Modeling the Railroad Bone Yard – Learning from the Prototype

The railroad bone yard elicits a wide range of emotions. Here you’ll discover an amazing variety of locomotives and cars you’d thought you’d never see – only to realize that you’ll never see them again.

scrap yard

The future for this little centercab diesel looms large in the foreground in this Youngstown scrap yard.

Yards like this are incredibly tempting places for train lovers with the variety of equipment they contain. But remember these are also working industries and private property. All of the photographs seen here were taken with permission or taken from public property outside the fences. No picture of a locomotive is worth arrest or injury.

In addition to learning weathering and other modeling skills, the bone yard will create an interesting industry to add to your railroad and your operations. To get started on the right track, let’s take a look inside a real locomotive salvage and rebuilding facility for some inspiration.

Learning From the Prototype


The bone yard offers an amazing variety of locomotive types, roads and of course weathering ideas.

Most railroad scrap yards are more than just factories of destruction for old trains. Often, the yards also rebuild older equipment which can then be leased back to railroads and industrial customers. To build and maintain those fleets, used locomotives are bought from wherever and whenever the price is right. Consequently, their yard is a colorful bouquet of old locomotives from many railroads along with freshly painted refurbished engines awaiting assignment.

Not everything they take in will be completely rebuilt. Many locomotives are used only for parts. Their shells can linger around for decades as they are gradually scavenged until nothing useful remains and they are cut up for scrap.

Your yard scene can be filled with a variety of locomotive models in all stages of disassembly. From nearly complete engines to hoods laying on the ground, these modifications are often as interesting as the locomotives themselves.

Storage Tracks

LTEX tracks

This view from the entrance to Larry’s Truck and Electric near Youngstown, Ohio shows just small sample of the color and variety you’ll find at these facilities.

By far the most interesting part of the operations from a railfan or modelers perspective will be the storage tracks of locomotives awaiting or having completed work. Here is where you’ll find an incredible array of locomotive models and paint schemes, in all stages of repair.

The salvage yard has no concerns over “prototypical authenticity.” If they can use it and the price is right, they buy it. So equipment from different railroads, manufacturers and eras often mix together in these rows. This is where the “prototype for everything” rule originates! Your models too can have endless variety.

As the photo to the left shows, not all of the locomotives need to be rusty hulks. Rebuilt engines with glossy paint mix freely with engines in line to be overhauled. You don’t have to weather everything.



A stack of radiator sections from a variety of builders makes a colorful parts pile.

In addition to the storage of more-or-less complete locomotives, these yards often have several areas devoted to parts storage. Often these are grouped by type or at least by materials. One area may be filled with diesel engines while another houses trucks and traction motors.

Although the mechanical parts of the locomotive are often the most valuable to the rebuilder, cabs, doors, headlights and other exterior details will often be kept as long as there is a potential buyer for them.


Sometimes the effects of donating parts leave larger scars than others – such as with this E9.

Locomotives not meant for rebuilding may be stored in a different area where they can be reached to retrieve parts as needed without being in the way of daily operations.

These tracks may sit for years without being touched. The equipment stored here will often have missing parts and heavier weathering. The tracks (if there are any) and equipment may also surrounded by tall weeds as they slowly wait their fate.


scrap field

Eventually, there is nothing left to do but scrap the locomotive.

When a locomotive has finally given up its last treasure, its final value to the salvage company comes in its scrap metal potential. These engines will be cut up into small enough chunks to be loaded into gondolas and sent off to become new steel again.

There is more to just scrapping a locomotive than cutting it up. Separate metals must be grouped. Copper from wiring will bring a higher price per ton than the steel from the frame for example. It is also important that any potential hazardous materials in the engine be disposed of properly. This includes everything from left-over engine oil and diesel fuel to lead paint, asbestos or other materials depending on the type and age of the equipment.

Overall Details

With all these great railroading treasures about, it can sometime be hard to step back and see the total picture. But if we’re going to model a yard and not just weather a locomotive we need to complete the scene. What else do we need?

  • door

    Work areas around these yards will be kept very organized. Still, you never know where you’ll find a random detail from an old locomotive.

    Security. These facilities have a lot of valuable and dangerous materials. Security is very important. From high fencing and signs, to guarded entrances, lighting and of course the “junkyard dog,” salvage yards will do what it takes to keep their property safe and secure.

  • Work Space. This isn’t just a storage facility. Workers need room to repair, sort and scrap. Make sure you give them plenty of open space to work safely.
  • Offices and Storage. A small office building, crew locker room and storage buildings for supplies and weather-sensitive parts are also a must. It is not uncommon to find old cabooses, boxcars and the like converted for these functions.
  • Clutter. While it looks like there is clutter everywhere, a clean workplace is a safer workplace. There is generally some order to where pieces are placed and work areas are kept especially clean. That being said, the random door, air hose or other detail can often be found in the oddest of places. All the more reason to keep the general public away from these yards.

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