Many of us got started with model railroad trains when we received a small set for Christmas, and the thrill and excitement of that first set stays with many. Model railroading has been called “The Worlds Greatest Hobby,” though undoubtedly there are others that would argue for basket weaving.
Model trains have enlivened the imagination of hobbyists for a long time. It’s a great way to spend your time, and engages many talents. If you desire to go beyond collecting a few locomotives, you will be engaged in design, building, painting, working with small hand tools, and ultimately in creating a world (or at least a part of one) of your own making! There are fewer hobbies where one can say that about it!
Model railroading and model railroad trains have been around since the 1840’s when ‘carpet railways’ came about. Crude replica electric trains began to appear in the late 1900s. Modern model railroad trains often are exact likenesses of a ‘prototype’ locomotive or rail car, and layouts often are built to recreate exact locations and/or time periods.
Model railroad enthusiasts are involved in the hobby in many different ways. Some only collect locomotives, content to view their collection on a shelf, while others may have a small layout they mount to a tabletop and store away when not in use. The most ambitious spend countless hours and money creating large exact scale model railroads, building scenery and buildings from scratch.
Model railroad equipment ranges in size from 1:450 (‘T’ scale, the smallest to date) to 1:4 and larger. Live steam powered ridable models are generally 1:8 scale, these run outdoors. The most popular size is ‘HO’ scale, which is 1:87.1. The distance between tracks in HO is 16.5mm.
There are many sizes of model railroad trains. Size is also referred to as ‘scale,’ sometimes confused with ‘gauge.’ I’ll discuss gauge next. The most popular scales are G (1:22), O (1:48), HO (1:87.1) and N (1:160). Note – in various parts of the world, these scales are slightly different.
G and O scale are in the ‘large scale’ trains category. G scale uses a No. 1 gauge track. This gauge is 45mm between the rails. O scale uses 32mm between the tracks. O scale is sometimes thought of as a ‘toy train’ scale. Lionel trains use the O scale, and they certainly can be as lifelike as any other model train!
HO stands for ‘half of O’ and is half the size of O scale, at 1:87.1, and uses a track gauge of 16.5mm between the rails.
N stands for ‘Nine millimeter’ because this scale train uses 9mm between the rails.
The use of ‘scale’ and ‘gauge’ may be confusing, since many modelers and even article writers tend to use them interchangeably (HO ‘scale’). However, scale and gauge refer to two different aspects of model trains.
Scale refers to the ratio of the model to the prototype (the original). Thus with HO, 1 inch represents 87 inches of the prototype, and with N 1 inch represents 160 inches.
Gauge simply refers to the distance between the track rails.
See – that’s pretty simple, isn’t it!
Model Railroad Train layouts run the gamut, from a shelf on the wall to inside a shoebox to filling a basement, garage or loft space. Let’s not forget the garden trains, and outdoor ridable trains too! One of the beauties of model railroads is there is a scale to meet your space limitations!
Creating layouts can be an art form, where a realistic scene is constructed over the course of a lifetime, or, you can set up your tracks on a piece of plywood, place some buildings you’ve bought or made from kits, and run your railroad around and around! It’s really up to you!
Creating realism in your layout may mean using a few different scale trains, showing vast distance and size, in a small space. N scale model trains are great for showing large expressive landscapes in a small space, and with Z or T scale you can build city blocks inside of a shoebox and take them with you to visit with friends!
For many, locomotives are the most interesting part of the railroad, and who wouldn’t be excited by seeing that Iron Horse steaming down the line, whistle blowing as it approaches the crossing, pulling a mile long train behind it! Fortunately for the model railroader, manufacturers have built just about every locomotive (and every other type of rolling stock) ever made, it’s just a matter of finding the right one for your model railroad. Of course you can always scratch build one yourself – there are kits and components readily available.
Wiring and Control
If you are going to watch your model train move down the track, you are going to need to supply power. Modern model railroad trains are powered using the ‘Digital Command Control’ (“DCC”) recently developed. DCC allows for independent control of multiple locomotives on the same section of track! You can also control steam and whistles, automatic coupling and uncoupling, and switching trains from one track to the other. DCC simplifies wiring of train tracks, and you don’t need to understand very much about electricity or electronics at all to wire up your layout with this modern system. Oh, and DCC allows you to use a remote control for the whole thing. Did I mention multiple trains running at the same time – no problem with DCC!
Setting up a model railroad train layout can be fun and exciting. You can let your imagination take over and build a fantastic layout that will give you hours and hours of pleasure. The details of your model railroad are up to you. Some model railroaders go to great lengths to have exact details of every feature of their layout, from the car markings, to the billboards and ads, to car makes and models, and more. Landscaping, terrain, water features, bridges, all of these can be built, or bought, and installed on your layout to make it as realistic as you want it.
to be continued…
Model railroading, and model trains, can be an interesting and rewarding hobby. As you develop your skills and meet new people, a whole new world can open up for you. Stay open to new ideas, search more on the internet, keep reading, and most of all, keep on playing with your hobby!
Read about building benchwork and scenery – which is how you can add realism to any layout!
Did you find this article useful or informative? Tell the world! It’s easy, using the “Tell A Friend” Service below – hover your mouse over it and go from there! You can also Tweet this article using the green “tweet” button to the right. Thanks!