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May 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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Build a hidden uncoupling magnet

Model railroading when your hands shake requires concessions. Among them for me was to quit using a pick to uncouple cars. On the majority of my HO scale Three Rivers Terminal switching layout I use electromagnets to uncouple cars, so the lack of a pick wasn’t a problem. However, I struggled finding a way to uncouple cars on an open-deck trestle.

Because of its size, an electromagnet wouldn’t work. Even Kadee’s no. 308 magnet would be visible under the ties. After some thinking, it dawned on me. Why not make the ties magnetic?


A spot of England in Georgia

Model railroaders from the United States can recall vividly their first Lionel train set. The English equivalent was a Hornby Dublo train set, but the house where I grew up in southern England, about 20 miles west of London, was small. With three boys, there was no room for a model railroad of any size.

Instead, I spent many hours “train-spotting” up a high embankment less than a mile from our house. It was close to the four-track main line from Waterloo Station in London to all parts of southwest England. I remember keeping track of the numbers of the many trains going up and down from London.

I became a mining engineer, working in Africa and the United States, and had little time for a hobby, so model railroading was the last thing on my mind. However, I was always fascinated by model railroads and was drawn to them whenever I encountered one.


Pick the right layout shape

So, you’ve finally scored your layout room and are champing at the bit to get started. Out comes the graph paper and a rule, and you start the track plan sketches. It’s understandable to want to jump right in, but if you don’t take time to look at the big-picture issues first, you risk building an unsatisfying layout.

Why? A successful model railroad – that is, successful at meeting the owner’s desired level of fun – is the result of two steps that must be performed in the right order. Those two steps are planning and design, and no, they don’t mean the same thing.

First must come the planning. This step, which deals with addressing our true interests and the realities of our lifestyle, is often the more difficult because of its subjective nature and need for self-awareness. If you skip or give short shrift to this step, you run the risk of correctly designing the wrong layout – one that may be technically perfect, but doesn’t take into account your lifestyle, skill level, and true interests.


Appalachian high iron

Jack Parker’s love of trains began in the 1930s. Back then, he and his dad would drive the family car to a spot between Charlotte and Pineville, N.C., to wait for the daily passenger train from Augusta, Ga., to pass. Then they would chase the fast train to Charlotte Station, where it would soon depart for Washington, D.C. “My Dad loved to watch those beautiful steam engines at work and smell the smoke,” Jack said. “He was sure that I should learn to love them, too.”

At Christmas in 1940, Jack got his first taste of model railroading when he and his brother received Lionel O gauge trains. The boys lost interest by their teenage years, but Jack returned to the hobby as an adult after a request from his mother. “My mom asked me to build a 4 x 8 Lionel layout as a Christmas gift for her grandchildren,” Jack said. That experience reignited his interest in model trains.

Build a working overhead door

Adding animation to my HO scale Georgia Northeastern is one of the facets of model railroading I most enjoy. As I was searching for a simple, manual solution to control an overhead door at a rail-served industry, I discovered a gear drive mechanism that’s easily adaptable to a variety of situations. Lego’s Technic line includes a gear reducer that has a worm gear on a drive shaft that operates a round gear that can be used to control many other devices. The gear reducer provided the drive mechanism that I needed. All I had to do was figure out a way to install it in the structure and connect it to the door.

How to model a modern bulkhead flatcar

Eager to place my ExactRail Trenton Works 67'-11" bulkhead flatcars in service, I started weathering them immediately after I received them. The cars come with laser-cut wood bulkhead surfaces, which is great because nothing looks as much like wood as wood does, so it made it easier to give the bulkheads a realistic, weathered look. The deck on the prototype is made of steel planks, referred to as a nailable steel floor. These floors are often found in boxcars as well.

My basic weathering techniques are simple and straightforward, and consist of three steps. The first step is fading the model’s original paint so it looks old, dusty, and sun-bleached. The second step is applying spots of rust and streaks of grime to the car. The third step is applying grime to the lower areas.


On the Web
From the Editor
Ask MR

Does UP run to the left on ex-C&NW rails?

Step by Step

Kitbash a laser-cut wood house kit

DCC Corner

Tips for programming LokSound decoders

Trackside Photos

Featured layouts from your fellow model railroaders

Trains of Thought

Keeping the torch burning

Index of Advertisers
The Operators

An operating session hits the road



Two great beginner layouts.

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