Building Your Model Railroad

Newsletter - February, 2011

WELCOME to the second issue of BYMRR-Zine, a newsletter devoted to providing new and old tips to model railroaders of all ages and all scales in a quick easy-to-read format that you can print, save and refer to frequently in your train room. Here we go...

Humor – Add some fun to your layout. Add a few scenes that will pique the interest of your visitors and make them smile or laugh. There are lots of ways to do this. Use humorous signs or word puns for your buildings and businesses - like maybe Porky's Meat Packing Company, or Rusty's Iron Works, or Greasy's Diner or RoadKill Grill. Make a scene like I saw recently at Northlandz with Grandma's outhouse poised on a cliff over a construction site. I saw another scene at the Seaboard Station layout recently that had a casket accidentally sliding out of the back of the hearse at a grave site. Another one might be a car stuck in the mud with the passengers all muddy trying to push it out.

Another thing you can do for humor is to make up your own history for your freelanced railroad like the guys did at the Chesapeake Bay and Western. You could have a story of how an eccentric banker won this railroad in a poker game, made it into an illegal gambling/brothel business, later having it confiscated by the government after he went to jail and ultimately having the railroad become the wealthiest timber hauling line in the West. You could have this story printed out, framed and displayed in your train room or clubhouse.

Use your imagination. Get your family to help you decide on a funny scene you could display. It all adds to the fun of building your railroad.

Making Rocks - A recent article written by Paul Scoles in Model Railroad News (December, 2010) shows how he uses dental plaster instead of regular plaster or Hydrocal to make rock molds. You can get it from dental supply houses in small or large bags. It apparently shows much clearer and sharper detail in the rock castings than the other materials. Also, when mixing plaster, remember to use lukewarm water, put the water in the mixing bowl first, then add the plaster slowly while constantly stirring.

Soldering iron - I found an even better soldering iron than the butane one that I mentioned previously. This one is the definitely the best I've ever used. It's called IsoTip Quick Charge Soldering Iron. I bought mine from the MicroMark catalog. Easy to use. Heats up quickly. Gets in small places without difficulty. Great for soldering wires to switches and to track rails.

Small projects - Sometimes working on a big layout can be overwhelming. You begin to think that you'll never get it looking decent. It starts becoming a chore rather than fun. If this happens to you, try breaking up the big project into little ones. Just work on one thing or one scene at a time. If you get that one scene done so that everything works well and looks good in that area, then you will feel like you've accomplished something, and you will be more encouraged to go on with the next scene. Or break away from the big layout altogether for a while and do a much smaller project like a simple coffee table layout or a seasonal diorama. You may want to try your hand at a micro-mini layout. Or go an a rail-fanning trip and take a bunch of pictures. This will stimulate you to get back to your layout and perhaps try to emulate what you've seen using your new pictures as reference photos. Or go to a train show or visit an open house at one of your local railroad clubs. There are so many things to do as part of this hobby, it's mind-boggling.

Diorama - Speaking of small projects, it's very easy to put a small diorama together and display it in your office or living room. Start with a small piece of plywood - Whatever size you want, but 8" by 16" would be good for HO - even smaller for N or Z scale. Put 1 or 2 layers of 1" Styrofoam on top of that as a layout surface. Then cut out a valley or riverbed in the Styrofoam. Figure our where you will place your track and whether you want it curved or straight. Decide if you want a bridge for your train to go over the river or if you just want your track to follow alongside the river. Place newspaper wads and plaster cloth on one side of the track if you wish to make mountains or cliffs. Cover the flat part of the foam with plaster cloth also. Lay your roadbed and track and add ballast. Use some ground goop to cover the mountain and the ground. Rough it up on the mountain and smooth it out on the flatter surfaces. Paint it with various earth-colored washes (diluted acrylic paint) Place a shed and some workmen around it on one side of the track or maybe a hobo camp if you like. Then glue down some turf, weeds, bushes and plant some trees. Paint the bottom of the riverbed and pour in some E-Z Water or Realistic Water. Put a rustic wooden or wire fence along the railroad and add other details like telephone poles, a sign or billboard. Place your loco and maybe 1 or 2 cars on the track. There you go - A nice scene to show off your modeling skills and get people talking about model railroading.

Cliffs – Make cliffs and natural-appearing retaining walls using a concoction of Sculptamold and Sculpting Plaster. Add a small amount of earth color or gray acrylic paint. Spread the mixture (ie, "ground goop") with an old spoon on your cliff that you made with newspaper wads and plaster cloth. Make ridges and cracks and caves in the cliff for realism. Use a reference photo to help if you need to. When it dries, use the spot technique of painting with washes of different colors - like raw umber, stone gray, black, burnt umber and yellow ocher - for variability. Plant a mixture of green and brown turf on the top along with various bushes and trees to finish it off. Place a few straggling green or yellowing plants within the cracks and caves of the wall here and there. Put a few talus rocks at the bottom of the cliff but not too close to the tracks. Put a few bushes and weeds amongst the rocks at the bottom also to add detail. See the BYMR page on Retaining Walls for more info.

Potentiometer – This is a variable resistor that you can use to control the lighting in a scene or to control how fast a particular animation will go. I mostly use them for changing the lighting in a scene from brighter to dimmer. If you get one with an off position, then you have complete control of your lights from the control panel. The potentiometer has 3 connectors. When used for this purpose, install a wire from one terminal of your 6-12 volt power source to one of the outside connectors of the potentiometer. Then attach a wire from the center (wiper) connector of the potentiometer to the light(s) or to the motor you wish to control. The other wire from the light(s) or motor should go to the positive terminal on the power source. Also connect the center connector on the potentiometer to the unused outside connector of the potentiometer. Now when the power is turned on, you can dim or brighten the lights, or change the speed of the motor, using the rotary control knob on the potentiometer. You may need to reverse the polarity by switching the wires going to the power source depending on which direction you want to turn your rotary knob to get the desired effect. This can be mounted either on your main control panel or on the fascia near the scene you want to control. Remember that like all resistors, potentiometers can get warm. Be careful where you locate it and be sure that it can handle the voltage and the current of your circuit.

Forum? - We're considering starting a friendly learning forum so that it will be easy for you to add your own input and to be able to "talk" to each other about the various nuances of building a model railroad, including discussions about wiring, scenery, benchwork, layout design, track-planning, scratchbuilding, special effects, automation, etc. Before doing this, I would like to get an idea of how many would be interested in participating in a forum of this type. If you are interested, please send me a quick email at the address listed below. Thanks for your input!

That’s it for now. Hope you enjoyed this format. Print out this section and keep it in your layout room for quick reference. 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. Also, any comments or suggestions are always welcome.
Ref - or contact me directly at [email protected]

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

And, as always, thank you for visiting the BYMR website at .

-Greg Warth

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved

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