The Coal Yard


I really like the coal yard part of my layout and feel it is one of the main attractions when I look at it as a whole. I thought I would explain and show the steps I took to get the coal yard to this point.

One thing I really don’t like too much is model railway track laid parallel to the front of a baseboard. I have to confess my sidings are a bit straight, however, the plan required this and had I more room things may have been different. I really didn’t want the line going into the coal yard to look too straight so I laid this at a deliberate angle.


All of the layout’s track has been laid onto cork and then given a dusting of Humbrol matt earth, this helps to paint the sleepers. You can also see in this picture that I am starting to work out where to put some of the buildings. As later pictures will show, this was not the finished arrangement. What I hadn’t mentioned at this stage was one vitally important little task which would add to the operational fun many months later. Stuck in a hole in the cork under the track, between a few sleepers, were a few strong neo magnets. These would be used for Spratt and Winkle uncouplers – a hands free uncoupling system made from etched brass pieces, magnets and magnetic links.


The above picture shows that the buildings and walls are now in place along with its railway line and the weighbridge plate now in place. The white area is DAS modelling clay. This has been rolled out into thin pieces and then placed over the wood and around the sleepers. You could use this up to rail level, however, I was happy to go just up to sleeper level. Once this was all in place, I spent quite a long time stippling it with a damp one inch paint brush. This helped to blend any joins in the clay and remove any finger prints that may have been in the clay. As this was to represent the ground, I did push a vehicle through the wet clay to give the impression of tyre marks in the ground. This was then left to dry for a week.

Eventually, the DAS modelling clay dried up. I used white on this section having previously used a more traditional clay like coloured DAS on the area around the good shed. The red clay dried up a little bit lighter as the moisture dried out but the white clay relied on me pushing it and deciding that it was hard enough to move to the next stage. I decided that I would paint the DAS with matt black paint from a can. I often find that paints from automotive parts shops such as Halfords are much better and are much more economical than smaller ‘hobby’ type paint cans. This next pictures shows the coal yard at the bare paint stage.

At this stage, I decided that a few more things were going to be added. I decided that I would add some gates across the track entrance and some pieces of plasticard on top of the wall sections to represent some form of topping slabs or tiles. I used strips of plasticard but these were cut up into individual little pieces to give the impression of separate pieces more effectively.

At this stage I also added the access road at the non track end. unfortunately, with some topography in mind, and the need to create a hill of some sort, a tight bend in the access road was required. This was adjusted slightly while the hills were made, but is still tighter that I would have preferred.


The tight bend into the coal depot.


The above picture shows the new gate and the wall topping stones. 

A number of the items on this layout such as the Bothy and the Coal Yard office came from Intentio who make some stunning laser cut models. I needed some coal staithes so the were obtained too and assembled. I weathered these to make them look like they had been there forever and also scratched into the wood to give the impression that they might have taken several knocks.


The yard is now starting to come alive. The coal staithes have appeared and there is some coal in the wagons too. Note the ‘steamie’ in the pic. I couldn’t resist getting one of these Dapol Terriers – they really are great little models.

A note about coal!

You can buy lots of different scenic materials to look like coal. Some are soft, some are hard and granular but if you want something that really has the look and feel of real coal…use real coal!

Why would you use anything else?

I was at work one day and asked all my colleagues if they had a coal fire. Fortunately for me, a lovely lady called Mary said she had a coal fire. I politely asked her if I could have or even buy (if this was needed) a few lumps of coal. After a few days, I was given a few lumps of coal which were taken home and crushed, by wrapping them up in a cloth a beating the lumps hard with a hammer. It is important to realise that O gauge is 7mm to 1 foot so I had to ensure that there weren’t pieces of coal 10mm big as this would equate to someone lifting 1 foot square pieces of coal onto their fire! Much of the coal was then very fine and nearly like sugar, however, getting the scale right was important. I still have some coal which needs to take another blow!

I sprinkled a lot of coal dust and some granules of coal around the yard and this really helped to create the right atmosphere as well.

If you were paying attention to the last picture you would have noticed a couple of oil barrels that were placed in the coal yard. These are not there purely for decorative purposes. If you were reading carefully at the beginning of this page, you will recall me mentioning the Spratt and Winkle coupling system. The magnets were now under the track, under the DAS modelling clay and paint. The only reference to where they are placed, is some well placed oil barrels. These visual clues help me when I am shunting and their positioning allows me to leave one coal wagon at the end of the track near the buffers or even leave a number of wagons just inside the yard.

I wanted to finish this page with a bit about static grass. This has revolutionised scenic modelling over the last few years and there are a huge range of different products available now for modellers of all genres.

I think it is important to think about the season you are modelling or representing and the type of ground cover you want to apply. I have used static grass on my N gauge layout, however, the fibres on this were a lot shorted. For this layout I used 4mm and 6mm fibres.

If you are representing grass which has grown on earth you need to paint the surface to be covered with some earth colours. This will help to give the grass some depth and represent the soil. You wouldn’t want to see white paint through your grass or the baseboard showing through your wild meadow. For this job, I used some cheap acrylic paints purchased from a large hobby craft shop. I have to say I have just used normal PVA glue tostick the fibres down making sure it is one that dries clear. Apply a small amount of glue at a time. I did about 6 inches at at timemensuring that I had got a good coverage of fibres on the glue. Once this was all applied, I walked a way from it to let the glue dry.

I have used a vacuum cleaner (in my case a Dyson) to collect the excess fibres at the end WHEN the glue has dried. I have been told you can also put a sock on the end of the vacuum cleaner pipe. You need to vacuum the whole layout irrespective of where you have been working, as these fibres go everywhere and could get inside your engine mechanisms. By saving these fibres, you’ll have some more for the next part of your layout.

I have used a tiny puffer bottle for short fibres in N gauge and this was successful, however, for this layout, I was lucky enough to use a purpose made static grass applicator. The price of some of these can be off putting for some people, however, it really has been great to use. I did find that the puffer bottles could not dispense the larger fibres quick enough through its small holes.

Back to colours and the seasons. You really do have to study real life to imitate it. Look at research materials, books of trains, magazines etc. The modern lines are deeply ballasted so there is not much grass to be seen on the ECML. However, take a look around Norwich station and you’ll wonder why someone isn’t out with a fork or some weed killer! My layout represents a time on the late 60s and early 70s when the network was under used and unloved. No one wanted to clean anything so it was a sure bet no one was worried about the weeds or the encroaching grass.

I have used spring and summer fibres together the provide a range of different colours. I have tried to think about where the grass might grow without overdoing it. There might be some grass between the tracks but this would have to content with oil, heat or other detritus from the trains!

At the end of the day, it’s your layout and you have to decide what you want to use. Try to be consistent and use one brand for the whole layout, then you will not have to worry about getting the same colours a second time. Take your time with this. You can always add a little more but taking it away can be a bit tricky given it will be stuck down. And I repeat…clean up well. I find you can never hoover your layout too much.

I hope you have enjoyed this insight into my coal yard. If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch with me or follow my blog.

Many thanks




It would seem I’ve used this picture 3 times on one page. However, it really seems evocative and I love it. Take pictures as you go along. They can really help you to look objectively at what you have done so far.