Introduction: Cardboard Wild West Railroad Model

One of my projects for American history was to make a model of something related to the Transcontinental railroad. Since I was going to make it out of cardboard, I thought, "Why not enter it in the Cardboard Challenge?" So that is exactly what I did. This simple craft is fun to make, very cheap, and really cool. You might even learn a few fun facts about the Transcontinental Railroad. Let's get started.

Step 1: Materials

To make this model, you are going to need:


  • a 1' by 1' piece of cardboard
  • a cardboard cereal box
  • about 8 sheets of scrap paper
  • a brown (of grey) sheet of construction paper
  • lots of popsicle sticks
  • a toilette paper tube
  • brown twine
  • fine sand


  • a hot glue gun
  • school glue
  • a stapler
  • a pair of scissors
  • a pencil
  • red, grey, and black markers

Step 2: Drawing

The first step to make this model is to plan out where everything is going to go. The first lines you are going to draw are the railroad lines. To do this, I drew a two lines on the top left corner that were about 7" long and 1" apart. Next, on the top right corner, I drew the base of the "mountain". Right below the railroad, I drew the TNT box, the wire, and the three wheel barrels. You can see this process in the pictures above.

Fun Fact: In 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Railway Bill. This bill hired the Union Pacific Railroad Co. to build a railroad east of Omaha, Nebraska, and to meet up with the Central Pacific Railroad Co., which would be building a railroad west of Sacramento, California.

Step 3: Making the Railroad

To make the railroad, I cut the rounded tips of of four popsicle sticks, and made two of them 3" and two of them 4". Then, with the hot glue gun, I glued one 3" stick to one 4" stick, and did the same to the other two, so that I had two 7" sticks. After that, I colored them grey.

Next, I cut nine sticks that were a little more than 1" and rounded the tips by cutting the corners off. I hot glued them across the 7" "railroad" on the cardboard, making them evenly spaced. On top of those, I glued the two 7" sticks on the sides. There are pictures above to help you.

Fun Fact: The Transcontinental railroad is 1,907 miles long, and took 7 years to build.

Step 4: The "Mountain"

To make the mountain, all you have to do is crumple up one piece of scrap paper over another, till you have one large ball of scrap paper. With the hot glue gun, glue the wad of paper to the section on the piece of cardboard where the "mountain" is supposed to go, that is the top right corner. Then, glue the brown (or grey) piece of construction paper on the wad of paper. Now you have your "mountain".

Fun Fact: 19 tunnels were dug through mountains to complete the railroad. The Union Pacific dug 4, and the Central Pacific dug 15. To dig through the mountain, workers used pickaxes and explosives, digging only about 2 feet a day!

Step 5: Sand

This is the only step where I used school glue. To make this model a little more realistic, I added some sand to the ground by spreading the school glue all over the cardboard and sprinkling sand on it. However, I did not glue sand on the spots where to wheel barrels and the TNT would go.

Step 6: The TNT Box

Anyway, to make the TNT box, I cut out of the cereal box an "L", and divided it into five sections, each section being 1/2" by 1/2". Then, with the black marker, I darkened the lines and wrote the letters "TNT" on one of the faces. Then I colored everything red. After that I folded the piece of cardboard into a cube, with one face empty, and glued it together.

Next I glued the box to the respective area on the cardboard, with the empty face down.

To maker the wire, I cut a piece of string and glued it to the line I drew on the cardboard, which runs between the TNT box and the ''mountain''.

Step 7: The Wheel Barrels

This is probably the part of the project that took up the most time. There are a lot of pictures, but don't worry, I will explain the process step by step.

The first thing I did was cut three 1/2" by 6" rectangles from the cereal box. Then, on each rectangle, I drew a line about 1" in from each end, and creased it.

Next, I folded the two 1" parts of the rectangle together and stapled them. After that, I traced the bottom of each shape and cut them out. These would serve as the bottoms of the wheel barrels. The third picture above shows this process. Then I glued the bottoms of the wheel barrels to the sides, like in the fourth picture.

Then I cut out twelve 1/2" by 1" rectangles from the cereal box. These would serve as the handles and stands for the wheel barrels. To make them cylindrical, I started at the shorter end of the rectangle, rolled it inwards toward the other end, and glued it together. I did this to all twelve of them. Then, on each wheel barrel, I glued the handles on each side of the staple, and the stands on the bottom side of the wheel barrel, like in the seventh picture.

Then, to make the three wheels, I cut out three very thin 1/4" by 4" rectangles, and rolled and glued them as I did with the handles and stands. Then I glued them to the bottom of the tips of the wheel barrels, like in the ninth picture above.

I colored the wheel barrels grey, and filled them with "rocks" by crumpling up small pieces of brown paper and gluing them into the wheel barrels. I then glued the wheel barrels to their respective areas on the cardboard base.

Fun Fact: Most of the Transcontinental railroad workers consisted of Chinese and Irish immigrants, Muslims, and ex-Civil War soldiers.

Step 8: Making the Train

There are also a lot of pictures in this step, but it is quite easy.

To make the train, I took the empty toilette paper roll and cut out a section of it small section of it, as shown in the first picture above. Then I stapled and glued together the two cut ends to make the roll smaller. This would be the body of the train. Next, I traced the two circular ends of the roll and cut them out. I then glued the two cut circles onto the two ends of the roll to cover the ends up.

After that, to make the steam pipes, I cut out one rectangle that was 3/4" by 4", and three more that were 1/4" by 4". I rolled these up and glued them to the top of the train body, starting with the tall one, just like the seventh picture above. Then I made one more roll that was the same as the three rolls, and glued it to the front of the train, kind of like a little nose.

Then, to make the firebox (that is where the fuel is burned), I started by cutting a "T" shape out of the cereal box, like the one in the tenth picture. Each square section is 1" by 1". Then, on one of the faces, I drew two small "windows" that were side by side. I folded the "T" into a cube and glued it together. Then, with the "windows" on the firebox facing towards me, I glued the back end of the train to the right side of the firebox. I then colored everything black, except for the "windows".

Now, to make the wheels, I drew on the cereal box four circles right next to each other, with each circle being about 1" in diameter. Then I drew a small circle in the center of each circle, and drew a rod that starts at the first small circle, runs through the two middle ones, and ends at the last small circle. With the black marker, I colored in the rod, thinly outlined each large circle, and drew spokes on each large circle. I then made one more set of wheels exactly the same, and cut both of the figures out. Then I glued each one to one side of the train, and glued the train onto the railroad by its wheels.

Fun Fact: On May 10, 1869, Leland Stanford, who was the owner of the Central Pacific Railroad Co., drove in the last spike to finish the Transcontinental railroad. This spike, called the "Golden Spike", is on display today.

Congratulations! You have finished the model. Now you can show everybody what you have made, and maybe even tell them a little of the history of the Transcontinental railroad. Have fun!!!

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