Luke Towan
March 6, 2016
13 min read

The Number 1 Tips From 6 Influential Modelers

Making mistakes while making your dream model railway is inevitable but necessary in order to learn and end up with a final result that you’re happy with. I couldn’t tell you how many mistakes I made on my first layout but when it came to building my second layout I had a better idea of what works vs what doesn’t and I was able to improve and build a model that I was happy with.

​However, being an airline pilot I can’t afford to make mistakes, I have over 50 people sitting behind me putting their trust in me to get them to their destination. So how do I learn? Airlines have this down to a fine art by incorporating strict procedures to follow and sending pilots to the simulator every few months to practice abnormal situations. However as an individual I take this even further by watching shows like 'Air Crash Investigation'… I often get asked “Doesn’t watching a show like that scare you?” and my answer is not at all, I watch and learn from others who have made the mistakes I want to avoid!

​'We' as individual modelers can just as easily apply this way of thinking to model railways! So many modelers have gone before us and made just about every mistake there is to make! Yet we still keep making those same mistakes over and over! Don’t get me wrong because sometime to really improve we need to make mistakes but there are many mistakes that we can just as easily avoid.

​So what can we do to avoid these unnecessary mistakes? It seems obvious right… learn from others! There are many publications with books on the basics of starting a model railway or building structures, creating scenery, painting locomotives, planning track… the list goes on and on! But that’s often not enough, you’ll still find yourself running into more questions so where do we go now?

​This is where forums, clubs and more recently online video like YouTube and Trainmaster TV step in, learning from individual experienced modelers is priceless and they can often give you multiple perspectives often overlooked by other publications.

​To further help us learn from highly experienced modelers and avoid modeling disappointment, I approached 6 highly influential and experienced modelers who excel in the art of modeling to share their number one tip with us. The responses were great however an overwhelming trend happened… they all said “what… just ONE?” To pick just one piece of advice is very difficult especially when the hobby itself involves so many areas of focus from carpentry to town planning, architecture, wiring and much more!
We can all learn a thing or to whether we ourselves are highly experienced or whether we are just starting out.


​Joe is the founder of Model Railroad Hobbyist which is a free online magazine, it’s full of model railroad articles, tips and advice from many different modelers all with a wealth of knowledge. Joe is also well known for his work on his Siskiyou layout which started back in 1991. Many articles have been published and it's a prime example of how the Mushroom Layout construction technique works. Given that the magazine is free and easily downloaded I recommend to everyone that they should check out this Mag.

It’s very tough to just choose one so Joe has these tips that he shared:

“If I had a top tip it would be to always model from photographs - but that's more of a philosophical tip.”

“Another biggie for me is to make sure you have bullet-proof trackwork, and to that end, my advice is don't try to adjust bad trackwork, replace it. Trackwork is about the most permanent thing you can do on your layout that when done well, makes for a very satisfying layout. If you have bad trackwork it will haunt you the entire life of the layout.”

“But if rolling stock or a loco is bad, you can always remove it from the layout and either repair it or replace it. Trackwork is permanent and you can't just set it aside if it's malfunctioning!”

To read more about Joe and see the work he has done I strongly urge you to check out Model Railroad Hobbyist, you can download the latest issue of the magazine for FREE, also be sure to view the forum as it’s a great place to meet new and experienced modelers and be sure to check out their premium web TV, I’m a subscriber to “Trainmasters TV” and honestly I haven’t a bad word to say about it… Just simply another great resource!

MRH Magazine (FREE) -
MRH Forum –
Trainmasters TV - &
MRH YouTube Channel -


​I first became familiar with Gary Christensen after watching a number of Model Railroad Hobbyist videos on YouTube, “What’s Neat” hosted by Ken Patterson on YouTube often features Gary and there’s not much I can say except WOW!
His modelling and attention to detail is second to none! His main focus is on weathering locomotives and freight cars as well as photography in the model railroading scene, and boy does he do a great job!
If you go over to the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum you’ll often find him contributing to many of the forum threads and posting work he’s currently doing and more recently he featured on “Trainmasters TV” in a weathering tutorial video with Joe Fugate.

Here is Gary’s number one tip when it comes to modeling and weathering:

“As far as what I do?... I am exclusively a static modeler only. I like to weather and create illusions of realism through this weathering and photographing of 1/87 scale models.”

“The only advise that I could relay here that took me quite some time to wrap my head around when I was beginning... is the "light to dark" concept. I offer to anyone who expresses an interest in model weathering to exercise this "light to dark" concept. To briefly explain this, I add, each model, when applying mediums should be weathered using whichever mediums of choice (preferably oil paints, acrylics and pastel powders) in multiple layers. Each layer should ALWAYS be applied with the "lightest" application at first, adding only more layers to create darker illusions. Issuing a model heavy mediums in minimal layers results in overworked weathering and renders a model unrealistic and heavy handed to defuse the illusion of realism. Primary "dark" or heavy applications are UNFORGIVING! This, I found out in with my first few attempts at weathering. Trial and error at best.”

Gary hosts a website called “The Weathering Shop”, it’s a great place to go view his work as well as many other professional modelers who specialize in weathering, there are pages dedicated to learning and you can often buy professionally weathered models there… but they go very fast!​Check out The Weathering Shop –


​Miles has spent many distinguished years being deeply involved with model railroading and continues to do so to this day with his appearances on Trainmasters TV hosting his own segment “Back to the Basement” as well as his YouTube channel and the Model Railroad University in which he runs and manages.
There are not many corners you can turn without hearing his name! And you can still view some of the fantastic clinics he used to run when working with Woodland Scenics producing stunning scenery and models!

Miles has shared this great tip with us to help us improve our modeling:

“I think the number one tool to have, outside of a #11 X-acto, is the Caliper. It can measure the outside of round objects or length of an object. It can measure the inside of a tube or object. It can measure into an object for depth of an object. And the real bonus, the dimension that you have taken with the caliper can be transfer to the model or the drawing you are working on."

"Any kind of caliper will do and there are a lot of them; Digital, Dial, Vernier. PFM and Evergreen even made calipers in both HO and O scales, they were direct reading scale dimensions! I do think the metal ones are the best as they will not wear out like the plastic.”

Miles also runs his own YouTube channel "Model Railroad University", his experience from many years of doing model railroad clinics and hosting TV shows is well represented in his delivery and you know he won't leave anything out! Above is a screen shot from one of his earlier tutorial videos about ballasting.​Be sure to check out some of the tips and progress he shares regularly on YouTube: don’t forget you can also see him on Trainmasters TV.


​Troels is not only known for his amazing work as a model railroader but he is also a very accomplished landscape artist and has participated in various exhibitions worldwide. His artistic talent truly shows in his ability to translate color and shadow, he takes his experience and knowledge in landscape painting and applies it to the 3D environment of a model railway with absolutely amazing results.

Here are a couple of tips from Troels:

“My number one modeling tip is difficult to decide, but I guess it is to NOT copy other modelers! Don't paint a copy of other modelers backdrop paintings, but study the real thing. Don't scratchbuild other modeler's models, but research and build your own. Don't copy track plans, but develop what YOU believe would best suit your style. Don't try to conform to what is regarded as the "right thing" to do... Be unique ;)"

"Another contender to the number one tip is not taking things too seriously. There are a lot of modelers who don't get started because they are afraid their research isn't good enough, their skills too bad, their funds too small... If you keep it simple, build a freelanced shelf layout or diorama module instead of forever planning that three level, triple helix, double mainline thing, you have a realistic chance of creating a really nice piece of modeling while honing your skills for a bigger project.”

Troels really hits an important point with his second piece of advice and I think we can all learn from it because I’m sure there is something there that has at one time or another impacted all model railroaders!To read more about Troels and his amazing talent as an artist be sure to check out his facebook page dedicated to his model railway as well as his page dedicated to his paintings:​Railroad FB page: FB page: he has some videos posted on YouTube that I’m sure will benefit all those who decide to watch


​Pelle has become a very influential modeler and has been doing so for over 25 years. If you have ever bought and read a copy of Model Railroader then you most likely read an article from Pelle. He truly excels in creating very realistic scenery and has published 5 books on the subject of modeling! I myself have learnt many lifelong tips from reading his articles and books.

Pelle kindly provided us with this modeling tip:

"When you create a scene then the approach should be scenery with tracks in it rather than tracks with scenery around it"

Pelles modeling tip is brief but boy its powerful and I wish someone told me this when I first started building my first model railway! I definitely fell victim to laying track first before having any clue on what scenery would surround the track and do you know what happened next...? I pulled up all that glued down track and started again!

There are many ways you can find out more about Pelle and learn from many of his tips and techniques. You can visit Kalmbach Publishing and purchase his scenery books or you can simply read his regular column in Model Railroader.

Also be sure to check out his website and facebook page where you can learn more about his achievements:

My final contributor is not from an individual but a collective tip from probably the most influential scenic company around!


​Woodland Scenics have been instrumental in furthering my modeling and has helped me get the results I routinely achieve today. Not only do they provide a premium product at a great price they take it a step further and produce informative instructional videos on their website and on YouTube detailing exactly how to get the results that the professionals get.
If there is anything you wish to achieve in model railroad scenery there is almost certainly a Woodland Scenics product that can help!

The team at Woodland Scenics have been very accommodating and have shared this fantastic tip with all of us:

“Our real world surroundings are a natural blending of textures, and modeling realistic landscape is all about layering. Begin with the finest turf, then add layers of a coarse grade material to model weeds, small plants and grasses. Continue to build on your landscape, adding larger grade materials to model groups of bushes, hedges, shrubs, and scrub trees. Then sprinkle finer grades of turf over the larger landscape to blend transitions. The more texture, the more real your landscape will look.”

And what a fantastic tip to end with, I can honestly tell you that I learnt this tip a while ago from watching Woodland Scenics videos on YouTube and it has truly helped me develop as a modeler and is instrumental in getting the results I get today!

To find out more from Woodland Scenics you can find them through many different channels.

​As model railroaders there is one thing we should never forget… never stop having fun! Sure we all make mistakes but we learn from them. What’s great about making a mistake is 'we just learnt one way how to NOT do it', and then when someone asks, and they will! You can tell them your experience and help them avoid making those same mistakes.

This article was written and produced by Luke Towan with permission from those involved to use their comments in this article.


Download the files associated with the project. All files are included in a zip for convenience.


Suggested Reading: