Model Railroad Set Terminology For Beginners

By: Kanooga


Model railroads can be play toys, but they can also be a lifelong hobby. Just as every occupation has its own specific terminology, so does every hobby. Model railroading is no different. Many of the terms used in railroading are also used in the modeling world, but there are also some terms that are unique to the world of the model railroad.

To a beginner just starting out, the terminology may seem as strange as a foreign language; understanding that language can be the key to enjoying and being a successful modeler. Whether you consider your models a long term pastime, or short-term play toys, understanding the lingo that goes with them is a must.

Here then, are some of the terms a model railroad beginner may encounter, with a brief definition.

NMRA is the National Model Railroad Association, an organization of railroad modelers dedicated to advancing scale model railroading, and providing education, standards, and advocacy.

In the modeling world, a Prototype is the real life object, in this case, a train, on which the model is based. Scale is the ratio of the model to the prototype. The most common scales are HO (1:87), N (1:160), and Z (1:220).

A Train Set is a set that has everything a beginner modeler needs: an engine, cars, track, and power pack. A Shake the Box Kit refers to the most simple model kit, where very little assembly is required, as does Ready-to-Run. Kit Bashing, or Kit Mingling, is when a modeler uses parts of different kits to make an original model. Building a model railroad without the use of any kit is called ‘Scratch-building’.

Layout is the setting of a model railroad, including the train, track, buildings, and landscape. An Access Area is an opening or space in a railroad layout that allows a person to reach an area of the layout that would otherwise be unreachable.

Railroad tracks are made of Rails, which are the t-shaped parts of the tracks that are laid end-to end in parallel lines, and Ties, which are the cross bars that attach to the rails.

Flextrack is a flexible track that can be cut to size to create either straight or curved track. Once it is nailed in place, the track firms up. The rocks that hold tracks in place are called Ballast; in the modeling world, it also helps reduce noise. The Roadbed is the groundwork on which the railroad tracks are laid. It is often made from cork or foam, both of which can be purchased in hobby or craft stores.

Models or layouts may call for white glue, which is a water-based glue (such as Elmer’s), and is good for gluing porous materials like wood or paper; it is not waterproof when dry. Yellow glue (or carpenter’s glue) is resin glue that is also good for porous materials; it makes a stronger joint than white glue, and is waterproof when dry. Craze occurs when glue is put on an incompatible plastic and the plastic is ruined.

An Airbrush allows a thin, smooth layer of paint to be applied to a model, and is a good tool for weathering. Weathering refers to making models look more realistic by simulating the conditions that age a train, such as sun, wind, rain, and dirt.

Digital Command Control (DCC) is the control system used to control model trains. It is the most common system for model railroading.

Turnout is a modeling word that refers to a track switch, which is the device that that lets a single rail track split into more than one. It is called a turnout to prevent confusing it with electric switches, which are used to control electric current. The word Interchange refers to one or multiple tracks which can be used to exchange cars among different railroads. Standard is a measurement or value that allows materials from different manufacturers to be used together, without worry of incompatibility.

Trains as play toys have been around for years and years, and have entertained thousands, if not millions, of children. A model railroad, with its own language, its unlimited potential for growth and new equipment, and its fascination for children of all ages, is just another one of those toys.

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Joe Kanooga is a father of two kids, a successful business owner and the author of numerous articles about the model railroad hobby as well as many popular kids play toys.

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