About Dan Morgan

Dan Morgan has been a member since July 12th 2010, and has created 253 posts from scratch.

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Readers Model Train Layouts: Lou

I receive a lot of pictures and stories from readers about their model train layouts. I love getting stuff like this from you guys, it’s always great to see what other people are doing.

This week I thought I’d share an email and some pictures that I received from Lou last week. Lou is a Pastor in Washington, Indiana and has kindly has given me permission to share his pictures and story here.

Dear Dan,


I am glad you were able to find my photos. I wish I had a better camera and more experience in that field but I use what I have available. Trains have been an interest of mine as long as I can remember. The first Christmas gift I remember getting was a push train. In Kindergarten I got an HO train which of course didn’t last very long. A few years later I got my first Marx set which included a figure 8, two trains, and a semaphore to control the crossing. In 6th I graduated to Lionel and since the budget was always lean I had to depend on Christmas and birthdays to add to my collection.


Trains were put on hold during college and seminary however having graduating, I decided to go to HO since it was truer to scale and a whole lot cheaper! I have had layouts of various sizes in my first three churches but never was able to do much in the line of scenery. When moving to my fourth church, I had the privilege for the first time to purchase a home and it had a basement room that had been added on and was used for a garage/shop. After making needed repairs and upgrades in the house, in the Spring of 2004 I started work on my train room by removing the garage door, insulating and sheet rocking the walls, installing a suspended ceiling and lights and starting the framework of the layout. The layout is about 20′ long and 10′ wide on one side and 12′ foot on the other. It is shaped somewhat like a G. This time I choose to use Atlas code 83 track and switches. My curves go from minimum of 22″ to maximum of 34″. I have a double main line that runs around the outside of the layout and a secondary line that rises about 8″ above the main line. I used woodland scenic Styrofoam risers (3%) to make the transition upward and downward. I have painted the sides of the track and ballasted it with medium mixed gray ballast.


The scenery is mostly Styrofoam sheets with sheet rock mud used to cover them. The deciduous trees were built for the most part with Sunvista Tree Armatures. I like these better than woodland scenics because there seemed to be more branches to work with and more importantly, off the base of the tree is an extension about 2″ that makes planting trees in Styrofoam quick and easy. To glue the clump foliage to the armature was a challenge at first, however this was quickly resolved when my daughter introduced me to Aleene’s fabric glue which you get at Wal-Mart and craft stores. It is clear and has the ability instantly secure the foliage. I have used it with wood and other materials and even a touch of it works well to hold figures in place.

I model the Erie Lackawanna because I grew up around the EL lines. Even when in college I used to watch the trains run from the Library window when studying. I have probably 100 cars, mostly Athrean, Atlas, Model Power, etc. Most are the blue box type kits of earlier years. I have upgraded them all with additional weight, metal wheels, and Kadee couplers. My freight train runs about 40+ cars at any given time. The layout is wired DC and does not look like I will be making any upgrades to DCC anytime in the future. My engines are a mixture of Athrean, Atlas, and Bachmann.


I have done some scratch building and kitbashinging with some of my buildings. Many have floors installed and lights for future use. One trick I picked up that makes gluing ground cover and ballasting simple is attaching a sprayer head to a bottle of rubbing alcohol. I put the ballast in place, then I wet the ballast well with the rubbing alcohol which usually does not disturb the ballast. Then I use a dropper with white glue and water. The alcohol allows the glue to quickly and easy penetrate both the ballast and scenery.


At present I have about 2/3 of the scenery done and I hope to complete most of that by the end of this year. I enjoy all aspects of the hobby from building kits, working on cars, tweaking engines, and running the trains. Two years ago I decided to make my layout available to the public as part of the local historical society’s annual Rail Fest. The town of Washington had been a B&O town for many years. Southern Indiana does not have many who are into model trains and as far as I know I am the only one in town that has a sceniced layout. The open house went well and I did a repeat this year. The local paper did a front page write up on the layout including additional information on the inside pages. I have attached a copy of the article.


I am a full time pastor who supplements his income with a part job of developing websites. I also teach two courses a year on line for a Bible institute out of New Jersey. I try to get in 5-6 hours a week on the trains. Not enough as far as I am concerned but better than nothing. I just updated my pictures on my website. I have done some additional improvements to my layout since I took the original pictures. I need to be back over the whole layout and take a number of new pictures.

Thanks for taking a look at my work.

Lou Showers

You can see more of Lou’s model train pictures on his site here

Photo 02 Photo 04 Photo 24 Image11 Phtoto 27

Model Train Scenery: Making Mountain Methods

So this week I was looking into different methods of how to make mountains for your layout, and I came across a few different methods using foam. I’ll be honest, foam doesn’t feature to heavily on my layout (with the exception of using it as the base of my layout), as I’m a bit “old school” so I still use the “balls of newspaper covered in plaster cloth” method of creating my mountain structures.

This method is really easy as all you need is newspaper, masking tape, and plaster cloth.

Step 1: Take the newspaper and just ball it up. You need to make sure that you ball up the newspaper nice and tight. Wrap the ball up with some masking tape to help prevent it from unfolding. Repeat until you have as many balls as you need.

Step 2: Make a mountain shape out of the newspaper balls. Start with the base and work up. Use strips of masking tape to help hold the balls in place.

Step 3; Once you are happy with the overall size and shape of your mountain, place it where you want it to go on your layout and apply the plaster cloth. Depending on the make and manufacturer of the plaster cloth you may need to cut it into strips and/or the appropriate length first. You will need to wet your plaster cloth first and then apply it to your mountain of newspaper balls. I find that starting at the top and working down works best. Keep applying the paster cloth until your mountain is completely covered. Remember, by having plaster cloth which is attached to your mountain and your layout base will help keep it in place.

Drying times may vary depending on what make of plaster cloth you are using, but generally its between 24 to 48 hours until it is completly hardened.

After its dry its then simply a case of applying colour and any scenery you want to add.

Anyway, thats the method that I use mainly. Now time to show you some methods with foam.


First is a great video which shows how you can make some nice looking mountains really easily and cheaply using foam boxes.

Personally I would use the mountains shown in this method as part of a backdrop rather than having them in the middle of the layout, as they are rather flat.


The second video shows how you can make mountains using extruded foam – its the foam that many modellers (myself included) use as the ground base for layouts. It’s pretty easy to get a hold of as its available in all good home and hardware stores. (I’m informed that in the US you can get it in Home Depot and Lowe’s).


The last video is probably my favourite method as I love how great the mountain looks. I’ve not done this method but I’m certainly going to look into doing it the next time I give my layout a re-model.

Bear in mind that in this video, the mountain is actually being made to go into a tank for a pet lizard or spider, but the principles and the methods behind making the mountain would remain the same for making it to go on a layout.

Product used in the above video – Hot Wire Foam Factory

From my understanding, you can also use the hot wire cutting method on the extruded foam as well.

Remember if you like what you see, have any questions or are familiar with using foam in your scenery then please coment below.

Model Train Weathering Methods for Rolling Stock

An important aspect to creating a realistic looking layout is to weather your trains and rolling stock. I mean, if you have gone to all the trouble of making realistic scenery for your layout, then its goign to look odd if the trains that are trundling around on your tracks are all shiny and new.

While the thought of taking a perfectly good train or rolling stock (particularly if it’s brand new) and making it look old and used can make most beginners nervous (and don’t worry, there are a lot of experienced modelers out there who feel the same way). But you would be surprised to see just how much difference a well weathered loco can make to your layout.


There are various methods that you can use for weathering, and in the following videos you will see 5 different methods that can be used.

1) Weathering with an Airbrush

In this video, we can see Brian on his first attempt at weathering a CN Box Car


2) Weathering with colored pencils

Here we see Bill from Model Railroad Hobbyist showing us how to use water-soluble colored pencils to apply weathering. All of the properties of watercolours but with the application control of a pencil.


3) Weathering with paints

Will from modelrailwayreviews.com shows use how he uses paint and brush to apply weathering to his rolling stock.


4) Weathering with Chalks

CSXNSModelFan (I don’t know his real name) shows how he uses a combination of spray paint and chalks to do his weathering.


5) Big Al Mayo’s Weather Dipping Method

Despite this video being over 2 years old and the fact that I love Big Al’s stuff, his technique of “Weather Dipping ” passed me by. See what you think of it.


Remember, no matter how eager you are to get started trying out these weathering techniques, I would highly recommend that you practise on some old rolling stock first. You can pick up some absolute bargains through eBay, second hand stores, garage sales, etc which you can use as your test subjects, before attempting to weather something from your own collection.

Weathering isn’t something that you need to be scared off, and once you find a method that works well for you (whether its one of the above, a combination, or something that isn’t even covered here) you may even find it enjoyable.

Dave does it again. Layout updates and tips.

I always get exited when I receive an email from Dave about a new video, as I know I’m going to be in for a treat. Listen out for Dave’s wife asking him if he wants a cup of tea 😀

Dave mentions that he picked up his logs from PoundLand, which for my non-UK readers out there is the equivalent of a 99 Cents or Dollar store. As you can see from the video, it is possible to pick up a LOT of logs for your money which is ideal if you have (or are thinking of adding) a timber yard or mill to your layout.


I’m sure that there are plenty of other ways that you can use logs lie these in your layout, other than the obvious log piles. If anyone knows of any or has a suggestion for a good way to use them in a layout then please leave your thoughts in the comment area below.

Cheap Model Train Stuff


Model Train Help For Free

In this post I thought I would share with you a couple of cool little gadgets that I found on the web which can help you out with model railroading.

The first is this cool little widget which converts real life measurements and converts them into OO, HO, N, or Z scale. This little tool is from Coalville Models and its ideal if you are planning on scratch building anything from real life and want to get the scale correct.



The second is XTrackCAD. Basically it’s a design program which is specifically made to design model train layouts. AND IT’S COMPLETELY FREE.

Its main features allow you to:

  • Design layouts in any scale and gauge,
  • Use the predefined libraries for many popular brands of track and turnouts to help you get started easily,
  • Add your own favourite components,
  • Manipulate track much like you would with actual flex-track to modify, extend and join tracks and turnouts,
  • Test your design by running trains, including picking them up and moving them with the mouse.
  • At any point you can print the design in a scale of your choice. When printed in 1:1 scale the printout can be used as a template for laying the track to build your dream layout.
  • Learning XTrackCAD is made easy with the extensive on-line help and demonstrations.

You can download XTrackCAD and read all about it here.

I’ll be honest with you, XTrackCAD is an excellent bit of kit, but it does take a bit of practise. Admittedly that does depend on how good you are with computers; it took me a few days and some trial runs before I had the hang of using it, whereas my son just started picked it up straight away.

Hope you find those useful in building your dream model railroad.

And of course you can always find discounted model train stuff here.

If anybody has any experience with XTrackCAD, or if you know of any other resources like the ones I’ve mentioned, then please leave your comments below.



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