Railroads are one of the most environmentally friendly means of transportation available. Whether we’re talking a packed commuter train rolling into a city, or a mile-long train of shipping containers crossing the continent – the economies of scale and the mechanical advantages of the railroad make a world of difference.
Despite the iconic image of smoking steam locomotives, railroads have long had a tradition of supporting the environment. Some railroads designed locomotive fireboxes that could burn culm – or waste from coal mines that was too inefficient to use elsewhere. Cinders were used for ballast in rail yards. Old equipment was reassigned to work service or rebuilt to extend its life. If it couldn’t be reused, scrapped rail cars were melted down into new steel. Recycling like this wasn’t just good for the environment, it was good for the bottom line.
Our model railroads can do the same. There are endless options for recycling everyday materials for use on our layouts. From making interesting loads, to scenic details to re-purposing older models like the prototype, the thrifty modeler can accomplish a lot on a tight budget. Take a look at some of these tips from our modeling pages:
Scenery is one of the easiest ways to accomplish a lot without breaking the bank. After all, what could be better to reproduce nature than natural materials? These supplies are convenient, realistic, easy to use and cheap! Take a look at our scenic display diorama. This whole project was completed for under $10 by using recycled materials from around the house.
Here are some more specific tips you can use for any model railroad:
- Make Your Own Groundcover – All you need is an old blender to make your own scenery supplies.
- Fields in a Flash – A sheet of cardboard is the start to a great crop.
- Tricks for Trees – Premade trees are nice, but expensive. Learn some tricks to make your own.
- Ceiling Tile Rocks – Realistic rocks are just a broken ceiling tile away.
Freight cars are always more interesting when we add loads to help tell the story. You can turn almost anything into an interesting load for a gondola, flatcar or even inside boxcars. I’ve seen everything from soda straws to building blocks to a broken camera lens turned into amazing loads with nothing more than a coat of paint and a few extra details. Here are a few we’ve made:
- Tarped Loads – A plastic bag and scraps of foam and thread make a great mystery load.
- Scrap Loads – Turn your broken parts into something new.
The Bone Yard
Follow the prototype’s lead and reuse some of your older equipment. This project made use of old shells and broken models to create a realistic scene. From turning a caboose into an office and a reefer into a storage shed, to cutting up old locomotives, this yard has lots of examples of reuse. You’ll also find great simple and cheap scenery tips to build your own:
All of these tips will help you save money and reduce your scrap pile a little. But best of all, you won’t be sacrificing quality at all as you add your own character to your layout. Give some of these tricks a try – and feel free to share some of your own!