More snippets of railroad tips


If your scenery cracks and shrinks try Cornice Adhesive. Comes as a powder, only needs mixing with water. You can add cement or grout colours without affecting it. Will readily stick to itself, so you can add another section of scenery a month later without a join appearing. Needs a support base. I use fly wire. Probably the most expensive of the plaster powders available. But will store well in a dry place. Been using it since the 1970′s and swear by it.”

— Alan

“For ballast, I have used Parakeet gravel by hartz. you can get it in petsmart or others. I used this because you get fine and course grains and its Really cheap.”

— Chris

“If you want to simulate a light colored dirt area,such as playground or shore area, I used contact paper that is made from cork it just peels off and you can stick it to the board and dress it up with scattered weeds or grass,etc….I also used it for workyards in rural areas..


— Nick

“To make realistic trees I use thin wire which I twist together and branch out for the limbs and branches. Spray paint them to the colour I want and apply foliage made from coloured paper hole punches! For Pine trees I use green brillo scouring pads that I cut into circles and stack onto wooden scuers. The styrefome insulation is great!”

— Keith

“Don’t be overly ambitious with space. A good operating layout with some of the desired activities/complexities removed will be a lot more enjoyable to operate than a layout that is crammed with everything at the expense of tight curves and sharp grade transitions which invariably lead to frustrating derailments or constant uncouplings.”

— John

“Hi Al

Enjoy your notes very much. I live in the USA and have been modelling since 1948. I notice in one of the tips that a person has used felt paper for roads. I tried this many years ago and looks nice, but eventually if he is in a heated space the felt paper will give off fumes from the tar. It not a pleasant smell, plus you have to remove the felt paper and start all over on your roads.

I use A440 sandpaper (or the fine grit available) and paint it grey as roads look black but ashphalt is usually grey when it is dry.

Best regards




PS Keep ’em coming!

30 Responses to More snippets of railroad tips

  1. Hi Jon,
    I use very fine emery paper or “wet and dry” as we call it for roads. Its just the same as sandpaper but already the color of tarmac.

  2. John,s comments about cramped space,tight curves and steep gradiants are
    very true.It is very tempting when first setting out a layout to utilise the space with track,but this can be big mistake,ensure track integrity before moving on.Derailments are grossly frustrating.

  3. Where can I find info for Lionel Fast track “O” gauge track layouts indicating number each straight, curve, switches, etc required for a given area?

  4. Hi Guys, I justed to say I love this web site. Great tips. I have used alot of them. Iam on Disability and cannot afford alot of new stuff. Thank You.


  5. If your having a hard time trying to strip those small wires for street lights etc I used my lighter and burn off the tips After it has burned you just hsve to use your fingers and strip it off the wire Saves you alot of time

  6. Hi,

    Re John’s comments on space etc.

    My thoughts are: do you want to run a prototype layout, a none prototype with limited track work and scenery or is the layout about locos/wagons and scenery second. Personally, I am of the later opinion as I want to run as many locos as possible (DCC) – I have three central loops, a single elevated large tail chaser around the edge 12x 12 room (through cupboard and across doors), an elevated end to end single track shuttle (yet to be fitted electric gismo to track) – an engine/carriage/coaling etc area on a spur and another goods yard single entry/exit (hump – not scale running as as no retards) ….. so quite a bit of track work for the area and I am fitting scenery to fit that gaps as it were. I have read of some rivet counters who have modeled the scenery (hill and dale) and then laid track to the board contours ….. as long as everything runs faultless 10/10…. do what floats your boat.

    Help….I am trying to find a supplier of a ‘small’ OO turntable – motor or manual (7″ or so diameter) ….. you only seem to be able to get large 12″ turntables these days – I have a motor etc from a second hand Hornby table (table too big)…..any ideas? I have heard Atlas do one but can’t find dimensions. Last resort will try and scratch build one later when all other jobs done.

    Cheers Ken

    PS I like Paul’s wire stripper idea…some things are so simple!

  7. Hi Alistair –
    Really enjoy these tips, &c., especially the amazing videos. One day I shall have my dream-railway, too. I’ve got it all drawn up and almost all of the (Märklin) eqipment collected. It’s an inverted U centering on an Alp, with the branch line being a ski-train that winds its way up over bridges and through tunnels à la Switzerland until it reaches a ski lift of some kind at a tiny village at the very top. Chalets, pine trees, snow – you get the idea.
    I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and skiing has always been at least as much a part of my life as model railroading. I haven’t skied in Europe yet, but the combination of trains and skiing might almost be too much for me.
    Keep up the great work!
    P.S: “Parakeet” is what we call a budgie over here.

  8. Ken,
    Atlas does indeed make a 9″ diameter turntable. I had one many years ago. It has a hand crank that requires 2 turns between each track. Tracks are 15 degrees apart and are fixed. it has a disc that is 9″ around with the rails in it. Approach spots are made for atlas snap track (rails and ties and code 100 at that) They have a mortorrising kit that fits over the hand crank and includes a shed to cover it. Very crude and toy like. Its in walthers 2013 catalog.


  9. Just regarding the turntable from atlas, it is a 9″ diameter

  10. One comment and one tip. After many years I finally am able to put up a railroad. I was a bit over ambitious and after the table was 1/2 built, I realized it was too big for the room, and had unaccessable spots. I scaled down and am happy with the results so far. I have a return loop ( no switches) folded onto itself. One loop is 4 1/2 inches over the other. With the judicial use of a mountain, it is possible to run two trains at one time, and it looks like two sets of tracks. I draw scale layouts first. I start small, and for the “final drawing, I use 3″ to a foot. It yields good detail for HO. My tip. Railroads have to “shoot” through granite to make passes and such. After the blast, the remaining faces have 1/2 holes, where the dynamite was placed. These are visible all over the North eastern U. S. I think spaghetti placed into not too soft plaster / dry wall compound / whatever you use, and removed, should add this small bit of detail to a “blasted out” rock face. I have not yet tried it, but I will let you know if it works. Unless someone wants to use it first, then you can let us know how it goes.

  11. Can anyone explain signals semafore for uk or a site where these are explained

  12. I just bought a n scale layout from an estate 6 by 12 ft. Many many remote switches most of which don’t work. Trying to replace them and it is a job. Any one have an easy way to replace them????

  13. Hi Al, thanks again for the many usefull tips. Each one helps. I can’t seem to get going , I keep changing my bench work. Hope this time will be last. My problem is like someone said not enough room, hard to reach places. As they say 3rd. Time the charm. Save the tops off spray cans the right combo can make really nice tanks. Also I used spare 2inch legs cut to size for towers both oil and grain, just cap them. And paint add details.
    Thanks again best to all

  14. I use dried coffee grounds for my ballast,they look just fine. and their free

  15. Love all the tips that you give. I have two layouts that are joined together and when they are finished, I would like to send you some pictures of them. Right now they are still a work in progress with some hand made mountains, fountains and water falls two of which are totally function. As I said, This is still a work in progress and probably will never be finished to my satisfaction as there are always new products being designed by the various makers of HO,N,S,O, etc.

  16. Electric Motors – Just a thought, but automobile windshield wiper motors turn rather slowly and since they are DC, just verse the leads to go into another direction. Cheap at a junk yard.

    To fast? Too slow? Try a set of pulleys and a small belt.


  17. One tip I will pass on is that after papering my flat I had a large amount of ready to use wallpaper paste left. Using this as glue for your grass/ paths / gravel etc, paint it on with a brush, adjusting brush size makes getting in even the awkwardest corner easy. I use a Noch puffer to apply the static grass and it gives a great realistic grass finish. I find using spray adhesive a very messy process and hits parts you don’t want, wallpaper paste wins hands down and ready mixed doesn’t dry up in the tub so useful as long as it lasts. Try it.


  18. Ian Parr, if you want to get into British semaphore signalling, may I suggest you start here:-

    and follow the lead to block signalling which explains the principles.

  19. First, many thanks Al, for this fantastic resource. I’m brand new to all of this and all the tips have been a great help.
    Next, to George Hay: I found a free layout modelling software program called SCARM that I’ve been using to experiment with to adjust my first layout. I, too, am modelling in O-scale Lionel FasTrack, which is one of the program’s many track selections. Each piece of track is labeled with its part number and accompanied by its length, type (terminal, activating, etc.), radius and so on. It’s been very helpful in figuring out what pieces are needed to change what I have into what I might want and also to find out why what I already have doesn’t fit together exactly like I think it should.
    And last, to everyone who’s been providing all these great tips:I’ve come to realize that almost all of you are modelling in a scale other than USA-O scale. While most of the tips I’ve read apply to any scale, I’d really like to hear from anyone who is also modelling in O-scale, and even more specifically, with Lionel 3-rail FasTrack.
    And thanks again for all this great stuff.
    David, in Stormstown, PA

  20. Many thanks for the tips. Have been in this wonderful hobby for over 40 years. I have built my fair share of model railroad layouts over the years. I do enjoy reading and learning about new ways and ideas from others. With age invariably comes lessining of ones sight, I havethis problem. So I have yt? Urned my modeling efforts to Live Steam Narrow Gauge 32mm. Please keep this site up and running for all age enthusists of Railway related hobby, and as an educational forum. Thanks from U.S.A.

  21. Atlas does sell a motor to power their turntable. I had one on my last layout. Worked fine but a bit noisy. Guess you cannot have everything. Here in the US the turntable sells for about $25.00. The motor for another $20.00 or so.


  22. turntable motor can be had from mecanno

  23. to the N scaler just make sure that when you modify the switches put them in accessible positions JohnA

  24. al.
    Enjoying the information and ideas.
    I have just demolished my railroad, and had a good clear out.
    Will be starting again soon as the health is good.
    Been using ” Styrofoam”* insulation board for my mountains and it isa pleasure to work with- just very messy( a good vaccuum and keep the spoil as it comes in handy for lots of things).( used to work for the company who manufactured the stuff which was handy and lucky) keep the info coming. Thanks Charlie

  25. Just getting started and was wondering what most people think is the best track to use…Im leaning toward the walthers ez trak w/silver rails..thanks in adance for the advice…Tim

  26. Does anybody have experience or success with Christmas tree lights for lighting buildings. It seems that it would a cheap alternative.

  27. I had a layout in the basement and made the scenery base out of scraps of 2″ thick rigid foam that is used for basement insulation and is strong enough to withstand the dirt backfill without crushing. It came in light blue and pink. I shaped it and covered it with plaster and it worked fine. Just stick trees in anywhere. And the lumber yards often gave me broken panels they couldn’t sell.

    When we sold the house and I stripped the layout down to the bare plywood table top scrapeing all the 2″ foam off. Then I took the scrap out and burned it on the trash pile. (We lived in a very rural area of Northern Illinois) I am very glad it never caught fire in the basement as the fire produced HUGE clouds of very dense black smoke that was probably very toxic.

    I offer this as a caution to any of you using any of you using or considering using foam as a base for your layout. Test a small sample of the material and see what it does when subjected to fire.

    Bud Budzien

  28. I am new to model railroding. I recently watched a video on making a coaling hopper into an actual working coal station. I want the coal industry on my layout an would like to make my coal operational also. I just purchased Walthers New Rive Mining Co 933-3017. This is the model id like to animate. Any suggestions?
    Thanks Pete

  29. I enjoy reading all the tips and tricks they r a big help thanx a lot Al!

  30. May I also endorse Johns tip about not cramming the board with track. I have a former attic bedroom in my cottage that is 25′ x 15′ and have laid a single track branch line that emerges from a tunnel, through a station (with sidings) and the enters another tunnel. Thus the layout can be operated two ways: run trains on the line, too and fro, or shunt wagons, coal trucked etc in the station area.
    I’ve filled in space around the line with a small town that has an iron works, school, church, rows of terraced houses, pubs, hotel, fire station, factories etc.

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