Where Does One Start With Model Railroad

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Where Does One Start With Model Railroad?

For the majority of people, modeling a modern train is based on pictures held in their memories. As children growing up, they must have seen the train pass and all they want to do is try and replicate these memories. Whatever the reasons for building a model railroad might be, anyone attempting it must possess background knowledge in painting and building.

Before shopping for your train, it is important to select your railroad from inception. You will have several tracks to pick from in the market, such as cars and locomotives. Especially in the N and HO scale, staying with a specific railroad will help you save some money.

If you’re thinking of building a model railroad, below are some of the things you need to understand before making a final decision.

Scale & Gauge

The question of scale and gauge is a critical question to consider, as you make a decision on exactly what you want in your model railroad. In short, the scale is the ratio of your model to the real thing (that is, the prototype). A gauge, on the other hand, refers to the distance between the rails. Let’s now take a look at both of these concepts. Let’s first, look at the scale.

Scale means that it is a scaled down form of the ‘real’ thing. There are different types of scale. O scale has a ratio to the real thing as 1:48 with the HO scale being 1:86 or 1:87. There is also the N scale, which is about 1:160. Regarding size, the O scale is the largest of the three scales. S scale is smaller than O. HO (usually referred to as half 0) is the next size with N scale being about half of O scale. Finally, there is also the Z scale. The Z scale is a minuscule scale- 1:220.

With HO and N scales, there is a large collection of quality products available with S scale growing in popularity. It is up to the modeler to decide the selection of scales. However, HO is said to be a better-operating scale that allows a hitch-free switching for way freights, locals and yard switching operations. In a nutshell, the larger the scale, the more room you need for an extensive layout of the railroad. Answering the question of scale depends largely on what you want your railroad to do.

A gauge is defined as the distance between the tracks. The size of a normal track gauge is about 4’ 8 ½” between the rails. S scale narrow gauge is now becoming popular because you can put a fine size narrow gauge layout into a smaller space that is not as big as an HO layout.

Purchasing Model Railroad Equipment

As in any hobby, the quality, and variety of equipment available is great. When deciding what to buy first, thought should be given to quality. In most cases, quality and price are closely related.

Two different types of model railroad equipment are available. Those produced for serious or professional model railroader and those produced for a hobby. The problem is that no one is willing to spend so much money on a hobby especially if they are buying for a child as they may quickly lose interest it.

Rolling Stock

Care must be taken when buying rolling stock. The most crucial thing to look at is the wheels of the rolling stock. You must ensure that the wheels of the rolling stock turn freely and not vibrate. To be sure, turn the piece of the rolling stock and rotate the wheels. After you have stopped spinning the wheels, they should continue to spin several revolutions, and they should not shake. Do not buy if they stop spinning immediately or only after a few revolutions or they shake. The best wheels are usually on a metal axle. While it is not useful to check the gauge of the wheels, if they are plastic wheels on a metal hinge, the wheels could be moved closer or farther apart.


The weak locomotives that come with many train sets have discouraged users from considering the railroad hobby. Some locomotives do not move when you turn the power on until you push it. Sometimes, when it eventually moves, it goes so fast that it jumps the track at the very first turn. This means you have to get up put it back on the track, power it; push it to go to the next turn. However, there have been improvements in recent years with very reasonable equipment included encouraging users in continuing in the hobby.

Two vital reasons are responsible for the poor performance in equipment: quality of locomotive and quality of power pack. For the locomotive to run, electricity from the rails must be picked up by the wheels and transferred to the electric motor in the locomotive. The more wheels that picks up power from the rails the greater the ability of electricity to get to the motor. The pulling power is significantly increased with more wheels the motor is connected to with gears.

There are several available options to improve this operation such as flywheels, quality of electric motor and weight. With a better quality electric motor, the locomotive will turn more stably with less electricity. Weight ensures better contact between the track and the wheels thus boosting both the electrical pick-up and the ability to push the locomotive without vibrating. Flywheels help to slow down the initial rotation of the motor to enable it to start smoothly instead of rocking forward.

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General Points

Stick with short locomotives and short freight cars when buying any model railroad equipment. It’s hard for longer equipment to get around the rather sharp curves normally used. Also, the overhang of the ends of long equipment on these curves appears wrong and can lead to crash. It’s advisable to stick with diesel locomotives. Because of their length, steam locomotives can also create problems on curves and short turnouts. Additionally, steam locomotives are harder to put on the track than diesel because of their many wheels. Avoid very short (4 or 6 wheels) steam locomotives and four-wheel diesel locomotives as they do not run properly. Passenger cars should be avoided, as they are very long and can cause difficulties on small tight curves.