Railroad model tips

There are 54 pages of tips like these – and it’s growing every week.

Get ’em all –  and the track plans – right now on the right. Free! (If you are tight on space, there’s loads in there for you.)

“We use a flower called Sedum. when small– looks like little trees. Spray with glue and dip in the ” green stuff” and then carfefully repeat the process. Pine trees for the upper region– we check out the craft stores — like after Christmas and buy ” sprigs of fake pine and little trees from the dispaly villages.” – Robert

“For the higher mountains we start with a base of pink styrofoams used for insulation. Its cheap and can be carved with an xacto knife. A 4X8 sheet is about $3 pounds UK. If you make a mistake you can fill in with plaster. WE hinge our tunnels so we can get back to a train wreck.” – Roy

“Another idea that was given to me by a train shop owner was how to make chain-link fence. You take screen wire and cut it at a 45 degree angle. Put some piano wire (pins) in the ground and you have fence post….walaaa.” – David A.

“I was able to use (non-clump), kitty litter for ballast on my HO layout. I know the clumping product does not work….. I tried it once.” – Anon

railroad bridge how to

railroad how to plans

“I have always had good luck using drywall compound and fiber pink insulation or fiber paper insulation blow mixed together to form mountains and ridges. I shred the fiberglass pink insulation mix it in joint compound and clump on a screen or form, let dry, paint and age. Pour some plaster & paris rocks from molds and work in the arrangement for some sharper rock like surfaces to give good depth between the two textures. Also the great foam insulation in a can can be used to get both smooth like peaks or volcano lava look to a table design or when dry rough ti up and take some chunks out to give a less smooth like appearance” – Michael

“ACCESS INSIDE TUNNELS – Take an old picture frame. Discard glass, just keep frame and backing. Integrate into the scenery above the tunnel FACE DOWN. The backing sheet can be taken off and instant access is achieved. OK there is an oblong break along the backing sheet edge but this can be masked by bushes or a fence on the near sides. Far sides can be hidden behind a ridge.” – Alan

“My only scenery suggestion is 1/8″ thick cork, which is only brown in colour. It comes in rolls 18” x 1 or more yards at most smallbox hardware stores. When there is a canyon wall (long vertical jags of rock) or rolling grasses, cork shapes it best. Smooth boulders are much easier than jagged ones. Cork will take any shape that you can imagine, regardless of the distance to be covered.

The magic twist to changing a flat sheet of cork into any terrain is water. A cookie pan or appropriately sized (flatten in just enough [part of the experiments] water for best absorption. A stee,l not teflon, PAN works best for cutting, or just scoring, the sheet. Experimentation with the local cork will aid in shaping different effects. However after mastering the limitations of your 1/8″ cork sheet, cutting the sheet in the drained excess water will maintain the work area’s dryness. NOTE: Soaked sheets fold (rolling-type folds) or bend (crisp accordian-shaped bends) over full-lengths or short-lined sections. This is how scoring atop or beneath the sheet helps. Plan the terrain for best results, according to previous results.

All in all, no ground display is beyond this material. The trick to hills, as eventually with other landscape, is the DRYING. You determine the paint and painting time. While the sheet is wet, place it how, not where, you want it. Secure the shape’s position and let it dry (by air or by lamp’s heat or by both.)Additional scores or cuts can achieve tighter corners/better curves.

As for rocks, the cutting of slits or removal of ungiving folds/shaping helps attain the nearest smoothness. Scoring aids sharp foldings, as it does on construction paper, for the production of jagged boulders. The latter is excellent for changing rolling landscapes (before green grass) into rougher terrain; blending boulder bottoms with supporting cork base can produce realistic structures.

Why use cork when paper-mache is familiar and reliable? LIGHTNESS. Depending on how you fashion a bottom to this HOLLOW STRUCTURE, affects its portability. Hollowed WITH CRIMPED INWARD EDGES can suffice for careful transport. Such crimping (inward edge wherever openess results at the back or bottom) strengthens all shapes, but beware — the bigger gaps influence flimsiness. Stiff steel wire glued inside crimped edges guaranty longevity of the shape. Where buildings are to stand atop any part of this cork, reinforcements inside the shape are required. They can be stand-alone topless cones or part of the wire skeleton mentioned above.

The best part of this scenicking method is discovered at changing the scene time. First, depending on the cork and shape, most scenery is reusable. Second, the teardown is easier and less messy. Third, the cost for a whole cliff is far less than paper-mache.

I hope that this helps in developing your scenicking techniques. I’m lazy, so I had to think this method into existence; it is not related to something read elsewhere.” – Mike

“Only thing I suggest is would be modelers should read books on the hobby first, not just head in to it, and my main tips are:

1 Run a bus line under your layout with connections every 3ft.

2. Always make sure your track is laid level with good firm connections.

3 Never ballast till you are sure every loco and rolling stock runs 100% over your layout without de-railing.

4 Join a railway forum or club where advice is always available.

I have lernt the hard way, Al, causing me to re-lay my layout many times, to get it right., and of course you are never 100% happy so it is a continuing saga.


“I was thinking 6inch diameter plastic pipe cut to length and the bottom cut accross for tunnels, appropriate size jewelry chain for the railcars it is cheap at Michaels craft store. I have some branches off of trees here that are the right size for logs on the rail cars. A small 7.2 volt motor out of a vacuum cleaner power head to make a working single drum winch.” – Leigh

“I have been collecting sawdust, bits of wood, large pieces of polystyrene, beach gravel; hard paper mache packing and bits of dried up ‘plastic wood’ that was in a tin and which I think will form ‘boulders’ in a landscape. I used to enjoy making scenery so am looking forward to ‘retirement’ to get going. The one major problem … where in the house can I house it!” – Peter BB

“A good way for HO scale, with a lot less effort, is to move small scenery away from the tracks and proceed to duct-tape your camera to a 50′ flatcar that’s pushed in front of the loco. Works well for me.” – Connor

“Follow your wife, mother, sister, girlfriend, etc. to every hobby store, fabric store and craft store they go to for a month. You will find a wealth of tools, materials, techniques and ideas that you would not know existed.” – Mike

“Since I’m modeling mid 1950’s I use many of those plastics used to mount items to cardboard, such as nail clippers, small paint bottles, cars, trucks, and farm equipment in place. I paint them flat OD green and cut them to fit as flat car loads. It may not be the best idea, but as I’m going to buy the product, I see what I can make out of the packaging. I get two for one this way. I could use flat black as well, but for my time period canvas was the most popular. Those modeling modern eras could use many other colors because of the many colored tarps.” – John

“I use the grit when they tarmac the roads, I put the grit in a sock then bash it with a hammer ,then spray it black for my coal, then i put the polystyrene in my trucks then i put pva on top then sprinkle the grit on top ,but don’t put to much in it will be to every.,or you can put blue tack in them ,but paint it black first, when you make trees when you put the foliage on i spray them with watered down pva let the dry then spray them with airlaker.” – Anon

“Round toothpicks $1.50 for 500 in a plastic container, chop the point and turned top off and you have round logs/fenceposts for a wagon load Polystyrene cut to shape and painted with granules glued to it for wagons loads – could be coal, gravel, sand, rock etc Matchsticks drilled with 1mm holes to allow thin copper (armature wire) to be threaded for fences Fibreglass/plastic/wire flyscreen cut diagonally then supa glued to fenceposts (straightened paper clips 37mm long) set in 1mm holes 5mm deep gives 8ft fencing Instead of modroc/plaster gauze, I use household painters masking tape crisscrossed then thinly coated with polyfilla plaster for landscapes. Look out for polystyrene sheeting from packaging of appliances for building up landscapes. Use a box cutter knife (v sharp!) to shapes. Less mess than with bread knife.” – Greg

“A very easy way to make “asphalt roadways” is to use the self-stick type of ‘non-skid’ strips used for stairs, diving boards etc. (has the roughness of about 80 grit sand paper and comes in black). One such piece was sized at 14 inches long, 8 inches wide. You can cut it with scissors or a razor blade. Using whatever color paint you wish, draw a dotted line (or double yellow etc.) down the center. Have done bike paths on the side also with white paint. Then peel and stick your new roadway wherever it’s called for.” – Peter

“For tubes and things that are hanging around in railway yards and factory yards visible from the railways use tube spaghetti,you can paint it any colour you wish,rusting tubes and pipes,looks fantastic !

Micropore plaster is fantastic stuff,if you want to fix something quickly or even build things then apply the plaster first for example to two card joints of a building,touch the plaster with cyno adhesive,and zap ! welds like rock so keep your fingers away.

Wooden bobbins as used for cotton reels make super electrical wire holders,paint them up and wrap suitable wire around them,you can even add discs of card on the ends to simulate the part where the cable is fed.

Never throw that material you get from oranges as they are held together in packs,the mesh can be put to good use for hoding the loads onto wagons etc,or vehicles around the layout,it is mesh made from nylon normally.

Tie wraps have many uses in holding things securely to the layout board,you can drill holes into the board and thread them through.

I never pass any barbecue sticks by,they come in all sorts of diameters and sizes,also lollipop sticks as well can be fashioned into all sorts of things on your railroad,you can easily make your own telegraph posts from the sticks,to make a batch make up a simple jig that determines the length of the cross pieces,with a round Swiss file cut s semicircle into the places where the cross pieces go and glue them into place,the wires can be fashioned from button thread,just make sure that you drill holes for the posts and glue into place before attempting those wires.

Kneadable rubbers obtainable from art shops make great track cleaners,you can pull off a small piece and dispose of it once the crud has been lifted from your precious rail track.

Why buy weathering powders ? go to the sae art shop and purchase some pastel sticks,burnt umber,Yellow ocre,a good green will do,on a piece of glass crumble the pastels with an old rolling pin,then decanter them into jam jars,label up and you will have enough weathering powder to last you for some time,mix the colours and apply with a cheap art stiff brush,you can fix the colours with a flash of artists fixitive,a trial piece first to check compatibility is a wise move.

Those track pins have more uses than fixing track,you can assemble balsawod buildings with them dry,then once happy flash some cyno down the joints,after a quick rub down spray the balsawood with car/auto primer,do this outside as it is smelly,once dry rub down and paint the buildings with acrylic paints.

To make an effective locomotive/rolling stock oiler take a cork and push a small dressmakingneedle into the cork so that the eye part shows,dip the oiler into thin oil and the eye retains just enough lubricant to do the job.

Another quick oiler is made from the humble cocktail stick,just make a small slit in one end,this retains enough oil to do the job,once used just dispose of them.

The metal mesh that comes in those car repair body kits makes a suitable fencing material once cut into strips with any old pair of scissors.

Why not make yourself a track cleaner utilising any old railway wagon ? add a block of balsawood stuck with epoxy resin underneath the wagon and glue a piece of felt onto the block,make it so that by applying slight hand pressure on top of the wagon the felt just touches the dirty track,apply a dab of tree alcohol to the felt and with your hand run the wagon over the rails and see the dirt lift,allow the alcohol to evaporate before useing,never use inflammable materials near a flame and open doors to allow the fumes to go away.

Signal arms are expensive,have you considered making your own from Plastruct ? design the signals on paper first and assemble with polystyrene contact cement,signal arms can be plastic sheet or even those flat lolly sticks mentoned above.

Fine sawdust mixed into any old left over household paint makes good crud for scenery work,you can also mix the sawdust with PVA adhesive ( Elmers I think you call it in the USA ?) either paint later or add acrylic colour to the mix.

Florists wire twisted to make tree trunks then worked at right angles for the various branches,dip the trees into PVA adhesive and hang up until dry,paint them then apply spray adhesive and dip the branches into flock for the leaves,they look superb.

Happy ingenious and money saving modelling to you all !”


(A big thank you to you Barry – Al)

“I am a diabetic, so medical supplies are abundant in my house. Especially insulin needles, finger sticks and such. I have taken the orange protective cap from over the needle and cut it down a bit to make traffic control cones which I use around my road construction sites. I went to my son’s sign making shop and asked him for a piece of scrap reflective white vinyl which I cut into strips to make the white stripes around the top of the cone. The other end of the needle has a cap which protects the plunger. Orange paint makes these look like the traffic barrels used around construction sites also. Decorate it with a strip of white reflective vinyl and you will have a perfect traffic control devise. Also, a little black or silver paint, makes these look like trash cans that are set out on trash day.

My glucose test meter uses test strips that are dispensed from a drum. I peeled the label off of the drums and painted them silver. They make excellent rolls of steel for my steel plant. Naturally, a litte weathering makes them look more realistic. Place them outside the steel mill as inventory waiting to be shipped by rail or put them in the rail car as a load.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I was looking at the bottles the insulin comes in. If I paint them white and letter them, I just might have made a propane tank for that service station at which you buy propane for your BBQ grill. ( I think I’ll get my son to make the decals for the tanks ) I’ll let you know how this works out.

Green sponges found in the kitchen, make great hedges around some of my houses. I purchased the sponges and sliced them into strips. I lined a few of the yards in my layout with these hedges and they look pretty good. Vary the width of the strips for different size hedges.

Its funny, but when you’re into model railroading, you look at trash from a 1/87 point of view.

Happy trash picking!” – Richard

“One of the things in my Saw Mill I use on the floor is Saw Dust and dried tree branches, Dressed and trimmed to look like logs. Also for trees I use Old Christmas tree branches Hope you can use these.” – Peter

“I use natural products for scenery, usually i just find it in the field by my house. Its a cheaper more realistic alternative to most products. On top of that I use a lot of ground foam to thinken up scenery. (dry weeds work great for trees)” – Andrew

“One tip I use ho scale telephone poles to make the hook up for the switch track for the fiber pin. They fit fine when you cut the poles about inch or more to fit the track neutral side.” – Garry

“Am totally new to the construction of layouts.Have made a tunnel system-nearly 3ft in length using washing up liquid containers.Cut to size-( n gauge) then covered with plaster bandage and landscaped,then finished with conventional tunnel pieces. Any other innovations-I’ll let you know.” – Martin

“The best tip is. To have grade A track work & wiring for faulless operation.” – William

“Builders skips are full of items you can use. But the best is the tins of expanding foam, spray it on, let it dry, cut to shape.” – Adrian

“Make endless tracks using matchsticks as ‘wooden sleepers’ and the track can be thick copper wire with the right dia!” – Lionel

“In reference to hills and cliffs, I have found on many fine layouts, the cliffs to be clearly ‘Trowelled’ and not realistic. Here in New Zealand, we have thousands of river (water) or Weather etched terrain to model from. River cuttings can bed done by layering polystyrene (polyfoam) foam held in place with wire (DO NOT glue this will leave glue lines and woose the effect) and spray with Solvent Based spray paint. this will effectively weld the layers and give that weathered look. For Rock Cliffs, I do the same thing tufting ledges as they would appear in real situations.” – Wayne

“To make hills, fields and rock faces cheaply and quickly, I have always used strong brown wrapping paper (got 2 sq metres from our local furniture store) – cut roughly to a bit bigger than the area to be covered – crumple the paper up as tight as you can – smooth it out again (roughly for rock faces – smoother for hills) – using clear Bostic stick one edge down using 1/4″ overlap – then trim the other edge to 1/4″ overlap and stick it down in the same way – rubbing smooth – if it’s quite a big piece then some crumpled newspaper underneath will help to support it. Once dry (10 mins) you can paint it with any suitable paint (I used Homebase satin green, brown or grey) and sprinkle with coloured sawdusts while still wet (use a sieve) and hey presto, 24 hours later it has all set solid. Vertical rock are painted grey or brown, and when sprinkled with green grass it sticks to the horizontal surfaces – quick and easy. I can complete a whole section in a couple of hours..! Note: try not to get Bostic on your fingers – excessive amounts can dry the skin…” – Duncan

Like the use of the Sedum flower for trees, I use the flowers off the shrub ‘Spirea’, there are a few varieties of this popular shrub and all produce very usefull flowers that make great looking trees.

I spray them first with florist paint oasis ‘brown’ to give its trunk colour and to seal the flower. I first tried to spray with a very strong glue that upholsterers use but found that it went all over the trunk and branches and didnt really look good with the final green scatter all over the wood. Now I just use PVA glue watered down as the spray. I give them a 2nd coat of glue & scatter to get different shades of leaves.

The finished product is better in apearance from the usual trees on offer for sale. Down point is they get brittle and do not transport too well. However the small broken branches do make goos shrubs which are needed in abundance on a good landscape scene or garden. The use of the pink insulation foam is by far the best material for hills & cliffs, but I havent found any for £3 a sheet. I found some in B&Q stores about 4’x2’x3″thick but it was much more expensive than £3. I did however get plenty offcuts from a local housing scheme who were cladding the houses with it. I find with water based emulsion paint it looks great. I have plenty pictures of this.” – Mattin

“My best tip is to keep an open mind in regard to model building supplies. you never know what you’ll find that you can use for a model. like using the little individual coffee creamer cups painted a silver color to use as trash cans in O and larger scales.” – Tom

“Believe this or not. If one was to take a bag of plain old kitty litter, strain it through a piece of screening, like you would find in an outside door, or, window, you will come up with an alternative to store bought ballast, at a much cheaper rate. This works just as well as store bought ballast, and reacts the same to a mixture of water and Elmers glue to hold it in place. It does work, believe me.” – Anon!

“I have a very inexpensive landscaping tip. I use florists Oasis, its the stuff that they stick the flowers into when the florist makes a display . You can shape it with your fingers ,its easy to cut and its great for small mounds of earth or even large embankments. It can be glued with PVA or Evostick and I normally smother mine with diluted PVA and then throw on the scatter material .It looks good when used as an embankment and because its so light telegraph poles and trees can easily be pushed into it. Ive also used it as the bulk of a mineral wagon load. Just cut it to the right length, mould it with your fingers, stick it in the wagon and then stick your ballast or spoil onto it,easy and cheap. Here in Canada you can buy it from the Dollar store ,the equivelant of the bargain store in England. I pay a Dollar a block but I look for it when it goes on sale I then buy several at a time. I hope this helps some modellers especially the ones on a tight budget like me.” – Keith

“I wanted real water on a mountain that was pre-made from a hoppy shop. It had a place that looked like a water fall. So I took a fish tank air pump and opened it up. Put a hose from the air intake out of it and hooked a fish tank hose to the air output side. Punched a little hole at the top of the mountain tunnel for the output hose and at the bottom of the mountain there was an area that looked like a pond. Put the intake hose up threw it to suck the water into the pump. Plugged it up and I had a water fall to a pond below. Cheap and easy water to have a water fall.” – Glenn

“Another alternative for making ground cluttuer or trees is to harvest wild flower growth or weeds, tie together in a bunch, then spray with regular old hair spray to preserve and “solidify” so they do not fall apart after drying up. The hair spray acts as an adhesive, keeping the weeds bunched together. If you want to make mountains out of moleholes, so to speak, use watered down drywall joint compound, thinned down to resemble the texture of pancake batter, wad up old newpaper, or ,grocery sacks, soak in this compound, then, form over cardboard strips, laced throughout each other to form your mountains, Much cheaper than commercial compounds sold at hobby shops for the same purpose.” – Anon

“My ‘best tip’ for modelers in any scale is never, EVER get married … sorry but i got’s no pics fer that one … no need to reply – just sayin” – nic

(Pondered over publishing that one – but seeing as it made me laugh so much…. – Al)

“I am a newcomer to your e-mail (only a few weeks) and enjoy the tips. Another great source for “the right size” tree stock is to find a Bonsai enthusiast. The trees are constantly being trimmed an shaped; instead of throwing the clippings away we now save them. As with any other flower a gardener would grow, sometimes one of these little guys die (especially after the winter). Since the plants are “miniaturized”, the branching is also smaller. Trees for different gauge railroads just need to be taken from different parts of the branches.” – Bob

“I take locomotives that dont run well, turn them into dummys and the add a relay with a decoder making a DCC uncoupler loco. The relay is conected to the coupler with a piece of black tread and the decoder is reprogramed to the same address as a nother loco, and reprogram rear light to Fn 3. When you push Fn 3 the relay works and you have a uncoupler” – Anon.

“One of my favorite tricks is to take advantage of another hobby. I do a lot of wood working. This means I generate bags and bags of sawdust, from my saws, my sanders, and my drill press. The first, most important tip is that you can color sawdust with food coloring. The food coloring soaks into the wood for a permanent, non-fading color. You can also use old stains. Local hardware stores often put old stains on a bargain table and you can pick them up cheap. Water-based stains seem to work best and can be easily diluted for more even coating. Put the sawdust in a plastic bag, add food coloring or stains diluted with either alcohol or water and shake vigorously.

It can actually pay to sort your sawdust.

Very fine sawdust from a belt sander makes a beautiful lawn or road surface. Slightly more coarse sawdust from larger grit sanders or a saw makes a fine ground cover or simulated gravel, and the curls from a drill press make great bramble along a fence, base of a tree, or forest ground cover.

Spread the sawdust where you want it, and spray down with a dilute solution of white glue to “fix” it in place.

A second trick is another “zero waste” idea. So many devices these days have Styrofoam packaging as end caps, and protective spacers. Take a serious look at those pieces as sources of buildings for your layout. One Styrofoam end cap, painted with water-based colors reminiscent of the 1950’s, made a great art deco museum. The coarse texture of the Styrofoam made an interesting stucco effect after painting. The key is fitting the appropriately scaled doors, windows, and other features to the complex. Creating a convincing roof with air handlers, vents, and skylights completes the effect.” – Ken

“You may have heard this one before, but before you start casting your rock formations, color your plaster before you mix it. I’ve tried two different methods; adding powered water-color mixes to the plaster before mixing; use a color or blend of colors that matches the color of rocks you’re going to model. Or add Black India ink to the water for a gray color. This way, if the plaster gets chipped, you won’t have the very obvious “white” showing through.” – Gary

“I’ve had two heart attacks. Lots of pill bottles around the house. They are hard to paint which is actually an advantage. The streaking when you overlay rust brown and silver looks naturally weathered. I use Pinewood Derby dry transfer fuel signs to add tanks to my Oil Refinery. Old parts sprue make cheap piping.

Vitamin bottles come in terrific shades of green, orange, and blue. Cut into scale two by four foot rectangles, they make great skylights in buildings with a natural curve. I also put them parallel to entry doors in homes for a 50’s look entry.” – Kenneth

“Twigs from the Japanese Maple, Silver Birch and a certain pine shrub whose name I’ve forgotten make excellent dead/winter trees for N, TT, OO, and H0 scales.” – Connor

“Track in Tunnels: 2 insure good electrical contact, solder the rail joiners to the track” – Paul

“Keep a large magnet handy from an old radio or hi fi speaker. The is a great tool for picking up that dropped box of rail nails, nuts, bolts, you get the idea.” – Stu

“A great, inexpensive stain for ties is OUTER Black Walnut shells soaked in water (not the stuff the nuts are in at the grocery store – hat HARD one on the outside). Like coffee, the longer the wood sits in the soup the darker it gets. WARNING – use gloves, tongs or other devices – it stains hands every bit as effectively (an nearly as permanently) as it does the wood! Other types of nut shells also make good stains (Pecans for instance), but the color will be lighter. If you need more ideas look for what back-to-nature people who dye yarn and fabric use (lots of sites on the web); there are lots of colors besides browns. Mushrooms, berries, grasses, etc.” – Bob

” i’d probably say that the key to a good layout is that it all runs smootly and reliably, so make sure that all your stock and track is in good nick a few things i do to help, is; on points, bend the ends of the gaurd rails out, so that the wheels of the train are pulled to the rail, and do not ride up onto the frog. make sure that there is no ballast preventing wheels from rolling smoothly. don’t put points where gradient changes. put weight in your stock (i blutak down spear heavy nuts and bolts). make sure that the track and locomotive (and stock!) wheels are kept clean.” – Robert

“I use roofing felt paper for roads and parking lots, looks like asphalt. ” – Eric

“I am an operator, so my number one tip to enjoying this hobby is “Get the track work right.” I hate cleaning track. All the cleaning in the world will not correct bad track work. Smooth transitions into curves, switches, and grades make all the difference in the world. Poor operating equiptment operates better, operation looks more realistic, the modeler is happier when they spend less time on maintenance and more time operating.” – Michael

“Cat’s Whiskers

Cat’s whiskers make good paint brushes for that extra fine work where the ordinary brush has been reduced to a single bristle is too soft. Take ONE whisker, cut it to about 20mm (3/4”), tape it to a pencil with about 10mm beyond the end. You now have a reasonably stiff brush (that holds paint) and is ideal for the likes of painting people, etc. Depending on the size of the cat is how long the whiskers will be (I have a 9kg Ginger Tom – a good source). Cats generally break them off when washing their face

Yard Hoardings and Signs

Business Cards are used for my yard hoardings and signs that measure about the size of a standard sheet of plywood 2400 x 1200mm (8’ x 4’). Using the ‘Scale-up’ ratio of 1:80 (midway between OO & HO [1:86 & 1:76]) for a reasonably realistic sized sign. For example, part of a business card measuring 35mm x 15mm (1 3/8” x ½”) Scaled-up (x80) gives me a full size sign of 2.8mr x 1.2mr (9’ x 4’). Stick onto a backing board, give it a pair of legs and plant it

Hoods over Coloured Lights

For hoods over the lens’ of Railway and Street Traffic lights, use plastic drinking straws cut off at an angle of about 30 degrees. These are ‘Tailor-made’ to suit the size of the lights, i.e 3mm or 5mm LEDs or Grain ‘o’ Wheat bulbs. Paint them Matt Black and you’re done

Steel and Concrete Pipes

Steel and concrete pipes can be made out of those Plastic Drinking Straws that you didn’t use for the traffic lights, can be painted light grey (gray) for concrete pipes and primer/silver for steel pipes to load on your Flat top Bolster wagons. Cut straws to what ever size you want, they can be either ‘Uniform’ or ‘Random’ lengths. Remember to paint the inside ends of the pipes for effect. Finger knotted Black cotton can be used as ‘Tie-down’ chains”

Wayne (New Zealand)

“I’m new to the site so I don’t know if these have been posted before. I know that sticks for logs have been mentioned. The best one that I found is a butterfly bush. The bark is rough and looks a lot like older fir tree trunks.

Small bamboo branches are good for smaller tree trunks and wood fence posts. It also can be used for rail fences. Moss has undoubtedly been posted for shrubbery. Bags of green moss can be had at craft and garden stores and can be used for taller shrubs like rhododendrons. I’ve found that moss that grows on your roof, at last mine, grows in small tight clumps. It has really short foliage which makes for very realistic shrubs.

The final tip is for roads and parking lots. Use roofing felt (tarpaper). Unlike the premade model road material, it is cheap and can cut it to whatever configuration needed. For curves, the commercial ones just have sharp 90’s and doesn’t look that realistic. For center lines and fog lines, use a paint pen. If your lines aren’t quite perfect, no big deal. You can blame on the road department. Rolls of the paper are available at home improvement stores but it is a large amount. A person could probably grab some scraps at job sites where a roof is being replaced.” – Emil

“Just for fun I used real (red) soil and rocks from Arizona to landscape an N-scale desert layout that I did a few years ago. You should’ve seen the quizzical looks on the airport employees faces as I passed through security with my bags of rocks and soil especially when I told them that they were for a model train layout! Most definitely added realism to my scenery. Cheers!” – Walter

“Well may I tell you how I fixed my tunnel? Ok, When I built my tunnels the little lights that you put inside each house, and inside each bussiness, work really great inside the roof of the tunnels. You might suggest to him that if he takes his telephone poles, Cut the base off of them, stick the pole into a small hole, Glue the pole, Than take some small welding wire from a wire feed welder, Glue the wire to each peg that sticks up on the telephone pole, He can run the wire to , like I said to all buildings, attach the wire to the accessory on his transformer , Run the wire through a sideing switch so to turn the lights on and off.

Also, Here in NORTHWEST ARIZONA , Mohave county, We have a weed that grows here and it gets up about 3 to 7 inches tall, and they look just like the trees grow in AUSTRELIA . I just knew that I was going to mess that word up. SORRY. anyway the weed , When it goes dorment for the winter, it turns red And the top of the weed where the leaves would be , turns out like a canipie.” – April

“My tip refers to people who try to stop modellers changing to DCC. Do NOT listen to the ‘DC forever’ brigade, go to as many Model Shops as needed and try DCC systems and find out for yourself how easy it is to use.” – Geoff

“My tips:

1 iif making a road use the dvla online highway code as it has raoad makings ECt and can use the coloure as the road ( if n gauge it’s the same sizeif copy past it)

2 if using a flat baseboard for simple hight and to add river use then cover with 2 foam boards as if using foam under can take top 1 off and it right hight also styrene is easy to cut to make rivers embankments and lower levels.” – Matthew

“The red and white napkin and utensil wrappers used at TGI Friday’s can be cut down and make excellent safety stripes or no clearance markers. The corrugated hot cup sleeves at 7 – 11 when turned inside out & trimmed make a decent cat walk or yard crossing.” – Paul

“A very easy way to emulate corrugated siding reasonably for metal structures is to get a piece of the desired material made of polystyrene in your scale from a supplier such as Woodland Scenics, Evergreen Scale Models etc. Cut the piece in half or use a second piece of the same material, reverse it so that the groves of the two pieces fit into one another. Place some heavy duty aluminum foil on one piece and use the other as you would a putty knife at a proximately 30 degree angle squeezing and scraping the foil strip into the groves of the plastic. Cut the foil to length and width desired. With just a bit of practice you can make all the corrugated needed for your next project.” – Lowell

“Not sure if this is a new idea – but for what it is worth : the next time you are out for Chinese food – save the chop sticks – they work great for logs.” – Roy

“Dried used tea leaves make an excellent ground cover over a painted surface. They come in a wide variety of shades depending upon brand. They are great combined with twigs etc. as a forest floor. They can also be crushed finer for earth.” – Fred

“I’ve got one – I’ve used this idea many times in building my layouts – When laying track (either flex or ‘snap track’) I’ve strategically placed rerailer track pieces (in my case, HO code 100, Atlas Snap-track rerailers every 6 – 10 feet. First it similar to generic grade crossings w/o gates or lights and can be used anywhere. Second,you can use it in tunnels or near backdrops (whre you might get a hand stck). If I have a minor mid train derailment, there’s no need to stop the train, keep going, the rerailer will fix it in short order.” – Dave C

“Hi Al, Our model club used dry flowers for trees. I think it’s called caspia. Anyway, any hobby store that sellls dry flowers sells them. Buy a bundle and break it up into twigs. Hold a few and wrap with brown floral tape. In two football games I can build an entire forest of trees and people always complement about how great the trees look during a club open house. Fast, easy and cheap.” – Anon

“Create a system of organization and hone, it stick to it , and have it become second nature, This will save you time and time is also money.

If you can, put up a few peg boards and a chalk or grease pen board. Remind yourself of priorities.

Use the peg board to hang tools that you use all the time (label tool placement) you’ll know where they are in an instant.

Shelves for supplies , designate areas for supplies.

Keep a journal , it is very helpful to know what steps you left off on a certain project if you have to stop and order supplies for it.

Organize has to be the best tip I can give anyone.

GLAD makes cheap clear plastic containers that are stackable I find them indespensible for organizing just about anything small.

They come in many sizes. For instance you want to paint 5 freight cars ,(Have your journal handy make notes about things like paint mixtures , brands ect…)

label 5 containers 1-5 with inkjet labels , place a label

As you disasemble each car and place those parts in their own separate containers, use a plastic bag for each cars small parts put it in the container also.

Use a simple system 1-5 it can be reused for the next batch. Some cars may look the same but that does not mean they are exact.

so if you keep parts designated to that car you will have less trouble later. When you finish your car .” – Martin

(Martin, you would be thoroughly unimpressed with the ‘junk yard’ I work in. Al.)

“A great, inexpensive stain for ties is OUTER Black Walnut shells soaked in water (not the stuff the nuts are in at the grocery store – hat HARD one on the outside). Like coffee, the longer the wood sits in the soup the darker it gets. WARNING – use gloves, tongs or other devices – it stains hands every bit as effectively (an nearly as permanently) as it does the wood! Other types of nut shells also make good stains (Pecans for instance), but the color will be lighter. If you need more ideas look for what back-to-nature people who dye yarn and fabric use (lots of sites on the web); there are lots of colors besides browns. Mushrooms, berries, grasses, etc.” – Bob

“1 I would save all saw dust and use that for contruction scenes

2 I have also use a 24volt transformer like the kind use for door bells and and ran all my street lightsoff of with simple copper wire and plug it in to a regular outlet with a timer so it only came on at night time to light the city.

3 I have also save all my packing stuff from boxex and they make great tunels and mountainns with a little newspaper and glue.” – Tom

“On diesel/electric locos i like to replace the plastic fan grill with an etched brass one, however, the roof is curved, how do i curve the etch to match?

i use a mouse and a wooden dowel, place the etch on the mat and roll with the dowel, checking regularly until the profile matches the roof” – Andy



(Why the shouting, Stephen? Al.)

“Dear Al Ive used a hand cranked meat grinder to grind up old couch coushion foam and then die it for background ground folage and I used a lot of pencil shavings for ground cover.” – BB

“Best tip I can offer anyone is to try to use real material,ie sand for beaches and break up real coal for wagon loads.” – David

“For those who like pink insulation foam, but don’t like the cost, try the nearest constuction site and talk to on site supervisor. There are usually lots of scraps and they will probally let you have all you want. Sometimes I had to climb into the roll off dumpsters and other times I just had to go around and pick the stuff up Free Free Free No better price than that!” – Fred

“Here is a tip for ensuring your track flows smoothly. Use a ladies square handbag mirror sitting on the track and angled toward you instead of getting down to eye level, which is very difficult in tight corners or on wide baseboards! You sure can spot the dog legs or misaligned fishplates with this one.” – Steve

“green scoring pads cut in strips for hedges.” – John

“Old fashioned curtain rods, painted flat black, makes perfect HO scale I-beams for bridges and overpass, or extra weight for flatbed cars.” Matt

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Happy modelling.


railroad bridge how to

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