Ruminations: or "My Development as a Railroad Modeler"

rg5378 Aug 17, 2013

  1. rg5378

    rg5378 TrainBoard Member

    I am probably not the only one who goesthrough the following process.

    I started my railroad modeling when I was about 6 or so. Most Christmases would find a TYCO train set under the tree.

    I was into HO modeling for years. Although while growing up, I never had a place to put up a layout. Then one year (I was about 12 or so), I saw an N scale layout at a train show. That started me on building a small N scale layout of my own. Then Z scale came along. So I dabbled in that scale for a time.

    Then I came back to HO. I still kept my N and Z scale items though.

    One day at a train show I saw, and HEARD a G scale switcher go by on a layout. Instantly, I was hooked on trains with sound. The HO, N, and Z stuff went back into boxes while I invested time and effort into “G” scale. The only problem is that I never had the space for G. But I kept dreaming big!

    I knew that I wanted a layout that rivaled the ones built by Tony Koester, Allen Mclleland, or John Allen. I tried, to build layouts like theirs, but kept tearing it down before it was even finished. There was just “something missing”. I was not happy.

    Then I became involved with a model train group. Their primary focus was O gauge trains. Never cared about “3-rail” stuff until then. Through the club I learned to appreciate O gauge. So over time, I bought some O gauge things. “G” scale went to the wayside. 3-rail trains were fun. But there was still “something missing”.

    Over several years and several moves, I have sold off most of my items. I just kept the things that mean something to me: An N scale engine and a couple of cars. A few HO TYCO items. Most notably my “Durango” train set. My Athearn SD40T-2. A custom painted caboose. And a few O gauge things for under the Christmas tree.

    Now I find that I am at a time and place where I have a plywood table (4 ½ x 7) What should I do? What do I want? I have several options: I can go to “S” scale or a small “O” gauge layout. My goal was to create realistic scenes in a scale that everybody can notice. For example if I build a building with an interior, I want people to see the work I put into it. I thought HO was a bit small in this respect.

    I laid down some O gauge track. But my table size is too small for what I want to achieve. I want to have a realistic layout with well detailed scenes.
    The sharp turns and 3-car trains just didn't “do it” for me.

    Currently, I thought about going into“S” scale. But after researching “S” gauge, I find that it is just too difficult to find and obtain the items I want or need. I SALUTE AND RESPECT the people who model in this scale. But I don't think it is for me.

    Throughout this “many years long development process” I have always been attracted to the items I grew up with; the HO trains. I enjoy looking at books / magazines /articles / advertisements from the mid-'70's to the early '90's. I enjoy looking at the TYCO and Athearn blue box trains that are on ebay. I get a sense of nostalgia reminiscing about the fun I had with those trains.

    So what do I ENJOY about model railroading? I enjoy kit-bashing engines and cars. I enjoy re-painting trains to fit my own ficticious railroad. I enjoy the“simple” engines that don't have all the fancy electronics and doo-dads in them. I also enjoy the older controllers with knobs on them. Today most people I know have hand-held remote controllers with a dial. I like the rugged feel of the older type transformers and their handles.

    What do I WANT in a train layout? I want a layout that I can see. N and Z are too small for me. O scale is too big for my space. S gauge is hard to find. I want trains that don't derail easily Todays' trains are made to scale dimensions, including wheels that are scale in flange depth. And they keep derailing. I want the older trains with the deeper flanges. I want engines that “keep on running” without breaking down due to some failure in the electronic system. I want engines that I can put on the track and run without having to program them. I want engines that I don't have to spend hours on trying to solder tiny electrical leads to. I want trains that I can afford. DCC is great, but it can be time consuming. It is also costly. DCC equipped trains are becoming more and more expensive ereryday.

    So now I think that I am going “retro”. I want to get that “good feeling” back that I had as a kid playing with trains. So I am going back to HO. I am going to find TYCO trains and re-motor them with older Athearn “Blue Box”chassis and motors (I know, TYCO trains had crappy motors).

    I will also find “older” but well-made trains such as Athearn “blue box” engines, and Stewart engines. I remember a time when Stewart engines were considered to be one of the “top of the line” engines. They were expensive. Growing up, I could never afford one. Now I find them on ebay for cheap.

    These older engines are not going to be anywhere close to the “fancy DCC" engines of today. But hopefully those types of engines, and a simple DC layout will fill that nostalgic yearning that I have.

    So there you have it; my ruminations. Will I be happy with my choice? I hope so. Will I be successfull? Hopefully. Currently, I am excited and thrilled about my decision. I can't wait to get started.

    I am curious as to how many of you fellow railroaders out there have gone through a similar process? What scale of trains did you wind up settling on and why? Are you satisfied with your choice? If you have a similar story to share, please do.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 17, 2013
  2. JB Stoker

    JB Stoker TrainBoard Member

    I just got back into the MRR hobby about 6 months ago, and initially I was thinking about trying an N layout, the idea of having that much real estate was appealing. I had some N scale stuff as a kid, but when I went and handled some N scale gear at a hobby shop I put that idea out to pasture. Just too small. I like building things and wanted to scratch build a lot of my stuff and it is just too hard in N. So , I of course considered going HO, which is what I had a layout in as a kid. Then I started thinking about S scale, specifically Sn42 (S scale on HO track), since I was already collecting HO track. I was sold on Sn42 for several months, and eventually talked myself out of it, there is just not enough available in S. SO I then figured I would go with a "vanilla" HO layout for a while. I was avoiding considering On30 for some reason. I guess I was seeing a bit too much "whimsy" in layouts for my taste. Then I saw a few On30 layouts that were more realistic, even some that bend the scale a bit to model 3ft gauge railways and I was intrigued. Then I made up a bunch of scale lumber in HO,S and O scales and I knew that O was for me. I can mill just about all of the scale lumber I need. Windows and doors are easy to handle, and simple crossbuck doors and such are even easy to make from scratch. I even figured out a way to stamp my own O scale corrugated metal, check out my progress on that by clicking here. I have had my benchwork done for a couple months now, and have tried a couple layout plans, I think I am going to permanently attach track real soon. I am using regular HO track, and I am ok with the tie size. In my semi mythical layout location the trees were a bit small so they used smaller ties and put them closer together.:cool:

    I am completely happy with my choice of going with On30, although it took a while to get here. From what I read in your post, I think you should give it some thought too. Using HO track fixes the radius issues with using O or even S standard gauge track, and there is more available in this genre everyday. I would say that On30 is probably the fastest expanding genre/scale of MRRing today, and now I know why, it is just plain fun!


    O scale corrugated metal made with .005" can metal. I love this scale!
  3. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    I would guess many of us have indeed followed a similar progression.

    I started with what I believe are called today "Skaneateles" (spelling?) wooden trains. Then was added a battery powered steam engine and cars, that went back and forth, automatically switching directions when it struck a bumper.

    That evolved quickly into Lionel O-27. I spent the school years begging, trading and buying more Lionel O-27, O, American Flyer S and Marx "O-27" stuff from classmates.

    Post college/military/marriage, the youth stuff had gone, (Thanks, Mom! :( ), straight into N scale, and with that NTrak, oNeTrak, Bendtrack, and now T-Trak. Mixed in there was an HO layout, more Lionel (TCA, TTOS), a couple of N layouts, On30 and HOn30.

    Seems like much of the time, I have possessed two scale at once. These days the N continues, forty one or two years now of that scale. Still have one Ntrak module left, in process of rebuilding, too slowly. And I have recently dug out my remaining HOn30, plus added a few pieces, as that scale really has a hold which never goes away.

    I am still having fun, and that is what matters.
  4. JNXT 7707

    JNXT 7707 TrainBoard Member

    Cary, you seem to have described my outlook much better than even I could. My real start into the hobby was spurred 4 years ago by a tiny Z set I had purchased in Germany way back in 1985. Loved it, and the scale, but realistically too tiny for me to model and too expensive.
    I love the HO scale, had held on to a number of survivors from childhood days and dragging all that stuff out kindled a fire.
    The new, super-detailed locomotives and rolling stock are beautiful, but I have way more fun working with the old stuff, rebuilding it and watching it run. No interest in decoders and electronics. I appreciate the work others do with it, can't argue the idea of controlling every loco individually on the same track, but that part of the hobby holds zero interest for me personally.
    But YES, like you say it is really all about that feeling as a kid, that utter fascination with watching a model train that looks like a real train, running on your layout - not the single locomotive, 3 cars and a caboose from railroads you've never seen that came in your Christmas set running around a circle, but something that looks like what you just saw rolling down the railroad tracks in town.
    Or something like that :)

    PS - I tell my wife "I'm living the dream" when I look over my railroad empire. And I am!

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