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At what intervals would you suggest placing jumpers to ensure the smooth flow of current?   KK

Some people feel that a wire should go to each section of rail to insure continuity.  Others only put in the bare minimum necessary to supply current.  We solder all the rail joints, so the rail is now one continuous piece and usually put in one wire jumper per track section- two if the section is long.  Since the rail will expand and contract with temperature change, it is wise to leave unsoldered expansion joints every six or eight feet.  Many of our power sections are no longer than this and other gaps are added with switch and crossing frogs.

Many people install one jumper and add additional ones only when there is a problem, others add more in the beginning when it is easier to do so.  We believe soldering the rail  joints and putting two jumpers per section should be adequate.  Even more important in avoiding voltage drop is the use of adequate size wire. #24 telephone wire, unless doubled, is just not sufficient for anything but the smallest HO or N scale layouts. #20 wire should suffice for all but the largest club and home layouts.

I just completed King of the Mississippi.  I would like to display it as a static model, but I would like to make a realistic "wake."  I have used EnviroTexLite before and painted on the "wake."  Is there a better way to create a "wake" and reflection?  DF

We've heard of a number of ways, including torturing the resin with a torch and poking at it when it was almost set, but we've had the best luck by placing pieces of cotton (well stretched out) in the wet "water"  Capillary action draws the cotton under water.this effect works best for rapids or mild wakes, a paddle wheel may be more difficult, perhaps using strands of fiberglass cloth instead.  One problem that modeling moving water is that the water is moving and the model is frozen- this looks OK in photos but wrong in real life. Consider placing the "King" parked at the Levee in St. Louis.  This could turn into a neat
diorama of itself.

 Trackfixer writes,
 I have about 80 Athearn cars with dirty wheels. Is there an easy way to clean all those wheelsets efficiently?

One of the best methods we've encountered is to wet a paper towl with a cleaning agent (we've heard of people using everything from paint thinner to alcohol (our choice)  to soapy water) and placing the towel on a piece of track.  The car is then pushed back and forth over the track until the solvent has cleaned the dirt.  The car is then dried by running it over a dry towel placed on the track.  Be sure to keep using clean towels or you will just be spreading the dirt around.  Replacing the plastic wheels with metal wheelsets will also gor a long way towards keeping the wheels clean, since plastic seems to draw dirt
caused by static electricity

I'm getting ready to purchase some ballast and was wondering if there is any rule of thumb for how much ballast can be used per footage of track? I'd hate to start and then have to run out in the middle to purchase  more.  Dave

We've never thought of this, always building small layouts and never quite finishing a bag.  Any thoughts?

The Model Railroader's Lament

Blessings on this pike of mine
Thou art my true love and I am thine,
Upon thy form I lavish time
Cardboard, wood, paint and turpentine,
When I run thee driver's slip Rail joints part and circuit breakers trip.
I toil for hours with iron and solder
To make things run as thou should oughter,
I fuss with thee with hammer and file
In hopes thou will do for a short while,
But when I try to make thee run
Rheostats smoke and transformers hum.
I labor nightly with might and main So thou shalt not derail my train,
Each track I gauge, each turnout I do measure
For tomorrow's running may be in pleasure,
Yet the next time around the train doth leave the Jumps off the track anew to grieve me.
I anoint thee with plaster applied futuristic
Coat thee with paint to look realistic,
I spot thee with boulders and cut tiny earth furrows
To make thee look nice for visitors tomorrow,
But what do they say as they overlook thee
"Is this to go under your Christmas tree?"
Why can't thou be nice... look and run
So I can regard thee and find my work over and done,
Why must thou forever be broken and bent
Short circuited, dilapidated and wrent,
Still... if thou were a perfect thing
What pleasure would tomorrow bring?

AT, Westwood, NJ

MB writes:
Is there a gauge of model railroad available small enough that the model track.. a short length ... could fit on the side of a spike from a full size railroad tie-plate?

Although not very popular as yet, there IS a model scale that will fit on a spike. Z Scale (1:220 proportion) is manufactured by Marklin and Kadee Micro-Trains, both of whom make top- quality equipment. Their offerings are shown in the Walthers catalog, which any hobby dealer should have.
We measured one of out spikes and found it to be 15mm wide. Z Scale has a track gauge of 6.53 mm. Considering that the ties are about twice the length of the gauge, a 13mm tie should fit comfortably on the spike.

PC writes:

I ... run a Hobby Shop and my own Hobby (interest) is American shortline, although I live in Inverell, Australia, a "city" of 10,000 plus people. Without trying to make this sound like an advertisement for my New England Hobbies I would like to point out that for a town of our size, the largest for 100 odd miles in any direction and 5 hours drive from the cities, We carry styrene, brass, wood, all kinds of paints and tools even the little drills and also to those who know we have the lowest prices ... in Australia- even the discounters come second. We have put in a lot of effort and time, give a lot of help and every now and then just maybe once in a while get to feel a bit like the good guys and not as the ripper-offers that do exist (somehow)).

It's bloody hard hobby supplies as it is and trying to make a profit to keep the Hobby alive. Give us a break and point out that a little place like here makes every attempt to give rockbottom prices, sound advice and be able to have in stock styrene, body filler, all kinds of paints and then some (customer) comes into the shop and tells me that M. Tylick says to get it elsewhere? Give us some positives too please!

We're quite sorry to upset you and honestly never considered the point you mention. It is not our intention to destroy the local hobby shop, a store which we feel can provide many useful services and contacts. We also realize that the large mail-order houses are the ones who are really cutting into your business- as the hobby gets larger, more money is spent on it, and bigger merchandisers enter the scene, sort of like Wal*Mart building a store on the edge of downtown. This may be irrecoverable but we also feel there will always be a need for small, personal, service oriented shops. at least we hope so.

Taking another tack, we would be quite surprised to learn that much of your income is derived from scratchbuilding supplies- no shops seem to be able to do that in the USA. A thought, we know of at least one hobby dealer who sells useful items like this without going through the hobby wholesalers. Why not go to the plastic wholesaler yourself and resell his larger styrene sheets and scraps? Why not sell Bondo and non hobby paints? In our experience, customers would be willing to pay you a profit for the convenience of one stop shopping (not to mention good advice and fellowship).

Hope we have been of at least a little help- it would be a sad day if there were no more local hobby dealers.

DR writes:

When you mix acrylics to weather a brick building, do you use water or alcohol? I've read where modelers use both and don't see an advantage to either one. Is there one? Why use India ink instead of black acrylic paint.?

We're not quite sure why some use alcohol, but alcohol does cause the paint to flow in cracks better (much like detergent in water) and helps paint adhere better to slick surfaces like raw plastic. The India ink and paint would probably work about the same (the real "trick" to the mixture is probably the alcohol for the above reasons) but the India ink is easier to mix in since it is quite liquid, where the paint would have to be blended more- probably harder to combine. In any event use a very little of each coloring. The ink and alcohol is a George Sellios technique which is probably used by many just for that reason. We prefer water color washes, for what it's worth, over that mixture, but we do like the ink and alcohol (now that we've quite smoking) for weathering wood.

DB writes:

Hope you can help me out. I build my own structures and I have run into a problem lighting them, I find that the Model Power bulbs, 1.5 volt Grain of rice bulbs" that I hook to a Tyco HO transformer 17VDC for a power source blows the light bulbs. What other power sources are available to prevent this from occurring? Or do I have to add more resistors?

We're not surprised that the light bulbs blow out, since the resistors included in the wire leads (if these are the same lamps we've used) really work best around 9-12 volts. Without going too deeply into Ohm's Law (which we are not qualified to do) Resistance equals Voltage times Current (R=EI) In other words, assuming the lamps draw .020 to .050 amps, a correct resistance value would be between 330 to 870 ohms. A simple expedient for a test would be to bring the lamps to the Radio Shack and buy some of the resistors of the same value (they should be able to read the color codes on the in-line ones.) and place them in series (in line) with the ones you already have. This should bring you into the ballpark. Increasing the value should dim the lights further, decreasing the value the reverse. 1/4 watt Resistors are inexpensive so buying a few packs on either side of the supplied one should not break you. A little trial and error is necessary since manufacturers rarely publish the current draw for mini lamps like these. In general, you are better off to have the lamps glow rather dimly. The effect is more realistic and the bulbs will last many times longer.

JC writes:

After planning track and building benchwork, I read, "The backdrop should not be an afterthought." Well, it almost was for us. Other than building a very high mountain to surround it, is there a good way to hide a single vertical 5 inch pipe that projects 7 inches from the wall in the center back of our planned layout? I hate to sacrifice 7 inches of our space by building a new wall covering the pipe, and it would seem bending some thin material around the pipe and attaching it flush to the wall would look like a big bump in the wall instead of a pipe. We're planning some low hills against the back wall, and this pipe would shoot up in the middle of the range. Removing the upstairs bathroom would not go over to well with the other member of our board of directors.

From visiting layouts with awkward pipes, we feel the best way to solve backdrop problems is often to join them rather than try to beat them. Seven inches is a lot of space to lose and the bump in the wall would probably never look good. Several solutions we've seen have involved smokestacks or water tanks made from the pipe. At sky level you could perhaps paint the pipe to match. Or maybe even just cover it with ground foam. We've visited layouts with all sorts of backdrops and the eye seems to ignore things that do not belong, even if the camera doesn't. One last thought. If at all possible, plan a drop ceiling and reasonable access under the bathroom. Sooner or later someone will have to repair the pipes.

EG writes:

Is there a way to glue ground foam to styrene? Wood to Styrene?

If the styrene is painted with a latex paint, the ground cover should bond well enough. You might mix some powdered resin glue into the ground cover for additional strength. This should be OK so long as the styrene doesn't flex. In any case, acrylic medium will bond better to styrene than white glue. Walthers Goo or contact cement will bond wood and styrene quite well.

I read the question from the fellow who purchased our Art-Deco and Iron-Front building kits and wanted suggestions for painting them, so I thought I would get my two cents worth in.

1. We DO give some general color suggestions in the instructions. One thing I didn't want to do was specify exact colors like some manufacturers do because everyone that purchases a kit paints theirs the same! That's boring! I want people to try and use their imagination a little tiny bit.

2. It's very difficult to give exact color suggestions for out iron-front building because color film didn't exist when these buildings were originally made. The colors used today on old buildings are quite different from 90 years ago. The best information I could find about iron-front buildings said that they were originally painted to imitate stone or masonry fronts. That would most likely mean they were painted different shades of gray or brown. I would imagine that some were painted a bit ornate, but once again, how could we know without color pics?

3. I don't know where the person lived that purchased our kits, but art-deco buildings are certainly out West! They can be found in many large cities out there. He may just not live in an urban area. At any rate, the most common brick colors for the first art-deco style buildings were generally brown or beige bricks. I don't know why, but it seems as though typical reddish colored bricks weren't used at all. It must have something to do with the trends at the time. So, almost any color brown or light brown looks good on this building. Just paint the trim a contrasting color. I like green personally.

JS- City Classics

I am looking for any pieces of Paul Larson's Mineral Point & Northern RR layout. I understand the layout no longer exists, but that some modelers in southeast Wisconsin may have items from the layout. I am from Mineral Point and I desire to use these in a future layout of the MP&N that I will be building. If you know of anyone, please contact me either by E-mail kjelland@mhtc or phone in the evenings at (608) 987-2271 Thank you! DK

I've been looking for information about a recent TV show. It was about large scale locomotive. being fitted with a transmitting video camera and hooked up to a computer. I thought it would be a neat home security set up around my house someday. Any ideas? ET

We think this would be a most undetectable burglar alarm. But what if the thief took a liking to the trains and stole them as well?.

The two pieces below were written as guest editorials for Model Railroader magazine by Peter Tuttle. Although they are not recent, we believe they are as relevant today as ever and most certainly reflect our philosophy of modeling. They are reprinted with permission from the author and Kalmbach Publishing and are NOT public domain.


MODEL RAILROADING can be a very inexpensive hobby. To me, that's much of its charm. I guess I'm just Yankee enough to believe you shouldn't spend much on leisure-time amusements.

There was a time when the major model railroad magazines stressed the idea that the hobby could be an inexpensive one. MODEL RAILROADER even featured a "Dollar Model Project" series and RMC printed many stories in the same spirit. Well, sometime in the 1960s all that changed.

America entered a period of economic boom; spending significant sums on leisure-time activities became prevalent in the society at large, as well as in the world of model railroading. Certainly, today's large model railroad industry and the fabulous array of products available to model railroaders would not exist if the "dollar model" philosophy had prevailed. I'm just old enough to remember the old-timers' complaining letters to the editors about those newfangled lost-wax castings. "Why, I could hold $30 worth in the palm of my hand!" one exclaimed.

True enough. But for those of us raised in postwar prosperity, Depression-era thinking and values just didn't hold. I remember, at age 13, spending a summer's worth of lawn-mowing money on my first brass engine. a $60 United Class B two-truck Shay. I'm sure my parents were quietly horrified. But then came that two-decade period when dollar models just didn't seem relevant to many of us. Well friends, those times are gone. Welcome to the 1980s! It's time once again to contemplate dollar models.

Of course, times have changed. I think it's quite possible that -- taken as a whole -- there is more money in the hobby today simply because it has moved up in its "social respectability." It may be just my perception, but it seems that more professionals, executive types (i.e., people with large disposable incomes), have become fascinated with miniature trains. In fact, I have noticed that financially successful men and women recently featured in "Dewars Profile" liquor ads have listed model railroading as their hobby.

And this is fine. I certainly don't mean to discourage those who have the means and inclination to spend money on the hobby. Basically, the more cash flowing through the hobby industry, the better for all of us. A $35 structure kit will result in window castings available six for a dollar and, at the same time, support scale lumber manufacturers who provide the material for my scratchbuilding. A run of 125 brass locomotives for $200 each results in a great $2 headlight casting for my $40 plastic Consolidation.

But, to get back to the original point. In a way, nothing has changed, and this is, I think, one of the enduring strengths of the hobby. There's still a niche for everyone. I know that in 1963, when I scratchbuilt my first model, I spent about 15 hours and $3 for wood, trucks, and castings. Today I could build the same! model for $7 using greatly superior trucks and castings. I could not buy the United Shay for $60, or even for $120. But I could buy an Athearn diesel, better than the 1960 version, for near the same money as then.

My point here is that the hobby need not be expensive if you don't have or don't want to spend the money, and that, beyond a simple minimum, your enjoyment and achievement in the hobby is not in proportion to the size of your disposable income. It's possible -- in fact, great fun -- to spend hundreds of hours fashioning a model from only a few dollars' worth of materials. Some of the finest models -- and model railroads -- have been built with remarkably little money. Money is not the point; the point is to have fun. So have fun. In fact, if your dollar, or $5, or $30 model turns out well, why not write it up for a (hobby) magazine? If the effort is accepted, you can finance a couple more models with the payment.

Simply put: Your ticket to model railroading enjoyment need not be expensive. Enjoy.

-- Guest editorial by Peter Tuttle for Model Railroader for September, 1981

Copyright MODEL RAILROADER Magazine 1981, used by permission


NEWCOMERS to scratchbuilding sometimes feel a bit lost, looking at a counter display or catalog for scale lumber, brass, or plastic shapes. Instead of a neat kit box with color-coded, precut lumber, the neophyte finds himself faced with an almost overwhelming variety of material, which only the modelbuilder's imagination and craftsmanship can transform into something recognizably part of a model railroad.

Then, too, it may be harder to make a cash commitment to something that doesn't look like anything --just wood, or brass, or styrene sheets or strips, rather than a lovely lost wax part or styrene car kit. The immediate gratification isn't there. I suspect the reason most hobbyshops don't stock much in the way of basic scratchbuilding supplies is that those simple materials are not the sort of things we buy on impulse, like a brass caboose or locomotive we really don't need but can't resist. Unlike the bits and pieces, the finished model satisfies our imagination just the way it is and requires little work for completion.

After I'd done some scratchbuilding, my feelings changed. The different wood sizes became old friends. I could look at a scale plan and visualize where I'd use which sizes, and it became a welcome challenge and pleasure to see how I could design a model most efficiently for both strength and attractive appearance. I found I was evolving an individual aesthetic that reflected my preferences in materials, coloring, and construction; it was also, no doubt, an expression of my personality. A new box of lumber now made me feel the same way a painter might feel when he buys a new tube of paint or stretches a fresh canvas. A good scale drawing or sharp photograph makes me feel the way, again, a painter might feel when he sees a scene, or a figure, or just a quality of light that he simply must capture with his medium.

One of the great benefits of model railroading's present popularity is the tremendous variety of supplies that a large market makes possible. This works in favor of scratchbuilding as much as any other facet of the hobby. If a model railroader can buy a superb electronic throttle, ready to use, for the price of the kit components a few years ago, he can spend that much more time building models. Or, if he is a superdetailer, he can spend hundreds of hours concentrating on a super-fine model, knowing that the -bulk of his equipment roster or town architecture can be filled out with dozens of quickly built, well-detailed plastic kits.

If scratchbuilding tempts you, stop considering it and take the plunge. Like a lot of things, worrying about modelbuilding problems can be more difficult than the work itself. The construction stories in (the hobby magazines) are an ideal way to begin, because a well-done scratchbuilding story is much like a good craftsman kit: (The magazine) provides the plans and instructions; you buy the materials on your own.

After you've put together a couple models successfulIy, you may want to go on to design your own projects. And, if in your original work you discover a material or method not yet seen in the model railroading press or you've chosen a prototype never done before, think about writing a scratchbuilding story... Your shared accomplishment and enthusiasm may provide the spark and means for other modelers to venture on their own, enriching the hobby for us all.

-- Guest editorial by Peter Tuttle for Model Railroader for August, 1979

Copyright MODEL RAILROADER Magazine 1979, used by permission

 SD Writes:

Over the last 4-5 Years I've been experimenting with control systems. Of the results I found that ALL EXISTING systems fall down where it comes to unattended or automatic control.

With a LOT of self learning I've managed to solve EVERY control situation. The method requires a computer, external control boards and a LOT of wires connecting to the track. I will say now that the system is NOT cheep (I've spent about A$5000) as there are a large number of decoder boards that presently have a high component count.

Results of using the system are: 1/ Track polarity (train direction) - AUTOMATIC 2/ Point control - AUTOMATIC 3/ Train conflict management - AUTOMATIC 4/ NO Modifications required to locomotives 5/ A train can be under full user control right through to a completely automatic train (It decides where it goes) 6/ Signals are completely automatic

Or if you prefer it very closely matches the control that the real train systems use, with the same capabilities.

How its done: The track is electrically broken into many separate sections with each section having its own power detectors, control for up to 4 point motors a switch mode power supply (Very simple type), polarity relays and signal drivers. All of these controls are connected to sub-boards that in turn connect to a computers parallel port. In the system I have at home I am using an AMIGA 2000 computer for which all the software and the hardware has been designed by me. The track lay out is described electronically and includes, Number of points in the section and there settings What track sections join each other Whether the track is up or down hill Whether the track polarity swaps with the connection to the next section (useful on the crossing loops) Trains are controlled in the software by creating tables that show where a train is headed and where its been, current power settings, etc. The Present MAXIMUM number of track sections that are supported is 64. The layout I have is only using 29, has 22 sets of points and I have not yet fitted any signals. The software is written to control a total of 15 locomotives simultaneously (though where you would fit them on the layout beats me)

We (TTTrains) were told that the system is well documented. For additional information or to discuss computer control, please feel free to e-mail SD at: Please contact TTTrains and tell us what you have learned since we are most interested in all advanced and experimental control systems.

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