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August 2018

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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Two decks of lumber action

Though I’ve been a model railroader for more than 55 years, prior to 2003 I’d only built a couple of small HO and N scale layouts. That was because my wife, Eloise, and I never lived in a home with a basement.
But in 2003, we built our current home, and that layout I had dreamed about for so long could become a reality. A basement room with finished walls, multiple 20A electrical circuits, carpeted floor, and drop ceiling was set aside for the layout. While construction was underway on the house, planning began for my layout.

The result, the Arcadia & Betsey River Ry., is a freelanced railroad, but it’s based on prototype practices described in many books and articles about logging operations. I was also inspired by the photography of modeling giants like John Allen, Jack Work, and Lyle Speirs

Push-button staging solution

When I built my current 18" x 10'-0" N scale switching layout, I planned for a compact three-track staging yard. Two tracks would hold trains, while the third would allow a locomotive to run around its train for a return trip. The problem was that I didn’t allow enough room on the far end of the staging yard for another turnout ladder.

My solution was to add a single-track traverser, which let me move a locomotive between staging tracks. The arrangement was also compact enough that I added two additional storage tracks near the fascia.

A traverser is a horizontally sliding platform with a track or tracks laid on it. Similar to a transfer table found at some prototype locomotive shops, a traverser moves a locomotive or, if the traverser is long enough, an entire train between staging and entrance and exit tracks.

Lightning strip and black diamonds

The New York Central may not be thought of as a coal-hauling railroad in the same way as the Norfolk & Western, Chesapeake & Ohio, or other Appalachian roads. However, coal was king on the Piney Fork Branch of the NYC Cleveland Division, a branch line that ran through my hometown of Minerva, Ohio. My HO scale model railroad celebrates the Piney Fork Branch in the 1960s, as well as the coal and steel industries in eastern Ohio.

Minerva, Ohio, about 50 miles southwest of Youngstown, has an interesting railroad history. In the early 20th century, the Wheeling & Lake Erie terminated there, and the Pennsylvania RR and the Lake Erie, Alliance & Wheeling passed through town.

One-day weathering

Though I model the modern era, I still have a soft spot for older locomotives like Electro-Motive Division’s (EMD) SD40-2. Recently, Union Pacific started upgrading some of its veteran workhorses with mechanical improvements and new paint. Other UP SD40-2s look worn, providing a nice weathering challenge. I wanted to capture the look of a unit that hasn’t been upgraded on an InterMountain HO scale SD40-2 decorated in UP’s current scheme.

I’ve noticed the paint on older UP SD40-2s have a speckled appearance from faded or peeling paint. I thought this would be a challenge to re-create, but it turned out to be easier than I expected. [Read “How to weather with acrylics” in the May 2016 Model Railroader to see another approach for weathering a Union Pacific EMD SD40-2. – Ed.]

For the rest of the model, I followed my well-proven techniques, including thinned paint, full-strength paint, and powdered pastels. To keep the weathering from wearing off during normal handling, I added a clear flat varnish.

Patch out a modern boxcar

The modern rail scene is permeated with secondhand cars transferred between owners as they continually adapt to the changing marketplace. Even a small downturn in a carried commodity can often render rolling stock surplus, leading to all sorts of patched-out paint variations. The priority is on keeping the equipment moving rather than image projection, so they often carry old paint schemes for years. For modern-era modelers, multiple methods can be employed to replicate one of these unique cars. However, the fastest and easiest may be applying decal film to factory-decorated models, the method I used to model CSXT 141175, a former Railbox car.

The first step in my project was to choose a suitable model as a starting point. Bearing in mind my goal of quick completion, I chose from the multiple ready-to-run and quick-build kit offerings already decorated in the Railbox scheme. Soon I had in hand a Roundhouse kit that, although not perfect, had the correct graphics and door configuration.

Follow along and I’ll show you how I changed that brand-new car kit into a patched-out, weather-battered veteran of the rails.


How to paint and install a plaster rock casting

Several years ago Craig Vreeland, joint proprietor of Sterling Models (, gave me a few unpainted plaster rock castings. I described how to paint and install one of them in my scenery book How to Build and Detail Model Railroad Scenes Volume 2 (Kalmbach Books, 2009, out of print). Since then I’ve expanded my On30 Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes to fill the bonus room in our house.

While working on the area opposite Winter Mill, I installed another of Craig’s castings to add some scenic interest to a cut next to the main line. Previously, I stained the rock casting with India ink and isopropyl alcohol and called it good. This time I wanted to add more color.


On the Web
From the Editor
News & Products
Atlas O General Electric Dash 8-40CW diesel locomotive

Don't miss the latest product announcements!

Ask MR

Where can I find drawings of an EMD GA-8?

Heritage Fleet

Saving Frank Ellison's Raymondale

Step by Step

How to build a white-metal kit

DCC Corner

Selecting the right DCC system

The Operators

Manual block signal systems

Trackside Photos

Featured layouts from your fellow model railroadersIssue Item

Index of Advertisers
Trains of Thought

The dog-chasing-car syndrome



Layout plans for realistic operation.

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