How I went full Stig of the Dump for the sake of my models.
It was a bright, unseasonably warm, February morning and I was head first in our household recycling bin.
A few days previously my wife had received a parcel and opening the box a multitude of packaging peanuts protecting the goods spilled out.
And while I’m known to harvest the rigid expanded polystyrene foam in packaging for my models – it’s great for scenery – I couldn’t see a need for the foam popcorn. We chucked them out.
Skip forward to the morning in question.
I was working on my layout and a hillside in particular. I have a small stretch of track that climbs up this hill on a slight incline before disappearing into a tunnel. I was working on the hill when I noticed that I’d left a couple of inches of the track unsupported as it ran between the support pillars of the incline.
I looked around for some cardboard to slip under the track but didn’t have any to hand.
As luck would have it, one of the foam peanuts had somehow migrated to my layout (they get everywhere don’t they) and in particular into a bowl of water I was using for making the plaster cloth being used for the hill construction.
Out of pure curiosity, I retrieved the errant peanut from the bowl and squeezed it so it would fit under the track.
The peanut transformed
For whatever reason, the polystyrene peanut transformed when wet.
It went from simple foam that returned to its original shape when squeezed into a scenery making marvel.
When wet it has the malleability of plasticine and can be shaped to any form desired yet it’s also sticky and holds itself in place when positioned. But better yet, as it dries it holds its new shape but expands very slightly so fills out spaces between it and the surrounding material before finally drying relatively hard.
This has massive potential for all manner of scenery work.
I needed more of this remarkable stuff and that brings me back to where we came in.
We’d thrown the box, surplus packaging and foam into the bin.
And since then we’d done a bit of Spring clean around the house, filling the rubbish bin.
Recovering the other foam peanuts was going to be messy but their scenery making potential is too great to waste by not going through our waste.
Stig would have been proud!
I went full Stig and dived into the bin. Literally.
Luckily, it wasn’t cold and before long I found myself crawling head first through our trash. I’m glad my wife didn’t see this and hope our neighbors weren’t watching either. I can just imagine the conversations… Not quite as bad as the time I was found kneeling in the gutter but still. The things I do for my models!
It was filthy but I eventually I recovered the peanuts and now have a stash of little white pellets for future scenery work.
Not quite the glass bottle-end windows that Stig made for his cave* but they’re fantastic for scenery work.
I’m not sure if all packaging polystyrene popcorn has the characteristics of the ones I found – that’s why I was prepared to dig into the waste to recover the ones we’d received – but if you find some in your next delivery try them out.
- For those who haven’t read the Stig of the Dump by Clive King, it’s a classic children’s story about a young boy called Barney and his best friend, a cave-man named Stig, who lives in a chalk pit rubbish tip. It was one of mine and my boys favourite bedtime stories.
> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.