Frequently Asked Questions
an item intended to complement
a toy train set but generally not included with it, such as a switch, a
building, or a trackside light. Some accessories, such as billboards,
tunnels, and many buildings, are static, while others, such as coal
loaders, control towers, or gatemen, have an operating feature.
A miniature paint sprayer that gives a controlled application of thinned paint.
Articulated: locomotive with a jointed frame that is flexible in at least one direction.
A frame that is the foundation of a model railroad or toy train layout. L girder and open-grid are two popular types.
an electrically insulated zone of track.
the housing of a locomotive or car that covers the interior workings. Sometimes referred to as the "cab"
Short for cyanoacrylate adhesive, also
known as super glue. A high-strength adhesive that can be used on metal
and styrene plastic.
A method of controlling model
trains in which one power pack is used for each train so the power pack
can be connected to one set of blocks and remain disconnected from all
others. Only one engine or set of engines can be controlled in each
a permanent magnet motor enclosed in a metal "can" (housing). A can motor is generally direct current (DC)-only.
frame and mechanism of a locomotive or car; what the body shell sits on.
Chemically blackened: a metal part treated with chemicals to achieve a
painted or blackened look. Manufacturers use these processes on wheels,
trucks, and frames.
(see coupler) a toy train
connecting device that uses a solenoid to open and close it; the
electricity to operate the solenoid comes via a device beneath the
truck that slides along the track, activated when a button is pushed
and current is provided.
A way of controlling trains
by sending electronic messages through the rails. Each locomotive has a
decoder or receiver which only responds to the messages specifically
directed to it. Engines can be controlled independently anywhere on a
layout. Also known as Digital Command Control (DCC).
Cars which make up a train; also a list of those cars. Locomotive consist is a group of engines put together to pull a train.
are the devices by which cars and
locomotives are hooked together. The most widely used coupler is known
as a "knuckle" coupler. These generally replicate full-size couplers as
used on U.S. rolling stock. Not every knuckle couple available will
mate with every other, for a variety of reasons.
Two turnouts (a.k.a. switches) and a connecting track that allow a train to be diverted to a parallel track.
a manufacturing process in which
molten material is poured or injected into a metal mold. The molds are
always metal in this process, but the material cast may be metal or
plastic. There are other casting processes, such as sandcasting or
lost-wax casting, but these are less common.
An area on a layout where you must bend down and go under the benchwork to gain access to another part of the layout.
An end-of-train device (sometimes
called a FRED, or flashing rear-end device) that has replaced cabooses.
Along with a flashing light, many EOTs can transmit information on
brake-line pressure and speed to the locomotive.
the mechanism that provides the
reverse sequence on toy trains; there are two-position
(forward-reverse) models and three-position (forward-neutral-reverse)
a General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) six-axle streamlined passenger locomotive of the 1930s-'60s.
abbreviation for Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, manufacturer of prototype locomtives.
an EMD four-axle streamlined freight/passenger diesel of the 1940s and 1950s, made in several variants.
Factory prototype/factory sample:
Manufacturers produce these preproduction models for executives and
employees so they can work out plans to design and decorate the final
model. Most prototypes/samples were never intended to leave the
company, but over the years many have made their way into the hands of
collectors, giving them a glimpse of the production process. The terms
are most often used with regard to toy trains.
usually a train with faulty
paint or lettering (decoration), or a part (factory installed) that
varies from most examples. They are often worth more than a similar,
but correct, item.
Prefabricated flexible sections of
track used on a layout. It usually comes in straight, 3-foot-long
sections which can be bent as needed. Other kinds of track are
sectional (rigid pieces of straight and curved track that come with
train sets) and handlaid (built with handmade ties, rail, and spikes).
the base structure of a locomotive or car, without trucks, motors, etc.
Modeling that does not closely follow a real (prototype) railroad.
The distance between the inside of the
heads of track rails. Standard gauge on real railroads is 4'-8 1/2".
Narrow gauge means rails with a width less than standard gauge. For
example, On3 means O scale trains with 3 scale feet between the rails.
A long, flat, open car with short sides and ends for hauling items like iron, steel, and scrap.
refers to the level of the ground or the ground surface upon which track is laid.
a machine that is used to move
the point rails of a switch. It is built to a low profile, close to the
ground, hence its name. An upright machine that does the same job is
called a switch stand.
A scenery base made by dipping
paper towels in plaster or using plaster-impregnated gauze and laying
it over a light support structure like cardboard.
process of lettering using a
hot metal dye and a colored tape ribbon. Heat-stamping leaves a slight
impression on plastic or metal surfaces.
A rising curve which turns around an
axis like a corkscrew. Used on multilevel model railroad layouts to
allow trains to move from one level to another.
broadly speaking, hi-rail refers to
modeling prototype railroading as accurately as possible using toy
trains on a layout with realistic scenery.
A pressed paperboard often used for roadbed on a model or toy train layout.
An open-top car for hauling items
that don't need protection, such as coal and gravel. Unloaded through
doors in funnel-like bins in bottom of car. Covered hoppers have roofs
and carry grain and other items that need protection from weather.
Shipments that are carried by more than one mode of transportation, mainly containers and piggyback trailers.
Taking one or more model railroad
kits (often structure kits) and changing the construction process or
combining parts to make a unique model.
toy trains manufactured since
1970 that use No. 1 gauge track. The trains themselves are scaled (if
at all) to different ratios, including 1:22.5 (G scale, originated by
LGB and also used by Bachmann).
Live steam locomotives:
model trains that run
on real steam. Their boilers contain water that is heated by a fire.
The cylinders function in much the same way as a full-size locomotive's.
Lionel's patented toy train system, dating from 1949, for increasing locomotive traction by way of magnetized axles.
a post-1947 Lionel toy train
coupler that uses either a movable metal plate or a metal shaft to open
the coupler. A magnetic coupler requires an electromagnet to operate.
is the primary track that defines
the railway and which connects the railway's most important
destinations. It does not include spurs, branch lines, yards, sidings,
or passing tracks.
A section of a layout built following
a standard pattern or dimensions. Each module can be connected
interchangeably with any other module built to the same standards.
Ntrak is an organization that has developed standards for N scale
Maintenance-of-way equipment. Used by a railroad to keep track and roadbed in good condition.
Running trains on a model railroad layout in a way that simulates real railroad activity.
a track that parallels the
main line and joins it at both ends. It is usually long enough that an
entire train can pull into it so that another may pass in the opposite
a type of track plan whereby
the train begins its journey at a dead end and ends it at another. The
track does not form a continuous loop, nor are there turning or reverse
loops at the ends.
can refer to an entire switch or
turnout or to the actual rails that move within a switch to change the
direction of the train, also called point rails.
the device that holds rail ends
together and in alignment. Commercial, sectional track comes with
slide-on joiners. Clamp-on joiners are also available.
A refrigerator car. Similar in appearance to a boxcar but uses ice or mechanical cooling equipment.
a newly manufactured model train
that's closely patterned in style, color, and materials after an older
train that is long since out of production.
Foundation of built-up earth under tracks.
Freight and passenger cars.
Walkway along roof or along sides of tank cars.
The size of things on a model railroad
relative to things on a real railroad. For example, in the most popular
scale, HO, models are 1/87th full size. Other popular scales are Z
(1/220), n (1/160), S (1/64), and O (1/48).
Making a model from raw materials and parts, not using kits.
in toy train terminology, almost a true scale model.
Short for polystyrene, a versatile
plastic commonly used for modeling. Comes in sheets, blocks, and rods
of many different thicknesses and sizes.
Originally, this term came from a
reference to the tin-plated steel used to construct toy train track and
cars. People outside the toy train hobby often use this term to refer
to nearly all aspects of toy trains, particularly the metal models made
before World War II.
City and suburban trolley lines; equipment run by electricity.
a train sold as such by its manufacturer, with or without track and transformer.
strictly speaking, an electrical
device for raising or lowering AC voltage, but in toy train parlance,
and AC power pack for controlling train speed and direction.
Assembly holding a group of two or more wheelsets together beneath a car.
A piece of track that allows a train
to go from one track to another. Called a switch on a real railroad.
Referred to by number. For example, a no. 6 turnout spreads one unit
for each six units of travel measured from the frog (the point at which
two rails join to form a V).
an open-frame motor that has a wire-wound armature and a wire-wound field coil in series, allowing it to operate on AC or DC.
slightly different production
versions of the same numbered set, locomotive, or piece of toy train
rolling stock. Often, the differences are slight and may involve subtle
changes in color, lettering, or detailing.
a pair of wheels connected by an axle.
Making shiny new models look more realistic by dirtying them up with chalk or paint.
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Model railroader questions
Track and roadbed
Control and electrical
Locomotives and rolling stock
Model railroader questions
1. Why are some scales written with a lower case n, as in HOn3?
Consider it a handy abbreviation that describes not only the modeling
scale but also the track gauge used for a particular model pike. The
"n" signals that it is narrow gauge -- in this case, 3 feet. (Standard
gauge track has rails 4'8-1/2" apart.) Other variations include Gn3,
On3, HOn2-1/2, and Nn3.
2. Which is better, HO or N scale?
scale offers advantages that the other can't match, and for a
particular modeler, this makes all the difference in the world. HO is
the most popular and thus has the broadest availability of rolling
stock, building kits, and other scale materials needed to complete a
scene. Most modelers simply like its middle-of-the-road size. But it's
difficult to run 50-car trains on even medium-sized HO layouts. In N
scale, size does matter, especially to those who simply don't have much
space for a layout. And product availability hasn't been an issue in
more than a decade as the scale continues to expand. But N scale is not
for the vision impaired or for those who enjoy some "heft" in their
trains. Simply put, it's a matter of choice, not superiority.
3. What is the NMRA?
or National Model Railroad Association, is an organization devoted to
the development, promotion, and enjoyment of the hobby. It establishes
and publishes standards and recommended practices used by the hobby
industry so, for example, cars and locomotives produced by different
manufacturers are compatible with one another. There are NMRA
conventions and meetings held at the national, regional, and local
4. How do you figure grades, and how steep can they be?
Expressed as a percentage, grades indicate how steeply tracks climb. A
2 percent grade means a rise of two units for every 100 units of travel
-- or simply a rise of 2 inches for 100 inches. Even at that seemingly
minuscule rise, a locomotive loses roughly half its pulling power. Each
additional percent increase reduces the pulling power of a locomotive
consist pulling power by half again. The key to determining how steep
to make a grade is to decide how many cars you plan to pull and what's
practical in the available space. Realistically, anything greater than
5 percent is asking too much from your models.
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Track and roadbed
1. What is meant by a no. 4 turnout?
In a no.
4 turnout, the diverging rails are one unit apart when measured four
units past the point of the frog. Thus, for every four foot feet of
travel past the frog, the rails are one foot further apart, as long as
the track stays straight. A no. 4 is a pretty sharp turnout, and no. 6
and no. 8 turnouts, while longer, are more realistic and reliable for
2. What is meant by "code," as in code 40 track?
"code" is simply the rail's height in thousandths of an inch, so code
40 rail is .040 inches high, regardless of the modeling scale it's used
in. The term is not used in prototype railroading, where rail size is
typically expressed by to by pounds per yard instead of height.
3. What is Homasote, and why do so many layout builders use it?
is a pressed paper product made by the Homasote Corp. It's recycled
newsprint and comes in 4 x 8-foot sheets that are a half-inch thick.
It's usually used as wall-insulating material. Homasote's main
advantage is that its density allows it to hold spikes well, yet it's
soft enough that they can be driven in with a pair of needlenose
pliers. This is a particularly attractive feature for those who handlay
Homasote has its disadvantages: It has poor dimensional stability and
tends to expand when exposed to high humidity. This problem can be
addressed by sealing the product with paint or shellac. It's also
difficult to cut Homasote without generating a lot of dust and dulling
saw blades. One solution is to use a knife-type blade (no teeth) in a
saber saw. To find a dealer in your area, call the Homasote Corp. at
Other roadbed options are Vinylbed (available from Hobby Innovations,
P.O. Box , Mountain City, TN 37683) and cork, available in strips from
4. How do you prevent derailments?
trackwork, faulty wheels, sharp curves, and unrealistically high speeds
are often the culprits. Checking whether the wheels and track are in
gauge (using a National Model Railroad Association standards gauge) is
a logical first step if a particular car or section of track seems to
be at the center of recurring derailments.
Well-laid track is important. The rail joints should be smooth from the
time you first lay the track. Avoid S-curves; trains weren't meant to
serpentine. A straight section between two divergent curves will do
wonders. More advanced trackwork methods include superelevating curves,
installing longer turnouts (no. 6 and greater), and reducing the number
of rail joints through the use of flextrack.
The trucks on your rolling stock should always swivel freely. Any
build-up of grime or dirt on wheels should be removed before it causes
the car to wobble.
Speed and sharp curves don't go well together. Real trains would never
be subjected to the curves we use on model railroads, and few freight
trains travel faster than an automobile on the freeway. So a model
locomotive traveling 100 scale miles per hour on a sharp curve can
5. How do you keep track clean?
Dirt on track
is caused by a mix of dust, oil, and oxidation. Obviously a dry,
dust-free environment is the best defense, and all but impossible. A
well-vacuumed carpet, a clean furnace filter and air conditioning help,
but dust is an ever-present guest. However, keeping the grease and oil
from the gears of your working locomotives from reaching the track is
achievable. Never overlubricate your locomotive. The excess will only
migrate downward over time. Once the track is noticeably dirty, clean
the railheads with an abrasive block, liquid track cleaner on a
lint-free cloth, or a track-cleaning car. Excessively dirty wheels can
make the track dirty in short order.
6. Do you have to solder track?
track has two advantages: better electrical conductivity and reinforced
rail joints that stand up to stresses such as wood expansion, layout
moving, and rail shifting. The key to good soldering is to start with a
clean surface, use a non-acid core solder and a liquid resin flux, and
use a hot iron to avoid melting the plastic ties. Don't overdo it; a
little solder at the joint is all you need.
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Control and electrical
1. How big of a power pack do I need?
these handy rules when purchasing a pack: Amperes determine the amount
of power. Voltage determines speed. Electrical rating (measured in
voltamps, VA, meaning volts x amps) is what matters. Any pack will work
on a big layout if enough feeder wires are attached to reduce
electrical resistance and the resulting voltage drop that slows trains
down as they get farther from the power source.
A more powerful pack will be able to run more locomotives. If the
amperes drawn exceed the pack's capacity, the pack begins to overheat.
The pack that comes with a starter train set (rated as low as 7
volt-amps, or just 0.7 amps delivered at 10 volts) will run one (maybe
two) locomotives at the same time. A 14 VA pack will easily power three
or four locomotives. Don't throw away that tiny starter pack in train
sets. It comes in handy for powering accessories separate from your
main power source, freeing the bigger pack to run just locomotives.
2. How do you wire a reverse loop?
method is to insulate the reverse loop at both ends, run separate
feeder wires from the power pack to the loop, and install a
double-pole, double-throw (DPDT) toggle switch between the power pack
and the non-loop feeder wires. While the train is in the reverse loop,
you would throw the DPDT switch to reverse the polarity on the
remaining track sections, allowing the train to leave the loop with
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Locomotives and rolling stock
1. What should I look for in buying an engine? Are more expensive engines better?
should consider these elements: realism, running capabilities, and
level of detail. Beyond that, you'd use the same considerations as
deciding whether to buy a $1,000, a $50, or a $5 watch. Obviously,
there should be more inherent quality and value in an expensive
locomotive, but the mid-priced version is often an attractive and
well-equipped alternative. It's the inexplicably cheap one that
Manufacturers do make models of varying qualities. Atlas, Kato, and
Life-Like (Proto 2000) excel in making fine plastic diesel locomotives
with a high level of detail and excellent running characteristics.
Expect to pay $75 or more for those models. Athearn, Bachmann
(Spectrum), Con-Cor, and Walthers cover the middle ground with engines
priced from $30 to $70. Steam locomotives, with their array of moving
valve gear and rods, cost more to produce than the equivalent-quality
2. Should I oil my trains?
Freight and passenger cars, probably not. In model equipment, oil's
primary purpose is to reduce wear and tear on moving parts,
particularly those subjected to intense friction. Locomotives will
eventually break without proper lubrication applied to motor bearings
and gears due to the constant stress they are under to transmit power.
(It's also important to use the right lubricants on those parts for
Freight and passenger cars have friction points, but under far less
stress. Today's models reduce friction by using acetal plastic
sideframes and needlepoint axles. Oiling is unnecessary; once the oil
becomes dirty and breaks down, it will actually increase friction.
3. What is a talgo truck?
It's a freight or
passenger car truck with the coupler mounted on the truck frame instead
of on the carbody itself. Truck-mounted couplers are common on train
set rolling stock. Advanced modelers often modify or replace talgo
trucks in favor of using body-mounted couplers for realism and
4. Should I replace my horn-hook couplers with knuckle couplers?
replace their horn-hook (HO) or Rapido-style (N) couplers for two
reasons: realistic appearance and operation. Magnetic knuckle couplers
are made by Accurail, Bachmann, InterMountain, Kadee, McHenry, and
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1. What is Hydrocal?
A trademark product of U.
S. Gypsum (USG Corp.), Hydrocal plaster's biggest advantage is its
strength. Paper towels dipped in a soupy mix of Hydrocal and applied to
a structure of balled paper or interwoven cardboard strips make a
remarkably strong scenery shell. Hydrocal also takes detail very well
when cast in rubber rock molds. Its drawback is that it is more
difficult to carve and detail, unlike softer molding plaster that
modelers usually prefer as the top coat on plaster scenery.
2. What is ground foam?
It's just what it
sounds like: ground up pieces of foam dyed to represent grass, weeds,
soil, shrubbery, and tree foliage. Woodland Scenics and AMSI are
leaders in the field, but other manufacturers offer similar products.
The material can be applied with diluted matte medium or white glue; it
can also be applied directly to wet paint.
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1. What's the difference between toy train operating and model railroading?
Model railroading refers to the entire hobby, one that includes both
small-scale model trains and toy trains. Some participants prefer
toy-like replicas of real trains or even fanciful representations
because they look neat, feature many different colors, and bring back
memories of their youth or when railroads helped build the United
The majority of the people involved with the toy train hobby consider
themselves both collectors and operators. Collectors cherish their
vintage and recent toy trains as examples of innovative design and
manufacture. They usually display their trains on shelves or in
showcases and may study the features to learn more about their
production and value.
Collectors may be generalists, who collect any type of train that suits
their fancy. Most likely, though, they specialize and search for only
those trains made by a particular company or during a certain era. Some
hobbyists, recognizing the value of their trains, sell to other
collectors and even speculate on the potential investment value of
Operators regularly take their trains out for a spin around a layout of
track, often with scenery. Most hobbyists build their own layouts,
though a few have layouts constructed for them, in basements, garages,
or spare rooms in their homes.
2. Does operating toy trains involve advanced carpentry or electrical skills?
You don't have to be a highly skilled craftsman to enjoy toy trains. In
fact, one of the benefits of the hobby is that you can learn about
these disciplines at any level you choose. In the course of pursuing
the hobby, many people learn about electricity, woodworking, and
working with plaster and art materials. Some may also learn about the
operation and significance of real railroads throughout American
Best of all, participating in the hobby enables families to spend more
time together. Spouses and children contribute time and talents to
searching for a collectible or building a layout. That's why model
railroading is such a wonderful hobby.
3. What is the difference between gauge and scale?
Gauge refers to the distance between the inside edges of the running,
or outside, rails on a piece of track. The most popular gauge of track
in the toy train hobby is O (pronounced "oh"), which measures 1.25
inches between the running rails.
Scale refers to the ratio of a miniature train's measurements compared
to the dimensions of a full-sized, or prototype, train. For example, an
O scale train has a 1:48 proportion to the real thing, meaning that 1
inch on the surface of the model equals 48 inches on the surface of the
Toy train manufacturers generally have not made trains that are
completely to scale because doing so might increase production costs
and leave the trains unable to negotiate the sharp curves on typical
layouts. Increasingly, however, firms are making trains that deserve to
be called scale models.
4. How do I determine the value of my trains?
First, you need to identify your trains. That means learning what their
gauge is (measure the distance between its wheels), which company made
them, and what number was assigned to them (look for names and numbers
on the sides and bottom of models).
Second, you have to assess the condition of your trains. The Train
Collectors Association has established several grades to guide you.
(From highest to lowest):
brand new, often in its original, unopened packaging with all original paperwork included.
free of any blemishes, nicks, or
scratches with original condition throughout. Boxes in pristine
condition often are sold with the item.
exceptionally clean with minute scratches or nicks but no dents or rust.
clean, with a few noticeable scratches, but otherwise free of dents, rust, and warping.
quite a few scratches with some small dents and dirty spots.
well-scratched, chipped, dented, rusted, or warped.
particularly beat-up; these items often are used for parts or restorations.
Having identified your train and evaluated its condition, you can
ascertain its value in several ways. First, check with hobby shops that
deal with toy trains. The owner or a collector may have ideas. Second,
attend swap meets and train shows and, while there, ask some of the
dealers about your trains. Third, consult price guides, which can be
purchased at hobby shops and from publishers.
Once you have ideas on what your trains are worth, you can decide
whether to keep or sell them. If you decide to sell or a retailer
expresses interest in buying your trains, remember that you're selling
at wholesale. You should expect to receive about 50 percent of the
value listed in price guides because retailers expect to make some
profit on the transaction when reselling your trains.
5. What are the best places to find toy trains?
Believe it or not, there are still trains waiting to be discovered.
Considering that large numbers of American households probably had a
toy train at one time, it stands to reason that many are still out
there gathering dust in attics or basements. The key is finding them.
There are several places to look.
One of the best places for a beginner to get a feel for collecting toy
trains is to visit a local hobby shop or attend a swap meet or train
show. Dealers set up tables on which they place trains they want to
sell. This is an excellent way to see merchandise before you buy. Go
with an experienced collector on your first visit and, if you decide to
buy something, be prepared to haggle over price.
A second way to acquire trains is through mail order. Select what you
want from a catalog or advertisement, mail in your payment, and receive
the train you want. But be careful. Start by asking your friends in the
hobby about their mail-order experiences. Buy from mail-order sellers
familiar to you or having a good reputation. Above all, make sure the
firm has a return policy in case you're not satisfied with your
Auctions are a third place to purchase trains. Bidding is an acquired
technique, however, so study it and ask an experienced toy train
auction-attending friend to go with you. A pocket price guide also is
handy to bring so you don't overspend for an item.
A fourth source for trains is estate sales and garage sales at private
homes. Many times trains found here are in better condition than those
found elsewhere. Look under "Electric Trains" or "Miscellaneous - For
Sale" in the classified advertising listings in your local newspaper.
Bargains may be less common in these venues, however, because
non-hobbyists tend to think their trains are worth their weight in gold.
6. How much does it cost to get started?
of the best ways to get started in toy trains is to purchase a set that
you and your family can enjoy together, particularly around the winter
holidays. A set has everything you need to operate trains, including a
locomotive, cars, track, and a transformer to control speed and
direction. Many O gauge sets can be found for $100 to $400. If that's
too steep, consider purchasing a used set from a local hobby shop.
Check the Yellow Pages or the dealer directory in the back of an issue
of Classic Toy Trains
for hobby shops near you.
7. What's the difference between toy train and hi-rail layouts?
Toy train layouts are those that are not necessarily meant to look
realistic. They have a playful, toy-like appearance. Often these
layouts showcase colorful trains, accessories, and vehicles placed on
indoor/outdoor carpeting. Trains for different gauges may be operated
on adjacent track systems. The result is an exciting mix of trains
where operation is the focus.
Hi-rail layouts are similar to scale model railroads in that realism is
the goal. Trains, structures, scenery, and figures are all placed,
painted, and detailed to look real. However, when it comes to track,
hi-rail layouts still use three-rail (or two-rail, in the case of S
8. Who have been the major manufacturers of toy trains, past and present?
Everyone has heard of Lionel, the giant of the industry. Joshua Lionel
Cowen launched the firm in 1900, later developing Standard gauge (2
1/4-inch gauge) and helping to popularize O gauge. Lionel became the
pre-eminent toy train manufacturer during the late 1940s and '50s. In
1969, General Mills secured the rights to manufacture Lionel trains
under the names Model Products Corp. and Fundimensions. Richard Kughn
acquired those rights in 1986 and formed Lionel Trains Inc. He, in
turn, sold control in 1995 to Wellspring Associates, an investment firm
that uses the name Lionel Corp.
Also well-known is American Flyer. Founded in 1907, the American Flyer
Manufacturing Co. made windup and electric Wide gauge (the competitor
to Lionel's Standard gauge) trains. The A. C. Gilbert Co. bought the
firm in 1937 and offered O and HO trains. After World War II, Gilbert
switched from O to S gauge. Lionel purchased the rights to produce
American Flyer trains after Gilbert went out of business in 1966 and
introduces a few Flyer products each year.
Marx offered affordable trains for the masses since the time its
founder, Louis Marx, began making inexpensive windup and electric
trains in the early 1930s. Consumers looking to purchase inexpensive
yet attractive metal or plastic toy trains kept Marx strong well into
the 1960s. Although the original company went out of business in 1975,
a new Marx Trains Inc. makes Marx trains under license.
Before Lionel entered the scene, Ives Corp. dominated the toy train
manufacturing in America. Founded in 1868, this toy firm developed a
mechanical clockwork locomotive that gave its trains the edge of
self-propelled motion. Around 1900, in response to competition from
European toy makers, Ives produced colorful electric locomotives with
the first automatic reversing units. Heightened competition from Lionel
and American Flyer led to Ives declaring bankruptcy in 1928.
Among current toy train manufacturers, a few stand out. MTH Electric
Trains makes detailed O gauge trains and accessories and in recent
years has built three extensive product lines (Premier, RailKing, and
Tinplate Traditions) that compete directly with Lionel.
K-Line also offers affordable O gauge trains, track, and accessories.
The firm has recently upgraded its product line with scale-detailed
diesel locomotives and freight cars, die-cast metal rolling stock, and
semi-scale, die-cast metal steam locomotives.
Three other key O gauge manufacturers are Atlas O (realistic track,
rolling stock, and building kits, plus diesel and electric
locomotives), Weaver/Quality Craft Models (scale-like brass steam
locomotives, plastic diesels, and freight and passenger cars), and
Williams (locomotives and all types of rolling stock).
Two firms supply much of the new S gauge equipment. American Models
offers a variety of steam, diesel, and electric locomotives, as well as
freight cars, and passenger cars. S Helper Service has become a major
manufacturer of train sets, diesels, and freight cars.
9. What kind of tools will I need?
collecting trains, no tools are really needed, although a few
screwdrivers and needle nose pliers are useful for securing parts.
Anyone planning to build a layout should obtain clamps, drill, electric
saber saw, hacksaw, hammer, hot glue gun, measuring tape, motor tool,
pin vise, safety goggles, soldering iron, utility knife, and wire
10. What types of track are there?
obvious size differences between O and S gauge toy trains, O gauge
track comes in a variety of measurements that allow hobbyists to create
circles of track with different diameters and so operate trains of
varying lengths and sizes.
O-27 track means you can build a circle of track with a 27-inch
diameter. Shorter locomotives with a few cars run best on this track.
O-31, O-42, and O-54 track can be used on most average-sized layouts,
while O-72 track creates the largest curves for longer locomotives and
Operators seeking realistic track can select from GarGraves (available
in rigid sectional or "flexible" versions), the 21st Century Track
system by Atlas O, and the Rite-Trax system from MTH (a modular system
with pre-formed plastic roadbed).
11. How do I get started operating my toy trains?
Many hobbyists operate their trains on a layout. This is, at its most
basic level, a piece of plywood to which track is screwed. Simply
placing track on carpeting, with its uneven terrain and fuzz, will
wreak havoc with wheels and engines.
Most layouts are more elaborate than just a piece of plywood. It's from
that base that hobbyists build something larger, often with varying
elevations, scenery, accessories, and structures. Then they discover
just how enjoyable operating toy trains can be.
12. How can a hobby shop help me pursue the hobby?
A hobby shop is an invaluable resource to toy train hobbyists. Here you
can find all the newly manufactured toy train merchandise, from
locomotives and rolling stock to accessories, structures, and
scenery-making materials for a layout. Also available are hobby-related
books and magazines that make the hobby more enjoyable and practical.
In addition, many hobby shops sell vintage trains that they've
purchased from other collectors. These facilities usually repair old
and new models. The helpful, knowledgeable people on the staff should
be able to solve any problem with your trains.
13. I don't have a lot of room in my house. How can I be in the hobby?
Lack of space shouldn't prevent you from enjoying toy trains - just
start small in your collecting or operating goals. Find a few trains
you like and display them on shelves. Then build a 3 by 6-foot or 4 by
8-foot layout. Or join a toy train modular club, which allows members
to build layouts in small sections that fit together to make a larger
It's best to start small and work your way up to larger layouts.
Eventually you may find, however, that your passion for trains will
lead you to convert part of your basement, garage, or attic into a room
to display your collection or layout. Even better, get your family
interested in the hobby. They'll discover why toy trains are a big part
of what we consider the world's greatest hobby!
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1. What are large scale trains?
Scale" is a term that denotes trains that are larger than 0 scale
(1:48) but smaller than the trains that are large enough to ride on.
Large-scale trains generally run on gauge 0, gauge 1, or gauge 3 track.
2. Do you leave them outdoors all the time?
Most people bring their trains indoors when they are not running, even
though most brands can withstand prolonged exposure to the elements.
Some people have built tracks that run indoors through the walls of
their houses or into an outdoor shed or storage area. However, the rest
of the infrastructure-track, bridges, buildings-stay out year round.
3. Can a garden railway be built in areas that receive snow?
Certainly. A garden railway faces all the same natural hazards as a
full-size railroad, including rain, sleet, snow, and gloom of night.
That's all part of the fun. People in the northern climes often have
working snowplows to clear their lines. These can take the form of a
simple wedge plow mounted to a locomotive's pilot or to a gondola car
pushed ahead of the engine, to working rotary plows that will toss the
snow 8' or more to one side.
Snow, of course, is one of those things you can't scale down. A
moderate 6" snow scales out to 12' in 1:24 scale. Keep this in mind
when expecting your plow to clear the track. Also, light, powdery snow
is much easier to clear away than the wet, heavy stuff.
Sometimes there's nothing to do but get out a shovel and scrape it off
yourself if you want to run trains. Another hazard is ice on the track.
This is one that is difficult to overcome, and some days all you can do
is go back indoors and finish that project you started.
4. Won't I get electrocuted if I run electricity outdoors?
No. Our trains, like those in the smaller scales, run on low-voltage
DC, usually 18-24V. Thus, it is perfectly safe to run your trains
outdoors, even in the rain or snow.
However, the power pack should be kept indoors at all times and should
be connected to the mains via a ground-fault circuit interrupter
(GFCI), which is available at your hardware store. That way, should
something malfunction within the powerpack (which is unlikely), the
breaker in the GFCI will trip and all will be well.
5. What's the best way to lay the track?
are many, many ways to lay track outdoors, none of them right or wrong.
The following method is similar to that of full-size railroads.
Dig a trench 2"-3" deep along the line where you want your track to go.
Fill the trench up to the level of the bottom of the ties with crusher
fines, decomposed granite, or some other crushed rock. Do NOT use pea
gravel or squeegee. This is river rock, and the stones are round. They
will roll against each other and against the track, and are unable to
securely hold the track in position. Crushed rock has "teeth" and, when
tamped, will lock against itself and the track.
Tamp the ballast with a stick or a brick to seat it and level it. Place
the track in position, level it up, and fill the trench with more
ballast. The top of the ties should be even with the top of the trench.
Tamp the ballast around the ties until it is firm. Do this with a
stick, and take your time. It will take a while to properly ballast and
tamp, but this is time well spent.
Track will change with the seasons. It will contract in the winter and
expand in the summer. The ballast method allows the track to move
freely, eliminating the buckling rails and broken ties of track rigidly
fixed to a wooden or concrete base. Also, if you live in the frost
belt, frost heave will move the track around, perhaps necessitating a
once-a-year realignment. Ballasted track makes this an easy operation.
6. How do I keep the track clean?
cleaning of the track is probably the biggest thing that drives people
away from track power. However, track-powered railroads are probably
still the most common. Mechanical cleaners (as opposed to solvents) are
still the most effective, unless your track is coated with oil, say
from a live steam locomotive.
Start out by brushing any dirt, sand, or debris from the track with a
small broom. The track can then be cleaned. A drywall sander, which
amounts to sandpaper on a stick, is a popular way of cleaning the
track, since it allows you to stand up. Scotch-brite pads from 3M also
Proprietary track cleaners, like Joe Black's sanding pad in a rolling
chassis, also work well. These must be pushed around by hand or by a
battery-powered engine until the track is clean enough to run a
7. What's the best kind of rail to use?
for garden railroads is currently available in aluminum, steel, brass,
nickel silver, and stainless steel. Each material has its advantages
and disadvantages. There is no easy answer, because of the many
interests of large-scale hobbyists and the fact that there are many
excellent products available. Talk with your local hobby shop or make
connections through garden-railway societies or modular railway groups
in your area to find hobbyists who are willing to share their
experiences. There are many bulletin-board and chat groups on the
Internet where you can ask questions. Conventions and hobby shows also
provide resources for those in need of information.
8. I am interested in building a garden railroad with a live-steam engine. Where can I get a kit for one or information on them?
Kits are offered by Roundhouse Engineering of England and by Aster
of Japan. Aster is available in the United States through Hyde-Out
Mountain. You can visit a local hobby shop to see if they carry any of
these kits, or go to the online hobby shop assistance directory
. I would also suggest a subscription to Steam in the Garden
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