Brian’s engine house

“You can salvage that vintage Polystyrene N scale clear jewel case!

If you have ever been frustrated by both the beauty, and frailty, of those vintage Rivarossi and similar N scale polystyrene jewel cases, this might offer a solution.

All too often they are crushed, corners snapped, split, or broken and crumbling. It was a cruel fate offered to the poor one that sat at the bottom of the box which housed all those trains in jewel cases. The usual remedy was to tape it with some poor choice alternative. Masking tape which either turns to crystals or mush, depending on the day of the week, or clear cheap tape that dried to stone. That, or you ended up buying that odd lot to get the one good lid, nesting liner, and the locomotive identification card that was saved and spared because of a case that did not suffer some cruel fate or damage.

But I have found a partial remedy. PVC and CPVC clear cement can work wonders. The Oatey brand, available in the states is a good example, although I am sure there are others.

If you have all the pieces, carefully place them together. If needed, support the joint beneath and underneath with wax paper and then some blue painter’s tape. Grab a couple flat toothpicks and carefully apply a few thins wipes of the glue. Thin is better. It won’t shrink, dries quicker, and is easier to work with. Don’t pull more than once or twice, as it sets quickly. And it will start to get ugly. Like a choppy sea, instead of a smooth lake on a still day.

I have found that three or four thin applications over several hours is best. Don’t place it on the inside edges where the case lid meets the base upper edges. And if you get too much, very careful scraping with a sharp X-Acto blade can remedy that.

Will it have the beauty of the original? No. Will it look as good as it did the day you brought it home? No. Will it have the original dimensional stability, it never really did? No, and I would not drive the family sedan over it or support your favorite two-wheel with it either.

But, it will keep it together. It can prevent further deterioration, and help secure that valuable (or invaluable) gem and its contents. Besides, there is nothing like a snoot full of tetrahydrofuran and acetone to get you going on those cold mornings. (No, not serious, do work with good ventilation and avoid breathing the stuff.)

I hope this helps. And to all those other contributors, thank you for your wonderful ideas.

All the best.


“Hi Al, progress on my friends two stall engine house. (54 hours of work so far).

Putting and positioning the painted details inside. Castings from my “bits box” all painted and weathered.

Then to mount all the interior lighting.

Next step is to weather it and make it look well used (weathered). Note the distressed siding on the walls and the “nail heads” all ready for the weathering process.

All the best and keep up the excellent work.

From a golden key subscriber.


Cape Town South Africa”






I am working with my 7 year old son on our first railroad layout (I never owned a train either). The layout is 4’8″x11′, One section is 4’8″‘x8’ and the other section is 3’x4’8” that is the only way I can get it up the stairs to the attic.

I find your e-mails very useful. Right now I have the layout in my wood shop but I finished a room in our attic complete with finished wall, floor insulation, and heat, where I will soon put it. I plan to do some painting in the wood shop before I bring it up stairs to lay the track and slowly do the scenery.

I have attached a couple pictures of the layout. If anyone has any suggestions for me I would appreciate hearing (or reading) them. Driving cars and trucks are just as important to him so those will not be stationary, or at least not all of them.

I do have one question which is “how do I make the pink foam board look like rocks? Do I use carving tools or something else? And how do I paint them to make them look real? Ok. that is more than one question!

Thank you





Can anyone help Larry? I do enjoy reading the different suggestions and approaches. I’m looking forward to see what comes in.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

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.

PPS More HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

36 Responses to Brian’s engine house

  1. Morse Fenner says:

    A few years ago I ordered a set of the scenery structers. I can’t remember how to adust the downloaded images to work for HO size.
    Thanks for all your help and I love the tips and everything you send daily.

  2. James Moe says:

    Larry, you can carve the foam with a regular serrated kitchen knife, and paint it with latex paint. Jim

  3. Bob says:

    This is reply to Larry’s question on using pink foam for scenery. What I did was use a piece of 2’X8′ foot of foam..I cut the outline of mountains for backdrop at an angle using a keyhole saw with a really coarse blace. I then paint the foam with gray spray paint available at hardware stores, which is less expensive and also use a black to just do a light coating like a mist. The rest is done with acrylic artist paints to dab in trees etc.
    Hope this was helpful.

  4. Roy F says:

    Hi Larry. To shape styrofoam (other makes are available) you can either rig up a cheap electrical wire cutter using a battery to heat up the wire or much safer as far as I and the grandchildren are concerned is to use and old wood saw. The serrated bread knife also works but her indoors may not like that too much. Another effect I managed when I was experimenting and wasn’t too fussed about too much detail was to cut around the outside of the foam then just force it open with a couple of paint scrapers at opposite sides. It left quite a rugged but rock like finish after painting. Best of luck with it anyway. Regards Roy

  5. Joe Touchette says:

    What “scale” are the print-out buildings.
    Hoping to use them with American Flyer.


    Joe T.

  6. mark stjohn-jones says:

    wotta great engine house…
    and nice layout for the attic…keep sending the updates on it!!

  7. john wisnieski says:

    Larry, the table LOOKS GREAT, it appears that you are a craftsman from the looks of the carpentry. I’m betting that the finished product will be superlative.
    Keep up the good work. John W.

  8. christine says:

    Very nice work on the engine house.

  9. kenn says:

    Your layout looks really nice so far. I love the woodwork structure. I also like the engine house. I am sure that you and your children and even grandchildren will have hours of fun adding to this throughout your lifespan. Enjoy and keep up the nice work.

  10. John Reynolds says:

    That engine house is amazing!
    Top shelf work!

  11. KenS says:

    Great woodwork on the layout! You can use about any too you wish for carving the foam. You are only limited by your imagination. Use only “water-based” paints like acrylics and latex. Don’t use spray can paint as most will eat through the foam and melt it away.

  12. Greg Epperson says:

    Drywall tool’s work very well for carving pink foam, plus a wire brush, paint it with latex paint, I also use drywall compound to fill in small holes, can send you some some pictures of my rock formation if you wish

  13. Rod Mackay says:

    A gentle easing-out of the radius as you come into and out of a curve always helps with the running and looks better too, if you have room and are using flexitrack for the straights. Also, straight lines tend to look shorter than curves, so layouts and individual runs of track tend to look longer and more interesting if they are gently curved.
    When I built a layout for my son at about that age, I made a mistake in fixing everything down pretty solidly, part of the fun for them is being able to, say, put a new siding in for something, add a turntable or whatever, so I suggest just pin track in place, don’t glue the whole lot up solid, and you might consider making scenic sections on thin sub-bases which will just drop in – that way the messy scenic stuff can be done away from the points etc., and a chunk can be changed when he feels like it.
    My lad used the layout much more for wargaming than ever for running trains!

  14. Ken Finley says:

    That’s an incredible train table. It looks like you built it study so that it could be played with, not just run trains. Great job. Several others have already told you all the good ways to carve the pink foam. I’d only add one suggestion to try – I’ve scored the foam and broken it instead of carving. It give you a rough edge that paints up pretty good. Also, while the paint is wet, add additional texture by sprinkling ground foam into the wet paint. Another thing you can do is sift dirt from your yard and sprinkle the fine stuff in the wet paint. It adds natural color and texture to your layout.

  15. tom says:

    Great work Brian on that engine shed the work and detail is amazing.

    I like the bench work and track plan for your layout Larry very sturdy; for your son I liked the way you incorporated the road system; start of a great layout! May your son and you find many pleasures in doing it together have someone take pictures of you and your son working together on the projects … or make a scrapbook! Pictures are for when time stands still … for memories that live forever. enjoy!
    thanx Al
    best regards

  16. Sam Genova says:

    It’s easier to show a video .. 😉

  17. Hi, concerning the size question, assume that what you have is need printing, then the printer can resize the print to your scale. You will need to practice to get the % right, but it works nicely. I also use 140# cardstock which takes inkjet ok and still feeds one at a time. A 250 sheet pkg costs about $25. This can be scored and fold square. Good Luck.

  18. Benjamin Wright says:

    That engine house is fantastic! Well done!

  19. Scott says:


    Hobbyists using foam board use a hot wire tool (from Amazon) if your local sores don’t carry it. Simple to use, no muss no fuss and about $25.


    Been a regular reader for a couple of years now. No trains in the house , just a memory of a S scale American Flyer I had as a lad 60 years ago.

    Thanks for keeping it alive

  20. Robert Brady says:

    Why must modelers have grades,Real grades are so slight u can hardly notice them like in Alaska.The whole area is mountainous but the grades are barely noticeable to the eye. the loco feels it that’s why they use DPU’s.
    The Critic .

  21. Chris Sylvester says:

    wow!!!! that is an awesome job on the engine house great job on the detail inside !!

  22. Ray Z says:

    Larry: Walmart has inexpensive water-based paint in their hobby section. Usually less than a dollar a bottle. Buy greens, browns, grays, blacks in several shades. it can be thinned with water to go further. Sometimes the thinning gives a better presentation as it flows into the cracks. Don’t discount black for those deep crevices. They are cheap and work well on foam. You can experiment with what you think looks like a rock or rock face. Possibly take some pictures of rock or look on the internet for some pictures. A hot knife or hot wire works well for foam cutting. Possibly just breaking the foam off in chunks could give you some jagged edges to work with. I cast rocks in rubber molds using Hydrocal and then color them as described above. You can also cast rocks using crumpled aluminum foil draped over a box and poured with Hydrocal. Plaster cloth also works when crumpled up when wet. Have fun and experiment. Regards: Ray from PA USA

  23. Bob Amling says:

    Brian, your friend is a lucky guy. your work is outstanding. When you say that there is still weathering to do; will that include oil, grease, grime on the floor?
    Bob in Colts Neck Crossing, NJ

  24. Bob Cassidy says:

    That engine house is fantastic!

  25. Rod Mackay says:

    Robert Brady asked, why modellers bother with grades, as on the real thing they’re hardly noticeable? Well, some over here are very noticeable, like the 1 in 38 Lickey bank where even expresses would stop for a shove-up from a tank engine and blast their way up the escarpment; and they justify short trains, like on the 1 in 40 up to Cwmbargoed which in steam days was ten loaded wagons max, they also justify extra stops and starts, to pin down or release wagon brakes; and lastly just because so little of the real thing is really flat, eg the preserved Severn Valley line runs 16 miles and almost none of it is level, just a few of the stations mostly, for an engine to start away from Highley on a curve up a 1 in 100 on a wet day is a real challenge. Grades make the job more interesting.

  26. Colin Edinburgh says:

    Larry I cant see a connection between the lower and upper tracks. You may want to think about connecting as it will be very frustrating having to remove one train form the upper level and having to then place all the vehicles on the lower track. I also see there is no revering direction facility again you may want to have a look at this option. There are loads of help with both these subjects from previous contributors Just a couple of items you may wish to consider as they could lead to frustration later on with your layout. Now is the time to make any changes before all the landscaping etc. has been completed.

  27. Dwight in Toronto says:

    Larry, there are many good YouTube videos that demonstrate how to model rock formations. I’m guessing that Woodland Scenics probably has instructional videos as well. These will provide far more insight than a couple of hastily worded paragraphs by well-meaning contributors here on Al’s website.

  28. Mike Balog says:

    Hi Brian: Your Engine House is Fantastic in Detail and Finish. Reminds me of the Work of John Allen who was a master modeler featured in Model Railroad and Railroad Model Craftsman Magazines over the years. You might want to spike a couple of RR Ties 10 scale feet away from the end of the track inside the engine house. To Prevent locomotive from backing into the Workbench or the cow catcher from hitting it.
    For Larry: WOW, Fantastic Table Woodwork building that train table. Making it Childproof from the beginning. The Road to the 2nd level is a Bit Steep! Like the Backboard to prevent Trains from Tipping Off the Tracks to the Floor! Did you build it in Sections? Must have been pretty heavy to Haul it upstairs, then to the Attic. As far as the Pink Insulation Foam is concerned you can cut it with a Bread Knife from the Kitchen, a Hacksaw Blade, in a handle, there are rough tooth short wall board saws for that purpose too. Use glue to hold sections together. Suggest using Plaster Gauge to put over the insulation board. Woodland Scenics Plaster Gauze if too expensive. Go to Walmart, and get their version in the Pharmacy Dept. It is less expensive. Water Based Acrylic Paint is best for painting foam core board. Suggestion for making the sidings longer, you could make them at an Angle, from the main tracks to store more railroad cars
    on them. Also, when you want to install track for the tunnels, you could make a Lift out top section, in case the train derails in the tunnel, so you can lift the plateau above it to re re-rail the train. Then replace the top cover over it. A Scenery Idea.. for the Top Plateau level. You could make it a Christmas Village, or a small village, with a rural station, church, school, farmhouse and barn, etc. The main lower level,,, you can have a main station near a RR Crossing, with Engine House, a yard, Switch Tower (Signal Tower), Crossing Gate Shack, small factory, freight station, team track, with loading platform, etc. You could include barrels, crates, etc. for loads. You could either have a freight station or a Passenger station on the main level.. For the backdrop you could use either a Countryside or a Cityscape Flats, or even Mountain background,.. ~ Mike in N.H. USA.

  29. That is an excellent engine house. I wish I had the patients to do that much work.

  30. Mark T. Pianka says:

    Outstanding Job on the engine house!!

  31. Will in NM says:

    Brian, Beautiful work on the engine house! I think we all wish we had a friend like you to build our engine houses. 🙂

    Larry, You obviously have some serous woodworking skills to create such a solid looking layout. I see that you didn’t connect the upper and lower levels of track, but did connect the upper and lower automobile roadways. That’s probably a good setup for your young son because it allows two trains to run simultaneously without having to resort to DCC wiring. I wouldn’t try to use just the pink foam board to create the scenery: I would cover it with plaster or joint compound that can be shaped with drywall tools or a wire brush to create more realistic looking mountains. Bill in Virginia posted a really good how-to video showing how he created the mountain scenery on his N scale layout a few months ago. Look under the Hall of Fame tab and you can probably find it there.

  32. ALEX MCCULLOCH says:

    G’day Alastair, love your work.

    Larry,for moving vehicles, check out the Faller Car System or the Magna rail system.Both quite expensive but a lot of fun

  33. Bob says:

    To the “S” scalers: if the print outs are in HO, increase printer size to 135%. If they are in OO then 118% Bob from Manahawkin plans on using the relief buldings as a back drop on the new AF point to Point

  34. Erick says:

    Pretty Neat Layout.!!!

  35. David Anders says:

    I have two processes I use to make mountains from foam board. The first is using a “Hot Wire” tool. I use what I call the slingshot, since that is what it looks like. This cuts through the foam board, like a knife through butter. If you do a little experimenting you can craft all sorts of effects from rounded edges to crevices. There is a little mess, but minimal compared to all the other techniques.

    The second method is to use a wire brush to create the contours. This is messy, so have your shop vacuum ready.

    Sometimes I will use both techniques, depending on the effect I want to create.
    Over the years, I have become proficient with the “H ot Wire” slingshot.

    I recently. Experimented with a 3rd technique and got nice results. I purchased a spray can of foam insulation and used it to model rocks. It can come out of the can fast and it dries quickly, so have a good idea of what you want to model, so you can quickly mold it. I use a popsicle stick to spread the liquid foam.

    As far as paint goes, I tend to use spare gray paint and then apply a second coat using black, brown and green latex paint. Do not use oil based paint, because it melts the foam board. Sometimes, I will apply a black second coat to the wet gray coat to get a very realistic look of the shady side of the mountain or rock.

    Good luck; hope this was helpful.

    P.s. your bench work looks great.

  36. Thomas Busler says:

    In response to Terry’s tip: If you wear glasses that have coated lenses, (anti-scratch, anti-glare, etc.) remove them and put them far away when using PVC or CPVC cement. Wear $2 “readers” if you need. I had glasses that the coating buckled up, and took them back to the optometrist. They asked if I had been using PVC cement. It only takes fumes, not actual cement, to ruin glasses!

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