Building Your Model Railroad

Newsletter - June, 2012

WELCOME to the 18th 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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Send in Your Tips/Comments/Suggestions: Let me know if you have any tips to pass on to other model railroaders. Just type them in on the Comments Page of the website or send me an email directly to [email protected]. In addition, if there is a particular topic you would like to see appear in the newsletter, let me know about that as well.

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]

Layout Design

The importance of a good layout design can't be emphasized enough. Before you lay down the first section of track, try to determine what the purpose of your railroad will be, the location, the era and which railroad(s) you will be emulating. If you wish to freelance it, that's great but it still needs a purpose. What are your trains going to be transporting and from where to where?

Some people get lost in all these decisions though, and that prevents them from moving forward. People may think about all this for years and never get started with building.

So, even though layout design is important, don't let it stall the process for too long. Sometimes, you just have to make a decision and go with it. Flip a coin if you have to. Go for it!

Flash Photography

I previously cautioned people against using flash photography for taking layout pictures, but I would like to qualify that now. The caution is still applicable to on-camera flash, but a new way of using your flash off camera is the reason for my qualification.

I recently purchased a Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR camera and separately purchased a Speedlite 320EX Flash accessory. The beauty of this combination is that you can remotely take the picture of a scene by pushing a button on the flash unit which you hold in your hand (or put on a small stand or tripod) off the camera. Also, there is a 2 second delay from when you push the button on the flash till the shutter on the camera is released, which gives you time to change the location of your flash if you wish after pushing the button.

This allows you to avoid the washed-out look that usually occurs when using front-of-the-camera flashes. A lot of different effects can be obtained this way, including the appearance or illusion of direct sunlight on your scene. Depending on the height of the flash, it can look like morning light or high noon. You can also put a sheet of colored cellophane in front of the flash to get bluish, cool effects for night or winter scenes or use red-orange cellophane for sunset. The flash can be used for backlighting the scene as well for another great effect.

Suitcase Connectors

What are suitcase connectors? The official name is insulation-displacement connectors, or IDCs. The name 'suitcase' comes from how they look after they are closed.

These are wire connectors that allow you to fasten a smaller feeder wire from the track or an accessory on the layout surface to a bus wire underneath without having to peel off insulation from around the bus wire. Nor do you need to do any soldering or taping. You just slip the end of the feeder wire into one side of the connector and then close the suitcase over the bus wire and clamp it shut using pliers. You can buy special pliers for this purpose but regular pliers will do.

It's a much easier way to attach feeder wires to bus wires than having to cut off insulation from around the bus wire and then solder the feeder wire to it, then cover it with insulating tape. If you have about 50 feeder wires to attach, these connectors will really save some time.

Railroad Operations

Operating your model railroad is part of the fun of model railroading. In fact, for many of us, it's the main reason for building a layout. If you're new to scheduling and hosting an operating session, and would like to get started with this, it may be well to review some guidelines including those recently outlined by Neil Besougloff in the July, 2012 issue of Model Railroader.

Organization is key.

~Assign a crew for each train. Someone should be assigned as the yardmaster for each yard and one person should be the chief dispatcher. Know what the roles of each person should be.

~Have the paperwork done ahead of time. Everyone should know where their train is supposed to go and what it's supposed to do.

~Make sure the cars and locomotives are placed in the proper positions before starting the session.

~Start on time and end on time.


Establish the rules and operating procedures before hand and announce them to everyone right before starting - even to those who may have heard them before.


Assign compatible people to each operating crew. If you think two people may not fit well together personality-wise, then it's best to not put them on the same crew.


Make sure your trains run well, your wiring works well and all mechanical problems are solved before the session begins.

~Nothing ruins an operating session faster than an electrical short that stops everything from working. This is the advantage of separating your layout into power districts, so that if an electrical problem happens in one area, the other parts of the layout still work.

~Try to troubleshoot track and/or wheel problems to prevent derailments as much as possible.

~Have spare batteries available for hand-held throttles.


Be flexible. Things won't always run smoothly especially during the first few sessions. Flaws will be found that you never even knew existed. Mistakes will occur. Relax and try to enjoy yourself and make your guests feel comfortable. Remember, it's supposed to be fun, not stressful.

For more information, check out the Operations Page on the site.

Power Districts

How do you install power districts for your DCC layout?

First you have to make rail gaps in the track at the point where you want to isolate the separate districts. If your track is already nailed or glued down, use a rotary tool with a metal cutting disc to easily cut through each of the rails on the track where the separation is to occur.

You can buy a different DCC booster for each isolated section of the layout which can get a little expensive considering each DCC booster costs several hundred dollars usually.

Or you can buy a circuit breaker for each section of isolated track and install them in between the DCC booster and the the tracks.

Or you can buy one circuit breaker with multiple outputs. Connect the DCC booster to the input terminals on the circuit breaker and then attach each of the output terminals on the circuit breaker to each section of track that has been isolated by the rail gaps.

Now if you have a short in one section of the layout, the other sections will still be operational.

One caveat is that if one section of your layout includes a yard or roundhouse containing multiple sound-equipped DCC locomotives, the circuit breaker may not be able to handle the surge of increased amperage drawn in that situation. You may need to supply a high amperage dedicated booster to that district.

Reference: "Adding DCC Power Districts", by Paul Dolkos, Model Railroader, July, 2011, p44-47.

Structures: Interior Access

If you're like me, you like to get the main things done on your layout - benchwork, trackwork, get buildings in place, basic scenery done, get the trains running - and add details later.

When you place your structures on your layout and glue down the scenery around them, you may want to consider the likely possibility that you will want to add something to the interior of that building later. Whether it be lights, people, wallpaper, furniture, window shades, or whatever, you'll have a hard time doing it if you can't get to the interior without destroying the building or the scenery around it.

By thinking about this ahead of time, you can consider ways to access the interiors as you are putting the buildings together.

One way to do this is to leave the roof unglued and just sit it on the top of the building so that it can be easily removed later. One problem: Sometimes as people are reaching across the layout, the roofs may get knocked off and perhaps a few weather vanes may get broken. So there is downside to this.

Another way is to attach a stiff wire or rod to the underside of the roof, thread it through to the bottom of the layout and attach it there. Now when you want to take the roof off, you can just loosen the wire on the bottom of the layout and pull on the roof.

Another method would be to go ahead and glue the roof onto the building, but now attach small tubes or plastic straws to the inside corners of the building. On the layout surface, install headless 2-3 inch nails only tapped in part way so that they stick up above the surface of the layout. These nails should be placed at points which match the inside corners of the buildings, such that when the building is placed on the layout, the tubes in the corners of the building slip over the nails. The advantage of this method is that the buildings can be easily removed for cleaning the tracks as well as being able to access the interiors.

The idea for this tip was obtained from one of the Red Earth Videos that I purchased recently...

build your own trainset

Corrugated Metal Sheeting

A nice article in NMRA Magazine by Tracy McKibben, titled "Make Corrugated Metal Sheeting to Build a Lean-to Shed", demonstrates how the author found an interesting way to make corrugated metal sheeting for the roof and the sides of his building.

All you need is some aluminum foil and an old flat ribbon cable that is usually used to install hard drives and other devices in computers.

First cut out scale 2x8 foot sections from the aluminum foil. Then place each one of these sections length-wise onto the surface of the flat ribbon cable and use your finger to apply pressure on the foil onto the cable. When you lift up the foil with a pair of tweezes, it looks just like the corrugated metal sheets that are used for the outside of trackside sheds.

The author made a simple shed using strips of scale lumber glued to 4 twigs that served as the main vertical supports for the corners. He then carefully glued the corrugated sheets to the 3 sides, laying the sheets vertically and starting at the bottom of the shed, then another row of sheets on the top of each wall overlying the tops of the bottom layer of sheets. He used the same routine for the roof and very quickly had a scratchbuilt lean-to shed to place on his layout.

Reference: "Make Corrugated Metal Sheeting to Build a Lean-to Shed", by Tracy McKibben,NMRA Magazine, June, 2012, pp-26.

Combine Two Hobbies

If you like trains AND race cars, you may want to consider adding an operating speedway to your train layout. You could then have lots of action going on at the same time. You may want to have a fence surrounding the speedway, create spaces within the speedway for pit crews, stadium seats, lots of RVs and pick up trucks set up in the center.


This section is used to focus attention on outstanding model railroading websites or layouts.

This month's spotlight is on

Ty's Model Railroad BlogSpot

- a blog demonstrating how Ty built his freelanced HO layout showing pictures of his track plan and superb scenery.

Model Railroading Books!

Learn even more tips and techniques from these great

Model Railroading Books

available through

Buy at
Mountain Goat
George Williamson
Art Print

Put a Poster in Your Train Room!

Great railroad posters and prints are available from

ART PRINTS -! - (Type trains in the search box)

Hope you enjoyed Issue #18. 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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