June 2023

Tracks-6-23 -- Model Railroading Newsletter

Building Your Model Railroad:
Tips, Techniques and Information
for All Ages and All Gauges

Articles in This Issue:

How To Paint a Backdrop

How to Make Mountains and Valleys

How to Paint Your Landscape

Making Rocks for Your Terrain

How To Build a Tunnel

Tips on Building a Craftsman Kit

Adding Roads to Your Layout

How to Add Lighting to Your Buildings

What Are Alco RS-1 Locomotives?

More Great Videos - All Scales


WELCOME to the June 2023 issue of Tracks - a monthly newsletter published by Building Your Model Railroad, devoted to providing breaking news and tips to model railroaders of all ages and all gauges in a quick and easy-to-read format. Resources are always credited where appropriate.

How To Paint a Backdrop

Painting a backdrop for your model railroad can greatly enhance the realism and atmosphere of your layout. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you paint a backdrop:

  1. Prepare the backdrop surface: If you are starting with a blank surface, make sure it is clean and smooth. If you have a pre-made backdrop, ensure it is clean and free of dust or debris.
  2. Choose your backdrop colors: Consider the overall theme and setting of your model railroad. Decide on the colors that will best represent the scenery you want to create. For example, if you're modeling a mountainous region, you might choose shades of green, brown, and blue.
  3. Gather painting supplies: You'll need the following materials: Acrylic paints: Choose high-quality acrylic paints in the colors you've selected. Acrylics are easy to work with, dry quickly, and are widely available. Brushes: Get a variety of brushes, including large brushes for broad strokes and smaller brushes for details. Palette or mixing tray: Use a palette or mixing tray to blend and mix colors. Water container: Have a container of water nearby to rinse your brushes. Painters tape: If you want to create clean lines or mask off certain areas, painters tape will be useful. Newspaper or plastic sheet: Protect your work area from any paint spills or splatters.
  4. Start with the sky: Begin by painting the sky on your backdrop. Choose a light blue color for a daytime scene or a darker blue for a night sky. Use broad, sweeping strokes to cover the top portion of the backdrop. Blend the colors to create a smooth gradient from top to bottom, with the lightest color at the horizon and gradually darker as you move upwards.
  5. Add clouds (optional): If you want to depict clouds in your sky, wait for the base color to dry and then use a lighter shade of blue or white to paint cloud formations. Use a dry brush technique or a sponge to create the soft, fluffy appearance of clouds.
  6. Paint the horizon: Once the sky is complete, paint the horizon line. This could be a distant mountain range, a cityscape, or any other elements you want to depict. Use a combination of colors and layering techniques to create depth and perspective.
  7. Add middle and foreground elements: After the horizon, paint the middle and foreground scenery. This could include trees, buildings, roads, rivers, or any other features you want to include. Use different shades of green for foliage, browns for earth tones, and appropriate colors for man-made structures. Add details and highlights as needed.
  8. Blend and add details: As you paint, blend colors together to create smooth transitions between different elements. Use lighter and darker shades to add depth and shadows. Pay attention to the details, such as highlights on trees or reflections in water.
  9. Allow the paint to dry: Let the painted backdrop dry completely before moving or handling it. This ensures that the colors set properly and prevents smudging.
  10. Protect and mount the backdrop: Once the paint is dry, consider applying a clear protective sealant over the painted surface to protect it from damage and make it more durable. Then, mount the backdrop securely behind your model railroad layout.

Remember, practice makes perfect, so don't be discouraged if your first attempt isn't exactly as you envisioned. Experiment, learn from your mistakes, and enjoy the process of creating a beautiful backdrop for your model railroad.

Learn more...

Dave Frary's method...

How To Make Mountains and Valleys for Your Layout

Creating mountains and valleys for your model railroad layout can be an exciting and creative process. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to make them:

  1. Plan your layout: Determine where you want your mountains and valleys to be located on your model railroad. Consider the available space, the desired size and shape, and how they fit into the overall theme of your layout.
  2. Gather materials: You will need various materials for constructing mountains and valleys, including foam insulation boards, a foam cutter or hot wire cutter, a hobby knife, masking tape, white glue, sculpting compound (optional), and various scenic materials such as rocks, trees, and ground cover.
  3. Mark the area: Use a pencil or masking tape to mark the boundaries of your mountain or valley on the base of your model railroad layout. This will help guide your construction process.
  4. Create the base: Cut foam insulation boards into the desired shapes and sizes for your mountains and valleys. Stack and glue multiple layers of foam to achieve the desired height. Use a foam cutter or hot wire cutter to shape the foam boards according to your design.
  5. Secure the foam: Glue the foam pieces to the base using white glue or other suitable adhesive. Make sure they are firmly attached and aligned with the marked boundaries.
  6. Carve and shape the terrain: Use a hobby knife or sculpting tools to carve and shape the foam to create the contours of your mountains and valleys. Be creative and experiment with different slopes and shapes to achieve a realistic appearance. Consider the natural flow of terrain and how it interacts with other elements on your layout.
  7. Add texture and details: Apply a layer of sculpting compound, such as plaster cloth or papier-mâché, to the foam surface. This will help create a textured and realistic appearance. Use your fingers, sculpting tools, or household items to create irregularities, crevices, and details on the surface. Allow the sculpting compound to dry completely.
  8. Smooth and blend: Once the sculpting compound is dry, use sandpaper or a sanding block to smooth out any rough areas and blend the textures. This will create a more natural transition between the mountains/valleys and the surrounding landscape.
  9. Prime and paint: Apply a primer to the entire mountain or valley surface. This will help the paint adhere better and provide a base coat for further painting. Once the primer is dry, use acrylic paints to add color to your mountains and valleys. Choose appropriate colors based on the natural surroundings you are trying to replicate. Start with lighter colors as a base and gradually build up with darker shades for depth and realism.
  10. Add scenic details: Once the paint is dry, you can add scenic details to enhance the realism of your mountains and valleys. Use rocks, trees, ground cover materials, and other scenic elements to create a natural-looking environment. Secure these materials with white glue or adhesive suitable for the specific materials.

Remember to take your time, experiment, and have fun during the process. Creating mountains and valleys for your model railroad layout allows you to express your creativity and bring your landscape to life.

Learn more...

How to Paint a Landscape

Painting landscapes for model railroads is a fun and creative process that can bring your model railroad layout to life. Here are some steps to help you paint realistic landscapes for your model railroad:

  1. Plan your landscape: Decide on the type of landscape you want to create, such as mountains, hills, plains, or a combination. Consider the geographical features, vegetation, and colors that are typical of your chosen landscape.
  2. Gather materials: You will need various materials for painting landscapes, including acrylic paints in different colors, paintbrushes of different sizes, a palette for mixing colors, water for cleaning brushes, and a protective surface to work on.
  3. Prepare the base: Start by preparing the base of your model railroad layout. Ensure it is clean, smooth, and free from debris. If you haven't already, lay down a layer of plaster or sculpting compound to create the basic contours of your landscape.
  4. Prime the surface: Apply a coat of primer to the landscape base. This helps the paint adhere better and creates a smooth surface for painting. Choose a primer color that matches the overall color scheme of your landscape.
  5. Paint the base colors: Use broad brush strokes to apply the base colors of your landscape. Start with the background colors and gradually work your way forward. For example, if you're painting a mountainous landscape, start with lighter colors for the distant mountains and progress to darker colors for the foreground.
  6. Add texture and details: To create a realistic landscape, add texture and details to the painted base. Use techniques like dry brushing or stippling to create the appearance of grass, foliage, rocks, or other elements. Experiment with different brush sizes and techniques to achieve the desired effect.
  7. Layer and blend colors: Layering and blending colors can add depth and realism to your landscape. Start with lighter colors as a base and gradually build up darker shades. Use a dry brush or sponge to blend colors together smoothly. This technique can be particularly effective for creating transitions between different elements like fields and forests.
  8. Highlight and shade: Enhance the three-dimensional effect of your landscape by adding highlights and shadows. Identify the primary light source in your scene and paint lighter areas where it hits and darker areas where shadows fall. This technique helps create depth and makes your landscape more visually appealing.
  9. Finishing touches: Once the paint has dried, apply any additional details to your landscape, such as bushes, trees, buildings, or other objects. Use appropriate modeling materials or miniature scenery items to enhance the realism of your model railroad layout.
  10. Protect your work: Finally, apply a protective clear coat over your painted landscape to seal the paint and protect it from wear and tear. This will ensure your landscape remains vibrant and intact over time.

Remember, practice and experimentation are key to improving your painting skills. Don't be afraid to try new techniques and explore different colors and textures to achieve the desired effect for your model railroad landscape.

Making Rocks for Your Terrain

Creating realistic rocks for your model railroad terrain can greatly enhance the overall appearance of your layout. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to make rocks:

  1. Gather materials: You will need a variety of materials for making rocks, including lightweight foam, a hobby knife, sandpaper or a sanding block, acrylic paints, a paintbrush, and a clear sealant or varnish.
  2. Determine the rock placement: Decide where you want to place the rocks on your model railroad terrain. Consider the natural landscape and how rocks would typically be positioned, such as near slopes, cliffs, or riverbanks.
  3. Cut the foam: Use lightweight foam to create the basic shape and structure of your rocks. Cut the foam into various sizes and shapes using a hobby knife. It's best to start with larger blocks and then carve them down to the desired shape later.
  4. Carve the rocks: Use the hobby knife to carve the foam blocks into rock-like shapes. Consider the texture and contours of real rocks as you carve. Create irregularities, cracks, and jagged edges to mimic the natural appearance of rocks. Vary the shapes and sizes to create a realistic rock formation.
  5. Sand the surface: Use sandpaper or a sanding block to smooth the rough edges and surfaces of the carved foam rocks. This will help create a more natural and realistic texture. Pay attention to the details and blend the edges with the surrounding foam.
  6. Paint the rocks: Apply a base coat of acrylic paint to the foam rocks. Choose colors that resemble the rocks found in the area you are trying to replicate. Use thin washes of paints rather than using the paint right out of the bottle.  Use a mix of grays, browns, and other earthy tones to achieve a realistic look. Apply the paint in layers, starting with lighter shades and gradually adding darker shades for depth and dimension.
  7. Add texture and details: Once the base coat is dry, you can add additional texture and details to the rocks. Use dry brushing or stippling techniques with a lighter or darker shade of paint to create highlights and shadows. Experiment with different brush sizes and techniques to achieve the desired effect. You can also use washes or dry pigments to add weathering or dirt effects to the rocks.
  8. Seal the rocks: Once you are satisfied with the appearance of the rocks, seal them with a clear sealant or varnish. This will protect the paint and ensure durability. Follow the instructions on the sealant or varnish product for application and drying times.
  9. Place the rocks: Determine the best placement for your rocks on the model railroad terrain. Use white glue or adhesive suitable for foam to secure the rocks in place. Consider the natural positioning of rocks, such as nestled into the ground, partially buried, or perched on slopes.
  10. Blend with the terrain: To create a seamless transition between the rocks and the surrounding terrain, use scenic materials such as ground cover, foliage, or static grass to blend the rocks with the landscape. Apply adhesive and scenic materials around the base of the rocks to make them appear integrated into the environment.

By following these steps, you can create realistic-looking rocks for your model railroad terrain and bring your layout to life with enhanced scenery. Remember to observe real rocks for inspiration and take your time to achieve the desired results.

Learn more...

How To Build a Tunnel for Your Model Railroad

Building a tunnel for your model railroad can be a fun and creative project. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you build a tunnel:

Plan your tunnel: Decide on the location and dimensions of your tunnel. Consider the scale of your model railroad and the clearance needed for your trains to pass through comfortably. Plan the length, width, and height of the tunnel accordingly.

Gather materials: Collect the necessary materials for constructing the tunnel. You will need foam or plaster, a baseboard or platform, a utility knife, sculpting tools, paint, ground cover materials (such as static grass or foliage), and any additional materials for detailing.

Prepare the baseboard: If you don't have a baseboard or platform already, start by constructing one to fit your layout. Ensure it is sturdy and level, as it will provide the foundation for your tunnel. This could be on the layout surface or it could be in the middle of a mountain from a bridge.

Create the tunnel shape: Using foam or plaster, carve out the desired shape of your tunnel. Foam is lightweight and easy to work with, while plaster offers a more solid and realistic finish. Use a utility knife to shape the foam or sculpting tools for the plaster.

Carve the tunnel portal: At each end of the tunnel, carve out openings for the trains to enter and exit. Make sure the portals are wide and tall enough to accommodate your rolling stock.

Smooth and shape the tunnel interior: Once the basic shape is carved, refine the interior of the tunnel by smoothing any rough edges or surfaces. Pay attention to the curve and contours to create a realistic appearance.

Paint the tunnel: Apply a base coat of paint to the tunnel walls and portals. Use earth tones or colors that blend with your scenery. Add weathering effects or texture as desired to enhance realism.

Detail the tunnel: Add details to the tunnel, such as rocks, boulders, or bricks, using small sculpting tools or by gluing on pre-made details. Be creative and ensure the details match the scale and style of your model railroad.

Secure the tunnel in place: Once the tunnel is complete and fully dried, attach it to your baseboard securely. You can use screws, adhesive, or other suitable methods to ensure stability.

Blend the tunnel into the scenery: Apply ground cover materials, such as static grass, foliage, or rocks, around the tunnel entrances and the base to blend it seamlessly into your layout's scenery. This will help create a natural transition between the tunnel and the surrounding landscape.

Test and adjust: Before finalizing the tunnel, run your trains through it to ensure there is adequate clearance and smooth operation. Make any necessary adjustments to ensure your trains pass through without any issues.

Remember to take your time, experiment with different techniques, and add personal touches to make your tunnel unique. Enjoy the process and have fun building your model railroad tunnel!

Learn more...

Tips on Building a Craftsman Kit for Your Model Railroad


Building a craftsman kit for your model railroad can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Here are some tips to help you along the way:

Choose a kit: Select a craftsman kit that matches the era, scale, and style of your model railroad. Consider factors such as complexity, level of detail, and your skill level when choosing the kit.

Gather tools and materials: Ensure you have the necessary tools and materials before starting the project. This may include hobby knives, files, sandpaper, glue, paints, brushes, and any additional materials specified in the kit's instructions.

Read the instructions: Carefully read through the instructions provided with the kit. Familiarize yourself with the steps involved and any specific techniques or tips mentioned. Understanding the instructions before you start will help you plan and avoid mistakes.

Sort and organize the kit components before you begin. Lay out the parts and take note of any fragile or delicate pieces that require extra care during assembly. If necessary, clean the parts and remove any excess flash or imperfections.

Test-fit and dry-fit: Before applying any glue or paint, perform test-fitting and dry-fitting of the components. This involves temporarily assembling parts without adhesive to ensure proper alignment, fit, and clearance. Make any necessary adjustments before proceeding.

Take your time: Building a craftsman kit requires patience and attention to detail. Take your time during each step of the assembly process. Rushing can lead to mistakes and compromised quality. Enjoy the process and savor the craftsmanship.

Bracing your walls and corners is very important. Do not skip this step!

Choose the appropriate adhesive for the materials you're working with. For wood, white glue or carpenter's glue is often suitable. For plastic components, use plastic cement or super glue. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the best results.

Do not apply glue straight from the container. Place a small pool of the glue on a scrap piece of card-stock, the use a toothpick to pick up glue and transfer it to the location where you want it. You will have much more control over proper application of the glue to be sure it doesn't run into areas where you don't want it.

Consider painting and weathering techniques to enhance the realism of your model. Use thin layers of paint, applying multiple coats if needed. Experiment with weathering techniques such as dry brushing, washes, and airbrushing to add depth and character to your structures.

Detailing and finishing touches: Pay attention to the small details that can bring your model to life. Add signs, window treatments, interior details, and other accessories as appropriate for the kit. Consider adding additional weathering, such as rust or dirt, to give your structure an aged and realistic appearance.

Final Inspection: Before declaring the project complete, conduct a thorough quality control check. Ensure all parts are securely glued, paintwork is even, and details are properly placed. Make any necessary touch-ups or adjustments to achieve the desired outcome.

Practice makes perfect. Don't be discouraged if your first craftsman kit doesn't turn out exactly as you envisioned. Each project will improve your skills, and soon you'll be creating stunning structures for your model railroad. Enjoy the journey!


Tips on Adding Roads to Your Model Railroad Layout

Adding roads to your model railroad layout can bring a new level of realism and variety to your scene. Here are some tips to consider when incorporating roads into your model railroad layout:

Plan and design: Before starting the construction, take some time to plan and design the road layout. Consider the purpose of the road, the era and location you are modeling, and how it fits into the overall scene. Determine the size, shape, and placement of the roads based on the available space and the desired traffic flow.

Scale and proportion: Ensure that the scale of the road matches the scale of your model railroad. Consider the size of the vehicles, the width of the lanes, and the distance between intersections. Maintaining proper proportions will enhance the realism of your layout.

Roadbed construction: Begin by creating a sturdy roadbed for your roads. Use a suitable material such as foam board, plywood, or extruded foam. Cut and shape the roadbed to fit the desired layout and secure it firmly to the baseboard. Ensure that the roadbed is level and smooth to provide a solid foundation for your road surface.

Road surface: Depending on your preference and the desired era or location, there are various materials you can use for the road surface. Some options include textured paper, pre-made road sections, or even sculpting the road with modeling putty. Alternatively, you can paint the road directly onto the surface. Experiment with different techniques and materials to achieve the desired effect.

Road markings and signs: Incorporate road markings such as center lines, crosswalks, and turn lanes to add realism to your roads. Use decals, stencils, or paint to create these markings. Additionally, include road signs, traffic lights, and other signage relevant to your chosen era and location. These details will make your roads more authentic.

Weathering and aging: Apply weathering techniques to make the roads look more realistic. Roads in real life are subject to wear and tear, so replicate this effect on your model roads. Use weathering powders, paints, or washes to add dirt, grime, and oil stains. Pay attention to areas near intersections, parking lots, or areas with heavy traffic, as they tend to have more wear and tear.

Roadside details: Enhance the surroundings of your roads with appropriate details. Add sidewalks, curbs, gutters, and drainage grates. Incorporate street lamps, road signs, bus stops, benches, and other elements that reflect the era and location you are modeling. Consider adding vehicles, pedestrians, and other scenery elements to bring life to your roads.

Smooth transitions: Ensure that the transitions between the road and the surrounding scenery are seamless. Blend the road edges with the scenery using ground cover materials, such as static grass or turf. Use realistic transition materials like dirt, gravel, or pavement to seamlessly merge the road with the surrounding landscape.

Remember, attention to detail and realism is key when adding roads to your model railroad layout. Take your time, experiment, and have fun with the process. Happy modeling!

How to Provide Lighting for your Model Railroad Buildings

Providing lighting for model railroad buildings can greatly enhance the overall appearance and realism of your layout. Here are some steps you can follow to add lighting to your model railroad buildings:

Plan the lighting design: Before you start adding lights, plan out the lighting design for each building. Consider the purpose of the building, its architectural features, and the type of lighting you want to achieve. Think about where you want the light sources to be located and how you want the light to be distributed.

Select the lighting method: There are several ways to add lighting to your model railroad buildings. The most common methods include LED lights, fiber optics, and small incandescent bulbs. LEDs are energy-efficient, easy to work with, and come in various colors. Fiber optics can be used to distribute light from a single source to multiple points, while small incandescent bulbs can provide a warm, realistic glow.

Prepare the building: Before installing the lights, prepare the building by creating holes or channels for the wiring. Consider hiding the wires within the structure or under the layout to maintain a clean appearance. You may need to disassemble parts of the building to access the interior and create suitable wiring paths.

Install the lights: Depending on the chosen method, install the lights accordingly. For LEDs, solder the necessary wires to the positive (+) and negative (-) terminals of the LED. Connect the wires to a power source or a control system, such as a digital command control (DCC) decoder or a dedicated lighting controller. Secure the LEDs in place using glue or adhesive putty.

Distribute the light: To distribute the light evenly throughout the building, use diffusing materials. These can include thin paper, frosted plastic, or specialized diffusing films. Attach these materials to the interior surfaces of the building, ensuring that they don't obstruct the light source.

Add lighting effects: Consider incorporating lighting effects to create a more realistic ambiance. For example, you can simulate flickering lights in a fireplace, streetlights, or the movement of machinery by using electronic circuitry or specialized lighting modules. These effects can be controlled manually or automated with a lighting control system.

Test and adjust: Once the lights are installed, test each one to ensure they work correctly and provide the desired effect. Adjust the positioning of lights, diffusing materials, and wiring if necessary to achieve the desired lighting result. Take the time to experiment and refine the lighting design until you are satisfied.

Always exercise caution when working with electricity. Follow proper wiring techniques, use appropriate voltage and current for your lights, and consider using a power supply or controller with built-in safety features like overcurrent protection.

By following these steps, you can bring your model railroad buildings to life with realistic and visually appealing lighting effects. Enjoy the process and have fun building your illuminated miniature world!

Know Your Equipment...
What Are "Alco RS-1" Locomotives?

The Alco RS-1 locomotive is a diesel-electric locomotive that was built by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) between 1941 and 1953. It was one of the first road switcher locomotive designs and played a significant role in the transition from steam to diesel power in the United States.

The RS-1 was designed primarily for freight service, although some units were also used in passenger and switching operations. It featured a road switcher configuration, which means it was capable of both road (mainline) and switching duties. This versatility made the RS-1 an attractive choice for many railroads as it could be used for a variety of tasks.

The locomotive was powered by an ALCO 244 V-12 diesel engine, which drove a generator to produce electricity. The electricity was then used to power traction motors that drove the wheels. The RS-1 had a relatively low horsepower compared to later locomotive designs, typically ranging from 1,000 to 1,200 horsepower, although some variants were produced with higher horsepower ratings.

The RS-1 featured a distinctive "road switcher" appearance, with a long hood at the front and a shorter hood at the rear. This design provided good visibility for the engineer and improved access to the engine for maintenance purposes. The locomotive's compact size and low weight made it suitable for operation on lighter rail lines and branch lines.

Over 600 RS-1 locomotives were built during its production run, and they were used by numerous railroads in the United States, as well as in several other countries. While many RS-1 units have been retired from service, some are still in operation today, either on short line railroads or preserved in museums as historical artifacts.

More Great Videos:

Plowing snow with your garden railroad...


HO Industrial Operations

N Scale Elmhurst Club Layout in Chicago

O Scale at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

G Scale: Fern Creek & Western Railroad in California

Railfanning in Florida

We hope you enjoyed this issue of  Tracks. Feel free to pass it on to your friends, family and other model railroaders. If you have a great tip or article that you would like to publish on the website, 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 newsletter for Building Your Model Railroad.

And, as always, thank you for visiting the BYMRR website at
https://www.bymrr.com. We are committed to providing all the newest techniques, tips and articles to help YOU build your own great model railroad!

Take care and be safe.

Greg Warth


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