Tag Archives: model train

The Value of Attending Model Train Shows

IMG_0555The weather has been very warm for December, making it difficult to commit to spending hours at a time in the basement with my trains.   One Saturday morning, however, as I was walking by a table in my living room, i spotted the corner of a bright orange flyer peeking out from under a stack of books. I knew what it was because I put it there. Still, I felt compelled to pick up the paper and glance at it.

The model train show it advertised had started an hour ago. Instead of being infused with excitement, I found myself balking at the idea of attending.  Was it bad timing to attend a train show right before Christmas?  I couldn’t classify it as going Christmas shopping, since I was the only one in my immediate family bound to model trains. What to do?

The next thing I knew I was standing in line, waiting to plunk down five dollars for the privilege of taking in the R.I.T. Model Train Show. Judging from the number of cars filling the parking lot and crowds of people milling around, I’d have to say the model train hobby appears to be alive and well. Once inside the arena, my heart stirred as I observed fathers and mothers escorting their young children around the venue. This brought back fond memories of interacting with my own kids, who have now grown into men.  I found it invigorating to mill about with so many fellow enthusiasts.

IMG_0556Because I was alone, I didn’t feel pressured to linger at places deemed not relevant to my particular interest. Come to think of it, what was my stated interest for being here? I didn’t have an immediate need or a grocery list to shop from.  I decided to look for one good bargain.  Isn’t that what we are supposed to say when we are out shopping for no apparent reason?

While in the process of looking for the ultimate bargain, I took some time to watch trains passing by me on the F.C.T.T. HiRailers layout. As you can see by my photos, it was inspiring to look at.

Eventually, I did find my bargain. I encountered a guy who was getting out of the hobby altogether. His wife was positioned beside him, apparently offering a strong arm of encouragement. My eyes were drawn to his table because it featured one of kind, O-gauge buildings. The structures he built were of high quality, and his prices were reasonable. I settled on a meat-processing factory, determined to give it a home on my layout.  I tried to negotiate the price down but he wouldn’t budge (despite his wife jabbing him in the ribs).  We both knew his price was a bargain. IMG_0566

It is difficult to explain to people the inspiration that comes from placing a building, such as my newly purchased factory, on the bare plywood surface of my train layout. There is no apparent connection between the track and the building yet. However, when the time comes, livestock pens and scenery will surround the meat factory. A flurry of cattle and refrigerator railcars will visit the site. Imagined life, spurred on by a hint of realism is what I find compelling about model railroading.

Trains and the Beginning of Operations

IMG_0546From previous posts you know that I’ve looked at the available space in my basement, selected the gauge (size) of trains I’m going to model and constructed bench work, which serves as the foundation for everything. You also know I spent a considerable amount of time creating a track plan that would permit me to run trains in a loop for visitors, yet still be challenging enough to operate trains like a real railroad. Giving life to these ideas, pretty much consumed my first year of construction. Last year (year two) I finished laying down the lower level of track except for the rail yard, which I plan to finish next year (year four).  This year (year three) my goal is to build the upper level bench work and then lay the upper level track.

Let me stop at this point and explain a little more about how I designed my track plan and the history I created to explain the existence of my railroad. I used a computer software program called, AnyRail to design my track plan. I chose this program because it has a vast library of the commercially available track pieces in all the popular gauges, and it looked easy to use. A free trial version of this track planning software is available online, just Google AnyRail, and you should be able to find it.

Blueprint of the lower level of track using AnyRail

Blueprint of the lower level of track using AnyRail

Once I installed Anyrail, I selected the Atlas, three-rail, O-gauge track library and began experimenting with different designs. When I was finished, AnyRail allowed me to print out a bill of materials of the track sections and switches I needed to purchase. I was also able to print the blueprint in whatever size I wanted.

As I was creating my track plan I also began fabricating a history and purpose for my railroad. Because I chose a larger scale of trains and had a medium space to build it in, creating a replica of an actual railroad was out of the question.   After reading a number of magazine articles on operating model railroads, I chose to model a small section, also called a division, of a famous railroad. I already owned a few locomotives with the “Pennsylvania Railroad” road name, so the P.R.R. became the starting point of my history.

Years ago I fell in love with the story of the N.Y. Ontario and Western Railroad. It became the first major railroad to go bankrupt.  I believe the year was 1957. It was a scenic railroad that began in Oswego on the shores of Lake Ontario and ran south through the Catskill Mountains and along the Hudson River eventually making its way to New York City. The railroad temporarily avoided bankruptcy years earlier by laying track into northeastern Pennsylvania to tap into the anthracite coalmines. IMG_0547

I decided to create a fictitious historical account that would combine the two railroads. My “historical account” maintains that the P.R.R purchased the southern half of N.Y.O &W. after it fell into bankruptcy. P.R.R.’s motivation was fueled by their interest in the coalmines, enhanced access to New York City and a desire to connect directly to markets in New England.

One magazine article I read suggested that it was okay to make up town names that sounded like they belonged in the area you were choosing to model. Creating my own towns, coupled with a fictitious railroad history, gave me the freedom and inspiration to construct my dream model railroad layout.

Here is a list of choices I made necessary to keep me from getting sidetracked.

  • Run Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive equipment and cabooses, which are readily available at hobby stores.
  • Use the post WWII time period, permitting me to run both steam and diesel locomotives.
  • Model the section of railroad between Wilkes-Barre, PA and New York City.
  • My railroad yard would be geographically located in the middle of my railroad in Middleberry.  Trains will run east and west out of Middleberry.
  • Railcars would enter and leave my railroad via connections to New England, NY City, and the Pennsylvania Railroad main line.
  • My railroad would serve only an industry or two in each town so I wouldn’t attempt to model towns in their entirety, just the industries my railroad served.
  • To make operating my railroad more interesting I chose some complex industries such as a brewery, a paper mill, a factory and a coal mine.  I will also include some passenger stations and a few smaller industries.

Be sure to check back with me in a couple of weeks to see how my layout is coming along.

My Train of Thought

I spent half an hour with my trains last Wednesday. It felt like visiting an old friend. As I loosened the screws on a misaligned section of track, I pondered what sort of introduction I could write to explain to folks the grandiose plans I had for my layout, which at this point is still under construction.

IMG_0472One thing I discovered after many years of modeling, if the layout is poorly conceived and designed it won’t bring you the kind of fulfillment you are looking for and will likely be abandoned. This means spending a lot of time in the planning stages before the first piece of track is placed. A good track plan will take an ordinary train set, that circle of track that runs for a couple of weeks under the Christmas tree, and transform it into layout that will bring years of enjoyment.

Recently, we moved into a smaller house. Part of the moving process involved tearing apart my old layout. A new house meant facing the prospect of constructing yet another train layout, the thought of which made my pulse quicken! My wife knows full well when I’ve entered the planning stage of a new railroad. She has to step over and navigate around piles of model railroad magazines, which surround my favorite spot in the living room for weeks on end.IMG_0014

I’ve dreamed of having a large layout someday. But in model railroading terms, “large” is a relative word. The gauge (size) of the train you hope to model defines how large, “large” is. For example, an “N” gauge layout can function well on an interior door propped up on a couple of sawhorses. A small bedroom would constitute a large railroad in “N” gauge. “HO” gauge is bigger than “N,” and has historically been the most popular gauge of them all. A 4’ x 8’ piece of plywood is a popular size for this gauge. A large layout in “HO” gauge can occupy a family room or a good chunk of your basement.

N and HO gauges are nice but nothing beats the thrill of handling larger and heavier trains. I wanted to build an “O” gauge train layout (“O” gauge is double the size of “HO”). An O gauge layout can easily take up an entire basement or assembly hall. I allotted a space of 30 feet by 13 feet.  My future model railroad would be considered a medium-sized O gauge layout because the trains are so big.

There is one more important factor to consider before running off and buying trains – how much is it going to cost. You will not notice much of a cost difference if you’re simply buying a train set to circle the Christmas tree. You will notice big difference in cost, however, once you start buying track, track switches, buildings and rail cars. The bigger and heavier the trains, the more you can expect to pay (for everything)!

With all the aforementioned information taken into account, I had to figure out how to best utilize the space I set aside in my basement. There were two things I wanted to incorporate into the design. First, I hoped to be able to run trains continuously in an uncomplicated loop to accommodate visitors when they came to our house. Guests, especially kids, just want to see the trains run. If they are brave enough, they might want to operate one. Secondly, I wanted the ability to operate my trains like a real railroad. A successful operating train layout is where my satisfaction would come from.


IMG_0447My thoughts recently have centered on the word “train.”  This usually happens when fall transitions from picturesque to grotesque and I have to retreat indoors. Each year about mid November a desire resurfaces to head for the basement to resume work on my model train layout.

Since I’m so preoccupied with the word, I decided to look up how a locomotive with its consist of rail cars became associated with the word “train.” According to www.Dictionary.com the Middle English word traine (noun) consisted of a series of people, animals, or things. The late Middle English verb traynyn, means to pull or drag in the rear. Interesting…

Where did my desire come from? It started when my father bought me a model train for Christmas. Obviously, he too was interested in trains because a two year old should not be playing with electricity and heavy metal objects. He mounted the track to a piece of plywood and I watched the train run around the circle of track that came with the train set. By the time I was six or seven I could operate the train by myself. At that age I could also break some of the rail cars, bend up the track and disable the steam locomotive. As a teenager, I became enamored with the idea of building a layout. My trains needed a purpose other than endlessly circling around a loop of track. College and marriage seemed like more important endeavors than trains so I forgot about them for a while. My desire resurfaced when my wife and I settled into our second apartment, which contained a spare bedroom. Trains have been part of my life ever since.Teachers-Day-Board-Decoration-4

Dad passed his love for trains on to me. Was he doing as the verse in Proverbs suggested?
“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Regardless of how Proverbs 22:6 is viewed or translated, Dad trained me up to love trains and I have not departed from it.

I questioned whether or not Dad had abandoned his interest in trains when his boys grew into men. But then again, he did seem to enjoy my various attempts as an adult to construct a train layout. It wasn’t until after he died and I found a small collection of model trains among his personal effects that I realized his love affair with trains never ended. My adult sons need only to venture down into the basement of my home to assess my love for locomotives and railroad cars.

IMG_0446In the coming months don’t be too surprised if trains find their way into my blog. Construction is set to resume on my O-27, high rail dream train layout.