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