• lionelski

Free and Unique Stuff to Use:

Updated: Aug 15

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 many over the counter or prescription pills. I just spray them red or green and paint the tops silver – done.

Propane Tank Farm:

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.

Landscape and Mountains:

Paper Mache, paper towels dipped in plaster draped over wadded up newspapers, even spray foam have been used to make mountains, etc. on Warrenville. Beaded white Styrofoam or old ceiling tiles makes a great basis for retaining walls when roughly broken and glued in rough layers with white glue.

I like to paint mountains, etc. 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 trees shown in the gas storage tank tip below are additional examples of "free" trees

Flat car Load/Log "chains":

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.

Gas storage tanks:

Try the 1950's method of making these from tin cans, pieces of stiff wire and signs cut from advertisements!

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