Building Your Model Railroad

Newsletter - March, 2012

The mountain on the right was made with "Great Stuff" covered with Sculptamold and then painted.

WELCOME to the 15th 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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Great Stuff

Great Stuff, the insulation spray foam in a can, makes great mountains in a hurry. Just cut out a piece of cardboard about the size of the base of the mountain you want to make. Place it on a flat surface. Then spray on the foam. Layer it as you go in smaller circles so that the base is the largest in diameter and the top of the mountain is smaller. Let it dry overnight. Then, using a sharp serrated knife, shape the mountain as you want it to look. You can then add ground goop, plaster cloth and/or Sculptamold and paint it using the techniques outlined on the website. Then add ground cover, trees and bushes as you wish. Place it on your layout and blend it in to the surrounding scenery using, ground foam, ballast, rocks and bushes.


Use a mirror inside a tunnel close to the backdrop of your layout to make it look like the tunnel is going through the backdrop.

First, buy a ready-made tunnel portal and paint it using gray or brown paint washes. Cut out one or two pieces of foam sheets to match the outline of the tunnel portal and glue them to the back side of the tunnel portal. Then glue the mirror onto the back surface of the last foam sheet. Now you have a tunnel portal that has about 1-2 inches of depth with a mirror on the back facing forward. Place the tunnel against the backdrop of the layout perhaps over top of a stream or a road that you have previously constructed on the layout surface that heads into the backdrop. Blend in the outer sides of the tunnel with bushes or rocks so that it looks like it’s supposed to be there.

If it’s a road that the tunnel is covering, you may want to make some special cars to further the illusion. Take 2 similar cars, cut them in half and attach the 2 front ends and the 2 back ends together. When you put the cars on the road in front of the tunnel, they will look like 4 cars all heading in the right direction – 2 coming forward and 2 going into the tunnel.

Converting Old Railroad Equipment into Usable Structures

An old caboose makes a great diner. Put a piece of cardboard around it or in the front or side of it as an outside café. Thumbtacks could make nice dining tables. You could make small wooden benches out of square pieces of lumber.

Or, convert a flatcar into a rural road bridge. Just remove the trucks, place it over a ravine and lay straight track on top.

Humorous Scenes

Add a little humorous detail to your layout.

~Have a small plastic dinosaur visible behind some trees.

~Have an eel stick its head out of your pond – or even maybe a Lochness monster.

~Get one larger turtle and put 3 smaller turtles in a row behind the larger one walking on the edge of the pond.

~Put an outhouse on the edge of a cliff that juts out over construction workers below.

~Make a farm that grows cue tips.

~Make a money tree.

~Park a space ship in a field with and alien alongside.

~Have some skeletons walking around in a graveyard.

Car Loads

Make some unique car loads for your gondolas.

~Use old metal clock or watch parts for scrap metal loads.

~Cut some wooden dowels to make a lumber load.

~Use different colors of ballast for varying ore loads.

~Use talus for rock loads.

~Silver-painted toothpicks can look like steel girders.

~Carloads of rail ties and wheels can be found around train yards.

~Wire wrapped around a pencil then slipped off the pencil can be used as wire coil loads.

Ideally the loads should be secured. If a car of ballast or coal falls over, it could be a real mess. One of the better ways to model ore or coal loads is to glue the ore or ballast onto the surface of a piece of cardboard which has been cut to match the gondola opening. That will prevent a mess if the car falls over.

Round Out the Corners

The next time you start a new layout, consider creating rounded corners instead of squaring them off. It will be easier for you and your guests to move around the layout without hitting your hips against the corners. It will look better as well since the rounded corners will parallel the lines of your curving railroad at those corners. Some people also like to vary the upper line of the fascia to follow the contours of the layout better – dipping down for valleys and rivers and going up for mountains.


Be brave! The next time you need a certain type of building for your layout and either can’t find the right structure kit or don’t want to spend the money for it, consider scratchbuilding it. Styrene sheets from Evergreen and pattered sheets from Plastruct are relatively inexpensive, easy to work with and the finished product is one that will be unique to your layout and something you can be really proud of. Plus it may earn you points toward getting your MMR degree if you’re aiming for that. You can find all the materials you need in the Walthers Catalog – either in print or online at First design your building on paper. Or, use a photograph of a building you want to model. Then follow the directions on the scratchbuilding page of the website. There is even a whole book you can buy on scratchbuilding . Be patient. Work on it a little at a time. Soon you will have a structure that is perfect to fill that space on your layout. Once you’ve tried plastic, consider constructing something with wood next!

Hope you enjoyed Issue #15. 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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