Richard’s railroad tips

I got a whole load of tips in from Richard, after his first post (which I have included at the botom).

I thought them very worthwhile so here they are.

“Having access to a wide variety of products from Walthers, Inc.; one product I found which works great for ballast on model railroads, is plain old beach sand. You can get some, wash it, rinse it, let id dry before using. Then, when you go to use it, you can spray it with a diluted tint, let dry, and then use it for ballast. For HO railroads, beach sand will duplicate ballast for use around yard tracks.

To model strata in rock faces; I use molds for rocks, but also use gypsum boards, made over an inch thick. I cut the width down to 1.5 to 2 inches wide, then carve the exposed side, before putting in place and coloring. The process might be a bit time consuming for some, but I like doing that in places where the use of such is not readily noticed; as in an extension of a modeled rock face.

I also use gypsum board as underlayment for the trackage, and hide this with a cork roadbed, which I then hide with ballast.

I have also learned that gypsum, in loose form, makes good “snow”, although you have to be careful not to get it wet, as it will clump, and after it dries, it sticks.

One thing about Gypsum, is that it is the main ingredient in Plaster and sheet rock. But it is great to work with; and I have laid road ways, air strips and even built buildings using this stuff. It really is great for model railroading.

I also use a wood water proofer, but what I use is Kuprinol 10; which comes in either clear, or green. I use the green for water proofing wood posts when building fences, decks, or setting up foundations for barns, sheds, etc. I have been using the clear product for making many of the wooden structures on my layouts, water proof, so that the structures don’t absorb water vapor from the air.

Also, Thompson’ Sealer works just as good, but I find that to be a wee bit more expensive, per gallon.

To me, the best tip I could give to any one wanting to get into model railroading is: “Start small.” Regardless as to how big you eventually “grow” your layout; don’t make the mistake of trying to do every thing all at once.

Start with a small layout, which should not take more than one or two weekends to complete.
Then, as time, space, and budget permits, add to this small layout.

Keep your expectations from leading you to get more involved in the modeling, when you don’t have time or space, or the budget to get deeper.

Don’t run lots of trains; although you can have many different types of locomotives and rolling stock.

AND, The most important idea to remember is: Don’t let others tell you what you need to do with your hobby. The model railroad you build, belongs to you and your family; not to the rest of the model railroading community, (unless you start a club and invite others to join). If you want to make it “Toy like” in appearance; this is your prerogative. Remember: This is Your hobby, and every thing you do with it, belongs to you.

I use gypsum for scenery, which I buy direct from the maker. It works out real good, and can be mixed with dry colors for various shades of rock and dirt.

I also use in/out door carpeting, green in color, which I cover with colored gypsum, to simulate yards and fields. This saves time and money, and doesn’t look half bad.

For tunnels, I have molds which cover the outside with plaster, let set and harden, and then remove the tunnels and place them where they will fit on the scenery, before I build in the mountains. This gives me the ‘rock-cut’ interior, which most tunnels have, although for me, you can only seee into the tunnels maybe 6 to 7 inches.

For bridges, I use scaled plans and structural plastic shapes, which I heat weld when building the bridge. A current project bridge is being built using steel, for under-framing, with the plastic parts, (beams, columns, etc), heat welded together, so the steel will be hidden. This is because I plan a bridge which will be built in a canti-lever style, and will measure around 12′ long (real time measurements). This bridge is needed to span a walk-under part of the layout.

Have a great day


Aren’t they great? A big thank you to Richard. If you have a tip to share, please do email me (just hit reply to any of my mails).

Or if you’d just like to get cracking – the Beginner’s Guide is here.

Keep ’em coming folks.

And if you’re heading off to ebay, the latest ebay cheat sheet is here.



25 Responses to Richard’s railroad tips

  1. Ray Kuhn says:

    Hi Richard,
    My layout is mounted on a 4×8 foam insulation panel
    My question is after I made a hole for Z wood light masts what is a secure “filler”
    The other question I have is what is a secure method for mounting catenary masts on this foam board? This will be an active and large catenary layou
    Again the scale is Märklin Z

    Thanks for your help


  2. david says:

    A hole loasd of good tips there

  3. Brian says:

    I have got 10 wagon’s printed ” Buxton Lime Quarry’s ” if I Mold the shape
    of the load paint it white and glue some plain flour on top.

    That is the nearest I can get lime
    The scale is 4mm to the foot.

  4. Walter Mackins says:


    Thank you. Great tips. I’m going to start an online folder for the better suggestions that come here. This one will definitely be included. Cheers.

  5. Arthur says:

    For Brian – have you considered kitty-litter for lime? Unused, obviously…

  6. Ian says:

    great tips all new comers to the hobby should read these.

  7. rick says:

    i have found that beach sand gets mold even after it is dry i use bag sand from the hobby store

  8. Al Barten says:

    If you have trouble finding beach sand, ground limestone, which you can find wherever landscaping materials are sold, works very well.

  9. Dave says:

    Believe it or not, I use all kinds of spices (dried basil, cumin, nutmeg, ect) for ground base. Looks so natural. Dried oregano works good too. With the dried oregano and dried parsley I mince it down even further by rubbing my fingers .

    I do several layers with the spices and held down with hairspray. use a small paint brush to spread, then spray.

  10. Marion says:

    Rick, if you rinse the sand with a bleach/water mix, it shouldn’t mold at all. In fact, and this has nothing to do with modeling, I rinse all the berries, etc. that I purchase at the market with 1 part bleach/10 parts water. There is no taste (you could rinse them if you’re concerned about that), and they keep a long time. The bleach kills all bacteria and mold. Of course, I don’t keep them for years, as with modeling, but bleach will kill your mold spores. Another thing, is that we bleached our roof several years ago to kill the green fungus growing on it, and it’s still clean. Good stuff, when used properly and safely.

  11. Marion says:

    Dave: What a great way to use up all those dead spices and herbs in my spice cabinet. I use mostly fresh herbs that I grow myself, so I have beaucoup dried ones that I hate to throw out, but they have lost their strength and flavor. Thanks for the great tip!

  12. Don says:

    That “tunnel innards” trick is clever!

  13. Daniel T says:

    Can some one tell me what a standard width and height of a single line tunnel should be. I have heaps of boxes I need to through out, but if I could use them for tunnels or something…… I would save me some money.

    Thanks to everyone’s ideas.
    Daniel T

  14. Daniel T says:

    Sorry HO

  15. Bob Bouskill says:

    I have been in this for a long time and I love the advice that whatever you do, it belongs to you. This is a point that is often overlooked and people can be cruel without thinking when they criticize others. I sent some photos so others could criticize my work but I have not seen Alister’s post of them. Always nice to get feedback. I also think making interiors for tunnels is a great idea. It is a small detail but always overlooked.

  16. paul says:

    Daniel T, check the nmra site they give all that info there.

  17. Bob Beckstrom says:

    Great tips Richard. I look at my layout some times and say to myself this is exactly how I would like to have a town look like, it probably is too perfect for many but as you said “it is your layout……make it the way you want it.”
    I started with a small “N” scale oval because we lived in an apartment and didn’t have a lot of room, now have a nice full scale town and mine and and a complete circus and carnival layout in the garage. Starting small and enjoying the life time enjoyment of seeing it grow is so true.

  18. norm sunray says:

    I have not seen a better idea for ballast as I accidentally came up with.
    Upon cleaning out my eavestrouph I found a lot of fine particles from the roof tiles. My roof is grey so the ballast is grey /black.

  19. Brian says:


    Nice ideas. Just love this place.
    Just to pick up on size. Consider your ultimate plan and where you think you target is. BUT just build a small section of it. Be clear in your own head what you want to spend.
    Tra Brian

  20. Duncan Galbraith says:

    Hi, I cooked my beach sand in an old frying pan, after washing it with a detergent, a half inch layer at a time and it hasn’t gone mouldy over 4 years. I never tried bleach but I will next time.
    Ref how you make your layout, look it’s a bit like painting or sculpture, it’s 3D art and who is to say what is best. Look at some of the rubbish that the arty people praise! ( I know, I paint as well). Has anyone thought of a Dali layout? Now that would be cool!
    Have fun, it’s a hobby, not a job! D/

  21. Steve Bee says:

    Richard, thanks for all the tips and ideas. I now have a bulging(!) file of these ideas on my laptop, and thank you for all the timely advice for me (just getting to the start-stage). Thanks Al for passing them on in this forum.
    Steve (NZ)

  22. bill says:

    Gday from the land of oz, ppl seemed concerned about cleaning the track, here is what i do and works fine, i bought a 1/2 made old layout and cleaned up the track using a dremel drill buffing pad which is good enough for gold or silver polishing, I’m lazy so i don’t need to clean the track again, i converted a carriage to a track cleaner, so now it cleans as i play 🙂 no more fiddling 🙂

  23. Bill Crozier says:

    I’m a little off topic but I am really stuck and need some advice. I am running a 12vt DC plug in to power my lights in various buildings. What I find is after just a few minutes the power supply has really heated up. My question is can I use more than one 12 vt power supply to split up the power or is there another way of wiring lights? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks in advance,

  24. Harvey says:

    Re Richard’s tip :Quote: I found which works great for ballast on model railroads, is plain old beach sand. …End Quote.. I have not seen anyone mention that plain beach sand “Can” be full of metal particles.. Take any magnet and run it through your bucket of sand. You may find you have a lot of trouble sticking to that magnet. Any such sand laid close to your rail, if not totally glued to the surface, can be caught up in the magnets of the motors, and in a very short time you will have a motor that will not run.. They are very hard to clean, if not next to impossible. Especially if the windings have been over-heated.

  25. Robert "Gabe" Gabriel says:

    Thanks Rich for your valuable tips n insights. Like you, I believe that u need to start small/med and let what you have started grow on you. One thing I would recommend is to have some type of future vision of what you would like on your layout and also leave yourself room for adding and the all mighty CHANGE OF MIND…. Keep the tips coming, greatly appreciated…. Gabe

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