More model train layout tips


My ‘best’ model tip is TRACKWORK.

I’ve only built three layouts (working on my fourth) and the ONE thing you HAVE to get correct is near perfect trackwork. After all, it’s useless if trains can’t take a bend or derail at a join.

JOINS: Need to be as perfect as possible. This includes insulated joiners. Its sometimes a good idea to arrange joins as non-adjacent (flexi track).

BENDS: Don’t force flexi track to do more than fixed track will do. If it won’t fit… something else.

Best Regards


“I take used coffee grounds, dry it and chop it very fine. It makes excellent ” dirt ” or what ever else one can think of.
No real cost involved either.( if you’re a coffee drinker)
Hopes this helps, Al


“I’m not new to rail models and their lay outs. But over the years I’ve completed three or four layouts for other people, sorry to say none of my own.

To get done fast with wiring I use the phone wire and the plastic connectors the kind with four contacts inside use a multi-plug phone wall jack. Pre-wire my blocks and switches in the control area with the wall jack boxes, do the same with the blocks and switches plus all accessories. Then make up my line with the male phone jack ends and start plug them where they go. I found out that if I want to change a block or other item I just unplug.

If you would like give me a few weeks and I can chase down part numbers for the plugs, wall mounts, and needed tools.

I hope this is helpful to your subscribers.


And now, Kim’s ‘how to’ on making cheap LED signals:

Hi Al and all the modeler’s.

This is so easy a job and much cheaper than bought ones.

First i bought a pack of 4 signal’s for $4.50.They didnt have lights and only had the plastic fake.

First i used a jobmate or mini hand drill tool.but not the drill only the tool.The drill will work to good and most likely buggerup the part so i hand drilled the holes bigger by useing the tool in the photo by hand It is a diamond thingy so goes fast..plastic is soft and doesnt take long.stop short of the face of the signal as to not drill out and damage it.

I bought these 2mm led diodes from ebay for $2 and free shipping you get 20 diffrent colors and resistor’s come with them.Found the other led diodes from mitey lites to expensive for 4.

Solder the stripped telephone wire as close but not touch the diode plastic.The diodes are not marked with positive or negative.Use a 1.5 volt battery to test what side is positive as seen in photo.

Keep the positive on the same side negative on other side.Be careful dont over heat it as you see in photo i placed the clip as close to draw heat from the part.Trim any extra solder.Try to keep plastic on the wire intact and close to part soldered reason i soldered them before putting them in the holes as to not melt the signal and find it much easier and alot safer..

Once i have soldered the green and red.I pushed into the hole as far as it will go.Dont force to hard or break the plastic signal of diode.Now you have the green and red installed.

Next the ground.both positive should be on the same side and ground’s on the other side.Now carefully bend the negative so they cross beside each other as you will solder the black ground wire on both post’s as seen in photo.On the signal i ran the red wire in the slot for the ladder the green in the center and the black in the right hand slot.I drilled a tiny hole in the bottom of the signal as close the body as i could to run the 3 wires threw.

Paint the wires black.Now the ladder that comes with it.Has two curved parts on the top.I trimmed it down so the ladder will fit in the slots with the wires.Your done woooooo hoooo


PS if anyone has problems or dont understand leave message in Al’s site and i will try to make easier to understand.And last if you want the signals for DCC since its a constant 28 volt’s use step down resistors to 1.5 volt can get them on ebay as well.Okay i said anough enjoy.”

Stuff you need





I’ve added the LEDs to the ‘ebay cheat sheet’! Click here to have a look.



32 Responses to More model train layout tips

  1. where you got pack of 4 signal.?

  2. Morning Alastair. I have been an avid reader of your posts since I discovered you on the net. The tips, tricks,and photos from your followers are remarkable. I have modelled in n-scale and ho scale but the layouts were basic. I have drawn up a plan with help from Any Rail. The plan I have created will take up at least 12 feet by 8 feet and promises to keep my wife mad at me for a very long time. Just wanted to touch base with you and thank you and the enthusiasts for their great ideas. The most recent is the tip on led signals. Excellent. Now, how about a tip on how to drop crossing gates and activate signals from a realistic distance from the crossing. Kep up the excellent work Al and to oyur readers,thank you all. Larry in Ajax,Ontario.

  3. This is a big help for me, as I was having a problem with the wiring. Thanks, Kim

  4. Hi Mark.You can get the signal’s from ebay.I mentioned 2mm diode’s.I found out after the 3mm will fit nicely.Put resistor’s on both red and green wire’s to step down the voltage from 12 volt to 1.7 and 28 volt to 1.7

  5. Hi Larry.Dont know about getting none working crossing gates to work up and down.You may have to buy the one’s that work.To set off the signal lights from a reasonable distance is to use a reed switch hidden under the track.Or wire them so when the polarity of the track changes so does the light’s.

  6. My wife took a look at the 12′ x 4′ N scale lay put I am building as asked ….can you make this any bigger? What is it with wives? We are not out there playing around. Or getting shoes on QVC.

    These tips/tutorials are all very helpful. There are all kinds of offers out there for tip books that aren’t nearly as good.

    I have used foam for the board and scenery. I go into the Home Depot regularly to get ooops paint and damaged foam. Last time I asked for a discount and got an offer of 50%. I showed the item to the check out person and said that they really couldn’t sell it and she gave it to me free. The free did make my wife happy.

    Progress is slow with the track. Mainly because I keep changing my mind.

    Thanks for the great help


  7. On an LED, the FLAT side of plastic and the SHORT wire are the negative, long wire is positive.

    Great HOWTO.

  8. Great Article — could we all see some more photos, closer photos and possibly a layman’s version of a wiring schematic for those of us who are new to the wiring aspects of the hobby !!

    Thanks so much …

  9. LED’s have improved lately. The white ones are now white, not that odd blue color. For $$ you can get LED’s from the model train suppliers that have a yellowish glow, but not worth it for me. Radio Shack has bags of LED’s that are not too expensive.

  10. Thank you for this lesson

  11. Hahaha wouldnt beleive how many times i changed mine.I also layed down on my table 1 inch white styrofoam and found a green paint to paint it.I used a roller.waited till i dryed hard.some little styrofoam eggs i call it will poop.just run ya hand on it gently wipe clean and paint once more.find it easier to change lay stuff down with it already green.till grass.

  12. Thank’s Tom Saunders for the lesson.didnt notice that.Advice.solder the wires close to diode but not touch plastic.then each one push in signal head.i melted one already to crap.found doing this way will keep ya head clean of paste,solder,heat..DONT GLUE. if ya blow ya light’s and ya glued it in ya buggered.

  13. John you asking for better pic’s of the wireing,and right to it explanation

  14. Great Tip – I’m going to the big York train meet next week and I’ll be looking for similiar matrerials to construct block lights. The signals that are readily available at the show are rather pricey. My wife is the electronics wizard and insists that our layout has operating block lights. This will give her something to work on and install on our system. Kim, thanks a lot for the tip.


  15. Yukonjoe your very welcome.I like makeing it easier and cheaper for other’s to be able to save money on stuff they can make and be proud of.And put the saved money put toward’s new engine’s.And flower’s for the wife to make happy lol Wow a show. look for the cheap nonworking signal lights.Look on ebay if ya cant find them, pickup a package of 3mm green and red diodes.strip some phone wires and use it for the signal’s.Follow my plan and wont go wrong.If your haveing problem’s let me know and i will help.PS your wife solder’s we are so impressed lol wish there was more like her willing to join in on the fun.Oh last word on makeing these signals dont glue them in the heads.if ya blow ya lights ya throw away ya signal light.solder before ya install them inside.

  16. Was wondering if anyone maybe interested in trying something new i made.Its a template on makeing a house out of balsawood.I made the template and used it to make 3 homes fast.If interested let me know and i will send it into Al.I just sent in a way to make the most realistic metal fence ive seen in awhile.Only thing ya may have to jump a road construction flag man for his flag.

  17. Brian.I tryed radio shack.ha.Buy ya 3mm diodes from get resistors with most of them.I bought a package of 20 diffrent color diodes for 99 cent and free shipping and came with resistor’s,And still will pay way less than radio shack.Get ya nonworking signal light’s from ebay as well cheap.I payed total amount about.$7 max to build 4 signal lights.use old phone glue

  18. Okay Larry B.Now ya done it.Since i read your feedback about getting nonworking gates to move up and down.My brain hasnt given it up and came out with useing model plane servos to operate the gates.Let me get back with ya on that one lol

  19. Hi to all.

    Another relatively thin cable is cat 5 as used in data comunication. It has eight cores in twisted pairs. Comes in very handy for all sorts of lighting etc. The solid core one is easy to set in a shape and once painted can easily disappear.


  20. Hello Kim and thanks so much for this. I have all kinds of those fake red and green lights on my track where the left and right turns are and I can actually put real lights in them, wow, that is awesome and thanks for the great idea. Now more work to do, LOL, love working on my very large rail road.

  21. Since this is about wireing signal’s.I’m really courious,and would love to see one of my creation’s made by another.If possible would like to hear how it went with it or a photo.thanks everyone.


  23. LEDs are available where voltage is applied in one direction is red and voltage applied in the opposite direction is green. Also LEDs with 3 wires are also available where voltage applied to one lead and common is red, other lead and common is green and both leads and common is yellow.

  24. Al at the end of the day you deliver pleasure in addition to the great fund of information.

    Pleasure is priceless

    Thank you

  25. Hello Austin Wilson.Glad you liked the signal’s.Save you lots makeing it yaself.Make sure you use resistors to step down any voltage to 1.7 volts or burn them out.No glue.I have an idea to make your own street traffic lights.Ebay will have most you need.In my plan i said to use 2mm diodes.i found 3mm works as well.If ya have problems with the lights let me know.have fun

  26. Austin can we see a picture of your layout thanks

  27. Hi Kim,
    Question ? How are the LEDs wired to the track and controller ?
    Thanks for the great idea…..

  28. Hi ChrisAzza.I copied the way the expensive ones are, to make it cheaper and the injoyment of makeing them.For the rest that make’s it functon.I been working on something.There is a few ways.most either expensive and so complicated,or you have to buy the whole kit including the signals.not saveing there.Or build your own board,or put the signal’s on a manual switch next to your controler.I been searching and thinking on a easy way to build a real easy idea to make a relay or block.If anyone has an idea.Let us know.I will get back with ya

  29. Okay i sent in a how to on plans for hooking relay and reed to the signals.

  30. AL, Thanks so much for all your help on these sites, save them all to use from time to time. Been a little slow to respond since auto wreck. Miss seeing you! Cliff J. By the way those new walthers turn tables work great. Just follow directions. Put one in for 87 year old man and he loves it. That’s saying something!

  31. Hello:

    After many, many years I am diggging out my (and my father’s) O gauge trains from the early 40;s through the mid 50’s and making a new layout. When my Dad and I put up the layouts at Christmas, we used SAWDUST that was DYED GREEN for grass and etc. In that the theme of my new layout is going to be O gauge, early 40’s to mid 50’s pretty much done as it would have been done back then. So, we did the COFFEE GROUNDS for dirt, and etc. that works well and gives the room a neat aroma especially early in the morning. DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY IDEAS OR EXPERIENCE IN DYEING SAWDUST TO USE AS GRASS? I never did know how Dad magically came up with a 55 gallon barrel half full of green saw dust. Thank you for any ideas you have. David

  32. Boy what a wealth of information, I do have questions. Lee where do you get the phone plugs and accessories? Kim where did you get the traffic lights,?I need HO gage. And where do you find the LED`s that light 3 colors? Sorry for so many questions! You guys are amazing. Thanks Tom in AZ

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