Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Your worst disaster?

35 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    February 2011
  • From: Kentucky
  • 24 posts
Your worst disaster?
Posted by Rabid on Tuesday, February 8, 2011 6:22 PM

I received an engine this week that I really wanted. A limited edition of my favorite rail line, with DCC. I got it out of the box, put it on the test track, and quickly found out the back wheels of this “never taken out of the box except to take pictures” engine were not turning. After taking it apart and breaking a delicate hand rail in the process I managed to reattach a loose drive system. Rather than being upset I started thinking “This is not as bad as when …”

 In my early 20’s I was a full time musician living in the city and doing a lot of traveling. My parent’s house was still home and I returned twice a month. One time, to my horror, I found my 4x8 layout had become a storage table. My mother used a screw driver to pry up all of the track. One engine and the rolling stock were dumped into a box with track piled on top and stored in a damp corner of the basement. Some of the buildings were broke, and I never did find two expensive locomotives that I purchased with money I made while working for a coal company. That 4x8 grass covered piece of plywood is still being used as a table in her basement. I still have the Tyco layout book, some rolling stock and rusty track to remind me of what I once had.

(Sorry if this has been done before. I did a search for "disaster" which did not return anything.)

HO & N scale. Digitrax DCC. Mostly L&N (Louisville and Nashville) railway using a mix of brands. Back in the hobby after a looooong absence.

  • Member since
    September 2002
  • From: North Carolina
  • 1,758 posts
Posted by csxns on Tuesday, February 8, 2011 6:28 PM

If somebody used my layout for a table other than trains and track it will be their last time.


  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: Central Vermont
  • 4,277 posts
Posted by cowman on Tuesday, February 8, 2011 7:39 PM

House fire went up through the closet where I had put the trains.  Where they's been before was "too damp."  Post '55 Lionel melted down, most older stuff survived with some damage.  10-12 pr switches, gone.  Pre-War was in the next room (whew!), survived.

Loss of family photos was also personally devistating.

Good luck,



  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Westchester NY
  • 1,745 posts
Posted by retsignalmtr on Tuesday, February 8, 2011 7:58 PM

I had a dozen American Flyer S gauge locos. About thirty cars, lots of track and switches with the rubber roadbed, a talking station and many buildings stored in a closet with my HO equipment. While I was in the Army my parents wanted the closet space and gave all the American Flyer stuff away. I didn't find out until I was out of the Army for six months. All gone.

  • Member since
    February 2001
  • From: Wyoming, where men are men, and sheep are nervous!
  • 2,434 posts
Posted by Pruitt on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 5:07 AM

This has been done before, but that's OK.

I knocked a brass steamer off the layout to the cement floor four feet below. The dull thud was a sickening sound!

  • Member since
    January 2011
  • From: Feather River route Northern California
  • 45 posts
Posted by espeejim17 on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 6:20 AM

Why can't parents respect our stuff? Where are all these trains our parents thru away? Some big service track in the sky.  And yes I know how you feel. I too lost my trains.  I live in the foothills of Northen California " gold country ", and sometimes we get fires. Back in 1989 we had a forest fire come thru our area and burnt down over 200 homes in a weeks time. Our house was gone on the first day of the fire. We were givin a short amount of time to evacuate, so as I'm grabbing clothes and things, I go into the next room and there sitting in the middle of the room is my 5 x 10 HO layout.  What do you grab?     You grab the closest thing to you.  An Athearn GP-7  and 2 box cars.  Time to leave. So you hope by some grace of God that you house won't burn down, but it does, along with your lifes photos and cherished things. After the fire all I found of the layout was a bunch of weights from my rolling stock and a melted transformer.  Sad sad sad !!!  But I learned, It's just stuff.  Now I'm on my 3rd layout and It's alot better than my old one.  So cheer up, buck up and start agian. Such is life.     And yes I still have that GP-7 and it still runs great, want to see it?  Then check out my pics in Photo Gallery.

  • Member since
    July 2006
  • 157 posts
Posted by HoosierLine on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 6:44 AM

After painstakingly working on a model it was time to 'wrap it up with sealer coat of Dullcote'.  Only problem was that in my haste instead of grabbing the can of Dullcote I grabbed a can of flat black.....and yes I applied it.

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 9,343 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 9:07 AM

It's been so long I don't remember having any disasters.



  • Member since
    March 2007
  • From: South Carolina
  • 1,719 posts
Posted by Train Modeler on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 9:17 AM

After picking up my DD40AX off the floor in pieces which had derailed due to a turnout I forgot about leaving open--that my Dad was right.     I should have put up some transparent fencing there.      About 15 years ago. 

Who was the Mfg and what model was the loco you had to repair


  • Member since
    February 2010
  • From: Hillsboro, Oregon
  • 934 posts
Posted by Eric97123 on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 9:24 AM

About a year ago I was running my brand new Athearn CSX Dash 9 and I forgot about my pair of GP-38 running on the track and they met and my beautiful Dash 9 I had only in my possesion for less than hour went crashing to the cement floor and into a lot of pieces.  I was able to get it all back together and it is now one of my best running locos I have.

  • Member since
    September 2010
  • 254 posts
Posted by Mister Mikado on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 9:35 AM

This duh-head put 12 volts to a 1.5 volt GOW headlight bulb to test it. Got a tad bright before departing to light bulb heaven. Turned out replacing it with an LED was a close color match and a rewarding challenge, since the space alotted for a front headlight in a P2K switcher is close to microscopic.

But that's the nature of the hobby. Take a disaster, no matter how small, learn from it and re-invent the wheel in the process of correcting it. We are all self-made men. (and women and children)

  • Member since
    April 2003
  • From: Clinton, MO, US
  • 4,132 posts
Posted by Medina1128 on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 9:35 AM

When my ex-wife and I separated, I left my train stuff there until I could get a storage locker. A couple of months later, I found out she had just left the house and moved in with her boyfriend. When I went to the house ALL of it was gone, including a brass 4-8-4 Northern. Super Angry Crying

  • Member since
    June 2004
  • From: Orig: Tyler Texas. Lived in seven countries, now live in Sundown, Louisiana
  • 25,640 posts
Posted by jeffrey-wimberly on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 9:51 AM

Back in the early 80's I had an around the walls double decker type layout in a 15' x 17' room that used a train lift to get an entire train from one level to the next. The lift was manually powered. There was no power cut-off for the sidings that went to the lift on either level. Nor was there any kind of automatic system to turn the turnouts to a 'safe' position. Neraly all my motive power at that point was Athearn. Mostly F7's, a few GP's and a pair of PA2's. I had just lifted a train from the lower level to the top level and was running it off onto the line while one of my PA's was pulling a freight on the lower level. Before I even realized what was happening the PA went through the turnout that went to the lift siding and headed straight for the yawning gap where the lift would usually be. Before I could stop it the loco and five cars went off the end and crashed to the floor. Back then the shells of the Athearn PA's were somewhat fragile. This one was no exception. The nose broke into several pieces while part of one side of the cab fairly disintegrated. The motor was knocked out of it's mounts and one of the shafts was broken. Upon closer examination I found that the frame was cracked, so the loco was a total loss except as a parts source for the other one.

Running Bear, Sundown, Louisiana
          Joined June, 2004

Dr. Frankendiesel aka Scott Running Bear
Space Mouse for president!
15 year veteran fire fighter
Collector of Apple //e's
Running Bear Enterprises
History Channel Club life member.
beatus homo qui invenit sapientiam

  • Member since
    December 2006
  • From: North Carolina
  • 758 posts
Posted by Aikidomaster on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 10:28 AM

My daughter came down to the layout one day (15 years or more ago). She had always been interested in trains. So much so, that she would accompany me to the NMRA division monthly meetings and even went with me to SER Regional meet in Knoxville (that is for another story). So, anyway, I am working on some scenery project and she decides to run some trains. She had had experience doing this under my supervision. Anyway, I have a point to point layout. She decides on the new Atlas Southern FP-7's. Instead of pulling of slowly, she opens the throttle wide open. The worse news is that the direction for the DC was "reverse". Well, soon the 15 or so car train and the new engines are on the concrete floor. As with Murphy's law, the most damaged pieces are the FP7's and my daughter is crying uncontrollably.Crying The good news was it was not my only brass locomotive at the time that she destroyed.Big Smile

Craig North Carolina

  • Member since
    September 2010
  • 542 posts
Posted by eaglescout on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 1:27 PM

I'm 63 years old and just getting back into the hobby from when I was a teenager with a 4 x 8 layout in my parent's basement.  You know the old story:  discover girls, go away to college, get married.  I'm telling my 94 year old mother I am buying model trains again and she asks me whatever happened to the one I had as a teen.  I say, "You have lived in the same house for 50 years and it was there when I left, you tell me what happened to it."  Bottom line, somebody got $500 worth of HO for $20 in one of mom's garage sales.

  • Member since
    April 2007
  • From: Ontario
  • 737 posts
Posted by da_kraut on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 4:08 PM

I have two, my first was when the house from my parents burned down.  It contained my Marklin train set, everything was destroyed.

About a decade and a half later my 4 DC layout was taking shape, decided to take a break from building and run some trains.  One of my Kato AC4400 ran off the end of a siding and hit the floor.  Luckily no major damage, just reassemble the loco and a some glue and good as knew but a huge lesson learned.


"If you need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm."
  • Member since
    May 2010
  • From: Cresco, IA
  • 1,773 posts
Posted by ChadLRyan on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 10:28 PM

Wow, I feel for you guys...

For me it was butterfingering a brass Shay.

Yeah still rebuilding it, but in a way, I'm also painting it now so maybe it was 'helped'....

It still was a total breathless shock "OH !!!!" moment...   

Chad L Ryan
  • Member since
    September 2005
  • From: Glendora, CA
  • 1,423 posts
Posted by zgardner18 on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 11:59 PM

You know I thought that I would have a much more dramatic story to tell but mine are jus the same as all of your stories.  I too have two stores to tell.  My second one was when I was getting back into the hobby and took an interest in the expensive engines.  My first big purchase was a Dash-8 Santa Fe from Atlas.  As I was applying the handrails to the nose at the table it slipped and fell to the floor.  I think I cried.

My first disaster didn't come to my trains but to my grandfathers priceless Lionels.  I was 4 years old and it was Christmas time.  Grandpa had a display of most of his Lionels.  All of a sudden smoke filled the house and grandpa took off for the garage to find the flames.  Being a 4 year old I didn't know what to do but follow him. I left the fire door open to the garage and ran back in.  My aunts blame me for the rest of the house burning down, saying if the door wasn't opened the fire would have just stayed in the garage.  I was only 4 stinking years old and both of those haggs can kiss my ___!  Grandpa's hard earned collection had gone up in smoke.

--Zak Gardner

My Layout Blog:



  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 11,717 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Thursday, February 10, 2011 12:22 AM

Fortunately I have only had one locomotive hit the floor and it only broke a coupler. Lucky!

My worst experience was with a small loco shed into which I had installed 1.5 volt micro bulbs with reflectors for the exterior lights. My less than optimal electronics brain decided to try to run the bulbs with a 12 volt power supply using resistors to control the voltage. Problem was I messed up on the resistor calculation so when I powered up the lights they looked great - for about 2 seconds. Then, as the saying goes - I let the smoke out of the resistors and the lights went poof! Foolishly I had glued the bulbs and wiring very firmly into the structure. Big mistake! Replacing the bulbs took more than an hour and messed up the structure enough that it required repairs to the walls.

Lesson learned! Keep your roofs removable and cool it on gluing wires into place. Enough said.


I'm just a dude with a bad back having a lot of fun with model trains, and finally building a layout!

  • Member since
    January 2011
  • From: Lancaster city
  • 471 posts
Posted by cats think well of me on Thursday, February 10, 2011 1:30 AM

Recently, I pulled out a custom built Pacific Mountain Scale Shops B&O I5 and decided to do some work on it that I'd been putting off for several years for various reasons. It'd thankfully been one of the models that I chose not to eBay and for good reason the man who painted and built it did a nice job. I added Kadee air-hoses to the model and #58s. So far so good and then I had the grand notion to drill out the solid resin casting smoke stack. I start drilling, with a drill bit that is just to big go figure, and it goes fine at first, nice and hollowed out until I go just to far and crack it and it's ruined! So, I "fix" it with a match stick turned and sanded to an approximate diameter. Cannot drilled into the wood piece to well! So, all that effort, wasted. In the future, I'll cut a piece of brass tubing to length. While working on said model, I trim off some old, dried CA residue  to secure the roof properly and slice through the resin ladder! I manage to find the piece, reattach successfully and continue on, but still. 

Another incident, disaster maybe? Is when the front for a brass B&O got lost around the time I last ran it at a local club's layout. I never thought that thing could be properly restored so I didn't bother trying. Suffice to say, when I resold it after owning it for almost 7-years, I had to deal with a loss of over $200!

And the worst for last! As a teen, I got into N-scale for a while and had built a foam lined box. It worked pretty well but I realized that holding one section with one hand wore it down after a while. Actually, I realized this to late as I got ready to go run my trains at the club's layout I went out the house door, carrying said case by aforementioned spot and everything went flying onto the porch! To say I had been devastated would have been an understatement! I cried, contemplated quitting the hobby and going for something I could better handle like Beanie Baby collecting. An RSD-4 suffered permanent damage, though I could have sent it off to be fixed, I chose not too, but everything else fared "okay" with a broken step here and there. And obviously I did not quit the hobby :)




  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, February 10, 2011 5:22 AM

Aside from toasting a couple of decoders I installed in a kit-built 0-6-0, which had binding rods, I was lucky so far not being struck by disaster.

However, friends of mine experienced real bad luck, when a Bemo narrow gauge steamer was lifted during a train show - a loss of $ 1,000, just because a dim-whitted bloke could not keep his fingers off the equipment. He eventually dropped it to the floor and all the king´s horses and all the king´s men could not put it back together again. Fortunately. an insurance covered some of the loss.

  • Member since
    April 2007
  • From: Northern Va
  • 1,924 posts
Posted by yougottawanta on Thursday, February 10, 2011 11:42 AM

Called an Ex Wife. Not only did she make my HO collection of trains disappear (20 years worth ) she forged my name on the title to mt 68 charger and sold it for a grand. Then took me for half of everthing I owned. Yep that was a train wreck I did not see coming.

  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: Flushing,Michigan
  • 822 posts
Posted by HaroldA on Friday, February 11, 2011 6:31 AM

Except for one locomotive meeting an untimely end on the basement floor years ago and a couple of Intermountain cars taking a header, I haven't really had much rolling stock end up on the floor.  I do remember one time years ago I was assembling a hydrocal engine house.  I don't remember how much I paid, but it was my first attempt at assembling anything like it and, of course, I bit off more than I could chew.  One day I probably got a little too frustrated and applied a little too much pressure to the walls and it literally exploded in my hands.  After the initial barrage of expletives, I just got out the vacuum and it went to that giant dust bag in the sky.

There's never time to do it right, but always time to do it over.....

  • Member since
    October 2004
  • From: Colorful Colorado
  • 8,639 posts
Posted by Texas Zepher on Friday, February 11, 2011 12:44 PM

(Sorry if this has been done before. I did a search for "disaster" which did not return anything.)

Yeah the funny thing about searchs and on-line help is one has to be thinking the same as the original author.  Here are three:

#1.  From one of those threads: ...  I don't know if this is the worst disaster, but one of the more memorable.

Back in 1985 or so (when I had very little money for trains), I found an Atlas E7 in N-scale cheap at a local swap meet. This was when this was a fairly new technology. The previous owner had over lubricated and it looked like they ran it on the floor through dirt. I took it home, totally disassembled, cleaned, shimmed, reassembled, and properly lubricated. All told I probably spent 10 hours on it. I put it on the layout and began break in.

It ran back and forth and around at varying speeds for about two hours. It ran better than ANY N-scale engine I had at the time. Finishing, I cranked it up to full speed for a final loop or two, when something distracted me. I went across the basement and dealt with whatever it was. I turned around just in time to see the locomotive take diverge off  the main, and head up the mining spur.  I ran and lunged for the layout control power but it was too far away. I watched it seemed in slow motion as the loco went up around the spur, through zig through three tunnels, shoot through the stub ended mine, and go flying off the 52" ledge. It landed and broke up into all those pieces I had just reassembled. Cracked the body, broke one of the trucks, bent a couple wheels.

All I can figure is the turnout (an original Atlas) slowly worked over and over as I was test running. I was devistated and didn't have the heart to work on it any more. Its parts are still sitting around here in a box some where. That is how it survived the great N-scale purge a few years later when I switched back to HO scale.

#2.  From a post on 12/18/2005:

The club had an open house  for viewing by the general public. Unfortunately our layout is designed for operation not viewing, so we always end up with a shortage of trains in the publicly viewable area. To compensate I always stage a few trains where they can be brought through when a there is a break in the normal action.

This week one of the trains I staged was my brand new Broadway Limited California Zephyr. While I was setting it up everyone had to come and look and we were talking about its inaugural run. Later, I had run the train around once and when there was a break in the crowds, I restaged it. During the next influx of people I was on a local (see weekend photo fun thread One of the other members snagged the CZ and paraded it out. After a pass for the public, the inevitable happened. It either went into the upgrade helix off-track or swung funny because the tailing 5 cars became uncoupled.  They came shooting out of the tunnel backwards down the track. The engineer immediately stopped, and reached in to fix the problem. Then the loud crunch as two of the cars leap onto the floor. One of the dome coaches took it square on a corner and with the couplers and body popping off. At first it looked like the only real damage was the stirrup got smashed and the grab irons buckled. A bit closer examination showed that one of the trucks must have really taken a blow, as the electrical pick up had been crammed way up bending the brass pickup ribbon. This force is probably what caused the body to separate from the frame.

I could tell he was really upset about wrecking the train, and I told him it wasn’t his fault and the damage was fairly easily fixed and/or not that noticeable. I said it was no problem and had I been that concerned about it I would not have brought the train down. He would have none of it. We continued running trains, but he immediately got his wireless phone, called the LHS, and ordered a replacement for me.

  • Member since
    February 2011
  • 13 posts
Posted by apache fan on Friday, February 11, 2011 3:31 PM

My grandsons were visiting and wanted to run grandad's trains so I took them to the basement and showed them how to run the throttle. The oldest did as I asked and ran the train slowly, I could leave him alone and not worry about anything, his younger brother was a holly terror, tried to see how fast he could run the train, so I explained that he wasn't allowed to run it like that, he ignored me, so I took the throttle away from him and sent him upstairs. He complained to his dad, who brought the little hellion back down and insisted I let him run the train, his dad said he'd control him, so explained again in front of his dad how he was to run the train, he promptly ran the train off the track and it fell five feet onto a concrete floor where it explodes, cost me over a hundret bucks to replace it, the kid has never been back in the basement since, nor will he ever again. His dad never offered to help pay for the replacement

  • Member since
    January 2002
  • From: Toronto Ont. Canada
  • 840 posts
Posted by rambo1 on Friday, February 11, 2011 3:36 PM

I told my kids to never touch the trains and I turned around and knocked three loco 2protos 1 athearn to the ground . Two were repairable but the proto gp18 wrecked and it was brandnew! rambo1...remember drinking and model trains don't mix!

  • Member since
    August 2002
  • From: Corpus Christi, Texas
  • 2,377 posts
Posted by leighant on Friday, February 11, 2011 8:17 PM

The Worst disaster was ME when I was 5 years old.

We had Lionel back in 1949 but the best stuff was what my dad built.  He built a three-foot-long truss bridge out of scrap pieces of tin bent into L's and soldered together.  That Christmas, we went to see a movie about the brave pilots bombing the bridges.  And we had these bricks.  The bricks did not make realistic bombs but I had a really realistic bridge to destroy.

The remains are mounted in a place of honor high on my train room wall 60 years later, for (hopefully) safe preservation.


  • Member since
    November 2008
  • From: North Jersey
  • 1,781 posts
Posted by ns3010 on Friday, February 11, 2011 8:35 PM

Compared to everyone else's stories, mine is nothing. Cost me nothing, minus some shipping charges.

I didn't know that you weren't supposed to run Atlas's new Gensets in DC mode on a DCC system. I did. Fried the circut board.
Still haven't sent it in for replacement... Whistling

Luckily, our basement is carpeted, so the one and only case where I had a locomotive take a dive (stupid neighbor kid) was not a huge problem. No damage to the locomotive, but the fuel tank flew off. Still never found it though...

I'm just hoping that when I go to college, I won't come back to find my layout and everything gone...

My Model Railroad: Tri State Rail
My Photos on Flickr: Flickr
My Videos on Youtube: Youtube
My Photos on RRPA: RR Picture Archives

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • 270 posts
Posted by CB&Q Modeler on Friday, February 11, 2011 9:11 PM

After airbrushing & weathering a brass Great Northern 2-10-2 in 1988  I sat it on a spur track of my layout,me refusing to put it away cuz it looked sooo' purty. YEP' bumped it wth a elbow and over she went....... 4ft to the floor. thank goodness for rubber backed carpet and Tenshodo toughness.Bow

minor damage and she's still hauling manifest freight to this day


  • Member since
    December 2010
  • 85 posts
Posted by wyldmanr8cer on Friday, February 11, 2011 9:44 PM

Thats why I designed my layout to have a gap of scenery between the Main line tracks and the edge of the layout. If you give yourself a buffer it reduces the chance of a train that derails going track speed from falling over the edge onto your floor and potentially ruining a multi-hundred dollar loco!!!!

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Users Online

There are no community member online

Search the Community

Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!