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

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. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Before you do the 4x8 plywood...

The traditional starter railroad is on a 4x8 sheet of plywood. However, a rectangle has limitations - you are pretty much limited to a little oval of track, and it is difficult to use the corner space in a practical way. Here's an easy improvement on the good old 4x8. 

Cut off two 24" x 24" triangles, outlined above, off one end. 

Flip them around and attach them to the other end. Now your 4x8 is 4x10, with a shape better suited to a big oval, with a longer mainline run. Formerly wasted corner space is gone.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Modifying decals for a freelance road

If you are considering a freelance railroad, you will immediately run into the question of how to letter your railcars? Most modelers choose a roadname, then windup committed to preparing artwork and buying custom (read that $) decals forever.

On the Cape Ann, we have flipped that strategy around. First, we browsed Microscale's online catalog to see what stock decals are available, then selected decals which could be modified to create a roadname. In other words, the decals drove the roadname, not the other way around. We wound up with not just one, but three roadnames!

Cape Ann

First .. Observe the Central Vermont CV logo:

Jim Parker photo

The CV could be flipped and applied wrong-side out to turn CV into CA. Thus the inspiration for using a CA roadname: Cape Ann. (There is another modeler out there doing the same thing, for his Central Atlantic).

Cape Ann locomotive

Cape Ann boxcar


Second - a Maine short line to interchange with the Cape Ann. The Rock Island decals are an easy modification, just cut a few letters out of the middle to turn Rock Island into Rockland, a city in midcoast Maine.

Rockland locomotive

Rockland boxcar and caboose

Seacoast Line

Third - Seaboard Coast Line decals were found to be an inspiration for Seacoast Line, a regional New England short line specializing in running seafood from Maine to Boston overnight.

Seacoast Line locomotive

Seacoast Line boxcar

Seacoast Line caboose


Leftover scraps are useful too. Some leftovers from Procor tank cars became Co-op gondolas.

So - before you settle on a roadname, see what is available for off-the-shelf decals you can modify!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Scrap iron load

My 15-year old pickup truck is shedding some rust flakes, so I turned them into a gondola load of scrap iron. I figure after about 15,000 gondola loads my truck will be gone completely.

There have been some questions about how the sides of the gondola were deformed. I softened the sides up with a heat gun (also known as a wallpaper stripper) and just pressed them by hand. A hair dryer will not get hot enough. Go easy, or else you will have a molten blob of plastic.

Fun with Plastic Canvas

Plastic Canvas is available from your craft store, Hobby Lobby, and some Wal-Mart stores. It will be in the sewing/embroidery section.

Plastic Canvas comes in various colors, and is sold in 10.5 x 13.5 inch sheets. The hole sizes are rated in "mesh": the larger the mesh number, the larger the holes. The mesh number indicates the number of squares per inch. For HO scale, 7 mesh is a good size.

The material is soft enough to cut with a utility knife, and stiff enough to be self-supporting. It can be used for industrial windows.

windows from white plastic canvas

It can also be used for ladder stock.

ladders from plastic canvas

Plastic canvas was used on this sanding tower (link to article). 

And it can even be cut into crosses for your cemetery!

Fun with Fiberglass Drywall Tape

Fiberglass drywall tape can be used to mass produce windows and other things on your layout. This is available in the drywall supply section of your home improvement store. It is sticky on one side.

This is a quick way to make individual window panes. Cut a piece of drywall tape larger than your window opening, and stick it on a piece of clear plastic. Then just glue that up against your window opening from the inside.

You can also use this tape to make solar panels for your buildings.

See this post for directions on making solar panels.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Mismatched doors

Sometimes a boxcar may show up on your railroad with a damaged door. Your shop may install whatever door they have on hand, and not worry about painting it; especially if it is a foreign road - since you wouldn't have the correct paint anyway. You would replace the door with a primed one and send it (and the bill) on its way.

As a result, you may have cars floating around with mismatched doors, some grey primer only, and some that are completely the wrong color.

Looks like Conrail needed a door, and only had and old one leftover in Penn Central Jade Green.

A prototype mismatch, photo by Ron Hawkins, as posted on

Not all mismatches are from damage. Some roads paint doors a different color for a reason - Conrail has used yellow doors to indicate clean lading only.

Horizontal scratches

Freight cars get lots of horizontal scratches...

Photo by Stan Lytle, posted on

But it can be difficult to make them level. Here is a way to make nice level scratches.

I use disposable lip liner cosmetic brushes ( link ).

I mount one in a portable drill press vise to hold it secure, apply a bit of rust paint to it, then just roll the car past it.

I use acrylic craft paint, so if something goes wrong, it comes right off with a damp Q-tip.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Car cards and waybills

I use car cards and waybills for freight car routing. Here is a simple method that requires no paperwork once it is set up.

There is one car card (the yellow card shown here) for each freight car. It is cut to baseball-card size so it will fit in a standard baseball card sleeve. The waybill is the white piece. It identifies where the car is going by a three-letter abbreviation, here GCF for Glen Cove Fuels. The train drops the car at Glen Cove Fuels, and the car card then rests in a channel on the front of the fascia. (The channel is vinyl molding made for bathroom tile).

After the operating session, the waybills are "turned" for the next routing. The waybill is just pulled out of the sleeve and tucked behind the car card. The car is now empty.

The destination for the empty is now revealed - in this case S for South Interchange. It will leave the layout via the South Interchange, and get removed and placed on the storage rack for future use.

Hair elastics

Here is a way to keep car cards together with rolling stock when off-layout: hair elastics! 

I had used rubber bands, but they are inconsistent sizes and were always breaking on me. These hair elastics are all the same size, soft and stretchy, and economical.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

UPS truck

Found in Walmart - Hot Wheels "Combat Medic" van in all its garish glory. It is available in many different color schemes, all of them just as awful. Orange windows?!?!? The shape looks about right for a UPS truck though...
Hot Wheels "Combat Medic"

Here is a real one.

After drilling out the two rivets, this is what you get. Body has been brush painted brown. The chassis was spray painted black just to get the wheels colored, then trim rings highlighted with a silver Sharpie pen. Window glass was painted flay grey.

Painting the orange window insert grey makes a more believable effect. Clearance lights are dotted on with a mini-brush.

All done... those are true HO scale figures, so as far as size goes, I say it passes the good-enough test. Lights were dotted on with a mini-brush. Stripe was leftover from a decal set, logo brush painted on. This can also be modeled with the door open if desired, it can be easily removed from the inner piece.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Easy 55 gallon drums

I was in Home Depot looking at electrical connectors when I saw these (intended for crimping bare ground wires together), and my 'scale eye' saw HO scale 55 gallon oil drums! 100 for about $8. (They also sell them in 10-packs for under $2). They have a little flange on one end, which makes a nice base so it will sit flat. You can also get them from Amazon. You can make either open or closed drums.

1. Copper Crimp Sleeves, 18-10ga.

2. Paint the inside brown. A Q-tip is perfect as a brush, just insert and turn it around.

3. A pencil makes a good painting handle. Insert it with the flange toward the pencil point, so you can just tip it off the pencil after painting.

4. Paint it up.  Craft store acrylic paint goes on nicely and dries to a flat finish. An initial white coat followed by color top and bottom bands will give the impression of a ridged drum. Here I am using a "lip liner" disposable cosmetics brush (source).

5. Touch the top rim with the brown Q-tip to cover any shiny copper remaining on the edge.

6. Drums in place on the loading dock. 

Now I had some open drums. I wanted to make some closed drums. I tried several things, but best results were with auto body spot putty. Goop some in and let it harden. It may need some light sanding. It settles and shrinks slightly as it dries, creating a nice "rim" around the top. 

The final product, seen here in between some (LED Christmas light) gas cylinders and (sewing bobbin) cable spools.

At 100 drums for $8, you can create your own hazardous waste site in no time!