Model Train Newbie seeks advice

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by Ravensfan, Oct 17, 2002.

  1. Ravensfan

    Ravensfan Member

    Don't know how I stumbled upon this forum, but I'm glad I did. I am new to this model train stuff, never owned one in my childhood, never had any interest in it...until now!

    The catalyst being my three year old son who wants a train for around the Christmas tree this year. (Do I do everything my kid asks? No, but this seemed like a good way to let him explore the hobby.)

    Having no experience whatsoever, I am clueless as to how to start. I have done some google searches and mysimon searches to find a low cost way to get started with a complete set. I know that HO is supposed to be one-half O and that N is smaller than HO. But that doesn't get me anywhere. I know space is a factor and my space is limited right now, but I don't want to lock myself into a smaller gauge (if that's the correct term) that may limit my options in the future. My boss, who had a train set when he was little, suggested HO since it is small, but not too small and has a large product base. I also have no idea concerning brand names - the only two I have heard of are Lionel and Bachmann. I have seen posts and other information that talk about Atlas, Athearn, and others, but don't know anything about them.

    My question is not "what should I start with" although anyone should feel free to offer his or her opinion about that, but my question is whether there is a resource on the internet that can give me some basic information about gauges and the various brands. I do not want a technical dissertation on the origina of model trains and a detailed explanation of how gauges and scales and determined. More like a "Dummies Guide to Model Trains"-type thing.

    Any help will be greatly appreciated.
  2. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hello Ravensfan and welcome to the gauge. What do you mean you want a train set for your Son, It's really going to be for you yeh:D:D
    Okay, need to know really what space you have for a railroad, next stage would be to plan and drawout a simple trackplan and see if it's what you are looking for. As for railroad rolling stock/loco's etc.
    Although a little expensive have all your needs.
    My advice would be H0 or N-scale as both have excellent quality loco's that run like silk. "Kato - Atlas " again not cheap. Lets know further details.

  3. TomPM

    TomPM Another Fried Egg Fan

    Hi Ravensfan

    Is this train set going to a permanent set up or just under the Christmas tree? If it going to be up all year then I agree with Shamus about it being HO or N scale. One word of caution, however, if your young son is going to be handling the trains, stay away from the expensive stuff. I learned this lesson the hard way. If you are willing to spend a little time on building them the Athearn HO scale “blueboxes” are good choices. They are not too expensive and run well. Another thing with curious hands keep an eye on where things are. My son (age 3 at the time) once took an HO scale Thomas the Tank Engine from the edge of the layout and tried to run it on his wooden Thomas set in his bedroom. End result: stripped gears and a repair job.

    To keep him away from the “good” stuff I invested in a bunch of cheap Like-Like, Tyco, and IHC cars and gave them to him. I also got him a dummy locomotive and told him that these were his trains. I spent about $2.00 to $3.00 per piece. He can run them anytime he wants on the layout.

    On more thing if this train is only going to go around the tree I would go with a O gauge set up. Since it will be on the floor it will be handled by little fingers. We did HO around the tree and it got beat up. We now do O around the tree. My son (now 4) can handle it with no problems. Even the thirty-five year trains I got at his age are standing up to him.
  4. davidstrains

    davidstrains Active Member


    Hope they get Ray Lewis back soon.

    The above suggestions are good. But what you need is a basic Model Railroad 101. I would get a copy of a recent edition of the Model Railroader Magazine at any book store and review the adds, product reviews and articles. Somewhere in the magazine will be a Kalmbach Books listing that has just the things that you need to get started in the hoby. A lot of basic information on benchwork, wiring, the "which scale should I go with?", scenery, etc. Go to a local hobby shop and you will probably find most of those books. Pick up and read a few of these and suddenly a whole new world appears in your mind and in the space that you intend to use for your layout. And then it becomes just like an uncurable habit. But you will enjoy it.

    While you are at the hobby shop ask some of the same questions that you asked here?

    You are in the right place though for your questions. This group is fantastic.
  5. msh

    msh Member

    Hi Ravensfan and welcome!

    I was in the same position as you in only May of this year. My son and I decided it was time for some trains. First - I went to Toys R Us and spent $30 on a LifeLike el-cheapo train set and set it up in his play area. Second - I went to the local train store and went right to the book section. I bought two books by Kalmbach Publishing:

    1 - Basic Model Railroading: Getting Started in the Hobby
    2 - The Practical Guide to HO Model Railroading

    I read them thoroughly more than once, and took notes on questions I had. I joined two forums - this one and the Atlas forum. I studied, asked questions, got answers and when I thought I had it construction began on my first layout in May 2002. What I forgot to do was PLAN AHEAD!! I just downloaded the Atlas Right Track software and started going to town, not thinking about just where the town would go, what industries would be there and how I could operate the railroad. I've fixed it, but trust me PLAN AHEAD@!! Then, and only then, start buying your track and trains.

    Since then I purchased one more book:

    How to Build Realistic Model Railroad Scenery, 2nd Edition By Dave Frary

    Between the good folks on the forums, my texts, vendor websites and my impatience to learn I think I've come a long way in a short time. You are going to LOVE this hobby and so will your son. Together you're going to have a blast.

    Oh - if you can, go DCC from the start. I can't imagine going back to regular DC now that I've tasted it.

    Good Luck to you!!
  6. Ravensfan

    Ravensfan Member

    Well, yes, there may be something in it for me, but if my little boy doesn't get interested, I may not be able to justify expenses with my wife.

    The space limitations now are just something that will fit under the tree temporarily, then likely to be relocated to a spot in the basement. Dimensions under the tree are roughly 4 feet by 4 feet. I am a cheapskate and I don't want to splurge just yet, so going for the expensive, top-of-the-line stuff is out of the question, but I don't necessarily want the cheap crap either. I guess a warning about what brand not to get may be in order. Another thing is that, as long as my son appreciates it, I want to be able to make a Christmas tree setup every year, so one aspect will always be temporary. My son will not be handling the trains for now.

    The reason I asked for a web site is time limitations. I am at work right now and have some ability to check sites, but won't be able to get out to a store until next weekend because of other responsibilities. I guess I can wait until then to go to a hobby shop, but I wanted to do some exploring of the idea now.
  7. marty w.

    marty w. Member

    Hi Ravensfan,
    Maybe this will help until you go to your LHS. Go to the beginners page.
    Good Luck
  8. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Mr. Fan, you might consider getting an O scale with a circle track to run around the tree. Maybe there's one specifically for that purpose (i.e. a Christmas theme train). The idea would be to just run it around the tree at Christmas and pack it away the rest of the year. Then you can get started with an HO setup in the dungeon that the little man can grow into and keep you entertained in the process. :D :D :D

    Welcome to the hobby. Enjoy!
  9. davidstrains

    davidstrains Active Member

    Bachman also makes a couple of nice "around the tree" sets in their "Big Hauler" "G" gauge sets. Not expensive, big enough that the young one and dad can both enjoy them, easy to set up and take down. I have 3 of them that I put up each Christmas. You can add track and other accessories as you see fit, which I did to get the 3 loops. The dog doesn't even bother them He sleeps under the tree when he visits.
  10. t. alexander

    t. alexander Member

    I agree with jon, I do my "serious" work in HO scale but for kicks and the christmas tree I have some O (O27) scale older Marx trains. These engines and cars were made for Jr size folks. and take alot of abuse. I have a blast with them myself.

  11. Ravensfan

    Ravensfan Member

    Thanks. I started reading that beginners section and it seems like it is what I am looking for.

    The only thing is that it may evolve into more than just Christmastime enjoyment and I may want to use the "Christmas" set as a launching point.

    Would the O scale work in a 4'x4' or 5'x5' space?
  12. billk

    billk Active Member

    Each scale has a minimum radius curve that you shouldn't go under, both for operational reliability and for appearance's sake. What that radius is is somewhat variable, but let's say it is 12in for N scale, 24in for HO scale, and 48in for O scale. Those numbers are close. That means to make a layout consisting of just a circle, you would need 8'x8' for O scale at the very least.
  13. pcentral

    pcentral Member

    Hi Ravensfan and welcome to the gauge. Here is a website designed for people just like you
    I answer this same question at train shows all year long. No offense to other postings here but HO scale isn't the best to start out with. I suggest you get a starter set in O or G gauge and heres why. First it is big enough to easily put on the tracks, and set up anywhere. Let your son play with them, they are durable and have less breakable details. There is no better way for your son to learn how to handle and appreciate the trains. Some of the kids I see at shows are very young and know how to handle the trains better than some adults. As I mentioned before the larger scales can be set up anywhere including on the floor, then you can always make a shelf layout to go around the ceilng of your sons room later. Another advantage is Lionel makes a Thomas the Tank set as well as Looney tunes and Mickey mouse trains. I see all to often people buy a HO set to get started and it breaks within a couple months or less and then they lose interest and never do any more with trains. Model railroading can be very educational and I encourage everyone to be a teacher and use trains to educate children.
  14. Norm VR

    Norm VR New Member


    If you live in the Baltimore area, you just missed (last weekend) the Great Model Train Show. This is a great way of seeing what is out there and getting some inexpensive stuff. A few years back I purchased a small switcher engine for $5 for my kids. There will be another one in January.

    Between now and then, you should check out MB Klein in the city. I haven't had the chance to get there, but I hear it is the place to go for model trains.

    I have a little 4'X8' HO layout that I use under my tree. I have a piece of plywood with some bracing under it and I put my tree stand in the middle. Once Christmas is done, I just put the legs back on it and move it to the basement. The kids love it at Christmas and I get to play with it the rest of the year.

    If you truly only have 4X4, you might want to stick with HO or N. My brother has O scale trains and his trains are all over his living room at Christmas time. I can run two loops (one for each son) on my 4X8 HO board.

    Hope this helps.

  15. Ravensfan

    Ravensfan Member

    From the responses, it seems like O will be a better starting point, but I may be limited initially by the space I have. Maybe I'll have to move some furniture around. I guess I'll have to see what's available at local shops. Thanks for your help everyone.


    No, I don't live in or near B'more. I actually live in Northeast PA. The Ravensfan part comes in because my dad is an old Baltimore Colts fan and he used to take me and my bro to Colts games before they absconded to Indy. When the Ravens moved in, my dad suggested we get season tickets and we have been going ever since.
  16. davidstrains

    davidstrains Active Member


    Is that Northeast, Pa as in near Erie? I grew up in Wesleyville?
  17. Ravensfan

    Ravensfan Member

    Somebody needs a geography lesson. Erie is in Northwest PA. Sorry, couldn't resist.
  18. TR-Flyer

    TR-Flyer Member

    Hi Ravensfan:

    Aaahh, First...... Go "Skins!.. Sorry, had to get that out of the way.

    I agree with everything PCentral said. O-gauge is more kid friendly than the smaller gauges. S-gauge is also good for kids to use but you will have to learn how to do your own repairs since much of the equipment is old American Flyer stock, and is 40-60 years old. Check out ebay, type in "American Flyer" in the search criteria if you're interseted.

    More on the point of O/S vs G/N/HO/Z for kids. There is a TON of operating accessories for O/S! Barrel loaders, crossing gates, water towers, talking stations, log loaders, coal loaders, etc, etc. These things mesmerize the kids when we set up our S-gauge layouts at the train shows. The scale layouts in other gauges attract a lot of admirers, but the kids will stand two deep at our layout to push the buttons and make "Louis the Loader" load the barrels into a gondola or set a yard control tower "on fire". It's a hoot to watch and the parents thank us all the time for being there at the show because the kids get to have FUN! Then Mom and Dad can take them back to the vendors and scale layouts to see the "good stuff" some more.

    Get the tykes hooked on "kidfun" now, and they'll learn to appreciate and then model the beautiful stuff you see here on the gauge when their motor skills, patience and perseverence have matured. Yours too if you've never modeled before. You'll both enjoy it.

    Whoo, Whoo,,,chugga, chugga, chugga chugga, "Smell and hear that Real smoke and choo choo sound....."

    Have fun,
  19. davidstrains

    davidstrains Active Member

    We also had fun with that in High School. Actually, Northeast is located in the upper eastern corner of the tip of PA on Lake Erie, just west of State Line, NY. So geography, while important is also deceiving in names.

    Just thought I'd ask.:D :D
  20. pcentral

    pcentral Member

    Hi Fan,
    I forgot to comment on your space concern last night, thats what happens when you work 10 hours a day on swing shift. O gauge tinplate track comes in two styles if you will O and O27. The distance between the outer rails is the same but the difference is noticed most by the ties. O27 has a lower height and smaller ties usually brown in color. O gauge is taller and the ties are larger and black. Most starter sets come with O27 track. Both "styles" come in several radius curves such as 27"(O27 only),31"(O only),42",54",72" and there are larger curves available but I'm not sure exactly what in tinplate track. If you only have 4' of space you can put in two loops. Using O or O27 and an outer loop of 42" curves. If you have more questions about which is better just ask and I will help all I can.

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