Fred’s tips and John’s engine shed

“Saw the post about pulling power

Alluding to I think of length of passenger train.

I know this is out of character for this blog but I must share in defense of Dangerous Dave.

In summer 1967 I took my first train ride from Missoula Montana to St Louis Missouri (sort of).

While coming into the Twin Cities (Minneapolis / St Paul) I was hearing rumblings of an engineers strike. (Guess it would be the first one in the nation ever) I had no idea what that meant, being 20 years old. Heard lots of rumors. Wondering.

Got into the TC Train yard. Lots of trains sitting. Going no where. As was ours. Sitting. Several Hours.

After about 4-6 hours we started moving. Guess they were short of manpower (due to strike) so they connected us to another 2 other Passenger trains. Finally we left for Chicago.

I think the train was now about 25-30 cars long. Sometimes traveling along the Mississippi through Wisconsin
we could see our train from our train several times through the curves. We stopped at each station along the way about 3 times.

Slow Going. But finally made it — to — Chicago!

The Chicago station was — strange — deserted — hardly Anyone there. Empty. Was told the train was not going anywhere. This was it! You are on your Own. 1600 miles from home. Still not at my destination. I got the final taxi out of Union. My first taxi ride. Went to the airport. Got a plane ticket to St Louis. My first airplane ride.
Funny thing is – I do not recall my return trip 3 weeks later! It must have been boring!

So long passenger trains may not be the norm – but has occurred at least once!


A big thanks to Fred and Elbert (I think Dave was just playing around with his pulling power video).

And now on to something that I hope you’ll all find very helpful.

Some time ago, my boy wonder made some engine sheds. A lot of folk asked how they looked so ‘3d’ when they are just print outs.

Fortunately, my good friend John has come to the rescue. He’s made a very detailed ‘how to’ video on the engine sheds. He’s a genius when it comes to doing stuff like this.



You can see his tutorial here.

It’s very satisfying to see all the print out scenery appear in your layouts. Please do let me know your comments and thoughts on them below.

And if you want to try your hand at the engine shed, the engine shed bundle deal for just $9 is here.

That’s all this time folks. Please do keep ’em coming. And if you want to roll your sleeves up and get started, the Beginer’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

52 Responses to Fred’s tips and John’s engine shed

  1. Roy Forbes says:

    A very interesting story from Fred. I too am now 70 although I do not feel it at all.
    Also and probably more interesting was the video of how to use printed out scenery and buildings.

    I think the settings on my printer must be totally wrong as each time I have tried to print out some of these marvellous looking buildings and brick papers, I find that they are completely the wrong colours. Mostly they are printing out blue – ish, which when you are trying to print out red bricks can be very annoying. So my answer generally is to buy the brick paper. That though is becoming difficult as not many companies seem to be making it any more but more are making card sheets.

    So, Al and all the readers from all over the World, it’s really great to have a site like this where I, for one, can gain added inspiration as well as the various hints and tips. Thanks everyone, especially you Al for initiating this and bringing us all together.

    Best regards


  2. Mark Kuzma says:

    Just watching, John’s video and I have to say I find him impossible to tune out on. He comes across as the “Steve Irwin” of model trains. Love his enthusiasm

  3. Bob Cassidy says:

    With regards to Fred’s train ride with 30 cars. The Auto Train that runs once a day in both directions from Lorton VA to Sanford FL usually has from 38 to 44 cars with 2 GE P42 locomotives. I want to try it with 20 cars. We shall see. lol
    Used to be from Boston. Now live in Maine

  4. Shlack says:

    On pulling “real coaches” on “real trains”. Several years ago there was a
    rail fan excursion from Spencer (Salisbury) North Carolina (NC State Transportation Museum) to Asheville NC and back. It involved an articulated
    steamer (retired Norfolk and Western) pulling 110 or 111 passenger coaches
    up some pretty steep grades. There was a diesel “helper” waiting on a siding
    at the steepest grade “just in case it was needed”. When we got to that spot
    passengers could “feel” the wheels slipping a bit, but that grand old steamer
    made the grade without diesel assistance.

  5. Mark Piznik says:

    I just spent $30 for a plastic model hotel for my layout. I think I will seriously consider purchasing the much cheaper printouts and attempt to do the magical transformations that John has shown in his wonderful video. Thanks very much for sharing!! NJ Mark

  6. Ed says:

    A Brilliant how to John. You have not only mastered the art of making printout buildings look great but your presentation skills are excellent too. I learnt a great deal from it. Thanks! Ed

  7. Paul B. says:

    John does a beautiful job showing how to add relief to a flat model. I love his humor.

  8. Steve Hudacko says:

    Nice to read ideas from a professional model builder. The tip on using scale people was sharp never would have though of that. John’s demo was good. I thought I was the only one with a messy work area. Every tool I use is on my table also. The new engine house looks good. I built the last one and love it. I work in O27 and it was a challenge to up size it. I doubled it on the printer but had to do the walls on two sheets and put them together. It worked well but doubling HO to make O27 was just a little to big. Still for the money and if you take your time the buildings look great. Keep them coming Al.
    Steve from Toms River

  9. Rod Mackay says:

    Ah, yes Elbert, the things we do in a crisis. I remember travelling up to Scotland one day when there was a broken rail on the West Coast Main Line somewhere near Warrington. The route’s electrified at 25Kv and the break had interrupted a current return bond so the power was off for the repairs. My train was a class 86 and seven from Birmingham, and we were coupled at Crewe to a class 87 with ten on, then they slapped a class 47 diesel appropriately named “Vulcan” on the front and she hauled us “bang road” as they say (single-line working in the wrong direction) as far as Wigan Northwestern, one diesel dragging 17 and two electrics dead-in-train. Couldn’t make it up!

  10. Scott says:

    Wow, thanks great info, got my wheels turning !

  11. Barry Read says:

    Fred you are so right about scale and space. I look at some model railways and think that you would never get, ‘that’, (what ever it is) that close to the track. I also find lorries and buses and cars to be far to wrong for the road space they are supposed to have occupied. The people idea is a great one and I will use a Mr & Mrs Smith all over my layout as a good yard stick. My little tip is to take a photograph from road or track side. This will show up what you cant see from your normal lofty perch 2 ft above the track (150 scale feet in OO). Barry, 69 1/2. Devon. UK

  12. Gene says:

    John’s presentation of the cut out engine shed was spot on. A great how to for those of us that have not as much imagination. I model in N scale so working with the cutouts is a little more tedious. I recently purchased the #1 and #2 engine sheds. I found framing the inside of the shed with balsa wood gave it strength and looks pretty cool. Also I plan to use soft lighting inside my model shed so to step things up a little I cut the windows out, used the clear film from envelopes as glass, and found that gutter covers you can get at Lowes or home depot use a light plastic screen material that matches the windows lites almost perfectly, ( in N scale ) Haven’t completed one yet but will share when I get one photogenicly able to post.

  13. ARNIE STEINER says:

    Thanks to Fred for his comments on the importance of and attention to elements of appropriate scale for greater realism. This is something I’ve always taken into consideration in my photo and video publications. Model railroading should be fun; so absolute scale relations are not and should not be adhered to with rigidity for the modeler whose primary aim is to just have a layout that he/she enjoys. But if you want to be more obsessional in replicating real world conditions, then scale/size, perspective, color and textures, weathering…are all important.

  14. ARNIE STEINER says:

    Hi Al, and thanks to you for enlisting John to do the HOW TO video on assembly of the printed structures. I really enjoyed John’s presentation: Excellent step-by-step that all level of modelers can follow and appreciate. Moreover, his energy and enthusiasm seem boundless and for me were most entertaining; a great motivator for the viewer. Thanks John! — Arnie

  15. Lee Hirsch says:

    In regards to the color not coming out correctly, It sounds like your ‘color’ cartridge is almost empty of one or more of it’s colors, so you are just getting the blue. Try replacing it with a new one. Also, in your printing options, set to ‘photo’ quality or ‘best’, so you get more color saturation. Using card-stock [heavy] paper helps with construction rigidity, also see if you can find textured card-stock [linen look or rough] at your office supply store, helps with the illusions of brick and wood. Lee

  16. john andrew says:

    if you want long trains go from Moscow to China the best railway trip in the world john.a

  17. gator says:

    just started working on my layout again, love all the layouts and tips. Keep them comming. Thanks Al “Gator”

  18. Russ says:

    Fred is spot on about scale and realism – in todays railroad modeling. However over the years manufacturers didn’t produce scale – such as the Lionel crossing gates that were/are much taller than the trains. Also, many standard and O gauge modelers enjoy using Department 56 buildings rather than creating their own buildings, people, etc. Although far from scale some very beautiful layouts have been created without concern to all things being scale. To some that may not seem model railroading but you will find many that would disagree. This is a hobby that allows hobbyists to enjoy creativity, use of many skill sets, and the mere enjoyment of operating a miniature railroad. So scale may not always play a key role in the enjoyment.

  19. Andrew Aves says:

    Very helpful video, Thanks.

  20. john kondrach says:

    i am stll new to trains i have a ho scale set layout the size of it is 12 ft long 5ft wide center tack to center track and i have it in a form of a P SHAPE with a holding area my question is what did i do wrong? i have a model 9500 tech 3 power comand controler i thought i hooked it up correctly but wheni fliped on the power everthing went in reverse and derailed ? on the back it shows fixed dc & varible dc where are u suppose to hook up the track to ? please help
    thank u

  21. Gene says:

    John’s videos are great! After seeing his videos I attempted and have built several of the engine sheds, some rural homes, and am attempting to build a factory. My railroad is a small n scale so modeling the buildings in n scale is very tedious. Does John have any videos of working with n scale? Also anyone who has photos of Al’s factory for posting would be very much appreciated. G Virginia Beach VA

  22. Bruce OScale says:

    A little thought for those using the Big Kahuna Bundle HO buildings.
    It is very easy to scale the HO buildings down to smaller scale by reducing the print out by the scale ratio.
    HO is 1:87 and O is 1:48. Therefore, do not double the buildings to print O scale buildings. Rather, enlarge by 1.65 to 1.80, not double.
    Double size is too large as Steve from Toms River has discovered.
    Still, one may find that some doors, windows, etc. may look a little out of scale. Those can be enlarged or reduced depending on need and best and whether they are add on architecture or not. Hope this helps.
    Fred is right on with his scale perception comments.
    Happy Woo Wooing

  23. Dave Snider says:

    Unless I’m mistaken, these printable templates are done in HO scale.
    I’m returning to my railroad modeling that I started some 25 or so years ago. I prefer ‘N’ scale: takes less space and I already have some of the old trackage.

    How do I go about reducing these ‘HO’ templates to accurately reflect ‘N’ scale?
    Better yet, do these buildings come printed in ‘N’ scale?

    San Jose CA

  24. Ken Tiedeman says:

    I love John’s tutorials, however he doesn’t explain the process for doing the relief for the inside of the shed as he did the outside. I understand printing doubles, but getting the relief needs explaining. I don’t see setting the windows back from the outside AND the inside as well.
    Orlando FL

  25. Frank Costello says:

    Al I will be on the Auto train Oct 14
    Have done it 4 times to Flirida from Virginia.
    Always come away with a few good pictures I can use as guides for scenery for my layout upgrades.
    Layout is in semi final stage with electrical, some background and reality checking to tweak.
    I don’t think I will let in end. To much fun . Thanks for all your help and the help from the worldly modelers that I read every day
    All the best

  26. John Latta says:

    I’d like to see John work his magic on a couple of N scale buildings. The small size seems to makes them much harder to work with, at least for me.

  27. Jim McEwen says:

    On the problem with the teck 3 9500 you use the varible and reverse the wires
    to the varible . that will change the polarity and trains will run correctly . I have a 9500 and have had it 14 years . I use it now for lights and turn outs . JIM

  28. steve joyce says:

    I understand Freds mania for scale. I have always been that way too. I have been a user of “little people” in most of my kit building…both plastic kits and model railroading scenery.

    I loved Johns video. It was extremely informative and his personality was marvelous. Hope some European structures are in the future i cant wait to copy what John did

  29. Laurent says:

    The problem with the printing getting the wrong color is probably a mismatch in the color profile. I don’t know if the printed models come with their color profiles (they should!) so, once you have the color profile of the document you want to print, you need to make sure you have one for your printer. That way, the printer knows what the values for the colors are for the document and can match them knowing which values to put out to the printer. This insures that the document you print will exactly match the original. Of course, if you want to see it correctly on your screen, you should have set the color profile of your screen. Each display will have his own color characteristics so you need to get the color profile for it (or you can use a tool to calibrate it).

    Hope I’m not getting too technical here. I’ve done a lot of photography so color matching is very important.

  30. Tony says:

    Great information from Fred! I have always tried to think about the relativeness of size and color but I never put it in the term of ‘scale’. I will from now on. One thought about the scale of people on our layouts. Most of us don’t have the ability to build our own people, and so we buy commercial products. One thing I have always paid attention to is the size of people. If you look at a group of figures from a particular manufacturer, you will usually find that all adults are basically the same height- not very prototypical! What you will also find is that each manufacturer has a slightly different size. I try to buy from a variety of manufacturers (and there are now many) and mix them up in a scene. If you also mix in some children, you will get a more realistic visual of relative sizes. There is a lot to consider- and color is another thing. Each manufacturer is different in their paint, and some don’t mix well together. I always dull coat mine, and that helps a little. But it all goes back to Fred’s notes- have an eye to the scale of everything on our layout, and make sure it all looks right.

  31. Bob Umbaugh says:

    can anyone tell me where to get the light blue furnace filter magerial to make trees in HO. The PIG Wire most hardware stores sell does not work – too rough. Or are there better ideas for trees? Bob – Elizabethtown – Dinkey Creek Lunber Co.

  32. Carl Halgren says:

    HO scale people: I have a bunch of so-called “HO” figures where the men are all well over 6 feet tall. I believe some companies manufacture OO scale figures, and package them as HO figures. Generally they look fine in the open. However, if they are near a door, they are taller than the doorway. That really looks bad, even to the totally untrained eye. As stated previously, buy from various manufacturers. If you find out-of-scale figures from one company, avoid that company’s people.

    Still in Training,
    Carl from Kansas

  33. Roger Himes says:

    Great views today on two subjects! BUT…didn’t your opening teaser line say something about the proper speed to run your trains!? I would be interested in everyone’s point of view regarding scale speed! IT seems that most videos show the trains running too fast for scale!


  34. gary krebs says:

    Hi Al gary Krebs here, got your email back and your best, thanks, say I am interested in the engine shed, Is this all ready printed for 5bucks, seeings am looking for a engine house and there going for around 30bucks here plus on plastic models, i’d like to try and do a paper building..Ive looked to see no where’s how to order, nor a price for US to English pounds or a place to order from.. Course I have the same troubles here at the house too, can be right in front of me, and I still can’t see it..hahaha…any help would be great!!!

  35. Bob Rolfe says:

    I will go with Roger Himes as I missed the train speed also .

  36. Bob Rolfe says:

    I would also like to know what happened to the proper speed to run your trains?
    I must have missed it.

  37. Peter Maylott says:

    Long Passenger Trains – Come to Australia (after the corona virus scare) and board either the Indian Pacific (Sydney-Perth) or the Ghan (Adelaide to Darwin) and both trains are usually in excess of 30 passenger cars and if you arrive just before Christmas you might see two Indian Pacific’s leave Sydney and join up at Parkes for a total length of around forty coaches. Our “Blus Mountains” has really steep grades and the engine really has to work with a ruling grade of 1 in 33 against it. However these trains are short when compared to our ore trains near Port Hedland where the usual train length is excess of six miles, you have time to smoke a cigarette whilst waiting at the railroad crossing for the train to pass.

  38. charlie Gruca says:

    I have a question , how can I replace a section of track without tearing up a long section. thanks

  39. Guy Clericy says:

    Hi, Al.
    My name’s Guy from Stone Mountain, Ga. I am starting a layout but I need ideas , at least 3 if possible. I can not come out with something I like.
    My layout is shaped like a U with two bridges on a table who’s 5×3 and two more tables 5×2.5

    Thank you for your help


  40. Howard Z says:

    Inherited a bunch of HO track and rolling stock from my father in law – they haven’t been used is over a quarter of a century. The locos were basically shot, although I got one or two to work, and purchased a couple of cheapo locos on eBay to test. I built a freelance layout on a piece of 4×8 ft homosote (need to build some adequate benchwork). Basically, I did this to get my grandson excited about the trains… Now all he wants to do when he comes over is ‘see the trains.’ He’s 5, and I allow him to (carefully) operate the controls. Right now, I know I have made a ton of mistakes, and I don’t yet have totally smooth operating conditions, but I got hooked in constructing some of the scenery from print outs.

    I’ve seen a couple of comments from others asking about the possibility of putting together several print out kits to build your own bundle… I think that would be great. Specifically, I liked John’s tip about putting some houses or office buildings on top of one of the embankments to create an interesting two-layer diorama. Perhaps some of the low relief items could work here too. I could use this entire construction as a backdrop along the edge of my layout. (Secondly, I know I put my tracks too close to the edge right now – still learning! – and this would keep trains from falling off the layout). What do you think?


  41. Dennis Koppo says:

    Really great post! Sounds like Fred could have a calling as a designer of print structures. would have liked a little more about speed of trains as relates to scale. So many people seem to want to run them so fast.

  42. Great tips from Boston Fred – I am new to the model train world ( was involved with miniature doll houses, and subconsciously put people in each setting) as it was my husband’s hobby. I’m trying to set up an expanded version of his layout, and would be very interested in hearing about anyone who has a set up based more on landscape than on train yards. More scenery and less track. Also, as my setup is under construction, does anyone have any tips on how to keep the dust levels down or to clean scenery after it is on the layout and gets dusty??
    I really enjoy seeing and hearing tips from others!

  43. Colin edinburgh says:

    Fred. Thanks for your I sure into scale and it’s importance. Many a good model is let down by the in attention to scale. Many of my previous posts have Ben complimenting layouts but having to point out something on the layout that just screams I’m not in scale. As you say fences are a big one but tunnel stone work also appears to be a problem. Will be interesting to see your layout as you progress. I’m sure everyone will look forward to seeing it.

  44. Thomas Meleck says:

    Great postings from Fred and Elbert.Dave and John are always a treat.But unless I’m missing something wasn’t there supposed to be a discussion regarding how to reproduce scale speeds for our scale trains?–Tom

  45. Kelvin the Celt says:

    For long trains in the UK check out the overnight sleeper from Euston, it is 22-25 carriages long double headed. Hell of a walk with luggage if you are in the front car. The train splits into two at about 5 am on Rannach Moor with parts for Edinburgh and Glasgow.

  46. Can you give us Fred’s thoughts on the scale speed of trains?

  47. Tim Smolinski says:

    Ho scale trains gaining 1.011 feet per second are going a scale 6o miles per hour. Using that as a standard…one easily scale mph for any railroading situation!

  48. James Irvine says:

    I have followed your site for a while but never took the courage to write. The following is my attempt to join in. hoping this is correct and helpful.
    Prototype Speed N, HO, O.
    5 mph – 65 sec, 36 sec, 19 sec.
    15 mph – 22 sec, 12 sec, 6 1/2 sec.
    25 mph – 13 sec, 7 sec, 3 1/2 sec.
    60 mph – 5 1/2 sec, 3 sec, 1 1/2 sec.
    90 mph – 3 1/2 sec, 2 sec, 1 sec.
    If you double the distance, then double the time. This will give you a more accurate speed. 1 1/2 seconds goes by fast.
    regards to all jim.

  49. David Womack says:

    Hi Al. That was an impressive video using your printouts. I have a question regarding enlarging the printout. Can these be enlarged to G-scale? 1:22.5 or LGB size? When these are enlarged for G-scale do they lose any clarity?
    I like the idea and it opens up a lot of different possibilities for the garden railway enthusiast.
    Of course I realize one should choose materials that can stand the weather.
    Thanks for any info. and keep up the good work. I t’s always interesting and helpful to see and hear what others have created.
    David W.

  50. Ted Eggleston says:

    So appreciate all the videos. I’m almost 80 and while I had a N scale layout 4 years ago, it was destroyed when I moved. Now, I’m planning on redoing a setup. But I would really love to have a mini video camera that I could mount on a rolling stock. I would have to make my tunnels larger. Any suggestions on what camera I should buy. Thank you so much

  51. Jeff Bittner says:

    One night each year. A train of 22-25 cars pulled by 5-6 Fs & Geeps by the Soo Line through a Wisconsin town that the Soo Line normally ran 1 mixed train each way per day, this was in the 1960s. This was in Shawano, WI. The train came through between midnight and 2am. The train was carrying children going to camps in Northern Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan.
    My dad and I would watch from the Soo Line tower with Felix, the operator. Interestingly the train never stopped in Shawano as the campers for Shawano would come via extra cars on the Chicago NorthWestern Flambeau 400 or Northwoods Fisherman.

  52. Pastor Arnett says:

    I’m new to this posting stuff, but I have a question about the use of fiber pins on AF switches. I want to know if it is absolutely necessary to use the fiber pins, even if I’m not running two trains on the same track? Also, if/when I decide to run two trains on the same track, what’s the technique of energizing train #2 after train #1 clears the switch/turnout?

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