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HO Scale Trailer Parts From PPW/A-Line

For modelers of our Semi-Trailer models in HO scale, the folks at PPW/A-Line have a nice selection of detail parts that can upgrade your trailers. These especially include wheel sets, but also landing gear, spare tire holder, rear doors and more. Here are links to some of their items:

Trailer Dress-Up Kits (Wheel Sets)

Trailer Kits and Parts (Landing Gear, Flaps, Side Skirts)

Trailer Doors

Miscellaneous Vehicle Parts (Spare Tire Rack, Document Boxes)

Mud Flaps & Tractor Mirrors


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Create a Stand-Alone Layout with T-Trak Modules

T-Trak is a nifty, small modular standard created by the wife of the man who created the N-Trak standard. It has a pair of parallel mainline tracks towards the front of the module. The benefits of T-Trak is that it sits on a table top, is quick to setup, stores away easily on a typical shelf, and is a most accessible ways to enjoy the model railroad hobby.

While T-Trak layouts are great for shows with their inherent roundy-round orientation, the parallel-mainlines-at-the-module-front standard can be conceptually challenging to making an operational layout at home.

Here’s a quick guide to creating a complete operational shelf layout with two triple-length modules using the T-Trak standard (about 6 feet of length). It incorporates the four elements of a great switching layout: runaround, industries, interchange and staging. Add car cards and waybills, a switch list or other operating method and this type of layout will provide endless hours of train operation in a compact shelf-layout while having the ability to integrate with additional T-Trak modules in a larger layout.

1: Basic Modules

Here we have two basic modules with industries. The industries cannot be served by trains on the front mainline and cars setout on the back mainline block the way of trains. It would not be an exciting stand-alone layout. How do we fix that?

2: The Runaround

Add a runaround. This allows the locomotive to run around cars in order to pick up or drop off at both trailing and facing point spurs. For a stand-alone two-module layout the main tracks become spurs for the industries, staging and a lead track for sorting. Make sure to leave enough room for at least a locomotive, or a locomotive and one or two cars between the turnouts and the end of the modules. See below for dealing with cross-overs between mainlines for T-Trak modules.

3: Adding Spurs

Once we have our runaround we can add spurs for more industries.

4: And More Spurs

There is lots of space on T-Trak modules. Add a few more spurs to add more operational interest.

5: Play With Track Placement

Play with track placement to increase visual interest and use of space. While T-Trak modules have precise track placement for connecting with other modules, you do not need to follow that placement between modules that work together as a set. Moving the track breaks up the straight lines.

6: Connect With Additional Modules

Connect with other modules to add more staging or interchange space. Because we preserved the track placement at each end of our set, we can connect to other modules and expand our layout or play with others.

7: Getting Really Creative

Here we have a rendition of the famous Gum, Stump and Snowshoe layout that conforms to the T-Trak standard. The spur off the back mainline ducks under a bridge, up an incline to a switchback in order to serve a few industries on the hill above.

Making Cross-Overs Between Mainlines for T-Trak Modules

In order to make our module interesting, we want to have cross-overs between mainlines. To keep the modules safe for running with other people’s modules we need to have insulators between the turnouts at each cross-over location. It is good to have a removable barrier for when you want to physically keep trains from crossing over.

Further, we need to be able to change the polarity of the rear track and spurs. For our purposes of a stand-alone home layout we want both mainline tracks to have the same polarity. In T-Trak speak that would be B-W, B-W. But, in order to connect to others we need the ability to go back to B-W, W-B.

While this may seem challenging, it is a lot simpler than it sounds.

Gum Stump and Snowshoe T-Trak Modules

Gum, Stump and Snowshoe Module Debut

When we collected our turnouts we had 3 times more of rights than lefts, so we flipped the traditional Gum, Stump and Snowshoe layout and called it the Stump, Gum and Snowshoe. The track was barely laid by the time of our next exhibition so this photo shows the modules without much in the way of scenery, but we were able to do complete operations of 6 industries with a small yard and runaround track. We used flextrack and Peco turnouts with Kato ends for snapping together with other T-Trak modules.

We also tried something new: with five tracks crossing the separation of the two triple-length modules at multiple angles, inclines and elevations, we use two trunk clasp latches (one you can see on the fascia, one behind) and no physical track connection, just butt joints like they do with the Freemo-N modular standard. Trains ran beautifully with no derailments. We routed power from the one powered module to the tracks on the other with a plug connection on the back. The back frame of the module is recessed 1/2 inch to both hide and give room for the wiring and trunk clasp latch.

Completed Module on Exhibit

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How to Fix Kato Couplers

I’m an N scale model railroader. Like some of you, I run mostly Kato brand locomotives and numerous other brands of cars such as Atlas, Micro-Trains and Athern. It is fairly well known that the installed Kato couplers simply don’t play well with others; specifically Micro-Train couplers and McHenry couplers which dominate the couplers installed on most non-Kato rolling stock.

Some people have a dedicated conversion car with a Kato coupler at one end and a Micro-Trains coupler at the other. This car stays between the locomotive’s Kato coupler and all the other rolling stock. I didn’t feel this was an ideal solution for me as I do a lot of operations and didn’t want the extra length of a tag-along.

The typical fix is to replace the couplers. This conversion costs $5-15. You’ll need to drill and tap holes in the shell and perform minor cutting and filing of the locomotive shell to allow the new coupler to fit. Ultimately this is the best solution.

The other evening I was running my newest Kato locomotive, a sweet SD45. The special order conversion couplers hadn’t yet arrived and I just couldn’t help myself, deciding to take it out on an operations run. Naturally, it had a most difficult time connecting to my cars. I began to wonder what’s the hang-up. Kato makes great stuff and clearly put a lot of effort into their coupler. Could it be adjusted to work with other couplers, I wondered?

model train coupler diagram

I started examining the shape. Kato’s coupler is unusually small, rather bluntly shaped, and had a small stop tab on the left outer side of the knuckle. As I watched a Micro-Trains (M-T) coupler try to engage, the M-T’s lip shank would strike the protrusion on the Kato knuckle shank, preventing the coupler hooks from getting close enough to couple.

So I nipped off the stop tab on the Kato coupler. Better, but still no connection.

The next issue was the small opening of the Kato knuckle itself, being both small and shaped flat rather than angled. This opening was about the size of the entire M-T knuckle and without alteration required quite a bit of force to get the M-T knuckle into the Kato knuckle.

I used a small triangular jeweler’s file and removed the sharp inside corners on both the knuckle and lip shanks, being very careful not to file off the amazingly small hooking lip at the end of the knuckle hook.

Bingo! Without the human hand the loco connected with the car and coupled on the first try with gentle pressure. I ran my operating session setting out and picking up about 20 cars and the couplers worked pretty well. Sometimes the almighty hand was needed to get a positive connection (the knuckle jaw opening could be larger still) but it was a simple 5 minute adjustment without disassembling the locomotive.

It should be noted that making these modifications will likely make coupling to another Kato coupler difficult. And a set of Micro-Trains couplers properly installed on your loco would still have an edge in coupling with the least trouble, but the modified Kato couplers were now functional and are perhaps good enough for the needs of most model railroad enthusiasts.

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What Do I Need to Get Started in Paper Modeling?

The joy of building downloadable paper models is that it requires very few tools and materials to get started. A hobby knife, scissors, glue, paper and card boards, and internet access and email are all that’s needed. You don’t even need a color printer – see our article No Color Printer? No Computer? No Problem!

Here’s our list of must haves:

Naturally, as you advance and enjoy building with paper, adding a few more tools will help you create your models a little faster and with more precision. These tools are optional but helpful:

  • Tweezers
  • Metal edge ruler
  • Cutting mat
  • Color printer (again, see our article No Color Printer?)

While you can make perfect paper models with only the most basic of tools, if you do a lot of model building as we do, you may find some of these tools to be occasional time savers.

  • The Chopper by NorthWest Short Line. For making slender, small or repetitive cuts of mat board you can’t beat The Chopper. Although expensive in comparison to basic tools this can be a real time saver. An inexpensive alternative: a simple razor glass scraper from the hardware store. Some of the advantages at a tiny fraction of the cost.
  • A rotary paper cutter. We like the deluxe version from Fiskars but even an inexpensive model with assist you in making long straight paper cuts.
  • Mini scissors. I use a pair of expensive German-made sewing snips that excel at small cuts and trimming edges.
  • Metal ruler with cork backing. Okay, this item is less than $2.00 so should be a basic item. I find the cork backing prevents slipping while using it as a straight edge cutting with a knife.
  • Rotary punch. This doesn’t get used very often but is practically indispensable if you need to make small diameter circles in mat or poster board. We specified its use in making round industrial roof vents for instance. Hint: the 4mm punch is perfect for making N-scale barrels! 4 punches of mat board glued together and painted with a felt pen or paint makes a quick 24” diameter by 36” tall standard metal drum.


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No Color Printer? No Computer? No Problem!

While on the road to my son’s wedding, he needed me to print out some PDF documents as he had no printer at home. The only tool I had with me was my mobile phone. My wife smartly suggested I call a nearby FedEx Office to see if they could help. They made it so easy. And it occurred to me their handy solution would work for any of our modellers who don’t have a color printer, or who wish to have waterproof toner-based color printing.

Here’s how it works: Email the PDFs to You will receive a retrieval code back by email. Go to any FedEx Office location and use the self-service printers. At the Print & Go payment kiosk near the self-service printer, select Print and then Print With Retrieval Code. Enter the code and follow the instructions to print the files you sent via email. You even pay at the kiosk. And for those who feel intimidated by the self-serve process you can work directly with an employee to print them for you.