Using Mirrors On Model Train Layouts

If you have been involved in model railroading for some time, you’re keenly aware that building a model train layout involves a reasonable investment of time, patience, and of course, money.  With that said, however, that is part of the enjoyment of this hobby!  Given that layouts are not built over night, rather many nights, the model train hobbyist has chosen a pastime which will give him many years of enjoyment, and the expense of this hobby can be spread over time, thus making it affordable for most.

Along with the many skills a model railroader picks up during the construction phase of their railroad, many may not even realize that they’ve also acquired the skills of a magician as well.  The hobbyist who creates a layout which captures the attention and eye of an observer has mastered the art of illusion.  Making the eye and mind think that it is seeing something which it really isn’t!  

These illusions, in effect, are created by forcing perspective.  This is accomplished by causing a scene to appear larger than it really is, by making trains and cars appear as though they are going somewhere when in fact they really aren’t, by causing buildings to look as though they are larger, by adding scenery where there actually isn’t any, and so on.

One of the more effective ways to create these type of illusions is through the use of mirrors.  More importantly, the size of a layout is not a relevant issue, as mirrors can be used on any size layout to create a variety of different types of illusions.  In a word, mirrors can be used to create the illusion that your layout appears larger than it really is, and that there are multiples of one item, when in fact there is only one.  This is especially helpful for smaller layouts.  The real trick is not to give it away.  You’ll will have to take precautions to insure that the mirrors you use are not an obvious part of your layout or the illusion is lost.  

For example, make sure that a viewers silhouette doesn’t appear in the mirrors on your layout.  Use objects on your layout such as buildings, trees, bridges, scenery, and other items to conceal the edge of your mirrors.  Try using the natural borders of trees or rock formations as their uneven edges will produce a more varied reflection.

When using mirrors to give the illusion that there are more people or cars in a scene, make sure that you paint their fronts and backs and in so doing, it will seem as though there are more of these items.

If you place a building directly against a mirror it will make the structure appear to be twice its normal size.  However, you may discover that you will have to use a building with a standard roofline as those with irregular roof lines often do not work as well.

As you experiment with mirrors you’ll discover that mirrors that are double sided do not work as well as a single side mirror.  Try to purchase mirrors that have a protective coating on one side.

One thing a mirror will not do is discriminate about what you want to be reflected and what you do not.  Objects will typically appear to be backwards, such as the wording on signs, and to make matters worse, vehicles will seem as though they are about to collide head on.  The solution to this problem is to use two mirrors set at 45 degree angles to each other.

Not only can the images of people be picked up, the images of other things such as the lighting in your train room and even parts of your layout can be reflected as well.  To avoid this problem just make sure that you set your mirrors perpendicular to the ground in front of them.

The above mentioned suggestions for using mirrors are just that, suggestions.  With a little experimentation you may come up with new and innovative ideas of your own for creating illusions with mirrors.

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