Building Your Model Railroad

Newsletter - January, 2012

WELCOME to the 13th issue of BYMRr-Zine - a newsletter published by the author of the website Building Your Model Railroad, and devoted to providing breaking news and tips to model railroaders of all ages and all scales in a quick and easy-to-read format. Resources are always credited where appropriate.

Thank you for subscribing. We have lots of new tips and tricks this month to add to your model railroading pleasure.

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One way to make a pond on your layout is to draw the shape of the pond on the surface of the layout board and cut it out. Take another flat piece of board and nail it to the bottom of this opening. Then apply plaster cloth over the opening and seal it with Flex Paste, silicone sealant, or even a ¼ inch thick layer of Hydrocal. Paint the bottom with black, dark brown or dark gray in the center and use lighter shades of paint as you move out to the edges of the pond. Add small pebbles or water-plants to the edge of the pond. You can then add whatever type of water forming material that you would like to use–Magic Water, Realistic Water, etc. Add turf and bushes around the edges. You could even apply a green wash on the “water” around the edge of the pond to simulate algae.

Don't throw Away Those Pencil Shavings!

If you have a logging mill on your layout, you may want to consider using pencil shavings from a pencil sharpener as wood chips that you can spread around the mill. You may need to break them up or grind them up to make them smaller if you're modeling in smaller scales. If you can collect a lot of pencil shavings, you could even use them as wood chip loads in your hoppers.*

Help Prevent Railcar Derailments

If you have a particular railcar that continues to derail, make sure it is the right weight. Most HO cars should weigh an average of about 3 ounces for best performance. The website contains information on the proper weights for all the scales. If your car is too light, you can use fishing weights, nails, or small pieces of hardware and attach them to the inside of the cars where they can't be seen. Use foam tape with double-sided sticky surfaces to attach the weights in case you need to remove one. You may also want to check the wheels to be sure the axles are not to long or too short. You can use an NMRA gauge tool to check on this. If they are not the right length, you should replace the wheelset.

Camping Scenes

Camping scenes are fun to make on any layout particularly in a rural area. You can make tents using paper or cloth, cut out and sized according to your scale. Small track nails can be used for stakes or polls, and fishing line could be used for ropes. You can then make a campfire with a circle of gravel and red orange cellophane paper in the middle. There are also small flickering red-orange lights that you can purchase for this purpose. In addition, you can purchase a hobo scene from Woodland Scenics with several of these characters sitting around a campfire. I’m sure you could find some Boy Scout figures online as well if you would rather use them.*


Speaking of fun scenes to do, a friend recently found a site where HO scale cow piles and horse piles could be purchased for your farm scene if you have one. You could probably very easily make them yourself by applying globs of Walthers Goo to your pasture and painting them whatever color of brown you wish.


Rows of crops can be created in rural areas by using corduroy cloth. You can use small wads of paper underneath the cloth to represent undulating hills and valleys. Make sure you blend in your scenery over the edge of the corduroy cloth with lots of bushes or trees to make it more realistic. All you need now is a tractor and some farmers.*

"The Other Side of the Tracks"

Consider creating a town with 2 different sides of the track. On one side of the track, you could develop a very nice upscale residential area. On the other side create a rundown area with old abandoned houses, boarded-up windows, abandoned cars, junkyards and stacks of tires, complete with graffiti on the buildings. You could even consider doing this with your railcars – having one side of your cars looking fairly presentable other than some mild weathering and the other side looking rather beat–up and containing graffiti.*

Paint Your Pavement

Use stone–textured spray paint to create roads, sidewalks, parking lots, etc. These stone-simulating paints are available in most home improvement stores. You could start by cutting out a piece of styrene or cardboard in the shape of your road or parking lot. Then, in a well-ventilated area away from the layout, and donning a facemask to protect yourself, use the spray paint to cover the surface. After it dries you can place it on the layout in the desired position. As always don't forget to blend it into the layout scenery by adding gravel or bushes along the edges. Using a scribing tool or the back end of a hobby knife, you can scratch the surface of the paved area in order to create the appearance of cracks or joints in the concrete.*

Lighting Your Buildings

When you build the structures for your layout, take the time to be sure they are ready for lighting. Paint the insides of the walls black, or glue thick black construction paper to the insides. Use black tape to cover the inside of the seams. Cut out the windows and the doors in the appropriate places. If you don't do this, your building walls and roofs will glow. You really only want the light to be showing out of the windows, not through the walls.

Also use varying colored lights for different buildings. You may want to use a bright white light for commercial buildings and amber-colored lights for homes.

Use 2 or 3 bulbs, wired in series for each building. The bulbs will last longer and will be less hot than a single bulb wired in parallel.*

For larger scales or for commercial places with large windows, use magazine clippings of the insides of buildings, or take your own photo of the inside of a building, size it appropriately on your computer, print it out and place the photo inside your building in a convex fashion so that when the light comes on, the inside of the building looks realistic.

You may even want to use the construction paper to create separate rooms in the building - some with lights on and some with them off. Don't forget to put shades in the windows and people in the buildings.

Send In Your Stories!

There is a new Section on the website where you can send in your favorite stories about your experiences with model railroading -

~ Maybe a funny thing that happened in an operating session ~ An embarrassing moment ~ A problem that we should all avoid ~ How you use model railroading to help make friends ~ Trains and Kids ~ How you got started in the hobby ~ The best and/or worst experience you've ever had with model railroading or with railroading in general

Check out the new section here and see the first story about protecting your layout. While you're there, write down a paragraph or two about your own story! I'm sure these stories will be interesting reading for all of us.

*Ref: LifeLike Tips Guide - 13th Edition

Hope you enjoyed Issue #13. Feel free to pass it on to your friends, family and other model railroaders. If you have a great tip that you would like to publish here, please let me know - The more, the better. Any comments or suggestions are always welcome. Don't forget to send in YOUR tips! You can either go to the Comments/Contact Page and enter your suggestions there or contact me directly at [email protected]

Thank you for your support and for subscribing to the free BYMRr-Zine, the newsletter for Building Your Model Railroad.

And, as always, thank you for visiting the BYMRR website at

-Greg Warth

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved

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