Switching to O (maybe)--Help!

Discussion in 'G / O / S Scale Model Trains' started by BobMcD, Dec 28, 2000.

  1. BobMcD

    BobMcD Member

    First post.

    After 35 years of on-again off-again HO modeling in a series of apartments and small houses, I have a real basement and some probability of staying here, so I'm thinking of taking a charge at modeling again. Nearing 60, I'd like something I can see better, and space isn't much of a problem any more.

    Like many of us I loved my Lionel train as a kid, and 3-rail O looks good for me. I don't like to build rolling stock or locos, but scenery is a passion. I've just done a 2x4 foot scene in HO to practice scenery again, and am thinking of trying one in O next.

    Any hints from you experienced guys would be appreciated. I'm looking at maybe doing a Pennsylvania-flavored layout, as I live in the East. Is there a particular moderate-priced model loco that's reliable and smooth-running that I could use to have fun, test track, and in general be the first loco of my future empire? Maybe a Consolidation or some such. I'm planning to model the early 50's, so steam or early diesel would be the ticket. I do like the idea of the new digital command systems and the great sounds I've heard at the hobby shop.

    Thanks in advance for your help, guys. It looks like this board is off to a great start.


    [This message has been edited by BobMcD (edited 12-28-2000).]
  2. PRSLou

    PRSLou Member

    Hi Bob!

    I am very glad that you are a possible canidate for O scale. I think the main difference between HO and O scales, is the size. A lot of us (me included) can hardly see some of those tiny HO pieces. That is just the reason that I model in O scale - the size.

    Now it seems that you like scenery. If you can do that in 3-rail O scale, you have got yourself already started!

    I myself am a Pennsy fan and enjoy buying locos and cars in this road name. As for a "moderate-priced model loco that's reliable and smooth-running" why don't you try a Mikes Train House Railking engine. Railking is MTH's lower end line, while Premier is the upper end. Now, for an engine...I think that a Railking Pennsy K-4 or L-1 Mikado would be a good start. You can get both of these engines in MTH's latest Digital Command System, Protosound 2.0.

    I hope this helps you!

    PRSLou's website

    [This message has been edited by PRSLou (edited 12-28-2000).]
  3. djklee

    djklee New Member

    Hey Bob, I'll go along w/ Lou, MTH ( Mikes Train House ) makes really good and reliable products, and pretty much rivals the old Lionel. They have a pretty extensive product line also. They put out a real nice catalog and video to go along with it and have a Club also which will usually get you a free piece of rolling stock for your membership fee. Since my wife decided she wanted to park her car in the garage, I am currently in collecting mode and am non-operational if you will. Another place you might want to check out is Williams Electric Trains. www.williamstrains.com they make some pretty quality stuff also. You can view their online catalog. I like them because you can order direct. By phone, fax, and online. For those weak moments when you see something and absolutely have to have it. Mrs Claus ( my wife ) did an excellent job shopping there for me this Christmas. Good luck and hope this helps.
  4. BobMcD

    BobMcD Member

    Dan and Lou,

    Thanks for the advice--I will check out both sources. My wife enjoys modeling scenery and buildings too, and she's working on making convincing trees out of weeds growing in the wetlands behind our house. Some look pretty good, but she thinks she can do better.

    She was wowed by the new Lionel Pennsy T1, and also by the price. I think your suggestions will let us try 3-rail O a lot sooner. I'd say that we won't buy any rolling stock until we have something for it to run on, but it's nice to be able to budget for it!

    I'll keep you posted on how we're doing. This forum seems like a great place. Found out about it from a posting on Cybertrains.

    Nice job, everyone!

  5. BobMcD

    BobMcD Member

    OK--Now I'm starting to understand my options better. You guys are really a help to a neophyte considering O Gauge. A few more questions, if your patience allows:

    1) I bought and read the January, 2001 issue of O Gauge Railroading. In it the authors review 3 manufacturers' new PRR T1 locomotives. These are expensive, top-of-the-line locos. In the review for one, the author mentions that the slowest scale speed for the loco was 8 MPH, and for another was 24 MPH. To an old HO hand, used to crawling tiny locos at less than 1 MPH under pulse power, these speeds sound scary. How do you couple these big guys onto a train at such speeds? Is this considered good performance for an O Gauge loco?

    2) There seem to be several Command and Control systems for O Gauge. Are these compatible with each other off the shelf, or do I have to choose before buying my first loco?

    3) I notice that the sound systems seem at least partly integral with the Command systems, and that some manufacturers are introducing new improved sound. Are these just chip upgrades, or do I have to do a lot to upgrade to the next generation of sound?

    4) The Command systems seem to provide for some uncoupling function at the tender's rear coupler. Does this mean I can uncouple the tender from the rest of the train without needing an uncoupling 'ramp' in the track?

    5) I've read some articles that imply some lower-priced locos are under-sized deliberately, and that some higher-priced locos are 'full-sized'. Is there a systematic size difference, or is all rolling stock about 1:45? (I know about 'shorty' passenger cars, which look better on sharp curves.)

    Thanks for your patience, and any help you can give me on these issues. While I may just sound like a whiny HO modeler, I want to understand what I'm getting into before I make a big investment. It's nice to be starting from scratch in a new scale. I have no investment in structures, rolling stock, or even scale-specific learning! It's refreshing. Other folks in smaller scales might want to consider it.

  6. PRSLou

    PRSLou Member


    I hope I can help.

    1) I have bought the MTH T-1. The engine is very nice and operates well. The engine does not go that slow, about 15 MPH. But this will improve on the newer engines that will have "Cruise Control." As for the speed, 8 scale MPH is very good for an O scale engine. The new engines with Cruise Control will be able to go 1 scale MPH!

    And just one question for you: You said that you used to run HO scale trains a 1 MPH - was that in <i>scale</i> MPH?

    2) There are 2 main Command Control systems in O scale. One is Lionel’s Train Master Command Control (TMCC). The other is MTH's yet-to-be-released Digital Command System (DCS). Off the shelf, MTH engines equipped with DCS will not operate with Lionel's TMCC. BUT, Lionel's engines will operate with MTH's system - off the shelf!

    3) Yes, the sound and Command Control are integrated together. In Lionel's system, you must buy a whole new chip to upgrade. In MTH's you will be able to download the new sounds from the WWW. Cool, uh?

    4) DCS and TMCC include an uncoupling feature that is operable from any point on your layout.

    5) You are correct in your statement, except that the scale locomotive are 1:48 scale, not 1:45.

    I hope this answers your questions!!!

    PRSLou's website
  7. BobMcD

    BobMcD Member


    Thanks for the quick and comprehensive answer. Some further thoughts:

    1) Yes, it's not uncommon for an HO loco to operate at VERY slow speeds using pulsed DC. In fact, Model Railroader publishes their minimum speeds using only pure, filtered DC, because it's so easy to get nearly any HO loco to move at a crawl with pulsed power. I was being conservative at 1 scale MPH. Actually, some folks report much slower speeds.

    2) Bummer that the Command Control systems aren't to a standard. Do all the Lionel features work with MTH control systems? Is there a recent magazine review of compatibility? Last night I found an old O Gauge Railroading (from 1996) which made the compatibility issue look pretty bleak. I was hoping there was an industry consensus since then.

    3) I suppose it's good news that one can upgrade at all. That's VERY cool about being able to download new sounds for the MTH system.

    4) The uncoupling anywhere feature is also very cool. I've never liked being restricted to uncoupling where one has an uncoupler in the track.

    5) Oh. How do we tell which locos are full scale size, and which are not? Do Lionel, MTH, Weaver, Williams, and the rest tell us?

    Lou, you've been very patient with this beginner. I'm enthused about O Gauge, especially for the operating reliability I hope the mass of the rolling stock can help bring. Three-rail seems sentimentally correct, and sure simplifies the wiring--especially with Command Control. And the sound--I like that!

    I envy your T1--that looks like the coolest loco I've ever seen. I'll keep reading, and will probably build a test scene to try my hand at making BIG buildings, people, and scenery after years of HO stuff. Looks like fun.

  8. PRSLou

    PRSLou Member


    A few more thoughts:

    You wrote: Bummer that the Command Control systems aren't to a standard.
    But they are - sort of! You see, train technology has come a long way (since 1996) and the train manufactures are getting closer and closer to making all the sound/Command Control systems to work together. Just wait about 6 months, and I am confident that a lot of the compatibility problems will be obsolete!

    You wrote: Oh. How do we tell which locos are full-scale size, and which are not? Do Lionel, MTH, Weaver, Williams, and the rest tell us?

    MTH labels their scale engines "Premier", and their semi-scale "Railking." Lionel does not really have a system like "Premier" and "Railking" - you just have to guess with them, sometimes. Weaver, Williams, and all the rest just tell you what the scale is - such as scale, semi-scale, traditional(not to scale), etc...

    PRSLou's website
  9. BobMcD

    BobMcD Member


    Aaah, now I'm starting to get it. I HAVE seen those descriptors. Well, it's not a huge investment for me to build a piece of an O Gauge layout (maybe 6-8 feet long, 2 feet wide, or close), and by that time maybe there'll be some more standardization. Also, MTH may have that DCS on the street, and I hear Lionel is working on Railsound 5.0 (an improvement, not a revolution I guess).

    This could all be falling into place for me.

    By the way, does anyone know whether MTH and/or Lionel make retrofit kits for their command systems on locos not equipped or designed for them?

    Hey, other folks, feel free to jump in anywhere here with ideas! This isn't a private conversation between Lou and me, although Lou is one dedicated moderator! Thanks.

  10. PRSLou

    PRSLou Member

    You wrote:
    By the way, does anyone know whether MTH and/or Lionel make retrofit kits for their command systems on locos not equipped or designed for them?

    Lionel does do this, but MTH has not done it - yet! [​IMG]

    PRSLou's website

    [This message has been edited by PRSLou (edited 01-03-2001).]
  11. BobMcD

    BobMcD Member

    Lou, you're right, and I'm getting excited about this. My parents gave me my first train set at the conclusion of WWII. It was a Lionel O Gauge set--pretty nice for the time. I was a very small tyke (3 or 4), and I'm not sure if it was a pre-war or a post-war set, but there are enough collectors out there and information for them that I bet I could track down what it was and perhaps buy one like it. It was a very big deal for me, and even at that age I could sense that it was for my Dad too. I suspect that it cost him a lot of money, at least for our limited budget.

    I played with it for over a decade, and know that die-cast Pacific and each of the cars like I had them in front of me now.

    When (not if!) I get my layout operating, I might try to corral a twin set, so that after all those days I spent imagining MY train operating on a great layout, I could actually see it happen. That would be cool. I guess I'm starting to understand some of what drives the collector folks, although I just want to play with them, rather than hope for price appreciation.

    All this isn't really a conflict with my modeling interests, as they can operate on the same layout. I plan to build with pretty big curves and more realistic track (Gargraves or some such), but that wouldn't keep equipment like my old toy train from operating on it.

  12. BobMcD

    BobMcD Member

    Well, an update. I wrote in another forum (General) at this site about my visit on Saturday to Northlandz, in New Jersey. Their huge HO layout (with smaller O and G displays) started me thinking.

    They don't use sound, but have dozens of trains running at once, mostly on dedicated tracks, generally just a simple loop of track for each train. So a four-track main line is just the visible part of four independent loops, each with a train running on it. That way there are lots of trains running.

    Everyone watching the display was most interesting in a scene when there was a train passing through. Now, these trains were for the most part just inexpensive models, often unweathered, without sound, DCC, or super details. They were generally models of diesels, rather than steam, and they operate continuously, 7 days a week. The locos and cars are eventually worn out, then refurbished or discarded.

    To this experienced model railroader, the whole thing was impressive primarily for three things--(1) the amazing size, (2) the fantastic bridges, and (3) the high level of interest of the visiting public. I repeat that the trains themselves were mostly simple toys, most of the trackwork was unballasted flex track without much fancy trackwork, and the scenery ranged from creative to crude, but the whole effect was excellent, and even people without much model railroading background were interested and attentive. It takes two or three hours minimum to walk through, and most people were genuinely enjoying the whole experience.

    If we want non-railroad-nut people to enjoy what we build, we can learn some lessons. We should have lots of trains running, have interesting bridges, scenic everything (no plywood landscape), and don't worry about brass locomotives, $200 structure kits, non-stop 3-way meets, super-detailed rolling stock, intricate yard trackage, precise schedules with fast clocks, and 'fascinating' switching exercises. Of course, all the "don't worry" items DO appeal to fellow rail nuts, so you can choose your audience and build for them.

    I'm starting to see the genius in appealing to more people, though. I don't really KNOW any other rail nuts, but I have lots of friends (young and old) who'd enjoy seeing a good show of small trains. Maybe I'll build something they'd like, and yet scenic the thing for myself in places up front with a spotlight to put 'em on show.

    If I'm going to run a lot of trains, not emphasizing sound, elaborate switching moves, and super-fancy rolling stock, maybe HO WOULD be a good way to go. Oh, yes. No one at the exhibition seemed to care that a Santa Fe passenger train and a Pennsylvania freight train were operating through the same scene. They just enjoyed each train that went by. And the railroad featured plenty of passenger trains along with the freight. Folks seemed to like that.

    Makes a person think, anyway. Maybe I'll just model the old St. Louis Union Station I knew as a boy--a HUGE terminal with trains of many railroads operating out of it. Outside the station I could have loops of track, and use the station as passenger train staging to run trains out to the loops and 'bring them back' for a rest now and then. No need to try to model the station exactly (or even approximately), just give the flavor with a BIG terminal building. As I recall, Union Station had over 60 tracks, but in HO I'd think that 12 to 18 tracks could give the atmosphere, and perhaps 8-10 passenger trains (each 6-10 cars) of some of the many lines which operated into the terminal would look impressive in the station and give variety to the operations out on the track loops. And I'd really enjoy having crack 'name trains' of several railroads all operating on my layout. There are lots of inexpensive full-length passenger cars available in HO. Just thinking...

    [This message has been edited by BobMcD (edited 01-16-2001).]
  13. PRSLou

    PRSLou Member

    A couple of years ago, I too had the pleasure to visit Northlanz. If ANYONE is near this display, VISIT IT!!!!!! It is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!

    Anyway, Bob, your layout is YOUR layout, but I would not through out the idea of an O scale layout yet...I think that O scale has more of a nostalgic feel to it, and more non-train people like it. But that is just my humble opinion. Do what you like. There is nothing worse than making a layout, spending tons of money, and then not appreciate your work.

    PRSLou's website

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