Model train toys are a lot of fun but they are not cheap. So before you invest your hard-earned money, it pays to do a little up-front research. This article provides some brief guidelines for to help you get started with buying model train toys.
There is a lot more to this hobby than just buying a couple of train toys to push around on a makeshift track. Instead, you need to consider everything from the materials from which the tracks are made to the locomotives, cars, wiring, power-pack components, and whether or not to purchase complete kits or buy each item separately.
One of the first things to consider is the scale. The most popular scales are O scale and HO scale (half-zero). O scale is 1:48 scale while HO is 1:87 scale. However, smaller and larger scale models are also available. The main consideration here is your availability of space. If you plan to fit your layout on a 4x8 piece of plywood, HO scale is a great choice for that. If you have more space and more money to spend, O scale is a great choice. There are lots of accessories available for either HO or O scale.
Another decision to make is whether to buy a complete kit or individual components. Kits are recommended for beginners because they provide the essential items at an affordable cost. The downside of buying individual components is it will cost more money and take more time to put it all together. However, for more serious model train hobbyists, buying individual components is recommended because it allows you to upgrade and customize your selections, making your set uniquely yours and totally awesome! Kits typically include standard quality items, which are okay for beginners but maybe not okay for more serious railroaders.
For the cars, as long as they are the same scale as your track, you really cannot go wrong. Buy the ones you like the best and have fun collecting unique and interesting cars.
One of the most important model train features is the track. Tracks have rail heads, which are made from three basic materials, brass, nickel-silver and steel. However, there are really just two choices here because brass is being phased out by most manufacturers and is already hard to find in hobby shops. The best and cheapest place to find brass track is in garage sales. So your remaining choices are nickel-silver and steel. Nickel-silver is the easiest to find and most commonly used. It is very popular because it is slower to oxidize, which means less maintenance and less cleaning. Steel has the advantage of looking the most realistic but it has the disadvantage of rusting faster and getting dirty faster. So if you want that awesome look that steel offers, you have to be willing to work harder for it.
When looking for track, look for a code on the track packages. This number relates to the height of the rail. The most commonly used track code is 100 on the HO scale. Model train enthusiasts often use lighter rails or those below 100 as an alternative to achieve a more realistic appearance.
Another important component is the locomotive. Here the choices are diesel versus steam engines. Steam locomotives are very fun because of the loud train sounds and smoke but are typically more expensive than diesel. Diesels are typically available as either 4-axle or 6-axle. Your choice here depends partly on the twists and turns of your track layout. For HO track, a 4-axle diesel requires a minimum track radius of 18 inches while a 6-axle diesel requires a minimum track radius of 22 inches.
Lastly, consider your electrical needs. You will not only need a power-pack but also wires to keep your train up and running. Different trains require different types of power. Most experts agree that HO locomotives pull between 0 to 15 volts DC at .5 or more amp, though adding extra amps is always a good investment. Invest in colored wires to make wiring that much easier. This helps you to keep track of positive and negative charges so that you can avoid a short.
What began as train toys can quickly become a far more serious but still very lovable model train hobby. This guide should help you get started so you can safely move past the serious issues and proceed directly into the fun times.
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Joe Kanooga is a father of two kids, a successful business owner and the author of numerous articles about model train toys. Click here to download a free model train guidebook filled with hobby tips, ideas and information.
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