I receive a lot of pictures and stories from readers about their model train layouts. I love getting stuff like this from you guys, it’s always great to see what other people are doing.
This week I thought I’d share an email and some pictures that I received from Lou last week. Lou is a Pastor in Washington, Indiana and has kindly has given me permission to share his pictures and story here.
I am glad you were able to find my photos. I wish I had a better camera and more experience in that field but I use what I have available. Trains have been an interest of mine as long as I can remember. The first Christmas gift I remember getting was a push train. In Kindergarten I got an HO train which of course didn’t last very long. A few years later I got my first Marx set which included a figure 8, two trains, and a semaphore to control the crossing. In 6th I graduated to Lionel and since the budget was always lean I had to depend on Christmas and birthdays to add to my collection.
Trains were put on hold during college and seminary however having graduating, I decided to go to HO since it was truer to scale and a whole lot cheaper! I have had layouts of various sizes in my first three churches but never was able to do much in the line of scenery. When moving to my fourth church, I had the privilege for the first time to purchase a home and it had a basement room that had been added on and was used for a garage/shop. After making needed repairs and upgrades in the house, in the Spring of 2004 I started work on my train room by removing the garage door, insulating and sheet rocking the walls, installing a suspended ceiling and lights and starting the framework of the layout. The layout is about 20′ long and 10′ wide on one side and 12′ foot on the other. It is shaped somewhat like a G. This time I choose to use Atlas code 83 track and switches. My curves go from minimum of 22″ to maximum of 34″. I have a double main line that runs around the outside of the layout and a secondary line that rises about 8″ above the main line. I used woodland scenic Styrofoam risers (3%) to make the transition upward and downward. I have painted the sides of the track and ballasted it with medium mixed gray ballast.
The scenery is mostly Styrofoam sheets with sheet rock mud used to cover them. The deciduous trees were built for the most part with Sunvista Tree Armatures. I like these better than woodland scenics because there seemed to be more branches to work with and more importantly, off the base of the tree is an extension about 2″ that makes planting trees in Styrofoam quick and easy. To glue the clump foliage to the armature was a challenge at first, however this was quickly resolved when my daughter introduced me to Aleene’s fabric glue which you get at Wal-Mart and craft stores. It is clear and has the ability instantly secure the foliage. I have used it with wood and other materials and even a touch of it works well to hold figures in place.
I model the Erie Lackawanna because I grew up around the EL lines. Even when in college I used to watch the trains run from the Library window when studying. I have probably 100 cars, mostly Athrean, Atlas, Model Power, etc. Most are the blue box type kits of earlier years. I have upgraded them all with additional weight, metal wheels, and Kadee couplers. My freight train runs about 40+ cars at any given time. The layout is wired DC and does not look like I will be making any upgrades to DCC anytime in the future. My engines are a mixture of Athrean, Atlas, and Bachmann.
I have done some scratch building and kitbashinging with some of my buildings. Many have floors installed and lights for future use. One trick I picked up that makes gluing ground cover and ballasting simple is attaching a sprayer head to a bottle of rubbing alcohol. I put the ballast in place, then I wet the ballast well with the rubbing alcohol which usually does not disturb the ballast. Then I use a dropper with white glue and water. The alcohol allows the glue to quickly and easy penetrate both the ballast and scenery.
At present I have about 2/3 of the scenery done and I hope to complete most of that by the end of this year. I enjoy all aspects of the hobby from building kits, working on cars, tweaking engines, and running the trains. Two years ago I decided to make my layout available to the public as part of the local historical society’s annual Rail Fest. The town of Washington had been a B&O town for many years. Southern Indiana does not have many who are into model trains and as far as I know I am the only one in town that has a sceniced layout. The open house went well and I did a repeat this year. The local paper did a front page write up on the layout including additional information on the inside pages. I have attached a copy of the article.
I am a full time pastor who supplements his income with a part job of developing websites. I also teach two courses a year on line for a Bible institute out of New Jersey. I try to get in 5-6 hours a week on the trains. Not enough as far as I am concerned but better than nothing. I just updated my pictures on my website. I have done some additional improvements to my layout since I took the original pictures. I need to be back over the whole layout and take a number of new pictures.
Thanks for taking a look at my work.
So this week I was looking into different methods of how to make mountains for your layout, and I came across a few different methods using foam. I’ll be honest, foam doesn’t feature to heavily on my layout (with the exception of using it as the base of my layout), as I’m a bit “old school” so I still use the “balls of newspaper covered in plaster cloth” method of creating my mountain structures.
This method is really easy as all you need is newspaper, masking tape, and plaster cloth.
Step 1: Take the newspaper and just ball it up. You need to make sure that you ball up the newspaper nice and tight. Wrap the ball up with some masking tape to help prevent it from unfolding. Repeat until you have as many balls as you need.
Step 2: Make a mountain shape out of the newspaper balls. Start with the base and work up. Use strips of masking tape to help hold the balls in place.
Step 3; Once you are happy with the overall size and shape of your mountain, place it where you want it to go on your layout and apply the plaster cloth. Depending on the make and manufacturer of the plaster cloth you may need to cut it into strips and/or the appropriate length first. You will need to wet your plaster cloth first and then apply it to your mountain of newspaper balls. I find that starting at the top and working down works best. Keep applying the paster cloth until your mountain is completely covered. Remember, by having plaster cloth which is attached to your mountain and your layout base will help keep it in place.
Drying times may vary depending on what make of plaster cloth you are using, but generally its between 24 to 48 hours until it is completly hardened.
After its dry its then simply a case of applying colour and any scenery you want to add.
Anyway, thats the method that I use mainly. Now time to show you some methods with foam.
First is a great video which shows how you can make some nice looking mountains really easily and cheaply using foam boxes.
Personally I would use the mountains shown in this method as part of a backdrop rather than having them in the middle of the layout, as they are rather flat.
The second video shows how you can make mountains using extruded foam – its the foam that many modellers (myself included) use as the ground base for layouts. It’s pretty easy to get a hold of as its available in all good home and hardware stores. (I’m informed that in the US you can get it in Home Depot and Lowe’s).
The last video is probably my favourite method as I love how great the mountain looks. I’ve not done this method but I’m certainly going to look into doing it the next time I give my layout a re-model.
Bear in mind that in this video, the mountain is actually being made to go into a tank for a pet lizard or spider, but the principles and the methods behind making the mountain would remain the same for making it to go on a layout.
Product used in the above video – Hot Wire Foam Factory
From my understanding, you can also use the hot wire cutting method on the extruded foam as well.
Remember if you like what you see, have any questions or are familiar with using foam in your scenery then please coment below.
An important aspect to creating a realistic looking layout is to weather your trains and rolling stock. I mean, if you have gone to all the trouble of making realistic scenery for your layout, then its goign to look odd if the trains that are trundling around on your tracks are all shiny and new.
While the thought of taking a perfectly good train or rolling stock (particularly if it’s brand new) and making it look old and used can make most beginners nervous (and don’t worry, there are a lot of experienced modelers out there who feel the same way). But you would be surprised to see just how much difference a well weathered loco can make to your layout.
There are various methods that you can use for weathering, and in the following videos you will see 5 different methods that can be used.
1) Weathering with an Airbrush
In this video, we can see Brian on his first attempt at weathering a CN Box Car
2) Weathering with colored pencils
Here we see Bill from Model Railroad Hobbyist showing us how to use water-soluble colored pencils to apply weathering. All of the properties of watercolours but with the application control of a pencil.
3) Weathering with paints
Will from modelrailwayreviews.com shows use how he uses paint and brush to apply weathering to his rolling stock.
4) Weathering with Chalks
CSXNSModelFan (I don’t know his real name) shows how he uses a combination of spray paint and chalks to do his weathering.
5) Big Al Mayo’s Weather Dipping Method
Despite this video being over 2 years old and the fact that I love Big Al’s stuff, his technique of “Weather Dipping ” passed me by. See what you think of it.
Remember, no matter how eager you are to get started trying out these weathering techniques, I would highly recommend that you practise on some old rolling stock first. You can pick up some absolute bargains through eBay, second hand stores, garage sales, etc which you can use as your test subjects, before attempting to weather something from your own collection.
Weathering isn’t something that you need to be scared off, and once you find a method that works well for you (whether its one of the above, a combination, or something that isn’t even covered here) you may even find it enjoyable.
I always get exited when I receive an email from Dave about a new video, as I know I’m going to be in for a treat. Listen out for Dave’s wife asking him if he wants a cup of tea
Dave mentions that he picked up his logs from PoundLand, which for my non-UK readers out there is the equivalent of a 99 Cents or Dollar store. As you can see from the video, it is possible to pick up a LOT of logs for your money which is ideal if you have (or are thinking of adding) a timber yard or mill to your layout.
I’m sure that there are plenty of other ways that you can use logs lie these in your layout, other than the obvious log piles. If anyone knows of any or has a suggestion for a good way to use them in a layout then please leave your thoughts in the comment area below.
In this post I thought I would share with you a couple of cool little gadgets that I found on the web which can help you out with model railroading.
The first is this cool little widget which converts real life measurements and converts them into OO, HO, N, or Z scale. This little tool is from Coalville Models and its ideal if you are planning on scratch building anything from real life and want to get the scale correct.
The second is XTrackCAD. Basically it’s a design program which is specifically made to design model train layouts. AND IT’S COMPLETELY FREE.
Its main features allow you to:
- Design layouts in any scale and gauge,
- Use the predefined libraries for many popular brands of track and turnouts to help you get started easily,
- Add your own favourite components,
- Manipulate track much like you would with actual flex-track to modify, extend and join tracks and turnouts,
- Test your design by running trains, including picking them up and moving them with the mouse.
- At any point you can print the design in a scale of your choice. When printed in 1:1 scale the printout can be used as a template for laying the track to build your dream layout.
- Learning XTrackCAD is made easy with the extensive on-line help and demonstrations.
You can download XTrackCAD and read all about it here.
I’ll be honest with you, XTrackCAD is an excellent bit of kit, but it does take a bit of practise. Admittedly that does depend on how good you are with computers; it took me a few days and some trial runs before I had the hang of using it, whereas my son just started picked it up straight away.
Hope you find those useful in building your dream model railroad.
And of course you can always find discounted model train stuff here.
If anybody has any experience with XTrackCAD, or if you know of any other resources like the ones I’ve mentioned, then please leave your comments below.
A question that I am asked A LOT is by beginners is
“What train set would you recommend as a good start for my first layout?”
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been into model railroading for more than 30 years now, so it’s been a while since I’ve bought a “starter” train set.
However, what I would suggest to anyone looking to get the hobby to go straight into DCC (Digital Command Control) rather than DC (Direct Current) – for more information about DCC have a look here.
Another suggestion would be is not to be over ambitious with your first layout, Many of the amazing layouts that you see which take up whole rooms started out as a simple 4 x 8 layout which just grow overtime, usually due to a modelers confidence in creating layouts.
Anyway, I’ve asked around some of the members in the Insiders Club who have started on their layouts within the last year what their recommendations are for a beginners first train set.
For modelers in the US the train set recommended for beginners most was the Bachmann Trains Digital Commander Ready – To – Run DCc – Equipped Ho Train Set
This set comes with everything that a beginner could need to get started: 2 DCC trains, an EZ command DCC controller and the track is Bachmanns own EZ track (EZ track is essentially track that is already fitted to a roadbed)
While this set only comes with a loop of track, EZ track is available in extension packs to help you increas the scale and complexity of your layout.
For modellers in the UK and Australia the highest recomended train set for a beginner was the Hornby R1126 Mixed Freight 00 Gauge Digital (DCC) Train Set
This set includes 2 DCC trains, a loop of track with a siding, and a Hornby Select Digital Control.
As with the Bachmann set, Hornby also sells additional expansion packs, making it easier to expand your layout.
I’m hoping to add to this list of recommended trains, but I’ll need your help to do it.
If you know of a good train set that you would recommend to a beginner in the hobby then let me know in the comments or contact me.
I love looking at other videos of other peoples layouts in action. Not only is there something relaxing about watching their trains roll around in the little worlds that they’ve created, it’s also a great way to get inspiration for design elements for your own layout.
The following videos are tours of some of my favourite layouts that I have come across over the last few years.
Please if you know of any videos of layouts that you feel would be of inspiration to others, or if you have videos of your own layout in action, then let me know in the comments or contact me and we can get a nice little collection going of inspirational layouts.
If you are looking to find some of the best magazines dedicated to model railroading (and railroading in general) then you are in the right place.
Magazines are a great resource for model rail enthusiasts as they are a great place to pick up tips, how-to’s, guides, and inspiration; as well as the latest news and product information.
While the list below is in no way complete, I will be adding to it regularly.
Model Train Magazines
Model Railroader Magazine
Model Railroader magazine is the oldest and most-respected railroading magazine. Each issue of Model Railroader magazine features reliable tips, projects and detailed photos to help readers improve their layouts and keep in touch with the hobby.
12 Issues $66.00 $42.95
Captures hobbyists imagination and sparks their curiosity about toy trains from Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx. Colorful photo features guide the reader through world-class collections. Readers also learn toy train repairs, restoration and maintenance.
9 Issues $53.55 $39.95
Railroad Model Craftsman Magazine is the magazine for model railroaders with a high interest in fine modeling accessible to all skill levels. Enjoy engaging features and inspiring photography month after month!
12 Issues $54.00 $34.95
Live Steam and Miniature Train Magazines
Miniature Railway magazine features the latest miniature railway news and views. Each issue of Miniature Railway magazine includes reviews of 5″, 7.25″, 10.25″, 12.25″ and 15″ commercial and garden variety miniature railways.
3 Issues $16.00
An in-depth guide to the world of steam power. Discover locomotive, marine, automotive, traction, and stationary steam engine excitement…and build your own working model!
6 Issues $42.00 $39.95 OR 12 Issues $84.00 $74.95
Real Train Magazines
Relive the golden age of American railroading-when giant steam engines ruled the rails and the center of every town had an open depot. Classic Trains covers the 1930’s through the 60’s with remarkable photography, detailed reporting, and first-hand accounts.
4 Issues $27.80 $23.50
The magazine produced for railfans, by railfans! Bringing you trackside each month to modern mainlines and historic operations.
12 Issues $54.00 $34.95
The source for accurate news reports on the railroad industry. Trains’ in-depth features cover operations, locomotive power, rolling stock and routes-everything that makes railroading a popular passion. Vivid writing, color photography, and concise maps keep readers on the fast track.
12 Issues $66.00 $42.95
Like I said at the beginning this list is no where near complete, so will be adding to it from time to time.
Any suggestions for magazines to be included in the list welcome.
As I have touched on in my last few posts, building the scenery for your layout is one of the most rewarding, enjoyable, and relaxing (for the most part) aspects of model railroading. And if you’ve been paying attention (I hope you have been) then you will see that not only is this scenery realistic, its also cheap and easy to do.
While on the lookout for more ways to help you in creating your dream layout, I came across a nice little resource for making your own buildings using print out kits. It’s a simple case of print out the building plans, stick them to card, cut them out and glue together. What could be simpler?
The bonus of using these kits is that once you have it, you can print out and make as many of that building as you like. It’s a great way to populate your layout with buildings.
Also these kits can be resized to suit the scale of your layout
- OO scale is 100%
- HO reduce the print to 87%
- S enlarge the print to 118%
- Z reduce the print to 35%
- N reduce the print to 48%
A great deal of the enjoyment that you can get from model railroading comes from designing your own structures and scenery for your layout. After all its the scenery that makes your layout unique.
While you can simply buy and install scenery elements to your layout, there is a great deal of satisfaction from making everything yourself. Not only does it give your layout a more personal touch, it can also save you money, which could be better used towards buying the elements which you can’t make yourself, such as trains, tracks and controllers.
In the following video you will see a short tutorial on how to quickly make cheap, but realistic looking trees, using mostly items that you can pick up cheaply in your local hardware store.
With some tinkering you can use the same materials and technique to make realistic looking hedges as well.
You can also use different shades of green ground cover to your trees and hedges to make them even more realistic. Theres a good selection of ground covers here.
If you have anymore tips and tricks on how to make scenery for your layout using household items then leave them in the comments below.