You Are Here.
Jump to other pages.
Figure collector and diorama-builder Hans-Werner Lienau has used commonly available Playmobil accessories to create a unique desert environment.  Click for bigger photo.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer pageOn30 Display Trains
O Scale Accessories
O Gauge Christmas TrainsOn30 Christmas Trains

Written by Hans-Werner Lienau (with a little editing from Paul Race)
for Big Indoor TrainsTM and Family Garden TrainsTM

Note from Editor: Hans-Werner Lienau is a published author, figure collector, Large Scale model railroader, and diorama builder in Hamburg, Germany. I when Hans-Verner when I helped him track down a set of Large Scale Lionel figures for his collection.

When Hans-Werner's hobby of collecting toy figures from Elastolin and similar brands collided with his purchase of an LGB train, he decided to start using some of his pieces to in settings with his Large Scale trains. When I saw the desert photo in the title, I asked him for more information, and he sent the photos on this page and a brief explanation. I've tried to "fill in the gaps" where I thought it was necessary.

This particular project is best suited to go with Large Scale trains (like LGB and AristoCraft), but the principle of refinishing toys to use for models applies to any scale.

Desert Accessories from Playmobil Products

Before describing my project, I'd like to fill in the background about me and my combination of model railroading and Wild West figures.

Plastic Figures and Toy Trains - From my earliest school days, I had an HO model railroad and some books by German Wild West author Karl May. His characters, including the Indian“Winnetou” and his friend “Old Shatterhand” were the heroes of my childhood.

Every day going home after school I had to pass by a small shop that sold the Heinerle-Wundertüten (a surprise bag, literally "Bag of Wonder”). Although you never knew exactly what you were going to get, it always included candy and one 60 mm figure. The themes of the figures varied from Wild West to Farmland or Africa. They were manufactured by Domplast, Manurba or Jean. I have been collecting plastic figures ever since (though these days I mostly collect Elastolin figures made by the German company Hausser).

In those years, my favorite summer activity was playing with my figures outside. My favorite winter activity was model railroading in the basement. As I grew a little older and started spending time with other activites, my figures gradually disappeared. However, the Wild West figures remained in a forgotten bag deep in my mother's cellar.

LGB Reinvigorates Interest in Both Hobbies - Years later, when my little daughter and I saw an LGB layout, both hobbies reawoke at the same time. We hoped to build an outdoor railroad using LGB trains, Pola buildings and figures by Elastolin and Preiser. But there is always a difference between theory and reality - we have only been able to build temporary layouts, and most of them were built indoors.

Planning Dioramas - All along, I have also planned to build dioramas to display pieces from my figure collection - most of them shouldn't stay out on a garden railroad for long anyway. But in my present circumstances, the only time the trains run is at Christmas, so I have been focusing on building dioramas. In the meantime, my collection of Wild West figures has grown to about 1000, and I sometimes repaint inexpensive figures or build my own from "scratch."

The First Conversions

My desert diorama began to become a reality after a visit to a Flohmarkt (Flea Market), where I picked up some cheap plastic cactus that was made in China. One of them was an outlandish green, so I decided to give them all a new paint job. The "before and after" photos are below:

A toy saguaro cactus before and after painting. Click for bigger photo.Click for bigger photo.
Click for bigger photo.

[Note from editor: The detail photo to the right shows the kind of detail work Hans-Werner does in his painting. Although he didn't explain this step, it looks as though he mixed fine sand with his paint for the base, then, when it was dry, dabbed on a slightly paler color to bring out the sand texture. The "needles" on the cactus also seem to be fine white sand, probably dabbed on while the paint was still wet. ] Detail showing use of fine white sand to create texture and needles. Click for bigger photo.

Off-brand prickly pear, before and after. Click for bigger photoAn off-brand prickly pear gets the same treatment.

Playmobil's Cactus Get the Same Treatement

I liked the new appearance so much that I started also painting my Playmobil cactus (from set No. 7068). I also started planning a desert diorama to use for photographing my figures.

Playmobil's yucca plants got a special paint job. Click for bigger photo.
Playmobil's prickly pears before and after. Click for bigger photo

Playmobil's saguaro gets a makeover.  Click for bigger photoFinally, Playmobil's saguaro gets a makeover.

Other Playmobil Accessories

This was going so well that I starting borrowing pieces from other Playmobil sets.

This dead tree is from set 3748. Click for bigger photo.The base of this dead tree from set 3748 gets the same treatment as the other bases. The tree is painted gray, then dabbed with another color with a brush that is all but dry.
This dead tree set is from set 4205. the base gets "plugged" before the paint goes on.This dead tree is from set 4205. Click for bigger photo.
This sign is from set 3748. Using a "dry brush" or similar approach allows you to "weather" the signs without wiping out the lettering. This sign is from set 3748. Click for bigger photo.

Playmobile Fauna

Of course, no U.S. desert is complete without wildlife, living or dead. So I got out my Playmobil vultures and painted them carefully. Attention to detail counts, such as painting their talons a contrasting color.

Playmobil vultures can be posed in different realistic positions. Click for bigger photo.
A set of "bleached" cow bones and a couple of plastic sidewinders have also undergone a detailing and dry brush treatment.Click for bigger photo.

Here the upgraded animals and other accessories are posed together on a sand base that uses the same color as the cactus stands.

Playmobil vultures can be posed in different realistic positions. Click for bigger photo.

The painted accessories with a Large Scale train to give a sense of size. This is an EZ-Tec locomotive, which is about the same height and width as most small LGB locomotives.  Click for bigger photoIn the photo to the right, I have placed one of my Large Scale locomotives to give a sense of the size of these things.


Remember, this whole project started with a trip to the flea market. Keep an eye out for toys or other things you can use to add interest to your model railroad, display village, diorama, or other display.

Also, if you have a similar project you'd like to share with your fellow readers and hobbyists, we'd love to add it to our site, and we'll be sure to give you full credit for your contribution.

To Return to the BIG Indoor Trains(tm) Primer Page, click here.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer page

Click to sign up for the 'Trains-N-Towns<sup><small>TM</small></sup>' newsletter, with articles about display villages, indoor railroading, and much more

Visit our Garden Train Store<sup><small>TM</small></sup> Buyer's Guide Pages

Click to see railroad collections just for Halloween.

Visit our BIG Train Store<sup><small>TM</small></sup> Buyer's Guide Pages

Click to see unique Disney Halloween village collectibles and more

Home Pages
Reading Index Pages
Buyer's Guide Pages
Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page Return to Family Garden Trains Home page Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden RailroadingBig Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads

Note: Big Indoor Trains(tm), Big Train Store(tm), Family Garden Trains(tm), Big Christmas Trains(tm), Garden Train Store(tm), and Trains and Towns(tm) are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications ( All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
Big Indoor Trains(tm) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

For more information, contact us.

Click to see exclusive, licensed Disney(r) train and village collections!


Special Offers - FREE gift!!