Charming Tails, Trains & Waterfalls

By Jewel Leah

There are two villages here, the first one is the train set-up. There are four trains in that village, a 1949 Lionel steam engine, 1957 Lionel Orange, Le Maxx Christmas train, and a battery operated train in the Coca-Cola Village. The second village is my Charming Tails. As far as planning, the first thing I do was get the train tracks laid out. Then just go from there. I only have a picture in my mind. Some things don’t work out at first, but just play around with it.Model_VD_juliar_b01Before discovering your products, my village was boxes covered with white sheets then covered that with batting. I only had the one village and no trees, just the houses. It looked very primitive.

I have been making displays for several years. This particular village display was only my third year using your tools and the village has grown into several villages. I have also made villages for several of my friends and recommend them buy your products. The tools are so easy to work with and the greatest thing about your company is if there is ever a problem with a tool it can be fixed or replaced. The replacement parts are so easy to get as not to slow down any projects I am working on at the time. Once I got the hang of how the tools worked I never even looked back. I think about “where can I put another village?” during the off season. Another nice thing about your company is that someone will always be there to answer the phone.

I use the Sculpting Tool a bunch. It is the best for the “whipped cream” effect for snowy mountains. You can make the mountains in about two minutes using this tool. I use the short 4″ Hot Knife to cut holes and for trimming. I have to borrow the longer 6″ Pro Knife from a friend of mine to make longer holes. The Engraving Tool is used for trenches to bury wires and works just perfect for that. These three are a must for anyone doing villages. I also have the Pro Power Station.

Is it difficult to incorporate running trains?
No, not at all, the trains are laid out first, then the village is built around them. The hardest part when doing the trains is keeping the tracks easy to reach so they can be cleaned off as needed during the holidays. The snow builds up on the wheels, which in turn gets onto the tracks. Usually I have to clean my tracks off twice during the holiday season.Model_VD_juliar_b02Is there anything besides foam supporting the upper levels?
The displays are all made from foam. I use wooden skewers to secure the pieces together. The Charming Tails village has glass blocks, painted with ice blue floral spray on the back side. The foam is strong enough to support the different levels, but you do need to make sure your columns are secure. I use four inch thick columns to support the really heavy sections and the two inch columns are just for decoration to hide a power cord.

How do you build the waterfall, streams, and lakes?
Waterfall: The waterfall was done by Ernestine and Phillip Turner, plus myself. We did the waterfall after Seven Falls in Colorado Springs. Build your mountain then carve out using the Sculpting Tool where you want the creek to go. The waterfall is made by hand painting the blue with acrylic paint and glueing pebbles in various places for the bolder effect. Paint over all this with an Elmer’s Glue. Then after it is dry, take a hot glue gun and using the cool setting, stand above it about two feet and drizzle the glue in long streams. Another person was holding a small fan over me as I was doing this so the glue would set up fast and not all run down. I use an up and down motion. Allow large clumps to form at each “fall”. The glue will clump together and may separate but that is okay as it looks natural.Model_VD_juliar_b03Lakes and streams: To get this effect takes a little trying. The first couple of times I did it, the acrylic water melted the foam. But here is the solution. Dig a trough using your Sculpting Tool for all. Go back using a plaster-of-paris coating which needs to come up and over the edges of the foam. Using a plastic spoon make a hollow part for your lake and troughs for the creeks. Allow it to dry. Paint a clear varnish over to seal and allow to dry. Paint blue, blue-green or whatever color you want your water to look. Allow this to dry. Place crushed pebbles or rocks in and around your lakes and streams. All this takes about a day. Go to Walmart and into the floral section they have a kit for acrylic water. Mix it according to directions. Allow it to set up in your mixing bowl for about 4 hours or longer, or until it thickens like molasses. Pour it into your stream and lake. If one box is not enough don’t worry, you can repeat this step and put it right on top of the other layer. For bubbles at the base of the waterfall I allowed it to set up until “Jello” stage and with a flat wooden stick whip it then poured it out to tie in the glue to the lake. It then takes about 2 days before it completely dries.

How do you do your terrific lighting effects?
I use white lights on white wires and usually try to stick to the 50 light strings for the lighting in and around the trees and mountains. I secure them to the foam at each bulb with a hairpin. For other effects, I bought a five bulb string from Walmart in their village section and use clear blue (not painted) bulbs which will give an icy effect. The spotlight effect comes from single cords with a 4 watt night light in them and these are placed behind houses or in hollowed out places behind a group of trees. You can also buy these extra light cords at places that sell houses such as Walmart, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, etc.Model_VD_juliar_b04How do you hide the electrical wires?
The wires are hidden in different ways. Under the lower levels I make a three inch section in the foam so I can drop all the wires through it before adding the second level. From there, all the cords have a trough dug out which goes to the back of the display and then dropped behind. Under the waterfall is an opening where I put a power stripe to plug lights into. Other cords are all hidden by the columns. I secure cords down with hairpins so they don’t move. Also, the buffalo snow will cover up wires.

How do you make tunnels?
Tunnels are made using the Sculpting Tool. I place a block of foam over the tracks and gently press down to get the outline of the tracks on the foam. Then using the sculpting tool just carve out the inside until the train will go through it. It may take a couple of tries, because I never remember that some of my train cars are taller than the engine. You must secure the tunnel to the display with the wooden skewers as the vibrations from the train makes them move just enough to cause a derailment. Then depending on the tunnel you just carve a mountain range with the sculpting tool or keep it flat on top to put a house on. I have both.


Can you break the display down for storage?
Yes, the displays are all taken down each year and stored in the attic. Nothing on my displays are glued down except the rocks in the waterfall. I use the wooden skewers to hold the foam together. The tracks are secured to the foam with hairpins or floral pins so not to move around. I use double sided foam tape for lamp-posts or other small items that can not stand up properly. Other than that, everything comes off the foam for storage.

What are the dimensions of your display?
The Charming Tails Village is in a V shape and is 8′ X 6′ , 3′ wide and 7′ high. The train village is U shaped and is 12’x16’x8′, 3′ wide, and 7 1/2′ tall at the highest point. All the foam that I use is 3 to 4 feet wide, since I am a short person, I need to be able to reach things.Model_VD_juliar_b05


More Helpful Tips

The trees are 90% floral pics from Hobby Lobby. They can just be stuck into the foam and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, which makes for easy storage. I will also use sticks from my backyard as dead trees.

The snow is “buffalo snow” which I buy at Michael’s. I re-use the snow each year and only have to buy one bag to fill in areas. This is a fine snow. The snow is the very last thing that comes off my villages, and don’t worry if other stuff has gotten into it, next year when you use it the snow will just look natural. A few specks of will not hurt.

Another helpful hint: For places up against a wall or window where a piece of foam is too large to put, just use butcher paper and either tape it to the wall or tack it on to the back of the foam. This will hide and fill in the blanks.

I find the best resource for foam are at places that make hot tub spa covers. You can find large solid pieces, and can get a real deal on scraps. Since they can not use irregular pieces, and I don’t care since I am going to carve it up anyway, they will sell it to you really cheap.