February 2023

Tracks-2-23 -- Model Railroading Newsletter

February 2023

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

CB&W001The Chesapeake Bay and Western in Grafton, VA: the largest model railroad in the state.

Articles in This Issue:

Chesapeake Bay & Western Railroad - A New Look

How to Make a Road

Fiberoptic Signals

Lighting Effects

Life & Times of John Allen

Making a Control Panel

Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads

More Great Videos


WELCOME to the February 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.

Chesapeake Bay & Western Model Railroad

My recent visit on the day after Christmas in 2022 to the Chesapeake Bay & Western Model Railroad in Grafton, VA, close to Yorktown was nothing short of magnanimous. It is a two story railroad connected by a large helix and contains just about everything you would want in a railroad. It is owned and operated by a large local club of the same name with over a hundred members who obviously spend a great deal of their time working on this dream railroad and also having a lot of fun operating it. If you are ever in the area and they are open, it would be well worth your time to take a tour. There are no admission fees, but there is a donation jar at the end. Website: https://cbw-mrc.com/

I featured a video of the layout in my last newsletter, but here is a better one produced by Scale Trains: 

I thought you might like to see some of the photos I took as well...


How to Make a Road for your Layout

  1. Choose the type of road material you want to use, such as asphalt, concrete, or dirt.
  2. Cut a piece of foam board or cardboard to the desired shape and size for the roadbed.
  3. Paint the foam board or cardboard to match the road material you have chosen.
  4. Apply a thin layer of fine gravel, sand, or ballast to the surface of the road to represent the surface texture.
  5. Once the paint and texture materials have dried, use a permanent marker to add road lines and other details, such as crosswalks or intersections.
  6. Attach the road to your model railroad layout using double-sided tape, glue, or other adhesive.

Fiberoptic Railroad Signals

Here is a new method of creating a signal system for your model railroad. Dwarvin, a company I have mentioned before in this newsletter, that uses fiberoptics for lighting buildings and street lamps, has developed a fiberoptic red-green railroad signal that will change from red to green and back again, depending on how the turnout is thrown. I have purchased a few of these for my N scale layout and I have been impressed by the ease of installation and how well it works. 

Follow the link above to see what they look like and how they are wired.

Another company, Model Train Technology also makes a fiberoptic signal system which is explained in the following video using PRR signals.

Lighting Effects

Model railroaders often use lighting effects to add life and realism to their layouts and their photos. LED lighting strips, flashers, and illuminated buildings can all be used to bring a model railroad layout to life. Additionally, innovative photographic techniques such as light-painting can be employed to create unique night scenes. A range of colors are available through application of colored gels over the lighting fixtures. Using scale spotlights to enhance buildings or scenes are helpful. Billboard LED lights, animated signs on buildings, flickering "fires" for hobo camps, and strobe lights for simulated welding scenes add a lot of interest. Lighted vehicles are also available now for your street scenes.

When placing lights in buildings try to tape the wires along a front corner of the building and tape the light to the ceiling, so you don't see the wires or the light when you look inside the building. Use black paint or cardboard inside the building to prevent light from "bleeding through" the plastic walls. 

When aiming for realism, it is important to ensure that lights are placed proportionately in relation to the scale being used. For example, a streetlight would appear much larger on a N scale layout than on an HO scale layout due to the different sizes of each scale's cars and buildings. Additionally, railroads should strive for realistic brightness levels as well; brighter lights tend to look unnatural and draw too much attention away from other details on the layout. 

Also the placement of spotlights or flood lights overhead or to the side of your layout may provide a more realistic view of a scene simulating the early morning hours or dusk. When photographing landscapes, photographers will often use the sunlight at different times of the day to enhance their photos. They rarely take pictures when the sun is directly overhead. 

Dimming overhead lights or changing the overhead layout lighting to a dusk color and then blue can simulate nighttime effects during an operating session. Inexpensive LED floodlights with a remote control switch can accomplish this.

For more information, go to the Lighting Effects Page at BYMRR.com.

night-sceneNight Scene on the Blue Ridge and Southern

Life and Times of John Allen

John Whitby Allen (1913-1973) was one of the greatest model railroaders of the 20th Century and has been an inspiration to many thousands of modelers who have come along after him. He was born in Joplin, MO and studied economics and later photography at UCLA. His first exposure to model railroading was in 1934 when he went to the World's Fair in Chicago where he became impressed with the model railroad on exhibit there. 

He unfortunately contracted rheumatic fever while at school resulting in some heart trouble. He was told by his doctor to move to a warmer climate. So he moved to California where he visited his uncle in Oakland who owned a model railroad. This reignited the spark and after the war, he was able to start building his own model railroads.

He wrote an article for Model Railroader in 1946 on how to use photography in the hobby. He won a structure-building contest with a two-stall engine house in 1948 because of the realism he put into it by adding pigeons "and their evidences" on the roof. He later bought a home with an unfinished basement which eventually became home to his "Gorre & Daphetid."

There were very few hobby items that he could purchase at the time, so he had to use household supplies to create many of the items he used for his layout. Friends helped him build his extensive mountain scenes. He uses mirrors and forced perspective to enhance the 3D effect of the scenery.  He continued communicating with others about model railroading. He was always ready to "talk trains."

In 1973, he died from a heart attack. Ten days later his friends gathered in his basement for an operating session and to try to figure out what to do with his layout. Unfortunately, when they left, someone left the furnace on at 65 degrees. The furnace had rarely been used previously and was covered with tar paper which then caught fire. The first floor of the house collapsed into the basement and sadly destroyed the layout. 

But the spirit of the man continues to live on in the hearts and minds of model railroaders across the world. He was an innovator and was always making improvements to his railroad. He advanced the hobby in so many ways and that is what inspires us to do the same.

Read more here...

How to make a Control Panel for your Layout

Below are two videos that will show you how to make a very nice control panel for your layout. You can also see the method that I used for my layout several years ago on the Control Panel Page at BYMRR.com.

In addition, you may want to look at the Touch Toggle Controls made by the Berrett Hill Shop.

More Great Videos:

Model Railroader YouTube Channel

You can find lots of layout tours, new-product videos, and how-to videos on this YouTube channel produced by the folks at Model Railroader Magazine.

Colorado Model Railroad Museum

Bob Norwich's On30 Railroad Layout

Lost Creek Lumber Company Sn3 Logging Layout Tour with Paul Claffey

Burlington Northern across 3 HO scale model railroad layouts in Trackside Model Railroading.

A New Model Railroad Museum in Hampton Roads, Virginia

A highly dedicated, motivated group of model railroaders have been making plans for a non-profit model railroad museum in Eastern Virginia called the Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads. When completed, it will house at least eight layouts in multiple scales some of which will be interactive and at least one will be built by local students. The museum is intended to provide a charitable, educational community service, teaching the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering. Art, and Math) concept of learning for students of any age. There will be a library, classrooms, historical artifacts, videos, presentations regarding the history of railroading in Virginia, multiple exhibits and demonstrations of the importance of all the above disciplines along with inspiration to use this information to improve our world. We are currently in the process of acquiring a location. Once we do so, layout building will begin immediately. 

Please check out our website at MRMHR.org and sign up for our free newsletter so you can remain updated on our progress. And please consider donating to a good cause. Your donation is completely tax-deductible. 100% of it will go to the production of the Museum. There are no administrative costs. The staff are all volunteers trying to make a better world. All donors for 2023 will be recognized within the Museum as founding contributors.

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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