Another dose of model railroad tips


Just one tip, Dip your track ends into IPA (isopropyol alcohol) makes for a nice clean connection when building your layout.


“Just one tip today. I eat cheese triangles, so when the round container is empty I use three glued together, cover the rounded area with lolly-pop sticks, then I used four round dowell rods (minature) stain with walnut stain, paint the top & bottom off white. They look great as silos. If you do the same thing with pringles (empty) containers they are just taller & thinner. Love reading comments on this page.


“I scooped up a 5 gallon bucket of “road base” from a local highway project. I made a series of 5 sifting screens ranging from 1/4″ hardware cloth down to very fine screen wire that just passes dust. I sorted the “road base” into 6 grades from dust to larger than 1/4″. The larger “rocks” are used as boulders in scenery. The remaining sizes are also used in scenery or as loads in gondolas and hoppers. The dust is sprinkled on scenery and locked in place with diluted white glue as ground cover. I live in Texas and the “road base” is very light in color and matches the west Texas area I model.



Just getting into the model railroading with a small budget I don’t have a lot of money for scenery. With that being said using simple flour, water and junk mail, yes junk mail, you can make amazing things. I really wanted a tunnel for my train to pass through so I made on out of paper mache,cardboard,toilet paper rolls and styrofoam then painted it white with simple house paint. I believe even if you don’t have a lot of money to invest a little paper mache, junk around the house, a little patience and a little imagination can go a long way. I have included a picture of my Life Like Sante Fe train HO scale going through my home made tunnel. It’s under my Christmas tree right now but when Christmas is over I hope to make my first train table.


“Hi Alastair,

II’ve found that fine ‘wet and dry’ sandpaper makes excellent station platorm tops, parking lots, etc. You can get it in any grade you want. If the coarser grades are too sharp and could cause abrasions, just lightly spray paint it before cutting to shape.

Still trying to source good looking furniture and artefacts for N gauge – most of the plastic stuff looks to chunky to be real.

AND where can I get pre-war cars and trucks in N gauge?


Don, Australia”

And here’s a response to Dave’s wiring problem (that’s here):

“I had that problem once, and learned that it was due to a pair of contacts, where one strand of a stranded copper wire, had worked loose, and made contact with another connection; which caused several switches (turnout), to open or close, in opposite of what I wanted them to do.

I don’t remember how many times my trains derailed due to that short; although I do recall I spent four hours tracking the wiring, line by line, to find the problem.

Deranged Dragon 99”

Hope you like them. Keep ’em coming. Still getting the boats emails by they way. So if you’re in that camp, boat stuff is here. Uboat pics are amazing – take a look at the gallery.



27 Responses to Another dose of model railroad tips

  1. Jan Boen says:

    Does anyone have a solution for making cork look like ballast?

    I’m using N-gauge track and put cork under my tracks but I would like to make it look like ballast without actually using ballast.
    I don’t want ballast grains to jam my turn-outs etc.

  2. paul starr says:

    Hi Al,
    The problem with shorts is they are sometimes very hard to see,like
    using hornby point clips,they look like fine staples and fit between the rails
    to achieve a full live layout for DCC.the problem is sometimes they get stuck by loco wheels and become displaced causing a short,on a large layout this problem is very hard to find.Thats modelling.

  3. Neil says:

    I like the typical rocks found outside.Cleaned up and then dropped to the concrete to reduce size.The weight is fair and the look is great not many molds can outdo the real deal.Some lchen and off we go to a realistic effect

  4. Ed Dumond says:

    Have been searching for article’s on assembling Downtown with mixed buildings,ie, walthers,mth, etc. Sidewalk depth,heighth. Your help is appreciated. Ed

  5. Simon Zeoli says:

    The modeling tips are really great,however, some of them do not imply the scale they are for,therefore it would be a good idea for those submitting them to indicate the scale.
    Keep up the good ideas.

  6. Benny says:

    To Don, Australia

    DM-Toys has a quite good selection of old cars and trucks

    Benny, Denmark

  7. Joe Touchette says:

    Might you please provide additional info regarding the layout shown on the right of the header/banner of this info? I find it interesting but can’t discern enough detail in the above view.


    Joe T.

  8. Tom Oliver says:

    Hi Al, and all you fantastic modellers out there!
    Thanks so much for all your hints, tips and pics, they have been so helpful to me.

  9. Paul Otway says:

    Keep the tips rolling in.

  10. Ian says:

    some great ideas really enjoy reading these tips still building my layout so the tips are very useful.

  11. KEN JONES says:

    I set up two Lionel Halloween trains this Halloween with some decoration from Lowes, ghosts, goblins, and a few houses. I was surprised how many children just stood there watching the trains. I think the most surprising thing was how many adults said they had not ever seen a electric train before. All in all everyone enjoyed them, so I’ll do again. Ken

  12. Lee Barry CEO LZPMRR says:

    in regards to the “dipping of your track ends in IPA. Be sure it is the 90% kind, not the 70% type. The 70% has too much water content. I use the 90% “pads” to clean my track on my Z scale layout, they are hard to find and cost much more.

  13. Buzz says:

    Hi Al

    I’m stepping right outside the square with a 2000 X 600 layout. The main line is an “unclosed figure of eight” with a partially hidden return loop (for changing train direction) plus a 4 track yard with an engine run around. The track at the right hand end is much higer than the left with the yard positioned above part of the track at the left hand end. Tunnels under the main track and part of the hidden loop add a bit of interest.

    Obviously the curves at each end are very, very tight (11″ radius) and are only suited to small engines and rolling stock less than 100 mm in length. My problem is I purchased a German BR 54 engine and tender (208 mm long) which initially would not negotiate the end curves. The solution was to slightly increase the radius of the outside rail of the flexi track by firstly removing and pre-bending the outside rail and then removing a slight amount of metal from the bottom, outside flange of the rail. Wet & dry sandpaper was used to achieve this. The trick is not to overbend the outside rail so that it pushes againt the outside ties. The inner rail is overbent so that it pushes against the inner ties. This increased the oveall track width slightly by increasing the radius of the outside rail. The BR 54 now runs around the end curves (only just) despite the manufacturer’s recommendation of a minimum 18″ radius.

    Because of the small size of the layout the grades are steep but so far it all seems to work. The reason for the small size was for portability and storeage. It’s constructed on a light base frame made from 2″ X 1″ timber with cross beams at 12″ centres. The track base was cut from 9 mm MDF and secured to 2″ X 1″ uprights attached to the base frame. The rail bed was cut from 3 mm “air cored” plastic (about A$5.00 for a 4′ x 3′ sheet), which makes for very quiet running. Very easy to cut with a hobby knife.

    Metal fly wire was stapled to the MDF and covered with “kitchen wipes” soaked in a wet plaster mix. A thin layer of plaster was then painted on with a brush to create texture etc. The scenery is basically “cliffs and mountains” so it’s all about train running and not intricate scenery models as seen on many layouts.

  14. tim c. says:

    I have hardly a budget for anything I used empty pringles cans bottoms of them for fuel tanks and chain link ties for pipes coming from the tops painted grey and some brown lightly touched for effect of some rust. hey also I have three marx trains engines with cars I would like to have them restored can you recommend anyone please

    thanks tim


  16. Frank Edgcombe says:

    Reply to Jan.
    Before you lay the track, paint the cork with a grey or brown craft paint that has some thin ballast material mixed in. Craft stores in the U.S. sells a brand called Flekstone which can be obtained in colors black, browns and grays. Gaugemaster in Britain sells ballast underlays in which the stone is imbedded and also sells ballast mats to cover your cork. Or just paint the cork, grey or brown, ballast the track except under the switching part of the turnout, and then repaint the ballast with the same color paint to match the original paint you used to color the cork. The unballasted section under the turnout will be unnoticeable.
    Best of luck Frank.

  17. Robert Macfie says:

    I like the idea Gordon provided, I have a few pringle containers that will be put to good use, but I have more empty Glenfiddich containers that I plan on using for silos — I found it more fun emptying these than I did the pringle containers however

  18. John Reynolds says:

    Making cork look like ballast… Here in the United States, Rustoleum makes several spray paints with sand to rock texture and coloring… I would suggest using the sand texture and then a light gray with a weak ink wash.
    Hope this helps.

  19. KEVIN B. says:

    In HO scale can anyone tell me a good base for housing pads to line up with sidewalks from Busch?…I don’t want my buildings to look like they are sitting in a hole.

  20. KEVIN B. says:

    I meant to ask…….what materials to use for a building pad (foundation).

  21. Scott Anderson says:

    After experiencing nightmares with different sizes with accessories vehicles etc. I have s scale and there are many mistakes when it comes to scale size accessories. I’m puzzled why different companies including American Flyer can not be accurate with accessory scales.

  22. Rod Mackay says:

    Thinking about Dave’s horrendous tear-up looking for that rogue short-circuit, I know you CAN wire your whole layout together as one big block with DCC control, but since you have to feed the tracks in lots of places anyway, doesn’t it make sense to wire it as discrete sections that you can switch off individually? That way you can narrow down any short or other fault to say a tenth of the layout and save yourself a world of misery. It would also mean you could run old/visiting trains that weren’t DCC equipped I imagine?

  23. sheldon mankes says:

    i have som dcc engines that wont run on my layout but will run on my club latout perfectly. what is wrong and how do i corect this?i model in ho. sheldon ps how can i send you photos of my 8-16 ft layout? i am in ny usa?

  24. Barry says:

    Al, on my layout Ive used wet and dry sandpaper for my roads, but heres a good tip, for my chain link fences I use wedding vale material and of course painting it silver, it works very well

  25. Arnold Robert Lee says:

    If you go to your local Carpet dealer, ask for the roles that the carpets are held on, OO Gauge tunnel. Or cut 2″ or 3″ off for the tunnel frontage.
    I’m still building mine, came unstuck in the loft (UK) jargon, I was standing on a box which came away, I fell Arse over Mammary gland and it HURT (!!) STILL dose with the cracked rib.

  26. Darrell Smith says:

    For cleaning my tracks on my HO gauge layout, as a retired Industrial electrician, I came to rely on a Blue 11oz can of “CRC” Electrical Grade “QD Contact Cleaner, in the spray can. It comes with a plastic tube that will allow you to spray inside tunnels, etc. “Quick Drying Formula, Leaves no Residue, and Plastic Safe”. You can get it at electrical supply houses, or Lowe’s /Home Depot for about $6.00 Since it is plastic safe, you can just spray it along as you walk around your layout. It evaporates quickly, but it is flammable, so keep away from open flame. You can also spray some onto a sponge or clean cloth and hand-wipe the tracks, you’ll be surprised how much black comes off the top of your rails. Instantly cleans landscaping glue and residue from your tracks.

  27. freddie kunges says:

    while reading about the electrical short problems, it was brought to mind that I had the same problems as an auto technician. I came across a “short detector” from one of the tool men. It worked pretty well for me. Check with Snap-on or MAC tools. I don’t remember if Craftsman made one or not. Or if you have a friend in the auto repair business he might have one. It’s worth a try.

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