This Hub is based on the knowledge and experience gained through the trials and tribulations of model railroading. I have been model railroading for about six years. I use it as a way to relax in the evening after a stressful day working in the Information Technology field. Model railroading is actually a multifaceted hobby and you learn many skills including kit building, electrical wiring, railroading history, and real world track layouts. You also learn a lot of about creating miniature landscaping. Seasoned model railroaders participate in what is known as Kitbashing in which you take two or more model railroad building kits and combine them to make a unique structure custom for your model railroad layout!
Did you know that rockers Rod Stewart and Neil Young are avid model railroaders? Rod Stewart has a 23 x 124-foot HO scale layout in his Los Angeles home which is modeled after the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroads during the 1940s. While on tour, Rod Stewart's staff sets up a hotel room in which he can work on his model railroading hobby and often does so before a performance.
Neil Young, financially backed and assembled a technology team for the development of Lionel's Trainmaster Command Control (TMCC) system. TMCC allows you to digitally control TMCC decoder equipped trains. At one time he was part owner of Lionel Trains.
Track Cleaning Tips
Cleaning Wheels on Train Cars and Locomotives
Buy Rail-Zip on Amazon
Use Ballasted Track
I know a lot of seasoned model railroaders will give me grief over this, but I use Life-Like Power-Loc ballasted track for my HO Layout. It has the following advantages:
- It comes with most Life-Like Railroad train sets, so most likely you already have it lying around.
- Comes in a variety including curves, straight, and switched sections.
- Very inexpensive.
- Snap together fit makes it easy to tear down your layout if you are moving.
- Snap together fit always provides perfect rail alignment.
- It snaps together and makes electrical contract without those pesky rail joiners that always seem to work their way loose.
- There is no need for layout boards, nails, screws or other tools.
- The roadbed ballast base of the track allows it to be setup on any surface.
- Track pieces are rigid and can be used to bridge short chasms or rivers in your layout.
- Track employs stainless steel rails so corrosion is not a problem.
- Track is durable and will take the wear and tear of children.
Life-Like Power-Loc Track on Amazon
Use Hand-Vac to keep your layout clean!
Make wiring easily accessible
I use tables with steel legs and laminate tops for my layout. These tables are commonly found at office supply stores. The tables are sturdy, easy to setup and level, and compact when broken down for moving. For ease of access I hang all of my wiring under the exposed lip of the table. I fasten the wiring to the underside of the table using small nylon tie straps. Sure, the wiring looks messy from the point of view of the picture but is nearly invisible when standing next to table. You'll be thankful you hung the wiring like this when troubleshooting or tearing down your layout for a move!
Basic Wiring for Model Railroaders Book on Amazon
Recycle and Reuse
Years ago my wife accidentally dropped her laptop off of the couch arm onto the hard wood floor shattering the LCD screen. You can see the diagonal jagged line where it cracked. Rather then toss the laptop into the trash I connected a monitor, mouse, and keyboard to it and use it to control my Digitrax Zephyr DCC (Digital Command Control) command station. I also salvaged the white table holding the laptop. The top self of the white table had a crack in it and I simply removed that piece.
Mounting Electronic Components
Add slot cars to your layout for some racing excitement!
Car and Train accident on my HO Scale Model Railroad
Add Digital Command Control (DCC) to your layout!
With Digital Command Control (DCC), you can control several locomotives independently on the same common track. In addition, you can control lighting, braking, and acceleration of the locomotive. DCC uses signals superimposed on the direct current applied to the track to control each locomotive equipped with a DCC decoder. You can even control DCC equipped accessories such as track switches. Digitrax offers their inexpensive Zephyr Starter Kit that retails for around $200 dollars that will provide you everything you need to get started with converting your layout from a Direct Current Block Setup to DCC. Basic Digitrax controllers that must be installed in each locomotive to take advantage of DCC start at around $20. Will I grow out of the Zephyr Starter Kit? The beauty of the Digitrax Zephyr systems is that it is just one modular piece, you can add a Booster to increase power to the tracks, or throttles as needed. I have been using my Zephyr Starter Kit for over four years and my layout has not grown out of it yet!
Digitrax Zephyr Xtra Starter Set on Amazon
Mark track insulators so that they are easy to find
Insert rerailers in your layout
Add computer control to your layout
With the addition of PanelPro software, you too can control and monitor trains, switches, and accessories on your DCC (Digital Command Control) equipped layout. The software is free and can be downloaded from JMRI web site. PanelPro can run on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux platforms. You will, however, need to purchase an interface module to provide communication between the PanelPro software on your computer and your DCC Throttle. The Digtrax PR3, which retails for around $80, serves just that purpose for Digitrax systems. Other manufacturers should sell a similar computer interface. If you have a wireless network setup in your house you can use an iPad or Droid device to control trains and switches once you have PanelPro setup and working.
Digitrax PR3 on Amazon
PanelPro demonstration, using an iPod Touch to control a locomotive on my HO Scale Railrod Layout
Leave parts on sprue when painting
A sprue is the passage through which molten plastic is introduced into an injection mold. The term also refers to the excess material which solidifies in the sprue passage. In plastic models, the sprue is the plastic that interconnects small injection molded parts. Leaving the plastic parts on the sprue makes it easier to paint them as it acts as a great handle.
Use a soft cloth on your workbench
Always have a soft cloth on your work bench when fixing or maintaining locomotives or train cars. This prevents them from getting scuffed up during the process. I use a soft car chamois for this purpose that I run through the washer periodically when it gets dirty.
Soldering tool gives a hand
This soldering tool, with heavy cast iron base, adjustable alligator clips, and magnifying glass works great for holding parts in place while gluing.
Helping Hands Solder Tool on Amazon
I don't spend much time playing with my HO Scale Layout in the Summer as I have many outdoor activities and chores. I cover my layout with lightweight plastic painters tarps to keep dust off of it during its Summer hibernation. These tarps work great because they don't knock over buildings and people contained in the layout.
Scott A McCray on August 26, 2014:
Wow - model railroading has come a long way! Then again, I suppose it should have - it's been a long time since I looked into it. Very informative article.
Gayle B Olson from Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada on August 25, 2014:
Very informative. I have two Lionel sets that I am looking forward to sharing with the grandchildren.