Building Your Model Railroad

Newsletter - April, 2011

WELCOME to the fourth issue of BYMRr-Zine - a newsletter published by the author of the website Building Your Model Railroad, and devoted to providing news and tips to model railroaders of all ages and all scales in a quick and easy-to-read format.

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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Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement on the Comments Page of the website.

Foam Board

There is another material (besides plywood and the blue and pink extruded foam sheets) that you may want to consider for your layout surface. It’s called poly iso foam insulation board that is used for roofing insulation. It is basically a 1 inch thick poly iso foam sheet covered with a clay and fiberglass surface coating that will take glue and caulk; and you can cut it with a steak knife. The material is very light but very stiff and appears to be an excellent surface upon which you can build your layout. It’s not as flexible as the extruded foam sheets so you don’t really need a plywood base as long as you use supports every 24”. You can attach them to benchwork or to shelf brackets with drywall screws. When they’ve been used for this purpose there has been no sign of lagging or breakdown in the material for at least 15 years so far. You can buy these “boards” in 4’x8’ sheets from building supply stores.

(“A New Material for Flat Benchwork”, by Richard Todd , Railroad Model Craftsman, March, 2011, p75)

See also Model Railroad Benchwork under the section "Subroadbed".


If you like trains and railroads, and I’m assuming you do since you’re reading this, you need to see the movie, Unstoppable , with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. It’s the best train movie I’ve ever seen. The plot and character development were very good, but the real “stars” of the movie were the trains. It’s thrilling, suspenseful and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It also has lots of railroad lingo and gives you a sense of realistic prototypical railroad operation. I really enjoyed it.

Free Rollers

One nice thing about the railroad trackage in this country is that the widespread creation of interchanges and junctions have allowed for a lot of sharing of railroad equipment, particularly freight cars, including boxcars, hoppers, gondolas and tank cars. Although many of these “free rolling” cars are supposed to be returned home after being borrowed by other railroads, they generally are not and nobody seems to care much because all the railroads are using other companies’ equipment.

Therefore, at any given time, at least 50% of the consist of most trains will be made up of cars from different railroad companies from all across the country. So if you like the looks of a freight car from Union Pacific, it’s entirely prototypical if you want to use it for your Norfolk Southern layout. I don’t think the same idea applies to locomotives or passenger cars so much, but it’s probably okay to have a variety of freight cars on your pike.

(“Interchange Takes Freight Cars Anywhere”, by Andy Sperandeo, Model Railroader, April, 2011, p94)

See also Freight Train Cars (Enthusiast Color Series), by Mike Schafer.

Wavy Water

One of the better products available for making water that we don’t talk about much is the matte and gloss medium called Mod Podge. This is great to use if you are modeling water that is wind-blown or moving. It is a fairly thick liquid that will hold it’s shape as you apply it with a brush, so it’s easy to make waves that stay where you want them. It goes on white and dries clear. After it dries, you should then apply a high-gloss acrylic wax like Pledge Future Shine to protect the surface, which is otherwise prone to get scratched. Thinned matte medium is also great to use as glue for laying roadbed, track or even ground cover and can serve as a fixing agent when sprayed over scenery to help hold everything in place. (It can also be used as a glue and sealer for picture puzzle surfaces prior to framing and hanging.)

(“The Scenery Clinic: Pt XV: Modeling Water and Evergreens”, by Paul Scoles, Railroad Model Craftsman, April, 2011, p74)

For more info on creating water effects, rapids and waterfalls, visit Waterfalls and Water Scenes

Trainz Simulator 2010

This new version of Trainz (Trainz Simulator 2010, Engineers Edition Deluxe) is now available not only as an updated desktop application for railroad building and train simulation, but also as an app for your iPad!

I downloaded it to try it out. The graphics are awesome. Operation is very realistic. You can use an existing train and route or you can create your own. The camera angles from which to view your train are virtually unlimited. The tutorials are excellent and easy to follow. It’s well worth the very reasonable cost.

For more information of various kinds of available model train software, visit the Software Page on the website.

Trolley Cars

Great news! Bachmann has released a new line of HO DCC-equipped streetcars based on the the prototype co-designed by Charles O. Birney in the early 1900’s. They have working trolley poles, painted interiors and LED lighting. These would be a wonderful addition to a city or town on your layout that requires passenger transport. Trolleys are great for setting up automated operation - having the trolleys stop at various locations for a minute or so and then start up again all by themselves.

If you are interested in creating a trolly or traction layout, check out the Trolley Page on the website.

How to Clean Models

After a while everything on the layout gets dusty. It would be nice if this just made it all look weathered, but it doesn’t really do that. It just looks dusty.

You could use a can of compressed air to get rid of some of this, but it doesn’t work as well for those areas where dust has been accumulating for a while.

There is a new product described recently in the March, 2011 issue of Model Railroad News, written by Bill Cawthon, called Cyber Clean manufactured by Busch. This is basically a green glob of of gelatinous-like material that works really well to get those models looking like they did when you first built them. You don’t have to run or apply any pressure. It just picks up the dirt like magic. It doesn’t affect the paint and can be used on plastic or metal.

Speaking of Green Globs...

Don’t forget about Bullfrog Snot when you want to create better traction for your locomotive wheels, especially when your train is going up those 4-6% grades. We’ve all been there. Your loco is chugging up the hill carrying only 2 cars and the old wheels start slipping. You can add a helper loco, but that one may start slipping also. Add some Bullfrog Snot to your loco’s wheels and it will improve your traction by about 30-40%.

Converter Software

A very useful piece of PC software for the serious model railroader is called Stan's Trains' Handy Converter for Model Railroaders. The newest version (v.16) is currently downloadable for about $13. It can be used to convert any scale or any unit to any other scale or unit. Calculators are there to help figure out what size LEDs or resistors you might need (See also Basic Electronics). It helps with minimum track radius, curvature and grades, wiring and electronic equations, helix calculations, scale rulers - you name it, this has it! Convert drawings from one scale to another. It even tells you how much your track will expand or contract during the different seasons. It also has information on drills, screws and taps. If you're building a layout, you really need this information. Now you can get it all in one place. A very Handy "tool" to have readily available. You can buy it in CD form or download it (although the CD is a few dollars more) at Unfortunately, it's not available for the Mac.

("Stan's Handy Converter Software for Model Railroaders V16", by Pete Birdsong, Model Railroad News, March, 2011, p66)

Hope you enjoyed Issue #4. 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. 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 2011. All rights reserved

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