Scratch-Build HO Scale Picket Fences

My Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad in HO scale has more detail than any of my previous layouts. Model railroading is a learning experience, which is a big part of the fun. Scenery on a layout is never quite finished because there is always some little item that can be added to make a scene more realistic.

Section of balsa picket fence painted.

I decided to try my hand at making scratch-built picket fences. I found it to be a fun project and once I figured out how to do it, I kept making them. As you can see in the photo, I chose to make the slats irregular shapes and sizes.

Cutting board, ruler, balsa pieces for fence.

The fence pieces consist of rails, posts, and slats. The rails and posts are 1/32″ balsa material. The rails can be any length, but they should be the same. The posts are 5 scale feet long, cut from the same material as the rails.

The slats are cut from 1/32″ balsa sheet material.

The HO Scale ruler is a valuable tool. There are several measurement options on the ruler. I used it to measure all the fence materials, as I have for many other building projects.

HO scale ruler with balsa post.
Balsa ready to cut 4’ HO scale fence slats.

I measured 4 scale feet of 1/32″ balsa sheet material for the slats and cut four at a time. The first few fences I made had wider slats but I think the narrower ones look more realistic.

After cutting a sufficient pile of posts and slats, I laid the rails side by side and put a spot of glue at regular intervals across the entire length of the rails. I then separated them so the glue spots were directly across from each other. I carefully placed the posts on the glue, with the rails approximately three scale feet apart.

The “Original Tacky Glue” I use dries rather quickly, so after the posts are set, the work of gluing the slats to the rails can begin right away.

The process of gluing small slats side by side can be tedious, and requires great care to keep from covering fingers, slats, rails, cutting board and tools with glue. I found using my X-acto blade for poking the slats, dipping each end in the glue, and placing them on the rails a perfect way to do it. The only thing I was really careful about was not gluing too many of them straight.

Finished balsa picket fence leaning by a tree.

When the glue has dried, it’s time for painting. I mixed some green, gray, and white acrylic paint, diluted with water, and stained the fences. To keep the fence from looking too uniform, I dabbed areas with various shades of color. I set the painted fences against supports to allow them to dry.

I love the look of old fences plastered with posters faded and worn by years of weather. I glue scale posters to all kinds of things. They can be scratched with a knife to make them look older, but I found the process of printing them caused enough distortion to make them look convincing enough.

Colorful signs in HO scale printed

This is what’s left of the sheet of advertising posters I downloaded from a website. I’ve used them on several projects. The colors are great without being perfect.

As I was careful not to glue the fence slats too straight, I made sure most of the posters were skewed. Of all the projects I have completed on the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad, my scratch-built picket fences are in the top two or three of pleasing results.

This is another fine example of a project going into the file named, “If I can do it, anyone can.”

Scratch-Build a Two-Story Trackside Structure in HO Scale

Two story balsa Maple Valley Supply Co building h finished.

This is the Maple Valley Supply Company. It sits on the line that brings passengers from Midtown to Maple Valley on The Old General. The two-story structure is scratch-built in balsa. The windows and doors are plastic models purchased at a model railroad swap meet.

I drew plans for the structure on card stock. I built each of the walls by cutting, gluing and pinning balsa pieces on the wax-paper covered plans.

I love the way the framing looks on the wall interiors.

The gables and the front wall are two stories tall. The back wall is off-set by a scale 12 inches, so the walls were built separately. The end rooms are single story.

Balsa two story building without roof.
Two story balsa structure.

The siding pieces are cut from 1/32″ balsa sheeting. Since I have stud framing, it is easy to cut and glue individual lengths of siding for a more authentic appearance. Each siding piece is 3mm tall. Some modelers stain the balsa before gluing, but I choose to paint the finished structure.

Balsa building with roof trusses and decking.

I build roof trusses and individually glue them to the walls. I admit it’s difficult to build a bunch of balsa trusses that are exactly the same, but I get pretty close. As my middle school band teacher used to say, “It’s close enough for jazz.”

When the roof truss glue is dry, I apply individual planks the same way I attach the wall siding. My roof planks are all the same length. I don’t apply any covering other than paint.

The loading dock on the front of Maple Valley Supply Company is approximately 3 scale feet high and 4 feet deep with a ramp at the end. There is a double door on the far end and a single door in the center. The small storage room on the end has two small windows and a door.

Side view of balsa Maple Valley Supply Co outside town of Maple Valley.

I use acrylic paint diluted with water and mixed with a small amount of matte medium. With a little more scenery work to do around the structure, I think the Maple Valley Supply Company is ready for business.

Fall banner says thankyou.


I’m thankful for a lot of things, but these are probably different than the ones you’re thinking about.

I’m thankful I got to answer a phone hanging on the wall because someone called our number that started with S-W.

I’m thankful for black and white television. The picture was black and white, not the box, and every night a TV test pattern came on when they ran out of stuff to broadcast.

I’m thankful for AM car radios with chrome push buttons.

I’m thankful for typewriters with sort of a kick-stand sticking out I had to pull over after hearing a ding. I could type really fast. Still can

I’m thankful for the metal bright-lights switch on the car floor over by the clutch, and for manual shift on the column.

I’m thankful for the rubber hose on the gas station driveway that makes a loud ding-ding-ding inside the building so someone in a Texaco uniform will come out and fill the car with gas for three or four dollars, and for gas station bathrooms with the cloth towel that disappears back into the box it came from.

I’m thankful for the milk box on the porch.

I’m thankful for the clothes chute and a slamming screen door.

I’m thankful for ice milk that tasted like a snow cone without the red syrup.

I’m thankful for street-car wires.

I’m thankful for chalk dust.

I’m thankful for player-piano rolls.

I’m thankful for pedal cars, even though I never had one, but I did have a new bike.

I’m thankful for an abacus with blue, green, red, and yellow beads.

I’m thankful for hard green clay that got soft after I held it for a while, then rolled out a long worm, wound it into a spiral, folded up the sides, made little green balls and put them in the bowl.

I’m thankful for hand-towel cranks.

I’m thankful for white gym class towels that smelled like something I still can’t describe.

I’m thankful for small battery-powered reel-to-reel tape recorders that make you sound like a chipmunk when you put new batteries in it.

I’m thankful for huge film projectors that make a clackety clack sound.

I’m thankful for cash registers that make a loud ding when the drawer opens.

I’m thankful for huge Hires Root Beer barrels.

I’m thankful for Oxydol and wax covered milk cartons.

I’m thankful I got to spit in a tiny toilet bowl at the dentist’s office.

I’m thankful I got to ride in a car with an upholstered rope across the back of the front seat.

I’m thankful I tasted Elmer’s Glue and ate a dog biscuit.

I’m thankful I made long Christmas chains with construction paper and learned to write with a fat pencil on tan paper with green lines on it.

I’m thankful I called collect and asked for myself so my mom would know I arrived safely.

I’m thankful I drank milk from a cooler in the barn.

I’m thankful I got to hold a young calf on my lap and play with a baby raccoon.

I’m thankful I got to stand waist deep in grain and yell in an empty silo.

I’m thankful we had a baby lamb in our kitchen.

I’m thankful I learned to water ski.

I’m thankful I talked to a friend through a tin can and a long string.

I’m thankful for Ola Corners.

I’m thankful for walking over the Mackinac Bridge. Twice.

I’m thankful for Nik-L-Nip wax bottles.

I’m thankful for Fizzies and sea-foam frosting.

I’m thankful for Bill Knapp’s.

I’m thankful for Ken & Tillie.

I’m thankful for Radio Mystery Theater and Suspense.

I’m thankful for Maurice and Villetta Brundage.

I’m thankful for ditto paper and mimeograph machines.

I’m thankful Mary said, “Yes”.

Colorful poster showing caption 1:1.

I Will

“As trouble tries to spread throughout the land,
It’s time to rise and boldly take a stand
For character and honor, and choosing to be free
From harmful things that try to capture me.

I’ll find the strength if I must stand alone.
I’ll face the fear and pressure I have known.
I will not bow for others, their wishes to fulfill,
If I must be the only one, I will.

I will make a difference, I will take a stand,
I will be an answer, will you take my hand?
Together forever, a future to build,
Who will make a difference? I will.

If you’ll walk beside me, there’s nothing we can’t do
If one can make a difference, there’s no limit with two.

I will make a difference, I will take a stand,
I will be an answer, will you take my hand?
Together forever, a future to build,
Who will make a difference? I will.”

Lyrics by Dale Parsons

I wrote this song twenty-five years ago for a county campaign against drugs.

Colorful poster showing caption 1:1.

Make a Difference

According to the internet (and, after all, if it’s on the internet, it’s true, right?) the chance of becoming a professional athlete is 0.00075%. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dream, but you have a very long road ahead of you.

The chance of becoming a superstar musician is 0.000001%. That doesn’t mean you should quit band and stop taking piano or voice lessons.

The chance of becoming a professional gamer is between 0.01% and 0.03%.

The chance of making a difference is 1:1. If you are breathing, you can make a difference. One in one.

“I will make a difference, I will take a stand.
I will be an answer, will you take my hand?
Together forever, a future to build.
Who will make a difference? I will.”

Make Your Own Static Grass Applicator for Realistic Scenes

This definitely has to go in the category, “If I can do this, absolutely anyone can.” I made my own static grass applicator that really works!

I’ve been working steadily on the scenery of The Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad. I’m creating scenes with more detail than I have on any other layout. On my previous model railroads I was happy with paint and some turf sprinkled here and there. The Maple Valley Short Line will probably be my last layout, so I’m doing it right.

I visited many sites showing modelers using static grass applicators, but when I looked at the cost I decided standing weeds weren’t necessary. I changed my mind. I started looking for videos showing how to make a static grass applicator and found several.

Blah Flag electric bag zapper and small strainer.

The self-built models are all pretty similar. It wasn’t difficult to find the parts. It was harder trying to tell myself I could actually do this and have it work.

The Black Flag Hand Held bug zapper I purchased for $10.95 at Home Depot promised to deliver 2750 volts of shocking power to any little critters that happened to get too close. It also delivered a powerful shock to my finger!

I found a small Farberware plastic strainer with a metal screen mesh to use as the grass spreader.

Separate pieces of bug zapper and small strainer.

I first removed all the screws from the back of the handle. Three screws held the zapper screen in place, three more screws were in the battery compartment. Once the screws were removed the pieces came apart easily.

Electric bug zapper wand wires exposed.

There were no screws in the wand, so I forced a screw driver blade into the seam to break the pieces apart. A red wire was soldered to the inner screen, a blue wire was soldered to each of the outer screens. I snipped the wires off at the screen. The two blue wires came from the same point on the control board, so I removed one.

Bug zapper handle opened to show control board.

After the extra blue wire was removed from the control board, I soldered a long green wire to the blue wire. I soldered a short red wire to the red wire from the board. The red wire carries power to the wire mesh basket. The green wire is attached to the area where the static grass will be applied. Static electricity is created by the field between the wire mesh and the surface of the layout.

Hand strainer with handle cut off, holes drilled to match screw posts. Red wire soldered to screen.

I held the strainer next to the zapper handle to see how much of the strainer handle would fit and cut off the remainder. The handle of the Farberware strainer is about the same width as the zapper handle. I held the cover of the zapper on the strainer handle and used a small drill bit to make pilot holes for the screws. I then used a larger bit, the size of the screw posts in the zapper handle, to carefully drill out the pilot holes. The handle of the strainer fits perfectly over the screw posts.

Hand strainer with holes drilled placed on screw posts in zapper handle. Red wire soldered to red wire from control board in the handle.

After tinning the wire, I poked it through the screen, made a loop and poked it back through the mesh. I twisted the wire with itself and soldered it, creating a solid connection.

Simple contact button on the side of the bug zapper handle.

The simple contact button on the side of the handle has to be held to create the static field between the two leads. The applicator is powered by two AA batteries.

Finished static grass applicator showing long green wire soldered to green wire on control board.

This is the finished product. The strainer handle fits tightly inside the zapper handle, thanks to the three screw posts. The cost of this static grass applicator was about $15.00.

I have already discovered using a static grass applicator takes some practice. I purchased some short static grass at Rider’s Hobby Shop, and I can see it’s too short. Taller grass will look more realistic in scenes where there is not much activity.

It’s best to use the static grass applicator on one small area at a time. A thinner white glue solution works better than glue right out of the bottle.

Good luck with your own static grass applicator construction. If I can do it, you can do it!

By the way, I wasn’t kidding about getting a shock. Make sure to keep your fingers away from the screen while you’re working on your scenes. You’ll find out quick, like I did, why bugs don’t like zappers!

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 28: Hank Rider and the Saddlehorns

Another Founders’ Day celebration has come and gone. Except for a few minor problems including a bunch of chickens escaping from a farm float during the parade and running through the streets of Maple Valley, it was a great success.

The special guest band for the main event was Hank Rider and the Saddlehorns. It’s incredible that two years in a row, Maple Valley has been able to bring in a famous country show. And just like last year, when Hank Rider sang the smash country chart topper “The Old Man”, everyone in the crowd knew the words. Tears were even seen on a few faces.

The Old Man

“I quit my job and hit the road, I married my guitar
Tired of my dead end life, it was time to be a star.
I couldn’t wait to hear the crowds all screamin’ out my name.
What happened next was all my fault, there was no one else to blame.

The first time I was on the stage there was no one in the room
‘Cept one old man way in the back, standin’ with a broom.
Well I sang my heart out anyway without a single cheer,
And when I was done the old man came and handed me a beer.

He said, ‘Son, don’t let it bother you that no one heard your songs,
I can see this kind of life just ain’t where you belong.
Pack your stuff, forget all this, today it’s not too late
To go back home where you belong before you share my fate.

I was a singer just like you, playin’ every night,
Twenty years of drivin’ hard and livin’ in the lights.
Then an old man came and talked to me just like I am to you
And tears rolled from these tired eyes ’cause every word was true.

He said he had a little boy he left for wealth and fame,
I didn’t care about what he said until he spoke his name.
Memories came flooding back, the name he breathed was mine,
I knew I was that little boy the old man left behind.

He said, ‘Son, I’m sorry for leaving you alone
If I could go and change it now you know I’d stay at home.
I never even thought how much my choice would cost,
But nothing I have ever done was worth the life I lost.’

I left the road and headed home to bury my guitar,
Dreams of fame and fortune didn’t get me very far.
When I arrived my little boy was standing at the door,
I knew then, and I know now, he’s what life is for.”

In other news, disturbing signs have been showing up around town. They read, “Recall Sheriff Pete Terkinberry.” Other signs are also appearing that read, “Elect Quintin O’Dillmotte, Sheriff of Kertok County”.

Sheriff Pete stepped into the Ya’ll Sit Cafe, as he does every morning, and Shorty called out from the kitchen, “Hey, Sheriff! What’s going on?! You don’t want to be sheriff anymore, or what?”

“Shorty, what are you talking about?!” Pete yelled back.

“Haven’t you seen the signs around town? Quintin wants to replace you. He says you should be recalled!” came the voice from the kitchen.

“Quintin O’Dillmotte couldn’t be sheriff of a playground!” the sheriff yelled, wishing he hadn’t. He looked around the cafe and several customers were staring at him.

Pete left the Ya’ll Sit without his coffee.

First Day Prayer

Heavenly Father,

From preschoolers to seniors, please be with our students today and every day.
Let confidence replace fear, and friends replace loneliness.

From first year to veteran, give our teachers wisdom and strength.

From para-pros to administrators, from parents and guardians to community, may all be safe, now and forever.


Balloon Launch

I don’t have any idea what balloon launches have to do with Sunday school, but they’ve been connected for a very long time. If they’re supposed to be a way to get new people to visit a church, I don’t think anyone ever said, “Oh, look honey, there’s a balloon stuck in our tree! Maybe we should start going to church.”

When I was a kid we had a balloon launch at our Sunday school. I don’t remember why, I just remember wanting to take a few of the helium filled balloons home. Somehow I managed to snag two or three for a couple days of fun.

I tested the balloons by attaching toys to the string to see if they would float. After trying several, I discovered plastic army men were the limit. I imagined what the army guys were seeing as they slowly drifted to the ceiling.

Ten years later the fun was sucking helium out of the balloon to make my voice sound like someone had Porky Pig by the throat.

Twenty years passed before I was involved in another Sunday school balloon launch. Our little church sponsored a contest for the kids(?) to see whose balloon travelled the greatest distance. I put self-addressed cards in sandwich bags and clipped them to the strings. We promised a portable stereo to the person returning a card the farthest and to the person who let it go.

The launch day weather was perfect with a light breeze from the northwest. Thirty kids and several kiddish adults counted down. Three! Two! One! Seven balloons never made it through the birch trees beside the building.

Five weeks went by with no returns. Just as I thought we were going to save the money for the stereos, the mail carrier delivered a winner. The wrinkled and worn card was mailed from Laceyville, Pennsylvania. From our church in Michigan, the balloon travelled 379 miles! We sent a stereo to the person who returned the card, and to the youngster who launched the balloon. My faith in balloon launches was restored.

I don’t know if balloon launches are even legal anymore. I’m just glad I got to experience the excitement of watching them lift into the air, never to be seen again.