Adventures in Model Railroading – Small Beginnings

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People who consider themselves model railroaders, or someday hope to be, had to start somewhere.  Not very many start with a bunch of locomotives, tons of rolling stock, loads of scenery and a ready-made layout just waiting for an engineer.  Usually, they start with a “train set” and a dream.  Even a small oval on a tabletop allows a railroading dreamer to get down to eye level and watch the train roll by.  The clicking of metal wheels on rail joints is a wonderful sound.

You will know you’ve crossed a threshold from having a train set to being a model railroader when someone asks you, “How fast will it go?” and you are offended.  When you talk of operating your layout (no matter how small it is) instead of playing trains, you’ll know you have arrived.

Model railroaders find a way to move from a circle to an oval to their first turnout and spur as quickly as possible.  My first turnout was an Atlas kit I bought at the little hobby shop in our town.  I didn’t have enough money to buy a ready-to-use model, so I tried the the kit.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I tried to put it together on a small piece of plywood.  The result was a mess and it never worked.  The old hobby shop owner saved me.  You will find that used equipment can be your best friend.

For several years a ping-pong table I set up in my basement bedroom was the home of my layout.  Nothing permanent, it was 12 inch brass track pieces and turnouts, most of it used.  The wires weren’t hidden, I taped them down.  What few trees I had were stuck down with clay.  I loved it.  When I first started I set everything up on my bedroom floor,  so the table was quite an improvement.

Whatever you have is a great place to start.  Attend model railroading swap-meets to find hidden treasurers.  Online market places will sometimes have items for sale.  Keep your eyes open and your railroading empire will begin to grow.

Adventures in Model Railroading

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.

 

 

 

 

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Just to make sure I don’t get nailed for copyright infringement, this is obviously a photo of the “Muppets Christmas Carol” when Marley and Marley come to heckle Scrooge. I love the part in the movie when Scrooge is apprenticed at Fozziwig and Mom’s Rubber Chicken Factory, and Fozziwig was going to make a speech. The two old hecklers in the balcony hollered, “It’s time for us to take a nap!” Fozziwig’s speech was something like, “Merry Christmas to everyone!” The Marleys said, “That was dumb! It was short! We loved it!!”

You often hear about the Christmas season being one of the most depression-causing times of the year. There are statistically more heart attacks on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year. What the heck?! It’s probably easy to figure out why.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time, maybe unconsciously, trying to recreate all of the cherished feelings of Christmases past. I think I’m not alone. It becomes exhausting, trying to make everything just perfect, like our memories faithfully recall, so that we can relive all of the best moments once again. The problem is it’s impossible. The past can’t be brought back, recreated, or experienced again. Every moment and experience is brand new, nothing is exactly the way it used to be. That’s not negativity or sarcasm, it’s the truth. And the longer we spend and the energy we waste trying to do something that can’t be done, the more likely it is the actual result will be depression and maybe worse.

Enough therapy, it’s time to remember some fun things.

Most boys at some time want a BB gun, and I was no different. Our dad was an avid hunter, so I naturally wanted to follow. I think I was ten when my wish came true. On Christmas morning I first opened a heavy box that was filled with little packs of BBs that looked like shotgun shells. That was the neatest thing ever. The BB gun I received made an annoying “pinnnggg” sound that was supposed to be like a ricochet. It wasn’t. But it was a BB gun, and I loved it. We spent Christmas Day in the basement shooting at plastic army men with the backdrop of a big box with a quilt folded up inside to catch the BBs.

Another great gift my brother got was a slot-car race track. With super-realistic video games that put you in the driver’s seat of a race car, it’s hard to imagine kids today being interested in slot-car racing, but back then it was the best! We had that track for many years and wore it out.

A gift my sister and I still laugh about was her EasyBake Oven. How I loved it! Yes, I meant to say “I”. My young sister, obviously, had to be shown how to do everything, so I did it for her. We made all of the goodies that first Christmas Day and just about made ourselves sick eating all of the little pies and cakes. (I just thought of something. That EasyBake Oven is probably why I love baking so much and now have people hollering “enough already!!” because all the sweets I made will probably last til April).

Reading back over the paragraph about the BB gun reminded me of the year, I think I was seven, that I received two six-shooters in a holster, designed after the old TV show, “Have Gun Will Travel”. Oh my gosh!! The basement was blue with smoke from the rolls of caps we shot at each other all afternoon! I’m amused how often I see six-shooters like that in antique stores. Until I finally got a BB gun, I took my holster and six-guns on hunting trips with our dad.

One last favorite. When I was fifteen I received my first HO scale train set. For the unaware, HO actually means “half-O”. O scale is the size of Lionel trains. I prefer HO, because, to me and many others, it’s more realistic, and doesn’t take up as much space. That Christmas was fifty years ago, but I still love HO trains, and am getting ready to build another big layout in the basement of our new home. And, by the way, we model railroaders do not “play trains” and we don’t care how fast they go, so don’t ask! They are not train sets, they are layouts. Now that we’ve settled that, I’ll move on.

Merry Christmas.

I think it’s time for coffee.

Model Railroading

 

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Model railroading has been my main hobby since I was fifteen.  My brother and I had O scale trains when we were younger but as I got older my interests changed to HO.  HO actually stands for “Half-O”, so HO gauge is half the size of O gauge.  Lionel trains are the main brand for those who have “train sets.”  In my opinion, for those who are more serious about really doing something with the hobby, HO is the preferred scale.

The photo above is a layout I had until we moved last year.  And, by the way, those who are serious model railroaders don’t have train sets, they have layouts.  A serious layout is crafted from the bench work, which is the wooden frame that is the basis for all the railroading action, all the way up to the track work, the rolling stock, and the scenery.

For me, the railroad operation is not the most interesting part.  The scenery is definitely the most fun.  And scenery is not just trees or grass.  The scenery includes buildings, mountains, grass, weeds, junk, people, everything that is not the track and trains themselves.  The scenery work is never finished.  There is always something more to add, some new little detail, which might be as small as adding small bits of model scrap to a junkyard.

One of the most fun things to do is putting lights in the buildings.  It’s fascinating to get down on track level and watch the trains move among buildings that are casting rays of light through their tiny windows.

My uncle, who is now in his eighties, is the one really responsible for getting me into HO model trains.  In 1970, I spent spring break with him and his family.  We spent the entire week working on trains and going to hobby shops.  In the back corner of layout pictured above, there is a small cottage that we built from scratch that week.  It is a treasure of mine.

Model railroading is a terrific way to relax and forget about life for a while.  Scratch-building items for the layout, including operating signal lights (that’s for another blog session) and other little things is the best.  There is nothing like the sound of the wheels clicking over the rails.

Something that makes it even better is a cup of coffee sitting close by.

– Dale Parsons