March 2023

Tracks-3-23 -- Model Railroading Newsletter

March 2023

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

Articles in This Issue:

How to Scratchbuild an HO Train Station

Getting Started with Operating Sessions

How to Install an N Scale Decoder

Taking Videos of Your Model Railroad

Designing a Small Switching Layout

All About SD40s

More Great Videos


WELCOME to the March 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 Scratchbuild an HO Train Station

Scratchbuilding your own HO scale train station can be a rewarding project that adds a unique touch to your model railroad layout. Here are some steps to help you get started:

  1. Gather Materials: You'll need a variety of materials, including styrene sheets, plastic or wood strips, glue, hobby knives, paint, and brushes. You can find these materials at hobby shops or online retailers.
  2. Plan the Design: Decide on the size and style of your train station. Look for inspiration from real-life stations or model train magazines. Sketch out a design and create a list of the materials you'll need.
  3. Cut the Styrene: Cut out the walls, roof, and other pieces of your train station from the styrene sheets. Use a hobby knife and a straight edge to make clean cuts.
  4. Assemble the Walls: Use glue to attach the walls together. Be sure to let the glue dry completely before moving on to the next step.
  5. Add Details: Use plastic or wood strips to add details to your train station, such as doors, windows, and trim. Use a hobby knife and sandpaper to shape the details as needed.
  6. Paint the Station: Once the glue has dried, use paint and brushes to add color and texture to your train station. You can also use weathering techniques to make it look like an old, worn building.
  7. Install Lighting: If you want to add lighting to your train station, now is the time to do so. You can install LEDs or other small lights to give your station a realistic look.
  8. Finish the Surroundings: To complete the look of your train station, you can add landscaping, such as trees, bushes, and grass. You can also add a platform and other accessories, such as benches, trash cans, and luggage carts.

Scratchbuilding an HO train station takes time and effort, but the end result is a unique and personalized addition to your model railroad layout. With some planning and creativity, you can create a station that fits perfectly with your vision of your layout.

Getting Started with Operating Sessions

One of the most exciting aspects of model railroading is hosting an operating session. An operating session is when a group of model railroaders get together to run their trains on a layout in a realistic and organized way. In this blog post, we will explore the different aspects of a model railroad operating session.

Layout Preparation

Before hosting an operating session, it is essential to ensure that the layout is prepared and ready for use. The tracks and switches should be clean, and the scenery should be in good condition. The operator's manuals should also be readily available for reference during the operation session.


It is essential to schedule an operating session ahead of time to give other model railroaders enough time to prepare and plan to attend. The schedule should also include the start and end times, as well as the expected number of participants.


During an operating session, there are different roles that participants can take on to ensure the smooth running of the session. The roles include dispatchers, yardmasters, and engineers.

  • Dispatchers are responsible for directing train movements and ensuring that trains run on schedule. They communicate with the yardmasters and engineers to ensure that trains move smoothly throughout the layout.
  • Yardmasters are responsible for organizing trains in the yard and ensuring that they are dispatched in the correct order. They also communicate with the dispatchers and engineers to ensure that trains are moving as expected.
  • Engineers are responsible for operating the trains and following the directions given by the dispatchers and yardmasters. They must be familiar with the layout and the characteristics of the trains they are operating.

Operating Rules

To ensure that the operating session runs smoothly, it is essential to have operating rules in place. These rules should cover aspects such as train movements, signaling, and communication between the different roles.

Train movements should be based on a realistic timetable that ensures that trains move at regular intervals. Sometimes a fast clock is used to compress time, so operators can do a whole 16 hour day at work on the railroad in a space of about 4 real hours. Signaling should also be used to indicate when it is safe to move a train, and communication should be clear and concise to avoid confusion. Walkie-talkies or headsets are often used for this purpose.

Car Cards and Waybills

Car cards and waybills are a great way to add realism and operational interest to model railroad operating sessions. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to use them:

  1. Assign each car on your layout a unique car card. This can be as simple as a small index card with the car's reporting marks (i.e., its identification number) and other relevant information, such as its type, weight, and destination.
  2. Create waybills for each shipment on your layout. A waybill is a form that lists the contents of a shipment, its origin, and its destination. Each waybill should be assigned to a specific car and should indicate where the car is supposed to be moved to next.
  3. Set up a staging area or yard where cars can be stored when they're not in use. Each car should be placed in the staging area with its car card facing outward so that it can be easily identified.
  4. At the beginning of each operating session, distribute the waybills to the operators who will be responsible for moving the cars. Each operator should have a waybill for each car that they're responsible for.
  5. As the session progresses, operators should move the cars around the layout according to the instructions on the waybills. When a car arrives at its destination, the operator should remove the waybill from the car and replace it with a new one indicating where the car should go next.
  6. Keep track of the movements of each car using a log or computer program. This will help you ensure that each car is moved to the correct destination and will allow you to track the progress of each shipment.

By using car cards and waybills in this way, you can create a more realistic and engaging model railroad operating session. It can also help you identify any problems with your track layout or operations, as well as provide a fun challenge for operators to work through.


In conclusion, model railroad operating sessions are an excellent way to enjoy the hobby with other enthusiasts. The key to a successful operating session is proper preparation, scheduling, and following operating rules. With these in place, model railroaders can have an enjoyable and realistic experience operating their trains on a well-prepared layout.

How to Install an N Scale Decoder

Installing a decoder in an N scale model train can seem daunting at first, but with some patience and the right tools, it is a relatively simple process. Here are the general steps for installing a decoder in an N scale locomotive:

  1. Gather your tools and materials. You will need a small screwdriver (often a #0 Phillips), a soldering iron, some solder, and the decoder itself.
  2. Open up the locomotive. Depending on the model, this may involve removing screws from the bottom of the locomotive or carefully prying apart the shell. Be sure to keep track of any small parts or screws. Take pictures frequently as you disassemble the locomotive so you can reference them when you are putting it back together.
  3. Locate the motor and the motor leads. These are usually two small wires that run from the motor to the circuit board.
  4. Disconnect the motor leads from the circuit board. You can do this by gently desoldering the wires from the board, or by carefully cutting them and stripping the ends.
  5. Connect the decoder to the motor leads. There are usually two wires coming from the decoder that correspond to the motor leads. Connect these wires to the motor leads using either solder or small connectors.
  6. Find the power pickup wires. These are usually two small wires that run from the wheels to the circuit board.
  7. Disconnect the power pickup wires from the circuit board, following the same process as for the motor leads.
  8. Connect the decoder to the power pickup wires. There are usually two wires coming from the decoder that correspond to the power pickup wires. Connect these wires to the power pickup wires using either solder or small connectors.
  9. Test the locomotive. Before putting everything back together, test the locomotive to make sure everything is working properly. You may need to adjust some settings on the decoder using a programming track or computer interface.
  10. Reassemble the locomotive. Put everything back together in the reverse order that you took it apart. Be sure to test the locomotive again after reassembly to make sure everything is still working.

Note: This is a general overview of the process for installing a decoder in an N scale locomotive. The specific steps may vary depending on the model of locomotive and decoder you are using. It is always a good idea to consult the manufacturer's instructions for both the locomotive and the decoder before attempting installation.

Taking Videos of Your Model Railroad

Taking videos of your model railroad layout can be a great way to showcase your work and share it with others. Here are some steps to follow to help you take good quality videos of your model railroad layout:

  1. Choose the right camera: You can use any camera that you have available to you, whether it's a smartphone, a point-and-shoot camera, or a professional-grade camera. However, it's important to choose a camera that has good video quality and stability features to ensure that your video is clear and steady.
  2. Plan your shots: Before you start filming, take some time to plan out the shots that you want to capture. Think about the angles, perspectives, and movements that will best showcase your layout.
  3. Set up your layout: Make sure that your layout is clean and tidy before you start filming. Check that all the trains are running smoothly and that the scenery is in good condition.
  4. Lighting: Make sure that the lighting is good, and the layout is well lit. If necessary, you can add extra lights to brighten up darker areas of the layout.
  5. Filming: Start filming your layout from different angles, moving the camera slowly and smoothly to capture different parts of the layout. Make sure to film in HD or 4K quality for the best results.
  6. Edit your footage: After you've finished filming, it's time to edit your footage. You can use editing software like Adobe Premiere or iMovie to edit your video, add music, and make any necessary adjustments to the color or lighting.
  7. Share your video: Once you've finished editing your video, you can share it with others. You can post it on social media, YouTube, or any other platform where you can showcase your work and share it with others who have similar interests.

Remember to have fun while filming your layout and don't be afraid to experiment with different angles and movements to create unique and interesting shots.

Designing a Small Switching Layout

Designing a small switching layout can be a fun and rewarding project for model railroaders. Here are some steps you can follow to design your own small switching layout:

  1. Determine the available space: The first step is to determine the available space for your layout. Consider the size and shape of the room, as well as any furniture or fixtures that may need to be accommodated. This will give you a good idea of the maximum size of your layout.
  2. Decide on a theme: Think about what type of layout you want to create. Will it be a modern industrial park or a historic town with an old-fashioned train depot? This will help guide your track plan and scenery choices.
  3. Choose a scale: Choose a scale that will fit your available space and personal preference. Popular scales include N, HO, and O.
  4. Sketch a track plan: Using graph paper, sketch out a track plan for your layout. Focus on creating a compact and interesting design that includes a variety of switching opportunities.
  5. Add scenic elements: Once you have your track plan, start adding in scenery elements. Consider what type of scenery will fit your chosen theme, such as buildings, roads, and landscaping.
  6. Select rolling stock: Determine what type of rolling stock you want to run on your layout, and select appropriate locomotives and cars.
  7. Finalize the design: Once you have a basic layout design, make any necessary adjustments and finalize the track plan and scenery elements.
  8. Build the layout: With your design finalized, it's time to start building your layout. Start with the trackwork, and then add scenery and structures.

Remember to take your time and enjoy the process of designing and building your small switching layout. With a little planning and creativity, you can create a layout that is both fun to operate and visually appealing.

Know Your Equipment...
SD40 Locomotive

The SD40 locomotive is a type of diesel-electric locomotive that was produced by the Electro-Motive Division (EMD) of General Motors from 1966 to 1972. Here are some specific characteristics of the SD40 locomotive:

  1. Engine: The SD40 is powered by a 16-cylinder, turbocharged EMD 645E3 diesel engine, which produces 3,000 horsepower.
  2. Length: The locomotive is typically around 68 feet long and 15 feet tall, with a weight of around 386,000 pounds. 
  3. Wheels: The locomotive has six axles, with a "Co-Co" wheel arrangement (i.e., three axles per truck, with each axle powered by its own traction motor).
  4. Control system: The SD40 uses a DC electrical control system, which allows for smooth acceleration and deceleration.
  5. Maximum speed: The SD40 has a top speed of around 65 miles per hour.
  6. Production: Over 1,200 SD40 locomotives were produced by EMD during its production run.
  7. Uses: The SD40 was designed for use in heavy-haul freight service, and was particularly well-suited for pulling long, heavy trains over steep grades.

The appearance of an SD40 locomotive can vary slightly depending on the specific model and the railroad company that operates it.

  • The locomotive has a long, rectangular-shaped body with a flat roof and sloping hood at the front.
  • The locomotive has a cab at the front, where the train crew operates the train. The cab has a large windshield and side windows for visibility, as well as a roof-mounted air conditioning unit.
  • The locomotive has four large wheels on each side, which are connected to electric motors that power the locomotive.
  • The front of the locomotive typically has a large, round headlight and two smaller headlights on either side, as well as a small horn or whistle.
  • The sides of the locomotive may have various vents, grilles, and panels for cooling and access to the mechanical components.

Overall, the SD40 locomotive has a powerful and rugged appearance, designed for hauling heavy freight trains over long distances.


The SD40-2 built between 1972 and 1989 has a somewhat different frame with a longer length of 68 ft and 10 inches. It has protruding platforms on the front and rear of the locomotive sometimes called "porches."

More Great Videos:

Model Railroad Layout Tour: HO Industrial Operations By DJ's Trains on Union Railroad

HO Scale New Haven Model Railroad Tour

Union Pacific Model Railroad in HO

Highlights of the Layout Tours of the 2018 NMRA Convention in Kansas City
By Ron's Trains and Things

One of the Largest and Most Picturesque Model Railroads in the USA By Pilentum

HO & N Layout Tours with Awesome Tips for Your Layout By DJ's Trains

Thank you for reading Tracks!

If you enjoyed this issue and wish to "pay it forward", please consider a small donation to the start-up building and construction fund for the Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads. Your contribution is tax-deductible and 100% of the funds go directly to the Museum. We would really appreciate it. 

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 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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