How I start the fire...

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How I start the fire...

  • Every year around Christmas time, a mall in the area has a model train exhibit that benefits a local charity. I have been involved with this exhibit for a number of years and have always loved the look of sheer joy on the children's faces when they see their favorite blue engine (yes, that one) or find the little buttons that make the animated buildings move.

    One day I was fixing a derailed rail car that had tumbled over at the hands of a destructive child, when a young boy approached me and began asking me questions about the trains and how they worked. I proceeded to show him the control panel and even showed him an engine without a shell that I had been working on in the back. He stayed with me for over 30 minutes as I showed him the ins and outs of the layout, him wide-eyed the entire time. When we had finished, I gave his mother a flier to a train show in the area that would be happening a few weeks later and the boy begged his mother then and there to take him.

    I realized that day what an excellent opportunity I had been wasting all of these years. Most of the people who came to the display were oblivious to the existence of the hobby and this presented a wonderful opening to be able to spread the love of model railroading. Afterwards, instead of sitting in the corner of the room overseeing everything in silence, I began to talk to anyone who showed interest in the exhibit at all, both children and adults, about the amazing world of trains.

    Model railroading is a hobby that the entire family can enjoy together. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, a simple train set is a great way to create that spark and get kids involved in a hobby that they can cherish for their entire lives and pass on to their children and grandchildren. However, you can never learn to love something unless you know it exists. This is why we should take every opportunity to expose people to the hobby and produce a new generation of train fans, and the hobby and our love of trains will never run out of steam.

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  • This is what it do any every Train Show I display my nutty little micro layout at. My conversations are mostly with families that comes to the show, usually for the kids. They walk around looking at the huge display layouts and get discouraged thinking they need a small spare building to have a layout. Then they see mine which is about 3' square, and get reinterested because it shows that you can do a lot in a very small space and the kids go nuts watching the trains go around it.

       Have fun with your trains

  • Thanks Atrainmaster for sharing this story. It definitely helps when kids get the chance to talk with someone who explains the hobby.

    My son is now 6, and loves to set up his wood rails, different layouts. I know he is young, but he shows such interest, that I purchased a small oval electric N scale train set. Got a used locomotive and some used freight cars, and we were off and running.

    He is using legos to build structures around the electric train layout. And we watched a few videos on building benchwork and layouts, so that will be our next project. Like Vsmith, we are tight on space, so this first layout will be 5' x 3'.

    Any thoughts on working with kids and their first layout would be appreciated

  • Absolutely! What people don't realize is that you can do a lot in a small space, and that it doesn't have to be expensive either. Even if you aren't a hardcore modeler, creating a small layout can be a great thing for a family to experience together.

  • Yes, it's amazing how many questions go unanswered if you don't take initiative and seek them out.

    That's fantastic that your son is interested in trains already and you're supporting that by building a layout. Even if it is a fairly small layout, you have a chance to bond with your son while building something amazing, and that's what's most important.

    My first layout was also 3x5 in n scale. (Now I have a 12x15 N scale filling up an entire room) How's your woodworking? Considering that your son is so young, I would make the benchwork as sturdy and simple as possible. (Accidents happen) I personally prefer to use grid benchwork using 1x4's for the grids and 2x4's for the legs, but that's just me.

    When it comes time to scenic the layout, let your son's imagination go crazy! That's the beauty of it, you and your son can create your own little world any way you'd like! Legos are an interesting addition to a layout and add an element of fun for kids. For the Christmas display I mentioned in my first post, we hide various superheroes and Star Wars characters around the layout in different places every year to keep people engaged.

    Ultimately there's no "right way" to build a layout. To be completely honest with you, I believe that trial and error is the best policy. If you are unsure how to do something, practice on a small piece of wood or foam first, or feel free to ask anyone here. Just have fun with it! That is what it's all about, isn't it? :)

    Have you and your son ever been to a train show? I don't know what area y'all are from but there are shows all across the country throughout the year. They are a great opportunity to talk to people and learn a lot about the hobby. Here is a link to one of the largest show operators in the country:

    If you have any questions or need help with anything please let me know! :)

  • It definitely will be a learning experience for both of us. We did have a chance to see The World's Greatest Hobby show here in Raleigh, NC. My son was 4 at the time, it was a lot to take in, but he was excited to see all the exhibits.

    There is a small train show next month in Greensboro, NC. We are going to take the express train over to the show, so a fun day of trains.

    My initial thoughts on building a layout with my son, was to present him with some of the concepts behind the design and function. Let him plug in to the process as he is comfortable. Keep the wooden rails going, so as we are building the electric train layout, he can go back to the wooden rails for changes and new designs.

    Once our layout is complete, and we operate it for awhile, along with the continued use of the wooden rails, maybe then start to design the next layout. I'm thinking about this over a long period of time. And maybe, depending on his interest, checking out some local model railroad clubs.

    It's funny you mentioned Star Wars figures in your layout. I had that idea too. That it would be fun to place a land speeder, in an open bay garage, or around the corner of a building - see if anyone noticed it Smile

    We have a townhome, with a one car garage. I am getting the garage organized, my tools organized, so we can get started. I do have a little carpentry experience, and for awhile, I worked with ceramics - so I am curious to see if that skill set with help with foam work.

    I appreciate the thoughts and great ideas, Atrainmaster. As we go along, and have questions, I'll post back.

    Thanks again.