Figures & Accessories
Enhance your layout with suitable miniature people and scenic accents
Model Figures & Accessories
Without any people or accessories to populate your layout it can look somewhat lifeless and lacking any purpose. The knack is to choose the right figures and accents to complement your railway and enhance the realism without looking out of place.
If your skills do not extend to making your own (I will cover this aspect more fully later in this module) you will need to avail yourself of suitable products on the market. Some, though not all, large-scale railway manufacturers offer a limited range of figures, but you can also take advantage of figurines produced for dolls-houses and seasonal model villages, etc.
Theme: If you have chosen to model a particular theme it is wise to stick to this and seek out model people that reinforce this premise whilst giving your layout character. Smart dressed business folk would certainly look out of place in a rural farming community just as much as cows would in a city street (at least not in the UK). Try to ensure that the figures and artefacts used to “dress” your display are in keeping with the location and era you are seeking to represent.
Scale: The other key to achieving some degree of realism is to keep to the scale ratios of your locomotives and rolling stock. We have already learned that Large-Scale Trains covers a breadth of different scales of which 1:20.3, 1:22.5; 1:29 and 1:32 are but a few. Whereas you might get away with mixing 1:29 rolling stock with 1:32 scale the same is not really true where miniature people are concerned, and a much stricter level of consistency is recommended.
If you are able to compare figures from different manufacturers you will find that there is simply no way those advertised as suitable for G-scale railways could possibly inhabit the same space and not look incongruous. Ah, you may say, but if I place the smaller people at the back of the scene this will add perspective and not be that noticeable. After all people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes anyway. It’s a nice theory, but in practice visitors are likely to have a number of vantage points along the line and the subterfuge will be quickly exposed.
Far safer, is to adhere to your primary choice of scale so if you layout is 1:22.5 hold on to that ratio when selecting your miniature people and accessories rather than compromise
This approach will tend to constrain your choice a little but will achieve better results in the end.
Relationship: Relatives scales between model people are equally important when it comes to the relationship between buildings and surrounding scenery.
Figures that are visibly much higher than the doors on nearby structures or are so small they would have great difficulty in climbing aboard a train will always “jar” so respective positioning must also be a major consideration.
In fact this whole topic is a potential minefield but with some thoughtful planning and careful application you can really add life to your layout.
One approach you might consider adopting is to create a series of visual model dioramas in the sense of representing a scene(s) with three-dimensional miniature figures frozen in time. Hand-painted model figures tend to be quite expensive (around £6 – 13 each on average for good quality specimens) and it would cost a veritable fortune to populate an inner city station with lot of individual people (who can all too often seem ‘static’ and somewhat directionless.)
As an example, a steam engine with a three-man train crew with the fireman filling a water tank while an engineer oils the wheels and the driver looks on from his cab.
Another could be a housewife pegging out the washing on the clothes-line whilst her husband chops wood with an axe and their child plays her toys under their watchful gaze.
The banner headline for this module showing a elderly gent relaxing in his rocking chair outside his shed with pet dog at his feet and accessorised makes the perfect composition.
There is no limit to constructing these little tableaus and they can create the impression of activity to an otherwise static scene. Incidentally, I am aware that I could be accused of being chauvinistic and sexist in using gender stereotypes to illustrate the above but when steam engines road the rails, well before the millennials “woke”, these considerations rarely arose . I would also be amazed if there were any female locomotive drivers in the 1890’s.
Sources of Supply
So much for the theory but how about sourcing the most suitable figures and current availability as the supply market is changing rapidly.
Whilst it is true that several large-scale model train manufacturers also produce a range of figures the name that comes immediately to mind is that of Preiser (Paul M. Preiser GmbH), a traditional family owned business based in Germany (since 1949) and Mauritius, producing realistic miniature model figures and accessories in no less than 13 scales including Z (1:220), N (1:160), TT (1:120), HO (1:87), 1:22.5 (G scale), 1:25, 1:32 (Gauge 1)) and 1:35. They also distribute the ex-Merten elastolin Mistolin figures (1:25) having acquired the company and moulds.
Preiser figures have a number of applications and are considered to be the finest, most perfect, injection moulded and hand-painted miniatures in the world. As you might expect the prices do reflect this attention to detail and if you are not careful you could find yourself spending more on populating your railway or railroad than on all the other equipment put together! Their extensive range means that, whatever people or accessory you need for your railway the chances are that you will find them in their catalogue from vintage to contemporary and even a washing line!
For large-scale model railway applications the main choices that are relevant are 1:22.5, 1:24, 1:25, and 1.32 scale depending on your chosen modelling scale.
It would probably require several additional modules to cover the full range so I will just select a few of the products that particularly appealed to me. However, your railway may be set in quite a different region with its own theme and you will need to search for appropriate models to serve your particular purpose.
The rate at which new models are introduced each year is staggering and you may find that certain figures are ‘out-of-stock’, resting or possibly discontinued. You may have to widen your search for a particular example further than you might expect but this is true of many large-scale model railway items and one becomes quite adept at tracking things down.
The only concern I personally have, is that these figures are so superb that even though I have a few in my collection I am loath to leave them out permanently on my outdoor railway in case they suffer damage from the elements or some night-time mammal activity.
These examples are all in 1:22.5 scale but you can usually find the corresponding design in the other ratios. Here is the link to the company’s website where you can download detailed information on the company and the product ranges available.
Whereas the impressive range of Preiser products caters well for the European modelling scene it is not entirely satisfactory for populating model railroads in other countries apart from a limited selection of early North American track layers and railway personnel. For figures more appropriate to the North American landscape one must look to that continent for a solution.
Unfortunately, many historical suppliers (notably Aristo-craft but also several family concerns) are no longer actively in business for a variety of reasons some concerned with age or health and some no doubt to do with the distribution and uptake of their moulded resin products.
In the following paragraphs I will try and highlight some of these niche suppliers who have made an impact and you may well be able to find examples of their production on the second-hand market if it is no longer available as new.
The first supplier I would like to draw attention to is Fine Folk Figures – a limited line of nicely moulded 1:20.3 scale (c.3” - 3.5” high) cast resin railroad figures in standing and sitting poses incorporating some fine detail. Ideal for adding character to North American themed layouts, especially those representing eras in the late 1880’s to the early 1930’s. Usually supplied ready to paint with minimal preparation but are occasionally available in limited quantities as custom painted figures.
Sourcing can prove a little difficult as I am not aware of any UK stockists. When originally introduced in around 2003 they were marketed by Mike’s Backshop in Lakeside , California (www.mikesbackshop.com) but more recently are available from Ozark Miniatures (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Supply Line Models
Keeping to the American theme we move on to another well-established range of 22 finely detailed half-inch scale (1:24 ) figures produced by SLM (Supply Line Models) featuring a mix of characters including train crews, workers, hobos, and fare-paying passengers. These come cleanly moulded in resin, look very lifelike and at one time or another have been supplied as unpainted, primed, or fully painted.
Although scaled to 1:24 ( or around 3” high for a tall 6’ male) they would be equally at home on a 1:22.5 layout based on USA narrow gauge practice and possibly even 1:20.3 Finescale at a pinch.
As at 4th January 2020 SLM's website still posts a message to say that they are closed until March 18, 2019 (probably due to the Covid-19 pandemic) but they may still be available from Fun & Games in Jefferson City who seem to specialise in scale model figures (although their website has not been updated since September 2013 so there is no guarantee that they are still trading.)
Fun & Games also supply their own original range of large-scale figures sculpted by Jim Barron (GJB) and Joe Crea (GJC) -- specifically for the Bachmann Shay, Climax and American, but they are also claimed to fit other Bachmann, Accucraft, Berlyn, Missouri Locomotive Company, and most other 1:20.3 locomotives); and Darrell Combs (GDC) – last updated in May 2012.
Both these websites can be reached using the button hyperlinks below:
Here are just a few examples of the SLM (Supply Line Models) original range of 1/2" scale figures potentially suited to 1:22.5 and 1:20.3 scale.: