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Questions and Answers - Model Railroading Tips, Tricks and Techniques

Questions and Answers

(Plus Tips)

There are several unanswered questions here, so if you know the answer please share. Email me with your answers on this page.

Advice from Ron Schuch
Each local NMRA Division has a Members' Aid Chairman. They may get his local phone number from Division officers or publication. Talking to him on the phone will give them more detailed advice and instructions from an expert modeler than they can get from a single question.

Q: How do you paint brick so that you have the effect of grout between the brick. I have been working on a few N-scale DPM models and would like to detail them so you have the effect of grouting...any suggestions????


Q: I have several Bachmann (shudder!) nickel-silver #5 switches and #6 crossovers. They look nice, but operation is horrible. Locomotives and rolling stock frequently derail. Even the replacement tracks that I received from Bachmann are rotten. Derailments occur most often when a train enters a turnout. The rails move a tiny bit and create a gap through which the wheels will follow. The first four or six wheels of the locomotive usually go over the turnout without any problem. The wheels on any trucks that follow have the greatest chance of trying to go in a different direction. Please note that there are no problems with the frogs.

I am going to try one fix myself. Using my Dremel tool (a great gadget to have for this hobby) I will grind away part of the stationary rails to make a small notch where they contact the moving rails. I would also like to improve the strength of the springs underneath turnouts, but I have yet to determine how I will accomplish this.

If anyone has any suggestions short of donating my track to the local landfill, I would like to hear them.


Q: Hi, I have a Bachmann 94' Barcelona Mopar give away HO scale train and I wondering how much it cost. I can't find a price any where for it, any help would be great thank you.


Q: I am trying to model a building on fire, can you give any hints on what might make this look real and better. I am using the IRS building on fire. Thanks for your time.


Q: I am considering adding lights to my layout and I have this question. My power packs are 19vac output and all the bulbs I have are 1.5v. My lighted buildings and structures I have that came with lights work fine but the 1.5v blow when hooked up, which they should because of voltage difference. Is there an easy way to fix this problem. I was thinking of a rectifier. John and Judy

A: There are several possible answers to your question.

1. Wire enough of your 1.5V bulbs in series (end to end) to allow them to connect to your 19VAC power pack. You would need to tie 13 bulbs together in a string (much like Christmas lights). The disadvantage of this is that if 1 bulb blows, all 13 go out.

2. Add a rectifier and regulator circuit to the output of your powerpack. Unfortunately, an easy circuit would be very power hungry and not practical, and a more efficient circuit would require more than a basic understanding of electronics.

3. Change the bulbs to a 12V version. With 12V bulbs, you could tie 2 of them together in series. Each bulb would receive about 9.5V, causing it to glow slightly dimmer (but probably more realistic) but it would greatly extend its life. If one bulb blows, two would not be lit (not a bad compromise).

4. Buy a DC power adapter (used for running battery operated equipment from household power) from somewhere like Radio Shack. Depending on the output voltage, you may still need to connect several bulbs in series. Common voltages available are 3V, 6V, and 9V.

As a final note, when you are connecting bulbs in series, take the voltage rating of one bulb and multiply by the number of bulbs in the string. The value you get should be equal to or slightly greater than the power supply you are using.

Regards, Paul

Q: I am running 4 Lionel O gauge trains at the same time. I am powering them with a ZW transformer. All the trains are serviced correctly and work fine alone. When all the trains are running at the same time, I really lose voltage to these trains. Especially the older ones. They always slow down in the same spot too. I have gone as far as putting leads directly under the problem area, but it does nothing. What should I do? What would you look for first?


Q: I have a bachmann GP-20. I posted this issue on the forums, and I got a report that Bachmann sucks. Otherwise, it won't run right. It runs with stops, jolts, and slowdowns. Please tell me how to solve this problem. I cleaned the track, and locomotive wheels, secured every wire.


Q: I had just purchased a "G" scale Bauchman set and some extra track which is Aristo-Craft. They are not compatible but can they be made compatible??? The Aristo is solid brass and the Bauchman is hollow with metal sticking out of one side on each end. Should I just return the Aristo track? It's a long way from home. Thanks!


Q: What is meant by quartering for a steam locomotive? What does it do and how is it done? I have a Rivarossi 4-6-4 that sways back and forth and was told it may need requartering .


Q: I have purchased a model of the Summitt and Susquhana RR in N scale. I am have difficulty with certain aspects of the wiring. Certain sections of the track, the upper level specifically does not have power. I have the diagram and wiring instructions as per the layout in the book. Unfortunately the person who built the model is deceased and the layout appears to be at least 20 years old. I reside in Washington, DC and I am prepared to pay to have someone look at the layout and tell me what is wrong so that I can have it operational. Additionally, some of the switches are not working and I have sprayed cleanerWD-40 on those switches to get them to work. This was recommended by a hobby dealer. It appears to work, but I still have some switches that do not work. I do not want have to rewire the entire system but I am feeling desperate. Any advice or assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


Q: I have a Duo-Pacer (Power Pack) made by the Bergen Co. I am trying to get either a schematic or information on it.


Q: I am building an s gauge hi-rail layout with super elevated curves of 26 inch to 30 inch radius. How much should the outside rail be higher than the inside rail? Would the prototype amount be sufficient to make it look realistic in a model setting? Thanks, Jim


Q: Do you know of any websites, books or articles related to railroad projects using nitinol wire, such as crossing gates or semaphore signals? I found one a while back, but can't find it now. Thank you, Tom

A: Try this book: Muscle Wires Project Book (3-133): A Hands on Guide to Amazing Robotic Muscles That Shorten When Electrically Powered

Q: I just bought a new Digital Riverossi Big Boy. I want to hook a Kadee or similar coupler to the front Cow. it has the one that just swings open with a non-working one on the front. I will probably have to replace the cow but am not sure how to go about it? Michael


Q: I have some Athearn passenger cars that require window glazing as most of the original windows are missing. What's an effective method for this that will look more realistic than the original glazing provided with the kits? Bill

A: I just use clear plastic that comes in 8.5 x 11 inch sheets, I think it's for overhead projector use. I cut a strip as long as the windows in the car and glue it in place. Sometimes I'll "frost" the windows with a light spray of dull coat. I guess the downside of this method is the "glass" doesn't come through the window openings but just sits behind it.

Q: I have 2 old time 2-8-0's and 2 moguls from MDC. They are both the 1998 versions;(small square motors,66-1 cmpd gearing). I want to re-motor and re-gear all four. Northwest Short Line makes the re-gear kits and that is not a problem. The question is the motor. NWSL suggests the 1630, but that means I have to enlarge the motor cavity. Has anyone done a recent re-motor; re-gear of the "old time" lokies from MDC ? I'd be interested in hearing things like, how you did it from start to finish, how does the 75-1 gearing ratio work; which drivers did you remove(insulated or non-insulated); how did you contain the "quartering" problem, etc. Thanks, Steve

A: I've answered my own questions. For the 1998 versions of MDC 2-8-0's,"consolidations,I had no trouble. I purchased several 1319 can motors with flywheels from "motorman" of Texas. They are Swiss made Maxon motors.

I had to widen the motor cavity on both the 2-8-0's and the 2-6-0's.

I also used NWSL "gear puller" to remove the old gears and put on the new NWSL 72-1 gearing with a 2mm worm. "Witness" mark the inside of the non-insulated wheel as well as the outside so that you can replace the wheel in the same position or "quartered position. This is harder than it sounds, I also have an NWSL "quarterer" it pays to check quartering before and after so that there is no binding. When you witness mark, use a single line on the wheel and axle, and only mark one half of the top so that you don't mistakenly 180 degree the mark. (you don't want to replace the wheel on the opposite side if the line runs across the top of the entire wheel).

I did 3 lokies and only had to re-quarter one because I made multiple marks.

I placed the worm on the shaft of the new motor which also had a freewheel.

Check the new gearing for binds. Work out any that may exist, this is crucial. If you've built engines before, you know that this is necessary for a smooth running lokie.

I positioned the motor on the frame of the lokie and shimmed up the motor so that it meshed perfectly with the gears. I used silicone cement to cushion and hold the motor. CA glue also works but it may be difficult to remove the motor later.

The re-motored and re-geared lokies run at scale 1 mph to scale 35 mph and pull 15 cars. They are superb. Better than before and as smooth as glass.

The original MDC motors were fine and my only complaint was that the gearing ran them a bit too quickly. I was also concerned that the original motors might be a bit underpowered although I never had a problem with them.

This is a project that is a bit advanced, requires special tools and a lot of preparation. I have built 7 lokies from kits and now have re-motored 4 so that experience helped. Take your time, write down notes and take pictures. Good luck if you try it, I'm available if you have questions. Steve

Q: Does anyone know of an over the counter chemical that will blacken locomotive wheels and maintain electrical conductivity? The black must not come off on the rails or otherwise wear off. Fred


Q: I'm building a wall / shelf mounted rail line around my son's room and am looking for some books or web sites that would have other examples. I have devised a solid and safe design but am looking for some ideas to spruce it up. Tom


Q: I'm interested in line drawings of famous streamlined locomotives for use a the basis for static models of these beauties. Can't find any, though. Any ideas? Thanks. Dan

A: Try The Railfan Network and Soo Line Locomotive Technical Drawings. Rick

Q: I just inherited an HO scale train set. I have 3 locomotives and various examples of rolling stock. I also received track and some peripheral items. The set hasn't been used in years.

I want to know how to clean and maintain the locomotives, rolling stock, and the track. I am new to the hobby and any other suggestions for my first layout would be appreciated. I have limited space (about enough for a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood). Thank you. Steve


Q: I'm looking for a good quality HO steam loco that smokes. I've been disappointed with the Bachmann ones I tried. Alternatively, is it hard to add this feature to a better unit, say something in the $100-$150 range? Thanks.Brian


Q: What will remove factory paint from a Kato engine? Paul


Q: How can you improve the lighting on Spectrum passenger cars? It is very dim and not noticeable unless you are in total darkness. I can't remember where, but I recall reading an article that suggests to use capacitors which stores DC current, thereby providing constant voltage to the lighting. Can anyone help. Jerry

A: I don't think a capacitor would be a good solution, because it won't store that much energy (unless it's huge). A better solution (depending on what voltage the lights are) would be an on-board battery pack with a small switch (mounted underneath) to turn the lights on and off. The battery holders are fairly inexpensive, and available at your local RadioShack. If the lights were converted to 1.5V, you could install several in a car and run them off of a single AA or AAA battery.

Since the passenger cars have pickups to get power from the rails, I had considered a rechargeable battery system (using 4 diodes to rectify the voltage from the track to a voltage regulator that charged the battery), but I could only find a 1.5V voltage regulator that would handle 13VDC input (National Semiconductor's LMS1587CT-1.5), which seems underrated for the 14+VDC my power supply produces. My solution would be to chain a LM2940 regulator (NatSemi's will take a 26V max. input, and produces 5V regulated output) to the input of the 1.5V regulator, giving it the lower input voltage it requires. Then, you'd have a 1.5VDC supply to charge a AA NiCD battery, and a switch from the output side of the battery to the lights (so the battery could charge even if the lights weren't turned on). The regulators should prevent electricity from "creeping" back onto the track. The lights would be on as long as the switch was closed and the battery had juice, even if the track wasn't powered.

I haven't prototyped this circuit, since I don't have passenger cars, but it might give you some ideas. It's been a while since I picked up my soldering iron, so there may be a better way to do it. Heck, you might even find some thirsty EE major at your local university who'd be willing to design and test an appropriate circuit for beer. :o)

Cheers, SR

Q: O-GAUGE LIONEL 3-RAIL, trying to find information on RELAYS and RECTIFIERS, seems the personnel in the electric supply stores around here know very little if anything about my application needs. I am building a LIONEL layout and would like to apply techniques read about in Vol. Two: Wiring Your Lionel Layout, using the full bridge rectifiers with the dc relays. If I only knew what to tell the kids down at radio shack what I needed I'm sure they would be happy to help me. Thank you for any help this may generate. Duane


Q: Can you tell me the best way to add constant brightness lights to my 2-rail 'O'-scale can-motored (dc powered)steam loco? The engine is already equipped with a PCB for directional lighting. I would like to add thru the rail sound at a later date (like PFM) if this makes any difference. I do know I will need components that can handle the higher current of an 'O' scale loco. (about 3.0 amps?)

I have a method for adding constant lighting to a simple wired loco, but not one with a directional PCB."


Q: I'd like to know if WD-40 is OK to lubricate the gears on the locos? And also is it OK to use WD-40 for oiling the tracks and trucks on the freight cars? I've already tried it and it seems to be working great for all moving parts and maintaining smooth runs on my track.

A: After over forty years as an engineering and manufacturing manager, I can only advise that WD40 around plastic is risky. It can cause "crazing" or surface deterioration of many plastic materials. In fact we would not allow it in our plant that manufactured power tools. Marv Meals

Q: I have several older Model Power and Life-Like (Blue Box era) freight cars. I am in the process of 'upgrading' my freight fleet to metal wheels. I am upgrading to Proto 2000 33' flatbacks. Updates to Athearn, Walthers, Roundhouse, etc have been flawless. However, the Model Power and Life-Like freight is having a problem. The old plastic wheels that came on these freight cars are slightly narrower than the Proto 2000 wheels(or most others I've come across). When I put the Proto 2000 wheels on the cars, the wheels are so tight, they have no free roll to them. When I push a freight car on a piece of track, after converting these wheels, it stops as soon as I let go, whereas the others will coast about a foot (as they should). Any suggestions? Someone said to try Kadee wheels, but if they are the same size, that won't fix the problem. Joel

A: The problem might be with the axle's of the wheels themselves. I changed some of the plastic wheel sets on a number of con-cor cars with metal ones and ran into a similar problem. The axle shaft on the metal wheels was slightly longer and wider than the original plastic set. The metal wheel also had a tapered shaft, while the plastic one was cylindrical. Carefully compare the two shafts.

To correct the problem, I used a sharp hobby knife to enlargen the hole on the truck where the shaft fits in. Scrap a thin layer of plastic from the truck on both sides and refit the wheel. Check if the wheel set now spins freely. Repeat if necessary, removing only a thin layer of plastic each time.

Hope this helps.
Regards, Paul.

Q: I am hand laying code 83 rail with 3/4 plywood sub road bed and 1/4 in. luan roadbed. I know some people and clubs have used the luan before with success, but I am having difficulty driving the spikes home. I recently started laying the yard area and the luan I am using seems to be unusually hard. Any help would be appreciated. I am trying to avoid drilling every spike hole if I can. I've trying homasote, but don't like the dust when you cut it. Phil


Q: I am constructing brick factory buildings and I would like to duplicate the real-life prototype of signs painted directly on the brick. Are decals the best way to do this or are stencils/ freehand better? The signs would be a white background with black letters. Also, do you know of a company that prints custom decals for applications like this?

A: Scale Rail Graphics makes custom decals, they may be able to help you. (Update 11/5/2007: Scale Rail Graphics has discontinued their entire line of decals.)

Q: I have some trouble with the N-Scale Peco switches. At times they seem to short out, stopping the train. If I move the throwbar on the switch slightly the train takes off running. It may run for quite sometime before doing it again. Can you help?......Thank You

A: I don't have personal experience with Peco switches, only HO Atlas but I'm guessing your problem could be the same one I've had in the past. It sounds the your train isn't "shorting', its not getting any power on the short piece of track within the switch (not sure of the name of that piece). When you push the throw bar a little, the "point" touches the rail, thus powering that little piece in the middle of the switch ( Is this still making sense?).

There are a couple of things you can do to help solve this problem, first try to tighten up the throwbar a little so when it is thrown it pushes the point hard against the other side, you may have to do some very careful bending...very careful....don't know how you guys work on that tiny N scale to begin with. Another way is to power the tiny piece of track within the switch so it doesn't depend on the throwbar to make contact. I've taken a small piece of stiff wire and bent it in the shape of a "V" and wedged it between the outside rail and the rail inside the switch and have gotten excellent results with this modification.

Q: I have some early 70's vintage N-scale motive power that I hope to resurrect. Do you know of any HOW-TO for steam and diesel loco overhaul repair and refurbishment? The information I seek include some of the following topics:

I would also like to learn about the following:

Thank you in advance. Dan


Q: What year was the steam locomotive invented?


Q: I am making an American based railroad and I would like to know how to make a realistic looking sandy scenery like in the American west. If you have any ideas then please tell me the answer. Thanks. Mitchell


Q: I have several diesel and steam n-scale locomotives of varying manufacturers and quality. I'd really appreciate some tips or sources of information on cleaning, lubricating and maintenance procedures of engines before I end up with them all over the floor. (Forgive the not-so-pretty picture). Thanks. Paul


Q: I have a Japanese O Gauge train, the only thing I've got on it are the initials KTM and I'm trying to figure out how to make this two rail electric train run on three rails. Can anyone help me? I'm guessing the train is 20 - 25 years old. Also, I have a Challenger engine from Mike's Train House. I have been wondering if it makes sound. Mine never has, but maybe its not supposed to?

A: I don't know if the Challenger in question is RailKing or Premier line. The difference is that RailKing is much smaller than scale, whereas the Premier is scale size. If it runs on O-31, it's a RailKing. RailKing boxes are yellow, Premier are purple. Now, on RailKing, sound is an option. I'm not sure about Premier. It may be standard. Sound works in a funny way on MTH. Some features you have to program by throttling up and down repeatedly to get to the desired function. I converted to HO scale well over a year ago, and haven't looked at my Mikes engines since, so I can't help too much on exact usage. The MTH website may be of use: . Hope I could help!

Q: I am constructing brick factory buildings and I would like to duplicate the real-life prototype of signs painted directly on the brick. Are decals the best way to do this or are stencils/ freehand better? The signs would be a white background with black letters. Also, do you know of a company that prints custom decals for applications like this? Michael

A: I remember seeing an article in Model Railroader a few years back on this very topic. I think the author was using the rub on kind of decals that you can buy in hobby stores and then weathering them to some degree. I'm sure decals would work as well. Not sure about any custom decal company, other than I'm sure there are some out there. Custom decals can get expensive as there is a initial set up cost. Good luck.

Q: I am a first time builder, building on a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. I heard about curves and weight to keep from derailing, what are some tips to avoid this? Second, would it be best to use metal wheels or plastic? not worried about noise, well not yet. Third and final for now, I have a lot of ideas of layouts but how do I decide on which layout to use? Chris


Q: I am looking for car interior detailing for MDC 30' old tome passenger cars. MDC said that they do not manufacture these, nor are they planning to. I especially need seats typical of the 1890's. Are there any products out there that can serve this purpose, even with modification? J


Q: I would like plans or info for building a Helix. I need to get from 50" down to 36". J


Q: I need to know how to remove paint from HO scale engine shells.They have been painted with a spray can and covered all details on the shell. Colin

A: Take paint sample to paint mfg, such as Kelly Moore and ask for paint identification. or: hot soapy water and toothbrush will sometimes remove waterbase paint. or: use Q-tip and paint stripper, touch inside of shell to determine if stripper attacks plastic, if not use stripper carefully w/large pan of water to dip shell in to kill stripper as you work. Apply w/ Q-tip to area no larger than a dime. Let set, about 60 sec or until paint begins to crinkle. Quickly dip shell into water. Dry off, do another section. Will take time - use eye and skin protection. Good luck.

A: One way I did was to carefully slip an Exacto blade under paint at left lower rear corner, and found paint would slowly peel up away from original un-painted shell. I was able to take a quarter inch square piece of the paint to a local paint manufacturer (Kelley-More) and their lab determined the paint was water based acrylic. Hot soapy tap water loosen it in a few days, by keeping the water hot and brushing with a tooth brush. Another one had been painted with a solvent based aerosol, so was more difficult. Had to have big pan of cold water and work out in back yard with rubber gloves. Do not do in WIFE'S sink!! Use cotton swabs, a ceramic soup bowl, tooth brush, and a paint remover gel, such as Strip-it. TOUCH AN AREA NO LARGER THAN A DIME WITH THE STRIPPER ON A SWAB. MAKE SURE THE SURFACE IS HORIZONTAL. LET STAND ABOUT 60 SECONDS, OR UNTIL THE PAINT BEGINS TO CRINKLE UP. Quickly dip shell into water and brush this surface. The stripper may attack the plastic of the shell. You may wish to try this on the inside of the shell first. If no damage, proceed. It is slow, over a week, but it all came off including the original factory paint. Just be careful, stripper will burn your skin and be sure to wear a face shield. Wash in soapy water, then rinse in hot clean water. Let dry two days. Use a light thin primer, then re-paint. Without primer, your new paint can come loose.

A: Some factory paints will come off after shell is soaked in brake fluid for awhile. Some glues will also loosen. Wash with soap after, then rinse several times with clean water. If all else fails, do like the Navy; sandblast it !!

Q: I have a HO scale layout. My main lines run between 22" atlas curves to 24" flex curves with # 6 atlas turnouts on the mains. I have a Athern SD45 which runs perfectly. Now is the problem, I have 2 AC4400 (pwd/dmy), 1 U30C dmy,1 U33C pwd, 1 SD9 dmy. All 5 engines are constantly derailing in the curves and in the switch frogs. I even put metal pwd trucks on the dmy's, with no improvement. What am I doing wrong ? Please help me. I have run out of ideas. I am even willing to sell these 5 engines, this is how frustrated I am with there performance. Any help or ideas will be greatly appreciated. Thank You very much. Dave

A: I'm not 100% sure here, but if memory serves all these engines you have are 6 axle units. If I'm wrong here then the following advice probably won't help much but I'll give it a shot anyway.

First check the gauge on all the track where these engines derail, although I'm sure you have already done so. Make sure there are no kinks as the curve begins or right outside the turnouts. Sometimes super elevating the track just a sliver can make the difference. Next check out the gauge on the wheelsets. With a 2 axle set you're almost guaranteed the wheels will line up as it only takes 2 points to make a straight line, however with 3 axles you don't have that guarantee. In my experience I have found the center axle to be the cause of almost all the derailments as it is either inside or outside the line between the front and the back wheels. (I hope this is making sense). You can adjust where the wheel rides on the axle by gently but firmly pushing or pulling the wheel a bit. Try to get all 3 wheel sets in a perfect straight line, I think I remember reading somewhere that the center wheel can be a bit inside the line between the front and real wheels. This will, in effect, make the center wheel a non-factor as far as steering the engine around the curves. This may take alot of trial and error so good luck.

A: Regarding use of 6 wheel diesels derailing on track curves, and switches. One of my friends had similar problems, his quick fix was to remove the centre set of wheels from each axle, and run the model. In effect switching from six to four wheel drive. Until he pointed it out saw nothing strange about the locos, and even now knowing they are 4 wheeler, it doesn't register. Just a thought.

Mike Shepherd, New Zealand

Needed: Track plans for 027 on a 4x8 sheet of plywood. Thanks. Neil

Needed: Tips for printing decals with a laser printer, I'd like to make white letters. Any help would be appreciated. Pat

Q: What is a single slip and a double slip and what do they do? Ralph

A: This is in reference to old time stub track switches. These switches had frogs, but did not have tapered points. Instead of points, the tracks were cut off square. A half to three quarters of an inch gap was left between the 'set' rail and the movable rail, which could be 'slipped' sideways to align with another pair of rails. A single slip switch went from straight ahead, to a curve. Double slip would ship from straight ahead, to a curved track going left, and also could slip the other way to a track going off curving to the right. Maintaining alignment and gauge made these switches derail prone, so are not used today.

Q: How do you build a bench and reinforce it so it can support my weight when I am building my set up? The size that I am looking at is about 6' X 5' Kevin


Q: Where can I find a book of operating instructions for Lionel postwar accessories? Thank you (mabbie1)

A: See K-Line's Lionel Manual sold by Wm. K. Walthers through hobby stores. Harry

A: You can also try the Postwar Lionel Trains Library website. Rick

A: For Lionel postwar trains, try Greenberg's Repair and Operating Manual for Lionel Trains, 1945-1969 (Greenberg's Repair and Operating Manuals) Rick

Q: Is there is a website with a diagram building an L-girder benchwork system for a simple 10 x 6 layout. Sonya