Urban Modelerís SIG     


Hint # 1 Stategies for Success

   To impress visitors, your layout should not look like something that jumped off the pages of the Walther's Catalog. To avoid this fate, I suggest four (4) strategies, all of which I have tried. Don't place any structure on your layout without at least printing up your own unique sign for the building. Your computer comes in handy here. That means, don't use the names/decals supplied with the kits you buy.
Hint # 2 Show The Backside of Your Model
    Second, if you must use a kit, at least modify it a bit or place it on your layout so visitors see the side that does not appear on the kit box or on the listing in the Walther's Catalog.
Hint # 3 Scratchbuilding is Often Easier
    Third, and best of all, try your hand at scratchbuilding. Frankly, many scratchbuilding projects are easier, faster, and cheaper than building a kit structure.
Hint # 4 Putting Military Model Supplies to Use
    A fourth strategy to create unique scenes is to visit the military and naval aisles of your hobby shop for supplies we normally don't see on a model railroad. The military aisle has neat diorama items that can easily be adopted to the scenery purposes of model railroaders. Military modelers model in 1/35 scale which is not that far away from O scale. The 1/78 scale of military modelers comes relatively close to HO. Don't forget that crates in the military aisle make fine crates for any scale in model railroading. Don't forget the naval aisle of your hobby shop has neat items if you are into rail marine scenes.
Hint # 5 Scratchbuiding
    Some folks may be intimidated about starting their first scratchbuilt brick structure. Don't be. .060 inch Evergreen styrene and brick sheets are your essentials. To keep things simple, start with a building that has few windows. In urban areas, prototypes for  this are easy to find.
Hint # 6 An Easy Crowning Detail
    "How do I finish off the tops of the walls?" may be your biggest concern when scratchbuilding or even kitbashing structures. Don't sweat it, Pikestuff makes great wall caps molded in plastic that work like a charm. Just paint them and cut them off the sprue. Then glue them to the top of your wall. A final touch can be to drybrush them so the details pop out.
Hint # 7 Urban Ground Cover
    Building a great looking structure in any scale  for your layout is not the end of your work to replicate the real world. We must not leave a gap between the bottom of our structure and our benchwork. Real buildings don't sit on top of the earth but rather rise from it. Some modelers will build up a bit of paper mache or other similar type of material. I have chosen a different route for my urban-based layout. One way to solve this problem is to first measure and then cut to fit a .060 inch Evergreen styrene sheet to our benchwork. Then using an X-acto knife, cut out an opening for our structure to fit in. Then paint the sheet styrene to replicate concrete or asphalt. Then glue the styrene to our benchwork. You can still use some glue and ground foam if the opening is not perfect. This technique is best for urban areas. But think about it, if you are modeling anytime since the 1920s or so, even rural buildings had some sort of paved parking lot.
Hint # 8 Your Two Most Important Tools
    When we first enter the exciting hobby of model railroading, we have a lot of advice hurtling at us. Some advice, we are prone to ignore. Its sort of like the teenager whose dad tells him to keep both hands on the wheel. Sure, as long as dad is watching. Something like that happens with model railroading. Upon joining the ranks of model railroading, we learn a modeler's three most precious possessions are his NMRA track gauge, his scale ruler, and his X-acto knife. Do we listen, nawh! We want to got out and buy fancy power tools, kit and after kit, and as many brass locomotives as our wallets allow. Well, I have been a serious model railroader for about 22 years, and I recently realized the three tools I mentioned really are our most important possessions. Don't let it take you 22 years to learn this. Buy all three items early on, keep them handy on your workbench, and keep a ample supply of blades for your X-acto knife. In fact, splurge, and get an X-acto knife with a comfortable grip. 
Hint # 9 The Lowly Magic Marker and You
    Keep a black medium point magic marker handy at your workbench when you are scratchbuilding structures. Before you cut a wall or other part, mark it with some description -- "front", "rear", inside, outside", "top", "bottom", "east wall", "west wall". Marking measurements is also helpful. Don't worry about the necessity of covering your styrene with paint. Recall, you will probably be covering your styrene, with brick sheets, some other sheeting,  or roofing material. While this may sound unnecessary, you would be amazed how easy it is to confuse your parts once they are cut. Worse yet, you don't want to pitch a part into your handy trash receptacle thinking it was a waste piece.
Hint # 10
    If you have been scratchbuilding for a while, you will realize you have more scrap pieces of styrene than you could ever use and will find yourself tossing scrap just to keep your work area neat and organized.
Hint # 11 The Walthers Catalog - An Indespensible Starting Point
    Break down and buy the Walthers Catalog right now. Standing around at your local hobby shop trying to figure out what you need just won't work. Don't be put off by the high sticker price. Many hobby shops sell the current Walthers Catalog at a steep discount to whet your appetite for their wares. You see, most hobby shops will order items from the catalog for you. While most won't discount these ordered items, at least you save on shipping and handling.
Hint # 12 Help the Hobby Grow
    Your old, out-of-date Walthers Catalog need not go to waste. Pass it along to someone starting in the hobby or just considering getting into model railroading. Your gift will help the hobby grow and give you an excuse to learn about new products and unfortunately new prices.
Hint # 13 A Free Bottle Opener
    Keep one of those thin rubber jar cap grips on your workbench for opening stuck food jar caps. You know the kind that Realtors or the local volunteer fire department give away. This gadget works great for quickly opening up stuck model paint jars.
Hint # 14 Organizing Your Materials
    Two of the greatest enemies of any model railroad project are frustration and disorganization. One way to combat both of these is to keep your small parts organized. This can be tricky to do since once you open the plastic bag containing your scratchbuilding supplies, you have nowhere to keep them while the project progresses or until the next project requires those same supplies. The reason you need to store these items is that first you must often remove the parts from their sprues and then paint them. By that time you may wish to take a time out before proceeding to use the parts. I sometimes use sandwich bags and larger food bags to organize my parts. I also put in a large thick sheet of paper into the bag to keep it neat. I even run the sheet through my printer and label it with the contents of the bag. This way the bags will stay upright in my container.
Hint # 15 Baseball Cards and Model Railroading
    I have found plastic boxes sold at baseball card stores to hold baseball cards are great places to store your supplies. I have bought these clear plastic snap boxes at The Container Store (a national chain) as well, but I think the cases at the baseball card stores cost far less. You might even luck out and have a local hobby shop that doubles as a trading card emporium. In that case, these boxes should be even easier to find.
Hint # 15 A Place for X-Acto Blades
    I also use a clear plastic box with a felt liner on the interior bottom to hold my X-Acto blades. These felt liners often have a nice self-adhesive backing that makes using them even easier. This keeps my blades handy and the transparency of the box gives me plenty of heads up to go buy new ones. Rather than make a special trip to the hobby shop, I buy my blades at the stationary store or art supply store so as not to lose any momentum in my modeling efforts.
Hint # 16  Keeping Your Structures Straight
    If you are just starting out building kits, you may be having problems getting your models' joints to stay aligned or, worse yet, to stay glued at all. Your problem may well be that you don't own any weights or a simple right angle plate. This later item is a precise 90 degree angle heavy steel weight that not only can help keep a model together put also assures it will be at 90 degrees. If you don't already own a right angle plate, buy one. Check the internet for suppliers. It could well become your most important tool after the X-acto knife and the scale ruler.
Hint # 17 Rubber Bands as Inexpensive Clamps
    Here's another hint pertaining to holding your models together while your glue dries. At almost no cost you can improve your clamping efforts by having some rubber bands and clothes pins handy when you tackle your next project. You can use as many or as few rubber bands as necessary to hold your model together while your glue dries.
Hint # 18 A Crowd Pleasing Roof Detail
    If your layout includes a any structures, be sure to detail their roofs. One crowd pleaser is to pour a few "puddles" of Envirotex epoxy on structure roofs to simulate ponding that occurs on most flat roofs after a good rain. You will not need much Envirotex. This is a good way to use any Envirotex left over from a larger project on your layout.
Hint # 18 Weathering Roofs on Your Structures
    I have also tried to great success a technique demonstrated on Allen Kellerr's third videotape about George Sellios' Franklin and South Manchester layout. I weathered my model roofs with a paintbrush together with a wash and tube paint. The wash consists of a solution of Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol (very inexpensive) and two teaspoons of India ink added. I used Liquitex Acrylic Color tube paint in Raw Sienna. Dip your brush in the wash then dip it into a pearl of the tube paint. Brush on the roof and then dip into the wash to spread the tube paint around. Work your brush to suit your eye. While wet this technique may look terrible, but when dry you will be pleased with the results. Recall that roofs caught both dirt and rust from metal items on the roof. This technique simulates the dirt, rust, and aging of roofs perfectly. This technique has an added benefit in that it is very inexpensive and the tube of paint could weather a hundred or more structures. This technique is appropriate for any scale.
Hint # 19 Tar Paper Roofs for Your Structures

     If you wish to model the roll-type roofs seen on most urban flat roof building, try Scotch  Photographic Tape (Black) - 1/2"x60 yds. Mfr Catalog # S23512

    This is a black tape with a flat appearance. In HO it scales to under 4 feet wide which would make it about right in terms of the prototype's three foot width. Using this tape saves you the steps of cutting roofing material to the desired width, then gluing it to your roof, and then painting it black.This tape can be found at your local photographic supply store. If the store carries dark room supplies, it should have the tape. Check your yellow pages for a store nearest you. This tape was created for use in dark rooms where shiny items are verboten.
Hint # 20 Easy Bridge Abutments
     Modelers in HO scale, when looking for a solution to a scenery problem, should look in the N-scale section of their favorite hobby shop. I use Fine N-Scale Products (Palos Verdes, CA Telephone 310 373-6658) Concrete Bridge Abutments FNA-3609 on my HO scale layout. Also, N-scale ground throws can look neater than HO scale ground throws. The possibilities are endless. Paul Dolkos uses N-scale buildings and farm animals to create a forced perspective on his HO scale layout.
Hint # 21 Hardware Stores to the Rescue
    Is your hobby shop too far away or closed when you need more scratch-building supples? Fear not, there are alternatives. Keep an eye out the next time your visit your local hardware store. Hardware stores often carry wooden dowels, soldeing irons and supplies, drills, Dremel tools, and supplies, K&S metal supplies, spray paint, hobby paints, acrylic plastic, glues, hot glue guns, and thin wood suitable for model railroading.
Hint # 22  Art Supply Stores to the Rescue
    Your local Michael's or artist supply store often also stock X-acto knives and blades, dowels, foam core for building mock-ups, paints, and glues.
Hint # 23  Stationary Stores to the Rescue
    Stationary stores can also be good sources for papers suitable for mockups or permanent structures, glues, foam core, tapes, X-acto knives, blades, and other supplies. Between these three sources (art supply stores, hardware stores, and stationary shops), you just might be able to keep a modeling project moving until you can get to your hobby shop.
Hint # 24  Easy Signs for your Structures 
    If you want individual letter signs on your structures, visit Office Depot and pick up Stick On Letters TM manufactured by U.S. Stamp & Sign of Cookesviile, TN 38506. They make stick-on letters and numbers in various styles, sizes, and colors. If you cannot find the color you need, simply buy white letters or numbers and paint them before applying to your structure.
Hint # 25  Staying Alive
    When building your layout or just building individuals models, keep your health in mind. While I built a neat workbench in my model railroad room, I found I was doing most of my modeling in another room so I could be near an open window. Some modeling glues can cause cancer. You must stay near an open window to create a well ventilated area. Be sure to negotiate this with your family early one.
Hint # 26  New Life for an Old Table
    Keep an eye out for an old table your family may be considering throwing out. Rather than put the old table out with the trash, keep it for your modeling needs.
Hint # 27  Planning Ahead
    To avoid frustration on your modeling projects, plan ahead. Most serious modeling projects require quite a bit of scratchbuilding supplies. A visit to your hobby shop will often prove frustrating if you are unprepared for meager results. Any decent project will often cause you to wipe out your local store's stock of a particular scratch-building item. Start early and place an order with your local hobby shop or your favorite discount mail order house so items will arrive in time for you to start your project. Don't be surprised if some items take a month or two to arrive.
Hint # 28  The Case of the Disappearing Product
    If you visit a hobby shop and see a part or scratch building item you have never seen before and can use, buy it and as many additional ones as you can use. The next time you visit this hobby shop, your retailer may be out of that item, not know what it is you are talking about, and be unable to order more. Very often items are limited run or a manufactured by a small basement manufacturer who is no longer in business. It will be your loss if you do not move quickly.
Hint # 29  Roof Top Water Tanks
    If you are scratchbuilding any large structures and need a large water tank to top off your building, try Atlas Model Railroad Co, Inc. They make a nice HO scale Water Tower Kit No. 703. I found mine for $7.69 at my local hobby shop. Actually I have used three of these for structures on my layout. Of course, you will need to leave off a few parts. Don't let the green color the kit is molded in put you off. It is easy to change this with a can of spray paint. To give you a feel for the size of this tank, I should mention that the base is 3 1/4 " x 3 1/4".
Hint # 30  Painting Tiny Parts
    Scotch Brand carpet tape is a wide double-sided tape that works wonders for keeping small parts from flying away when you spray them with paint. Even if you are not spray painting small parts, this tape can serve from keeping small parts fly away when you exhale in their vicinity. This tape can be found at most hardware stores.
Hint # 31  Planning Your Layout
    Thinking of starting a model railroad layout? It all begins with planning; and planning begins with the Layout Design Special Interest Group. Find their web site on the internet and read their entire Layout Design Primer. It's a great place to learn from others' mistakes and successes in layout planning. Then join the Layout Design Yahoo discussion group and post your questions there. The answers and suggestions will just flow in. If you like what you see, join the SIG by sending them a check for your subscription to their very informative Layout Design Journal. You will soon be writing them a check for back issues of the Journal, if my guess is right. Give the Layout Design SIG a shot and it will be one decision you will never forget.
Hint # 32  No More Glue Mess
    If you have not assembled a model railroad related kit in years, don't delay another minute. One of your best aids to a quick start is Model Master TM Liquid Cement For Plastic Models. It's the odd shaped glue carded at your hobby shop or art supply store. Underneath its black cap is a great needle applicator that prevents the kind of messes you recall of building models as a kid with a tube of glue. Buy Model Master Liquid Cement in the 1 fluid ounce black bottle together with a model railroad kit of any scale and you can get excellent results compared to the old tube of glue from your childhood.
Hint # 33  Addresses for Your Structures
    If you need address numbers for the commercial buildings on your model railroad, you might have trouble locating them in your local hobby shop's model railroading section. Instead, look in the military modeling section of the shop, and you might be in luck. I found Numbers Item number TC1007 by TechStar Modeling & Diorama Accessories. Sorry I could not provide a street address for this firm, but the package gave no hint of this information. This package contains 3 sizes made of etched brass. Give it a try. This product is made in the USA and retails for $8.98 at my hobby shop.
Hint # 34  Money Saving Mortar
    Here's a money-saving tip to make your brick structures more accurate. A very inexpensive way to create mortar lines in any scale model is to apply Apple Barrel Colors 20526 Country Gray Craft Paint (these 2 ounce bottles say "Plaid" on their labels) On sale these can be bought for $1 or less at a crafts store. Just apply with a piece of paper towel and quickly wipe away the paint, leaving paint only in the mortar lines. Only apply enough paint to cover an area that will not dry out before you have a chance to wipe it away. To do otherwise leaves you with paint covering all your mortar that is not removed very easily. Your model will look a great deal better and your wallet will thank you as the competitive Modelers Mortar & Scenery Base would have cost your $4 or so.
Hint # 35  Saving Your Eyesight
    Before you buy your next gadget or freight car kit, buy an Ott-Lite instead. Ott makes great lamps for hobbyists. I learned about these lamps when I bought one for my office desk. They give off a very natural light that is indispensable for assembling models. The hobby version even has a neat handle that allows you to move it around from one work area to another. If this Ott lamp doesn't improve your modeling I will be a monkey's uncle. My local hobby shop carries the lamp, but you can check with your local crafts shop first. Incidentally, I have no financial stake in this company.
Hint # 36 A Great Source of Weights 
    Inadvertently, I found a great source for weights to use to hold our modeling projects together while they dry. Try reject marble bases for small sports trophies. My kids were digging around one day and found someone had buried a whole bunch of these in a nearby property. The kids brought these home and I promptly washed them and kept them. Not too long afterwards, I saw that my local hobby shop had a bunch of reject marble trophy bases as well -- only difference was that the hobby shop's bases were cleaner and carried a price tag. Next time you pass your town's trophy store, pop in and see whether they will give you the rejects for free or for a nominal price. These bases are great for assembling structures in any scale. You can even feel good that you are keeping these items out of a rapidly filling up land fills.
Hint # 37 Saving Money on Scratchbuilding Supplies
    If you are modeling an urban area, here is a way to save money on your scratchbuilding efforts. Build your kit-bashed structures first. That way you will have a whole load of extra parts (windows, doors, etc.) to use when you scratchbuild. Scratchbuilding parts such as windows and doors can be expensive as well as a pain to order and wait for them to arrive. Buy a few Walther's buildings, kitbash them and I bet you will have tons of parts left over.
Hint # 38 A Fast Start To Operations
    If you are ready to start operating your layout but need a nudge, try the following two lesser known suppliers. First, contact Bill Pistello at Modular Model Railroad Equipment Company  at 625 South Princeton Avenue, Villa Park, IL 60181 630 832-9152. Bill sells acrylic car card holders made to fit 1 1/8" x 3" car cards. The car card holders come in thick and thin types as well as one, two, or three pocket varieties. As Bill says, "Don't put those tacky thick wooden boxes on the side of your miniature system, do it with style!" I have installed his boxes on my layout and I can testify that they look great and are just right for holding car cards.
Hint # 39 A Fast Start To Operations
    If you dread writing out your car cards, try Ship It! Car Cards by Albion Software, 39 Stanley Drive, Glastonbury, CT 06033 email@albionsoftware.com www.albionsoftware.com . I can testify this software works great. Just enter your car, industries, and goods shipped, information and you are in business. Of course, you will need a computer, printer, and heavy weight paper. Incidentally, despite the glowing review,I have no financial stake in either company.
Hint # 40 Learning from the Prototype
    If you are interested in modeling the Long Island Rail Road in Long Island City visit my web site at www.trainsarefun.com/lirrmb/lirrmb.htm for modeling and prototype ideas. Steve Lynch created and maintains this web site for me.
Hint # 41  More Roof Top Water Tanks
    Whether you scratchbuild or not, Walthers HO scale 933-3507 Water Tanks make a great addition to most taller urban structures. These water tanks assemble relatively easily with rubber bands and an X-acto knife being the only tools you will need. While you are up on the roof, don't forget to stock up on a few of the Walthers 933-3158 Roof Detailing Kits at List Price $11.98.
Copyright 2003 Nicholas Kalis