Modeler's Moments

Started in 2006, the Modeler's Moments are a series of short items to get you thinking about model railroading. Sometimes they will be website links, other times they will be photos of model or prototype scenes, or they will be model building tips and tricks, or they might even be tidbits of data about prototype railroads and their history. The idea here is that each item is meant to get you thinking about trains and models and will (hopefully) inspire you to get some models built.

Planning your layout

There's a bit more to building a layout than cutting wood and laying track. Before you cut your first piece of wood, you need to have a plan.

Modeler's Moment - Elbow room

wide aisles

When you're planning your model empire, look at the places on your layout where you plan to have a lot of switching (the yards and heavy industrial areas). These are the places where your operators will congregate, so leave enough room in the aisle that they can get by each other. Sometimes it will require curving a yard around a corner, like you can see here. Believe it or not, this photo is from an operating session at a home layout.

Modeler's Moment - Eye level is relative

Build an accessible layout

When you plan your layout, think about who will be operating it. This is especially true for people of smaller stature than yourself. The SCWD Youth Group's portable layout is positioned at a level where the group members can see and operate it comfortably with a low backdrop so they can reach their trains. If you're building a multilevel layout, think about the operators you plan to invite and provide footstools so operators shorter than yourself can see the trains they are operating too.

Modeler's Moment - Light the hidden track

Lighting hidden track

If you've got hidden track under your layout for staging or for a long tunnel section, consider how well you'll be able to see trains and equipment in those areas. If you can, add a light in those areas to ease visibility. The light doesn't need to be on for the whole operating session, just turn it on when you need to see in there. While strings of holiday lights can be inexpensive, they can also be fragile and they can also run at a high temperature; compact fluorescent fixtures will often run cooler and use less electricity.

Modeler's Moment - Micromodules

T-Trak modules

Want to operate in a modular layout but don't have the space to work on an NTrak module? Take a look at T-Trak; the typical module size is as small as 8¼ by 12⅛ inches. Such a small module size should easily fit into the 2 square foot space we each have on our workbenches for current projects. These T-Trak modules were displayed at the 2005 National Train Show in Cincinnati.

Modeler's Moment - One reason to switch to DCC

A complex control panel

There are many reasons to choose one control system over another, but this picture shows one of the primary reasons that I'm building my own model railroad with DCC. The control panel shown here has one DPST switch for each 10-inch segment of track in the layout's engine facility. Just moving a single engine out of the engine house on this layout could require the operator to turn on as many as ten separate power blocks as well as aligning four or five track turnouts. Using DCC removes the need for the separate power blocks as you simply select the locomotive (or multiple unit lashup) that you want to control; and if you've got stationary decoders on the turnouts, you can also align the route automatically with your controller by selecting just the route.

Modeler's Moment - Selective compression

Selective compression

A model railroad friend of mine likes to say "our eyes are bigger than our layouts." What he means by this is that there is never enough room on the layout to include all of the features that we want to include. Whether they be structures, track arrangements or scenery, there are just too many big things that we want to model. As model railroaders, we employ a process called selective compression where we select the most important features for a scene and compress them enough to fit in the space available while retaining the key elements of those features to keep them recognizable. Now if only I could selectively compress all the paperwork around my house...

Prototype data

We're building models of trains, right? Here are some tidbits of information that have to do with the prototypes that we model.

Modeler's Moment - Happy 999 day!

999 at the Chicago museum

Today is the 115th anniversary of the record-breaking run of New York Central's Empire State Express. On September 14, 1891, the Empire State Express, pulled by 4-4-0 locomotive number 999, ran from New York City to Buffalo, a distance of 436 miles, in 7 hours and 6 minutes, an average of 65 mph. Officially, the train's top speed was 82 mph, but unofficial reports put the top speed as high as 112 mph. 999 is preserved on static display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Modeler's Moment - Happy Birthday, London Underground!

Blackfriars station

The first section of the London Underground opened on January 10, 1863, connecting Paddington Station to Farringdon Street. Since then, the system has grown to cover 253 miles of track on twelve lines. I can only imagine what it would have been like riding the Underground when it was still powered by steam engines; it certainly would have been quite a bit dirtier and darker in color than scenes from today, like this view of Blackfriars station.

Photo credit

Photo by Adrian Pingstone in June 2005, released to the public domain. Original image obtained from on January 10, 2007.

Modeler's Moment - Happy Golden Spike Day!

Golden Spike ceremony

It was 137 years ago today that a telegraph operator clicked his key in time with a spike hammer to signal the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. The famed Golden Spike was driven on May 10, 1869, at Promontory, Utah, after which, Andrew J. Russell took this well known photo.

Modeler's Moment - Happy Golden Spike Day, Canada!

Driving the last spike in Canada

Today is the 121st anniversary of driving the last spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway creating a transcontinental system across Canada. That's Donald Alexander Smith, a CP director, wielding the spike hammer, with William Cornelius Van Horne, CP's general manager, standing behind and to the left of him (with the black beard and moustache). The last spike was driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia, on November 7, 1885.

(photo courtesy of the National Library and Archives of Canada)

Modeler's Moment - Happy birthday, E.H. Harriman

Today is the birthday of the railroad executive who tried to merge Union Pacific (UP) and Southern Pacific (SP) almost a century before the merger was complete in 1996. E.H. Harriman was born on February 20, 1848, and joined the Board of Directors for UP in 1897, becoming President in 1903. He also became President of SP in 1901. He controlled both railroads (and several other companies) until his death on September 9, 1909. Many of the two railroads' operating practices were standardized, but Federal officials objected to a combined company at the time, so a complete merger would have to wait. In 1913, his widow set up the E.H. Harriman Award to recognize railroad companies with outstanding safety records.

Modeler's Moment - Line up the cars for loading

lined up box cars

Have you ever wondered how the freight handlers loaded and unloaded box cars at multitrack freight houses when there wasn't a platform beside every track? They lined up the boxcar doors on adjacent tracks and put plates between the cars to bridge the gaps. Essentially, the cars on the outer tracks would become very short platforms to reach the cars on the inner tracks. This view is of the Milwaukee Road's Galewood Yard in Chicago, April 1943.

Photo source information

This image is a crop of a photograph by Jack Delano, who was employed by the United States Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information. The original image is in the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, call number LC-DIG-fsac-1a34816 DLC. The library asserts on its copyrights page:

Photographs in this collection were taken by photographers working for the U.S. Government. Generally speaking, works created by U.S. Government employees are not eligible for copyright protection in the United States. However, they may be under copyright in some foreign countries and privacy and publicity rights may apply.

This and an enormous number of other railroad photos can be viewed on the Library of Congress's American Memory website.

Modeler's Moment - Modern interlocking tower

Did you know that the busiest interlocking tower in Chicago isn't on one of the freight railroads? It's this cantilevered tower at the northwest corner of The Loop (as seen from the rear of a passing El train in 2004).

Modeler's Moment - Pioneer Zephyr

Pioneer Zephyr, observation end

On this date (May 26) in history, the Burlington's Pioneer Zephyr made its famous "dawn-to-dusk" non-stop run from Denver to Chicago in 1934 at an average speed of 77 mph; the trainset was donated to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago on May 26, 1960, and it can still be seen there today.

Reference sources

Where do you get the information you need to create accurate models? Here are a few that I've found...

Modeler's Moment - Don't put off getting your reference photos

Sturtevant depot on August 3, 2009I've said it many times before in Modeler's Moments and in the podcast, but if you're thinking about going to photograph something, go get your photographs now because your subject won't be there as long as you think.  This credo was demonstrated to me again this past weekend when I went to watch SP 4449 work through southwest Wisconsin (I expect to have a little more about the history of the locomotive and Daylight trains in the next podcast episode).  I wanted to photograph 4449 as it passed the former Milwaukee Road depot in Sturtevant.  What do I see when I finally get there on Sunday, but the depot has been cut into sections and lifted onto steel beams so it could be moved away from its original location.  What I was able to see from the tracks is just the center section as shown in the photo here; the two wings of the depot were already moved around the corner and behind a tree line.  The station will be preserved, but in talking to local railfans in Sturtevant, this depot is going to be moved a few miles northward to the town of Caledonia later this month where it will be maintained as part of a park.  So I say it again, go get your photographs now because the subject you want to photograph will likely not be there next week.

Modeler's Moment - Library of Congress

SP ferry

Looking for another source of reference photos? Try the American Memory collection at the Library of Congress website. This photo of a Southern Pacific Railroad ferry in New Orleans circa 1905 was among the results of a quick search for SP materials today.


The trains run on tracks that are supported by roadbed that in turn is supported by your layout's benchwork.

Modeler's Moment - Another way to hang a helix

hanging a helix

It seems that helices are always tricky to set up on model railroads.  Every modeler seems to do it a different way.  This week, I was shown a method that I hadn't seen before.  The modeler used long bolts and strips of wood to hang the helix laps from the uppermost section of benchwork.  The advantage here, of course, is that the modeler didn't need to find a source for long threaded rods; the bolts he used are much easier to find in comparison.  However, this method still runs into the issue that there are a lot of places that need to be adjusted to get the helix grade right.

Modeler's Moment - Provide clearance for your trains


When you're planning and building benchwork, be sure to leave enough clearance around your track for your largest trains to pass through unobstructed. Cut away sections of wood and place turnouts and turnout motors so they won't block your trains. Run your tallest, longest and widest trains through narrow sections until they will pass through without problems then leave a little extra room for future acquisitions. If there isn't enough clearance before you add scenery, then you'll never have enough clearance.

Modeler's Moment - Threaded rods for helix supports

threaded rod helix

Using threaded rods for helix supports can be a quick and simple way to get your helix up. However, doing so requires precise placement of each helix lap so the rod can pass through the benchwork uniformly over the entire rise of the helix and over time the nuts may work themselves loose if they aren't soldered (think plumbing solder here...) in place.


The trains run on tracks, here are some thoughts and ideas about it.

Modeler's Moment - Connecting the mainline to the yard

Interesting trackwork

Connecting the yard tracks to the mainline tracks on a model railroad can be a confusing problem for some modelers. For this problem, like others in the hobby, it's often best to follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). This example, which was used on an HO scale modular layout, uses four standard turnouts, three small-angle crossings and one double-slip switch. With this configuration, it's fairly easy to tell which route a train will follow through the junction, and by using only standard switches and crossings on the three mainline tracks, it is much less likely to derail a train already on the mainline. One other thing to note with this configuration is that the number of S curves a train needs to negotiate to travel between the yard and the mainline are minimized, further reducing the chance of derailments through the junction.

Modeler's Moment - Encoding routes on ground throws

Ground throws with code paint applied

When you're building a layout for prototypical operations, you have to make it easy for your operators to see where the trains will go as they traverse the switches in your track. This can be done on a control panel through colored lights, but what if you don't use control panels or want to keep the operators' eyes on the layout? You could install the colored lights between the rails (like we did on the Wisconsin Central project layout for Model Railroader a decade ago), but to keep things simple, why not make a marking on the ground throws? A quick dab of green paint for the "normal" mainline route and red paint for the diverging route quickly conveys the turnout position. If you use bright colors for the indicator paint, yard operators can sight down the yard ladders to quickly see which track the ladder is lined to.


Modeler's Moment - It's not always the mainline that is higher

Mainline and siding tracks at different elevationsSo we're always told as model railroaders that the mainline is always at a higher elevation than the sidings.  We should also be told that once someone says that something never happens on the prototype, someone else will come up with a photo to prove him wrong.  The latter principle was proved again today as I found this mainline and siding pair in Madison, Wisconsin, today.  The mainline, on the right in this photo, is at a slightly lower elevation than the siding, at the left.  The wear pattern in the switch frog at the bottom of the image confirms which alignment is the mainline here; the shiny rails are clearly the rails on the rightmost track.  The question then falls to why it is this way at this location.  Well, the area to the right where the Kohl Center is now located, used to be part of the Milwaukee Road's main switch yard in Madison, so it stands to reason that the mainline bypass around the yard used to be the track on the left.

Modeler's Moment - Making push rods turn corners

Bell cranks on turnout push rods

Turnouts that are far from the operating aisle can sometimes require some special treatment to use manual turnout controls. If the control can be mounted in line with the throw bar, a simple push rod is all that's needed. But if the turnout is at an angle other than perpendicular, you will need to use something like a bell crank to change the push rod's direction of travel. The crank can be made very simply with a scrap piece of brass sheet like we see on this HO scale layout. For this purpose, brass is more highly recommended than thick styrene because the holes in the styrene where the push rods attach will wear out much too quickly. If you're not adept at working with brass, check at your local radio control hobby shop for commercial bell cranks.

Modeler's Moment - Run the mainline through the straight part

Ntrak mainline

When you're laying track, try to keep the mainline through the straight sections of your turnouts. Trains are less likely to derail on the straight sections, so the more frequent direction of travel through a turnout should be through the straight section. On this set of NTrak modules, the passing siding is between the two outer mainline tracks, while another siding veers off the blue mainline toward the backdrop.

Modeler's Moment - Simple trackside details

Spare crossing parts

If your model railroad junk box looks anything like mine, you've got a bunch of track scraps that will never see a rail wheel on them again. Here's something that you can do with them. Rust them up and simply place them next to similar track pieces that are in use on your layout. The prototype railroads will often stage complex track pieces next to their replacement locations, like this diamond frog I found in Muncie, Indiana, when I attended the Midwest Region Convention last year. Old rails are also often left next to the tracks for a while when they are replaced, so you can use plain rail sections this way too.

Modeler's Moment - Ties to be replaced

old ties

When ties have reached the end of their usefulness, they are often marked with brightly colored paint. Using a bright orange or yellow marking, the maintenance of way crew can easily spot which ties to replace. This section of track, with three ties to be replaced, is along the Mississippi River in Wisconsin.

Modeler's Moment - Tip: soldering rail joints

Okay, I need to make more updates here. Well, starting today, I'll be posting (nearly) daily updates called "Modeler's Moments". It's like the various "... Of The Day" features that you're already familiar with, but here the Modeler's Moment will combine a little bit of everything. Some days it will be a website link, others it will be a model photo or a model building tip, still other days it will be something about the prototype railroads or their history. Whatever it is, it'll be a way to get more model railroad information out to both of this website's readers, but in small enough chunks that it won't be too overwhelming.

So, let's start off with a model building tip that has to do with tracklaying....

When you're soldering rail joints, put the tip of your soldering iron against the inside of the rail and apply the solder on the outside of the rail where the two rail pieces and the rail joiner meet. If you're soldering flex track joints, solder the joint before you bend the track into a curve to prevent a permanent kink in the rail.

Modeler's Moment - Track planning with masking tape

Using masking tape for track planning

Okay, so you're probably like the rest of us where we start building benchwork without a definite plan for where the track will go on the layout. Or maybe you have a track plan and want to see how it will work in something more closely approaching the model's full size. In some of the more common scales, you can use masking tape to quickly lay out your track plan and more easily locate potential trouble spots. In N scale, like this photo (from a layout tour during the 2007 Midwest Region convention in Muncie, Indiana) shows, the standard 1 inch size of masking tape is a close approximation to the width of the track; in HO, 2 inch tape will work well. Once you've got the tape down, you can even put some rolling stock on it to see how it fits and "operate" it by hand before you cut any track. You can also set out any structures that you've already built or create mockups to see how they will fit into the scene too.

Modeler's Moment - Use the rails you've got

very short rails
Jointed rail was normally made in 39 foot lengths so it would fit in a 40 foot gondola, but shorter lengths can be found in use. Prototype railroads used whatever lengths they had. If you're modeling jointed rail, include a few shorter pieces near the foreground for extra detail.


We're building models of trains, so it helps to know a little bit about them.

Modeler's Moment - Autorack loads

loaded autorack

Use those undetailed cheap plastic automobiles as loads for your covered autoracks. The rack's perforated side panels will prevent the viewer from seeing any details on the cars within it, so all you really need on the load is the general shape and color. This autorack is an HO scale model.

Modeler's Moment - Coiled wire open load

wire open load

Here's an interesting open load that I found heading westbound at Rochelle in 2005. Each of the coils is held in place by a strap that wraps around the top of each coil. Now if only the load was considered part of the car for NMRA Achievement Program judging...

Modeler's Moment - Model the fallen flags too

I'm always fascinated when I go out railfanning to find freight cars still lettered for former railroads (fallen flags), like this former Wisconsin Central covered hopper that I saw in 2004. Not only was WC no longer extant at that time, the location made the sighting all the more interesting. This car was sitting in the yard at Tacoma Rail during the tour that I took at the NMRA convention that year. So, when you're building your freight car fleet for your model railroad, add a few fallen flag cars, and don't worry so much about the region where the former railroad operated.

Modeler's Moment - Not just Southern ran long-hood-forward

WSOR backwards

It's not just Southern Railway that ran their locomotives long hood forward. Just because the control stand on the majority of locomotives is positioned for short hood forward operation doesn't mean that a locomotive can't be operated long hood forward. This Wisconsin and Southern train is taking loads westward from Madison through Middleton toward Prairie du Chien.

Modeler's Moment - Passenger train consists

Diagram of passenger car orientation within a train

On prototype passenger trains, the cars are often switched so that the doors are all at the same end of the car to ensure that passengers don't have to walk more than half the length of a car to board it at a station. Since dining cars normally didn't have station side doors, the door ends usually faced the dining car in the middle of the train.

Modeler's Moment - Trailers are rail equipment too

SBD trailer at NRM

When you're building up your fleet of rolling stock, don't forget to include some semi trailers. This former CSX trailer (note the CSXZ reporting mark on the front and side) behind one of the buildings at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay shows its Seaboard System heritage with a very faded logo.

Modeler's Moment - signature rolling stock

B&O wagontop box car in N scale

When it's time to assemble your model railroad's freight car fleet, keep in mind the prototype that you're trying to model. On many prototypes, there are signature pieces of rolling stock that absolutely have to be included for a model roster to be believable. If you're modeling UP or SP in the 1950s, you should include several Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars. If you're modeling the Milwaukee Road in the 1980s, like I am, you should include a few horizontally-ribbed boxcars and bay window cabooses. Or, if you're modeling the B&O in the 1940s and 50s, you should include a few wagontop box cars, like the one seen here modeled in N scale. Determine your railroad's signature equipment and model it.

RIP: Blue Box kits (1948-2009)

Athearn sent a special announcement to their email list today with sad news for kitbashers and modelers with lower incomes.  Rather than paraphrase, here's the important part of the notice:

Effective immediately, we here at Athearn have made the difficult decision to discontinue the production of our Blue Box line of kits.  There were several factors that contributed to this extremely challenging decision however, the primary issue revolved around affordability and ensuring that our Blue Box kit pricing remain aligned with what the market can bear.  Unfortunately,  due to increased manufacturing and labor costs it has been determined that we are no longer able to continue offering kits at competitive price points as compared to our already assembled products.

That means that you won't be able to buy new kits from Athearn very soon, and will instead have to shell out more money for a fully assembled product.  One consolation in this is that Athearn's line of assembled models is one of the better quality lines that I've seen in the industry, and their production runs aren't always quite as limited as some other manufacturers that I can think of.

Reducing wheel flanges

With the move to more prototypical appearance comes smaller profile track and consequently, a need for smaller flanges on equipment. A lot of the newer equipment is already manufactured with small flanges or replacement wheelsets are readily available. But what do you do with the equipment that can't be addressed this way? Chuck the wheels in your Dremel and turn down the flanges. I've got to try this!

Paint and weathering

Maybe you're starting from an Undec & Western model or maybe you're just weathering a prepainted model. Either way, you've got to do something to get those extra NMRA Achievement Program points.

Modeler's Moment - A source for window tints

light gel samples

Are you building a model that includes tinted windows? If you know anyone who deals with professional lighting equipment (think about the people you know at the local performing arts theater), you may have a source for low cost window tints. This image shows a sample pack of light gels from Roscolux. A light gel is basically a colored filter on a thin sheet of plastic. When the light gels wear out or get damaged (like if there's a hole melted in the center), they need to be replaced. For model building purposes, the rest of the damaged gel still contains enough material to use for your window tints so ask your friends to hold on to the damaged gels for you.

Modeler's Moment - Broken decals are prototypical!

UP 9038 cab

Unless you're modeling equipment straight out of the paint shop, it's OK if your decal is chipped. It happens on the prototype too, like this UP locomotive passing through Rochelle in 2005. A lot of railroads use large scale "decals" of their own to apply uniform lettering and numbers on their equipment, and their decals chip just like ours do on our models.

Modeler's Moment - Check your white balance

Cascade green mainline action

This tip could go just as easily under lighting as it could under model photography. Be aware of what kind of lighting you're using on your layout. In the same way that incandescent bulbs can cast a yellowish glow, most of the fluorescent bulbs will have a green tint to the light that they give off. When you're painting your models, paint them under the same lighting conditions as your layout. If you're photographing models, check your camera's manual on how to set a custom white balance to compensate for it.

Modeler's Moment - ONT 92065

ONT 92065 in Hearst, Ontario, 2005

Forty foot long boxcars are getting harder to find on the prototype. They're still out there, but just not used anywhere near as often as their longer 50' or 60' brethren. So, whenever I see one, I make sure to get a photo of it. This car, ONT 92065, is one that I saw while on vacation in Northern Ontario in 2003 (yes, with a much smaller camera than I have now). Notice the rust patterns on the car side and how they differ between the left and right sides of the door. On the right, where the door slides, there are horizontal rust streaks from the door scraping the car side (the side sometimes bulges from the load pushing on the wall), while we see a much more scattered rust pattern to the left of the door.

Modeler's Moment - Painting plastic people

N scale figures on their sprue.

When you get down to the smaller scales, it can become quite difficult to hold onto a figure and paint it at the same time. In N scale, especially, trying to hand-hold a figure while painting it will often end up with painted fingers instead of figures. The solution to this problem is a simple one. Paint the figures while they're still attached to the sprue; then after you cut them from the sprue, a quick drop of paint at the connection point finishes the project.

Modeler's Moment - Repaints and fallen flags

Double CNW logo on INRD 43429

When equipment is sold to another railroad, the buyer will often paint over the car with the new owner's official colors. Sometimes, the original owner's logo and paint shows through, giving us a clue as to the equipment's heritage. The same effects can be seen when a railroad upgrades its official paint scheme as can be seen here on this former Chicago and North Western Railway hopper. The old and larger CNW logo outline is clearly visible under the new and smaller logo, which thankfully has not been itself painted over yet. This car and another of CNW heritage were spotted behind the MG&E power plant in Madison, Wisconsin today.

Modeler's Moment - Reporting marks and graffiti

ABOX 51823 detail

Sometimes when a graffitist sprays a freight car, he will paint the reporting marks in a location that doesn't interfere with the main part of the tag. On this car, it looks like the same white paint was used to reposition the car number as was used in the tag. From the patches of blue bubble shapes above the tag, it also looks like the black and white colored tag is covering up a more colorful tag in the same location.

Modeler's Moment - Rust starts at metal joints

rusty Soo Line car

Rust streaks often start at points on a car where two pieces of metal intersect, such as where the roofwalk supports meet the top of the car or along the weld joints in the side panels on this covered hopper. From the origin point, the rust normally flows downward, pulled by water and gravity.

Modeler's Moment - That first layer of weathering

before and after

An initial wash with diluted water based acrylics makes your cars look like they've been on the road for a few months. The color collects in the crevices and makes the details stand out more clearly. The photo shows a before and after view of this technique applied to a pair of N scale boxcars.

Modeler's Moment - The numbering doesn't have to be neat

Preserving the reporting marks

One thing that I always find fascinating about graffiti on railroad property is how the railroads deal with it. I've heard stories of graffitists getting arrested or chased off and then the equipment moved to the paint shop for a patch job, but I've also heard stories of other graffitists who were simply advised not to cover the numbers. Inevitably, many freight cars these days will have their reporting marks covered by a graffitist's piece. Here's one of the more interesting solutions that I've seen recently; the number was repainted with spray paint in a way that makes me think it could have been done by the graffitist himself. On our model railroads, this gives us another way to renumber equipment without getting out the paint strippers. However, for cars used in operating sessions, remember to get the reporting marks on all four sides so your operators can spot the cars correctly on your layout.

Modeler's Moment - Use leased power

DPGX 2000 in Janesville

Want to add a little variety into your locomotive fleet but still keep with a prototype modeling scheme? Try adding a leased locomotive to your roster. Leased locomotives will often be painted in the colors of another railroad, sometimes still wearing the livery of a fallen flag. In this photo, we see DPGX 2000 at the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad locomotive facility in Janesville a few years ago; this locomotive is painted in an early scheme of Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad.

Modeler's Moment - Weathering covered hoppers

Weathered covered hoppers

Use a light-colored paint to recolor some of the roof hatches on your covered hoppers. This is an easy way to simulate a replacement roof hatch without actually replacing them. Would you believe that the photo shows N scale models?

My favorite of UP's heritage schemes is...

UP 1982 - Missouri Pacific
0% (0 votes)
UP 1983 - Western Pacific
25% (2 votes)
UP 1988 - Missouri-Kansas-Texas
13% (1 vote)
UP 1989 - Rio Grande
25% (2 votes)
UP 1995 - Chicago & North Western
38% (3 votes)
UP 1996 - Southern Pacific
0% (0 votes)
I don't like any of them. Ewww!
0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 8


Trains go places, and they go through scenes. Here are some thoughts on scenery for your model railroad.

Modeler's Moment - A sign for everything

railroad sign collection

Railroads had signs for just about everything. Seen here in this private collection are signs that indicate locations where an engineer needs to blow the horn, vehicle traffic warning signs, a hazardous materials placard, and a few safety awareness signs.

Modeler's Moment - Another source of N scale vehicles

N scale Mustang

Here's another source of N scale vehicles that you may be able to find at your local grocery. The "Bonus Game Token" scales out close enough to N scale to work, even in the foreground (after they're painted, of course). There are 30 models available of different US prototypes from the 1950s to the present, but they're a limited production, so get them when you see them.

Modeler's Moment - Avoid a "rippled" sky

Through the trees

Backdrops are good, sky-colored backdrops are better. Even better yet are sky-colored backdrops that don't have large wood grain in them like can be seen in this NTrak module. The ripples will stand out quite prominently in photos using small apertures (which means a higher f-stop number and therefore larger depth-of-field like this image). There are a couple of ways around this problem, with the most simple being to use a smooth material other than wood as your backdrop material. Styrene sheet is available in large sizes up to 4'x8' at specialty plastics stores, and if you don't have a plastics dealer nearby, your local hardware store or lumberyard may be able to order it for you. Another option is to cover the backdrop with another material, which could include any of the preprinted backdrops that are easily available at almost every hobby shop, photos cut out of calendars from past years, or printed from your own printer on photo paper. The key to any backdrop cover is that it needs to be thick enough to hide the wood grain beneath it, so papers should be somewhere around cardstock thickness.

Modeler's Moment - Backdrops on small layouts

small layout

Adding a backdrop to even a small layout can make the layout look a great deal larger. This scene under construction is on a 4'x6' HO scale layout. Sure, there's a lot going on here, even without the finished scenery, but in hiding part of the layout, your imagination and sense of reality make you believe that there's quite a bit more on the other side.

Modeler's Moment - Careful backdrop positioning

high backdrop

Avoid positioning your backdrop images too high. If the horizon is above eye level, it won't look right to a person standing in front of the layout, and it especially won't look right when you put your camera down at track level.

Modeler's Moment - Forced perspective

operator viewoverhead view

Make your streets narrower and the details smaller as they approach the backdrop and they will appear longer to your viewers. You can also help the illusion by matching the angles in your backdrop image.

Modeler's Moment - Former grade crossings create instant history

Former grade crossing

It's said that "the only constant is change," and this tenet is evident in a myriad of ways in the rail transport industry. As model railroaders, we have an equally large number of ways that we can show evidence of changes on our layouts. Here's an example that I saw on the prototype over the weekend. The location in this image is Black Earth, Wisconsin, a town on the former Milwaukee Road line between Madison and Prairie du Chien. The mainline is still in use through this town by Wisconsin & Southern, but as we can see in this photo, the facility across the street used to have an industrial spur leading to it. The narrow strip of asphalt in line with the building covers the former grade crossing. Notice that the patch over the track location is slightly darker than the surrounding pavement? On a model layout, such a detail can be added to almost any street, even at a sharp angle to the layout edge, and as we see here, we can add this detail not only in the large cities, but in the small towns too.

Modeler's Moment - Former track alignments

buried ties

Don't throw away the ties that you cut off your flex track when you're adding rail joiners. Bury a short row of ties in your scenery to show where track "used to be". These ties are at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, Wisconsin.

Modeler's Moment - Look beyond your borders for inspiration

Senzan Line, Japan Railway

Modeling ideas and inspirations can come from worldwide prototypes. For example, in this photo of Japan Railway's Senzan Line, notice the heights of the foreground foliage and how the colors and heights all even out as they recede into the background. Also notice that even though the track is at the bottom of a cut in the terrain, it's still raised slightly forming drainage troughs along each side of the roadbed.

Modeler's Moment - Paint simple backdrops

a simple backdrop

When you start your backdrop painting, remember that you don't always need photo realism for rural or mountainous scenery. Often just a rough shape of the mountain in an appropriate color palette will be sufficient. Closer mountains will have colors that appear similar to your layout's scenery. However, keep in mind that distant mountains on the prototype appear in progressively bluer shades until the mountain is just a "purple mountain majesty" in the distance, so you don't necessarily want to use the same colors as your foreground scenery.

Modeler's Moment - Paint the backdrop

Backdrop before and after

If you do nothing else to your backdrop, at a bare minimum, go down to the local paint store and buy a quart of mistint flat sky blue paint and a wide brush. The exact shade isn't important, just get something that looks like a sky blue. By looking through the mistint (the "rejects") shelf, you'll often get the paint for very little. Most skies that occur naturally don't have wood grain, so a simple step like this can immensely improve the appearance of a layout in its beginning stages. While you're at it, get a grass green, dirt brown and street grey for the rest of the plywood plains too.

Modeler's Moment - Scenry colors

What color is green? When you're adding scenery to your layout, slight variations in the colors will help give a more realistic appearance. This photo was taken in late May 2003 from the back of the Algoma Central's er Wisconsin Central's um Canadian National's train through Agawa Canyon.

Modeler's Moment - Signs can convey history

CN bridge in Toronto

When you're adding signs to your layout, add a couple older logos and slogans for your railroad on some bridges to give the layout a sense of history. This bridge was photographed along the waterfront in Toronto in summer 2004.

Modeler's Moment - Tank car unloading at small industries

An unloading hose for tank cars

Ever wonder how tank cars are unloaded when they are delivered to industries and how to model such an unloading facility? It can be quite simple, really, as we see in this photo of a siding at a local styrofoam manufacturing company. The receiving industry attaches a hose to a drain valve on the tank car and pumps the liquid out. In this photo we can see the hose the industry attaches to the tank car, and the outer edge of the pump is visible in the lower left corner of the picture. The track is far enough away from the industry that a person can walk between the building and the car in order to attach the hose. Also notice, that when the industry is not actively unloading the car, the hose is detached from the car and out of the way so the railroad can perform switching without damaging the unloading equipment. At some industries, the pump is completely inside the building to deter vandalism or to keep it out of the weather, so sometimes the only visible item is the hose; of course, there are other industries that bring the hose inside also when it's not in use.


Modeler's Moment - Tunnel portals

installing tunnel portals

Install your tunnel portals before you add the plaster and other scenic materials so you can better integrate the portal into the surrounding scenery. Unless the tunnel prototype you're modeling is brand-spanking-new, you shouldn't generally be able to see every edge of a portal that's at the bottom of a cut. Plus, you'll be able to fine-tune your train clearances more easily.

Modeler's Moment - Use details to set the era

Era-specific details

With careful planning, your layout can be built in a way that you can model several different eras by just changing a few details. For example, the scene pictured here shows a layout set in the 1930s, but it could easily be changed to show a layout set in the 1950s by simply changing the vehicles on the road. With newer vehicle models, it could also represent an even later era, perhaps the 1980s by also changing the sign on the structure and adding a stop sign at the grade crossing. If you build your layout with removable structures, you can replace Victorian architecture with Art Deco architecture to further enhance the era change.

Modeler's Moment - Use structure mockups

structure mockups

When you start on building the scenery in your city or industrial areas, make some cardboard and paper mockups of the structures that you want to include. The mockups can help you determine if the structures you want are the right shape and size for your layout; if you use the DPM wall templates, you'll even know what you need to buy to build them.

Modeler's Moment - What's supporting the pier?

A floating HO scale pier

Water features always make interesting scenes on model railroads, whether they're models of lakes, rivers, harbors or just puddles. When they're at the fascia edge of a layout, the modeler can make the water a little deeper and embed things in the water material to make it look even more realistic. However, this can also work against the modeler if something doesn't extend below the surface of the water when it should. The HO scale fishing pier shown here is a prime example. Is the pier really as light as an insect that it doesn't break the surface tension of the water? Plan your details before you start pouring the water material.

Modeler's Moment - anything can be a statue

Monkey statue

We've all got items in our junk boxes that just don't fit anywhere in any of our model building projects. Take a closer look at them. You may find that they would work in a park as a statue, like this monkey statue on an HO scale layout that I recently visited. The thing is, when you create a center of interest on your layout, make sure that the model people around it are all upright and not tipped over like in this picture (especially not flopped over on their faces like the gentleman on the right).


So our model trains are supposed to carry loads between cities, but what are those cities made up of? Structures!

Modeler's Moment - Another short bridge idea

Bridge over a cut

When you're working on your Master Builder - Structures certificate, don't forget that you have one bridge to build. The requirements don't say anything about the kind or the size of bridge that you have to build, only that it should be prototypical. A short bridge like this one, which is on the N scale layout of a friend of mine, would work wonderfully for this requirement.

Modeler's Moment - Are your structures missing something?

They missed their orders

I saw an ad on television recently that touted the importance of a good foundation. Just like the prototype, your model structures could be quickly and easily improved with a good foundation too. Look around at the buildings in your neighborhood; the foundations are usually visible as a narrow strip of concrete below the wall that makes up the side of a building. Sometimes the foundation is painted in the same color as the rest of the wall, sometimes it's left bare. Whatever its color, a quick box of styrene strip material will easily simulate such a foundation. If you don't add a foundation, you could end up with something like this image where the structure appears to be floating above the ground.

Modeler's Moment - Complex bridge supports

Complex bridge supports

I've mentioned before that you need to include a bridge support at the end of every bridge section. I've shown you an example of long spans with inadequate supports. Well, here's one where the modeler actually did it right. This HO scale bridge has a long section made up of three spans crossing above another track. The modeler was careful to include a bridge trestle (vertical support) for every span end and designed them so as not to block trains passing on the track below them. The modeler has also included a cement foundation under each of the trestle bases as well as appropriate cross bracing between adjacent trestles. On the prototype, a bridge like this could have been built in the 19th century, but in later years would likely be a candidate for a redesign to use a single long span instead of these three short spans to eliminate the complex trestles over the lower track (which in turn would provide increased clearance for larger rolling stock on the lower track).

Modeler's Moment - Hide your seams

coaling tower

When you're assembling a kit structure, spend a little extra time to make sure that all the parts fit snugly, even going so far as to fill, sand and paint over any gaps that result from assembly. A seam like this one will definitely not help you in merit award judging.

Modeler's Moment - Install proper support

unsupported bridge
When you install a long bridge on your layout, be sure that there's enough room under the bridge to support the ends of each of the bridge girders. This bridge has no hope of staying up on the prototype because of all the unsupported girders.

Modeler's Moment - Interior details

Interior details

Adding interiors to your foreground structures can not only get you extra points on NMRA contest judging, but their presence on your layout makes the viewer believe that your background buildings are also as detailed, even when they aren't. The model pictured here was entered in the structures category at the Seattle convention.

Modeler's Moment - Need a project? YVRR Bagby station

Today, August 24, 2008, is the 63rd anniversary of the last regular operations of the Yosemite Valley Railroad. The railroad's last scheduled passenger train operated on August 24, 1945, from Merced to Merced Falls. If you're in need of inspiration for your next model building project, why not try one of the structures along this short line railroad? There is a fairly large amount of data to help you in your endeavors, including some in the public domain available through the National Archives. The image here is one of three images that contain plans for the Yosemite Valley Railroad's Bagby station. There is enough in the plans for any good model builder to create a reasonable model of the station. So let's get building (and if you do build this, send me a photo and you could be featured on this site too!)

The Library of Congress website's rights and reproductions statement (retrieved August 24, 2008) for this image asserts "The records in Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record were created for the U.S. Government and are considered to be in the public domain."

Modeler's Moment - Open doors (or windows) and structure interiors

Open doors and detailed interiors

Model railroaders are a weird bunch. We like to see cluttered structures and tons of stuff just lying around inside buildings, at least we do if the clutter and stuff is within a scale model structure. When you build a structure with open doors, you've got to add some kind of detail to the structure's interior. Think about your goals in modeling the structure and what would realistically be inside that structure. If you're modeling an empty building, there should be a "for sale/lease" sign or contractors' trucks and equipment outside to explain why the building is vacant. If the building is occupied, fill it with appropriate details, like in this scene of a small garage on a narrow gauge logging railroad.

Modeler's Moment - Provide for drainage

G scale turntable

When you install a turntable on your outdoor layout, don't forget to provide for drainage. This G scale turntable's drain is covered with a small section of screen to prevent clogs.

Modeler's Moment - Putting a bridge against a backdrop

No outlet
So you've got a small rail bridge that you really want to use on your layout but the track is right up against the backdrop. How do you blend the road under the bridge into the backdrop while keeping it realistic? Block the road! I spotted this former bridge and road underpass yesterday in Waupaca, WI; the road used to go through under the bridge, but has since been blocked by fill material. My guess is that the bridge itself is rated for lighter trains than now run over this line and it was cheaper to just close the street and fill in under the bridge than to replace the bridge.

Modeler's Moment - Quick structure building

A construction site office

Large construction projects will usually have temporary on-site offices to coordinate the work that is involved at the site. Often these offices consist of a single trailer based on a mobile home design, but for larger construction projects, larger offices may be needed. The office structure pictured here is currently up in Madison, Wisconsin, to coordinate several construction projects on the University of Wisconsin campus. The offices are made up of four 20-foot containers on the lower level and two containers that appear to be at least 48 feet long. A structure of this type would be rather simple to build in model form, especially considering the number of container models available in almost every scale. The hardest part would probably be the stairs to the upper level entry, but a quick search through your spare parts bin may reveal ready-built stair runs from another kitbashing project.

Modeler's Moment - Recess some doorways

Storefront under construction

When you build your layout's city center shopping district, break up the walls on some of the storefronts to recess the doorways. In colder climates, this was often done to provide customers with a place where they could make necessary adjustments when entering or leaving a store to account for the weather outside. The DPM kit shown here already has the doorway molded as a separate piece so adding a couple walls is a trivial matter, but don't be afraid to cut into the kits you're building to add such an alcove. Sometimes the doorways could be recessed as far as 10 feet with large sheet glass windows on the sides to give the stores some additional display space. Look around your city's shopping area and use your imagination here.

Modeler's Moment - Supports must support something

Saloon model

When you build a structure with visible supports, make sure that the supports actually connect to and support something. This saloon model was entered in the model contest at the MWR convention in Waupaca last April. If you look closely at the image, you'll see that the support poles at the far right and far left on the porch don't actually support the roof over it. A mistake like this takes points off construction, which is the largest emphasis in NMRA's AP judging criteria, unless you can show documentary proof that the supports on the prototype structure also didn't actually support the roof.

NMRA Achievement Program

Earning the Master Model Railroader certificate might seem like a daunting task to the newcomer. Really, it's not as hard as you might think. Just break it down into smaller projects and work on each item as you have the time. Here are some ideas to help you achieve this goal.

Modeler's Moment - Achievement idea: small bridges

A small railroad bridge in Fitchburg, WI

Have you earned your Master Builder: Structures certificate yet? One of the structures you are required to build to earn this certificate is a bridge, but there is no requirement stated for the size or type of bridge to build. A model of this simple, small bridge in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, will do quite well to satisfy this requirement.

Modeler's Moment - It's the car, not the load

flat car model
The load is not considered part of the car for NMRA model contest judging. This flat car and load was entered in the model contest at the 2006 Midwest Region convention. Although it's a nice model with a unique load (which did match the prototype photos that were also shown there), the flat car is a stock Athearn car and did not earn the modeler enough points for a Merit Award. Adding brake details on the underframe would have helped to earn points.

Modeler's Moment - NMRA contests and conformity documentation

CP Rail locomotive contest entry

One question that I hear as my local NMRA division's Achievement Program chairman is what should be included in the paperwork for the conformity section. The answer is to include references or copies of the resources that you used for prototype information when you were building the model. In the case of this CP Rail locomotive that was entered into the contest at the 2004 national convention in Seattle, that meant a copy of a magazine article and a photograph of the exact locomotive that was being modeled. The judges compare your model against the documentation that you supply to see how closely the model represents the item in the photograph. The more details that are on your model that are in the photograph, the more important it is that you include the photograph in the documentation because the judges will see the details on both the model and the prototype and your score for conformity will go up.

Modeler's Moment - Seldom modeled details

freight car truck details

If you're going for a merit award with your rolling stock models, take a very close look at the prototype you're modeling. Most cars have quite a bit more detail than ever get modeled, like on this detail shot of an airplane parts car. The brake chain is probably on the model, but is the AEI tag (in the upper left corner of the photo) on the model? Did you add the embossed numbers or the car's reporting marks to the truck sideframes? Also notice the different shades of rust colors on the truck parts; most of the sideframe is a fairly even dark gray color while more orange and red appears around the axle bearings. In NMRA Achievement Program judging, the AEI tag will help with the detail grading while the color variations and reporting marks will help with the paint and finishing grading. These aren't big additions to a model, but they could add that extra 1/2 point where it's needed.

Modeler's Moment - Show your work

Show your mold

Remember how your math teacher always told you to "show your work"? Well, the same thing applies for NMRA merit judging. Show off the mold that you made to create copies for your contest model; you're more likely to get extra points by showing your work. This model (and the mold for its truck sideframes) was at the national convention in Seattle.

Rule number 1

There are two rules of model railroading that should be posted for all visitors to see:

  1. This is my railroad.
  2. If there are any questions as to the accuracy, prototype fidelity or applicability of any piece of equipment or any part of this model railroad empire, refer to rule number 1.

I am a(n)...

HO scale modeler.
50% (4 votes)
N scale modeler.
25% (2 votes)
O scale modeler.
13% (1 vote)
S scale modeler.
0% (0 votes)
TT scale modeler.
0% (0 votes)
Z scale modeler.
0% (0 votes)
multiple scale modeler.
13% (1 vote)
0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 8

I am a...

...strict prototype modeler.
25% (3 votes)
...proto-freelance modeler.
25% (3 votes)
...freelance modeler.
25% (3 votes)
25% (3 votes)
Total votes: 12

I have ___ model railroad projects on my workbench.

None - All done!
0% (0 votes)
0% (0 votes)
0% (0 votes)
50% (3 votes)
0% (0 votes)
too many to count!
50% (3 votes)
Total votes: 6

Modeler's Moment - A convenient flat surface...

A convenient flat surface

When you're planning your layout, think about more than the layout itself. Think about where you're going to store all the tools and equipment in your "basement hobby shop." Think about getting one of those rolling tool carts like they've got at the auto shop. If you put your tools back into the cart when you set them down, you'll be able to find your tools right away when you need them, and your layout won't turn into the convenient flat surface like this one has.

Modeler's Moment - A very useful engine

Here's a quick twelve second video I made at the 2004 Trainfest in Milwaukee. Amtrak's Empire Builder needs a little more power to get over the Rockies today while the US Army train goes by in the opposite direction...

Modeler's Moment - Another aspect of railroadiana

Sheet music: Hold Dat Train!

Need something else to liven up your railroadiana collection without spending an enormous amount of money? One modeler I know added sheet music with railroad related themes to his collecting activities. There's quite a lot out there, even some referencing specific railroads and trains. In this image of "Hold Dat Train!" a minstrel from around 1918 is running to catch L&N's Dixie Flyer as it leaves the station.

Photo credit

The image was downloaded from the Library of Congress's American Memory website. The image description page states that this work was originally published in 1919 in Atlanta, Georgia. My understanding of current US copyright law is that works published in the United States before 1924 are in the public domain. Additionally, the image available here is of a much smaller resolution than would be practical for a full size hardcopy so as not to dilute the copyright holder's use of the original image.

Modeler's Moment - At the cemetery

What's that at the back of the cemetery?
Who's waiting at the back of the cemetery for today's funeral?

Modeler's Moment - Every layout should have a castle

A castle...

Some modelers just don't have the time to build the exquisitely detailed castle including every last brick in the walls and a drawbridge made from individual planks. If you look at it right, you can see a castle in the most mundane of materials like this packing remnant. Remember rule number 1 - "This is my railroad" - and never forget the unwritten rule number 3 - "Always have fun with the hobby."

Modeler's Moment - Graffiti or street art?

The yard tourist

Not all graffiti on railroad equipment is a gang symbol or overtly offensive. I found this bit of graf on a tank car in San Pedro, California, over last Thanksgiving weekend. The signature next to the ladder is likely that of the person who left the message. If you see this car in your railfanning adventures, leave a comment so we can watch where it goes.

Modeler's Moment - How fast does it go?

At every model railroad show that I attend where I show NTrak modules, there is always someone who asks how fast the trains can run. I always try to operate at prototypical speeds, but there are a few times when we put out our TGV and Shinkansen models and turn the throttles to 11. At Trainfest every year in Milwaukee, there's a Lionel operators club that sets up this train race layout and invites kids to run the trains fast...

It may not be prototypical, but I don't think any of the kids were complaining about prototype accuracy here.

Modeler's Moment - It ain't prototype!

Reporting marks on the roof

Having trouble seeing the reporting marks on the sides of the cars during your operating sessions? Why not put them on the roof of the car too? "It ain't prototype" I hear you say? Hah! Here's a tank car I found in Redondo Beach last Thanksgiving that does just that. Besides, on your model railroad, you follow Rule number 1: "This is my railroad."

Modeler's Moment - Little railfans

little railfan

Sure, you like to go out railfanning, but what about the little people on your layout? Think there might be a railfan among them? My guess is that there probably is, just like this adventurous photographer in G scale who climbed up the mountain to get the wide shot.

Modeler's Moment - Model railroading is fun!

We're getting ready for Trainfest around here. Although I won't have any of my own modules at the show, I will be running trains again for the weekend. Last year we received a blessing from these guys.

I got religion!

Try not to take yourself too seriously. After all, we're really just playing with trains. Keep smiling and keep it fun.

Modeler's Moment - Well, why not?

do not flush

If you've got track passing through a closet or small room, try to minimize the number of rail joints, and thus the number of potential derailment locations, through the small room. Derailments will always happen at the most inopportune time, especially when this small room is in use.

Modeler's Moment - Working through Wisconsin

Working through Wisconsin

It's a busy day on the Soo Line as 2-6-0 number 123 takes a local past some small industries loading their wares onto another car. This scene is on the HO scale layout of a friend of mine here in Madison.

My layout construction is...

still in the armchair
15% (2 votes)
being planned
15% (2 votes)
up to the room preparation
0% (0 votes)
in the benchwork phase
15% (2 votes)
up to where I can run a train
23% (3 votes)
at the plywood plains
8% (1 vote)
up to structures and scenery
0% (0 votes)
adding details to a fully scenicked layout
15% (2 votes)
0% (0 votes)
never finished
8% (1 vote)
Total votes: 13

My normal model building work area is...

always clean, neat and tidy.
0% (0 votes)
currently filled with my latest project.
0% (0 votes)
only ever 2 square feet in area.
33% (1 vote)
a bit cluttered with tools and projects.
67% (2 votes)
wherever I can find a convenient flat surface.
0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 3

The best snow day model railroading project is...

building structure kits
13% (1 vote)
decaling freight cars
0% (0 votes)
laying track and wiring
0% (0 votes)
practice operating sessions
0% (0 votes)
armchair modeling
0% (0 votes)
anything as long as there's a model train involved
88% (7 votes)
Total votes: 8

What does that scale mean?

So we're at the NMRA Midwest Region convention and we get to talking about modeling scales. There was a preponderance of N scalers in our bunch, so we came up with these:

  • Z = Zany
  • N = Normal, Nice or Neat
  • TT = Totally Terrible
  • HO = Horribly Oversized
  • S = Strange
  • O = Outrageous
  • G = Gross

Model this!

Once in a while, I come across interesting information on unbelievable prototypes. They might be one-off constructions or just something a little out of the ordinary. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to "Model this!"

Modeler's Moment - A rainy day for a celebration

4025 in the rain
Sometimes, inclement weather can work to your advantage when you're out railfanning. For one thing, you won't need your "other railfan filter" as much since there'll be fewer railfans out in the weather with you. Also, you'll be able to get those really dramatic shots that just don't happen on what I call "Kodak clouds" days. This photo of Wisconsin & Southern 4025 was taken during a rainstorm in 2005.

Modeler's Moment - Go when you can

Triple-headed mainline steam!

I've learned long ago that if you're ever given a chance to go out railfanning, do it. It seems that every time I go out to shoot trains, I see something special. To use today as an example, I had an opportunity to go to the Quad Cities to see the double-headed special pulled by the two Chinese steam locomotives on Iowa Interstate. When I finally got to a good photo location, another railfan told me that 261 was coupled into the train too. The train pulled into the town and all three were steamed up and working! Bonus!

Modeler's Moment - The 1909 gyroscopic monorail

Brennan's monorail

Did you know that Louis Brennan successfully demonstrated a gyroscopically balanced monorail in 1909? It was designed as a cheap method of building transportation infrastructure and the British military was interested but it did not enter production due partly to fears of the gyroscope failing. Model this!

Everything else

There are some topics that just don't fit into the regular table of contents for a work about model railroading. These topics are no less important, and some would argue that these items may even be more important than the rest of the document. Until a better chapter presents itself, these items will be included here.

I go to model railroad shows in order to...

...see the layouts that are exhibited.
0% (0 votes)
...make my hobby purchases.
0% (0 votes)
...hang out with friends/family.
0% (0 votes)
...see what's new in the hobby.
0% (0 votes)
...all of that and maybe more.
67% (2 votes)
...something else entirely.
33% (1 vote)
Total votes: 3

Modeler's Moment - Get the kids involved

A young engineer checks his throttle position

As we come upon the annual winter solstice season celebrations, remember to get the kids around you involved in the hobby. Even if it's just setting up a circle of EZ Track and an inexpensive steam locomotive on a table once a year, let the kids play for a while. Sure, set some ground rules such as a maximum speed and specify exactly which rolling stock can be used, but let them play. This will not only help to strengthen your own relationships with them but they will remember the play time that they have and may turn into serious model railroaders when they grow older. More model railroaders means more demand for model railroad products which leads to a greater product selection for all of us. How many of us got our own starts in the hobby with Lionel or American Flyer sets around a Christmas tree when we were younger?

Modeler's Moment - Plan your estate now

I just got word that a model railroading friend of mine passed away early this morning. She was an active model railroader, and was a regular attendee at many of the shows that I attended too. We will miss her. Wherever she is, may the dispatcher always give her a clear signal ahead.

It may sound callous this soon after hearing about her passing, but at least I know that her models will not be simply thrown away; her husband is also an active modeler, so the equipment will remain in use for a while. But the whole thing got me thinking about the work that we leave our family members when there aren't any other modelers in the immediate family. Another model railroad friend of mine passed away a few years ago in such a situation, but members of our NTrak club (myself included) were able to help my friend's family sell his model collection, with several of us putting down significant amounts to purchase items ourselves. Another modeler that I heard about in San Diego willed his house to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum so the clubs there could continue after he left them. If there aren't any other modelers in your family, make sure that they know who to contact (be it your local hobby shop, model railroading friends, local clubs or whoever) to help sell your equipment after you pass away yourself. My local NMRA division has an estate committee, and it's likely that there's someone in your local division who is also familiar with estate dispositions; if you're going to the national convention in Anaheim this year, there's also an estate planning clinic scheduled. Talk to these people and talk to your family today; make sure that your wishes are known and that your family knows what to do.

Modeler's Moment - They put their mark on everything

BN SF marked tie

By now we've all seen brakeman's lanterns with railroad names stamped into the metal or etched onto the globes. Why did they do this? Technically the lanterns were the railroads' property, so if one went missing and was found by someone else, they would know where it was supposed to go for return. North American railroads put their names on everything that could be easily carried for this reason. But did you know that some railroads are even going as far as stamping their initials onto the ties they use in their track? This BNSF tie found in Glen Haven, Wisconsin, this past weekend is evidence of this. Have you found a railroad name where you weren't expecting it yet?

My favorite train operations simulation software is...

Trainz (any version)
50% (1 vote)
Microsoft Train Simulator
50% (1 vote)
Ongakukan Train Simulator
0% (0 votes)
Kuju Rail Simulator
0% (0 votes)
BVE Trainsim
0% (0 votes)
something else
0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 2