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Tips for S Scale Model Railroaders




By Craig S. O'Connell


Modeling With Plexiglas - Hi Craig, .. Nice site. I am an HO scale modeler, but I came across your site because I am also researching making buildings out of Plexiglas. I have been experimenting, and one thing that I have found is that when the Plexiglas is cut, a small ridge rises as the Plexiglas is "bruised." This can be safely removed by using a straight edge razor similar to a window scraper. By running the edge of the blade along the raised edge of the Plexiglas the edge will peel right off without marring the surface of the Plexiglas. The benefit here is a smoother edge, which will allow more proper joining to other pieces.

Happy Modeling! ... a tip o the hat to Glenn Williams,North Hampton, NH

Gluing Ballast - There are as many formula for gluing ballast as there are those with an opinion. Generally speaking what I use is a concoction of "wet glue," that is 50% white glue and 50% water with a few drops of liquid detergent or Kodak Photo-Flo. Some modelers will leave out the wetting agent (detergent, etc..) and instead spray the ballast with water and a few drops of detergent or Photo-Flo before and/or after cementing the ballast with the water/glue combination.

Advice on Plastic Adhesives - For gluing styrene to styrene, Testors, is by far, the best. I do not recommend Plastruct "Plastic Weld" solvent for bonding ABS to styrene, ABS to Butyrite orABS to acrylic.  Their "Bondine", is advertised for bonding similar plastics together. I have not used it for years, as most of my building is with styrene, and, in my opinion,Testors is superior. When I want to glue styrene to any other plastic, I use "Sindad", a medical glue. Their phone number is 1-877-332-1296. A 1/2 oz. bottle is $15. You DO NOT need anything other than some Zip Kicker, to accelerate drying, as with any other CA glue. - tip o' the hat to John

Gondola Loads - Gondola loads can be made by tearing up those old disposable cameras that your local photo shop might have. Now use those gears for your loads. -- tip o' the hat to Terry Harrison

Removing That White Film on Old Flyer Cars

Many American Flyer enthusiasts who return to the hobby have encountered a white film on their American Flyer plastic cars when they've uncovered them from storage boxes in their basements or attics. It is commonly thought that the white film is mold. However, it is actually a mold release agent that was used in the early days of plastic manufacturing. To remove it simply hold a hair dryer, set on hot, to the car and you'll see the mold release agent disappear before your eyes. You can buff gently with a soft cloth. See the before and after photos below.


Hydrocal FGR-95 - This is a slow drying, perhaps three quarter hour, drying hydrocal available through gypsum suppliers. The beauty of this product is that you can work with it longer because it's slower drying than the stuff you get from the hobby shop. Most often you buy in bulk.

On the Best Adhesive to use on Delrin..such as Kadee Couplers:

I have found that it is often difficult to get a long lasting adhesion on Kadee couplers. I've used anything from Tenax to Testors Cement to ACC and 2 part Epoxy. Nothing seems to hold for long periods of time. I'm told that the best adhesive for Delrin is Cynopoxy, or Cool Chem Integrator 75, which can be purchased from Mike Rose Hobbies in Dartmouth, MA. The Cyanopoxy system comes in a kit, that includes the Cool Chem Integrator 75 (Cyanopoxy) , CoolChem DE-Bonder 400, CoolChem Poly Treatment 311 (the slippery plastic prep material), and the  CoolChem Activator 310  "catalyst" spray. Mike Rose Hobbies is authorized to supply CoolChem to the hobby user for the "show special" price of $40/kit.

Mike Rose Hobbies
545 Chase Rd.
Dartmouth, MA  02747-1013

On Assembling Kits such as the PRS reefers:

Use Testor's Liquid Plastic Cement, applied with a 00 artist's brush. Hold the parts together and then touch the brush to the edge of the joint. Capillary action will carry the cement into the joint.

For parts that go into holes, like grab irons, put a tiny amount of cement in each hole with the 00 artist's brush before seating the part.

Some guys drill out the holes with a #72 bit so they can apply the paint from the inside of the car. This practice absolutely avoids accidental messes on the car's painted surface.

The Testor's cement dissolves the paint that it touches, so removing paint from parts before gluing is not necessary.

I don't prepaint anything. But you may wish to touch up places where the parts were removed from their sprues as necessary. This isn't usually needed because most PRS car kits are molded in plastic whose color is nearly identical to the finished car color. (Of course, for cars with two-tone color schemes, touch-up is a must.)

I don't subscribe to the notion that all cars should weigh the same. (Neither does the prorotype.) I have no trouble with unweighted cars on 2% grades around 42" curves. All you need is smooth trackwork, free-rolling trucks, locomotives that run smoothly, and a calm, steady hand on the throttle. No jerking!

Tip o' the hat to Dick Karnes

Detailing Diecast Vehicles -- When disassembling diecast vehicles for detailing and/or repainting it often becomes necessary to drill out the bottom. Try using a 3/16th drill bit to drill out the rivets on the bottom, the resultant indentation in the mounting post is a great start for using a self-tapping screw (Walthers #2 X 5/32, drill #50) to put it all back together.

Tip o' the hat to Dennis Conway.

Magnifying the Scenery Unlimited Factory -- Scenery Unlimited's brick factory kit is a fine structure for any S pike--but it's only half a factory! It's built to go up against a wall or backdrop. The apparent size of the building can be doubled by simply using a mirror for the back wall. This makes the view through the windows look like a complete structure and gives a great illusion of depth to the backdrop. Mirrors are cheap and easily cut with glass cutters.

tip of the hat to James Roberts

American Models Locomotives and Full Swing Couplers--from Ron Bashista at American Models.... Locomotives with frame mounted couplers (GP-9, GP-35, RS-3) must be coupled to a American Models or SHS car using a "full swing" coupler.  

When running on AF 19 1/2" radius track some of our engines (with frame mounted couplers) will pull a freight  car off the track. If it does not have the "full swing coupler".  This can be easily remedied (in about 3 minutes) by modifying the coupler mounting tab on your present coupler.  Modify an American Models or SHS car, (you can not modify an AF car this way).

Directions:  Take the screw out of the truck you like to run next to the American Models engine.  Notice the coupler mount (which mounts onto the bolster of the truck) is held in position on top of the bolster with 4 small "lugs"  1 mm in diameter (.040 ) and about 1.5 mm  in length.  Bend all 4 off with pliers, make smooth.   Remount coupler and truck as it was. Loosen screw a little so the coupler moves easily.

Now the coupler can swing and eliminate pulling off the cars. The coupler will still keep in proper position as it is in a recessed area on the coupler mount.  

Another thing to check out if you are still having problems.  I have found that many  frames with  mounted centering couplers, did not have the hole enlarged for the "coupler spring"  this is attached to the end of the coupler and goes into a hole in the fram. This hole should have enlarged to 3/32 diameter or about for easy movement without binding on the spring. Doing this will allow much more easy movement of the coupler to the extremes of travel..

Lightweight Spackling: On the lookout for new substances to help you with your railroading chores on your S scale pike? Try lightweight spackling. It can be used a "mortar" for bricks on your S-scale structures. Simply use a hobby knife (one of those white plastic ones) to apply it thickly across the face of the bricks and then immediately scrape it off. It will fill in the mortar lines, looking just like mortar. Left a little in the corners? Don't worry. Any residue left behind looks like extra mortar and with some weathering, blends right in. If you've painted your bricks beforehand, this technique provides even better results!

Need a floor/base for an open-air S-structure? No problem - lightweight spackling. It can provide the "concrete" floor for your S engine house. Simply lay it on thick to the depth you want, scrape it off to the required depth and then paint it. With this technique, it can be used with flex-track to make "rails in concrete" as in an industrial setting. You simply apply the lightweight spackling to the depth of the top of the track, scrape off the excess, let it dry and then clean off the track as needed (bright boy, etc.)

Lightweight spackling takes paint easily, including model railroad colors. It can be sanded or not. It won't shrink, sag or gap. And, best of all, it's can be cleaned up with water! It's completely different from it's older and heavier cousin "heavyweight spackling". Give it a try.

Tip o' the hat to S Gauger Roger Nulton of San Diego.

DOUBLING THE COVERAGE OF POLY FIBRE BALL TREES - I recently tore down my hi-rail Buffalo Creek and Gauley layout and am now building a new one. I removed all the poly fibre ball trees from the original layout for use on the new one. As I began installing them on the new layout, it occurred to me that I could double the amount of hillside coverage by simply cutting the balls in two. When applied to the hillside, they still give the impression, maybe better, of the "canopy" of the tree tops. I think it's still best to make them as whole balls, not halves, then cut them after the adhesive has dried.

Tip o' the hat to Brooks Stover

ENHANCE AMERICAN MODELS PASSENGER CAR LIGHTING-- Heres a tip that greatly improves the realism of the American Models lighting kits for their passenger cars. The kits have a PC board with the light bulbs and a No Flicker capacitor soldered together that is intended to bolt onto the truck screws. The only problem with this design is that the 3 bulbs are visable through the car windows and the PC board takes up the space where interior details should go. I soldered a wire to PC board at the holes for the truck screws and fastened the PC board to the car roof with double sided foam tape. I then connected my added wires to the truck screws. My cars now have overhead lighting that leaves plenty of room for interior details and figures.

Tip o' the hat to James Roberts.

RESTORING OLD MAGAZINES--If you collect old RR magazines, and some of them are getting mildewed, try nuking them in your microwave. It kills all the mildew and the resultant smell, and preserves the magazine.

Remove the staples first, then put the whole magazine in a microwave oven. It doesn't need to be spread out.

Set the microwave on NORMAL for 10 seconds, hit start, and all the mildew (and the smell) will be gone.

Restaple the magazine back together and your in business. (... you can find magazine staplers at most any office supply stores.)

Tip o' the hat to Dennis Conway.

SHS Boxcar Doors--On the first series of SHS wooden boxcars, the doors do not slide very easy. All that needs to be done is using a little LaBelle # 134 Teflon lubricating powder in the top and bottom tracks to free up the doors so they slide. This also adds some weathering to the car. # 134 is a white powder.

Tip o' the hat to Terry Harrison.

Flat/Gondola Car Loads--Cooch Industries offers several cast loads for HO scale. One such load is two wooden crates. They weigh a little over 2 oz. each and will help add weight to your flat or gondola car. They measure out in S to be 13' long x 7' high x 6' 6" wide. A very conviencing looking load for any S car or loading area.

Tip o' the hat to Terry Harrison.

Couplers For American Models Engines--For some American Models engines the coupler pocket on the Kadee #802 and #5 are too large. The Kadee #33 however does the trick perfectly.

Craig's tip.

How To Weather Flatcar Decks
- First - cut masking tape the same width as the boards and mask a dozen random boards. You can either use a wash or carfully spray paint the deck black. Quickly, before the paint dries, use a wire toothbrush and stroke in the direction of the grain, removing most (at least 90% of the paint/and or wash). Let dry, mask another dozen random boards and repeat with grey paint. Let dry, mask another dozen random boards and repeat with box car red (dark brown) paint. Let dry. Remove all masking tape and wash with a thin (lots of solvent) mixture. Let dry. Other variations are to file a few (two or three) of the ends of the planks off to simulate broken boards. Or, wait for the laser cut decking from Bulding & Structures Co.

Tip o' the hat to Don Thompson.

How To on Etching Brass body sides and detail parts from the 2 mm Scale Association, but applicable for all scales.

Change Other Modeling Scale Drawings to "S"--Want to reduce an "O" scale plan or drawing to "S" ? Or would you like to enlarge an "HO" scale plan/drawing to "S" ? Here's the percentages of enlargement/reduction that you can make on a copy machine:

No. 1 (1:32) to S is 50%
O to S is a straight 75%
OO (1:76) to S is 119%
HO to S is 136%
N to S is 250%
Z to S is 344%

Or just try this:

original scale / desired scale X 100

Handlaying Track
A quick and easy method of handlaying long sections of straight track is to solder the rails to a few PC board strips. Gap the strips. Then spike the rails to your wood ties. The PC board strips will hold the rails in place as you do the spiking. Remove the strips when you complete the spiking if you wish.

Craig's tip.

Building Construction With Plexiglas
One of the most interesting ideas I've seen for modeling hi-rise buildings has been using Plexiglas, covered by cast windows, doors, details and brick (or stone) embossed sheet plastic. The construction appears to go very quickly, and you end up with an already glazed and structurally very sturdy building ... just pop in a light.

A tip o' the hat to Dennis Conway.

Scenery Tip
Here is an easy tip. Take a small pail out to an area where the rain runoff has made a "sandbar". this is very fine dirt and will make great scenery material. Do it now, when January comes and you want some scenery material the sand is harder to find under the snow....

A tip o' the hat to Ken Zieska

Here's a link to an excellent site for those who paint and decorate their own locos ... or even those who just want to play around with them in a paint program ... or those who get woodies just from locomotive engineering drawings. Pretty cool. Lots of loco templates and more ...
The Railroad Paint Shop

Replace the worn bellows on your American Flyer® smoke-in-tender unit by cutting out and gluing in a strip of cloth from an old umbrella.

A tip o' the hat to George Leidinger.

Want to add window treatments to your S Helper Service heavyweights? Simply cut a strip of masking tape and apply it to the inside of the car along the windows. Looks great!

A tip o' the hat to Mike Palmiter in an issue of the NASG "Dispatch".

Weathering Flat Car Decks
I cut the grooves between the boards and on the ends with a Zona saw just a few thousandths of an inch to give depth. Then I take a modeling knife and cut the ends of the boards and also gouge holes in boards.   Before the deck is painted it should be washed in alcohol to remove molding grease and finger print oils. This helps the paint to adhere better. Next I spray decks with different shades of gray paints. After drying, I weather the decks with chalk. Blacks fill in the cracks nicely and the earthen tones simulate dirt. Beware of using burnt umber. Remember, wood does not rust! But, a small amount may be used in areas where a metal object may have bled onto the wood.  Vary the shades of colors across the deck until you achieve the look you want. Keep in mind nature does not weather cars evenly. Have some new boards in amongst the old. AND, don't forget to weather the ends and sides of the boards.   Finish the deck with a coat of Dullcoat to lock everything down.   The nice thing about working with chalks is if you don't get the effect you want, wipe it off and start over. No thinners, no brush cleaning and no special area to work in.

A tip o' the hat to Terry Harrison.




























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For tips on American Flyer repairs go to:

If you have any tips you'd like to share please e-mail them to: Craig O'Connell.--Thanks!

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