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New to model railroading; What to do first?

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New to model railroading; What to do first?
Posted by railXplorer on Saturday, May 12, 2018 2:14 PM

Hi everyone. I am new to model railroading. I want to use the "N" scale. I bought a few structures but didn't start yet. 

What should be my first steps into this hobby?

Thanks for your help!

Tags: beginner , N Scale
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Posted by Mantua Man on Monday, May 14, 2018 10:01 AM

Hello All,

Welcome to the hobby. As a start, one usually tries to develop a small basic layout for their introduction into the hobby. Creating a small basic oval layout would be a good start. Stuff like scenery and looks of the layout will not matter until later in the hobby, but if its up your alley you can start that sooner.

Locomotive choice is also a big part in Model Railroading. Personally, I am more of an older type guy, and like older locomotives to take apart and fix. Most individuals start off with DC locomotives, with no special abilities (don't hate me on that one) other than being able to go around the track with the flip of a switch/dial/button. Once one has become accustomed to DC layouts, they can then move on to DCC, but for getting started I wouldn't suggest that yet.

In an overall summary, Begin with a simple loco and train setup first, just a train and some track, and work from there. There are some stores which specialize in this type of hobby, and going to one of them would be helpful, but I know of very few that are still around. For getting started, one might also just go and buy one of the layout kits that are sold, usually by (Dare I say it) Bachmann. These are good starters, but nothing good for them in the long run.

It should be noted that this hobby does not come cheap, and that budget will definantly effect the range of your hobby. 

Gauge is also a massive factor on railroading. Personally, I like HO because of its balace between size and cost, but N is also a good choice. N scale, being one of the smallest, allows for a big layout to be made within a small area, with relative ease.

Please ask if you have more questions, I'm sure many of us will get back to you,

MM

 

 

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Posted by 7j43k on Monday, May 14, 2018 10:13 AM

When I got started in model railroading, I pretty much did the above--start "small".

But one other thing I did was to read books and magazines.  I bought the monthly magazines and read just about everything in them (Model Railroader, Model Trains, Railroad Model Craftsman).  I bought various books, and read those (101 Trackplans, various how-how-to-start-out).

Top of the list for you would likely be:

https://kalmbachhobbystore.com/product/book/12428

 

Ed

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Posted by dknelson on Monday, May 14, 2018 10:14 AM

The first step is to do a bit of reading and educate yourself about the many possibilities this hobby offers , and the many elements you will want to know something about as you get into it (carpentry, wiring, scenery building which is great fun, laying track, and so on). 

This website has a "Getting Started" section with quite a bit of information.  Look around a bit.  

  Kalmbach also offers books aimed at raw beginners and one of them is specifically aimed at beginners who are in N scale: "N Scale Railroading - Getting Started in the Hobby."

https://kalmbachhobbystore.com/product/book/12428

You'll want (and need) to know so many things all at once that I strongly suggest a book rather than just relying on these Forums to get all the info you need.

There is nothing wrong with just buying some trains, perhaps a set with locomotive, cars and some track, and a power supply, and setting it up temporarily and just watching the trains run.  Getting used to re-railing the cars and locos; getting used to coupling and uncoupling the cars, that sort of thing. 

And there is nothing wrong with getting a simple structure kit and learn how to build it cleanly without getting the cement over everything.  You'll want eventually some basic tools (hobby knives, small files although emery boards for finger nails that you see at the drug store work OK and are cheap, some cements for plastic, toothpicks, and a surface for doing work that is softer than a hard table top.  

Given the way the hobby is going including N scale, I would strongly encourage you to spend the extra money and get trains equipped with Digital Command Control versus "straight" DC (which is cheaper and which works just fine but which has certain challenges to it the more elaborate you want your layout to get.  

Eventually you are going to want some sort of table or benchwork for your trains  There are books on that.  Carpentry involves getting its own set of tools if you do not already have them.  There are also makes of train table "kits" ready to assemble.  Sievers is just one good brand.  https://www.sieversbenchwork.com/

There are many kinds of track.  Kato makes a nice track with integral built-in roadbed.  The sectional track that comes with a train set, and the flexible track that most experienced modelers use, both usually need a separate subroadbed, usually cork.  The Kalmbach book mentioned above will get into all of that.  But deciding whether to use Kato Uni Track is an early decision you'll want to make.

Another early decision to make, that can save you tons of money over time: what kind of trains do you like?  The kind you see running today, meaning most likely one of the big railroads like CSX or BNSF or NS, CN or CP?  Plus Amtrak.  Or do you like an earlier time, with railroads (and locomotives and cars) that are long gone?

If you just buy whatever you see that looks neat at the store you'll end up with a mix of trains that at some point down the road as you know more about trains will be disappointing or even annoying.  

This could go on forever because again there is so much to learn and it is hard to nail down what is MOST important.  Having fun is of course.  But I do recommend a good book or two, plus learning basics on the getting started section of this website.  Hopefully there is a good hobby shop near you where you can ask questions.  Be aware however that six model railroaders in a room usually means there are six different opinions on what is best, what is essential, and so on.  

Dave Nelson

 

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Posted by BigDaddy on Monday, May 14, 2018 10:26 AM

Welcome to the forum

Before you spend money, I would read.  Kalmbach has a number of good introductory books.  John Armstrong's Track Planning for Realistic Operation is a must have.

Avoid impulse buying structures, locos or rolling stock before you decide on era, a location and a railroad.  It works better if you don't have a steam engine layout with a modern UPS building and a coal mine and double stack container car.

Decide what you want to have, a train going round and round or an operation based layout where there is switching a rollings stock going from A to B to C with a purpose.

DC isn't necessarily the starting point.  It used to be, when that's all there was.  DC controls the track DCC controls the engine.  Some people like sound and individual control of engines and some do without quite nicely.  Again, I would do some reading before spending money. 

There are a bunch of people on youtube.  Some are better than others.  Rons Trains is a member here and does N scale and how to type videos.  I have no affiliation with Ron, nor am I an N scaler.

Different people enjoy different facets of the hobby.  Some people like building structures, others like landscaping, some super detail their rolling stock, others create extraordinary detail in each scene, the electrical whizes do cool electrical stuff and others like prototypical operations.  You have to find out what you like in the hobby.

 

Henry

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Posted by Tinplate Toddler on Monday, May 14, 2018 10:40 AM

All of the previous posts are quite right, but if I were a beginner, I´d be overwhelmed by what they say. For me, the best way to get started is getting a good quality starter set, which includes all the track for a little more than just an oval, a decent power pack, and a good quality engine and some cars.

Starter sets can be of quite different quality, from excellent to poor. When I re-entered the hobby after a long hiatus, I found that Kato offers the best value for money, although some folks don´t like the track with the molded on roadbed. However, the Kato system is fool proof and you don´t have to dig too deep into the mysteries of electrics, electronics and wiring.

Here is my recommendation for a start - mind you, I have no interest in promoting Kato´s products - I am just a satisfied customer:

Starter Sets

Additional Track Sets

 

 

Cheers,

Ulrich (aka Herbert The Tin Man)

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Posted by jjdamnit on Monday, May 14, 2018 10:52 AM

Hello all,

Welcome Welcome to the forums.

Go to the National Model Railroad Association website (NMRA.org).

On the right hand side there is a box labeled "Getting Started In Model Railroading."

This will take you to their "Beginners Guide".

Peruse this information at your leisure. Take some notes and bring those questions to the MR forums.

One of my favorite quotes from a renowned model railroader.

"A model railroad should probably start with a concept. Why? Because much knowledge about railraoding, experience in model railroading, and thought are required before a proper concept for a model railroad can be formed. These requirements are seldom possible on a first pike. Mine was no exception."
- -John Allen; Gorre & Daphetid Railroad.

Hope this helps.

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

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Monday, May 14, 2018 12:11 PM

A lot of the stuff available today new can be quite pricey if you look at some of the better quality trains.  But be aware, there is a lot of lower cost options if you go to train shows or troll Ebay.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by jjdamnit on Monday, May 14, 2018 2:18 PM

Hello all,

riogrande5761
...there is a lot of lower cost options if you go to train shows or troll Ebay.

Before looking for "bargains" do you homework first.

I attend several train shows and peruse eBay. Yes there are those hidden gem finds but there are a lot of money traps too.

Knowing what the realistic value of what you are shopping for is a must.

I've seen items that I have picked up at a real bargain only to be listed at an outrageous price.

A few years back at a train show I saw some used turnouts. Well functioning but used. I knew the price of a brand new one at a local hobby shop.

I made a bundled offer for three of them. The offer I made was reasonable and in cash. The seller would not budge from the initial price. I thanked him for his time and stopped by the hobby store and purchased the new ones on the way home.

The price difference was less than $5.00 for the new turnouts with all the bits that weren't included with the used ones.

Caveat Emptor!

Hope this helps.

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

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Posted by RideOnRoad on Monday, May 14, 2018 3:34 PM

Tinplate Toddler
. . .For me, the best way to get started is getting a good quality starter set, which includes all the track for a little more than just an oval, a decent power pack, and a good quality engine and some cars. Starter sets can be of quite different quality, from excellent to poor. When I re-entered the hobby after a long hiatus, I found that Kato offers the best value for money, although some folks don´t like the track with the molded on roadbed. However, the Kato system is fool proof and you don´t have to dig too deep into the mysteries of electrics, electronics and wiring.

Amen to Ulrich's reply. This is exactly how I got started in the hobby, and I would recommend Kato without reservation. Just realize that the track may be disposable depending on what you end up doing. I used Unitrack for my first layout, but decided to move to a flextrack for my second--I wanted more control over my curves, etc. If I had to do it all over, I would start with Unitrack again. In the end, I bought a less-expensive engine and gave it and the Unitrack to the grandkids.

Richard

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Posted by mbinsewi on Monday, May 14, 2018 3:40 PM

RideOnRoad
Amen to Ulrich's reply.

Same here.  The link to the NMRA beginners information also looks good, to read over while you run the train set.

I'm thinking just about everyone got started with a train set.  The key words here, "just about", not everyone, everywhere, but most.

It gets you up and running.

Mike.

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Posted by Steven Otte on Monday, May 14, 2018 3:44 PM

Count me in the group who doesn't think a "starter set" is a good place to start. If you're not sure about model trains, a train set isn't going to have enough going for it convince you; if you're serious about the hobby, you'll soon find yourself discarding your inexpensive train set components as being inadequate for you. Either way, the money you spent on the train set ends up being wasted.

Instead, I'd find out what's in a train set, and buy those components separately, with an eye toward quality. You'll pay more, but you'll have a "set" that can grow with you as you refine both your tastes and skills.

Go ahead and start with sectional track with built-in roadbed; it does make things easy for the beginner. Rather than just getting an oval, talk to a knowledgable hobby store employee about adding a few turnouts and extra sections of straight track so your train can do more than just run around chasing its tail.

Talk to the hobby store guy about choosing between direct-current vs. Digital Command Control. DC is cheaper, and for many hobbyists, it's enough. But if you think you might get into running multiple trains simultaneously on a large and complex layout, and/or want realistic sound and momentum/braking effects, you might as well bite the bullet on a basic, but expandable, DCC system. Again, it's more expensive, but you won't be throwing it away later when you decide to upgrade.

Though the quality of entry-level locomotives has really improved over recent decades, a train set generally will still include the most basic and inexpensive model. Buy a similar locomotive separately, even one from the same manufacturer, and you'll get a model that will look and run better than the one in the train set.

The difference in quality between train sets and separately sold items is clearest when it comes to cars. The ones in train sets are usually an assortment chosen for their bright colors and assortment of shapes -- boxcar, hopper, tank, gondola, flat, and caboose is a typical train set consist, but one not typical of an actual freight train. They also tend to be one-piece plastic with thickly molded details. Buy your cars separately; again, you get what you pay for.

I would recommend one of our books here, but others have done a fine job of that. Big Smile Good luck, and welcome to the world's greatest hobby!

--
Steven Otte, Model Railroader associate editor
sotte@kalmbach.com

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, May 14, 2018 4:25 PM

Hello, and Welcome to the Model Railroader forums.

.

Please do not be a stranger. Your first few posts are delayed by moderators, but that will end pretty soon.

.

You have lots of good advice already. I always suggest to just jump in and build something as fast as you can while the excitement is still there. What you build on your first try will not be very good (most likely), but you will learn a lot. Right now you don't even have any idea how much you do not know yet.

.

In six months, try something else. You will have a much better idea what everyone is talking about once you have even just a taste of model railroading experience.

.

Don't give up. This is truly the world's greatest hobby.

.

Welcome aboard!

.

-Kevin

.

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

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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Monday, May 14, 2018 4:38 PM

Tinplate Toddler
All of the previous posts are quite right, but if I were a beginner, I´d be overwhelmed by what they say. For me, the best way to get started is getting a good quality starter set, which includes all the track for a little more than just an oval, a decent power pack, and a good quality engine and some cars.

I also agree with the starter set.  Only mine was a Tyco.  Maybe not the best quality, but it got me up and going.  I added some Atlas track, Atlas buildings (station, signal tower, lumber yard).  From there it was onto more engines, cars, and buildings.

I think that those of us in the hobby a long time forget the fun and wonder of just getting that train to run around the oval.  Then the joy of discovering and adding more track, some buildings, some cars.  Building a few kits, adding some scenery, etc. In many ways those first few months and years in the hobby were the most fun.

to the OP welcome to this most wonderful of hobbies.

Good luck

Paul

If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
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Posted by DSchmitt on Monday, May 14, 2018 4:53 PM

Steven Otte
They also tend to be one-piece plastic with thickly molded details.

I have been in N scale for 50 years. I agree that there are cheap cars with thickly molded details, but there are many good one piece cars with fine molded details. Cars with separate details are often fragile and on some the details are oversize for strength. Molded details can be closer to scale. The details can be shaddowed and highlat so that they look separate at normal viewind distance and closer.

There are even some cars that originated in the 1970's that are still good today. Many are in the ATLAS Trainman line.

I tried to sell my two cents worth, but no one would give me a plug nickel for it.

I don't have a leg to stand on.

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Posted by RideOnRoad on Monday, May 14, 2018 4:59 PM

Steven Otte
Count me in the group who doesn't think a "starter set" is a good place to start. If you're not sure about model trains, a train set isn't going to have enough going for it convince you; if you're serious about the hobby, you'll soon find yourself discarding your inexpensive train set components as being inadequate for you. Either way, the money you spent on the train set ends up being wasted. . .

Mr. Otte, I hate to do this, but I am going to have to respectfully disagree. While it is true that some starter sets are low to mid-quality components, some are collections of exactly the same higher-end components that you would get if you bought them separately. (This is the case with the Kato sets.)

Richard

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Posted by BigDaddy on Monday, May 14, 2018 5:23 PM

RailXplorer looking at your profile, we don't know if you are 11 or 71. There is nothing wrong with either but the finances are likely vastly different.  Neither is the above advice necessarily wrong for either age group.  However money matters and if you are a kid, it's likely you are on the low end of discretionary income.

If you are dependent on your parents generosity to finance this hobby, well...as a parent, I've seen my childrens' interest change quickly, as did my own, when I was younger.  In that case, buying the best and the greatest might not be ultimately a cost savings.

If you are an adult and the theory is too much to bite off and you should start small, I have this story.  I met a guy who was a Civil War collector.  I'm not sure why, but he jettisoned that hobby (yes he was a mature adult) and become a BMW motorcycle collector.    What you see here is one of the premier BMW collections in the US and it was acquired in 7 years

https://tinyurl.com/y7bajpn4

He is no more an ordinary BMW owner, than Howard Zane is an ordinary model railroader (also one of our forum members)  but both of these guys put their pants on one leg at a time, just like me and you and Hillary Angela Merkel (all potential domestic political misunderstanding removed)

 Disclaimer, I know Howard, but never saw him or any of these women put their pants on.  It's an educated guess.  Devil
 
 

Henry

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Posted by mbinsewi on Monday, May 14, 2018 5:28 PM

The equipment in todays "train sets" have come along way since the early Life Like, Tyco and Bachmann sets that had the pancake style motor.

Any of the modern sets, like what Kato, and Athearn offer, the locomotives,  cars, and track can be used as the lay out grows. 

No money thrown away.

Mike.

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Posted by Bubbytrains on Monday, May 14, 2018 6:53 PM

mbinsewi

The equipment in todays "train sets" have come along way since the early Life Like, Tyco and Bachmann sets that had the pancake style motor.

Any of the modern sets, like what Kato, and Athearn offer, the locomotives,  cars, and track can be used as the lay out grows. 

No money thrown away.

Mike.

 

I couldn't agree more. 

My jaw dropped when I read the comments from Steven Otte.

Alan

Bubbytrains

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Posted by Bubbytrains on Monday, May 14, 2018 7:00 PM

Read as much as you can, and then start small. 

Bubbytrains

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Posted by BigDaddy on Monday, May 14, 2018 7:37 PM

Bubbytrains
My jaw dropped when I read the comments from Steven Otte.

You had me doubting my own advice, then I looked at modeltrainstuff.com

https://www.modeltrainstuff.com/trains/ready-to-run-train-sets/#sort:calculated_price:desc/filter:custom_scale:N

For $150-250 you get a power pack, track, engine and 3 to 5 cars for an era I am not interested in modeling and a railroad 1000 miles away from me.  They could be rivet counter standards, I still wouldn't want them.  We don't know anything about the OP's aspiration, maybe it works for him or her.

I am not a newbie and have an advantage over the OP in that I can go to a train show and spot the (HO guy here) KD couplers and the metal wheel sets on a used but appropriately weathered piece of rolling stock and I am not fearful of flextrack or buying a used MRC power pack on Ebay. 

Even if I were not experienced, why would I want a Sante Fe or UP train set, if I am an east coast guy that would prefer NSC, B&O, NYC, WM or Reading.

 

 

Henry

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Posted by gregc on Monday, May 14, 2018 8:06 PM

when I started as a kid,  I bought things that struck my fancy, but today sit in the attic unused.   

When I started later life, i had 

  • a better understanding of the hobby, of the products available, of how to build
  • more skills, more $$ (and will power)
  • a better recognition of how long it would take to complete something
  • more realistic expectations
  • an understanding of the limitations of a small layout (e.g that 2-8-8-2 i bought as a kid sits in a display case). 
  • a goal to model a particular RR at a specific time (1930), which limited what I purchased making thing more realistic.

i would suggest you realize that your first layout will be a learning experience and will be replaced with one more permanent and thought out.

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

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Posted by Bubbytrains on Monday, May 14, 2018 8:26 PM

Th best advice offered so far is to read.

When I first started out (as a teen in high school), I couldn't afford anything more than a blue box kit or two. In retrospect that was probably a good thing because it forced me to spend my time reading everything I could about model railroading and prototype railroading. I read my brother's MR and RMC magazines cover to cover until the covers came off the staples! 

There's no substitute for actually doing something, but it's always good to prepare yourself ahead of time by reading all about it. It won't keep you from making false starts or mistakes, but at least it will give you a better idea of what's available and what your interests are. 

Alan

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Posted by Bubbytrains on Monday, May 14, 2018 8:57 PM

railXplorer

Hi everyone. I am new to model railroading. I want to use the "N" scale. I bought a few structures but didn't start yet. 

What should be my first steps into this hobby?

Thanks for your help!

 

Welcome to model railroading! 

I think using N scale is a good choice to start with. It generally takes less space and resources than an equivalent amount in HO and larger scales. Atlas and Kato both make excellent products and have excellent reputations for quality. 

They both make N scale starter sets, but it's become hard to find the Atlas Trainman starter sets. Kato N scale starter sets are easy to find, but they are a little pricey. 

If you are an EBay user, you can find a variety of discontinued train sets that were made by Micro-Trains years ago. They typically have an Atlas or Kato locomotive, three Micro-Trains cars and a Micro-Trains caboose. All of them equipped with the world-class Micro-Trains knuckle couplers. A loop of track is included. 

You can set this up on your kitchen table, and take it down when you are done. When you want something more permanent, a hollow-core door provides a great base for many model railroaders, and it's an alternative to having to build a lot of bench work. 

All of my suggestions use a traditional DC power pack to run your N scale trains. Wiring for basic set ups is simple and reliable.

I'm a firm believer in the KISS method for most things, and model railroading is included.

Good luck, and remember, it's supposed to be fun. When it stops being fun (and it happens to many of us from time to time) take a break and go do something else for a while. Eventually the model railroading "bug" will bite again and you will come back refreshed.

Bubbytrains

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Monday, May 14, 2018 9:24 PM

railXplorer

Hi everyone. I am new to model railroading. I want to use the "N" scale. I bought a few structures but didn't start yet. 

What should be my first steps into this hobby?

Thanks for your help!

First off, you're N scale. So there's hope. Welcome to the hobby and the forum. Welcome

Second, are there any clubs in your area? Hobby shops? Shows or events where modelers might hang out? Reading is good; watching videos is good; chatting on forums is good. But nothing is as good as real, live, 3D hands-on activity. Clubs and show events are the best place for that. If there're available. Otherwise, you'll just have to go with what you got. You're off to a good start. Going from zero to one is a very big step.

Good luck.

Robert

 

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Posted by xdford on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 2:28 AM

Hi RailX

All the above is great advice so if I can add to it, I have a couple of free/gratis/ nothing to develop an obligation to articles which I have sent you links via your private messages...

Welcome to the hobby!

 

Regards from Australia

Trevor

 

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 6:12 AM

RideOnRoad
Mr. Otte, I hate to do this, but I am going to have to respectfully disagree. While it is true that some starter sets are low to mid-quality components, some are collections of exactly the same higher-end components that you would get if you bought them separately. (This is the case with the Kato sets.)

I'm going to support Mr. Otte on his recommendation - sure you can get better starter sets in recent years than years of yor, but if it is a complete set, then some components such as a power pack are still going to be sub-par.  Add to that you get what comes in the set rather than chose what you like.  I've seen some better quality sets that look like the got caught in a Star Trek temporal rift and have rolling stock which was selectively pulled from vastly different era's and thrown into a box.

Many past "Christmas" issues of MR magazine have gone the route Steve recommended, to basically cherry pick engine, several freight cars and a caboose (if you model caboose era) and buy Atlas sectional track and usually an MRC power pack for DC operation.  KATO Unitrack is another good choice to set up a basic oval and a couple of turnouts.  The "pick and choose" set will usually cost more, but long term satisfaction will be greatly increased.

Some of the "better" box sets have been made by KATO, Athearn and Walthers, but it's still better to buy seperate pieces so I'm going to have to respectfully disgree with RideOnRoad.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by joe323 on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 6:46 AM

One thing no one has mentioned is train shows.  If you look at a site like Trainshows.com you could see if there are any in your area.  Some like the Greenberg shows are kinda like giant flea markets for trains and toys others like the National Train Show are more hobby centric but either type is a good way to meet other hobbyists exchange ideas and see operations in action.

 

 

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  • 573 posts
Posted by snjroy on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 7:12 AM

If there is no hobby shop close by, I mean a real one, a train set can be cheaper (due to shipping and handling costs). But if you have a real train hobby shop that is close to your home, get the owner to assemble a set for you, with the Road name of your choice, etc. Check prices first on the  Web (e.g. model train stuff.com), and don't forget to add delivery costs in the math. On the plus side of a train set is that it gets things running quickly. And you can always test your painting skills later on the cheaper rolling stock if you go with higher end stuff later. I honed my weathering skills on train-set cars before trying it on expensive rolling stock.... Enjoy!

Simon

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Sebring FL
  • 697 posts
Posted by floridaflyer on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 7:32 AM

Agree with Steven. Gain information. Use the internet, books and hobby shops. Give thought about what you think you want to do (that could change over time).  Some guys buy locos and rolling stock because of the way the trains look. Other guys, will buy locos and rolling stock from a railroad, or railroads, they are interested in, do to where they live or whatever interests them. For instance I have always liked the eastern railroads, so I model the PRR, Lehigh Valley, and Reading. Being born in the late 30's I chose the Transition era, 1940's thru late 50,s. Giving some thought early on can help determine your purchases. It ain't rocket science. The more informed you become the more confident you will become.   

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