Building Your Model Railroad

Newsletter - March, 2011

WELCOME to the third issue of BYMRr-Zine - a newsletter, published by the author of the website Building Your Model Railroad, devoted to providing news and 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.

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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We have a new look this month that I hope will make the newsletter easier to read and we've added some pictures as well. As usual, let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement on the Comments Page of the website.

Book Review

I recently purchased Railroads Across North America: An Illustrated History by Claude Wiatrowski. This is one of the best-illustrated and informative coffee-table-type books I’ve ever seen on railroads. The vast majority of the pictures are in full color. The history and perspective on most of the major railroads in the U.S. is provided in a very interesting and readable format. I spent several enjoyable evenings reading through this book learning many things about various types of railroads, specific railroad lines, preserved railroads, locomotives, cabooses and passenger cars that I didn’t know before. The beginning, the rise, the fall and the rise again of railroads make up the general theme of the book and are well-explained. There’s even a small section on model railroading, which you often don't see in books about railroading in general. If you're looking for a really interesting book that gives you an excellent overview and perspective on U.S. railroading to put on your coffee table or add to your library, and one that's really worth the space that it takes up, this is it.

Garden Layout in N Scale

The first N scale garden layout in the world is located in the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh and is open for viewing until March 13, 2011. This is actually an indoor garden layout and is very inspirational. It might be a possibility for those modelers with a small sunroom or a greenhouse. ("N Scale Garden Railroad" by Kirk Reddie, N Scale Railroading, March-April, 2011, p18)

Electrifying Inexpensive Signals

Many of us don't have the funds to buy operating signals for $40-60 each, so we often just settle for the inexpensive, non-operating ones that we can get for $5-6. There is a way that you can convert a non-operating signal into an operating one by replacing the plastic mast on the signal with a piece of aluminum tubing and running wires through the tube to LED lights that can be mounted in the signal head. It's even easier if you use the dwarf signals that don’t have a mast. Don't forget to add resistors to your LEDs. Otherwise, they won't last very long. ("Electrifying Non-Operational HO Scale Signals", by Michael Yakubovsky, NMRA Magazine, March, 2011, p39)

2011 NMRA Convention

Don't forget to register. It's in Sacramento this year in July, so if you live anywhere near there (within 3000 miles), it would be well-worth attending. You may even want to get there early on July 1 and go to the Advance Section to see the 55 layouts open for self-guided touring. There are also tours to the local railroad facilities, a collection of military vehicles and even a cement company. ( )


Toothpicks (also popsicle sticks) have lots of uses in model railroading. Next time you go to a Cracker Barrel restaurant, pick up a supply of Kokeshi toothpicks. These have a little design or configuration on top of each toothpick that would be great for fence posts, bridge railing balusters, N-scale milk cans, columns for buildings or porches, etc. The toothpick itself could be used as an uncoupling tool if you attach it to the small end of a golf tee that has had the point cut off. ("N Visible", by Patrick Lana, NMRA Magazine, March, 2011, p14)


Incandescent bulbs can take either AC or DC power. If you use less voltage to power the bulb than what the bulb is rated for, you will have a much more natural light and it will last a lot longer (i.e., Use a 6-10 volt power supply for a 12V bulb)

LEDs (Light-emitting diodes), on the other hand, require DC only. They have to be connected in the right direction with the longer LED being attached to the + terminal of the power supply and the short lead (flat side of the LED) connected to the – terminal. An LED must have a resistor attached in series with one of the leads or it won't last very long. Most LEDs operate at a max of 2V and 20mA. If you’re using a 12V power supply, then you will need a 560ohm ¼ watt resistor. If your LED has a different rating, the math is as follows:

(Power voltage minus LED voltage) divided by (LED current in Amps) = Resistor value in Ohms.

Resistors often don't come in the exact size that you need so choose the resistor that has the next highest value. For example, if you need a 500ohm ¼ watt resistor, choose the next highest which is 560. ("Very Basic Electronics", by Bob Kendall, N-Scale, March-April, 2011, p45)

Coloring Laser-cut Wood Kits

The next time you think about painting your laser-cut wood kit, think about using weathering powders instead of paint. These colors are much more realistic for wood surfaces – more dull, less shiny, and more variable - than paint. It's also much less likely to warp later. You can still use paint for your window frames and doors if you wish (Airbrushing is best for this job). ("Yard Supervisor’s Residence Kit", by Dennis Murphy, N-Scale, March-April, 2011, p56)

Paver Sand for Ground Cover

You can buy large quantities of paver sand (decomposed granite) in home and garden stores that can be used for applying ground cover, riverbeds, track ballast, at the base of larger rocks and in many other areas. You can use it right out of the bag, or you can use a strainer to separate out the larger pieces from the finer sand that you may want to use separately for different applications. You can further refine it by sifting it through a piece of nylon. The refined sand would be good for making roads, parking lots and dirt paths. (“The Scenery Clinic: Pt.XIV: Paver Sand and Ground Cover”, by Paul Scoles, Railroad Model Craftsman, March, 2011, p50)


If you need to make a lot of trees in a hurry, especially pine trees, consider using the 1" thick furnace-filter material made by AAF International. This can be purchased from furnace or farm supply stores and comes in a cut-and-fit form rather than the usual cartridge type filter. It's already dark green so you don’t have to paint it. First cut a bunch of trunks in differing lengths using wooden dowels or barbecue skewers. Scrape the bottom part of each dowel with a fine-toothed saw to make it look like bark. Color the wood with a mixture of light, medium and boxcar brown weathering stains from Hunterline. Then cut up a batch of squares from the filter material ranging between ¼" to 1" in size. Using the larger sizes first, push the filter squares onto the pointed end of the dowel. Leave small gaps between each piece of filter. Shape the tree with scissors, cutting off the corners of the squares. Create some irregularities. You don’t want the tree to be perfectly symmetrical, which wouldn’t be realistic.

Spray your tree, except for the trunk, all over with hair spray and then apply coarse turf from either Woodland Scenics or Scenic Express. Then all you have to do is either drill a hole in your plywood or plaster layout surface to plant the tree, or if you use a foam base, drill a tiny hole into the bottom of the trunk to insert a mounting pin with the head cut off. You can uses some Walther's glue to apply to the hole in the layout before you plant the tree, then use the wooden end of a thin paint brush to smooth out the glue or make it look like roots coming out from the base of the tree. Or just use ground cover to hide any gaps between the trunk and layout surface. ("Make Conifers the Quick and Easy Way", by Cody Grivno, Model Railroader, March, 2011, p30)

Falling Trains

If some of your track is a little too close to the edge of the layout, you may have already had the experience of one of your expensive locomotives falling off the layout onto the floor and ending up in four or more pieces. Some have proposed putting up a wall of Plexiglas along the outer edge of the layout, but that often detracts from the view of your trains and scenery at eye level, which, of course, is the best vantage point. One way to get around this is to either raise your fascia board up about ¼ to ½ inch above the track level or add a strip of molding trim to the edge of the layout to bring it up by about the same amount. This may not prevent every fall, but it will prevent most, and it won’t ruin your ability to enjoy your trains and scenery from eye level.

That does it for Issue #3. Hope you enjoyed it. 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. Any comments or suggestions are always welcome.
Ref - or contact me directly at [email protected]

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-Greg Warth

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved

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