Tips from an exhibition layout: Oak Road by Mike Buick

Mike Buick Oak RoadMike Buick will be familiar to many modellers as the creator of the Oak Road layout. It’s a beautiful layout exhibition with astonishingly lifelike modelling. Mike took a few minutes out to answer some questions about his layout and the track work in particular.

Andy: Mike, those who have seen your layout, Oak Road, will know you use it to raise money for Meningitis Research as you nearly died after contracting Meningococcal Meningitis some years ago. Are you okay now?

Mike: The Meningitis left me with certain traits, some of which can be quite annoying — my attention span is very short and that shows in my modelling, I start a hundred things and never finish any of them.

If you could see my work bench it looks like a hurricane has been through the roof! I’ve acquired Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to the extent where I’m hypercritical over everything, and my mental age can swing between 16 and 70+ years old — not the best thing when you work in a highly pressurised environment for your day job! Other than that, I’m fine…. sort of!

[The inspiring story of Mike’s battle with Meningitis can be read on Mike’s Oak Road Meningitis Resarch fund raising page].

Andy: Your layout and model work is astonishingly life-like, your track-work in particular really impressed me. What advice would you give to someone ballasting for the first time?

Mike Buick Track Work

Is it real or a model? Mike’s track work on Oak Road layout.

Mike: Ballasting is a black art, and if I could delegate it to someone else, I probably would.

Many people just see ballast, they don’t see colours or size, and it’s such a shame when the ballast is like rocks compared to the rest of the track and scenery.

When choosing the ballast, I’d always try and go a size down, so for O Gauge use 4mm scale, OO, 2mm, and for N, well it took me and my friend 6 months to work out a scale size ballast but we’ve found one, and it works.

I ballast by hand, but there are some quite handy ballasting tools to make your life a little easier, and always, take your time.

If you’re after realism, search the Internet, or use the old fashioned method of looking through books for pictures of track and try and copy it.

When fixing it down, don’t try and do it all at once, do a section at a time — I use a mixture of Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement and PVA mixed with IPA (not the beer!) to fix it all down, and apply it with a pipette.

I normally use a spray bottle with neat water from a great height or use my airbrush. I never use washing up liquid.

To colour the ballast, I use watered down acrylic paint, again through a pipette, overlaying random shades until I think it looks right.

Andy: What would you change or do differently if you were starting your layout again?

Mike: There’s a lot of things I’d do differently if I started over again, but the biggest headache I’ve had is the baseboards — I followed a friend’s method but didn’t follow it to the letter, resulting in some annoying issues with bowing of the tops, and things not aligning perfectly.

Always use ply and seal it before you do anything else…. something so simple, but very awkward to sort out once you’ve covered everything in scenery!

I’d probably never use code 75 track again either (sorry Peco) as it’s not the right size — by that I mean the rail profile is too low, and it’s also very fragile. Code 100 would be more than ideal, although personally, I should’ve used code 83.

One day when I’m feeling brave, I may even try my hand at P4! The only other thing that’s been a bone of contention is my choice of point motors, but that’s another story.

Andy: What advice would you give to some thinking of changing from modelling steam to the modern era?

Mike: I’m not sure I’m even remotely qualified to answer this question as the only Kettle I’ve got is sat in the kitchen next to the tea bags!

Actually, that’s not true, I’ve got a Rebuilt Merchant Navy and a 7MT, but I’ve never really done the steam thing.

Andy: What aspect of your model railways do you find most challenging, what advice would you give to some also struggling with this.

Mike: All of it!! It’s been like a baptism of fire and the learning curve has been almost vertical!

I’d say there’s a fair chance that 90% of what I do is only fit for the scrap bin, but as they say, practice makes perfect.

The more you do something, the easier it gets. I think I did my platform tops about 10 times because I could never remember what colours are used and in what order, let alone the techniques – I think that’s why people say they look quite real, because everything is literally random.

Never be afraid to try something you’ve never done before either, most of my stuff is trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t.

I’m not old school and don’t really subscribe to the ‘it’s always been done that way’ method.

And finally, never give up, even if you think you’re making a dog’s breakfast of it, put it down, so something else for a while and then go back to it, you’ll be surprised how taking a break can make a difference.

Thanks Mike.

You can see and read more about Mike’s layout on the Facebook page he has set up for it, Oak Road – Raising Money for Meningitis Research. To donate to Meningitis Research, visit Mike’s fundraising page.

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Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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