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Desert Scene

 A desert scene can host a variety of color and texture, such as below. This example of the landscape has a few stony mounds with #107-03 Sand & Gravel. The low areas use #1070 Earth Silt Soil to enhance the illusion of water erosion. # 1025 High Desert Field Stone is this side of the fence line as rip/rap. A couple of cows eating the sparse foliage turn it into grazing land.
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Paper Bag Scenery Tutorial

This is a method of creating a “Tough Skin” scenery shell that is lightweight and less messy than plaster. I now use a two-layer process with spray foam in between the back and front paper. The foam allows some density for planting trees, fence post and whatever for stability. Every now and then at the groceries store, I ask to have my purchases bagged in paper bags. Open up the bag at the bottom and cut out pieces that fit your scenery situation. There is a seam in the bag, so I use this for the first layer that won’t be seen. I use Carpenters wood glue for securing the edges in place. Follow the instructions below for a detail of the method. Crumple up a paper shopping bag and then open it up. I cut a section of it to fit the scenery slope at left. It was first glued along the edge of the sub roadbed and allowed to dry. Now the bottom edge is glued in place on the lower bench work. A paper flap was also glued to the edge of the viaduct and allowed to dry. This will later be folded over and glued to the other vertical paper bag. After the photo was taken, more bag material was added at the right until it met the existing scenery. A piece of Styrofoam was glued in place so the paper flap can be folded over and glued in place without collapsing the adjacent paper. You can install cardboard or Styrofoam supports every so often behind this shell system. I do it only when the scenery is at a more gradual slope for strength. The second layer of paper is glued at the bottom edge only because I’m going to start filling in between the layers with spray Foam. That second layer of paper is held open with the tape measure just for the picture. I thought it best to keep all the store brand printing on the backside from the side that will show. One can of foam do about four square feet of scenery shell.

It’s best to have that much area ready so the entire can will be used up. A second area was readied for foaming so I could use up the entire can of foam. The top paper is glued at the bottom edge and pulled back for the picture. The paper on the other side of the track is also doubled and will be pulled back for foaming. The foam was sprayed in full-length rows starting at the bottom and stacked just short of the top. I quickly raised up the paper and glued it at the top. The foam will expand to twice its size as you can see the bulging of the paper after it cured a couple of hours. I will use some plaster of Paris to fill in the gaps as you see in the photo above. The same was done in this second area also. The carpenters wood glue was used to attach the paper after it was filled with foam. I spray the unruly paper with water to make it softer for laying against the foam underneath. Very important step Immediately after Plaster of Paris was applied to close up the joints, I bushed on a soupy mixture of scenery color and texture. For this, I used Cajon Powder and diluted glue. The mixing bowl and stiff brush are seen in the photo centre. As I worked, the plaster began to harden so the color brushing continued until the white plaster was coloured over. A second coat touch up was done in a few places to tone down the white of the plaster. I don’t want the plaster to come loose and fall off the paper. The glue mixture with powder will create a lasting bond as it somewhat mixes with the fresh plaster. One 11 ounce package of #1200 Cajon Rock Powder was enough to color the scene at left and below. Some of the “white” from the plaster shows through that gives the rock face interesting highlights. Immediately, the rest of the powder was sprinkled over the still wet scenery. Then some “Zip Texturing of #1203 Sand & Gravel, #2 Dead & Alive ground cover, #9 Fine Green Blend Grass and #1205, 1207 Cajon Rip/rap material. End it up by lightly spraying with wetted water and dripping on the diluted glue. Gradual slopes as this hold the loose rock as in nature. The very four ground, back scenery and backdrop painting are not finished yet for this article. When that is ready, I’ll plant many of the trees I’m working on. The next tutorial will cover the topic of preparing this same terrain for the planting of brush and trees.

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Easy steps for modelling a vacant lot

This is imagined to be a “dirt” vacant piece of ground over run with weeds and trash.

  1. The color of dirt (one of my products that end in “0” is an earth power. In this case, it’s #1020 Light Earth. Notice that a lot of it shows through. The whole area was covered with it first and glued in place. I chose to place some random gravel (#1154 Basalt ballast for an extra effect.
  2. 2 Dead and Alive Ground cover was applied sparingly.
  3. 4 Yellow Grass was applied by just clipping short pieces with scissors and allowed to fall randomly.
  4. 5 Green Grass was done the same way. Most of the clippings will lay down flat on the ground so don’t overdo it.
  5. Wet and glue this in place and allow to dry completely.
  6. Now you want some Yellow and Green grass to stand up. Place a few random dots of glue on the landscape and plant short snips of grass in the glue. Tease to tops to spread them out so the grass looks bushy.
  7. You can finish up with some paper litter (cigarette paper) , an old barrel, natural twigs and an animal. When you are all done, the original “dirt” should show through in random places.
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The Santa Fe follows the lazy Rio Puerco River from Eastern Arizona well into New Mexico for a couple hundred miles. This scene on the layout would be a good place to use up many of my Campbell Scale Model old west structures for a factious name sake town. Pictured below is the other corner of the Tall Curved Trestle where the scenery has been established also. I’ll finish the rest of the rock formations as though they were there first and then build the retaining walls and rock fills for the building pads and winding roads of the town. The three company houses perched on the canyon ledge are a good place to start. Two of Campbell’s tall curved trestles built end to end allowed me to have a wide canyon. A 36″ radius is a must for the passenger trains that I run. I long forgot the formula of the gray and brown homemade stains used as Floquil stopped making them about then. Our #120 Cajon Sand stone products will be used for the scenery.

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Campbell’s kit # 382 Country Barn is truly a western horse or small milking parlor type suitable for a ranch. Its bright red paint has faded to a pale orange and the roof is showing its age. Notice how the siding boards are very rotten next to the ground. The project took about eight hours including the unpainted fence. Like most model railroaders, the bench work is waiting to be built where this structure is to be planted. You need our pigment kit to weather the roof and walls.

Ah, that better.
Those shaggy bark junipers give a little more life to the scene. Sagebrush armatures and it’s all free for the picking in Arizona if you know the right place and people to ask. You can buy the moss for the tree foliage from Wall Mart.

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JL Innovative Design makes this car dealership kit that fits the era of my other structures on the layout. The model makes a medium-size structure that will have to wait until I make room for it on the layout.

The base for the structure was made of 1/4″ Masonite and I carved in the sidewalks and curbs. I added the banners just like someone did in a picture found on their web site photo gallery. When the photographer took the picture, he was unaware of the dog marking his territory on the fire hydrant. The signs focus on better with this shot so you can see what they look like. The sidewalks were painted with Floquile lettering gray and weathered with thinned grimy black. Yellow Carpenter glue was brushed on the driveway and our #1030 Asphalt Paving powder sprinkled on.

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What Model Railroad Scale is Right For Me?

If you are new to model railroading, you might ask, “what model train scale is right for me?”. A very common mistake beginners make is to confuse scales. However, scales and gauges are very straightforward. A scale is the proportion of your model to the real deal. For instance, the HO scale locomotives are 1/87 the size of real life locomotives. The model train gauge is the width between the inside running edge of the track. As you already can tell, model trains are scale down replicas of real railroad elements. The main model train scales and their minimum turning radiuses are:

  • O scale 1:48 – Minimum Radius 24 inches
  • S scale 1:64 – Minimum Radius 22.5 inches
  • OO scale 1:76 – Minimum Radius 21 inches
  • HO scale 1:87 – Minimum Radius 15 inches
  • N scale 1:160 – Minimum Radius 7.5 inches
  • Z scale 1:220 – Minimum Radius 5.75 inches
What Model Railroad Scale is Right For Me?

O scale is the largest scale, to Z scale being the smallest scale. An O scale model train set is 1/48 the size of the real thing, while a Z scale model train set is 1/220 the size of the real thing. All the trees, bridges, roads, buildings and other accessories are all scaled to the relevant size. Also known as the OO gauge in the UK, HO scale has become the most popular scale.

Now back to our original question, what scale is right for you? This is a very important decision to make and comes down to three main factors; the available space for your layout, the physical size of model train equipment you want to work with, the available accessories for that scale.


Building a layout in HO scale will be almost half the size of the identical layout in O scale. Turning radius’s in HO scale will be tighter; tunnels will be smaller and, most importantly, it is easier to hide mistakes in a smaller scale. Larger scales need more detail and it can often be very hard to create a realistic looking layout in a large scale. HO scale has become very popular because it is a “middle-of-the-road” scale and easier to make look realistic. If you still don’t have enough room available, you may consider an N scale railroad which can be built in just 30% of the area which is required for a HO scale model train layout.


Fat finger syndrome or bad eyesight can sometimes force us to consider the larger scales. It can be very frustrating trying to airbrush a Z scale carriage or manipulating N scale rolling stock. They can be very fiddly. Children will find it easier operating and manipulating the bigger scales, from HO scale upwards. Bigger scale rolling stock tends to be heavier and less likely to derail. From observation, the ladies seem to prefer the intricate smaller scales, while the men tend to go with the HO scale and larger scales.


Over the years the HO scale has become the most popular model train scale and the manufacturers have responded to the demand by producing more accessories and rolling stock for HO scale. HO scale is just the right size for most people to appreciate the detail and running performance without being too cramped.

If you decide to run digital controllers and have lots of switching operations, the HO scale might be the best choice for you.

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Transferring loads

I just had to build a Campbell Scale Models produce shed several years ago. This is how it fits on the layout as if it could be used for receiving loads from a boxcar such as the one seen here. The loading platform is long enough to place three box cars for unloading. There was a situation in Minneapolis were forty box cars could be unloaded at the Farmers Market East of Lyndale Avenue and North of Glendale Avenue. I don’t think anyone would model that as thirty-five feet of layout would be required. Just for the heck of it, I’m going to give the conductor of this train the job of unloading three cars of boxes from boxcar to the platform without knocking anything over. I’ll be nice, there will only be a few boxes per car. Will he know enough to open those boxcar doors at some point before the train arrives there?

Success at unloading three boxcars
The produce shed was carefully positioned near the track using the NMRA gauge which is really close to the boxcars. The ballast had to be chipped away so the platform would be in the same plane as the boxcar floors. I used the brush to push the freight unto the dock from the other opened door without a problem. What helped the transfer is to keep the loading dock slightly lower than the car floors.

The Campbell Scale Models L.C.L. Freight House kit came with wood blocks and barrels. The instruction sheet has sign cutouts to place on them for detail. I made photocopies to be used on my homemade boxes and crates. Everything on the platform could easily be used as live load transfers for that way freight. To meet N.M.R.A. standards, their gauge was used to position the loading dock for height and distance to meet their clearance standards. I moved the dock a couple of whiskers lower and away to minimize the chance of engines and rolling stock from striking it.

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You probably know the difference between a sedan, an SUV, and a pickup truck, but do you know the difference between a boxcar and a reefer? Just how vehicles are designed to cater to different needs of transporting passengers and cargo, various rail cars accommodate various freight shippers’ needs. This article compares reefers and boxcars and examines how they are built, what they carry, and their differences.

A refrigerator car (or “reefer”) is a refrigerated boxcar (U.S.) is a piece of railroad rolling stock. They are designed to carry perishable freight at specific temperatures. Refrigerator cars differ from simple insulated boxcars. They also differ from ventilated boxcars. Those two are used for transporting fruit. Neither of which are fitted with cooling apparatus. Reefers can be ice-cooled. They come equipped with mechanical refrigeration systems. Or utilize carbon dioxide. They use either dry ice or in liquid form as a cooling agent. Milk cars may or may not include a cooling system. Other types of “express” reefers also may not be cooled. But they are equipped with high-speed trucks. They may have other modifications to travel with passenger trains. Reefers are really boxcars with insulation and a fridge inside. Most modern reefers are 57′ long while most boxcars are 50′.


It carries Perishable freight, like fresh fruits, vegetables, frozen food, beverages, meat, poultry, seafood, and cheese. How it is built: Refrigerated boxcars (commonly referred to as “reefers”) are much like traditional boxcars but with one significant difference: they are temperature controlled.




It carries: Boxcars can carry a wide variety of crated or palletized freight, including paper, lumber, packaged goods, beverages, and (shocker) boxes. How it is built: Boxcars are fully enclosed and, true to their name, are the most “boxy” looking of all the rail car types. Boxcars typically have doors on the side of the car but can have them at the ends, too. Because they are enclosed, boxcars protect the freight inside from the weather during transport.

It carries: Boxcars can carry a wide variety of crated or palletized freight. Including paper, lumber, packaged goods, beverages, and (shocker) boxes.

How it is built: Boxcars are fully enclosed and, true to their name. They are the most “boxy” looking of all the rail car types. Boxcars typically have doors on the side of the car but can have them at the ends, too. Because they are enclosed, boxcars protect the freight inside from the weather during transport.