Full-size elements, if used with great care, can enhance the railway. A brick walkway can provide an attractive transition between the full-size world and a ground-level miniature one. Bricks can sometimes be used as retaining material within the railway if carefully placed and used with appropriate plant material. Poor use of full-size materials will destroy the illusion and condemn your railway to mediocrity.
Wood, especially the weathered variety, seems to blend well with a railway. Wooden retaining walls can often be used to good effect even within the railway scene. Wood in the form of a full-size tree becomes, in essence, invisible. It forms a natural obstacle around which the railroad must negotiate. It is so big that it does not become part of the scale scene, so it is subconsciously removed from it.
Retaining walls appear either outside the railway to hold it up, as with a rock wall, or within the railway to provide changes in elevation. Those outside can be just about anything, as their top edge will provide the defining line between full-size and miniature. Plantings can soften this edge, as can careful use of natural rock. A severe concrete or timber wall will give the most defined edge. On one side of this hard line is the railway and its miniature world. On the other side is unexplored territory, quite possibly containing monsters. Tiny people do not venture over the wall.
Retaining walls within the boundaries of the miniature world should in most instances, themselves be miniature. A wall made of tiny pieces of stone, miniature bricks, or small pieces of wood can be a beautiful thing. It provides great interest by way of changing the elevation of the landscape while suggesting human presence at the same time. A well crafted stone wall retaining the roadbed in an otherwise wild area of the line lends a little surprise to the scene. Even though this is the wilderness, the hand of man is evident.
Care must be taken with building foundations and paved areas, including station platforms. Wood, wonderfully organic and soft, can be used for both applications. In the full size, wood has great weight and mass when used for these purposes. In miniature, this mass is more difficult to create, but it can be done. A buildings foundation must be square and level. It goes into the ground and becomes a part of it. The building sits on top. A poor foundation will destroy the illusion, no matter how fine the building.
Roadways, while an integral part of civilized life, have destroyed the character of many a garden railway. They must be approached with caution and trepidation. A roadway must be thought out logically and must perform a function. It can be a real roadway, allowing access to the remoter parts of the line by full-size caretakers, or it can be illusional. Regardless of its function, it must look the part. A real road is crowned. It is formally lined with curbstones in civilized areas or may have a ditch on either side in more rural settings. Roads must be smooth enough for miniature wagons to negotiate, but not so smooth that they look contrived and artificial.
Asphalt roads are not dead black with bright white painted lines. They are often light grey. Nor are they consistently one color. They have cracks, patches, exposed aggregate, and new and old sections.
Dirt or gravel roads must, like plants, have scale components. Dont use stones or gravel that is so big it would jar the motor out of a car, were one to drive over it. Rural dirt roads often have tire tracks or wagon ruts in them, difficult things to convincingly model.
Roads curve gently, especially those in less urban areas. Right-angle corners need to be there for a reason, so be careful. A road goes somewhere, usually by the most direct route.
Roads and paths can be defined by fences, ditches, telephone lines, waterways, or adjacent railways. Each of these elements will lend a certain look to the road, or make a subtle suggestion about it. Use these elements with care. None should dominate the landscape. In the real world, the landscape is all encompassing, all devouring, and so it should be with the miniature world as well.
Miniature figures should be used only with the greatest of reluctance and restraint. Few things look more unnatural than a crowded station platform populated with inert, lifeless mannikins, standing on their little plastic puddles and staring stupidly into space, as the moving, dynamic train pulls in. And the worst paradox in model railroading is seeing a train roll past a man who, though frozen in place, is running furiously to catch it!
Humanitys presence should be suggested, not shouted. A single figure or two, always in a passive pose, is all thats necessary. An open door, a bench with a newspaper on it, an empty rocker next to a sleeping cat, a bicycle leaning against a wallthese things let you know that there are people about, but they are just out of sight.
More figures can be used in coaches, though. Ironically, a train of empty coaches looks as unnatural as a full station platform. You dont have to pack every seat, but group people logically. Family units always make sense, as do loners. Couples and small groups will sit near one another, leaving a gap of several seats between them and the next group. Figures in trains are often seen through windows. This adds an air of mystery and obscures the fact that everyone inside is dead as stones.
Caricature figures often read better in a garden railway setting than finescale ones. They somehow seem more plausible. A clunky carved-wood figure will often have more life and character about it than a precisely made plastic one. Figures should not be shiny, nor should they be dressed in real, full-size bits of fabric. These things both look unnatural.