Even more tips and pics

“Here’s a tip for realistic country blacktop roads over foam:

First, mark the path of the intended route.

Then mark the edges with painters tape.

Spray Rustoleum black paint between the painters tape.

If there is a risk to other structures in the area of the road, mask with newspaper, perhaps held down with the tape placed along the road’s route.

The result is that the rustoleum eats just enough of the foam underneath to give a nice weathered surface.


“Al –

I realize that I’m not submitting an actual favorite tip … it’s more of a “lesson learned” kind of thing. Hope I don’t waste your time.

At one time I belonged to a model train club. Eventually, I found this group to be comprised of three categories of RR guys: Collectors, Modelers, and Toy Train guys.

Collectors all seemed to be quite egotistical, spending tons of money purchasing the most precisely detailed scale models, bringing their acquisitions in on club night under tight security and (perhaps) putting juice on the track to run them.

Modeler types were more sane, but obsessed in spending every waking moment gluing and trimming and fussing over minute details without running their trains every meeting.

I found I belonged to the last category – I was content to just put my childhood trains on a track and watch them run around and around. I do that at this time of year with a track on the floor; it’s all the thrill I could want out of that great toy invention.

So, the lesson I learned was that the three categories of train guys I had joined didn’t mix too well all the time.

Their goals are different, and when it comes to putting on the annual train show, one quickly discovers the hierarchy of the groups.

Collectors trump modelers and toy guys… only their cars are good enough for the public to admire.

Modelers are more respected by the public… they get the most questions to answer, about their clever landscaping.

Toy guys are at the bottom of the food chain. I had fun, but without having much track time. My trains were… just toys.

I still love them.

— Mike”


I’m kinda a rookie all talk and no action but I was going to try and use diluted inst. coffee crystls for rusting or weathering train cars or buildings…There is a commercial for Advair the gal or guy is in a fog Something to create the fog on the surface of an area will give an aged look Still thinkin on that one….

Crushed eggshell feed used for raising chickens would work for ballast but it would need to be crushed finer some way I talked once about using rice barley flax for cargo and ground clutter even ballast My wife said I’d have mice eventually. I said thats why they make traps isnt it…..Traps would be good for someething….

I’m going to try sections of broken glass for water the underlayment will need some features painted or drawn first then the glass overlay. Shorelines will be a challenge


“Hi Alistair,

Mine would be plan, research, budget. It’s easy to be woo’ed by the amazing models and technologies, the craftsmanship and the cool factor, then go to a store or show and spend like you on drugs! We have all done it. With a solid plan in place, you can get the reward without the buyers remorse, and still be cool!


“Hi Al

I took a couple quick shots from my new layout expansion. Not the best pics, but gives you a good idea what I’m up to. The foreground mountains/rocks are not completed yet.

Thanks for all you hard work throughout the season.

If someone is interested I’m happy to answer questions.



“Hi Al, Jim here from CO. I had a couple of HO layouts back in WI years ago, about 30 I guess. So I am totally new to On30 and have been waiting for information I sent for. In the mean time I have built my first structure for my Florence-Cripple Creek railroad. I can see the entrance to the old narrow gauge railroad from our home and have been up there many times since moving out here 26 years ago.

I am going to try to sent a picture of my Water Tank.

In the past 35 years I have built three full size airplanes, two biplanes and a 1909 Bleriot XI so I guess it is time to get back to my old Hobby. Thanks, Jim

Some great tips -and pics. Please keep ’em coming.

And don’t forget The Beginner’s Guide is here if you want to grab the bull by the horns, stop dreaming and start doing.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

50 Responses to Even more tips and pics

  1. Martin Wood says:

    A Question for Matt, your scenery is fantastic but “How do you make your rock formations”?

  2. Chris Chamberlain says:

    Another question for Matt: How did you make the waterfall, it looks really good?

  3. Tom says:

    Great tips. Great job on the water tower what detail. Rock formations were very nice. Two favories: the detail, fine work, around the tunnel and the water fall.

    Thanks all for sharing … Thanks Al for making this all possible.

    Keep on Training!

    Tom N

  4. paul starr says:

    Some great tips,thanks folks and thanks to Al for all his hard work and involvement in letting us know about them

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Very nice Matt. I really like what you have done with the water falls at various levels on the rock formations and the formations as well. I assume most are castings but they seem to go well together.

  6. 'nother grandpa says:

    A note for Mike: I devoted last summer to reading about model railroading before diving in to build my own modest set. I am a total amateur. During the course of my “study” I came to roughly the same conclusions you so eloquently describe. I fessed up to myself– “Self, I said, just enjoy it. Don’t go OCD on yourself.” So, I guess I fall into the “toy” category, and I am having a blast. I have built my benchwork, laid my initial layout of track and am now improving, but keeping it all light enough to forgive myself of my mistakes and stay on a modest budge and sleep well at night. Have fun with your “toys!” I sure am!

  7. TimC says:

    Total newbie here….haven’t built anything yet. I inherited a bunch of HO and N gauge stuff to give my impetus. I also like to add trainwatching to my motorcycle rides. One idea that I haven’t seen done in a layout is a park with an old steam engine in it for kids to climb on…Many cities have them in parks…I did get a couple of those in the stuff I got, so I want to work into my town, once I get it figured out. Good way to use an old dead locomotive.

  8. craig says:

    Outstanding photos. Really like the scenery shots. Looks incredible. The water tower really caught my attention. Was that really scratch built? Looks amazing.

  9. Dave S says:

    Another blacktop trick I found was to use Crayola chalkboard paint and brush right on to your foam base. Tape off where you want the road and brush it on.

  10. Tom Oliver says:

    My question is the same as Martins to Matt. The rock formations are great, and so is the running water. How were they done. Thanks.

  11. paul Otway says:

    nice water tower

  12. Greg says:


    I would like to thank Mike for sticking his neck out and saying that he likes his trains as toys. I too am in awe of the amazing detail model railroaders create. Having said that, modeling is not me. I have a permanent layout running around my home music room and I love to run my O27 trains. There is definately a place for all kinds of train people. My 17 year old son is helping me make a video of my layout and I will send it to you when it is complete. Again, thanks to Mike for being a proud toy train operator. I love my toy trains! And I love your emails Al. Keep up the good work.

    Sanford, FL

  13. Peter Jacobs says:

    Hello you all.
    I think the most important thing about this hobby is that we enjoy what we are doing.
    If we construct, build, make or create, it is as good as we individually can get it at that time, when down the road we can improve our own standards not for any-one else, but for our own pride, I’m sure that we will.
    When that time comes, we will still enjoy and get pleasure from being involved as, collectors, modelers and participants. (toys)

  14. del says:

    I just tried Micheal’s black top road tip …it is great. Thanks!!!!


  15. Carl in Kansas says:

    Tim C,
    So, you have some HO and some N stuff? One thought based on a layout I saw. The layout was HO. It had an amusement park with a railroad. The amusement park railroad was in “N” scale. The engine had the cab roof removed and carried an HO engineer. The passenger cars had the roofs cut off, and they carried HO passengers. You could use your imagination and use all kinds of freight cars.


  16. THOMAS says:


  17. Frank says:

    Watch out for coffee grounds as scenery. They go moldy easily. Use dried tea leaves instead, the tannic acid prevents mold.

  18. Albert Weir says:

    Hi Al
    Thanks for posting all the good stuff i liked the writings of Mike . recently i went to a train show and i was astounded that all these toffy nosed guys who had expensive trains they sat there just wanting to show them off . i do have some expensive trains too but i bought them to play with yes you have to be a bit more careful but i run them every day and really get enjoyment from them i even let my Godson put them on the track under my supervision of course. i also have a lot of other trains too and they all run together on my layout i wonder what these guys would think of me running a $300 train with $20 passenger cars now thats something to see but they look nice to gether so what the heck I am in it for the fun and i am enjoying every minute of it

  19. James says:

    I REALY LIKE YOUR LAYOUT, I haven’t sean one as eye takeing as this one

  20. Jeff McNeal says:

    A reply to DUANE regarding fog. I modeled a Mexican volcano, and found that one of those misting devices that come in the inside of Styrofoam pumpkins they sell around hallowe’en work very nice for creating a fog, or smoke, except that it travels downward, but being water mist, entirely odorless. I bought the pumpkin, threw it out, and placed the mister in dish of water recessed into the top of the volcano.

    As a bottom feeder, I still LOVE my old Tyco. It’s all good.

  21. Ed Dunaway says:

    Fantastic I cannot get over how realistic it all appears especially the water falls.
    The rocks look Great and the Tunnel openings are they scratch built as well?

    My hat is off to YOU…

    Truly Fantastic…..

    More Pictures PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Bud Holzman says:

    Good luck on your projects. I’ve been working on my second train table project. The first one was with Lionel 27 gauge which ran 2 trains on intersecting tracks, one of which climbed uphill and then downhill. Lionel said this couldn’t be done, but I found a way to do it. My new table is 4×8 running two Marklin HO trains on separate loops, plus an interurban 2car train on an inside loop. I’m one year into this project and will recommence now that my income tax package is with my accountant. Since I am 88 years old and colorblind my wife will help me do the landscaping. My youngest daughter, her husband and my granddaughter live on a farm in Canon City near you. We’ve driven up the road by the Narrow Guage RR to Cripple Creek.

  23. John says:

    Al and fellow small-train people, hi!
    I pretty much agree with Mike’s overall categorisation but I reckon you can come to a happy balance between modelling and running. I believe that I have, although I concur with the comment about always wanting to titivate detail here and there but compromise can happens and work.
    I have a small,relatively niche, OO gauge, UK EMU model rail interest from the end 1960’s to 1980-ish. So I find not-so-many others in this area and RTR items a bit uncommon until the last few years. Will send in a pic or two if anyone would like to see same?
    Otherwise I appreciate the “Transat” & Antipodean inputs which are often of refreshingly different perspectives!
    Best wishes to your subscribers in all cases of personal preference.
    (mini-Network Rail……..)

  24. Someone did a fantastic job with this layout. Makes me want to tear out a portion of mine own and “copy” some of this scenery.

  25. Rod Mackay says:

    The trouble with being a modeller these days is that almost anything you spend forty hours making from a kit or bits will be produced ready to run in a box from China by Bachmann or Hornby or whoever within the next year, it’s happened to me a couple of times already and doesn’t half put you off starting a project.

  26. The water tank AND the water falls are superb!! Great modeling!

  27. Doug T of Townsville Australia says:

    I agree with Mike ^ Greg – whatever floats your particular boat (sorry gets your trains moving) is fine, the main thing is to enjoy. I have had nothing to do with model trains for 40 years and recently retired and got into a HO set up. I have gone DCC with different locos and am having fun designing and building the track so far & making it all run properly. I live in North Australia, so humidity and dust are my enemies ( set is in shared shed), so will do things differently re ballasting etc, so I can vacuum the table tracks etc every few days to keep it clean. There are no train shops within 800km of my location, so have to do it all on internet (this site is tops) I have 3 grandsons who we Skype and show them the trains running – like me, they love it, it is personally rewarding to achieve things working etc and I am having fun and relaxing – what more could you want.

  28. john andrew says:

    Albert don’t even think about joining in with the toffs just be thankful that they don’t want to join in with us and that al is not one of them my Gk and GGk play on my figure 8 track and started (DC, OO, )racing them ,surprisingly it did not take long for them to tell me that “Pa trains should not race they go slow”let the toff have there day of glory and focus lets have twelve months periods of fun John A

  29. Bill says:

    I would also like to hear how the waterfall was made. Great job.

  30. alan schmidt says:

    great stuff Alastair! I read every one of your posts every day! Kudo’s!

  31. Robert Rolfe says:

    On Rod’s post. Yes someone has , or will have most anything you may spend your time making. I wanted a King Post Truss Bridge to add to my layout, only one I could find was 30` (in HO scale about 4 1/8 inches long ) and it was a kit, so I spent a day making one that is 40` ( in HO scale about 5 1/2 inches long) I have what I wanted and take pride in knowing there is ONLY ONE.
    And with other posts, I do think we all wish we could do what others have done in the landscaping, mountains, rivers and what ever. Just enjoy what you have and have fun with it, as no matter what you have there will always be something bigger and maybe more better.
    NV bob
    PS Thanks Alastair for your time on this hobby

  32. Brad says:

    OK maybe someone can answer this one for me.I will be starting a layout in about a year.I was wondering why you can’t use painted coal chunks glued onto one another for rock formations(or spray them clear if you are in coal country on your layout)? Since I live in FL now,before I move away I wanted to get some crushed shells.I would think those could be used as ground cover effects in some way.I would place them as I want,then shoot them with satin clear to hold them together.Maybe I am reaching.Has anyone tried either of these 2 things?

  33. Stephen Gispanski says:

    Hello Al, hats off to you. All the great info that you have put together not only helps everyone but also helps me on a different level on how I like to have my Train Room look slash Man Cave.

    Matt, great start on haveing you Train Table shaping up the way that you want it to look like. I like your mountain and your waterfalls. What type of glue did you use on your waterfalls?
    On your mountains, did you use real rock here and there. The reason I ask is that when I build my mountains, I am going to have real rock here and there. I like to see the whole lay out.

    Jim, great water tower. So this is the start for you Train Room, the detail on the Water Tower shows a lot on how the rest of your table will turn out. I take it that you are going to use O Gauge, that is what I will be useing also along with HO Gauge. Can’t wait to see the rest. I can’t wait to see mine. I have been going through my Man Cave Al. I will be taking pictures as I go.

    Thanks again, Stephen G
    Saint.Petersburg, Fl

  34. Keith Carey says:


    Nice to see someone put these “Club-Categories” into a published document. You are exacrly correct!

    Belonging to a Club means respect for everyone. And, the more experienced folk willing to assist one like me who does not have the latest experience after being out of the hobby for 50 years.

    It doesn’t work that way. It’s a “click”…ours had what I consider “atheists” in control. I was first ostracized by leading the dinner group in prayer.

    Next came the “toy train” enthusiast. I would demonstrate my trains at public events hauling my diabetic teat strip bottles in the gondola. And, various heavy equipment taped to flat cars. This was below the means for the wealthy collectors.

    To add more misery, I switched my train through one of the freight yards to let another faster freight to pass. I was called out for that as if I had violated a rule of order!

    So I am not in any railroad club at the present. And, can you blame me?


  35. ROBERT K SCHWORM says:

    I found a train modeler in akron, Ohio that sells “finely ground up rubber” to scale. A fantastic roadbed. In assorted colors. Look in your area for this or write back for further details.


  36. Gerry Gallick says:

    Mike I loved what you said about your experience with the train club.
    Collector verses modeler and train guy. You missed your calling, very well written. If it helps you out any I think that I might be below you.
    When I started out my train set up was not even worth putting in the rubbish.
    They should have been buried out back. But like you I’m having the best fun ever. Enjoy!

  37. Dennis Koppo says:

    To Mike and the “clubbers”,
    A club is a social gathering and should treat all members with respect. It’s up to their leadership to make that happen. Perhaps different protocols for exhibitions and competitions.

  38. Joe Arteritano says:

    Rookie here. I inherited my Dad’s O scale train set which has been sitting in his attic for the last 50 years. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, planning and spending up to this point. I am now to the point where it’s time to start building. I am really looking forward to the adventure. Will keep you all posted as things progress.

  39. John Gomez Jr says:

    While living in Tucson, Arizona, I became a member in 1984 of an all volunteer group called, The Old Pueblo Trolley. With my Electrical Engineering background, I was unable to remove my model trains from storage, I spent most of my time with OPT in bringing back Historic Trolley’s to the city streets of Tucson which stopped operating in 1930. Furthermore, we not only succeeded restoring, but operated Trolley’s in 1993 with well trained Motormen and Conductor’s. Of course, we also had women volunteers who became, Operators and Conductors too. Our group was fun to work with throughout the years, but I too consider all Train Modeler’s that write in and submit their train tips, my Train Club Buddies. Thanks for your help!
    After retiring at 75, I moved last year from AZ., to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I finally have my own Train Room, purchased all lumber and supplies needed to build my layout. I’ll be operating a 7ft x 11ft. Dual Track Layout called, JGB Railroad for my On3, HO and HOn3, 40 Loco’s and 250 cars in which I’ve collected throughout years. I too, will be happy to submit pictures as I begin my project… Happy Modeling
    John G. B.

  40. Edward G Silber says:

    I think I had mentioned this before. You can have some fun with your kids/gran kids by printing out the paper structures in greyscale, and have the kids color them to their liking, help them assemble and install the structures on the layout. Then they will become part of the hobby.

  41. Danny says:

    Jim, your water tower is fantastic, great work,I wouldn’t want to clinb that ladder in real life,without
    Two guys footing the ladder ,LOL . Great work !

  42. Danny Marso says:

    Jim,I used the “old rule” of measurement on your water tank ladder, I estimate it’s about 32 feet tall,looks great ,now I think two guys footing it,and and a safety rope at the bottom,tied to the base of the tower !
    Great scratch building !


  43. Robert Brady says:

    I would be interested in the printouts only in a modern erra 80’s to present. my layout is all late railroading in HO scale. amtrak and the like.If you can locate modern buildings ,stores banks apartment buildings I would then be interested .
    please answer to my email
    thanks Al
    regards Robert

  44. Will in NM says:

    Matt, I loved your little waterfalls on the side of the mountain. I’ve seen that very thing driving from Alamogordo to Cloudcroft in New Mexico. If the rock is sedimentary like limestone or sandstone, water can accumulate and then appear out of the side of the mountain like magic. Thanks for sharing your photos. I’d like to try something similar when I get around to building my own layout.

  45. Frank says:

    Personally, I’m not into real trains and locomotives, so if a kit or model is accurate that’s okay for me. I don’t go for the “toy look”, but I’m not into “exact scale replicas” that cost a fortune. It’s a hobby and as long as things look real and/or realistic that good enough for me.

    If we were discussing vintage “toy trains” I’d leave them be. I’d just create a nice scenic layout with a few nice buildings, roads, terrain, etc., and let things blend, but still allow the trains to be the main attraction. I still possess an old Lionel train set one of my grandmothers gave to me and my two brothers. I’d love to have them on display and maybe run them occasionally.

    In regards to realism, a little weathering will eliminate the toy look, reduce the shine of plastic and things can be made to look new, to look antique or to look grungy, rusty and greasy. There are other things one can focus on to create realism and remain in scale.
    And your layout can be designed to provide visual tricks to represent trains coming and going and allow for some shuffling of cars or long runs in the small world you have built. I always remembered guys like Lynn Wescott and others in Model Railroader magazine talking about layouts designed for operation, some for showing off the trains, some were artistic presentations of scenery and buildings.

    For me it’s really the various elements together that create that magical quality of model railroads. We can all have a little bit of everything as long as it’s fun there is no right or wrong.

    Frank in Orlando

  46. Mike Riggs says:

    I started with O gauge Polar Expess and it’s oval track, along with approx 8 LeMax type structures
    I am not at about 35 structures mountains. Ice pond. Ice hockey rink. Two tunnels. One holds Santa’s village on top the other holds the elves workshop. I also have the grinch mountain with the grinch and Cindy Lou. Can’t forget Graceland, Elvis and Ms Gladys’ pink Cadillac. I guess I am a modeler I have built everything but the houses.

  47. John Keech says:

    Hi Alastair, A great deal of info in these replies to comment on at one time, I will just pick just one from the list I noted.
    Types of Model Rail modellers:- planers, track layers, scenery specialists, train operators and collectors. We will all go through these stages but may put more of our effort into the one we like the best. That is the one that gives us the most enjoyment.
    When I was a boy, I filled books with layout plans as I didn’t have the cash to buy any hardware so all I had were the plans.
    I am at the first stage at present, planning, as we have recently moved house and we do not have a new one as yet, will be finished in January. We do have a large garage that I have lined and that will be for my wife and I to share. We will have 4m x2m each.
    This will be my third layout since 2004 and I hope to incorporate many radical features in all of the layout. I have been in three clubs and I have found nothing but helpful people. Perhaps the true collectors do not join clubs here in Aus. In one club we had a master modeller with many awards for his work. He was more happy to conduct classes, at our meetings, to pass on his tectnics to all, he was 84 years old. John Keech, Canberra Oz.

  48. William Orton says:

    What a great site. You got folks from all over the world comparing notes, tips and experiences about a great hobby; after reviewing outstanding examples of mountains with waterfalls, a beautiful water tower, and a spot-on analysis by Mike of club members. I resurrected the LIONEL set my Dad grew up with, and I’m trying integrate it with newer MTH stuff. Lots of challenges, but I learn everyday when I read your posts
    Thank you

  49. william janmes palmer says:

    excellent rock work

  50. Jeff in Arkansas says:

    WOW Matt..GREAT JOB! LOVE the detail

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