Adding An HO Scale Mobile Home

Any model train layout should represent the interests of the person who runs it. In the case of my brother’s wife, the interests are sometimes a bit out of the ordinary. She tends to look to the underbelly of society for inspiration.

Sherman’s Crossing is envisioned as an economically depressed small Southern town, off the beaten track. Police raids, serial killers, prisons and accidents are only partly balanced by church scenes.

To keep with Sherman’s Crossing’s image, Barbara wanted to extend the trailer park. Rob ordered additional HO scale mobile home kits from NuConp Miniatures. These are high quality plastic models which have to be assembled and finished by the modeler.

HO Scale mobile home being assembled

HO Scale mobile home being assembled

Rob drilled holes and added LED interior lighting, white for the main room and blue for the entry. In the pictures here, he had yet to add pin-striping and a touch of paint to the roof vent, the trailer hookup, and the gas tanks.

Interior of HO scale mobile home

Interior of HO scale mobile home

Windows were added using clear plastic or, in some cases, parchment paper. Window blinds and curtains were carefully crafted from strapping tape. People were added for interest.

HO scale mobile home window with curtains.

HO scale mobile home window with curtains.

As the town of Sherman’s Crossing develops, keeping in the spirit of a small Southern town, Rob ordered another Maxwell Avenue House from Rix Products. These are unassembled model kits which come in white and need to be finished.

HO scale Maxwell Avenue House

HO scale Maxwell Avenue House

Rob weathered the walls of the house with a simple wash of Raw Umber. He also painted the brick footing around the house and the brick porch with a mix of Burnt Umber and Burnt Rose. (It helps to be an artist.) He then drilled a hole in the roof and added a porch light. The wiring became hidden when the house was glued together.

HO scale Maxwell Avenue House disassembled.

HO scale Maxwell Avenue House disassembled.

HO scale house with a light for the porch

HO scale house with a light for the porch


Ballast For The HO Model Train

In order to create a more realistic looking model train layout, Rob wanted to copy what is found on a real train roadbed.  The ties of real train tracks are surrounded by small stones or cinders called ballast.  In addition to a raised roadbed, ballast allows for drainage and holds the underlying roadbed from washing away.

Ballast added to the HO tracks

Ballast added to the HO tracks

In a scale model, the ballast is not loose as it is with real train tracks, but glued down.  Considering that the real ballast is only an inch or two in size, model train ballast has to be pretty small to look right.  Ballast may be purchased from train and hobby stores.  In order to keep costs down, some model railroaders use masonry sand.

Ballast is added only after the track is fixed to a base, generally of cork or styrofoam.  This base is to simulate the raised bed of real trains.  A useful feature of ballast is that it covers screws, joints, and wire holes resulting from laying the track.

Ballast added at a turnout.

Ballast added at a turnout.

There are several suggested methods of adding ballast.  Rob, however, failed to remember what he had read and made some errors.

He first spread regular gravel left over from an old dump truck load.  He then saturated it with a 50%-50% white glue-water mix and it looked okay.

Then he added a layer of cheap, fine sand from home depot which had been bought for an outside project.  Unfortunately, the sand contained some magnetite particles which caused problems and led to a major clean up job.  The sand also didn’t work very well with the process previously used on the gravel.

More ballast added going into a tunnel.

More ballast added going into a tunnel.

In order to finish the ballasting on Barbara’s HO layout, Rob’s plan is to get some non-magnetic, non-conductive sand and proceed as follows…

1, Carefully spread it where it is wanted with a soft brush, keeping it below the ties and out of the moving parts of the turnouts.

2. Soak it drop by drop with alcohol from an eyedropper (note: the paint used on the track should be tested to make sure it doesn’t run when in contact with the alcohol).

3. Soak it with the 50%-50% white glue-water mixture, starting down the center between the rails and then along the edge of the side, letting it wick into the ballast thoroughly.  Note – a few drops of India ink added to the water-glue mixture will “age” the ties and the ballast.

4. Clear the tops and insides of the rails to prevent derailment of the trains and let dry.

One last photo of tracks with ballast.

One more photo of tracks with ballast.


Continued Development Of Barbara’s HO Layout…

In the south it’s a popular thing to have a community dinner after church. To provide for such events, Rob has added space for benches behind the church on Barbara’s HO layout. Now the parishoners can have dinner on the grounds. Note they are still working on the road leading to the church.

Church grounds added for community dinners

Church grounds added for community dinners

At the other end of the hill, Gil, the delivery guy, appears to be making a delivery to the old farmhouse. A trackhoe nearby is digging out a future pond. Perhaps it will be used as a swimming hole by the farmer’s kids.

Delivery to the farmhouse on Barbara's HO layout

Delivery to the farmhouse on Barbara's HO layout

Still in development, the area around one of the model train tunnel portals is being built up. I can’t wait to see how Rob finishes it. Note the blue lines where Rob might create a deeper entry to the tunnel.

Development around the train tunnel portal.

Development around the train tunnel portal.


A Farm For Barbara’s HO Train Layout

To suggest to the viewer that the mountains on Barbara’s model train layout continued beyond the table, Rob, with his artist’s eye, squared up the corner. This added an area for Barbara’s getaway cabin.

The mountain cabin

The mountain cabin

In the hill country, heavy machinery was brought in to build a road to a new farm on the ridge. The road is currently gravel, but Barbara is considering a paved surface.

The farm in the hills

The farm in the hills

At the other end of the hill country, the local church has been erected and a road is under construction for the town’s people to get there on Sunday.

The church

The church


Z Scale Model Trains Are Expensive

Limited space for a model train layout can be a big problem.  My own situation is probably similar to what many others face.  I live in an apartment.  While my place is large, it is a studio that serves as both my bedroom and my office.

When I decided to build a model train layout for the third time in my life, I figured it would be restrictive to choose any but the smallest scale.  Having been given a Marklin starter kit in Z scale by the brother of a prior lady friend, the choice of Z scale was made easy.

The perfect place for the layout was between the desk and the dresser, a space about four feet wide.  To not interfere with sitting at the desk, a table of not more than 48 inches by 32 inches was deemed to be the perfect size.  I went to the local Lowes store and purchased the materials needed and had the table together in a couple of hours.

My Z scale Table

My Z scale Table

Another view of my z scale table

Another view of my z scale table

The next challenge was to determine what the layout would be.  Having checked on size and shape of the available curved and straight track pieces, I drew up a few possible layouts.  So far so good!  The project was moving along very nicely for a very reasonable cost.

Then I was hit with the ice cold shower.  My parents bought my O27 scale train when I was a youngster and I have no idea what it cost, but I did buy the components of my HO railroad when I was in grade school and they were very reasonable.

Moving to the present, I have been following the development of my brother’s N scale layout and his wife’s HO layout.  In spite of a restrictive budget, their layouts are still coming along at a reasonable cost.

My brother, Rob, saw a Z scale engine he wanted to buy for me.  When he saw the price he decided to pass on the purchase.

Looking at the prices, both new and used for Z scale, I have been flabbergasted!  For much smaller components, Z scale is much more expensive than its larger scale N and HO counterparts.

The cost of tooling  can’t be any more and the cost of the materials going into the parts can’t be more.  Most of the vendors who manufacture in Z scale also manufacture in HO and N, so materials are common to all scales.

What am I missing?  Why is Z scale so much more expensive?  Is it because the market for Z scale is significantly smaller?


Further Development of Barbara’s HO Layout

While Rob was working on Barbara’s HO model train layout, there was criminal activity in the trailer park. All of the police in Sherman’s Crossing, the town in her layout, were on site.

Trouble in Sherman's Crossing

Trouble in Sherman's Crossing


This criminal activity frightened the town’s only other inhabitant so badly that he rented a U-haul, intending to move away.
Resident moving to a better neighborhood

Resident moving to a better neighborhood


So goes the story as Barbara’s HO table continues to develop. As I have stated before, developing a story to explain your layout can make it more fun. Imagination is the key.

Further developments have been made elsewhere and Rob’s artistic talents are beginning to appear. At the entrance to the tunnel, Rob has added a very realistic portal painted with a few old acrylic paint washes. The smoke residue at the top was created with black chalk. Some additional supports were colored with the same acrylic washes.

Model train tunnel portal

Model train tunnel portal


Additional painted supports

Additional painted supports

Rob has also added more sheetrock mud and other materials to continue developing the HO model hill country. Dabbling in ink washes and utilizing dirt prebaked in an oven to sterilize it, he is slowly bringing this model train layout to life.

Area around the tunnel

Area around the tunnel


Rugged hillside

Rugged hillside


Canyon Walls for Barbara’s Model Train

Rob wanted to build up the canyon walls beside the stream on Barbara’s HO layout, once again using left over building materials.

Cutting and bending some old fence wire for support, he attached torn sections of leftover blown foam insulation.  Leftover wire from securing rebar for the house foundation pour was used to secure the foam to the framework while the glue set up.

Canyon walls begin to form on Barbara's model train layout

Canyon walls begin to form on Barbara's model train layout

While detailing and painting may consume a lot of time, this intial construction went very quickly.  The result reminds me of the structures in some Disneyland rides – puffy and cloud-like.  Of course, they may look very different when finished.

Another shot of the canyon walls in process

Another shot of the canyon walls in process


The Start of the Model Train Riverbed

Barbara’s model train table had to have a river, so Rob got out his handsaw, drill with a wire wheel attached, and his shop-vac.  Carving the foam with the handsaw, he roughed up the surface with the wire wheel while dragging the shop-vac hose back and forth.

Next, he mixed up tile adhesive, Elmer’s glue, and reddish colored grout and spread it one place and another.  Its primary purpose is to secure the platforms the trestles will rest on.  The trestles themselves are not glued down at this point for easier painting access.

Natural flat rocks from the slope outside his workshop will be added later.  He is still experimenting with various goops and will eventually paint the riverbed with acrylics and add the final clear coats to make it look like water rushing through the canyon.

As he put it. “This is only the start, there is a TON of work to do ahead.”  Next on the agenda will be to create a wire frame for the canyon walls.  Keep coming back for more developments.

The early stages of building the HO scale riverbed

The early stages of building the HO scale riverbed

Another view of the riverbed

Another view of the riverbed

Yet another view of the riverbed

Yet another view of the riverbed

Rob has also begun the early work on the little canyon on his own N scale model train layout.

Rob's N scale canyon - the early stages

Rob's N scale canyon - the early stages


A Drive-In Theater for Your Model Train

What is a model train layout without a drive-in movie theater where movies actually play?  Barbara wanted her little people to be able to enjoy getting out on Saturday night dates.

After cutting a hole in the 2 inch foam base, Rob continued cutting a hole in the table itself.  Adding spacers, he installed a support board for a DVD player which will serve as the movie screen.

The removable parking lot was cut from scrap lumber and placed so as to hide the lower part of the DVD player.  Black paint sprinkled with sand gives the desired parking surface.  More sand will be added later along with tire tracks.

"Movie theater" in place

"Movie theater" in place

Unfinished removable parking area set in place for drive-in

Unfinished removable parking area set in place for drive-in

Roads and theater parking lot getting surfaced

Roads and theater parking lot getting surfaced


Rob’s Model Train Tunnel

Rob’s – actually Barbara’s – HO model train layout continues to evolve.  What is a model railroad without a tunnel?  Again, Rob used left over building materials to create one.

A piece of leftover blown foam insulation was cut to fit the end of the table.   Glued down to cut sections of 2 inch pink insulation to raise it up, it was then scooped out to create a tunnel.  A section in the back was cut out to allow easy access in case of a derailment and the underside was painted black where it could be seen when in place.

The painted tunnel ready for placement

The painted tunnel ready for placement

Once the floor of the tunnel was painted black as well, the mountain was glued in place and held down with bricks until the glue dried.

The mountain with tunnel being glued down

The mountain with tunnel being glued down

Rob is considering using the leftover tile adhesive and/or wallboard compound to create a pasture area the Mrs wants to have on top.

Barbara has decided to delete most of her Old West style structures in place of new ones.  In the two photos below it is indicated where she plans to add some structures.

Meanwhile, Rob has cut out the tarpaper used for road base and is holding it flat with bricks until he can mix up the goop to cover it.  Soon the roads will wander across the layout!

Further development of the HO model train layout

Further development of the HO model train layout

Another view of the HO layout

Another view of the HO layout

I am getting closer to diving in on my own Z scale model train project.  Perhaps next week!