Choosing the right size scale is the most important decision.
Okay, so you’re new to model railroading. You’ve been bitten by the same bug that has bitten all of us model railroaders. You’ve drooled over all the fantastic layouts and decided, “this is for me”.
Oops! Cart before the horse – there are some decisions to be made before you leap off this possibly expensive cliff.
- How much space do you have – truthful now.
- What is my budget – get real, keep your marriage intact!
- When will I find time to build my dream layout? Can’t do it in the next 10 minutes!
- Exactly, what kind of layout do I want? Countryside? Small town? Tunnels? Depots? Number of trains?
- Think…write it down on a yellow pad. Lay out your expectations on paper… C’mon, get real here.
Let’s take a quick at the train sizes.
This gives you a thumbnail view of the various train scales. You may find that there is little or no availability on some larger scales as some of them have been around for a while. The most popular size nowadays is the HO scale, but rapidly gaining on it is the N scale, which is what I am talking about in this post.
One of the first things you want to check out on the scale is availability of scenery. You want to check the internet and see what is being offered. HO and N usually have a lot of availability, so you are usually safe there.
I like the Z, but it is so tiny it is difficult for us older folks to work with it and the detail may be lacking. Another problem with Z is availability of scenery and stock.
Back to the N…for me, it is just the right size. Great detail, lots of scenery, easy to work with, great availability of stock and not too pricey.
This brings me to a good point to tell you about a fantastic study guide that has been done by a model railroading expert, Dan Morgan. Dan brings a wealth of knowledge and advice to the table. In addition, there is an opportunity to join the Club where you can get great information and discounts.
It is very inexpensive and Dan offers a 100% money back guarantee if you are not totally satisfied. Here’s the LINK.
In my 81 years on this planet, I have built all sorts of models and loved every minute of it. When I came across Dan’s material, I was hooked!
For me, the reasons to choose the N scale were obvious:
- I have a limited space to make the layout.
- Being retired, I have to live on a budget.
- While I have more time, I don’t have unlimited time, so have to make the most of what I have.
- There is plenty of scenery and loads of stock.
For me, it was a great choice and I encourage you to check out All the scales and make your decision based on your needs and resources. Again, be totally honest in your evaluations. This may save you headaches later.
Take a look at this great video by Kevin Phillips: https://tinyurl.com/y4yg7uwb
Robert Anderson in TrainsBuzz gives a great example about scales:
“As a guide a 40-foot box car in N scale would be around 3.25″ long,.75″ wide, and 1″ high. This compares with a 1:87 HO Scale 40-foot box car that measures around 5.75″ long, 1.5″ wide, and 2″ high. If you want to further compare, a 1:48 O scale 40-foot box car would be 10.5″ long, 2.5″ wide, and 3.75″ high. So, there is a big difference in size, with N Scale being more intricate, but not as suitable for youngsters or older hobbyist with poor eyesight or who might have difficulty manipulating some smaller N scale rolling stock.”
Remember, do your homework BEFORE you begin your purchases. Many model railroaders who own the larger scales have begun to downsize to the N scale as they get older and have less and less space.
Let me interject another important thought here. Price and value. Of course, you can buy a cheap train set. There are plenty of them around. You can go to Walmart and buy a train set. Not saying it may not be a good one, but the old rule still applies, you get what you pay for.
Make sure your locomotive is heavy enough and has enough wheels to get traction on the track. That’s where the juice comes from…the wheels.
Should I do the layout before I buy the train set?
To be or not to be…that is the question! Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I would decide on which layout I wanted then build the train and layout together. Most people do their layout with a kit, which will include the layout and all the materials you need to complete it.
You will want to decide what type layout you want…city, small town, countryside? For those of you who may not be great in doing scenery, you may want to consider buying a ready built layout, say from EBay or Craig’s List. Caveat Emptor (buyer beware!). Know what you’re getting.
You may have to replace all the track if it is not compatible with your train set, so think before you buy.
Buy a set or individual stock?
Hmm…good question. The best answer is to buy what you want, or enjoy. Oftentimes a set does not contain the cars you want, so you wind up buying the set then buying the cars, which is not a bad idea.
I prefer to buy the locomotive I want (period), then build around the locomotive. Keep in mind that you limitation of cars will be what the locomotive can pull. Add to that, how much power does your transformer put out?
I hope I have whetted your appetite for model railroading!
There is far too much to consider putting in a small article like this. That’s why I recommend you spend a few bucks and get professional advice from someone like Dan Morgan. There are many great experts out there and tons of advice and things to avoid on the internet. Take advantage of this information BEFORE you take the plunge.
Look before you leap! Do the research. Ask lots of questions. Visit your local hobby shop if you have one. Again, here’s Dan’s LINK. Check it out and by all means, join the Club. It is well worth it.
I hope you will enjoy your venture into Model railroading. It’s an exciting and educational journey.