New guy with tons of questions!?!?

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by AmericanAirFan, Nov 12, 2007.

  1. AmericanAirFan

    AmericanAirFan New Member

    I doubt anyone will recall me except maybe mileswestern since we occasionally talk on AIM, but last time I posted introducing my self I told a little bit about myself and how I was getting back into railroading. Well It's gotten worst I just got back into it after I laid out a 5ft stretch of straight track on my shelf every week or so before I go to bed I'd change the combo of train engines are train cars and make a cool train to display then I started searching through my countless boxes of train stuff then I went back to the guage and man within a month I'm totally obsessed with model railroading alll over again, but this time I'm more serious.

    I've been doing some research on the railroad I want to replicate I've been thinking about replicating the Roaring Camp train that goes into the mountains with the shays and such and then I also want to do the Roaring camp train that goes down to the board walk in Santa Cruz and goes through the old streets in the town of Santa Cruz and the old industrial/commercial part that use to be the southern pacific line. I love all of the railroads in those areas. If anyone has any tips or info on models I could be making for it that would be gratefully appreciated.

    Now onto the questions.

    1st Question

    What do the different codes of track mean I've heard of Code 70 83 and 100 track what all do they mean?? Also which code would be the best?

    2nd Question

    I've heard about the numbered switches like #4 or #5 or #6 switches what are the difference between these and if I were to choose one which would the best one be to pick, like what would I be looking for exactly in choosing the right number switch?

    3rd Question

    Modeling... So I've been wondering about some of the modeling things most urgently what is that pink padded surface you use just above the plywood what is its purpose and where could I get some for a layout? Then what about the roadbed for the train track where could I get that? And when I pick out my track what brand would be best and hand in hand with what code?

    4th Question

    Price!?!? How much do you guys invest on your trains I know I've invested maybe 3 or 400 dollars in electric trains HO scale of course but its all like a mut it has no order I have a bunch of snap fit life like track and then a bunch of old school lionel track I have some old school lionel train cars and then I have some cheapo life like train cars and engines and some nice athearn engines and passenger cars it's all a mosh pit though I do know some of my cars have a purpose, while others don't, but basically how could I buy a bulk of certain train cars and spiff them up to make them all unique in their look and where/how would be the cheapest way to obtain a lot of the same type of train cars? Also over all how much do you guys invest in your layout annually?

    5th Question

    DCC... How much does the controller cost and what would be the best recommendations say If I wanted to run a max of 20 engines on a layout? Also how do I know if an engine I have is capable of DCC control are any of my athearn engines capable of having a DCC Decoder put in the only one I know of that can have a Decoder is my Bachman 3 truck shay... Also with DCC does that eliminate my worry about having loops and wyes that would otherwise cause a short circuit when using regular DC current?

    6th Question

    How can I go about getting the design correct all the legistics for at least laying the track and then after that is it just a self guided project never ending??

    7th Question

    Ok my final question most random but would help since I wanna try practicing with a small diorama for modeling practice. What kind of trees and ballast and grass would I use and what kind of glue?? Also you know when the train runs through city streets and it's just rails and pavement on either side and in the middle of the rails what material is used f?or that and how can I make it to embed a track to be like a grade crossing or in the street

    I have tons more questions but I don't want to burden you guys and I still don't know exactly what I'm trying to ask so I'll let those questions be for a while, but please answers would be very appreciated, I may be able to work on a layout in my brothers old bedroom but I don't know if its worth it as I will be going to college in 2 years right now I'm 16 a junior in high school I have alot going on...

    Thanks in advance :wave:


  2. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    Rail height in hundredths of an inch. 100 is slightly oversize even for mainline rail, but is the traditional HO size and still widely used.
    The higher numbered switches are longer and have a gentler curve through them, so they can handle larger equipment.
  3. Kevinkrey

    Kevinkrey Member

    Question #3
    The pink stuff is insulation board available at hardwar stores. It allows you to carve out scenery and gives a better surface for the train tracks.
    Question #4 and 5
    My layout is only beggining and I have spent 2-300 on building supplys and 3-400 on locos and cars. The DCC system I have was
    120 dollars.
    Question #7
    I also have a diorama ( to take pictures and for practice) you can google woodland scenics website, they make most all scenery products you will ever need. The street and train crossings are callled grade crossings and several companys manufacture wood, concrete, or rubber style grade crossings for your layout. Anybody know one of the companys?

    This site is here to help with all your questions so feel free to ask any others you might have.
  4. PWRR-2207

    PWRR-2207 Rogue Islander

    Question 3 - 'Pink stuff' is Expanded Polystyrene (EPS). Yes, it is called 'foam' too but it does not break apart easily like the white protective/molded foam they using in shipping packages.

    It is usually used as insulation in houses so "Home Depot/Lowe's/ACE Hardware" type places probably have some you can buy.

    3M seems to have cornered the market were I live so my choice really boils down to "How thick?" The thinner the plywood (or no plywood) under the foam, the thicker the foam should be.
    As to why it is used in modeling - it is light weight, easy to carve, does not expand and contract much with temperature or humidity changes.
  5. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Hi Airfan. There a lovely thread by Nazgul called "don't laugh ..." where we took him through all the steps of building, designing, scenicking, wiring ... a layout for about a year (and then he felt the need to tear it down). It will answer a lot of your questions.
    Woodland Scenics is the commonest scenery products available. They have a series of starter kits for various things like trees and roads and even, I think, layouts.
    Code 100 track is the size that comes with train sets and is carried by every hobby shop, plus a lot of toy stores. It's more rugged than the smaller sizes, but it represents a very heavy rail. You can run any HO rolling stock on it without problems. Codes 83 and 70 are finer looking and more scale for normal mainlines, sidings and older track. Lots of modellers just paint the sides of code 100 dark and it looks fine.
    The number of a switch tells you how far it takes for the rails to separate one unit, measured from the frog. Modellers often use #4 or 5 in yards going up to 6 or 8 on mainlines. Or even larger. Some use #4 for everything. (switches that are curved all the way through, e.g. 18" radius, don't have numbers.)
    You may have trouble finding plastic insulation (or any other kind) in Texas. Woodland Scenics have a substitute in their range.
  6. PWRR-2207

    PWRR-2207 Rogue Islander

    Slowly chipping away at the questions...

    Question 7 - The posted answers tell you a lot about how to get materials and as Kevinkrey pointed out, it is excellent practice.

    I think you have the right idea of 'try before you buy' by building a diorama. If you find you enjoy creating scenes and get a feeling of accomplishment, the diorama experience will help you decide if you want to expand your skill set to include building a fixed mini-train world (layout) or if modules may be a better choice for the next 6-8 years of your life so you can stay mobile and still operate trains from time to time.

    Question 6 - If you decide to go with a layout, there is free design software from Atlas at:

    Right Track Software 7.0

    called "Right Track Software" (RTS). Even if you decide not to create a layout, the software is good for looking at other designs as well as playing 'what if?' with ideas you may have. Other options for designing and planning logistics include everything from sketching to creating/cutting out paper-scale templates.

    Question 5 - Even if you decide that you like operating trains more than building models, "Digital Command and Control" (DCC) gets expensive fast because you are building a network from a multitude of components, most of which need to be purchased separately and each one requires power. At the lowest level, you will need a device to issue orders to and program the decoder in an engine. Two examples of 'Starter Systems' are:

    a. The "Prodigy Express System" by Model Rectifier Corp (average price is around $180 US)

    b. The "Zephyr" by Digitrax (average price is around $180 US)

    Theoretically you could operate 20 trains at once but you would really only have throttle control on two at a time and you would need additional power supplies to feed all of them across the good length of tracks they would need.

    As for wiring with loops and wyes, you still need to plan ahead and build circuits that will not short or fry your engines because DCC is a digital electric signal that rides on the wires, not a replacement for electricity provided by the wires.
  7. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    You have asked about equipment to replicate the Roaring Camp and Big Trees railroad and the Train that runs from Felton to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Bachmann and MDC make shays. I don't know if Horizon has offered the MDC shays in ready to run since they bought out MDC. I bought a MDC shay many years ago, and it still sits on my shelf of models to be built someday! I have heard that it is one of the more difficult locomotive koits to build. That has nothing to do with why I haven't built it. I just haven't had the time to do a lot of the projects that I bought kits to do! It has been about 40 years since I rode the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad, so I don't remeber if they ran a 2 truck or 3 truck shay. The locomotive used on the railroad running from the Santa Cruz boardwalk to the Roaring Camp & Big Trees in Felton is a Cf-7. Athearn makes a Cf-7, but I don't think they offer it in the correct road name, so you would have to do a custom paint job on it, or contact someone to do a custom paint job for you. Miles on this board just started a custom painting business, and he lives only an hour or two from Santa Cruz, so he might be able to do some research for the custom paint for you.
  8. AmericanAirFan

    AmericanAirFan New Member

    Wow thanks for all the great info guys this helps out a lot with my dilema :oops:

    I'm really bad with long detailed threads but I'll try and keep my points clear an articulate within my paragraphs and really guys thanks for the advice and help I'll eat up every word of knowledge you guys have and hopefully someday I will be able to produce something good of it :mrgreen:

    PWRR-2207: Is there any topics among these forums that talk about wiring within a layout when it comes to stuff like wyes and loops?

    Russ Bellinis: Thanks for the info on the engine that runs down to the board walk I had been trying to figure that one out. I've actually been doing a ton of research on the roaring camp railroad from books and websites online there's an amazing history behind it all and I know that when ever my life clears up when I'm older I definitely want to model the logging railroad and then the railroad that goes from felton into Santa Cruz and on to the board walk. Also I do know that Roaring camp has a two and three truck shay I have ridden on the train at one time or another with one of the two engines on there and I have photographs of them also they have a climax and a heisler but they're not used as much for tourists attractions.

    Also as far as roaring camp if anyone has photos along the Santa Cruz line of it going down the streets or maps or diagrams of the route the train takes through the mountains would all greatly be appreciated. Thanks guys for the great info also I have a desk up in my room that was to be used for my computer but I have my computer downstairs now so I'm thinking I'm gonna use that desk I built and make it the basis for my diaramma, when I have time I'll measure the dimensions and draw a diagram and upload the photo to show you guys the size of my space to work with and maybe I could have some tips on a diarama to create on it.

    By the way it isn't a standard computer desk you guys are thinking of its more of a large table that I built myself it is quite roomy you'll be surprised once I show you the diagram.

    Anymore comments or questions about my train stuff or ideas or anything will be greatly appreciated as I get a handle on things.

    Thanks so much guys for everything also I must say these forums are less hostile than other forums I visit in the aviation world wall1:wave:sign1

  9. Ralph

    Ralph's for fun!

    That's because we stay on track and don't FLY off the handle. :)
    (sorry, what a groaner)

  10. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    I'll address your 7th question first. Good idea to start small. A diorama will give you skills while saving a whole bunch of money and if you don't like the result, 2'x2' fits in a trash can quite well. As for your other questions. RESEARCH. Read, read, read. There are a great number of excellent threads here on the gauge. Pick a subject. There are any number of good beginners books on every aspect of model railroading. Join a club. Talk to the club members about your plans and ideas. Visit your prototype railroad for ideas. I see that you don't live in CA so the Roaring Camp and Big Tree's isn't close. There are books written on the predecessor railroads in that area. You are fortunate, the pink and blue insulation is probably available in Texas but is forbidden to most Californians. Have fun.
  11. PWRR-2207

    PWRR-2207 Rogue Islander


    Yes but they are either specific to what turnout manufacturer and controlling device you choose to go with if you are using Direct Current (DC) or DCC or they reference a Kalmbach publication called "How to Wire Your Model Railroad" or "Wiring Basics". Your best bet is to come up with a plan on what you want (wye turn around, turn table or a reverse loop) and post it here for help on wiring it.
  12. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    This refers to the height of the "web" of the rail. from where it sits on the tie, to the top of the rail. Code 100 is large, a little out of scale for all but modern, yet it is the most commonly used because it is easiest to work with. Code 70 is the smallest and used by fine-scale modellers to represent branch lines (which used lighter rail). Code 83 is becoming more popular as it best approximates true scale for 1950s era mainline track. It's more expensive though as are the turnouts.

    As explained, higher numbers mean longer turnouts (switches). The longer the turnout. the more gradual the curve. More gradual curves mean you can run longer engines or rolling stoke. Too tight and you will get derailments. However, longer turnouts take more space. It's a trade-off between reliability and more track. Personally I would rather have less track that works well, as opposed to more track that doesn't work so well.

    Pink (sometimes blue) is insulation foam used in construction. Available at Home Depot and other such stores, but not, seemingly in California. It's more dense than the white styrofoam, cuts easily (if a little messy) and used to shape terrain. It must be glued with special foam adhesive that works without needing air to cure. If you are using cork for roadbed, you may not need it.

    Way too much!! Turnouts are between $14 - 18 each, locos with DCC and sound can run to $500, brass in the $thousands. To save money, you can go to shows and rummage through the boxes of cheap boxcars they have. Add some decent knuckle couplers and perhaps the odd detail parts and they look (and run) a lot better.

    DCC does not eliminate issues with return loops and wyes, since you are still dealing with the polarity of the track. You can run 20 trains with the entry-level Digitrax Zephyr, currently priced around $200 IIRC. Check out for lots more info on DCC, including some product comparisons.

    First you need to determine some parameters otherwise the infinite variables will drive you crazy!!! 1) how much room to you have for your layout? 2) how much time do you have to actually work on the layout?
    Most people start with a 4' x 8' layout, which fits on a sheet of plywood. There are tons of track plans for this size of layout and you can find plenty of them over at

    They even list the price for all track and turnouts, which will help you budget. If you have a set budget, then the prices will help you decide which layout you can afford.

    Woodland Scenics make every kind of scenic material you could possibly need: ground cover, ballast, rocks, rock molds, trees, paving materials, etc etc. My advice is to choose an scene or area to model that you can actually look at - something close to home. Take lots of pictures and study the terrain and the colour. Different parts of the country have different coloured earth. Different railroads use different kinds, and colours of ballast. Also, mainline ballast is usually different from sidings, yards, or branchlines. Research, research, research!

    For in-street trackage, you can use styrene sheets cut to size. Remember to leave room inside the rails for a flangeway. The flange is that little extra rim on the inside of the wheels, which sits below the track. No flangeway and your train will de-rail. Too narrow a flangeway and your wheels will bind.

    It sounds like you won't have room or time for a large layout for awhile yet. That's ok. Your idea for a small diorama is a really good one. You can start right away, you can keep the cost down, and you can get some practice.

    And of course the most important piece of advice: HAVE FUN!!!! :D :D :D

  13. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    On code 100 track: back when I was starting, the smallest we had was code 100. In the late 50s or so, code 70 came out. I remember a warning that such small rail sections often had a twist in them, so you should examine them carefully before buying.
    Then N scale came out and code 70 became commonplace and we had code 55 as well.
  14. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I have a couple more things to add for your help in modeling Roaring Camp & Big Trees. The railroad is located in the Santa Cruz redwoods, so you can't model just any forrest. Redwood trees are distinctive from their color to bark texture to the way they grow limbs and then loose lower limbs as the tree grows. Also a baby redwood will look like a perfect Christmas tree, but a large one will be so scraggely as to be exactly the opposite of what you would look for in a Christmas tree. They also grow in thick forrests so there is very little ground cover underneath them. You will almost never see grass under a redwood forrest, but they grow in an area that gets a lot of rainfall, so they will have quite a few ferns growing nearby. The trees on the coast like those at Roaring Camp also grow down in valleys and canyons, and the hilltops will tend to be more barren of trees but covered with grass unless there are rocky outcrops. I don't know how long ago you were in the Santa Cruz area, but the contrast between the green ferns, moss, and whatever grass gets enough sunlight and water to grow is probably more noticeable than any other forrest. The greens seem to be very intense next to the tree trunks that are a rich reddish brown color. The one thing I've noticed in redwood forrests is the lack of greys, unless there are a few California live oaks growing in the area. If there are live oaks, they will be up on the hilltops above the redwoods down in the valley.

    If you want to see an overview of the right of way, do you have a map of California with gps coordinates? If you get the gps coordinates for the area, I think you could go to "google earth" and get some full color pictures from space.
  15. AmericanAirFan

    AmericanAirFan New Member

    yeah I've actually been sorta observing the area around Felton/Santa Cruz on google earth I am quite familiar with California and especially the uniqueness of the redwoods. Thanks for all the info guys.

    Also I finally got a little diagram showing the dimensions of the space I have to work with any ideas on what diorama I could do in this confined space?


    I finally cleared off the tabletop if anyone wants a photo with some of my trains sitting on it for size comparison I'll be able to get one within the next day I just gotta find the time to do it. Also remember that was to be my computer desk but that no longer is the case since I don't have my computer in the room obviously (hopefully obviously) you can tell the left side and top side are the side with the walls.

  16. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I think your space is a little small to model both the Roaring Camp & Big Trees and the Santa Cruz boardwalk or even a part of Santa Cruz. Do you have exrtra space in the room on either end of the desk where a portable section could be put up for operating? You can easily model the Roaring Camp & Big Trees on that desk. When I rode it back in the mid 1960's the train went over an old wooden trestle and made a complete loop. I understand that the trestle burned a few years ago and now they use a switch back to get to the top of the hill and go up and back without turning the train. There is plenty of room on your desk to make a nice representation of the Roaring Camp & Big Trees railroad if you do a switch back. The only place on the desk where you would have room for a loop is right in the center if you have 36 inches of clearance to get an 18 inch radius in, but a circle of track right there would probably ruin the rest of the layout. I just went ot the Roaring Camp & Big Trees web site to look for pictures, but the site is very short on pictures. I was looking in particular for pictures of what sort of cars they use, but one picture just showed a glimps of a small yellow gondola behing the shay. I think, in any event, you would need to kitbash any of the cars they use for the tourists. When Ivisited in the 1960's a family could ride the train up the mountain and get off at the top and have a picnic up there, and then catch a later train back down. I don't know if that is still an option or if they can't do that anymore because of the size of the crowds.
  17. AmericanAirFan

    AmericanAirFan New Member

    Sorry there are probably many thinks you're scratching your head about or maybe I've just been misleading on my info I know there's noway to do my "dream layout" now but I'm just getting ideas for whenever I do have the space to do a layout that large someday though as of know I know there really isn't much I can model in my confined space but maybe a nice large scene and rather my question was what kind of scene would be a good one and what kind of scenery would it involve? Also on the roaring camp railroad I was thinking of twisting the rules a little and just making it a logging layout but the thing is I love the layout in real life of the roaring camp railroad and also the railroad that runs from Felton to Santa Cruz that was what I was trying to get at though I would like to model the train that goes down to the board walk with the passenger cars but as far as the narrow gauge part I am wanting to use everything Identical to what is there including the burnt bridge and the now switch back but with logging instead of tourists though I may end up just interchanging the two types of trains cars as both sound fun to model but mostly it is for the logging aspect. I found an amazing source with lots of photo and it is very informative to me as to how the track plan actually goes currently at Roaring Camp. Also there is no space on either side of the layout on the left side is my main door (by main I mean thats how I get in and out of my room) and the right side is my closet door.

    Here are the two links that are an amazing source/wealth of information as well as maps/photos.

    here's a map from the roaring camp website.

    and here's some info along with photos that really give great detail and also show the insane 8.5 grade on the switch back.

    So pretty much what I'm asking is what would be a good for a diorama as I am looking for a challenge because I am clueless as to what to do with my space laid in front of me I sorta thought it would be good to model a mountain backdrop with some mountains sticking out and tracks running on different levels of the mountains. I know there's no chance of me getting anything more than a nice large diorama out of this but it would be a fun learning experience for me.

    Sorry if this post is slightly confusing or anything I have Calculus and Physics homework to do in a timely manner and so far it's not been so timely, but I really wanted to keep this topic going so I get somewhere with my railroad. I will be around though every day just about though but currently I am busy... I will be back later


  18. Kevinkrey

    Kevinkrey Member

    That looks like great space for a industrial or swithing layout.
  19. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I think your space is limited for trying to model the Santa Cruz to Felton passenger train. On the other hand, I think your desk has plenty of room to model the Roaring Camp & Big Trees. You could then add on to the layout when you have more space to incorporate the passenger train.
  20. AmericanAirFan

    AmericanAirFan New Member

    k thanks any ideas for a track plan or would I be on my own to make one cause right now I'm clueless as to how I could do this??


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