Model Train Collections: The Beginner’s Guide on How to Get Started

May 18, 2020

Model Train Collections: The Beginner’s Guide on How to Get Started

Whether we realize it or not, our brains are constantly longing for something new and different. If you ever find yourself stuck at home, chances are that video games, movies, TV shows, board games, crafts, and cooking will only get your preoccupation so far. You need something new, something that can open a whole new world of possibilities.

Have you ever considered collecting model train sets? Many grow up loving trains with their timelessness and sense of adventure. Think, the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter, the childish nature of Thomas the Train, or even the family-favorite Polar Express. People love trains, so why not bring some of that joy into your home?

That’s where TrainLife comes in with this model train guide.

We’ll be going over everything you could possibly need to know about how to start a model train collection, from terminology to logistics.

1) Choose Your Scale

HO (The Most Popular)

HO, or H0, is a train modeling scale using a 1:87 (3.5 mm to 1 foot) scale. It’s the most popular train model scale type due to the size being suitable for regular to smaller home layouts, as well as the fact that it’s typically cheaper to manufacture. The rails are spaced about 16.5 mm (0.650 in) apart for modeling 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 ½ in) standard gauge tracks and trains, making them definitively HO as far as scales identification is concerned.

N (Smaller, More Flexibility)

N scale is also a common model train scale, though not the most popular. This scale range varies based on the manufacturer or country of manufacturing but typically falls between 1:148 and 1:160. Regardless, the distance between the rails (also known as the gauge) is 9mm or .354 inches. That being said, the height of the rails can differ and is expressed as a “code”, such as Code 80 which would have a height of 0.080 inches or 2.0 mm. The advantage of this scale type is that it allows train enthusiasts and hobbyists alike to build train layouts that are more space-conscious than HO scales, be that higher, longer, or just different than what can be built with an HO scale model.

2) Choose Your Time Period

Model downtown building for model train set

After figuring out what scale you want, it’s time to pick what era you want your model train to reflect. The beauty of model trains is the room for customization, so you can really do whatever you’d like. Some people prefer replicating more modern layouts with accompanying ‘80s, ‘90s, or even ‘00s scenery since there are a number of older trains that still run today. But, if you try to inverse that and put a modern train (think, an Amtrack freight) in an early-era British 1920s setting, it might look a little off aesthetically. We think it’s best to get something that can go either way, old fashioned or more modern. Getting a variety of different trains and pieces can promote a more neutral look.

3) Choose Your Location

This selection process goes hand-in-hand with the time period you choose. That decision will impact what landscaping materials and structure kits you might need to complete your model.

For instance, are you in the rustic plains of Kansas, Oklahoma, or Texas? Is the train barreling through suburban New Jersey or downtown Chicago? Is it a mountainous train traveling through Canada, Utah, or Colorado?

The environment you choose will greatly affect what availability for landscaping you have. Is it the dead of winter, where a blanket of snow will cover everything? Early spring with blooming blossoms and trees? The crux of summer when everything is bright, green, and hazy? Or is it autumn with jewel-toned flora?

These are decisions that are best made before investing in the pieces of your model train so you don’t have things that won’t be used based on the season, location, and time period you choose.

4) Choose a Layout

Model train layout with red engine car on the tracks

Planning your layout will take time and will probably change from your first idea to your last. Trial & error is your friend when it comes to this process because you have to consider the actual dimensions of the space you’ll be building in and on, as well as the dimensions of the pieces you purchase.

Most decent-quality ping-pong tables (5 x 9-foot in size) are usually substantial enough for temporary layouts, and crafty folks create systems of cables and pulleys to raise and lower them for storage purposes.

As far as more permanent layouts, so you’ll want a space like a basement, spare room, or garage that won’t see much destructive traffic to build your set. Generally, building a model train set is a more long-term hobby that requires a bit of planning but with impressive outcomes.

5) Choose Your First Train Kit

model train station with mini figures

This is the most exciting part!

If you’ve decided to get into model train building, you’re in for a fun ride. A well-done train set is a unique feat to show off to friends and family. You’ll also experience the elation and satisfaction of crafting and completing it.

But where do you go to buy model trains and kits?

TrainLife is your go-to online model train store. We’ve got everything from HO to N scale models, a variety of different trains, cars, and accessories, as well as an array of different landscaping pieces and kits.

The perfect at-home hobby is just a click away! Visit TrainLife today and get started on building your perfect model train set.

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