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Introducing young ones to the hobby

  • I started my grandchildren by buying Bachmann's Thomas the Tank Engine in HO.  Later I added Hogwart's Express.  Now they prefer the REAL trains.


    Lackawanna Route of the Phoebe Snow

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  •  It's too bad the hobby has never been able to capitalize on the popularity of the wooden Thomas the Tank Engine products. Unfortunately, most boys lose interest in those toys by time they're 5 (if not 4). Unfortunatley, at that stage in their life they might not be ready for an HO scale set (I'm sure some of you will debate that). I've long felt that the next step after the wooden train set would be LEGO trains. They have several sets that will teach kids problem-solving skills and to use their brains. LEGO also has powered track components.

    This would be my ideal scenario:
    - Thomas the Tank Engine wooden trains from age 1 to 5
    - LEGO trains follows (age 5 to 10?)
    - Model train set follows

    That's my two cents. I just see how many young boys fall in love with Thomas and then lose interest as they age and there's nothing there waiting for them. Hopefully they'll come back to it later in life (like I did after college).


    Erik Bergstrom
  • I can only speak to my own between-the-ears experience.  I recall having a plastic, simple, toy train set that I would push around our wooden floors when we lived nearely Sudbury back in the mid-fifties.  I was three at the time.  I really loved that four item train set.  I don't even think it had wheels!

    At the same time (this is important in my case), when we drove into Sudbury from Lively, where we lived, to do shopping, we would pass by the INCO switching yards.  There I would see steamers, and I am sure I drove my parents nuts with my carrying on.

    Two years later, we were at 14,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes where steam still ruled.  And I saw them just across the road and down a 50' embankment from our house.  The wheel shop was there. Big Smile  I became fascinated yet again when I understood the nature of flanged wheels and saw them being rolled into place.

    Then school, a move back to Canada for more school and a career change for my father, growing up, college, marriage and Army life for 30 years followed.  Both CN and CP occupied tracks on either side of the Thompson River where we lived for about 15 years.  Many trains daily, but long-since diesels.  I never paid much attention.

    Then came retirement and I wondered what I would do for fun.  Wife bought me a Model Railroader magazine for my Christmas stocking that first year, and I was in an LHS inside of 10 days.  The rest is just a fast-paced dream. Smile

    I think kids may benefit from playing with anything resembling a train early on, but they should be able to relate it to the prototype concurrently.

    My My 2 cents


  • My two boys, 7 & 9 are very proficient with the HO trains.  They've had the opportunity to run on a few really huge layouts.  My youngest catches derailments quicker than I do.  They love locating items on our on the carpet Bachmann EZ track layout like autos, houses, etc., making it their own creation.  All this makes me very happy.  I haven't started modelling with them yet but I will.  Sure, at first they were careless operators, but they're quick studies.  My boys started years ago with the classic all wood Thomas trains and track and the FP Geotracks with the remote controls.  So mix, match, or whatever.  I know this hobby enriched our lives, so just do it!

  •  My son, who is almost 3 now, has been into trains for the majority of his life. He loves watching trains go by, both full size and model.

    He loves playing with his wooden Brio-type trains and likes to help with setting up the model trains, regardless of the scale. He sometimes will ask to hold an engine, and if it is not too heavy, fragile, or expensive, he will get to hold it. So far, he has not identified his favourite gauge, but he loves steam engines, and will make train sounds if he sees one, whether it be real or in a book.

    My folks have tried to give him toy cars, and he will try to "couple up" everything to make a train. He especially loves it when we set up my 1966 Ford yard tractor with 3 wagons, and the last one looking like a caboose.  If you give him the chance, he will grab the lever arm for the snowplow and act like it is a lever to a whistle and make a whoo-whoo sound.

    To say that trains are a big thing in my family is a major understatement.....

    So many scales, so many trains, so little time.....

  •   Sounds like me lol. I have had a love of trains since around 2 and I did the same things.So buy an engineers hat an just let him watch trains. I wound up running them, and being an armchair modeler.


      My kids got the bug from me. Just pass it on as I think its genetic.

    Yes we are on time but this is yesterdays train

  • I don't think a person outgrows wooden Brio trains unless they choose to. I'm in college, and when I get the chance, I still play with my Brio trains (plus a small HO set and Lionel).  But I'm slowly moving on to quarter scale live steam!  Smile Smile

    If you haven't read the book "Playing with Trains: a Passion Beyond Scale" by  Sam Posey, I would definetely recommend it, since it does a great job of trying to explain what it is about trains, and especially having a model layout, that people love.

    sure, i'm going to college for engineering. but it all leads back to trains
  • I have loved trains since I was about 2.  My older brothers had Marx O scale trains and we would spend hours in the basement, setting them up on tables and adding/building scenery to make them look more real.  I too would become very excited whenever a crossing gate came down on a drive or when we would pass a switch yard.  So for me, having access to a train I could play with and seeing the real thing on an occasional basis kept up my interest.  Putting the trains away around March was helpful too because by the time November came around, it was all new again.  The trains never sat around collecting dust or being taken for granted.  Lets not forget there are some excellent train videos for kids like the Thomas series.   I like the "I Love Toy Trains" videos that show O scale trains and accessories in operation along with kids sing-along songs.  Do you know how many times a kid can watch a movie they really like?

  • Trains and cars addiction for the soon to be 4yr old twins.  They got totally excited when my Dad brought out a train set he had that didn't run.  (see my post on the toy train section) and by the time they got to their polar express set they had filled the living room with cars, cars, and cars and what's the deal with all these car sets including helicopters?  They are learing very slowly, to treat their toys with some respect, especially the electric trains.  While they aren't up to assembling their train tracks, they know about not pulling long trains on the Thomas set, not to touch moving trains on the O scale tracks and not to touch anything from the HO layout unless I hand it to them.  Funny, they have hundreds of automibles, but they still often line them up as if they were a train. 

    The Dizzy-Pixar film, Cars, has been shown well in excess of a thousand times.  Trains videos, while we don't have the ILTT, are very popular as well.

    Proud to be DD-2itized! 1:1 scale is too unrealistic. Twins are twice as nice!
  •   Well, my brother and I started out watching Thomas the Tank Engine on video (it was our favorite cartoon!) and reading Thomas books.  We were also exposed to full-size trains and train books over our childhood.  My parents bought my brother a nice Southern HO steam engine when he was very young, but he got lots of fun hours out of that thing.  (Before stripping the gears out by pushing it along the rails.  :p )  Now in our teens we are both diehard railfans and both do some modeling.  (I model UP in N scale and he is doing BNSF in HO scale.) 

      I know some railroad men who think that exposing kids to Thomas makes them think that big trains are toys, but I totally do NOT agree.  I know lots of younger railfans who got their start in Thomas the Tank Engine.  I think it's a good starter.  My recommendation: instead of letting the little ones watch Spongebob or something, plug in some old Thomas videos or even "Shining Time Station" (if you can find it - I don't remember that much about it.) 

    Jenny ~ a train crazy, steam-loving, teen girl!  May God bless you and may GOD BLESS AMERICA!
  • By the way, a new cartoon debuted on Disney (channels 172 and 173 on DishNetwork, I believe)  this morning called "Chuggington".  It is okay for 3 year olds, but not nearly as good as Thomas was in my opinion.  It has some prototypical details (Blomberg trucks and a pretty nice F-unit), but there are also some major mistakes.  (Like a two-story roundhouse!  HAHA)  It is still pretty cool to hear terms like "rolling stock" on a cartoon though.  I guess we'll see if it lasts.

    Jenny ~ a train crazy, steam-loving, teen girl!  May God bless you and may GOD BLESS AMERICA!
  • ~TeenSteamQueen~

    By the way, a new cartoon debuted on Disney (channels 172 and 173 on DishNetwork, I believe)  this morning called "Chuggington".  It is okay for 3 year olds, but not nearly as good as Thomas was in my opinion.  It has some prototypical details (Blomberg trucks and a pretty nice F-unit), but there are also some major mistakes.  (Like a two-story roundhouse!  HAHA)  It is still pretty cool to hear terms like "rolling stock" on a cartoon though.  I guess we'll see if it lasts.



    We just started recording that on the DVR this week. Not too bad and it keeps my 2 1/2 y/o son's attention. He got really excited when i built a 18" radius circle platform for our Christmas tree this year, so that's what got me into building a layout and finding this place. Last weekend with went to the World's Greatest Hobby (or something like that) show in Chantilly, VA with some friends and he was really excited about everything there. We picked up a Bachmann Thomas the Train HO set with EZ-Track and he's played with it almost every day so far. Even though they recommend it for 8 y/o and up, a set like that is perfectly age-appropriate for 2 y/o and up with supervision -- as long as you know to watch them like a hawk, it can provide hours of fun. I let him run 'em round and we debuted the "Peanut Express" by adding some nuts to the cargo cars so he could bring the train around and stop it in front of me to deliver the peanuts.

    Now I just have to convince my wife we need to buy more sets (the darn passenger trains need 22" radius, but the "freight" set only comes with 18" radius.

  •  Our hobby dearly needs young blood to succeed us older ones Smile Thomas the Tank Engine seems to be a good start for the 4 - 6 years old, but it wears out a little later, unless we do something about it. Change to "real" locos and cars the kids can see, when you take them to watch trains. Build a small layout with them and let them do a lot along the building process. Keep their interest awake - not an easy task nowadays, as trains are not that apparent in every day life and computers of all sorts seem to have taken the reign in the kidsĀ“ rooms.

  • I bought my son his first loco for Christmas at age 5 and his sister was age 6 at that time.    She is now 17 and he is now 14.    She never really got the bug even after I tried building and decorating houses with her, adding a likeness of her inside her loco, etc.    My son is very involved and he's even got some of his friends involved.    He's a 3rd generation RR modeler now.

    I had to be willing to let each of them break something since they were so young to start.   But, they were very careful and  so we never had any real issues.     They also watched their friends carefully.


  • My 3 yr old loves trains both real and model. Last Christmas he got  three trains and the one he plays with the most is the Thomas track master. It is the easiest one for him to operate by himself  He has already told me to get a train like what goes by our house. So hope fully he will never out grow trains.