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How To Properly Weight An HO Rolling Stock Train

Updated on September 11, 2014

I needed a hobby to take my mind off of the stress from work and decided to take up model railroading. I remembered how much joy playing with model trains gave me when I was growing up. I went on Amazon and did some research and finally decided on a Like-Like Trans-American Express train set made by Walthers. This set came with an EMD 7 locomotive, several rolling boxcars, a tanker, and a caboose that fit into the 1950s era which is what my train layout is going to be modeled after.

Setting Up The Track

I temporarily set up track using the Power-Loc track system included in the train set. The setup was a double oval layout and used manual turnouts to switch the train from the outer loop to the inner loop. This was all fine and good but the track layout was boring and the Power-Loc track did not look authentic enough for me. I then went to a local hobby shop and purchased Atlas Code 100 track and set it up in the following layout.This layout is offered under the beginners section on the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) site.

The "frog" of a turnout track section

This was great track layout that allowed me to switch between operating locomotives on the main line and the branch lines at the same time. The only problem was that I was having enough train derailments that would even make Amtrak blush!Two things I came to recognize:1. The locomotive never derailed, even at top speed.2. The derailment of rolling stock cars always started at one of the turnouts.I then proceeded to slowly pull a series of rolling stock cars around the track looking for the reason to the derailments. I soon discovered that the rolling stock cars slightly "hop" when transitioning from a rail to what is know as the "frog" of one of the turnout sections of track. Circled above is the "frog" of a turnout track section.

The little "hop" while transitioning to the "frog" problem

At first I thought that one of my Atlas turnout tracks was defective but soon I discovered that the wheels of rolling stock did this little "hop" when transitioning from the track to "frog" at all of my turnout tracks. Above, circled in red, is a rolling stock car doing the little "hop" while transitioning to the "frog".

Starting to fix the problem

So now I was thinking, why are the rolling stock cars derailing due to this "hop" and not the locomotive. While picking up both a locomotive and the boxcar it came to me. The locomotive was much heavier then the boxcar. I soon discovered that all of the rolling stock cars where much lighter than the locomotive. So I then proceeded put some nuts and bolts in a boxcar till I through it was sufficiently heavier. I then connected the boxcar to a locomotive and ran it at top speed around the track. The boxcar no longer derailed!After doing some research, I came across this web page on the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) site which instructs you on how to determine the correct weight of your rolling stock car:I dug out my wife's old letter scale that she used to determine weight of packages to be mailed.

Postal scale used for weighing rolling stock

Dymo SP5 5 lb / 2 Kg Digital Postal Mailing Scale
Dymo SP5 5 lb / 2 Kg Digital Postal Mailing Scale

I recommend the Dymo Digital Postal Mailing Scale for weighing rolling stock. It is similar to the postal scale I used.


Wheel Weights

According to the Weighting Rolling Stock page on the NMRA site, the formula for HO scale is an initial weight of one ounce plus an additional half ounce for each inch of car length. For example, the appropriate weight of a 7 inch HO boxcar should be 4.5 ounces 1 + (7 x 0.5) = 4.5 ouncesIn order to add weight to the rolling stock, I decided to use self-adhesive ounce wheel weights used in the auto industry. These weights can be obtained at places like the Amazon web site. Above is a picture of the wheel weights.

Stick on wheel weights used to properly weigh rolling freight

Perfect Equipment 100360 Pre-Taped Weight 3Oz 30Pc
Perfect Equipment 100360 Pre-Taped Weight 3Oz 30Pc

This is the style wheel weights I used to properly weight the rolling stock.


Weighting Your Train

Caution: Self-adhesive wheel weights used to balance wheels are made of lead, you should wash your hands after handling them and do not allow children to handle these weights. If children are going to play with the rolling stock cars then I recommend using some other means of adding weight to the rolling stock cars.The first thing you do is determine the initial weight of the rolling stock car. For example my caboose was 2.1 ounces. See picture above.

Determining the NMRA recommended weight of the caboose

Next you need to determine the NMRA recommended weight of the caboose. The caboose is four inches long so the formula would be 1 + (4 x .5) = 3 ounces this is what the total weight of the caboose should be.Next you remove the top of the caboose and place all parts of the caboose on the letter scale. Then you add the once self-adhesive wheel weights until the total weight is the recommended NMRA weight, for the caboose it is 3 ounces. I recommend placing the ounce weights over the trucks. See picture above.

Sometimes you need to drill...

Some brands of rolling stock cars are glued together, you will need to drill out where the top and bottom of car attaches so that you can add the proper weight. See the four circled areas in the picture above.

Other types of rolling stock cars

Above is another picture of the placement of ounce self-adhesive wheel weights in another type of rolling stock car.Now that you added the proper weight to your rolling stock cars, you can enjoy hours of model railroading minus those pesky derailments!

Model Train Sets I Like!

I like all of these model train sets and eventually they will be part of my collection.

Recommended Reading

All of these recommended books are part of my model railroading library. I reference them often!


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    • KathyZ1 profile image

      KathyZ1 4 years ago

      Great lens.

    • jbdkz profile image

      jbdkz 5 years ago from Cleveland

      @YearningAndHarm: DCC or Digital Command Control, has really breathed new life into the model railroading hobby. You can now have multiple locomotives running on the same track without having to do elaborate circuit switching like in the old days with a straight DC or direct current block setup. In addition, there are free applications out there such as JMRI PanelPro that allow you to control your DCC equipped model railroad layout from your computer or even your that even Facebook-addicted iPhone lovers can enjoy the hobby ;-)

    • YearningAndHarm profile image

      YearningAndHarm 5 years ago

      Heh! I was wondering, in today's Facebook-addicted cell phone iPad world, if anyone even did model railroading anymore. And here you are, and you got it down to a SCIENCE! ;-) There was a time when I was 9, and my family moved to Pittsfield, MA, which was a hub for the Boston & Main and Penn Central carriers. There were frequently 4-engine trains of over 100 cars going through there all the time. I remember I would take my paper route earnings each week and go buy one more car to add to my train collection. I thought some of them were rather expensive back then at $20 / car! Well ... this certainly brings back many memories. How interesting to see that Model Railroading is still being published!

    • MJ Martin profile image

      MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose 5 years ago from Washington State

      Wow, this was interesting. Love learning about trains. Congrats on your purple star award.

    • Bairbrae profile image

      Bairbrae 5 years ago

      I really enjoyed your lens. It was very informative.

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      JoshK47 6 years ago

      What excellent info! Thanks for sharing! :)

    • LeopoldBlatt profile image

      LeopoldBlatt 6 years ago

      Superb info on HO Rolling Stock and on several of your other lenses too. Wow, I'm impressed!

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 8 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      I had an uncle whose basement was dedicated to a very large train universe. Congratulations on your purple star!

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      Thanks for all the information you delivered this has kept me occupied I hope you have more information in the future thanks interesting! weightlifting machines

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      happynutritionist 8 years ago

      What a great lens, we had a good friend who collected trains, and there's a wonderful shop in our town just for model railroad enthusiasts. Congratulations on the nomination for the 2009 Giant Squid Awards! ~claudia

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 8 years ago

      My son was crazy about those trains and will for sure love your lens!Congratulations on your 2009 Giant Squid Awards nomination!Dom.

    • EditPhotos profile image

      Edit Photos 8 years ago from Earth

      I love all your lenses on HO Scale Models. 5*****

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 8 years ago from West Virginia

      Organized and informative. Great lens!

    • candyw lm profile image

      candyw lm 8 years ago

      Very good information on setup... loved it ..

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      FitSteph 9 years ago

      Wow what a great hub! If anyone is looking for weight training tips, this is one of my favorite health & fitness sites. It lets you track food, workouts, and calories!

    • MeganCasey profile image

      MeganCasey 9 years ago

      Pretty cool stuff. Ultra specific how-to lenses are my favorite... especially when organized with photos! Thanks for putting this together.

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      Robin S 9 years ago from USA

      Nice work on this Giant quality lens!