Another wagon load for your railroad layout

Here’s the third wagon load from Roger:

“Hello Al

Here’s the third of my FREELOADS – another one in the eye for those who would like to sell us wagon loads.

I guess you could make a log load by gathering a few twigs, strapping them together and dropping them on a wagon. But this, I think, is better. I’ve got an old wicker clothes basket which is falling to bits, shedding lengths of wicker and was ready for the bonfire. Then I thought a bit: –

– The width of the wicker looked to be correct OO scale for tree trunks.
– It was not perfectly straight, notched in places – just right.
– A cross section of it was the perfect colour for sawn timber and would not change over time.
– It was guaranteed not to rot for donkey’s years.

Usual pictures follow. I used a little handsaw to get a nice rough cut and glued the pieces together in a chunk after arranging them on the truck. Used a bit of sponge dipped in paint to colour the bark – more streaky and realistic. Often use chunks of sponge for painting (ex-washing up sponges – free – of course!). Particularly good for getting ancient brickwork effects using different colour browns and sooty black. I always attach loads to wagons with tiny pieces of Bluetack. Doesn’t mark and devalue the trucks, holds the load perfectly securely and you can change the loads whenever you feel like it.

All the best to you – and everyone.


“Great tips, everyone. Here is another tip that goes along with Peter’s idea of extra wires for layout expansion. Go to a local electronic surplus shop and buy a length of multicolored flat ribbon cable that is about one and a half to twice the length of your layout from one end to the opposite end, with the most amount of wires wide. (I think the most is about forty wires wide). I know that this may sound like a lot of wires but you will see why.

With double faced tape, secure the ribbon cable to the underside center of the layout length with extra overhang at both ends. At each major connection point, you can take a section of about two or three inches, (5 to 7.5 cm), fold it over and secure in a loop with a tie-wrap, then separate the wires as needed for making your connections. After making your connections, be sure to either use heat shrink tubing or electrical take to cover the wire connections.

Since the wires are colored, you can make a wire list of what colored wires are connected to things on the layout. If you need thicker wires, you just use adjacent wires to handle the current load. With colored wires, it is easier to troubleshoot wiring problems. I generally use the black and brown wires (together), for common negative track wires, with red and orange wires (together), for common positive track wires. I use purple and blue wires as my accessory ground wires. The other colored wires are connected to the various lights, track turnout switches and other items on the layout. As for the wires that you don’t use right away or have extra, can be used for later additions or expansions.

Happy modelling.


“Hi Alastair, One tip only – NEVER buy used track or points – it takes a long time to get them up to scratch and costs more in the long run – the best and cheapest points and tracks are Peco from Rails of Sheffield.


“My best model train tip: I model very realistic looking running lights for steam era locomotives, tenders and passenger cars using ball-head type straight pins. These are the type of straight pins typically used in men’s new shirts (but they also can be purchased at craft stores). The ball heads vary in size from approx. 1-mm to 2-mm in diameter, and they come in several colors including silver, white and black.

I add nearly perfectly round spots of bright green, bright red and white paints as appropriate (for right, left and marker) using round toothpicks with the points cut off to just the right diameter.

The really nice thing about using straight pins is that the shafts are steel, very rigid and strong and can be cut to length with wire cutters and inserted into the chosen locations in very small pre-drilled holes made with a Dremel, and secured with cyanoacrylate.

This little detail, often overlooked by modelers, makes a very big difference in adding realism.


Robert in Oregon”

“Hi Alastair…

I really appreciate your hints, especially because I am changing from HO to N gauge and creating a new layout. I am taking your hints to heart before I begin.

I would like to share a hint of my own. I found a great item to use as ballast for N gauge scale–finch and canary gravel. It is basically off-white in color, but has darker pieces in it. Being larger than sand yet smaller than regular gravel, it is the perfect size for such a small scale.


“Nail polish remover is good at removing acrylic paints or when weathering rolling stock. Dip a cotton bud in a little remover fluid and rub the area to be worked on – experiment first time – the cottonbud sticks are useful for building projects or as pipes / loads etc when the dirty cotton is teased off.


“Four tips from the kitchen:

1) Remember to ask your spouse not to throw away the empty plastic spice containers. You can save them for loading scenic material in them. Just apply a new large label, (with material name and description), over the original label and use for shaking scenic material over smaller areas.

2) If you use the store bought microwaveable TV dinners once in awhile. Save the trays. The three sectional trays are good for holding materials when you are scratch building projects.

3) Check out second hand and thrifts stores for low cost muffin pans. They are good for holding small nuts, bolts, screws and other small components and parts while building projects or electrical circuits.

4) If you have a quart size cardboard milk container, you can use it as a large area spreader or as an open funnel. Just cut off the top part, then cut the container down one corner then the opposite corner. What you end up with is basically a ‘v’ shaped half container that you can use for spreading scenic dirt or grass material cover over a large area with a measure of control. With a pint sized containers, just cut off the bottom and use it as a funnel when you fill other larger containers.

5) In need of thin stiff cardboard for some of your buildings or signs? You could use the cardboard from some of the food containers that you buy at the market. (Like mashed potato mix or pancake/cake mixes.) Just open the containers and lay flat. Spray a thin layer of adhesive on the unlabeled side of the cardboard and apply the printed building material flat on the adhesive. Lay a lager piece of paper on top and press down firmly on all areas of the cardboard. When dried, cut out the printed shapes and assemble as required. You could spray paint the label side of the box with either white or a dark color paint before you cut and assemble the structure.

6) If the box you use from tip #5 has a clear cellophane window, you can use that cellophane material as window pane for your structures. Just glue it inside the window areas before you assemble the model structure.

Other ‘how-to’ tips:

For making coal loads; get a piece of corrugated cardboard and cut to fit the inside of your gondola car. Take a charcoal bricket and crush it into small pieces and powder. Take the cut cardboard and place it on a flat surface and apply a layer of white glue on one side and then pour the crushed charcoal on it. When dried, take the cardboard and tap it on its side to knock off lose material. and then apply another layer of white glue and again pour crushed charcoal on top of the first layer and let dry. You can repeat as you feel needed. But on the last layer you want to spray it with a coat of either varnish or plastic spray to give it a gloss sheen as coal has.

Has any one thought of using aquarium sand as a ballast around tracks?


Hope you liked them. Please do keep them coming (lots more in the Beginner’s Guide)!

Don’t forget to look at the latest ‘ebay cheat sheet’ to stretch your hard earned cash.



34 Responses to Another wagon load for your railroad layout

  1. dave says:

    Good idea Roger, the wife had better watch her was basket now

  2. James Glatetter says:

    Ton, suggested using cardboard for the base of coal loads. I use old plastic venitian blind slats. They won’t warp when you add the glue. I also made a jig out of 1/8″ styrene the same size as my gondolas to make my coal loads. I use the charcoal as Ton suggested. Works great and very realistic. One thing I would suggest: If you plan to load and unload the coal, glue (CA) several steel finishing nails to the plastic slats before adding the coal. Then you could remove the load with a magnet without derailing your car. When you are holding an operating session with your buds, you can load the empties at the coaling station and unload at the destination. It makes for more realistic operations.

  3. Ben Zalewski says:

    Thanks for the tip on making loads of logs for a car. I’ll use it this weekend.

  4. paul starr says:

    good idea,if I stole the washing basket the wife would n,t notice.

  5. Gary says:

    HA! I can now justify keeping that ald whicker picnic basket for the last 10 years!!

  6. Pat Taylor says:

    Nice idea but I just put togther fifteen log cars and all I did was walk out inoto the yard and pull dead limbs and branches off of wintering bushes. They have real bark and have a variety of thuinknesses and shapes just like real trees.

    Then since logging operations happen in remote usually muddy and dirty conditons and the equipment is older I weathered the heck out of the cras before appling the logs. Will forward a couple of photos.

  7. Gene "Hat" Hatfield says:

    @ Ton,I use aquarium sand as a ballast around tracks, but I add coffee grounds to add a little more brown to the white of the aquarium sand, One part coffee grounds, one part fine aquarium sand & three parts medium aquarium sand. Looks real good on HO track.

  8. Tom says:

    Wicker logs … nice!

    Two old wicker baskets I was going to throough away will come in mighty handy.

    Great tip!!!

  9. paul Otway says:

    Great roger, i made a load out of stryrene I sent it to AL

  10. TOM says:


  11. michael says:


    Very smart and a very good idea ,I`m looking foreward to seeing mode of your great ideas.


  12. Cole Freyberger says:

    I would like to share a few tips about ballasting I highly recommend that you are very careful when you are glueing the ballast. My friend tore up his n scale layout because it would not run. He let the glue dry and then tryed to clean it. When he was ballisting. He gave me the track and I cleaned most of it but there was no cleaning it on the table. Also don’t use ez track if your planing to ballast it. Its a pain. Thanks for all the tips

  13. Gilbert Jessop says:

    Hi Alistair and everybody else,
    I find these tips great here in Port Elizabeth South Africa we dont have many model shops so it is great that these tips are available to us. Model coal I collected old respirator cartridges which are filled with charcoal and use this around a mine I am building and as loads in gondolas.

  14. Vaughan Miller says:

    Some very good tips.
    Thank You from Franklin Tenn. 37064 USA
    I’ve working on HO Layout for the last five years. I do little bit each week
    layout 12 feet wide and 42 feet long main line 104 feet long, with four long
    My son works for CSX Railroad. He has garden railroad, pictures are under
    the name Kenneth Miller. his layout is about 1500 feet.

  15. jim morris says:

    love it.

  16. Mike says:

    Need more tips for 0 gauge modeling!

  17. Bill Fassett says:

    Charcoal from used respirator cartridges: depending on the environment in which the cartridge was used, you would want it to be decontaminated before using it on your layout. In the US, we generally run afoul of environmental protection laws if we open used respirator cartridges instead of disposing them intact as required for each category of cartridge.

  18. Bill Fassett says:

    Additional comment: charcoal cartridges do have an expiration date, so expired but never actually used cartridges would probably be safe (but not necessarily legal to open here in the states).

  19. Marlin L. Stevens,Sr. says:

    tip are the greatest am using some a big thank you , marlin

  20. Brett Ratcliffe says:

    ADVICE NEEDED. I am modeling TT . . . or about to. I have the bench work all built and am brimming with dreamscapes for rural Germany circa 1927. I had the opportunity to be in East Berlin in 1980 and obtained lots of set track, rolling stock, some building kits, and several wonderfully detailed steam locos (Berliner TT Bahnen). These have all been in storage for the past 35 years (!) and I worry that (1) the track may have oxidized during that time and, more importantly (2) the working mechanisms of the locos are compromised. They may need new oiling, perhaps removal of old, tacky oil, and who knows what else. Could I get some advice on how to proceed for refurbishing the “near new” locos? And since my track plans have evolved since I first planned them, where do I get new TT track? I live in the USA and finding this scale is nearly impossible. Thanks for your help.———–Brett

  21. Nathan says:

    Thank you for the tip as I text my wife is currently hiding her baskets. Nathan on maui

  22. Jim Richards says:

    Yet another clever use of household items to enhance any model train layout. Wonderful …. keep them coming!


  23. An use for a small scale pipe loads on N scale or z scale flat wagons is the plastic
    tubes from spray lubricants type oils and some spray glues are very close to either scale and come free with the spray cans ! also they can be used for lamp polls in N scale fore road lamps and street lamps to pass the wire to grain of wheat
    and tinny led lamps .

  24. Martin Slaughter says:

    @ Roger – so simple, yet so effective. Great tip!

  25. Terry Miller says:

    In addition to Toni’s idea of ribbon wire for electrical connections, another suggestion (and cheaper) is to use indoor telephone wire…the wire the company installs in buildings to provide service. This comes (in the U.S.) in up to 120 different colored wires and in various lengths all bundled into one cable. I get them from commercial buildings that are being remodeled, as the existing wires are just cut off and thrown away before the new ones are installed. Certainly makes for easy tracing of wires. I got a lot of them several years ago and still haven’t used them all. In my case, many came with commercial 24 & 48 pair connections still on the end which allowed them to be plugged into each other. Because of that I wired my control panel as usual to a short piece of the wire with connections on each end so I can take my control panel to another room to work on it without having to unsolder permanent connections to the layout itself.

    I’ve also found that in my medical drug bottles there is usually a small round moisture absorbing disc about a half inch tall. These make great barrels sitting on freight station platforms–all is needed is a quick paint job to “decorate” them.

    Idaho USA

  26. Paul Schwartz says:

    Creativity abounds on this site in the posts and comments. One thought came to mind as I took a ball point pen apart to check the cartridge. Could the springs be used somehow as a flat bed (or part of a flat bed) load?

  27. Robert Rolfe says:

    Don’ know about a load. However I do know you can use them on the bumpers, end of track type things. OK this is the Atlas or similar track ends. This will take some time and you may need a drill press. If you cut this unite, behind the stop thing and then again where it used to be connected to, then file them both flat and dill a hole in each of them ( to match your springs size ) Glue the very short section of spring,( I use about 3/16 inch of spring,your springs will depend on all this) You will have a (bumper/stop or what ever you may call it ) that gives a little forgiveness should the unite hit the end too hard and or too fast This is works well for me on my DC layout. DDC may not need this as I do not know DDC, just saying

  28. Robert Rolfe says:

    What the hell is TT track? never heard of it

  29. GOPAL DAGA says:

    Excellent idea ! If one goes around his garage and garden and have a bit of imagination & jeal to find out, one can always save tons of money by using such material, which is otherwise not cared for. Other day, I picked up used tea leaves and dried for 3 days in sun. They make excellent scatters for my N outlay. It can be coloured to your choice too. Dried stems from grapes can also be used are armatures and tree trunks for making trees. One has to imagine, and see further away !
    Cheers & have fun with your railroading projects.

  30. GOPAL DAGA says:

    This is my answer to Brett, USA, having restoration problem with his old TT tracks.
    I am a restorer of all railroading outfits. It not at all difficult to restore your TT tracks. Just soak them in kerosine for 2/3 days and then use a sand paper of higher grit, may be 1200 or above. First do the rubbing lightly so that tracks are not damaged. Depending on the condition, this process may be continued to get the desired result. I am sure it will help. Happy restoration, Brett !

  31. Brad says:

    A few tips I can pass along for HO/OO scalers.If you have expired WHITE barrel Bic pens,the tubes can be cut(after removing the ink of course) and they make great columns for larger buildings if you want to “tweak” your building entrances.These tubes can also be cut shorter and glued to a scrap piece of plastic you have(can we say kit bash building?) to make small sheds and storage areas.Also,with a little painting these make a great pipe load.Those of you with fish aquariums that require replacing charcoal filters can re-use this as coal loads and it really costs you nothing since you have to replace them anyway.Some are fine enough as is,the larger type coal can be crushed down to scale

  32. Mike Schulze says:

    Great idea, great tip.

    For a flatbed load, I have a friend who uses plastic drinking straws to represent pipes. He cuts them to the length of the flatbed car and paints them according to color for water pipes, waste, etc. They look very realistic and, of course, cheap to make.

  33. Ian McDonald says:

    great photos and some wonderful tips. thanks for sharing.

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