How To Build Your Model Railroad.

Building Your Bench-work & Sub-roadbed

We need to get you started building your toy train layout.   First you need a base to put a table top on.   The kitchen table and trackage rights,  isn’t going to last long.

It is my intention to show you more then one way to accomplish the task at hand.    To give you choices.

Here is a introductory video on how to build  a model train layout….and did I mention?    Your  bench-work and sub-roadbed.   You can find the partnered videos for the one you are about to view on You Tube.   Feel free to pursue them.   Do come back…there is more to show you.

How to build a model train layout from start to finish Part 1 Model Trains

Uploaded on Mar 13, 2011   I am starting a new video series on how to build a model railroad layout from start to Finish. Learn from my mistakes to save time and money, and see if you want to do things differently on your layout.    Thanks for checking in, Jlwii2000.

I will leave you to  discern whether or not this is the right  method, for you.




Products-Top Ten List

What products or manufacturers  would you put on your top ten list?

My  Top Ten List:   The following  is compiled with reflections on the last 20, 30 or more years.  Also based on my experience with said product.   Other products have come along and because I have no experience with them, they aren’t listed or included here.   You need to make up your own list.    Do your own research, read critiques and reviews and ask questions.

Here’s my list for N Scale and HO scale.

Reading #1 being  tops and in a succeeding order.

  1.  Kato locomotives and passenger cars, track and switches. Excellent line of sectional track. Top of the line.
  2. Kadee / Micro-Trains locomotives, freight & passenger cars, trucks, wheel sets and knuckle couplers. You can’t improve or do better. Still made in America although you can expect that to change.
  3. Inter-Mountain, do they put out anything that’s bad?
  4. Peco track products. Preferred by this hobbyist.
  5. MRC State of the art power packs and DCC products. They recently purchased Model Power and Mantua.
  6.  Life Like, has some fine products and is now owned by Walther’s.  Walther’s has been the prototypers paradise.   Just not particularly friendly to N Scalers.
  7. ConCor products has delivered quality train equipment over the years.   The first to provide full scale streamline passenger cars for both HO and N Scale.    They need to move forward and update to today’s standards.    I have many fine pieces of passenger equipment and am very happy with them.
  8. Atlas track, locomotives and assorted train cars, has improved over the years.  I prefer Atlas flex track over some of the others.  New as of this writing, check out N Scale Code 55.  Nice!
  9. Athearn owns Roundhouse and is owned by Horizon.  Not bad but pricey.   Today’s offering lack the benefits of the past…no parts list included in the box and replacement parts are  hard to come by.  Not the Athearn of yesterday.
  10. Bachmann has the best LIMITED warranty out there.   However, they are “Limited” on  what they can do. Parts aren’t always available and you may find them offering you a different locomotive or motor, to replace the one you sent in and always at an additional cost.   I’ve seen a number of improvements over the years. I’d still recommend approach red over yellow, as in cautiously.  Not overly impressed with much of their train equipment, track and/or switches.   However scuttle butt among hobbyist, indicates things are getting better.

Number one by most enthusiast:    Noted,  a number of reviews on the internet but not included above.   Receiving good reviews and they are:  Broadway Limited, Fox Valley Models, BLMA, Micro-Engineering, Rapido  and Mike’s Train House.   Said by a majority of hobbyist, “They are  producing some well detailed and smooth running train equipment”.   Not to forget the  built in DCC Sound Units, factory installed decoders are some of the best on the market. Pricey (everything is pricey today)  but well worth it.  Pluses all around.

News Update:    BLMA was bought out by Atlas.    Not a good move in my estimation.    I’d of rather seen Fox Valley or Intermountain buy them out but once again they didn’t ask me.   Edited add on 2-7-2016 rh.

DCC: TCS-WOW, Tsunami, and LOK they have put out some excellent train sounds.     Realistic sounds matched to the type of locomotive or diesel you are operating.    In HO and particularly N Scale, they still sound tinnie or as a friend of mine said, as though coming from a tin can or tin cans put back to back.    Still in all, I don’t know how you can beat the authentic sound.

Today, there is more train equipment available on the market then  we’ve ever  had in the past or when I first started.   We’ve never had it so good.

As I write the market is not being flooded with train products and has to do with problems stemming from manufacturing woe’s in China.     I wish the boys and girls would bring their stuff back home.    It was working out well before they ran off from the tax grabbing mongers in Washington DC and our local State & County Houses.     There again the representatives we send to Washington and our state regulators don’t seem to care.   Oblivious to the obvious.

***CAUTION*** It happened to me it could happen to you.   Downside is…well read on.


**There is something that needs to be said. I don’t know how to say this any-other way. I don’t want to scare you off from any particular product line and/or DCC decoder and installations.   Do beware as in be-careful, caution, warning, see signal Red over Yellow. Many of the products available on the market DO NOT HAVE REPLACEMENT PARTS.      It is a conundrum, difficult to resolve.   Not good!**

Rick’s Story Time:

I went to install a DCC decoder into an Athearn Genesis locomotive. Every time I touched the shell I broke something. When I called Athearn to buy a replacement shell…. Can you guess? No parts! Harrumph! I would have to go out and buy a whole a-nother diesel just to get the shell.     I wonder what,  ____________________ “D@#$ng,” expletives would be appropriate here?   You can put your own in and fill the blank.

Going back to Athearn and their response.   The best advice I was given is to  buy a new locomotive and use the parts to fix the old one.   Why would I want to do that?    Hummm!     I get it and hope you have.   I can only hope things have changed by the time you read this.

If I was you and of course I can’t be.    So, if I’m me I’d buy…well…I’d only buy locomotives or diesel motors that come with a parts list and parts available.

Do I dare plug Kato?  Why not? Their fine train equipment comes with a parts list and I’ve never had problems getting parts.

I would also advise if you are one of those that find certain mechanical and maintenance  issues difficult to perform  buy  locomotives and diesels with the decoders already built in, as in pre-installed.

A word to the wise is usually sufficient, “Let the buyer beware”.


Updated and revised 2-7-2016 rh.

Advice To Newbies Part #3

Who should build your train layout?

Should you hire someone to do so?      How about a handful of friends acting as a track gang to get the track work constructed?   Do you want newbies helping you a newbie to make the same mistakes?  Here is some advice.

Who should build your layout?

Approaching signal it indicates red over yellow. Meaning stop and proceed with caution. Take a minute to look, listen, learn and then proceed.

I don’t believe you or anyone else needs some one to come in and build them a model railroad.   Unless you are severally handicapped and literally unable to handle the tools, track and construction needed.

If you passed shop class in high school.  You can do it.   High school, oh the memories.  Things haven’t gone and changed, have they?  You can still take shop class in high school?  Yes – No?   Stepping it up a little.  If you took mechanical drafting or architectural engineering, algebra and some geometry.   Then you know how to use a scale rule, draw up your own plans and get your railroad project started.

I can help you discover ideas for your railroad. Give you design resources to explore. Provide examples of good train layouts. Give you all kinds of tips and advice. You can ignore them all or choose to test them out.   Applying them as you start building the bench-work.


To get you started.  Take in a swapmeet and buy some used sectional track.  Don’t pay more then you need to for it.  It’s just junk.  When you get home, “You need to throw the track on the table and discover for yourself what can be done,” credit to Greg M.. This is how we both learned way back in the olden days of Methuselah , no I think it was Eisenhower?  COL

A track gang is always a good idea.   Do make sure they are experienced track layers.   Ask to see the work they do before you invite them over to help you.

Mentors:   In previous posts. Deryk Glass and I talk about our mentors Mr. X and Mr. Hunter and some of what they brought to each of our model railroads. For sure having an experienced, practical thinking and knowledgeable teacher to guide you, can be a big help. Encouraged by this hobbyist!

Making mistakes:   The idea is for you to avoid making the same  mistakes I have.   Or the same ones newbies typically make.   On the other hand making some mistakes  can be / is… an excellent teacher.

Here on, I’ve gone to a lot of effort and time to collect the best of the best tutorial videos.      Why?  There’s that nosy character in the back row again.  Why?   He had to ask.   Get ready for one of Rick’s Vents.   In hopes you don’t have to go through the torment and frustrations I did over the last 50 years..   One hell of a learning curve with some of the worst products out there.    No kidding, I said not grinning and gritting my teeth!  Seems we the modelers had to teach the providers aka manufacturers a thing or two.    A proposed boycott got the attention of one sleazy outfit.  You can find more of the same in Rick’s Vent, Lament and Lessons Learned.

Experienced model railroaders:    You will find various tips and how to’s when it comes to track laying, analog DC, DPDT wiring, DCC and more.     We are never to old or to experienced but what we can’t learn something new.

Links within this blog, where to go to next?

Use the Categories In the upper left hand corner of this page to choose the next topic.    Here you will find a wide variety of subjects, many of which may indeed answer questions you have.

  • Need some help?   Standing by.  Use the “Contact Us” form at the end of this or any-other page.

I’m wordy, I admit it.  I just blew past the 500 word limit and we are about to eclipse 800 words.    More advice to newbies, modelers and hobbyist coming up.

Stay tuned.


Holiday Season’s Alert:   You can expect a Toy Train and  Model Railroad,  storm of train stuff  at your Local Hobby Shop during the Christmas Season.

Are you still reading this…?     Why?   Go get your self down to the local hobby shop, hardware store, pick up those How To Books,  essential train and track supplies and get your layout started.   I know, I know, quit pestering you….you’re on it.    Grin!

Send pictures.


Layouts – Rick’s Lament & Lessons Learned

A historical perspective, a reflection on train layouts I’ve built.    

There was a time I was pretty proud of what I called the Howland Pacific Rail Corp.     I designed, engineered,  drew-up plans and/or provided graphics of layouts I proposed to build.    All done on a volunteer basis.   I totally enjoyed doing it…but….then.    Can you guess, the rest of the story?

Rick’s Lament, Vent & Lessons Learned.

Are you ready for another of Rick’s Story Time?    No not again!

Four short stories.

Did the sound man put enough re-verb into that? I thought I heard an echo.

Once upon a time not so long ago, there were three bears, right here in Big Bear Country, Ca.. These three bears wanted layouts built for their cubs, …uhh…err…actually for themselves. Perhaps the inner cub  with-in them. One faked wanting to start a club to get his layout built. Another kept talking about a club so they could all come over and work on his layout. One of the local bears was my former boss and we will start with his layout. The actual names of the bears (owners of the layouts) will not be disclosed here, to protect the not-so innocent.   Oh, and Goldy Locks doesn’t show up to test your layout and break a locomotive or two. Thankfully!!!!

The O&S Rail Link:


The O&S combined the three rail O scale and two rail S scale into a unique and unusual layout. The O scale ran the bottom deck while the S scale handled the upper deck. Oddly interesting toy train exhibition of a layout.

The O  scale portions sported a single track main with two siding where trains could meet and pass.  Borrowing from model railroading’s Cab A and Cab B.  I proceeded to install both a reversing loop and a wye.    By using DPDT Center Off Electrical Toggle Switches.   As a bonus:   Lighted indicators on the control panel told you  were on the layout the train is.    Each switch track was controlled by two SPST  push buttons.    Relatively easy to operate.   Just not for the owner.

S Scale was a double track main with a control panel set-up in the same fashion as stated above.   You can see an earlier form of a teaching control panel over on Blocks and Control Panels.

As already mentioned:   Irony of it all the owner never could figure out how to run it.    He was strictly a toy train enthusiast.   Hook up the wires to the transformer and run trains around in a circle.    Yes, a part of my lament.



The layout got it’s entitlement,  when the owner walked in to view the installation of the bench-work. He responded angrily  by saying, “Oh $#!+” … is this what I signed off on? Having him sign off on the plans, saved my ever widening @$$. Oh, I’d pay for it later. Yep, it got it’s nick that day, the O&S Rail Link.

Sadly, when the time came to move the layout, the cub came along and took out all his hostility on it. All he had to do was pull the screws out of the wall, drop the bench-work down and cut it into sections to move it. Instead, from all apparent evidence he took a sledge hammer and…well…I’m sure you get the picture. $4,000.00 worth of track…gone!   I can assure you.   He won’t be rebuilding it any time soon.    According to his own admission the track ended up in a dumpster along with the bench-work and sub-roadbed.   When I saw the remains of the layout. The framing was still attached to the walls with bent nails and screws still hanging out of it and I saw plaster dust all over the floor. It was not a time to be a mind reader. You don’t want to know …what I was thinking.    Here’s a hint … Grrrrrr!!!!!

 Lessons learned will be different for different people.

Did you pick-up on the lessons that can be learned here?    Here’s a hint what was it the owner wanted and didn’t get?

The Cherokee & Southern R&R.

A local Bear of a Clown, semi professional. Known as “Rags,” not his real name. I built a layout for him and over built it. I never did see him actually operate it, without my help. He couldn’t figure out the control panel. To drunk to do so…most of the time. He used to yell wolf telling me he was going to tear down the layout, if I didn’t come over and work on it. I could only give him every other Sunday. I was volunteering my time and didn’t take lightly to the perpetual threats. He hollered once to often.  My thinking:  It’s his railroad and he can do anything he wants to it.   If it was destined to be torn down, I couldn’t see any reason to waste anymore of my volunteer time. Bluntly, I advised him of such and walked away. When it was all said and done…. at the request of his significant other, I was asked to dismantle it.  Allegedly, he had  passed away. This retired mortician put in a call. Why doesn’t the health department’s in three different counties,  have record of such?  I found that odd. His significant other got sick and her family decided to sell the home place.  She passed shortly after that.  She will be missed.

Here’s pictures of the layout I built for “Rags.”  A work in progress.
Single Helix Future Coal District 2.0

West Division Looking North West 4.0C
Sad to think it’s gone.

Gosh! What’s this coming to?  

Yep, there’s a lesson to be learned here as well.   Here’s a hint.   What is the owner able to handle?    How accomplished is the owner?

The Wrong Turn  R&R.  

A layout that took a wrong turn at some point during the construction of the mainline   In other words a deviation from the original plans.   Who in the audience, hasn’t done that?    I see your hand up… you wise @$$.

A short story about  Grandpa Bear. A fellow model railroader and acquaintance.  He had two friends who  teamed up in hopes they could help  Grandpa Bear, design his HO scale layout.   It became clear early on that this was going to be difficult.

Visualization is the key to any layout you build. The problem is the owner of the  layout admittedly, is unable to visualize and interpret the original plan. In the end, what he built didn’t come close.   Begging the question does it have to?

He got the mainline in correctly but then proceeded to hide it.   Those smooth flowing 30″ radius curves where passenger trains would of  absolutely looked gorgeous running through them, now hidden.

The original plan showed a lower deck with a reversing loop and a run through hidden staging yard.    A mainline that was designed to wander up through canyons and around  mountain scapes.

As he built the  layout he could see where it was going and finally visualize it.   Realizing this isn’t what he wanted, at all.

He ended up with a very unconventional layout.    Which is what makes it so unique,  noteworthy and worth the visit to see it.

Like many owners he  decided to make changes to the overall  plan, midstream.   He managed to get the main line in but chose to put in a flat deck  over the top of it.    What could of been mountain peaks and small villages.   While  the railroad wandered  through them.   Now,  something resembling an air craft carrier….with scenery…on the flat deck.   His plan?       What he wanted topside was a  yard, city and mountain scene  with a canyon running through the middle of it.    This change in the plans has it’s appeal but he ignored the rest of the main line which is now hidden on the lower deck.    I might add a source of frustration for him.    It’s difficult to get to and he can’t see his trains passing through them.   From time to time  you’ll hear him frustrating that he can’t find the trains as they run around under the flat top.   In retrospect!   Let’s see, if you hide the mainline so you can’t see it.   Yep, I could see where that would be a frustrating.

Most of us will build an around the room   shelf type layout to achieve this desired effect.     Seldom is it done with a walk around, Island style layout.   Uhh…err…with this one exception.  And why not?  I’ve heard mention of a mushroom layout.   But I hate being kept in the dark.

The original intent was to design a layout similar to  the Southern Pacific in the Cascades.    Go to Categories and look up Layouts.

The owner and builder…not being able to visualize the plans ….having other priorities.   Does this sound at all familiar?  It does to me.     Nothing new going on here.

On the lower deck he still has  a reversing loop and a  hidden staging yard.  Unused at this time.   The hidden staging yard is  difficult to get to blocked by part of the mainline.    There is a CCTV set-up to monitor the lower deck…but….well….you have to know how to use it.

Hind sight being 20/20.    You can see where a simple double track helix and dog bone track design, implemented during  construction would of done the job nicely.   This would then allow access to the hidden staging yard.    He said of the lower deck….”He just hates it”.    Not a good indicator.     Do I dare say this could of been avoided in the original planning sessions.       Did I hear someone say not likely?   You’d be right.

The layout  remains up, for now.     He’s working on it to this day and yes you can stop in to visit it.

I suspect,  based on comments made by Grandpa Bear, it is destined to come down. He is not a happy camper…at times, and aren’t we all    Last I heard he was planning on selling off all his HO train stuff and tear the layout down.   Something about, he goes out to run it for awhile and then it stops dead.    He’s been advised on how to resolve the problem but (at the time of this writing) he needs a bit more convincing.

Do you think his friends may have erred in helping him plan his layout?  May I suggest the first question they should of asked is:  Is he teachable?   The second question:  Can he visualize what’s being communicated to him?    He’s more then able to design and build his own layout.    Do I dare say, like all of us he has his limitations.

The key here for you the reader:   Is knowing  what you want and communicating such to those who volunteer to help you.      It’s your railroad, you make the rules, you select the design and you set the standard.     You can do anything you want with your layout.    He did!   Nothing  to be ashamed of.

There’s a lesson to be learned here that is a bit different then the other short stories I tell.  There again, it’s not different at all.   I’ll leave you to discern it.

The Howland and Pacific Railroad.

One more Papa bear to go. Yes, that makes four. It wouldn’t sound right if I started by saying once upon a time there was four papa bears. Really messes with the fairy tale.   LOL    As if I haven’t already.

My dear old dad, who lived here in the valley but for a short while. He enjoyed the layouts I built… saying, “Darn complicated layouts”. He knew his layouts well and could operate them in the  most prototype fashion.  Do I dare mention. I’ve never seen anyone bring in a train or  run trains more realistically, then he did.   He knew railroading,  for what it really was.

It seemed, the more complicated I built a layout the more he enjoyed it.   Right down to operating the  temporary control panels.    He understood a control panel like the Rails understand an Interlocking Tower.

Allow me to reflect on the H&P’s past layouts, for a paragraph or two.

The HO Layout:

It gives me no pleasure to share with you the following: My most advanced HO scale layout died an untimely death.    To start with at the age of 18 I left home to establish my own home.   I left the layout with Dad in hopes he would enjoy it.    I knew he’d have problems maintaining it and the likely hood of it being used for more then a laundry sorting table or catch all…well….I think you understand.

The owner of the house my parents rented, declared it unsafe and had it torn down. Dad said of it, he couldn’t fix the problems and he had someone come in to make the needed repairs. Knowing nothing about the layout or trains for that matter.   I suspect,  the handyman changed the wiring. It sounds like he hooked in 110 house hold current, to the non-variable DC side of one of the transformers.    Why?   I can’t say for sure…I have no idea.  That’s when it got scary.  Locomotive motors burned up, some shells melted, sparks flew, melted down frogs and plastic spike heads… not to mention electrical shock. I never did get to see it before demolition so I can’t say for sure what happened.   I never had the opportunity to exam the layout.   For years I blamed the common and I’m still prone to do so.  To many half open circuits.     Although most of that had been removed from the layout by the time this incident occurred.     However, there are some unknown factors that may have been  contributing factors. Not that it’s my intent to scare you but if all this is true …then it was dangerous and  a potential fire hazard.

There’s also a lesson to be learned here and I will leave you to discern it.   Here’s a hint.   Is the owner capable of doing routine maintenance? 

The N Scale Layout:   **The replacement layout.**

To the present: The only layouts I built, still up and functioning, is the remnants of the one N scale layout, I built for my Dad. It was housed in his home in Hollister, Ca..    A replacement for the HO scale layout.

Aging, as we all are destined to do.   If we survive that long.    He wasn’t able to maintain his home and moved in with my sister.    Later he would arrive at my home, staying here until his passing.

The layout N Scale, Layout arrived at my home in Big Bear Country,  in the same shape as my Dad. The layout could be restored but I couldn’t do the same for Dad. He has gone on to join the other great railroaders, as they operate their trains.  Yes, I miss him.   He’ll show those model railroaders a thing or two.

Here is a sampling of the construction to extensively rebuild and restore the layout. I lost half of it due to square footage restraints. All the track and switches required replacement.

FS2-Center Section

FS1-Extension Mainline & Secondary

The turntable pictured on the layout is the original Atlas version.    I dont recommend it.   I put in a my dad’s request a  number of years back.   It has since been removed.   I’m waiting to install a Cornerstone self indexing turntable.     I’m also hearing that owner’s of these “C” turntables are having problems getting replacement parts.    So unsure at the time of the writing what I will do.   I have some motors and I may Jerry rig something if that becomes a problem.  Still studying the situation.  Thinking I should  take the bull by the tail and look the situation  in the eye.    Hummm…..that didn’t sound right.

Reflecting on my own past, experience and learning curve:

Thanks to a semi-patient mentor, I learned from him many lessons on layout design, track installation, proper radius curves, wiring, grades, some scenery and loads of minor things that may seem anal to some but works out very well. If I have trains up and running, then feel free to  stop by sometime and see for yourself.  However, do call ahead I might be out troubleshooting someone Else’s layout.

Here’s the H&P RR, Layout today:  At one time we considered naming it the Atlantic & Pacific, a subsidiary of the AT&SF.    Everyone involved with the layout…voted for H&P, and it became the Howland & Pacific RR.   Today I’m considering a name change.     *There is a Highland & Pacific Railroad aka H&P RR.,  down the mountain road a fer piece and we don’t want the two to be confused*.   Do you think that’s going to happen?

I heard you, “Not a chance.”

Chiefs 013

HP 2

Here’s a video of my layout taken by a good friend and fellow model railroader John Acosta.

Howland & Pacific RR

My friend’s N scale Howland and Pacific RR  Thanks for watching John Acosta.

The year 2012, it was getting close to Christmas.    I wasn’t expecting family in to celebrate Christmas, so I didn’t put up any decorations and even adorn my Santa Suit.     Just wasn’t in the right frame of mind.     I did make up two mail trains to carry the Christmas Rush of packages to those celebrating Christmas.     John catches the two trains here on his video.

The end of story time but not the conclusion.  Yes, hiding in there are several lessons to be learned.    If you haven’t found them already…grin!

The Layout’s I’ve Built and the Regrets:  

My Thoughts!

I won’t do any accounting of how many layouts I’ve  built or how many are gone.  You can visit model railroads I built on another posting here at   Layouts build for friends, family and perfect strangers.    Or should I say a few who were real strange.

Ok, for now… just one namely, mine!  Or what formerly belonged to my Dad.     With my dad’s layout safely here and restored you can say, I managed to save one but for how long?       As in how long will I be around?    My crystal ball doesn’t work any better then anyone Else’s so that’s a profound unknown.

I hear you asking, so what went wrong?

A number of things for sure and some out of my control.   I was out to sell the idea of owning a model railroad. I wasn’t in the market to build any more:   Tinker Toy , Tom the Tank Engine, Toy Train Dizzy Maker-Roundy Rounds.   You can build one of those all by yourself.

I fear we may have just lost our younger audience.    Sigh!    But, Hey little guys and  gals out there.    You know those of you who love such.     You can do that all by yourself.    How about that?

My favorite heckler,  did I hear you say? I must be a bad builder or a terrible mentor? Are you the same smart @$$ that raised your hand earlier?   Yeah, I thought so.    It’s possible that I’ve been a really bad boy.    Now what if I say, yes?  Would you quit heckling me?   Maybe quit reading this stuff?   Or… get all the dirt on me you can,?  Heehaw heehaw!

Layouts built for friends and family, in retrospect and to the lament.

 As I look at what I’ve done (constructing all those layouts) and measure it against the overall response and the subsequent demolition either by the owners or family members.   Some because, they lacked interest  in model railroading.   Or they saw the layout as competition as in:
  • Dad paid more attention to the layout then he did me.  Sob, sob, sob.
  • Dad, spent more money on the layout then he did me.   Whine, whine, whine.     Thus taking out their hostility by destroying it.   Bang! Boom! Clank, Clunk! Phist, Kaboom and all ending up in a cloud of dust!
  • Is it anger management time?

You could conclude, it’s not a good track record! There’s a pun there, right?

Fairly intense and involved layouts in the hands of incompetent operators.

From my vantage point as I hear about or watched each layout, one after the other being destroyed, dismantled, dust on the floor.    In some cases almost ashes.   Noting some anger toward me…even.   Oh well.   Harrumph!  Sometimes… it just is what it is.

No monuments left behind to say “Hey, Rick was a good modeler… or not”.   The realization comes that the best efforts by any man or woman will eventually be history.   Dust on the floor.

I hope that includes our current leaders in Washington.   This isn’t the time or place to discuss this……… but I do disclose my feelings in a political post or two here.  Your welcome to read them, if you dare.

Back to the layouts I’ve built.   It was my intent to give parties awarded these layouts. What I wanted for myself. Stacking the deck with a lot of industrial switching, freight yards, train stations, round houses, engine servicing facilities and loads of fun on operation nights. All connected to Cab A and Cab B throttles. No common wire!!!!    Then along came DCC.

DCC was still out there on the horizon and  it would of been an easy conversion. They deserved that…right? Well, in retrospect maybe not.

I did disclose to all the benefactors and recipients of those layouts my intentions. We had written or verbal contracts. Each did approve and signed off on a track plan. Downside, despite the in-servicing, educational operating sessions (time wasted)  most of them had no idea how to operate their railroads.  My antennae should of picked up on all the red over yellow indicators  before I started construction but my radar wasn’t working very well.   I had it turned off.   Sound familiar.

What was that?  You in the front row, what did you say?  And not my favorite heckler.   Yes, by all means… it could of been your railroad I was building?  Don’t you and I wish? I will have more to say about this in “Advice For Newbies To The Hobby”. Right next door to this post.

In Conclusion But Never Finished.

Lessons Learned:

Funny, but I know precisely which switch I ran threw and the resulting derailment that followed. It’s as evident to me as as the red over yellow indicator, I was ignoring.    I should have known better then to waste so much time on some of the would be benefactors of my work and or assistance.     Just think, I could have my own layout further along then it is.   True!

The Pay Off:   No good deed ever goes unpunished.   Who ever penned that to start with, knew precisely what he or she was talking about.

The old boiler safety valve is about to pop-off and I need to take to a siding, drop the fire, refill the tender and cool off.     SIGH!!

Looking back!  Can we conclude that there are some things, that are just Un-Bear-Able.

Despite it all.   Without further a-do I’m going to get back to working on my layout, I said with a wink.    Got’s to get those trains rolling.

Good news:  Here on,    I will leave you  with my building secrets and YOU can build your own dream layout.    Any way you want.

Have fun and may your toy train or model railroading  experience take you down a happy rail line.


Solving a Common Problem

Mentor’s Contributions To The Hobby.

Read how a Mentor helped me solve a common wiring problem.

I have several post here that talk about mentoring or mentored. All in hopes of encouraging you to seek out a mentor or be a mentor. So many times I’ve watched on various train and model railroad websites Newbies helping Newbies, make the same mistakes. We, that’s you and I want to avoid that here.

Just getting started in the hobby, then you want to seek out experienced model railroaders. Those with years of practical expeience under their belt.    In the following:  Construction, electrical, scenery, modeling and practical know how. Those who have built their own layouts. Allow me to give you an example. Maybe you too can learn something from this story.

Rick’s Story Time. Did you here that reverb.

Rick The Teenager and a Common Wiring Problem.

As a teenager, I was busy working on my HO Scale model railroad. I managed to figure out how to do the bench work and had what I though was a pretty decent railroad going. The  sectional track wasn’t half bad but needed some tweaking. My dad tended to allow me to muddle through my own mistakes. Not sure he  knew as much  or more about all this, then I did. So, it became a learning experience for both of us.

The layout was located in: A big tall older house with plenty of square footage and high ceilings. Who needs a bedroom anyway. Take the mattress and springs off the bed and drop them on the floor. Mother in a voice that surprised me, “Oh no you don’t”. I thought that voice was only used by zombies in the movies. Screeching, “I need that room for a guest room”. My Train Room…for a what?   That settled that!

We wanted to run more then one train at a time. I started researching, okay…. so we didn’t call it researching back then. I started looking at Model Rail wig wags (magazines) to see what if anything or anyone else was doing. You know, in order to run more then one train at a time.   Didn’t find a thing.

The local gun shop, bicycle, sport’s and hobby shop in town had no idea how to do that without adding in another mainline. Nope, we wanted to run trains in  different directions,   IE.,  Eastbound and Westbound on a single track main line.    To operate over two different  legs of the layout. To leave the yard at the bottom, climb up some steep grades,  meet at the top, pass on a siding and return back to the single track  main, and back to the  yard on the lower deck. The guys and gals at the LHS (Local Hobby Shop) didn’t know what to do. They started talking to the Atlas Rep., or wholesale vendor that came through once a year!!! What a long wait.

Yes, they had some slider switches and according to them you could run more then one train at a time. It was called “Common Wiring”. (In the background you should be hearing the sound man quietly adding the music from Jaws.) When the sliders finally arrived and I was able to pay for them. I followed the directions to the letter.  Having worked all summer in order to purchase them and a second, MRC wire wound rheostat transformer.  Do you know how many lawns mowed and cars polished that is? I was learning the value of a dollar. Not much back then either.

I went to work, reading the instructions, building a new control panel.   Placing all the green sliders as illustrated in the instructions pictures.

Finished, as in everything is wired in:  With pride I invited Dad back to the Train Room aka my bedroom. In full voice, yelling “Dad, check this out”.  Keep in mind I was interrupting a crucial football game.

Dad came back and I was so sure this would work without incident. (Is the music from Jaws, still playing?) I showed him how to set the green sliders for his blocks, to Cab A. That would be in the up position. Giving him clearance to run his train. That would be out one end of the layout to the top yard.

I then set the green sliders, for my blocks, to the down position for Cab B. SPDT (Single pole, double throw electrical toggle switches) not to be confused with track switches. We never ever called them the “T” word “Turnouts”. They were and are to this day “Switches”.  In the tradition of the Rails that habitat our family. More on that subject later.

He starts his train out the east end of the lower yard, without incident. Alright, it’s working. I had tested it but only one train at a time. Cool I thought. I then started up my train and that’s when.  (Cue to sound man to turn music up, yes from Jaws ). The trouble started. My train nudged forward, sputtered and Dad said, “What the hell are you doing?” His engine was performing poorly, stuttering and halting.

Shut one or the other throttle off and a single locomotive operating over the layout ran perfectly.    Or run them in the same direction and it seemed to work fine but you could tell there was something amiss. The throttles didn’t respond as well as they did when operating by themselves. Turn the Cab A to reverse and B to forward, in the opposing directions and nothing ran smooth. “The dance of the common!”

I went through the schematic’s, pulled my wiring out and rewired with larger and newer wires. Sure I had done it right. The guys at the store came out and checked it all out, as I was rewiring it. An electrician, brother of my best friend came over and looked at it. His first response, “This won’t work, you have a negative on a positive pole”. A what? A short? Okay, that wasn’t any help. Later I would understand and it would be thanks to his explanation. Heck, I even talked to the boys and girls at Atlas.   “Oh no it will work just fine!”  blaming me for doing something wrong.  “You haven’t’ wired it in correctly,” they accused me.    Really!    Did you hear me mutter under my breath,  they aren’t even here to see what I’ve done.

My dad while going about the functions of his daily business met a fella we called Mr. Harry Hunter, not his real name. Seems there were some fine folk who thought that a man still playing with trains during the maturing years was mentally impaired. One of the reasons there is, was and still is, so many lone wolfs in the hobby. Gosh, what are those fine folk thinking? Every one needs a hobby.   More on that later but you might have to remind me.

Mr. Hunter, a fellow model railroader who had worked constructing and wiring in a club layout, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Very experienced. Looked at the green slider switches said. “Those have to go…they don’t work”. Going on to describe to a tee the problems my Dad and I experienced. He played with them for a minute and looked at my track work and wiring.  He excused himself saying he’d be back in a bit.    I waited.

Here is the components I used to install my Common Wire and I don’t recommend it:  Dual Cab Control, Common Wiring.   

Click on the green print and you will find yourself high balling to the text where I discuss the details.   You might want to do this later.   For now stay with me.

He came back with two (2) DPDT electrical toggle switches. Suggesting, we make some changes. It became a teaching experience for him and a learning one for me. The Mentor had arrived.

We wired in one leg of the layout to the DPDT (Double Pole, Double Throw, electrical toggle switch). Removing the common while the green sliders found the bottom side of a trash can. (Cue to sound man, you can shut off music to Jaws – now). Nice addition to our discussion, I might add. Sadly, I looked on thinking, “All that money down the tube”. That took all summer to raise.

He then took the other DPDT and had me wire it into the other leg of the layout. Wow, that wasn’t as difficult to do as I first thought. He said you won’t believe this, go get your Dad, we want him to see this.

Before the phone could ring and send Dad off on another Ambulance call. He came back and we operated two trains minus the sputtering, stalling and the former difficulties. Wow, was I impressed as was my Dad. Now we could operate trains over the layout without impunity.

Now, Now, NOW! It was fun to run trains.  Gone was the “Dance of the Common”.   Other problems would be resolved:  As soon as I straightened out my track work and pushed out those curves.  I was about to learn “Wider Curves are the Best Curves.”

This tip of the day is free.    I’ve never wired in a common…since…uhh…err…on any layout I’ve built. I don’t recommend you do.  The one exception:   What I did do is set up a model,  to demonstrate to the non-believers the “Dance of the common”.   And for you non-believers still reading this.   I will discuss this more in a wiring post.

Before we loose sight of the intent here. Mr. Hunter, taught me something valuable that day. One lesson learned and I don’t, won’t and haven’t  deviated from it to this day.

Thanks!   Mr. Hunter, for being my Mentor. May you rest in peace and be rewarded for the kindness you shared with me more then once. Oh yes, he helped me with a number of other issues and maybe we can talk about them another time.

He wouldn’t be the only mentor and keep in mind we can sometimes mentor each other, without recognizing we have.

Have fun!


Latex Rock Mold

How To make your own Latex Rock Mold.

Over the years I have collected rocks for the purpose of adding them to my model railroad.  Downside, they are to heavy adding to the overall weight of the layout.    I’ve been looking for a video that shows me how to make my own latex rock molds. I’ve searched for this video for the better part of two to three years. Here it is. You won’t believe how simple this is.


Making a Basic Latex Rock Mold

Dave Frary demonstrates how to make a latex rubber rock mold for your model railroad scenery, military display, or miniature diorama.
Thanks for watching, Jim.

This is easier then I thought.

Quality of the video may be questionable. On my screen to get clarity I have to bump the videos up to 360 pixels.  I  hope that helps.


Track Grades & Gradients – Cookie Cutter

As a newbie in the hobby. Yes, I was a newbie once upon a time. The cookie cutter method of building track grades gave new meaning to my model railroad. No more flat-lander running. Now before we get off on a tangent here there is some basic information you need to know.

What is a 2% grade?   How do I determine such and build it in  on my layout?   Here’s the answer:

  • A 1% track grade is the equivalent of one foot of rise per 100 linear feet.
  • A 2% track grade is the equivalent of two foot of rise per 100 linear feet.
  • Translation:   For any scale you decide to model.
    1/8″ rise per linear foot is a 1% grade.
    1/4″ rise per linear foot is a 2% grade.

I’m sure those of you who use metric can find the conversion tables and figure this out for yourselves.

You will have to watch this video fast. The cameraman wants you to see everything and quickly.

Cookie Cutter Layout

Uploaded on Mar 6, 2011


We changed the look of our layout from flat to a cookie cutter design. We are starting to make some inclines. Not as bad as I thought it was going to be.   Thanks for watching   Bob.

  • There is a simple tool that will help you. Depending on the gradient you want. Take a foot long bubble level, some wood, foam or plastic. Cut them to 1/8 inch or 1/4 inch, thick and place under one end of the level. When the bubble reads level, you’ll have your intended grade.

The ten car rule:    For a locomotive to qualify to run on my layout it must be able to pull a minimum of ten freight or passenger cars, up a 2% track grade.

I’ll let you in on a company secret. The H&P railroad insists on seeing that most freight and passenger cars are equipped with Micro-Trains wheel-sets, trucks and knuckle couplers. Resulting in very little drag.   I can usually add more then the ten car minimum.   All adding up to a good looking train and  smooth operations.

Nothing stopping you from building a grade and adding mountains to your layout.

Enjoy the benefits of Toy Train or Model Railroad Layout with grades.


Southern Pacific Railroad in the Cascades

The Southern Pacific Railroad in the Cascades.   This is one of several layouts I’d like to introduce you to. Keep in mind railroads don’t have to run on the flat lands.  Seldom have I actually seen a railroad that truly runs on the flat.

The key here is visualization and proper planning. If you aren’t able to visualize, it’s not a curse but you may want to start with something simpler.

Southern Pacific Railroad in the Cascades – Part 12, A Layout Tour

Uploaded on Jan 3, 2012

Some construction photos are followed by a layout tour where we follow a 60 car train while it makes a complete circuit of the layout. Note that “Oregon Electric” signals should have been “Oregon Rail Supply”. Thanks for watching Bill Rogers.

Layout website is at:

The Southern Pacific has been one of those railroads of interest over the years.   Here on  Southern Pacific in the Cascades  Bill, captures the essence of  mountain railroading.    I’m impressed with the Southern Pacific train equipment he operates over the layout and the way he managed to get a mountain railroad into such a small space.

I’m impressed!    Did you glean any ideas from viewing Bill’s video?

Have fun!


Operations Night-Gulf & Pacific RR

Operations night on The Gulf & Pacific Railroad, as presented by John Acosta.    John has invited the local group of BVMR’s in for a evening of Railroad Operations.   See the BVMR’s in action.

The Gulf & Pacific Railroad.

Operations Night, Gulf & Pacific RR 3/27/13

Published on Apr 9, 2013  Sorry for the low resolution and cameraman’s techniques but it was a fun night!

Thanks for watching, JohnA.

Caught on camera is none other then myself. I’m serving as the conductor and switchman. Note, I did not say turnout man. Oh, and we throw switches we don’t throw turnouts. Darn “T” word.

Steve the guy sitting in the corner he is our hog head aka hogger.  In other words he is the engineer operating the locomotive. Stubby to the right of him is the acting supervisor making sure all the rules are obeyed. Greg standing at the door is railroad security. John, the guy behind the camera is our dispatcher.   We are all members of the BVMR’s, aka Bear Valley Model Railroaders.     Credit for naming the group goes to Steve and his wife Sue.

Did you see where I sat that RS3 in the dirt.?There is a family story I could tell you right about now but I will save it for another time.

The hand signals you see me using are modified. Yes, I need to work on them!  Reverse?    How do you indicate a reverse move?    Where’s that model railroad wig wag (magazine)  article on hand signals?   The answer can be found as you continue reading.

Here on, you can also find other forms of hand  and night time lantern signals.  See:  Realistic Hand Signals and Night Time Signaling with a Lantern Communication of the Rails.   

Hand signals are a bit different on the Class 1 Railroads.    As the movements of the arms and hands are made with full body moves.   At times exaggerated.   So  the crew in the engine can see them.

The answer to the question above:  I learned the sign for reverse is to push both arms away from me.     Indicating, “Move away from me,”  courtesy of Ron Core a retired professional, conductor for the BNSF railroad.    I thought those of you with inquiring minds might want to know.

The problem we all run into is we cannot as in should not use the full body moves or a full monty when working our small, miniature model railroads.     To much arm action and something can get taken out, smashed, broken and or find it’s way to the floor.   Like one of John’s delicate windmills I managed to break when using hand signals.     So, we need to use modified or miniaturized hand signals.    The easiest one and you see me using it is “Stop. ”  I simply drop my hand and whoever is operating the cab knows it’s time to stop, apply the brakes, drop the air.

The next video is from Operations Night September 2, 2015.    John uses a miniature camera to capture a run through freight on his  HO Scale model railroad.   As seen from the top of the caboose.      Note the box car immediately in front of the camera.    Acts like a flat spot on a wheel.     To many emergency stops.    You don’t get realism like that everyday.

Published on Sep 4, 2015

A view from the caboose on the Johnstown-Davidsville through freight on a recent Operations Night, ending with some switching moves upon arrival at Davidsville.    Thanks for watching John A.

To see more of Johns Videos go to:  The Gulf & Pacific Railroad, John Acosta.  

In the video the hogger is Ron Core.  You can see him getting in close to watch the train.  You can also  see Stubby  E. ,  Greg M., and a good Neighbor the other Gregg ,  and  a selfie from John A. and yes, I managed to get into the picture.

For those just learning the lingo the “Hogger,”  is the engineer.

That’s quite the camera John.    Great picture and it picks up the sound of several discussions.

I’m reminded of the hours spent in front of a TV.   The camera is a-kin to what you’d expect to see from the days of the cold war and movies like Mission Impossible and/ or the TV Series,  I Spy and Get Smart.     High Tech..

John and I, as well as the BVMR’s  have all  been good friends for sometime now.  John and fellow BVMR’s,  his and their layouts have all inspired me, more then I them.    Loads of fun.


Locomotive Lubrication

One of the most essential requirements of any model railroad is the care you give your locomotives and rolling stock. Lubrication is a major factor. To much can gum things up and to little can eat gears up.

Mike Talks Locomotive Lubrication

Mike Fifer has prepared a video on proper locomotive lubrication. Let’s look in on Mike and check it out.

N Scale Locomotive Lubrication  Mike Fifer

Mike and his good wife have one of the finest hobby shops in the southwest.  He’s on the internet and mail order response time with shipping  is quick.

Thanks Mike.    Looking forward to more good things from you.


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