Model train tips and ideas

I have another collection of model train tips and ideas today:

“If you use home water filters (Brita style) cut them open for the charcoal – great “coal”)

If you make tea from teabags, dry them after use and save the tea – great “dirt” and ground cover. Coffee grounds work too.

For ballast, buy roofing granules. They come in a 5-gallon pail for about $25, assortment of colors, and you can size them for your scale by sifting through window screen or some other material.

I’ve heard concern about iron in the material that could interfere with electronics, but I have not experienced it.


“About the only landscaping tip I can think of is on my former layout I had the tracks rise in elevation.

The way I hid all the blocking was to cut foam rubber pieces ( came from and old couch) 1” thick by about however long was workable.

I would glue to the track bed and then to the table bed.

I would brush or spray glue on the foam and sprinkle grass or dirt ( it came from the vacuum cleaner. Easy embankment.



You are no doubt already aware of this but, in case you are not, I printed one of your buildings directly to card stock. By doing this the step of gluing to an empty cereal box or whatever is being used is eliminated and greatly speeds up the process. Further, the card stock accepts the glue far better than cereal boxes and appears to be quite sturdy.

I strive for convenience whenever possible. As the Pennsylvania Dutch say: Ve grow to soont ald und to laid smardt.


I keep meaning to move all the print-out buildings in to one place, but I haven’t got round to it yet.

Here’s the first store.

And here’s the second.

Pretty much all of the buildings in the video below are from the first store. Hard to believe they are all made of paper.

Have you seen the latest ebay cheat sheet? It’s here.

Lastly, not long ago, I asked for your ‘best tips’. And some of you posted some wonderful, smart advice. So I thought it worth ‘reprinting’ some none of you miss them – they really are gold:

“When laying track, “that’s good enough” never is. Mutter some select unprintable words and do it again.


“Don’t let any one issue bog you down when it cones to scenery. Sooner or later you will come up with a better idea anyway. I have more redevelopment projects than the city of Las Vegas.


“Design your layout so you can always work on it easily, this is a life time hobby enjoy it,have rests from it and even make some changes now and then.Most of all it has to give you a laugh and good times with some mates.


And of course, hundreds more model train tips and ideas like this in the Beginner’s Guide.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

8 Responses to Model train tips and ideas

  1. Don Jennings says:

    I would not recommend using food stuff for scenery. Food stuffs like tea grinds the coffee grinds on any layout. The reason I mention that is it is food and ANTS and MICE and other animals will find it and go there. I do think you want those type of animals as passengers on your layout. GOOD LUCK though Don J

  2. john thorogood says:

    Ants stay away from coffee grounds due to the acid content in it.

  3. I have found that if you use the right types of glue and paint for the tea and
    coffee ground cover it seems to keep the pests at bay but on the other hand I have found some problems with the sawdust type covering if you use the wrong
    types of glue in their use ! the only problem I have now is trying to remember witch type of glue for witch type of covering stuff ?
    Hope all have a good Thanksgiving and Christmas along with New Years this season -and may all be well and stay safe !

  4. Rod Mackay says:

    Work over a tray when handling fiddly little widgets, once it’s on the floor you’ll never find it. (No, I don’t either, I’m sure there’s lots of interesting stuff under the bench.)

    Clean your locos a couple of weeks before an exhibition so you have time to fix anything that breaks, order spares etc. before the big day, try using a bit of meths and a cloth on the tyres instead of an abrasive such as a fibreglass pencil.

    Make your backscenes removable so you can refresh them when the colours fade (oh yes they will, and that’s despite keeping the blinds down) otherwise you will need to learn to do touch-up painting upside down. (Not looking forward to this.)

    Have a checklist and go through it before setting off to a show. (Once had to drive a round trip Bristol to Cardiff flat out when we forgot a control unit.)


  5. Tom Sawyer says:

    If you live in an area where Golden Rod grows. Now is a time to pick it(dried out), shape it and spray with a flat green and the flat clear laquar. Makes great trees and scrubs. I still have some that is decades old.

  6. Rick Hane says:

    As always great tips. I am 69 on now retired and after 23 yrs I am going to build a new N gage laout on a 80 X 35 door. And I have two questions for your readers.

    #1… I am building this layout in my bedroom and have to think that it may need to be moved in future years. How do modelers affix there buildings to allow this?

    #2… I see several types of foam board, pink, blue, etc. Which type should I use for the bed on top of the door?

    Thank you in advance, Rick (Chicago area)

  7. Doug Tanzer says:

    I have done most of the scenery on my 6mx1.2m 3 tier layout using bought grass installed using static applicator. I bought trees @ 50c each maximum from China and then used natural different coloured gravels and local slate (easy to drill, sculpt and form to desired shape then lacquer it) I went to the park and got some dead branches for dead trees, again lacquered and stuck in etc Very simple but very very effective and very cheap AND the best bit was the fun I had doing it.. as mentioned above you are always changing and improving scenery – that is the fun of it

  8. Tim Morlok says:

    I tried saving air dried tea bags (Earl Gray) that I emptied into an air tight clear plastic container. After about 6 to 8 weeks of daily adding more tea to the container, I found something growing up from the mix on tiny stalks with round fuzzy tops. I threw it all out!

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