Sunday, January 25, 2015

Model Railrading on the Cheap

               A topic that seems to pop up on model railroading forums with rather annoying frequency is the high cost of the hobby. Yes, model railroading is expensive, what with locomotives costing hundreds of dollars and freight cars averaging about $15 each well, you get the idea. But what hobby isn’t expensive? Have you seen the price of a set of golf clubs? Or fishing equipment? Or tried restoring a classic car? Hobbies cost money, but there are ways to be frugal and do things cheaply. I’ll share some of my cost cutting strategies.

Knowing which corners to cut:

               In model railroading, a lot things are expensive but have cheaper alternatives. However, while sometimes the cheaper alternative is the way to go, other times you get what you pay for. Electronics, train control, motive power, track (especially turnouts) fall into the latter category. This is where you want to buy the best because it will give you many years of good service.

Save on Scenery:

               Scenery materials on the other hand present a great opportunity to save big bucks. Hydrocal Plaster and Woodland Scenics “Smooth It,” are both costly. However, inexpensive plaster of Paris works just as well. You can use it for rock castings and plaster roads. Bear in mind, it is heavier than Hydrocal and that is a consideration.

               Plaster cloth is another corner you can cut. At about $9/roll this stuff can eat up a budget quickly.  Mountains can be built equally well by mixing up a viscous batch of plaster of Paris and dipping paper towels into it. This is a pretty old-school method of scenery construction. But you know what? A bucket of plaster mix and a roll of paper towels goes much further than a roll of plaster cloth.
These mountains were built using plaster of Paris-soaked paper towels, a cheaper alternative to plaster cloth.
               Plaster and paper towel scenery is one of those get-what-you-pay-for deals. I bought some really cheap paper towels at the dollar store and they simply fell apart when I tried to build mountains with them. So buy good paper towels; you’ll still come out ahead.

Buy things when they’re on sale:

               I use a lot of lichen for my background trees. I prefer the natural look of the material. You can buy this from your hobby shop for about $10 per bag. But why? You can get it for $7 a bag at Michaels. But you can get it even cheaper than that. Every week Michaels offer coupons, usually either 20% off your entire purchase or 40% off any one item. Either way, that’s a nice little discount.
The lichen in these pics was purchased at my local Michaels with coupons printed from their web site.
               Use of these coupons is not limited to lichen. Michaels carries just a ton of stuff that you can use on a model railroad. They carry model paint, Dulcote, paint brushes, plaster of Paris, acrylic paints and anything else you can think to repurpose for model railroad use.

The best things in life are free:

               Free is a hard price to beat. Many natural materials for making scenery can be obtained for free. For example I make extensive use of goldenrod to make foreground trees. It grows everywhere around here. All I do is go to a vacant lot, with permission of course, and help myself. The only thing I have to pay for is the paint.

The trees in the foregroub were made from goldenrod harvested from a vacant lot and spraypainted.
               If you live in a subdivision that’s still under construction, odds are there’s a few houses being built. The construction generates tons of scrap wood that would just be thrown out. Now, I can’t stress this enough, you must, I repeat MUST obtain permission to take any scrap materials. Now, odds are they building will be happy to let you take anything that’s going to be thrown out because more often than not, they must pay to dispose of it properly.

               Once you have obtained permission both to enter the site and take scrap, take only what you know is trash. Entering without permission is trespassing and taking anything else is steeling. Anyway, now that I’ve beaten you over the head with that point, you can find a lot of useful material in the scrap pile. Bits of old plywood make great shelves or control panels. Scrap pieces of lumber might save you a trip to Home Depot. You never know.

               Anyway, I hope these tips help you save a few bucks and further your enjoyment of the hobby.

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