Model trains tips and ideas

I’ve just had a good clear out of my inbox and uncovered these model trains tips and ideas – some have been sitting in my inbox for a very long time indeed.

And what are the chances of three different Brians on the same post!

“I appreciate your emails and helpful tips. Everything on my end is a work in progress and will be for several months. Here is what I have to share at this point so far….

….Use the “extra” vinyl slats from plantation style mini-blinds after you have trimmed the blinds to custom fit your windows at home. Some uses are: Supports for hillsides, mountains, tunnels, embankments, bulkheads. Also used for roofing on buildings, roadway bases, and for making sliding doors on garages, cattle gates, billboard signs, etc…..

Recycling products teaches our youth to respect mother Earth and to keep expenses down. …..Use fibre optic cables to illimuniate tunnels, buildings, and other accessories…. Reduces number of bulbs or LED’s needed, therefore electrical current useage….

……Recycle wine corks…..paint to look like storage tanks, pillars, bases, etc… Place a small brad tack in the end(s) so they can be picked up by magnet at end of crane or derrick.

…….Mushroom shaped champagne corks can be painted and coated to be transformed into trees, shrubs, etc….

…… Split rubber or vinyl or pvc tubing down the middle to create troughs or gutters or aquaducts that are easily formable to contours and grades. Plus you could use real water in them!

……. Use color images from sales ads or brochures (on good quality paper stock) to create sigs, billboards, container labels, etc…. Just cut to fit and shellac or glue to attach and protect them.


“I wish to add to your model trains tips and ideas. Mine is when laying curved track, lay a row of matches (used of course) around the outer edge of the curve just under the sleppers, this will give a good camber on your curves just like real life and will mean you can run trains faster through curved sections.

Just lay the curved track (without fixing down), draw a pencil line around the edge of the sleepers, remove track and glue matches on the inside of the pencil line.

Fix track on top of this and ballast in the normal way. Result is a better looking curved track, trains will also lean slightly into the curve. Can’t do this in curved station areas.


“Some more Model trains tips and ideas, my parents home had real fires and burned smokeless fuel, I took the chance to get some on the basis that the smokeless lumps can be put in a bag and broken down with a hammer until quite fine – useful for filling coal wagons (with real fuel), for stocking a coal merchants yard and for scattering around where coal is loaded, unloaded etc for decorative realism.


“Hi Al,

I don’t know if this is new but I use all my old phone chargers to supply power to lights etc. the chargers are a variety of 5 to 12 volts and great for the 6 volt lights as you don’t require resistors. Jaycar ( a local electronic supplier) has an adaptor to suit all charger pins.”


“I cut round toothpicks, paint them silver and use those as fence posts. I also use 3/4 inch wire brads for fence post. Push into layout 1/4″ and you have a 4 foot fence post. 1-1/4″ wire brad pushed in 1/4″ and you have a standard 8 foot fence post.

1/8″ dowels painted brown cut to 2.75 inches. Cut 2 -1″ pieces paint brown. On the longer piece cut 1/2 ” from the top a groove about 1/16″ deep. Repeat making a second groove 1/2″ below that. Glue in the groove the two one piece cross members.

You now have a telephone pole. String black thread from pole to pole for telephone wires then glue a piece of thread from the pole to the building as the power lead. 1″ from the bottom of the pole you can glue a 1/8″ X 1/4″X 1/8″ piece of balsa painted red. That is a fire call box. You can also paint one blue for the U.S. Mail box.

Roll fine steel wool in your fingers make it about 1/4-3/8 inches wide tapering at the bottom. 1/2-1 inch long. Paint dark green. let dry. Then use a pointed small dowel and put small dots of pink, yellow or orange paint. You now have a flowering bush.

Use 3/8 inch dowels. Taper bottom of the dowel a little with a pencil sharpener. Cut about 5/16 inch in height. Paint brown for a wine barrel planter or terra cotta red for clay. Glue some short bushes to the top. Flower planters.

A 1/4 sq dowel painted brick red. Make horizontal lines with a very fine marker 1/16″ apart than make vertical lines in a staggered pattern looking like laid brick. Top with a 1/4 in piece of round toothpick painted black. You can then top off the toothpick with a piece of cotton ball touched with a gray marker to look like smoke.

“i use blue rope ligts along my ceiling in my train room.shut off the main lighting and its nite time but you can still see to operate.and its nice to see it looks like the real world with all the building lights”


“I don’t know if someone has already suggested this for train weights, hints say hammering lead flat is the way to go, but I have found that Duck or Goose Decoy weights are easier, they are about 8-10 inches long, already flat, about 1/8 in. thick, and 3/4 in. wide. The lead is very soft and cuts easily with a large wire cutter.


Model trains tips and ideas:

“Al, I have attached a photo of a bridge i recently build for my HO setup. Everything is still in progress but I thought I would share if you are interested.

It is all made from balsa wood sticks from the local craft store. I just measured the length of the bridge I needed and cut all the pieces with a razor knife. There was no master design just some photos off the internet as a plan. After gluing it was painted to look like a steal bridge that was rusting. The bridge will just lift off the track if needed.


Model trains tips and ideas

“Considering the relatively high prices for Model Rail-Road Bumpers (this applies to all Brands European as well as American), I decided to make them myself from material every railroader has in his or hers “Yard Scrap Bin”.

I, more or less, copied the bumper from German “Bundesbahn” styles and added my personal twist to the design.

This design works for all gauges! Just scale it up or down.

Read this entire document first and look at the pictures!

What’s needed: A couple of tools and a lot of patience!

    Soldering iron with raisin and a bit of flux
    Old tracks (you decide how long, curved or straight)
    Metal file (small)
    Needle-nose pliers
    Side-cutter or cutting-wheel
    Telephone wire, about 30 cm (1 foot) (you actually won’t need that much, but it makes it easier to work with.)
    Glue for plastic models as well as epoxy glue or something that’ll glue plastic to plastic and metal to plastic.
    Measurements are Metric and US Standard.

Pull out the I-Beams, which make the track, from the rail ties. (10 cm or 4 inches will suffice)

File the I-Beam flush at one end and cut off a length of roughly 3.1 to 3.2 cm (1 3/16).


Take the file and V-grove the track at 2 cm (24/32) starting from the running surface of the track to the wider track section where usually the tie-down clasps are located. Stop filing just where the file hits the lower part of the I-Beam.

Slowly (I really mean it) bend up the track to form a hockey stick-like figure. File the long end of the piece flush with the horizontal track you want to mount the bumper on.

Cut off another 2 cm (24/32) length of track (always cut off a tad too long, and then file down to size!) This is the vertical I-Beam.

Pre-tin the upper part of the vertical beam and the small part of the “hockey stick” where they will face each other later. (Bottom of the track)


Take the telephone wire and strip off about 10 cm (4 inches) of the insulation.

Bend one end 90 degrees (about 4 mm or 3/16) and solder the bent part into the track grove just above the angled section. After the joint has cooled down, wind the wire 4 times around the vertical beam and the short hockey stick section, making sure that the I-Beam surfaces touch each other nice and flat.

Model trains tips and ideas

Solder the wire and the I-Beam sections together, by applying the resin and a bit of flux to the wire wounded section. Let the resin penetrate the entire area. You may need to turn the section up-side-down to work also on the back side.

Model trains tips and ideas

Make the other side! Match the measurements of what you just created so they look the same later. (if not, filing will make things work for you!)

After the second side is done, select a track you want to use as the bumper track. You may want to experiment with short, straight tracks or even round tracks.

Solder the bumper sections on top of the tracks, each side. Make sure that the front part line up properly. (You may need to cut back some of the rail ties on the track, though.

The bumper side can also be soldered to the inside of the tracks. (This makes the entire assembly lower)


After both sides are positioned and soldered on the tracks, take 2 rail ties from the track you pulled the I-Beams from, file the tie-down clasps level of one of them and glue them together back to back. Make sure you leave the tie-downs on one of them intact!

Measure the height of the bumpers (buffers, Puffer in German) of your rolling stock or Locomotives and clip the double-sized tie to the vertical I-Beams of your bumper. Glue the doubled-up tie to the vertical beams. Let dry! In case that the new bumper is too flimsy, cut out another track piece and solder it in between the bumper sides for stiffening. You could also use another tie down and insert it at the top as an alternative. Caution! If you use a metal I-Beam as stiffener, make sure that you use isolation track connectors or you will create a short across the tracks!

To make the wrap-around wire look more realistic, just flatten the telephone wire with a hammer. This creates some nice looking flat metal bands. This project should give you some ideas. I bet there’re people out there who can do it much better than I. Please, share your ideas and pictures.

All the best


That’s all this edition of model trains tips and ideas. Hope you’ve enjoyed them as much as me.

And best of all, I have a stack more that I’ve uncovered too – but they’ll have to wait until next time.

I’ll leave you with a bit of fun. Another one from Dangerous Dave (I think he’s been on the sherry again). I have no idea why his layout and vids are so watchable. I can’t seem to stop myself.

If Dave has inspired you, the Beginner’s Guide is here.

Or perhaps you just want to save a small fortune with the ebay cheat sheet?

That’s all this time folks. Please do keep ’em coming.



27 Responses to Model trains tips and ideas

  1. Hi Alastair, I’m not sure if you can do this, but, could you pass on my e-mail address to ‘Dangerous Dave’, I remember seeing one of his videos when he reviewed the Steam gala.
    I hope you can do this for me,
    yours, Gordon Taylor.
    PS I like watching and reading the train tips and clips

  2. Larry O'Connor - Ontario , Canada says:

    I can’t help but notice that Daves trains always run smooth and withouut any derailments. They seem to be able to run forever. I guess it points out how important it is to pay attention to the trackwork details. I thought I had done a good job on my Z scale track, but find I can make a couple of loops OK then suddenly have a derailment at a turnout or a joiner that I went over before. I guess it’s back to the “attention to detail” idea. May be easier to start over.

  3. Douglas McKay says:

    Good day folks what a grest video to watch. I have been working on my layout ( N )scale made the move from Ho to N the space was to small for the other scale , but I have made a the right choice it all depends on the space that you have and the balance with your wife but power should be on line for the main .Happy modeling and have fun with your layout.

  4. ian impett says:

    DAVE, THE BEST EVER, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, MATE It’s like being there.!!!!!!!!!! unbelievable. PLEASE don’t stop. IAN

  5. SHELDON Phoenix says:

    What camera equip does DAVE use on his trains

  6. NJ Mark says:

    Dangerous Dave rocks! I can’t get enough of his videos. What is most evident is the pure enjoyment he gets from this great hobby. NJ Mark

  7. Lawrence says:

    Dave just love your videos and the music. but the best is the layout made to enjoy without a doubt. Dave what era is it I see steam, with BR 1980 locos etc?
    I think thats why I like it all its a layout of ENJOYMENT.
    It goes to show build what you like and have fun.

  8. tom says:

    Unbelivable Mr. Dave you must have money to burn! I wish I could do half as good.

  9. Joe E Wallace says:

    Some time back there was an article on the details of track listings regarding the size, both 2 and 3 rail… I am a beginner and don’t really understand all the differences of O 027 N and what ever else… I have some 2 rail on an old train from my childhood and recently purchased some on e-bay and it was a different height and won’t fit.. Thank you.

  10. Warren Jones, Jr. says:

    What gage is Dave’s system?

  11. John van Rems says:

    Dave I know you can be sometimes mr. Spielberg with your movies. But this time you contribute nothing. I’m sorry but wasting my time watching trains running on high speedmotion. Okay the old songs make it watchable

  12. Jim Evenson says:

    Thank you Dave, I really enjoy your videos. I’m 78 and a bit old to start a layout so I am really enjoying yours and the other nice folks that post their videos. Thank you again.

  13. Clifford Brannan says:

    Dave I love it !!! I always love forward to your videos.

  14. Ken Stramel says:

    Very cool. I love it

  15. Ian Mc Donald says:

    as always a pleasant to watch Daves videos. thanks for all the tips they will come in handy for future projects.

  16. Dr Bob says:

    Jim, you are never too old to enjoy model railroading. I have friends and some astute colleagues who are much older than you and still work and ‘play’ on their layouts. Saying your ‘old’ is just an excuse for something you are capable of doing yourself.

  17. Bob L. says:

    78’s not “OLD,” my grandfather, who was 86 when he introduced me to model railroading, kept on with his railroading (he was a conductor on the B&M for 26 years) until he passed away when he was 105. My grandfather used to love the old Lionel trains, and had them going through 1000 scale miles, which took up his whole cellar. He lived in a 25’X50′ house, ranch style. I used to look forward to going over to his house, and he and I would play for hours on end, sometime forgetting to eat regular meals.

  18. david howarth says:

    Hi All thank you for your comments , to answer a few , my layout is 00 gauge , the the Camera i used for this video is the Mobius action cam , but mainly for video recordings I use a Panasonic camcorder …and Jim never too old ..a small layout can be enjoyed just as much , and can be made at table height to make it easier instead of having to bend all the time …and Gordon the Steam Gala is now cancelled its going to be a Scottish Theme gala , with 3 diesels and just one visiting steam loco plus there own , I may get up there on the Sunday but not a lot new to see …Sorry to disappoint a viewer with this video , but does show we can also have fun with our layouts when all completed … Dangerous dave

  19. Patti says:

    Awesome! You’re such an inspiration, after all if you’re not having fun then you’re doing something wrong!

  20. Yes, all good fun and yes we can because it is our layout!. I am enthusiastic with correct liveries and period however, that is only one side of it. You can do what ever makes you happy as with any hobby. You like! Only when the person reports the presentation as authentic should positive criticism be engaged, power to your elbow sir and keep taking the medicine. I do! .Long live the diesel hydraulics – you need some on your layout friend! haha

  21. Terry Miller says:

    Nice full explanation of how to do it from Michael…thanks. It would seem to me , that because the unit is soldered to the each rail of the bumper track that you could easily add a red led light by attaching the light leads to each side of the bumper. That would not only add a bit of realism but would let you know when the track was actually powered.

    Terry/Idaho USA

  22. Ray, Pa. says:

    To: Joe E.. Wallace:
    The general order of scales, from large to small, are:
    G (1:22.5), O (1:48) S (1:64) OO (1:76.2) HO (1:87) TT (1:120) N (1:160) Z (1:220).
    Generally, all scales are two rails except some older Marklin (German) and Lionel (Ives) (Marx) O or O27 three rail. (AC operated.) O is higher railed and has the more gentle curve of 072. O27 is lower railed and shorter curved. More than likely you bought one or the other of these which wouldn’t fit together. It is possible the train you had as a child is American Flyer two rail which is S scale. Most two rail systems are DC operated. There are some exceptions to these because of foreign manufacture but these are what is basically around these days. Many new tracks are manufactured today but still in these scales

  23. Heather Logan says:

    Hey there Dave I must say I loved it mate had a darn good laugh over it too thanks I needed that laugh today thankyou, Heather.. I will show Jason when he gets home from work.

  24. Erick says:

    Pretty Kool.!!!!!

  25. Old Ben says:

    Just asking what type of work you did before you retired? Just interested.

  26. Charles Eyster says:

    All costs savings methods are welcomed. A load was presented today. Thank you to all of the Brian’s & other contributors.
    As for dangerous Dave’s contributions: they have Einstein’s grey matter somewhere for research! You never cease to amaze us with your enormous wit! Keep strong and keep going, you motivate us all!
    Al, this may be an embarrassment to me, but, do you have a layout that you share with us. I don’t recall, after being a reader for years now, ever seeing your photos!

  27. Peter Bayley-Bligh says:

    Some posts are more useful than others – many of the tips on this one are really worth looking at – thank you. Happy New Year.

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