More railroad missives

“Hi Al. First of all ..Great job on your blog.

I do enjoy seeing how creative others are with their projects. I haven’t thought about model railroading for almost 40 years, then last year when we were reorganizing some storage totes I came across all the old stuff from my childhood. I decided to build a 14 x 10 room in the basement for the hobby.

My Grandfather started working for the Canadian Pacific railroad in 1918 in northern Ontario, Canada and on to the Pere Marquette in the 40’s in southern Ontario and eventually on to the Chesapeake and Ohio until his death in 1967. As a kid, my father took me all over to watch and ride trains and it stuck with me. I have included a few pics showing my progress on the layout which will be 3 levels modeled after the 1940’s to 1960’s railroads my Grandfather experienced.


Al (from Canada)”





“Hi Alastair.

Yes Your right I have been receiving your emails now for quite a long time, I do find them helpfull and inspiration at the same time. Some articles are really good others just helpfull.

Last year i was a member of a local model railway club, It cost me £80 and to be honest learnt nothing. Now However the £80 saving is used to build a layout for me, yes its slow going. However your emails have really made the difference.

My layout is loosely based on The Somerset and Dorset Railway, see pics enclosed, shows just how far i,ve got since last september the whole lot is hand made by myself and most is reclaimed wood.

Thanks John”

model railroad layout


Sierra Exif JPEG

And the talented Dave has been back in touch! Here he tells us how he dreams up some of his ideas:

“Having visited this Model village and railway I was most interested in the harbour scene with the castle in the background. If this was incorporated in my model railway with say a track running up to the harbour this then could incorporate Unloading from small boats to cargo vans. With a backdrop of the Castle would be something spectacular on a layout …this is some project that I may consider during the next winter months .

Again this is something to do when out and about , keep your eyes open for scenes which give you inspiration.


Big thanks to everyone – especially Canadian Al and John. It’s all about making that start! Course, I’m biased, but this will help if you want to bite the bullet. Not that I’m biased or anything!

And thanks to everyone who has emailed me about the ‘new’ site format. I really, really appreciate it.

Keep ’em coming, folks.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

40 Responses to More railroad missives

  1. Donn says:

    I purchased some beautiful “N” gauge train sets back in the early ’70’s and also inherited some ‘new in the box’ HO gauge trains from my Father when he passed away. I also received some Lionel and “O” gauge trains from friends along the way. My home is too small for any kinda of ‘good’ layout and don’t really want to move again now that I’m a senior citizen. So, what do you folks recommend I do with all my trains I’ve been collecting for the past fifty years but never set up?

  2. sundaram says:

    Excellent. Truly fantastic

  3. Stephan Brown says:

    What film editing software was used for the model village?

  4. John Bos says:


    There’s a huge difference between “biased” and “impassioned.” You are the latter…which is why we all love your blog. Just ‘sayin!


  5. Roland says:

    Thank you Dave,
    Another great travel film.

  6. Ken Gokdenberg says:

    Always enjoyable to see new layouts being “born”!

  7. John says:

    Yes Dave I think the castle addition 2ur layout is a must mate! LOL! U could even pop a Mrs Dave Rapunzel letting down her hair in one of the towers!
    New layouts looking good tho David.

    All the best.

    JohnE UK

  8. Dr. Bob says:

    Looks like you’re off to great start. Remember to build with confidence and be patient. The results I’m sure will be fabulous!

  9. david bradley says:

    Great video love the site thanks.

  10. Darrell Smith says:

    Dave, the model village is Incredible ! Certainly glad you shared it with us. Lots of ideas going around on this one….
    Keep the pics and videos coming ! Great Job !

  11. Nathan Perreira says:

    Thanks Al, for your blog. and to everyone that shares tips on line. I’ve been reading up on them and there’s a lot of great ideas. I started off in G scale been involved with trains for well over a dozen years. I also have a number of different scales On30, ho, n & z. I have been setting them up at the local shopping centers usually around the holidays so basically all my trains are packed up. I’ve had a great time doing that but now it’s time for me to build something at home as far as a layout. I’m starting off small that means Z scale. I see the layout starting off with a European town and countryside and the layout measuring somewhere about 2 feet by 4 feet in diameter. I have two questions. Do you have an idea for cobblestone streets for my town? What do you suggest for grassy hills? Thanks, Nathan on Maui

  12. Rod Mackay says:

    John, sorry you had a poor experience of a club, I have found ours has given me the urge to do better, very often the tips or skills I needed to improve, and a lot of experience from making my small contribution to club project layouts. When I started I was too nervous of spoiling something to even try weathering my own stock, and now my layout just won a trophy at the regional show, OK there was forty-plus years in between but I have had a life as well! I can now help other people, but we recently had a guy give our club a blistering review, saying how he’d been coming along but not learned owt, and we thought, well maybe that’s because you mostly sort of stood there and never asked. Remember, if model railwaymen were social animals, we’d be out dancing or down the pub, you’ve got to make the effort to break the ice sometimes.
    To the first poster, get the N gauge out, you only need about 6′ x 2′ to make an interesting layout. Put your Dad’s stuff in a showcase for old times’ sake and sell the rest on eBay! Have fun.

  13. Brian Doughty says:

    this would be one of the foremost blogs for model train info.

    like others here I am getting back into this remarkable hobby ( I “left” the hobby when the kids came along, now most have gone its time to come back!

    in your blog RARELY have I found the info useless or people knocking others attempts here unlike some other blogs. All the info give me inspiration. My first sojourn into a layout is a NOCH preformed (a gift from the Kids) which I will build and then extend – my challenge is to be able to incorporate it into an Australian type layout I see at various meetings here in NSW.

    Extremely well done Al, mate keep up the good work everyone, look forward to all info.
    A tip i did pick up at a recent train show at Thornleighin Sydney NSW is that you can use a gapfiller / silicone to form waves in a pond – spread it over the area wait for it to “skin” then gently form waves, once dry paint to desired effect.

    Brian D
    Wyong NSW Aust

  14. john corry says:


  15. Pete Evangel says:

    for the question asking what to do with trains you inherited etc. The selfish me say to send them to me!!!! But the real me says perhaps you can find a club near you that might have some aspiring modelers of a younger age. They might enjoy them. Or some clubs have swap meets and you should be able to sell those items at a reduced price. At least you could get some cash and someone else could get some enjoyment. I’d go the swap meet route myself.

  16. John C says:

    Could someone please give me a simple answer since I am a simple person of 70 years old. Can I run a Loco rated for DCC on a Track system using a transformer for a DC Loco.

  17. Toni O. says:

    Always a pleasure to get your e-mails, they are so informative. Dangerous Dave, you are a master.

    To the person who has the three different scale stock. May I suggest that you take time to go to your local library and read up on model trains from the books and magazines that they may have and then go to a local hobby shop and look over what they may have in stock. Then you can decide as to what scale that you may fell comfortable with. Remember to consider what room or space you have that can be dedicated to the model railroad hobby, what scale that you can see and easily handle as well as what you can afford towards the hobby. Also remember that you will be sharing the hobby with your life partner in one way or another, either now at the start or later. Also remember that “HO” is the most common scale with the most add-on accessories of track-age and structures, after which “N” and Lionel “O” scales run neck and neck as popular. “N” scale for the size and smaller space required, and “O” scale for the collectable value and ease of being handled by not so nimble fingers…


  18. david howarth says:

    Looks like the layout John is building will be one for us all to watch the progress as he goes along , as for the spare model trains I would also say send them to your nearest Model railway club , they are always short of running stock , and in answer to what software was used for editing the model village …I use cyberlink Power director 12 , …great blog you have got going Al …
    Dave …Dangerous Dave !!! ?

  19. Wayne Pursh says:

    To simple man of 70: I am a simple man of 66 and I am running a 2-8-4 Bachmann HO Berkshire, (DCC Equipped), with a standard DC transformer. I may purchase a DCC controller later on but for now she runs great. Love this site and big thanks to Alastair for maintaining it.

  20. Rod Mackay says:

    Regarding DC and DCC, my layout is all simple DC but I installed a Viessmann level crossing, which I believe is equipped to work off DCC if required, and which worked fine on its own but went haywire with the barriers zipping up and down at random when the rest of the layout was ‘live’, and I narrowed this down the the Gaugemaster high-frequency rail cleaning unit, with this turned off the crossing works fine, so I fitted a couple of simple on/off switches to both systems and harmony reigns again. However, I have not tried any DCC chipped locos on the layout with the HF running just in case it might harm them, maybe someone out there has some experience and could advise?

  21. Norm fron York PA says:

    to the man about the DCC loco. Most DCC locos are set up to run on DC transformers you just won’t have all the bells and whistles. As to the club experience, right on! If you just stand there you won’t learn anything. We can’t read your mind. There is no such thing as a “stupid” question. I joined a club about a year ago and it has helped me greatly with my scenic skills.
    Norm from York PA

  22. Clive says:

    Hi to you all,
    I`m not sure if this request is a little bit too ambitious but here goes, I have only just started to build a model railway and I am a complete novice, all I have at present is a 8×4 baseboard and a train set. When I eventually put a station on said layout I want to install some platform lights, I have already purchased the lights and they are 12 v filament ( so i`m told ) and I have a hornby controller with the 12 v fittings ( I hope this makes sense ) what I want to know is what wires should I buy and are ( HI FI ) speaker wires suitable. I hope someone is able to help me with this and any other tips for a novice will be gratefully received.
    Thanks to all who reply.


  23. To the person with all the trains:
    Post pictures on this blog and see if you can sell them to people in your area. Contact model railroad clubs in your area to see if you can donate them. Or you can put them on E-Bay and sell them again

  24. Tom Duffy says:

    What scale is John doing ? The room in the basement looks good along with the benchwork….


  25. Carl Halgren says:

    “HI FI” speaker wire can range from 12 gauge wire (ideal) to 24 gauge wire (too small, poor for HI FI, but adequate for a few lights). Yes, HI FI speaker wire should be adequate for your lighting project. Many modelers use telephone wire or CAT 5 wire for lighting. (I recommend using 12 gauge wire for your track power.)
    If you check your controller, it should give you the AMPERAGE rating on your 12 volt output. I would suggest you then use the internet to determine what gauge wire is recommended for your amperage, and use that gauge wire.

    Still In Training,
    Carl in Kansas

  26. Roger Himes says:

    Do you know what scale the village is built to?

  27. Terry Miller says:

    The village reminded me of a similar layout at Buchart Gardens in Victoria Canada. It’s been 50+ years since I saw it but the memory remains. Not sure if it is still in operation.

  28. Lee Kulas says:

    Message for Donn, regarding trains…I too have been collecting for over 40 years; mostly N scale (Kadee) and some Lionel. And, like you never got the time of permanent place to build a layout (although I have hundreds of track plans saved!)

    If I were you, I’d keep the Lionel for display, they have memories from your Dad, and usually will continue to increase in value. As for the N gauge, here’s what I did:
    I went through all of my collection, and decided which one I wanted to either display or keep for my “future” layout. This process took me from 500+ cars, 30 locos and 70 “still in the box” buildings/structures. What did I keep?: I live on the East Coast (USA) so I kept the Kadee box cars, with roads for B&M, VC, NYC, NH, Providence-Worcester. Lehigh Valley; additionaly, I kept an assortment (limit was 6 each) of flat cars, gondolas, tankers, coal cars, live stock cars (all of them have operating doors (box cars) and Magne-Matic couplers, and there’s a nice variety of “famous” road names (UP, GN, ATSF, CP); I kept Engine-passenger consits for: Zephyer, Hiawatha, Pennsylvania and B&O, plus the Napa Valley Train Set (2 locos and 8 cars), Bicentennial set (loco, caboose and all 13 original state cars, MTL’s State Car series (50 states, DC, plus A&B locos and caboose), and finally some specialty cars: Solar Eclipse, Kinkade Golden Gate Bridge, etc. and the 4 that got me started: Menaha, Potlatch, Stark Trees, and B&M.I decided early on in this process to keep only the following manufactures: Kadee, MTL, Kato (engines and passenger cars) and some Concor (passenger cars, Comet, Big Boy, Streamlined engines).The only Bachmann I kept were the Old Tyme sets for the UP and CP to perhaps recreate the “Golden Spike” scene, and the 1776 Series train.

    I bought 4 display cases (each holds about 60 units), hung them on the walls of my “train room-office” and they look nice, safe, secure and out of boxes. As for building/structures: I kept what I imagine my “future” layout would handle: Meat Packing Plant, Oil Refinery, Coaling Facility, Inter-modal terminal, Passenger Stations and a few “suburban” and MOW buildings(all are Walthers).
    I’m thinking that my layout would be loosely based on Eastern USA with the Atlantic Ocean west to the mountains (New England west to San Franciso-dramatically condensed!), the era would be 40s to late 60s. I’ve tried to keep the eventual “operating stock” for my “future” layout to 40-50′ length rolling stock(excluding passenger cars) to aid in size of the layout and large radius curves).

    I sold off everything else on eBay, gifted the G scale and HO scale to a young RR enthusiast, and am now “down-sized” to about 200 trains in total (all displayed)

    I still have over 2000 pieces of Kato track, 60 switches, etc. which I need to organize to “finalize” my layout and then sell off the rest.

    In my mind I’m thinking about a U shaped layout (modular-light-weight) with East coast going out west to the Pacific (plenty of opportunity to incorporate harbor scenes, a few towns, industries, rolling hills, flat plains, the Rockies and then the Pacific; the dimensions might realistically be: 3 modules total: 2 would be 6′ x 4′ (ends) and the center module 8′ x 3′, so roughly 14′ x 4′ all DCC capable of running 3-4 trains.

    Sorry, Donn if I got carried away here, but at age 67’s young, it’s never to late to start turning dreams into reality. Will I ever build the layout?, well as Al says, “you just need to start”, so culling my collection was a huge first step, and will pay for the layout!
    Thanks Al for being the coordinator of all out dreams!


  29. That was awesome!!

  30. Jim McQuillen says:

    Really enjoy seeing the “giants” when they first appear in the model village.

  31. louie says:

    Display the trains. If something puts a smile on your face keep it. From an 80 year old.

  32. Gary M from Long Island says:

    I love to see how others build and work their model layouts. I always amazes me how good a carpenter you guys are. I looked at Al and Johns construction and I am in awe of their carpentry talent. I am so afraid that mine one day will collapse.

    And then there is always Dave with ideas and inspiration on building scenes for the layout……
    Keep the pictures and blogs and instructions coming…. I love them.

    Gary M from Long Island

  33. Lester W Larrew in Georgia USA says:

    As for the model RR clubs, the only “stupid questions” are those that are not asked

  34. Colin Edinburgh says:

    Donn. I would suggest that you place your models on E bay or similar or even offer then for sale to your local railway club and use the funds to enjoy one of your other pastimes
    I would not as suggested give them to your local club.

    Dave. As I have previously said in the past your current version of your layout is outstanding. It will be very interesting to see where you propose to fit a castle and harbour scene.

    Great miniature village video.

  35. STEPHEN PARKER says:

    Donn – I started by taking up some wall space and made some simple shelves using corner trim (1.5″x1.5″) glued to a back board. Then came a 30″x60″ folding table to play on. Now I am up to two folding tables (30″x120″). I have an some idea of where I want to go next, someday; but I still have them out to see and work/play with. Also, you can spend hours using track planning software and dream. I designed a three level layout that looks interesting and splits into two pieces for easy moving. I can build each level as an expansion of a level that is running. Scenery will only go on sections that are at full elevation. Bottom line – close your eyes and take step in any direction it will always lead you to some where you want to go.

  36. Thomas Meleck says:

    That G scale village looks an awful lot like a village seen on an episode of MIDSOMMER MURDERS. Awesome. It actually looks like it has been improved since the television episode was filmed. Thanks for posting.

  37. Will in NM says:

    Al (from Canada) and John, Thanks for sharing your photos of your layouts under construction. I am always impressed by those who can design and build layouts in three dimensions, making use of multiple levels as you two have done. Please post more photos as your layouts progress further.

    Donn, One solution to you multiscale equipment would be to build a three-tiered layout with forced perspective: the O guage on the bottom, the HO in the middle and the N scale at the highest level. It could be a lot of fun if you have a space to build it.

    Dangerous Dave, I fully enjoyed the model village video. I noticed that the bird dropping on the village roofs are not to scale. 🙂 Also the last minute or so of the video is apparently the village shot in the dark on a moonless night. 😉

  38. Erick says:

    Pretty Kool.!!!!!

  39. Everett Stallcop says:

    An excellent question from Donn. I too started collecting and detailing H/O scale rolling stock in the mid-seventies. By the mid-nineties I had about one hundred assorted cars and engines, all in H/O, but most importantly, we had a home with space for a nice L-shaped layout. Benchwork was never a problem but what started as a nice size layout became a large storage table for RR buildings, R/C sailboats and R/C cars. The railroad layout became a distant dream and my new in-the-box engines were never ran. Now that we’ve “down sized” I have a small bedroom where I am building what I hope to be my first functional railroad.

    I said all of that to say I am somewhat surprised, and pleased to learn that there are many of us who, for any number of reasons, have never “ran a train”. A big thanks to Al for providing a place where we may be able to motivate one another.

    Everett in Oklahoma

  40. robert dale tiemann says:

    i started this way just before i had to move, havent been able to redo it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *