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Tiny diorama ideas

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  • Member since
    October 2023
  • 4 posts
Tiny diorama ideas
Posted by Unky Mark on Friday, October 13, 2023 8:10 PM

I'm looking to get back into railroad modeling (I've done a couple HO and N layouts and dioramas) after quite some years and was thinking of starting with a diorama or 2. Then I figured for my first I might do something for this O gauge switcher I have on a bare piece of track in my office. I'm not so much into O gauge but it's a sentimental piece.

All that to ask for some ideas for an appropriate scene for a switcher in a tiny space (probably a trianglular shelf 21"x21" or a 20"x18" square). The bare gravel and grass of a switch yard might be kinda boring.

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Posted by BigDaddy on Monday, October 16, 2023 10:17 AM

Welcome to the forum.  Your posts will be delayed by moderation for a while.

Boring is a problem with a static display and not much room.  You could have the engine being serviced, or washed or with a boxcar loading or unloading something.


COB Potomac & Northern

Shenandoah Valley

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Monday, October 16, 2023 10:41 AM

I agree with BigDaddy Henry . . . position the switcher with a PressureAide hopper taking on a load of barley under a towering grain silo . . . or, a heavily-weathered bottle car getting filled with red-hot iron syrup under an even heavier-weathered blast furnace . . . 

The point being, don't focus on the 20" X 18" space. Think about the 20" X 18" X 36" space.

Good luck.



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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, October 16, 2023 12:02 PM

Having the engine being fueled and topped up with sand would allow you to display some railroad activities seldom modelled.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by HO-Velo on Monday, October 16, 2023 8:42 PM

A blank canvas for a diorama sounds like fun.  Boring is in the eye of the beholder.  Even the ordinary can be engaging.  Working in larger scales can really showcase the details.  

Dioramas tell a story, a sense and passage of time, human interactions real and imagined.  At times I think of my switching layout as a series of linked, yet individual dioramas.  

Some dioramas can be captivating, especially when photographed outdoors, like those of the late Michael Paul Smith.  Michael Paul Smith | Flickr

Regards, Peter


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Posted by snjroy on Monday, October 16, 2023 9:13 PM

O scale is big for that space... What model do you have? The Atlas and Rivarossi diesels fit well in an industrial scene. What cars do you have?


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Posted by Unky Mark on Monday, October 16, 2023 10:17 PM

Thanks for responding. It's a diesel switcher, 11 inches long. No cars. I realize it's a crazy small space and I might end up with a simple flat ground cover around a piece of track. Perhaps a small gully with a steel beam bridge.

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Posted by rrebell on Tuesday, October 17, 2023 7:16 AM

Do a wall and a section of proto track and super detail the stuffing out of it, weeds growing up in the siding between the rails, debri and the wall can be any type, old warehouse with broken windows etc. 

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, October 17, 2023 12:07 PM

I would 'vignette' a scene that has a number of human-interest things going on, perhaps like that Japanese picture of a geisha's table that tells a whole world of life from a few well-depicted details...

What I thought of nearly immediately was a scene described to me over 50 years ago, by someone I'd asked about the problems with some of NYC's early Baldwins (notably the infamous Gravel Gerties).  He described a bucolic scene where the crew stopped enroute -- probably for some mechanically-related reason that you could show, like a bit of smoke or torching damage on hood doors -- and were fishing off the engine into the stream under a bridge.  And all the while they were fishing... plop, plop, plop went the oil, and the fuel, and the coolant, quietly into the creek right along with their fishing lines.  Plenty of things to add interest to that 'scenario' or one like it...

What I considered the best work of the artist David Hockney was something you barely even find mentioned on the Internet any more.  He made up some 3D-relief scenes that hung on the wall like deep picture frames -- and then manipulated the lighting to give changing, very-different effect as you watched for a while.  It would be comparatively easy to arrange a few types of 'mood lighting', some sound effects, etc. and cycle these for the diorama to add life even where there is no overt motion.

There is also at least one major layout, in Australia, which has made extensive use of animation in as many contexts as possible (and they're very creative!)  I don't remember the name, but it's been mentioned and shown here repeatedly and might be a very fruitful source of inspiration and example.

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Posted by kasskaboose on Tuesday, October 17, 2023 3:39 PM

Are you looking for ideas based on reality or fantasy?  Have any particular era or reporting mark you wnat to replicate?  Ton of other questions others likely have also.

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Posted by allegedlynerdy on Tuesday, October 17, 2023 5:07 PM

There's quite a few very small O scale ""layouts"" that make use of industrial switchers - a good scene could be the locomotive moving a boxcar outside of some factory wall, swapping out "boxcar" and "factory wall" for any other industry. But if O scale isn't your thing, and the locomotive is sentimental, you could also do a "crew on break" diorama with the road crew sitting on the steps/ground eating their lunch, or talking with a local, or what have you. Lots of possibilities depending on what you want to highlight!

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Posted by chatanuga on Tuesday, October 17, 2023 7:54 PM

A few years ago, I took some leftover styrofoam from my layout's construction, got some scenery materials from the local hobby store, and made a display diorama for taking roster pics of my trains and to make some pictures for background pictures on my layout.


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Posted by Unky Mark on Wednesday, October 18, 2023 10:50 AM

Thanks for the ideas everyone. Now to make the time to dive in and work on it... Big Smile Hopefully I won't come up with too complex of plans and end up discouraged and never build it.

> Are you looking for ideas based on reality or fantasy?

Reality mainly, but a little whimsey doesn't hurt. _shops for O scale blue police box to hide in a corner_

> Have any particular era or reporting mark you wnat to replicate?

Era appropriate for the switcher I have. Here's the switcher and space I'm working with:

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Posted by Unky Mark on Thursday, October 19, 2023 9:47 AM

Hmm, image no worky. See it at

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