Building Your Model Railroad

Newsletter - December, 2011

WELCOME to the 12th issue of BYMRr-Zine - a newsletter published by the author of the website 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.

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Winter Scenes

Creating your own winter scene to display around the Holidays is a really fun thing to do that you can usually get other family members to help you with, not to mention it's a great way to spend time with the youngsters. You may even want to incorporate a winter environment in part or all of your layout. If so, learn how to do it, or brush up on your skills, with the following pages...

What's New?

World's Smallest DCC Decoder

Talking Defect Detectors

Carstens Digital Railroad Magazines for iPod, iPad and iPhone

Zinio Digital Railroad Magazines and Books

Softening Layout Edges

Soften the hard edges of your layout by adding a 2” addition of scenery a little below the front edge. Take a 1x2 inch board and attach it horizontally 1 inch below the edge of your layout fascia. Then add Sculptamold and Hydrocal castings to extend your scenery over the edge of the fascia onto the 1x2 “shelf”. Paint it earth color and use ground foam and bushes, etc. just like you would for your usual scenery. When it’s finished, the hard edges of your layout surface will be gone and will look much better. Also, it will be easier to take low-angle pictures of your layout scenes. Another plus is that you can hang your hand-held controllers to the bottom of this little “shelf”. Also it can serve to protect any electronic buttons or switches that you have attached to your fascia below the “shelf”.

Ref: Fahie, Art, “Super Detail in N Scale”, Great Model Railroads, 2012, p.21


If you would like to paint your own backdrops but have no ability to paint landscapes, you may want to consider taking a class from a local artist to learn how to do this. If that’s not an option, you may want to look at the beginner’s book by Lee Hammond on how to paint landscapes. You may surprise yourself with your talent!


Consider using casting resin, Hydrocal, dental plaster or even anchor-bolt cement to make retaining walls or structure walls. First make a mold using styrene or wood strips in the shape of the wall you wish to create on a styrene or plywood surface. Spread a layer of the resin or plaster smoothly over the mold about ¼ inch thick. After it's mostly dry, while it’s still in the mold, use a hobby knife or a scribing tool and a ruler to scribe mortar lines in the casting to make it look as if it were made from bricks or blocks. Then carefully remove the cast from the mold and paint it using diluted acrylic paints. You may want to paint the whole wall first with light gray or tan paint, and then paint the bricks with reddish or brown colors using a dry brush technique. You can weather it with a light wash of very diluted black paint.

Steep Rocky Embankments

These can be made with a mixture of Sculptamold and talus (small stones which can be purchased in different sizes from hobby stores). First, mix up a batch of Sculptamold and add in a small amount of earth brown, raw umber or burnt umber acrylic paint. Then add enough of the small stones so that the mixture is very lumpy. Use a putty knife to spread the mixture on the area where you want the embankment and smooth it out. Then spray the embankment with a mist of plain water. After it dries, you can touch it up further with paint washes if you wish, or add a light black wash to bring out the details. Add grass or weeds or ground foam to the spaces between the rocks for a more realistic effect.

Using Cotton for Fire and Smoke

Small wisps of cotton can be glued to a chimney or smoke stack to simulate smoke. You can use a little gray or black spay paint on the cotton first if you wish. For an area with a lot of chimneys, make sure the wisps are all pointed in the same direction to indicate wind flow.

If you want to display a burning building, use red-orange spray paint on one side of a cotton ball and gray or black on the other side. Let it dry. Then stretch out the gray part of the cotton to simulate smoke arising from burning flames. Glue the red-orange side of the cotton to a "charred" (made with charcoal powder) hole in the roof of the building or to the window where the “fire” is coming out.*

Mortar for Brick or Stone Buildings

Add mortar lines to your brick buildings by making a mixture of flat white latex paint 1:1 with water and brushing it on the brick wall. After about a minute wipe off the surface of the bricks with a paper towel. The white mortar will be left inside the spaces between the bricks. If you want to use a different color of mortar, just substitute brown or gray for the flat latex paint. A small residue may be left on the bricks which makes it look weathered.*


Take 2, 3 or 4 standard hotel-type building kits, glue the four walls of each kit together, then stack them on top of each other for a tower effect. *

Holiday Decor

Make wreaths for the fronts of your locomotives or for buildings and houses. Take a pipe cleaner and bend it into a small circle appropriate for your scale. Then dip it in white glue and sprinkle on some green ground foam. Add some detail by painting little spots of red with a small brush to represent apples or bows. You could also use green colored pipe cleaners to spiral around your lamp-posts in the city for decoration. Add a pine tree containing tiny LEDs or fiber-optic light strands for a Christmas tree to complete the effect.


Save those plastic pieces (sprues) from your building kits after you’ve cut off the plastic parts that you need for building the structure. You can cut and paint those scrap pieces and use them to make pipes coming up out of the ground going into buildings or as railings or fences and probably a lot of other things if you think about it.*

*Ref: LifeLike Tips Guide - 13th Edition

Sliding Panels

Add sliding panels under your layout to hide the clutter, create a place for storage and to really dress up your train room. I used paneling purchased from a home improvement store and cut them the appropriate length for the height of my layout minus an inch so they would easily be able to slide along the double-grooved strips installed to the floor and to the underside of the layout. You can then add knobs to the panels to make them easier to slide open and closed.

Hope you enjoyed Issue #12. 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

Happy Holidays!!!

-Greg Warth

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved

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