Railroad layout school project!

I got this in and thought it a fantastic story!

“I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and I am inspired by all of the tips and techniques. I am the science chair at a middle school, and I recently was awarded an educational grant from a coal company for my idea to build an HO scale model train layout. We built the entire 8’x4′ layout in my storage room. It took many class periods to complete. The majority was done by 13 year olds. I only offered my help with laying the track, electrical components, final details, and trouble shooting.

The CSX specific train dumps coal using the old Virginian TYCO hoppers that we will paint later and affix CSX decals. We cut square holes into the layout base for coal to pass through grates into a peanut butter jar, and we are currently in the process of using a coin machine motor to build a gravity loader for the next fair. With this lesson, I taught not only concepts of coal, but I focused on scale, electrical circuits, and topography. I wanted to introduce students to the hobby of model railroading that I recently became interested in myself. Anyway, we finished most of it up in time for the CEDAR coal fair, and took home 2nd place which gave me, the coordinator of the project, a $600 check! I was wondering if you’d be interested in seeing the pictures or video of the project to post? Granted, I nor my students are hobbyists. Our techniques are probably crude and rudimentary compared with others on the site. Thanks.


I have an idea on how to make realistic looking roof material and not cost an arm and a leg. A lot of model buildings have a tarpaper look to them but I prefer to use Kleenex for the true look. I know how hard it is to try to cut Kleenex’s with scissors but thanks to my wife she had the perfect solution. She does a lot of sewing and she gave me a round cut blade that has a round wheel (fabric cutter wheel) that is as sharp as any e-acto knife and when using a metal ruler for a straight cut you can slice Kleenex to any width you need. The next step would be to place it permanently to where you need it. I simply lay the individual strips where I need it and then use any brush with flat black paint needed to stick it to the roof or and other application


Here’s Patrick’s take on Roger’s flat bed load ‘how to’.

Patrick has just used stuff from the garden:

Latest ebay cheat sheetis here.

Keep ’em coming!



28 Responses to Railroad layout school project!

  1. Ian says:

    just great to see thanks.

  2. Des McLeod says:

    What a great idea and project!
    I feel this should be encouraged at schools. When I deal with young adults and see how totally inept they are with any form of physical or handyman task I want to cry. Their fine motor skills are exceptional because of years of computer gaming but for the rest they are clueless.
    Perhaps this type of project introduced into more schools can eventually result in young people developing more interests and becoming better prepared for their future lives as adults.

  3. Thanks Dave, it was great to see Sir Nigel running if only on vidio. I had a 3 rail one back in the “50s.
    I missed out on the limited edition one that came out a few years ago but was lucky enough to pick up an older version and have had it converted to DCC.

    Cheers, Geoff. AKA Jollyjack.
    Auckland NZ

  4. Ben Zalewski says:

    Bravo for getting our youngsters interested in a class project. The layout requires a number of skills. A number of students will step up to do a job and others will pick up on other tasks.
    A project like this is a great skill builder.

    As a former science teacher I’ve used class projects raising rabbits (the primary “researcher received an 8 year scholarship from his work.), building simple electrical circuits and trouble shooting computers (386 vintage).
    Keep inspiring your classes to learn more! Thank you for going the extra mile.

  5. paul Otway says:

    That is a good thing for school students to be involved with.

    Better than playing silly games on a computer.

  6. TOM says:


  7. David, in Thailand says:

    @Garron… a great idea and good work by the students and you!
    @Dave… thanks for the video. Is there no end to your talents?

  8. Great Eastern David says:

    Dave’s video reminded me why I love steam locos. Unfortunately (but very enjoyably) it led to an evening following up all the other steam railway videos that pop up when the YouTube clip ends. Something like 2 GB downloaded and bed at 2 a.m.!

  9. Sheila says:

    Fantastic! I have long thought that using model railroading in the classroom could encouraging learning in multiple subjects – math, reading, science, history, geography, etc. Glad you had the courage to make this a reality!

  10. chris says:

    great to see kids useing their imagination instead of being on the pc all the time

  11. Dave says:

    I was also pleased to see Sir Nigel running Geoff , they have had a lot of problems with her this last 2 years , I think that was the first run for a long time.

  12. Jonathan Harmer says:

    Thanks very much for sharing you video. It’s nice to see the “breething” locos still oporating. They were all but gone in Canada when I was growing up and the last one I saw was a museum run out of Ottwawa for the 100 mile trip through the Ottawaw Valley. They spent days preping the museum piece to get her up to a comfortable running condition and was fantastic to hear and see as the engine even ran a few “run throughs” at a good rate of spead to the people’s suprise and pleasure. Thanks again for sharing. Our rail lines here are now all but gone and the vast exspances of track is being removed do to lack of rail trafic. We very rarely even see a diesel go past any more. Thanks agian!!!

  13. paul Otway says:

    thanks Dave for showing this video

  14. Albert Weir says:

    That was a delightful vidio of thos old engines Thanks so much.We see only Models of them in Australia but to see the real thing would be awsome
    thanks Al also for the great tips you publish I have got so much out of this segment
    Regards to all

  15. Dennis says:

    Garron, great layout. Love that CSX loco.

    Dave, your videos of the old trains is very cool.

  16. John Bolez says:

    For good quality roofing material I prefer to use the very fine wet/dry sandpapers (Black prefered).

  17. Les coultas says:

    Hi Garron, what an excellent way to get the kids involved and to learn and demonstrate new skills. Excellent looking layout, keep the photos coming in. Keep up the good work.

    Les, Hereford UK.

  18. Speedy Dunn says:

    Great school project. Would have loved that type of project when in school. Loved the Virginian hoppers as I grew up in Virginia. The local families always kept up with the coal train schedule so that washing clothes and hanging on line was done on the days and times that coal trains were not passing by.

  19. jim morris says:

    what is the fule used for the locos? It is white smoke.

  20. Bob Smith says:

    Garron, You’re my hero! Any educator who can assemble 13 year olds into doing model railroading or any project for that matter without drama, video games, or even cell phones is a miracle in my book. Job well done and loved the layout!

  21. Rod Mackay says:

    All that white stuff is not smoke but steam, and that first shot of the A4 pacific climbing the bank into the station does in fact have far too much of the white stuff pouring out underneath it, something amiss there I think, it seemed pretty continuous so maybe a leak on the train heating pipe? The fuel used in almost all UK preserved steam is still coal, hand-shovelled too. There are a few exceptions though, the Festiniog and the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch lines use some oil-firing I think.

  22. Danny Henderson says:

    Yes, the school layout project is a very nice layout and set up but I Loved Dave’s video of the steam engines even more. Even though Modern Diesel Electrics are more efficient at hauling cargo overall, there is still nothing prettier than the sight and sounds of a Real Steam Locomotive with old time passenger and freight cars chugging along the tracks. It’s enough to make a grown man cry and shed tears of joy. My hat is off to the engineers and their crews of Steam Locomotives may they never die off, or fade away.

  23. john andrew says:

    thanks for all the info on log loads myself use rose wood cuttings just take of the thorns they dry brown ,and where you cut off the thorns look like where the branches have been removed plus in a short time the pieces colour to look very real if you cut them as used in shay the really look real john A

  24. Gary Stewart says:

    No need to repair the VGN hoppers on the students’ layout. Just patch out the reporting marks to CSX or whatever…

  25. Gary Stewart says:

    Auto correct grrr. I typed “re paint” not “re pair” the VGN hoppers.

  26. Terry says:

    Super Dave, you’r vidio’s are better than the BBC.

  27. Dave says:

    Watching those steamers painted different colors and shapes led me to think that would certainly make a great layout on the American side of the pond. We don’t see UK steam over here. Is there a website that would have your locos, rolling stock, buildings, etc for sale. I am too advanced in age to begin to scratch build a layout anymore.

    Great video Dave!

  28. Charlie says:

    When I was teaching, I TRIED so hard to get the schools I worked at to go along with something like this.

    No dice. Doesn’t fit curriculum, doesn’t do this, doesn’t do that, blah-blah-blah, blab-blab-blab.

    You’re very fortunate to have a good principal. Good luck with this project.

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