You’ve spent countless hours planning, designing, and building your model railway, and you want to keep it looking its best. But spiders, beetles, and bugs can and will play havoc with its small delicate parts. Here’s how to insect-proof your model railway and keep your trains bug-free.
Why insect-proof your model railway?
There are a few reasons why it’s important to insect-proof your model railway:
- Insects can damage tracks and locomotives. For example, spiders might weave webs around tunnels and trees which can hinder smooth running of rolling stock, especially those of smaller scales like Z, 009 and N gauge.
- Beetles and other sizable insects, such as wasps, can perish on the tracks, causing electrical shorts or blocking points.
- Vermin, such as mice and rats, might chew through your meticulously crafted scenery and electrical wiring. Additionally, their faeces and urine can damage models and lead to a myriad of electrical issues.
Common pests found on model railway layouts
If you’ve yet to build your layout and are wondering what may pay it a visit,
Spiders / Daddy-long-legs: Very common visitors, especially to layouts in my shed and during autumn months when it’s the mating season or they move indoors as the temperature outside drops.
Flying insects : Don’t ask me why but wasps seem particularly fascinated by my model trains. When I had a layout in the loft, they were regular patrons of my OO gauge intercity service. Actually, now I think about it, it might have been the bright yellow livery of the Intercity 125…
Woodlice: I often find these dead in tunnels, probably because they like dark places – their natural home is under logs and stones.
Silverfish: These little wingless insects eat paper and card so are often found on layout using with card buildings or papier-mâché for scenery. According to Wikipedia they will go for wall=paper paste so if you use this to hold your backscene in place, keep a close eye out for them.
Steps to enhance resistance against pests
Protecting your model railway from the above and other insects and bugs should be a consideration even before you start its construction.
Secure the environment
If you plan on building your layout in a shed or garage, rodents are likely to be problem. So if you’re like xxx per cent of modellers who external buildings for your trains first seal it against pests. Glick Sheds offers an insightful guide on pest-proofing sheds. In essence:
- Seal all cracks and crevices to prevent unwanted guests getting in.
- Ensure no food or rubbish is left near the area, this will attract mice and rats in particular.
- Make it watertight and control humidity – many insects like damp conditions; damp is also bad for your trains so you should doing this anyway.
Related articles on using sheds and garages for model trains
- Building a shed fit for your model railway: 5 things you can do
- Turn your garden shed Into a model railway eden
- Making a garage fit for a railway
Implement Environmental Controls
When prepping the space for your layout, equip it to deter pests.
- Dehumidifiers: Many pests, especially daddy long-legs spiders, thrive humid conditions. Deploying a dehumidifier (I’ve reviewed a reliable one here) can mitigate moisture and deter these pests.
- Ventilation: Ensure robust ventilation to deter mould and mildew, which can attract various pests.
- Reduce light pollution: Many insects, like moths and flies, gravitate towards light sources. If you, like me, often work during the evening, deploy blackout curtains or blinds to deter nocturnal insects.
Utilise pest-proof materials
Having protected the environment where your railway will go, then incorporate pest resistant materials in its construction construction.
For baseboards, some woods are naturally resistant to pests. Consider using them in your layout construction. Although I recommend 9mm plywood for construction, if you’re particularly concerns about insects, cedar may be a good choice. The oil within it is disliked by termites and other pests and it’s rot resistant.
And while real moss, lichen, or wood can look authentic, they can attract and even contain pests. Equally, paper products (card buildings, etc.) provide a food source for some insects – siliverfish for example. Rather, opt for synthetic alternatives when possible, although this does prevent making your own scatter and model trees 🙁
Little critters can’t munch on metal and plastic so using these for construction over organic based compounds will make your layout less appealing.
Protecting your model railway from future pests
Despite all precautions, there remains a chance that insects, especially bugs, will still try to colonise your layout. Here are measures to mitigate this:
Use protective covers or drapes over your model railway when not in use. If small, consider building a box around it but if this isn’t possible invest in covers that can be placed over it when not in use to prevent bugs getting to it.
Doing so not only keeps out insects but keeps dust off your scenery and building. I do cover mine with a decorators sheet for this reason alone.
Remember, it’s not just the visible part that needs shielding. The underside and electrics also require protection. MRE community member, secured a 3mm green transparent acrylic perspex sheet over the underside of his layout to protect it. This allows him to inspect the electrics while ensuring pests stay out.
Along with physically protecting your model railway with covers, it’s also worth using a few artificial aids to keep them away.
I have a penchant for natural remedies over toxic or high-tech and chemical solutions. I’ve tried ultrasonic and magnetic repellers previously to deal with rats under floor boards and they didn’t work. I’ve also noticed that some chemical pest control sprays are flammable, which is a concern given the potential for sparks from electrics around a layout. I’m not going to take that chance.
Instead, I deploy conkers to deter spiders. Peppermint oil is effective against mice and rats, and cedar blocks keep moths at bay.
It’s worth noting however that insects, particularly rodents are very adaptable and can become desensitised to repellents so consider rotating between different natural repellents every few months.
If you’ve done everything discussed so far, you’re well on your way to reducing insect invasion but the odd creepy crawly will still set up home. Regularly inspect your layout for bugs and remove them as soon as you see them.
Here are my five top tips for pest control maintenance:
- Inspect your layout at least once a week. Pay close attention to the areas where pests are most likely to be found, such as the tracks, tunnels, wiring, and scenery.
- Look for signs of insect activity, such as webs, nests, droppings, and damage to plants or scenery.
- Remove any pests that you find. You can do this by hand, with a vacuum cleaner, or with an insecticide. If you use an insecticide, be sure to follow the instructions carefully and to wear protective gear.
- Clean your layout regularly. This will help to remove any food sources that may be attracting pests.
- Keep your layout dry. Pests are attracted to moisture, so it’s important to keep your layout dry and well-ventilated.
Protecting a model railway from pests is as crucial as the time and passion you’ve invested in creating it. Just as you’ve meticulously planned each component and scenery piece, a comprehensive approach to pest-proofing ensures your trains run smoothly and your layout remains a masterpiece. Remember, a little prevention goes a long way. By following the steps and recommendations mentioned, you can enjoy a bug-free railway and preserve its beauty for years to come.
- Ladybird on model railway track, photo by ModelRailwayEngineer community member Paul J.
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Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. 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.