More model railroad scenery tips

“Hi Al

my tip would have to be line marking on road ways!

I do not have a model railway at the moment but am renovating a room to start one.

I use casting plaster for roads mountins etc its much cheeper than normal plaster and comes in 25kg bags.

when i mold my roads from plaster i use a flat edge like an off cut of wood to get a nice smooth surface then sand away any rough patches with fine grade snad paper.

i then dye the surface with diluted black water based paint (dilute to the consistancy of milk).

this will give a dark grey colour but just reaply to get the desired colour you like.

when dry use a straight edje and a broken hack saw blade and lightly scrape the surface to get white lines or paint yellow over the top depending on where you are modeling.

you dont need special materials and you dont get joints from useing pre made roads.

Happy rail roading

“Hi Al

Some good stuff but could you remind your contributors that:
EM is the gauge (18.2mm track width) and the scale is 4mm
OO is the gauge (16.5mm track width) and the scale is 4mm
HO is the gauge (16.5mm track width) and the scale is 3.5mm

Pedantic you might argue but correct if folk are going to use descriptions that are misleading and incorrect!



“Just wanted to share with the group my layout example of how I use a Fleischmann turntable to allow through trains through the yard as well as for normal engine storage. This is real handy for a small layout (8’ x 11’) where the space is limited and allows a train to cut through the yard from multiple directions. A car can be uncoupled on the turntable, turned to another track and picked up by another loco. Rather unorthodox but very entertaining for guests and kids to keep them busy doing something. This layout is an action layout where 6 trains can run simultaneously keeping a group of boy scouts busy at the controls with plenty to do.



Hi Alastair,

I do “N” scale but also work in “HO” scale.

The high price of decent building kits has led me to using alternative building methods.

I scratch build almost everything that I can using local free or very inexpensive materials. some examples are: Those little wooden coffee stir sticks, they are pine and can be trimmed for proper size or glued together to make larger pieces and they make great floors and porches.

I also use a lot of free cardboard from cereal boxes etc.. I make shingle roofs from masking tape cut into proper sized strips and notched while taped on waxed paper, simply pull then off the wax paper and tape to the roof with proper overlayment, color as you wish.

For stone buildings I just get some gravel and screen to appropriate size, cover the object to be rock covered in calking and press it into the stones, for a finer finish I cote the stones with plaster of paris to fill the Vallie’s wiping the surface with a sponge to clean the surface of the stones, makes a great chimney.

As to plans I use any I can find in my era that have some dimensions, scaling to appropriate size. Some kit makers give dimensions and I have actually gone out and measured or looked up drawings in the library.

For my school house I wrote my home town library for a picture of my childhood grade school and modeled it for my “N”scale layout. Siding can be made from strips of paper glued on overlapping or for tin roofing I find thread glued to the roof at proper intervals looks very good. I made a great log cabin from sticks out of my back yard.

I use the same sort of tricks for scenery, lacking the big money to buy decent kits and scenery items I have learned that I can do just as good if not better by scratch building using these methods. Another thing I have done is to purchase used buildings at shows and even off ebay then using bashing techniques to make a nice looking structure.

BTW: “N” scale windows still elude my 70 year old fingers – I do buy them… 🙂


Thanks Ken – don’t forget the cheap houses here – you just print them out and stick them together! Al.

“For “N” scale chain link fence I use straight pins as you do but bridal vial (painted light grey) is almost scale and I bought enough to do more fence than 100 people would use for a few cents at a fabric shop.


“For ballast on my outdoor garden railroad I use turkey grit, known as growers grit. Southern States sell it at a reasonable cost. It’s the perfect size and locks the track in place. In fact I need about 4 bags to do some track work. Each bag can pretty much fill a 5 gallon bucket.


That’s you lot this time. Don’t forget if you are heading over to ebay, save even more with the ‘ebay cheat sheet‘.



43 Responses to More model railroad scenery tips

  1. Gary Lynn says:

    I am building a garage 14′ wide x 21′ long. Starting my first HO trasin set.

    Any ideas n track plan would be appreciated.

  2. Don says:

    An inexpensive non operating light for streets or paths. I use “quilting” pins, the kind with a small yellow globe on the end. for lights on my bike path. I am using the pink builders insulation foam for my base so the pins can just be stuck in place where you want them. I am working in N scale. I don’t know how to add a photo to show. Can someone help me out?

  3. paul Otway says:

    I love these emails

  4. TOM says:


  5. Neal Marrison says:

    Ross, What a novel use of your turntable, might have to copy that on mine. Nice layout by the way. Neal in Michigan

  6. John Murden says:

    just a quick little tip when using plaster. put a little carpenters or white glue in the mix. it will make it stronger and cut down on the powder finish.

  7. Garold McLeod says:

    I love to have large lionel layout because. I had lionel train layout when I was 3 years old I still want to have build large train layout and I want to have d.c.c. On all layout and right and left switch track and uncoupled and couples and table turn and steam and diesel locomotives and I need someone who know how to fix the wire that’s why I alway watch any train on the Internet explorer My favorite hobby is train set if you want to call me my video phone number is 314 732-1608 thru a.s.l. Interpreter Thank you

  8. Dennis says:

    WOW! Looks a lot bigger than 8 x 11. Very nice.

  9. tim c. says:

    does anyone know where I can get my dads marx trains restored

  10. Colin says:

    For Ross:

    I am glad to see and hear how others are working with Boy Scouts and getting the next generation interested in Trains and Railroads. The traditions of Boy Scouting taught me to be a better man. Keep up the Scouting movement and push those young men to obtain their Eagle Rank.

    For Dan,

    I am just staring my Gardern Railroad (G scale). Any suggestions on how to lay the track?

  11. Nick says:

    I would like to know what can be used to make city streets and parking lots? Asphalt look would be okay. I run O scale trains. How wide should streets be and the size of a parking lot? What is used for dividing lines on both?

  12. Terry says:

    Hi all, I do enjoy all these tips.
    I am enclosing my carport 12m x 6m to build my own HO train track.

    Have inherited 5 crates of track, locos, carriages, etc.

    Any suggestions for table construction and track layout would be helpful.
    Also on mountain construction, as there seems to be many variances in how these are made.
    Cheers from Australia, keep those tips coming.

  13. jim morris says:

    great ideas

  14. David says:

    I work in “N” scale and would also appreciate tips given according to scale in some manner. Kind of a picky point, but what looks good to the big guys “HO and larger” looks silly in “N” and ludicrous in “Z”. (Just a thought guys)

  15. dan o wiseman says:

    when starting a new layout , do not get married to the first idea, I feel is all about running the trains instead of building houses and buildings in the beaganning there is always space to add , a scene , I use stage flats from the local studio when the strick a show lots of frames of all sorts they throw in the dumbster , trash bin , I am looking for some g scale plastic track the engine and coal cars I have found have batterys , found a few sets in old fallin down buiding hope to put high shelf arround room for the train to run on but need like 100ft of plastic track thanks

  16. Michael C says:

    To the chap from Australia. Forget about enclosing your carport, rather enclose your house, run off the wife, move onto the carport. Then youll have a house full of trains, andno one to object. LOL.

  17. Ernie Stammers says:

    Hi Dan
    Re your Garden Railway, Find a spot in the garden put down some gravel, lay a few rocks around and bushes lay your track. Put a small shed nearby for electrics and off you go. I had mine a good few years ago its still on youtube I believe about four videos its that simple. I live in the UK and my track was out in all weathers.
    Look up scubaernie or it might be scuba ernie (with the space between)
    I enjoyed mine for a few years then age galloped up on me.
    Have fun. I now have Lionel O scale three rail.

  18. Mike Young says:

    I have all O scale 3rail trains and am trying to complete a new layout. My table is 9 1/4 ft. X 7 1/2 ft. There is a square hole in the middle about 2 ft. X 2ft. I need some help figuring out how to lay track for about 4 or 5 trains to run at the same time if possible. I also want to do some modeling if table dimensions provide enough space. In other words HELP! Please. Mike

  19. Carl in Kansas says:

    The question keeps coming up – how wide is a street?
    Travel lane widths range from 9-12 feet (2.7-3.6 meters) for local roads to 12 feet (3.6 meters) for freeways.
    Allow 7-10 feet in town for parking at the curb.
    One diagram shows an in-town road width of 56 feet curb-to-curb. It allows 10 feet for parking on each side.
    Plan B – use model cars and see what looks right. Put one going each way, and add one at each curb. Move them until the spacing looks right to your eyes.

    Keep on training,
    Carl in Kansas

  20. Dan Marso says:

    All great ideas, Scott had a good idea for streets and parking lots, plaster,painted black twice. My first layout I used flat black paint, very easy to move streets,and do re-construction, now building a new layout and one of the guys had a suggestion a few emails ago, he used roofing paper, in the States we refer to it as Tar paper. Also very easy to re construction, but my Son doesn’t like black, as streets are not really “black” , except when new, he likes more grey color which is actually more the real color of established roads. But great tips , that’s what it’s
    All about.

    Danny, Rhode Island, D&W RR

  21. Fred says:

    A great bit of pickett fence can be made in N scale by cutting a strip of the ties from some scrap track, sanding off the the spikes and then cutting the strip in half and paint. From a distance this looks good and gives you one more option for fencing where alot of the same fence can get boring.

  22. seth says:

    No matter what it says on the orange Lionel box, it is O-gauge, not O-scale About 50 years ago some O-scalers worked in 3 rail, but a third rail is hardly scale anything, is it. O-scale is one inch to 48 inches. O-gauge is one to whatever fits in the orange Lionel box. Do not embarrass yourself by talking about Lionel as O-scale. If you are a wannabee, simply throw away all your Lionel stuff and start modeling in 1 to 48. Don’t hold back just because O-scale costs abut 48 times as much as O-gauge.

  23. Merl says:

    For anybody doing wiring on their boards. If you know a telephone guy or see one around ask them if they have some old 25 pair cable around. makes for great main trunk cable. has 25 pair wires of match sets color coded wires. the wire is 22 gage.

  24. Charlie says:

    I have an old Lionel 0-27 gauge outfit and want to plan a layout that reflects my home town and surrounding area. Have about 6 x 12 space and want 0 gauge trains vs the 0 scale trains – I think they would fit better. And, yes, the cost would be much lower than 0 scale. Nice reading the tips and viewing the layouts. Any suggestions for building the layout?

  25. Diane Hill says:

    For the person looking for someone to referbish his Marx train set. What city are you in ?

  26. Diane Hill says:

    How do I print out the scratch built buildings without buying the kits.

  27. Bob W says:

    To the fellow from Australia needing help w/ benchwork/table design… a good place to start is “Basic Model Railroad Benchwork” by Jeff Wilson (Model Railroader books)… it’s actually published by Kalmbach Books & available on Amazon for $19.95 USD… another option is simply to design the style tabletop you want & go to a company that specializing in benchwork… Mianne Benchwork (they have a website & catalog) is one such company in Massachusetts (I _think_ he ships internationally)… it’s a modular system that can be easily changed or added to later – it’s not cheap, but is a well designed system & he provides free design service to match your table… as for your actual layout, I’ve been experimenting w/ the Simple Computer Aided Railroad Modeller (aka SCARM) & is a free download – will run on everything from Windows XP to Windows 10… a lot of fun to try ideas out on & will also print out a parts list for your particular design (way cool) – be sure to watch the online tutorials… best of luck in your model railroading adventures! 😉 -Bob W in New Hampshire, USA

  28. George says:

    I am a big fan of your blog, am 65 and modeling all my life mostly scratch building. I’m buisy now with konstructing my own turntable. Does anyone know how the positioning of the rotating track is made so it lines up with the stationary track? Thank you, happy modeling – George

  29. Jerry Kern says:

    Great layout no DCC EXCELLENT

  30. Jerry Kern says:


  31. Marshall Freedman says:

    I have Lionel O-gauge and would be interested in Plasticville for it as well as Engines and rolling stock.

  32. Here are some scale measurements for HO gauge, based on 20# copier paper at .004″ per sheet:
    Full scale HO scale Decimal sheets
    3/4″ – .008″ 2
    1 1/2″ 1/64″ .016″ 4
    3″ 1/32″ .031″ 8
    6″ 1/16″ .062″ 16
    12″ 1/8″ .125″ 31
    Cereal box material is about .020″ thick.

    Richard H. Meyer
    Columbia, MO


  33. Ed White says:

    I have found a great material for roads. We call it hartru.
    It is the surface on our tennis courts. It’s grey, not black. I just put it down and soak it with a mixture of white glue and water. It has a granular look, not smooth like the plaster I’m covering with it, and cost me nothing. Well, maybe my club dues. I haven’t worked on coloring it in places to age it like an established road looks. I’ll work on that next

  34. Sidney Pratt says:

    Thanks for the tips.

  35. Hank says:

    I love this blog and emails. It is the first email I look for in the morning. I am 55 and starting my first N-scale layout. I remember as a young kid my Dad and I building an HO scale in the basement. I have thought about building a train layout for the last 10 years and I’m finally doing it.

    My layout will be a modern small town, similar to something you might see in the south (Blue Ridge Georgia for instance). I’m running 2 tracks, one CSX, and one Amtrak. I will have a mountain with tunnels, neighborhoods, a downtown, a river, and cabins on the mountainside. I’m looking at a 7′ x 3′ platform.

    I have already learned so much from these emails. My mountain/tunnels plan came to be from pictures someone posted a few weeks ago. It seems like each submission helps me with ideas for my layout.

    Thanks for such an awesome blog!


  36. Richard B. Walter says:

    Been a Marx collector since the ’70s. It would help to know the type of Marx trains you have. The 6″ cars, which are lithographed, really can’t be restored. The “scale” 3/16th cars are also lithographed. Marx make three grades of plastic cars: the least expensive had simulated trucks with two axles.Next are the plastic cars with four axle metal trucks. The top of the line are the”Deluxe” plastic cars, some of which were operating cars. Many steam locos were metal and those could be restored. Diesels were either lithographed or plastic. At any rate, some Marx items are rare and are better off left as is. Repro parts are available for many items.

  37. CARL ANGDAHL says:

    Some really great tips for indoor layouts. Paper and thin pine don’t do well outside. Here in southern California, USA, I find cedar or red wood works very well. Cheap way to get it is to use fencing, easily and safely cut on a band saw. As for drawing sizes it doesn’t matter what scale you are working in. Find a common item to measure. For instance, here, exterior doors are almost always 6’8″ (7′) high and 3’0″ wide. Steps are usually 6″ riser with 12″ tread. This works for me and my “G” gauge outdoor railroad.

  38. Bruce Jensen says:

    Hi, Dan. I have a garden railway here in California. If your yard is basically dry and not prone to flooding, you can just use pea gravel for ballast and roadbed; if you want you can dress it up with something slightly finer like that which can be found on EBay, but not critical. You can also use chicken grit from a feed store. I would not use sand, as it tends to stay very loose and wil not support the track well. Once built on the roadbed, the track will stay in place due to weight and stiffness. If you are laying it over plain soil, you might want to dig in maybe 6 inches to provide a solid mass of gravel under the track, and before you place the gravel, place a sheet of landscape fabric or plastic to inhibit weeds. (You’ll get weeds, but in a garden railway, weeds are inevitable, right?) I weed by hand, or for stubborn well-rooted ones I use a douse of boiling water from an electric teakettle. From time to time, it will be necessary to add gravel or relevel the track – that’s life in the great outdoors! Not hard – you can usually just grab a handful of new gravel, sprinkle it over the low spot, and scrunch the track into it. Make sure you brush loose rocks away form the rail heads.

    If you plan to lay track in damp or wet spots, it is probably a good idea to raise the track, via ballast, above the usual water level. If the water flows, you should bridge it altogether, or be prepared to do roadbed repair after each rain or major irrigation. Bridges can be as simple or fancy as you want. A 2×4 plank of treated wood with a resin girder attached to each side by screws makes a more than passable plate girder bridge. If it’s longer than about 5 feet, you may want to support in the center, unless it’s fancier self-supporting redwood, stone or metal bridge.

    Some people use treated wood planks inside the ballast bed, or lay down concrete roadbed by making a mold form and pouring it to fit the track shape. Some even fasten the track to the roadbed. I find it’s not necessary at all except on open bridges, like trestles, and allowing the track to be loose makes trackwork much easier in the rare event that it is necessary.

    More important than any of this is making sure you have good, solid rail joints, and I recommend using an electrically conductive (carbon infused) grease product such as that made by LGB or Massoth. If you put some of this product on each rail joint, electrical conductivity is improved dramatically and (I think) permanently. My RR has been out in the blazing sun and pouring rain for 5 years now, and it functions without an electrical hitch. I am thinking of putting in an electrical buss wire system to avoid breaks, but the fact that the 240-foot track does not have any problems means I get to be lazy about it 🙂 Unless you will be running battery-powered trains, good electrical is a must. If you can, use rail clamps instead of just rail joiners – but these can be added later if you want to get some track down and run trains. Just inspect your track before each day’s run to make sure connections have not loosened.

    If you have snow or freezing cold where you live, you may need to take additional care of your RR. I do not know what that is like, but there are good resources on the internet that describe how to deal with that experience.

    Good fortune, and have fun! – Bruce

  39. Mr.Moore says:

    Turn-Table. Now that’s cool.
    And has given me a new Idea….;)


  40. John A says:

    I use free cardboard from cereal boxes too, and I reinforce it by gluing coffee stirrers or popsicle sticks to the back of the cardboard that won’t show. This way the walls etc.aren’t so flimsy

  41. val says:

    hi al, would like to thank all those who’ve shared their tips and photos, it has been greatly informative so far.ive already built the platform tables for the layout, and will soon start using the blue foam for building the hills and mountains and the tunnel’s. I’d appreciate very much if someone could post any tips and photos, as to how to carve the the foam so it’ll look like rock formations..I’ve never used this foam for doing this kind of scenery. so any tips would be greatly appreciated I look forward every morning to see what new tips have been posted!! thanks much, val in Utah.

  42. Cheesewheel says:

    Ok, seth. Not to be rude to someone who probably has way more experience, but remember, this is a hobby. There are no true rules, and each layout is different. The model will reflect the creator, the owner of the layout. Just because old standard are cheaper and not what’s in the now doesn’t mean no one can use that. If it were the case, no one would have 30 year old models that look stunning as they wouldn’t be to the same standards as now. You do what you want, and have a nice day.

  43. Samuel Hannigan says:

    I just recently got back into my trains. I started as a teen, but as time went on they ended in storage. They reappeared when my kids were little for several years during Christmas season. My grandson got a train set about three years ago and my daughter asked me to help him set it up. Since then, we have set up a different platform every year during Christmas season. Last year’s version stayed up until October when we took it down to set up this year’s version. Christmas may be over but we are still making changes to the new setup. Each year it has gotten a little larger and changed themes. 4X8 platform this year. Hopefully this will stay up until we change it again next Christmas. I love all the suggestions and tips and tricks. Started printing out and trying different buildings using various materials from cereal boxes to fiber board. Using photograph matting now. Threw several away, just didn’t come out right. Trying to get my grandson more and more involved as possible. He has so much other activity going on.
    Keep it up everyone.
    Also, anyone know of a good train repair place in the Mid-Atlantic area (US)? I took apart a Tyco Mantua 4-6-2 model as it really needed some attention, and I can’t get the wheel linkage to connect properly.
    Happy modeling everyone.

    Sam H. in Maryland

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