Alternative materials is a free Model Railroad Discussion Forum and photo gallery. We cover all scales and sizes of model railroads. Whether you're a master model railroader or just getting started, you'll find something of interest here.


Well-Known Member
Here is an easy and inexpensive way to upgrade your Tichy or Mantua couplers, using the KaDee # 148 whisker knuckle coupler.

I put a dab of JB weld in the hole and set one side on wax paper for overnight. The next day an exacto knife can be used to scrape off the excess.

A new hole is also easily drilled with the sharp pointed exacto knife, and the coupler fits snugly in the original factory supplied trucks.


This shot shows one coupler filled with JB weld, and one with the hole and cleaning up completed.


This shows what a tight fit you can get.

Shows how versitile the JB weld product is. (I am not a salesman, honestly!)

The #148 coupler works with the bulk gear box kit sold by Kadee, so these two items with the .10 and .15 bulk shims pack will adequately retrofit just about any product purchased on Ebay or bought at garage sales.

I hope this helps someone with their modelling projects!

Last edited by a moderator:


Well-Known Member
Here is the hand made turnout for the Atlas switch. This was previously posted elsewhere, but I have another photo and better instructions. This may be used temporarily or permanently, and with some artistic license could be prettied up.


Here are the plans. It went on 1/4" plywood, I put a small pine 1" x 1" x 2" under the board to mount the nail which holds the lever in place.


The lever is plugged into the pre drilled hole. It is pretty fussy as to the diameter of the holes and the size of the nails and brads. A small dab of JB Weld holds the brad from dropping, and allows it to move freely as the lever turns.


You can see, this takes almost no materials, but could take an hour or more to build.


This is the final project with some of the detail work done around it.

This goes on my suspended layout, so will not be very visible. Some day, when it is all done, I will put a camera on the train and it will maybe show up in that production.

I hope this gives someone some ideas!



Mumbling in the corner
Hmmm... for a very narrow shelf layout, one could put that on the underside with a linkage, as an alternative to a ground throw (which I know lots of people like, but isn't very prototypical) ... could one not?

In fact, as I think about it, even a wider layout could use it for all the close foreground turnouts (again, mounted underneath) and use either some other manual system or remote controls for the turnouts further in the back.

Very clever, LASM. Thanks for posting.


Well-Known Member
Hey Dairystate,

I put some thought into your suggestion, which in theory would be better for my layout, would be a pain in the rear end to build. The motion would have to be transferred through the plywood to the sliding mechanism. A narrow slit in the plywood would work, but the integrity of the plywood would maybe not be sufficient for that type of modification. Plus, the nail that anchors the end of the lever is supported in part by a 1" x 1" x 2" block that is glued to the bottom of the plywood.

I am usually not one to shy away from a labor intensive project, but your suggestion has met my match.

The advantages of my design are :

1) simplicity
2) ease to build
3) direct
4) materials available, inexpensive
5) foolproof if properly constructed
6) easily adjusted if built before the track is permanently affixed to the board

As always, thanks for your input, Erik!



Mumbling in the corner
Yah, as I think about it, there is a big difference in having to construct the system with the lever underneath the benchwork instead of right there beside the turnout. (And I wasn't so much seeking to give you advice as to think about how the system that works fine for your situation could be adapted to a different set-up -- such as my own! :) )


Well-Known Member
If you are just starting with your layout, have the track completed and want to put down some ballast and landscape material, here is an easy and effective methodology.

Native materials, that is natural sand, can be used on your layout. You may wish to run it through a kitchen collander to get out the large materials. You have to be aware that touching each opposing track with a conductive (like high iron) material will cause a loss in voltage. So, keep the sand off the track.

Also, after you are through glueing and adding material to your satisfaction, suck up the excess with a vacuum cleaner. This will keep it out of the delicate parts of your locomotive and rolling stock.

If you use driveway gravel, you will find that material from different sources (gravel pits) will differ in color.

I like to use the natural materials with commercial materials available from Woodlands Scenic.


Sprinkle the sieved sand with a small spoon or something.


Sprinkle the ballast along the outside of the ties and between the ties. Commercial ballast and sieved Arm and Hammer cat litter mixed together make a good combination.


I like to use a small brush to brush the excess between the ties and off the rails.


I use a syringe from some cat medicine to suck up the liquid cement from the small container and drop it onto the ballast. I like to keep it off the tracks and ties. Some people mix glue and water. I buy the commercial product, which has a long shelf life and I know works well.

I also use the syringe to drop the cement onto the sand and ground cover products. I let it dry a day and may add some more product and glue some more a day later. Do not supersaturate your products.

I think if you do this over a several day period, you will be most pleased with the results. If you are landscaping a large area, use the spray bottle. You can protect the track with cut out strips of paper or cardboard, will save you a lot of cleaning.

I have used sand mixed with paint to create gently undulating terrain features. I have seen dry wall effectively used as well.

I hope this helps someone with their modelling!



Well-Known Member
If you are rehabilitating some old stock, or repairing something the kids stepped on, here is how I went about it using my favorite product JB weld! (I giggle, because I am always talking about this stuff)

Purchased this stock car on ebay, came with a broken truck and old style couplers. First, dismantled the thing and filled the hole with JB weld. Took two sessions, as the first application sunk into the hole:


After it dries, wait a day, start a hole in the exact center using a sharp point, you could be neater with the JB weld application, or scrape of the excess with a razor blade as I did:


Get the proper drill and make your hole. I do it like this, twisting back and forth at first and then drilling down; make sure you are going in vertical:


I added the KD 148 whisper couplers with their snap together gear box, may need to use shims to get the right height.


Have fun with your hobby!!! logandsawman


Well-Known Member
Here is a simple and cheap way to turn on/off power to a section of track. I used live frogs in my switches, and have a DC system. I wanted to split my one passing siding and two storage spurs off the main power supply, so isolated the sections using the insulated joiners and connected power through the simple light switches attached to a cardboard box.

May not be the prettiest, but is simple and works well



You probably noticed there are four switched sections. One is for the mainline adjacent to the passing siding, so I could turn off that section of track while the other section of track is activated. Or, Visa Versa.

This shows how simple your model railroad can be.

Have Fun !!!!!! lasm


Engineer in Training
Very useful info guys. I always loved building my dioramas using natural materials when possible. I now work in a shop making carbon fiber parts and we sometimes cut tooling board for making fixtures. I recently cut some gray board which produces a very fine powdery dust resembling dried river mud. Being a composite it should do nicely for weathering. The carbon fiber we cut also yields a very natural looking ballast with black and white speckles. I always have my eye out for useful materials. Keep the ideas coming!


Well-Known Member
White plastic tablecloth as backdrop material? Worked well for me. First, I cut out some hill and cloud templates out of newspaper or typing paper and placed them on the spread out tablecloth.

The "tablecloth" was really a cheap plastic party supply which came 40" x 100' for $14.99. It was made in China and came in several "colors". The one I bought was called white.


This shot shows spreading out the material and putting on some paper pieces where the clouds and hills go. I did this in the basement, where the spray wouldn't be an issue. To fit my space, I used a plastic piece 20' long and 20" wide.


I took off the paper and painted the hills. Using only three colors (acrylic) and a sponge paint "brush", I was able to make some cool effects.


The hills looked really cool. I may use fewer clouds on some of the other sections. Using darker shades in the background and lighter ones in the foreground, a feeling of depth is created. Some of the closest scenery I actually drew tree boles and crowns, this may show in the video I will attach later.

This video shows the layout in action,note painted backdrop at the 2 second mark. This is only a 25 second video!!!


Have Fun!!!!!!! lasm
Last edited by a moderator:


Well-Known Member
Real "rock" makes for authentic foundations on your rustic cabins or hillbilly shacks. Some JB weld and hand picked pebbles are all the necessary components!!!

Design your shack and lay out scale 10" x 10" material as the foundation.


the 1/8" x 1/8 " material will profide a solid base and a good surface to attach your rocks.


Make sure it is square before you glue and add the JB Weld.


Mix up your epoxy with a tooth pick and get a gob on the end of the stick, let it drop into a long thick thread, set it on the wood to make a nice bead. You may want to experiment on paper. If your epoxy gets too thick, stir it quickly again. You will have 10 minutes or so when the stuff is most liquid.


Set on your stones, don't worry if a little green foam gets mixed in; it will look like moss or weeds. Wait 24 hours and you will have a foundation set in "mortar". Make a shallow sand bed where it goes on the layout and gently press in.

The rocks go down, and the beginnings of the floor are the 2" x 10" scale boards glued on the ends. When you decide to change your layout, your rocks will be secure and you can move your building anywhere.

With some practice, you may be able to layer the stones. The epoxy is rather fluid, and I have had success only when doing something of a pyramid. A form could be made of wax paper since the epoxy does not adhere it it.

Have Fun !!!!! lasm
Last edited by a moderator:


Well-Known Member
Here is the Hillbilly shack completed, rock foundation, and "tarpaper" roof made from newspaper spraypainted black. In one of the beginning posts you will find a comparison of several paper products sprayed black for a home made tarpaper. Here is some newspaper, sprinkled with a little powdery wood ash, cut into strips about .4" in width. Real tarpaper is 3' in width and overlapped 4". It is nearly impossible to make a scale 4" overlap, so I cut the paper wide.

Glue/water 50% each was used but the paper wants to curl, so I used the CA product around the edges, spread thin with a toothpick, and used the glue water in the center of the tarpaper sheet.

The first photo shows the sprayed newspaper. I spray a whole sheet, cut it up, and save it for several projects:


The second shot is most of the paper on, with the ridge done last. The hole was pre drilled for the stovepipe.


The last shot is the finished shack. The backdrop is the tablecloth described above.


Have Fun!!!!!!!! lasm


Well-Known Member
Staff member
I don't know if any of the following have been suggested, so apologies if they have.

I use 8 X 4 sheets of extruded foam ( 1" and 2" thick) available from most hardware companies, Lowes, Do It Best, Home Depot etc.

Plaster of Paris for sculpting and forming.

Pellet stove ash for coloring of roads and dirtying up tunnels and along track bed etc.

Oven dried local dirt, crushed to a fine powder for "earth" - who'd have thought!

Normal white glue, water and dish soap mix.

Spray can paint can be used for base coats.


Well-Known Member
Check out the new backdrop--added 20 feet length to create 40' mural. See above for instructions, but added white spray to clouds as an improvement.


Here is a short video showing some of the highlights:


Have Fun!!!!!!!!! lasm
Last edited by a moderator:


Well-Known Member
You can really light up your layout with this simple LED setup for dummy locomotives. This works easily in the Athearn F-7 and would work wherever there is enough room for a battery.

We had this one on last night for 6 hours while entertaining and our company was frequently looking up at the layout where the headlight illuminated the track, siding, and backdrop. Honestly, the locomotive could double as a flashlight.





I don't know how this compares do the DCC headlights, but as far as illumination goes, this is very close to the real thing if you are going for realism. For you DC enthusiasts, this will give you the constant lighting, not dependent on the track for power.



Well-Known Member
I stumbled on a "new" product to use as filler in the layout construction. I use a bunch of different stuff like plywood, spray foam, sheet rock plaster, and sometimes end up with gaps that are too big to fill in with ballast, plaster, or ground cover.

"perlite" which is a greenhouse product that is lightweight and can be crushed, I found, works well to fill in these gaps. The size particles it comes in is represented in this HO scale layout. Sprinkle it on or crush it into place and dribble some 50/50 glue water to adhere. It will soak up the water so may need to go over it a couple times, but will swell a little and does set up hard enough to cover.

Here there was a gap between some spray foam and under the track up to the plywood that I filled in and glued:

Perlite, Progress 001.jpg

Here I wanted flat ground between the tracks, also filled in some spaces between the plywood and gaps in the foam:

Perlite, Progress 002.jpg

This shows both areas, will cover some with the plaster, but under the ties will just pour the ballast straight in. The small bottle with the nozzle cut big is what I put the regular ballast down with, it pours out of the spout and is easy to direct.

Perlite, Progress 003.jpg

Happy Modeling!!! lasm

Affiliate Disclosure: We may receive a commision from some of the links and ads shown on this website (Learn More Here) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.