Tracks-011, Issue #11 -- Model Railroading Newsletter

August, 2020

Building Your Model Railroad

Newsletter -August, 2020

WELCOME to the August, 2020 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 scales in a quick and easy-to-read format. Resources are always credited where appropriate.

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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.

New Layout Series: Chapter 2

Follow Along as This Remarkable New Tri-level Layout is Built

The team of two has been working hard to get the benchwork up.  All sections at all levels are 60" long with varying widths ( between 15" and 30") depending on the level.  After seeing the benchwork as it was going up, they modified their plan a little, such that they will have 30" of width at the 40" height level, 20" wide at the middle level and 15" wide for the top level. 

30" of width on the bottom keeps everything within reach.  They chose 20" for the width in the middle tier (instead of 24") because anything wider blocks too much of the view of the lower tier.  15" of width on the top tier should still be wide enough to design their mountainous coal and lumber operations.

Next week, they will be putting down 3/4"foam insulation sheets on the surface of the benchwork.

Model railroad benchwork construction -  planning and buildingModel railroad benchwork construction - planning and building
Continuing progress on model railroad benchwork.Continuing progress on model railroad benchwork.
Model railroad benchwork almost finished for this section.Model railroad benchwork almost finished for this section.
Topeka Model Railroad ProjectWalls painted a sky blue color. May add clouds later. 2.5 inch extruded insulation foam sheets used for layout surface to allow for creation of valleys, rivers, ditches, hiding wires, etc. Cutting legs by 2 inches to maintain proper height of ~40 inches. Will be using 1" foam sheets for the 2 upper tiers.

The Topeka team has decided to name their railroad  "The Michael L. Ballard Railway" in honor of a beloved scout camp instructor who passed away a few years ago (after 40 years of service to the community).  Interestingly, they are also using personal names for various parts of the layout.  Whenever, they make a purchase from a garage sale, for example, they name something on the railroad after the person who was selling the item.  So they have a road sign pointing to Dennison Township.  There's a  Mel's Drive-In, Christine's B&B and a sign saying  "Abigail for Mayor" - all named after people in their community.

To be Continued...

Oldies, but Goodies

Old railroad photo.Old railroad photo.

A good friend of mine in the antique business often acquires old photos, posters and sketches of trains and the people who managed them "back in the day", so to speak.  He knows I'm interested in all-things-trains, so he saves many of them for me.  Some of them come out of old boxes or trunks that have been sitting in people's attics for years.

I find it very interesting to view these little clips of history often wondering what it was like back then - so different and yet, much the same, I imagine.  The people were thinking the same thoughts that we think. They had basically the same kinds of problems that we have - health issues, money problems and getting along with each other.  They were fantastic engineers to have developed such amazing machines, smart businessmen to make it all work economically, dreamers about the future - our present.  I admire their ambition, their fortitude and their strength. The people in this photo are no longer here physically, but they are here in a way.  They are still part of us.  Without them, we wouldn't be talking about Dash 9's and Maglev bullet trains.  

Akron, Canton and Youngstown Railway - a favorite of mine since I grew up in that area.Akron, Canton and Youngstown Railway - a favorite of mine since I grew up in that area.
Old photos like these are great references if we want to scratch-build structures or locomotives from a prior era. This would make a fantastic scene on someone's model railroad.Old photos like these are great references if we want to scratch-build structures or locomotives from a prior era. This would make a fantastic scene on someone's model railroad.


Model railroad sceneryMountainous model railroad scenery. Usually, not much would grow on a rocky slanted surface like this. It might be a mistake to fill every space on this mountain with a "tree-puff". So here the vegetation is more limited and I think more realistic.
Deer grazing on a mountainous rock outcropping on a model railroad.Deer grazing on a mountainous rock outcropping. The scenery on a model railroad is created inch by inch - a little grass here, a bush there, a few trees, a fallen tree, old logs and a few forest animals for interest. I like to do scenes like this one at a time (after the terrain and rocks have been created and painted.
A nice model railroad scene with a railroad worker, who is getting ready to hop on board this old passenger train as it's beginning to leave the station.A nice model railroad scene with a railroad worker, who is getting ready to hop on board this old passenger train as it's beginning to leave the station. There are a few problems with this scene though that I didn't notice 'till I took the picture. The biggest one is the Atlas switch machine, which I should have covered with some scenery or a shed of some kind. The second is that I can see traces of white plaster along the top of the retaining wall that should be painted or covered. The third is that the ground cover does not quite come up to the floor of the shed. Incidentally, the retaining wall was made out of a strip of linoleum flashing left over from a home repair project.
Model railroad scenery showing a variety of vegetation in a very small, triangular piece of real estate on this N scale railroad.Model railroad scenery showing a variety of vegetation in a very small, triangular piece of real estate on this N scale railroad. It would have been a lot easier to just fill it with rocks or grass, but the greater detail adds a lot more interest to the scene than there would have been otherwise. Also note the tunnel portal looks like it's been there for a hundred years because of the paint and weathering and because it is embedded into the rock so tightly. It looks like it was actually built right there by a team of bricklayers, although I can guarantee that it wasn't.:)
Modeling water is fun and the materials that are available to do this are so much better today than in the past."Catching anything today?" Modeling water is fun and the materials that are available to do this are so much better today than in the past. Remember having to mix epoxy resin? I used Woodland Scenics Realistic Water for this scene.

Modelers' Tips

SageBrush for Trees

Adding yet another method to the modelers’ library of how to make very realistic deciduous treesPaul Scoles’ article, “The Scenery Clinic: Pt. XVI: Modeling Deciduous Trees” in Railroad Model Craftsman, May, 2011, p80, describes a method of using sagebrush for this common endeavor. If you’re lucky enough to live close to areas where you can find this in the fields and mountains, and, if you can identify it and bring it home, you're all set. Otherwise, you will have to buy it from companies like Dried Decor. Paul uses scraps of Super Tree√ (by Scenic Express) branches and glues them to the sagebrush tree armatures using Aleene's Fast Grab Tacky Glue√. After this dries, he then sprays with Design Master Wood Tone paint√. After that dries, he then sprays the branches with unscented hair spray and sprinkles some ground foam foliage√ on them. (Reprinted with updates, modification and permission, BYMRR-Zine, May, 2011)

Placing Buildings on Your Layout

Placing buildings properly on your layout seems fairly simple, but if you think about it, where and how you put your structures on your layout have a lot to do with the esthetics and the realism of your model railroad. First, you may want to consider building a foundation for your structure. Most kits don’t contain this element of a building. You can make a foundation easily by using strips of styrene covered with paper or cardstock printed with a brick pattern using software like ”Brickyard” by Evan Designs, or textured sheets from Plastruct√. If your building is on a hill, use the top of the foundation to allow the structure to be level while the bottom of the foundation follows the slant of the hill. 

Also, make sure your groundcover comes right up to the edge of the structure and that your surrounding scenery (bushes and trees) are placed around your structures in a realistic way.  Don’t leave big gaps between the bottom edge of the structure and the layout surface.

Don’t always have your buildings lining up with the mainline tracks. It’s much more interesting to have them set up unparalleled to the mainline with short branchlines and/or roads leading to or alongside the buildings. Make sure you have a suggestion of adequate parking for your buildings or industries.

Add decals and signs to your commercial buildings for more realism and interest.  You should fix your buildings to the layout - either with glue or by using small stakes in the layout surface to keep the structures from moving around.  Install dimmable lights in each building that you can control from your main control panel.  You may want to leave the roof of each building unglued so that you can access the inside to place lights and other interior details.  If it's a farm, add some chicken or cow sounds that start up when your train passes by. Don't forget people and animals around your buildings.

Create walkways, driveways, fences around houses. Look at reference photos to help in creating the look you want. Don’t forget the details like trash cans, mailboxes, traffic lights, street lights, litter on the street, etc. George Sellios was a master of this urban detailing.   (Reprinted with updates, modification and permission, BYMRR-Zine, May, 2011)

Improving Electrical Performance

In addition to track cleaning, one of the best things you can do to improve electrical performance of your locomotives is to apply a thin layer of transmission fluid√ to your tracks. Wahl's Clipper Oil√ as been used effectively for this purpose as well. Graphite sticks√ (4B) applied to the rails are also excellent for improving conductivity. 

Also, make sure your locomotives are lubricated properly. Read the instructions that came with your specific locomotive to learn how to do this properly. You may have to do this right out of the box since some locos are shipped without having been lubricated at the factory. The instructions should fill you in on this. By the same token, make sure you don’t over lubricate your locos. Very tiny amounts of lubricant applied through a very thin needle-like tube are appropriate. Use a lubricant √ purchased from your hobby shop that is specifically designed for this purpose.

Clean your wheels regularly on your locomotives and also on your railcars. If you spend a lot of time cleaning your track and then run trains with dirty wheels, the track won’t stay clean for long. Use metal wheelsets on your railcars when possible. These are easier to clean and usually don’t pick up as much grime as the plastic ones do.

(“Improve Train Performance with Transmission Fluid”, by Steve Carter, Model Railroader, May, 2011, p58).  (Reprinted with updates, modification and permission, BYMRR-Zine, May, 2011)

More Great Videos:

Prototype Trains of the Midwest

Very entertaining. Get some great ideas for your layout by watching the prototypes operate...

5 Great Gadgets for Your Model Railroad

Here are links to 3 of those gadgets mentioned in the video...

7 Secrets to Reliable Kadee Remote Magnetic Uncoupling

If you ever wanted to know how to do remote uncoupling reliably, this is for you...

Muddy River Diorama

Lots of great scenery tips in this one video...

Check out our Rail Modeler Train Store for all your train supplies -  everything you need to build your model railroad. 

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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 We are committed to providing all the newest techniques, tips and articles to help YOU build your own great model railroad!

-Greg Warth

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