Building Your Model Railroad

Newsletter - June, 2011

WELCOME to the sixth 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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Comments: Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement on the Comments Page of the website or send me an email directly to [email protected].

Photos: We're always looking for new photos for our Gallery pages. If you have photos of your layout that you would like to share with other model railroaders, I'd love to post them on the site. Send them in to [email protected]

Get Your Kids Excited about Model Railroading!

If you have children or grandchildren, one of the greatest things you could do for them is to get them interested in model railroading. This is something fun that you can do together, and at the same time, you can teach the children a ton of things about economics, history, electricity, transportation, woodworking, engineering, creativity, artistry, painting, sculpting, just to name a few. Read the article on the website entitled, “Building A Model Train Layout with Your Children”, to find out how to get them interested and the basics of getting started. Don’t forget, model railroading is a great hobby for girls, too!


The new Aux-Box by TrainTek is a great way to add more control to your DCC layout. It basically allows you to use your DCC command controller to switch things like track sections, lights, crossing gates, or anything else you want to control, on and off. It contains eight switches each capable of handling up to 3 amps. It could end up replacing a lot of regular toggle switches that have been cluttering up your control panel! This product was favorably reviewed recently in an article by John Sipple entitled, “Aux-Box Switches Open New Worlds for DCC”, Model Railroad News , May, 2011, p56.(MRN)

Laser Cutting for Customized Structures

In the last newsletter, we mentioned that you could use a software program like Kit-O-Mat by KingMill Enterprises to design your own model railroad structure on your computer. Then after the files have been processed by KingMill, you could take them to a local sign shop for laser-cutting. An even better option, however, would be to send the digital files to R.J.DiMaggio (Email: [email protected]) for high quality laser-cutting on your choice of laser-board. Learn more about this service on the Laser-Cutting Page.

Beaded Foam

Can you use beaded Styrofoam to build a model railroad? You know what I mean - the stuff that comes in the box as packing material when you buy a toaster or other appliances. We’ve been told for years not to use it. I’m not sure why. Maybe that was promoted by the people who sell Styrofoam. At any rate, the answer is “Yes! You CAN use this stuff”. A great article by Walt Huston, “Birth of a Model Railroad, Part II: Creating Faussett Mountain”, in N-Scale, May/June, 2011, p36, describes how he has used beaded Styrofoam for 20 years in model railroading. He basically stacks the Styrofoam in layers and uses carpenter’s glue and wooden skewers – the kind you use for barbecues- to hold them together. After the glue dries, you take the skewers out and use a rasping tool to shape the foam into whatever type of mountain or cliff that you want to create. Then he paints it brown, throws a little real dirt on it and adds ground cover, rocks, trees, other details, etc. The end result is a very realistic mountain scene. Who would know its base is beaded foam? We won't tell.

Railroad Vacation

If you’re looking for a place to go this summer on vacation with the family, try to include a stop-off at a railroad museum, a model-train show or at least an old historic railway station. These are great places to visit and they’re generally a very inexpensive way to spend an afternoon. You might even get a short train ride out of it and learn some history. It’s certain to be fun for you and the kids, and there is usually enough interesting stuff around for your wife to enjoy also even if she’s not into model railroading. Be sure to take lots of pictures for your photo album or digital picture frame. Send me a picture ([email protected]) while you’re at it to post on the website:)

An even better trip would be to actually take a train somewhere! Check out the Vacations by Rail website for more information.

Model Railroad Track Plans and Tips

You might be interested in a website that contains some track plans but mostly has accumulated a huge number of random tips and techniques (54 pages of them to date!) that have been sent in by lots of model railroaders. Check it out at

Don't Forget the Details

After you’ve finished putting a structure or a layout scene together, it’s easy and tempting to just leave it as is – a basic boring scene. Oh sure, it’ll pass as being “completed”, as in no more white plaster shows through, but is it a realistic scene as you would see in real life – with people milling around, curbs, manholes, trash cans, phone booths, electrical boxes, litter, old washed out signs on the weathered fence? These are things that really make the scenes exciting and memorable. They make your small layout look much bigger than it really is. Rural scenes might include deadfall, old logs and stumps, a hobo camp, deer or bears, talus (small stones) scattered around, weeds, old fence, a dirt road, an old car wrecked in a ditch with a tree growing out of a window, etc.

Look at old photographs of scenes like you are trying to recreate to get ideas for details.

How Tall Should Your Layout Be?

This is an age-old question that has no correct answer except that it just depends on what your preferences are. People used to say that the base of your layout surface should be about 40-45 inches from the floor – the idea being that this would bring the scenery closer to eye level, which tends to make the scenes more realistic. If the eye level view is the most important thing to you then you should make your layout the height that would bring most of the scenery up to your eye level. If you do, however, keep in mind that your younger children or grandchildren won’t be able to see anything unless you lift them up or have a stool they can stand on. Also keep in mind the amount of time that you will have to have your arms up in the air or how far you will have to stretch to work on parts of the layout. Also, it’s harder to see where all your trains are at that level if they are hidden behind scenery. The good news is you won’t have to use duck-unders, you won’t have to have tops for your buildings, you won’t have to have an elaborate backdrop and it will be easy to access the wiring under the layout – the reverse of which are all disadvantages if you build your layout at 33-37”. At the lower levels, you will have nice vista views of your trains winding around and through your scenery, which you won’t have at the higher levels. Ahh, decisions, decisions!!


Derailments are the bane of model railroaders everywhere. They occur most often when you’re showing off your layout to family and friends who wonder what you’ve been doing in your basement for hours on end every week. Also, they usually occur in places from which you have the most difficult time retrieving your derailed equipment – like in the middle of tunnels where you have no access. Here are some troubleshooting tips that you may find helpful.

Hope you enjoyed Issue #6. 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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