Cable cars in Layout

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by Clark A., Nov 10, 2004.

  1. Clark A.

    Clark A. Member

    How can I incorporate 'cable' cars(the streetcars that run through a city on wires above the street)into my HO scale city Clarkesville?

  2. neilmunck

    neilmunck Member

    I don't see why not.

    In some respects it would be easier than trams because the cars are not sefl powered.

    Bachmann makes an electrically powered san fransisco cable car that you could butcher
  3. Clark A.

    Clark A. Member

    Street cars

    My layout is to be a resort town with a train that goes to it. Clarkesville. I would like the streetcars to run through the downtown area. I'll check out the Bachmann thing. ---Clark A.
  4. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    Actually, what you want are trolleys. Cable cars are not electrically powered--they are pulled through the street by a cable that operates on a series of pulleys that runs below the street. The cable car grips onto the moving cable and is pulled around. The only place where cable cars still run is in San Francisco, CA, but they used to be relatively common before the advent of electric trolleys.

    As to trolleys--the "trolley" being the little wheel at the end of the "trolley pole" that trolls along behind the car (originally this was a multi-wheeled doohickey on a cable, replaced fairly early on by a solid pole)--trolley modeling used to be more common, but it seems to be experiencing a resurgence of interest as more cities turn to Light Rail Vehicles (fancy-sounding term for "trolleys") to relieve congested traffic and revitalize inner cities.

    Bachmann is a good low-cost option: they make a nice Brill trolley (more old-fashioned looking) and a PCC car (more streamlined-looking.) Bowser makes a couple of white-metal trolley kits that are nice and relatively inexpensive, too.

    All you *really* need is a loop of track running through your city's streets, and the trolley models to run on it. The Bachmann kits have flexible plastic trolley poles that don't actually track wire, so you wouldn't HAVE to actually hang trolley wire (but at least having poles along the right-of-way, suggesting the presence of trolley wire, would be a nice touch.)

    When making up your trolley loop, throw out everything you know about minimum radius. If you remove the bit of Lucite inside the Bachmann trolleys that carries light from the single bulb inside to the headlights, they'll track an 8" radius curve with no problem--and 8" is actually comparatively broad for street trolley trackage.

    I'd recommend getting some big sheets of .020" sheet styrene from an industrial plastic supplier for your street surfaces, as well as some 1/8" foamcore board. Use the foamcore to build up "streets" alongside the trolley tracks, and some scale lumber (1/16" or so) between the tracks. Then cut the styrene to snugly fit against the outside of the rails and glue it down to the foamcore. The process of cutting and shaping plastic to fit in between the rails is kind of laborious but simple--an X-Acto knife and some sandpaper or hobby files should be all you need, and plenty of time for cutting and fitting--then glue it to the scale lumber and paint it all a nice streety color.

    Take a look at this thread:

    for a look at a nice trolley section in a layout setting, under construction.

    If you find yourself catching the trolley bug, you may find yourself getting into things like powered overhead, Orr girder rail and single-point turnouts, and obscure brass trolley/interurban models. If so, consult Interurben, or me, or one of the other juice jacks in these here parts and we'll talk your ears off about the joys of Real Trolley Modeling.

    But for now, just grab one of those Bachmann PCC's and some flextrack, lay some nice neat 8" radius curves through your city streets, and have some fun running the trolley!
  5. Clark A.

    Clark A. Member

    Thank you so much jetrock. I guess you ate saying to use ordinary track and cover the center with styrene? Arent there prebuilt track pieces thata re for street crossings etc that I could use?

  6. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Somebody in Scandinavia (?) makes segmented street trackage, but I've never seen it in North America.
    Tyco used to make some imitation steet trackage for their 4-wheel trolley; I managed to get a small loop of it in about 1970.
  7. Clark A.

    Clark A. Member

    I had no idea it was that difficult to find them. Surprising, really

  8. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    You can buy the "Walthers Street System" pieces which fit directly into Atlas Code 83 track and switches, which is good for straight track and comparatively wide radius curves (18" and 22", I think) but, as I mentioned, trolley curves can be MUCH sharper than conventional railroad curves. I tried it for a test section and it's nice--but it is NOT cheap to buy retail (something like $15-20 for about three feet of street.) I managed to find a set at a train show for 50 cents, which is why I bought it in the first place--as well as to use as a "pattern" to cut out my own styrene sections to cover my in-street track.

    As far as pre-built "street crossing" bits, I think Atlas makes one but it's really only intended for actual grade crossings--the surface has woodgrain, like an older-style wooden grade crossing--and the track reverts to regular ties at each end. So you can simulate a grade crossing, but not track in the middle of the street. And so far as I know, pre-made curved grade crossings are nowhere to be found.

    Trolley modeling, as I mentioned, has always been a relatively small niche of model railroading even in the best of times, and it shrank to nearly nothing for a long time. There is some resurgence of interest lately, but there is very, very little in the way of off-the-shelf stuff for it.

    Most in-street trolley rail is what is known as "girder rail"--instead of traditional I-shaped rails, trolley rails had a "lip" of metal that made a channel for the wheel flanges to run in--otherwise, crumbling street surfaces would constantly grind away at wheel flanges. Trolley modelers would simulate this by soldering Code 70 rail into the web of Code 100 rail, until a trolley modeler named Richard Orr started producing Code 100 girder rail..

    Trolley switches are different too--instead of two switchpoints, trolley switches had a single point to guide the cars on one rail--the other rail had a split and the car's wheels would follow the path indicated by the single switchpoint. A few people made these, but I think the only ones you can get now are the Richard Orr version sold by

    But you don't really NEED to use them. I use Peco "Setrack" switches, which have a curved frog and are considerably sharper than a #4 turnout, and Atlas Code 100 track for my in-street trackage, with cardstock or styrene to represent the street (styrene costs more, but cardstock is a lot of hassle.) Sure, it doesn't look quite like girder rail but it's close, it's cheap and it is simpler than using the Orr stuff.

    The East Penn Traction Club ( has a great website with advice on how to build trolley layouts, as does Trolleyville (
  9. Clark A.

    Clark A. Member

    Wow, well I cant really say that my focus is on trains because i think thats only part of the layout. I want lots of buildings(Val, lol)and stuff like that. Being an old town, trolleys seem like a nice idea. maybe a seaport. Yet some ships in HO can get SO big. (head to museum, then click around and fing Belle River).
  10. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Toronto Transit is re-laying its tracks using regular rail with a flangeway molded into the concrete. You can possibly simulate this with plaster for your roads.
    Use pieces of plastic strip next to the rail and take it out to make the flangeway. Paint the edge of the flangeway with a little line of steel coloured paint to simulate girder rail.
  11. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    Plaster has also been used for trolley rail, as well as Durham's Water Putty. Personally I'm a proponent of using styrene sheet because you don't end up permanently burying your track under the plaster! If you have to re-solder a connection or add a feeder wire you just pop off that chunk of plastic instead of having to grind away plaster.

    And yes, trains are only part of the layout--my own layout is set in a city with lots of street trackage (no trolley overhead yet, but it's coming.) I model the town where I live, Sacramento, CA, and have done a lot of research on local buildings and geography in an effort to get a realistic feel, feature models of actual buildings, and otherwise give a sense of place.

    Ships in HO are pretty big, as are docks. Most model railroaders use a technique called "selective compression" to fit big things onto small layouts--using a deliberately too-small (but big enough to look convincing) model to save space--or "selective omission", where you only show a small portion of a big thing to suggest that it's there.

    If you have a small dock with a warehouse, a tugboat and a couple of other small craft, and maybe a few seagulls and salty sea dogs, you can SUGGEST a seaport without actually having to dwarf your trains with a giant model ship!

    I have to say I like your attitude (modeling more than just the trains)--a model railroad consists of many facets other than the trains, designed (ideally) to function as a coherent whole.
  12. interurban

    interurban Active Member

    It`s great to read all the good advice given to Clark by all you Juice Jacks :thumb:

    We are a growing group keep up the great work.

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