Railroad sceney tips

“Here’s a tip Al,

I re-use Chinese take-away food containers for storage of all those small parts and things.
Just wash them out and fill them with all those useful bits and pieces you have laying around.
They come with lids so everything is safe and sound and they stack conveniently on top of each other and can be labelled to suit the contents.


“At my hobby desk I have attached a cloth to the edge of the desk at the front. Then when I sit down to work I tuck the other edge of the cloth in the top of my pants, this creates a little valley so that when (not “if” you’ll note ) I drop small pieces they fall into the valley and I don’t have to try and find them on the floor.


“These are good tips. Here’s one I would like to get: Is there a way to make gutters (N gauge)? Painted cocktail straws work for downspouts, though.


“one tip that i use all the the time is take a paper bag crunch it put glue & throw dirt 2 cover

Andy ”

“Hi Al and everyone.After looking for a long time.I found the perfect wind turbine,I added a Ho engine to show the scale size.Wont use the large stand that comes with it.I will make my own.I payed $20 including the shipping.If interested in where i got it or if any member.Let me know.I added a pic


“I am a 65 years old grandmother and I am just finishing the framing on my very first layout. One item I intend to use is a food dryer to dry real moss that is growing on the shady north side of the farm. When you dry veggies, they keep their color. They become very light weight. After I dry my pine needles and pine cones, I will put them in the blender to turn them to dust for natural color tones. teas and coffee grounds do well. I intend to use old undershirts to plaster my hillsides instead of buying material to do the job. I look around and the stuff is already here. It just needs to be repurposed. I have bark peeling of the dead branches on an apple tree. I haven’t figured that yet.

When the kids were small we made a volcano out of chicken wire and paper machete and paint. We had it erupt by putting baking soda and tinted red vinegar together and we had lava. Nice school project.

We did an earthquake by plastering boxes together, painted a landscape over that. It all cracked nicely by putting a vibrator under it and plugged it in.

We set up a pioneer type farm We made a log house out of flour, salt and water. I shaped logs out of the dough, pinched the ends to make ’em fit like Lincoln logs and baked them till they were very dry and hard. We stained them and did the house and barn. .I had tried to use sticks, but it wasn’t working for me. We had a garden and a root cellar under the hill just across from the cabin path.

I like to bake and was lucky to find a train baking mold (9 pieces including engine, coal car, box cars and tankers and a flat bed and a couple of hoppers and a caboose). I have made three layouts in cake. It was like a fairyland thing.
I made an O gauge tunnel for my son with an unusual packing styrofoam. I made the bricks by using a sharp bamboo skewer to “draw” the bricks into the foam. It made the indentations look like real bricks. I was impressed by how it turned out.

I am ready to start the grown-up train now.


Full marks to Barb for inventiveness – not sure the same approach would go down too well at my Grandson’s school though :-)

Take a look at my boy’s latest ‘print out’ scenery – a factory.

I think he’s really found his stride (he’s got a good offer with the houses too, he’s bundled them all together).

Any how, if you’ve buying over the weekend, hope the ebay cheat sheet saves you time and money. Thanks for all the mails on it.



27 Responses to Railroad sceney tips

  1. A very good tip of Bryan`s , to catch those pieces , I am forever loosing bits , that always seem to drop on the floor , and then can I find them ??

  2. Rob, I thought everyone used takeaway food containers for storage. I have used them for years, both in the railway loft and in the garage. They are great as you say with secure lids, transparent,stackable and FREE–well once you have paid for the food!! Great ideas from everybody, keep ’em coming!!

  3. Barb’s use of natural material is unigue, but would like to see some pics of the finished projects.

  4. Very good brian. I’m always dropping those tiny parts then can’t find them. thanks. Hey Al. find your tip column very helpful. I am a first time rr guy and age 72. thanks all God bless.

  5. Howdy Al. Thnaks for all the tips. Brian, great idea. I am forever dropping the little things on the floor and of course they bounce to where I don’t know, can’t find them. I am a newbe to rr at 72 ysr old. wish my hands worked better and why didn’t I think of this years ago. O well, to late smart. God bless ya all.

  6. Another great food storage container is the plastic ones used by KFC for their individual “side dishes” like cole slaw, mashed, potatoes, etc. They are shallow for easy access to small parts/pieces, nearly clear so you can see contents, stackable, tight fitting lids, light weight, compact & durable. Enjoy the chicken & the free storage container.
    Dix Valley RR

  7. More good ideas cheap. Great for beginners. Trying to set up another layout.
    5×9 plus side L. 3×6. We will see. Each one better than last.
    Using lots of tips from your sight.
    Thank again, Al The rookie!!!

  8. Liked some of Barb’s hints but was impressed, mostly, by the fact she is FEMALE! I don’t find too many of them in this hobby…I’m a 75 year old grandmother that is working on a 4’x12′ layout with my grandson. He likes trains and I do too (had a Lionel when his age) but, mainly, I love the scenery and buildings, etc. I’ll send some hints when I get a little further along.

  9. Things of interest to me. Purex 123 clothes detergent on cloth, makes for excellent pad to place small items on, can be used in the decor also, has two sides. Geat staining cloth also. The wife was throwing them away after the wash. Applesauce little individual cups, amazing place to put little parts as you work on a project and storage for later use. Then there is the little cups from the drink powder which is even smaller and a great place to keep those smaller pieces. The final suggestion is paint your floor white and DO NOT work with white pieces. Just sometimes.

  10. I don’t say much but i want you to know that i like every one of your articles infect i have filed all of them thank you

  11. Thanks bryan, it can be a real curse if you lose a really important small part

  12. I also Like the factory your son made .

  13. Love the tips on trees. Keep up the good work.

  14. Kim, where did ya get the wind turbine??

  15. Glad I found this site! Lots of great tips and how-tos for all us railroad hobbyists! Keep ’em coming!

  16. Thanks to evryone for the tips they are really. Helpful!!! I am thinking about starting a first proper layout as i am now thirteen and goin to have it about 6ft x 4ft any ideas for layouts!!!!!

  17. I enjoy all the tips. I have been modeling for many years and it is neat to come across some new ideas every now and then. I would like to ask, though, how are there comments to ideas that are just posted or are we getting them second hand? I am not complaining but sometimes I have a comment or possible answer to a question and don’t know how to get the response to the appropriate person?

  18. joint compond and syrofoam make great mountain bluffs. spread compound on thickly when it dries it cracks just like bluffs. Lowes has a great valspar rock paint in different colors. when sprayed on it seals the compound and takes on a true rock look differents colors can be blended.

  19. I try and clean out the foil containers that a lot of prepared food is supplied in, especially when it requires heating in the oven. Useful for large items like tools.
    Also modern tin cans with the pull ring can be cleaned and used again. There is not sharp cutting edge.
    Finally; if shopping in France with a car to come home on then search out the Nestles sweet puddings in small tins. Puds are great and small cleaned out tins are very very useful. There are also French Tuna salads in a good reusable tin.
    Generally French tinned food is always superior to UK stuff – no idea why. Of course, do not forget to look at the magazine section for French model rail magazines. Often have practical articles and usually easy enough to work out from the drawings alone. More expensive than UK magazines but I have found some useful stuff.

  20. Michael & gutters for N gauge.

    I work in 1/120 for 15mm wargaming but, with A1 scenery more important for me. Newly found, Currently at ASDA, they have a box of 100 black 4mm ‘bendy’ drinking straws @ £1.
    Cut off below the bendy-collar, Press the straw flat under a [metal] ruler (without creasing) and scalpel-it lengthways. If your line is ‘straight’, you have two 6″ lengths of shiney-black half-round guttering.
    I miss-cut one or two and found that by ‘re-rolling’ the accidental larger width length, I could re-create a down-pipe @ 2.5mm which is ideal as long as your happy with glueing it [PVA] directly to the building wall to conceal the longitudinal split ‘at-the-back’ – bit like my house as I’m busy building trees and converting Liliput-Lane and Leonardo cottages from charity-shops… Scales vary tremendously but a 15-20mm front-door is near-enough for me. ‘Damaged’ ones can be 50p – £1 and usually, I cut-off the depth of the artificial base and ‘camouflage’ the sometimes ragged remainder, included in my re-painting job in more vibrant, but realistic colours. Would make a ‘collector-of’ cry but, it’s a cheap collection for a village street of diverse models.



  21. Alright! Another couple of FEMALE modelers heard from! I, too, am beginning the process, but I am fortunate enough to have a willing husband, who does the electrical. We are 78 & 79, and love doing this. We may slow down the traveling in time, and this will give us something to do together. He has his interests, I have mine, but this is for US! He gave me my first train two years ago, after hearing me say that I had wanted one since the age of four. My son had a friend, who asked him to put his trains on ebay for him, but we saw them, and for $250, my husband bought 93 pieces. There are about a dozen locos. Most items are still boxed. Awesome. We recently added a 16×18 room onto our house for trains. I’m one happy camper, to say the least.

    Thanks, Barb, for your suggestions, and to the 75-year old grandma, as well. Of course, I’m not overlooking all the wonderful guys, who are really helping us along with their expertise.


  22. Thanks Barb and Marion! Good to see some spring chickens amongst us old guys!!!!

    EtonieE UK

  23. I dont really know if my tips really help? I have been in this wonderful hobby now since age 10. Am now retired @ 65. Over the years have built both models and layouts in O, G, N, HO, and Hon3. I do believe I have built my fair share of the Electric trains. I have evolved due in part to poorer eyesight, to the Live Steam medium. I am in the process of building an around the walls 45 mm route for passenger service. And 32 mm industrial service, I do plan to lay all my own trackage. I will send pics. When approipate. Oh, I did forget ( having a very senior moment ) I love the european smaller Engines, as well as thefreight equiptment. Yes I do live in the USA. Ta ta for now. Michael C.

  24. For those that have limited space, I suggest what I did to resolve the situation and still be able to have a nice layout, I constructed a table 5ft. 7in. x 4ft.10in.
    wide and had enough room to place in the middle of a 10ft x 11ft. room. Table takes up middle of room but have room along the walls to store book cases
    and anything else I need storage for. The layout table is large enough for me to run three oblong circles 2 of which are connected by turnouts and an independent third…Middle of the layout is enough room for a small village or just open scenery (open scenery being my choice)..By no means is this layout huge but adequate for having fun…

  25. Glad to hear there are some not so young modelers. My husband is 81 and I am 80. We’ve been collecting train stuff beginning with N scale for plus or minus 35 years. I went to bed one Christmas eve and wondered what was keeping my husband so long. Well on Christmas morning I found out, there was my N scale lay out

    I love building and have whole villages in HO, N and Z. You’re never too old for fun. Joan

  26. every time I sit at my computer desk now my train desk I have attached apiece of white bed sheet to a frame I made for keyboard stand that pulls out that curves around where I sit to catch anything that falls. I also keep a cordless vacuum only for my work station. I got that from a watch repairman about 40 yrs ago. Also just restarted in hobby at 72 after retiring.

  27. Someone suggested using Chinese take out cartons for parts, but I have a better one. The KFC containers for the coleslaw, mashed & gravy, etc. stack even better and the lids are clear so you can see inside while sorting or looking for certain items. I have used these for years for all the scenery foam, gravel ballast etc that never really reseal in their original bags.

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