April 2023

Tracks-4-23 -- Model Railroading Newsletter

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

Articles in This Issue:

Round the Curve to Altoona

How to Make a Waterfall

Creating Rivers and Rapids

New Tracks Modeling

Make a Touch Toggle Control Panel

How to Program an Arduino

Install a Flashing Crossing Signal Using Arduino 

Consolidation 2-8-0

More Great Videos


WELCOME to the April 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.

Round the Curve to Altoona

Mark your calendars for the MER 2023 Annual Convention!!


The 2023 Annual MER Convention, "Round the Curve to Altoona," promises to be one of the most exciting and educational events for model railroad enthusiasts this year. The convention will take place from October 19 to 22, 2023, in the beautiful city of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

This year's convention will feature a wide range of events, including clinics, layout tours, operating sessions, and vendor displays. Attendees can expect to learn from experts in the field, exchange ideas with fellow modelers, and discover the latest techniques, products, and trends in the hobby.

One of the highlights of the convention will be the layout tours. Attendees will have the opportunity to visit some of the most impressive model railroads in the area, including several multi-level layouts, realistic scenery, and intricate track work. They will also have the chance to meet the owners and operators of these layouts and learn about their construction and operation.

The convention will also feature a variety of clinics on topics such as scenery, weathering, operations, electronics, and more. These clinics will be led by experienced modelers, manufacturers, and industry experts, providing attendees with a wealth of knowledge and skills to take home.

For those who love operating model trains, the convention will offer several operating sessions, including prototype-based operations on local railroads. These sessions will provide attendees with a realistic and challenging experience, as they work together to move freight and passenger trains across the layout.

In addition to the clinics and layout tours, the convention will feature a vendor display area, where attendees can browse and purchase the latest products from manufacturers and retailers. They will also have the opportunity to meet representatives from various companies and ask questions about their products and services.

There will be a Contest Room where modelers can present their entries of buildings, railcars, locomotives and dioramas for judging. Many of these entries are breathtaking realistic renditions of the prototypes. 

The White Elephant Room is always a favorite for modelers hoping to pick up a good deal from other model sellers. You might find that one particular item you have been looking for.

Overall, the 2023 Annual MER Convention promises to be an unforgettable experience for model railroad enthusiasts. From the layout tours to the clinics and operating sessions, attendees will have the opportunity to learn, discover, and have fun with like-minded hobbyists. So, mark your calendars, and "Round the Curve to Altoona" for an exciting and educational weekend in October 2023!

How to Make a Realistic Waterfall


A waterfall can add a realistic touch to your scenery, making your model train journey feel more immersive. Here is a description of how build one for your layout.


  • Foam board
  • Styrofoam
  • Hot glue gun
  • Woodland Scenics Realistic Water
  • Rocks, pebbles, and other natural materials
  • Paints
  • Clear silicone caulk
  • Toothpicks


  1. Plan the location of your waterfall on your layout. Make sure you have enough space for the waterfall and that it is easily accessible for maintenance and repairs.
  2. Cut a piece of foam board to the size of your pond or lake. This will be the base of your waterfall.
  3. Use styrofoam to build up the shape of your waterfall. Cut the styrofoam to the shape you want your waterfall to be, using a hot glue gun to glue the pieces together. Make sure the styrofoam extends slightly beyond the edge of the foam board base. Alternatively, use Sculptamold to create the waterfall which may provide more texture and flexibility in shaping it as you wish.
  4. Cover the styrofoam, or Sculptamold, with a layer of clear silicone caulk. This will create a smooth surface for the Realistic Water to adhere to.
  5. Once the silicone caulk has dried, paint the waterfall with acrylic paints. Use different shades of brown and green to create a natural-looking rock face.
  6. Add rocks, pebbles, and other natural materials to the waterfall to create texture and depth. Use a hot glue gun to secure the materials in place.
  7. Mix the Realistic Water according to the manufacturer's instructions. Pour it over the waterfall, making sure it fills all the crevices and covers the entire surface.
  8. Use toothpicks to create ripples and waves in the Realistic Water. This will make the waterfall look more realistic.
  9. Allow the Realistic Water to dry completely. This can take up to 24 hours.
  10. Once the Realistic Water has dried, you can add foliage and other scenery to the surrounding area. This will help blend the waterfall into the rest of your layout.

With these steps, you can create a beautiful and realistic-looking waterfall for your model railroad. The key is to take your time and pay attention to the details. 

How to Create River Rapids

River Rapids

Along with your waterfall, you may want to create river rapids to go with it. Adding river rapids to your model railroad can add a lot of visual interest and realism to your layout. Here are some general steps you can follow to create river rapids:

  1. Plan your layout: Determine where you want the river rapids to be located on your layout. Make sure you have enough space and that the rapids will fit in with the overall theme and scenery of your layout.
  2. Build the river bed: Use foam or other materials to create the shape of the river bed. You can carve the foam with a knife or use a hot wire foam cutter to create the desired shape.
  3. Apply a base coat: Cover the river bed with a base coat of paint. Use a color that closely matches the color of the rocks or sand in your area.
  4. Add rocks and boulders: Use rocks and boulders of different sizes to create a realistic river bed. Arrange the rocks and boulders to create eddies and areas where the water will flow faster.
  5. Add water: Apply a clear resin or gloss medium over the river bed to create the appearance of water. You can add a small amount of blue or green paint to the resin to create the appearance of depth.
  6. Create the rapids: Use a hot glue gun or other tool to create the appearance of rapids. Drip hot glue onto the surface of the resin, creating small peaks and valleys to simulate the flow of water.
  7. Add foam: Use a product like Woodland Scenics' "Realistic Water" to create foam on the surface of the water. Apply the foam in areas where the water is moving faster.
  8. Add finishing touches: Once the foam has dried, add small details like leaves, twigs, and other debris to the surface of the water to create a more realistic appearance.

Remember to take your time and work carefully when creating river rapids. With a little patience and attention to detail, you can create a realistic and eye-catching feature for your model railroad.

New Tracks Modeling


This is a great educational program that allows you to learn from model railroading experts in real time every Wednesday evening at 7pm Eastern Time. It was started by Jim Kellow, MMR a few years ago and has developed into a wonderful program. All shows are recorded so it you happen to miss a show, just go to their YouTube site and watch it there.  

The live show allows you to interact with the experts as they demonstrate the models they have created. On some shows, they have visitors watch and put together their own kits while watching the experts do theirs at the same time. What better way is there to learn how to model than that. 

Our Model Railroad Museum group was interviewed recently on one of their videos to explain it all so that we could get some recognition in the model railroading community about what we were doing. 

Jim, in turn, talked about their scholarship program that "New Tracks" is developing, targeting students that excel in the STEM concept of education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Since our Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads is promoting the same concepts, we have decided to collaborate our efforts in furthering this program together. 

For more information about News Tracks Modeling, check out their website at https://newtracksmodeling.com/

And their YouTube Page: www.youtube.com/@NewTracks

Build a Touch Toggle Control Panel for your Layout

Touch controls

Here is a basic guide to help you get started:

  1. Plan your control panel: Determine the number of toggles, switches, and other controls that you need. Sketch out a basic design for your control panel.
  2. Choose your materials: You can use a variety of materials to build your control panel, including wood, plastic, or metal. Choose a material that is durable and easy to work with.
  3. Cut and drill your panel: Use a saw or router to cut your panel to size. Drill holes for each of your toggles, switches, and other controls.
  4. Install your toggles: Install your toggles, switches, and other controls in the holes that you drilled. Connect the wiring for each control according to your plan.
  5. Add touch sensors: Install touch sensors to activate each of your toggles. You can use touch sensors that are available commercially or create your own using conductive tape or other materials.
  6. Test your panel: Test each of your toggles to make sure they are working properly. Adjust the wiring or sensors as needed.
  7. Install your panel: Mount your control panel in a convenient location on your layout. Connect it to your model railroad's power supply and other control systems.

With these basic steps, you should be able to build a touch toggle control panel for your model railroad. Remember to take your time and be patient as you work through each step of the process.

How to Program an Arduino

Arduino board
  1. Install the Arduino software: Go to the official Arduino website (https://www.arduino.cc/) and download the latest version of the Arduino software for your operating system.
  2. Connect your Arduino to your computer: Use a USB cable to connect your Arduino board to your computer.
  3. Launch the Arduino software: After installing the Arduino software, launch it from your computer.
  4. Choose your board and port: From the "Tools" menu, select the type of board you're using, and the serial port that your board is connected to.
  5. Write your code: In the Arduino software, write your code in the editor window. You can also use example codes that come with the software to get started.
  6. Verify your code: Before uploading your code to the board, you need to verify it. To do this, click on the "Verify" button or select "Verify/Compile" from the "Sketch" menu.
  7. Upload your code: After verifying your code, click on the "Upload" button or select "Upload" from the "Sketch" menu. The Arduino software will compile your code and upload it to your board.
  8. Test your code: Once your code is uploaded, your Arduino board will execute it. You can check the output using the serial monitor or by connecting the appropriate sensors or actuators to your board.

That's it! You've successfully programmed your Arduino. Repeat these steps to write and upload new code as needed.

Install a Flashing Crossing Signal using Arduino

To install a flashing crossing signal using Arduino, you will need the following components:

  1. Arduino board
  2. LED lights
  3. Breadboard
  4. Jumper wires
  5. Resistors
  6. Push button switch
  7. Buzzer

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Connect the LED lights to the Arduino board using the breadboard and jumper wires. Use the resistors to limit the current flowing through the LEDs. Connect the positive leg of the LED to the digital pins of the Arduino board.
  2. Connect the push button switch to the Arduino board using the breadboard and jumper wires. Connect one leg of the switch to the ground and the other leg to the digital pin of the Arduino board.
  3. Connect the buzzer to the Arduino board using the breadboard and jumper wires. Connect one leg of the buzzer to the digital pin of the Arduino board and the other leg to the ground.
  4. Write a program in the Arduino IDE that will detect when the push button switch is pressed. When the switch is pressed, the program should turn on the LED lights and activate the buzzer to signal to pedestrians that it is safe to cross.
  5. After a certain amount of time, the program should turn off the LED lights and the buzzer to signal to pedestrians that it is no longer safe to cross.
  6. Upload the program to the Arduino board and test it. Make sure the LED lights and the buzzer are working correctly and that the program is detecting the push button switch correctly.
  7. Finally, mount the LED lights, push button switch, and buzzer in a visible location so that pedestrians can easily see and hear the crossing signal.

Know Your Equipment...
Consolidation Steam Locomotive

Consolidation loco

The 2-8-0 consolidation steam locomotive is a type of steam locomotive that was developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was named for its ability to "consolidate" the power of smaller locomotives into one larger, more powerful engine. The consolidation was an important step forward in the development of steam locomotives, and it played a key role in the expansion of railroads across the United States.

Its wheel arrangement sets it apart from other steam locomotives. The 2-8-0 designation means that it had 2 wheels in front, 8 driving wheels in the middle and 0 wheels in the back.

Before the consolidation, most steam locomotives were smaller and less powerful than the ones we see today. They were typically used for local and branch line service, and they were not well suited for long-distance hauling. As the railroads grew, however, there was a need for larger, more powerful locomotives that could handle heavier loads and longer distances.

The consolidation was developed to meet this need. It was a type of freight locomotive that had a larger boiler and a larger firebox than earlier models. This allowed it to generate more steam and produce more power, which in turn allowed it to haul heavier loads over longer distances. The consolidation also had a larger, four-wheeled leading truck that helped to support the weight of the locomotive and provide better stability at high speeds.

The consolidation was first introduced in the late 1800s, and it quickly became a popular type of locomotive for freight service. It was used by many different railroads across the United States, and it played a key role in the expansion of railroads into new areas. The consolidation was especially important for the development of the western railroads, which had to deal with steep grades, long distances, and heavy loads.

Over time, the consolidation continued to evolve and improve. Newer models had larger boilers, improved fireboxes, and more efficient steam engines. They also had larger tenders to carry more fuel and water, and they were equipped with better brakes and other safety features.

Despite its many advantages, however, the consolidation was eventually replaced by newer types of locomotives, such as the 2-8-2 Mikado and the 4-8-4 Northern. These locomotives had even larger boilers and more advanced steam engines, which allowed them to haul even heavier loads over even longer distances.

Today, the consolidation is remembered as an important step forward in the development of steam locomotives. It played a key role in the expansion of railroads across the United States, and it helped to make rail travel safer and more efficient. Although it has been largely replaced by newer types of locomotives, the consolidation remains an important part of railroad history, and it continues to inspire and fascinate people today.

Reference: https://www.american-rails.com/consolidation.html

More Great Videos:

Howard Zane's HO Railroad Layout Tour

Paul Steinweg's O Gauge Model Railroad Tour - The Meadow

Cornerfield O Gauge Model Railroad in Ohio

15 Most Amazing Railway Tracks in the World

Cab Ride on a Freight Train

Another Look at the Colorado Railroad Museum

Todd Treaster's N Scale Layout Tour


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
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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