Plastic Model Kits: The Inexpensive Way to Add a Static Display to Your Layout

Big Boy for CMRRA

Plastic Model Kits: The Inexpensive Way to Add a Static Display to Your Layout

If you model modern day operations, then you may have thought about building a scene for your layout, like a park complete with a locomotive on display. Maybe you were thinking of the display being in a park, as many are, or beside a still operating train station, or maybe several of them grouped as a museum exhibit. This is a nice touch and adds some realism to your layout. The problem is, why would you pay upwards of US$300 (or more!) for an HO steam locomotive you don’t intend to operate? Maybe you’ve got an old one that no longer runs and could re-purpose it as a static exhibit. But if you don’t have an older, non-working model, what can you do?

There are a few plastic model kits that you can purchase that range from downright cheap to relatively inexpensive. Many of them are 1/87 scale (HO), but a few are larger – 1/25, which is close to  but slightly smaller than G scale, or 1/35, which is somewhere between G and O scale, and 1/72, which is somewhere between S and HO scale – and at least one I’ve run across is 1/120 or TT scale. Depending on where you purchase them, you can acquire one of these for as little as US$7 (for the 1/120 model) to as much as US$100 (for a 1/35 steam locomotive). Considerably cheaper than buying a functioning model steam engine of just about any scale.

There is some debate as to the level of detail of such kits, with some modelers thinking they are not quality enough for use on an actual layout, but others that believe they are, and can be made to look even better than the stock model with just the factory recommended stock paint and/or decals. Presented here are a few examples that show exactly the level of detail that can be put into one of these inexpensive plastic kits, and how they can be utilized as static displays on your layout. In addition, a number of other available and out of production models will be discussed.


Big Boy for CMRRA

Robert Buesking built this Big Boy for the Central Missouri Railroad Association, photo courtesy of the CMRRA, who retains all rights

Revell’s Big Boy Locomotive in 1/87 (HO) scale is the only North American engine still being produced and relatively easy to find. I’ve seen them in numerous hobby shops, a few craft stores, and of course, at Amazon. The photos of the sample completed model look good, but with a little skill and a lot of desire it can be made to look even better. For instances, take a look at this one that was built, detailed, painted, and weathered by Robert Buesking for the Central Missouri Railroad Association’s club layout. The level of detail on this one is amazing, and if I didn’t know better I never would have guessed that it was a Revell plastic model. This one, in place, truly shows how an inexpensive plastic model can be utilized on a highly detailed layout. Check out Robert Buesking’s Photobucket page for photos of a another one that he built, with a different paint and different level of weathering and detail.

Revell also produced a New York Central Hudson in 1/87 scale, but it is unfortunately out of production and out of stock almost everywhere. They show up occasionally on eBay or other auction sites, so watch eBay if you are looking for one of these kits. Just as with their Big Boy kit, the Hudson kit looks decent enough painted and decorated exactly like the box shows. But this one, too, can be detailed, painted, and weathered to look amazing. Take a look at this one that was built by Jamie Mcpeak. It is absolutely stunning and beautiful. You can see more photos of this beautiful model here.

NYC Hudson by Jamie Mcpeak

Super detailed and painted Revell NYC Hudson, by Jamie Mcpeak, used with permission

Monogram Chessie System Hudson

Stock image for the Monogram Chessie System Hudson

Revell’s subsidiary, Monogram, also produced a Hudson for its Snap Tite line, in several variations. There was one with decals for Santa Fe, Chessie System, New York Central, and a variant New York Central kit in their Metal Master line. These four kits are very hard to find, but you can sometimes find them from specialty shops or on eBay.

Glencoe also produces a couple of different kits, each for building two steam locomotives. The models are part of their Mini Kit line and are 1:120 scale, which is Z scale. Thus, they would be perfect for static displays for a Z scale layout. One kit is the Classic Iron Horses, which has parts for building a Central Pacific 4-2-4 and an 0-6-0 Cabbage Stack switcher. The other kit is the Iron Musclemen which has parts for building the famous Western & Atlantic 4-4-0 “The General” and an 0-4-0 Porter switcher. Both kits are still in production and can be found at many hobby shops or online.


There are even more plastic model kits for European locomotives than there are for North American locomotives. While there are many, I’m going to focus only on those that 1:87 scale, as all of the others are not to an exact model train scale (though some could work with S, O, or G scale, with some clever placement).

Once again we’ll start off with the Revell kits. These kits, like the current Big Boy kit in production, are actually from Revell-Germany, which is, obviously, Revell’s German division. Sadly, all of these seem to be not currently in production, but you can still find them stocked in hobby shops as well as online.

Revell's BR 130/230 & BR 131/231 Diesel Loco Set

Stock image of the Revell-Germany BR 130/230 & BR 131/231 Diesel Loco Set

First up is the BR 130/230 & BR 131/231 Diesel Loco Set, which comes with the parts to build one of each of the two diesel locomotives. Like the North American models, this set could be used to produce two beautiful static displays for your layout, even if simply painted and decorated exactly as described. But, just as with the North American models, a little time and effort and you can turn them into something more, like this one by Bazsó-Dombi András.

Another Revell-Germany kit out of production but still often available is the Schnellzuglokomotiven Express BR-01 and BR-02 set. The BR-01 was once available as a kit of its own, but that kit is long out of production and almost never found. With this kit, you have enough parts to build both locomotives. As with the diesel loco set above, Bazsó-Dombi András did an amazing job building and painting a BR-01 from the older kit.

Italeri produces a couple of nice steam locomotive kits. The Lokomotive BR41 and the Lokomotive BR50. Hobby Boss produces the German Kriegslokomotive Br 52 kit. And finally, Trumpeter Model Kits makes the WR 360 C12 Locomotive kit.

Trumpeter's WR 360 C12 Locomotive kit

Stock image of Trumpeter’s WR 360 C12 Locomotive kit

Whether you model European or North American railroads, and whether you model HO or Z scale, there are multiple kits available to you, all relatively inexpensive – again, compared to buying an operating model locomotive – and all can make great static displays for that park next to the mainline on your layout. Modern day fast freights can whiz by led by General Electric Tier 4 Evolution Series locomotives while the stately and majestic 4-8-8-4 Big Boy steam engine looks on from its place in the sun.

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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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