HO Scale Model Train Workshop
Welcome to the Monster Hobbies Model Railway Tips and Techniques page! We hope that you will have an exciting time here!
In this section you will find a helpful discussion about model railways and what is involved in making them into the railroad of your dreams. Perhaps you are new to the world of model trains, or you have had some experience and are looking for new ideas. You may also be an old timer to the hobby, but want to learn something new or see if there is a different way to do something you have done before.
I am writing this page to help a person who is new to model railroading so that they can go from just starting their layout to becoming a full out pro. This is a progressive page and I will be adding more sections as I go along. As I continue, more and more articles will appear on this page. If you already have experience in model railroading and you wish to skip ahead to a different section, please click on the red letters below to go to the section you would like to read next.
You may also contribute an article of your own to us via our Email in the “Contact Us” section. We would like to hear from you! In addition, if you wish to submit some of your model train pictures, please visit our Forum section and post in the “Once I Built A Railroad” topic. You will be glad you did!
So sit back, relax and enjoy this thrilling conversation in model railroading!
Monster Hobbies President
The Sections :
Part 1 :
Planning Your New Layout
Model train sets are one of the most exciting purchases you can make! When you get your first model train set, you no doubt were thrilled to open the package as fast as you could and throw together the 36” circle of track, put the power to the rails and watch as your new Locomotive proudly pulled the included freight cars and caboose around the iron rails. Perhaps like most of us, you set up your first railroad on Christmas day around the family Christmas Tree. You imagined that the train was running through hills and valleys, going through tunnels and entering train yards.
However, not long after this time, you started to see the railroad for what it really was…a 36”circle of track on a plain old wooden table, or worse yet, on the living room floor. Nothing could be more boring or sad than that, could it? At this point, you probably thought “What can I do with it now?“.
This point in time is the crossroads of your future with model railroading. There are two paths to walk down. Some people choose the first path : They continue with what they have, perhaps only bringing out the circle of track at Christmas specifically for running under the tree…or they just never bring it out again. When they do this, the railroad hobby becomes less interesting to them until they end up selling the train set in a garage sale or on EBay. Sadly, many hobbyists are lost this way.
Other people, realizing that the simple circle of track is too small for their creativity, return to their hobby shop (or Internet Hobby Shop) to see what can be done about their stifling problem. When they do, they realize that an entire universe of creativity awaits them! Their eyes are opened to different kinds of track, buildings, vehicles, people, and scenery. At this point, their original vision of their railroad on Christmas Day can now become a reality! And with a million different model train manufactures around the world, anything is possible for their layout.
Assuming that you are part of the “Other People” who decide to move to the next step in model railroading, you may feel a bit overwhelmed with what is available and might start thinking “What can I do with it now?“ Well, have no fear. There are many different ways to build your first model railroad, however, without a good plan, everything is effected from track operation to scenery, location and time line. So how do you create a good plan for your layout?
To begin a good plan of your railroad, you must first consider five basic questions : Who, What, Where, When and Why.
For the “WHO” part of your layout, consider who the main star of the tracks is. Obviously, it is going to be the train locomotive, but which one? Is it the Canadian Pacific, the Canadian National, The Union Pacific, Santa Fe, Alaska, Pennsylvania, European Lines, Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends, or something else? Once that is established, you are ready for the next question.
“WHAT” is your train going to be pulling? Do you like the thrill of moving passengers from station to station, meeting timelines, and watching your coaches travel long distances through scenic mountains, across planes, along the coast, over bridges and into tunnels? What about the excitement of hauling refrigeration and box cars from a factory to a warehouse and then to a business? Maybe hauling cars full of coal, logs, iron, concrete, ore, oil, ballast, automobiles, or molten metal is more to your liking. There is also military and air force trains you can run that hauls solders and equipment, like tanks. You can also purchase street cars to shuttle passengers through the residential areas into shopping and industrial zones. Perhaps you want a combination of both freight and passenger trains. The choice of “WHAT” remains up to you.
The next question to consider is “WHERE”. Where is your train going? Is it in England, Canada, America, Russia, or elsewhere? Will it be running through a forest, across a river, below a valley, above a ravine, in downtown, through a dock, along a wharf, in a good part of town, in a bad part of town, along a lake, below the street level, above the street level, on cobblestone, in the rail yard, … the choice of location is again up to you.
Once you have decided on the first three questions, consider the fourth : “WHEN”. The time line is an important part of your layout, if not THE MOST IMPORTANT part of the layout. Why is that? Simply put, if you intend to model the 1880’s, then seeing a 1950’s Diesel engine pulling a box car on your layout will look out of place. Time is an important factor for accuracy. You will need to keep the timeframe constant in order to have historical harmony throughout.
The question of “What” comes up in the things to consider in the “WHEN” section of planning your layout. For example, “WHAT” box car designs were being used “WHEN” Pierson was Prime Minister? What about Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill? Also ask yourself “WHAT” were some of the current events I can model into my layout if I choose a time “WHEN” James Dean was a rebel without a cause? Who was President? Who was Prime Minister?
Now you can see how much the question of “WHEN” fills as large part of your layout.
Incidentally, if you want steam and diesel engines to run at the same time on your layout, you will have to know when each railroad was in the transition from steam to diesel - 1958 for most American Railroads and 1960 for Canada. After 1960, steam was retired from the major rail roads, but stuck around on private lines for longer. You will have to research your selected railroad to know these important transitions.
“WHEN” can also refer to the season of the year your layout exists in. Is it spring when the trees and gardens are beginning to flower and everything looks pink and new? Is it mid summer when the grass is dark green and kids are playing baseball in the park? What about autumn when the trees are red, yellow and orange and Halloween is approaching? Or is it the dead of winter with snow everywhere? No matter the time frame, you will discover a lot of scenery products to cover these times.
There is a nice part to “WHEN” however. With the right type of planning, “WHEN” can be interchangeable.
For example, if you want to build a layout that is set in a time period from 1930 to 2011, you can either have sections devoted to each time period, or build interchangeable buildings and vehicles so that if you want it to be 1949, and it’s currently 1967, you can remove some of the buildings and replace them with period correct ones.
Some railroaders will even have four or five of the same building, but model each one separately to look like how that building would look in that particular decade.
For example, in the 1930’s, the building is a two year old new building, a shoe store owned by Jim Cobbler and his family of 5. It’s located on a small dead end street with two other buildings beside it. One is a grocery and the other is a vacant lot where kids are playing baseball. There’s a shed out the back with the family car in it, a Ford Model T.
In the 1940’s, it’s a recruitment center for soldiers going to fight in World War Two. The shed is gone and another building similar to the shoe store is occupying the space. The street is widened to accommodate more buildings, houses and empty lots behind it. There is also some new houses in various stages of construction. Everyone is filled with “Rah Rah Rah” for the war effort and posters of the Canadian Armed Forces and signs saying “Buy War Bonds” are plastered everywhere.
In the 1950’s, it’s a soda shop full of teenagers who are hanging out with their Hot Rods in the front parking lot. The street is full of new cars and posters for the latest 1955 Chevrolet and Oldsmobile Rocket 88’s abound. The occasional old timer is still driving his Model T down the street as well.
In the late 1960’s, it’s a hippy coffee bar (And secret hemp den). Rainbow colored VW Beetles and busses are everywhere. There are protesters picketing the recruitment center down the street in an effort to stop Viet Nam. Police are attempting to stop the riot. Ethnic groups are mixing.
In the mid 1970’s, it’s a boarded up vacant building in a run down neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks. There are vandalized cars on the streets, broken windows in buildings, flop houses, disco’s, run down hotels, sleazy billiard halls, wild dogs, unkempt parks, crime, violence, and police patrolling from the safety of their cars.
In the 1980’s, it gets a revitalization and looks like a fresh, modern new building. It’s now a computer dealership for Wang Computers INC. Bright neon signs are advertising Pac-Man. The sleazy 1970’s billiard hall is now revamped into a clean, safe, updated video arcade. There is a lot of punk rockers walking on the same street as yuppies and preppies. Buildings are painted in black and white checkerboard patters and bright colours like pink and aqua.
In the 1990’s it becomes the first internet café in the area. The flashy 1980’s colours are either faded out or painted over with browns and greens in earthy tones. The neighborhood has a more professional look to it, seeing as this is now the new business community zone. The cars are modern with the occasional rusty 1970’s and 1980’s cars parked about.
2008, it gets restored to it’s appearance in 1928 when the building was first constructed as part of a historic revitalization zone. Classic cars from all eras are parked in the street and the zone is roped off and full of people enjoying the car show and the unveiling of the revitalized zone in a celebration.
Finally, when you consider the Who, What, Where, and When of your layout, it might change the whole “WHY” of it all.
When you read this first section, you might have had a few ideas about how your layout was going to be. Now that you have considered the first four questions, can you see how and WHY your layout ideas might have changed?
Think about this : If you had an idea that your train was going to haul coal, but then you considered the time period you wanted to model your layout in, would it still make sense for your train to haul coal in the new time period? Coal was primarily used in the steam era to power locomotives. Coal was also used to heat houses and run machinery in factories. But if you decided that the layout is now going to be in the 1980’s, you have to consider “WHY” coal is being used, and how much coal is in demand. WHY would factories use coal in the 1980’s if there is a ban on coal burning industries because of air pollution?
The other aspect of “WHY” is related to train operations. Why does the train go from here to there? What does it do once it gets there? For example, if it’s a diesel engine, why does it go to the Shell Oil Refinery? Is it to refuel or is it to pick up oil tankers for delivery at a gas station along the tracks? “WHY” just split the question of “What” into two points and either one or both could be right. It’s up to you.
With all these new thoughts in mind, take some time to come up with a plan of what you want your railroad to be like. Research some pictures on the internet of the real railroads and see how they do things. Make notes and when you are ready, I invite you to return to this web site for Part Two in our discussion.