The complete step by step guide


The complete step by step guide
Create the Model Railroad of Your Dreams!
Model Trains
For Beginners
The complete step by step guide...
Version 2.2
Model Trains for Beginners
A complete beginner’s guide to the greatest hobby in the world – model trains.
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
P.O. Box A459
Australind, WA 6233
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This ebook is presented for informational purposes only. The content is of the nature of
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advice. No guarantees or claims are made or implied. Readers should not act on the basis of
any matter in this ebook without first considering, and if appropriate taking, professional
advice with due regard to their own particular circumstances. All the content represents the
views of the author at the time of publication and is as accurate as is possible to ascertain.
The author and publisher will not accept any responsibility for any errors or omissions.
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 3
Table of Contents
Important Notice……………………………………………………..
Table of Contents…………………………………………………….
How To Get The Best From This Ebook…………………………….
Understanding Scale and Gauge……………………………………..
So Which Scale Should You Choose………………………………...
Essential Tools And Materials……………………………………….
Designing and Planning a Practical Model Train Layout……………
Which Locomotive…………………………………………………..
Building The Bench…………………………………………………
Choosing and Laying The Track…………………………………….
Couplers, Wheels And Carriages……….…………………………….
Wiring Your Model Train Layout Quickly And Easily………………
Which Train Control System – Analog versus DCC ………………..
How To Easily Build Realistic Scenery……………………………..
Add Life To Your Layout With Detail………………………………
Adding That Must Have Tunnel……………………………………..
How to Make Realistic Looking Trees……………….………………
Building Bridges……………………………………………………..
How To Eliminate Those Frustrating Derailments..............................
Essential Maintenance For Maximum Enjoyment…………………...
Weathering Made Simple ……………………………………………
The 7 Best Ways to Save Money on Your Model Train Layout ……
Final Words…………………………………………………………..
Glossary ………………………………………………………………
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 4
How to Get the Best from This Ebook
This ebook should be one of those documents that takes a prominent position
in your model train area - it will end up being well worn, dog-eared and full of
highlighted points in no time.
It is a document that can be used over and over again, no matter what stage of
model trains you are in and no matter what scale or gauge you model in.
I suggest printing the ebook, or the relevant section, and keeping it close by.
The first time you read it don’t highlight anything – do the highlighting on the
2nd or 3rd pass.
This ebook should be read and referred to many times. Some tips may apply
now while others don’t, but in 6 months those that didn’t apply may apply
It is great learning about model trains but this information will never translate
into your dream layout, until you implement the ideas.
Have Fun!!
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 5
The idea behind this ebook is to save you from the costly learning curve of
model trains – it will save you time and money.
It enables you to run rings around most model train beginners as they try and
figure out why your model train layout is so detailed and realistic.
This ebook virtually guarantees that with some action you will build your
dream model train layout. Model trains are the best hobby in the world – it
should be simple and fun. But most beginners tend to complicate things and
the frustration soon sets in.
Think of why you want to build your dream layout?
Is it for something that you and your children, or grandchildren, can enjoy
together as a family, maybe it is to satisfy your inner creativity, build your
own little world or to help you relax. There are hundreds of reasons why
different people build their dream layouts.
Building a model train layout is a great “family friendly” hobby as everyone
can get involved and everyone can participate. My main reason for entering
the model train hobby was to get my children away from the television and
video games and it has worked very well.
Not only have they moved away from the television but model trains have
been very educational for them. They’ve learned some railroading history,
basic carpentry, electrical and artistic skills, planning and designing with some
engineering and problem solving.
But usually beginners make the common mistake of buying, or being given a
starter set and then trying to grow this set into their dream layout… This
usually ends up becoming an unwieldy mess of a layout.
With some initial planning you will completely avoid this problem.
You don’t need a huge budget, or be a technical person. You don’t need to be
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
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an artist, or an electrician. You don’t need to be a certain age or gender. You
just need to realize that model trains as a journey not a destination.
The fun and enjoyment is in the building of your layout and constantly
improving it.
Some people may find it a bit strange that adults are playing with toy trains.
That’s because they don’t understand what skill is actually required to build
and operate a model train layout. When they do understand, they soon realize
what a great educational and fun filled process it is.
Just for your own interest, some celebrities that love (or loved) model
railroading are…
Phil Collins
Tom hanks
Elton John
Michael Jordan
Frank Sinatra
Bruce Springsteen
Rod Stewart
It’s a massively rewarding and fun hobby that is only limited by your
imagination… so let’s get started…
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 7
Understanding Scale and Gauge
The first question you need to ask yourself is… Which model train scale is
best suited for you?
Choosing a size (scale) is the first step to your dream model train layout. But,
a common mistake for model train beginners is to confuse scale and gauge.
Let me explain…
Scale is the proportion of the replica to the real thing or ‘prototype’. For
example, HO (pronounced "aitch-oh") scale locomotives are 1/87 the size of
the real life locomotive or an HO scale locomotive is 87 times smaller than the
real locomotive.
Figure 1
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
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Model train gauge is the width between the inside running edge of the track.
Figure 2
The popular model train scales and their minimum turning radiuses are:
O scale
S scale
OO scale (popular in UK)
HO scale (nearly 75% of railroaders)
N scale
Z scale
Proportion to
Real Size
24 inches
22.5 inches
21 inches
15 inches
7.5 inches
5.75 inches
Table 1
O scale is the largest scale, to Z scale being the smallest scale. An O scale
model train set is 1/48 the size of the real thing, while a Z scale model train set
is 1/220 the size of the real thing. All the trees, bridges, roads, buildings and
other accessories are all scaled to the relevant size.
HO scale got its name because it is roughly half the size of O scale. HO scale
came about in the depression of the 1930’s when model railroaders needed a
cheaper model train solution. After the second World War the popularity of
HO scale exploded and it has been reported that today almost 75% of model
railroaders are using HO scale.
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
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In real life, railroads have a standard gauge to allow any train to run on any
railroad, basically. In model railroading if the scale is shown by its letter only
(Z, N, HO, S, O) you can assume that the gauge is standard.
A narrow gauge railroad has the rails closer together. In real life this is usually
used where there is construction or geographical constraints, like in
mountainous areas, through the trees in forests, etc.
In model trains narrow gauge is depicted by the small letter ‘n’ and some
numbers after the main scale letters. For example narrow gauge HO scale
would be represented as HOn3. The 3 represents 3 feet wide, which is the
narrow gauge in real life, rather than the standard gauge of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches
Figure 3 - HO Scale layout by Mr Jan Nielson
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
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So Which Scale Should You Choose?
Choosing which scale you should model in comes down to 3 deciding factors:
1) How much space you have available for your model train layout,
2) The physical size of model train equipment you prefer working with,
3) The accessories available for that scale.
Let’s go into more detail...
1 - How Much Space Do You Have Available?
Building a layout in HO scale will be almost half the size of the identical
layout in O scale. Turning radius’s in HO scale will be tighter; tunnels will be
smaller and, most importantly, it is easier to hide mistakes in a smaller scale.
Larger scales need more detail and it can often be very hard to create a
realistic looking layout in a large scale. HO scale has become very popular
because it is a “middle-of-the-road” scale and easier to make look realistic.
An HO scale switching layout can be created on a 4 x 1 foot table, while a
continuous loop railroad will need a 3 feet 6 inch x 4 feet table. A layout space
of 6 feet x 4 feet would be enough to have an interesting HO scale layout with
a continuous loop.
Still don’t have that much room available? Then consider an N scale railroad
which can be built in 30% of the area required by a similar model train layout
in HO scale.
2 - Which Scale Do You Prefer Working With?
Fat finger syndrome or bad eyesight can sometimes force us to consider the
larger scales. It can be very frustrating trying to airbrush a Z scale carriage or
manipulating N scale rolling stock. They can be very fiddly!
Children will find it easier operating and manipulating the bigger scales, from
HO scale upwards. Bigger scale rolling stock tends to be heavier and less
likely to derail.
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The ladies seem to prefer the intricate smaller scales, while the men tend to go
with the HO scale and larger scales.
3 - What Accessories Are Available?
Over the years the HO scale has become the most popular model train scale
and the manufacturers have responded to the demand by producing more
accessories and rolling stock for HO scale. HO scale is just the right size for
most people to appreciate the detail and running performance without being
too cramped.
If you decide to run digital controllers and have lots of switching operations
then HO scale is usually the preferred choice. Check with your local hobby
shop to see which scale they have the most accessories for. It is often easier to
buy from your local hobby shop initially… or at least until you know exactly
what you want.
Mixing Scales
Scales that are close together are very hard to tell apart with the naked eye. A
1:43 model car next to a 1:48 scale model train will probably never be noticed.
Another great modeling trick is to use different scales of models together to
create a false sense of depth - a "forced perspective".
Some common examples of mixing scales are:
• Using N scale (1:160) model trains in the background (distance) with
H0 scale (1:87) in the foreground. This gives the illusion of the N scale
train being further away than what it is.
• Mixing 1:43 scale, 1:48 scale and 1:50 scale die-cast models with O
scale model trains. The scale differences are negligible, so nobody will
ever notice the difference.
• Using Matchbox cars (1:64 to 1:100) with H0 scale. Veteran modelers
may frown on this but for beginners it is a great economical mix.
• Using 1:144 scale die-cast models with N scale.
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
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Essential Tools and Materials
It is not necessary to have every tool there is available, and often a simple
toolset will do you for a long time. As you get more advanced with your skills
you will find the need to purchase more advanced tools.
Tools are a great investment if you buy quality. They will last forever if you
look after them, use them for the job they are designed for and don’t misplace
Cheap low quality tools may be good for 1 use and then you’ll be buying the
same tool again. Often you don’t realize the quality of a tool until you use it
over a few years. A good quality knife will hold its sharp edge for up to 50
times longer than a cheap knife… And we all know how dangerous a blunt
knife is!
Always have the right tool for the job though… I’ve seen some beginners
trying to nail down tracks using the ends of fencing pliers instead of a
hammer. This is the kind of action that quickly damages fingers… it is very
Here is a basic tool list to start you off with:
Hand cross-cut saw
Small coping saw
Safety glasses
Small hammer
3/8” reversible drill and bits
Adjustable wrench
Carpenter’s square
Electrical screwdriver set
Small electrical cutters
Needle nose pliers
Electrical pliers
Soldering iron
Disposable gloves
Set of artist paint brushes
Cartridge type filter mask
Sharp knife
Small modeler's razor saw
Small mirror
Table 2
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
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Below is a great video by PappaTrains that will demonstrate the essential tools
you need and some other great tools that will make your model railroading life
so much easier.
Click the video image below and allow the document to send you to the
webpage with the video. This document will remain open.
Or, if you are reading a printed copy, you will find the video at:
Figure 4 - Video Shows The Tools You Need
Click the image to watch the video.
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 14
Always Work Safely
Model railroading involves some basic carpentry and electrical work which
means there is an element of danger involved, especially for children. So you
need to be careful and work safely.
Tools are used to cut and drill, adhesives, paints and solvents are used that
could be harmful, and electrical components could shock you, or your
Hot soldering irons could burn you, or a child. Loose fitting clothing could get
caught in a power tool.
Don’t let the possibility of harm dissuade you from building your dream
model train layout… You just need to be aware of them so that you can
anticipate the potential harm and plan for them… it’s mostly common sense.
1. Keep your work area clean and organized.
Avoid clutter.
2. Work in well ventilated areas when
dealing with chemicals.
3. Work under good lighting.
Figure 5
4. Use safety glasses when cutting or using a
5. Make sure your tools are in good shape – cutting edges sharp, hammer
heads fixed well to handles, cords on portable tools safe, etc.
Always Think Safety!
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Materials for Your Model Train Layout
Building your model train layout will require the use of different glues. You
will need to glue wood, paper, card, plastic and some other materials.
Always try and use water-based glues. They are mostly harmless and can be
washed off easily with water. Joining wood, paper, and card is best done with
a water-based glue, but that won’t work on plastics or rubber.
Plastics will need a solvent based cement, while rubber will need a rubber
based glue. Both types can be harmful. Please read and follow the directions
on the containers and ensure you are using them in well ventilated areas away
from any flames. These glues give off vapors that could be toxic and/or
Only very small amounts of these glues should be used at a time and should
not be used by children unless very closely supervised by an adult.
“Super Glue” is great to have available for those times when you need
something glued quickly and well. They will almost glue anything to anything
including your finger to the model you are glueing… so be very careful!
There is a solvent available for unglueing your finger from the model which is
acetone, but make sure to wash your hands well after use.
Using disposable gloves is a great way to avoid getting glue
on your hands.
Initially you will use a paintbrush and cans of paint to add
realism to your landscape. As you become more advanced you
will want to try using an airbrush as this will improve the
Figure 6
It is a good idea to use water-based paints wherever you can. As with the
water-based glues they are much safer to use. However when you start
weathering your rolling stock the water-based paints won’t do the job and you
will need to use a solvent-based paint.
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
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Solvent based paints give off vapors that are toxic if
breathed in large quantities. A cartridge type filter
mask (suitable for the paint you are using) should
be worn to avoid breathing in this vapor. Spraying
in a well ventilated area is also advised.
Dust masks are not enough protection as the vapors
pass through the dust mask material.
Experienced modelers use an airbrush and spray in
spray booths that have extractor fans which remove
the toxic vapors.
Figure 7
Always remember that these vapors are not just toxic in large quantities, but
they could also be flammable… so be careful of any naked flames that could
ignite the vapors. I have heard of accidents where the modeler has been
smoking while painting !!
Disposable gloves are a must when painting to avoid the absorption of the
solvents into your blood system.
Dealing with Electricity
The electrical current operating the locomotives, lighting, controllers and
other accessories of your model train layout is a low voltage, direct current
(DC) which is fairly easy to understand and safe for beginners.
However this safe direct current comes out of your power pack, while the
current going from the wall socket into your power pack is the dangerous
All power packs come sealed and it is usually impossible to get to the
dangerous voltage, unless the power pack is opened up. Power packs should
never be opened for any reason, except by a qualified electrician.
Always read the instructions of any power packs and electrical accessories
carefully before using them. If you are not sure then ask, before you switch the
power on.
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Check the power pack cord for any signs of wear, and have it repaired or
replaced if any of the conductors are showing. You should never use a power
pack with a damaged cord or plug.
Figure 8 - Damaged Electrical Cord
When buying 2nd hand power packs you should always check the cord before
using it. A bare live conductor could be fatal to a small child or harmful to
anyone if they touch it while live.
In bigger layouts you may need more than one power pack and you should
never use an adaptor which allows you to plug 2 cords into 1 wall socket.
Always have 1 wall socket available for each power pack. Adaptors can
overheat if the weight of the extra plugs causes a loose connection.
Don’t leave power packs turned on at the wall socket when you are not in the
room. Power packs can overheat or even explode in very isolated cases,
especially when they are very old. It’s always a good idea to turn the power
off at the wall socket when you are not operating your train layout.
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 18
Designing and Planning a Practical Model Train
You may have already started with a train set bought from the local hobby
shop or retailer.
It probably came with at
least an oval of track (or
figure 8), a power pack, a
locomotive and some
freight cars.
You could set this set up
as a temporary layout on
Figure 9 - A Classic Train Set from WowToyz
a ping pong table or on
an old internal door laid across 2 saw horses.
This provides a quick platform, other than the dining room table or kitchen
table, to build and rebuild the train layout.
However if you want that dream model train layout you will want a permanent
Space can be a problem for some people and often holds some people back
from creating their model train layout.
But space is not really an excuse anymore
because there are many different
Hideaway layouts can be created on a
board, attached to a cable and pulley
system and lowered from the ceiling.
Provided your ceiling structure will
handle the weight this is a great solution
Figure 10 - Graham Lines' layout lowers from
the ceiling
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
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for most people with a space problem. Graham Lines has done exactly this, as
can be seen in the picture above.
For a larger image of the layout that lowers from the ceiling, go to:
Shelf layouts in HO scale can be built running along a wall. They only stick
out less than 12 inches from the wall, as can be seen in the picture below. A
backdrop can provide more depth.
Figure 12 – A Shelf Layout
Figure 11 - Walter Norman's layout runs
through the bathroom
Coffee table layouts in N scale or Z scale can be built for the center of a room.
This is a great talking point as the trains negotiate the track inside a glass
covered coffee table.
On the next page is a great video by the O'Hara Family. The video shows the
huge amount of fun that can be had by building a coffee table layout and how
it serves numerous uses.
Click the video image on the next page and allow the document to send you to
the webpage with the video. This document will remain open.
Or, if you are reading a printed copy, you will find the video at:
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 20
Figure 13 - Train Set in a Coffee Table
Click the image to play video
There are many solutions! They are only limited by your imagination.
Have a look at the picture of David
Howarth’s layout in his loft…
Just a little creativity is all that is
We have seen and heard of shelf
layouts that run just a few inches from
the ceiling around a bedroom… To
layouts that run from room to room
(through holes in the walls) in houses.
Figure 14 - David Howarth's Layout in the Loft
There is no excuse… space is no limitation.
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So, if you have bought one of those beginner model train sets, how do you
transform that into your dream model train layout, and have fun doing it?
Well, with some initial planning and avoiding the biggest mistake beginners
nearly always make.
That mistake is going too big too quickly… usually with the layout never
getting finished!
The trick is to start with a small layout, like a shelf mounted layout or a 4 x 8
foot layout. It is fairly simple to build a 4 x 8 foot bench; we cover this in the
next chapter.
It is relatively inexpensive to buy everything you need and will give you a
great size layout to get you started.
Most of the huge basement mega layouts started from a simple 4 x 8 foot
layout and grew over the years. Another 4 x 8 foot extension is added and then
another and another.
That’s how Miniatur Wunderland (claimed to be the biggest model railroad in
the world) grew to be the huge layout it is now.
Click the video image on the next page and allow the document to send you to
the webpage with the video. This document will remain open.
Or, if you are reading a printed copy, you will find the video at:
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 22
Figure 15 - Largest Model Railroad in the World
Click the image to play the video.
Next, you need to decide which era you are going to model in and if you are
going to model a certain prototype.
Figure 17 – Mountainous Scene by Brian Silby
Figure 16 – Industrial Scene by Gary
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There is a large variety of track section available on the market today, from
straight sections, to curves, flexible track and turnouts or switches.
When you are starting out, it is tempting to buy equipment from the Christmas
sales in departmental stores.
But, this equipment is usually made for the “toy train” market. There is a big
difference in quality between the “toy train” equipment and the “model train”
Toy train equipment is made for the low cost, high turnover children’s toy
market, while the model train equipment is made for the serious railroader.
The prices are distinctly different and you get what you pay for…
Some of the bottom of the range locomotives will not move when the power is
switched on, until you push it along… and then it takes off at a hundred miles
an hour and jumps off the track at the first bend.
This will put you off the hobby forever!
A good quality track, power pack and locomotive make model trains an
absolute dream. They are so good nowadays that you can turn the power to the
speed you desire and the locomotive will take off slowly.
Figure 18 - Quality Locomotive
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As the locomotive moves along it gently builds up to speed. On stopping the
locomotive will gently slow down and come to a smooth stop… exactly as the
real locomotives do!
In the beginning of your model train life, stick with short diesel locomotives
and short carriages.
This allows you to use tighter bends to suit your smaller layout. Long
locomotives and carriages tend to derail quickly on tight bends because of the
extra overhang.
I guess if you have read this far you are edging towards the serious railroader
status. This area is where the real model train fun is.
A simple Google search will
provide you with hundreds of
different plans.
Some will come with a shopping
list of track sections you need to
buy for the plan, or you may
have to calculate the sections
Figure 19
However if you have decided to
model a certain area the best solution is Google Earth which is available at
Google Earth gives you a great geographical representation of what you are
about to model.
By using the correct scale you are able to model exact elevations, distances,
landscape and more.
Always remember that your layout has to be operated by you.
And people will want to watch the train operating. If you are using a 4 x 8 foot
bench it would be ideal in the center of a room.
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That way you can get to all sides of the bench to replace derailed trains or
repair any faults.
If that same bench was set up sideways against a wall you would struggle to
reach the other side of the bench to correct any faults or problems.
By having to stretch over your layout you are risking damage to the scenery
you are leaning over.
It can be discouraging to have to repair a scratch built model you crushed by
leaning over it to repair a derailed train. With some initial planning you can
completely avoid this.
Figure 20 – Glenn Ritter’s Layout
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In summary these are the most important elements you need to consider when
planning your layout:
1. Reach ability – the ability to reach any working part of your layout
without having to stretch.
2. Comfort – making your layout at a comfortable height and position for
you and any helpers like children.
3. Electrical – consider where the power pack will be mounted in relation
to the electrical wall outlet. Think about how you will disguise the
wiring from the power pack to the track.
Once you have these practical elements in place, you can then plan the look of
your layout:
1. Prototype or not – it can be challenging to model a real-life layout but
very rewarding. If you decide to go with modeling a prototype you will
need to do the research to find out all the details. Usually beginners start
by creating their own model train layout before trying to model a
2. Steam or diesel locomotive – is your model based on the steam era or
the modern era? Whichever era you decide on, you need to plan the
landscape accordingly.
3. Short or long carriages – With short freight carriages you can get
away with tighter bends. However long passenger carriages will need
bigger radius bends to avoid derailments.
4. Standard track or all-in-one track – While the all-in-one track is a
great time saver, you may prefer the deadened sound, and the extra
modeling work involved in laying standard track.
Now that you have planned your dream model train layout, let’s move on…
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Which Locomotive?
Locomotives are available in steam, diesel and electric (operate with overhead
power lines). They can be manufactured from plastic, steel, alloys or brass.
They are available as models of prototypes from the 19th century to today. The
more expensive locomotives come with a large amount of detail and better
working components.
Figure 21
High-end locomotives come with digital receivers and sound effects. Steam
locomotives are also able to produce smoke effects.
Figure 23
Figure 22
A good quality locomotive will make all the difference…
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It can be very frustrating having a locomotive that you need to push to get
going or it suddenly speeds up and falls off the tracks.
A locomotive runs by picking up the
electricity from the track through its
The wheels transfer the electricity to the
motor, which then turns the gears to
drive the locomotive.
Figure 24
A locomotive with poor pickup on the wheels or a poor gear set up will give
you lots of problems…
As with most things, you get what you pay for… but this is one area you do
not want to skimp on. A great operating locomotive is 90% of the way to
having a fantastic model train layout.
When buying a locomotive these points are critical:
• The amount of metal wheels that pick up the electricity - the more the
better, but definitely more than 1 set.
A good gearing ratio and motor which requires the least amount of
electricity to move the locomotive, with a slow but smooth start.
• Flywheels at one or both ends of the motor to ensure a smooth take off
and smooth stop.
• The weight of the locomotive should be just right to maintain a good
connection to the track at all times but not too heavy to make the
locomotive sluggish.
• The length of the locomotive - shorter diesel locomotives are less likely
to derail on the curves than longer steam locomotives.
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Most hobby shops will let you test the locomotive on their in-house test tracks
before you buy.
Test the locomotive forwards and backwards… Check for a nice smooth take
off and a nice smooth stop when the power is ramped up or down.
I usually go into my local hobby shop after doing my research online, that way
I know what other model railroaders have said about the particular model…
I also check the prices online, as then I can negotiate… That tip has saved me
nearly 30% of the retail price in some cases…
But remember your local hobby shop has overheads and needs to make some
money! So, don’t negotiate too hard.
Buy quality when you buy your locomotives… I guarantee the investment will
be well worth it.
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Building the Bench
Okay, so if you’ve decided that a temporary layout on a ping pong table won’t
do, and you want a permanent layout built on a bench… Then this is the
chapter for you.
Building the bench can be as easy, or as
complicated as you want it to be.
Benches can be custom built, or you can
make use of an unused kitchen table or a
shelf fixed to a wall.
The first thing to consider is how much
weight the bench will carry, as that will
determine how strong the construction
needs to be.
Figure 25 - Intricate Benchwork by The Union
Station Railroad Club
If you are installing your bench against a wall you could use the wall as a
support, which will save on construction costs.
You also need to be comfortable operating your model train layout. You
should be able to easily reach every point of your layout.
There is nothing worse than trying to fix a problem in
the center of your layout which you can’t reach!
Consider the height that you would like to operate your
trains at.
If you are planning a second level you may want to
lower your bench height slightly. If you are getting the
children involved, you may want to go lower again.
Figure 26
You could sit on a chair to operate the trains, while the kids stand, to get a
height that suits both.
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Some enthusiasts like running their trains at chest level so the children can’t
get to them… there are many different options. Choose the one that best suits
The video below provides a great expandable option. Click the video image
and allow the document to send you to the webpage with the video. This
document will remain open.
Or, if you are reading a printed copy, you will find the video at:
Figure 27 - Expandable Model Train Bench
Click the image to play the video
A standard piece of ¼” plywood is 4 x 8 foot.
So it usually makes sense to build a bench that size. To increase the size of
your layout you could create a second 4 x 8 foot bench and arrange the
benches in an L shape.
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By creating a third bench you can arrange all 3 benches in a U shape. The
growth of your layout is only limited by your imagination.
Construction of the Bench
A bench is basically 4 legs with a top. The top is the ¼” plywood but because
it is flimsy you need to create a base to support the plywood top. The diagram
below shows how to construct a simple base from 1 x 4” lumbar. The plywood
is then fixed to the top of the base.
Figure 28
Most lumber yards will cut the lumbar to size for you. This saves you having
to cut the lumbar at home.
You will need:
2 x lengths of 1 x 4” lumbar 8 feet long and
6 x lengths of 1 x 4” lumbar 3 feet 10 inches long.
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The sections should be screwed and glued together rather than nailed. Nails
tend to work loose with the vibration of the trains. Always drill pilot holes
when screwing the lumbar together as this will stop the lumbar splitting.
When the glue is dry you can lay a sheet of 4 x 8 foot ¼” plywood on the top
of your base. Make sure it lines up with your base all the way around and then
screw the plywood sheet to your base.
I don’t recommend gluing the plywood sheet down as you may want to
remove it later to change the track levels or build a pond.
You should now have a nicely support top to build your dream model train
layout on… you just need some legs to get the top up to the level you require!
Remember the height of your bench is to suit your situation.
Most enthusiasts like their trains at chest level because they often look better
when they are close to eye level, but this makes it hard to reach into the center,
and impossible for children to see the trains.
A typical bench height for children would be 30 to 36 inches, but if you want
to save your back, then you need to be higher than 42 inches.
It depends entirely on your own requirements… so decide and go for it!
The legs should be made from 2 x 4” lumbar split into 2 pieces of 2 x 2”
lumbar at the length you decide on. You need 4 legs cut.
Turn your top upside down and glue and screw the legs just inside the side of
your top and against the first cross section in from the end of the base.
Unlike a table where the legs are at the very corners of the top, your bench
will have 1 section of overlap on each end. This provides a shorter and
stronger top section between the legs.
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Figure 29
Now you need to brace your legs. About 6 inches from the end of your legs
glue and screw a 3 feet 10 inch length of 1 x 4” lumber to hold your legs at the
correct distance apart. The glue and screw a length of 1 x 2” lumber
diagonally across the legs as shown in the diagram.
The bench shown has been made to sit against a wall and will be fixed with a
few screws through the side of the top support and into the wall.
This stops any sideways movement of the bench. If you are not going to fit
your bench against a wall you will need 4 extra braces which will go from
about 1/3rd down the leg to the edge of the table. This will stop any sideways
You now have a strong and steady bench upon which to build your dream
model train layout.
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Prefer to watch a video on building the bench?
Just click the video image below and allow the document to send you to the
webpage with the video. This document will remain open.
Or, if you are reading a printed copy, you will find the video at:
Figure 30 - Building the Bench
Click the image to play the video
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Choosing and Laying the Track
Without any doubt the most important part of any dream model train layout is
good track work.
Most beginners make the fatal mistake of not laying the track properly. It’s
tempting to rush the process… the excitement of wanting to see the trains
running takes over.
But, this usually ends up being problematic in the future.
Track Construction
The rails on model train tracks are usually made from one of these materials:
• Brass – gold color. Conducts well but needs constant cleaning because
the brass oxidizes and the oxide is a poor conductor..
• Zinc coated steel - dull whitish gray color. The zinc coating will wear
away and the steel tends to rust.
• Steel and nickel silver - color of a five-cent piece. Not as good a
conductor as brass but the oxide conducts as well as nickel silver so you
will get reliable operation. Enthusiasts favor nickel silver tracks.
Track comes in different lengths and shapes. The most common being the 9”
long pieces of sectional track.
Two types of sectional track are available – the regular sectional track and the
all-in-one track.
Regular sectional track is constructed with
steel rails mounted on injection molded plastic
tie sections. This is the most common usually
because it comes with most model train starter
packs and you can create your own roadbed.
The disadvantage of creating your own roadbed
is that any loose ballast can be sucked into the
working parts of your train and damage them. A
Figure 31
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good idea is to frequently vacuum your track to lift any loose ballast.
All-in-one track is basically sectional track
with a plastic roadbed, which represents the
layer of rock ballast under the ties.
The advantage of all-in-one track is that you
obviously don’t have to create the roadbed but it
also means there is no problem of loose ballast
being sucked into any working parts.
All-in-one track is great for temporary layouts
Figure 32
however they can be a bit restrictive for larger
layouts as the same variety of sections is not as available as in standard
sectional track.
The plastic roadbed joiners are sometimes different between manufacturers. If
you choose the all-in-one track I would suggest sticking with one
manufacturer to avoid the plastic clip problems.
Most brands of sectional track will fit together as they all have the same rail
profile and use steel rail joiners.
A tip here is to make sure that the tracks join snugly and are aligned well. Bad
connections on rail joiners will not conduct the electricity well and you will
have a frustrating time to fix it.
When the track is joined run your fingernail over the top of the joins. You
should feel a smooth transition from one
track to another.
Flexible track can be bought in bendable
sections (about 3 feet long) and has many
advantages over the 9” sectional track…
the best being fewer joints on the run to
cause electrical connectivity problems.
Figure 33
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A 3 foot section of flex track will replace four 9” pieces of sectional track
which removes 6 electrical connection points – a big plus for flex track.
Flexible track provides a more natural bend and should be used when you
want to create curves which are different in radius from the standard curved
sectional pieces. The trick is to make sure you don’t have any sudden kinks or
bends or sudden ups and downs.
Flex track must be used smoothly. Look along the track with your eye and
make sure there are no kinks or bumps. Starting into ascents or finishing
descents can often create dips and bumps which will derail your trains.
Be careful not to make the flex track bends any tighter than the recommended
minimum radius in the table on page 9. Tight bends are a common source of
derailments, especially with longer trains.
The flexible track can also be cut down to size to use when the standard 9”
section is just too short or too long.
Turnouts, which are sometimes known as switches, are made to match the
radius and length of standard track sections. They are identified with a number
like 4, 6 or 8 which details the size. The smaller the number the sharper the
angle is of the turnout.
The most common turnout is a No. 4 which fits in the space of a standard 9”
straight section. The No. 4 means the turn out moves 1 inch away for every 4
inches along the straight section. A No.6 moves out 1 inch for every 6 inches
along the straight making it not as sharp as the No.4 turnout.
Turnouts that go off the straight to the left are called lefthand turnouts and one
that goes to the right is called a righthand
A turnout with no straight section but one leg
goes to the left and the other to the right is
called a wye turnout.
Figure 34
Turnouts are a working component so quality
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matters. The cheaper brands have a thin metal strip for the moveable point rail
which will bend with use and could cause derailments. While they can be
easily straightened, the better quality turnouts use points made from the same
material as the rails. They will last as long as any other part of your track, and
won’t require the same amount of maintenance as the cheaper brands.
Rules for laying Track
As I’ve said before a well laid track is imperative to ensure problem free
operation of your dream model train layout. Here are the rules to laying track:
1. Follow the minimum recommended radius for your scale mentioned in
the table on page 9. The tighter the bend the shorter cars and locomotive
you can run. Long cars will jump the track on a tight bend.
2. Make sure you have a good firm connection on all rail joiners. Crimp
them with a pair of long nose pliers if you have to. Sloppy connections
will be a major source of frustration if you don’t crimp them.
3. Check the top of your track joins by running your finger nail across the
top feeling for a smooth and level transition.
4. Nail down your track to your base using small tacks through the holes
in the track tie sections. This will avoid rail joiners moving and coming
loose when the trains run across them.
5. Never force the sections. When you start creating different layouts you
may need small sections to fill in the sections that don’t join naturally.
Forcing them will stress the track which will result in a broken rail or a
break in electrical connectivity on a rail joiner.
Ascents and Descents
Most people are limited to the space they have available for their model trains
so building different levels is a great idea to get more track in the same space.
But remember that your locomotive with its freight or passenger cars needs to
be able to climb the incline.
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A good rule of thumb is a 3% climb or 3 inches up for every 100 inches along.
This provides a natural looking climb that most locomotives with a reasonable
train can handle.
I have heard of a 8% climb on a 4’x 8’ board, but only some locomotives
made it to the top with their short trains.
In real railroads the roadbed is what the rail and ties sit on. This provides a
solid bed of material for the railroad to sit on. It also raises the level of the rail.
In model trains we use roadbed for various reasons:
• To create a smooth surface to lay the track on. Often the plywood table
top we build on is not smooth.
• To deaden the sound of the train.
• To raise the track.
• To make it look like the real thing.
Readymade cork roadbed is the easiest to use and is available from any hobby
shop or Amazon. Wood, foam and vinyl can also be used and in some cases
you can use a self-adhering asphalt type of
They are easily installed by marking out the
center line of your track on your main board.
The cork roadbed comes in 2 pieces which are
laid either side of the center line with a water
based white glue.
Around bends you can hold the cork roadbed in
place by using some temporarily placed pins.
You will need to trim the road bed where it
meets on curves and turnouts. Keep the pieces
as they are always handy to fill in small places.
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Figure 35
Page 41
The track can then be installed on the roadbed and tacked down being careful
not to compress the roadbed by tacking the track down too far. Using tacks in
every 2nd hole will be enough to hold the track in place.
Check the turnouts for correct operation as the sliding mechanism could grab
on the roadbed. Trimming out the culprit will solve this problem.
Check your track for level by looking along the length of track. Any dips or
bumps can be leveled out by using some card stock.
Do not be concerned about how the roadbed looks when you start using card
stock to level your track, as it will all be hidden with the fine sand (ballast).
The fine sand represents the gravel on real railroads.
Below is a great video that shows Bachmann track being laid. Just click the
video image and allow the document to send you to the webpage with the
video. This document will remain open.
Or, if you are reading a printed copy, you will find the video at:
Figure 36 - Laying The Track
Click the image above to play the video
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Couplers, Wheels and Carriages
Locomotives, freight and passenger cars are collectively known as rolling
stock. There is a huge variety of rolling stock available in all scales.
Freight and passenger carriages range from the lower priced to the high-end
priced range. The quality of equipment and amount of detail on the carriages
can vary greatly.
Some carriages are ready to run straight out of the box while others come in
kit form and need to be assembled.
As with most things you get what you pay for, but there are a few points you
should look out for:
Attention to detail
The smallest details in your model train layout will add an amazing amount of
realism. Part of this detail is on your rolling stock. The cheaper range of
rolling stock will come
with almost no detail.
Better quality rolling
stock will be well
detailed with every
marking of the prototype.
Figure 37
Some modelers prefer to
buy the cars with no detail and then detail them. This usually takes hours of
work and lots of patience. I would suggest that at this stage you pay the extra
few dollars and buy detailed rolling stock.
Wheels that last
Always check the wheels on the rolling
stock you are about to buy. Some come
with plastic wheels, while others come with
steel wheels. The important part is the axle
Figure 38
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which joins the wheels. This axle should always be steel.
Some plastic wheels can be adjusted on the steel axle. This can be very handy
in solving any derailment issues from wheel spacing’s that are incorrect.
Spin the wheels… the wheels should spin freely and not wobble. If the wheels
turn half a turn and abruptly stop, then this is a bad sign. If the car is 2nd hand
it could be a buildup of dirt or hair around the axle. Cleaning this dirt out
could solve the problem.
Steel wheels tend to attract less grime which means less cleaning of the track.
They add more weight to the cars which provides more stability, and they give
that great clickety train wheel sound.
Plastic wheels tend to attract more dust and grime which means the track will
need more frequent cleaning.
Trouble free couplers
The couplers are what connect the rolling stock and
locomotive together. There are several different types of
couplers and some companies are continuosly making
them better.
As a beginner you may start by coupling and uncoupling
your rolling stock manually.
Figure 39
But, when you build that dream layout you are going to want to couple and
uncouple “hands-free”. This makes your model trains ‘come alive’ as you
shunt the rolling stock around.
Coupling your rolling stock is achieved by shunting the cars together. The
couplers are designed to couple together when shunted together.
With the right type of couplers, hands-free uncoupling can be achieved by
passing the cars over a uncoupler section in the track. This section is usually
operated with a permanent magnet or an electromagnet. This has the effect of
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magnetically pulling the steel coupler into a certain position which uncouples
the coupler with a little manouvring back and forth... it’s great fun!
The permanent magnet type of uncoupler is a magnetic metal plate fitted
between the rails of that section of track. This type of uncoupler section is
usually installed on spurs and sidings to avoid accidental uncoupling if it was
installed on the main line.
The electromagnet type of uncoupler is placed underneath the track and only
magnetises when power is applied to the electromagnet. This allows it to be
used on the main lines as there is no chance of an accidental uncoupling.
The important point with couplers is to have the same couplers through out.
You should never mix couplers, as this could cause derailments.
However, not all couplers are created equal. Here is an overview of the most
common couplers and their pros and cons:
Horn-hook couplers
This coupler used to be the most common
coupler until a few years ago.
They are not a realistic looking coupler, made
from plastic and are designed to be manually
Figure 40
There is a pin protruding from the bottom of
the coupler and if it is not adjusted properly this will cause derailments.
Lima coupler
This is a better quality coupler originally
designed by Lima but many manufacturers
have adopted this type of coupler.
Their shapes may be slightly different but the
operation is the same. They are a steel coupler
Figure 41
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and can be uncoupled hands free using an uncoupling ramp.
The disadvantage of this coupler is they need more force than other couplers
to couple, so shunting needs to be a bit more violent.
Knuckle coupler
The knuckle coupler is a great realistic coupler
that works well with magnetic uncouplers.
The couplers allow close coupling of the
rolling stock which does make it harder to
uncouple manually with your fingers.
Manufacturers make manual uncoupling tools
Figure 42
which work really well.
Kadee manufacture the Kadee knuckle coupler and most enthusiasts won’t use
any other coupler… they are that good compared to the other couplers!
You may have the opportunity to buy someone else’s complete model train set
with the intention of combining it with yours. Often the couplers will be a
different type.
A tip to get around this problem is to create a transition car which is basically
a car with your original coupler on one end and the other type of coupler on
the other end.
This allows you to run the carriages and standardize the couplers later.
Passenger Carriages
A good quality passenger
carriage will come complete
with all the interior detail.
However if you are on a tight
budget you can buy the cheaper
Figure 43
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passenger carriage which does not have all the interior detail and tint the
windows so you can’t see into the carriage.
A small strip of car or house window tinting will do the job. The easiest way
to apply the tint is from the inside.
If you turn the carriage over you will notice some screws that can be removed
which will remove the truck from the carriage. This will give you access to the
inside of the windows.
Figure 44 - Brian Silby's Layout
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Wiring Your Model Train Layout Quickly and
The Power Pack
Model trains run on a low DC voltage. This DC voltage is created by the
power pack which takes the AC voltage
from your wall socket and converts it to 12
to 15 volts direct current (DC).
Direct current is directional so when
applied to your track will drive your
locomotive in one direction, and when the
polarity is reversed on the track it will go
in the opposite direction. Changing
direction is done by changing the position
of the direction switch on your power pack.
Figure 45
By varying the voltage supplied to the
tracks, this will vary the speed the locomotive travels at. Varying the voltage
is done by adjusting the dial on your power pack.
12 to 15 volts DC is not dangerous but is always advisable to unplug the
power pack when you work on the electrics of your model train layout.
The exception to this is if you have Lionel or Marklin equipment. They are
identified with their 3 rail track which uses a low AC (Alternating Current)
voltage. The operation of the power pack is the same as DC.
All power packs are not equal. Sizes vary, starting with the power pack that
comes with a model train starter kit. This power pack is basically only
powerful enough to drive one train around a small oval.
The larger power packs will drive multiple trains running at once with
accessories such as lighting and working machinery. Some power packs come
with remote throttles. This allows you to move around your layout while
controlling the speed of your train.
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Meters are available on some power packs to show how much current is being
drawn while others have more accessory facilities to drive lights and other
More expensive power packs will provide a smooth start motion for your
locomotive and then gently increase the locomotive speed, just like a real
The cheaper power packs tend to be frustrating as it’s usually one extreme or
the other. The locomotive doesn’t move and when it does it takes off at a
hundred miles per hour.
The bigger power packs have more safety features built in to protect from
accidental short circuits and overheating… you definitely get what you pay
As your layout grows you will want more than one power pack. It is a good
idea to separate the power packs that drive your locomotives from the one that
drives your accessories.
High electrical resistance on your track, due to dirty track or loose rail joiners,
will reduce the voltage supplied to your locomotive when it passes that point
which will result in the locomotive slowing down or even stopping.
To reduce the possibility of this happening, it is a good idea to have multiple
connection points on your track. This reduces the electrical resistance and the
voltage drop that causes locomotives to lose power as they get further away
from the power pack.
A good quality power pack will just about last forever, if treated right. It is
important to operate the power pack within its limits, unplug it when it’s not
in use and operate it in a dry environment.
If your power pack starts overheating, giving off a burning odor, expels
smoke, makes a buzzing noise, the circuit breaker keeps tripping or the cord is
damaged, then switch it off and have it checked by an electrician.
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Power packs can cause fires if they overheat, so don’t take any chances.
Wiring Model Train Tracks
As we’ve explained, a power pack will provide a direct current to the track.
This polarizes the rails, making the inside rail positive, and the outside rail
negative, in one train direction.
By changing the direction switch or dial of the power pack, the positive rail
now becomes negative, and the negative rail becomes positive, which changes
the direction of the train.
The standard way of wiring model railroads is to have the positive on the right
hand rail when the locomotive is going forward.
Figure 46
This electrical system is simple when applied to an oval track, or oval within
an oval layout operating 1 train.
Start adding turnouts so the train can pass through a loop and enter the main
line in the other direction and you have to make electrical adjustments to
avoid a short circuit and potentially burning out your power supply.
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The answer to this problem is to create isolated electrical sections with
separate power packs. Toggle switches are then used to toggle between the
power packs.
The same solution is used to operate more than 1 train but this can be very
confusing for beginners, and could easily result in a short circuit with a burnt
out power pack… an expensive mistake!
DCC (Digital Command Control) has eliminated this problem.
With DCC it’s as simple as applying a constant voltage to the entire track.
The locomotives are fitted with digital receivers which ignores the track
voltage until the digital command control sends a signal to the locomotive’s
unique address.
The locomotive will then do what it is told from the digital command control.
Figure 47
Because all the locomotives have their own unique address, many locomotives
can be operated on one layout with one power pack and much less of a short
circuit danger.
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Below is a great video which demonstrates the installation and operation of a
simple DCC controller.
Click the video image below and allow the document to send you to the
webpage with the video. This document will remain open.
Or, if you are reading a printed copy, you will find the video at:
Figure 48 - Installing a DC Controller
Click the image to play the video
In the next chapter we take a closer look at the standard DC control system
and DCC…
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Which Train Control System – Analog versus DCC
It’s probably a good time to get more technical… I’ve given you an overview
of control systems, but I think you need more information to make the right
decision on which control system you should use.
What we are talking about will completely transform your model trains and
provide as much fun as you can ever have with this great hobby!
Analog Control Systems
An analog control system is usually the standard control system you receive
when you buy a model train set. It consists of a
power pack which takes the power from your power
outlet and reduces it down to a safe voltage.
When this voltage is applied to the track you can
adjust this voltage or reverse the polarity simply by
moving the dial on the power pack. If the voltage is
increased the train will speed up, while a decrease in
the voltage will slow it down. By changing the
polarity of the voltage the train will reverse.
Figure 49
The Advantages of Analog Control Systems
The main advantage of analog control systems is the simplicity and cost. Very
little technical knowledge is required to quickly have this system up and
running. The operation of your train is achieved by simply adjusting the dial
on your power pack.
The Disadvantages of Analog Control Systems
If you want to have more than one train on your layout then both trains will
move at the same time when you turn the dial. The only way around this is to
create electrical sections in your track which are activated and deactivated by
toggle switches or separate power packs.
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Figure 50
This means when train 1 is in electrical section 1 of your layout you can
switch off the power to that section of track and operate train 2 in electrical
sections 2, 3 and 4 for example.
This gets complicated for a beginner… unless you have a good understanding
of electricity.
The enthusiasts call this cab control. This is where the model train layout is
divided into many electrical blocks. Each block controls one locomotive. The
locomotive is operated with a cab (throttle). A bank of selector switches then
connects each block.
They then take this to the next stage where they have progressive cab control.
As the train moves around the track it will activate relays which switch the
connection from the cab and the electrical block to the next electrical block.
The previous block is then released for the next train to use.
Digital Command Control (DCC)
Digital Command Control is commonly known as DCC. It allows
locomotives on the same electrical section of
track to be independently controlled using
computer technology.
Your model train layout becomes a computer
network. Your locomotives are like the
different computers on the network. Each
locomotive is fitted with a decoder which
Figure 51
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responds to the data transmitted down the track from a small processor which
is your command station.
Each locomotive decoder has a specific address and only responds when
instructions are sent for that address. This allows multiple trains to be run on
the same electrical section of track.
Some DCC enthusiasts will talk about complex programming, digital data
packets, alternating current waves and other confusing DCC information but
the truth is you do not need to know any of this.
DCC is as simple as taking it out the box, plugging it in and playing with it.
As you get familiar with it you may want to explore the more complex
A common misconception about DCC is that it is only suitable for large
complex layouts. The truth is it is a far better way of controlling even the
smallest layout as it completely removes any operating constraints.
The Advantages of Digital Command Control (DCC)
The biggest advantage of DCC is the ability to drive the train in a realistic
way. With analog control you are controlling the amount of voltage supplied
to the track which moves the train. A higher than normal electrical resistance
on the track, due to dirt or a bad joint, will sometimes stop the locomotive
from moving. So, you turn the voltage up and then the locomotive suddenly
speeds off and jumps the track at the first corner.
With DCC the voltage on the track is always applied at a constant level, no
matter what speed the locomotive is travelling at. This means a more efficient
electrical delivery system to the locomotive and a more realistic action.
DCC removes the need to have electrical sections of track, toggle switches,
relays and complex wiring. The wiring is much simpler. DCC sends an
instruction to the relevant locomotive which starts slowly and gently gets up to
speed just like the real locomotive would.
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But not only can you control the starting and stopping of the locomotive, you
can control its lights, horn, brake, coupler and engine sounds, and smoke
features, if they are fitted. You are now actually driving the train!
DCC can also be used to control your accessories like the town street lighting,
the industrial conveyor or the switches. The uses are just about endless.
As with most computerized equipment the upgrade path is endless for DCC.
While you may start by just controlling 2 trains, this can easily be upgraded to
operating 10 trains with full sound and visual effects.
DCC is a world of difference away from analog controls. It provides you that
total model train experience… it is so much more fun!
So are there any disadvantages?
The Disadvantages of Digital Command Control (DCC)
The price is about the only disadvantage. If you are starting from new then the
price is not an issue. Instead of buying an analog controller you would buy
There is a big variety of DCC equipment on the market, and prices are coming
down as the demand increases, which has the result of bringing down
manufacturing costs. DCC kits range from the simple starter kits at $100 to
high-level kits which can cost over a thousand dollars.
If you are converting from analog to DCC it could get expensive if you have
many locomotives. Each locomotive has to have a decoder fitted which is
around $20 plus about $20 to fit, unless you can install it yourself. Not all
locomotives can be converted though, as some just don’t have the space to
mount the decoders.
Decoders are becoming smaller and smaller. There is a limited amount of
decoders on the market for z scale. Most other scales have decoders for most
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More on DCC
When looking at DCC you need to decide if you want all the equipment in one
box or as separate components. Different manufacturers have different
Bachmann, Digitrax and Lenz produce DCC starter kits where the command
station and power booster are in the same box. The middle of the range
systems tend to come as separate units, as sometimes you may want less
control but more power. It depends entirely on your own needs.
Most DCC equipment is compatible with each other. Manufacturers work to a
standard which makes DCC user-friendly.
When you buy locomotives that are marked DCC ready, it means the loco has
a socket which is ready for a decoder. The decoder can be bought as an extra
and plugged straight in to the socket. Decoders can be bought with different
functionality. A basic decoder will just operate the locomotive, while another
decoder will operate the train, different sounds, lights and smoke feature.
Which DCC System Should You Buy?
There is a large variety of DCC systems for the beginner. They have their
differences and are usually in the $100 to $300 range.
Buying a DCC system is like buying a car. You can research all the
specifications, check which dealers close to you provide good after sales
service, but you can only really decide by test driving the units.
You can do this at your local hobby shop or model train club. Model train
shows are also a good place to test DCC systems and you’ll often get a better
deal from the manufacturers.
Online model train forums are a great place to find people in your local area
that may be willing to demonstrate their systems.
Just click the link below and have a look at this great model train forum:
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How to Easily Build Realistic Scenery
Now is when we get to the creative side of model trains. Creating realistic
scenery is the part that pulls your layout together and brings it alive.
You’ve started with a train set, and now it’s time to convert it to a full scale
model railroad.
Scenery is the geographical setting of your layout. It’s the countryside and
cityscape that your railroad will eventually run through. It can be as simple or
as elaborate as you want.
Hobby shops online and offline sell a huge selection of scenery products to
make the job easy. These range from imitation groundcover and grass to rock
molds, trees and shrubs to scenic backdrops.
In the planning stage of your layout you would have thought about the era of
your railroad and the location geographically. You may need to research this
era by surfing the internet or visiting the library. Pay attention to the
architecture of the buildings as this detail will add more realism.
Find out what shrubs and trees are found in that geographical location. That
way you can buy or make the correct trees and shrubs.
Consider the season you are modeling in.
Depending on your geographical location you
may need flowers in spring and summer,
colorful leaves in fall and even snow in
Figure 52
Trains have a purpose for being there. Real freight trains transport freight
between industries, towns and cities. Passenger trains transport passengers
between towns and cities. Think of your layout. Where will the station, tunnel
or bridge be situated?
Have you considered the crossings and having operational signals? Blinking
lights and operational features on your layout add more life and the children
love them.
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Working water towers, coal loaders, control towers, elevators and conveyors
add a completely different dimension to model railroading. To build and
operate a fully working scene, which gives the railroad a real purpose, is much
more interesting and rewarding.
You will find yourself taking more notice of the world around you. Have a
close look at real life crossings and look for how the road joins with the
crossing. Notice how the ballast is dirtier in the center of the rails compared to
the outside. Notice the vegetation that grows close to the railroads. Notice how
signage on buildings is placed and replicate all these findings on your model
train layout.
A great trick to create depth to your model railroad is with the use of mirrors.
A road or track that butts up to a cleverly disguised mirror in your backdrop
will give the illusion of the road and track continuing. A mirror behind a town,
shunting yard or station can make it look it twice as big.
Building a hill
An exciting layout has to have a
hill. Most beginners think that
creating a hill is best left to the
experts. They think that it is hard
to make it realistic, when in fact it
is quite simple and fun to build.
The trick is in being observant.
Figure 53
Taking notice of the world and its
details will help you with your scenery. While you drive and walk around,
look at the hills and notice where the grass is, where the rocky outcrops are,
where the clumps of trees are, and what effect the shadows have. Taking note
of all these features will help in creating your own realistic hill. A photograph
is very handy to refer to when you are modeling, but sometimes details get
lost in the photo.
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Hills can be created quickly by using a painted backdrop or a large digital
print if you have a narrow book shelf type layout. However if you have a
bigger layout you will need to create the hill.
There are many materials that can be used to create hills. Foam, plaster,
Hydrocal and paper maché are the common materials used. However there are
many ways of achieving the effect you require.
Some people prefer a hard shell hill. This is created with a light framework of
cardboard strips stapled to your base, or wire mesh. This framework is then
covered with newspaper and then covered with Hydrocal soaked paper towels.
This forms a hard shell over the framework when dry.
Another quicker and cleaner option is to use foam
insulation. Foam insulation is available in sheets and in
a few different colors. It can be bought from any
hardware store, or from the dumpster at most
Figure 54
construction sites. Builders throw out off cuts of foam
insulation that is usually perfect for your model railroad. Just remember to ask
before you take, in case the supervisor gets upset.
The white ‘beadboard’ foam can also be used but is a bit more messy and not
as strong.
Foam insulation is a popular material for scenery. It is easy to use and
inexpensive. A 4 x 8 foot sheet of 1 ½” thick foam insulation is a great size to
cut and shape. The foam comes in many different thicknesses.
The foam is best cut with a hot wire foam cutter, available from any hobby
Start with a piece of newspaper laid on your layout where the base of the hill
is to be. Cut out the shape of the base of your hill. Transfer this newspaper
template onto your foam and cut out with a serrated knife. It can be rough as
you will finish the edges off later with the hot wire foam cutter.
To add more height you need to add another level of foam. Cut the second
level slightly smaller than the base. This will be the start of the gradient of
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your hill. If you need more height add another level of foam, until you get to
the height you want.
Each level can be held together with toothpicks until you have finished all the
main cutting. When you are happy with the overall height and size the levels
can then be glued together using liquid nails or something similar. Don’t glue
the hill to your base, yet. It is much easier to sculpt it by removing it off the
Once the glue is dry (at least 24 hours) you can then sculpt your hill. This can
be done with a rasp, serrated knife and a hot wire foam cutter. Remember
water runs off hills when it rains. This erodes the earth which causes small
gullies. These small features will add to the realism of your hill. If you
mistakenly cut a chunk out of your hill that you didn’t intend to, just glue it
Once you have finished sculpting your hill you need to lay it loosely in its
final position. Check the clearances around the hill, making sure the train
won’t catch or rub on any part of the hill. If all is okay the hill can then be
liquid nailed to the base in its final position.
Once the adhesive is dry the hill can then be colored with an acrylic paint. But
before painting use masking tape to cover up your tracks to prevent any
unwanted paint drops on the rails.
When coloring the hill give careful attention to where the earth spots are,
where the grassed areas are and where the shrubbery and trees are. While the
paint is wet the simulated grass and groundcover can be sprinkled over the wet
paint. The paint acts as glue for most of the groundcover.
Coloring your hill, and the technique involved in sprinkling fake grass and
groundcover, is something that you will get better at with time. It is definitely
a case of practice makes you better.
Experiment with different shades of paint, and mixing different colors of
groundcover to create your desired effect. Try using real dirt put through a
very fine screen for earthy ground cover and coloring.
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When the paint is dry you can add more detail. Some extra paint here, more
groundcover there, broken branches,
clumps of grass and whatever else
you think it needs.
Let your imagination run wild!
But don’t be scared!
Often the most realistic hills have
been painted and repainted many
Figure 55 - Bob Fallier's Scenery
The extra layers of paint can actually add to the realism. Just keep trying…
you’ll be amazed at what you can create.
Wait for it all to dry again. As a final step you can flood your hill with a
diluted white (wood) glue mixture. 1 part glue to 1 part warm water will give
you a diluted glue mixture that will get into most areas and be a great final fix
for everything on your hill.
To finish off your hill you need to
plant your miniature trees and shrubs,
place the fences, or any other features
you may have thought of.
Readymade trees, kit trees and
supplies for building your own trees
can be bought online or at your local
hobby shop.
Figure 56 - Brian Silby's Scenery
Lichen (pronounced like-en) is another
material that is available to create bushes and trees. Don’t think you need to
buy everything from the hobby shop. Great effects can be created with kitty
litter and sawdust mixed in a dye solution.
You can create some stunning scenery inexpensively … it just takes
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Below is a great video 2 part series that shows how to create scenery for your
model railroad.
Click the video image below and allow the document to send you to the
webpage with the video. This document will remain open.
Or, if you are reading a printed copy, you will find the video at:
Figure 57 - Building Model Railroad Scenery
Click the image above to play the video
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Add Life to Your Layout with Detail
It’s time to add some life to your layout with structures and details.
As in real-life, structures come in many different shapes and sizes. They can
be built from a large variety of materials.
You could be modeling a shed or shack in one area of your layout, while in
the opposite area you could be modeling a high rise building.
You can model water towers, retail shops, homes, industries, water features,
forests and so much more.
Figure 59 – John Chambers’ Layout
Figure 58 – created by Geoffrey Carter
There are no limits to what you can model… except your imagination!
Start by adding all your structures and buildings.
Put the station in place, the town buildings, the scrap yard office, the water
tower and any other structures you have decided on.
Then add the roads, paths, cars and people…
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Building Structures
Usually beginners think that scratch building (building structures from
nothing) is this complex art that takes
years to master. This couldn’t be
further from the truth.
Hobby shops and online shops carry
wood, windows, doors and other parts
Figure 60
for scratch building. However if you
don’t have the confidence then it is best to start with a plastic structure kit.
The variety of kits is huge, especially in HO and N scale. A quick browse
through the website or catalogue of Walthers will show the huge variety of
plastic kit structures available. The
pricing of these kits is also very
The plastic models can be bought as a
kit to be built or as a complete unit. If
you are buying online the kits that
need to be built are cheaper to post
and you have less risk of breakage.
These plastic kit structures can add
life to your model railroad very quickly.
Figure 61 - The Fox Run Company Building by
Larry Summers'
If you want to make the plastic structures look more realistic, a little bit of
paint with some weathering techniques will do wonders. I explain weathering
in greater detail in the next few chapters.
Some more experienced modelers will take a
section of one kit and add it to another kit,
creating a unique structure. This is known as “kit
Kits are available with steel sections, wood
Figure 62
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panels, hard plaster or resin sections. Extra windows and doors can be bought
and added to existing kits to provide a different look.
Whatever you can imagine, you can create!
Old looking decals are available for those dated and weathered shop and road
You can also scan photos and pictures
in old magazines, use a simple photo
editing software to adjust it to the size
you want.
These can be printed and used over and
over again.
Printed interior scenes are great to fix
Figure 63
to the inside of your building windows.
They provide that illusion of a furnished interior, or the inside of an auto shop.
Cardstock is a great material for adding detail to your structures. Patience is
the key to creating the layout you desire. If you are not happy with the plastic
look of the kits try painting and even weathering them.
A quick coat of a matt color from an aerosol spray can will make plain plastic
structures look better.
The only way to gain experience is to
try your hand.
If it doesn’t come out to your
satisfaction, just paint it again. Often
the multi layers of paint will actually
add to the realistic look.
Don’t be too critical!
Figure 64 - Train Station created by Alex Erdei
When you look at your work you may not think it looks good, but when it’s in
place other people will think it is fantastic.
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If you decide to scratch build don’t forget the scale you are modeling in. Often
beginners to scratch building make the mistake of estimating what size the
structure should be.
Usually when the structure is built it either looks too small, or too big, or
eventually ends up getting thrown out.
A tip is to use an existing plastic model and go up or down in size by 2 times
or 2 1/2 times, to give you a guide on size and proportions.
Or if you have the real life sizes you could scale it down.
Below is a great video about building model railroad buildings. Click the
video image and allow the document to send you to the webpage with the
video. This document will remain open.
Or, if you are reading a printed copy, you will find the video at:
Figure 65 - Model Train Buildings
Click the image to play the video.
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Making Roads
Once you have the buildings in place the next step is to create the roads.
The roads are as important as the
track. They need to be realistic, just
like the rest of your model railroad.
There are tar roads, concrete roads,
paved roads and dirt roads. You need
to get the scale right when creating
Highways are wider than country
roads and the colors vary widely between
a paved road and a concrete road.
Figure 66 - Road Scene by Larry Summers.
The easiest way to create roads is to use fine grit sandpaper glued to your
baseboard. This can be painted to the color you required. For gravel roads you
can use courser grit sandpaper.
Black rubber matting with an imprint of paving is available for those paved
roads and creating pedestrian walkways or pavements.
The white lines on your roads can be created with white auto detail tape. Road
edgings can be made from insulation foam. I have seen some great roads
created with this method.
If you want even more road realism like a crown in the road then you could
use an epoxy resin which allows you to mold the road. The edges of the road
are defined with strips of ¼”double sided tape.
This acts as an edge for the epoxy to butt up against. Different grades of
gravel are available from most hobby shops. The gravel can then be sprinkled
over the top of the resin to provide that rough texture look.
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This is a more advanced technique to making roads, but if you can master it
provides a very realistic road.
Cars and People
Cars and model people can be bought at your hobby shop and placed as they
would be in real life. You can never have too many people and the little details
can add an amazing amount of realism.
Cars can be bought detailed and not detailed. I suggest interspersing some
well detailed cars and trucks with some that are not detailed. This gives an
interesting look.
Cars without drivers should not be driving down the main roads. Keep these
cars parked on the side streets. You can fit drivers to the cars that come
without drivers but often they don’t fit between the seat and steering wheel.
This is easily fixed by cutting their legs off… ouch!
People can be bought painted, not painted, with stands, without stands,
individually or in packs of 10 or 100. People are very hard to paint and you
need lots of patience. Personally I prefer buying painted people on stands as I
don’t have the problem of them falling over and I can’t detail them as well as
the bought painted people.
Finishing Your Models
For the best finishes on your models, airbrushing is the
better way to go. Aerosol spray cans tend to put out a
course spray, and painting with a paint brush is just not
as good.
Airbrushes are not usually in a beginner’s tool kit and
are not really necessary unless you want that very well
detailed look.
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Figure 67
Page 69
The matt colored aerosol spray will work very well and you can always
repaint your structures later when you invest in an airbrush.
Weathering your buildings adds more realism as you very seldom see a bright
new shining building. The elements are hard on buildings and there is usually
signs of wear, dust, water stains, oxidization and more that add a unique
character to the building.
This is fairly easy to simulate on your models by thinning out water based
paints and brushing them onto your models. Practice on a spare bit of plastic
before painting your model. Because the paints are water based they can easily
be washed off before they are dry.
Look at real life buildings and examine what parts are rusting, which side of
the roof is oxidizing from the sun, where are the water marks, the mud
splatter, the soot build up on chimneys.
You will be amazed at what you start noticing because all those small details
create the one big picture you normally see.
A model railroad takes shape when the structures, scenery and track
complement each other. It becomes one working unit that can be operated and
enjoyed as your own little world.
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Adding That Must Have Tunnel
There is something mysterious and
exciting about tunnels.
Watching your train disappear into
the blackness and come out the other
side, makes it an interesting feature
for any model railroad.
But there are a few important points
to ensure your tunnel looks and
works realistically.
Figure 68 - Geoffrey Carter's Tunnels
Adequate Clearances
Too often I see tunnels that look unrealistic because they are too low or too
Back in the steam era the tunnels were built to suit the steam locomotives.
They had to consider the height of the locomotive plus the plume of smoke
coming out of the chimney.
Now that same railroad could have a diesel locomotive which is probably not
as high and may be shorter.
Beginners tend to build their tunnels so that
their diesel locomotives clears the tunnel, but
this tends to be unrealistic because often there
is much more height and width clearance in
the prototype.
This can be easily checked by looking at a
tunnel picture of the era you are modeling in
and comparing the height and width of the
tunnel to the distances between the rails.
Figure 69
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For example: in the photo above we have measured that the height of the
tunnel is approximately 4 ½ times bigger than the width of the rails. And the
width of the tunnel is 3 ¾ times wider than the width of the rails.
This provides a realistic looking tunnel size which we can model.
If you are building a tunnel on a bend in your track you need to allow enough
clearance to accept the longest passenger or freight carriage available. Don’t
make the mistake of building your tunnel too narrow and risking derailments
inside your tunnel.
Buying a Ready Made Tunnel
Full plastic tunnels can be bought in all
scales as a kit. This is a great shortcut for
beginners and gives you a tunnel in
seconds. With some painting and a spray of
a matt clear coat, they can look very
Figure 70
If you want a longer kit tunnel then you can butt 2 tunnels together. In some
cases you can buy a tunnel made for a bend and butt it to another tunnel made
for a straight section. This creates an interesting feature.
Making Your Own Tunnel
For the more adventurous model
railroader you can build your own tunnel
using foam insulation. Tunnel portals
like the ones shown in the picture are
available in foam or plastic.
Figure 71
Tunnel portals are the tunnel ends which
will provide a great looking entrance and exit to your tunnel. They can be
painted and blended into the surrounding landscape.
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Essentially, building a tunnel is the same
method as building a hill, just with a tunnel
through the hill!
Start by placing the tunnel portals at the
beginning and end of your proposed tunnel.
Using newspaper cut out a template the shape
of the base of your tunnel sides.
Using this template cut the pieces of foam
insulation to suit. Cut more of the same pieces
until you have the correct height for your tunnel.
Figure 72
Then cut a roof for your tunnel. The roof will span over the track and both
sides of the tunnel you have built up.
Notice from the drawing that unlike a hill where we created a gradient on the
outside, we have created perpendicular sides on the inside and outside of the
This allows us to do more sculpting on
the outside and to maximize the space
on the inside of the tunnel.
When you have cut the pieces they can
be glued together with liquid nails and
left to dry overnight.
Figure 73
If you need to hold the pieces in position
toothpicks work very well. Don’t glue
your tunnel to the base though. You are
only gluing the foam insulation bits together.
Once your tunnel is dry you can now sculpt it with a rasp or a foam hot cutting
tool. Be creative with your sculpting. Think of how the water running off the
tunnel would erode the surface and what effect the elements would have over
a long period of time.
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Once you’ve completed your sculpting lay your tunnel loosely in its final
position. You should now check your tunnel clearances carefully.
Run your longest carriages through and check for adequate clearance. Once
you are satisfied that your tunnel clearances and shape are exactly how you
want them, you need to paint the inside of your tunnel with a matt black spray.
This will darken the inside of your tunnel and provide that mystery. Next you
should glue your tunnel into its final position.
After 24 hours of drying time your tunnel is ready to be painted and made to
look realistic. A first coat of matt earthy color gives you a great base color to
show through the groundcover you decide to use.
Again use your imagination and your tunnel will make you proud!
Many model railroaders create some very interesting tunnels. The best I have
seen is where the layout is in an attic and the tunnel takes the train through the
wall, into the roof space next door, around the water heater and back into the
This is very effective as the whole train disappears into the tunnel and then
reappears! It also creates a layout twice as big in a small area.
You are only limited by your imagination…
Figure 74 - Alex Kanarek's Tunnels Under Construction
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How to Make Realistic Looking Trees
A great model railroad usually includes a large amount of trees.
You may have a forest, a hill with a large clump of trees on the side or trees
sprinkled around your farmhouse or
Most of us live in suburbia where the
old trees have been cut down to make
way for houses.
So, we’ve grown accustomed to
seeing small, young trees in our
But we can create our model
railroads differently.
Figure 75 - Nils Nelson's Layout Full of Great
We can have those beautiful trees that
are hundreds of years old, mixed with
trees that are less than 5 years old.
Depending on your era, geographical
position and season, you should have
a clear idea of what shape, size and
color your trees should be.
A common mistake for beginners is to
use trees that are too small.
Figure 76 - Nils Nelson's Layout
A good idea is to look at the pictures of the area you are modeling. Measure
how big the trees are compared to the cars, people, and buildings. Then you
can model the same height difference.
You will be amazed how big your trees actually have to be. In HO scale your
largest tree could be 12 to 14 inches tall!
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If you are modeling a prototype you will have a good idea of where the trees
should be positioned. However if you are creating your own layout there are a
few things you should keep in mind:
• In the steam era, a hot ember
from the steam locomotive’s
chimney or firebox could cause
a fire.
To avoid this, vegetation was
cleared well away from the
railroad. In the diesel and
electric era a spark from the
wheels still has the potential of
fire. It just wasn’t as great as
with steam locomotives.
Figure 77
• In areas prone to high winds,
trees are cleared away from the railroad to avoid the potential of a tree
falling across the rails.
• A build up of leaves on the railroad at a station or freight yard could
result in wheel spin, as the locomotive tries to pull away with a full
load. So usually all trees are cleared away in this area.
Paying attention to these details will make your layout much more realistic.
A wide variety of model trees can be bought from most hobby shops and
online stores. Different shapes, sizes and colors are available. These can easily
be made more realistic with some paint, lichen and groundcover. Use the same
techniques as for plastic kits, or as we discuss in the weathering chapter.
These trees are easily planted into your landscape by making a small hole with
a 4” nail and inserting the tree with a drop of glue.
A variety of different shapes and sizes of trees creates a more natural look.
Trees can be trimmed to suit the shape you need. Don’t throw away the
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trimmed pieces as they can be used as branches on the ground. They will look
like they have broken off and fallen to the ground.
The next option instead of buying the whole tree is to buy the parts and make
your own trees. Bare trunks, different leaf material and other accessories can
be bought to allow you to configure the trees the way you need. This is an
economical way of creating trees but the cheapest is to make your own from
Building Your Own Trees
Start with real twigs. Find twigs that are dry and different sizes. Select a
bigger size twig with a nice Y shape about 2/3rds of the way up. This will
become the main trunk of your tree. Real twigs immediately give you a real
look and feel.
At the base of your tree make sure you have a nice flat edge which will
eventually sit on your base. Using pliers insert a pin into the base and then cut
the head of the pin off. This gives you a spike to plant the tree with later.
Select some of the smaller twigs which are less than 1/3rd of the size of the
main trunk. Starting at the top of your trunk, drill a hole just slightly bigger
than the small twig size, through the trunk. The angle you drill at should
represent a natural branch angle. Insert a small twig and glue with a wood
Do the same again about ½” lower and about 2/3 of the way around the trunk
from the first one. Keep going until you feel you have enough branches. At the
top you would use shorter twigs with longer ones at the bottom.
Let the glue dry overnight.
Trim the branches into the shape of tree you are looking for and paint any
areas that require it with a small brush. Sometimes where the small wigs meet
the large twig you may just need to blend the color better.
This tree could be now be used as a dead tree. However if you want a lush
green tree there are many materials you can use. The local florist will have
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some interesting foliage, or you can use clump foliage available from the local
hobby shop. I have seen foliage created from dried seasoned herbs which
added a variety of color.
Another alternative is to use poly fiber or flock which is teased out and used
very sparingly. What you use depends on the look you are trying to create.
Your foliage can be glued with a few drops of wood glue.
Try not to make the foliage too dense. Sparse foliage often looks more
realistic. When you have finished building your tree you can coat the entire
tree with a matt clear varnish. This bonds everything together and gives your
tree a natural sheen.
Try different materials when making your trees… experiment! You’ll be
amazed how well your trees will come out and you’ll have a lot of fun in the
Figure 78
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Building Bridges
A bridge is as intriguing as a tunnel, and an
interesting structure to build.
Bridges can be from a simple log across a
stream to the largest bridges of today
carrying multi lanes of traffic and a
Often we marvel at how a seemingly flimsy
structure can handle a tremendous amount
of weight and deal with high winds and
violent storms.
Figure 79
A bridge on your model railroad may carry your trains, cars or pedestrians
across a river or valley. Real bridges are mostly built from steel, while older,
smaller bridges where usually constructed from wood.
Bridges come in many different types:
• Beam bridges which are horizontal beams supported at each end by
• Cantilever bridges which are built using cantilevers – horizontal beams
that are supported on only one end. Usually there is a cantilever beam
from either end which meet at the center.
• Arch bridges which are arch shaped and have abutments at each end.
The weight of the bridge is thrust into the abutments at each end.
• Suspension bridges which are suspended from cables.
Truss bridges which are composed of a solid deck and a lattice of pinjointed girders for the sides.
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Today bridges are built as masterpieces.
They become landmarks and are not the
bridges of the past, which were built
specifically for strength and not for their
You will want your bridge to blend with
the era and geographical position you
are modeling.
Most model railroad bridges are short as
they carry the track over a river. In most
cases they are simple truss bridges.
Figure 80 - Marble Chip Masterpiece of a
Bridge by Bill Murphy
It is relatively easy to build a bridge
from scratch by simply looking at a
photo and manufacturing all the bits
from balsa wood.
I usually use a piece of ¼” plywood for
the base. This base on its own has
plenty of strength and the side trusses
are for decoration.
Figure 81
The trick with bridges is getting the
attention to detail right.
The rivets, the different cross sections
and the jointing plates all need to look
the part.
Often it’s a case of buying many
different sections of balsa wood and
carefully sculpting the individual pieces
with a sharp serrated knife.
These pieces can then be glued and
allowed to dry.
Figure 82 – John Bennell’s Bridge
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Once dried the bridge can be sprayed with a matt black color and then
I have seen some amazingly good bridges created this way, but it does take
time and patience.
Then there is the shortcut…
Buy a readymade bridge. The one in the
picture can be bought for US$6.08 at the
time of writing this.
You get the HO scale bridge and a length
Figure 83
of 9”track for US$6.08. As a beginner I
would suggest this is the way you go. Adding your coloring and weathering
techniques to this bridge will make it look very realistic.
Readymade bridges are available in a huge variety of types and sizes and there
will always be one to suit you…
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How to Eliminate Those Frustrating Derailments
Are you frustrated because your model trains derail from time to time?
This was a major frustration for me. I would fix one section of the track and
the next day the train would derail on another section.
It frustrated me to the point of wanting to give the hobby away..!
A smooth running model train is a dream for most model train beginners. But
it is actually quite easy to achieve with a little attention to detail.
Here are the top 7 ways to stop your model train derailing:
1 - Ensure every joint on your track is level, aligned and properly fitted.
Sounds like common sense? But poorly assembled track joints are the worst
offenders for derailing model trains.
Slide your finger across the joint. It should feel level with the gap between the
tracks kept to the absolute minimum. I solder my joints because this stops any
problems with expansion and contraction opening and closing of the joints.
With a small file I am able to create a continuously level track and have a
beautifully smooth running model train.
2 - Check your track gauge on joints, turnouts and frog assemblies.
Another common problem for model train derailments is incorrect track
gauge. A tight track gauge will cause the wheels to climb up and derail off the
A wide track gauge will also derail your model train as the wheel flanges can
not span the track properly. The gauge can be adjusted using a soldering iron
to gently heat the rail, moving the rail to the correct position and allowing it to
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3 - Check your switch points for sharpness when they switch.
Some new switch points can be fairly blunt on the movable section where it
strikes up against the stock rails. This can grab on the wheels and cause a
model train derailment.
A small file can be used to gently smooth the moveable part of the points to
allow a nice smooth transition. Remember to check the gauge in both
4 - Check all your model train couplers.
A snagging coupler will cause model train derailments. Some new carriages
can come with unpolished couplers which can catch and force derailments.
Clean off any rough edges and adjust the couplers for proper centering. The
manufacturers usually provide these instructions.
5 - Add extra weight to your freight cars.
I find that most freight cars are too light and sometimes all the wheels do not
contact the rails equally. By adding a small amount of weight to the cars your
model train will run smoother and you will eliminate derailments, especially
on the tight radius’s.
Just make sure you add the weight as low as possible to the car and in the
center, keeping a low center of gravity.
6 - Check all your wheel sets for proper operation.
Wheel sets that are out of gauge, not aligned or moving freely will cause your
model train to derail. Check your wheel sets and make sure that your carriages
are not crabbing and forcing the wheel flanges into the rail, making it prone to
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The carriages should rock freely to take up any small imperfections in your
7 - Lubricate the squeaks.
Sometimes the smallest drop of light oil will cure a problem with your model
train derailing. A dry or snaggy wheel, or coupler, can cause a slight tip over,
or jar, which usually forces the wheel flange to snag the rail and derail your
model train.
But, oil attracts dust and can damage paintwork, so make sure you use only
the smallest amount required.
Now you have no reason to put up with your model train derailing.
It usually comes down to a small bit of maintenance from time to time. With
the quality most manufacturers are producing today, and some ongoing
maintenance, you can make model train derailments a thing of the past.
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Essential Maintenance for Maximum Enjoyment
The bad news… A badly maintained model railroad will lead to frustration
and discouragement… No matter how well your model railroad is constructed
initially, if it is not maintained, you will create many problems!
The good news… is that the maintenance required is minimal and simple to
carry out. 1st you need to keep the track clean and 2nd you need to oil a few
working parts.
Track Cleaning
Locomotives are driven by the electricity in the track. In an analog controlled
layout, the voltage is increased or decreased which dictates how fast or slow
the locomotive will move.
If your track is dirty, or has oxidized, the electrical connection between the
locomotive’s pick up wheels and the track is reduced significantly. There is a
high electrical resistance.
At a low controller speed, there is a low voltage applied to the track. If there is
a high resistance, because the track is dirty, the locomotive may not move. So,
the natural thing to do is to turn the voltage right up on the controller to try
and move the locomotive.
Sometimes the higher voltage will overcome this high resistance and move the
locomotive. But most of the time the locomotive won’t move.
So you give the locomotive a little shove. This shove tends to break through
the high resistance (dirt) between the track and locomotive’s wheels and the
locomotive takes off at a hundred miles per hour.
Before you can get to the controller to reduce the speed, the locomotive jumps
off the track at the first corner and smashes to the floor… ouch!
This is easily avoided…
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Nickel silver rails need a wipe over with a soft cloth from
time to time while steel rails require regular cleaning
with a Walthers bright boy or a track rubber.
It is as simple as that!
The track rubber is especially useful for that stubborn dirt
Figure 84
and oxidization. It is similar to very fine sandpaper, just
not as abrasive and does a great job of removing dirt, oil and paint spots.
Never use steel wool on your tracks as it tends to leave very fine steel particles
which get sucked up into the locomotives engines.
I suggest you always vacuum your track after cleaning with a bright boy or
rubber to remove the dirt you have just cleaned off.
Track cleaning carriages are also available.
They won’t clean stubborn dirt but will keep a
clean track well maintained.
Track cleaning cars are available as standard
carriages which are fitted with a small tank and
a pad that rubs on the rails. The tank is filled
Figure 85
with a track cleaner solution. Don’t overfill the
tank as the excess liquid will end up on your landscape, which will damage it.
These track cleaning carriages need to be run frequently to be effective.
Locomotive Maintenance
Your locomotives are the work horses. They have electrical motors, gears and
wheels that need to be maintained. Most manufacturers suggest lubrication
every 100 running hours or every 6 months whichever is sooner.
If you are not confident with maintaining your locomotives I suggest you ask
your local hobby shop to do this for you.
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Locomotives come with maintenance instructions when new, however if you
have bought a 2nd hand locomotive without maintenance instructions then you
may need to do a search on the internet for a copy.
Locomotive maintenance is usually as simple as using a small screwdriver
dipped in a bottle lid of light machine oil to apply the smallest amount of the
light machine oil to the moving parts. If you can see oil you have applied too
much. Don’t apply the oil to the wheels as this will result in wheel spin and
drop the oil on your tracks.
Be careful not to get this oil onto the body of your locomotive as it will
damage the paintwork and plastic.
Dirty wheels are worse than dirty track. Make sure your loco wheels are
always clean. A Walthers bright boy or a track rubber work well, however
sometimes the dirt in wheels can be very stubborn. This stubborn dirt is
usually best cleaned off with a dry kitchen “scotch” washing up pad.
The traction tires should be tight and in good condition. Loose and worn
traction tires can be easily replaced with a new spare from your local hobby
shop or online store.
The electrical motor in your locomotive has a commutator and carbon brushes
which will wear out over time. I would suggest you speak to your local hobby
shop to have these repairs completed professionally.
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Page 87
Weathering Made Simple
Weathering is a more advanced technique, but it can have a huge effect in
adding realism. So much so, that I thought it important to include it in this
book as a bonus.
Weathering is the art of taking something new and making it appear old.
Every part of your model railroad can be weathered, from the hills, to the
buildings, to the carriages, to the locomotives and even the light poles and
Weathering your buildings adds more realism, as you usually don’t see a
bright new shining building. The elements are hard on buildings and there are
usually signs of wear, dust, water stains and oxidization that add a unique
character to the building.
The same applies to carriages and locomotives. Spillage from freight cars will
stain paint, unloading and loading of freight creates scuffs and scrapes, diesel
smoke from the diesel locomotives will discolor the loco’s paintwork.
The trick is to be observant. Look at trains in your area. Notice the wear and
tear, the dents, the grime, the stains and the marks.
Look at real life buildings and examine what parts are rusting, which side of
the roof is oxidizing from the sun, where the water marks are, the mud
splatter, the soot build up on chimneys and even the graffiti.
You will be amazed at what you start noticing, because all those small details
create the one big picture you normally see.
Taking these small details and adding them to your model railroad will
transform it into a much more realistic setting.
Weathering is one of those skills that you definitely get better at the more you
practice. I’ll give you some pointers, but don’t be afraid to try different things.
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The Materials You Will Need
Here is a list of some basic materials you will need to weather your models:
• A set of stiff bristled paint brushes for artists. The smallest ones will be
used most.
• A soft bristled brush like a makeup brush.
• A variety of model paints – white, black, red, green and brown are
enough to start with. Mixing these colors will give you most of the
colors you require. You can buy the exact colors if you want to.
• A few cereal boxes which can be cut into cardboard squares to use as
paint palettes.
• A small jar of the finest dirt from your garden.
• A set of colored pencils.
• A set of large sized colored chalks.
• A spray can of a matt clear finish – Dullcote or matt clear varnish.
• Small jars with water to clean the brushes.
• A roll of paper towels and old newspapers.
• Toothpicks and an old toothbrush.
Weathering Plastic Buildings
A quick and easy way to weather a plastic
building is to thin out water based paint and
brush it onto your model from the roof
downwards. This will provide a natural grain
to your color.
Start with a light base color as the first coat
and when dry use a slightly darker color for
the 2nd coat, with an even darker color for
the 3rd coat. Because the paint is thinned, the
coats tend to show through each other,
giving a great faded, weathered look.
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Figure 86
Page 89
If you find that your paint is not flowing well enough on your model, try
adding a very small drop of dishwashing liquid to your diluted paint. Soap will
help break the surface tension and allow better flow into all the smallest
Practice on a spare bit of plastic before painting your model. The paints are
water based, so if you are not satisfied with the look they can be washed off
before they dry.
Different colors can be used to simulate rust, water marks, sun bleaching, mud
and so much more.
To create a more powdery look for dust use chalk that has been powdered with
a file over some paper. Colored pencils can be used to add distinct roof
markings, cracks and markings.
When you are satisfied with your weathering spray the entire model with a
coat of matt clear coat. This locks everything in place, provides a protection
coat and the matt finish dulls it all down.
Weathering is great fun and once again let your imagination run wild!
Weathering Locomotives and Carriages
Sometimes well detailed rolling
stock can be bought off the
Just by taking away the new
plastic look they can look very
This can be done with a coat of
a matt clear coat from a spray
Figure 87
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Not every piece of rolling stock has to be fully weathered and sometimes this
quick simple solution is all that is needed.
Depending on the geographical position you are modeling, you need to decide
what look you want for your rolling stock.
A train running through a desert may have a sun bleached look, while a more
modern metro train may be marked with water streaks or graffiti.
Looking at photos of weathered rolling stock will give you a good idea of
what you need to replicate.
Weathering can be mud, dirt, dust, rust, vegetation, spilt freight, oils, grease,
garbage, peeling paint, faded lettering, scrapes, dents and graffiti.
It’s all about making your model railroad look as real as possible.
Stencils, decals and fine tipped markers are available for your weathering
needs. Art shops are a great place to get some great information and
equipment to create some very unique finishes.
Always try your ideas on a bit of scrap material, before you attempt to weather
your new locomotive or carriages.
Unlike the model buildings you cannot wash paint off your locomotive with
water easily, as it may damage the electrics.
Be careful with paint as you do not want paint getting into the working parts.
Dry paint on a gear can be very hard to get off, so clean off excess paint while
it is wet.
The sun bleached look is simple to create by using a paler color chalk to the
color on the loco or car.
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Figure 88 - Used Boxcars Ready for Weathering
Picture by David Maynard
Figure 89 - The Weathered Boxcar
Picture by David Maynard
Rust, dust, grime, mud and soot can be mimicked using chalk or a dry powder
pigment. Art shops sell colored chalk which is great for this sort of work.
Using a file you should create a powder from your chalk. This powder can
then be applied to your model with a small, soft paintbrush. If you don’t like
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the effect, it can be wiped off. Colored pencils can also be used to create more
To create a more dramatic effect, instead of using chalk you can use paint.
Dab a small paintbrush in paint and then rub off the majority of the paint on a
piece of paper. This is then brushed over the model and it tends to highlight all
the high spots on the model. This is called dry brushing.
A large variety of paint, chalk and pen colors are available. Every mud
splatter to oxidization color can also be created.
Creating Rust
Rust is very common on rolling stock. Grab irons, steps, roof walks, door
hardware, rivets, brake wheels, structural ribs, and wheels all tend to rust in
real life, so you need to show this on your models.
To replicate this, use a stiff bristle brush and just dab the end lightly into a rust
colored paint. Rust comes in many different colors from bright orange to deep
brown, so the color of your rust is a personal choice. Before you dab the paint
onto your model, brush it over some cardboard to reduce the amount of paint
on the brush. Then lightly dab the model where you want the rust.
A dab here and there is all you need. A very light wipe over the paint with a
paper towel, while it is wet, can add to the effect.
Creating Dirt
The insides of real freight cars are always dusty and dirty. To create this effect
you would use the fine dirt collected from your garden. It’s as easy as using a
spoon to shovel the dirt into your freight car. Then using a paintbrush, or your
fingers, push the dirt into all the corners and gaps on the inside of your car.
Then empty out the excess dirt.
You will be left with the fine dust in all the corners and gaps in the carriage.
The dirt would have also colored the inside of your car making it even more
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Creating Water Streaks
Water streaks can be created by mixing a very weak mixture of white paint
with water. Look at your photos and you will notice that water tends to streak
under rivets and other protrusions on the rolling stock.
Using the smallest pointed brush you have, dab it into the weak white color.
Wipe the majority of the paint off on the cardboard, touch the model where
the water streak starts. Create your streak by flicking your brush down and
away from the model.
Remember water streaks on the inside and outside of your carriages. So don’t
forget to do the inside of your car. You may find your water streak combines
with the dirt you applied earlier, but that will add to the realism.
The Final Coat
To blend everything on your weathered model, dull it all down and protect it
you should finish your model off with a light coat of a matt clear coat or
Dullcote. This effectively locks everything into place and takes the shine
Take your time with weathering, as this is a part of modeling that can’t be
bought… well you can! There are people who will charge you to uniquely
weather your models, but it’s not necessary and it’s expensive. You don’t need
to be an artist you just need to have a go.
Experiment with different chalks, pigments, inks, pencils, dyes and whatever
you can think of, to create the effect you want. There are hundreds and
hundreds of different ways to weather your models.
The best way to learn is to practice and it’s well worth it. The end results will
justify all the work involved.
Have fun with your weathering…
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The 7 Best Ways to Save Money on Your Model
Train Layout
If you have been a model railroader for some time you will understand that the
costs of model trains can add up very quickly. Model trains are the best hobby
in the world, but if you are going to pay full retail price for everything you
buy, it will soon become the most expensive hobby you have ever had!
Here is how to save money on your model trains:
1) Make Sure You know What You Want
A common mistake with beginner railroaders is to start collecting one scale of
model trains only to find that there are more accessories in another scale, so
they change over. Do your research first, speak to other railroaders, check how
much space you have available, do you want diesel or steam locomotives, will
your layout be multi-level, etc.
Think carefully about what you want. Hobby shop sales people love customers
that walk in and ask their advice. Most of the sales people are on commission
bonuses or incentives, so it is natural for them to sell you what is in stock and
preferably the equipment with the biggest commissions.
With the internet it is easy to do some quality research and find the best price.
Often model train equipment from different states or countries can be much
cheaper, even with postage included.
2) Create Half a Layout
A model train that takes up your whole basement looks very impressive, but
the bigger your layout the more money you will spend. Often beginner model
railroaders will see large and impressive layouts at their local model train club
and want to build a similar sized layout.
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They usually do not have any idea what that large layout has cost the owner
and how many hundreds of hours have been invested in building the system.
Start off slowly with a half sized layout built against a wall. With clever use of
backdrops you can make your layout appear twice as big as it actually is.
A half sized layout is quicker to build and will provide any beginner railroader
a good idea of costs and time involved. A half sized layout can always be
pulled away from the wall and made twice or three times as big.
3) Buy 2nd Hand
I have bought locomotives off eBay for a tenth of the price of a new one.
Model train enthusiasts are generally very careful with their model train
equipment, so it is very rare that you will buy a dud.
Unfortunately some veteran railroaders die after 30 or 40 years of model
railroading. Often complete sets like these can be bought for a fraction of the
cost of buying new. Set up an alert on eBay, watch your local newspapers and
community boards, keep in touch with your local model train club and ask the
hobby shops.
Hobby shops usually only sell new equipment because the profits are bigger,
so they will happily keep your details on file should someone come in wanting
to sell 2nd hand equipment. Advertise in newspapers and newsletters that you
want to buy 2nd hand model train equipment. Most veteran model railroaders
have far too much equipment for their needs and usually have had stuff sitting
in boxes for years. Your advert may come at a time when they need some
4) Trade With Other Railroaders
Model train clubs are great places to swap or trade model train equipment.
Often railroaders do not want cash but they may want what you have. It does
not mean that you have to swap a diesel locomotive for a diesel locomotive,
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you could trade your skill in building a pond or painting their model train
room. The ideas are endless and this can be a massive money saver.
5) Always Spend Your Hard Earned Money on Quality Over Quantity
If you have the money and only want new equipment than you absolutely
must buy quality over quantity. Locomotives can cost hundreds of dollars and
it can be tempting to buy a locomotive at the lower end of the price scale.
Manufacturers have become very good at producing lower priced locomotives
that are well detailed and look good. However they lack in their inner
A common mistake is to say you will upgrade later, because the initial money
you spent will be wasted. Once you experience quality equipment you will
never use the low quality stuff again.
6) Make It Rather Than Buy It
Model trains will teach skills that you never had before. From working with
electrics to creating rivers and ponds to building landscapes and so much
more. It is this skill set that you develop that makes model trains the best
hobby in the world.
Every part of model trains can easily be learnt by buying an ebook, a book or
asking your model train club. So make it before you buy it. Buildings can be
bought in kit form but it is so much more fun (and cheaper) creating the
structure from scrap wood, beads, glue, paint and other bits and pieces.
7) Keep a Journal and Budget
It can be very easy to impulsively buy when being sold by an enthusiastic
hobby shop sales person. If you know what you want and have done your
research online you will know how much you need to spend, which will make
negotiating easier.
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Building a reasonable sized model train layout can run into the thousands of
dollars if you pay full retail and buy everything.
As you buy your model train equipment record the date, the details of the item
you bought and the price you paid in a journal or notebook. That way, when
you come to sell it 2 or 3 years later, you know what you paid for it and can
price it accordingly.
A journal is a great way to record your progress. Keep pictures as you are
building your layout and comment on your progress, any issues and
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Final Words
There is only so much we can put in this ebook before we completely
overwhelm you with information. We have provided what we believe to be the
most important information.
But, like most things in life, you only really learn when you physically start
implementing what you have learned. Visiting model train shows and talking
to other railroaders will also help you with further ideas.
Model railroading is the greatest hobby in the world and I wish you many,
many years of fun with your model trains.
Best Regards
Dan Morgan
P.S. Don’t forget to visit the blog from time to time at:
It is an endless source of information and conversations.
P.P.S. This ebook will be updated from time to time and if we have a valid
email address for you on file, the updates will be sent to you at no extra
We would also love to hear your comments on this book and any successes
you have along the way.
Contact us at
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
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An item intended to compliment a model train
set but bought as an extra. e.g. Switch, lighting,
signs, etc.
Accessory Digital Decoder A Decoder which provides power and operation
control of one or more layout accessory devices.
Accessories typically include non-train devices
such as turntables, cranes, animation devices,
A small paint sprayer that gives a controlled
application of paint.
All-in-One Command
A single unit that incorporates the Cab,
Command Station and Track Power Station in
an integral unit.
Referring to rolling stock - a permanent or semipermanent pivoting joint in its construction,
allowing rolling stock to turn more sharply.
The amount of free movement before a gear
starts to drive the next gear.
A frame or bench which is the foundation of a
model railroad.
An electrically insulated section of track.
Body shell
Sometimes called the cab. The housing of a
locomotive or carriage that covers its interior.
Abbreviation for power booster.
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Broadcast Packets
A special packet format which all digital
decoders can act upon regardless of their
A set of wires that distributes power,
commands, or signals around the layout.
A unit with the controls necessary to operate a
model locomotive, track switches, or layout
accessories. Such controls may include both
input devices (knobs, buttons, switches) and
output devices (lamps, displays, audible
sounding units).
Cab Bus
A Bus used to connect all types of Cabs, except
Wireless Cabs, to a Command Station. Wireless
Cabs are indirectly connected to a Cab Bus via
their companion Wireless Cab Base.
Can motor
A permanent magnet motor housed in a metal
housing which looks like a can.
The frame of a locomotive or carriage. The body
shell sits on the chassis.
The knuckle shaped device at the ends of
carriages to allow them to join.
Command Station
A self-contained unit that accepts layout control
inputs, generates the appropriate DCC packets,
and outputs them as a signal to the power
Computer Command
A computer running software that outputs a
signal to the Power Station.
Computerized Cab
A Cab which is implemented by a personal
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computer or workstation.
Control Bus
A Bus which connects a command station to its
power stations.
The knuckle shaped device found at the ends of
rolling stock to allow them to couple together.
2 turnouts and a connecting track that allow a
train to be diverted to a parallel track.
Data Sheet
List of helpful information which supplements
standards and recommended practices.
Decoder Control
A command subset used to modify the behavior
(or configuration) of a digital decoder.
Decoder Slave
A unit which is driven by a decoder and which
provides additional power for the operation of
additional electrical load in parallel with the
original decoder load. Typical use is for 2nd, 3rd,
etc. motors in a multi-motor locomotive or
permanently-coupled locomotives.
Digital Command Control Method of controlling multiple trains and
accessories using digital communications
packets to send commands.
Digital Command Station
Device(s) that supply DCC packets to the track.
Digital Command Control System made up of a Command Station, 1 or
more Cabs, 1 or more Power Stations, and 1 or
more Decoders.
Digital Decoder
A unit which accepts address and command
information presented in the digital packet
format from a Command Station and directly
controls and drives a motor, solenoid, relay,
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lamp, or other device.
Digital Decoder Idle
A special packet format used for timing
Digital Decoder Reset
A special packet format used to reset digital
decoders to their initial power-on state.
A manufacturing process in which molten
material is poured into a mold.
Direct Addressing
A method of accessing all of the configuration
variables. Each configuration variable is
specified by its number.
The large drive wheels on a steam locomotive
connected by side rods.
EOT device
An end-of-train device sometimes called a
FRED (Flashing Rear End Device) which has
replaced cabooses.
Fixed Cab
A Cab which is permanently mounted in a
specific location.
Sometimes called flexi-track. Is a flexible track
section which can be bent as required.
A solid-metal disc mounted in line with a
locomotive’s motor which provides the smooth
start and stop of the locomotive.
The base structure of rolling stock, without
trucks and motors.
Distance between the inside edges of the rails.
A long, flat, open car with short sides and ends
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for carrying iron and steel.
The level of ground upon which track is laid.
Hard shell
A scenery base made by soaking paper towels in
plaster and laying them over a light support
structure like cardboard to dry.
A rising curve which turns around an axis like a
corkscrew to allow trains to move from one
level to another.
Hopper car
An open type car for hauling freight that doesn’t
need protection like coal. They unload through
funnel-like bins in the bottom of the car.
Instruction Packets
The regular packet format used for most
Loading gauge
The space required at the sides and top of the
track so that rolling stock can pass without
hitting anything.
Locomotive Digital
A Decoder which implements the specific
functions to drive the motor, lamps, and
accessories on a locomotive in accordance with
the NMRA Standards.
Layout Design Element.
Main line
The primary track that connects the railway’s
most important destinations. It excludes the
spurs, branch lines and sidings.
Mobile Digital Decoder
A Decoder which is installed upon, and controls,
the operation of a locomotive or other piece of
rolling stock; the Mobile Decoder derives its
signal and power from contact to the rails.
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A section that is built following a standard
pattern and can be taken apart easily. Modules
can be interchangeable.
Operations Mode
Mode used to operate trains on a layout;
opposite of Service Mode.
Operations Mode
A method used by a digital decoder to reply to
commands from a Digital Command Station
during operations mode programming.
Operations Mode
Mode of programming digital decoders while
operating them on the layout with other digital
A sequence of bits is used to encode one of a set
of instructions that the Digital Decoder operates
Passing siding
A track that runs parallel to the main line and
joins it at both ends. It is to allow 2 trains to
pass each other.
A track plan that starts and ends with a dead
end. There is no continuous loop.
This term can refer to an entire turnout or to the
actual rails that move within a turnout to change
the direction of the train.
Power Booster
A unit which accepts as input a signal from a
Command Station and provides as output a
power source onto which is encoded a digital
packet signal in conformance with NMRA
Standard S-9.1.
Power Conversion
A mode of operation for digital decoders where
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DCC packets are ignored and an alternate
method of communication of speed, direction,
and control are used.
Power Station
A unit which accepts as input a signal from a
Command Station and provides as output a
power source onto which is encoded a digital
packet signal in conformance with NMRA
Standard S-9.1.
The preamble to a packet is a sequence of a
minimum of ten bits each of which has the value
of "1".
The real railroad.
Unit which provides access to the system
configuration functions, such as setting
locomotive addresses, combining and breaking
up multiple unit lashups, etc. May be integrated
with the Command Station, or with one or more
Reset Instructions
A command subset used to return a digital
decoder to a known state.
Rail joiner
Small metal clip that joins one section of track
to the next.
A section of track that guides the wheels onto
the rails.
Refrigeration car.
Foundation of built up earth under the tracks.
Rolling stock
Passenger and freight cars.
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
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Sectional layout
Built to fit in a specific spot in the overall layout
and will not fit in any other place.
Service Mode
Mode of programming used to customize the
operating characteristics of a digital decoder.
Proportion of a model to the real life item.
Scratch building
Building a model from scratch (no kit) using
raw materials.
Slave Decoder
A unit which is driven by a decoder and which
provides additional power for the operation of
additional electrical load in parallel with the
original decoder load. Typical use is for 2nd, 3rd,
etc. motors in a multi-motor locomotive or
permanently-coupled locomotives.
Software Command
A Command Station implemented by software
processes in a computer, typically a personal
computer or workstation.
Speed and Direction
A command subset used for speed and direction
control of a locomotive or other device.
Speed Table
A table of parameters that specify the motor
voltage in response to a speed and direction
Stand-Alone Programmer Unit which provides access to the system
configuration functions, such as setting
locomotive addresses and other configuration
information independent of a layout.
A standard is mandatory and must be followed.
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Standard gauge
Standard gauge is when the real life rails are
spaced 4’ 8 ½” apart.
The car immediately behind a steam locomotive
that carries the coal for the firebox and water for
the boiler.
The speed control of the locomotive or a
potentiometer that controls a voltage regulator.
Tower Cab
A Fixed Cab which is primarily used for
operating turnouts, signals, and related track
accessories. A Tower Cab may, but typically
does not, also control locomotives. Tower
Panels typically include display devices for
indicating track switch positions, track
occupancy, and layout status. A CTC board is
an example of a Tower Cab.
Tower Panel
see Tower Cab.
Term used in the UK for switch.
Track Bus
A Bus which connects a Power Station to a
Track Segment. The aggregate length of the
Track Segment is limited such that the Power
Station can power the maximum number of
locomotives to be simultaneously operated on
the segment. Note that Stationary and Accessory
Decoders may be connected to a Track Bus. The
wire gauge of a Track Bus must be appropriate
to the rating of the associated Power Station.
Track Segment
The portion of electrically-isolated track
powered and controlled by a single Track Power
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Page 108
An electrical device that takes a high voltage
and converts it to a lower voltage.
The frame assembly under each end of a
carriage or diesel locomotive that holds the
A piece of track that allows a train to go from
one track to another. It is a switch on a real
Turnout Digital Decoder
A Decoder which provides power and position
control for one or more turnout motors in
accordance with the NMRA Standards.
Walk-around Cab
A Cab which is hand-held and connected by a
cable to a plug which may be inserted in jacks at
multiple points around the layout. Walk-around
Cabs permit the locomotive(s) being controlled
by that Cab to maintain direction and speed
during the interval while the Cab is unplugged,
moved to a new location, and re-plugged. This
is because packet transmission is done in the
command station.
A process to make new models look aged and
Wheel set
The wheel and axle assembly that fits into the
truck of the carriage.
Wireless Cab
A hand-held Cab which has no cable connection
to the layout. Wireless Cabs may use infra-red,
radio, or other means of communicating
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Page 109
Wireless Cab Base
A companion receptor unit for one or more
Wireless Cabs which is fixed to the layout and
presents cab information to the Cab Bus.
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Model railroading is a lifetime hobby and you can never get too much
information. There are always new tips, tricks and techniques to be learned.
Some make our model train lives easier and some just give us a better looking
This resources section will save you hours of frustration surfing the web trying
to find the extra information you need.
At the time of writing these resources provide great information, however we
have no control over them. If the information is not as we suggested, I
apologize ahead of time.
In this resources section we have given you:
• Popular manufacturers list – you will need extra parts from time to time.
These sites are helpful in getting those parts or at least getting the part
numbers to source elsewhere.
• Popular magazines list – some people prefer magazines to books
because the information is always being updated.
• Popular books list – you will find that there are some parts of model
railroading that you will need extra help with. So this list of popular
books may come in handy.
• DVD and simulator list – watching DVD’s on trains is a great way to
get some new ideas. These DVD’s can be watched over and over again
in your model railroading years. Every time you watch them you will
get another idea. The simulators are great if you actually want to take
control of real life trains… great fun!
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 111
Popular Manufacturers
HO scale
G scale
American models
S scale
HO scale
Atlas model railroad Co.
HO scale
All scales
International Hobby Corp
HO scale
Kato USA
N scale
K-Lile trains
O scale
LGB of America
Large scale
O scale
N scale, HO scale
Marklin Inc.
Micro-Trains Line
N scale, Z scale
Model Power
N scale, HO scale
MTH Rail King
O scale
HO scale
S-Helper Service
S scale
WM. K. Walthers
HO scale
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 112
Popular Magazines
Model Railroader
The largest circulation standard for American model
railroaders. Broad coverage of products, techniques, and
existing model railroads. Excellent for those just entering
or considering the hobby. Click here for more...
Railroad Model Craftsman
For the model railroad enthusiast, beginner and advanced
collectors. Contains information on scale and toy trains,
how-to, plans, layouts, new products, books, meets, and
photos. Click here for more...
Model Railroad News
Model Railroad News brings you the best up to date
model railroading information each and every month. It
provides timely, in depth coverage of new products, model
railroading news and includes highly regarded product
reviews. Click here for more...
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 113
Popular Books
We have had many readers request information on where they can get specific
specialist advice. These books will fill that need...
How To Build Model Railroad Benchwork
This book covers everything you need to know about
building model railroad benchwork from a simple 4 x 8
foot bench to the large benches. Click here for more...
The Big Book of Model railroad Track Plans
This incredibly detailed book features 81 model track plan
options. Each project description includes technical advice
and photos. Line diagrams, layout routes, dimensions and
photos of the finished layout are included. Click here for
How To Build Realistic Model railroad Scenery
The author takes you through the whole gamut of creating
realistic scenery. His water-soluble method is easy to
master and there are no toxic chemicals or fumes. Click
here for more...
DCC Made Easy
If you are reluctant to go with DCC, then this book will
explain all the facts. Click here for more...
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 114
Easy Model Railroad Wiring
Easy and reliable analog wiring techniques. This book
does not cover DCC but is great for learning to wire a
permanent DC powered layout. Click here for more...
Painting Backdrops For Your Model Railroad
This book shows how easy it is to make a great looking
backdrop for your model railroad. Painting, using
commercially made backdrops and photos are also
covered in this book. Click here for more...
The Model Railroader’s Guide To Bridges, Trestles &
This book is an in-depth guide to adding minutely
detailed, realistic bridges and tunnel portals to a model
railroad layout. Click here for more...
The Model Railroader’s Guide To Freight Yards
Illustrations and layout photos introduce modelers to the
principles of designing, constructing and operating a
realistic freight yard. Click here for more...
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 115
DVD’s & Simulators
Tracks Ahead Great Model Train Layouts
This documentary takes a look at an assortment of
wonderful model train displays located throughout the
United States. From New Jersey's Northlandz attraction to
Florida's Cypress Gardens model railroad and beyond,
you'll visit stunningly detailed set-ups certain to please
train enthusiasts everywhere Click here for more...
Railking – Model railroad Simulator
Want to drive a train? Then you need to try this train
simulator. Click here for more...
Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved
Page 116

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