My first HO scale train was a Tyco blue and yellow Santa Fe F-7 with a few freight cars, and an 18 inch radius circle of track I received for Christmas when I was fifteen. My love of trains, however, began on Christmas morning in 1956 when my brother received an American Flyer S scale train set. My fascination with trains has been life long.
Sadly, my new F-7 didn’t work right. It ran backwards pretty well, but wouldn’t go forward. The small town we lived in had a model railroader’s paradise, a hobby shop where I spent a lot of time. The shop was a small garage but it was loaded with HO treasure. The owner loved trains as much as I did and was always willing to help. I traded my Santa Fe engine for an old metal 2-6-0 switcher that squeeked, but it ran. I also purchased two small boxes of track so my layout became a larger oval instead of a circle.
For those unfamiliar with model trains, HO actually stands for “Half-O.” O gauge is the size of the familiar Lionel-type, three-rail trains. HO trains are half that size. I have always preferred HO. The two-rail track and detail is more realistic.
The little hobby shop quickly became my favorite place, and the owner taught me everything he could about model railroading. He also sold me Pere Marquette Berkshire 2-8-4 and Southern Pacific 4-8-8-2 Cab Forward steam locomotives for $10 with a trade and $25, respectively. Unbelievable! Those engines now are twenty times that much! The only thing I still own from the little hobby shop is a twenty-five foot fiber tie strip for hand laying and spiking rails. I’ve never tried that.
The photos above are of my first full layout I built thirty years ago. As you can see, it had open-grid benchwork and it was also my first experience with cork roadbed and ballast. I learned a great deal about what not to do with future layouts. The biggest mistake I made was not planning for taking it apart. When we moved I had to chose the best spots to cut it apart and it was not easy putting it back together.
The unpainted wood stand with the white tank structure was scratch-built forty-two years ago. At one point it was crushed by a basketball, but since has been rebuilt and painted.
In upcoming posts I will include details about benchwork, scenery, and model railroading in general. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.
These are some track-level photos of my most recent HO scale train layout. It was a “shelf-style” layout, which simply means the room I was using was too small to have a free standing layout supported by its own benchwork legs. I used a model railroading magazine specifically for benchwork and just followed sketches to build the shelf supports along the wall.
My first obstacle was trying to figure out how much room I had for the loops on each end of the layout. I didn’t want to build a “down and back” type of track plan. I wanted to allow the trains to run continually, and wanted to be able to run two trains at the same time. So, I ended up with a detailed two-line track plan with several sidings and a couple freight yards to choose from. What I ended up with was a 22 inch outer line radius, and an 18 inch radius on the inner curve. One mistake I made was not allowing enough room through the entire curve for two trains to run side-by-side. I had to make sure the two trains did not run through the curves together. I won’t make that mistake again.
I don’t run passenger trains, so the entire layout was built for freight operation. Most of my buildings are manufacturing style, as a few can be seen in the photos. Although I enjoy operating the trains, my main focus is scenery. As you can see in the photos, the layout was not finished, as there were plenty of bare spots where there were neither roads, grass, or weeds. But, that’s just part of the hobby. The work is never finished.
I used “flex-track” which comes in 3′ sections. I used code 100 rail, which has to do with the fine detail of the rails. For my use, this code works great and it is less expensive. I only use nickle-silver track as it does not corrode as quickly as brass. I don’t know of anyone who uses brass track for serious layout construction. The flex-track works great for my layouts. I have never tried scratch-building track, either with a tie-strip and rails, or by hand laying ties. It’s too much work.
Model railroading is a great hobby. There is just something about trains that have captured my attention my entire life. I take every chance I can get to watch trains. Unfortunately, I don’t live close enough to any operational lines to allow me to watch every day. I am really looking forward to starting my next layout.
Working on trains always makes me think of coffee. Speaking of which, it’s time for more. Coffee, that is.
– Dale Parsons