Model Trains – Work Area

A few pics of the area in the garage set aside for the model train layout.

Model Trains – Reboot

Well, a little over a year since my last post on here. Time for a new hobby, right?

This is the first entry on my rebooted model train pastime. I have always had a fascination with trains, and have somehow always lived relatively close to tracks (for better or worse). I grew up in the vicinity of the National Transportation Museum outside of St. Louis, and walked the tracks in the surrounding area extensively as a kid. Old abandoned stations, disused and almost hidden tunnels, bridges and all. As a pre-teen, I dabbled with N scale trains, and had what might be mistaken as a ‘layout’ if you squinted real hard. It was a 4′ x 4′ plywood sheet painted brown & green with a few scenic items placed sparingly around the track. A handful of cars for rolling stock, and maybe two or three locomotives.

Fast forward 30+ years. My wife’s father was a Rock Island employee, and had a fairly extensive collection of model trains, mostly HO scale. I dipped my toe back in the hobby briefly, acquiring some HO rolling stock and a couple of engines while he was still alive. But I never got to the point of doing a layout primarily due to space limitations. After my father-in-law passed away, his collection was divided up by my wife and her siblings. What she got was boxed up and stored away until recently when I got the bug to break out the combined collection pieces and tinker. Once again I found myself without proper space inside the house we currently live in to do a proper HO layout. But, we have a large two car garage / workshop. I thought long and hard about the amount of space I could use in the garage, but concluded that it might be better to shift over to N scale.

I’ve opted for a 4’x8′ layout using rigid foam as the base. Support is primarily 2×2’s, with a couple of 2×4’s for extra support. As we have a few cats on the payroll for mousing purposes, the entire layout is (at least temporarily) designed to be lifted up towards the ceiling when not being used or worked on. Power is supplied by a custom built controller centered around pulse width modulation. I bought a pwm module on Amazon and then constructed a case to mount things in. AC to DC is provided by a spare 12V 4A power adapter. Woodworking is not my strong suite, so it isn’t perfect. But it is functional.

I’m going with Kato Unitrack for this layout. A bit pricey, but high quality. This stuff is really nice to work with, and looks great. The turnouts are controlled by simple momentary SPST switches. I skipped the pre-wired power / track modules and have been soldering my own feeders to the rail joiners. The idea up to this point has been to acquire enough track to make an inner and outer loop with turnouts and get some familiarity with the Kato products. I’ve also began using Simple Computer Aided Railway Modeller (SCARM) to design the final track layout (

So far, I’ve purchased five locomotives. I just couldn’t wait to get something running, and in every case the price too good to pass up. First up is a Kato EMD F3A CB&Q Freight Scheme (#9960A). This thing is like a rocket on the track! I guess the fondness that the Japanese have for their high-speed trains carries over into the model realm. I’m not positive on the math, but scale speed for this little guy is probably around 150MPH at full throttle. Other engines in the collection currently include:

Arnold SW-1 Diesel Locomotive Penn Central #8512
Atlas Virginia and Maryland #200C420
Arnold N-Scale Chicago Burlington Road #561
Kato USA Model Train Products EMD NW2 #9211 CB and Q “Everywhere West”

Of note is the Atlas C420. It came equipped with the DCC decoder and as such could not run on my pwm power as the decoder gets confused. It will have to remain in storage until I upgrade to DCC down the road.

So, with the exception of the Penn Central switcher, the CB&Q has become by happenstance the common road name for this layout. Furthermore, the time period is roughly mid 20th century, so I might get away with sneaking a steam engine into the roster at some point. To be honest, I’m not going to get too hung up on precision with regards to era or road names. I’m more interested in the whole scenic aspect. The primary objective is to learn the ins and outs of the process, gain insight on the relative strengths and weaknesses of various techniques and products, and in general have some fun.