Opinions on various n-scale gear for noob

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by JasonRP, Oct 29, 2005.

  1. JasonRP

    JasonRP New Member

    Hi All,

    New to the hobby.. I would like to hear your opinions on the following:

    Bachman Spectrum transformers and EZ-track
    Woodland Scenics scenary/layout kits
    Kato UNI Track

    Also, what's a good online N-scale tutorial site?

  2. Tad

    Tad Member

  3. MCL_RDG

    MCL_RDG Member

    Jason, You have...

    ...arrived. This is THE on-line tutorial and you are part of it.

    You will seek out many resources to accomplish your desire. You will find a great resource in your sharing experiences here. :thumb:

    My offering-

    It all comes to operation. I love to operate trains. I am not into being frustrated because "scale" rails require "special" attention in N Scale (bad enough in HO, cleaning, failed solder joints, flex-track pushing out of scale).

    I have elected to go with KATO Unitrack for my layout because of the typical problems of using flex track especially on curves. We are usually "bending" rail more than we'd like to because of our "space". The KATO stuff allows for quick, stable assembly. It also forces a compromise. That's to say- it's an "engineered" system. You have to realize that you can't force a switch to fit where it can't really go or make a curve somehow be tighter than your space can allow. I love the molded roadbed with track- nothing to slightly super elevating the curves. I don't want to tout what I think is a great product so forwardly, but my MCL ran without a hitch because of Unitrack. Zip-Zap, Bip-Bap! It's up and running- now all I could do was screw it uP!

    Of course you could love spending hours and hours laying track and then going back and ballasting and hoping you don't mess up the swithches and wondering why they don't work so good. I never had a problem with a KATO switch. Yep! They might be a few bucks more- but once I put 'em in- I ain't into, "Oh, that darn machine. I need to replace it". Some guys think this is "part of the hobby". NOT!

    Get Real. It's N Scale!

    Welcome aboard and regards,

    Mark :wave:

    MAGIC_CHEF New Member

    I to am a noob. I started out with bachmann's EZ track so far its worked great for the stragits and curved pieces of track. But the turn outs are another story so far I have three of them and there all electric only one works with out errors (after a little bit of sanding). I have 2 more they seem to be older then the one that works because theres no writing on the switch that says "direction". One of them just shorts out the track so nothing works. The other has power loss of one of the directions the turnout goes to. I took the older looking ones and the newer one apart and there are some differences ins them. So if you go the ez track way and plan on using turnouts try to get the new versions. As for the kato unitrack from what i understand its better. If i knew what I know now like 2 weeks ago I woulnt have gotten a bachmann train set.

    I just have a standard transformer and it has given me no problems so im guessing that the spetrum one will be better.

    I actually bought a woodland scenics sceneary kit like 2 days ago. its the HO scale one because I couldnt fine the N scale kit. So far its awsome i only assembled and painted the frame so i dont know how much itll actually teach me. I ll start a thread about my progress one of these days though so look out for it.

    Hope this helped somewhat,

  5. Tileguy

    Tileguy Member

    While I am not real fond of the track that has an attached plastic Bed, The Kato is superior to the Bachmann and also more expensive.
    I prefer Atlas, Peco and SHinnohara track components on Cork for quiet operation and improved flexicilty of layout options.

    The sectional track is helpful to a Newbie on a first layout, but the other way you can clean up and reuse track when you decide to build a bigger better layout.

    Woodland scenics makes very good stuff. It still requires practice to get professional looking scenery.Practice is where the magic comes in :)

    Kalmbach has a Book Beginning N scale that is IMHO a must own for anybody just getting started in N scale.
    It should be read, reread and memorized before laying a track.(call it 4 nights(its a short book) ;)
    Atlas has some very good starter layouts that take you start to finish including all electrical hookups.
  6. tillsbury

    tillsbury Member

    Bachman Spectrum transformers and EZ-track -- just say no...
    Woodland Scenics scenary/layout kits -- possibly -- the separate products are good...
    Kato UNI Track -- if you want attached roadbed and no flextrak, yes.

    WRT to the N-scale tutorial site, it's fairly good, but it assumes you want an oval on a door. You might well decide you don't. It is NOT a mandatory part of model railroading, however many sites seem to imply that it is. It also assumes you're using Atlas snap-track which you would be best to decide you don't. But it's good in other respects -- if you read it, and imagine that it's your first layout, then maybe it'll lead you through some mistakes you won't make on your second layout. With luck, you'll avoid the time wasted making that first layout wrong...
  7. skipgear

    skipgear Member

    Magic Chef - The Bachmann EZ turnouts should be power routing. Do yours have metal frogs? They will only energize the turnout that the points select. That may be part of your problems.

    Jason RP - I have some EZ track that I set up periodically for a test track while the layout is still in the planning stages and the EZ track works fine. I use it to break in new loco's and feel very confident leaving a loco run with my back turned while working on other things. Kato is better mainly in the fact that they offer about 10 times the options in turn radius and section sizes.
    That said, sectional track is OK for a first time track but flex track offers much more flexiblility. With flex track, curves will almost naturally end up with slight easments which make the cars look much better entering and exiting the corners. With flex track there are fewer seams, meaning fewer connections to go bad and fewer chances for derailment. Yes ballasting track is a time consuming effort but most of us aren't in a race to finish a railroad. Ballasted track looks much better, plastic roadbed will always look like plastic roadbed.

    Remember, it's your railroad, do what you feel comfortable with. Below is a picture of my "test" layout that I used to decide what track and equipment I was comfortable with. It was actually built as a display for the shop I work at but I used it as practice before starting my home layout. Total layout size is 42 x 17 so it went together fast and was easy to see progress. It was great practice for landscaping because the layout is small enough that you can move it any way you need to get at certain areas. It is almost finished, just some small details to go. It is Atlas code 80 flex track and snap switches. The point was to show customers that you don't have to spend a fortune to have a nice reliable layout. Minus rolling stock, there is under $300 in the whole layout, including landscaping materials. A train runs on that track 10 hours a day now and other than cleaning the track now and then, it runs pretty much hands free. That is with a 6" radius on the inner loop on the right. You just have to respect that tight radius and only run small steam switchers and 40' or shorter cars.

    Attached Files:

  8. JasonRP

    JasonRP New Member

    Good info from everyone! Thanks!

    I went to the tutorial site and learned alot- now I know what kind of layout I want to build and what features to build/design in. I'll have to find the book that someone mentioned too. In the mean time, here's a few more questions:

    Where can I figure out the smallest radius a curve should be for a given scale of train? I know that in the real world, there probably wouldn't be too many examples of tight-turns for trains, but for modelling purposes, what is the tightest turnaround I'd want to use that an average N-scale train could comfortably negociate?

    Why is cork usually put underneith the tracks? Is this to deaden sound? Or is this because is gives a scale appearance somehow? Ballasting is the pouring or rock-looking substance over the rail ties after the rails are put down, to aid in appearance, right?

    Finally, with flextrack, after you bend a piece into a corner, won't the outside rail be much shorter than the inside rail? How do you fill the gap whe connecting the flextrack to the next piece? Also how hard is it to get a uniform curve? Are there tools used to stay uniform, or is TLAR (that looks about right) sufficient here.

    skipgear, that little layout looks great! Is what I mentioned above with the flextrack what you mean about the easements for the corners- the gaps between the outside rail?
  9. theBear

    theBear Member


    The smallest radius question gets answered when you determine the longest car(could be the loco) that you are going to run.

    The cork serves two purposes:

    1. Deadens sound
    2. Provides a raised roadbed, when you get a bit of time go look at the profile of a trackbed.

    Ballast is used in modeling to make the track line look like the real thing. Real track lines are ballasted.

    Flex track is a cut to fit thing. Normally if you are going to use flextrack you solder the ones that are going to be curved together while they are straight then lay them and cut to fit. That way you have no gaps.

    Curving flex track can be aided by getting several track gauges or by using properly curved templates.

    It takes a bit of time and some blunders to get flextrack down to a fine art. I haven't used it in a long while but will be using it again.
  10. JasonRP

    JasonRP New Member

    Great info! Thanks! Now I feel like I am getting close to understanding! I just have one more question (for now)..

    It is regarding couplers.. I see that there are many different brands, and it also looks like there is body mount -vs- truck mount. Micro machine couplers seem popular. I won't even get into the preferences here. But what I am curious about is this:

    Let's say I've got a layout put together that will allow operations- with a "Port spur", that will require a train to pick up a boxcar. To pick up the boxcar, I must first drop the caboose off (on a nearby interchange) by un-coupling it. Then I need to pick up the boxcar at the port spur, then I need to pick up my caboose again.

    I know I can automatically couple the cars onto the train by simply backing into them. BUT, how do you un-couple model trains? Is there any automatic method? Or do you simply stop the train, and manually un-couple them? Is this why there are so many styles of coupler? Because one type facilitates automatic uncoupling?

  11. theBear

    theBear Member

    There are a number of coupler systems that use magnets under the track to uncouple the couplers.

    Microtrain and Accumate are two of this type.

    All of the cars that I have with the exception of my old timer ones and cabooses have Accumates, my cabooses have microtrains, the oldtimers have rapidos.

    I do not use uncoupling magnets I use a fine screwdriver to bust knuckles for now.
  12. skipgear

    skipgear Member

    Easements are a gradual tightening of a turn radius to the final radius. With sectional track, when the train gets to a curve, it is a pretty drastic change of direction all at once. This makes a lot of side to side offset between cars at the point they enter the corner. It really shows up on longer cars. Long passenger cars on tighter sectional track can have almost half a car width offset between two cars entering a corner. Easing the corner in from a straight to a gradually tightening radius makes the change of direction happen slower and the cars look more natural. It also helps in keeping longer cars coupled, expecially those with body mount couplers.

    I really noticed this after building the layout I posted above. The layout is designed to be taken apart in the middle to create two sections. This was needed to get it in the glass case it was intended for. I used sectional track for the joining sections and two of them were 11.5" 1/2 radius pieces. Even with that larger radius, the cars going through that section of track seem to make a much more drastic curve than even going into the 6.5" radius area. The turns leading into the 6.5" radius gradually get to that point. In reality, only about 1/2 of the 180 deg turn is at the 6.5" radius. The rest of it is easement to make the turn seem more gradual.

    Just came from the NMRA train show in Cincinnati. The layout ran for 2 days straight with no derailments and only one stalling issue with a cheap life like diesel. I got my tried and true Bachmann 0-6-0 out and it ran flawless the rest of the event.

    Also, anybody wanting to do tight radius corners, don't waste your time trying to do it with rapido couplers. We tried to put on the cheaper lifelike loco and cars first. Stock they wouldn't make the tight corner so I added weight. Weighted they were better but still not reliable. I gave up and put the loco and cars with knuckle couplers on and there were no problems the rest of the day.
  13. Tileguy

    Tileguy Member

    One note on flextrack-When doing curves it is best to first solder the straight sections together befor laying the track around a curve. by doing this you will avoid a variety of problems.
    Just trust me on this one OK :)
  14. wireyanker

    wireyanker New Member

    hey check out something call AMI instant roadbed. this product looks like a real time saver and muh easier than glue etc. just type it on the web. it is a little bit stiff form of black putty tape. self stick and track self sticks. i thought it was way cool idea and will be using it.
  15. Herc Driver

    Herc Driver Active Member

    I was exactly in your position not too long ago...and here's what I found FWIW...

    EZ track - went together well, but I found it hard to ballast. I had to add some carpenters glue to my mixture to get the nscale ballast to stick to the plastic roadbed sides. Also, it is pretty noisy...not as quiet as corkbed.

    Bachmann powerpack - I bought one and soon retired it in favor of a more powerful one bought at my LHS. It overtemped too often and didn't seem to have enough power to run two engines at a time. My new powerpack hasn't given me one second of trouble.

    I've used the Woodland products and overall they are good although overpriced. And from what I've seen here on this board, better results can be obtained by using what you can build up yourself. I've been truely impressed with the quality and realism of the work I've seen people on this board create. I'm guessing some of what they did was woodland and most was their own creation that anyone else could re-create with the proper tools and know-how. Of course, I don't possess that know-how yet.

    The Bachmann Spectrum engines BTW are pretty good value for the money. I wouldn't buy one unless it was discounted or on sale, as they run more loudly than Kato, InterMountain, Atlas. But for the money, they have good detail and the make it through a fall from about 3.5 feet (the size of my 8 yr old son) without suffering damage. Can't say the same about the Kato.

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