Another dollop of pics and tips

“Hello Al,

Go to the kitchen: it is a wonderland of scenic bits.

Dried oregano can be used two ways to make very convincing greenery. Used as it comes from the bag, it is a dull green-brown which is a perfect match for many different shrubs and leaves. A coat of spray varnish (carry out a test and give it a week to see how the varnish reacts with the herb) will seal it. If you spread it out and let it sit a couple of months, perhaps on a window ledge to get the sun, it fades to a neutral tannish colour. Use it like this or grind it up a little between your palms for variety. Dried basil is similar in use but seems to fade faster and in my experience becomes brittle, but this may work well for someone making a ‘sun-drenched’ setting.

Dried onion flakes (not powder) can be tinted to any number of subtle colours with a wash of water-based paints, and keeps some of it’s original hue. This feature is especially useful for detailing areas where you want to ‘bring alive’ a section of shrubbery. Once it is tinted, let it dry thoroughly and grind it between your palms.

A thin wash of dilute white glue will hold the herbs in place.

Liquorice sticks in their natural state are perfect little logs.

Hope this helps,


“Hi Al,

I have found that touching up my Metcalf buildings with a felt tip pen to get rid of the white edges etc. makes a bit difference to a building.




For Chain Link Fence, I’d use netting – a material sold in fabric shops that is used for making wedding dress veils. It is fabric and can be cut with scissors. If you use screen, I’d choose aluminum screen over steel because of the possible rust staining the layout.

Cats and train layouts do not mix.

Mine chewed the tops off of 2 skewer stick pines made from fondue skewers and furnace filter patches covered with ground foam. Loose ballast and coal is a definite no-no. Wiring becomes an object of attention if left to dangle beneath the layout. Any fine layout detail under the paws of a large (read that Maine Coon variety) kitty is subject to damage and at the very least, relocation. No cars or locomotives are left near the edge of the layout and stray cars that move on the4 track when bumped become the new “mouse” for kitty to play with.

Locomotive tender trucks can be used as additional sources of electrical pickup and connected to the locomotive using miniature 2 pin connectors.

Tunnels should not be longer than arms length and definitely not located in the farthest corner without access holes somewhere below.

Duckunders are fine when you are in your 20’s or 30′ but as you age, the novelty of extended running through their use diminishes.


“Hello Al,

I don’t know about the rest of your followers, but I find when the layout is finished and running well, I get itching to make amendments and alter things, hopefully for the better.

To this end I thought I would make a fire iron stand which I saw at the old Somerset & Dorset sheds at Highbridge. I already had some ready made fire irons and made some more using bits of thin wire. The stand was made from a paperclip soldering the pieces together.

(not for the faint hearted) Tricky is an understatement, but it’s not a bad effort. Its so small you cant see the imperfections. When complete it was painted with Modelmates RUST.

I already had a coaling stage from my first layout which was OK but itching to improve things. I decided to make one to fit between two tracks radiating from a 3 way point. One track leads to the loco shed and the other two are used for coaling & watering, except that the coaling stage only served one track. So I built a V shaped stage so that locos on either track could be refueled. It was constructed from mount board, scoring lines to represent old sleepers and varying the lengths of each to mimic the real ones. The water tower was moved behind the new stage.

Incidentally, the fire devil ( a device for preventing the water freezing in the pipe of the water tower) was made using different size lengths of plastic tube.

Thats all for now I hope it will be of some interest. Keep up the good work

Best wishes


That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming, because I enjoy your missives as much as you do.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

32 Responses to Another dollop of pics and tips

  1. Doug C says:

    thank you for every thing when I get the mony I will get the key thank you Doug C

  2. John Douglas says:

    Hi Al,
    Regrets but I will not be taking up your Golden Key offer as I am now retired (but not retiring!).
    Many thanks for all the past tips and videos.
    All the best,
    John Douglas

  3. Robert Coe says:

    From all of these illustrations from so many contributors we can see that very
    much can be done for vey little money by using ones imagination and a bit of skill. Model railwaying is another art form.

  4. sundaram says:

    Dear Al,

    I just joined the club by making the payment.


  5. Stuart Capstick says:

    I have “The Key” so can look forward to more news, hints, tips, and, I hope, more from Dave Howarth. I model British outline roughly 1970’s-ish, and love to see how Dave has worked out solutions to problems he’s encountered. I find that I am better at fixing things I’ve done wrong than thinking through the issue before I start. Dave lets me know that I’m not alone!
    I’ve really appreciated all the tips your site has given me over the last few years. Thanks for all you’ve done; it’s a valuable service and the cost of the key is an investment, not an expense.

  6. Dan Graham says:

    Thanks for all the good work Al – lots of very good ideas

  7. Tom says:

    To all the tips contributed this time. To all the tips contributed over the past two years. or you bringing them to us. I have collected some 330 + entries. A library full. I thank you for your generosity your unselfish means to bring this wealth of e-mails to me.

    There is an old saying about adding something to some ones life makes them a better person … this is true thank you for adding to my model railroad knowledge. To meeting with these wonderful people around the world. For all has added something to my life, indeed. I will miss this site. But, I will think on it with fond memories.

    May everyone succeed in all your model railroad adventures and in life too. Thanks for being a part of mine.

    With my admiration; respect; and most of all love!!

    Stay safe … Stay well …


  8. Jaaques Shellaque says:

    Great tips/pics from all. Keep em coming !

  9. Hi Al,illness plus a large demand of my time caused a stop to my layout in an unfinished state. Reading all the emails and seeing other enthiusiast layouts has kept me going but sometimes feeling guilty about not doing more. I couldn`t face not keeping in touch via your emails so I bought a key. Maybe,just maybe, I will lower the 8×4 ,oo scale, 3 track layout and finish it off,or maybe modify/start again, I certainly know a lot more thanks to you and your subscribers. Keep it going, regards Roy

  10. paul Otway says:

    My cat loves watching my trains going around the tracks, as he loves watching moving ojects with lights. He has never damaged anything , as he loves watching work on the railway.

  11. Phil says:

    Hi Al,
    since my operation 2 yrs ago for a broken neck, got onto your site and have enjoyed every minute of it and the info is great. Have got Dave Howarth’s videos and have now got your golden key and looking forward to more of your postings. Your price is well spent.

  12. Robert says:

    sorry but I can not afford the golden key I will miss this site it is a very informative and helpful site so I will have to unsubscribe it will be deeply missed but will be looking forword to it again if things change all the best . will miss daves posting

  13. David in Indiana USA says:

    Al – Just a note to say I always look forward to your great emails and have enjoyed the valuable input from so many other railroad modelers! I have purchased the ‘Gold Key’ so am excited to know that I will still be hearing from you! It it very hard for me to understand how so many folks have said they can’t afford the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ fee. When I checked into the cost, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how inexpensive it really was! I have retired in the last few years and feel that if the majority of these people who can’t ‘afford’ this fee would consider ‘tightening the belt,’ the price many pay for 1 or 2 meals out would pay this fee in full! One of these days I plan to submit a few pictures of my HO layout that I have enjoyed creating after having the trains packed away for about 16 years. Of course, like many others have said, a model railroad is NEVER finished! Many thanks again, for all you do to make this hobby so enjoyable.

  14. monty says:

    Hi AL, I wish you good luck and thank you very much for all your help and tips
    all the very best. Monty Perth Australia

  15. Robert says:

    Thanks Al, it’s been brilliant. Think I’ll call it a day too, but I’ll send you stuff on my under-bed layout sometime; maybe even on the picture-rail layout I’ve put up in our Community Cafe (since Beeching closed the real thing!). Just in case you’re interested.

    But yes, take the right steps when it’s all getting too much.

    All Best, and thanks again,

  16. Max Dosser (Australia) says:

    I have purchased “The Key” after the first notice.
    As Stuart Capstick says, I couldn’t do without my ‘Dave fix’ . He is incredible and makes my day. Well after all, he is a Yorkshire Man. My G.G Grandfather migrated from the East Riding to Australia in 1865.
    Max D.

  17. Stuart says:

    Brilliant looking coaling stage, modelling standards are superb these days

  18. Woody Woodgate says:

    Hi Al,
    Greetings from Grapevine, Texas! I saved my nickles and dimes and purchased the “Gold Key”. I retired a few years ago and will be a young 70 years next January. As a kid I had some HO and S gauge trains that I loved to run around in circles, but never had room for a layout. Several years ago my sweet wife said I should make a layout to go around the Christmas tree. I moved out what HO I had in the attic and purchased more items to make that small layout. Well, that got me started again on wanting to do more. A few weeks ago I was able to get a 10×11 bedroom for my layout. I have so enjoyed all the tips and pictures sent from all over the world and I am really excited to start my layout next month and plan on getting more involved this coming winter. Thanks for all your great emails and thanks to all who contribute. I look forward to hearing more from you.
    Woody Woodgate

  19. Anton says:

    As far as cats and trains….I agree they do NOT mix. Not only for the reasons already given, but others:

    When kitty decides to climb up high above the layout and “dive bomb” any moving train.

    When kitty thinks he’s still small enough to squirm into a tunnel opening (and even when he’s a huge breed like a Berman..all 40+ pounds of him), destroying almost the entire mountain and track in the attempt.

    When kitty decides that your under-the-layout wiring looks like something he can chew on.

    And finally….kitty taking a nap in the engine house.

  20. Skip says:

    Al your site has been a true treasure chest of information from both your and other modelers. Come the first of the month my “Golden Key” spplicaion will be in the mail! Thanks and keep up the great work…

  21. Dan Marso says:

    I love your info,I will buy a key maybe next month when pension check arrives,keep up the great work.

  22. Don H. says:

    You said “Some folks think I am a cheap shit”‘ well I checked out the pricing and in my opinion this shit ain’t cheap! I don’t think you are cheap but you were crazy for paying that for so long, or dedicated at least. Love your site and have bought my key. This is helping me get back into this after 50 years being away. Thank You! Don Hajek, Summerville, South Carolina

  23. steven stclair says:

    This is the quality of scene I hope to achieve. I used to work at British Steel in England and where they would have a siding and engine shed, I actually made the doors as a Plater for the shed the vegetation would look just like that and the rusty rails. Brilliant and realistic. Thanks Alan and Al continually excellent.

  24. Kevin McArdle says:

    I understand about saving money, but oregano? What do you do when you’re making spaghetti sauce? I haven’t found the cost of artificial ground cover to be prohibitive, and the real expense of model railroading is in engines and rolling stock.

  25. Fred says:

    Great stuff..
    Seems like I need to get on with my layout ….although a bit warm at the moment ..

    Thanks Al

  26. Jim McQuillen says:

    Your bit about coaling stations reminded me of a bit of rail road trivia. When the Union Pacific was laying track up and down California, they built coaling stations as they went along. For ease of identification they were identified as “Coaling station A, Coaling station B, etc. It didn’t take long for the Coaling stations simply became Coaling A, B, etc. Thus the little town which sprang up around Coaling A became simply Coalinga. Nothing Spanish at all.

  27. Dan Hulitt says:

    Just a simple question. How does the coal get to the coaling station?

    A very nice setup.

    MN Dan

  28. Bob In Hampton Gardens Towson USA says:

    AGREAT TIP I use to create mulch. Simply empty tea bags into a glass or jar and spread around the base of trees etc. Scenic glue applied with an ete dropper will hold it in place…Looks great!!!

  29. William B. Swenberg says:

    How much is the key and where do I sent the money?

  30. Old Ben says:

    Can someone let me know about the golden key?

  31. Mr Ron says:

    Wouldn’t oregano or any other spice attract insects? They would provide a nice scent around the layout. I’m wondering if dry pasta, like spaghetti or macaroni would be a good building material as long as it doesn’t have to bare any load. There are many household items that can be turned into layout items; plastic pill containers for example. Bamboo skewers and chopsticks look promising. Dried coffee grounds might become ground cover. Kosher salt shaken with powdered graphite in a bag might be used as track ballast or a coal load. Toothpicks, straws and many disposable items can be used. Only your imagination can find a use for everyday items on a layout. I remember years ago some people would sculpt things like roller coasters from toothpicks or matchsticks. Illustrations from magazines and food containers can find a use on a layout.

  32. Greg Marples says:

    Charlie, we have cats in our home and my wife discovered a way of keeping them out of her sewing room. It is a plastic mat with low voltage wires running throughout it. If you step on it barefooted you get a startling snap. The same for paws of all types, after a couple shocks, they will not cross it! I was thinking you could isolate your layout with these catmats. Besides, I have to admit, I enjoyed watching them jump when they first encountered it.

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