Questions & Answers


A Collection of Question & Answers from readers  (Updated Monthly) – Sourced from

Car wheels hard to find

Q. I’ve been searching Walther’s HO catalog and hobby shops for auto tires and wheels (1) in HO scale. So far my cart is empty. Do you know of a source? I would prefer the 1930s to
the 1960s era, but would be willing to try anything short of mags and slicks.
– Norm Notdurft

A. We turned the question over to David Biedermann, our resident 1/87 vehicle expert:
Separate wheels and tires are scarce; often they are scavenged from other models, so-called “donor” vehicles. Search online, or check the pegboards in stores, for:
01806 Wiking Miscellaneous Wheels.

1: Out-of-scale wheels and tires can ruin the look of a nice model car on the layout, but it’s difficult to find parts to improve an otherwise accurate model.

Herpa 051262 Auto Tires w/Sport Rims.
Herpa 052108 Wheels with Fulda Tires
Herpa 052184 Wheels w/Dunlop Tires
Alloy Forms 3072 Small Truck Tires (no wheels).
Durango Press 93 Auto Tires (12) Cast Metal (no wheels)
Promotex 5358 Truck Tires, package of 50
Rietze 70086 wide low profile truck tires

You can get most of these at by mail order. You could make wheels out of plastic disks if you’re not looking for anything fancy.
Another spot for truck tires and wheels in newer styles is
Try big box-stores and swap meets for cheap toys that scale out close, and take the wheels and tires. Hot Wheels are a possibility but they are often oversized. Another are vehicles
manufactured by Yatming, especially trucks. Check for who is the manufacturer. They come in all sorts of product names.

A couple of other places to search: lists Athearn highway trucks in kit form. They also offer spoke, 2-hole, and 5-hole wheel and tire sets for heavy trucks, and stock parts from Promotex and Trucks n’ Stuff. makes many trucks and cars from the 1930s through the early ’60s but do not lis t parts for separate sale. lists some wheel accessory kits, as well as inexpensive Model Power and Motor Max cars that could “donate” wheels to other projects – unless these are the cars and trucks you want to improve. One listing is River Point Station HO 537525078 Highway wheel set, painted matte silver.

Sticky trees

Q. Can someone out there tell me how to stop ground foam from sticking to tree trunks? The entire tree (2) from top to bottom gets covered with spray adhesive and dusted with
foam. I’m not using furnace filter, just individual branches, so the trunk is very exposed.
– John in Australia
A. Cascade Bob says the green foam on the trunks looks like moss that often grows on trees. Joe Atkinson likes the moss look too, but had the same concerns in making his own trees. He sprayed the tree with hair spray and rolled it in the leaf material instead of sprinkling leaves on the tree form. He then sprayed it a second time, held the tree on its side, and sprinkled leaf material on the edge, rotating the tree as he went. That way, the leaves fell on the perimeter branches and never on the trunk. Rob Spangler suggested adding foliage to the branches before adding the branches to the trunk. An option that works best with larger trees is to aim the adhesive at the branches and away from the trunk when spraying. Rob also rolls the tree in the scenic material instead of sprinkling it from above.

Rick Reimer is a third vote for rolling; he suggests experimenting with static grass for needles where appropriate.

Q. Are plastic pellet cars always unloaded outdoors, or do some customers use an enclosed dock?

A. Unloading depends on the processes involved and the final product. Molded plastic products like water pipes, or food grade piping for food processing plants, have to be protected from contaminants, so pellets would be unloaded in an enclosed building. Debris can also damage production machinery that requires close tolerances.
Open unloading is more common. Tracks will often have a shed to protect hoses, pumps, and valves. In cases where the factory using the pellets is some distance from the siding, pellets will be pumped into tote containers that can be trucked to the factory.

Many manufacturers use the rail car as storage and unload pellets only as they are needed for production. A factory with on-site rail service and loading facilities indoors
may only have room for one car inside at a time, so it would need regular switching service or make some other arrangement, like having a Trackmobile available to move empties and
loads around.

Fine-tuning Sergent couplers

Q. I do a lot of detailing and weathering, and Sergent couplers (1) are the best as far as prototypical detail in HO scale. They make a big difference in photography. I have now built a small switching layout and immediately noticed issues with coupling. The Sergents seem very finicky. Many times the ball will not lift so I cannot get the knuckle to release, many times the knuckles don’t close when coupling.

– Kevin

A. A club member uses them and said he has to burnish the coupler faces and back sides of the coupler faces. He also said careful attention to removing the flash is very important. Graphite lube is a must on all the moving parts.

– Pete

I have Sergent couplers on my whole fleet, but they are more time-consuming to assemble and install than more traditional couplers. Wherever possible, I buy the kit couplers, and I find
they tend to work better than the factory-assembled ones. When I assemble the couplers, I inspect every casting and remove even seemingly insignificant flash before assembling
anything. Just to be sure the ball pocket is clear on top, I usually stick the point of a hobby knife in there and spin it around a couple of times. Sometimes there is flash in there that is difficult to see. Next, I apply graphite to the working surfaces of the top casting, the place the knuckle sits, the ball opening, and any surface the knuckle will slide on or near.
With the top casting all graphited, I assemble the coupler. Once assembled, I remove it from the jig and glue it together. I have found the best way to glue them is to use as little as possible, so little that it flows into the opening by capillary action. If there is a drop or bead of glue when I am done, I have used too much.

Cleaning the layout

Q. It seems that keeping a layout clean means more than just keeping the clutter off the scenery. I have a lot of dust bunnies building up. Spiders find my corners and make webs everywhere. Prolific ladybugs cause derailments by being “run over” by a train. What do you do for general cleaning, and is there a way to prevent the critters from returning?
– Nelson Beaudry

A. We get the coolest questions (and answers) here at MRH Global Headquarters. A couple of the answers to this one include health warnings and precautions people need to follow.
Here are some approaches:

Electrostatic air cleaners
Ozone generators
Chemical pest control
Sweeping compound
Latex concrete sealer
Box fan and filters
There are two issues. One is dust in the moving air around the layout, and the other is arachnids/insects. Pollen, house dust and lint can be controlled with an air cleaner, either attached to the heating/cooling system or a stand-alone plug-in model. You can also remove carpeting, or vacuum frequently. Your choice.

Tiny wildlife

If you can’t tolerate creepy-crawlies, discourage them by sprinkling baking soda and Ant Killer diatomaceous earth around the perimeter of the entire basement or train room, or seal the
area and set off Raid fumigator bombs twice a year. The bombs should be done twice within a month to get the hatchlings.
– Crandell


Reader tommyl suggests his mom’s remedy: Diluting a few drops of peppermint oil with water, and misting it into the basement window areas and lightly around the room will keep spiders away for about 6 months. He admits the train room did smell like candy canes for a day or so.

There is an old-time insect deterrent of hedgeballs (1). Says Steve in Iowa City, “I’ve not tried them myself, but my wife and many others in the family swear by them. She warns me to
pass on that they should be kept away from small kids. Maybe hot-glue some up under the layout or maybe even build a barn around one? They are about the same as a pear, or a kiwi, and are a cool-looking retro green color. I’ve found them in baskets for sale at lawn and garden stores.”












(“Hedgeballs” come from Maclura pomifera, which you may know better as Osage orange, hedge apple, horse apple, or bois d’arc, bodark, or bodock. It’s a small tree or large shrub. The fruit is round and bumpy and filled with sticky white goo.

It isn’t poisonous to people, but it’s pretty unpleasant and a bite can make you barf. In fall, the fruit turns bright yellow-green. Scientific studies have found that extracts of Osage orange do repel several insect species.)

Dust control

Unsealed concrete will generate an unlimited amount of dust. Unsealed drywall sheds copious volumes of irritating abrasive dust. A layout with a sealed floor and walls will have a fraction of the dust accumulation of a space with open walls and ceiling. Concrete sealer will definitely hold down dust, and make sweeping more effective. Keeping pets out reduces fur and dander pollution.

Bill Brillinger suggests sweeping compound – basically oily sawdust – to keep dust from becoming airborne when sweeping floors. It’s available from janitorial supply stores and some big box home stores.

“A long distance friend of mine is very seriously into building military models, so much that he has a small room in his house dedicated to display. He uses electrostatic air cleaners running 24/7 and says it works well.”
– Alan

Charlie Comstock installed central vacuum system outlets in his train room so that dust sucked up does not get recirculated in the room. He’s banned power saws of all kinds from the layout room.

Micro-Mark, Harbor Freight and other tool stores sell tiny attachments for shop vacuums, to clean the top of the layout. You can adjust airflow strength, and brush attachments help dislodge dust without disturbing the scenery too much, said Kevin.


Ozone is a very powerful sanitizer and deodorizer that can kill any living thing, including insects. Kevin bought a powerful ozone machine to de-stink his basement of mildew smell before building his train room, and it eliminated all the mildew and bugs. The  machines come with detailed instructions that must be followed for safe use.
“Using such a machine has some hazards, but it is no problem at all if you follow basic rules. Basically, remove any living thing you don’t want to be dead, seal off the area, and run the ozone generator for several hours at full blast,” Kevin said. “Stay out of the area for at least four hours after it shuts off, then you’re good to go back in. My (annual) cleaning schedule is to close off the basement for 24 hours, run the machine for 12, and let the ozone begin decomposing for another 12. When done, I have no mold, no mildew, no bugs, and no dust mites”.

“I’ve been using it for quite a while now. I was concerned about whether or not there were undesirable side effects. So far have seen none. No discoloration of anything, no deterioration of plastic items, no corrosion on any metal surfaces. I was particularly interested in copper, as that affects all the electrical stuff in a room, but there was no visible change in anything. No fading. No cracking. Nothing.”  Excessive use of an ozone generator can break down the plastic in flex-track tie strips. For more on ozone generator safety, look at

For more about air cleaners, A simple dust solution, from Sean M., is to take a normal box fan and duct-tape appropriately sized furnace filters on both
sides. Hang the fan from the ceiling, and run it on low all the time to minimize the dust. “You can’t really even feel the air moving, but there is enough circulation to catch a lot of crud,”
he said.


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Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)

  1. ted olds
    5 months ago

    to keep spiders away i like the peppermint oil with water idea
    for the last few years i used osage orange
    i and to buy them from farmers at farmers market -cost from .50 to 5$ apiece
    i have 4 grand kids in college so that would be 4 plus 2 for me an 4 more for family
    so the p.o sounds great-we shall see if it works

  2. ted olds
    5 months ago

    to keep spiders away i like the peppermint oil with water idea
    for the last few years i used osage orange
    i and to buy them from farmers at farmers market -cost from .50 to 5$ apiece
    i have 4 grand kids in college so that would be 4 plus 2 for me an 4 more for family
    so the p.o sounds great-we shall see if it works

    this is the first comment i have ever made-so don’t tell me i did