Friday, March 20, 2020


What to do with that little piece of leftover layout? A cemetery can fit any size space. Adjacent to a church is a logical place. Gravestones are bits of styrene painted various shades of grey (good use for bread bag closure tabs). Crosses can be cut from white plastic canvas material (I use 7 mesh, which is 7 squares per inch).

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Weed Sprayer

Here is an easy-to-make weed sprayer for your M.o.W. crew.

  • Materials needed:
  • Life-Like track cleaner car
  • Matchbox Rainmaker irrigation tractor
  • Two small brad nails
  • Decals: Microscale 87-1012
  • White (Elmer's) Glue
  • BB shot

Obtain a Life-Like track cleaner car. These are readily available on eBay (try this search) or swap meets. Remove the cleaning pad from the bottom, and the sidewalls on either side of the tank. Put a squirt of white glue into the tank, and add BB shot to get the weight up to spec (4 oz.) Then another squirt of glue, and tip the car back and forth so all the BB shot is glued in place and won't roll around. Paint as desired. Remove the caboose section to add window glazing if desired. 

Obtain a Matchbox Rainmaker irrigation tractor (try this search). Remove the two spray arms.

Drill two small holes through the deck of the car for the hinge pins, which are two small brad nails inserted up through the bottom and glued in place. Add a short piece of wire in the first stake pocket to act as a retainer to hold the spray arms closed which car is in transit. Slide the spray arms into place, and that is all!

"Weed Spray" decal can be found in Microscale set 87-1012.

Push the weed spray car along your track tank-end first, so the operator (in the cupola) can see to operate the spray arms, and retract them from obstructions.

spray arms in closed position

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Blue Flag Protection for your layout

If you use panel switches to control blocks of track, this is a familiar problem. You come to the train room, turn on your power pack, and - surprise! A locomotive starts off down the layout unexpectedly, because you left a block switch engaged last time around. This can be a big hazard, as the locomotive can head off for big trouble before you can react to stop it.

Here is my solution: a modified form of “blue flag protection”. It consists of a vitamin pill bottle, a toggle switch, a blue LED, a 1K resistor, and a 9 volt battery. The switch just turns the LED on, that is all.

The concept is that the lit LED indicates a possible unsafe condition. When I begin operating, I turn the LED on and place the device at the exit of the train area. When finished operating, I see it on my way out; and the rule is that I cannot turn if off until all locomotives are secured - in other words, all panel switches set to neutral so any locomotives on the layout are disconnected from the power packs.

This ensures that on power-up next time, there will be no runaway trains.

(This is conventional cab control, using DPST switches controlling each block). 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Easy pipe load for Tyco flats

You've seen the Tyco 40' flat car with its three giant pipe sections. They are wayyyyy too large to be believed, and they tend to roll off anyway.

photo: eBay seller nikiship

Here is how to make a more believable - and stable - removable pipe load for this car. It will rest just inside the molded tray.

1. Trim off the vertical divider tabs in 4 places. A utility knife will slice them off. Don't worry about neatness, those spots will be covered by the new load.

2. Obtain some 1/4" ID PEX plumbing tubing from your home improvement store. It comes 5 foot lengths, in grey or white. Grey is preferable, but white can be painted. A 5 foot piece is enough to make loads for two cars.

3. Cut the PEX tubing to length: 5 pieces @ 4 1/2". This is a somewhat soft plastic, you can cut it with a utility knife and cutting board. Score the tubing all the way around and gradually work the knife through it. 

4. If there is printed lettering on the tubing, rub it off using 91% isopropyl alcohol. 

5. Set up the bottom layer - three pieces tightly side by side, and run a bead of hot melt glue along the two joints. After it hardens, run two more beads, and stick the remaining two pipes on top.

6. Now the pipe load is stacked. Trim off any hot glue that oozed out. Paint if needed. I used a stick and masking tape for a painting handle to paint my white tubing grey.

7. Apply banding. I used 1/8" automotive pinstripe tape.

Now you have a nice removable load! 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Dome car improvements

Here is a Life-Like passenger car, originally Amtrak Silver Inn 8053, after a rebuild for the Cape Ann. The detail molded into the dining area in the dome is quite amazing, but generally goes unnoticed since the entire interior is all molded grey plastic. 

Step 1 (interior): A careful repaint in contrasting colors shows that each table has four place settings, silverware, coffee cups, napkins, and salt and pepper shakers! Here the carpet has been painted yellow, chairs Cape Ann green, tablecloths maroon. 

Step 2 (not shown): Hungry passengers are brought in. It does require leg amputations to fit them into the seats.

Step 3 (exterior): The all-clear dome needs a bit of work. First, all the window frames are painted by running a silver Sharpie pen along them for a metallic look. The a roof panel is added, made from - what else? duct tape.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Recycling hood unit shells

Have an old shell from a hood unit loco hanging around? You can cut it up and add some ends from styrene to make a lineside instrument enclosure, or even tool storage for your shops. It would be a shame to let those nice doors go to waste!

Friday, November 22, 2019

Staging a loco service in the shop

What to do with a dummy locomotive - or a beyond-repair locomotive? It can be staged as a unit being serviced. Here is an AHM dummy Alco "1000" (I think it is really a model S3). It is parked on the service track at Bolton Shops.

Some of the access doors have apparently been removed for expediency. In reality, the doors are still in place, but have been painted flat black to make them just appear as openings. Four new "doors" have been cut from styrene and painted to match, and leaned against the hood. A workman is posed in position, along with his tool box. And the blue flag lanterns (LEDs) have been set in place foreward and aft.

A similar trick has been used to open some car hoods. See this post.