May 2021

Tracks-05-21 -- Model Railroading Newsletter

May, 2021

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

Tracks Newsletter - May 2021

Articles in This Issue:

Arc Welding Effect


Small Layouts

Connecting Signals to Atlas Remote Turnouts



More Great Videos*

  • Logging Operations on the Oregon Joint Line
  • Lost Creek Lumber Company Layout Tour
  • Western Pacific Layout Tour with Jim Dias
  • Wyoming Division Historical Railroad Society - Union Pacific
  • Little Wicket Railroad Layout Design
  • Anyrail Track Planning Software
  • Make Your Old Turnouts DCC Friendly - Larry Puckett
  • Build Your Own Grinder/Polisher/Sharpener/Lathe/Sander

WELCOME to the May 2021 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.

Whitelisting the email address of this newsletter is important. It assures that it doesn't end up in your Junk or Trash box every month. Please right click on the email address of the sender, copy the link and then go to your contacts program and paste it there as a new contact. You only have to do it once.

Note: √= sponsored link - See disclosure page for details. If you see a √ next to a link on this page or on the site, that signals that the link is an ad. So if you click on it and purchase something, I might get a small (very small, I might add) commission on it. Just so you know.

Requests: If there are any particular subjects that you would like to see in the newsletter, please let us know at [email protected]. Even better, if you have a tip or something you would like to add to the newsletter, please send it in!  Use the form in the Comments section of the BYMRR website.

*Videos: One of the most common requests that I get from the survey is to show more videos. I have included several in this issue and will continue to do so as it seems to be appropriate. Incidentally, if you have not already done so, you may want to consider upgrading to YouTube Premium, mostly so that you can play the videos without having to watch the ads. The videos displayed here are carefully selected for their educational content and fall under the fair use copyright code. Showing them here does not cause any economic harm to the creators and BYMRR makes no income from them. If you see your video displayed here and prefer that it not be displayed, please let me know and it will be removed immediately.

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.

Arc Welding Effect 

Simulations of arc welding can make a machine shop or roundhouse really come alive. There are several types of circuit boards commercially available to help create this effect:

• Circuitron AW-1 (with small lamps) or AW-2 (with larger lamps) utilizes blue and yellow randomly flashing lights. A small “whiff” of cotton can be used to suggest smoke coming up from the welding area. Requires 10-18 volts AC or DC. (

• GRS Micro Liting uses blue and rose-colored lights and contains controls to change frequency and intensity of light. Requires 12-20 volts AC or DC. (

• Ram Track circuitry contains a randomly flashing white LED for a realistic welding effect. (

• Miniatronics uses 2 LEDs for a scattered effect. Requires 2-12 volts DC. (

Adding a scale-size welding worker√ to the scene will add to the realism if you can see inside the building where the “welding” is going on.


Scratchbuilding (making model buildings from scratch) is the art of creating structures or other models out of raw materials – sheets or strips of plastic or wood, glue, paper, cardboard, etc. Some fantastic buildings, locomotives and railcars can be built very inexpensively and without requiring much more time than it takes to build and paint a kit.

Making buildings, locomotives or stock-cars from scratch may seem a little intimidating at first, but if you start with small projects, you will see it can be very satisfying and will inspire you to do more. It may end up being one of the most fun parts of the hobby for you.

There are many benefits to scratch-building as previously outlined on the “Buildings” page. But how do you get started. As with any project, you have make a plan first. 

Things to think about...

What type of model railroad structure do you want to build and why?

  • How will it fit into your layout theme, era and locale?
  • Will it be based on a particular prototype?
  • How much space do you have for it?
  • Will it need to be close to the tracks?
  • Will it require a track on both sides or through the middle?
  • Does it need a sidewalk, road, dock, or parking lot?
  • What are the dimensions? 

After you answer these questions, draw the model building out on paper, or with your CAD program if you have one. If this is your first scratchbuilding project, start with drawing a very small structure - perhaps a small loading dock or a crossing shanty.


Small Layouts

The beauty of small layouts is that you can make them fit in almost any space, they don't cost much to build, they don't require a lot of time and you can get the satisfaction of completing a really cool project (near-instant gratification).  Plus it's a great way to get started in the hobby. Here are some videos that might inspire you...

Connecting Signals to Atlas Remote Turnouts

This is a project that I am currently working on, so I can't guarantee that it would work for you, but I think it has potential. So, I'm presenting it here to see if anyone has any ideas to make it better.

I started with Atlas remote turnouts many years ago mostly because they were readily available to me at the local hobby shop. I have 44 of them on my N scale layout at home.  Each one is connected to an Atlas push button slide switch on the fascia near the location of the turnout and also connected to a momentary toggle switch on my main control board so I can control them remotely. My goal is to attach a red-green signal to certain critical turnouts so that during operation, I can see at a glance whether the turnout is lined up properly for the direction that I want my train to go. This is different than block signaling, in which case you have isolated blocks of track with sensors that go to a relay switch that activate the signal. I wanted to find a simpler way to attach the signal wires to the mechanical arm of the turnout, so that when I activate the turnout to change direction the signal would automatically change from red to green or vice versa without requiring a relay switch.

So here's what I have come up with so far...

When you click the above link you will see a video showing an Evemodel red-green signal changing from red to green and back whenever the turnout is thrown remotely from one direction to the other. When the signal is green, the turnout is lined up for the mainline. When it's red, it's lined up for the branch instead.

This was accomplished by connecting the black wire with the resistor from the signal to the far rail to start with. A red wire (a separate wire - not from the signal) that has been soldered to the near rail is attached to the top of the mechanical plastic rod on the turnout by looping it loosely around the rod and then applying a small drop of glue gel on the top of the rod to keep the loop from slipping off. The red and green wires from the signal are glued to each side of the opening where the rod travels. As you can see, when I throw the turnout remotely, an electrical connection is made from the track rail to the red or the green light alternately. It is critical to not get any glue inside the internal mechanism of the switch and if there is any glue residue on the wires where the electrical connections are made, it has to be filed off. The wires from the signal are very small gauge - probably ~ 30G or smaller - and a little difficult to position correctly. After gluing with CA glue and removing any glue residue from the wires, I also applied some electrically conductive copper tape over them to increase the surface area of the connection. 

I'm wondering if someone out there who is more adept at electrical or mechanical engineering can offer any suggestions for improving this. If so, send me an email or make a comment here.


Mountain railroads in years past needed a way to get up and down mountains without requiring lots of expensive tunnels, bridges, and changes in landscape. Many of the coal and lumber hauling locomotives couldn't climb steep grades. The shay locomotives were made to handle steeper grades than other steam engines, but even those were not able to climb more than about a 12% grade. So, mountain railroad workers uses a zig-zag track formation to get their locos up and down mountains. This would require the formation of ledges on the mountainside where tracks could be laid on a reasonable grade for a few thousand feet, then the train would stop, a turnout would be thrown that would allow the train to back up onto a new track with a similar grade that would allow it to go up further along the mountainside in a zig-zag fashion. In fact, they were called zig-zag railways in Australia. One of the most famous of these switchbacks in America is the Cass Railroad in West Virginia, now a tourist train, but once an active lumber-hauling line. Other switchback railways include the Mount Hood Railroad in Oregon, the Oregon, California and Eastern, the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway in Pennsylvania (a coal-hauling railroad operating from 1828 to 1932), the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in India (which climbs from 328 ft to 7218 ft above sea level using six switchbacks and five loops), and the Australian Zig Zag Railway in New South Wales. Other zig-zag railroads are listed here.

How Switchbacks Work

If you want to use switchbacks on your model railroad, check out the Azatrax website that shows how to automate the operations. You could of course operate the switches manually, but I think it would be awesome to have the option to operate it automatically.

Model Railroad Yards

Having a model railroad yard incorporated into your layout certainly adds a lot of action and provides a much more prototypical experience to your operating sessions. As you design your layout, if you’re not planning on having big, multiuser operating sessions, you probably don’t need a huge sprawling yard, unless that’s your main thing, of course.

But even if you’re the only operator, having a small yard will certainly enhance your own operating experience.

The yard is often the center point, or hub, of the layout. It’s where most of the action is. Trains come into the yard, get rearranged, and then leave to various destinations. The yard is often the means by which the purpose of the railroad is fulfilled.


More Great Videos:

Logging Operations on the Oregon Joint Line

Lost Creel Lumber Company Layout Tour

Western Pacific Layout Tour with Jim Dias

Wyoming Division Historical Railroad Society - Union Pacific

Little Wicket Railroad Layout Design

Anyrail Track Planning Software

Make Your Old Turnouts DCC Friendly - Larry Puckett

Build Your Own Grinder/Polisher/Sharpener/Lathe/Sander

Check out our Hobby Central Train Station for all your train supplies -  everything you need to build your own model railroad. (Also available: RC cars, trucks, planes, helicopters, games, puzzles, tools, gifts and much more.)

  • FREE SHIPPING on most items for orders over $25.00.  
  • Competitive pricing - especially considering free shipping.
  • New discounted products added every day.  
  • Join our Empire Points Program.  Earn 3 points for every $1 you spend. Use the points you've earned to get even greater discounts on future purchases. Get 100 points just for signing up!

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


Tell us what you think...

BYMRR Survey


Please enter the word that you see below.


Back to Home Page

Contact Me | Blog | Photos | References | Supplies | GiftShop | Sitemap | Search | Comment  | Privacy Statement  | Disclosures

Train Logo for Building Your Model Railroad
BYMRR (Building Your Model Railroad) logo

Tracks Newsletter: Sign Up Here!

New Logo for Building Your Model Railroad
Follow BYMRR
Follow Us on Facebook
and Instagram


√ = ad or sponsored link

What's New on

Recent Articles

  1. Tracks June 2023

    Jun 04, 23 01:46 PM

    Model railroading newsletter with lots of tips and tricks to improve your skills and help you enjoy the hobby.

    Read More

  2. Advertise

    May 23, 23 03:40 AM

    Advertise your model railroad products on this site. Learn more on this page.

    Read More

  3. Tracks - May 2023

    May 22, 23 05:58 AM

    Model railroading newsletter with lots of tips and tricks to improve your skills and help you enjoy the hobby.

    Read More