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Locomotives Tips - Model Railroading Tips, Tricks and Techniques

Locomotives Tips

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Window Glass
Don't use super glue (cyanoacrylate) for this, as it will fog the window material. White glue, like Elmer's, will work, though it does not really stick well to plastic, and you may have to reapply the window to the model from time to time. For a more permanent solution, go to a hobby shop that has model airplanes, and get some "canopy cement." This is a glue that will attach the plastic window glass to a model while leaving the glass clear. The glue doesn't know that it is being used on a train and not an airplane, and the merchant who sells it won't care. -Frederick Monsimer

You know, I realized a great way to make graffiti without buying those expensive decals. I use White-out (a correction pen), the finer the tip the better. I even made up a cool scene with this- I painted an HO car, parked it in front of a university, and put an angry teacher beside it, like one of his students painted it! -asparuh frangov (viper)

Instead of using windows included in a kit or making your own from styrene ( clear ) use Sobo glue. Take a plastic cup, and on the bottom pour some Sobo glue. Take a toothpick and spread a little around the edges of the opening. Then, taking as much as you can, spread it over the window, making sure to keep it level. Let it dry overnight and it will be clear and look like a real window!!! -Paul

Details, Details
When modeling any Norfolk Southern locomotive, and you want to super detail it with ready made parts ( yes, I do know someone who builds ALL of his loco's and cars from scratch!), put all of the Cannon and Company parts that are made for the loco you are modeling on the locomotive. I found that the more you add, the better it looks! -Paul

Unless You're The Lead Dog
In prototype railroading, particularly in olden days, it was practice to keep the weakest engine in the lead, to prevent it from being overloaded (That way you can only do the work of your smallest-outputting engine). In modeling, you can go two ways: That way, or keep the heaviest, most powerful engine in front so that a small, weak one is not shoved off the rails on curves. -Stephen

Kadee Height
When putting your own Kadee draft gear pocket on the Proto 2000 Northeastern (My example that I worked on) caboose, if you install the centering spring above the coupler, the coupler will ride too low. Therefore, you should put the centering spring UNDER the coupler to achieve a little more height. This is why one should ALWAYS test fit the coupler's height before gluing or screwing the pocket together or to the frame! -Stephen

Get even more locomotive tips & techniques with Robert Anderson's Model Train Help
Model Train Help eBook 4th Edition

Cat whiskers . . . really. Cut to a length to suit scale. They have a taper that lends itself to realism. -Bob Mon

Kinder, More Gentle Antennas
Use the leftover plastic 'trees' that other model parts are attached to. Break off one long piece about 4"-5" long. Hold this piece by both ends about 4 inches or so above a lighted candle or other heat source. (candle works best). As the plastic heats up and begins to soften, pull the ends in opposite directions. Be ready!

The plastic gets to the soft stage all of a sudden, so it may take some practice to get good hairlike strands, but the end result is well worth the practice it takes. Once the plastic cools, simply trim the strand to the desired length. You will find that these new antennas even have a whip/spring like effect and are pretty sturdy. -Jeff Meyer

Pin Stripe
To do very fine pin striping on diesel engines, around signs, on storage tanks, and motor trucks or their trailers.

Go to a sewing center and select a color and size (diameter) of sewing thread that would best match the width of stripe needed. #60 cotton is the heaviest. It looks like the cable on a 200 ton wreck crane. Then thread is graduated on down to very fine silk which looks about like a one inch wide stripe, (.01148" in HO) Cotton thread is 'fuzzy', so set up for alignment first, then the very last thing before you lay the thread in place, put a few drops of clear gloss or matte finish , as desired, on a corner of a rag and quickly draw a length of the thread through it and place on the item. Let dry the appropriate length of time. My father used a small camel hair brush to apply a 'base' of clear along the side of a passenger car, wiped the thread, placed the thread, set the weights and waited until the next day to trim off the excess.

Dad made a jig with 8p nails. Two along the length of the car, and one against the end. He nailed a block of wood at right angle (top to bottom) and far enough away to clear the couplers. One block on each end. These blocks were 1/8" shorter than the car was wide. Using a straight edge, he marked where the 'stripes' were to go on top of these blocks then pushed a straight pin in both blocks at the marks. He did a black, red, black pattern laying the three threads side by side. It was impressive. Turn the car over and do the other side, the stripes will align and match. He tied a fishing weight on both ends (same weight each), on a length of thread that would allow about six inches to hang down on each end. Lay the first one against the pins, lower down to the car side, and let the weights hold it in place. Try this on scrap wood, you will find it easy. Visitors will wonder how you got such fine thin stripes. Enjoy !! -W.D. Wilson

Kadee Springs
To keep Kadee knuckle springs from ever falling off your couplers, apply a tiny bit of CA-glue to one end of the spring before putting the spring on. This bonds the spring to either the knuckle or the coupler, but still allows the spring to freely compress. Use an X-Acto knife to put the springs in place. -Jeremy Kudlick

Kadee Springs
I can't take credit for this as I saw it on another website. To keep those little bitty springs used for Kadee and Micro-Trains couplers from flying away, run a thread thru the spring until you get it placed. The thread can then be (carefully) pulled out. -Johnnie C. Scott

Make your own handrail for F units out of brass wire. The wire bends easily and is cheap. First drill #77 holes in the engine body, then bend your wire to fit.

MU hoses
Make your own mu hoses out of brass wire, just like the handrails. Drill holes in the nose and back of your engine and install the wire. I put a 90 degree bend on one end of the wire to insert into the hole and the rest of the "hose" just hangs down. I paint the hose black and the tip silver.

Windshield Wipers
Make your own windshield wiper out of fine wire and a sliver of styrene. Drill a #80 hole centered above the windows. Bend one end of the wire 90 degrees and glue the sliver of styrene to the other end. Off set the styrene just a little. Paint the wiper black, the wire silver.

To make your windshields look well weathered spray them will dull coat. This will give you the frosted look, but before you do this put masking tape the shape of the windshield wiper path and then spray. After it dries, peel off the tape and your windshield now looks clean where the wipers go, but dirty everywhere else.

The masking tape idea would also work for a window washer doing a store front, hanging on a building side, woman doing windows of a house, etc. -W.D.Wilson

Porthole Glass
I use a hole punch to punch out round pieces of clear acetate. This makes a perfect fit for the port hole windows (at least the one I have does, I think they are all about the same size, but check them out at a office supply store). Then I color the back side of the acetate with a black magic marker. This gives an effect that what's behind the glass is dark but doesn't look like you painted the acetate.

For a "weathered window" appearance, try spraying Floquil Flat finish thinned to 50% lacquer thinner on the INSIDE SURFACE of windows instead of the outside. That way the window still looks like glass but appears dirty. -Jim Six

Crystal Clear Windows
Use Microscale Crystal Clear. Just use a small wooden toothpick. Put the end of it in Crystal Clear and then apply on the periphery of the window and then make a film using your toothpick horizontally ! That's makes fine 'glazing' windows. -Sainte Eric

More MU
This is something picked up from a fellow British Region NMRA member: Use wire-wrapping wire, available from Radio Shack (Tandy in the UK) to simulate MU hoses-its cheap and comes in black. Drill No. 77 holes, cut the wire to suitable length, glue it in place. -Alf Milliken

Applying Decals
Be sure to see Joe Czapiga's The Art of Applying Decals on the How-To page.

To paint the front edges of locomotive steps white use the tip of a round toothpick dipped in the paint in the lid after shaking. -Henry Stowell

Grabs and Hoses
Since I'm a blues guitarist, I've found that guitar strings make great grab irons and air hoses. A set of medium gauge strings is about $8 bucks and it will last a longggggg time. There are 6 asst sizes from .046 to .010 They're good for locos, pax, and frt cars as well. I've used some of the larger ones for maintenance facility hose and piping. Enjoy! -Ted Tyson Sr

Windshield Wiper Streaks
A subtle yet effective detail are Windshield wiper streaks. These can be made by simply cutting a small piece of masking tape to the shape of a windshield wiper blade arc and placing it on the windshield in the area of the wiper. This will depict an area wiped clean by the windshield wiper blade. Later spray a light coat of "Dull Cote" across the entire windshield. When dry, remove the tape and presto you'll have a clean windshield that was just wiped by the windshield wiper blade. The "Dull Cote" will indicate a dusty or dirty windshield, except for the cleaned area that was just wiped clean. -Marty

Paint Removal
I have been looking for a quick, safe way to remove paint from engines, cabeese, etc. Looking on a model car sight the other night, I found a tip on paint removal- Castrol Super Clean. It works great! In about 30 minutes, my Athearn F7 was clean with the exception of bits and pieces that I took off with an old toothbrush. It does not harm the plastic or styrene. Use it in a well ventilated area, although if you must you can use it a closed shop or garage, just don't stay too long as the fumes will get to you. You must wear gloves when using Castrol Super Clean otherwise it will remove the first layer of skin. Dishwashing gloves should work fine. When you buy the CSC don't buy the spray bottle as it is cheaper by the gallon and easier to use. Go to the local dollar store and buy a quart dish or a little bigger, that should be fine. -Mark Credell

Painting old American Flyer or Lionel Locomotives
For years I struggled to find just the right paint to use when repainting Lionel & Flyer steam engines. It is a matte black, not gloss, and not flat. I finally found it, and it comes in a spray can that does a fine job, no need for an airbrush. The paint is "High Temperature Barbecue and Stove Paint" by Rustoleum. The Barbecue & stove paint from Krylon also does a good looking job.

Don't use it on plastic though . . . I have a couple of tenders that look like they were made out of leather because of the way the paint reacts, even with that tough Lionel tender plastic. -Geoff Worstell