Rod’s tips

“Best tip – model a location you can see or remember well, it’s so much more satisfying and it drives you to make things, such as buildings, rather than just make do with what you find in the shops.

You can still be original in how you ‘edit down’ the crucial elements of the scene to make it fit your space.

If you ARE going to just ‘wing it’ with a freelance design, keep asking yourself questions. Why is there a level crossing there, what’s that siding for, where are those points and signals worked from, how do people get to this station?

The railway never spent money on kit it didn’t need, and NEVER just came back from the Works thinking ‘this is cute, I wonder where it’ll fit’ like we do. (OK, that doesn’t explain why I just ordered a Hornby Sentinel…pretend you haven’t noticed.)

If you’re using set-track, remember you can lay out your proposed plan on the boards and check it will work – eg that the passenger trains will squeeze past each other in the loop, your Big Boy will go round that curve, or you can reach a derailment in the middle – before you start gluing and pinning stuff down.

And you can check your trains will drag themselves up your proposed inclines just by propping some track up on cardboard boxes and trying it. The world’s not flat, your scenery will always look better if it goes up above the railway and down below it, even if only by an inch or two.

If laying cork strip for roadbed under your track, if you either buy the halved kind, or slit it down the middle with a sharp craft knife, you can glue down one half to the track centreline you have marked on your board.

Cork strip this narrow bends easily to normal radius curves, and when it’s dry you just lay the other side of the cork against it.

You can then see easily where the centreline of the track should go by the cut line in the cork, which will be hidden when you add ballast. It’s neat, avoids ripples in the cork, and saves you transferring your plan to the full size job twice-over.

If you hang one end of a portable baseboard, with legs only at the far end, off the SIDE of one at right angles to it, it hardly matters how solid your joints are (and my baseboard frames are 4×1 pine and the fixings are M6 shouldered bolts, which is pretty titanic for a layout) gravity will still do its damndest to pull the cross-board over at an angle! I had to fit a removeable brace under the pair to hold them level to each other.

If soldering up an etched brass or nickel chassis kit, when you put the spacers and frames together use only a tiny blob of solder, then put the unit on a surface plate (or if you haven’t got one of those a bit of plate glass) and make sure it’s level all round before you run solder fully along the joints.

Otherwise, once you start soldering stuff together big-time, it will be almost impossible to correct any twist.

Always take a spare controller to an exhibition and make sure your wiring scheme has somewhere you can attach it easily! (Bitter experience talking here, but luckily I had a spare with me for wheel-cleaning purposes.)

Make notes of how you wire things, colour of wire, which pin number it goes through at baseboard joint connectors, etc. It’s a fair bet you won’t remember how you wired something up by the time it stops working five years later.


“Hi Al. I have been stalled on the Big Curve Project because I did not see how I could construct it.

I have spent considerable time making sketches trying to come up with a way to build it. I just couldn’t see how it was going to work.

Then a couple of days ago I had a new idea. Why not make the curve uniform and geometric. Why not just put the curves into a steady bend instead of the loose lines I was moving toward before.

Once I started down that path, it all started to come together and I think I am ready to start construction. I can now visualizr how it will go together where I could not do that before.

Here is part 3 of the series.

Thank you for all you do.

Rob M”

And lastly, I’ve had a couple of mails in asking about the paper size on the printout buildings, after Michael sent his layout in.

They print out fine on the US sized paper (8.5 x 11 inches) or the UK paper (8.2 x 11.6 inches).

You can adjust the scale of the building just by changing the print size percentage, when you go to print it out.

But I asked Michael, anyhow, just to be sure. Here’s what he said:

“Al, I didn’t have any issues printing.I followed the directions and reduced the print by the 87 percent. They all printed fine and I think the scale was spot on. I had to add the porch posts. I didn’t see them on the print out. Other than that, they worked great. I’m planning my next purchase soon.


All the print out buildings can be bought on their own, or in a bundle (for the moment).

That’s all for today peeps.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you start making tracks to make tracks, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

13 Responses to Rod’s tips

  1. Ray Appenzeller says:

    I am looking forward to when you actually start construction and progress updates. Is there any way of a larger panoramic view of the entire layout other than a drawings? Thanks, Ray A.

  2. Greg Rebman says:

    Michael said he reduced the print size by 87% so I assume he is working with HO. If this is true then the reduction by 87% seem like it would b e too big. Let me explain. HO is 1/87 the of full scale which is a bout 1.15%of full scale so the reduction would have to be about 98%. I would like comments on my thoughts.

  3. paul Otway says:

    good tipws

  4. Rod Mackay says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing the rebuilt Farland. When I was laying my curves it was onto the already-built and erected baseboards, I too used string to set out the track centrelines on the surface, but of course the pivot needed to be within the operating well in the middle, so I put my little nail in a length of 2×1 and clamped it to the opposite baseboard, then I could just tie a pencil into the end of the string. I left a few inches spare and wound it up round the pencil so that as I got to the end of the curve I could let the pencil turn slowly and as the slack ran out, so the radius increased a bit to blend into the straight – it looks better if it doesn’t just go Wham! into a curve of the full radius.

  5. All plans look good Rob , looking forward to seeing the finished project

  6. THOMAS says:


  7. John Reynolds says:

    Great tips…
    My favorite being the one about buying kits — and then coming clean on the sentinel…
    I have my own issues… I am looking forward to getting one of those nice USA pattern tank engines and also a class 59 (?)… Alas I am a Yank living in the states and neither loco fits any of my American prototype modeling….

  8. Rod Mackay says:

    Oh I think you’re on safe ground with both the USA tank loco and the GM. There were lots of those 0-6-0Ts left surplus after the war and could have been recovered to preservation, but also, some in the 5000 to 5060 series never left the US but were used at military depots and war factories. The one photo I have shows 5001 so used and still with the low, straight top bunker, and just lettered USA 5001 on the cabside, not the usual Transportation Corps.
    I’m sure I remember seeing a photo one of the UK-gauge GMs, either a 59 or maybe a 66 which are very similar, in use on American freight stock during trials at the big test track (Colorado somewhere? Dunno) before being shipped to the UK, equipped with some huge wing mirrors and some test gear. Prototype for everything if you look hard enough!

  9. Bruce Young says:

    Nice look forward to see when track down,

    Al, How is the new pup coming along. I have two German-Shedders. Lol. Right now one is ” blowing her coat”. That is where the white under coat is shedding off thru the upper tan coat. This happens twice a year when seasons change. Winter to summer here in states. Enjoy as yours gets older 🙂

    Bruce Y30

  10. Gerry says:

    I was wondering what program Dave -The Farland Project – was using to design and print his layout ideas with…

  11. Jim Thomas says:

    That test track that Rod Mackay mentioned is just north of the Airport in Pueblo, Colorado.

  12. Jack Durbin says:

    Hi Al Before your server switch, there was a bit about building step ladder that would allow you to lean over a layout and work on the parts that were out reach if you were standing on the floor.. Do you remember this? Could you put it online again


  13. Frank Juhasz says:

    This is not a reply, it is a serious question!!! I despertly need help with DCC.I am new to N scale and just jumping into it it with both feet and starting with DCC. I’ve read 1 book, 6 N Scale Magazine articles and numerous on-line articles about it and I’m totally LOST! I can’t understand it and I have a GP-38 with DCC already installed arriving this week. I have an old MRC unit and my layout is built, 7ft x 3″ with inputs at each end. But I need to know how to program the new engine, where to get the resistor to use on an isolated track to program it. It runs regular engines OK. I’m 73 years old and have had HO with regular DC engines for over 40 years. HELP!!!

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