More model railroad hints and tips *

“Here’s a link to a YouTube video of the N scale railroad I built for my grandson.

I’ve included a few pics of the control board wiring layout to add to Barry’s submission, nice work Barry!



“I like your foam landscape mountain for a base ideas, but I am old school I guess. I use metal screen wire, which I tack down on all ends w/thumb tacks, then attach it permantly with liquid nails pressed thru the screen mesh. You can crumple it to make realistic landscape terrains. Finally a coat of joint compound to stiffen it all up. A second coating of joint compund with saw dust, crumbles of sheetrock or just textured plain looks realistic, it is also light and can span several inches.

For vertical rock right of way cuts I use stacked broken sheetrock (1 to 2 inches wide) liquid nailed together and coated with heavy latex paint. I also stick in sheetrock crumbles for added detail. Using a nail to make vertical blast holes adds more realism to the rock face.

I will try some foam though.


“Maybe not my best tip, but it has saved me a lot money. I use those inexpensive acrylic paints, such as Apple Barrel and Cerama Coat, that are sold at Wal Mart, Hobby Lobby and elsewhere. What is nice is they provide a flat finish (gloss is available in some colors) that one want’s for model railroads. They are water based and you can thin them according to your tastes to not hide detail. You can add a small drop of dish soap to allow it to flow better, though I normally do not. It may take a few coats if really thin. They can be applied by brush or by air brush. Clean up is easy and they are not destructive to plastics. There is also a huge variety of colors to choose from. Water based paints take a bit longer to dry but the results are well worth it.


“Hi Al,

I am continually impressed with many of the tips, innovative and creativie ideas, and videos that readers send in to you. It’s been a couple of months since my last contact with or submission to you though I am frequently doing some sort of project on my layout.

Recently, with the holidays rolling around, I thought I might try something quick and simple to add a temporary holiday touch to my N scale layout. I chose to use ‘oversized’ model pine trees (O scale) to simulate tall 50 foot trees to create an eye-catching effect (sort of like the annual giant Christmas tree erected in Rockefeller Center here in New York City). So I simply sprinkled very fine multi-colored glitter (to simulate light bulbs) on the trees and secured it to the trees with hairspray. The hairspray was chosen because of its properties: it’s not sticky to the touch and dries almost immediately upon contact; and it does not change the surface properties of either the glitter or the tree branches — i.e., the glitter remains shiny while the tree keeps it flat, natural finish. I then simply stuck the trees into my (foam insulation-based) terrain.

Unrelated to the photos, I am also sending a link to one of the recent videos I did the couple of months. I hope you and the readers might like to see it. It’s a look at the Empire Builder passenger train running on my N scale layout. It is my attempt to capture some the historical evolution of the train from the 1950s to more modern times.


Latest ebay cheat sheet is here!

A huge thanks to Arnie. Amazing stuff. Arnie is also in the Hall of Fame and helped with the Beginner’s Guide.



29 Responses to More model railroad hints and tips *

  1. Thank you for sharing the pictures and video.
    My wife when she was about 14 moved to the United States [Pomery, WA] from Manitoba in Dec 1954. They rode the Empire Builder Route from Fargo to Walla Walla with a change in Spokane.

  2. The video is great! The scenery is great, especially how the background mountains appear relative to the foreground, giving the illusion of distance. The depth of field is fantastic; to quote the TV show, “How Do They Do It?” And, it is so nice to see a consist without three engines up front pulling 7 cars!

  3. Fantastic video and layout! I’m starting my train table and you have modeled the very time of year I will be doing where the fall colors are still showing in the lower elevations and there is snow on the mountains…I will save this video for reference when putting in my scenery and thanks, so much, for sharing. Grannytoot

  4. Nicely done– in conept and execution!!! I am a wee bit envious of you folks who have room for such a beautiful layout– but then if I had that much room, would I even know what to do with it? :) Arnie certainly did and it is beautiful. Thanks again.

  5. Great Video

    Thanks to everyone who takes the time to share ideas.

    My son and i took apart the temporary layout we had and we have started on our “more improved’ layout.

    It’s a lot of fun we want to keep it simple, like using wooden horses for the legs and the “hollow doors” from Menards as table tops. They run 36 inches wide and 7 feet long. We came up with a U-Shape. But we continue to borrow a few ideas here and there. Once I figure how to post pictures I put some up.

  6. I’m curious as to know why on the Great Northern Empire Builder on your layout that the baggage car is spliced between the A and B unit of the power consist?

  7. That’s a great layout, the landscaping is just magic, very,very well done,

  8. Thanks to all of you for your continued support with fine feedback on my submssions to Al’s site. And it’s always nice to inspire others to use ideas I’ve incorporated into their own layout (go Bonny Grannytoot!). And to ‘nother grandpa — remember I’m working in N scale. So not much room is needed. My layout is 8 feet x 5 feet and as you can see it can give the impression of a railroad empire. If any are interested, check out my Youtube videos via ID privprac48.


  9. Marvelous way to use stock from different periods. A historic parade gives you the excuse to have all sorts of periods represented. [those trees didn’t grow much in sixty years:)]
    Great video.

  10. Great video!!! Exactly what I’am going to be modeling as well. I live in Northwest Washington state and a huge fan of Great Northern. Do you by any chance have a drawing of your layout plan? It looks incredible. Keep up the great work !!!


  12. Nice video; but I think I should point out one slight problem with your first “Empire Builder” train. If you’ll look closer at the consist, the “B-unit diesel”, is between a baggage car and the rest of the train. Although I am not a purist, that was a bit odd, and I caught it when that train made it’s second showing in the video.
    Other than that, it was a nice video.
    FYI – On two occasions, back when Amtrak was searching for the right colors to paint their early equipment, the colors of Red and Blue, were actually the same colors which the AT&SF had chosen for their diesels. In the words of one Amtrak official: “We chose the red and blue paint colors from those used by the Santa Fe, since those two colors most clearly represented the color found on the American flag.”

  13. NICE! That is one awesome N scale layout. I love the background. I’m a native of West Virginia, so you gotta know I’m a big fan of the mountains. One great thing about your mountain scenery, is that it takes hundreds of years for it to change, so you have the option of running the rolling stock of different periods without it looking out of place. Beautiful! There’s no other word for it.

  14. 8 x 5, huh? I’m even more impressed!

  15. Arnie, you do great work. Very impressive.

  16. Modeling scenery very good! I am also a bit of a purist and I also spotted the baggage car between the FA and the FB. I checked the consists listing for the Empire Builder and they never used Alco FA/FB power for the Empire Builder. For that time period, EMD F units would have been the appropriate power on the train. I know that it is “nit-picky” so please excuse the purist attitude for those comments. Cu-do’s for all the other modeling skills presented in the video!

  17. Absolute masterpiece. Stop the train, I want to get on. The scenery remains ageless, and the trains evolve through the ages. Loved the bicyclist in the park scene. Who says you can’t create a universe in 4 x 8? Once again, less is more. Brilliant work.

  18. Super. a lot in a small area, but not crowded, real nice work, thanks 4 showing us

  19. Love the layout. Quite a bit of work there. Where did you get the “backdrops”, they fit in perfectly with your theme. I nticed none of your curves seem to have any “superelevation to them. Maybe it is just how they look in the pictures. An idea here, get one of those cameras you mount either in your cab or on a flat car. Then make a video of your layout from the perspective of the “cab crew”.Before I went into Z I too was in N, I built a 30″ x 84″ layout, based loosely on Model Railroad Magazine in 1997 article ” Model Railroading on a Door”. I used Kato track, electric turnouts, about 8 or 10. I built buildings from kits, no I did not do any kitbashing. In 2006 due to the previous 2 years of hospital stays I was forced finanically to sell my N ga stuff for $2,000 ( a collection of nearly $35,000 to $50,000) was probably the darkest day in my life, as I loaded the boxes and “tackle boxes” ( those plastic tackle boxes, the large ones that WalMart use to sell made excellent storage boxes for engines,cars, ect. Sadly they no longer make the same type. Right now I am in Z scale, I have a 27″x37″x10″ layout, a runner that I sometimes will go into the back bedroom and run, maybe once or twice every 2-3 months. It cost me $3,500 to have it fabricated by a man in Santee,Ca. in 2010, he is well known in the Z scale community. It is museum quality, there are pictuires of my layout , the “LZPMRR ( LeeZ’ Po’ Mans’ RailRoad). located on Z Central Station in the gallery section. I again have gotten way too much involved in it moneywise, including the cost of the layout I have $15,000-$16,000 invested in it. I made a vow to myself that I would not go overboard in Z scale, but “lokk at me now”. I keep one of those 5 sectioned composition books with everything I buy for it, I have the sections marked “Engines”,”Rolling Stock; Buildings/Kits”;”Tracks”; Misc.”. Each page has the “Ga”;Item Description/dealer from whom purchased; “Date & Costs”. The pages are “vertically lined”. Unlike my N scale compo book I do not have the receipts for what I have bought. The dealers do not send it with them, unlike Tex-N-Rails of Miami,Fla., where I purchased 90% of my N scale stuff. Just thought some of you out there might want to know a little about my Z scale and model railroadin’. I do wish there was a camera I could put on a flat car and make a video of my layout, I understand someone had mad such an animal , Rob Klutz of Z Track magazine was either loaned one or given one as an editorial he wrote in the May/June 2013 issue of ZTrack mag talks about it. Well I guess I said enought or too much. I do have business sized cards with a picture of my layout on it if anyone is interested inone or a few. Let me know. Lee Barry, CEO LZPMRR

  20. Wow,that is quite some layout!! Your layout brings back very vivid memories of a trip I took along this route in 1985 and 86. I would really like to see the rest of your layout sometime in the future. Regards, Mike Hooper.[Ottawa,Canada]

  21. not to be a nit-picker,but why is the baggage/express car in between the A and B engines in the video?

  22. Thanks for posting my first try at an apartment sized project Al! The whole thing is just under 3.5″ by 5ft. I put the controls on the slide out drawer so they would be protected when my grandson Julian used the table for other play activities.

    The quick connects made it easy to remove the foam layout board, or swap the buildings when we wanted to change the town setting. Used a serial computer cable connector run the lighting circuits. I ended up imbedding the crossing gate into the foam to board so the outer track ran smoother.

    You can see videos of the system running on YouTube, just search for “1Gramps4julian”.

    Thinking we will expand the layout size by a half foot either way to allow for an outer row of housing.

    Thanks again to everyone who contributes, I love all the ideas.


  23. Great job your a Master on the landscaping my friend I wish I had just a lil of your talent

  24. Al,

    Thank you for these letters. I have a request. Would it be possible for you to send me a link to one of Dave’s numerous audio/visiuals?

    Anyone would do.

    Thank you


  25. Hi could you let me know how to join this club

  26. Wow! I thought I was in BC again. Yes I know that is further north but I believe everyone should see the Rockies. Love your scenery.

  27. cool super cool

  28. To the gentleman who wanted an alternative to crawling under his layout. A kitchen chair with the legs cut and mounted on a 4 wheeled movers dolly might help.

  29. Beautiful!!!!!!!!………. that looks really great:-):-):-):-)

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