N Scale things I've learned

Headers are kind of random, however, the sub-items are listed in the order that I feel is most critical.


- Buy and use a NMRA track gauge.  If your track and switches don't fit the gauge, they won't fit your trains either
    -- Even if you are buying good name brand track, it may have been made on a Monday or your techniques of laying it may distort it.

- Build a "track inspection" car 
    -- Clear body allows you to see what the trucks and wheels are doing in areas that are causing difficulties
    -- Lower height is easier to push around with your finger on top of the car than a conventional car
        -- Feel for areas that have more drag, bumps, dips, etc
    -- Inspection car

- I used normal sections.  Next time it will be mostly flex track to eliminate as many joints as possible. 
    -- Stick with one brand of track throughout a layout, or at least a section, as there are minor variations between manufactures that may cause difficulties
    -- Solder as many joints as possible with the track on a flat surface then move the subassembly to the layout
    I can't speak to the difference between track codes.  Mine is all Code 80 and caused me enough grief I am not sure I want to try shorter track

- I used foam roadbed, it seemed to work well for me

- After ballasting was complete I pulled the nails securing the track
    -- A drop of glue and a few flakes of ballast fills the hole nicely


- Memo to self - DO NOT BALLAST THE #$&^% SWITCHES!  It is a major pain to get them working again.

- Buy and use a NMRA track gauge.  If your switches don't fit the gauge, they won't fit your trains either
    -- Even if you are buying good name brand switches, it may have been made on a Monday or your techniques of laying it may distort it.

- All of mine are electric.  Next time any that can be easily reached will be manual, they look much more realistic, require no wiring, etc.

Rolling stock

- Car weight 
    -- Some argue that it is not necessary to weight your cars
        --- After I brought mine into NMRA weight standards I experienced a significant improvement in operation
            ---- Many fewer derailments
            ---- Fewer random decoupling with knuckle style couplers
    -- I use #8 bird shot glued in the bottom of the car
    -- I use Testors clear part cement as it is rather tacky and the shot doesn't roll off while I'm arranging it to my satisfaction
        -- It also doesn't distort the car as some of the more volatile glues are prone to do
        -- White glue doesn't stick well to plastic
    -- Evenly distribute the weight as low in the car as possible
    -- Recommended car weight/size, in ounces, grams, grains

- Buy and use a NMRA track gauge.  If your wheelsets don't fit the gauge, they won't fit your track either
    -- Even if you are buying good name brand wheelsets, they may have been made on a Monday

- Weathering stock
    -- Someday, too many other things to get finished first


- Stick with the same brand for buildings located near each other, scales vary dramatically between brands.  A house that dwarfs a store next to it looks bad.

- No matter how good you think it looks the camera will show any flaws in glaring clarity

- I use acrylic hobby paints
    -- Washes off if you don't like where you are going
    -- Rubs off, but you don't handle the buildings anyway
    -- Airbrush the body and a small brush for the details

- Weathering buildings
    -- A wash of white or gray mixed several drops to a Dixie cup of water
        --- Big, soft brush and liberally apply from the top down
    -- Follow up with a dry brushing of straight white paint to hit the highlights
    -- Follow that up with a wash of a few drops of India ink to a Dixie cup of water
        --- Again, a big, soft brush and QUICKLY apply with strokes from the top down
    -- If you don't like it you can wash it all off and try again

- Roofs
    -- Most models have horrible roofs
        --- At this scale the roofs are much more visible than interiors
    -- Add a few details, like drain vents, air handlers, antennas, etc.
    -- All of my flat roofs have a "tar and gravel" covering - think ballast and different color inks

- Windows
    -- I have never been any good at gluing in plastic windows, Testors clear part cement makes an excellent window
        --- Run a bead around the window frame then draw it across the opening with the applicator tip
        --- I've made good looking windows up to 1/2 x 1/2 with it, any bigger I have to use the clear plastic as a backer behind the glue
    -- Don't mess with the windows until you are happy with the paint job


- I put down a piece of 1/4 hardboard and covered it with a1/2" sheet of foam insulation.  Paint won't bond to the foil on the insulation, I even primed it first, still won't stick.  Glue sticks pretty well so thing are staying put, just have to have a layer of glue under the paint.
    -- Next time I will use uncoated Homosote or paper covered foam board for the substrate

Mountain building

- Next time I will use 2" foam insulation and build solid mountains, carving it to shape.

- I used a "conventional" process of building a cardboard strip skeleton and covering it with paper strips soaked in plaster.  Worked OK, doesn't move with the weather, but it is slow and very messy

- I initially used a paper-mache product that was ground paper mixed with glue.  It was advertised for model railroad building and for sculpting too.   It shrinks a lot, deforms as it dries and twists/warps the substrate under it.  It continues to shrink, swell and twist with the weather, always moving the substrate with it.  I ended up removing most of it as I couldn't get the trains to stay on the track for more than a day or so.


- NMRA track gauge
    -- If your track and switches don't fit the gauge, they won't fit your trains either
    -- If your wheelsets are out of gauge they won't ride the rails properly
        --- Even if you are buying good name brand track, it may have been made on a Monday or your techniques of laying it may distort it
Notice I have mentioned this item several time on this page.  I struggled without one for quite a while.  After getting one, and using it, I found most of my track        problems were due to out of gauge issues.  Several of my wheelsets were also out of spec.  I brought everything into gauge and my trains run much better.

- Magnifier and light
    -- N-Scale is itty-bitty, especially if you are cursed with bifocals.
    -- A fluorescent unit with a magnifier can be picked up at most any large box store for under $40
    -- After you have one, you will wonder why you didn't get it earlier

- Assorted small screwdrivers
    -- A quality set of jewelers screwdrivers are very handy
    -- A #1 Phillips and small straight screwdrivers are needed for working on locomotives and track electrics

- Small set of drill bits and a pin vise to use them

- Assorted hemostats, needle nose pliers, tweezers
    -- Again, N-Scale is itty-bitty and the parts are even smaller

- Xacto knives of various sizes

- Pallet knife - used by paint artists on a canvas instead of brushes, found with the brushes at any art supply
    -- Mine is about 1" wide, great for plaster and Sculptamold
    -- Rounded corners are much easier to work with than the square corners on a putty knife

Every time I've tried to cut corners or save a buck or two it has bit me in the backside.  It is best to take your time and do it right to start with.

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