Some tips from Alan

“Hi Alastair.

Suggestions: ( mistakes made and techniques refined )

1) Mountains:

a) Foamboard
-Use 1” thick segments carved to profile of mountain; placed vertically.
-Cover with nylon netting…hot glued
-Use either thin paper towel material or ( even better) old rags material cut into 1’ squares soaked in dilute plaster —to apply over netting ( cost effective vis-a-vis orthopedic plaster roll materials ) …creates a shell of the mountain.
-Hot glue smaller pieces of pink foam board to the shell just created —for outcroppings, ledges, waterfalls, etc
-Buy in bulk…25# or more….
-When mixing sculptomold, use at least 50% cheap gray paint…with the water ( you’ll appreciate the gray paint when drilling holes in the plaster cast to plant trees. )
-After Scupltomold dries, “dry brush” or “wash” various colors ( burnt ochre, sienna, etc )
-Dry Brush acrylic white paint over Sculptomold to bring out the texture of the material….makes the scene “pop”!
-Add snow…commercial or sifted plaster material.
-If prefer greenery, mist matte medium over dried Sculptomold and “blow” fine greenery over the vertical faces of the mountain…

b) Wood Frame:
-Basically same concepts but more amenable approach to cover staging yards, helices, etc. ( see my pix)
-( I have never used the cardboard strip approach….I guess I’m too lazy to cut all those strips )

2) Tunnels:

-Various materials available…plaster casts, etc
-Don’t forget to paint interior of tunnel with black paint “deeply” into tunnel past tunnel entrance.( amazing how far a visitor can see deeply past the tunnel entrance! )

3) Mountain “Relief” against a wall:
-Hot glue a thin ( 1”) segment of foam board against the wall adjacent to the track “scene”.
-Carve / round off – the top edge.
-Apply a thin coat of sculptomold to the face of the foam board and “scenic” as above.
-Amazing how much depth this adds to a narrow scene….( see my pic of the Bietschtal Bridge—just behind the bridge is this technique )

That’s all for now…thanks for the opportunity to share…


“Hey Al,

My name is Joe, I am a Diesel Electrician with Union Pacific Railroad. I start my HO layout in 2009. At the time I was Diagnosed with leukemia, so in between treatment I would work on it as much as I could. I am now in remission and back at work after a long battle, but I still love working on it. I build everything out of wood myself accept the electrical substation. I still need all the scenery. Your website is great and I enjoy it very much.

Thank you,





“Hi Al,

This is Mike again; you published a “how to” of mine a couple of months ago on a cheap way to make multi terminal blocks.

You have said a couple of times recently how you like to see layouts taking shape from inception to completion, so I hope you might be interested in mine. A fairly lengthy explanation first. (If you choose to publish this, please feel free to edit the expalanation.)

Having had my loft converted specifically for the model railway, I started work on building the base framework in March 2015. It is a large project measuring 22’ x 20’ with 2 internally projecting islands & with 1000 feet of track. I was going pretty well until I unfortunately broke my shoulder in early September & the operation to replace it went disastrously wrong, leaving me very ill & unable to even get up to the loft until the end of January. Since then I have been spending every spare minute up there – not as much as I would like as, although 70, I am still working & my work involves a lot of travel; I have already been abroad for 8 weeks this year with another 2 weeks coming up in July. I am figuring at the present rate of work, I will need about 3 years to complete the railway.

Now the thing is, in February, while the loft conversion was being finished, I was diagnosed with stage 3 terminal cancer but I am very positive & am fighting it with everything I have. They said 3-5 years but I’ll show ‘em – 8-10 at least. I’m not looking for sympathy. Don’t want it. Never have. Never will. But I think the need to finish the project & leave it as a finished running railway for my grandkids to remember me by, is a strong motivator to keep me going. I am absolutely determined to finish it! If you see fit to publish this, I hope it may prove an inspiration to any others out there in the same position as me. Just because you have a terminal illness does not mean you can’t build a model railway & have fun!

So, to the pictures: Firstly I have included the plan, designed with AnyRail (great programme). The video first to show the size of the room. Then pics 1-3 showing the construction under way; then pics 4 & 5 showing the first completed section, which had to be made as a unit & then moved, because once it will be in place (see pic 6) in the corner, I won’t be able to reach it easily!

Kind regards


Pic 1

Pic 2

Pic 3

Pic 4

Pic 5

Pic 6

A huge thanks to Mike, Joe and Alan. If they have inspired you to get going on your layout, then what’s stopping you?

The latest ebay cheat sheet is here and here’s the Beginner’s Guide.

You have everything you need, so why not join the fun?

Please do keep em coming.



19 Responses to Some tips from Alan

  1. john says:

    Mike that is TOTALLY fantastic what you`ve done so far mate and I cant wait to see how the rest turns out! Sorry bout the cancer mate and just a by the by look at B17 apricot kernels ( My wife beat the cancer using this method plus organic green juicing and changing what processed food she used to eat. I wanna c your layout finished mate so do some research on this stuff. All the best. JohnE UK

  2. Ron McCauley says:

    I liked looking at your framework. It looks light, but very sturdy. More on this with photos would be nice.

  3. Art Rago says:

    Keep up the good work.

  4. ARNIE STEINER says:

    Hi and thanks to Alan, Joe and Mike for their contributions. And I wish to extend my admiration and kudos to Joe and Mike for their commitment to their projects despite the adversity they are facing. Mike while I think, as you had mentioned, that it looks like some layout locations will be hard to reach, the benchwork itself looks flawless. Nice job and keep at it. Look forward to seeing more as you guys move along! Arnie

  5. Dan Marso says:

    Mike, you are an inspiration, good luck, stay strong! Your bench work is fantastic
    I saw layout on this site a few weeks ago, that was partially finished, and the
    Cross members had 1 1/2 inch holes drilled through each one for ease of wiring,I
    Indie D to add those when I redo my bench work, doesn’t show, but may make
    Wiring easier. Meanwhile, “STAY IN THE FIGHT” !

    Danny Marso , Rhode Island

  6. John Reynolds says:

    !st word… WOW!!
    Fantastic layouts under difficult conditions. Very positive attitudes. The adage that positive attitudes tend to yield positive outcomes is well illustrated in these posts…

    On scenery and mountains. The foamboard profile idea is excellent! Usin hot glue to secure the profiles — fantastic tip I must try!
    Myself, I tend to use cardboard for the profiles and blue painter’s tape for webbing under the cover. To cover my web I use either torn shopping bag paper (really cheap) or I use fabric scraps. For myself, I do not use plaster because of weight! (My layouts are very portable) Instead of plaster, I use diluted PVA glue. Usually 50% dilution for the base layer and then roughly 25% PVA on subsequent layers. Very solid and light! Pretty thrifty too.

  7. Dr Bob says:

    Joe and Mike, my humblest and sincerest empathy goes out to you and your loved ones. Fighting leukemia or cancer is a huge battle for many. Some comments do add value to beating cancer but I would encourage you to please consult with your physician before undertaking such thoughtful advice.

    Mike, I would like to know what type of structural plan is going into your layout. Is this called open grid?

  8. Delys M Wood says:

    My husband and I reside in Florida .
    We began our HO train experience December of 2015′ A little circle under the Christmas tree. After Christmas friends invited us to a Hobiest Train Show.
    We caught Train Fever .and
    we are spending the summer in Ohio , the “train fever ” has followed us.
    We are now setting up our summer HO train experience. We are in Cuyahoga Falls Ohio . We have been fortunate enough to find Hill Top hobby. The owner and people he employs have been so encouraging. We are in the right place.

    I must tell you the many helpful insights and hints you post are great! We have learned how to do things a little differently and each person who has contributed to your site gives us food for thought.

    We definately look at things and our trash with the idea ” .how can this be used…in our projects?

    Best wishes to you. Special thoughts for Mike. Awesome set up you’ve got going, man! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻🎈🎈🚃🚈🚊🚉🚞

  9. Don Garner says:

    Mike: Kudos on your initiative to build such an expansive layout. I am sorry to hear that you have such a serious health issue. Your resolve to fight it is an encouragement to the rest of us in a similar state. I have to think your grandkids will love Grandpa’s layout. Better yet, involve them in making the layout now. They will never forget the memories of working with Grandpa or and the knowledge they acquired from him. My two great granddaughters (6 & 3) love to work with me in my woodshop. We are building a few projects together as well as making a lot of wonderful memories. Press on, my friend.

  10. paul Otway says:

    It looks good.

  11. Rod Mackay says:

    All the best Mike, I think having something you want to press on with helps keep you going. Might make the aisles a bit wider if you plan it as a family layout. Looks good anyway.

  12. Lee Barry, CEO LZPMRR says:

    excellent beginning to your layout. Keep sending pictures as it progresses.

  13. Hap Cummings says:

    Great advise Alan. Never thought about painting inside of the tunnel.

  14. Jim Sulkosky says:

    Looks great keep up the great job, happy railroading.

  15. excellent layouts all
    keep em runnin fellas
    stjohn in long beach calif

  16. warren s piper says:

    hi my name is steve i model in nscale no pict ures yet just building my fifth section like all the pictures ive seen thank ws piper

  17. Cary E Price says:

    Great to see people pursuing their passions even while facing these types of challenges. Last night I drove 2 hours after work out in the country to meet a guy who had some G scale stuff for sale. He took me out to his barn, gave me some great deals and we had a blast running trains and looking over his collection.
    Great people and a great hobby! Thanks to Al for giving us a place to share our stories. Cary in KY

  18. Garry Schneider says:

    Al, the pictures are great, the videos are good, but the posts today from these gentlemen continuing to work on their RR is just plain inspiring. Thank you.

  19. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Hi Joe……. We have something in common. I was a freight conductor for the Pennsy and also I am in remission from my bout with leukemia for 5 years now. Glad to hear you are in remission. For me, the chemo was brutal and left me with some side effects. The model railroad hobby has been a blessing and a help. I think I found Al’s website in 2017 and look forward to his emails everyday.

    Good luck to you the rest of the way. Great start on your layout. Stay with it.

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