Some fabulous railroad modelling tips from Alan

Alan posted the below on one of the previous pages – but I thought it merited its own page!

Thank you, Alan.



“A few ideas I have used over the years

1. Buy a selection of Permanent Marking pens from the Newsagents. They come in a variety of tips and are ideal for very fine detailing.

2. I make scenery by screwing wood to the baseboard, then covering it with flywire which I staple down. I then mix Cornice Adhesive with cement colouring (if it chips its still brown etc) to a stiff consistency and trowel it on. It has a working life of about 30 mins. It dries overnight into a hard shell and will readily absorb kids poster paints. It is about 3 times dearer than casting plaster which is practically impossible to sculpt as it dries in about 5 mins. and any working of it tears it up into lumps. However it is the best thing going if you have a mould.

3. Most building models come with clear polystrene for window glass. I used to use white poly. to cover lavatory and factory windows as no one seemed to make a frosted glass. However I was going to throw away a mince pie packet and noticed that the base was very well dimpled. I cut it up and used it in windows to get a frosted look. I was so impressed that I placed it behind existing clear windows and it looked even better as it had a reflective quality about it. Another tray had a very well defined small diamond pattern to it, so I cut it up and using a fine permanent marking pen I drew in the lead light and then placed it beind the large windows in the Dapol Inn. It looks like genuine leadlight. Only problem is that this type of plastic will only stick using Super Glue.

4. Never throw anything away. I have shoe box’s full of offcuts and old sprues. They can be used to repair or reinforce corners of existing buildings and make very good loads of scrap iron etc. The shape determines the use.

5. Old locos with burnt out motors, remove the motor and double head. Broken carriages and goods wagons that are damaged, remove the bogies and place upon blocks about the track as storeage units etc.

6. I had an old Airfix house from last century, the roof got lost. How I don’t know so I simply turned it into a building site.

7. I came across an old pill bottle which looked for all the world to be a pottery kiln. Wall papering it was a bit of a problem, but tucked away in a corner it looks OK. My Oil Refinery is made from Storm Water plastic pipe joiners. Simply draw up the steel plates on a piece of paper and glue on. Put the join at the back out of sight.

8. Aluminiun angle is extruded and not drawn so the inside is a perfect 90 degrees. A small length by 1.5″ X 1.5″ is ideal to set up the corner of buildings on the inside or outside of the angle. Simply apply the glue and clamp in place on the inside or outside and allow to set overnight. Cover the corner you are using with some masking tape just in case the glue you are using takes a liking to the aluminium.

9. I found a box with an arched lid at the local junk shop. Stuck some legs on the lid, covered it with black paper, glued some corrugated iron to the sides and made a 3 road engine shed for about A$15.

Happy modelling



I like Alan’s style. A suberb collection of tips. If they struck a chord, I suspect you’ll like the Beginner’s Guide too.


PS Latest ‘ebay cheat sheet’ is here.

31 Responses to Some fabulous railroad modelling tips from Alan

  1. david says:

    Some great idea`s there Allan

  2. paul starr says:

    Some great ideas,well worth keeping in mind.Anything that save money is
    always worthwile.

  3. TimC says:

    That’s an aspect of model railroading that really calls to me…..using ingenuity instead of just throwing money at it……besides, I’ve little to throw!!

  4. siggy says:

    hey, just a little note about frosted windows, if you take the clear windows and spray them with clear acrylic it will etch the clear and looks really frosted and works great…

  5. Brian Selby says:

    Hope you don’t mind if I steal these great ideas and methods !!

  6. Dingo says:

    U can tell these R some good Ozzie tips especially the last one, the ideas R spot on and will work with just about any form of modelling.

  7. Mark says:

    Lots of great tips………………Pictures would be even better. Thanks

  8. Ian says:

    some great ideas i have save d to read at anytime

  9. Mike Street says:

    Great ideas, I’m all for saving money & re-cycling ‘junk’, like TimC I havn’t got much to spend & what I have gets spent on things I can’t build like Locos.

  10. Norm says:

    I have been printing and filing all this info since I can’t remember all of it. Your ideas are great. Keep those good tips coming.

  11. MICHAEL says:

    When I was renovating my house and was dealing with joining plasterboard sheets and cornice I was a bit slow and drying plaster frustrated me. Put a small amount of milk into the water mix when making up the plaster (whether basecoat or fininsing coat). Retards drying considerably. Gives you plenty of time to work the mix. Only downside is you then need to leave a good 24 hours to dry. Why it works I don`t know.

  12. Larnel says:

    Have O scale fast track for two Lioneo trains on 4X6 table.
    Tracks are straight and curved.

    Appreciate some ideas on how to spruce it up with switch tracks, etc., making a good track layout.

  13. charles h says:

    one thing I do when I have windows. I use scrap plastic, paint it black, then glue in over the window. it looks like tinted glass. that way you can’t look in and see nothing.

  14. Barry Pealman says:

    Reminds me of the old adage.”If it’s over a foot long…… it!”

  15. Steve Molloy says:

    Have just got into model railway so THANKS for ALL THE TIPS and INFO its bin a great help to me and I am 62
    Thanks again AL
    Take care

  16. tony says:

    hi al just new to the crazy world of oo model railway and i am very glad to read and use some of the ingenious tips have downloaded book to my e book reader

  17. George Ross says:

    Tips are now in the Railroad tip folder.

    Outstanding thank you.

  18. George Hine says:

    would cut rite wax paper purchased in the store to cover sandwiches work for frosted windows? Steal some from the wife’s kitchen and you are in business. I would think to make it really taught, a little model dope would work… Just an idea.. George

  19. Dave Biddles says:

    I ‘blur’ windows to prevent the ‘stare-into-cardboard-void’ with a gentle rub-over with ‘wet-n-dry’ on the inside face, followed by application of a clipping from ano catalogue, which will give any number of choices of a room view – usually from efforts to sell you a sofa or other furniture. For the larger window, a judicious clipping of paper curtains benifit from a very gentle crumpling [and smoothing] before Seleotaping-on {top only}.

    Glazing bars are simple with permenent-marker [as prior described] but Brown, not Black, gives a lighter, less start, more realistic finish. Only writing this, I’ve had a “ting” idea – I have a liqui-correction-pen – Stand-by for White PVC glazing bars !!!

    What a forum – Makes you apply your Own brain as well as sucking others !

    Again – Thanks Al.

    For Frosted [bathroom] windows, I anticipate an ‘arder rub-over with the wet and dry would be a simpler option – now off to give it a try.

  20. Dave Biddles says:

    ” Star K ” not start – didn’t proof-read !!!

  21. Ken Hecker says:

    Thanks Alan for the tips. Could you please provide a translation into English – OH, you ARE speaking English. We in the States have been gone too long.

    Have a Blessed D-Day. You guys were great!


  22. Yolli says:

    Great ideas from a fellow Aussie…. I use tea for my gravel roads, different types of tea are different colous, so I mixed a few together…..looks good, I’l
    I’ll post pix soon

  23. peter Briggs says:

    Hey Alan, tell us where you got or what you use for ‘corrugated iron sheeting’, is it that lining you sometimes get in stiff cardboard cartons? If so how do you get it out intact? by the way, great tips and thanks for sharing them with us! Peter

  24. Ernie Stammers says:

    Dont throw away tea bags, use them wet and paint over plaster to create brownish colour rocks and base on grass to effect of burnt grassland areas.
    A lot of cake boxes (plastic) can be used as moulds to create rocks, just put random bits of paper inside and fill with plaster of paris or white cement,
    I model in O scale so small stones from the garden are just like scale rocks.
    seek and ye shall find.

  25. David Farms says:

    Cheap lighting for building interiors.
    I am using discarded Christmas tree lights.
    An 80 bulb set has 3v bulbs. Use. 4 in series for a12vdc supply or 6 for 18vac (DCC layout.)
    Bulbs can be strategically positioned to suit windows, clear for most buildings, coloured for a church.
    Its easy to change a faulty bulb, and they have a bypass so one off doesn’t kill the whole set.
    Spare bulbs are dirt cheap, I just get a new set from Asda for about £8 for 80 bulbs.

  26. larry sheesley says:

    Hi Al
    Great ideas that you keep bringing on the site. The last one about Christmas lights. I found some LED lights that are clear and would like to know if anyone on here could tell me how to hook them up for use as building and accents lights throughout my layout. I read the last article and can you cut the wires and add wire to place the bulbs where you need them, and what size wire do you use? Hopefully someone has an answer for me. Keep the tips coming AL.

  27. L. D. Wilson says:

    For frosted windows simply sand the clear plastic with fine grit (220 or finer) sandpaper. Nice, smooth finish. Put the plastic on the frame with the non-sanded sign to the outside.

  28. L. D. Wilson says:

    Peter, I bought corrugated siding on eBay that was distributed by Campbell Scale Models. Made from aluminum but really looks good.

  29. orville says:

    for corrugated siding, I use the sleave that light bulbs come in.

  30. William G. Howe says:

    Not sure if this is the correct place to post a tip, but here goes…

    Passenger cars with no interior detail, but with lighting, need frosted windows. I cut the flat sides of plastic milk bottles, which are frosted and of good size, and super glue the strips inside the cars. Too much light? Double the thickness!

    Off-white LED strips can be cut to different lengths. Super-glued to the inside of the passenger car’s roof make for very realistic coach lighting. These can be lit via track power or battery in the coach. Adding a small capacitor will illiminate flicker. Experiment with different values.

  31. Dan says:

    Great tips , for me it’s more about personal touch . I can look at any layout and
    be impressed for some reason or another. The personal touch is what impresses me most. The originality and creativity is what makes this hobby so great . No one can tell you your wrong , but they can offer such great suggestions and advice . Thanks Alan!

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