Archive for February, 2018

I didn’t really know what I was doing when I set out to make my first space train, so I just kind of jumped right in. Here are some things I learned along the way.


Unit HH-78 #15 Mad-Max style model locomotive

* Do a Google image search to get ideas and what style you are attracted to. A consistent style helps sell the realism, even on a fantasy train.

* Choose your genre – fantasy, sci-fi, steam punk, apocalypse, etc. Post apocalyptic is best for straight up Mad Max style.

* Familiar yet different. If things are too wild and crazy, people won’t be able to relate to it. You’ll want to start with something that resembles a train at it’s essence, but is different enough to suggest it comes from another world or era. For North Americans, models from other countries can look, well, foreign. Continental Europe models can be a good place to start looking.

* Asymmetry is your friend. Nothing says “last minute addition” like a piece off-center, or on just one side of the vehicle. You have 3 axis of possible symmetry. Abuse them all.

* Stick to earth (muted) tones and the predominate color on your planet. Similar pieces can be painted different colors to give the impression they come from different “sets” or locations..

* Add sheets of metal (I used Evergreen corrugated) for defensive protection.

* Add crude weapons of offense like guns, spikes, bombs, etc.


Profile of a science fiction model train engine HH-78 #15 with upgrades in place

* Not all pieces will fit. Chop them off to make them fit, or just have them take a precarious position. This can give the impression that the builders had to make do with what was at hand.

* Think outside the box – horizontally as well as vertically. Armaments and supplies just tacked onto the sides especially give that rough-and-ready feel. Most people forget about expanding out over the track. Watch your clearances if you plan to operate your model.

* Always keep an eye out for little containers, covers, tops, from around the house like your kitchen or bath. By now you have recognized the back of the disposable razor heads on my model. Stationery supplies are also possibilities.

* Check the toy section of your favorite store for specific add-ons like guns, lasers, robots, etc. Some movie branded items can be quite expensive and may not be worth it. The local dollar store and charity shops have provided some nice finds.

* Matchbox accouterments can be quite good. Construction vehicles can be especially useful. Don’t be afraid to chop or take apart a new model. Hot Wheels has some wild stuff, but I find Matchbox more “realistic”. Hot Wheels with some modifications might fit your genre.

* Less is more. Don’t add too many different things that might detract from the overall look.

* Most of my “upgrades” I added with the body attached to the frame. This helps fragile pieces from falling off. Test that you can remove the shell again for cleaning and maintenance.

* Don’t be afraid to try something or damage your model on the outside. If something breaks, it might be for the better. That’s an opportunity for an aged piece or even a patch job.

* Graffiti gives that rag-tag feel. I keep mine minimal, general, and non offensive. Decals or free-hand, up to you.

* Weathering counts and can tie everything together. Do it in “layers”, each after a set of pieces has been added like might happen in the prototype. Standard techniques apply: dry brush, air brush, chalks, and washes.

* Appropriate figures can help bring the unit to life when you have finished or for photography.

* Have fun!

Sci-fi Train locomotive engine

Progress on the science fiction locomotive for the Mines of Xenon model railroad

2017 was a year of stabilization on one front and expanding horizons on the other.

First it was time to finally redo and finish the asphalt pavement areas on the West end of the Southside Industrial district. The plaster drying and painting process seemed to go slow and took a few of real-time months.

Southside Industrial District industrial switching

Paving on the Southside Industrial District industrial switching model railroad

With a new and improved back drop as a blank canvass, I applied the background photos and finally got the structures set back to their allotted positions for the first time in the new basement. Work began on the final detailing for structures.

Southside Industrial District model railroad switching layout

Southside Industrial District in its place


Then I approached a fork in the road, so I took it.

Mines of Xenon

Getting started on the Mines of Xenon science fiction model railroad layout

The idea for the Mines of Xenon layout was birthed. That set of months of research, planning, Googling and even playing. I decided on a simple 4×6′ space mining layout and build a 2×4′ diorama as practice. My daughter would help and get an introduction to model railroading.

Mines of Xenon sci-fi model railroad

Mines of Xenon track plan sketch

Scenery, rolling stock, and motive power (and the odd robot) were stock piled. The last part of the year was spent finishing the space loco kitbash and diorama to place it in. Scroll through last year’s blogs for details and photos.

Mines of Xenon sci-fi model train layout overview

Running trains on the Mines of Xenon


So, what’s up for 2018? The theme for the year seems to be finishing. We all know a model railroad is never finished, but here is what is on tap for this year:

  • Finish the Sothside Industrial District with detailing buildings and a simple operating scheme
  • Finish the Morden diorama with a station re-do and a reasonable facsimile of an Underground platform
  • Finish the Mines of Xenon layout with the main mountain and detailing
Mines of Xenon model train family play

Xenon is a family affair

I would also like to have a go at getting some new projects underway:

  • Finalize plans and prep for the new train room
  • Get a jump on starting the Morden exhibition layout


In the short term, the Mines of Xenon is the highest priority, so keep checking the blog for progress.

Sci-fi Model Train Play tunnel

Goal for 2018: Play with trains!