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December 2016

Model Railroader has been the leading model train magazine for the past 75 years.  Each month, we bring you step-by-step modeling projects, fascinating photo tours of model train layouts, unbiased product reviews, new product announcements, tips from the experts and much more!

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Changing seasons on a finished layout

My S scale Buffalo Creek & Gauley RR (BC&G) is set in West Virginia in the summer of 1958. The rolling green landscape features hundreds of trees, as I described in my article “How to make tree-covered hills” in the November 2012 Model Railroader. This existing scenery became a concern recently when I decided to change the setting from the greenery of summer to the orange and yellow hues of autumn. I dreaded having to tear out finished trees and ground cover. Through some experimentation I found methods for adjusting the finished scenery to reflect a colorful autumn setting without having to start all over.

5 ways to interchange freight cars

The term “standard gauge,” meaning the rails are spaced 4'-81⁄2" apart, isn’t just a convenient benchmark but a critical aspect of the continental rail network’s viability. It means that equipment operating over one railroad will operate over the railroads that connect to it. This allows a car loaded on one coast to travel to the other coast, or anywhere in between.

Cars are delivered from one railroad to the next via interchange. This may be by transfer runs between yards in urban areas or cars left on rusty, weedy tracks in remote locations. Since any type or quantity of car can be exchanged on interchange tracks, in model railroad terms, we call them “universal industries.” As such, interchanges often assume major roles on model railroads built with realistic operation in mind.


Build a signal system with Arduino micro-controllers

The project started innocently enough: I wanted a signaling system that didn’t require a personal computer. I wanted to flip on the power to the layout and not only have the Digital Command Control (DCC) system come on, but the signals as well. I also wanted the signals to be true absolute block signals (ABS) or absolute permissive block (APB) signals, not just dummy signals or signals tied into switch positions and maybe some diodes or a timer. I wanted true track detection, logic, and signaling. And of course, I wanted this at a cost less than using a computer-based system.

Recently, I came across the Arduino. These devices are low-cost, microcontroller-based computers on a small printed-circuit (PC) board (see fig. 1 on page 44). The basic unit, called an Uno, offers 19 input/output (I/O) points on a board that’s approximately 2 x 23⁄4 inches.


Four eras over WP's Feather River Route

Many modelers have a theme and era in mind for the layout they want to model and usually stay fairly close to that prototype. Some layouts push the envelope to represent more than one time period. The Western Pacific Feather River Route layout by Jim Pendley is one of those. Featured in Great Model Railroads 2009, Jim’s dramatic scenery shows what railroading was like within the deep canyons of the Feather River in Northern California.

Large industries in limited space

Representing modern industries on a model railroad is a unique challenge. Today’s railroads have traded in the smaller, local customers for larger, multinational industrial behemoths, capable of loading and serving dozens of rail cars at once. The size, scale, and scope of a modern rail-served customer is more than most layouts can handle.

Layout designers can get around these limitations by modeling only the parts of the industry that directly interact with the railroad. Others selectively compress larger industries to fit the available space. Many great designs may feature only one industry on the entire layout. Depending on the industry, it’s possible to get by without modeling any of the main structure. On my Iowa Interstate Grimes Industrial Track layout, featured in Great Model Railroads 2015, I have several large industries. In these locations, I either modeled specific portions of the structure or compressed the main building to fit the available space. In each case, the operational value of the customer was the top priority, not the modeling potential. That means some of the industries are nothing more than a simple flat model against the backdrop, but each adds to my layout’s operating scheme and is still recognizable as a larger customer.


Mountain railroading New York style

My journey to model railroading isn’t your typical one. Yes, I had an American Flyer train set as a kid. But I was never a fan of prototype trains, and I know very little about railroad history or operations. You’re probably thinking, “Why is Sandy into model railroading?”

It all started when I was working in a hobby shop during college. The more I talked to model railroad customers, the more interested I became in the hobby. I was fascinated by the diversity and the three-dimensional creativity model railroading offered.

Marriage, young children, and a demanding career postponed the construction of a model railroad for many years, but building a layout always remained a goal for me.



Freight yard design and operation.

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