Lionel scenic plots debuted in 1927 with the #195 illuminated terrace, a 19×22 inch platform built to provide a landscape for three houses, two #56 lamp posts, and a #90 flag pole.
The plot, and the various others that followed, solved two problems. They provided instant scenery for temporary floor layouts, and instant scenery for more permanent layouts for those who didn’t have the ability or confidence to attempt to scenic their layout themselves.
How Lionel made scenic plots
Lionel employees hand crafted the original scenic plots from natural materials, roughly following traditional model railroad scenery techniques, just a square foot at a time and at the factory. The plots started with a small board cut to predetermined dimensions, and then finished with a combination of green paint along with ground up loofah for texture. The workers then made bushes, hedges, and trees from a mixture of dyed loofah, sisal rope, dowels, thread, and clay.
Bushes and hedges were just strips of loofah cut to size and dyed with green paint. Evergreen trees came from the inner core of the loofah, cut into a semiconical shape, dyed green, and placed on a dowel, textured with thread and clay to resemble a trunk. Deciduous trees were made similarly, but using unraveled sisal rope to make leaves and branches.
Lionel would then place a metal building and or accessories like light posts or the flagpole on the plot. They marketed the scenic plots as ready to use scenery. They made a total of 16 different variations.
List of cataloged Lionel Scenic plots
- 910 Grove of Trees
- 911 Country Estate (w/ 191 Villa)
- 912 Suburban Home (w/ 189 Villa)
- 913 Bungalow (w/ 184 Bungalow)
- 914 Formal Garden
- 915 Large Tunnel Mountain
- 916 O Gauge Tunnel Mountain
- 917 Large Hillside
- 918 Small Hillside
- 920 Scenic Park
- 921 Scenic Park
- 921C Scenic Park, Center
- 922 Illuminated Lamp Terrace
- 923 Curved Tunnel for Standard Gauge
- 924 Curved Tunnel for O72
- 927 Ornamental Flag Plot
The resulting following
While the scenic plots wouldn’t win any awards for realism, they did provide suspension of disbelief, and provided a way to quickly and easily make a layout look a bit more visually interesting.
Lionel’s scenic plots proved popular, remaining in production for about 15 years. Production didn’t resume after the war, but pre-war train collectors studied the plots extensively and have been producing likenesses using the same materials and methods for several decades. Longtime Lionel hobbyist and TCA member Ron Morris sometimes sells his reproduction scenic plots on eBay. And if you would like to make your own, there was an article in the September 1999 edition of Classic Toy Trains detailing the methods, materials, and technique.
Using scenic plots on a prewar layout
If you want a traditional layout, especially a traditional pre-war layout, and don’t want to go with the hirail approach, imitating the Lionel scenic plots is a good way to go. You can procure rectangular pieces of 1/8 inch plywood or hardboard from your favorite store that sells lumber, then construct scenic plots to fit any areas on your layout that need landscaping. The result will be true to the era, look period correct, and won’t look like every other layout you’ve seen on a magazine or train forum.