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Advice for starting an ho scale layout?

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Advice for starting an ho scale layout?
Posted by Model Trains and Railfanning on Saturday, January 05, 2019 8:08 PM

I am about to start on building an ho scale layout and what wondering what advice people have. Thanks! 

Nathaniel Nagel

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Saturday, January 05, 2019 8:15 PM

The old Model Railroader slogan was Dream, Plan, Build.  I can't think of a better starting point. 

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by 7j43k on Saturday, January 05, 2019 8:54 PM

Get the various Kalmbach starter books on the subject and read them.  Then act accordingly.

 

Ed

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Posted by xboxtravis7992 on Saturday, January 05, 2019 9:58 PM

Define what you want and what interests you the most and what is possible in the space you have:

Do you like watching trains loop in circles through scenery? Maybe a classic table or dogbone shaped layout is the best fit for you.

Do you like running trains that imitate the prototype via switching and dropping off cars? Then a shelf style switching layout might be best. 

Is there a specific space of real life prototype railroading that tickles your fancy? Design a custom layout to model that real life space the best you can. 

Do you have little space available and what some flexibility in the layout? Try building it to follow popular modular styles such as Free-Mo or NMRA standards so you can easily swap in and modules and perhaps join a club to build a bigger layout as a group. 

Do you (to quote the late Freddy Mercury) "want it all" with a massive basement sprawling empire with a dozen scenic highlights, countless spurs, hidden staging yards, CTC controlled signalling and LED lights in every building and street lamp? Build a smaller layout first to test the skills you want to take to that basement empire someday in the future. 

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Posted by dstarr on Saturday, January 05, 2019 10:07 PM

Get Track Planning for Realistic Operation by John Armstrong.  It  has all sorts of info that you will need.  An around the walls layout will give you more layout than a table in the middle of the room layout.  If you do a 4 by 8 table top layout (many start with one)  think about a view block down the center of the table to divide the layout into two scenes. You can put a paper photo back drop on the view block, or just painting it sky blue is pretty effective, or if you some artistic talent, a free hand painted backdrop.  Think about a big deep river valley somewhere that your main line can cross on mighty bridge.  Even if you don't model the valley and the bridge right away, if you plan for it, the space will be there when you need it.  Much of the fun in model railroading is seeing the trains run under their own power.  I would push hard to get something running as soon as possible.  You can keep working on the layout and add more track, scenery, everything, but getting something to run is a big motivator.  I would start off running DC, it's simplier and you can convert to DCC later if you get into operating with friends.  If it turns out to be a sole operator layout there is little need for DCC.  Good Luck.  Have Fun.

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Posted by hon30critter on Saturday, January 05, 2019 10:07 PM

Hi Nathaniel,

Have you looked at the 'Get Started' section of this website? It's in the black strip across the upper part of the main page.

As far as my My 2 Cents goes:

- Resist the urge to buy everything that looks good to you, that is unless you have deep pockets and lots of storage space.

- Before you start buying rolling stock, learn what is worth spending your money on and what isn't. A $20.00 locomotive on eBay is not a bargain. It's a disaster.

- It's your railroad. Run what you want, but....

- If you have a 4' x 8' space and you want to run Big Boys or 89' container flats, it just won't work.

- Get a copy of John Armstrong's 'Track Planning for Realistic Operation' (exactly what David Starr is recommending). I designed my original layout without it, and after I read the book I realized that my 'perfect' design would have been pretty much disfunctional.

- Be realistic about what will work. If you are using pencil and paper to plan your layout get the turnouts and the curves drawn accurately. Better still, get a CAD program. It will prevent you from trying to squeeze things in where they won't fit. I love 3rd PlanIt but it's not free. There are free track design programs available.

- Go with DCC to start. (Directly the opposite of what David Starr is suggesting). Yes, it costs more than DC but it allows you to focus on running your trains instead of having to constantly keep an eye on track polarity. Sound is neat too if you manage it properly, i.e. turn the volume down. If you go with NCE it is not complicated to get started. Digitrax is IMHO.

- Build your grades so that the trains that you want to run can actually get up them. Remember that a grade on a curve increases the pulling power required.

- Ask us lots of questions! We are more than willing to help.

- Have fun!

Dave

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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Saturday, January 05, 2019 11:32 PM

hon30critter
Get a copy of John Armstrong's 'Track Planning for Realistic Operation' (exactly what David Starr is recommending)

I also recommend this book.

You don't say, but assuming this is your first layout keep it small and not too complicated.  There's a lot to this hobby that is not readily apparent until you actually build a layout.  Don't glue anything and you can reuse it all on your second layout.

Personally, I started with a 4'x8' trackplan from Armstrong's book that was in the first edition (sadly not in the current 3rd edition) that was a basic twice around all one level with a crossing.   I learned a lot from it.  And since nothing including benchwork or plywood was glued, I was able to reuse all of it including wood for my second 6'x6 1/2' layout of my own design.

Paul

If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
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Posted by Harrison on Sunday, January 06, 2019 7:34 AM

Start small, take your time and have fun. "Model Railroading is fun!" Do some reading about layouts, track plans, and scenery. Pick a track plan that fits your space and modify it to your liking. Model Railroader is good reading, has something from every topic. Before starting scenery, I recomend making a diorama on a small piece of foam or plywood, and practice different methods before trying it on your layout.

Harrison

Homeschooler living In upstate NY a.k.a Northern NY.

Modeling the D&H in 1978.

Route of the famous "Montreal Limited"

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Posted by jjdamnit on Sunday, January 06, 2019 12:46 PM

Hello all,

Check out the National Model Railroad Association's web page.

Under the "Education" tab, there is a "Beginners Guide".

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by BigDaddy on Sunday, January 06, 2019 1:23 PM

Agree with the Armstrong book.  Agree with going with DCC unless it's going to be a tiny layout. 

Pick an era, a region or purpose for your railroad and your purchases.

Do good work.  Tracklaying isn't delicate as eye surgery but you will regret sloppy construction forever.  There is no excuse for lumps and bumps, or kinked tracks.

Newbies want everything.  The atlas track plan book will show you can have everything in a spaghetti track layout.  You can do that, but it won't look good and you won't be happy. 

You may run across the term switching puzzles, presented as something you have to have.  The are unprototypical games, and not a must have.

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by xboxtravis7992 on Sunday, January 06, 2019 6:52 PM

hon30critter

- Go with DCC to start. (Directly the opposite of what David Starr is suggesting). Yes, it costs more than DC but it allows you to focus on running your trains instead of having to constantly keep an eye on track polarity. Sound is neat too if you manage it properly, i.e. turn the volume down. If you go with NCE it is not complicated to get started. Digitrax is IMHO.

Yeah I got the same opinion here. There really is no reason in the year 2019 not to start with DCC out of the gate. Simply put, DCC is like the iPhone-Android smart phones of the model railroading world, and DC is like those big brick phones from the late 80's. Yes, DC does offer some advantages in that its cheaper and somewhat simpler to wire... if you only intend to run one train at a time. However as soon as you want to run multiple trains DC requires wiring with insulated blocks for the yards and sidings, setting up control panels, etc. In comparison, buy an NCE DCC starter kit; make sure there are a few feeder wires to keep all the lines powered and boom; just like that you can run a small fleet of trains altogether in the same power block. 

The only analog system that offers a bit more versatility than DCC I would dare say is the AC systems used by Lionel and Marklin, but then you have to accept your track is always going to have a third rail or hidden power feeders in the ties. The AC wiring though is so stupidly easy or non-existant compared to DC or DCC systems its a tempting trade-off for some. For example a wye or reverse loop on a DC/DCC track is a short without the right hard wiring, on an AC three rail system its pretty easy to set up with a few insulating pins. There are also some new systems being tested with radio control and battery powered locomotives but those are so new to the market they aren't common practice yet so don't worry about those yet. 

Also one note of caution, I have never really read much of John Armstrong's books on layout planning; but the bits I have seen do have some elements that have aged poorly in the last few years. Lots of 18" radius curves, odd operating set ups like switchbacks at otherwise flat industries, etc. He was a pioneer in track planning, but much of what has happened since has grown beyond the foundation he started building (Its like Yoda said about the burdern of masters and watching their students grow beyond I guess...). My recommondation for modern lessons on layout design? Bryon Henderson's LayoutVision website. He has a pretty good grasp on building like a prototype railroad and removing the 'toy train' aspects of many old fashioned layout designs. 

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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Sunday, January 06, 2019 7:46 PM

xboxtravis7992
Also one note of caution, I have never really read much of John Armstrong's books on layout planning; but the bits I have seen do have some elements that have aged poorly in the last few years. Lots of 18" radius curves, odd operating set ups like switchbacks

John Armstrong did a lot of designing for small space layouts.  As such, 18" curves and switchbacks were often necessary.

In his book Track Planning for Realistic Operation he discusses some of the tradeoffs you have to make. He also covers how railroads did things and some of the ways you duplicate that on your layout.  His book Creative Layout Design (sadly out of print) is a good part two to Track Planning for Realistic Operation.  These two books are the best at showing John Armstrong's talents for model railroad layout design.  IMHO everyone in the hobby who wants to design their own layout should have these 2 books.

Personally, the only way I can accomplish what I want in my space requires that I use sharp curves and aisleways less than 3' in most places.  But testing of my equipment shows that what I will be running will work just fine for me.

Paul

If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, January 07, 2019 7:00 AM

Model Trains and Railfanning
I am about to start on building an ho scale layout and what wondering what advice people have. Thanks! 

.

Is this your first layout? That makes a big difference in what you should be doing.

.

-Kevin

.

Happily modeling the STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD located in a world of plausible nonsense set in August, 1954.

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Posted by hon30critter on Tuesday, January 08, 2019 2:13 AM

xboxtravis7992
Also one note of caution, I have never really read much of John Armstrong's books on layout planning; but the bits I have seen do have some elements that have aged poorly in the last few years. Lots of 18" radius curves, odd operating set ups like switchbacks at otherwise flat industries, etc.

I think that his use of tight radii is secondary to the value of the information in his book. The book is extremely valuable when it comes to understanding how railways actually work, and it offers modelling opportunities that prototypical operations might not.

For example, my first (uneducated) attempt at designing a yard looked great to me. Then I read Armstrong's book and I realized that my 'perfect' yard design would not have worked well at all. In fact, it would have been quite disfunctional.

As far as his use of switchbacks at industries, I think that one has to recognise the operating interest that such track arrangements provide. Whether or not they are prototypical of modern operations isn't really the point. The switchbacks give the operator something to do besides simply running trains in and out of a siding. On our club's new permanent layout we are deliberately adding in non-prototypical track arrangements in some of our industrial sidings simply because they will provide an opportunity for an operator to move cars about for a couple of hours without going on to the mainline. Prototypical railways would do anything to avoid unnecessary car movements. We chose to do exactly the opposite.

The book is well worth reading. You will get an enormous amount of useful information from it.

Dave

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Posted by bearman on Tuesday, January 08, 2019 4:50 AM

I am fairly certain that my comment might meet with some resistance, but I would suggest starting off with a simple 8' X 4' layout with a starter DCC system.  A couple or three spurs and a siding and you can get some expereince running a train, switching industries and figuring out what you want in a larger layout if it comes to that.  Beyond Armstrong's book, MRR mag has a lot of great 8' X 4' layout plans in the data base.

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Tuesday, January 08, 2019 5:02 AM

With the tons of legitimate good advice given in the answers, I am afraid we have either intimidated the OP or he just poked a stick into the anthill to see how we frantically move around.

With 13 posts so far, the OP is not under moderation and could have shown up and give a feedback.

Happy times!

Ulrich (aka The Tin Man)

"You´re never too old for a happy childhood!"

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Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, January 08, 2019 5:18 AM

Heck, he just started this thread on Saturday. Maybe he works for a living and cannot reply during the week.

But, the real issue is the opening salvo, "I am about to start on building an ho scale layout and what wondering what advice people have".

The question is so broad as to defy any real substantive answers. So what is there to reply to?

Rich

 

Alton Junction

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, January 08, 2019 6:04 AM

richhotrain
Heck, he just started this thread on Saturday. Maybe he works for a living and cannot reply during the week.

I'm busy a lot and I work for a living but it's easy to reply to a topic these days what with computers at home, at work and smart phones in the pocket.  I agree with Ulrich, the OP could drop by and help us better help him sooner than later.  So maybe he can't drop by the forums on his lunch break at work, what about home?  What about while visiting the loo and post on the smart phone?  WhistlingLaugh  Where there is a will, there is a way.  Truth!

The question is so broad as to defy any real substantive answers. So what is there to reply to?

Rich

Yes, often people come in and need to throw us a bone to get better help.

 

bearman
I am fairly certain that my comment might meet with some resistance,

but I would suggest starting off with a simple 8' X 4' layout with a starter DCC system. 

A couple or three spurs and a siding and you can get some expereince running a train, switching industries and figuring out what you want in a larger layout if it comes to that.  Beyond Armstrong's book, MRR mag has a lot of great 8' X 4' layout plans in the data base.

Resistance is futile!

For a beginner, I totally agree.  Lacking any information, start with a 4x8 and use that platform to build the basic skills of building a layout.  Then you can think about leveling up to a larger layout after that.

I don't think it makes sence to write a treatise for the OP until he fills us in on some specifics.  

 

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

Silly Aspie's, I have NT syndrome

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Posted by kasskaboose on Tuesday, January 08, 2019 6:43 AM

There are a lot of factors to consider in this hobby.  MR is something that provides a lot of enjoyment with building new things, recreating a part of a childhood, or trying new skills. 

Perhaps the OP wants to see this post "grow a bit" before providing more detail.  We've provided a lot of sound advice.  The suggestions here require serious consideration.  I get that this hobby requires a level of dedication.  I too have a family and a full-time job.  Devoting hours to it daily are not possible.  Heck, even giving 45 minutes at night is not always possible. 

There is a dizzying amount of information on this hobby online.  Something unmentioned is talking to a local LHS or NMRA group.  Perhaps the OP can find a mentor who can steer the OP through some of what's above. 

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Posted by dslack490 on Friday, January 11, 2019 4:55 PM

Keep a record of what you did each day during the construction of your layout. I did this just because I am curious to see how long the railroad took to build.

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Posted by Model Trains and Railfanning on Friday, January 11, 2019 10:33 PM
Yes it is. Sorry for not mentioning that earlier.
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Posted by Medina1128 on Monday, January 14, 2019 7:57 AM

I think one reason people start, and rarely complete, layouts, was because of poor planning. Give careful consideration to what kind of layout you want. Someone else commented, "start small". I did just that. My current layout started out taking up 10x12²'. Since that time, it has expanded to 27x29²', and, although that's smaller than some layouts, think about time spent on maintaining the layout. You want to enjoy it, not spending most of your time cleaning track, dust removal, etc. 

Another consideration is how many operators are you planning to have? Mine is DC and wired for multiple cab operations. One can run trains on the lower level, another can run them on the upper level, and yet another can do switching operations from 3 different locations.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, January 14, 2019 8:54 AM

Model Trains and Railfanning
Yes it is. Sorry for not mentioning that earlier.

.

I am assuming this is the answer to "Is this your first layout".

.

If it is your first, and I know this is not a popular answer...

.

Just build something knowing it will hit the landfill very soon. No oatter how well you plan, your first layout will not be what you want. You will not know what you really want until you build something.

.

Just build something simple. Learn the basics or DC or DCC, track laying, wiring, etc. Throw some scenery down, run some trains.

.

Then figure out what you really want, read, learn, and start over.

.

Do not let the flood of information at the beginning stall your enthusiasm. Get something, anything, built and run some trains.

.

-Kevin

.

Happily modeling the STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD located in a world of plausible nonsense set in August, 1954.

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Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Monday, January 14, 2019 9:51 AM

I always admire how helpful people are in this forum to give a novice a good start, but sometimes I find the advice overwhelming to a newbie.

How to get a good start? That´s simple!

1. Get a beginner´s book. It´ll give you a lesson on what to expect and teach you the lingo of this crazy bunch of folks calling themselves model railroaders.

2. Watch the online video series of "The World´s Greatest Hobby". The videos will walk you through building a typical beginner´s layout.

https://www.youtube.com/user/dkswans/videos

That´s all you need to get started!

Happy times!

Ulrich (aka The Tin Man)

"You´re never too old for a happy childhood!"

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Posted by Hexxoid on Thursday, January 17, 2019 12:39 PM

Don't bite off more than you can chew...

I mean that in the sense that even though you might have the space for a massive layout, you might not want to build one because:

-It takes too much time

-Track, scenery, e.t.c. costs a fair bit of money

-Maintinence

Also, don't buy too many kit buildings at once. I made this mistake, and it was just annoying looking at them all and thinking, 'ugh, I'll do it some other time'.

 

Look if you want to have a specific railroad, location, time period, e.t.c. and try to follow the general rules of each qualification. Or, if you're like me and own a 4-4-0 general and a 2-8-8-2 Y6B and everything in- between, you can create a flexible layout, (figuratively), that can look like it could belong to different time periods.

 

Also, trainshows. Go to trainshows if they are in your local area. They give you tons and tons of inspiration for layouts, people to ask questions and talk to, and sometimes really good prices for locomotives and rolling stock. 

 

Overall, though, be reasonable, and don't forget to have fun of course!! Big Smile Wink

  

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Posted by BATMAN on Thursday, January 17, 2019 12:58 PM

Some of the advise I would give would depend on how much space you have. So let us know and then the info you get can be somewhat filtered. What you can't do is also an important part of planning. For instance, all my curves are over 30". Too small for some of the rolling stock I have purchased over the years to look good and /or operate well.

I tend to stay away from books on the subject as it is all online now and for free. 

Brent

It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

https://www.youtube.com/user/BATTRAIN1

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Thursday, January 17, 2019 1:13 PM

Op seems to have never returned to the topic.

Here we are talking among ourselves.  Does this seem like a familiar situation here at MR forums?  Dunce

Just sayin ...

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

Silly Aspie's, I have NT syndrome

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Posted by BATMAN on Thursday, January 17, 2019 1:20 PM

How about that weather?Laugh

Brent

It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

https://www.youtube.com/user/BATTRAIN1

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Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Thursday, January 17, 2019 1:25 PM

riogrande5761

Op seems to have never returned to the topic.

Here we are talking among ourselves.  Does this seem like a familiar situation here at MR forums?  Dunce

Just sayin ...

 

He was back once, on Friday Jan. 11th.

Happy times!

Ulrich (aka The Tin Man)

"You´re never too old for a happy childhood!"

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Thursday, January 17, 2019 4:37 PM

Tinplate Toddler
 
riogrande5761

Op seems to have never returned to the topic.

Here we are talking among ourselves.  Does this seem like a familiar situation here at MR forums?  Dunce

Just sayin ...

 

 

 

He was back once, on Friday Jan. 11th.

Didn't make much difference.

C'mon you guys who start threads needing help, interact!

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

Silly Aspie's, I have NT syndrome

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