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Model Railway Express

Hints & Tips - Scenery and Buildings

Updated August17th 2011

The following Hints and Tips were contributed to Model Railway Express Magazine as a service where readers have been invited to submit "things they do" to keeps costs down, techniques they use to build their items and manage their railways in general.

These pages show the Hints and Tips categorised in the order they have been received by MRE mag. I am not promising "perfection" but as of the creation of these pages, these Hints and Tips page are also shown in order on Page 1... please click on this to access the hints in order that they have appeared in MRE Mag!


Click on the Menu to the area of interest to you.












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Hints & Tips No.1 - Conflats

By Brian Macdermott

I like to have variety with my OO Conflats. Sometimes I run them as 'empties'; sometimes I run them as loaded with a 'full size' container; and sometimes I run them with the 'half size' AF insulated ones. The first two are no problem, but the small ones get thrown around and even fall off.

I solved the problem by using 'tacky wax'. This enables them to stay in position, but be easily removed with hardly anytrace. I realise that real containers were held on bychains, so if anyone can tell me a method ofmodelling that convincingly (yet still enabling easy removal) I'd be glad to hear.

Hints & Tips No.4 - Simulating buildings on backdrops

By Trevor Gibbs, Australia

I have recently built a memorial exhibition layout and needed some backdrop buildings. I had a reasonable success by using the Auran Trainz computer program. I made an English style streetscape with buildings and footpaths then taking screen dumps from different angles of the buildings. I then printed these up and cut the building fronts out and glued them to the backdrop... usually plain sky.

My first tries at this have turned out a bit darker than I would have liked but gave the impression I wanted in the time frame I had to get the layout ready. With experimentation you can get that aspect right too! Good luck trying it out!

Hints & Tips No.7 - Simulating Trees

By Trevor Gibbs, Australia

You can simulate a great grove of trees against a backdrop by using green-coloured cotton wool balls cut in half and teased out a bit then glued to your backdrop as bushy clumps. The absence of tree armatures won't be a problem and give you a sense of 3D.

Use universal dyes or appropriate food colourings sprayed with a cheap air brush in a few different tones. The cost? A few cotton balls and some sprayed universal or vegetable dye diluted with water - like most of my other ideas for this column as close to zilch as possible. If you can see part of the forest floor, a few deep brown vertical brush strokes where the base of the trees would be would/should be enough to simulate the trunks and will be fairly short anyway.

After all you are concentrating on the trains going past aren't you?

Hints & Tips No.33 - Oil Depot Tanks

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

I do not have room on my current layout for an Oil Depot but when I did have space in my junior days, I used either tins from Quik (Nestle Strawberry was good) or smaller coffee tins.

Turning them upside down and screwing the lid to the board meant they could be removed easily if needed for moving etc. In these days of computer labelling, it would not be that hard to make a convincing sign or even a ‘wrapper’ to go around the tin with rivets, small ladders printed on etc. Once again, the cost is not high!

Hints & Tips No.34 - Scenic Shakers

By Roy Thompson

I find these expensive at almost £3 for an empty plastic container with a funny lid. Have a look around your kitchen and you may be surprised how many of these types of container you can find in varying sizes.

Ones I have found include peppercorns, parmesan cheese, herbs and spices. If you know anyone who works in catering they often have larger catering sizes, which are excellent once given a good wash.

From Alvar York

Further to Roy Thompson's tip, I have found that the 500g salt shakers from Saxa and the like to be very effective. You can adjust the pourer head to a few grains of small ballast to fully open for a flood. It is also excellent for grass scatter etc.

Prior to this I used a 1 pint plastic milk bottle with suitable holes drilled into the top. I also use the milk bottle for storage.

Hints & Tips No.35 - Making Rail look Scale in 00/H0,

By Trevor Gibbs, Melbourne Australia

I have been 'weathering' my rail for a few years simply by getting out one trusty paint brush and painting the sides, particularly of Peco code 100, with a Russet or Tuscan box car colour. I personally use Tamiya type acrylics. You can simply run a paint brush along the rail sides, before or after ballasting and not worry about the effect too much. In fact mine was done after ballasting because I was not happy with the effect of the shiny rail at the time.

I have been asked a number of times if my track is Code 70 or 83 rather than the 100 as removing the sheen from the sides of the rails in this way, hides its apparent height. This is also lowered by use of ballast. Dregs from the paint bottle are especially effective as you can get simulated a build-up of grime and grease, as does occur. You can even skimp a bit and just do the sides which are seen from a viewers angle.

If you need to solder a wire to the rail, it is easily cleaned by simple scraping off the paint and retouching it afterwards.

Although photos are not conclusive you can judge the result yourself by clicking on the website and scrolling down.

Hints & Tips No.38 - Making Hedges

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

You can simulate a lot of hedges using green steel wool scourers cut into appropriate strips and glued vertically. This works fairly well. You could sprinkle the outer surfaces with ground foam such as Woodland Scenics to give a bit more texture closer to viewing distance. If you really want to do it for next to nothing, you could grind up your own appropriately coloured foam

Hints & Tips No.49 - Scale Looking Rail In N Scale... Not Quite So Cheaply!

By Trevor Gibbs, (Australia)

I saw an article many years ago, I think in Model Railroader about a modeller who had taken his N scale code 80 track and lowered it into his baseboard...

What he had done is cut his track pattern into the top of his plywood with a router suitably adjusted and "sunk" his track plan into the plywood. The track was laid and ballasted over and the effect for the late 60s or early 70s was terrific and would probably still withstand scrutiny today! Why? Because not only is the height of the rail an issue but also the thickness of the sleepers in standard Peco N scale track.

While I cannot remember if he had done so, he may also have painted the rail side to lessen the effect visually of the height, similarly to what I suggested in Hints and Tips No.35.

Taking this hint one stage further, you could use a router to cut out a very shallow base area for your buildings so that you do not get the modellers bane of having one corner of the building standing “proud” of your baseboard... after all buildings sit on foundations in the ground, not on top of it. Fill in your scenery up to the building and it will look as though it is meant to be there.

Routers and other power tools are becoming progressively cheaper and this may be an option for you... hope these ideas help you!

Hints & Tips No.52 - Hi Rise Buildings

By Trevor Gibbs, (Australia)

I saw a layout at an exhibition with a couple of very tall (for a layout) model buildings in a city scene which from normal viewing distance looked very effective. Looking closely I presume that they were a plywood box with normal building tiles glued around them, consistently one colour such as deep blue which gave the window effect.

Such a tile system could work very well on a backdrop to give a low relief depth but give the impression of more. Seeing a tile dealer for a remnant would be your cheapest option! You might even fool people at first about the detail and depth in your windows with moving characters in the office areas that look like the people admiring your work!

Hints & Tips No.54 - Animation

By Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Although I work in larger scales, any movement or hint of movement can add that "something" to your village in any scale. Most often it is done by the train moving through your scene.

There are also many other ways to induce movement regardless of scale. Small electric/battery motors can be mounted below the base board, above a fisherman can cast his line, an axe man can cut logs, a painter can paint a wall.....Simply moving a figurine left and right by having the shaft of the motor glued to the base of the figure will give the impression of life in the village.

More intricate animation can involve boats moving on their anchors in the breeze to cars moving on roads. It is up to your imagination and your ability to see a small motor or gear and think of an alternate use in your scene.

Hints & Tips No.55- Visualising Scenery.

By Trevor Gibbs (Australia)

Some people do not tackle scenery usually using the excuse "I'm not artistic enough" or similar. Here is an easy way of being able to see how your scenery COULD turn out.

Cut some cardboard cartons into strips about 40-50mm wide. Start by stapling or tacking (cobblers blue tacks are good ) about an inch (25mm) or so of the strip to your base or frame then arc it upwards to the shape of your rolling hill. If your strip is not long enough to cover the size hill , simply staple another one on end and keep going. Place a number of strips about 120-150mm (4-5") apart parallel roughly where you envisage the hill being.

These strips will give you an idea of your shape and you can bend and crimp your strips to get the effect of hills, crags and cliff fronts. You can then make a simple lattice using strips and thread them through your laterally placed strips. This will give you a more solid base to look on and you can still make changes by crimping the card.

If you like what you see or you can visualise, make the frame a little more solid using hot melt glue and then you can cover it with whatever scenery you prefer to use, Chux cloths painted with PVA is good for this... or tear it out and try again for very little . Good luck...,

Hints & Tips No.56 – A Cheap and Simple (and very effective) Viaduct

By Tom Welsh (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

In building the exhibition layout “Chuffington” we needed a rather large viaduct of unusual ess shape. The track is elevated at that point and the shape would not be covered by a commercial offering. We made viaduct sides from some 3mm MDF board and bent it to the shape of the trackwork.

While we probably could have just painted the MDF, we elected to get some very coarse spent belt sander belts and glued them to the outer surfaces. We then cut the belt so that the arches were open and treated the insides of the arches the same way.

A coat of an earth tone paint and the origins of the material would not be known. This technique could be applied to any size bridge. You can see a picture of the bridge at http://www.sunshinemrc.org.au/chuffington01.htm .

(A Note From Trevor – The bridge has raised a few eyebrows even on the limited time that I have minded Chuffington for Tom at exhibitions. I had one gentleman say how expensive Model Railways were and I pointed the bridge out to him. “How much did that cost?” so when the process was explained, he was quite incredulous at what he was seeing! Well Done Tom)

Hints & Tips No.64 - Timber Loads

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Those extra long and thicker match sticks, which are used for lighting the barbecue or fire (depending on your season of course) can be used as coarse timber loads for model building sites or used for model fence or billboard posts. It would depend on your scale and needs as to what length you cut the sticks and where you place them.

You could go so far as to glue a set of 4 or so together and make model tree trunks. To do this, glue and allow to thoroughly dry before sanding them to shape, painting and adding foliage. Perhaps you could make log shapes or stumps... just paint the outside a suitable bark colour and the ends to a tree ring colour!

From Peter Gomm - Other sources are lolly stick, stirrers given out by coffee shops, it just needs modellers to look out for other normally thrown away items.

Hints & Tips No.65 - Making Roads Disappear

by Brian Sheron (MD USA)

Having roads that run into the walls of your layout room can pose a visual challenge. Having them end abruptly does not look good, and trying to paint an extension onto the wall may not look realistic. One way to have the road blend into the distance is to bend the end of the roadway material up and curve it to a point to one side.

You can now put foliage on either side of the road, and it will give the effect of the road curving off in to the distance. You can see this on

my website (I model the Long Island Rail Road circa 1964).

Hints & Tips No.66 -STRONG CLASS="style53"> Making Road Surfaces More Realistic

by Graham Plowman (Sydney, Australia)

I made a steel bridge, similar to one found in the Western Region. The road surface for the bridge has been made using sheets of fine grade wet & dry paper. The surface has been further rubbed with a further sheet of wet and dry paper to make the road surface smoother and take away the glass 'reflectiveness' by rubbing the dust back into the road surface. The result is very effective and has also been used on Ashprington Road's platforms.

For a detailed description of the bridge construction, including pictures, you can check my website at www.mrol.com.au/SteelBridge.aspx

Hints & Tips No.69 - Using Modern Vehicles on Older Period Layouts
By Brian Sheron (MD USA)

You are at a model train swap meet, market, or your local hobby or toy store, and discover some commercial vehicles (e.g., a cement truck) that are being sold for a bargain. (I was in my local hardware store and found Boley HO International trucks for $2.99 each!). For all intents and purposes, it looks like a vehicle from the era you are modeling, except that the front of the cab has a modern grill and headlights, You do not want to pass up this bargain, but the vehicle era is just wrong!

Do not despair. Think about where you can locate this truck on your layout so that the front of the vehicle is facing away from the viewer! If the viewer can't see the front of the vehicle, then who cares whether the front represents a vehicle from the 1990s or the 1950s? The dump truck shown on my website is a modern truck on my layout (which models the Long Island Rail Road circa 1964).

Hints & Tips No.70 - Covering Unsightly Corners On Buildings
By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

If you have a structure which has a corner not quite flush etc, you can cover the "blemish" with a thin smattering of ground foam to represent ivy vines. Just put a thin layer of PVA glue on the surface and sprinkle some foam. You may even be able to collect enough from your trees which have lost their "leaves" on your model forest floor to do the job.

You also have the advantage that people might think you are into superdetailing your models rather than finding fault with your assembly... and keeping quiet about it!

Hints & Tips No.71 - How To Create A Plowed Farm Field

By Tom Welsh ( Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

Use a piece of corrugated cardboard with the corrugations facing outwards. Paint on some glue and sprinkle on some soil colored scatter. Signs of Weeds or old growth, not overdone, makes the scene work better.

Hints & Tips No.72 - Simple Signs From Your Computer

By Brian Sheron (MD USA)

As you drive around, you probably may not notice, but everywhere-yes everywhere - there are signs. An easy way to make all sorts of signs for your layout is to create them on the computer. Once you get them to your liking (font style, size, color) print them out on plain white paper. I have also found that surfing the web can turn up pictures of posters, signs, etc., that you can drag into a drawing program, and then print them on out.

Spray a thin sheet of styrene plastic with artists adhesive and glue the paper with the signs, posters, etc., printed on it to the plastic. When the adhesive is dry, use an Xacto or sharp hobby knife and cut the signs out. Because they are mounted on styrene plastic, you can attach them to any other plastic surface with styrene cement. You can fit many on an A4 sheet so get to it.

Hints & Tips No. 73 - Making Putty For Models
By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

If you are into using sheet styrene for scratch building, do not throw all your offcuts and shavings etc away. You can make a putty like paste by dissolving these etc in a bottle with some MEK which you can use to fill in imperfections, holes, joints and any other area requiring touching up prior to painting.

Wood modelers can also make a "putty" by mixing shavings or saw dust from your parent timber in PVA glue to make a paste which can be used for wood siding, planks etc where imperfections occur.

While I have not tried it, I have read from several sources that you can make another type of putty with super glue and baking soda which I assume you can use with Resin and white metal etc. However, as cyanide is a principal ingredient in the super glue, please remember to work safely with it including working in a well ventilated area and using eye protection.

Hints & Tips No.76 - Ballasting Track.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne, Australia)

The orthodox method of ballasting track is to spray the laid ballast with a mixture of water and detergent before applying glue to the ballast. This is so that the glue uses the surface tension of the water to spread around the ballast. Conventional use would say to spray the ballast carefully which is what I used to do.

However you may save a bit of heartache and a few washouts of your ballast by spraying slightly UP and AWAY from your track so that the water falls as mist ala light rain (scale rain?) on your track and allowed to soak your ballast. I have found that many PVA glues tend to be dilute enough and will spread so I usually make three runs of glue over the centre, and the two edges and allow gravity and the "wet watered ballast" to do their stuff. If you have a particularly strong glue dilute it to 1:2 or 1:3.

In any case leave it overnight and lift spikes holding your track in the morning! Clean your excess and away you go! If it is not tight enough, repeat the process where ballast is loose.

Hints & Tips No.77 - Wax Paper Behind Windows

By Brian Sheron (MD USA)

A lot of model railroad structure kits come with clear plastic for the windows. If you do not want to model an interior on these buildings, and/or want to put an interior light in them for night time scenes, but do not want people to see the unfinished interior, glue a piece of wax paper behind each window.

The wax paper will still allow an interior light to show through, but will diffuse the light and not allow the unfinished inside to be seen. My website shows a kitbashed factory I recently installed on my layout with wax paper behind the windows.

Hints & Tips No.78 - Landscaping your village

By Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Railway Modellers have been using polystyrene for years and it is possibly the best and quickest way to get your basic shapes formed.

If you are using "water" I suggest covering your base board with polystyrene except for the water area. This gives your layout a quick three dimensional effect. The polystyrene may be only 12 or 19mm (1/2 to 3/4") but the effect of rises and falls on your landscape will be rewarding. These undulations can be made with a file, saw or blade dragged over the surface.

Do not be afraid to dig in...you can always re fill the area by gluing more polystyrene back in.

To get the mountain effect , just create the height you require by gluing layers or making box sections with the poly. Once the desired shapes are made cover with either newspaper and water/PVA glue mix or use a commercially available plaster material which just requires wetting. Paint and apply ageing effect to the rocks and grasses and trees.

Hints & Tips No.79 - Concrete Pillars

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

I have found some brands of plastic disposable shavers have wonderfully shaped handles for making concrete retaining wall pillars or bridge pylons or similar items on a layout. Simply cut off the shaver head and there you have it.

Some brands of shavers are rather garishly coloured but they can be repainted into a concrete grey colour with simple acrylic paints and applied to that special bridge or retaining wall requiring a pillar. Let you imagination run riot!

Now of course if the shaver manufacturers would cooperate with us and recognise their products true value to us, we might not even have to repaint them in future. They could even mottle the colour to represent the weathering of the concrete!!! :)

Hints & Tips No.83 - Grassed Areas

By Peter Betts, (Sydney, NSW)

Where grassed areas are needed, there are three main techniques used as follows.

(a) Zip texturing. In this method, dry plaster mixed with powder paint of the required colour is sprinkled though a tea strainer or stocking onto areas wetted with water from a spray bottle. This method is popular for mountainous American and Australian scenery where vegetation is not at all lush. However, in my opinion it cannot simulate a Typical British scene. Moreover, zip texturing will not stand up to any sort of abrasion, and, in most cases, will deteriorate quickly.

(b) Grass carpet. With this product that can be bought from model shops, a paper-backed sheet of grass can be stuck down over large areas. This is the method that I have used myself extensively. Grass carpet is a very hard wearing and long lasting material, but has the disadvantage of displaying a too-even, bowling-green-type finish. I get over this problem by attacking the carpet with watered down bleach over selected areas, particularly on steep slopes. Where the bleach is applied, the carpet will go browner, or if you use too much, go yellow or white!

(c) Scatter material. A traditional method of simulating grass is to scatter died sawdust over a pre-glued surface. In my mind, this material is far too coarse, and looks awful. Woodlands and other companies produce a granulated died foam material to be scattered as vegetation and this is very good but quite expensive. Rather than buying the stuff, which is usually too dull in colour for British scenes, I make my own by breaking up lumps of polyurethane foam, dipping these in thinned-down bright-green paint, and when thoroughly dry, munching up the pieces in a coffee grinder.

In my view, the best grassed scenes are obtained by a mixture of (b) and (c) above.

Hints & Tips No.84 - Simulating Industries.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne, Australia)

Modellers might do well to try to simulate larger industries rather than actually try to model them. Where many larger industries come off the “main line” you can often see a fence and a gate with vehicles at the siding or sidings but the industry itself is nowhere to be seen or way out of sight behind trees or hedges and you are not really seeing very much at all.

So for example, where here in Melbourne we had the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) sidings coming off the main western line on the Broad Gauge to Adelaide, we could see the lines ( there were quite a few sidings there) into and past the gates but not much else as there was a series of trees and bushes blocking the “view” of the factory buildings etc. Yet such an industry generated the need for many goods wagons (tanks, containers, vans/boxcars and flat cars of different types which added to the operating variety of trains working into the area.

To simulate it, any old siding with a fence and gate with views blocked by trees or walls can generate a lot of varied traffic on your layout... and you hardly have to build a thing!

Hints & Tips No.85 - Glazed Windows.

By Jeffrey Wimberly (LA, USA)

I cut clear plastic from those hard to open plastic containers that shops put everything in. It takes a 20 minute demolition job just to get the thing you bought out.

I cut these to the sizes I need for the windows then spray them with Matte-Finish. Dull-Cote would probably work too. They dry to a nice glaze. They also enhance your structures interior lighting. Put a bunch of these into a building and it only takes a small light to light up every window that has glazing.

(Note from Trevor – this is a very good variation of an earlier hint and I will have repainted many of mine with a dull coat clear by the time you read this)

Hints & Tips No.86 - Modelling Stone Buildings.

By Peter Betts, (Sydney, NSW)

The basic structure of any building can be made up using card, styrene or metal, depending what medium you work best in.

My favourite material is double-sided printed-circuit board material (PCB) because it is very strong, can be cut out using a guillotine, can be soldered together, and last but not least off-cuts of the material can be obtained free. To the basic structure is glued a thin veneer of balsa wood, and then the stonework is burnt on with a soldering iron and painted as described above.

Of course, you could make the structure from balsa wood from the start, but in my opinion, such structures are too weak, and vulnerable to damage.

Hints & Tips No.89 - Retaining walls

by Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Retaining walls and sea walls can be made from the foam used as an expansion joint in building construction. This material has a peel off cover exposing a very adhesive surface, simply apply whatever material you prefer to imitate rocks (aquarium stones are ideal), slate, boulders or brick to this surface.

Fill between the stones with a grout of a similar colour (or contrasting colour) and you have a very quick wall in whatever size you require. This method also works for paths and roads

Hints & Tips No.90 - Joining two styrene surfaces using Waxed Paper .

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

When joining two pieces of styrene either using ACC (Superglue) or MEK, make your join over waxed paper and allow to dry. This way your styrene does not pick up another surface or paint with the glue or stick to the other surface which may mar the appearance of your model.

Hints & Tips No.93 - Recycling computer parts Pt 3

By Thomas Statton, (Tennessee USA)

Old computer device ribbon cable looks pretty good as corrugated iron when painted a silver color. Just cut to length and glue it to your fence frame material. A little rust colour will assist the image.

Hints & Tips No.96 - Applying Ground Texture and Ground Foam Pt 1.

By Bruce Leslie, (MA, USA)

I do not like flat, uniform ground surfaces. They look fine in a park or on a golf course, but most of my ground is supposed to be more wild, unkempt terrain.

First, I use Gypsolite which is a locally available plaster material but there are equivalents all around the world, to skim coat the surface. This type of plaster is naturally gritty, so even on a flat area like a foam sheet, the irregularity makes a big difference. The Plaster is naturally a light gray, so I squirt in some dark brown craft paint until the mixture is a light tan. I spread this stuff around and let it dry, usually overnight.

I do not like uniform tan-colored surfaces either, so I make up a thin green wash with craft paint and water. I apply this unevenly, in a camouflage pattern, using the base plaster color. This dries pretty quickly, in a half-hour or less.

Then I paint on thinned white glue, about 1 part white glue to 3 parts water. I use an old 1/2 inch paint brush, and do a few square inches at a time. Finally, I take pinches of turf in my fingers and apply them, generally putting brown turf over the tan plaster, and green turf over the wash areas, but not being too fussy about either. Applying the turf bit-by-bit is a lot slower than just sprinkling it out of a jar, of course, but I get much better control.

Hints & Tips No.99 - Applying Ground Texture and Ground Foam Pt 2.

By Thomas Statton, (Tennessee USA)

You can make ground foam yourself by using offcuts and chopping it up finely in an old blender. Craft paint works great for dying home made foam. This should work for sawdust too.

To adhere it to my terrain, I prefer using glue instead of wet paint as has been suggested. Most Latex Paints dry fairly quickly and can leave some ground foam unsecured.

Hints & Tips No.100 - Stirrers as Fence Palings.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

As mentioned way back in H&T No.37. The long wooden stirrers you get in McDonalds or Starbucks etc. make excellent plank loads when cut up.

When researching for this, I found a thread in Model Railroaders forums titled “You made that out of what...?” and one of the suggestions was picket fencing made from the same stirrers. You simply put the stirrers as palings on your fence frame, cut to length, paint an appropriate ochre or worn weathered colour and voila... one picket fence.

Hints & Tips No.101 – Applying Ground Texture and Ground Foam Pt 3.

By Art Hill, (MN, USA)

My variation is as follows. Rather than straight paint, I mix the paint with premixed drywall seam cement, and sawdust, with a little water and Lysol. I paint that on and put the Woodland Scenics colored ground foam on while wet. Of course you can use your own ground foam or Sawdust if this suits you better.

I vary the coarseness of the sawdust to get different textures. For closeup scene, I will put some color variation on between the paint and the ground foam. Several colors of ground foam also helps a lot.

Hints & Tips No. 103 – Trees from Grape Stems.

Peter Daniels (South Devon MRC UK)

Depending on your time of year, Grape stems when they are available make very good tree bases from which to lace with Ground Foam or Teased cotton balls to form typical European trees particularly in N scale . After being allowed to dry a bit, painting the stem in a natural wood colour should preserve it.

You can also enjoy yourself on two fronts, both making the trees and providing the raw material by consuming the fruit! The heights of trees? Basically whatever length you are prepared to eat!!!

Hints & Tips No.104 - Using Clay Kitty Litter as Talus.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

You can use small amounts of Kitty Litter of the clay variety to simulate the small rocks at the bottom of rock faces and ledges which have chipped and eroded from cliff fronts. This material is known as Talus and will appear in many areas at the bottom of hills, undulations etc.

Hints & Tips No.105 – Putting Blinds and Curtains in Windows .

By Thomas Statton (Tennessee USA)

I did a Google Images search for "blinds" and "drapes" and just saved the images I wanted. The images were then re-sized to fit using MS Paint.

The curtains were then printed out on an ink jet on copy paper. I sprayed them with some clear coat to seal the ink. and Dull Coat works also. I found a light coat of dull coat on the window glass (inside) made them look better. I used a heavy coat of clear coat on the drape and then placed the glass onto it while it was still wet. Others have told me that they did not have much luck with that method, but it worked on the ones that I did.

I also used some clear water based glue I found to do some other ones. That stuck REALLY well. For plain blinds, I just used plain old masking tape stuck to the window.

Hints & Tips No.106 – Billboards from Business Cards.

By Trevor Gibbs and others

On a Modern layout, some business cards are so colourful and ornate that they could make very effective Billboards for virtually no cost apart from that accrued by the person handing it to you. Such boards could go in your background and you could actually impress a sales representative to hand you a few for a number of projects if you find a particularly good one ...with a little flattery perhaps?

An older business card could also actually date your layout to a more specific era.

Hints & Tips No.107 - Painting Clouds with "Not Much Talent"

by Thomas Statton (Tennessee USA)

I have zero artistic talent, but this method is really easy to use. However, I need to practice blending them together.

I downloaded cloud pictures off the web and printed them out in the appropriate size, just in black and white to save ink. I then printed them on some card stock and cut out the clouds with an Xacto knife to make templates. I used some cheap flat white and grey spray paint, putting a little grey along the bottom of the template to represent the bottom of the clouds and treated the rest with shots of white. Any overspray of the white under the template looks like rising thermals.

Hints & Tips No.111 – Details No.1 - Modelling Security Cameras

By John Rumming (Western Australia)

I made security cameras for my buildings in the black domes by using a half round craft stone. I went to the local craft store and bought a packet of acrylic jewels. I got a piece of wire and bent a 90 degree angle in it about 1cm from the end.

For my layout I used a 7mm Black Cabachon stone (as the jewels are made of plastic), I heated up the end of the wire and pushed it into the jewel. Cut the other side a good distance from the side of the building and attach this the building. Your “security camera” is now installed.

You can see examples on http://cs.trains.com/trccs/forums/p/136637/1533209.aspx#1533209

Hints & Tips No.112 – Railways in Pavement No.1

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

There are many situations where railways run in road areas usually in dockland and industrial areas. These areas can be modeled by a (very) careful application of plaster making sure your flanges do not get caught and ride high.

I have made a number of my own crossings and other areas over the years by cutting styrene sheet and stressing the material e.g. expansion lines to represent concrete, sanding to represent bitumen surface or dragging a razor saw to represent wood grain. And it is easy to modify and fit and your track will not be distressed by the setting plaster

Hints & Tips No.113 – Railways in Pavement No.2

By Bruce Leslie (MA, USA)

When it comes to building Railways in pavement, I use the same technique for street running and level grade crossings. My crossings are made using Water Putty for the roads on either side of the track, and then styrene between the rails. Styrene sheet is pretty thin, so I use a second, narrower strip underneath it, sitting on the ties. That brings the top piece up enough that the spike plates do not interfere with it.

Use gray acrylic paint for both the road and the strip between the rails. That provides a good color match, and by using a common, unmixed color, I can easily touch it up if it gets nicked or scratched.

Hints & Tips No.114 - Smaller Scale Buildings as Background

By Brian Sheron (MD USA)

If you have an HO or OO scale layout, and have an urban scene with HO scale building fronts against the layout wall, you can create the illusion of depth by gluing N-scale building fronts along the roof edge of the larger scale building.

It will appear that these smaller scale buildings are in the distance (see my website). If you have an O scale layout, try using HO or OO scale building fronts.

Hints & Tips No.118

View and Scenic Blocks on Layouts

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Rather than have just a hill blocking your view, you may well be in the situation where you can divide your layout into vignette scenes but a straight simply painted sky panel extending over the length of the hill.

If your middle layout backdrop does not have a hill, you can use low relief buildings to disguise your backdrop with the means of your trains transversing between scenes up to you. It could be a simple tunnel opening or buildings placed at such an angle that the transition is not obvious.

It can sure make your layout look bigger than it is if your visitors cannot see it all at once.

Hints & Tips No.119

Bending Styrene Plastic

by Brian Sheron (MD USA)

Scratch building models may occasionally call for bending styrene plastic strips into unique shapes, such as arcs or compound bends.

An easy way to do this is as follows: trace on a piece of paper the shape or curve into which you want to bend a styrene strip. Place the piece of paper on a piece of wood, preferably something soft into which you can easily drive a nail. You can either trace the curve onto the wood with carbon paper, or just make small indentations along the traced shape on the paper, so the indentation carries through to the wood. Tapping a small finishing nail does this fine.

Remove the paper and then drive small finishing nails along the shape marked on the wood, about one inch apart. Lay the piece of plastic against the nails, drive another nail on the other side of the styrene strip to hold one end in place. If the curve is not too severe, you may be able to bend the styrene into the shape you want using the nails as a guide.

Now, get a hair dryer and hold it near, but not too near, the plastic. Try to heat the strip uniformly. As the styrene strip heats up, it will relax in to the shape into which you have bent it. Be careful not to heat it too much or it could melt and distort. You can test when it has taken the correct shape, because it will no longer be sprung against the nails, and should lift out easily from the mold.

Hints & Tips No.122


by Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Applying a diluted mix of Indian Ink and Alcohol to the timber aspects of models will give that a natural aged look that can "Make" a display. Like everything you need to experiment, starting off with a weak mix until you get the required effect. Paints used for ceramics are also a good source of creating that used and weathered look.

Hints & Tips No.123

Graffiti Decals from your Computer

by Brian Sheron (MD USA)

With the advent of home computers, you can now make your own decals. Obtain some clear decal paper compatible with your printer (i.e. ink jet or laser jet). Your computer will have a variety of fonts. Scroll through the fonts and you will likely see a number of them that resemble graffiti.

I also found a web site that has downloadable Graffiti fonts. Go to www.graffitifonts.com

Start typing typical graffiti phrases. When you have all the graffiti you need, hit the print button, spray the decal sheet with decal sealer, let it dry, and then apply graffiti to you rolling stock, retaining walls etc!

Hints & Tips No.124

Use of Different Ballasting and Rail on Sidings

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Sidings are not so well maintained as main lines and as the main line gets re-ballasted, the source of stone may well be different from when the line was first laid. Sidings do not generally get re-ballasted or relaid at the same time.

Use a darker tone of ballast on your sidings or “muddy it up” a bit to achieve the effect. You could also use slightly different rail types or have the main line slightly visually higher to accentuate the difference with the track. Weeds will also accentuate the difference and look very effective for little cost.

Hints & Tips No.127

Telephone and Power Wires

by Loren Hall (Washington State, USA)

If you string your cables on your layout between telegraph poles, plain thread will droop in a unrealistic manner because there is no wire in it like the real thing. Pull your cables through some bees wax or such. Lay the thread on the wax, cover it with your thumb and pull the thread through. This will help to stiffen the thread. The wax will help to stiffen the thread and mimic the effect of wire.

Hints & Tips No.128

Mixing of Different Ground Foams or Scatters on the layout

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Regardless of whether you make your own Ground Foam and Scatter, or buy commercial quantities, you should make, or use, different 'dye lots' with different intensities of green and other colours.

Nature does not generally have absolutely consistently coloured greens and neither should you. A bit of judicious mixture of the different dye lots in localised areas should improve your grass scenery appearance markedly.

Hints & Tips No.129

Straws as "Household Decorations"

by Ron Lesperance (Windsor ON Canada)

A large red plastic straw from Mcdonalds, cut in 1/4" lengths, makes nice flower planters. Glue some green foam inside for evergreen plants. Cut in 1/2" lengths and you have nice garbage drums for the loading dock. You can put in some white paper to represent garbage. Best of all, you do not have to actually paint them!

Hints & Tips No.130

Plastering Basics No. 1 - Preparation & Mixing

by Stephen McCallum (Coquitlam BC, Canada)

Put on a pair of cheap rubber gloves to protect you from the slight caustic affects of hydrocal (which is widely used in North America) or plaster (everywhere else). This will also be handy for when you are painting.

Spray with water the area you are going to add the plaster to, if it is porous - for example, plaster, wood, cardboard, etc.. This prevents the material from sucking the water out of the plaster and leaving it brittle and flaky.

Use containers you do not want to use anymore, such as margarine tubs - plastic containers are best as they is easier to clean up after each batch.

Use about 500 mls of plaster to 250 mls of water. An old rubber spatula is a good stirrer and you should always add the plaster to the water. Add the plaster slowly and mix thoroughly until it is has the consistency of thick cream.

(You can check out Stephen's website at http://fsm1000.googlepages.com )

Hints & Tips No.132

Plastering Basics No. 2

by Stephen McCallum (Coquitlam BC, Canada)

If you are going to colour the plaster first then understand that doing so may introduce salt to the mixture. Some dyes like clothing dyes have salt in them. This is important to know because it shortens the usage time by about half or even less sometimes.

You only need about one teaspoon to one heaping table spoon per cup of water. Add the dye to the water before adding the plaster. Mix thoroughly.

You can also decrease the setting time by half by simply adding 1/2 a teaspoon of salt to the water before adding the plaster. If you want the plaster to take longer to set because you want to shape it, make a rock. or a cut in the mountain etc. then add about 2 teaspoon of vinegar to one cup of water.

If you are using dyes and want a slower reaction time add 4 teaspoons per cup. Understand though that adding too much vinegar will weaken the plaster.

Hints & Tips No.133

Details No.1 – Culverts

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make a simple culvert under an embankment by drilling a small hole and inserting a piece of tube or (better still) a half tube where any water would flow.

Paint it a silver or grey tone to represent concrete or steel piping and perhaps detail it with some sediment, if water is not flowing through it, or use some thin white glue strings to simulate a slowly draining amount of water, perhaps into a slough type pool down the bottom.

Hints & Tips No.134

Plastering Basics No.3

by Stephen McCallum (Coquitlam BC, Canada)

If you are using paper towels or cloth in constructing your scenery, try to make them about the size of your hand, but no more that twice the size. Cut or tear them if you will. Tearing is better because it is more ragged. This makes them easier to place, handle, use and shape.

The best paper towels are the brown rough thick ones used in public washrooms. As for cloth, old cotton is best, unless you want to use cheese cloth.

Always clean the container before reusing it, otherwise the old plaster will cause the new plaster to set super fast because it will be seasoned.

(You can check out Stephen's website at http://fsm1000.googlepages.com – Trevor)

Hints & Tips No.135

Running on lower voltage

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

If you are still using any sort of Globe as compared to using LEDs, run your power pack at a lesser voltage than the rating quoted by about 70%. If you have 12 volt globes, try running them on say 8 volts, 6 volts should be cut down to 4 etc.

This extends your globe life remarkably and will cut down the heat factor in your train area.

Personally I run all my lights bar a few Headlights with LEDs. At 80,000 hours rated life and I am 54, I don't expect to change too many and the heat is a whole lot less. I can also run from old Mobile Phone charger transformers and get quite a few lights, well LEDs running for virtually no outlay.

Hints & Tips No.136

Plastering Basics No.4

by Stephen McCallum (Coquitlam BC, Canada)

One thing you can do with the old plaster is put it into a bag and smash it with a hammer. If it is pre-dyed you can use it for talus at the base of hills and cliffs.

You only need a thin layer of plaster to do the job. It is going to hold up ground foam, not hold up you walking on it. ¼ inch is more than sufficient for most. This will support a 5 pound rock
for instance. Notice I said “support”, not thrown at.

Also keeping it thin at the beginning makes it easier to cut later if you need to. If you let the plaster dry for a day or two and then return to add more, remember to spray it with water first.

(Check out Stephens website at http://fsm1000.googlepages.com )

Hints & Tips No.137

Using Black light or ultraviolet lights

by Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Combined with fluorescent paint applied discreetly to buildings, fences and car headlights etc “Black Light or Ultra Violet lights can make an incredible effect for your village scene. Generally the ultraviolet lights are tube-type available from Electrical and Hardware stores.

There are several sizes depending on the size of display you want it on. Try mounting the light above or at the rear of your display. Or make a hill to conceal your light in your display. Caution...the effects on your display is addictive... paint stars on the backdrop, in the night sky...timed daylight to night scenes...

Hints & Tips No.138

Keeping Nail Packets intact

by Loren Hall (Washington State, USA)

Those little flip open packages of nails or hardware are also the ones you put on the layout and immediately hit with your elbow and scatter the contents all over the place.

Put a reasonably strong flat magnet under the package and the contents will not fall out when tipped over.

Hints & Tips No.140

Weathering on Level Crossings

by Fred Scotland (Sydney, Australia)

Level crossings always look far too clean out of the box but many times are "over weathered" by modellers.

Try to apply a small amount of dark wash (a watered down black) only to the hinge and connecting rod areas of the gates. These were the parts that were greased regularly and we
would expect them to be greasy always. Over weathering can make the gates look simply "grimy" and "uncared for".

Make the crossing a little dirtier where the wheels cross over the lines as well.

Hints & Tips No.142

Alternative Catenary

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make catenary or trolley wire for trams by stripping suitable sized copper wire and hardening it. You do this by placing one end in a vice and using a power drill, hold it reasonably tightly and start spinning the drill chuck while holding a tension.

You would think the wire would twist all over the place but it spins on itself and becomes quite rigid. Try to stop spinning before the wire actually snaps, usually just out of the drill chuck or vice. You can then make a jig to create your favourite catenary shape or length, cut the wire to length and shape and solder away.

I have also used wire in this way to make model signs for my own and club layouts, especially small signs like whistle and speed board signs for trackside details. You could use the copper wire from catenary offcuts in this way if you do not use these for the wire hangers!

Hints & Tips No.143

Water Effects

by Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Clear silicone like those used to seal bathroom basins and showers etc can also be used to imitate the ocean waves and ponds. This can be applied directly onto your village base board. Simply apply the colour for your water scene to your base board (use two or three colours to get the effect of different depths) and place beads of silicone clear caulking in rows to represent waves.

Experiment with the distance apart to get the effect you are after. You can shape the waves using a flat stick...it pays to experiment with the effects. On the shore line place some PVA glue and sprinkle sand and you will have instant beach....don't forget the driftwood washed up on shore.

If it is a pond, slough or river scene, get some aquarium stones which are available in a good range of colours and use these on the edge of the silicone and up the river bank.

(A Note from Trevor – Rob is the manager of www.christmaseveryday.com.au and has a terrific web page showing some Xmas type layouts. They are atypical for Australia of course, but very effective. A special thanks for permission to use this series of hints)

Hints & Tips No.144 - Making a Turntable

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make a simple turntable from a length of timber (preferably plywood for dimensional stability), a reversing switch and a stereo jack, preferably one of the thicker ones at 4.8mm.

The stereo jack is wired so that the plug is on the turntable bridge side, while the socket is on (or in) your baseboard. Get it exactly in the middle of your bridge. The socket goes in your baseboard and is wired by a reversing switch to your track. The reversing switch is to get the polarity right, when your locos are rotated.

You can then sink your turntable into your baseboard or sit it on top and raise the track to it. You will need to make some sides for the turntable bridge - either a girder made from styrene or card above the rail, or a girder to cover the wooden bridge. You will also need to construct a model fence at rail height. You should now have a basic turntable to give you years of enjoyment and trouble free service.

Hints & Tips No.146

Fences No.1 - Making a Simple Wire Fence

by John Rumming (Western Australia)

Panel pins driven into the baseboard at regular intervals can start this one.

Get some beading wire on a roll and wrap it around the first pole. Then go to the second and wrap once around that. Continue until your fence is done. You can space them so you can get 3-4 lines down, making a great looking fence.

Thin cotton will also do the trick if the wire is not going to be stressed.

Hints & Tips No.147

Ballast Removal

By Vicky Makin (Qld, Australia)

This instruction will work for those that have ballasted using PVA (polyvinylacetate) glue. Selleys Aquadhere (AUS) or Elmers (US)(correct me if I am wrong).

Your first step is to wet the ballast with water, between the rails and on either side. I could not find my eyedropper so I dunked my finger in water. Allow to sit for about 15 – 20 minutes. Then dig out the ballast on either side of ties that have a nail into the tabletop and pull out nails.

Using something suitable, utility knife or putty knife (I used a 1/2 inch wood chisel upside down because I could not find my utility blades) gently push the blade under the ballast and pry the track up. Once one piece of track has been lifted the rest will follow. What you have left is ballast ready to be scraped up. I used my chisel for this and it did a very neat job. Then clean up the area ready for relaying track.

You can recycle the ballast if you wish and the track can be cleaned up by washing with water.

Hints & Tips No.148

Fences No.2 - Making a Chain Link Fence

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

Referring back to a similar sounding H&T (No.122), you can make fence poles using slight thicker wire by stripping suitable sized copper wire and hardening it. You do this by placing one end in a vice and using a power drill, hold it reasonably tightly and start spinning the drill chuck while holding a tension.

Plant these in your base board at regular intervals and go to your local craft shop and buy from bridal veil material known as Tulle. If the craft shop is a good one they should even have silver or light grey. Get the tension and angle where you want it, remember that in 00, 40mm is a 10ft fence. Glue the strip of Tulle to your fence poles - and you have one modern chain link fence. A simple hole or tear will add to the detail of the fence.

Hints & Tips No.149

Recycling Materials for Railway Use

by Martin Hollebone (TR Models North Hants)

Long time readers of this column would be aware that modellers are encouraged to recycle all sorts of material.

When your or your neighbours are unpacking that new washing machine, or TV do not throw the foam packing away. It is ideal for railway scenery such as hills, cliffs, etc when given a light coat of plaster and it is FREE.

Many other household items that normally go in the bin can be used on your layout so next time you throw something out; think again. For example, tea leaves, saw dust make good scenery textures and cardboard tubes and containers make all sorts of shapes.

Hints & Tips No.150

Help With The Small Things Pt 2

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Double sided tape : If you get a short length of this material and stick one side onto a flat surface, thick card, wood or similar, then the exposed sticky surface is ideal for standing your small people and animals on whilst painting them. When the paint is dry the figures are easily plucked off the sticky surface. The piece of tape can be used time and again. You could of course use any sticky tape and just apply a little glue to the tape backing to attach it to your holder with the sticky side up.

Florists wire : Brilliant for making tree trunks in any scale also for hand rails, signal operation, fencing wire etc. Comes in varying thicknesses.

Hints & Tips No.151

Ground Goop

By Andy McMahon and Sheila Perry ( Beccles, Suffolk)

The basis of all the groundwork on Newton Halt was a mixture called ground goop which we read about in an American model railroading book that Sheila bought at an exhibition. Like most things we adapted the recipe and experimented with it. Virtually everything, other than structures and the road was covered with a thick coat of ground goop consisting of sieved soil from the garden, PVA, water and a touch of raw umber acrylic paint.

This dries to a hard realistic finish and looks fine when exposed by thin undergrowth. We even coated the internal surfaces of the dykes before applying the 'water'.

(A Note from Trevor- You can see examples of Andy and Sheila's work on www.ng-railways.co.uk)

Hints & Tips No.155

Details No.2 - Making Models of Vending Machines

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Vending machines are everywhere. You could make a lot for your layout or station and it will not look out of place. Stand as directly to the front as you can and take a digital photo of a number of Vending Machines in your area. This will at least localise what your visitors will see

Use MS paint to scale these pictures down and cut out the detail to the sides of the machine. Then paste them into a Word Processor or Publisher (Word or Open Office will do) and print off sheets of the different machines.

Then make simple styrene blocks to mount the machine fronts on and paint the sides black. Then place them on your layout in every possible retail area.

Hints & Tips No.156

A Cheap Ballast Spreader

by John Rumming (Western Australia)

Use a funnel with flat base and a nail inserted in it that has a head wider than the end of the funnel. You can regulate the flow of material by lowering and lifting the nail, and if any gets caught in the tube against the nail, just rotate the nail and it will dislodge it.

Hints & Tips No.157

Telephone Lines

by Fred Scotland (Sydney, Australia)

Telephone and electrical lines can be a problem to create on a layout.

Get some 6lb fishing line from your local tackle shop , measure out the length you need to run a length of the line from one end of the telephone pole route to the other. add an extra 10% to this length. Cut the line, take a black marker pen (felt tip) hold the fishing line in one hand and pull it between the felt tip and your thumb so as to literally mark the fishing line. do this until the line is black. Leave it then sit it the sun for about 30 mins. A bright warm day is best for this stage as it will soften the line a bit.

Tie a fishing knot in the line to attach it to the first telephone pole insulator. Once it is tied, put a drop of CA glue over the line and insulator. at the next pole simply put a drop of ca on the insulator with a toothpick and position the line in the glue at the base of the insulator. This
will hold it in place sufficiently to do up to 3 - 5 feet (1-1.5m) in one go.

Do not forget to run lines to structures also. After all they are supplied the electricity from these lines.

Hints & Tips No.158

Details No.3 - Trees and Bushes

by Andy McMahon and Sheila Perry ( Beccles, Suffolk)

We feel the most obvious fault of many model railway builders, as far as tree building is concerned, is their insistence on building trees far too short. There is a fear on small layouts that scale height trees would take up too much of the viewing space or reduce tricks to the eye set up to create illusions of perspective. Perhaps the answer is to compromise the two extremes and attempt to make trees much larger than is common in modelling circles but not quite as large as nature would have done.

(A Note from Trevor- You can see examples of Andy and Sheila's work on www.ng-railways.co.uk)

Hints & Tips No.159

Details No.4 - Toning down Plastic Figures

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

The recent availability of figurines over the Internet in quantities we could only have imagined many years ago has been a Godsend. However for many of us the clothing is way too bright.

You can touch up some of the more garish clothing with more earth tone colour paints but some things just do not quite look right and some of the figurines can stand out like traffic lights.

A quick cure for this is to make up a wash of very diluted India Ink and apply it to the figurines. Just use an old brush and paint as you would any surface. Most of it will run off but the India Ink will fill in a few cracks in the surfaces to add a sort of weathering to the figure and in general take off the gloss.

Your figures will look a lot more realistic for just a few minutes work.

Hints & Tips No.160

Yet Another Tree Making Method - Evergreens

by Edward Bogge (ON, Canada)

Decent looking evergreens can be made from the green fiber scouring pads that are so common today. Tear them apart in varying sizes and thicknesses. Stain round toothpicks either dark brown or gray and set aside to dry while you tear up the scouring pad. I use a hot glue gun and place a dab of glue where I want the lower limbs to start, then quickly slide a wider piece down the trunk and into the hot glue.

Progressively smaller pieces are now slid down the trunk and are held in place by the friction of the trunk. The top piece is again set in place with hot glue and "squished" into a peak. Trim to shape with scissors and you are set. These are perfect for N scale trees. Quick and inexpensive.

Hints & Tips No.161

Removing the Sheen from more Toyish Models

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make your models more realistic in a very quick period of time. Taking your time, you can repaint it in more realistic tones and the results can be surprising. If the colours are OK but you want to stop it looking like a bright shiny toy, you can do two tasks.

You can paint the insides only with a Matt Black colour which will reduce the translucency of the material. Then give the outside a coat of Testors Dullcote or Tamiya matte clear to reduce the sheen. Your building should then look more the part for fitting in a railway area with more realistic tones. You can use the same processes for toyish looking rolling stock.

There is sometimes a very thin line between the scale model and what is being presented as a toy and you should sometimes look beyond the package and finish as there may be more out there capable of complementing your layout than what you might think.

Hints & Tips No.162

Paper Clamps and Clothes Pegs

by Don Sali (Melbourne Australia)

Paper clamps make great spring clamps. Make sure that you place card or something else between your work and the clamp jaws so that you do not mar the surface of your model. Clothes pins make very good clamps as well.

Hints & Tips No.164

Boxes as Buildings

by Ron Lesperance (Windsor ON Canada)

Small boxes make nice modern buildings after you paint the walls with latex paint, and a black roof painted with a flat latex paint. all those parts you talked about make other added detail for the roof. A cheap building project for your HO or OO layout.

Hints & Tips No.165

Details No.5 - More Realistic Tunnel Mouths

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make your tunnel mouths, bridges, footbridges etc look more realistic with the aid of a candle. Most tunnels have been around since steam days and most of the readers of this column will have seen steam even in the modern day. Diesels also create exhaust which lines the tops of tunnels after a number of years.

You can create the smoky effect quickly by simply holding a candle at a slight distance to the tunnel mouth or bridge and letting the soot accumulate on the apex of the stonework.

Safety First however … don’t do what a friend of mine many did years ago after toning down his hills and trees with thinners. He did the smoking up process a bit too soon… and created a very unrealistic, very “un-scale” forest fire!

Hints & Tips No.166

Details No. 6 – Help with Ballast

By Loren Hall (Washington State, USA)

After you spread ballast, but before you glue, tap the top of the rails with the paint brush. This will "bounce" the ballast from the top of the ties down to where it belongs.

Hints & Tips No.170

Details No.7 – Black and White

by Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

I never use pure black or pure white anywhere on a layout as, in my opinion, they make a model look unreal and 'model-like'. White can be toned down with a wash of very dilute brown or 'weathered' black paint and, for black, use a 'weathered black' such as that produced by Rail Match. Pure black (eggshell or matt, never gloss) is limited to pristine locomotives and very clean black cars!

Items such as signal towers, backs of quadrant arms, white buildings are only ever brilliant white when just installed and the weather extremes usually take care of that within a few weeks.

Hints & Tips No.171

Details No.8 – Shop Windows

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Using a similar technique to H&T No.144, you could take pictures of the contents of shop window fronts and make the picture to fit into the scale of your building. By putting the picture behind recycled clear plastic lids cut to size for windows, you also put a realistic reflective sheen in the window area.

Put a load of shoppers at your shop front and you have created a mini-scene.

Hints & Tips No.173

Garden Allotment Details No.1

by Andy McMahon and Sheila Perry ( Beccles, Suffolk)

Having seen some really impressive allotments on other models we decided that we would include one near to the front of 'Newton Halt'. The structures and fencing on most real allotments tend to be made from old recycled materials used for their practicality rather than their appearance.

Ours consists of a base of ground goop (sieved garden soil, a touch of dark brown artists acrylic, external poly-filler, P.V.A. and some water), covered in places with a variety of scenic materials. Orchard trees are Woodland Scenic armatures painted with well stretched strips of foliage matting flocked to look heavy with fruit. A tomato frame was made up from fine plastic rod meshed with cotton made to look overgrown by gluing scenic scatter material to the cotton.

We have a neat row of shrub-like plants and some small examples of seamoss against the backscene to create perspective. Cabbages and harvested sprouts are unopened buds from a plant boiled in glycerine to preserve it. Potatoes are the white granules from the inside of a water filter cartridge.

(A Note from Trevor - You can see examples of Andy and Sheila's work on www.ng-railways.co.uk)

Hints & Tips No.174

Details No.9 – Model Battery and Relay Boxes

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Electric and Colour light signals nearly always have a battery box near them and the track to facilitate the track circuit. There are also relay boxes near such signals. These can easily be fashioned from styrene offcuts, while the relay box could use a cut off nail or similar glued to its back to elevate from the ground slightly. On the relay box, scribe a vertical line in the middle of the “front” to represent the doors.

You can see a pair of these on my website http://www.xdford.digitalzones.com/modelrr13.htm and look at the first picture.

Hints & Tips No.176

Gardens and Garden Allotment Details No.2

By Andy McMahon and Sheila Perry ( Beccles, Suffolk)

The gardens at the sides and rear of our model cottages received similar treatment to the allotments. The whole scene was built on a plywood base which allowed much of the detail work to be carried out on a workbench under good light conditions. We decided to have one immaculate garden and one overgrown one. Whilst it was fun applying the detail on both sides and experimenting with methods, the unkempt garden was an equal challenge to the immaculate one.

Again based on ground goop, (See Hint and Tip No.151) a range of scenic materials was used together with the odd “N” scale tree and some flocked thinly cut horsehair matting to represent brambles and gorse. The horsehair was airbrushed a very dark brown almost black artist acrylic which when sprayed with Photo mount and dipped in dark green loose scenic material gave a very good impression of brambles and gorse gone mad.

(A Note from Trevor- You can see examples of Andy and Sheila's work on www.ng-railways.co.uk)

Hints & Tips No.177

Details No.10 - Telegraph Poles

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Most Telegraph poles as they come from kits are moulded in one colour. However as any electrical person will tell you, Ceramic insulators in my country anyway are an off white/shell grey type colour. So get out your paint brushes and paint your insulators as you see fit.

To stop mice and other rodents attacking power poles, it is a common practice in Australia at least to use a type of styrene plastic sheet wrapped around the bottom of the pole as a type of anti-climber. You can duplicate this by slipping on a piece of heat shrink insulation and lightly applying heat if it sits loosely on the pole. I have seen Green and White plastic styrene sheet used for this.

Hints & Tips No.179

Details No.11 – Number Plates and other Items on Vehicles

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can use a laser printer to make tiny number plates for your vehicles, maybe even replicate your own car in a scene. Laser printers are extremely cheap these days and even my old HP 4l could handle a passable plate... after all I cannot read it from more than 3-4 metres away.

Just print up a series of numbers and cut and paste them out and a tiny dab of white glue ( placed with a toothpick) on your vehicles. You could also cut some figurines at the waist and place them as drivers and passengers in your cars.

From Jeff Lynn

I have done this for years, using MS Word text boxes. For white on black number plates I use a text box with a black background and set the text to white (usually Arial bold 3, 3.5 or 4 point). I do them in a vertical strip one number plate wide and as many deep as i want at the time.

One thing not covered in the tip that I do is I colour the cut edges with a black marker pen. For more modern, reflective number plates, I print in black but do to copies, one on white paper and one on bright yellow paper. The yellow paper also works well for printing up 1960s - 70s Green Line destination blinds and side route boards.

Hints & Tips No.180

Modelling an Accident Aftermath

by Paul James

In an ideal world, nothing has an accident, trains cars or planes. However we know this is not the case. You can simulate the aftermath of an accident by having say one vehicle upside down on top of another with damaged sides being carried in a revenue train or other scrap parts in open wagons.

Hints & Tips No.181

Details No.12 – Model Speed Boards

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

I use work-hardened copper wire (refer to H&T No.138) and a lid from a plastic butter container, cut into strips, to make a number of speed and other indicator signs. The copper wire is cut to length, the strips of plastic are super-glued to the rod and painted white. You could also use small code rail... but you might actually have to buy that, which defeats much of what I do!

An A4 page of stickers is made with various speeds - 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, etc.. I do not go much faster given the nature of my railway, but a modern mainline railway would run to 125. Signs can also be made for "No Road", "Beware of Trains" , "Slow", "Stop and Proceed", "W" (whistle) and any other generic to your area or needs, in appropriate size and styles of font.

When the paint dries, the sheets are cut with a hobby knife and the sticker placed on the sign post. Plant the posts in your layout at appropriate locations. The detail is very outstanding and, although tiny, really enhances your layout.

Although I do not have streets on my layout, you could use this same technique to make street signs... and any others that come to mind.

Hints & Tips No.183

Another Tree Making Method

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

A Branch from a live or (preferably) dead tree is simply a miniature tree. So if you happened to find dead branches and even deader twigs, you may have an ideal tree shape. Just cut it to size and approximate shape, decorate it with ground foam or painted or dyed flocking teased out over the branches and you can have a great looking tree for pennies.

My (then) 8 or 9 year old daughter and I made a bunch on a Sunday afternoon from twigs in our garden and I have only just changed some of them for more Canadian looking pines. The area is still known as Kathryn's Forest and she still reminds me of that day she remembers well... at age 26 as this was first published.

Hints & Tips No.184

Using Foam As a Scenery Base Pt 2 – Making a Hot Wire Cutter

by Peter Mitchell (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

You can make a simple hot wire cutter for polystyrene foam by recycling a mobile phone transformer and a length of Nichrome element wire. Cut your wire plug off your ex phone charger and feed wires to either side of a handle stick. Terminate these at a screw perhaps with a soldered loop.

Now form a loop of the Nichrome ( Nickel Chrome) around from the handle between the two terminals. This type of element will be like a cutter which will act like a “gouge” in your scenery. You can reshape your wire and your handle to suit.

Cutting is much cleaner than by knife, saw blade or rasp but be careful of the fumes and work in a ventilated area. You can then overlay your hills and terrain form with whatever method suits you, Cloth and Glue, Mod rock, plaster etc.

Hints & Tips No.185

Details No.13 - Scrap Tyres in a Junk Yard

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

No Scrap Yard looks complete without a pile of tyres. Simply visit your local auto parts shop and get a short length of the small diameter water hose. Cut into thin slices (depending on your scale) and paint with a greyish or dirty black and mud colours and stack accordingly to make a tyre mountain if necessary.

Hints & Tips No.187

Two-stage ballasting
By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Everyone has their own method for ballasting track - this is mine which I find to be very effective. This method does away with that unsightly strip of bare board between ballast and scenery which can be so difficult to deal with!

1 - Having painted up your track, apply an even coat of neat PVA to a strip either side of the track and between tracks, stopping just short of the ends of the sleepers. Sprinkle on a layer of fine grade ballast material of your chosen colour, lightly tamp down and vacuum off the surplus.
2 - With a
medium grade ballast of the same colour, ballast up the track applying just enough to cover the bare baseboard. Tidy up the edges with a fine brush – do not make it too neat. Spray the entire area with a light coat of water/washing up liquid mix - just enough to dampen it - before applying dilute PVA to both grades of ballast in the normal way. When dry, airbrush or otherwise weather the ballast to taste.

Hints & Tips No.188

PVA Glue as Glazing

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can use PVA type glue as a flush type glazing when it is built up in a window area. It is best to place something in the windowless hole to stop the glue leaking through which will not stick to the glue. I would suggest a shape of styrene assisted with a waxed paper covering.

Now take your window, for example a port hole on a locomotive, place your stop behind and keeping the “window” as level as possible lightly pour in some PVA glue. Gently wipe the excess and allow to dry thoroughly. Remove the backing and you should have a free standing flush fitting window glaze. The slight opacity will be very effective on steam locos in particular.

Hints & Tips No.190


By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Puddles are so common that we tend to walk through, over or round them without even noticing, yet they are rarely modelled. This method would apply equally well when using ordinary ballast or any other modelling medium such as filler or mod rock.

Take a sheet of clear acetate – 20 thou would be ideal – preferably the kind that has protective film on both sides. Remove the protective film from one side only and spray or paint that side with a weathered black or similar (or brown for muddy areas). When dry, cut the sheet into pieces roughly an inch square and glue the pieces with PVA – paint side down – in the positions that you want your puddles. When dry, prepare your landscape with your landscape material, leaving a puddle-shaped area clear of filler on each square. The clear area should be slightly larger than the finished puddle.

Next, with the point of a scalpel blade, very carefully cut out and remove the protective film from the puddle shapes. Then carefully leaving the puddle shapes clear of PVA, allow the PVA to overlap the cut edges of the puddles very slightly. Sprinkle on ash , ballast, scatter or whatever you are using.

When dry, vacuum off the surplus. If you use a brush, make sure it is a very soft one as the surface of the acetate is very easily scratched.

Hints & Tips No.194

Loco Shed Ballasting with Real Ash

by Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

With the exception of Water, generally speaking you cannot beat using real materials where possible, real coal in loco tenders and coal staithes being the obvious example. Any one who has tramped round a preserved railway loco shed will remember the black, gritty, greasy, compacted 'stuff' underfoot - usually a mix of coal dust and loco ash. I have been experimenting with real ash to simulate this and have come up with a procedure that I think gives a realistic result. Ash is dirty messy stuff and difficult to work with, and this is not the easiest of jobs - bear this in mind!

Step 1 - obtain some ash - preferably coal ash. Dry it out thoroughly if it is damp, then grind it to a powder, a teaspoon full at a time, using a mortar and pestle - not the kitchen one if you wish to remain on good terms with the cook of the house! Be warned, this is a long, tedious and dirty job. Pass the powdered ash through a fine mesh kitchen sieve to get out any remaining lumps.
Step 2 - prepare your loco yard area by building up the gaps between the sleepers and between the tracks with light-weight filler - a smooth but uneven undulating finish will give a good result. Paint overall with a matt dirty black, remembering to clean the wet paint off the tops of the rails. Allow to dry.
Step 3 - working from one end of your yard, apply PVA to the surface between two of the tracks covering an area roughly 6" square at a time. Sprinkle the powdered ash carefully and sparingly, stopping before you reach the edge of the glue, then extend the glue area, sprinkle, extend, etc. - keep the process rolling. When the areas between the tracks are complete, repeat for the areas between the rails taking care not to get glue on the inside faces of the rails or near the working parts of points. Allow to dry, then brush and vacuum off any surplus ash.
Step 4 - with an airbrush, damp down the whole area with a solution of water and washing up liquid - not too much, just enough to darken the ash - keep the airbrush far enough away to avoid blowing loose ash around. While still damp, airbrush again, more liberally, with Woodland Scenics white scenic adhesive or similar matt finish adhesive - a light coating of the adhesive will result in a matt, gritty finish, whereas a heavier saturating application will give the ash a smooth slightly oily sheen which can be quite realistic. Allow to dry, then, if ash still comes off on your finger, repeat step 4 until the ash is secure.
Step 5 - piles of firebox ash. I find the easiest way to create these is to make the piles from track ballast secured with PVA - as you would ballast trackwork. When dry, coat with PVA, and apply ash as in steps 3 and 4 above.

Hints & Tips No.197

Drains and Manhole Covers

by Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Next time you are out and about, take a look around you for drain grates and manhole covers. You will be amazed how many there are - our landscape is riddled with them! How many do you see on model railway layouts? Usually none at all.

A number of scenic suppliers market etched brass frets of assorted drains and covers – or you can make a simple plate cover using sheet styrene with small slots and dimples cut in.

They are very easy to fix in place. For manhole covers simply paint each cover a neutral grey and glue in place. For the drain covers, carve or drill a small hollow in your base a fraction smaller than the cover and about 1mm or so deep, paint the inside of the hollow satin or gloss black and glue the cover over the top, taking care not to get glue in the drain cover slots.

Hints & Tips No.200

Using Foam As a Scenery Base Pt 1

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Polystyrene foam has been mentioned often in this Hints and Tips Column, but some have written regarding the best way to use it.

On my own layout, I have a group of hills which I layered the foam onto. It was then shaped with a hacksaw blade and coated it with a thin coat of plaster, to get the rock texture. On one club exhibition layout, the foam was overlaid with Disposable cotton cloths painted with PVA. After this, it was shaped with a knife and then a rasp file. The layers were glued in both cases with PVA glue and left to dry overnight.

Foam can release toxic materials when cut, but these are not considered harmful in small quantities. In any case, make sure you work in a well ventilated area and vacuum up the foam dust afterwards... which, fortunately, is easy to do.

Hints & Tips No.201

Super Elevation

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

I read somewhere recently that super elevation – the banking of track on the curves – was difficult to achieve on a model railway and not really worth attempting. My eyebrows lifted a notch because I have always found it to be one of the easiest of jobs, and the effort – on a larger layout at any rate – is well worth it.

Fix down your track in the normal way – I recommend one pin at least every 2" – and 'road test' it thoroughly. Before adding the ballast, slip a length of micro strip under the ends of the sleepers on the outside of the curve. I find that 30 thou x 100thou strip is ideal and gives a nice subtle banking, but experiment with different thicknesses if you wish. Carry on round the curve. When done, add a lead-in at each end of the curve with about 3' of 20thou (if you've used 30 thou) and 3" of 10thou. Ballast the track in the normal way.

Hints & Tips No.203

Using Trellis As a Scenery Base

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

I had some plastic garden trellis which came in a roll and did yeoman service nailed to my fence with vines etc for a few years. However in the fullness of time it was removed.

Some of my trellising was recycled by using it in much the same was as chicken wire was used many years ago as a scenery base for plaster, when the club made a Xmas layout for a junior member. The top was overlaid with Cotton Cloth in this case soaked in plaster and looked very effective... and we made one 7 year old boy very happy on Xmas morning!

Hints & Tips No.204

An Electrostatic Grass Tool – for pennies!

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

An earlier hint mentioned electrostatic grass using a make it yourself electronic application tool. The Noch 'GrasMasters' could be expensive for some. However, do not let these small inconveniences stop you having a go at static grass. There is a very simple, cheap and obvious alternative which works, well, nearly as well!

Do you remember those long ago days of childhood when a party balloon, having been rubbed on your clothing, could be 'stuck' to the wall as if by magic? Well, that is static, and if you pass a suitably rubbed balloon half an inch or so above your static grass immediately after you have dispensed it, hey presto the grass stands up! You could pass on saying some magic words though, tempting as it might be!

Hints & Tips No.206

Unpaved Areas

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make unpaved areas of ground e.g. sand or gravel by using various grades and colours of sandpaper glued to your surface.

Sure wish I had realised this when I built my ground level US Style platform rather than commandeering sand from the local playground sand pit!

Hints & Tips No.209

Bic Whiteout Pens and Road Markings

By Robert Ferus (New Jersey, USA)

I used a BIC Wite-Out corrective pen to make the centre line for the road as well as the lines for the parking lot. It works well and, after it dries, you can clean up the lines with a utility knife. I am going to try white peel-off letters for rail level crossing and maybe for a "STOP" on the road surface itself.

Hints & Tips No.211

Winter Trees

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Modelling winter trees - deciduous trees without their leaves - is something not often done. Using Seamoss, winter trees couldn't be easier - you simply leave the leaves off! If you want your layout to be set in summer, why not try inserting the odd dead tree amongst your healthy green ones - it can be very effective.

Spray the Seamoss brown with a spray can (Railmatch sleeper grime is a good colour), and, if you are feeling ambitious, dry brush the trunk and thicker branches with a light or medium grey. Leave to dry and your tree is done.

For fallen leaves, a liberal sprinkling of brown ballast into the grass beneath the trees is very effective - I use a mixture of Woodland Scenics brown and dark brown medium ballast. For leaves on tarmac or other non-grass surfaces, experiment with brown scatter materials until you achieve the effect you want.

(A Note from Trevor – Railmatch for example is not a brand name known here in Australia but modellers over the world can use a variety of paints from their local sources for this hint.)

Hints & Tips No.213

How To Make a Yard Floodlight – Pt 1

by Trevor Gibbs ( Melbourne Australia)

You will need about 9 inches or so of Brass Tubing 3mm should be good, a small amount of flat brass, 2 High Intensity LEDs, 2 1K resistors and some wire and 2 Bic Biro Tops (?) Intrigued? Read on

Many years ago in my teens, I bought a set of Yard Flood lights, one with four lights and the other with two. I found them again fairly recently and having a broken Light in one, thought it better to replace so I bit the bullet and opted for LEDs. They really look effective lighting up the yard, casting shadows in the right directions etc and with so little power consumption.

I really probably need at least one more and could not get another tower in reasonable condition so I have elected to make my own and one for the club ... here is how!

Drill a hole in the centre of the brass plate for the tube to fit in and solder in place. This will be the tower and the platform on which your lights will rest.

Hints & Tips No.214

How To Make a Yard Floodlight – Pt 2

by Trevor Gibbs ( Melbourne Australia)

Cut the clip part of your Bic Biro or similar top off at the end of the cap. While your top is still a half reasonable length to handle, file the rest of the clip which is moulded onto the cap so that is has a flat facet to sit on your platform.

From the end, cut the cap to about 8-10mm long. Glue some clear styrene to one end which will be where the light will be focused. Make a cap for the other end using styrene but do not glue yet. This will be the “spotlight casing”.

Wire up your LEDs with 1 wire up to 12” long. Solder the wire on the SHORTER leg of the LED. Drill a small hole in the white styrene cap and thread the wire and other leg of the LED through it then use some white glue to hold it to the back of the light

Place your selected LEDs so that the longer of the two legs (The Cathode) can be soldered to either the tube or the plate leaving a reasonable degree of movement.

At the other end of the tube solder, another length of wire with a 1K dropping resistor which will run to your power source or if it is like mine to a pair of bus wires running around the layout.

Feed your remaining two wires through the tube and join them or join them before they go through the tube. Paint to suit and you have a tower for the cost of two LEDs, some brass tube and some stuff you might have thrown out anyway!

Hints & Tips No.215

Making Seamoss Trees Stronger

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Another useful tip for Seamoss is to insert a length of thin piano wire up the hollow trunk.

With care, the wire can often be worked quite a long way up thus strengthening the tree considerably. Leave an inch or so of wire sticking out of the bottom of the trunk to help mount the tree on your layout.

As a precaution, do not use piano wire where children are involved, or where the trees could accidentally come into contact with eyes and faces.

Hints & Tips No.218

Straightening Seamoss Trees

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Somehow there always seems to be a few sprigs of Seamoss left over from every box that are so banana shaped as to be useless. Well, that need not be the case any longer. I mentioned in Hints & Tips No.215 that seamoss could be strengthened by inserting piano wire up through the trunk.

To straighten a bent tree, feed thin (15thou) piano wire carefully up the inside of the trunk until it breaks through the side. At the point where the wire comes out, cut off the top of tree with scissors and pull the wire through. Now start to feed the wire up into the top section of the tree until it breaks through again. Repeat until the wire nears the top.

The breaks in the trunk can then be sealed with low viscosity super glue.When dry, carefully straighten out any remaining curves by bending the trunk - and the wire inside it - with your fingers.

Bear in mind that you now have a forest of fragile trees each with a not-so-fragile and very sharp 6" spike of piano wire hidden inside it sticking straight up from your board. Do not use this method where children are involved, or where the trees could accidentally come into contact with eyes and faces.

Hints & Tips No.221

A Simple Improvement for Die-Cast Road Vehicles.

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

One disadvantage of using die-cast cars and trucks on a 4mm layout is that the high-gloss paintwork – very pretty on the collector's shelf – detracts from the realism of the models when used trackside. Vehicles from such makes as Classix, Corgi, EFE, Base and Oxford all suffer from this problem. The solution is simple – a coat of satin varnish applied by brush to all the gloss areas gives the vehicle a much more realistic appearance. I find enamel varnish such as Railmatch easier to use than acrylic.

Make sure the model is clean and dust-free before painting, and be careful to keep the varnish off glass, tyres, flatbeds, etc. If required, weather the vehicle after varnishing.

Hints & Tips No.224

Making Propane (LPG) Tanks

By Harvey McRae (BC, Canada)

I have saved the gelatin capsule from some of my vitamins. Depending on the size, they can be little propane tanks or many other little items such as welding bottles.

Hints & Tips No.225

Making Corrugated Roofing.

By Harvey McRae (Kelowna BC, Canada) with thanks to the NMRA

Ever want corrugated metal roofing. Well here is how I have started making mine.

Take an ordinary tin can with a fine corrugated rib in the middle. Cut off both ends of the tin and cut the metal from top to bottom. OK now you have a piece of tin that you have to try to get laying out flat without causing it to buckle. ( It does not have to be perfectly flat just so you can use it for a pattern) NOW, take a piece of aluminium foil (I used a piece from a coffee can) Cut a rectangular piece slightly larger than the size of metal you want in the finished project. Lay this over the ribs in the metal tin and with a thin stick press the foil down into the ridges of the tin can.

With a little practice you can make a nice piece of corrugated metal roofing.

Hints & Tips No.235

Using Conduit... as a Bridge Pier and a Pipe Load.

By Robert Ferus (NJ USA)

Using offcuts of 12mm (1/2”) electrical conduit would give you a reasonable looking pipe load for a flat wagon. A few longer lengths could look very effective as Bridge Supports for a modern bridge.

Hints & Tips No.238

A Source of “Barrels” for your railway

By Murray Johnson (Victoria Australia)

To make barrels on HO or OO scale models, take the pencil eraser holders from a cheap set of lead pencils ( The erasing part is generally not very good anyway) and paint them red.

Hints & Tips No.241

Supporting a Backdrop on a Foam Based Layout

By Trevor Gibbs ( Melbourne Australia)

I made a memorial layout to a friend and made a backdrop for it using straight MDF. Because the memorial layout was an exhibition layout made from foam, placing the backdrop as a scenic block was difficult, in part because the foam gave way where the upright rods holding the backdrop were placed.

I overcame this in the end by getting a couple of plastic cotton reels and cutting them in half and gluing them in the base. The upright rods were fixed solidly to the backdrop in the location of the cotton reels in the foam base with very little give within the rod and there has been no trouble with the backdrop moving.

Hints & Tips No.244

Gravel Loads

By Gordon Thomson, (Nova Scotia, Canada)

You can use kitty litter as a form of rock or gravel which is great if your layout has a quarry. When filling your wagons or freight cars, let it spill over the side to add extra detail.

Hints & Tips No.247

Track ballast:

By Ezekiel Johnson (USA)

Try mixing colors of ballast to add realism to your layout. For your goods or Freight yards mix a little light grey in with some black ballast. For the mainline, use mostly light grey with only a little black. The contrast will help to set apart the different parts of your layout.

Hints & Tips No.248

Making A Grain Silo using Conduit.

By Raymond Stewart (Georgia USA)

Using PVC pipe is good for things like modern concrete grain elevator silos. You can get quite a few silos really cheaply and you do not have any seams like you do with the Walthers and other kits.

Hints & Tips No.250

Road Signs

By Ezekiel Johnson (USA)

Looking for realistic street and road signs? Go down to the Traffic Authority in your country, county, state or province and pick up a copy of the driver's licence study guide (or its equivalent) for your area. They are nearly all full of pictures of actual street signs.

You can use a copy machine to reduce or enlarge to fit your scale or cut them straight out of the book. To make your signs stiff, cut them out and glue them to an index card. Wait for the glue to dry then cut it out again. What about coloring? You can use an orange or yellow highlighter. If the colour is not dark enough, just colour over it again.

Now that you have your signs made, what about sign posts? For HO or OO scale, use the kind of florist wire they wrap around roses. Attach your new signs to the post with on drop of white glue on the back of the sign. The glue will dry clear, and presto, road signs that cost next to nothing!

Hints & Tips No.253 - Business Signs

by David Russell

For small business signs, look for good ones on match covers, business cards and advertisements in the Telephone Yellow Pages. Think about hanging them over the sidewalk in front of stores.

Hints & Tips No.255

Ground Putty Recipe.

By Bengt Fasth (Sweden)

Back in the old days before DCC I heard about people who used something called landscape putty to make the first ground cover with. So even if it's the days of DCC I decided to make a test and make my own putty.

I mixed 1 cup of alabaster plaster with 1 cup of sawdust and the added paint made from 1 part brown, 1 part green acrylic color and 2 parts of water.

I added the putty to the layout and I am quite satisfied with the result.

Hints & Tips No.257


By Kurt Larson

To make a large quantity of good looking stumps, cut wild grape vines in the size you prefer. On the vine will be "bumps". Cut in the middle of the bump with a pruning shears, then cut how long you want the stump.

The bump will be the part toward the ground. If preferred, a notch can be made after the stump is cut by again taking the pruning shears and cutting partially into the stump and by twisting the shears upward, breaking this part out. Mass production, no cost and realistic.

Hints & Tips No.259

Using Shadow Box Miniatures

By David Russell

Look into shadowbox miniatures at your nearest craft stores. These are very small miniature items that people use to populate shadow box displays. These small items are also great for store signs.

I used a 1 inch size pump bug sprayer (the old fashioned kind you see in cartoons) out in front of an exterminators shop and a small rendition of an old water pump out side a tavern that I named "The Pumphouse." I have seen miniature coffee grinders, flour sacks, coins, etc.

Hints & Tips No.260

Bashing A Bit

By Stephen Lynch

On the Model Power Lumber Storage Facility, discard the plastic boards that come with it, but keep the logs. Paint the sides of the logs with Testors railroad tie brown or similar, but leave the ends alone. Then you have realistic logs. Next, replace the boards with real wood ones. Then, weather the roof with railroad tie brown, and grimy black.

Finally, purchase a low intensity light bulb and hang it under the rafters. The effect is quite nice! Now you have a realistic Model Power building. Who says Model Power is junk?

(A Note from Trevor – Such “dulling down” of what could be seen as garish looking toys is often the difference between a scale model and a toy... and could be applied to many situations with various models... Thanks Stephen)

Hints & Tips No.261

Window Panes

By Bob Brockel

My Cornerstone brand kit came with clear acetate windows with the panes moulded in. To add a little more realism to the windows, I wanted to paint the panes.

Rather than using a brush to try and paint the panes, I applied a thin coat of the paint to a piece of waxed paper. Next, I fold a short piece of scotch tape in half, leaving approx. ¼" (6mm) of the ends unfolded. Press the loose ends of the tape against the back of the windows. This gives you a "gripper".

Then press the windows into the paint on the waxed paper. Carefully lift the window off of the paint and presto(!), painted window panes.

Hints & Tips No.262


By Tony Segro

On many types of brick factories, the windows are painted silver (I suppose it keeps the sun out). Some individual panes are painted; others are not.

To accomplish this, I take a 3x5 index card, and use dividers to measure one of the many window panes in the window. I use a metal square to draw the window panes on the card. I then use an X-acto #11 blade to cut the card on those panes I want to paint silver. When the panes are cut, it looks like a crossword puzzle.

I then tape the card to a clear piece of acetate, and spray it with metallic silver spray paint. I then poke four holes through the card at the four corners of the whole window. Remember the whole window may contain up to 40 individual panes.

I then cut the acetate at these holes, and place the acetate behind the plastic window, making sure the silver painted panes line up with the panes on the window. Once aligned, I glue the acetate to the back of the plastic window using drops of MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone- the best liquid bonding agent for styrene).

Hints & Tips No.264

Down Spouting and Piping

By David Russell

For downspouts and piping in general look for florists wire. It is a very soft wire used by florists to bind bouquets. It is usually painted green and comes in many many gauges.

Hints & Tips No.265

Urban Structures

By Martin Smythe

To model an urban scene takes lots of structures of various heights. To begin with, I have used several DPM kits together to gain the needed height. In an effort to achieve higher structures, I attached a platform behind a couple of the structures which allowed me to place shorter structures onto, to create the illusion of even taller structures.

The backs and a side on most of the structures were never modeled and are only foam core board (to add strength) glued to the detail parts visible. Modeling an urban scene can be fun and will enhance a layout.

Hints & Tips No.266

Old Roadway

By Stephen Lynch

One way to get a brick road to look like it has been there for a few years is to go to a hobby store and buy some cheap plastic brick road. Lay it down where you want it. Then take black water color paint and paint some on to the street, before it dries take an old shirt (if you use a towel or something like it then it will soak up to much of the paint) and with your finger covered with the shirt gently wipe the road.

This will leave the paint in the cracks between the bricks giving a dirty worn out look.

Hints & Tips No.268

Gluing Scenery Items

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

Consider attaching any scenery items near the front of the layout so it will break away if anything hits it during an operating session. It is easier to glue telegraph poles, figures, sign posts, trees or vehicles back in place than to glue them back together.

PVA glue is good for attaching details such as these. White glue will bond to non porous materials enough to hold them in place, without attaching them so securely they break. Just make sure you give the material enough time to dry such as overnight after your operating session.

Hints & Tips No.271

Using Sand as Ballast

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Some beach type sands work very well as a substitute ballast but two precautions are necessary. First make sure your sand is thoroughly dry. Some modellers do this by using an old saucepan and heating it or in the extreme baking it in an oven before allowing it to cool. Or you can leave it for a few days to sun dry if the climate suits.

Even more importantly, pass a strong magnet over the sand to pick up any hint of steel or iron particles that may be present. If you do not do this, those same particles may be drawn to your locomotive motors and create havoc for you later. Your locomotives will create a small magnetic field around themselves so the magnetic effect is wider than you might think.

Reading through other forums, you should consider passing a magnet through almost all dirt and soil that you use on your layout.

Hints & Tips No.274

A further Ballasting Technique

By Vicky Makin (Queensland, Australia)

I use a 500ml plastic sauce bottle which is great for applying ballast to the track. Compared to the larger ballast containers, the sauce bottle does not over pour making a great mess. I also use an artists paint brush the width of between the rails and I 'paint' the ballast in place rather than sweep like others do. I use an eye dropper to apply the PVA and water mix which is very accurate and not messy.

I suppose the best advice for those applying ballast is to take your time and do not rush the job or it may be unsatisfactory.

Hints & Tips No.275

Bridge Trusses

By Ian Barry

If you are in N scale, you can make very satisfactory looking bridge trusses by using either old model HO scale flatcars such as those made by Athearn, Model Power or Bachmann. The condition does not really matter if you find broken one (minus wheels and couplers as I did) at a market. The stake holders can be used to mount a safety fence.

And in the true spirit of recycling, you could also use the 5.25” blank covers that used to be on old computers for bridge trusses as well... just put some sides onto them and you are there!

Hints & Tips No.276

Quick highway guardrails.

By John Warren (CA, USA)

For HO highway guard rails I used N scale flex track sleepers, corrugated styrene siding cut in a strip for the steel guard rail. Leave first post (tie or sleeper) full length and approx every fifth or so.

Set the ties (sleepers) in place on layout, using a Dremel Tool, drill the first hole and set post, then the next long one. glue guardrail to ties. Use a drill that ties can be forced into the plywood but also easy to remove.

( A Note from Trevor – this is known as an “Interference Fit” and many of the components on our trains are kept there by Interference Fits)

Hints & Tips No.277

Old Corduroy as Crop areas

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Corduroy as a material has a natural ribbing which we modellers can exploit. Painted or Dyed and laid over our terrain and it could look like cultivated fields... simply paint the type of crop such as green carrot tops, strawberries, lettuces etc that you want. Corduroy strands come in different widths and sizes so different crops and different scales could be represented by discreet painting or placement of vegetation coloured ground foam.

Enjoy experimenting with this one...

Hints & Tips No.278

Protecting Your Trackwork When Putting in Scenery

By John De Luca

If you have laid your track and made sure that everything is OK, protect your track work from some future problems by covering it with masking tape. You will have some cleaning up to do afterwards with white spirit or isopropyl alcohol ( rubbing alcohol) but it is a lot easier than try to clean out plaster particles.

Hints & Tips No.279

Colouring Water

By Tom Welsh (Melbourne Australia)

Model lakes and rivers have always been made using a High Gloss Varnish with a painted river bed. If you want deeper water, paint the base black with a Tan colour on the edges. If you want a small stream, paint the base a brown colour with an over paint of darkish green with the tan colour on the edges again.

Hints & Tips No.281

Simulating Dirt Road

by Jess Matthews

If you are making a dirt road, many sand-papers are probably close to the colour you will need. Otherwise, you may want to paint the sandpaper with a couple of coats craft store acrylic paint closer in tone to your local soils.

Hints & Tips No.282 - Simulating an Accident

by Douglas Webster (Victoria, Australia)

You can use that less than perfect model road vehicle to model an accident scene, such as a car that has hit a tree, or have one vehicle that has hit, or backed into, another. With a collection of appropriately placed figurines discussing or arguing the case, you have created a mini scene.

Hints & Tips No.283

Do you have to model a large town?

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Here in Australia at least, railway stations seemed to be placed in areas well away from the towns they were supposed to serve, across the other side of creeks or some distance from the town centre. One town in New South Wales at the end of a branch had no creek suitable for the purpose so while the town was at the base of a hill, the station was up the top. I would be very surprised if that scenario has not been repeated many times around the world

The point is that for your model towns, you may not have to do much more than suggest the nearby presence of a town or have a newer sub division or estate. These could be suggested by “evidence” such as buildings under construction or a few outposts of commerce and residence rather than the highly detailed urban scene... just a thought!

Hints & Tips No.284

Painting Scenery... Black???!!!

By Mark Frizell

The long standing tradition is to paint your scenery base an earth tone color. When I applied textures, I kept finding light colored areas where the cover did not actually cover well. I would go back time after time, adding until the lightest spots disappeared. I saw a layout under construction and noticed that the scenery base was painted black. I asked and had it explained to me how it hides those annoying light or white coloured spots with a very logical reason.

Black is not a color but rather the absence of all color. It is also the least noticed 'color' to the human eye. If there is something you do not want people to see, you would paint it black which is why theatre props are painted black. Props that are supposed to 'stand out' or seem larger are usually painted a brighter color so they stand out against objects around them.

Bringing this philosophy to model railways, we highlight rock outcroppings with light colors to make them standout, so painting things black could hide them. I tried it on my own layout and was surprised at how well the ground cover worked. If I looked closely, I could see bare spots, but they were not anywhere near as noticeable as areas painted with earth colours.

Hints & Tips No.286

Preparing a Backdrop

By Murray Johnson (Victoria, Australia)

If you are installing a backdrop on a existing wall, smooth any large bumps or crack, and remove any existing wall coverings. Thoroughly clean the wall surface as well.

If you are installing one of the pre printed backdrop, put the backdrop in the layout area for a few days to “acclimatise”. This should reduce the risk of the paper shrinking or expanding after it is attached to the wall.

Hints & Tips No.287

Lighting a layout

By Tom Welsh (Sunshine MRC, Victoria, Australia)

To avoid shadows on your layout, use “spot” lighting to evenly light the scene and backdrop as much as possible. Try to place your lights on angles so that any large structures or mountains on the layout are avoided and you are not casting shadows.

Hints & Tips No.289

Modelling Rail Joints

By Mark Frizell

You can model actual rail joints fairly easily if your depth of detail warrants it. Cut a thin slither of thin styrene about 5mm long, to fit in the web which is the thinnest section of your rail. Hold a small brad with a pair of pliers and push four small divots onto the slither. These will represent the bolt heads of the rail joiners. Glue in place and appropriately colour with a rusty coloured paint. You could even put a “notch” in the rail; head to represent a joint.

Who said you cannot super-detail rail?

Hints & Tips No.290

Using Bullrushes on Your Layout

By Brian Franklin

Those people who live in areas that have bullrush type plants can use the tops for telephone poles or tree trunks. In late autumn/early winter, collect the tops when they are "fuzzy" which is when they have matured fully. Using a knife blade, scrape off (do not cut off) the fuzzy section. What you have left is a naturally coloured tree trunk or telegraph pole with the correct taper. Because they come in various sizes, they can be used from N scale to OO and possibly bigger.

Hints & Tips No.292

Using Cigarette Ash

By John Lapworth

1. For dirty country gravel roads I have used ground up cigar ashes. I am an obstinate cigar smoker so I collect ash, grind it up and apply it as I would any other scenic scatter, with the standard PVA glue mix. The results are quite realistic.

2. We used cigarette ash made into a watery paste as a stain to age and weather wood. We have now given up smoking, but it was one of the best methods we used.

Hints & Tips No.293

Using Beach Balls

By Jim Whelan (ME, USA)

Keep your old kickballs and beach balls when they are worn out or punctured. Cut them in half and use them as a plaster mixing vessel. The half round shape is perfect for mixing since there are no corners and when you are finished, allow excess plaster to dry, flex the ball inside out to dump leftover plaster into the trash.

NEVER put old plaster down the sink lest it clog your plumbing.

Hints & Tips No.295

A Source of Piers

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

A strip of 1/2” or ¾ MDF could make quite a number of piers for elevated railway with slightly tapered long sides – which you could plane or cut yourself – that would be reminiscent of the Triang Inclined or High Level pier sets of years ago. The MDF could come as a left over from a cabinet makers and you would be most likely given it.

A coat of Grey Paint to simulate Concrete or a light orange to simulate the Triang colour and you have an elevated section for a little effort and not very much cost!

Hints & Tips No.296

Scrap... from Pasta???

By Jim Whelan (ME, USA)

Pasta comes in various shapes, tubes, elbows, straps as well as flat sheets. By taking small quantities of these shapes, breaking them discreetly and gluing them in a pile randomly together with super glue (ACC) ( remember that you cannot use PVA as the pasta would soften) then paint them with an overspray that resembles something rusting and you have a junk load.

Small sheets of pasta could represent slab steel... elbows and penne could represent pipes if newly painted.

Hints & Tips No.299

Larger Pipes and Culverts

By Jim Whelan (ME USA)

For sewerage or drainage pipes, get some small sprinkler system tubes and cut them into short pipes (1" to 1 1/4" or even 2") and then paint them a concrete or steel colour.

For culverts, I use drinking straws that bend and flex- they have a corrugated parts that look right for many culverts. Use the rest as other piping on your layout.

Hints & Tips No.300

Wharf Details

By Dale Brooks

Some plastic coloured thumbtacks are suitable for mooring masts on the edge of wharves. Bamboo skewer sticks can make good wharf pilings. Tea Bag strings are suitable for rope details and about the right size in OO or HO or thick rope in N scale. For some cheap barrel drums commonly found on the waterside, use the metal band that holds the eraser on a lead pencil. You can paint them up in any colours you want.

A Note from Trevor - The Tea bag will not get totally wasted as the paper bag can be used to represent lace curtains and the label can make a small billboard of sorts. And you can still make a cup of tea!

Hints & Tips No.301

Victorian Housing Details

By John Gibson (NZ)

Fancy carved toothpicks make good porch posts for Victorian or 1900's homes and are usually available from Warehouse or Reject type shops here in Australasia. Using serated scissors could cut a lot of shingles for roofing very quickly from masking tape or your preferred roofing material.

You could make a watch into a working clock tower. Find a cheap Victorian faced clock that ladies hang around their necks on a chain. The face and its size should be OK for that watch to face the street of your clock tower as a prominent model. You could even use the chain as another model.

Hints & Tips No.302

Frayed Thread as Barbed Wire and Other Fencing Matters

By Norman Murfett

The title is self explanatory and some people think it looks OK. Actually if you think about it, in OO or HO you would be hard pressed to see the barbs. Perhaps painting the tips of the poles to look like it is an insulator could give the illusion of an electrified fence.

Take a spring from a ball point pen and stretch it and you have a coil of razor ribbon for on top of the chain link fence. Does anyone model a Prison?

Hints & Tips No.303

Weathering with White Out

By David Harris

Liquid paper or whiteout makes great chalky , peeling white paint on fences, building trim & the like. It is very effective if wood is stained to look old & weathered first.

Hints & Tips No.304

Using Old Picture Frames to Build Models

By Michael Shearer (NJ USA)

I build structures on a large picture frame I picked up cheaply. The glass provides a flat surface to work on and the frame provides right angle guides. Also styrene cement does not stick to the glass.

Hints & Tips No.305

Matches as Sleeper Details

By John Gibson (NZ)

I cut up used wooden matches and paint them to represent sleepers. I paint them an appropriate colour and stack them near yards or paint them a heavily weathered tone and scatter them as replaced or broken sleepers along the right of way.

Hints & Tips No.306

A Dust Cleaning Tool?

By P T (who would prefer to remain anonymous... you'll see why!)

My wife gave me a makeup applicator, the big soft type that she would use to apply blush and such, and it makes a great duster. It cleans the dust off wagons and buildings but is soft enough that it does not break any details off.

I have found it very handy for the cleaning but I must admit to being a little bit scared at the thought of going to buy a replacement...

Hints & Tips No.307

Tea Bags and Tissues as Details

By Dale Brooks

I was making a cup of tea one day when I noticed the tea bag as made of what appeared to be fine cloth lace. This stuff is perfect for window screens in OO or even N scale or could be hung out on a model washing line to dry. Tissues could also be used as models of sheets in this way as a detail in a model back yard.

Hints & Tips No.308

Securing Figurines on a Foam Base

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

You can take the base off a figurine and using a heated pin put the figurine over the pin to embed it into the legs. Cut the head off the pin according to need and secure the pin with PVA glue.

Place your figurine in your scene with the outward part of the pin placed in your scenery base. This should help keep your figures steady and avoid the clear plastic base look as well!

Hints & Tips No.310

Detailing Card Buildings Pt 1

By Ken Walsh

I am a fan of card for buildings, I mix them in with plasticard buildings, you have to look close to spot the difference.

I detail them as follows. Looking ,for instance at my signal box below. The steps, handrails and balcony are plasicard, using the card ones as templates. The printed relief is a mixture of paper, card & plastcard. The printed bolts at the building corners were replaced with brass bolts & washers. The finial is cast metal. Add drain pipes, interior, plasticard chimney and soon to be added other clutter around the ouside and you have a reasonable signal box.

I will also make thin card tiles for the roof as time allows.

Hints & Tips No.311

Detailing Card Buildings Pt 2

By Mike Cheeseman

With a little work Metcalf buildings look OK and all I have done is ensure the cardboard folds are coloured in to match; I use a selection of felt pens, and some light use of weathering helps. I weather with acrylics, watered down and rubbed in and off with paper towels and rags.

They can be further improved with gutters and drains. Probably the biggest problem with them is that they are now so popular they have become a bit of a cliché. However if you are prepared to dedicate more time than I have, they can be modified to make them more unique.

Hints & Tips No.312

Detailing Card Buildings Pt 3

By Colin Whitelock (Colchester)

Sometimes it is a good idea (if economically a bit questionable) to buy two identical card kits and use one purely as an overlay to give depth to a model.

Using 2 kits, doors can be recessed, plinths, window ledges and other relief added and you get rid of the flat/printed effect that could otherwise spoil a lot of card buildings. A misting with the airbrush, using matt (very) dark grey or similar gets rid of the slight sheen present on some printed card, and do not forget to colour in any exposed card edges - I prefer to use cheap acrylic paint for this. Add some Microrod for downpipes etc, fit some gutters (Ratio/Peco?) and you can end up with a very convincing model.

Printed windows can also be fretted out and replaced with scratch or, if you are lucky and they fit, ready made replacements from Wills/Peco etc.

Hints & Tips No.314

Hobby Knife Blades

By Tony Comber (Gloucestershire)

Hobby knife sets come with a variety of blades... and their uses are...

Straight blades: cutting sheet materials, especially with a straight edge.
Round blades: good for cutting detail off models as they don't dig in like a straight one does. Will wander if you try cutting with a straight edge.
Flat/straight ended: never found much use for these, can be used for cutting off detail but the corners tend to dig in.
Other shapes, hooked etc.: one day you will find a use that only they will reach, but not often.

Just a few pointers to start, you will soon learn what suits you. Some do things with a type of blade I would not even consider and vice versa. Just remember you are more likely to cut yourself using a blunt blade than a sharp one.

Hints & Tips No.329

Lighting Building Interiors

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

Many modellers when they light their buildings have the brightest lights sometimes in the most unlikely of places. There are some areas that work in the absolute minimum of light such as signal box control rooms, although the lower levels where the levers are placed and rest rooms may be very well lit. Most city buildings are not fully lit at night but rather random rooms and offices may be.

A little observation goes a long way to making your model more realistic.

Hints & Tips No.331

Mixing Colour with Plaster for Scenery

By James Shireffs (Michigan, USA)

When mixing plaster for scenery, use some brown Rit dye (dye used to color clothes). It comes in a liquid form that mixes like water. With the plaster brown when you plant a tree or if the plaster gets chipped there isn't a big white spot and if you do not get enough ground cover on it still looks good.

(A Note from Trevor – This was very similar to H&T No.284 where the scenery base was painted black, but I have included it as it is a little less extreme than a black base if you are not doing your scenery all at once... and who among us does?)

Hints & Tips No.332

Buildings as Low Relief

By Raymond Stewart (GA, USA)

I have colored a building I found on the Internet using MS Paint and gave to a friend as a backdrop building. It works fine. However you will need to place it on thick plastic or foam core board to keep it flat.

Hints & Tips No.341

Making Neon Signs

By Graham Ross

Fairly effective Neon Signs can be made by shaping wire to you required shape then painting your wire with luminous paint. The light about your building should give enough of a glow to light these in the dark.

Hints & Tips No.342

Using a Digital Watch.

By Robert Ferus (New Jersey, USA)

In N scale given the size a clock tower would take and how small watches are not at the moment, consider using a digital watch for a bank sign.

Hints & Tips No.344

Planting “Cabbages” and other vegetation in OO.

By Graham Ross

You can represent Cabbages by “planting” whole cloves from your spice containers and painting them green in OO scale.

Corn fields can be made using green toothpicks slicing down the sides to form the leaves then painting some bright yellow on top. This takes a bit of work but would look very effective.

Hints & Tips No.345

Planting “Cabbages” and other vegetation in N scale

By Mick Lovell and Graeme Goodsell (NSW N scale Group)

We made rows of Cabbages and Lettuce for the N scale “Illabo” exhibition layout here in Australia with dyed sawdust rolled into a ball. A vine growing over a back fence was made by painting a trace of PVA glue and sprinkling with fine ground foam.

We made ferns in hanging baskets from asparagus fern glued into a painted bead of glue and hung by fine wire.

Hints & Tips No.346

Climbing your Telegraph Poles

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

Using the ordinary paper staples, you can make maintenance climbing stirrups by drilling a staple into the pole then cutting it off with side cutting pliers. Thin but fairly durable.

Hints & Tips No.347

Bottles and Other Details

By Mick Lovell and Graeme Goodsell (NSW N scale Group)

For the “Illabo” N scale layout we created model drink bottles by heating and drawing out fishing line to make a bottle neck. A washing line has some shapes cut from white paper, dampened, crumpled and spread on a fine wire line... and if these can be done in N scale...

Hints & Tips No.354

Supporting Flimsy Rail Castings

By Trevor Gibbs

There are many models of fences, gates etc which despite being made overscale for strength still are fairly flimsy when subjected to forces from above in 76 or 87 to 1 scale or even 160 to1 scale. While this will not totally “cure” the flimsiness, you can reinforce your railings by backing them with clear styrene sheet so that the model railings etc will have some resilience to overhead forces, yet not be too apparent.

Items such as stock yard fences could be similarly backed up. This would be not very evident except on close inspection in OO and even more unobtrusive in N scale.

Hints & Tips No.356

Making Shop and House Awnings

By Graham Ross

You can make a sheet of paper printed with coloured lines to represent simple awnings for either house or shop windows. The ends which face outwards can be made by cutting with serated scissors.

To support the awning, bend a piece of wire in a U shape to “bridge the window” and act as the struts which push the awning away from the window.

Hints & Tips No.357

Making Water Tank Bands

By Ian Cant

For our North American cousins, the steel bands that hold water tanks together can be simulated by using a copper-toned or black coloured automotive pin stripe.

The copper-tone stripe would be used to represent a rusty band. This same type of treatment could be used to model vats for our British and Irish cousins should they be modelling a winery or replicating the Guinness Railway in Dublin.

Hints & Tips No.381

Contoured Hillsides

By John Rutter - (Wirral & North Wales MRC )

On Corwen East we used a technique of re-using old cardboard tubes - kitchen rolls are particularly good, to form a lightweight substructure for "tall" scenery.

Hints & Tips No.384

Representing Bigger buildings

By David Millard (Northamptonshire)

You could always model a stadium or other large buildings in low relief or as a back scene ie just give the impression of the railway going by the stadium. This will save space.

Hints & Tips No.385

Quick mountains

By Adrian Hall (West Midlands)

Ever wanted light but quick scenery? Then my tip is to use the expanding foam in a can. Quick and easy to use spray it in the area you wish to have any cliffs or mountains etc and it will expand up to something like 40 times it's original size to fill the area chosen. Very easy to carve with a bread knife and no messy polystyrene to cling to everything and clean up. Be very careful how much you use though as it does expand to cover everything in its path. Track, other scenery, everything.

A Note from Trevor - I have seen this material used but by many reports it can be among other things difficult to apply and control. Also it is not cheap! However to each their own and Adrian's method may work well for you!

Hints & Tips No.386

Hiding the Backdrop Entry/Exit

By John Rumming (WA)

Have you got an entry or exit with a hole in it? If so, hide it from view with a building or a group of trees. This will mean the train will disappear behind into the back of the scenery.

Hints & Tips No.387

Removable building bases

By James Fenton

You can easily mount buildings on the layout to make them removable. Go to your local Dollar store and buy a packet of household sponges. Cut a sponge to be a tight fit inside building. Glue the sponge to layout, fit building over it.

Hints & Tips No.388

Printing White on Black using one of the major Word Processors

From the Victorian Model Railway Society

You do not have to use a graphics program to produce white text on a black background or many other combinations of text and background colour for that matter. This explanation from a club member shows you how.
1. Type the required text setting font (typeface and size).
2. Indicate the paragraph to be treated. Select Format, and in Format click Borders and Shading.
3. Then go to Font in Borders and Shading, and expand the character spacing by 0.5 point; then select white as font colour.
4. Choose grey shading, applied to paragraph.
5. Click cursor to verify these choices.

Now you can make signs for your layout to your hearts content.

Hints & Tips No.389

Modelling Brick Walls Pt 1

By Rob Pearce

Almost any railway scene is going to contain at least one building with brick walls. Brick walls are not the easiest things to model realistically.

Many modellers include card models for buildings, and these generally have the brick walls printed fairly well, but without any surface texture. Kits of buildings with brick walls have an appropriate surface moulded in, and for scratch building there is embossed plastikard available.

These surfaces provide the contours for brick and mortar, but they are of a plain, semi gloss colour which looks entirely wrong. Our aim is to achieve a realistic brick wall appearance, including variations in brick colour and mortar lines. The method I have used is fairly simple, but rather time consuming.

Establish an approximate colour. If using "brick red" coloured plastic this is not entirely necessary, but from a grey plastic base I apply a good coat of brick red enamel with an airbrush. Onto this surface I next apply the colour variation of the bricks. To get an idea of this it is worth while photographing some representative brick walls. These should be of the correct era for what you are modelling.
Now comes the laborious part. Using a fine brush, I paint individual bricks at random in a variety of colours. These can range from white through to black, and include various shades of brown. At this stage what I am doing looks entirely wrong - the colours are far too bold. But that is exactly the point. Any paint applied this way will appear strong and bold, which is not the effect required.

When the wall has reached the point of appearing to be suffering a severe skin complaint, the next step is to soften this down to a more appropriate level. This is actually very easily achieved by spraying on a thin, and hence translucent, coat of brick red enamel. This has to be done with an airbrush to get the thickness right.

Hints & Tips No.390

Modelling a Dry Stone Wall

By Andrew Cockburn

Cut strips of card board to the height, shape and contour you want your stone wall to be. Coat with PVA glue on both sides (unless the stone wall is part of the back scene) and hang up to dry overnight with weights to keep it straight.

Next day coat with suitably coloured Woodland Scenics ballast or small stone from your friendly local pet fish supplier and cover your card with the stone, glue in with PVA, allow to dry and place on your layout.

Hints & Tips No.391

Modelling Brick Walls Pt 2

By Rob Pearce

Once I am happy with the colouration of the brick, I set about applying the mortar. To do this the wall must be laid horizontal. I then take a mixture of stone and white enamel paints to obtain the correct mortar colour, and thin them with roughly 3 parts thinner to one part paint. Using a fine brush I apply a drop of this into a corner of the mortar line, as accurately as possible into the recess. The paint is so thin that capillary action carries it along the recess to follow and fill the mortar lines.

It almost always happens that some of the mortar paint sits on the brick faces. This can be wiped off with a tissue before it dries, but not too soon or you will draw it out of the lines. It sometimes helps to very lightly moisten the tissue with thinners or white spirit. Now the wall must be weathered according to its age and location. For this I use the Carrs weathering powders, applied with a brush then dusted off by blowing on the model. Finally I fix the weathering with an airbrushed coat of matt varnish. The end result can look quite impressive.

Hints & Tips No.392

Preserving Your Foliage and Lichen for Tree Construction

From the Victorian Model Railway Society

One useful treatment for plants to be used on layouts when preserving them for use is this pickling solution. Take your ingredients as a pickling solution in the form of 1 part glycerine, 1 part acetone, 1 part denatured alcohol(methylated spirits). Immerse your lichen in warm water, soak for several minutes, remove and gently knead. After water is removed soak in pickling solution for 24 hours. Remove, Dry and colour.

Note that you will need to add more Glycerine to the solution as more plants are processed.

Hints & Tips No.394

Fencing 1

By Several Modellers

If you use a bought fence like Ratio's flexible fencing consider painting it whilst still in the plastic 'frame.' When you cut it from the frame, cut some 'planks' off, and some off on one side and half through on the other or have signs of rotting at the base so that it looks a little dilapidated.

Hints & Tips No.397


By James Fenton

Yes, cats love to enjoy your railway. The problem is that they can break telephone poles, trees and bushes and leave cat hair. Most cats hate flea spray yet in small doses it is imperceptible to us. I found by spraying the layout weekly, the cat stays away.

Hints & Tips No.398

Fencing 2

By Several Modellers

This is not unique, but we think it is effective.
1. Make a 1mm square stick from some .040" Styrene Sheet for N scale or 2mm square stick for 00 by laminating the sheet..
2. Scratch it with a razor saw and paint it a mix of wood brown and olive green.
3. While that dries, get some strands of wire, preferably left over from wiring your layout. Attach it to a long piece of 2x1 left over from baseboard building (we all use it!) with 2 nails/screws whatever. Carefully, very carefully, run a scalpel blade down the length of wire slicing into the rubber coating. Peel 7 strands of wire from the rubber tubing.
4. Drill 1.5/2.5mm holes (depending on scale) into the layout where you need the fence to run.
5. With a blob of PVA on the end, stick the whole "stick" length into the hole and cut off at an appropriate height (guess!) with an appropriate tool such as flat sided sidecutters
6. Next, the wire. Loop a single strand of the wire around the starting fence pole at the base. Then carry the 'looping' on from post to post trying to keep it tight. If you take time and are careful with this then you will need no glue, not even of the wood type!
7. At the last post cut the wire off with aforementioned sidecutters, now permanently acquired) and aim towards ground level/ hedge.
8. Repeat process for higher up the fence posts.
9. Tweezers help - as always!

Hints & Tips No.399

Telephone Pole Wires using Invisible thread

By John Schaefer, (VA, USA)

Buy the smoke colour of Invisible Thread. I use it for telephone wires (it will realistically droop without a problem), rigging wires on WWI aircraft, and it is also great for sewing on patches to my motorcycle vest.

It has a number of other uses as well such as detail wires for engine compartments, hydraulic hoses etc or sewing up the tear in your favourite couch.

Hints & Tips No.400

Making India Ink Washes

By Bruce Leslie, (MA, USA)

There have been many references to India Ink as a weathering medium. For washing for mortar, Put about a half-inch of water in a yogurt cup, and add a couple of drops of India Ink. The Ink is very concentrated. You will get a greyish look from the mortar. If it is not dark enough, give it another application.

The whole idea of washes is to add only a little bit at a time. Do not try to nail it on one pass. Remember, you can always add more, but you cannot take any away if you get it too dark.

Hints & Tips No.401

Modelling Rust

By James Fenton

I have read and heard of using a lot of substances to emulate RUST on models. Here is a trick that works fine for me... REAL RUST ! Yes, I just take a scrap of rusty iron, wet my brush, rub it on the rusty iron, instant rust paint. Seal with dullcoat. It is too easy!

Hints & Tips No.402

Modelling Barbed wire fence using Invisible thread

By John Schaefer, (VA, USA)

As with Tip No 400, buy the smoke coloured Invisible Thread. Tie a knot at regular intervals to simulate the barbs and use whatever you will for the posts - toothpicks, plastic or whatnot. It looks like wire and needs no painting and adheres well with
CA glue.

As we noted before there are many uses for this stuff and the 440 yards on a reel lasts a lifetime. There are brands of barbed wire fencing which is very scale looking but it is about 1/48 scale so those products are better for O and larger. Use the invisible thread stuff.


submit hints Trevor Brian