Thursday, March 7, 2019

Milk to Diesel

This Matchbox milk truck converts easily to a fuel truck. Since the model is called "Petrol Pumper", that is what it was designed as originally.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Matchbox loaders

The cute little Matchbox Skid-steer (left) makes a nice HO loader. All it needed was paint on the loader arm and scoop, dirt on the tires, and the lights painted in. My two versions are on the right. A cut-in-half operator could be perched on the seat.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Time wasters

We now have four time wasters installed on the layout, one at each passenger station, and one near a hobo camp.

The idea of a time waster is to "force" passage of time to make us wait while some imagined activity is occurring on the layout. The time waster is just a one-minute sand timer*, held in a cup made from a PVC pipe cap.

When a passenger train stops at a station, the timer is turned over to begin a one minute interval to allow time for passengers to detrain and board. The train cannot proceed until the time has elapsed.

The hobo camp time waster is explained by this excerpt from the rule book:

Block 16 Trespasser check: If any portion of a freight train comes to a stop at any point in block 16, crew shall check for trespassers aboard the train before proceeding. This may be done by either walking the train, or a slow rollby. This is due to a known hobo encampment in this area. A one-minute timer shall be used to force passage of time before proceeding.

* available from Amazon

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Easy structure lighting

All my structures are illuminated the same way, with LEDs scavenged from a string of Christmas lights.

Parts required:

  • String of LED Christmas lights
  • Resistors (see chart below)
  • Plug in wall transformer from some old appliance
  • Plastic milk jug

1. Pull the LED assemblies out of the string of lights. There is usually a little tab which has to be released first (arrow). Then just pull the assembly out.

2. Add a dropping resistor to one lead of the LED. It doesn't matter which one. The value of the resistor is chosen depending on what voltage your plug-in transformer provides. The goal is to get 20mA through the LED. I use a 5 volt supply and I add a 1K resistor, which is an easy choice for any voltage between 3-12 volts. Then add wire long enough to reach your power supply. 

Resistor values to provide 20mA
5 volts = 220 ohm
6 volts = 330 ohm
9 volts = 470 ohm
12 volts = 620 ohm

Of course, you can always use larger resistance values, the LED brightness goes down with increasing resistance. I use 1K just because I have a lot of them, and I don't want the structure lights too overpowering.

You should also read the label on your wall transformer and see what the current rating is. This will tell you how many 20 mA LEDs it can handle. 1 Amp = 1000 mA, so if your supply sources 1 Amp, that is the same as 1000 mA, so it will power 50 LEDs at 20 mA each.

Now you have to mark the wires for correct polarity. I don't bother keeping track until I get ready to connect them up. I just touch my two wires to a 6 volt lantern battery and see which way lights the LED. Then I mark the (+) lead with a red marker.

3. Drill a 5/16" hole in your layout at your structure location, and poke the wire down the hole until the LED just sits atop the layout.

4. We do not want to see the LED through the structure windows, and we do not want to see a point source of light, so we add a diffuser. Cut a 1" x 3" piece off a plastic milk jug. Notch the ends and roll it into a cylinder, and place it over the LED. Here we see how the light is diffused by the translucent milk jug plastic.

5. Place your structure over the LED.  Try putting some opaque black tape over some of the windows on the inside to suggest the building has different rooms - see the red building in the background below, the windows on the right have been blocked out inside.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


On a recent Amtrak trip, I noticed every station has a few taxis, but my layout did not. So we needed some taxis.

These are some el cheapo Chinese architectural model cars from eBay. They snap apart in 3 pieces (body, window insert, chassis). A quick yellow paint job, a roof sign from a bit of styrene, and a stripe made with a mini brush turns them into taxis.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Matchbox and Hot Wheels?

The question frequently comes up about using toy diecast vehicles such as Matchbox and Hot Wheels on an HO layout. You will hear "they are too big" for HO scale. Not necessarily true. Despite the stated scale of 1/64 (which happens to be S scale), Matchbox and Hot Wheels vehicles actually vary in scale.

Proof they are not too big. This Matchbox Scenicruiser bus measures the correct 40 feet long - in N scale!

Scenicruiser specifications - source

This is because of two criteria:

1. They have a MINIMUM size. Since they are classified as toys, they must follow reg
ulations set by the CPSC (Consumer Products Safety Commission), which requires toys to pass the swallow test by not passing through a cylindrical opening of a certain size. (Actual HO vehicles marketed to modelers are clearly labelled NOT A TOY in order to be exempt from this requirement.)

2. They also have a MAXIMUM size, defined by their manufacturing tooling and blister packaging requirements.

So vehicles are scaled up or down as needed to fit within those parameters. Passenger cars, being the midrange of vehicle sizes, tend to be the advertised 1/64; yes, larger than HO scale. Stuff we can use for HO models would be larger-prototypes such as buses, trucks, or construction equipment; where deviations from scale are not noticeable to the eye. (Except to the eyes of the rivet counters who visit me occasionally!).

Here are some Matchbox/Hot Wheels vehicles in use on my HO layout. Some have had modifications. Many of them only need some dots of paint for lights and have a license plate painted in.

Matchbox skid-steer loader and carrier details

Matchbox skid-steer loader

Hot Wheels "Combat Medic" as a UPS truck details

Matchbox Datsun as a Hi-rail vehicle details

Matchbox Glass King as a lumber delivery truck details

Matchbox crane as a stacker

Matchbox bulldozer as a trackmobile by removing the blade

Matchbox garbage truck after a paint job details

Matchbox Scenicruiser bus and water delivery truck.

Matchbox stake-body truck with pipe load made by Bill Sweet.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Using Sand Timers

Found these cute little sand timers (1 minute) on Amazon. I am using them to "force" passage of time ... when a passenger train stops at the station, I turn the timer to force a wait while passengers get on/off. I placed one near each station.

Waiting for passengers

I also use one of the timers to time out Rule 27 which reads: Block 16 Trespasser check: If any portion of a freight train comes to a stop at any point in block 16, crew shall check for trespassers aboard the train before proceeding. This may be done by either walking the train, or a slow rollby. This is due to a known hobo encampment in this area. A one-minute timer shall be used to simulate passage of time before proceeding.

Damn hippies!

Here is a link to these little timers. Four timers for about $8.