The railroading scenery tips just keep coming

“Hi Al

Just want to pass on my grateful thanks for the link to the fantastic web pages for DCC operation and tips on DCC. I’ve learn more from reading these pages in the last couple of days than over the past year from proprietary sites. He uses plan English even listing the parts you need and where to get them from and best methods for installing decoders on some of the oldest trains in a logical order. The diagrams are easy to follow and think even a novice to DCC will find these pages of great help. So cheers Al for passing this on to us.


Your welcome, Pete. If you missed it, it’s here.

“I attached some pics of o scale layout, which have been about 1 1/2 years in progress. I actually have made turn and now decending, from 15 inch above table, and the tracks goes over itself 3 times. My upward grade is 1% and final downhill will be 2%, due to lenght of 11 feet.




As I age, my enjoyment for searching for small parts on the floor has dimmed.
I just started using this gerbil container to enclose the flying parts.

– Graeme.”

“Horse hair engine part packing material makes great trees as well.

Small round wood dowel paint , cut horse hair , slide on dowel affix with rubber cement, Hairspray , green stuff instant tree.


“make the table high enough so you dont get tired.then just enjoy your train. jim”

“Hey Alister I am wondering what you consider to be the best way to clean nickel silver track. I recently used a single edge razor to scrape it clean and had marvelous results my Bachmann Shay now runs at incredibly slow speeds smoothly. I was wondering if the Nickel silver track is plated or solid as I wondered if this was a good Idea? I asked Google and got no answer. I Love your Model Railroad tips. Have an awesome day!

Sincerely Robert”

Hi Al.Hope your doing well and family too.I been working on this apartment building.2 floor job.Its half done but have made up some plans on paper for it.Same goes for those two homes.When done i will scan the plans and send it.

Thanks Kim – appreciate that (Kim is the modeller who sent in the ‘how to’ on the telegraph poles).

And don’t forget the print out scenery here.

Course, I’m biased, but if you like these tips, I suspect you’ll like these.



40 Responses to The railroading scenery tips just keep coming

  1. Lovely collection as usual, particularly impressed with Todd`s pictures – definitely the way I will go ! – and love the idea of the Gerbil cage – I have exactly the same problems as Graeme.
    I really enjoy waiting for the next e.mail every time I log on.

  2. Would be nice to see the layout once it’s finished

  3. The gerbil cage is a great idea,I,m the same, the parts look a big as a bucket on the work bench but when they strike the floor they go to the size of a pinhead.Some good tips

  4. Great tips. You sure can learn alot just reading these pages.


  5. Great I love the idea of using the gerbil cage to work on locos as the number of ‘lost’ parts on my floor must now be in the 20’s+ region. Always the tiny spring being held in tweezers that goes ‘PING’ and flies off with me when I am putting them in place.

  6. In the first Model Railroading article on Rod Stewart he explained that watchmakers tuck a white towel into their waist bands then pull it up on the table and work on it, anything you drop ends up on the towel. It works great if you don’t have a gerbil cage! maybe even safer to do both!

  7. Great stuff…. love it … well done.

  8. nice photos

  9. Although I model HO, I love the pics of the ‘O’ gauge ascent & descent. Gotta wonder if Todd is an engineer, by profession. Nice work!

  10. Looking for small parts….
    Keep a flashlight handy…shining the beam parallel to the floor will accentuate the shadow of what you’re looking for making it much easier to locate.

  11. Great 0 scale layout, wish I had room to set up my old stuff. The flying parts solutions sound great, my family will find a wealth of spare springs and bits when they clear out my work shop.

  12. just alot of great tips this is a great site. would love to see the track when it is finished i am sure there might of been a headache or two in getting everything just right. cheers ian.

  13. Id love to see a sketch of Todd’s finished layout plan. I’ve always wanted to do a layout like this as i saw one as a child but don’t understand how to do it. The one i saw as a child was L shaped in the window of a bicycle shop that sold trains in winter.

  14. Man! I am soooo glad to hear that I’m not the only one who seems to be taking forever to set up a train set! It was so easy when it only went up once a year to go around the Christmas tree! As always you guys have the best ideas-Thanks!

  15. I will send more pictures, once track is finally connected. I actually have modified it some and working on building/designing a bridge that will end at entrance of tunnell in a montain. From the tunnell, which is a half circle, track will decend down edge of mountai, with the carved out stone/cliffside apperance back to table. I hope to have track together soon, need to run trains, which have been waiting.


  16. I wonder how this guy is doing the balancing act on all those stilts under his track?

  17. Fantastic layout I would like to try something like this as we have moved and I am starting from scratch. I would really like to see this when it finished.

  18. Thanks for the insight, would like to see progress photos if able to supply them, also wouldn’t it be great to have access to all that space in “N Scale” WOW, well I can hope!

  19. Hi Al….just anted to let everyone know ….I use black thread. For power & telephone line’s. . Braided grey thread for guide wire’s also. .love all that you do for us modler’s

  20. I love the way you made everything by scratch.

  21. if you want to light up a fireplace try putting a battery tea light (candle) give’s a nice flicker effect,may be a old gas light effect.if you can find books by peter fairhurst thay are for making car’s and lorry’s out of paper and card make up to 1/32 scale(not sure if it’s 0 gauge or 1 gauge)he also does one for oo gauge model village building

  22. Another tip for retreving small parts – or other small items.

    Have the wife donate an old pair of pantyhose. Wrap pantyhose tightly over the opening at the end of your vacuum cleaner hose – a rubber band or something similar should do it.
    When the vacuum is turned on, the suction will drawn the part but the pantyhose will hold the part in place at the hose opening for retrival.

  23. Hi all,

    I have one of those telescopic ‘thingy’s’ that has an LED light on the end with a magnet. If the magnet can’ pick up the part, the light will show it up and, being telescopic, it reaches the floor and enables you to drag the part into an accessible position.

    Best wishes …

  24. A local train club went to a fabric shop and purchsed stretchable thread which they then used for the telephone/hydro wires. When working on the layout, if anyone leaned on the ‘wire’ it stretched and did not pull down the poles or do other damage.

  25. Really enjoying your column. At first I thought it might be spam. But for some reason took a chance to open.

    Really enjoying and sharing with a friend who started up railroading.

    My problem is I collect Department 56 Dickens villages and have limited space. , ( 8ft by 3 feet ) with a window ledge anout 12 inches wideand 30 foff the floor. Want to get a period era train to run through my village.

  26. Great chat & information. I’m just getting started in Loco sound and having all kinds of trouble with trying to configure some sound Locos.

  27. Frank,

    I also have been collecting Dept. 56 Dickens Village since 1984. I recently decided to do a village/train layout. I first purchased the Bachman Village Express made for Dept. 56. Although it is a cute train, it is too small. I found that the Bachman Wonderland Express is a much better fit. It is a better size and the style goes beautifully with my houses and shops. I have a 4’by16′ layout and I cannot fit all of my collection at one time, so I change the pieces out from time to time. This is a great hobby. I can see myself eventually dedicating an entire room to my layout! (Who needs a guest room, right? :)

  28. If you have trouble with rusted tracks? I found that soaking them in vinegar cleans the rust right off of them

  29. Hi Al, I use metal paint can opener to remove trucks from rolling stock that pop off. The angle at the end is bent so it make it easy to pry off trucks.

    Also you can cut the eyes and small piece of shaft off of a small fish hook to use as lifting or tie down eyes for almost any scale set. As small as a #12 or large up to #6 or even larger.

    A small ball or bell fishing sinker can be used as wrecking ball for crane.

    Thanks Al and please keep them coming all are very good tips.

  30. You guys are the best. I just recently received a O-Gauge Lionel Train set. It has a 2055 Locomotive, coal tender, three cars and a caboose. I also received 3 left switches and 3 right switches, a transformer and a control board with circuitry for all the switches. I also received a decoupler switch. All of this was made in 1953.

    I have all the curves and straight tracks to complete 24 foot square track layout.
    I have a problem that all the track and the switches are rusted a fair amount. They were stored in a damp basement. I believe it is possible to take off the rust, but I need advice.

    I bought a new coco cola O-Gauge Lionel train set and tracks to match.
    I would love to have on one layout a new train set with all the buildings and a upper level with the old Lionel set.

    The old set was given to me by my Great Uncle and it has been stored for about 50 years. I would love to have you help me with the rusty tracks on how to clean them. I know that the center track has cardboard insulators so as not to ground it out.

    Any help is greatly appreciated if possible. There is a lot of track. Jim

  31. when cleaning rusty lionel tinplate track there is a easy way if ur familiar with taking the track apart carefuly using a flat blade screwdriver to pry the tabs ub then carefully remove the insulation from the center rail. take the rails after they were removed from the ties and put them in a container with full strength simple green leave imersed 4 severl days depening on how rusty track is After drying the track Take ur trusty dremel tool with 511e finishing buffs start with the ligher color first and go over all the rail tops u will use several packs of buffs so i would suggest looking online 4 the best price also the full strength simple green also works great to strip paint from any metal parts like loco shells easy without harsh smells from paint stripper great if ur living in a aptment . rember to ressemble the track with the insulators on the center rail do maybe 5 or 6 pieces at a time leafing 1 straight and 1 curve as help on how to put the track together or simple buy new track its not that expensive 4 a small layout switches r another matter but classic toy trtains mag is very good on how to do most of this minor stuff to have the trains running well again esp if ur handy with a screwdriver

  32. Sorry but struggling to understand why someone would want to make a layout for trains that would be more suited to a roller coaster layout I understand space could be an issue but what realism has the layout got

  33. Looks like nice work on the layout, but that spiral looks like a huge amount above a 1% grade! Try 4% to 6%.

    Take radius of track. Use formula Pi X D. (That’s 3.14 x 2xRad). That gives you how much track run you have within a full circle.

    Calculate how much of that circle your track plan is using = Inches of the Diameter you are using. ( 3/4 of circle is PixD times .75%) Compute incline by dividing the inches of rise by the length of the track.

    (So, if I look at the photo sideways, his above 15 inch above table, track diameter appears to be about 24″ So 3.14 x 24 = 75 inch track run for a full circle. For, that final upper loop, I’ll credit him for about 85% of a circle, or 75 x .85 or about 64 inches. His loco clearance from beginning of the upper loop, appears to be about 4 inches.)

    Thus his incline appears to be 4″/64″, or approximately 6.25%!

    I hope for his sake that I’m wrong, and that he has strong locos!!!


  34. And, not to be pessimistic, but coming down by 15 inches, within the allowed 11 feet gives us a formula: 11ftx12= 132 inches.
    15 inches/ 132 inches = a decline of 11.4 percent.

    I see a problem!


  35. Nickel silver rails are usually solid, not plated, but I wouldn’t want to keep scraping nickel silver rail with a razor, it’s quite soft and will cut easily. Just running a finger along each rail wrapped in a bit of smooth cloth with a splash of white spirit works well enough, I find.
    My Dad always swore by Coca-cola for removing rust from things, I guess you have to catch it when it’s removed the rust but before it dissolves the steel! (Wonder what this stuff does to your innards – stops them rusting at least, I suppose!)
    I’m all for realistic layouts, but just as there’s room for serious drama and slapstick comedy on TV, if a dramatic roller-coaster tinplate railway is what floats your boat, that’s fine too.

  36. Can one use plaster of paris to build tunnels, mountains etc.

  37. I’m new on the site, but enjoy the ideas (fantastic! they are in a separate folder on my email for later reminders) and the discussion. No trains to my name yet, but I feel my second childhood approaching rapidly, along with plenty of planning and materials preparation. Can’t wait to try some of the ideas! Keep up the great communication, Al and others…

  38. oh i know what you mean about flying parts.not fun looking for will see me on my hands and knees with a flash light in my hand and my face almost on the floor.a lot of times i will get my two lil ones to help me .wish i had the room for a grebil cage lol.i work off my computer desk ..haha

  39. For those who have rusted parts, 3 rail O gauge track for instance, I found that there is a biodegradable non-toxic non chemical product for removing rust that works like a champ! You don’t have to wear gloves, it won’t hurt plastic or metals or those fiber insulators on the center rail. It is called Evapo Rust and can be purchased at most auto supply stores. Plus it is reusable. I have used it extensively on the old 1950’s and 60’s track I have accumulated/inherited and it has worked like magic. Google it and you will find lots of good information. I don’t know if it is sole in the U.K. or not, but it is in the U.S.A.. Hope this helps someone.

  40. I really enjoy your website. I have learn a lot of good tips for modeling and I have seen some awesome pictures.
    Mark W. Clarksville, Tn.

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