Everyone has their own way of doing things -
but some are harder than others. Some have come up with ideas for making
those harder things easier.
This page is a collection of those things
which can make your modeling easier to do. It is a contributor's
Anyone with a good idea for simplifying
the routine tasks involved in modeling, or has found a tool or a
problem solution which makes work easier, or has found a source for
supplies which are hard to find, is welcome to send it in. Send in your
idea to Webmaster@potomac-nmra.org
other day while I was running trains, I pulled the battery cover off of
my DT-400 throttle to flip the battery around. When I put it back on, I
apparently didn't get it aligned just right, and one of the "ears" that
hook the cover into the main throttle body broke off.
I e-mailed Digitrax and asked if I could buy a replacement battery
compartment cover for the DT-400. The response I got said that Digitrax
doesn't sell them, but one of their dealers, a company called DD&B
Systems in Ohio, sells them. I called the company, and I spoke with a
very nice gentleman named Bob Chapman. He said he sells the covers for
$7.50 each, which includes shipping. Address is DD&B Systems, 950
Raintree Court, Westerville, Ohio 43081-3134. Phone is 614-212-212 and
e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
How often do we
find ourselves working on a model with miniature (nay! minute)
parts,such as tiny screws, nuts, springs, etc.? And how often does
that small screw you just loosened up or are trying to start into a
thread suddenly fall out of the engine or car onto the workbench,
and then somewhere such that you will never see it again (or at
least until after you give up looking for it and drive to the hobby
shop and buy a pack of screws even though you only needed
One way to reduce the probability of this happening is to work over
a piece of packaging foam rubber. Many products,
especially those that are fragile, come packaged with foam rubber
packing. I'm talking about the packing that has hills and valleys in
it, spaced about an inch or so apart. Working over a piece of foam
like this has two advantages: one is that if you are working on a
fragile or delicate model, the foam provides a soft cushion to set
the model on, and 2.) when you do drop that small part, there is a
high likelihood it will fall into one of the depressions in the foam
and stay there.
lots of instances in the planning and construction of a model
railroad where it would be handy to convert a known radius curve
into a linear distance along that curve.
This table converts often used radii to the full circle
circumference that would be described by that radius. We
more frequently use quarter circle or half circles in our
planning, so it will be necessary to divide each part (feet,
inches) by 4 or 2 as appropriate being careful to convert any
fractional remainders to inches and not decimals.
speaking of small parts, how many times have you had to get
that micro-sized screw started in a hole you could hardly
see? Yes, they make special screwdrivers that are supposed
to hold screws in the screwdriver blade so you can start the
screw. However, I have found they don?t always work well,
especially with very small screws, and small screws with
Phillips head slots. A trick I often use is to dab the tip
of the screwdriver into a tin of soldering paste I keep on
my workbench. The soldering paste is just sticky enough to
hold the small screw on the end of the screwdriver while you
maneuver the screw into position and get it started, Once
the screw is started, the screwdriver easily pulls out of
the screw slot. For you auto mechanics, axle grease will
work equally as well.
been countless articles written on weathering methods for
rolling stock and structures, with each method having its
own degree of complexity or difficultly, and each with its
own results. I've tried many of these methods, and the one
I like most also turns out to be quick and easy and gives,
what I think, are excellent results. It is a set of
weathering pastels from Bragdon Enterprises (figure 1). I
purchased mine at Mainline Hobbies in Blue Ridge, PA, a
short ride north of Frederick, MD. It cost around $11 for
a set of four different pastel colors. The set shown in
figure 1 is the rust-tone set, which consists of 4
different rust-tone shades, and a plastic, divided
container to hold the powders. They also make a dust-tone
set with various shades of gray pastels. "What is so
special about weathering pastels"? you might say. What is
different about these is that once you put these pastels
on, you do not need to set them with a flat overspray.
They will adhere like a paint, and don't come off in your
To apply them, I simply dip a stiff-bristled artist's
paint brush about 1/4" wide into the pastel powder, and
then brush it on the area I want to weather. I start with
a light coat, and then just add more until I get the
desired amount of weathering. I use various rust shades on
the trucks and wheels, around the angle irons on a
wooden-sided gondola, and on the underbody brake detail.
Figure 2 shows how I weathered a gondola load of wheels
using the Bragdon Industries Pastels.
your valiant attempts to hang on to that small screw,
they sometimes drop and hit the floor. Have you ever
knocked that box of wood screws you were using to
build benchwork on the floor? Or, if you are like me,
knocked over that container of small track spikes and
sent them all over the floor? A small magnet on
a telescoping handle (see figure) is a real timesaver
when trying to pick up these small parts. I found mine
at a tool sale at an auto show. However, they are sold
in most auto supply stores, and I imagine some hobby
shops would carry them too. They can also reach under
those hard-to-get-at places that Murphy's law says is
where all dropped parts will end up.
If you work in
an office, you will know that the spring-loaded paper
clips are a staple (no pun intended)of the
paper-pusher. However, these paper clips also make
good, small clamps for holding small pieces in place
and under pressure while glue dries. Also, did you
ever have to glue something and hold it in place or
keep pressure on it that was in an interior location?
Small welding clamps may be the solution. These can
reach in and clamp your work in that hard to reach
spot. The adjustment screw on the end of the handle
allows the width of the jaw opening to be adjusted to
fit the width of the work you want to clamp, and also
the locking pressure on the work when the jaws are
closed. I also found these at an auto show, but any
place that sells welding supplies should carry them.
Harbor Freight Tools has a rolling seat
for $29.99. It is about 15" off the ground,
rolls on 4 caster wheels, has a cushioned seat and
a tray under the seat to hold tools, screws, etc.
and seems ideal for working under the layout
(wiring, installing switch machines, etc.). I just
bought one because I'm installing some
under-the-table switch machines, and got tired of
getting up and down all the time.
have found numerous times that I need fairly heavy weights instead of clamps to hold some some model
pieces together while the glue dries. Also, when you are gluing the walls on that building you
are making, you want to make sure they are at a 90 degree angle with the base. One way is to buy
professional modeler?s angle plates. However, these are fairly expensive (a 3" x 3" x 3" plate in the
latest Micromark catalog is $27.15 ). I took a trip up to the local welding shop in our community and
found 5 pieces of about 5" x 5" angle iron cut in about 3" lengths for which I paid a total of
$10. I found a can of Rustoleum Spray in my garage, and soon had 5 good-looking pieces of metal that could
be used for gluing weights or even angle plates. I also have an assortment of small pieces of
metal bar stock I got at the welding shop that serve well as gluing weights.
plastic model kits together usually involves using a liquid plastic solvent glue, such as Plastruct or
Testors. This requires brushing the glue on with the applicator brush that is attached to the jar
lid. For some applications, this method of application works fine. However, when you want to either cover
a large area quickly or run a bead of glue down a seam or wall joint, I found that a syringe bottle sold
in hobby stores works wonderfully. Running a thin bead of glue down a seam, where two walls join, a wall
and a base, etc., puts the glue exactly where you want it. Capillary action draws the glue into the joint
and results in a tight bond without excess glue. The picture is of a typical syringe bottle.
Do you sometimes need to glue joints, such as butt joints or other joints which require holding them
in place while the glue dries, and which glue is likely to ooze out onto the surface they are laying on?
When the glue dries, you find you?ve glued the parts not only together, but also to the table! I keep a
roll of wax paper in the drawer next to my work bench. Whenever I have to glue up something in which glue
could ooze out and glue my work to the workbench, I rip off aa piece of wax paper and lay it on the
workbench, then glue my work on top of the wax paper. Most glues will not stick to wax paper, so when the
glued joint is dry, just pick up the work and peel off the wax paper. Any residual glue that is left on
the work can be scraped off.
Tired of looking for hard to find hardware and when you do so you have to pay a high price.
Micro Fasteners offers a solution for your needs. They offer a large assortment of hardware
fasteners and drill bits that will meet your needs. The unit price is extremely reasonable although
shipping is a minimum of $8. I have used them in the past and found their products and service
highly acceptable . I especially use their Pan Head Sheet Metal Screw PN SMPP0204 (100 pieces for $2.75)
for attaching trucks to the under body of my rolling stock. This screw is a lot better than the ones
provided and is a self tapping screw which secures the truck better than the original manufacturer.
If you have experiences the loss of the pins from some manufacturer provide for securing the truck you?ll
find this alternative will eliminate that problem. Go to their website and you can request a catalog
sent to you via email. http://www.microfasteners.com
During an operating session, many of the "crew" will have a beverage with them. The last
thing you want is for them to put it on the layout while they are busy switching a yard, or flipping
turnouts to route their through freight. One bump and you may kiss goodbye to some scenery, a structure,
or even short out the railroad. This holds true for me too, when I am working on the layout. While there
are many commercial drink holders, those that are mounted to and stick out from the front of the layout
can be a problem. People will walk into them or snag them when trying to pass a fellow operator in an
aisle. To eliminate this problem, there are drink holders made for boaters that fold up out of the
way when not in use. I purchased mine at a local West Marine dealer. They cost about $10 each, so they
aren?t all that cheap. However, I find them well worth the investment. When an operator finishes up his
chores in one area of the layout, and moves with his train to another area, he simply grabs his can or
bottle and flips the drink holder closed . When it is closed it sticks out no more that about 1/2? from
the front of the layout and poses no hazard to traffic in the aisles.
I you have a Soundtraxx DSD-LC or DSX
Sound Decoder installed in one of your locomotives and have experienced the annoying restart or recycle of
sound system, there is a way to eliminate this. Soundtraxx has a Stay Alive capacitor. This
capacitor maintains electrical path to the sound unit when your engine experiences a loss of electrical
path between rails and sound decoder. Installation of the capacitor is straight forward and simple.
Ensure the plus and negative leads are connected properly or will not work.
attached documents (PDFs below) will offer further assistance on the installation procedure.
I've used this capacitor on two of my engines and the problem was eliminated.
the stay alive capacitor or you can purchase the capacitor from: Radio Shack. Their P/N #272-1029.
Digi-Key P/N P10271-ND (25V 220uf) at $0.48 each
Digi-Key P/N P10275-ND (25V 470uf) at $0.73 each
Soundtraxx information sheets:
During a layout visit at the MER Convention in Princeton, NJ, I noticed a neat, simple way
the layout owner used to indicate turnout direction and also to grab the throw bar for hand-thrown
turnouts that use hand throws such as those made by Caboose Industries.
First, tack a small nail
or brad with a flat head into the layout table on both sides of the turnout throw, and locate them so the
flat end of the throw bar will rest on the nail head when thrown. This will keep the throw bar off the
ground and easy to grasp when you want to change the turnout's direction.
Second, paint the top
of one of the small nails or brads red, and the top of the remaining one green. Then paint one side of the
throw bar end red and the other side green. Decide on your color convention (green showing for when the
turnout is aligned to the mainline, or when the turnout is aligned for the straight direction) and paint
Figure 1 shows a Caboose Industries hand throw with the small nails/brads in place
and painted. Figure 2 shows the turnout thrown in one direction, and figure 3 shows it thrown in the other
Swivel Mount and Waist Apron as Third Hands — Pete
With today's growing interest in developing layouts for operation the need to manage paperwork, car
cards, and throttles have become a increasing problem. Below are two solutions which will assist in
managing all this stuff.
The clip.com has one solution where you can hang your throttle
around the layout where by freeing your hands. The throttle is attached to the fascia in a way that
you can still control the direction and speed of your train. These pictures of the swivel
mount give more info on this item.
E-Shirts Plus has developed a waist apron that can assist in handling those items. This waist apron
can be customized where by choosing a logo of your choice. The apron is designed with pockets which will
hold your Throttle, Car Cards, Schedule, Pencils and Uncoupling Tool. I have attached a picture of the
apron. You can contact E-shirts Plus at the following for more info these
A number of manufacturers make a decoder that mounts on the motor frame of an Atlas HO scale RS3
diesel. One of the more painful parts of the installation is the headlights. The Atlas engines use a piece
of clear plastic to transmit the light from a circuit board-mounted bulb to the headlights. This circuit
board has to be removed to mount the decoder. Also, the clear plastic is custom-formed to fit around and
under the shell weights. Hence, to get directional headlights, one usually has to resort to cutting the
clear plastic, trying to glue lamps in the shell so they fit under the shell weights and will still
transmit light to the headlights. The Atlas RS3 headlight is actually two smaller headlights located side
by side. I found that Miniatronics 12V/30mA bulbs (Model 18-712-10) are tubular in shape, and the
diameter is approximately the diameter of the headlamp opening. Thus, I was able to easily glue two of
these bulbs in each end of the shell (one per headlamp opening). They fit within the opening of the shell
weight so no modification to the shell weight is needed. The wires are then connected in parallel and
soldered to the DCC decoder board.
The Digitrax decoder I used (DH150A) is rated for 1.5 Amps. An HO
motor such as used in an Atlas HO engine shouldn't draw more than around 0.5 amps. Thus, it can easily
handle 2 bulbs at each end of the shell (60 mA), and the headlight is now really bright because of
using 2 rather than 1 bulb per headlight.
This is a great item – it is a glue pot – it even has a handle to keep a glue
stick in place. I just ordered it for around five dollars from
www.consumercrafts.com – though shipping was $8. I learned about these from Paul
Dolkos; it makes for quick assembly of a wooden scratchbuilt structure – glue takes to long to dry. I
could not find these at any hobby shop nor at craft shops. I have used a glue gun to melt glue but I find
them very cumbersome. These pots are surely better. Paul points to it with pride in a video or a home
layout tour – not sure which it was.
I was perusing the MicroMark catalog a
while ago, and saw that they had a rechargeable battery powered wireless soldering iron. It is
Cordless Soldering Iron" and costs about $60. Every time I have to go under the benchwork to solder
something (switch machine, track wire connections, building lights, etc.), I have to drag out an extension
cord, pull out the soldering iron and, if it is a pencil point iron, wait for the tip to heat up, and then
if I set it down, remember not to put my hand on it by mistake since it is still hot, and also not get
tangled up in the electric cord. I was a little wary at first, because some battery-powered
soldering irons I've tried before did not work well at all.This cordless one works great. Push the button
and the tip is hot in seconds. Take your finger off the button and it cools right down, No cords. There
are 3 different size tips available, depending on what you are soldering. If you have frequent
soldering to do that is under the benchwork, it is great. I keep it in a charger stand on the workbench,
and when I'm soldering at the workbench, it is easier to reach for it than to pull out a pencil tip iron
and plug it in.
1. Spraying old decals with Testor's Glosscote or Dullcote. Both seem to work.
2. Painting old decals with the decal preservative marketed by Micro-Scale works as well. 3. Spraying old decals with Testor's Decal Preservative, a product that a fellow modeler gave to me,
works very well. All methods require that one allow time for the product to dry. All of the
above-named have worked. I model in S and have used some very old S-scale CHAMP decals, and they have come
out fine. I do not advise applying old decals without application of some product that preserves them. I have also found that Micro-Scale decals require extreme care in application. If the package has
been opened or is old, then an application of some preservative is necessary. Testor's Decal Preservative
has worked best on old Micro-Scale decals I have found. [Tom' is the
best discussion of this topic I've encountered. He posted it originally on the Yaho Steam Era
Freight Car Discussion Group.]
Nickel-silver track, which is mostly nickel [and contains no silver -
Ed.], forms a surface oxide but the oxide will conduct electricity, so abrasives are only needed if
the track becomes extremely dirty. Since I?ve allowed that to happen on occasion, those wet/dry fine
sandpaper sponges you can get at paint stores, or the paint department of Home Depot, work quite well in
getting the big stuff off. Additionally, there was as article (Improve
Performance with Transmission Fluid by Steve Carter, Model Railroader, May, 2011, p. 58) about a
large club on the west coast that uses Automatic Transmission Fluid to keep their tracks clean. I tried it
and it works but it does have to be cleaned off periodically or it leaves a mess.
Mortar and Mullions — What To Do? — Pete LaGuardia
As a model railroad hobbyist, I was never satisfied using washes, paints and other methods to simulate
mortar joints on brick buildings. No matter what method I used or saw never really defined the
difference between the brick and mortar in a way that represents a life like appearance.
A friend of mine recently mentioned he used
DAP® Fast?N Final Lightweight Spackling to simulate concrete walkways and roads. I tried this
and it worked great. I decided to use the
same material to simulate mortar and I was very pleased with the results. The material is so simple
to use I just rubbed it on the bricks with my thumb which filled in the relief nicely and gave a great
representation how mortar should look. I continued to rub the bricks with my thumb removed the
excess from the brick surface. Recently, I purchased Walthers Cornerstone
Machine Shop (
https://www.walthers.com/exec/productinfo/933-2902) — low and behold the window panes and
mullions were molded into one piece. Now what? How do I paint the mullions and keep the panes
clear?; I came up with a method first spraying this item with Dull Cote on both sides.; Next I
took a black Sharpie and painted the mullions. Then I applied the window panes to the building.
The overall result was very pleasing and gave me the results I was looking for.
Try it yourself and I believe you will find it easy to do and happy with the
Installing Kadee Couplers on Athearn Locomotives —
The first step is to drill and tap the coupler tab for a 2-56 screw. Kadee offers a #246 2-56
Tap & Drill Setideal for this purpose. Countersink a drill starting point in the hole
or dimple in the coupler tab. I use a nail for this, I can never find my countersinks. Then,
use the smaller drill in the set to drill a hole through the tab. Finally, tap the hole for a 2-56
screw using the provided tap. Work slowly, use oil, and clean the tap regularly. Repeat on the
coupler tab on the other end of the locomotive.
The next step is to select the right screw for this job. You might think a 2-56 screw,
blade or Phillips head, would be idea, but I'm giving you a different idea here. Use a Micro-Fasteners Allen (hex) head SCS0204 -2-
56 x 1/4 -Socket Head Cap Screw -Stainless 50 pcs/pkg. (Pete LaGuardia's article reminded me of this company.) Mark Castigliano of Branford
Hobbies and New Haven Terminal taught me this. Mark produces custom painted New Haven locomotives.
When I objected that nothing else in the hobby uses Allen wrenches (so you've got to buy the tool)
he pointed out two benefits: (a) it's harder to mar a paint finish with an Allen than with either a blade
or Phillips screwdriver, and (b) you can hold the Allen screw on the tool one-handed. I was sold!
Finally, screw the Kadee coupler box to the underside of the Athearn coupler tab. Because
the box is mounted under the locomotive's coupler tab, you'll need a #27 or equivalent to get the
coupler height correct.
We constantly see "how to ballast" advice in articles in magazines or videos on the web—dump huge
quantities of ballast out of a cup or spoon it onto the track, spread and smooth it with a big brush, and
wet it with squirts from a trigger type spray bottle. Even the Woodland Scenics video clip on ballasting
promotes this outdated technique. It gives less than optimal results unless one spends much time and
effort taking ballast AWAY from the rail bases and tops of the ties. There's a better way—apply the
ballast in small quantities and simply stop when it's just right.
Use a "kitchen
shaker" to "salt" the ballast onto the track. I have a dozen shakers (purchased at Wal-Mart), and I use
them to apply fine ground foam for scenery as well as ballast. You can apply ballast 20 grains at a time
with these shakers, and almost "mist" on fine ground foam. They are transparent, the
size of a coffee cup,
have a handle, and a screw-on top with 100 or so 1/16" inch holes. If you can't find shakers like that,
drill 1/16" holes in the lid of any jar that size—a cluster of 15 or 20 holes over on one edge will be
1) Fill shaker 1/3 to 1/2 way with ballast.
2) Tip shaker over at an angle and tap it
to sprinkle ballast from just a few holes at one edge.
3) Fill the spaces between ties without going
over the tie tops.
4) Tap the
rails with the handle of a screwdriver or paint brush as you go. This will cause the ballast to jump off
the tops of the ties and settle it between the ties—a lot quicker than brushing. (This is one of Brion
Boyles' "magic tricks")
That's it—it will seem slower than the "dump and spread" technique, but it's actually faster. Some
other things that will improve your ballasting.
• Use fine grade ballast in HO—the medium doesn't
look as good.
• Paint cork roadbed the color of the ballast before laying the track. In addition to
allowing a thinner layer of ballast because of less "see through", the glue adheres better to the paint.
• Apply straight white glue to the beveled shoulders of the roadbed with a narrow brush first. That
will hold the sprinkled ballast in place so that you don't apply too much there.
• Use SUPER Wet
Water to wet the ballast before applying dilute white glue. Super wet water is a 50-60% isopropyl
alcohol/water mix with a few drops of Kodak PhotoFlo added. The PhotoFlo is what is used to get the water
to "sheet" off developing photographs, and is far superior to dishwashing detergent as a surfactant.
Between the alcohol and the PhotoFlo, the water will soak into the ballast beautifully. (This is a "magic
trick" garnered from an N-Tracker at the Greenberg show in Norcross GA whose modules had the best
ballasting job I have ever seen).
• Ditch the squeeze trigger spray bottle and get some empty hair
spray bottles from some friendly female. It takes longer to wet the ballast with one since it sprays a
mist, but you will avoid the occasional "water bomb" droplets that you get from trigger bottles—the
craters the water bombs leave are impossible to fix.
• Make absolutely sure you have completely
soaked the ballast with the super wet water before applying glue—that's the most important step.
• 50-50 diluted Elmer's is
adequate for gluing the ballast, and adding some alcohol and detergent to it helps.
• Use an old
Elmer's spout top bottle to apply the diluted glue. Run it along the inside and outside of each rail,
holding the spout up under the rail head—let the glue run over the rail base and soak into the ballast.
Do this until white puddles form in the ditches and between the ties in the center of the track.
Let it dry for a couple of days and scrub the tie tops and rail bases with an old toothbrush. That will
remove nearly all stray bits of ballast. A bright boy will remove glue residue from the tops of the rails
• It goes without saying that you should take some leftover track and roadbed, make up a little
"layout", and practice on that first.
An elegant, dispatcher-free solution for granting a train "occupancy rights"
to a track section.
The ARE uses "track warrants" for single track sections. The warrant cards hang on a
hook for the engineer to pick up. Warrants were introduced to prevent two trains
entering a single track district in opposite directions. Possession of the warrant
grants permission to occupy the district. This prevents collisions. Making the warrant
"self service" for the engineer reduces the number of interruptions for the
In prototype usage the scheme of obtaining, holding, and returning the warrant
was called a "staff" or "baton" system. In today's Information Technology the warrant
might be called a "token."