Modeling the Bone Yard – Creating the Locomotive Parts

The highlight of any railroad bone yard scene will be the variety of equipment, and parts of equipment, you’ll find. For modelers, this presents some interesting possibilities and challenges. Not modeling a scrap yard on your railroad? These same techniques can be put to good use to create an interesting flatcar or gondola load or as the start of a good kitbashing project.

Finding Material


Bone yards are filled with equipment in various stages of deconstruction.

Coming up with good material to use for these projects is often easier than we’d like. Like the prototypes, most of us have a locomotive and car or two that no longer look or work the way they used too. Follow their lead and turn that scrap into something useful!

If you are fortunate enough not to have any of these old beaters around, there is no need to destroy a treasured heirloom or a perfectly good locomotive. A train show is a great way to pick up acceptable candidates really cheap. You can also check out our Customer Service department. We have a good stock of slightly damaged shells that have already yielded their useful parts.

Once you’ve collected your shells and parts, the fun begins.

Stripping Parts

Begin by removing useful parts from the pieces. These could include small details like bells, builders plates, whistles, vents, screens, doors, headlights, etc. These can be strewn about the yard or organized into piles and pallets.


A single shell can produce several interesting parts for use throughout the scene without much work.

On the prototype, these parts would be separated to be reconditioned, resold, or simply separated because of higher scrap value. And the remaining shells will also look even better in the scene with a few parts missing.

To remove parts, you may have to do a little reverse engineering. Some parts will pry or cut off easily with needle nose pliers or a sharp hobby knife. Other parts are fastened through the shells and secured from the inside. Once you’ve separated the shell from the chassis, it will be easier to see what you need to do next.

Remove as much or as little as you want, and remember, it’s a scrap yard. It’s ok to leave a few scratches!

Cutting Shells

masking cuts

Pre-mask the shell to ease cutting. Apply the tape to the part you want to keep.

Now that all the easy work is done, it’s time to turn our attention to the shells that remain. You could place entire locomotive or carbodies in the scene without any further work. But to save some space and model some wrecks-in-progress a little more cutting is necessary.

This process is much easier on our plastic models than metal, but the techniques are essentially the same. You’ll want a motor tool with proper cut-off wheels and possibly sanding wheels for the materials you’re using. And please WEAR SAFETY GLASSES and take all other appropriate precautions while performing these tasks. Not only can the small pieces of plastic and metal go flying, so can a broken cut off disk.

Also, if working with metal, be mindful of where you work and keep after the mess. Those little metal filings will play havoc with your operating locomotives if they get drawn into the motor brushes.

starting cut

Start with a thin cut to guide the disk.

It helps to use a strip of blue painters masking tape to help mark and guide your cuts. The cuts themselves can be made with a cut off disk in a motor tool.

Dremel and other manufacturers make several different disks for different materials. A heavy metal-cutting disk is best for our metal shells. A standard cut off disk will work well for plastic. You can also used that for smaller metal parts like handrails, ladders, even rail.

finished cut

It ,may take several cuts to remove a piece like this backhead. Cut carefully and completely to provide a clean final cut.

Cut carefully. It is easiest to make a light pass first, creating a nice track to guide the tool for the successive deeper cuts. Work slowly and evenly, cutting completely through the material. If you cut completely through (don’t go half way and snap) you should have little if any filing to do when finished.

When cutting plastic, you will probably get some melted “blobs” that cling near the cut. Using a high speed on the tool will minimize this. A few seconds after cutting, the plastic will have completely cooled and you can often simply snap these blobs off with you fingers, leaving a nice clean cut. At worst, a little trimming with a hobby knife or file will take care of the rest.

You can cut as much or as little of a shell as you’d like. Cabs, smokeboxes and other highly detailed areas tend to make the best props. Smaller chunks can also be used to create piles or gondola loads.


Use a smaller disk on plastic models to avoid tearing.

It helps to know a little bit about the prototype when scrapping. For example, what we see on our model steam locomotives shows only the thin outer skin of the boiler jacket. In a scrap yard, this and the asbestos insulation beneath would have been removed prior to cutting into the thick boiler itself. So a non-jacketed smokebox looks much better in the pile than just a thick piece of shrouded boiler. A similar approach applies to the “ply metal” sides of most EMD E and F units.

Now that you’ve got your piles of parts and cut up shells, we need to start adding some age to them. You’re ready to weather.

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