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Beginner Needs Advice on Model RR Basics

Roger S posted this question for readers:

“I now have an HO scale train set inherited from my late Dad. Its not a big set, but considering I know very little about trains it’s probably a good starting point. I think he would be proud to know I am finally showing some interest in the hobby. The set with 4 locomotives hasn’t been used in probably 5 years. I’m not too bad at carpentry so thought I would set it up on a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood, which I understand is standard.

I wouldn’t mind some tips on how to clean and maintain the various components: locomotives, rolling stock, and the track etc. Thank you.”

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5 Responses to Beginner Needs Advice on Model RR Basics

  • Steve Attiassays:

    Well, I was in a very similar situation as my Mom was relocating and I came across my Dad’s HO trains that he toyed with a bit after retirement. I have some very old loco’s nobody will touch, but I decided that my retirement needed another hobby. So I set about setting up a 4×8 (not a carpenter- you’re advantage). Fortunately the Model Train community is very friendly. There are hundreds resources out there that cover everything – in fact I know a few that go thru the whole development of a layout. You can find dozens of layout plans – especially for 4×8’s. I started there, I had a vision of what I wanted to accomplish and I started slowly, looking at videos and collecting those I felt would be useful down the road and I also started a diary – noting good “tips and tricks” and recording my plans and also questions to be answered. So from November 2016 till now I have a layout mostly ballasted, completely wired (DC only), and starting on a scenery piece that will center the layout and determine next steps. And I still review videos (also subscribed to some free and pay-for content). eBay has lots of things to fill in gaps (track, rolling stock, scenery, tools); and I visit local model train shows/clubs/swap meets to get some ideas and pick brains> Good luck – and I’m sure your Dad would be proud! Very early layout photo attached was to fit everything and run some tests before fixing it in place and doing ultimate wiring,

  • W Rusty Lanesays:

    I gained quite a knowledge base by watching videos. Engine maintenance is crucial if you want your locos to run properly. My layout started on a 4’x8′ piece of plywood. I ended up using my work bench I built for electronics repair for my layout. Then I added an “L” section to it and expanded from there. My layout is DC only as I cannot justify the expense of sound and DCC. I think DCC is somewhat over rated. Computer control sounds nice but when you have several locos operating at one time, all the additional sound would drive me crazy. When and if you decide to purchase rolling stock, make sure you get body mounted kadee couplers and metal wheel sets. I’m in the process of changing all my rolling stock over to kadee couplers and metal wheel sets. It gets expensive really fast. In the process of changing over to body mounted kadee couplers and metal wheel sets, I’m also weathering my engines and rolling stock as I go. When we moved from GA to TN I had to tear down my layout and it’s been sitting in my barn for about 15 years. This summer after I clean out my barn, I will resurrect my layout. It’s already wired but I plan to expand it with additional track and road bed that I got about 20 years ago. I have an additional 75 feet of road bed and flex track that I never used. Good luck and have fun.

  • mikesays:

    I am in the USA so if you are elsewhere things may be different. There is no reason to use plywood for the benchwork platform it is difficult to use and noisy.. use 2 inch 4 X 8 ‘ pink insulating foam available at hoome depot lowes, etc. Build your platform for this sheet to be placed into with 1×6 dimensional lumber for the frame. use three cross pieces of 1 x 4 lumber as support for the 4×8 sheet so the foam is flush with the top of the 1×6 frame. this will give you the best quietest layout platform with lots of easier installation of wires, and everything else. you won’t have to drill holes, just poke an ice pick through the foam for feeder wires etc. use 2×4 for legs, or if you can’t then make a L shape out of plywood 3/8″ for the legs. Woodland Scenics.com is the place for all you cleaning and maintenance items, there are also many more sites you can find with Google. I would definitley use DCC as a control system, it is simple and much easier to use than DC.

  • David Stokessays:

    For a beginner the 8′ x 4′ style takes up a lot of space in a room – you need access to at least the two long sides, a room 9 x 12 minimum. However you get the same amount of railway with a lot more people room with the following solution. Buy a “seconds” hollow core door and one piece of 1/2″ ply, from your local DIY store. Ask them to rip the door in half lengthwise(Which you ;then glue timber strips into the cut sides for strength) and the ply into 2 4′ x 4′. (frame the ply with 3″ x 1″ for rigidity).
    Set these up in the corner of a room and you end up with about 15′ of run with return curves (albeit tightish) at each end, giving you a complete out and back circuit. Depending on how you landscape your layout, it could be a city with hidden staging, a mountain mining/timber town, or a port even. The possibilities are endless and you won’t be “taking over” the living room with a dirty “big” 8 x 4.

  • David Stokessays:

    OK, that’s the area and shape sorted. Now track – I gather that you already have that, but my advice is, unless it is modern flex or set track, dump it and by what you need for your new layout design. Wire your layout using Linn Westcott’s book from Kalmbach as you probably already have analogue controllers. You say your locos are old – that does not mean obsolete. Service them. Clean the wheels taking due care of the flanges – get all the lint out of the bearing surfaces – clean and lightly lubricate them. Remove the bodies and give them a good wash with dish detergent, rinse and air dry them. Use care and an old artists paint brush to get into the corners. Lubricate the motor bearings. Older locos have rather deep flanges and they bump along on the sleeper spikes so it is possible, with care, to reprofile them by running the engine and filing them down. I’ve not ever done this, but I have seen it done successfully. Something I have done though is load the loco over the wheels (or point of balance for steamers) with weight to increase pulling power. Lastly get an NRMA (National Model Railroad Association) gauge and check that the wheels are in gauge and that their back to back measurement is within standard. Doing all this might seem like work but old equipment will run and look good if time and effort od=s taken.

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