Anyone who can build a wooden ship model will have no problems mastering the Civil War era railroads.
<> A few things I have learned modeling the 1830 - 1840s period:
While the 4-4-0 was the most common type of locomotive of that period,
many older wheel arrangements continued to be used in switching and
branch line service. Single diver types, 2-2-0, 4-2-0, 2-2-4
would be entirely appropriate.
<> <><>2. The
hardest part of modeling this period is finding information about
operations. While passenger time tables have survived finding
information about freight operations is extremely difficult.
<><><>3. Don't forget outhouses and wells. It may sound
silly but we are so used to indoor plumbing that these important
details are easy to overlook. Remember also that most houses in
this period had multiple fire places. Adding extra chimneys to
building is still a skill I have yet to master.
<><><><><>4. Plastruct's plastic fiber optic cable is a great way
to light the layout. The fibers are only a few thousanths of an
inch in diameter and can represent an oil lamp or candle. Not
only does a single light bulb illuminate the whole layout, the lights
are small and keeping with the period.
Another hard to find item are scale figures representing women. I
got into the habit of buying hoop-skirted figurines whenever I see them
at the local swap meets. You may also want to experiment with
forming long skirts on female figures from bits of paper, epoxy,
Scultamold, whatever, and please, if you find something that works, let
<>6. You can always join a local club if you want to run modern equipment.