Building Your Model Railroad

Newsletter - February, 2012

WELCOME to the 14th issue of BYMRr-Zine - a newsletter published by 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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Different methods of applying ballast to model railroad tracks have been described over the years. This is a method I discovered recently in the March, 2012 issue of Model Railroader written by Cody Grivno, on p.39...

~Apply the ballast between the rails first.

~Use a 1/2 inch brush to spread it evenly between the rails and the ties.

~Soak the ballast with isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) using a pipette.

~Wait 2 minutes, then apply diluted scenic cement or white glue (Cody uses 20% dilution). Apply it from the outside and allow it to "wick" into the center. (If it doesn't wick in by itself very well, you may have to dilute the glue to 50%.)

~Sprinkle a thin layer of ballast on the shoulder while the glue is still wet.

~Let it all dry out overnight.

~The next day, apply a second layer of ballast to the shoulders. Use a 1 inch foam paintbrush to flatten out the ballast and shape it as a beveled edge, trying to keep the ballast off the ties.

~Then apply the alcohol to the outside of the ballast letting it wick in.

~Apply the diluted glue as before from the outside and again let it wick into the center.

~Once you see the white glue coming up through the granules from the bottom, you're done!


The articles on rock formation in the website mostly describe using Hydrocal to pour into the molds to make rocks. There are other materials that have been used very successfully also, such as dental plaster, which is very fine and creates excellent details.

Another material is Durham's Water Putty which was described for this use on page 58 in the March, 2012 issue of Model Railroader in an article on "N Scale Mountain Scenery" written by Dennis Murphy. This also shows great detail, dries very hard and doesn't shrink.

I have used Sculptamold also to create rocks but it's better to add this directly to the landscape without using the rubber rock molds, since it won't show the rock detail and crevices as well as the other materials. Still, Sculptamold, added as a filler between the rocks or even as standalone rocks or cliffs added directly to the landscape is a great way to make large amounts of rock walls and mountainsides in a hurry.

Don't Throw Away Those Crushed Plaster Remnants

Also noted in the same article cited above, Dennis saved the excess plaster particles left over from the rock castings and used them as backfill behind walls and to cover gaps in the scenery. You will probably want to paint the particles with a brown, gray or tan wash either before or after they are put in place on the layout.

Multiple Uses for a Track Inspection Car

"Railroad Bill" Tulley described new ways to use the Micro-Mark track inspection car in the article, "Evolution of a Track Inspection Car", published in NMRA Magazine, February, 2012, p.20.

~Make the car into a track cleaner by drilling 2 holes in the mid line of the clear plastic "bed" of the car. Then get a piece of Masonite about the same width as the car and about 1/3 to 1/2 the length of the car. Place 2 one inch brad tacks through the Masonite so that the pointed end of the tacks will line up with the holes in the bed of the car. Then when you place the Masonite underneath the car with the tacks running through the holes of the car, the bottom surface of the Masonite will slide along the tracks and clean them as the car is pulled around the railroad.

~ Make it into a circuit test car using a red and green LED with resistor mounted on the surface of the plastic bed and attached to wheel pickups on the bottom.

~ Make a tunnel tester. Cut out a piece of styrene in the minimum dimensions that you need for tunnel openings and/or the heights of bridges and underpasses (Make sure to allow for the height of the car itself). Fix the styrene vertically to the center of the car by making a ridge from one side of the car to the other on the plastic bed. Then when you run the car around the layout, you can make sure all of your tunnels and bridges don't get caught by the edges of the styrene. If it does, then you have to make adjustments in your tunnel openings, bridge height, etc.

NMRA Convention

Don't forget to sign up for the NMRA Grand Rails 2012 Convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If you've never been to one of these, you've got to go! Over 90 presenters will be there to show you how to do everything. More than 70 layouts will be available to visit!

Sign up now at

SageBrush for Winter Trees

Paul Scoles and Walt Appel describe how to use sagebrush to make winter trees in their article titled "The Scenery Clinic: Pt XX", starting on p 56 in the Feb, 2012 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman.

First, you have to find some sagebrush which is readily available in some parts of the country, but more than likely you will have to buy it at craft stores, or online at, or from other similar suppliers. Also, you will need some Super Trees from Scenic Express to make detailed branches for your trees, and some super thick Tacky Glue (Aleene's) from your local craft store.

The process is as follows...

~Take a branch of sagebrush and trim it to a realistic shape.

~Attach a piano wire peg or a pin with the head cut off to the bottom of the "trunk" so that you can mount the tree to the layout surface when you're done.

~Snip some small branches from a Super Tree and attach them to the sagebrush tree with the super tacky glue. Start at the top of the tree and work down.

~After the glue dries, spray-paint or airbrush the branches, but not the trunk, with gray paint (Floquil SP Lettering Gray suggested by the authors).

That's it!. It takes a total of about 20 minutes for each tree.

You can also use the very small Super Tree branches, without the sagebrush, to make winter dormant shrubs, to place in between and under the trees for a more filled-in look.

You can use the same process to make summer or fall trees by dipping or spraying the branches with diluted white glue and then adding layers of ground foam sprinkled on the branches.

Weather Your Track

Track that you buy from the hobby shop or that comes in train sets is usually too shiny to be realistic. Weathering the track as follows is an option that will make all your track scenes look better.

Use flat (nonglossy) dark brown spray paint to cover the entire track section. Make sure you use small pieces of masking tape over points and hinges on turnouts to prevent them from "freezing" after the paint dries.

Then, using a small, fine brush or paint pen, paint the sides of the rails a dirty brown-red or rust color.

Clean the tops of the rails with fine sandpaper or a track cleaning block to get the paint off the tops of the rails so that electrical current flow will not be affected.

Make Good Use of Old Equipment

Do you have old locomotives or railcars that don't run well anymore or that need to be fixed but you haven't had time to get to them yet?

You don't have to put them away never to be seen again (which is usually what happens).

~Create a Railroad Museum on your layout and keep these old relics on display.

~Or take the wheels off an old boxcar and make a yard office out of it.

~Create a wreck scene using your old equipment complete with a crane car and crew trying to clean up the mess.

~Use pieces of rail or old rail ties and wheels along the side of tracks in certain places along with some weeds and old tires to help detail a scene.

Forced Perspective and Illusions

There's no rule that says you can't use different scales of structures on the same layout if it makes sense to do so.

For example, on shelf layouts with perhaps only 18 to 20 inches of depth, you may be able to create the illusion of greater depth by using smaller scale structures near the backdrop and larger scale structures closer to the front edge of the scene. You can do the same thing with trees by having the smaller ones in back and the larger ones up front. This seems to work best with HO up front and N scale in back. The view is also more realistic if the scene is at or near eye level.

You could potentially even put an N scale train running on a mountainous ledge in the background on an HO layout to create an illusion of depth.

One of the greatest things about this hobby is that it allows you to be creative in so many ways. Using illusions to make your layout more realistic is one of the more fun things to do with a scene. Using mirrors and photos under bridges, in tunnels, and at the end of streams are always interesting ways to make your layout look bigger.

Hope you enjoyed Issue #14. 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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