HO scale storage tanks

Mark’s been in touch with his HO scale storage tanks:

“Hello Al,

I’ve been reading your emails for some time now, and I decided it was time I posted something myself.

Well, I was saving these plastic containers for storage of balast and ground cover; but never got around to use them. Suddenly, an idea hit me when I was looking for something else. The idea was to use them for a structure.

So I set out to research a little on different types of storage tanks. I found some interesting photos, and there they were, almost the exact type that my containers could represent!

I got excited, and started putting pieces aside for my project. The storage tanks were white, so I painted my containers and set aside to dry.

Although, I looked at photos of these storage tanks in groups of as few as one, and as many as six, I decided three was the magic number. I also decided one would be shorter to add more variety.

Next, I cut out a piece of cardboard for the base, and arranged the containers in various positions. Something was still missing. I needed a storage shed for tools and what not.

I fashioned a building out of a small cardboard box, and added siding I made from corregated paper I had purchased from a local craft store. I found a door and window combination online and printed them out in a suitable size. The door and windows were simply glued into place and set aside to dry.

I also found a logo for a liquid fertilizer company, which I printed out on decal paper. Of course, sizing it to fit, and making three of them for my tanks.

I made a security light out of a coffee stir stick and an led. I saw this done in a YouTube video, and I really liked the simplicity. So, check out the pictures, and I hope it makes your column.



ho scale storage tanks

ho scale storage tanks

ho scale storage tanks

“When I first started my layout, before I had made my design decisions, I saw this combination passenger/baggage car at a train show. For the exorbitant price of $5.00US I thought it might be useful.

ho scale storage tanks

When I got it home and put it on my layout, a few problems came evident.

First off, it had a tendency to derail on anything that wasn’t straight track.

Second, it had a light inside that was so bright it made the top and sides of the car glow. The pickups for the light were putting enough drag on the wheelsets that the car barely rolled if I pushed it down the track.

Fixing it wasn’t hard. First, I took out the light and the pickup wipers entirely. T

Then I removed, disassembled and cleaned the trucks.

Finally, I readjusted the wheelsets so they were in scale. Now the car rolled properly and I was left to decide what to do with it. Since by this time I had determined that I wasn’t going to be running passenger service, the car sat on my bookshelf.

Now skip ahead about 4 months and I needed a restaurant for the town.

None of the kits I saw were quite right for what I wanted for the locale I was modeling.

Then my eye caught the combine on the shelf and I thought it might make a fine diner.

So, I pulled it apart again, painted it, installed a couple of low power LEDs in the roof (with enough resistance in the line to make them pretty dim), and reassembled it leaving off the trucks and couplers.

Addition of steps and a handicap ramp, some ground cover, bushes, trees, a picnic bench, a sign on top (it’s named for a very special lady in my life) and we have a diner in town.

There are other pieces of rolling stock that can easily be repurposed: cabooses make good yard boss offices, old box cars make industrial storage sheds, a flat car makes a stage for performances in a park.

The only limit is your imagination. Go wild and have fun.


A huge thanks to Mark – I think his tanks look spot on.

And a big thanks to Dale too.

And it just goes to show what scenery can be made from, with a little imagination.

That’s all for today folks – don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide if it’s your time to start your layout.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

31 Responses to HO scale storage tanks

  1. Bill Holt says:

    Good idea and well made. Good Job !!

  2. Very nice Mark. Made my own last year using PVC pipe and putting eight pieces together. Turned out well and so did yours. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Pete says:

    Can the printable buildings be for all gauges? O, HO, N, etc.?


  4. Bruce says:

    Great looking tank farm. Your scale is HO I guess.

  5. Al Finch says:

    Dear Al and Mark,
    These storage tanks look great. Can you enlighten a bit about these plastic containers? I can’t picture what came in them or if Iwill find them in th U.S.

  6. Gene Schaeffer says:

    Great idea! I noticed the piping on the side of the tanks. It appears to be left over sprue from some kit or other. DON’T THROW AWAY SPRUE! It makes great piping and best of all, it’s free!

  7. john thorogood says:

    To complete the storage area there needs to be a berm around to entire tank area to contain any failure of the tanks. I guess that’s the Firefighter in me.

  8. Thomas Murphy says:

    Wonderful idea Mark. And thank you Al for posting Mark’s thoughts to your site. It does one well to see other folks talent.

  9. Ed Nelson says:

    Good job on the tanks. They look like the containers used for counter or desk wipes. Looks perfect for O or S scale. Not sure about G. I have seen a container that’s about 3” to 4” in diameter at our office. My comment relates more to US modelers. Don’t know if wipes are sold in plastic containers overseas or in soft packs.

  10. Mike Richardson says:

    Great job Mark The storage tank display looks super nice.

  11. Dale Popula says:

    Mark is it still possible to store the ballast and ground cover materials in them?
    It would be as they say, killing to birds with one stone. If you can still open the top or something, no one will know what is in them and a vac could be used to retrieve the material when needed.

  12. Merl Fisher says:

    corregated cardboard box works well by just peel off one side and build the building out of the rest

  13. Cary Price says:

    Hi Mark, I love seeing the scratch built stuff and your tanks look great. The decals/logo really make them pop… great job! Cary in KY

  14. Mark Riley says:

    I model in HO scale and I used the containers from Crystal Light drink mixes. The piping is made from sprues leftover from a bridge kit. The hoses were made from wire insulation cut off a USB cable. Yes, I know about the berm; but still thinking about how to do it. The led light works and is wired through the coffee stir straw. Hope this answers most of the questions. Please feel free to ask more or give suggestions.

  15. Franco says:

    I really enjoy the submissions of projects that others have completed.

    There is one thing I would like to see on any projects that any of us may want to try for ourselves. That is, at least three (3) views: top. side and front.

    More views would be appreciated by all.

    The Storage Tanks are a great addition to most layouts. If you have a step by step procedure which would help the inexperienced hobbyists and the young folks, then by all means – share it.

    Those people just getting started into design and manufacturing models can always use the help of the “old” ones in this hobby. I went from playing with trains, to building layouts for myself and friends, to painting by hand every piece of rolling stock so they match the layout. And, I often look back on other folks work to improve my own.

    Sharing ideas will guarantee that our hobby will last through the ages.

    I thank everyone who has shared their work and/or ideas.

  16. Ian McDonald says:

    great work looks very real. picked up some nice tips. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Steve says:

    Prescription plastic containers also work well

  18. Kevin McArdle says:

    Way coo, repurposing that car into a diner.

  19. Jim AZ says:

    Nicely done to both of you. Creative and realistic scenery. Great addition to ones layout.

    Jim AZ

  20. Alabama Mike says:

    Dale and Mark both have great ideas. Thanks for sharing. The Dinner and tanks aare really nice.

  21. Doug Godbey says:

    I did something similar but using pill containers from my drug store. They come in different sizes from small to large and fit nicely on my N and Z scale layouts. A bit of paint, a length of sprue, and you have storage tanks that look to range from 1,000 gallons to 15,000 gallons. I even took a small container, glued some wood slat paper around it, and made a track-side water tank for my Shay steam engine layout. Had to add a few things like a roof and piping, but it looks great. Maybe I’ll send in a photo one of these days.mm;-)

  22. Ant says:

    Excellent storage tanks and a superb use for “spare” rolling stock. Well done both.

  23. Mr. Bill says:

    Hi, all. Another use for flat cars (old/?) is bridges over creeks and gullies. I’ve seen several property owners do this when their wood bridge burned. You could even use a pair side-by-side for a bridge over a track.

  24. WILLIAM P MILLER says:

    I really like the diner.
    ADA accessible too.
    Great job.

  25. Will in NM says:

    Great ideas Mark and Dale! I especially liked the repurposed combine turned diner. “Jo Ann’s Fine Dining” seems a bit ostentatious for the name of a diner though. ;-}

  26. Jim Donovan says:

    The Diner is nice work. I have found repurposing rail stock is an easy way to add interesting buildings and you can pull the trucks for junk piles (Rust Rules). some oil/wood barrels/tools add realistic looks. I use my Dremel to cut open doors to make little scenes inside like a guy on a barrel.

  27. Mike Balog says:

    Hi Mark: Think your chemical storage tanks came out extremely well complete with the detailed signs, light, hoses and shed. Yes, a Berm would be necessary in this day and age. Perhaps you can add Chain Link Fencing around the property, with a double gate over the tracks,,, open…and a loading platform by the Shed. So you can off load and refill barrels for the local farm community. AND I like the idea of re-purposing that Combine Car making it into a Diner. Have seen many of those in New England and New York State in small towns and small cities. You could add some multi colored hanging lights, a small loading platform by the Baggage Door, an attachment to the car for the Kitchen and storage area and scale pallets with Propane Tanks on them for the Kitchen Stove. Add a “Special Menu / Take Out Order Sign”, a farm pickup unloading some fresh veggies and some more people and you have it nailed. Thanks for sharing your ideas with the rest of us too. ~ Mike in N.H. U.S.A.

  28. jim sedgwick says:

    various flavors of potato chips come in cylindrical containers
    I used them for tanks
    you can cut them down to different sizes

  29. Tom (Z-Scale)--retired in Arizona, USA says:

    The tanks look great!

    Having spent my entire career working in chemical and other processing industries located in more than 10 countries, I concur with the need for a berm/dike/bund, and chain link fencing to prevent unauthorized access. I would also point out that tank cars are loaded and unloaded by opening the cover of the dome on top of the car and connecting the appropriate hoses to the fittings inside. Most often the hose is relatively short and is suspend from and loading/unloading arm that can be rotated from an access deck.

    If the car contains a liquid, a pump is used to accomplish the transfer. Gases are usually transferred using various types of compressors.

    Still lots of new things you can have fun adding to your scene!!

  30. Brian Olson says:

    Excellent! We have a lot of stuff around the house that can we can add to our layouts.

  31. Kevin McArdle says:

    The berm around tanks is called an i pounding basin, a requirement in tank farms.

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