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Start a Model Railroad - Run Model Trains

Updated on May 12, 2011

Getting Started In Model Railroading

Got the itch to start a new hobby? Maybe your son or daughter is "about that" age when you were first enthralled by trains as a child. Or maybe you've recently seen a model railroading show or magazine and were interested in the hobby.

Model railroading is a great hobby, one with a very long history and a hobby with very wide scope and areas. Model railroading encompasses everything from a simple circle around the Christmas tree to full blown, two-car sized garage layouts. Within every layout despite its size is a fascinating number of skill sets to learn and explore. There is electrical work, history and research, carpentry, model building, painting, operation and so on. To be sure the range of interests captured in the world of model railroading is vast and so it can also be intimidating to the beginner model railroader. Luckily there are a lot of great information sources from magazines and books, to clubs and online forums.

Model railroading can also be an expensive hobby especially from the outset because you probably don't have a stock pile of tools and equipment. Before you can even run your first train you'll need a power transformer, track, switches, wiring, bench work etc as well as the trains themselves. If you think the trains themselves are expensive, watch what happens as the supplies and trips to Home Depot start adding up. At the very minimum a very basic layout is going to set you back $500.

Unlike say an RC Car hobby, model railroading's cost just start at the purchase of a train locomotive or starter set. But then again that's where the magic of model railroading comes in because there are so many places you can go with the hobby, it never gets boring. There is always something new to do, build or purchase for your layout. That's why they call it the world's greatest hobby.

I jumped back into model railroading a few years ago (after 25 years) when my son received a train set as a gift. It had a diesel engine, passenger cars, oval track and a controller. Well, it didn't take long for me to take over the train set from my son and start planning the ultimate layout I had been planning in my head since I was about 14 years old.

After some rather ambitions plans of my own, I recommend staring small. Although you don't ever really want to "finish" your layout, you do want to get something finished for a sense of accomplishment. I suggest getting your feet wet by building yourself a mini or micro layout. These small layouts can simply be a "pizza" (just a circle) or have one or two switches. Plan on it being a display layout or example of what you'll have on your future train empire. This way you can get down the basic electrical skills, scenery skills and build a few models. You'll be surprised how much there will be to do on your little pike and you can get the kids involved.

While you work on your small layout you'll be collecting the tools, supplies and skills you'll need for your lifetime of model railroading fun. You will also start to get to know the suppliers and your local hobby store. You'llĀ  start to formulate the kind of layout you'll eventually want to build (logging, industrial, passenger etc) and even figure out which scale you might eventual want. There is nothing wrong with stating out with a small n scale pizza and then later creating a large G scale garden railroad. The skills you learn can easily scale up or down.

One caution I have during this exploratory phase is to watch out for layout envy. Books and magazines about model railroading abound but they tend to focus on large showy (and very expensive) two car garage type layouts or club layouts which have taken decades to build. If you look at the bios of the modelers in Model Railroading magazine you'll see that many are retired V.P.s of major corporations with a large golden parachute to spend on their hobby. Some even hire out the actual work on their layouts. Looking at glossy photos of huge layouts, its easy to start dreaming big and then find yourself overwhelmed when nothing gets finished. Better to start small and add on. Perhaps your starter layout can be the beginning of something larger.

So to start out in Model Railroading pick up a few magazines, see where your interests lie, buy an inexpensive starter set and build yourself a little layout. Build a few models, plant a few trees, run your trains around and then start giving that 20 year who hasn't left home yet a few hints that his room would make a great layout room.

Copyright 2011 - Edward M. Fielding


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    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I enjoyed the read and voted Up!


    • funwithtrains profile image

      funwithtrains 6 years ago from USA

      Great hub! Thanks for commenting on mine.



    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Great Hub! There is a fellow Hubber that I follow that you may want to check out: He has some great Hubs on this content and is very active in this hobby.

      I am not really into model trains but maybe as I get older I will be. I love trains in general, but lack the time and money that go into this activity. Nice job!