Newbie questions about compatibility

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by shark, Oct 24, 2006.

  1. shark

    shark New Member

    Hello Everyone,

    I just began researching model trains and am curious about a few things. Are these HO models generally compitible with each other? For example, if I decide to go with a Bachmann set to start could I potentially add an Athearn loco later on and use it with the Bachmann tracks, power controller, and cars? I can't believe how many manufacturers there are. Is the price difference between the Bachmann std and spectrum due to the quality of the materials, or do the stds have potential problems? I am leaning towards one of the std sets. Any input greatly appreciated. Thanks much.

  2. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    Yes, you should be able to mix-and-match HO-scale rolling stock, locomotives, track, and power packs as long as:

    1) they all use the same electrical system (you choose either straight analog Direct Current or the nicer AC-based Digital Command & Control.).

    2) the rolling stock and locomotives can negotiate the curved tracks you have (some curves are too tight for big locomotives to go around them without derailing).

    3) they have compatible coupling systems (the horn-hook couplers are not compatible with the better knuckle-type couplers like the Kadees).

    4) if you run more than 1 locomotive in a consist, they must have roughly the same gearing (or programmed to behave on the same speed scale when using DCC).

    And generally, quality stuff does tend to cost more, yes. Things to look out for:

    1) Make sure you get nickel silver track instead of brass or steel. Nickel Silver track is a lot more electrically reliable than brass or steel.

    2) Take the opportunity to go knuckle coupler from the outset.

    3) I would go DCC to start with. It can be expensive, but it makes expansion a lot easier in the future.

    That's it in a nutshell. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and welcome! :thumb:
  3. shark

    shark New Member

    Excellent. Thanks Tom.
  4. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Hi shark, and welcome to the Gauge.:wave:
    I'd agree with everything Tom said, except for the part about DCC. If you're just starting out, DCC is a big expense to incur before you know whether or not you're going to stay in this great hobby, as it's not for everyone. Once you've got a little experience under your belt, and have talked to other modellers, both at your local hobbyshop and on the Gauge, you'll be better equipped to decide if DCC is right for you. And you'll not likely have so many locos that converting them will be a big problem. I have a room-sized layout, but DCC holds no appeal for me, as I usually operate alone. If you get the opportunity, try to visit any model railroad clubs in your area. November is Model Railroading Month, so there should be lots of open houses. Many clubs nowadays use DCC, so you'll get to see it in action, and talk to people who use it. Be sure to ask what they use on their home layouts, too.:D
    As for Bachmann, most people either love 'em or hate 'em. Their standard line can be okay, and it can also be awful; it seems to be hit-or-miss. The Spectrum line is much better, especially for steam locos. In my opinion, their 2-8-0 is the best loco for the money. Whether you buy regular Bachmann or Spectrum, they do stand behind their products: if you have a problem, they'll either fix it or replace it.
    I hope I haven't muddied the waters too much for you.:)

  5. shark

    shark New Member

    Thanks Wayne and Tom. I appreciate it. I am definitely planning to go with steam. I think I am going to go ahead and get the Spectrum Frontiersman setup. It has the 2-8-0 loco and while more expensive, it doesn't sound like there is much downside to DCC other than price. I can't wait to get rolling with it. Thanks again.
  6. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    The Spectrum 2-8-0 is the only Bachmann loco, standard or Spectrum, that I've never heard any significant complaints about! It's supposed to be one of the best N scale steam engines.
  7. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    After the couplings and the control system, the only other major incompatibility is track. Ready made track (Bachman, Life-Like, Kato, ...) come with proprietary joining systems that don't mate easily. (Nothing that a hacksaw and a welding torch can't overcome.) More advanced modellers recognise that these tracks offer less flexibility than flexible track and larger switches -- and then there's hand-laid.
    Rail height id measured in thousands of an inch and called code. Code 100 is the norm in train sets and ready made track; it's nice and solid but a bit heavier than most railroads ran. There are smaller rails - codes 83 and 70 or 75. Some cruder wheels are not happy with the smaller rails.
  8. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    Generally the difference between the standard line and the more expensive lines today is just the level of detail on the models. Some of the older Bachmann, Model Power, or Life Like standard models were toy like, but most of the stuff they have come out with in the last 2 or 3 years is pretty good. Athearn has always been quality. One thing to be careful of is that the toy train sets will have "talgo" or truck mounted couplers that turn with the trucks. The good stuff will have body mounted couplers. Body mounts work a lot better when doing switching, and backing cars around.
  9. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    I gotta say I'm impressed with the progress Bachmann had made with the quality of their train sets...

    Back in September, my little nephew was approaching his 5th birthday and he's a CRAZY Thomas the Tank Engine fanatic. I really, really, REALLY did not want to buy that Bachmann Thomas the Tank Engine set for him, because my experience with a Bachmann set back in the 1980s was far less than spectacular.

    The set I had was their Amtrak set, with an E60CP locomotive and three Amfleet cars. The E60CP had one of those notorious pancake-motor drives and it worked for all of two weeks before it broke and became a paper weight. The Amfleets had truck-mounted couplers, cheesy lighting, and wheels that didn't stay on the trucks. The track was brass and it was a nightmare to keep it running.

    But I couldn't say no to my nephew, so I spent $60 for that Thomas set. I was half expecting the thing to fall apart within a few days.

    BOY I was pleasantly surprised! Thomas was built pretty good, with a frame-mounted motor that drives the wheels through a worm gear. It was a decent quality set. The only thing I didn't like was the steel track, but at least it was not as unreliable as brass. My little nephew got such a kick out of that set, and every time I drop by to visit him I would bring a different loco and a bunch of cars to run on that loop he had to keep things interesting for him. He was VERY impressed with my NYC J1e Hudson with DCC and sound from Broadway Limited. :D

    I think I just made him a model railroader for life. :thumb:
  10. alexander

    alexander Member

    yeah, B'mann have got there act together over the last few years

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