More model rail tips…

This came in from Dave which I thought worth a mention – I thought it very impressive!

“Also the tunnel tips is most timely as I’m just planning a “shelf” layout for my garage, about 14 feet along one wall x 20″ wide with a corner return 6 feet long x 12″ including a lift-out fiddle yard. So a tunnel for the corner will be included.

All very “future” at the moment as all I have is a Bachman S&DJR 7F and about ten feet of loose track!

That loco was chosen because I finished building a 5″G live steam S&DJR 7F about nine months ago (see attached pics) and then Bachman brought out their OO model, so I had to have one, didn’t I?

7Fs are one of my favourite locos – anything with more than six drivers ….



Wow! Now that’s either a giant bench in the background, or it’s a brilliant model!

And some more tips for you. Please keep them coming!

“I attach the anode of a red LED to the cathode of a green LED and then attach the other ends together.

I put a 800 ohm resister on one end (series)and attach them to a track.

When the train travels one direction, the green LED lights. When traveling in the other direction, the red LED lights.
It’s an automatic switching signal powered by the track voltage and polarity.


“When building mountains and hills I use Oatmeal (as in Quaker) to create texture. It’s inexpensive and easy to do and it dries hard as rock.

— Marc”

“I use free styrofoam. You know the stuff they use for packing. It comes in verious shapes, sizes and thickness. Carve it to shape then paint. I use spray paint to make it look like rock or granite. Vakspar Stone looks like grannit and Krylon has different colors in theiir “Make it Stone!” Both paints are Premium Enamel and they do not harm the styrofoam in any way.

— Wayne”

“I do appreciate the time you take and the information that you pass along.

So, I thought I would let you and the other readers know of something I have been doing.

Most home health stores and/or pharmacies receive in the shipping cartons for their lift chairs
two blocks of polyfoam, guessing it is polystyrene, that which I have gotten, measures 3″x4″x29″.

I have used it in pretty basic landscaping and it works well. My biggest pleasure is that I can
have all I want and free, because otherwise the rest is trashed.

— Bill”

“Great ideas,and useful.

Sometimes when adding car roadways in rural area,a possible quick way is to use the non skid grey tape that you put on stairs an maybe walkways It comes 4 inches wide and in long lengths up to 50 feet Looks good and its a quick way to modify an area It takes on the look of a gravel type roadway


–Nick ”

And don’t forget the latest ebay cheat sheet is here. Thanks for all your comments and emails on it.



PS Beginner’s Guide is here.

49 Responses to More model rail tips…

  1. Dennis says:

    Wow, great pictures. Keep up the good work.

  2. donald says:

    great photos,and keep the tips coming,
    as i am just starting out building a huge
    layout which takes up all of our attic space,
    and is being built using all of the tips and
    help from your e’mails,

  3. Jim says:

    The directional signal with using LED’s is terrific.

  4. Tony says:

    I would really think twice before using foodstuff on models, they were used when I was a boy some 50+ years ago, no matter how you prepared the food stuff it attracted vermin and got mouldy.

  5. david says:

    Good tips, thanks for sharing

  6. Al says:

    intigued by the LED signal switching, any chance of photos, is this for DCC or analogue (bit of an electrical numpty)

  7. Feature from ben on signalling is there any chance to see a picture of the signalling,wiring instructions and components used.

  8. Jim Stevens says:

    Hi Dave,
    I have found that using the foam from old chairs and couches works great. I drive around the night before trash pick up and have found some really usfull items (without digging though cans or bags) I am just finishing up one mountain with tunnel. As soon as I get this one done I will send in the pictures that are from start to finish.
    Thanks again for all of your help.
    Jim Stevens

  9. Pops says:

    Thanks, again.
    The tips you share are very useful and greatly appreciated.

  10. Jack D. White says:

    I am brand new at this, just getting started, making my Layout, like my home town, North Vernon, Indiana. Which had the B & O, the Pensylvania and Big Four came thru my town, wish me luck

  11. “I attach the anode of a red LED to the cathode of a green LED and then attach the other ends together.

    I put a 800 ohm resister on one end (series)and attach them to a track.

    When the train travels one direction, the green LED lights. When traveling in the other direction, the red LED lights.
    It’s an automatic switching signal powered by the track voltage and polarity.

    i’m a bit confused as this sounds intriguing. and i’d like to do.
    I didn’t know L E Ds had cathods and anodes. I thought 2 wires .

    Could you draw a schematic

  12. ToddRrichards says:

    Jack, I from Seymour. I am trying to get the specs on Blishes Mill. I’m trying to make am 1/48 model for my railroad. If you ver come across anyone who may know the height/width of the silos that still stand I would appreciate it!

  13. Tony Magnetti says:

    Hi Al, really enjoy your tips and pics. Am getting ready to build a 4×8 layout. All the room I have at present. Am going to do logging and coal mining. Have all the buildings and factories and old time town bldgs. etc. Would line some help in making a track plan formualting all these ideas in the layout? Would like to develop multiple levels for the coal and mining areas. Thank you in advance for any assistance you or your public can help me with. Tony

  14. Dale says:

    Marc: I’d be cautious re: use of oatmeal. Mice are particularly attracted to grain.
    Wouldn’t work at my house.

  15. gene pierce says:

    do you have any ideas for an o scale layout 12×12

  16. Ron says:

    A great idea on the LED track direction lights.Could you please expand on this.

  17. Wm says:

    Having a grandson, only three years of age, has sparked a renewed interest in model railroading. Giving serious consideration to the DCC route and so far find MRC to be the best though expensive. Does anyone have experience with the MRC Prodigy Explorer or Prodigy Express Squared?

    Appreciate any feedback.


  18. Steve says:

    LEDs think positive and negative , the long end is positive short end negative , am going to take that idea and use it for headlights on a switcher engine , head light on when going forward , reverse light going back wards
    you could also use ” bi polar ” leds , Paste this in to the search on Ebay
    ” Bi-Polar Color Flashing Red/Green Bright Led ” not expensive to buy , but be patient with shipping from China

  19. Steve says:

    also with LEDs you can buy them ” pre-wired ” I’ve used them to put tail lights and side markers on to cabooses that had lights in them and also put marker lights on tenders .
    I’ve also used them for lighting houses , tunnels , bridges and billboards . if you have kids who are allowed to run the trains when your not there wire one to your transformer , so that if it’s plugged in a LED is lite
    with pre- wired very easy to work with vs ones that you have to solder resisters and wires to , , you can get them in a lot of different colors and also ones that flash

  20. Rod Mackay says:

    Dave, that’s a magnificent 7F, what a beauty, well done mate. My Dad was the model engineer of the family and spent all his spare time in the workshop torturing brass, so I know how much effort that takes to get right. Respect!

    Gene Pierce, ideas for a 12′ x 12′ Og. layout – that’s enough space to model somewhere you know and care about, which can be really satisfying; it’s taken me some years to fill a room smaller than that with HO so I suggest you plan to have a portion you can get running first, eg one station with a simple loop through other areas you develop later; and remember to leave access areas so you can always reach within a couple of feet. Good luck!

  21. M.A. ralph Cramer says:

    Use automotive trunk point to add texture to EZ track and cork roadbed. Various paint companies have mixtures of color content (gray with black flecks, for ex.)

  22. Laurence Sauer says:

    Can anyone give me help in figuring amount of climb for going from one level to another, and how much I need to make the climbs. Want to go from tabletop to a second level, then to a third level for three different time periods. Layout is 4 ft deep by 12 ft long. Each level would be smaller than lower deck. Thanks.

  23. Gary Stewart says:

    Light. Emitting. DIODE. LED. So, yes, an anode and a cathode. DI meaning two.

  24. M L says:

    Dude that is awesome, love the detail

  25. Don says:

    I work part time at an Ace hardware and am building an HO layout. We get a lot of big items packed with various types of ridgid that just gets thrown away. I got more foam than I will ever use for free. Comes in a lot of different sizes and shapes. Great stuff. The round Weber BBQ grills have some great pieces. Check your local hardware store.

  26. Donald Lango says:

    in response to this tip: “I attach the anode of a red LED to the cathode of a green LED and then attach the other ends together. I put a 800 ohm resister on one end (series)and attach them to a track. When the train travels one direction, the green LED lights. When traveling in the other direction, the red LED lights.
    It’s an automatic switching signal powered by the track voltage and polarity. COULD YOU PLEASE SEND A SCHEMATIC FOR THIS TIP THKS.

  27. tom says:

    Great idea with the led`s I am sure going to try it. I have a glut of led`s and resistors , Does it matter which lead the resistor goes in? Thanks Tom

  28. Eddie Ratcliffe says:

    Wow the new houses are great but I still cannot find what I am Looking forr. Can anyoun tell me where I can get the brick wall and managers sheds that John shows in his video?

  29. Carl in Kansas says:

    LEDs and wiring seem to confuse and intimidate many people. The circuit above will work only on DC layouts. I will try to super-simplify the method, no technical terms. First, connect one end of the 800 ohm (1/2 watt) resistor to one rail. Solder together the other end of the resistor to the long wire from one LED and also to the short wire from the other LED (three wires together). Now solder the two remaining LED wires together, and attach to the opposite rail. If the colors are backward, swap the rails.

    You should now have the following — one rail, then the resistor, then two LEDs side-by-side, then the other rail.

    If the LEDs are too bright, change the 800 ohm resistor to one with a higher number. Experiment. Have fun.

    You can also use a two-color LED in place of the two LEDs mentioned above.

    If you totally screw things up, not much bad can happen. At the worst, you may short out your power pack like a derailed train, or burn out the LEDs.

    Keep on Training!

    Carl in Kansas

  30. Clint H. says:

    I want to thank everyone, I really appreciate and enjoy reading.

  31. Cary B says:

    Thanks for the daily emails of many pics and videos. I thoroughly enjoy them all.

    Cary B

  32. David Hannan says:

    Some excellent tips here! Well done chaps! (And chapesses!)

  33. John Lammin says:

    Hi Al & all. This place is a wealth of information and ideas. Thanks to all who send in tips and tricks. It`s most helpful. Keep up the great work guys and girls :o) Best wishes: John L.

  34. Ian Pither says:

    it would be nice to see a picture of your Oatmeal hills.

  35. Mike Cutino says:

    Everytime I look at your emails it cost me money. The new ideas I get from your layouts are great. Always changing and adding to my train layout for the better.
    Going to start a new one. (again)

  36. Enjoy reading the post. Also, I’m a subscriber to Dave’s videos.

  37. Allen Montville says:

    I’m building a 6 by 9 layout in ho. I’m going to try to make a duel tunnel out of chicken wire covered in news paper and use spray expanding foam to make my tunnel and mountain and wear rubber gloves while doing this. Its going to be in the far corner of the table so im going to use 2 cardboard walls in the back to keep the foam from getting out of hand. Once this stuff hardens up you can cut whatever type of formations you want in it. And once hard its like styrafoam so you can just stick your trees in it easy at whatever angle. p.s I’m going to take all my measurements first, then build it out in the garage in case it gets out of hand. Thx Farmer AL

  38. David Ingram says:

    rail 1 —–*——-II——– #
    connect connect

    Connect *to* and # to #. The resister just limits the current to protect the leds as the power supply will put out too much for them. Anode of the led is the flat side of the round base.

  39. Did Pratt says:

    I hoped to be up and running by now but the town of Springfield NH, USA wants all kinds of permits before they let me see up and run my 7.25 gauge train. Dave you did a great job. Thanks Al.
    Sid Pratt

  40. Johnathan says:

    Thanks for sharing such amazing work by railroad enthusiasts. I’m hoping to get my layout moving this spring. Blessings to you all!

  41. Chuck Frank says:

    Instead of oatmeal, an even better material can be had for free! Go out on a dry fall day and collect a couple bags of fallen leaves; strip out the center stem, then run in an old blender (from the thrift store) until ground as fine as you like. Can be added to your plaster mix or sprinkled into some glue for leaf litter (course) under your trees, or (fine) for the surface of a dirt road. It’s even pre-colored for you.

  42. Bob Horn says:

    There is a large club in the Cincinnati, Ohio area that the members hand build steam locomotive in 3 or 4 different large gauges. They are big enough that kids ride on the flat cars. They have a website. Google Cincinati Cinder Sniffers. They have a several acre park they have built with about 1/4 mile of tracks that all the members use on the weekends.

  43. Steve Martin says:

    When comparing this blog to say, “XYZ” Company Blog, it’s like listening to the kitchen staff instead of the restaurant owner. No offense, but the kitchen staff usually knows how things work and are capable of adjusting to anything on the fly with few resources! That’s the American Way and American Worker!
    Bonus: “IT”S FREE,” sort of!

  44. Steve Martin says:

    My bad! I forgot to say, “I love reading this site and keep up the Engineer’s work!”

  45. Chris Kilgus says:

    I would like to see really small layouts, especially in Z gauge.

  46. Jackie says:

    Al has started a forum and I am trying to promote it. I think it is really cool! (Hey I am 76, what do you expect?)
    I find that it is an excellent place to ask questions AND get answers!!!

    Here is a link to Al’s forum:

    Come join the forum and ask your questions.


  47. Great looking engine nice work I like the info and the big models

  48. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Dave….great loco……..

    Guys…….great tips……..Al….keep them coming

  49. Jeff says:

    I’m trying to get started in the hobby. Hopefully this will help me out.

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