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Tracks-1-23 -- Model Railroading Newsletter

January, 2023

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

Tracks Newsletter - January, 2023

Milwaukee RaodAn adventure in realism on Mark Nieting's Milwaukee Road

Articles in This Issue:

Milwaukee Road by Mark Nieting

Dwarvin Fiberoptics vs. Just Plug Lighting

Modeling Tips 

Z Scale is Growing Up

More Great Videos


WELCOME to the January, 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.

 Milwaukee Road by Mark Nieting

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Mark Nieting's HO scale Milwaukee Road layout recently. He models the area from Jones Island to Milwaukee in the winter with very realistic-appearing snow and leafless trees along with intricate details like telephone lines, signs, street lights, and fences. His "dirty" snow actually looks like what I remember when I lived in Ohio. More information about how he created his scenery is located on page 17 in the July-Aug 2022 issue of The Local . Here are a few pictures...

Nieting-6Mark Nieting standing near his extensive grain elevators he built for the Milwaukee Road. Note that he also has a second O scale layout underneath his HO railroad, a great use of space.

Dwarvin vs. Just Plug Lighting

I have been experimenting with both Dwarvin fiberoptic lighting and Woodland Scenics Just Plug lighting for my layout. So I have about half of my structures illuminated with fiberoptics and the other half with Just Plug wiring. Here's what I have discovered so far.

The Dwarvin fiberoptic set up requires at least one light box (Lamplighter 1 or the more powerful Lamplighter 2) which you plug into a wall outlet. The light box is an LED light source which you could potentially make yourself, but I purchased two of them from Dwarvin. I will likely need to buy one more. The only other item you need is the fiberoptic cable. You just slide one end of the cable into the light box and the other end into the bottom of the structure that you wish to illuminate. There is a limit to the number of cables (10-15) depending on the diameter of the cable that you can physically fit into the opening on the Lamplighter box. There are a number of other accessories that you can purchase, like street lights, outside door lights, even signals.

Just Plug requires a main control box (Expansion Hub) plugged into a wall outlet. Four other control boxes (Light Hubs) can be attached to the Expansion Hub. Each of those four control boxes can be connected to four LED lights. Each light can be individually controlled with a dimmer switch on the box. You could potentially have multiple main control boxes daisy-chained together. Each of those main control boxes could connect to four peripheral boxes (Light Hubs), each of which then controls four lights. Again, there are multiple accessories available, such as street lights, billboard lights, outside door lights, extension wire, battery cases, etc.

  • The cost is about the same. They are both more expensive than just using the old method of connecting grain of wheat bulbs in parallel or in series. Fiber optic cable is very inexpensive, but the light box is not (currently ~$100-150). If you have a small layout, like 3' x 4', one light box is sufficient. If you have a room sized layout, you will need several (3-4) light boxes to supply all the different areas where you will need lights. Just Plug requires running wires with AC current from the main control box to all parts of the layout where you need lights. Then you have to attach control boxes in each section of the layout. Each of the peripheral boxes only controls four LEDs. I needed to use extension wires to reach all of the control boxes. 
  • Fiberoptic lighting is easier to install, but with less control over individual lights or groups of lights. With the Dwarvin setup, you just slide one end of the fiberoptic cable into the light box and the other end into the bottom of the structure you wish to light up. The cables can be purchased in long lengths (which can be easily cut to whatever length you need with wire cutters) so that you can potentially reach all areas of your room-sized layout from one light box. You can light up about 10 or more structures with one light box. I have about 30 structures that need light on my layout, so I need at least three light boxes, if I use Dwarvin for all of them.
  • The Just Plug LEDs are somewhat brighter than the fiberoptic lights. I found that for some of my larger structures, I needed two of the fiberoptic cables to supply enough light. 
  • Both of these lighting systems require some additional work to hide the wires or cables inside each structure. So, if you like detailed interiors, you will have to tape the LED wire or the fiberoptic cable to a corner of the structure and fasten the light to the ceiling such that you cannot see the wire or cable when looking into the building. 
  • One advantage of the Just Plug system is that you do have dimmer control over each one of the lights. The only way to dim the lights in the fiberoptic system is to use a dimmer switch on the main wire that plugs the light source into the wall outlet.
  • One additional fact that may affect your decision to purchase one or the other of these lighting systems is that the Dwarvin company is currently for sale and may be under different management soon. That may affect the price, availability, and/or support for better or for worse. 

Modeler's Tips

Add these to your notebook of favorite model railroading tips:

  • Molding and casting using baking powder and superglue: Create a mold using modeling clay. First flatten out the clay. Make sure the surface is smooth. Place the item you want to re-create on the top of the mold and press it into the clay until the object is flush with surface of the clay. Press the clay into the sides of the object. Remove the object and then fill the cavity with powdered baking soda. Then, pour in liquid thin Cyanoacrylate (Super Glue) until the baking powder is soaked. Let it dry thoroughly. Remove the clay and carefully use a hobby knife or carving tool to remove any excess material on the sides of the model.
  • Use a butane-powered soldering tool. Heats up immediately. It's cordless. You don't have to worry about pulling a cord all over your layout when you want to solder something.
  • Use a tiny camera on your layout where there is a lot of action. Record the trains and the sound as they go by. Then add the video to your Facebook Page. Use an even tinier camera on the front of your locomotive to record a live tour of your layout from the engineer's perspective.
  • https://trainstoreonline.net/cab-cam-model-railroad-video-camera/

  • Smooth-running locomotives: Put a drop or two of Labelle 102√ oil in your gears on the bottom of your locomotive. Clean your wheels√. Put a drop or two of Wahl clipper oil or transmission fluid on your track. Always have two locomotives in your consist, so if the first loco loses power over a rail gap or turnout frog, the other locomotive will push it through until power is restored. The other option is to install a "Stay Alive" capacitor in your locomotive so that it will continue to run for a short while after the power is interrupted.
  • Tune up your rolling stock and track-work with these books by Joe Fugate...

Z- Scale: Get Out Your Magnifiers

Z scale seems to be increasing in popularity recently. There was a rather large Z scale layout on display at the last 2022 Mid-Eastern Region Annual Convention that I attended in October. I was amazed to see highly detailed locomotives on that layout with DCC and even ditch lights. The availability of Z scale locomotives and rolling stock appears to have increased exponentially over the past few years. I have been wanting to have a layout in my briefcase for quite a while now. So, this Christmas, I bought myself a set of Z scale tracks by Marklin (made in Italy) and a train set consisting of an ES44AC NS Heritage along with a 4-car runner pack of Greenville 60' scale NS boxcars. Once I get that all set up and add some scenery to it, I'll send you some pictures.

Z Scale (1:220) was first started in 1972 by Marklin with a track gauge of 6.5 mm or 0.256 inches. Z scale trains use 0-10 V DC and with decoders installed, they can now run on DCC and can operate just like any other model train.

How is it different from N Scale? N scale is larger with a scale ratio of 1:160. Z scale works well for modelers who have very limited space. For example, a Z scale modeler could have a very nice-sized layout inside a guitar case, or on a corner of a desk. It's very portable. You could take it almost anywhere.

The small size and weight of Z scale trains may make it more difficult for them to stay on track. However, you can get longer trains and a more realistic layout with more landscaping and scenery with Z than you can with N scale. Grades have to be kept small.

The availability of Z scale locomotives and rolling stock is much better than it was only a few years ago. 

Believe it or not, there is another gauge smaller than Z that was introduced at the Tokyo Train Show in 2006, called T gauge (1:450 or 1:480), noted to be a "Third of N scale". They have sectional and flex track available and a considerable assortment of scenic items including figures, bikes and boats. Houses are assembled and pre-painted. The T scale locomotives have magnetic wheels which allow them to climb steep grades, as much as 45 degrees.

This is giving me eyestrain just thinking about it!

More Great Videos:

Model Railroad Supplies from the Dollar Store

Northern Virginia Model Railroad Club

How a Diesel-Electric Locomotive Works

Bay Area Z Scale Model Railroad by the BAZ Boyz

Chesapeake Bay and Western Model Railroad

The CB&W Club in Grafton, VA is close to where I live. I visited there recently on December 26 when they were having an open house Christmas celebration. I took a lot of pictures while I was there, but I think this video presentation gives you a better idea of the scale, the depth, the multiple scenes, and  the many details of the layout. 

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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