Chimo sign at Cochrane


“If you already understand, no explanation is necessary. If you don’t, no explanation is possible.”

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
George Bernard Shaw

“You can’t stay young, but you can at least stay immature.”

The above quotes summarize my approach to model railroading. The number one reason to build a model train layout is simply to have fun. No other reasons are needed. The really great thing about the hobby is that you can do pretty much anything you want. There is a vast choice of railroads and time periods to model. You can choose from a vast variety of commercial products, or you can build things from scratch. And you can make your models as detailed or as playful as you want.

The pages here in the “Trains” section include photos of both real trains and model trains. My own particular interest is in the German railroads, and my own current layout models the Prussian railroad around 1910.



How to Start into Model Railroading?

Are you interested in starting a model railroad? Here are some questions to consider:

What scale?

The simple answer is H0. H0 (1:87) is the most popular scale, with the greatest choice of models and resource materials.

That said, there are also good reasons for choosing a different scale. N-Scale (1:160) is a good choice if you don’t have much room for a layout. Or, if you want to model realistically long trains or spectacular scenery. But note that human eyesight tends to change with age, and many modellers (like myself) can find N-Scale awfully small when they reach their 40’s.

The larger scales, like S, O, and 1, appeal to modellers who like to build detailed models themselves from scratch.

What gauge?

Don’t confuse scale and gauge. Gauge is the distance between the rails. Most model trains model standard gauge, which is 1435mm (or 4’8.5″). But the modelling of the various narrow gauge railroads is also popular.

What railroad?

Any railroad you want! Some modellers model the railroads that run close to home. Others model far away railroads. Still others make up their own. And others may take the easy way out and run anything they want, regardless of railroad company.

What time period?

Again, any time period you want! Some modellers prefer contemporary railroads. Others prefer old steam era trains. A popular compromise for the modellers of North American railroads is the 1950’s, when you could expect to see both steam and diesel locomotives.

Some modellers prefer modelling trains covering a number of decades. And some prefer to limit themselves to historical accuracy down to the month or even week.

What next?

Start by doing some reading. There’s a vast choice of magazines available that cover all aspects of model railroading. For the best selection, visit your local hobby shop. The salespeople there can also generally be depended on for advice.

If you’re interested in modelling local railroads, go and visit the local stations with your camera. Remember that the tracks are off-limits to the public due to the danger of passing trains. But often you find good locations to take pictures from bridges or other neighboring public property.

Also, visit the local model train or hobby shows. Also if you can, visit any local model railroading clubs. If you don’t have room for a layout, joining a club may be the next best thing to building your own layout.

Final advice?

There are a lot of different approaches to model railroading. In my opinion, the most interesting layouts are the ones that don’t follow the common cliches, and show some originality. So, don’t think you have to follow a particular style or model a particular railroad or time period.

Finally, remind yourself occasionally that, whatever choices you make, you should be enjoying yourself. If not, then it’s time to choose a different hobby.


Why the Interest in Steam Trains?

Why are people interested in steam locomotives? They’re a dirty, smelly, and inefficient form of transportation.

And yet, like the old Volkswagen beetle, the pull of nostalgia is strong. We forget the uncomfortable aspects and look at the romantic. The chugging of the pistons, the billowing white smoke, the intricate linkages connecting the huge drive wheels. Modern diesel and electric locomotives have been sanitized of all these things leaving only cold, stark efficiency.

In West Germany, as in almost all other western nations, by the mid-1970’s most steam locomotives were taken out of service and scrapped. A few representatives from each remaining class were cleaned up and placed in museums. However, for some classes of locomotive, none have survived.

Steam locomotives continued to run in the east, though. When East and West united in 1990, steam enthusiasts from the west discovered many steam locomotives still running. Of course, in the interests of progress, these had to be replaced by diesel and electric locomotives. But now, the value of the old “steam steeds” was recognized. Instead of wholesale scrapping, most of them were put up for sale. Many were bought by museums and railway clubs. Some were even bought by hotels!