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Using Mockups as Placeholders

By Ron Marsh

All photographs by Ron Marsh


Welcome to the first installment of The Modeler’s Workshop.  Many of you know me from my YouTube channel, Ron’s Trains N Things, where I share model railroad tips, tools, and techniques to help modelers save time, money, and frustration.  I have taken up that task as an act of appreciation to those who have shared their model railroad expertise with me over the years.

I have been model railroading for over 20 years.  I came into this hobby with a love for trains but little knowledge about model building and zero knowledge about constructing and operating a layout. What is more, I lived in a small town with no hobby shops, no model railroad clubs, and no model railroaders of whom I knew.  In those early days, I relied on articles in magazines like Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman and what I could glean from this new-fangled thing they called the World Wide Web to help me improve my skills.

Fortunately, over the years I was able to rub shoulders with some pretty skilled model railroaders in various places that I lived.  I attended train shows whenever I could, toured home layouts when possible, and jumped at every invitation to operate on a layout that came my way… and I learned.  Truth be told, I am still learning.  There are many model railroaders out there who are far more skilled than I in many areas, and I eagerly take the opportunity to learn everything I can from them whenever possible. 

I started my YouTube channel for two reasons.  First, I wanted to pass on what I have learned to those who want to learn and grow their skills in the hobby.  Second, and more personally, I wanted to build relationships with other serious model railroaders where we can learn from one another and together improve our skills. 

My goals for this column are the same.  I want to use this forum to share tips and techniques for model building as well as stories that may inspire the modeler in his/her craft.  I also want to learn from you.  Often, someone will see one of my ideas and will build upon and improve it in a way that is helpful to themselves, to me, and to others.  As I share my tips and quips here, I hope that you will also share with me how you might take these ideas and improve upon them.  In this way, we can work together to help the entire community of modelers to grow their craft.

In several of my past videos, I have talked about building and using structure mock-ups on my layout.  I have found mock-ups to be an invaluable resource for several reasons.  First, I use mock-ups when kit-bashing as a way of test fitting structure pieces together without actually taking a razor saw to them.  I simply photocopy the actual kit pieces, cut them out from the paper, and assemble them as I plan to do when I build the structure.  Mounting them on foam core is a great way to turn these paper pieces into an actual structure mock-up. 


Figure 1 shows a mock-up I made in this manner for my kit-bashed model of the Holt Hotel in Wichita Falls, Texas.  The model was built from three Design Preservation Models (DPM) Hilltowne Hotel kits.  Using the mock-up, I could see exactly where each piece needed to be cut and how it would fit together.  I could also get a real sense of how it would fit on the layout.  Mock-ups can serve as placeholders on the layout as well. This mock-up sat on my layout for over a year before I built the actual structure. 

I also use mock-ups when scratch-building.  In these cases, I typically use thin cardboard as my building medium.  I try to cut the cardboard to match exactly what I believe the dimensions of the pieces of the scratch-built structure will be.  By doing so, I can see if the different components will fit as I imagine.  If done well, a cardboard mock-up for a scratch build can become a pattern for cutting the real model.

Figure 2 shows a mock-up I used in my scratch-build of Berend Bros. Farm & Garden in Bowie, Texas.  As I built the mock-up in this instance, I realized that some of the wall sections needed to fit together in the opposite fashion—the ends that lapped to the outside needed to be lapped to the inside of the structure. Here the mock-up process saved me valuable styrene that I probably would have cut in the wrong manner and thrown into the scrap box.  I also realized as I placed this mock-up on the layout that it was too small as originally planned, so I modified it to better fit the space.  Figure 3 shows one more mock-up that I similarly built for my future model of Midwestern Mud Services in Bowie.  I have simply drawn some details onto the mock-up to give a sense of the building’s character.  This mock-up is still serving as a placeholder on my layout today.

Mock-ups can be an incredibly helpful tool as you kit-bash and scratch-build structures. They can save you money, time, and a great deal of frustration.  With a mock-up, you get to practice building a structure before you truly build it. Their use is one of those lessons I learned years ago that helped me become a better modeler.  I hope they will do the same for you.

Happy Modeling, Ron. 


About the Author


Ron Marsh is a pastor in Southwest Missouri.  He grew up in West Central Missouri where he became a railfan of the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio and Missouri Pacific Railroads at an early age.  Ron has been a model railroader for over 20 years and has modeled 1970s Missouri Pacific and contemporary BNSF.  He is currently working on his third layout—the Texas, Colorado & Western—depicting BNSF operations in North Texas and Colorado in 2008.  He is a member of the N Scale Enthusiasts – a national organization for N scalers. Ron posts model railroading videos weekly to his YouTube channel, Ron’s Trains N Things



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