Things I love about this hobby…

Do you know how this site started all those years ago?

I just began publishing the questions and tips folk emailed in, because you won’t get any better answer to a problem than the ‘collective wisdom’.

And then the site just grew and grew…

So I thought it would be nice to get back to grass roots for a post or two!

“Dear Alastair,

I am sorry that I don’t have much in the way of tips as I don’t do any modelling at all and actually never have done.
However, a nearby friend suggests a really clever tip which I am more than happy to send along the line to anyone who wishes to give it a go.

The idea is in itself very simple. A discarded grape twig converts very neatly into a scale tree with little to add but using much ingenuity. I have no idea if this is a generally shared concept but it sounds fine to me and avoids putting said organic leftover into a food waste bin.

Can it be categorised as food waste?

Maybe not.

The other practical side of modelling coaches is glazing for the windows.

Seasonal moments throughout the calendar produce much plastic packaging, so much of which gets thrown away or on a good day, recycled.

As clear plastic seems to be ‘gauge free’, it can be used over and over again in so many ways.

I put some by from time to time like a sort of squirrel, in the hope that I might use it in a practical setting.

One can but hope.

Greetings from myself here in /on a very windswept tiny island.

Alistair”



“Don’t get into model trains if you are married.

George”


“30 years in boxes and decided to set up my HO for the grand kids. Boy has it been a fun project.

For those looking for a great 4×8 layout, I highly recommend the Atlas “Yardmaster” layout. Six switches, 7 zones, two sidings, a bypass and a figure 8. I put a 15″ radius trolley circle in the middle of one of the figure 8 circles to boot.

Its a lot of fun to operate and with a high level of focus, I can run two trains at once plus the trolley.

Landscaping has been fun as well. Currently using some of my old plasticville buildings which I will probably upgrade at some point. I upgraded all my light posts from incandescent bulbs to both 3mm and 5mm LED lights. (don’t forget to use resistors) and I run them at 5 volts off an old computer power supply. For building lighting I bought 12 volt multicolor LED strip lights, cut them into 3 LED sets and wired them into the computer power supply… lots of soldering which I’ve become fairly proficient at.

For the control panel, I made a track layout pattern onto a piece of 1/4″ plexiglass painted gloss black, and wired in directional indicator LED’s controlled by DPDT momentary micro switches located where the turnouts are (green for straight, red for turnout) One side of the DPDT switch controls the AC for the turnout, the other for the DC LED red and green. It looks and works super.

For streets/roads I used rubber sheeting left over from an outdoor pond I built a few years ago. It looks just like asphalt and has some thickness to it to raise it above the surface(unlike paint.). My biggest challenge moving forward will be to upgrade to the knuckle couplers as I currently have all horn hook couplers. Most of my rolling stock is of the cheap variety,(30 to 50 years old) and it does not look like I can switch them out. I’ve been working on the layout for two months and the grandkids will be in for Christmas in a few days…can’t wait to share it with them.

Craig”


“Hey, Alastair:

Just a note to say how much I enjoy the messages you send out, although every one of them is way beyond me. I am a mere beginner, although I am 73 years old! Right now, I’m cursing (and not under my breath!) Bachmann’s turnouts and the seeming inability of one’s tracks in the turnouts and those “regular” tracks not meshing. Seems that the track in the turnout is just a shade higher than the other tracks, and so far, I have not been able to use a single turnout for that reason. From the reading I’ve been doing, it seems like I ought to try out an Atlas turnout and see if it would be compatible to what I already have (HO, Eze-track (spelling?!) Well, enough for now. Thanks again, and I drool each time I have a look at the wonderful layouts your readers share.

Don”


“Hi Al, I have no model train tips to share. Recently picked up childhood trains and for the first time in 60 years I have a place for permanent set up. Set is from the early 50s. Lionel 027 with some very cool working cars, switches, coal ramp, steam loco etc. Have never done scenery or had a smooth working setup. KW Transformer needs new cord, Engine needs cleaning etc. I’m excited about learning from the beginning. Zero knowledge, but if I had to give a modeling tip…?….Whatever you do, decide, attempt enjoy and have a good time!! The most important thing is does it give you and others joy.

Jeffrey”


“Well this is pretty basic but consider I am for all practical purposes a newbee returning to the hobby a half of century after enjoying it as a kid.

I was working on Ballast on some curved track and didn’t want to have too much fall off roadbed onto finished landscape terrain. Thinking I needed something besides my hand to catch the overspill I saw a scrap from a curved a bridge I was making. The outer, discarded radius from the bridge proved to be a good catcher of the ballast overflow as it snuggled right up against the track.

Jack”


“I’ve been working with layouts around 30or so years.

The savings for ground cover and even a bit of therapy is using white silica sand and latex paint. The silica sand isn’t that expensive and the latex paint is usually around the basement or garage.

You may also by it in smaller cans at the hardware, or big box stores.

Using a polished metal bowl with 3″ to 4″ sides large enough to hold 18 Oz. of warm water and a glob of latex paint.

Colors can be mixed to just about any choice.. A GLOB of paint is approximately 4 OZ .

Place the paint into the container.

Then using a 9 OZ cup of hot water pour into the container which has the paint glob.

Begin mixing the paint and water together using a good 3″ paint brush. When the mixture is mixed to your satisfaction, you should pour the second cup of hot water into the container and mix again.

The painted water is ready for the white silica sand to be poured in. Do this with a small scoop. To make it less messy begin placing the paint around the inside edges first. This will keep the painted water inside the container.

When you get to the middle of the container and the sand is painted, Gently tap the container on a hard surface (concrete). The painted water will come to the surface for you to place more sand on. Do this as many times as it takes until the product begins flaking.

When completed place a large piece of metal foil on an out of way table and dump the sand onto the foil. Use a Cabinet chime or wedge and chop the sand to leave more of the product exposed to the air. The chopping should be done at two day intervals until completely dry.

The last step is to screen the product. Using a 2′ x 3′ cardboard box, a large plastic bag and a window screen.

Place the box into the large plastic bag and push the bag down into the box. Place the window screen over the box with the plastic bag already inside. Then you rub the product through the screen slowly. You’ll have some larger pieces which won’t get screened, The larger pieces can be used as stones further on down the road.

Not to worry if the product seems a bit damp after 4 days. Just pour the product into a one gallon kitchen bag, leaving the top of the bag open.

REMEMBER; THE SILICA SAND IS NOW PAINTED SAND .

Application:
Always use the darker painted sand first (blacks, browns, grays)..
Then the middle colors (dark greens, blues, light reds etc.)
Then the lighter colors HIGHTLITES. (Light greens, tans, off white, yellows and white)
ERCUNNIFF
In the end you’ll be paying 20 cents a pound compared what ever the market is charging.

Eugene”


There you go. Some wonderful tips and some wonderful description of the hobby. Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

Lastly, Dangerous Dave has been in touch again (I’m sure he must never sleep):

“Hi Al , i see there was a request for a video showing my trains going from lower level to the upper level , well I have produced a short video showing it… the new class 47 looks good going the rounds on lower and upper level

Dave”


Love this time of year for the ebay cheat sheet.

And don’t forget, just a few days left for my 4th July sale – my biggest sale ever.

Best

Al

PS

49 responses to “Things I love about this hobby…”

  1. Douglas McKay says:

    H AL I do injoy reading your message, as for iam getting back into the hobby just started working on my layout and things are moving slowly but a lot less mistakes and frist time using ddc sold have the main line running over the holidays when iam finshed laying all the track and it runs I will send you a video of the layout .
    Doug

  2. Brent says:

    MERRY CHRISTMAS Al and thanks for all the hard work you do keeping this site going. Brent

  3. Dave Cook says:

    I decided to make some rock molds. I went to Lowe’s and spent $3.75 for a bag of tree bark. Took it home, separated the good stuff from the trash, washed off the dirt, hot glued several hunks together and made a mold of this. So for the $3.75 for the bag of bark and another $15.00 for latex and gauze, I now have 11 different molds that are really detailed rock castings.

    By the way, I found a great cheep container for mixing plaster. Take a 1/2 gal milk container, cur off the top, and use this. When done let the plaster dry and bang the container on a trash an and 99% of the plaster will come off.

  4. eric7 says:

    I think we all love your site Al for the tips and pictures of peoples layouts, as that is how a lot of us get our ideas. So to you and everyone out there have a great Christmas and a happy New Year.

    Eric (Leeds)

  5. david loree says:

    merry xmas to all modellers, especially railroad, enjoy all this website has to offer. again, merry xmas.

  6. PETE says:

    Hi Alistair, although I’ve not donated any tips to your site, I do love the resourcefulness of other contributors and yourself to whom I would like to wish a very merry Christmas.

  7. Brian Messenger says:

    Hi Al, wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2016. A very very big thank you for all your hard work over the years and please keep it up. It helps seasoned modelers like me to improve on our work and keep our interest in the hobby going. Brian 🚂🚂

  8. J R Gray says:

    For two years now I have watched with wonderment as you have laid such a myriad of model railroading tips and ideas out for my wok as well as enjoyment…I want to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and may God’s richest blessings be yours in the New Year…..

  9. everette dotson says:

    I do so enjoy all your post. I am new to model trains. I just inherited a lot of rolling stock, engines, buildings, and a lot more.

    u see, my father gave me all he had in N scale and HO scale. He would buy out the trains that a hobbie shop had when going out of business.

    what do I do with them all. I have 250 sqf of trains and such.

    everette

  10. John Parker Clayton, CA says:

    Merry Christmas Al, The “O” gauge video is coming soon, iust need my IT savy son to help me send it to you…. Thanks again for your wonderful blog mail…
    John

  11. Bob Cassidy says:

    I am using windows 7 The video looks great and came through just fine.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  12. Dave Fairfull says:

    Yes “Merry Christmas” Al and everyone for the past years tips. Oh and Happy New Year. Dave F.

  13. Barry Pearlman says:

    I have been lurking in the background, but I plan to buy the lumber, foam etc. and hopefully start next week. Some tips I can share before the wood arrives are:

    Have your own private bank account or coffee can hidden under the bed. My wife has no concept of what some of this costs. Remember, what she doesn’t know won’t hurt you!

    My wife got somewhat hooked on the hobby when I took her to a train show last year. She like I loves real tiny miniature things; I am planning on “N” gage.

    Tip: In my experience, something put solidly in place or just out of reach will probably break the most.

    The last tip I can impart comes from my ex-father-in-law. “If it’s over a foot long, save it!”

    I can’t wait to get started.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,.

    Barry

  14. Paul B. says:

    The “class 47” looks so sharp. Love the paint job on it. Is that a current British train?

  15. Ian Mc Donald says:

    great tips do enjoy reading them and putting in the library. nice video, Santa was good to Dave this Xmas .Merry Xmas to everyone hope to hear from you all in 2016

  16. Frank Cortese says:

    Al, we wish you a Merrry Christmas. I also want to thank you for this blog as it gives lots of enjoyment and knowledge.
    Best wishes from Frank near Mickey Mouse in Orlando

  17. John says:

    G’day, Alistair.
    Thanks for your good work, wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and Good Health always. The same goes to all those other armchair railway fans like myself who never quite get any project off the ground!
    Cheers,
    John, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia

  18. william allen says:

    Merry Christmas and happy new year

  19. william allen says:

    merry chirstmas and happy new year

  20. Bernard Mulholland says:

    Hi Al. All the best for Christmas and the New Year and as so many have already said, thanks for all you efforts in creating this network of folks that have the same passion.

    While I haven’t started with the model as yet, I have been planning the layout in my mind and on paper for months. My retirement is due and I will get started shortly after. I have already visited many outlets so that I know what it available. One thing that I noticed is that layouts take up a fair bit of space and so to get as much useful track in place, I plan to create three levels of track. The middle level is the normal table top, the upper deck will be accessed via circles within mountains or a raking ramp. This will enable me to use trestle and other types of bridging over the middle track.

    The lower deck is the underground and at some locations, rail over road which is big in Melbourne at present. Part of the underground will be viewable from the front of the table top as the train arrives at the station. I will need to build this section first and then overlay the table top. Ramps down and up will see the train disappear from view and then return to the ‘at grade’ level. Access to the underground and upper level will all be controlled by points so that the train can remain at grade if desired.

    I know this sounds ambitious but it would seem easier to do before rather than after. I will build false panels within the underground so that I can get access to derailments etc.

    Thanks to all the marvelous tips from all the contributors as these will help in dressing the layout once the track is in place. It maybe a long time before rolling stock hits the rail but I have seen that it is so important to get all the prep work done before especially the wiring for the Digital Controllers and lighting.

    Thanks also to Dangerous Dave for his wonderful videos. He is an inspiration to us all. Keep well and see you in 2016.

    Bernard (from Oz)

  21. Tom says:

    I had to put my N scale model railroad on hold for now. But with the information available on this site, and what I have learned from the wonderful people I have many Ideas for my railroad when I get started. Excited and looking forward to that time. Thank you all. Especially thanking you Alastair.
    May your yule log have warmth and be all aglow … and may your stockings be stuffed until they over flow.
    May you and yours have a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and Happy New Year!!
    God loves you and so do I,
    Tom, North Central Maryland, USA

  22. great train display, for the whole world to enjoy, thank you, henry

  23. Stuart Capstick says:

    Al, I’m a devoted reader of your site and its tips. Keep ’em coming! Merry Christmas to you and to all who use your site.
    (Do you think the rest of us could get access to Dave’s Santa?)

  24. Mike says:

    Hello there Al,
    just wanted to say thanks for all the work you have done throughout the year, have been saving all the tips for when I can start my own layout.

    Merry Christmas to you and you family and hopefully a very safe and happy start to 2016.
    To Dave I just wished we lived closer as I would be haunting your place for tips and ideas. Keep up the great work mate.

    To everybody that is into model railroading, I wish you all a happy and safe Christmas and a bonza New Year.

    Mike (Australia)

  25. Palmer Schatell says:

    I enjoy the letters and ideas very much. I have a question about the color scheme used on rolling stock by the Civil War U.S. Military Railroad. I would also very much like to get in touch with someone in the know about radio controlled battery powered locos, Happy holidays to you and your readers.

  26. ramon borg says:

    Merry Christmas to you Alastair and all the readers, thank you for all the tips you all send

    Ramon [ MALTA ]

  27. Richard B says:

    Dear Al,
    I just wanted to add my thanks to you for all the pleasure you give from the e-mail
    site and the many tips and pointers. Dangerous Dave is a fantastic contributor, thank to him and all the others as well
    Best withes
    Richard

  28. Roy Bastiman says:

    Thanks for all the info Al, best wishes for Christmas and the New Year
    When you have a moment after wading through the mountain of e-mails could you have a look at my query regarding logging into the site
    Thanks

  29. Nick Lewis says:

    Only found your site this year and I think its fantastic, keep up the good work !
    It only remains for me to wish everyone a Merry Xmas and a very happy New Year
    and hope you all get that model railway present that youve wanted ,

  30. Mark Piznik says:

    Many thanks to you, Al ! I am so inspired by the craftsmanship of so many that you have shared with us. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! NJ Mark

  31. Roy Forbes says:

    Good morning and Happy Christmas Al and all our readers.
    I was reading through some of the above blogs, a lot of which made me smile and a few others made me laugh. Every tip that someone gives to another is brilliant and most are very useful. The one about the grape sticks I have been using for a while to make trees and shrubs. Now what about tea leaves? I use ordinary tea leaves from tea bags, wash them out until no more colour comes out of them (and to get any traces of milk out if you use them that way) and allow to dry, split open the bag and put to one side until you’ve found a use for it. Mix the tea leaves with a bit of poster paint (Green or whatever colour you want – I have several margarine tubs with all different colours in that I sometimes mix) and 50/50 PVA glue, use same PVA mix to prime the area with an old small paint brush and then use to make realistic undergrowth, shrubs and wild growth or even creepers and vines growing up walls.
    You can also use staples from papers and magazines, straightened then bent in two unequal parts, smother in the PVA mix and add the coloured tea leaf mix and hey presto realistic looking flowers and small conifers etc.
    That’s all this time folks but all of you have a truly happy Christmas and a realistically modelling New Year.

    Roy

  32. ian impett says:

    have a great xmas EVERY BODY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  33. kim says:

    Merry Christmas everyone. I been sending to this site for a few years now.Injoyed every little bit as well. Also in time this site has grow to what it is today. Al has worked hard to get it like it is. I have contributed much as well even thou these days I haven’t much. Reason don’t think anyone is interested much anymore but rather buy already formed stuff. Anyways to make a long story short I may drop out of model train’s and sell off my stuff. Not feeling like my stuff matters anymore.So good luck everyone with model train’s. Seem’s the ones with unlimited cash and can afford what ever. When guys like me try and show what can be made to save on the cash isn’t a priority even though some were here from the beginning. good luck

  34. David Steuerwald says:

    I wish everyone a happy Christmas . I’ve enjoyed your site very much only hope as progress (since my layout is still in the planning stage) that I can remember where everything is listed

  35. paul Otway says:

    I wish to wish ev eryone a Merry Christmas, and I hope that you all found lots of model trains under the Christmas Tree.

  36. David De Bondi says:

    Hi Alister,

    Many thanks for running this site with so many great ideas from around the world
    on railway modelling. It’s a gem!

    Cheers, David

  37. tomfinner@gmail.com says:

    Hi Al and All,

    I am a new member to the site and just restarting another hobby I left sixty years ago. Moved to a retirement community with an active Train Club so the bug has bitten again. I’m enjoying your book and grateful for all the wonderful ideas. The eye candy vids are amazing, what talent these modelers have.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

    Tom

  38. Trevor Elliot says:

    Merry Christmas to my fellow railway modellers around the globe from Olympia, Washington, USA.. May all your presents have steam or flanges.

  39. Henry McCoy says:

    Happy holidays and happy New years to all.

  40. Mark Hume says:

    My Dad introduced me to the hobby on a Christmas day when I was 6 (44 years ago) – an A-B pair of “toy” Santa Fe F-units in HO scale. His dad introduced him at about 4 years old, in 1945 – an American Flyer pacific – it still works – he runs it under the Christmas tree every year.

    Although my kids did not get into it (it was not an every day part of my life as they were growing up), my oldest grand-daughter has – she is about to be 9. She merely observed me working on layouts on the computer, and seemed to really enjoy it. She asked tons of questions, and I showed her archive pictures, and some of my currently-boxed collection – her interest was piqued. Six months, a small layout, and a half-dozen models later, and she is developing into quite a talent. So I started getting creative (she loves buildings). What a gift she gave me! (I’m back into the hobby – hooray!)

    Since I was in creative mode, I realized, after I have literally spent almost 1/3 of a century creating a 3D model of the old N&W Blacksburg (VA) Combination Station, board-by-board, in AutoCAD, I can print things (such as wall faces) in HO scale. I can then affix the print to plastic sheet, scribing building corners and simply fold the station walls into position. I cut out openings for windows and doors and apply textured sheets to the exterior for siding and the shingle belt. The roof works in similar fashion. Grandt Line or Tichey doors and windows stuck into place, and some real glass glazing and presto – Blacksburg’s combination station on HO scale.

    I’ll send pictures as it progresses – my grand-daughter and I will have our first scratch-build soon.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Mark Hume
    Manassas, VA
    “Every project is a work in progress”

  41. Austin Wilson says:

    Alistair, I hope you had a Very Merry Christmas and wishing you a Happy New Year and all the very best in 2016. Love all and every update I get from you. So much information and very helpful tips. Love the videos from Dave and so many others. Hard work but keep it up as I know others and myself love what you do and post. Thanks again.

    Austin in Eastern Canada.

  42. Gene Fricks says:

    Can anyone suggest a source for a part in N gauge to replicate a valve control wheel? I have constructed a gas pipeline but need the wheel to mimic the valve control apparatus. I tho’t perhaps a steering wheel from a model automobile might do but have not been able to find anything in a reasonable size.

  43. Rod Mackay says:

    In answer to the poster at 11pm, yes, there are still class 47s in use on British main lines, mostly ones that have had some modernisation or even re-engining with GM innards, but some near-original. Mostly used now by smaller train operators for excursion charter work and moves of rolling stock to/from works. There are also several preserved ones on heritage lines. They had a name for being rather draughty/leaky and some drivers would sit encased in a bin-liner in bad weather! Still, one of the most successful of the Modernisation Plan diesels, and they’ve done just about every job from express passenger to heavy freight and even coal train non-stop tipping at half a mile an hour. A Brush/Sulzer product, Brush (Loughborough, UK) being the loco builder and electrical specialist, Sulzer (Swiss) providing the diesel engine.
    Rod

  44. Kevin McArdle says:

    For glazing on my models, I use either canopy glue, or a product called gallery glass clear, available at stores like hobby lobby, Jo-ann’ or Michael’s. It is $6.99 for eight ounces. To do the glazing just dip a toothpick or scrap scale lumber in the medium and put in the window space. It goes on white but dries clear. Very easy and great results. Happy Fourth of July everyone.

  45. Paul Selwyn Otway says:

    Great stuff,

    Al as a suggestion for the building, how about a locomotive shed, or city terminus?

  46. Stephen D Gispanski says:

    Hi Al,
    Well I am back. My wife and I made the move and acourse the house and all the broking items come first before anything else is done. Juts waited to let you and everyone know that I do enjoy reading and seeing everyone input on the items that they are working on. My mancave is full of boxes of every item that I would like to mount on the walls and also set up. I hope I can get the train set up before the end of the year, I’m pushing for that. Hats off to all of the Train Gang and keep on sending info my way.
    Thank You; S.D.G.
    St.Petersburg Fl

  47. Terry Lefevre says:

    Hello Al:

    I have a question:
    I have heard 2 different ways of setting up a track.
    1) is to solder each tracks joiners.
    2) leave a space between tracks to allow for track expansion (suggesting that the joiners be free to allow the slippage of the track).

    SO.. What is the BEST way?
    Terry

  48. Don Field says:

    Whether Dangerous Dave wants a comment or not he’s going to get this one. This test video is wonderful-Al can you con Dave into making a (book/ instruction manual on how to make these video’s complete with how to on the graphics and particularly on how to do the gingerbread man? Please? Dave can make it simple & direct using his skill & knowledge and save us boobs out here so much stumbling around trying to find out the who, where and Why.

  49. Marv Johnson says:

    Alastair,
    I’m another of the contingent starting with 40;year old trAins, track and buildings, and trying to build a new layout using 3 guidelines, free, repurposed or cheap.
    A couple of responses to a items above.
    My new layout required 6 more switches than I had including a number given to me by friends retiring from the hobby. I was surprised to find the 6 new “sale” switches I bought were code 83. At my next visit to the hobby shop, the owner walked me to the track wall, and handed me a cheap bag of track connectors which adjust for the “bump” required to go from 83 to 100 code.
    One of the suggestions above was for mixing water and paint as a starting point for ballast and mentioned mixing the paint and water with a “good” 3” paint brush.
    Please never use a brush to mix paint. Brushes will stop being a “good” brush when paint gets into the ferrule (the metal thing that holds the bristles together. When using and cleaning a brush, keep the paint well below the ferrule. Stirring sticks are free at the paint stores, and I use popsicle sticks and coffee stirring sticks for small jobs.
    I be sending you another e-mail on some other things i have discovered.
    Marv

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *