From the Basement of John Warren

Just some fun tips and tricks for a fantastic layout!

If you have any tips and tricks you'd like to see here, please email me at!

Track Tips:

A few tips for those traditional track users (and probably others).


Test all track (new or used) to make sure that there is no shorting from the rail insulators.

When planning your layout use the widest radius curves that you can. O27 or O31 might be fine with the trains you have now, but in the future?  Also, they will run better (and they can go faster!) with wider radius.

O27 curves can be found with O42, O54 and O72 radius, O curves with O42 and O72 (not sure about O54).

When laying out your track, mark where you will need fibre pins for blocks with a piece of masking tape – it’as a lot easier to do this than to remember after you screw the tracks down.

When screwing the tracks down, don’t overtighten and bend the ties, this could change the gauge slightly, or cause insulator shorts.

Avoid track joints when possible – single lengths equal to 3 straight tracks are available – use them when you can.  Also, instead of using short filler pieces when needed, cut one of these longer pieces to the length of one or two tracks plus the filler piece.



Free and Unique Stuff to Use:

This does not need to be an expensive hobby – If you are resourceful. Lots of free, or close to free, stuff can be had/made for the layout.



I’ve made neat barrels from the moisture absorbing inserts that come with one the CVS brand of Prylosec. I just spray them red or green and paint the tops silver – done.


Propane Tank:

Buy your significant other quality roses – they come with tubes on each stem to hold water. I sprayed these with a grey primer, glued them together in two rows, added a propane company sign (cut out of the yellow pages) – instant propane tank farm.


Retaining Walls:

Pink or blue Styrofoam scraps can make wonderful viaducts or retaining walls when worked with a hot Styrofoam cutting tool. I like the one called Tippi. Check out their website and you will see how easy this is.


Landscape and Mountains:

The beaded white Styrofoam sheets that come as packing makes a great basis for mountains, etc. when roughly broken and glued in layers (white glue). I like to paint them with a grey latex paint and then dry brush with green, black and brown. Add groundcover, pieces of lichen etc.


Grass and Ground Cover:

Speaking of ground cover, even a small woodworking project will produce a couple gallon coffee cans of sawdust. Use some as is and use Rit dye to dye the rest green.

Don’t forget that dried used coffee grounds also make good dark brown ground cover.


Trees, Bushes and Foliage:

Fall is a super time to find weeds (goldenrod is great for this) to make trees. I pick the good ones, sometimes glue two together at the stems and shape with a scissor. I then spray them from both the bottom up and top down with green, red, yellow or brown spray paint, sometimes using a combination of these colors as a dusting over coat. I thicken and texture the stem “trunk” with hot glue and paint it a brownish-grey with latex paint.

The free logs for the layout or car load are branches or twigs cut to size.


Load/Log Holders:

How do you hold loads to your flat cars? Burn the fuzz off of pipe cleaners and what’s left looks like chain. Like the bands that Lionel uses? Pick up a pack of hair bands from your local chain drug store. Many in the package are white or silver and look exactly like those used by Lionel. Give the other colors to the kids.

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