Practical solutions for modelrailroading



DU_lok.jpg (15130 bytes)

Stow away your layout

     Aternative 1  - Folded to wall

Most modelrailroad fans have a dream about the unlimited space for the super layout but reality (including your wife) put tings into other situations.
Layouts on shelf's in the kitchen have been presented in various magazines to save space. Here is an example of a complete digital controlled N-scale layout with the size of 3,60 by 1,20 meters easily stowed away to make room for other activities.
A full equipped layout with a various terrain is folded up towards the wall - definitely not a new innovation - but here some new ideas.

Two adjustable hinges are mounted on each side at the back of the layout.The dual movement of the hinges keeps the layout tight to the wall in down position with the background slimmed to the landscape.
In up position the layout will be folded out and with the necessary space against the wall to reside the terrain.
The backside of the layout is easy accessible for installation of turnout motors, wires and various electronics.
The layout is safe on the table (swing table) in down position. And the table can be folded down when not used. the dept of the table can be chosen to the needs. A nice drapery covers the layout and the table when not used keeping dust away.

I can not see a drawback to remove the rolling materials - if you take care - its a good reason to remove it when not used. Houses, vehicles and people are glued or screwed to the layout.

       Aternative 2  - Aluminum profiles (SAPA)

At the time of moving to a bigger house I had the oppurtunity to expand my layout into sections. I would not call this "a modular construction" as I do not follow any accepted mudular standard. The sections are built on aluminumprofiles (SAPA) that is very stable with low weight. Rotary and lockable wheels for each section make it easy to access the layout from either side. A wooden frame carrying the layout is laying upon the aluminum profiles hinged on the rear edge. The layout could hereby be folded up and all electronics underneath are accessable. When folded it is secured by gas attenuator same as holding up the trunk of a car.

              Main section in down pos.                                       Main section folded up                                    DCC electronics

                         Gas attenuator                                         Hinged at rear edge                                         Harbour / town section

               PC sreen and MIMIC panel                               Screen in down pos.                                     Pushed on guides

TillbakaTop of page

Helix - Hidden yard

The secret of creating a more realistic traffic  concept on a model railroad layout  is to use hidden sections that gives the impression that the trains are coming from “someware” and then disappearing to “anyware”.  The easiest way is tunnels that begins and ends at points where it is not immediately obvious that there is a connection. A more sophisticated way to create an interesting traffic is to have a hidden yard. In most cases there is no space in the same plane as the main layout and such hidden yard has to be placed in a compartment below. This in turn creates the problem that it is almost impossible to get a stretch (ramp) long enough to keep the climbing to a maximum of 3%. A long ramp can be obtained in a limited space with a so-called Helix, a circular or oval-shaped construction with several levels where the trains are running up and down in a screw-shaped motion. In the following description of a Helix construction for a N-scale layout  it is obtained through a ramp stretch of more than 8 meters of double track with a rise of 2.3% in a helix of 3.5 turns.

A Helix project in N-scale


First determine which total height difference is to be connected via the Helix. Climbing should not be over 2.5% since the curves combined with the uphill movement can be hard for long trains. The example of Helix, which I will describe here has a height difference of 195 mm and a circumference of 2460 mm per revolution, a climbing of 2.3% which means that the height difference between two turns is 55 mm and a total of 3.5 levels.

The Helix could have either single or double track. Since I will combine my Helix with a hidden yard I have chosen double track because I want the trains to operate simultaneously down to the yard while new trains can move upwards to the visible part of the layout. The helix is preferably made as an oval to get the total climb height of as little space as possible and that the trains do not have to be in a curve during the whole climb.

I selected a minimum radius of R2 (228 mm) of the inner track and R3 (262 mm) of the outer track. The smallest defined radius R1 for N-scale should be avoided. With a cork trackbed width of 30 mm and 25mm free space on each side the total width of the base will be of 80 mm for single track and double track with standard track c/c distance 35 mm, giving a total width of the base of 115 mm.

Start by drawing up stretches of track around the oval on a large piece of paper. Draw lines equal to the track center and lines of the outer edges. Transfer the lines on the paper to the first piece of plywood (half turn) and use an electrical  jigsaw. Use this as a template for the rest of the plywood half turns. Each level of plywood (4 mm) is divided into two halves with the seams on the straight part.  With wooden laths (15 x 15 mm) fitted to the edges of the straight section and short pieces in the curves where the threaded rods will go through.



Click here to enlarge the pics



Start by fitting the halves together on one side. On the other side the respective planes over / under are fitted.

The cork trackbed  is glued to the base following the track centerline. Begin to glue the flextrack to the trackbed with contact adhesive. With the glue still wet I put on the track that can be adjusted and shoot down temporarily with a staple gun. These staples are removed when the glue has dried (about 20 min.)

The seams of the tracks are  joint together and soldered. When completed around the first bottom lap add on the next lap attached and screwed to the edge bar and then continue the trackinstallation lap after lap up. With the tracks in place the helix is now a flat package with the pitch not more than the thickness of each lap. Now drill holes for 6 mm threaded rods (16 pc) with a 7 mm drill for clearance. Threaded rods fitted with washers and nuts on both the upper and bottom of each plan. Start from the bottom at the entrance of the helix where the altitude is = 0 (zero). In my case, one revolution of 2400 mm and pitch of 2.3%, I adjust the height of each threaded rod on the first lap and adjust the nuts to the correct height. It is appropriate to have the helix mounted on a baseplate which threaded rods and assume that this base plate provides the reference for heights. Then adjust lap after lap with the nuts to one a fixed spacing between levels. In my case 55 mm.


Mainsection open                                                                                       Mainsection down 
Tracks for trams in the city                                                               Buildings in the city  

TillbakaTop of page

Loco cleaning

The loco wheels picks up a lot of dust that and together with fractions of oil make "black dots" on the wheels with missing contact to the tracks. Various methods like brass brushes will clean the wheels but all mechanical cleaning will in the long run destroy the wheels. You are better of with chemical cleaning like white spirit. Turn the loco upside down mounted in a fixture. Apply power to the weels and clean the wheels with a piece of thin fabric or tops. See figure. A hobby clamp and "a third hand help" will do the job.

Track cleaning

Besides cleaning the locos it is mandatory to keep the track free from dust an oxide. Sometimes its nesesary to clean the tracks manually but wagons with cleaning facilities are available. Same here - no mechanical cleaning that will scratch the tracks that will make it even more sensitive to dust and oxide. Various cleaning adjents are available. I have used white spirit, isopropyl alcohole and antioxide detergents.  

For automatic cleaning. The best I have found sofar is the cleaning wagon from TOMIX - a combined cleaning from an internal tank, polishing and vacuum cleaner tool. Using this method you will keep your tracks nice and shiny. The TOMIX wagon equipped with a DCC decoder can be switched on and off and even the speed remote regulated.



See  TOMIX with lots of cleaning utilities.

TillbakaTop of page  

Electrical Couples

Most railroaders are struggeling the problem to get proper contact to the tracks specially on turnouts and dirty sections. This is applicable specially on tha smaller scales (N and Z). To late I have experienced that a perfection of the initial track installations on the layout is extremely important. 
By excluding insulfrog turnouts the problem will be less.
What can I  do to a layout with lots of landscaping and a fixed track? - It is out of question to redo all track installations.

The answer is:   
Extend the contact surface between the loco and the track by an electrical connection to the adjacent wagon with its own power from the track or tandem coupled locos.
I will here give an example of such interconnection without fixed wires using a "Scharfenberg" coupling kit from the German company
Imotec .
The Scharfenberg coupling looks very nice and is tailored for some german commuter trains but is possible to install to other locos without major modifications. The Scharfenberg couplings are fixed to the chassis and will not follow any boggie movements. That may be a problem in some narrow curves.  An advantage is the self locking and that it works at decoupling tracks. 


Scharfenbergcouple from Imotec in N-scale

Scharfenberg couple in swedish DU-loco

The Fleischmann swedish DU-loco in N-scale is a typical exampel of locos that have a poor contact to the tracks. The stiff axis will make stop in almost every turnout. With an electrical couple to the next wagon or a tandemcoupled loco will help to get a better contact. The company Imotec offers Scharfenbergcouples to interconnect the supplyvoltage (DCC or analog) from loco/ loco or wagon.


Scharfenberg coupling installed to tandem coupled swedish DU-locos

TillbakaTop of page  

My own solution to electrical coupling

All locos will not fit to the Scharfenberg couple above an will need an alternate solution. After som experimental tries I found a working solution for my trains keeping the standard couplingpocket with modifications just to the hook. The couplinghook is modified to carry a 2-pin microconnector (se picture). A rough solution - but it works nice. Very easy to return to original shape witout remodifying - just replace the hook back to



       -  Couplinghooks - Spareparts for most rolling stuff from
       -  Micro pinconnector from electronic shops
Insulated transformer wire 0,15 mm
       -  Resistor 2 kohm


          1.Remove the couplinghooks from the pockets on the
             loco and the adjacent wagon and keep those.
          2. Modify the new hook (see picture) by cutting the
              entire hook keeping the flat surface and drill two
              holes to fit the backside of the pin connector.
              Solder the thin wire to the pins befor attaching the
              connector to the hooksurface.

3. Cut and bend the connector pins as shown in the
              drawing and pictures.
4. Install the new couplinghooks in the pockets of the
              loco and adjacent wagon.

          5. The thin wires are carefully soldered to the
              wheelconnections in the loco boggie.

          6. Turn one wheelpair at the wagon boggie to get
              left/right track power to each wheelpair. 
              Install a resistor loose bent to the wheelaxis and
              solder the thin wires to each end of the resistor
              (se pictures below)


Modified couplinghook to 2-pole
pinconnector (unbent)


       Bend the pins                          Secure coupling


             Unchanged distance                  Wires and resistor

TillbakaTop of page  

Tram Catenary

Trams on a N-scale layout is an interresting complement. The choice of trams in N-scale is limited since Arnold has "disappeared" as an own company. Hopefully the new owner will come up with the production of trams. I had good luck and found two Duwag trams. Tram catenaries is a part of a town with running trams. If you just use catenarys for the scene and not electrical you don`t have to buy expencive stuff. I decided to build from scratch to a very low cost.


       -  Copperwire 0,8 mm (single wire)
       -  Copperwire 0,5 mm (single wire)
       -  Round toothpicks, diam. 2 mm alt. brassrod / tube.


       -  Cut the tip and round off one end of the toothpick.
       -  Drill two 0,8 mm holes in the toothpick for stays and bows
       -  Cut and bend the copperwire as shown in the picture.
       -  Install the stays and bows in the holes and solder the
       -  The post is painted with Humbrol "green 30" or desired colour.
       -  The total size is: height 60 mm and width 52 mm - can of
          course be at variable size.
       -  Single side version can be made by same method.

       -  If this catenary is to be electrified the stability of the post has
          to be better - use brassrod or tube. Even copperwires have
          to be of higher dimensions.


    Final result

Trams in the City

TillbakaTop of page  


The goal with this project was to bring down the costs for signals as many are to be used. Even if I should try to find swedish signals I will get lost. The decision to build the signals by my self have given a final result  close  to the original.


Built procedure

  1. 3 pcs of 1,8 mm LED`s are temporary soldered (anode) against the tracks of a VERO experiment board , pitch 2,54 mm. 
    Be careful by soldering, small solder iron, quickly not to hot. Then cut cathode legs short.

  2. Cut 1 mm single copperwire to be used as post soldered to the 3 cathode legs. be carefull to keep the pitch 2,54 mm to fit the holes in the table.
    Cut the anode legs from the VERO board.
    Solder thin (0,15 mm) isolated transformer wire to each anode

  3. Use Plaststruct or Evergreen styrene material (0,5 x 3,2 mm) to build the signaltables. Use the pitch of 2,54 mm on the VERO board as a jigg to drill the LED holes in the styrene material. High precision work!  Cut the styrene to proper length and round off the corners to a smooth shape.

  4. The table is painted black with white edges. Glue the LED package to the table and use a small VERO board as bottomstand.

  5. Solder the post (common cathode) and each anode wire to the standboard and also solder connectionwires to the VEROboard.

  6. Fix the thin wires from the LED`s tight to the post and paint the post dark green (Humbrol 114). Paint the backside of the LED`s and table dark grey so the light will not be seen back of the signal. The wires from the vero board stand are conncted to the electroncics controlling the signals.
    (via 3 Kohm for 12 Volts)



I started to build headsignals controlled by the PC-software influenced by the feedback from train movements and routes. The signals are connected to  Littfinski DCC-decoders capable of controlling  8 individual Leds.

TillbakaTop of page  

Motor driven turntable

The standard PECO turntable can be remotely controlled by relatively simple modifications.
Following description is based upon an analogue control but can by additional modifications be included in a DCC system.

Modifications and mounting of bridge.
The faked wheels underneath the bridge are filed down to 1mm and replaced by real N-scale wheels. Keep one wheel per axis adjusted to each end to fit. Two plates of plastic are glued under the bridge between the girders keep the two axis properly mounted.

Hjulpar                  Vändskiva     

Cut off the center tap 3 mm:s underneath the bridge not to stick out under the turntable. Mount the bridge temporary and check for free rotation with no touch that could stop the bridge. Adjust with a file.
Cut 45 mm length of a 4 mm brass axis. The axis is mounted in the bridge center tap and fixed by drilling a 1,5 mm hole through the tap and the axis and locked with a split pin.
unt the bridge and adjust the level so the track will meet the adjacent tracks and check for proper contact to the tailrings. Lock the bridge by help of the locking on the axis underneath the turntable plate. The level of the bridge can always be adjusted with the hexagon screw on the lockring. Mount the gearwheel in the other end of the axis and adjust the position later on to meet the gearwheel on the motor axis.

Motor and gearbox
The motor with an integrated gearbox is mounted on a plate made of 1,5 mm Aluminum. This Al-plate have an important function also to secure the end of the bridge axis for a proper and smooth rotation of the worm gear. To ensure exact fitness  - bend the plate first and then measure carefully and drill the wholes.
Mount the motor to the Al-plate and adjust the two gearwheels to meet in a 90 degree angel with the bridge axis fitted into the whole in the Al-plate (See picture below). Mark the wholes from the Al-plate to the bottom of the turntable and drill two wholes. The motor plate is mounted with two countersinked M3 screws in the turntable.

Motorfäste.gif (2105 bytes)                        Motor och drev   

Turntable speed and supply

The rotation speed of the bridge is depending on the motor supply voltage and the gearbox ratio. I have counted on a maximum angle speed of 12 degrees / second (  2 turns / minute)  with a 12 V DC supply and a gearbox ratio of 1:20  from a motor speed of 40 turns/minute.

The bridge controlled from an analogue pulsed trottle "Gaugemaster" with above parameters gives a smooth rotation to various speeds stops to tracks by exact precision. The turntable can alternative be connected to a fixed DC voltage (12V) with a fwd-stop-rev switch In this case preferable with a gearbox with higher ratio to be able to stop by precision. The suggested motor is avaliable with a broad choice of different gearboxes.

The tracks adjacent to the bridge track is supplied through a standard turn switch to stop locomotives to run down into the turntable when its not positioned.

Parts list

PECO standard turntable   NB-5
N-scale wheels
4 mm brass axis
Motor with gearbox
Gear wheel (straight)
Gear wheel (worm)
AL-plate 1,5 mm
Turn switch

Motor.jpg (8181 bytes)
Motor mounted underneath the turntablewith
 90 degree gear wheels.

Observe the whole in the Al-plate
 to secure the bridge axis.                         
TillbakaTop of page
Make your own trees

With this method you can fast and easily make your own trees. Make sure you have an AWG14-16 multi wire cable, Woodland Scenics "Foliage" FC57 and 59, enamel paint and hairspray.
Cut the cable in various lengths and keep 20 mm of isolation. Tailor the branches from the wires and glue pieces of the Woodland material and strew with various materials from Faller. Use hairspray to to fix the materials. Paint the trunk and let dry.
Do one step a time for all trees in massproduction and tailor the trees for individual shapes.



Träd.jpg (7029 bytes)

TillbakaTop of page
Rocks and water

This part of modeling is probably taking the most efforts to obtain a good result. Lots of stuff "ready to put on the layout" are avaliable but looks !?  Materials from Woodland Scenics and Faller mixed with a careful study in avaliable books and magazines and a good portion of patience is a good start. Bring your camera and study the pictures. Of course its up to the modeler where to put the priority - the rolling material - the scenics - or the electronics.

The actual landscape is built up on a base of "Plastic padding Alu sheets"-   laying on pieces of wood covered by gyps.
The hills and rocks are tailored by a model knife to obtain sharp edges in the gyps - painted with mixed grey colors and partly covered by straw materials.

Lakes and other areas of water are painted on the layout base with a mixed color suitable for open sea or narrow canals.The surface is then covered by a curled transparent plastic sheet from Faller. The result is fantastic from  this simple method. Take a look on the pictures below.

Sjö_yta.jpg (39872 bytes)Kanalen_yta.jpg (36727 bytes)Berg.jpg (34548 bytes)

TillbakaTop of page                                                      Per-Ake Jansson, email: