Collecting model trains is an ideal hobby for “kids” of all ages and can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like to make it. Model railway trains is a hobby shared by thousands of armchair conductors all over the world and is supported by a wealth of resources – both commercial and within the model train hobby community.
Starting a model train collection is a very personalized hobby and you should spend some time up-front carefully planning how you’d like to get started. While there’s no formal right or wrong way to start building your collection, spending some time to define your model train areas of interest will help you stretch your hobby dollars.
For example, do you just want to collect trains or would you like to build a fully functioning train track? Does your interest lie in older trains or the more modern variety? Answering some of these questions up-front will help ensure that you build your collection and railway kits in the best (and most enjoyable) way possible.
The History Of Model Trains
The hobby of collecting model trains started at about the same time that trains appeared on the rails. The first models were used to promote the railway industry and were often shown to people who had not yet seen a train. Many of these models were expensive working steam engines and thought to be collected only by wealthy hobbyists.
In the late 19th century, Marklin was the first company to put out a complete train set with a clockwork (wind-up) drive mechanism. While these initial sets were expensive as well, Marklin also manufactured accessories that the hobbyist could use to personalize his trains and track setup.
As more companies started to manufacture and sell railway kits, model trains, and train accessories, the hobby became more affordable and exploded in popularity in the early-to-mid 1900’s. The hobby of model trains continues to capture the interest of railway hobbyists all over the world.
Did You Know?
- According to Guinness World Records, Miniature Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany owns the record for the longest model train. The train is over 350 feet long and consists of three locomotives and 887 carriages!
- The original four United States time zones were established by US railroads.
- The fastest train runs over 300 miles per hour and takes about ten miles to come to a complete stop.
Getting Started With Model Trains
One of the most important things to understand when getting into this hobby is the term scale. Scale is the ratio of size of the model to the real thing. G scale is at a ratio of 1:22.5. These are large and are mostly used in outside garden tracks, hence, the designation G (for garden) scale.
O scale is 1:48. Marklin was the first to introduce O scale in the early 1900’s. These scale trains were made popular by being kid-friendly and affordable. HO scale derives its name from being about half the size of O scale at 1:87. HO is presently the most popular of all scales. HO model trains are easy to find, affordable, and what many call “just the right size.”
Z scale is the smallest at 1:220. Z train kits can fit easily onto a small coffee table. N scale is a more popular miniature scale at 1:160. It is still quite small, but much more affordable.
For the beginner it is often best to go with the inexpensive and versatile HO scale. These sets start at under $30 and go as high $1,000 or more. You’ll also want to buy a few basic tools such as cleaning brushes, cleaning fluids, and precision screwdrivers. These tools will come in handy when assembling and maintaining the tracks, locomotives, and cars.
The Steps Involved With Model Trains
As you’re deciding on the type of train setup you’d like for your model trains hobby, you’ll also need to set aside space for your track setup. The size of this space will also help you determine what scale train will be best to choose. Especially when getting started, budget for more space than you think you’ll need. You’ll be surprised how much space your track and accessories can take.
Now that you know the amount of space you have available and the appropriate scale of train, you’ll next want to plan a general layout of your track. As a beginning model trains hobbyist, you may want to start with a complete kit. However, designing a general layout will help you narrow down a kit selection as well as any additional accessories or track you may need to purchase.
Now that you’ve purchased your kit and equipment, it’s time to build your railroad and get your model trains running! Carefully unpack and inspect everything and read the instructions. It’s fun to dive headfirst into a new hobby but take your time – there’s no rush and there’s no race (or reward) for how quickly you build your railroad.
With your track built it’s time to take your trains online. There’s something magical about the experience of your model trains’ first loop. Pay attention to any hitches along the journey and adjust the track and car connections as needed.
While most model trains and tracks are fairly robust and provide years of enjoyment, take care of your investment by properly storing your trains and supplies when not in use. This is especially important if you have a cat – you’d be surprised at how adept cats can be at running (or ruining) your train set.
Continue to enjoy your model trains and the fun of being your own conductor. Gradually add to your setup with additional track, landscaping, carriages and accessories.
Model Trains Tips And Tricks
The following tips and tricks and help you get more out of your model train hobby…
- Take plenty of time planning for your model trains and track. Ask most railway hobbyists and they will tell you that a common mistake is buying the wrong scale or track setup.
- While you may find a larger selection and cheaper prices online, it helps to patronize your local hobby store. You’ll often find knowledgeable employees who can help answer all of your questions and also provide product recommendations. Your local hobby shop is also a great place to meet other model train enthusiasts.
- Pay attention to detail with your landscape and track accessories. Spend a little time and make sure your purchases “fit” together. For example, don’t pair a bullet train setup with passengers who are dressed in early era clothing.
Growing Your Model Trains Hobby
As you gain more experience with model trains consider some of the following options for ways to take your hobby to the next level…
- Build a model train or train track setup from scratch.
- Join any number of the local and many online groups that cater to model train hobbyists.
- Some model train hobbyists go out of their way during the holidays and construct a seasonal layout to show others in their garage or even front lawn.
- Expand into other model areas such as cars, planes or ships.
Related Model Train Resources
The following online resources can help you learn more and get started with your model trains hobby…
National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) – Devoted to the development, promotion, and enjoyment of model railroading.
Model Railroader – World’s largest magazine on model trains and model railroad layouts for beginners and advanced hobbyists alike.
Lionel – One of the nation’s oldest suppliers of model trains and model train accessories.
Related YouTube Videos
Check out the following videos to learn even more about starting this hobby.