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Where to Start When You Want a Real Model Train Layout

Collecting model trains is fun and relaxing hobby that can be enjoyed by the entire family. Once you get heavily involved in model trains, it can provide countless hours of enjoyment. For many, the interest to get into model trains is sparked by the purchase of a toy or beginner train set. Or, it could be that some model trains were passed down through the generations of your family and you found them tucked away in the attic. Initially, you probably have a single oval track layout sitting on a table or on the floor that gets put away after running it for awhile. But you want your model trains there when you come home and have some leisure time. It's time to set up a model train layout. How do you get started? Where do you go from here? Let's look at how many turn a toy train set into a model train empire.

You first have to choose a scale for your model trains if you have not done so. For those starting with a toy train set, the scale is probably already chosen. More than likely, your scale will be N or HO. But let's assume that you have decided upon the scale for your layout. Now, you will need to draw your track plans so that you know about how much table or shelving surface you need. You can find sample model railroad track plans on the internet, model railroad magazines, or track planning guides. Some start with track sections and others move on to flexible track to create a layout that flows.

Once you have your plan, you can start building the surface. Your track design might be intended for a 4' by 8' foot sheet of plywood or you can build extended shelves to run along walls and run your track there. No matter what, if you lay track directly on plywood you will eventually run into problems of noise and track warping. You can make your surface extremely quiet by putting a layer of homasote above the plywood surface and mounting your track on that. Homasote is a material used for bulletin boards in school. Its advantage is that you can push things like track spikes easily into it.

Any elaborate model train layout design is going to have switches. Drill holes where the wires from the switch motor can be dropped below the table or shelf. Depending on how many switches you have, you'll want to carefully route them, tape down the wires beneath, and mount the electrical control on a control panel of some sort. Usually the control panels are custom designed by the model train buff and built from plywood as well.

Once the track is laid and wiring routed, you'll probably start designing your towns, farms, and landscapes. Most start by purchasing a few plastic buildings for their town. Strips of poster board painted various shades of gray make a great surface for roads. Plaster of Paris, window screening, and cloth or newspaper strips can be combined to create rolling mountains. The list of things you can do is endless. The hobby of model trains is one where there always seems like there is something else to do or work on.