Small Projects to Improve Your Track Modeling Skills

Author Shawn Branstetter

I often hear modelers tell me they don’t want to explore Proto48 (P48) because they are intimidated by hand-laying their track. They are discouraged but like the look of the highly detailed track that many P48 modelers are creating.

First, let me debunk the idea that you must hand-lay track to get into P48. Manufacturers like Right O’ Way and Signature Switch Co. are creating flextrack and custom turnouts for modelers to easily start laying track. That said, learning to hand-lay and detail track shouldn’t be as daunting as we think.

When I first started, my trackwork was a mess. I had no clue as to what I was doing and was completely frustrated because of how the modeling looked.

Don’t Give Up

I know it’s easy to get frustrated and walk away, especially if you are a perfectionist like most P48ers are. I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, and you will be a pro the first time you pick up your spiking pliers. You won’t. But I would encourage you to not give up.

As I write this, I know there are quite a few ways to practice laying track; however, I want to share how I bettered my skill set and how I continue to learn.

The Smaller The Better

Model railroaders build on a large scale compared to other modeling categories. We usually start modeling by building layouts, whereas military modelers, for example, focus on a single model. These other modelers spend countless hours on single projects, allowing them to focus on techniques and grow as model builders. We model railroaders are all over the place; working on track, wiring, building rolling stock, buildings, scenery, and the list goes on.

I took this approach for my model building as well. This gave me a chance to spend hours focusing on a single project and not be overwhelmed, or terrified, practicing on a large layout.

Using scrap lumber was my base material, and I tried to work within 12 inches or less. I knew nothing about the prototype, but I would work on a small project and begin learning how railroads built the real thing. I also git to experiment with color and ground cover.

As I started a new project, I took what I learned and began discovering my personal modeling style and techniques. I started getting addicted to working on these projects and was excited to see my personal growth.

I read books like Detailing Track by Mike Cougill and started tackling more complex trackwork. Again, keeping the projects small, after a bit of practice I was not intimidated anymore.

I’m by no means an expert. I am, however, learning new techniques and trying out new products as much as I can. This has really helped me grow as a model builder, and I hope this encourages you to try and experiment for yourself. I hope to share a bit more in a later article on my techniques, but I would love to hear from you readers; what do you do to improve your skills?

3 responses to “Small Projects to Improve Your Track Modeling Skills”

  1. Jay Avatar

    Shawn, Thank you for offering your thoughts, along with photos, of how you’ve progressed. I think one of my favorites is still the 90.

  2. Bill Avatar

    Great little article Shawn. Track laying is my favorite part of the hobby. There’s something about the look of hand laid track that definitely makes it worthwhile.
    Complicated micro engineering details keep the synapses firing.

    1. Shawn Branstetter Avatar
      Shawn Branstetter

      Thank you Bill. I’m glad you found it useful.

Leave a Reply

Join 53 other subscribers