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Model Railroads - How to Build Lionel Train Displays

Updated on February 16, 2018

Just Starting Out Building Model Trains

If you're about to build your first model train display, you may be apprehensive, or worried that you'll somehow get it wrong. But as long as you follow all safety instructions properly, there's really no wrong way to make a train layout. There are a few basic ways to go about it. If the model train display is for a child of, say, 8 to 10 years old, you may want to keep things simple, but allow for the child to change the track layout to have spurs, ovals, and straight tracks, or whatever design he or she can dream up.

Model Railroad - How Realistic Do you Want Your Train Display

Often (but not always!) children aren't as concerned about scale and realism. That means that before spending a lot of money on landscaping features and other decorative items, you should try some of what you have on hand already. Stand-up dolls from doll houses often work well, as do little people made from Lego blocks. These basics may keep your child interested for quite a while before you need to add more.

With adults, scale and realism are often greater considerations. Many adults would cringe to see a doll house doll that towered over an HO-scale locomotive. While some people build all their own features from scratch, most build some and buy some. If you think you will build some features for your model train display, there are some basic supplies that will serve you well.

Model Trains

Getting Started - Lionel Trains Display

This hub assumes you already have a model train such as lionel trains or Marklin trains some basic tracks for it. You'll need to locate your layout where you'll have electricity, no extreme temperature swings, and no excessive dust and dirt. A model train can be a big investment, and you want to make sure it will last.

If you can, it's probably best to create a tool kit that is just for your model railway, rather than using your main tool kit. Having the right tools close at hand can mean the difference between spending an afternoon adding to your model train layout, or giving up in frustration. A small hammer, needle nosed pliers, mat knives, wire cutters, and a good pair of scissors make up a basic model railroad tool kit.

A drill, glue gun, soldering iron, and a few basic screwdrivers will probably become useful as you install features and deal with electronic components. Glue sticks for the glue gun, solder, and track pins will round out the collection nicely.

When you decide on a size and location for your first layout, you'll need to attach a piece of plywood to the underside of a heavy paper board or soft fiber board into which you can push track pins.

Customizing your Basic Model Train Displays

From there, it is a matter of adding and configuring track. When adding features like trees, buildings, or even mountains, make sure you have the flexibility to add on and change your layout later. Otherwise you're likely to grow bored with it.

A model train layout is a little world that you create and run, and it is enough fun to keep train enthusiasts happily busy for decades. You don't have to start out spending large amounts of money. Your model train display will evolve as you learn more, and you'll experience the thrill of creativity every time you modify your display a little bit.


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