Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Determining Tree size compared to an HO Train

1818 views
35 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    January 2014
  • From: Cresskill, NJ USA
  • 1,075 posts
Determining Tree size compared to an HO Train
Posted by gdelmoro on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 6:25 AM

Hi all,

My new railroad is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of south western Virginia. I have completed the backdrop construction, valance and about 1/2 of the backdrop paintings.

 

 

Soon I will be building the Benchwork and installing track/electrical.  I'll need a lot of trees and thought I would begin building some.

Trees (Decidous and Evergreen) around here are commonly 30 - 40 ft. Tall. When placed next to a locomotive or rolling stock they overpower the scene.

It Seems to me that prototypical Trees, in the foreground close to the rails will be too large.

How do you determine the size of your foreground trees?

Gary

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 27,256 posts
Posted by rrinker on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 7:15 AM

As big as trains look to a human standing close, nature is that much bigger. If you are running older stuff, not modern AC4400's and double stacks, you can get away with smaller trees than strictly prototypical that will still be taller than the locos and cars, as they should be, but not as much. Where the real trees are 30-40 feet tall, a real double stack train will still be under them, so trees towing over the equipment isn't a bad thing.

 Usually, we have too many trains and not enough scenery. Apart from a yard or a complex junction, there just aren't a lot of tracks in any one area. Even large model railroads tend to have a trains to scenery ratio that leans too far toward trains. That's the appeal of N scale for some, even when they have space for a good size HO layout - they don't build more track, they just fill in the area freed up by the smaller trains with more scenery.

 Just my thoughts.

                                --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

  • Member since
    May 2010
  • 6,280 posts
Posted by mbinsewi on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 7:32 AM

 

 

That's a nice looking backdrop, Gary!  I clicked on your picture to see the full version.  Nice work!

I don't have many foreground trees, but the few I have are about 40' +.

The tree in the picture close to the signals is about 50'.

Backround trees I scale down to give a sense of distance, probably more around the 30' height.

Since we tend to make our trees in bunches, play around with different sizes, and see what fits the scene best.

Mike.

  • Member since
    July 2009
  • From: somerset, nj
  • 2,811 posts
Posted by gregc on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 8:16 AM

average tree height is ~87ft.  easy to figure out what that is in HO scale.

but i'm told trees in the background and presumably not next to tracks should be smaller to give the impression of distances.   (Should structures not next to tracks also be scaled down a bit as well)?

on the pragmatic side, tall trees in the foreground both block the view and access.

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

  • Member since
    March 2002
  • From: Milwaukee WI (Fox Point)
  • 10,238 posts
Posted by dknelson on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 9:31 AM

I recall another thread on this very topic from about a decade ago and the conclusion was that scale height trees often just look "wrong."  Most trees on layouts I visit are closer to the height you'd see in an apple orchard, not a forest.  A 40' high hardwood tree is not all that tall in real life yet seems to dominate the scene on a model.  An 80 or 85 foot tree which I think is pretty common - so the same length as a full sized passenger car -- is rarely encountered on a layout.  And a large clump of truly large trees -- even more rare on layouts, yet commonplace trackside.

Oddly enough even in N I mostly see undersized trees, and some O scale layouts seem to use the same size trees as HO layouts.

For what it is worth here are some average tree heights, from the always reliable internet:

http://biorefinery.utk.edu/technical_reviews/Tree%20Size.pdf

We talk about selective compression of structures (not just shorter or narrower, but often built to a smaller overall scale such as 1/8" = 1' for HO), and it is common for utility poles to be placed closer together on layouts than in reality.  (We won't even mention how close our block signals and towns and depots are to each other!).  But I'd wager that the most severely compressed parts of our layouts, other than our absurdly sharp curves and tight turnouts, are tree height and street and sidewalk width.  Guys who would not dream of running an Athearn "shorty" passenger car or RDC are willing to compromise in those areas.  Perhaps out of necessity - a full width city street and full length city block is almost shocking to see when you encounter one done to scale, and some logging dioramas feature scale height trees and again it is disorienting - what scale is this?

Dave Nelson

  • Member since
    January 2014
  • From: Cresskill, NJ USA
  • 1,075 posts
Posted by gdelmoro on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 9:33 AM

Thanks for the replies and kind words. I keep looking at prototype steam era photos and the trees next to tracks do indeed tower over the trains. I need to find a compromise that will include tall trees without obstructing the scenes.

The scale down as the railroad and scenery move away needs to also be carefully considered since too much of a reduction in size will not look right.

in my NJ layout I had about 8ft. from front to back and it was easier to reduce trees and buildings toward the back.  In fact there were several N Scale items toward the back.  This layout is a walk around and no part is more than 3ft. Deep so a little tougher to create the perspective.

Im going to have to try different configurations to get a reasonable result.

all ideas and advice is welcome!

Gary

  • Member since
    April 2019
  • From: Pacific Northwest
  • 743 posts
Posted by SPSOT fan on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 10:08 AM

Very interesting to see that models trees really should dominate the scenery! Definately contrary to what us modelers do.

If you suppose an average tree is ~87 ft, as previously stated, they you do have some handy measuring tools: a 87 foot flat or auto rack for more modern eras, and two 40 footers for older eras!

Now that is alot bigger than most trees modelers use, so think how AWESOME it would look if we had trains running through full height trees. Scenery would dominate the scene, and I would suspect create a very realistic effect!

Regards, Isaac

I model my railroad and you model yours! I model my way and you model yours!

  • Member since
    February 2008
  • From: Potomac Yard
  • 2,075 posts
Posted by NittanyLion on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 10:48 AM

Not even just height. Plenty of oak species hit 70+ in height, but are 120 to 150 across with a trunk 5 feet thick. 

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 27,256 posts
Posted by rrinker on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 10:52 AM

SPSOT fan

Very interesting to see that models trees really should dominate the scenery! Definately contrary to what us modelers do.

If you suppose an average tree is ~87 ft, as previously stated, they you do have some handy measuring tools: a 87 foot flat or auto rack for more modern eras, and two 40 footers for older eras!

Now that is alot bigger than most trees modelers use, so think how AWESOME it would look if we had trains running through full height trees. Scenery would dominate the scene, and I would suspect create a very realistic effect!

 

 Well, you have an even easier measuring tool - if the prototype tree is 87 feet tall, in HO it will be 1 foot tall. Big Smile

                        --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

  • Member since
    February 2008
  • 1,336 posts
Posted by kasskaboose on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 12:13 PM

gregc

average tree height is ~87ft.  easy to figure out what that is in HO scale.

but i'm told trees in the background and presumably not next to tracks should be smaller to give the impression of distances.   (Should structures not next to tracks also be scaled down a bit as well)?

on the pragmatic side, tall trees in the foreground both block the view and access.

 

 
I agree with what you wrote. Currently putting trees on my layout and have 8-10" in the background while smaller ones are in the foreground.  Creating depth is far more difficult than many suspect.
 
To the OP: Pls ping me with a PM b/c I also model Southern VA, but in the 1980s.  Roll N&W!  Great stuff.
  • Member since
    June 2007
  • From: Grew up in Calif, left in 84, now in Virginia
  • 7,288 posts
Posted by riogrande5761 on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 12:50 PM

Just like with building, if you go scale size things may not fit well on an HO layout.  Probably most models of buildings are selectively compressed.  Likewise, trees may fit that practice to.  Yes, since HO is 1/87 real size, a real 87' tall tree would be 1 foot in HO, or 12 inches tall.  Of course tree's vary in size from small to super tall, so try to use some common sense when adding tries.

In my case of doing desert scenes, many tree's in desert environs are not real big, many scrub tree's so I probably won't plan on many large tree's.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

  • Member since
    June 2007
  • From: Grew up in Calif, left in 84, now in Virginia
  • 7,288 posts
Posted by riogrande5761 on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 12:56 PM

kasskaboose

       on the pragmatic side, tall trees in the foreground both block the view and access.

 

 

 
I agree with what you wrote. Currently putting trees on my layout and have 8-10" in the background while smaller ones are in the foreground.  Creating depth is far more difficult than many suspect. 

Usually the philosphy of forced perspective is to place the smaller, out-of-scale things in the background.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

  • Member since
    December 2008
  • From: In the heart of Georgia
  • 3,464 posts
Posted by Doughless on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 5:30 PM

One thing to note is that trees and foliage encroaching on right of ways or parking lots are going to show signs of uncareful maintenance.  When the forest gets too close to traffic, out come the big trucks with the big shears that turn those nicely shaped round trees into a D shape, flat side towards the humans.  Then growth fills in, then more shearing.  Over time, in a forested setting, the foliage looks more like a wall of leaves than trees.

Oot west, things can be more sparse, but east of the Mississippi the trees and shrubs tend to grow everywhere that isn't routinely maintained by man, which include property lines in the city and farms.

Sometimes, the only foliage around is right along the edge of the ROW, because the land just next to it is being used for some purpose.

Edit:  Mike's pic shows this very well, how the foliage fills in the seam of unused land along the ROW.

I don't know if any of that has to do with height.  Just a ramble.

- Douglas

  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 10,670 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 11:37 PM

SPSOT fan
Very interesting to see that models trees really should dominate the scenery!

I'm not sure I agree. I want to see trains, not trees. Using trees that are actually sized to scale messes up the compression that we are forced to use. If we want to convey distance I think it would be better done with more trees that are smaller rather than a few trees that are larger.

This is an interesting and timely topic for me. I just ordered a bunch of different trees for the club to see how they look. I thing the largest are only 4" or so.

Dave

  • Member since
    October 2001
  • From: OH
  • 17,182 posts
Posted by BRAKIE on Thursday, November 7, 2019 4:51 AM

gdelmoro
How do you determine the size of your foreground trees?

Gary,On some of my past end of the branch line switching layouts I used smaller "new growth" trees around 1 1/2- 3" tall in the foreground. These new growth tress was part of a beaufication project  after a off the layout new highway project cleared a lot of the old growth trees. 

In your case these new growth trees could be replacement trees from the logging of the old growth trees or a new highway project.. 

Larry

SSRy

Conductor

“Shut one’s eyes tight or open one’s arms wide, either way, one’s a fool.” Flemeth-the witch of the Wilds.
  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 8,750 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, November 7, 2019 5:48 AM

I think some selective compression may be in order with trees....

BUT, here in the mid atlantic 50' to 80' oaks, pines, ashes, maples, poplars, etc are pretty typical.

Trees much taller than 80', or maybe 100', are not typical at all. 87' is surely not an average around here.

Ornamental trees planted and groomed by humans seldom exceed 50'.

So there is a difference between modeling a natural forest and modeling the tree in the yard of a house in a neighborhood.

Power lines, not counting long distance very high voltage transmission lines, are typically on poles between 20' and 30' high.

So I think most of the commerically made poles are "close enough".

Tress twice that tall would be "average", and give a good appearance.

Our 1901 house is 55' tall, it once had lots of mature, 80-90 year old Norway Maples in the yard. as they failed we had to remove them. The tallest was about 110' tall and 4'-5- diameter trunk. The rest were only about 60' to 70' tall with 3' diameter trunks.

So HO trees 6" to 12" would be a realistic range for your biggest "old growth" trees.

Sheldon

    

  • Member since
    January 2017
  • From: Southern Florida Gulf Coast
  • 6,395 posts
Posted by SeeYou190 on Thursday, November 7, 2019 6:02 AM

I have always used trees in the 5 - 7 inch range for foreground scenes. They just look nice to me.

.

For these trees I use an armature made from 4/0 battery cable dipped in super glue. Then I model bark using caulk. Foliage from Super-Trees finish the models nicely.

.

I don't have any pictures, I have only made five or six of these, and I have none made for the new layout.

.

These look right to my eye, even though in reality they are only 35-50 feet tall.

.

-Kevin

.

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

  • Member since
    January 2014
  • From: Cresskill, NJ USA
  • 1,075 posts
Posted by gdelmoro on Thursday, November 7, 2019 6:57 AM

Thanks for the ideas and perspectives. Seems I need a few "scale" trees in the 8 - 10" range but others will be made to fit the scene to make sure I can see the trains.  In other cases like where there is a tunnel I'm thinking trees could be used to HIDE trains if thats desired.

Regards

Gary

  • Member since
    December 2008
  • From: In the heart of Georgia
  • 3,464 posts
Posted by Doughless on Thursday, November 7, 2019 6:58 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL

 

So HO trees 6" to 12" would be a realistic range for your biggest "old growth" trees.

Sheldon

 

Agreed.  If a person is modeling a rural area that is ungroomed by humans, nearly all of the trees will be of that height, and, they tend to be shaped like broccoli, tall stems with the leaves only at the canopy.

Overcrowding of forests never allow trees to reach their natural shape, which is the round form we typically see in yards and parks when they are left to grow unimpeded by competing trees.

So in the midatlantic and SE USA, IMO, the canopy of a forested area should actually be between 8 and 12 inches tall, with only a few trunks visible and smaller new growth trees along the front edge.  A more manicured area would look differently, with the tall trees only along the untouched property lines, IMO.

And a person could get fancy and model a section that the railroad recently cut back.  A bunch of bare trunks and half-trees near the ROW where the shearing exposed the openness of the previously shaded ground. 

- Douglas

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 8,750 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, November 7, 2019 7:04 AM

SeeYou190

I have always used trees in the 5 - 7 inch range for foreground scenes. They just look nice to me.

.

For these trees I use an armature made from 4/0 battery cable dipped in super glue. Then I model bark using caulk. Foliage from Super-Trees finish the models nicely.

.

I don't have any pictures, I have only made five or six of these, and I have none made for the new layout.

.

These look right to my eye, even though in reality they are only 35-50 feet tall.

.

-Kevin

.

 

Kevin, I think you are right on target. This morning on the way to the job, I paid closer attention and confirmed what I posted above.

As I said above, in most places I have been here in the east, 80' to maybe 120' is the typical max for natural forests. Sure there will be the occasional extra tall ones, but typically the whole forest seems to have a canopy topping out at 100'.

But I also saw both forested areas, and individual trees in the open, where most where only in the 50' range and smaller. And most man planted ornamental trees I noted are easily under 50'.

We have one tall tree left on our 1901 property, an old growth pine that is no more than 75' tall. Behind our property the neighbors have two near our property line that might reach 85'.

I trimmed my side of them years ago with bucket lift that reached 75'.

Most of the surrounding trees don't appear much taller. There is one a few houses up that might be over 100'.

Sheldon

    

  • Member since
    December 2008
  • From: In the heart of Georgia
  • 3,464 posts
Posted by Doughless on Thursday, November 7, 2019 7:46 AM

Of course, I wouldn't build a canopy forest by using individual trees, but would use some sort of mass application.  Just make sure the canopy looks like its taller than the foreground trees.

- Douglas

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 8,750 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, November 7, 2019 8:00 AM

Doughless

 

 
ATLANTIC CENTRAL

 

So HO trees 6" to 12" would be a realistic range for your biggest "old growth" trees.

Sheldon

 

 

 

Agreed.  If a person is modeling a rural area that is ungroomed by humans, nearly all of the trees will be of that height, and, they tend to be shaped like broccoli, tall stems with the leaves only at the canopy.

Overcrowding of forests never allow trees to reach their natural shape, which is the round form we typically see in yards and parks when they are left to grow unimpeded by competing trees.

So in the midatlantic and SE USA, IMO, the canopy of a forested area should actually be between 8 and 12 inches tall, with only a few trunks visible and smaller new growth trees along the front edge.  A more manicured area would look differently, with the tall trees only along the untouched property lines, IMO.

And a person could get fancy and model a section that the railroad recently cut back.  A bunch of bare trunks and half-trees near the ROW where the shearing exposed the openness of the previously shaded ground. 

 

Great additional thoughts.

    

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 8,750 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, November 7, 2019 8:02 AM

Doughless

Of course, I wouldn't build a canopy forest by using individual trees, but would use some sort of mass application.  Just make sure the canopy looks like its taller than the foreground trees.

 

Also agreed, a forest can be modeled with only a few actual trees, and a "canopy" of "leaves".

More later, got to go.

Sheldon

    

  • Member since
    November 2013
  • 923 posts
Posted by snjroy on Thursday, November 7, 2019 8:24 AM

I'm not at that stage yet, but I will try to avoid trees, large trees in particular, in the foreground and near the tracks of my layout. Based on the experience of our club, trees can really get in the way when maintenance work is done on the tracks. I might consider using plugs to remove them more easily.

Simon

  • Member since
    February 2008
  • 1,336 posts
Posted by kasskaboose on Thursday, November 7, 2019 1:28 PM

I hear ya about the challenge of being able to reach tracks with trees blocking access.  Plugs work, but removing trees isn't too difficult.  The hard part is remembering where to put them afterward and not removing the foam in the process!

~Lee

  • Member since
    February 2005
  • 643 posts
Posted by davidmurray on Thursday, November 7, 2019 2:52 PM

If you model a river valley, with a bridge of trestle crossing the valley, then some large trees back a bit from the stream would look right, and would be in the near background, not between edge/operators and tracks.

Dave

 

David Murray from Oshawa, Ontario Canada
  • Member since
    January 2017
  • From: Southern Florida Gulf Coast
  • 6,395 posts
Posted by SeeYou190 on Thursday, November 7, 2019 3:57 PM

Another interesting question would be when to stop using individual trees.

.

My trees have been divided into foreground models, further back models, then the canopy going up the hillside maybe 18 inches away or so.

.

Results have been mixed. My freind Randy's N scale NORFOLK SOUTHERN had beautiful canopies of trees going up the hillsides. My layouts never looked so good.

.

-Kevin

.

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

  • Member since
    August 2006
  • 1,229 posts
Posted by trainnut1250 on Thursday, November 7, 2019 9:19 PM

Great back drop Gary.

 

I happen to like tall trees on the layout. I prefer trees that are closer to scale height because it makes the scenery “look right” to my eye. As was pointed out earlier everything on the prototype is pretty big, be it streets, telephone poles, buildings etc. We all have to use selective compression. However, I think that when it comes to tree height we tend to overdo it a bit.

 

I model the Sierras and California foothills on the upper deck of my layout. The trees in 3000 - 5000 ft. elevation range can get very big especially the Ponderosa Pines, white firs and cedars. Many can get as big as 150 feet high (or bigger). That is nearly a two foot high tree in HO scale. From the time I have spent in the mountains and from looking at lots of historic photos of the areas that I am modeling, smaller trees don’t look right to me.

 

I have about 75 trees on the layout that are at least 15” tall and they make the scene. While the trees dominate the scenery, the trains are still the star. Layout viewers are still drawn to the trains. I also have series of around 12 trees that are in the foreground between the viewer and the trains. This gives a feeling of being “in the forest” looking at the trains go by. Most of these trees are on special pins so that they can be removed and moved to another section of the layout for operating session so they won’t be in the way.

 

IMHO - How big the trees should be in a scene is determined by what trees grow where you are modeling and how big they grow. While I don’t model eastern forest canopies, if I were to approach that type of tree canopy I would opt for cheaper WS foam trees (I have boxes of these pulled from other layouts. They can also be had fairly cheaply used on Ebay) to fill in as much as I can in the back ground and use super trees or a similar quality tree along the leading edge of the canopy.

 

Your mileage may vary,

 

Guy

 

see stuff at: the Willoughby Line Site

  • Member since
    January 2004
  • From: Canada, eh?
  • 10,150 posts
Posted by doctorwayne on Thursday, November 7, 2019 9:51 PM

In some areas, I tend to prefer the taller trees in the foreground, with the ones in the not-all-that-far-away-distance being considerably shorter...

This one, in a pasture near Indian Line is about 65' tall, with those in the background (about 250' away) being around 25'-or-less in height...

...while a closer look at those in the background reveals not much in the way of actual trees...

In the photo below, some of the taller trees scale-out to 125' in height - tall and gangly, just fighting for their share of sunlight....

...while the stuff hidden below them (shown before the bigger trees were installed)....

...will often be of different species, content with less light.

The trees in the distance vary in height, but most are quite short, their height created only by the terrain on which they were placed...

None of them have trunks or branches, simply chunks of insulation material, spray-painted green, with some ground foam added...

The trees here aren't much more than 30' in height....

...growing alongside a small creek almost choked with undergrowth

Some of the trees alongside this river might be 50' or 60' in height, but, along with the shorter ones mingled in with them, their main purpose is to separate this scene from the scenes to the left and right....

...since there's little actual distance between the various towns.  Because of that, I consider my around-the-room layout to be a switching layout as much as it's also a point-to-point layout.  During operations, attention is focussed only where the train happens to be working at that time.  Eventually, it moves on to the next point-of-interest.

The scene below can be viewed only by setting the camera into the area and hoping for a useable photo...

I don't yet have any residential areas on my layout, but the trees around them will be in proportion to the size of the structures. 
I do have plans to represent a couple of orchards, and the trees there will probably not exceed 15' in height...10' might be more likely.

These trees were planted pretty close to this coal dealer's outbuidings, meant to act as a wind break...

...while the ones in the background, below....

...might be a couple hundred yards away, or maybe a half-mile, while the tiny ones here (about 30' tall...or less) are simply there to take the viewers attention away from the backdrop (against which they're leaning)....

Wayne

  • Member since
    April 2018
  • From: 53° 33′ N, 10° 0′ E
  • 1,905 posts
Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Thursday, November 7, 2019 11:19 PM

Wayne´s pictures certainly prove, that if you want to create more visual depth, place the taller trees in the foreground and smaller trees to the back of the layout.

Happy times!

Ulrich (aka The Tin Man)

"You´re never too old for a happy childhood!"

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!