Happy New Year!

Tracks-01-21 -- Model Railroading Newsletter

January, 2021

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

Tracks Newsletter - January, 2021

HO Scale Model Railroad at Seaboard Railroad Station Museum in Suffolk, VAHO Scale Model Railroad at Seaboard Railroad Station Museum in Suffolk, VA

Articles in This Issue:

Seaboard Railroad Station Museum

Refurbishing an Old Layout - Intro

Modeler's Tips


Questions & Answers

Modeling a Winter Scene

More Great Videos

  • Railfanning in California
  • Tehachapi HO Layout Tour by the La Mesa Club in the San Diego Model Railroad Museum
  • Realistic Waterfall Scenery by Luke Towan
  • The 15 Most Amazing Railway Tracks in the World
  • How to Identify Freight Locomotives
  • Track Planning and Layout Design

10% Discount at the Hobby Central Train Station


WELCOME to the January, 2021 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.

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Requests: If there are any particular subjects that you would like to see in the newsletter, please let us know at [email protected] Even better, if you have a tip or something you would like to add to the newsletter, please send it in!  Use the form in the Comments section of the BYMRR website.

Back Issues: And don't forget, there is a huge amount of information in the 33 issues of the old newsletter called BYMR-Zine as well as previous issues of Tracks.  Back Issues are available here.

Thank you for subscribing. We have lots of new tips and tricks in this issue to add to your model railroading pleasure. And please tell your friends about us. The more we can spread the word about model railroading, the better.

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]

Contributions Encouraged:  If you have a tip, picture, video or an article about model railroading that you would like to share in this newsletter, please let me know.  I'm always looking for more information.

Seaboard Railroad Station Museum

Seaboard Station Railroad Museum - A museum of history created out of a once very active, but now retired, railroad station in Suffolk, VA. A prototypical HO scale model railroad layout resides within the building which accurately shows what the area looked like in its earlier years. It was built with great accuracy and artistry by the Tidewater Division of the NMRA. Here is a collection of pictures that I took of the layout during my recent visit.

Model Railroad at Seaboard Railroad Station Museum in Suffolk, VA
Model Railroad at Seaboard Railroad Station Museum in Suffolk, VA
Model Railroad at Seaboard Railroad Station Museum in Suffolk, VAA lesson in modeling vegetation
Model Railroad at Seaboard Railroad Station Museum in Suffolk, VAAll structures were scratchbuilt to replicate the actual buildings that existed in the era when the train station was active.

Refurbishing an Old Layout

My Blue Ridge and Southern Model Railroad has seen better days. I must admit that I have been so busy with other things that I have partially neglected my railroad that I spent so much time building in earlier years. Oh, I have updated a few things over time off and on, and I can still operate four trains at the same time with DCC operation and two mainlines, but, nevertheless, it really needs a major overhaul. Some of the turnouts don't work as well as they once did, causing some derailments. Some of the electrical connections have failed. The backdrop and the scenery really need an upgrade. I would like to get my JMRI computer interface working, improve the signaling, and add more automation to train activity. Also, my BR&S is probably my main source of photos that I like to use for this newsletter; and I am in dire need of new photos.  Also, I would like to take more videos of trains on my layout in action. I did one recently and I was unhappy with it because there were flaws in the scenery. 

So, my major resolution to start this new year is to refurbish the old BR&S, give it a new look, improve operation, reduce derailments, get rid of track and turnout flaws, make the scenery more realistic, scratch-build some more structures and maybe even collect a few AP (Achievement Program) certificates from the NMRA while I'm at it.

I intend to have some major fun while doing this and I would like to take you all along for the ride. Stay tuned and you will start seeing some new pictures and videos soon.

Here are some older pictures, which unfortunately are all helicopter views. I'll show some better ones in the future.

Blue Ridge and Southern Model Railroad in N Scale
Blue Ridge and Southern Model Railroad in N Scale
Blue Ridge and Southern Model Railroad in N Scale
Blue Ridge and Southern Model Railroad in N Scale
Blue Ridge and Southern Model Railroad in N Scale
Blue Ridge and Southern Model Railroad in N Scale
Blue Ridge and Southern Model Railroad in N Scale

Modeler's Tips

Add these to your notebook of favorite model railroading tips:

  • Pick Up Your Metal Junk: Here’s a tip by Ron Baile that I read in a prior (July-August, 2011) issue of The Local, a newsletter published by the Mid-Eastern Region of the NMRA. Attach a magnet√ to the bottom of a freight car. Then use a locomotive to push it around the layout after you’ve been doing track work. It’s amazing what kind of things you will find on the magnet that have been laying around the layout 
  • Foundations for Your Buildings: Most of us spend a lot of time putting a model building kit together, or even more so in creating a scratch-built model, but when it comes to placing this treasure on our model railroad layout, we just plop it down without much thought about the foundation or how it integrates with the rest of the scenery in the area. A nice article by Bob Walker in the August, 2011 Railroad Model Craftsman, titled "Foundations, Bases and Footprints", on page 56 showed many ways to create a foundation for your structures. You can use a Micro Marks' Typhoon cutter or even just a wire brush to distress the surface of basswood or balsa to create a rustic foundation for an older building. You could also use brick sheets made of either paper or plastic to place around the bottom of the structure on the inside to look like a foundation. Make sure to avoid gaps between the bottoms of the structure walls and the layout surface and make sure you use your ground-cover and bushes etc. to integrate the building into the rest of the scenery.
  • Trees and Telephone Poles: Plant some trees in the middle of where power lines are crossing. Cut away portions of the trees to avoid interference with the power lines to simulate what the power companies do when trees get in the way of the lines.
  • Weather Your Wheels: Use the dry-brushing technique with a small brush and acrylic paints to weather the wheels of your running stock. First use a layer of gray, then add brown and finally streaks of rust color.
  • Create a False Tunnel on Your Backdrop: Use a purchased tunnel portal, or make one yourself with Hydrocal or resin poured into a form. Create a depth of about 2" using blackened Styrofoam that has been cut in the same shape as the tunnel and attach it to the back of the tunnel portal.  Then, place a small mirror about the same size as the tunnel against the backdrop. Position the 2" thick tunnel portal against the mirror. Add some vegetation around the outside of the tunnel portal to make it blend in with the rest of your scenery. The mirror will reflect scenery in the front of the tunnel, which will appear as if the scenery is showing through from the other side. You can do this with a bridge structure as well.

(Reprinted with updates from BYMRR-Zine, 2011 and 2013, with permission.)


What's the difference between a turnout and a switch?

The terminology is confusing, but typically in model railroading, the word turnout refers to the device that allows the operator to choose the path of the train as it moves along the track. The turnout requires a switch to make it work. The operator (a human, usually) is required to activate the switch, unless that action is automated, which is another topic altogether. Sometimes the words turnout and switch are used interchangeably. In real (prototypical) railroading, the word switch is the term usually used.

Back to model railroading, a turnout is a specific structure of rails put together in such a way that the direction of the train can be altered by moving the points from one side of the track to the other. The switch can be a manual stick, or ground throw√, that the operator moves using his finger, or it can be a machine (like an Atlas solenoid switch machine, or a Circuitron Tortoise switch machine) driven by electric power that can be operated remotely. In either case when the switch is activated, the points on the turnout move to one side or the other changing the path of the train.

The frog is the place on the turnout where the tracks diverge and requires insulation to avoid polarity issues (short circuits). This can be a place where a slow-moving locomotive will stop if it is not getting power to its other wheels that are still on the metal track. If you have that problem, or if you want to avoid that problem, you can use a turnout that has a powered frog. This allows the polarity of the frog to be changed automatically depending on the position of the points. If the points are aligned for the mainline, the polarity of the frog is adjusted so that it lines up with the mainline. If the points are aligned for the branch, then the polarity of the frog is changed to match that of the branch tracks.

The turnout can also be wired in such a way that the power to the diverging tracks can be turned on or off depending on the position of the points. This usually requires a relay switch. A relay switch  (like the one Atlas makes) uses the power applied to one device to activate a different device. When the power from the switch machine changes the position of the points and if that power is also directed to the relay switch, the relay will turn the power of the diverging tracks on or off. So, if you have a locomotive sitting on the branch line, it won't be powered until the turnout switch machine is activated throwing the points to line up with the branch line. If the switch then is changed to line up with the mainline, the power to the branch track goes off. You can also use a relay switch to turn lights, or sounds, or any other device on or off depending on which way the points are positioned on the turnout as controlled by the switch machine.


All About Turnouts

A Clinic by Rich Kolm • 2008 PCR Convention “Sierra Memories” • Fresno, Calif.

Questions and Answers

You may want to check out our new Questions & Answers Page. If you have a burning question about model railroading, let us help. If we can't answer it, we'll find someone who can. See some examples here...

Modeling a Winter Scene

Model Railroad Winter SceneHow do you know this is a model railroad and not a real winter scene? In the real world, there would be no snow on the boiler!

Tis' the season for making winter scenes on your model railroad. Here is the article that shows you how to do it.

Modeling a Winter Scene

More Great Videos:

Railfanning in California

Tehachapi HO Layout Tour by the La Mesa Club in the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

Realistic Waterfall Scenery by Luke Towan

The 15 Most Amazing Railway Tracks in the World

How to Identify Freight Locomotives

Layout Overview and Update, Rock Island Lines in HO Scale

Track Planning and Layout Design

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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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