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Building a Train Layout Around The Christmas Tree

xmas tree train setErrhe sent in this question for readers:

“Please help me if you can. My wife wants me to build a small Christmas train around our tree. I agreed to do it but with a couple of conditions: I want one that has a circular track around the tree attached to a larger oval where I can build a little village – so I figured I needed a couple of switches.  And I do not want some cheap, noisy, battery powered, train. I want  a train where the track provides the power. This is because when I was little my friend had a train with a missile car the you could stop over a certain place on the track. The first button press opened the top of the rail car and elevated a missile, and then the second press of the button fired the missile. In always thought that was the coolest part of his track.

Anyway I want to start building a model track and village. I want it to be expandable later, and i want it to run on a powered track, not a engine full of batteries. But when I started looking for parts, I realized I really need more information before I start designing and buying pieces.

Almost all the store trains I see, are battery powered and come with a simple circle track. I want to design on am own track layout and use a variable speed control.

My other problem, of course, is my lack of know knowledge regarding scale size. Do I need gauge G, O,  SO or something else? I don’t want to get a scale that is dying out with limited future options. I want to be able to expand on my train in the future.

Yes, I am new to the model train building hobby, but I love working with my hands and I have created many pieces of furniture with beautiful finishes that my wife loves.

If anyone with a passion for trains can help me learn a little, I would be very grateful. It’s more than a simple model, it is a handmade gift to my loving wife and she deserves to best.

Thank you for any knowledge and help you can pass on to me.”

11 Responses to Building a Train Layout Around The Christmas Tree

  • Lloyd Barriossays:

    I would start off with just a simple circle around the tree, and go with a large scale such as O so it will be noticeable. Save the complicated layout for a later date when you can spend the time necessary to make it work like you want. Good luck.

  • Frank Bsays:

    Look at the trains available in a local model shop, and go to a model railway exhibition to get an idea of the available scales and possibilities, or drop in to a local club, they are usually very friendly.

    HO scale (1:87) trains are about two inches high, the most popular and cheapest scale.
    0 scale (1:48) is larger and more visible and can have greater detail, but more expensive.
    G scale (around 1:25) trains are about six inches high, and commonly used for garden layouts.

    You have greater detail at larger scales, but a smaller area of territory represented in the space you have. Draw a plan on paper of the layout with the features you want, in the area you have available, and choose the scale accordingly.

    If you don’t have a knowledge of it, learn the basics of electricity, as this will be essential to solving many potential problems.

  • Frank Bsays:

    You can download various free track planning software, which makes it much easier to visualise the layout and see what track you need to buy.

  • James A. Laddsays:

    Hello Errhe,
    My suggestion would be ” N ” scale , you will get a lot more in the space than with other scales.
    It is more ‘ fiddlie ‘ but worth the effort.
    Lots of loco’s etc.out there ! !
    Good luck with your ‘training’ ! !
    James A. Ladd

    • Frank Bsays:

      With respect, James, I would suggest N scale is not suitable for a floor level or carpet layout, because it is very susceptible to getting clogged with dust and fluff.

      (Not to mention being trodden on !)

  • Bobsays:

    “Power on board” (yes, batteries) would be a safer option and of course more prototypical. (“Real” trains do not derive power from the tracks.) Having DC power in the tracks means that any conducting object such as an ornament or tinsel fallen from the tree onto the tracks will create a short and may heat up possibly causing a fire. Christmas trees are dangerous enough without adding a potential ignition source beneath one.

    Besides all that, the look your wife wants is that of a toy train not a scale model. Best to keep it simple – and fun.

  • Nixsays:

    O & S larger scale but may be good only around the tree. If you wish to expand in future; you need to ascertain the space you can give for your layout.
    HO scale is the most common scale with huge variety all over the world; study-size, more economic than N scale.
    N scale is quite small (approx the size of a board/ permanent marker pen) good for coffee table railway or if you wish to pack in Himalayan ranges in the scenery! Less economic than HO, lesser options & require sharper eye-sight for fixing any possible problems you may encounter on regular basis viz running a railway/railroad!

  • SorenESsays:

    The above mentioned “0”, “H0”, and “N” scales are the ones relevant for a beginner’s indoor use. There are good selections of locomotives, wagons, carriages (or cars) as well as kits for buildings for all of them; most however for H0 (or 00 in the UK. However I guess you are from the US). If you envision your future larger layout with lots of (handmade?) scenery and buildings, H0 or 0 would probably be most satisfactory for you. If you are more inclined to having trains operate like the real world’s goods and passenger services, N will give you the possibility of having more track and switches per square metre at the cost of not so fine details in rolling stock and fixed structures.
    There is the possibility of getting the fine model details of the larger 0 scale combined with less space requirement. It’s called “scale 0 narrow gauge” meaning that the rolling stock uses 16.5 mm wide track like H0, but the people and structures are only scaled down to 1:48. The real life counterparts will be logging lines, mine trains, mixed passenger and freight services in rural surroundings, industrial lines within or near a factory and the like.
    To revert to your original question: a large christmas tree standing on the floor will dwarf scales H0 and N, leaving 0 as the best. A smaller tree on e.g. a plinth or a sideboard will be better with the smaller scales H0 and N. And finally, scale 0 for your wife’s christmas layout and another scale for your own larger layout is another possibility. Do plan a visit to a dedicated train model store before deciding!
    Good luck and Merry Christmas!

  • Gerry Keffersays:

    I’m more inclined to use LSD (no, not the drug) but Large Scale Design. That being said, ‘O’ scale is 1/48th and ‘G’ scale goes from 1/35th to 1/20.5. The best thing about these two scales is that you can buy a lot of cars with action to them. The down side of course is space to set them up.
    Probably my biggest reason for modeling in these scales is that the olde I get the less agile I am and my eye sight dims as well…

  • Don Jenningssays:

    My question to you is “why build a layout around the tree when you can build a ;layout and have the tree next to the layout table”. YES plan a circle of track under the tree just to watch the train go around and around.can be fun to watch. BUT build the layout separate from the tree. Having the layout under the tree hampers the building of the layout because of the low hanging branches of the tree. Think about this first then do what you want to. DonJ

  • Randall Styxsays:

    If you want to simply lay some track for the Christmas seasons and not have a permanent full-fledged layout, you’d probably be less frustrated if you stick with S gauge or larger (S, O, and G). HO and N are not as forgiving on uneven surfaces, even with the integrated track and roadbed snap tracks. S gauge has a dedicated following, but is not nearly as available as O and G. Any scale commonly used on G gauge track is going to take up a lot of space, but it will give the most opportunity for detail, and you might want eventually to get into garden railways. O gauge and its commonly associated 1:48 scale is readily available in most areas. If you go with O gauge, you’ll have to decide between two rail models and three rail (like the old Lionel products). Two rail is more prototypical; three rail is much easier when it comes to reverse loops because it’s A.C. power. If you attach the track more permanently to a rigid surface (like plywood or benchwork), HO and N gauge will enable more layout in the same space. I don’t think any of the major gauges (N, HO, O, and G) are in any danger of dying out anytime soon. If you fondly remember a model train with a rocket launcher, you’re probably remembering either a Lionel O gauge (or “O27 – which was O gauge with 27″ diameter curves instead of the standard 36” diameter) or American Flyer S gauge. If you want to recapture that memory, you’ll probably like O gauge. If you want to apply your woodworking skills onto scratch building either rolling stock or scenery buildings, you’ll find it easiest to get a lot of fine detail in the G gauge scales (most commonly 1:32, 1:28, and 1:22.5). As you shop you will find that you’ll have to pick your G gauge manufactures carefully so that all of your stock is in the same scale.

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