5 Ways to Reuse Old Model Train Parts

5 Ways to Reuse Old Model Train Parts

5 Ways to Reuse Old Model Train Parts

If you’re like most model railroaders, you’ve probably got a box or three (or four, or five, or…) full of parts – a boxcar shell, a diesel locomotive cab, several mismatched sets of wheels, a few trucks/bogies, some broken couplers, and so on. Sometimes, those parts come in handy when working on other projects, especially kitbashing something together. And sometimes they sit in those boxes for years and make us look like model train hoarders. In this week’s blog, we’ll look at 5 ways to reuse old model train parts.

So what to do with that plethora of parts? There are number of project you can undertake to utilize those old model train cars and engines (and other parts). One thing to do is to sort through them and decide what is truly useful for future projects (the radiator section of that damaged B40-8 could be used to kitbash a GE Super 7 rebuild, for example) and what really doesn’t have much use or would be used very rarely. Now take that pile of parts that have little frequent use – that’s the pile we are about to make use of!

  1. Gondola and Flat Car Loads – Just about anything can be turned into a load for a flat car or a gondola. Both types of rail cars carry many different types of loads. You could take larger parts, wrap them in plastic, tie it with string, and paint it black or blue to represent a tarped load. What’s underneath isn’t all that important, it’s the fact it looks like some piece of equipment or machinery tarped for transport is.
    Flat car loaded with wheels/axles

    A BNSF flatcar loaded with wheels/axles. Photo by the author.

    Or, if you have a large number of sets of wheels in your spare parts, you could place them in a gondola or flat car. Wheels/axles are a fairly common site being transported to various locations. Sometimes it’s a company move as the railroad sends more axles to its own shops. Sometimes it might be they are going to a scrapper. Either way provides a great use for spare parts.

  2. Derailment Scene – Derailments and accidents are an unfortunate part of real railroading. Using your parts box you can easily recreate the remnants of a derailment on your model railroad. If you have several old train cars you no longer run, give them a little weathering, add some damage, and line them up on the side of your rail line. Use model ballast, dirt, or foliage to cover them slightly, and pile it up along one side, as if the cars slide into that spot.
    hoppers on their side after a derailment

    These hoppers are from a derailed BNSF freight. The cleanup crew moved them into this position to get them out of the way. Photo by the author.

    A BNSF AC44CW after a derailment

    A BNSF AC44CW sitting where it came to rest after a derailment. Photo by the author.

    Also, if you have one or more old locomotives or locomotive shells you don’t see future use for, you could do the same to them as to the rail cars – weathering, damage, and placement off the side of the mainline. I would add a few maintenance of way vehicles and people figures to flesh out the scene.

  3. Boneyard – The boneyard (or bone yard) is kind of like a combination junk yard and parts supply store for a railroad. Often times you will find a boneyard somewhere near car repair facilities or engine maintenance facilities. Boneyards can include everything from damaged train cars and engines, to sets of wheels and/or trucks, locomotive cabs, old signal towers, old ties/sleepers, and so on. You could go to town with your parts box to create an elaborate bone yard.
    Railroad cars and parts in a scrapyard

    Railroad cars and parts in a scrapyard. Photo from the US National Archives, no known usage restrictions.

    Old BN GP9 used for spare parts

    An old BN GP9 now used for spare parts to keep other old GP9s running on the Central Montana Railroad. Photo by the author.

    Similarly, you could create a scrapyard with this same process. Instead of being a place where the railroad might go to scrounge for parts for repairs, it would be a place where old equipment is being turned into scrap. You could add in more than just train engines and train cars for such a scene, too.

  4. Storage Sheds and Yard Offices – Over the years, I’ve seen a number of old train cars – boxcars and cabooses, primarily – with their trucks and wheels removed, sitting on the ground and used either as a storage shed for tools and equipment or as a makeshift office in a small yard or section of a yard. Sometimes, you find these cars used in this manner in places far removed from railroads, such as farms, junkyards, or museums.
    Old boxcar now used as a shed

    This old boxcar is now used as a maintenance shed at the World Museum of Mining. Photo by the author.

    Old BN caboose used as shed

    This old BN caboose sits in a junkyard and is used as a storage shed. Photo by the author.

    Take an old boxcar or old caboose, remove the trucks and maybe even the frame/chassis, too. Place it on the ground on your layout, build up a bit of dirt or gravel around the bottom, and you’re good to go. Maybe add a figure of a person leaving or entering the office, or have a door of the boxcar open and figures removing or adding equipment from inside.

  5. Farm & Ranch Use – As with old train cars being used in train yards and junk yards, I’ve seen a number of old covered hoppers used on farms and ranches as grain storage. I’ve even seen them used at grain elevators for extra storage as well. Sometimes, I’ve come across old boxcars on a farm or ranch being used for tools storage as well. While the boxcars are almost always sitting on the ground, the hoppers are almost always supported on concrete or wood pylons.
    An old ATSF hopper repurposed by a grain elevator

    An old Santa Fe covered hopper repurposed for use by a grain elevator. Photo by David Wilson, used under the creative commons license.

    Old boxcar used for hay storage

    This old boxcar is now used for hay storage on a ranch west of Great Falls, Montana. Photo by the author.

    Another farm and ranch use for old train cars I’ve seen is using old flatcars as a bridge over a stream or irrigation canal. The flatcars are wide enough for a truck or small tractor to cross easily.

So there you have it. 5 ways to use old model train parts. Take inspiration from these prototypical photos and use your model train parts to add some fun and interesting scenes to your layout.





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Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.

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