HO Scale Layouts

The HO model railway scale is the most popular in the world, and for good reasons. It is small enough that you can make elaborate layouts even in a relatively small space, and it’s also large enough that you can see the wonderful details that make a model train layout so enchanting.

To maximize your enjoyment of your model railway, you should get a basic setup going, and then gradually add to it as time and money allow. When do you stop? Probably never. Model railway fans tend to be devoted for life.

Here are some of the basic pieces you’ll need for starting your HO scale layout.

Make sure you have a good DC transformer. The one that comes with a basic train set is OK, but if you can get your hands on a decent transformer, your train will run better. Have 6 to 10 wheel sets. Keep half a dozen or so couplers handy, and a couple of packs of rail joiners. Also make sure you have some insulated joiners. Terminal joiners work better than plain terminal track and allow wires to be kept hidden. You should also have a collection of ‘odd straights,’ which are exactly what they sound like: odd sized pieces of straight track.

Get some rerailers. These are sections of straight track that look like road crossings. And you’ll need a few basic tools and supplies. You should also have a roll of three-strand wire from an electronics store, a pair of needle nose pliers with a wire cutter, and a couple of screwdrivers ‘“ slot and Phillips head.

When it comes time to actually start putting down track, start small with maybe an oval with a couple of sidings. You can add to the complexity infinitely, but this design will get you going.

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Model Train Layouts

Model train layouts can mean anything from simple ‘found’ pieces like Matchbox cars set up to surround a Lego toy train to amazingly realistic landscape and built-to-scale buildings in elaborate, complex designs. The great thing about model train layouts is that you can make them a little at a time, changing and modifying as you go.

The most popular scale model railroads, O, HO, N, and OO (in the UK) have accessories that are widely available and don’t have to be custom made. In addition, there is a growing cottage industry of software used for designing model train layouts and printing simple fold-together building designs onto card stock. For those who go for the most realism, there are custom model railroad artists who make very realistic, perfectly scaled architectural and landscape features for the most demanding model railway enthusiasts.

This is not to say that Lego model train layouts are in any way inferior. Now that an entire generation of Lego train enthusiasts has grown up and has more disposable income for such pursuits, Lego trains are very popular among adult model train hobbyists. The beauty of Lego train sets is that the bucket of Legos that a child has grown ‘too old for’ is suddenly a source of building materials for model train layouts. The fact that Lego model trains are sturdy enough to stand up to years of use is one real advantage to choosing such a set for a child who is a beginning model train enthusiast.

Whether a model train lover wants perfect scale and realism, or whether he or she wants the fun of running trains, with scenery ranking less importantly, there are plenty of other like-minded train enthusiasts all over the world. Because when you get down to it, one of the most fun things about having model trains is sharing them with other people who appreciate them.

Model Railway Track

Track pieces for model railways are designated by their ‘gauge’ which is the distance between the rails. For example, the popular HO scale train has track that is 5/8’ or 16.5 mm wide, and the scale of the rolling stock is 1:87.1.

When you plan a model railway track layout, you need to be familiar with ‘loading gauge.’ All it means is the space required on top of and on either side of the track so that the train doesn’t knock over anything. You can test this simply by adding your largest cars to the track and noting their outside dimensions, particularly as they go around curves.

If you have a model train with a pantograph on top, you need to account for the height of the pantograph when it is fully extended. (A pantograph is a metal device on top of a train that collects electricity from overhead lines. They are used on electric trams and electric trains.) You also need to account for any loads that your cars will be carrying. Do they stick out to the sides or above?

As for track layouts, much will depend on what locomotives you want to use and how fast you want the train to go. Generally speaking, the faster you want your train to go, the larger the turning radius you need on curves. Otherwise centrifugal force will cause it to derail. If you want to run locomotives that aren’t pulling cars, you need to adjust the turning radii depending on how powerful that locomotive is. If it is powerful enough to go really fast when it’s by itself, it will also require a larger turning radius to keep from derailing.

You may not give much thought to the gauge of track for your layout, but simply buy track made for the scale, such as HO. That is fine. However, there are narrow gauge purists who set up narrow gauge tracks to mimic some of the narrow gauges that were used in the early days of railroads. It’s just more proof that with model railways, the possibilities are endless!