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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - Tank car unloading at small industries

Operations update: Wheels of Time 60' baggage cars

Modeler's Moment - NMRA contests and conformity documentation

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 - 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?
 

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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.

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