More model railroad tips

“Hi Alistair,

This might not qualify as the best modelling tip but it is my personal opinion anyhow:

Model railways are meant to be fun! Do your own thing and do not react to so-called “purists”. The shape of your layout and what you run on it is YOUR choice – for you to enjoy.

I have a layout of approx 5m X 2m and it does not resemble any particular place or time. I have American, German, British and South African locomotives and rolling stock sharing teh layout. Who cares if my South African GMAM Garrat is standing aside a British water tower while the Flying Scotsman with LNER and LMS passenger stock thunders through the station.

My layout is also named BRAMGERSA, an acronym for BRitish, AMerican, GERman and South African.

Enjoy your e mails and regards,


“On HO Scale layouts, I’ve used fallen branches from trees. After the storms of the past few mornings, when you clean up the bigger branches, look at the ends…. Instant Trees….  The branches into smaller scaled small trees, usually 3-4” tall. Add Woodland Scenics. and cover foam and stretch em out and spray with your diluted white glue and detergent mix. I usually cut and make these trees 10-20 at a time and let them dry for a few days before poking the holes in plaster and white gluing them in place.  Save A LOT of money and looks very realistic when you need trees n mass, and no two trees are exactly the same.


“In N gauge the stalks from bunches of grapes make good foundations for trees, just need brown paint for bark & green flock for foliage


“Hello Al,

I’m not sure if you know this but you can use a common wooden dowel, I purchased mine from walmart. But i’m sure some hardware store’s and art’s and crafts stores would have them. They come in different thicknesses and i think the most expensive was about 2 dollars US.
Once you have the dowel thickness you want, you cut one end of it at an angle with your cutting tool of choice and you can either hot glue or crazy glue a flat piece of wood on the angle end you just cut for stability, or just hot glue a pad on the end.
The whole purpouse of this idea is to be able to clean those really hard, far away, to reach rails. This isn’t my idea so i can’t take full credit for it and you may revise it how ever you see fit but i have seen this homemade tool around and in use before so i know it works.

I can however say i do have an idea for a track cleaning car but i haven’t built it, tested it, tried it, or am i even sure if i could patend it since i’ve never seen anything like it on the market. I run N scale and most of those track cleaners run for over 100.00 US dollars. It’s crazy how modern society know’s, that if you need it, we can charge you an arm and a legg and we pay for it. ex diapers. but that’s a whole different conversation lol.

Another little tid bit you may or may not already know is weather you run DCC or DC layout’s just to save a couple buck’s instead of useing an atlas 2/3 way switch to power your isolated rails you can just use a simple toggle switch of your choice and they range anywhere from 20 cents to a few dollars a piece. being it’s a train layout i don’t think you would need something as complex as a lighted toggle switch but to each their own. even if you paid 2 dollars a piece and you needed 50 of them that’s only a 100 dollars compared to atlas or other 2 way switches on the market that run 4 to 8 dollars a piece, that’s in the range of 200 or 400 dollars.

You could always use real rock’s instead of hydracal and painting.

That’s about all i can think of off the top of my head, so i have a question for you i have an over whelming dust problem i’ve even considered buying a box of lint roller’s for my next option to try. my layout whenever i don’t use it for say 3 day’s, it needs dusting and a rial cleaning, i use a hand vac on it but just keep loosing product and that’s all it seem’s to suck up. The 4 or 5 tree’s i do have on my layout need to be torn out and completely redone due to the dust i would call them bunnies but at this point i think there more like full blown rabbit’s. i’ve even put the hand vac right on it and it didn’t even seem to phase it at all…


“Take some pva and mix in a little follage,pour it into a beaker and leave to dry,when you remove it and turn it uside down
it looks like a round pond with weeds in.


And lastly, I cry for help from Joe.

“Dear Mr. Lee:  I am a 66 year old single grandfather of 3 beautiful teenage girls…I am a subscriber to your website and I enjoy it quite alot…But I have decided to start a new layout…I have built layouts in the past but never one hopefully of this scope…It has been 30 years since I worked on the last one…where should I start? Thanking  you in advance, I am J.R. Gray in Tennessee, USA”

Please post a comment below to help Joe – it’s always daunting when you jump back in after a 30 year gap. And I know the collective wisdom of you all will be a great starting point.

Course I’m biased, Joe, but use the ‘ebay cheat‘ sheet to save those dollars.



29 Responses to More model railroad tips

  1. The first thing you need to decide is where to put your layout and how much space you have available, everything else is determined by that.

    After you know what your space looks like then you start looking at track plans, or if you have a great imagination, sketch your own track plan.

    I myself fell in love with the PRR horseshoe curve, which limited the track plans I was looking at. I finally found a John Armstrong plan that included the curve and came pretty close to fitting in the space that I had available, some mods and I started on benchwork.

    Next settle on how you are going to build bechwork, I settled on L girder construction and used 2 inch foam 4×8 sheets for all of the bench top. It remains to be seen how well this is going to work out. So far so good but I have not yet laid any track or installed switch machines. Installing switch machines may be a challenge although I have seen methods for doing this in 2 inch foam.

    My 2 cents.

  2. Joe, follow your heart and do whatever you want with a layout!! Just be sure you don’t over stretch the budget. As Ray says above don’t worry about the purists-just do what YOU want and have fun.

  3. This is for Joe who wants to start a new layout after many years. “Find a club in your area. You’ll find people ther with different talents of what it takes to build a layout. A lot of clubs do ’round robin’ meetings where they go to differnet homes for meetings and work on the layouts”.


  4. Great tip ideas! I have enjoyed them!

    My son and I finally have the space to get back into our HO layout. We want to do an elevated track. What is the best to the roadbed? Not being the best with precision sawing (thanks to tendonitis in the elbow!), is there another option besides plywood for the upper level?


  5. JR– ive done several in my 55 years — 1st examine the space available: you MUST be able to reach every area -(do you want to climb under or reach over or both?)so keep it 2-3 feet reach maximum do you want N, HO, or bigger (1a) keep your track radius as large as possible- No less than 24″ for HO etc. (2) do you want round & round or point to point or combination- (2a) how many operators do you want? (3)what finances are available? (4) how much time is available – laying track well takes time!! (5) what period of time? steam or diesel or both – which puts you around 1950’s (6) what features do you want – include a trolley in a city – or just country?go to a library and read (7) Design then design again then design again (8) build platform – incorporate 4 x 8 for flat (yard type)& truss system for single/ multi tracks- lastly do it a little a time with maximum thought for getting the trains running ASAP – lastly do it a little a time with maximum thought for getting the trains running ASAP (want round and round- then build a dogbone or circle, then build on that) imho

  6. JR,
    I came back to the hobby after a long spell. I first started by looking at mag and shops ,settled on a gauge then subscribed to a mag in that scale “O”. picked up old copies of the different mag in that and other scales. as the modeling is the same only on a different scale. educate yourself a lot then jump in. i made a small 4 x 7 simple outer loop for std gauge with a looped figure 8 in the center to show off the trains i had. had fun with that i am now expanding on that in the basement now. moved out of the dining room. (great wife). its still simple. but i have plans in my head. you can see wher it is now at youtube trainmanron. thanks ron

  7. Go for it Ray! Those purists (rivet counters) have a knack of making one feel guilty. I have always enjoyed railways since my first Hornby wind-up one about 65 years ago. The hobby is there to enjoy and it is your own to build as you wish. After all the privately owned railways did their own thing, didn’t they? Sure they were influenced by each other and got ideas from each other but they built their own locos and rolling stock in their own part of the country – so why shouldn’t we modelers?

    thanks for the many ideas. I have started again after about 20 years.

  8. I agree with Ray. They’re your toys and you have to please yourself. If others don’t like them, they can go play somewhere else. JMB

  9. Try to involve you grandchildren. My teenage daughter help me making buildings, landscaping etc. That involves her, and she often come to the basement to see, how things are going. Sometime she also bring friends and tell them, which parts she did.

  10. I also started late in putting my N scale layout together. I highly suggest to everyone starting out that they really do their homework. After I got started the problems began to mount. Access, wiring, space, design, etc. I was ready to throw in the towel. However, I hit the books at the library, got into the magazine articles and sat for hours sketching and anticipating all of the possible problems.
    To everyone out there, take the time to plan, you won’t be sorry.

  11. Joe, all the previous advice is great. I am currectly building a new layout. It is shelf with an extended peninsula with a 4×4 ft area at the end on open benchwork covered with 1/4 plywood and 1 inch of foamular faom insulation (Peel off the plastic coating on both sides if you use the pink or purple Foamular). I have found that having a small inexpensive train running on a 36″ diameter track helps to keep me motivated and soothes my jangled nerves when construction is not going as I planned. Have fun! That is the main thing.

  12. Ray

    Check out my website for lots of ideas. You are in for a lot of fun.

  13. I am completing my first layout. My only two comments from experience to date are; build it no wider than what you can easily reach and high enough to easily get under it.

  14. Gidday Alistair & all You other Blokes,….Was on Medical waiting list for 3 fixed up! New Life so I started trying to drive loco,s again …models this time round!! 18 month,s later…I,m still laying track and learning what I thought I knew!!! But I,ve had a ball doing it all and avidly reading and looking at all the modeling photo,s and tip,s. Some I,ve incorperated in my layout and some I,ve filed away for future use. Some of my layout I,ve bought but most of it I,ve got from E-Bay, and the rest I,ve scratchbuilt…several times before I was satistfied with it!! And as several of you have said ,it,s my layout to be enjoyed by me…but sometimes I think I,m going overboard with it… but if it comes out half as good as I imagined it,it will be somthing to be proud of. I imagine that it,s the same as many of you have faced. Started out as something simple and small and grew into fulltime job!!!What a way to spend some enjoyable moments with family(especially the young one,s) and friends. Well people enjoy and good health….Regardes huckhaden. P.S. Incase you have,nt worked it out…. I,m a Queenslander..Australia Cheers.

  15. Start off with trainset first either Hornby or Bachmann Branchline or Bachmann USa.

    Then build a small 4X8 layout to start off, then slowly add on.

  16. To Thomas: I wrap the end of my vacum hose with a piece of screen wire
    Held on with a rubber band to keep from sucking up any wanted parts from the layout while cleaning. It is then possible to shut off the vac and pick off the parts I want to re-glue to layout. Good Luck, Larry

  17. Joe,
    a table height of 28 inches works fine. It leaves enough space below to get under it to put in wires for lighting and signals. It allows little people to reach in and right any rolling stock that might get knocked off the track. I’ve built 2 this year. One is 80 by 70 inches with a open “square” for my friend’s grand-kids to get inside so they can play with the cars, trucks (lorries) and the log unloader.
    A track without electricity along one edge has a coal loading/unloading site for the very young to play with without worrying about pushing any buttons. The 2 tracks are joined with a manual turnout switch.We use a dummy engine and 11 hopper cars for them.

    My personal layout has a “manhole” with cover in the middle so I can get inside where everything is within arm’s reach. I keep adding LEDs for the buildings inside and out.
    Each plan allows us to use 22-inch radius track in HO gauge to allow the use of the TTX and container well cars. In any case HAVE FUN!
    –Ben Z

  18. Make sure you can reach all parts without straining, leave enough room to walk round the layout.
    Make maintenance easy, without having to bend too much. I am going to hinge my boards so that I won’t have to crawl underneath.
    Don’t run before you can walk – choose a layout you can complete in a reasonable time. That way you’ll learn without becoming bored before you’ve finished it. At 70 I can take that line !


  19. Hello, I make trees for my HO using twings same as Bill but I cover the tops with Reindeer moss from Norway. You can cut or rip into the size you need and use white glue to fasten to twig.I purchased my reindeer moss at the Hobby Lobby. They have several colors one green for trees and bushes and one a brown and green for “mountain” bushes. The price is $5.99 US for 4 oz which is enough for a forest.

  20. Thomas has a problem with his hand vac, and I’m sure others have had the same problem, the vac picks up the good stuf and leaves the dirt behind. I used to repair photo copiers and had to suck out the spilled toner with a hand vac. I found that using a soft brush to get the dirt up off the serface let the vac pick it right up. Just place the nozel next to your dust problem area, nothing will happen untel you start with the brush, just tuch the dust and it’s gone. You have control over what is picked up as you are knocking it off with the brush.

  21. Hi joe.deside the size you can afford.Then go DCC.Build much of your own scenery.Save that cach and buy updated extras engines track that sort of stuff.will submite my photo of telephone poles and a fast instuctions.Good luck

  22. AWESOME SIMPLY AWESOME!! How ALL of us seem to think alike and really ENJOY each others inputs. I can’t wait to see our “train room” in the Great Beyond!!!
    And always remember THE LITTLE TRAIN THAT COULDN”T——DID!

  23. Exactly Ray.
    I am a model engineer and the times I have seen “The Rivet Counters” stood looking at a very well made and painted locomotive saying there are only 92 rivets round that smoke box, there should be 93. Pathetic and who cares.
    Roger. France.

  24. At 71 I built a room in the basement for a game room. I bought a slot machine, table and chairs from eBay, and a SnapBack Shuffle board. Then I decided to put up a train set that I used around a Christmas tree in the past. Unbeknown to me my girl friend had three sets of trains in her basement. Now at 72 after reading on line, many u tube videos for the past eighteen months, I’m going to incorporate all of them. Being older sets of the DC type, I’ll stay with those, but add one line DCC for all those new sounds to complete the system. Three set o scale, three sets HO will be a challenge but after reading this email I’m ready to go.

    PapaDave72 Rochester, NY

  25. JR,

    I have been out of the hobby for thirty years also. Ha we must have been doing
    The same thing ( raising a Family). Been buying some stuff, I still have my bench work 4X8 ,so that’s good, and still have my HO equipment so it’s not too bad, but I did join a club, and probably over the Winter I will get going. I just turned 72, so I
    Don’t get around as good,but I am getting going so keep plugging, so much has changed.keep in touch and happy railroading.

    Danny Marso,Warwick , RI
    Danville & Western RR

  26. Ray
    I agree. Send a picture. Sounds interesting.

  27. To Thomas There was an article in Model RR a couple of years back on how to build a cover for layouts. If I remeber corrctly he used small PVC pipe as horizontals and for some of the supports. The article said to lay transparent corrugated plasic pieces often used to build out door covered patios, on top to keep the dust and dirt of the layout.

    Perry in New Orleans

  28. Joe:
    I will be 82 in a month and was out of the hobby for almost 50 years. I had visited a number of modeler’s open houses and decided to get back in. I needed a room so I put on an 18′ by 20 addition. I am in O gauge. About the time I put on the addition I also joined an O gauge club. They are 2 rail, I am 3. After 3 plus years, I’m still finishing it as I have other things to do. I do try to get in the room for 2-3 hours aa day and sometimes it works and sometimes I do and other times I do not. I am operational and can run 4 trains on interconnected loops. Someone tell me how to attach a photo.

  29. I too was out of the hobby for almost 50 years. I started a basement layout in modules. That was the best Idea I made purely by luck. Then it happened. The wife said we need to move into a condo. I stopped in the middle of construction, just like some contractors we have had over the years. We found a three bedroom. One is on the second floor and is 15 by 15 with an 8 by 6 walk in closet and bath.. I made a scale plan of the area and scale cutouts of each module. Then as with a jigsaw puzzle I started piecing things together. I have been able to save about 80% of my previous work. Fitting things together made a track plan different but similar to my original design. i plan now to expand into the closet, it will require a 2 track hole. So it will have to do it while my wife is sleeping. I would like to make the bath a work room, but divorce is costly, and I might not find a place that fits my modules.

    Nylon stocking materiel and a rubber band works well with a vacuum during construction. I am surprised how much reusable materiel is collected. Rivet counting should only be for club layouts at most.

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