Everything on model trains, model railroads, model railways, locomotives, model train layouts, scenery, wiring, DCC and more. Enjoy the world's best hobby... model railroading!

Impressive Backdrop Building For Your Layout – Very Realistic!

Scratch Building A Critter… and What is a Critter?

The term “Critter” is one of those not so common model railroading words that confuses many in the hobby.

It is hard to put an exact definition on what a “Critter” is, but generally it could be any self propelled locomotive that runs as a support engine to move other cars around as opposed to being in regular mainline operation. Critters are often reasonably small (3 tons or less) with a small cab, or in some cases no cab at all. Most have a x-4-x wheel arrangement but some in the hobby would argue there are no hard or fast rules on what defines a locomotive as being a “Critter” or not. Some would say a double trucked locomotive of any construction could fit the definition whereas others might disagree. Could a small lightweight piece of MOW equipment that is not considered to be a “locomotive”, but is still capable of pulling cars on a mainline, be a Critter? Would a “Shay” fall under the definition, or would only a small Shay fit the definition? When is a critter, a critter, or not a critter?

Over the years I have heard people define a variety of locomotives as being “Critters” when others might disagree, so it is one of those railroading terms that perhaps we could do without? You might disagree. Anyway, it would be interesting to here what others think, and how you might best define a “Critter.”

critter scratch build

That brings me to a question posted by William who asks others:

“Howdy, this is William and I have been busy with trains again. I have this project…an On30 mechanized bugger. Here is a photo of it that I found on-line. The driver sprocket is covered by a plated cover. I have seen this part and want to purchase one and can’t remember where I saw it. Please help with identification: manufacturer, item#…thanks in advance!”

If you would like to answer the question from William, or give your thoughts on what defines a loco as a “Critter”, then used the COMMENTS link to have your say, or to see what others have to say.

3 Responses to Scratch Building A Critter… and What is a Critter?

  • Sheldon Clarksays:

    I suspect “critter” is a word that is restricted to North American English. In Britain, we would normally use a small shunter or possibly a tug (rare). Other language communities would have different terms, such as “draisine”, “locotracteur” or “Kleinlok” perhaps.

  • David Stokessays:

    That beast in the photo is definitely a “critter”, as are all small, often “homemade” internal combustion catastrophes found in backwoods and other remote rail based transport systems (logging, plantation and outback systems). Steam locomotives are rarely called “critters” but there is probably an example to prove me wrong!

  • williamsays:

    My specific question is:

    Where can I find the drive sprocket cover, the cover over
    the wheel axle?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add a photo or image related to your comment (JPEG only)

N Scale Track Plans

Watch Video


Scenery Techniques Explained

Use Tiny Railroad Micro Controllers

A micro controller is basically a small programmable computer device to help the model railroader “make things operate.” It is clever way to realistically replicate the movements, actions and functions you are likely to see on a full size railroad.

Watch These Club Videos

Club members access helpful new resources each month: diagrams, video tutorials, articles, track plans and more. Watch the tour videos here.

Download Your Free Catalog

Model Train Help Ebook

Model Railroad Building House Plans

rail yard buildings

Model Train DCC HELP


Submit Your Model Railroading Questions!

Before you submit your model railroading question please add some feedback, answers or comments to other postings on this model train blog. What goes around comes around... so if you can help others in the hobby, someone else may help you.

Important - Please add plenty of supporting details to any question you submit (eg. scale, solutions you have already tried etc.) , as the clearest and best questions usually get the best answers. Also, please check your spelling and punctuation as all questions need to be approved by the blog moderator prior to publication. Approved questions are normally published within a week (if not sooner).

Submit your model train questions here.

Scenery & Layout Ideas


Submit Your Article

Would you like to write an article and have it published?

Preference will be given to articles that help others progress in the hobby, maybe suggesting an idea for their layout, a quick tip or two... or perhaps a little bit of good advice based on your model railroading experiences.

We are all in this hobby together, so the more we can do to share ideas and help each other, the better.

Submit Your Article Here

Model Railroading Blog Archive

Reader Poll

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.