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Frequently Asked Questions


Dictionary of terms
Accessory: 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.

Airbrush: 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.

Benchwork: A frame that is the foundation of a model railroad or toy train layout. L girder and open-grid are two popular types.

Block: an electrically insulated zone of track.

Body shell: the housing of a locomotive or car that covers the interior workings. Sometimes referred to as the "cab"

CA: Short for cyanoacrylate adhesive, also known as super glue. A high-strength adhesive that can be used on metal and styrene plastic.

Cab control: 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 block.

Can motor: a permanent magnet motor enclosed in a metal "can" (housing). A can motor is generally direct current (DC)-only.

Chassis: 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.

Coil coupler: (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.

Command control: 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).

Consist: 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.

Couplers: 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.

Crossover: Two turnouts (a.k.a. switches) and a connecting track that allow a train to be diverted to a parallel track.

Die-cast: 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.

Duckunder: An area on a layout where you must bend down and go under the benchwork to gain access to another part of the layout.

EOT device: 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.

E-unit: the mechanism that provides the reverse sequence on toy trains; there are two-position (forward-reverse) models and three-position (forward-neutral-reverse) models.

E unit: a General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) six-axle streamlined passenger locomotive of the 1930s-'60s.

EMD: abbreviation for Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, manufacturer of prototype locomtives.

F unit: 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.

Factory error: 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.

Flextrack: 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).

Frame: the base structure of a locomotive or car, without trucks, motors, etc.

Free-lance: Modeling that does not closely follow a real (prototype) railroad.

Gauge: 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.

Gondola: A long, flat, open car with short sides and ends for hauling items like iron, steel, and scrap.

Grade: refers to the level of the ground or the ground surface upon which track is laid.

Ground throw: 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.

Hardshell: 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.

Heat-stamping: process of lettering using a hot metal dye and a colored tape ribbon. Heat-stamping leaves a slight impression on plastic or metal surfaces.

Helix: 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.

Hi-rail: broadly speaking, hi-rail refers to modeling prototype railroading as accurately as possible using toy trains on a layout with realistic scenery.

Homasote: A pressed paperboard often used for roadbed on a model or toy train layout.

Hopper car: 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.

Intermodal: Shipments that are carried by more than one mode of transportation, mainly containers and piggyback trailers.

Kitbashing: Taking one or more model railroad kits (often structure kits) and changing the construction process or combining parts to make a unique model.

Large scale: 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.

Magne-Traction: Lionel's patented toy train system, dating from 1949, for increasing locomotive traction by way of magnetized axles.

Magnetic coupler: 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.

Main line: 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.

Module: 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 modules.

MOW: Maintenance-of-way equipment. Used by a railroad to keep track and roadbed in good condition.

Operation: Running trains on a model railroad layout in a way that simulates real railroad activity.

Passing siding: 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 direction.

Point-to-point: 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.

Points: 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.

Rail joiner: the device that holds rail ends together and in alignment. Commercial, sectional track comes with slide-on joiners. Clamp-on joiners are also available.

Reefer: A refrigerator car. Similar in appearance to a boxcar but uses ice or mechanical cooling equipment.

Reproduction: 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.

Roadbed: Foundation of built-up earth under tracks.

Rolling stock: Freight and passenger cars.

Running board: Walkway along roof or along sides of tank cars.

Scale: 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).

Scratchbuilding: Making a model from raw materials and parts, not using kits.

Semi-scale: in toy train terminology, almost a true scale model.

Styrene: Short for polystyrene, a versatile plastic commonly used for modeling. Comes in sheets, blocks, and rods of many different thicknesses and sizes.

Tinplate: 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.

Traction: City and suburban trolley lines; equipment run by electricity.

Train set: a train sold as such by its manufacturer, with or without track and transformer.

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.

Truck: Assembly holding a group of two or more wheelsets together beneath a car.

Turnout: 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).

Universal motor: 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.

Variations: 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.

Wheelset: a pair of wheels connected by an axle.

Weathering: Making shiny new models look more realistic by dirtying them up with chalk or paint.

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Model railroader questions
General questions
Track and roadbed
Control and electrical
Locomotives and rolling stock
Scenery

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? Both. Each 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? 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 levels.

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 model operations.

2. What is meant by "code," as in code 40 track? The "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? Homasote 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 track.

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 800-257-9491.

Other roadbed options are Vinylbed (available from Hobby Innovations, P.O. Box , Mountain City, TN 37683) and cork, available in strips from several suppliers.

4. How do you prevent derailments? Poor 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 easily derail.

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? Soldering 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? Remember 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? The common 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 ease.

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Locomotives and rolling stock

1. What should I look for in buying an engine? Are more expensive engines better? Modelers 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 warrants caution.

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 diesel.

2. Should I oil my trains? Locomotives, yes. 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 maximum performance.)

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 reliability.

4. Should I replace my horn-hook couplers with knuckle couplers? Modelers 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 Micro-Trains.

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Scenery

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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Toy train questions
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 States.
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 their collection.
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 society.
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 prototype train.
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):
Mint: brand new, often in its original, unopened packaging with all original paperwork included.

Like new: free of any blemishes, nicks, or scratches with original condition throughout. Boxes in pristine condition often are sold with the item.

Excellent: exceptionally clean with minute scratches or nicks but no dents or rust.

Very good: clean, with a few noticeable scratches, but otherwise free of dents, rust, and warping.

Good: quite a few scratches with some small dents and dirty spots.

Fair: well-scratched, chipped, dented, rusted, or warped.

Poor: 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 purchase.
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? One 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 gauge).

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? For 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 strippers.

10. What types of track are there? Besides the 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 trains.
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 layout.
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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Garden railway questions
1. What are large scale trains? "Large 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? There 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? Constant 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 work well.

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 track-powered locomotive.

7. What's the best kind of rail to use? Rail 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 magazine.

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