The Conductor on November 16th, 2009

Heavy-gauge copper wire used to distribute the electrical power from the booster around the layout.

A car or train, usually passenger, moving empty; a passenger traveling on a pass.

A type of lettering material for models.

A bridge floor which may be either ballasted or open (with the track bolted to the supports).

In DCC, small circuit board that receives digital packets of information addressed to it by the command station in accordance with NMRA standards. Mobile decoders are mounted inside locomotives and control the motor, lights, and sounds. Accessory decoders are used to control non-locomotive items such as turnout motors, signals, etc.

A safety device placed on the track, usually on a siding, to prevent cars from rolling onto the main line.

Digital Command Control
Method of controlling multiple trains and accessories using digital communications packets to send commands.

Direct Current
Electrical current that flows in only one direction.

Double Crossover
Adjacent trailing and facing-point crossovers allowing trains to pass from one parallel track to the other in either direction.

A train pulled by two locomotives, each with an engine crew, as opposed to diesel or electric locomotive units operating in multiple as a single locomotive with one crew.

Double-pole, double-throw. Switch used on model railroads to allow you to change the polarity of the current for reverse loops or for complex block control.

Draft Gear
The mechanism which connects the coupler to the frame of the car.

A movable bridge that spans a navigable waterway.

A passage underneath layout benchwork requiring ducking or crawling to reach another part of the layout.

The Conductor on November 3rd, 2009

Usually a handheld piece of equipment with necessary controls to send speed, direction, and other information to the locomotive. Frequently referred to as “throttle”. On the prototype, the part of the locomotive that houses the crew.

Cab Bus
Used to connect handheld and stationary cabs to a command station. Wireless cabs are indirectly connected to a cab bus via their companion wireless base.

Cab Control
A method of independent control of two or more trains in which the throttle for each train is connected to the sections of track or “blocks” in which that train will run. A block is an electrically insulated section of track. Only one engine or set of engines can be independently controlled in each block.

Cab Forward
An articulated steam locomotive peculiar to the Southern Pacific, built with the cab in front for visibility in tunnels and snowsheds.

Cab Unit
A diesel locomotive built with a full width body. Sometimes called a “covered wagon”.

The car that carries the crew of a freight train. It is almost always at the rear of the train.

A type of steam locomotive with the cab astride the boiler.

Can Motor
A round-cross section motor with a circular field magnet.

A structure built above railroad tracks to carry overhead wire for electric locomotives.

Circuit Breaker
A switch that automatically protects the Digital Command Control system and all the decoders on the layout in the event of a current overload.

Class I, Class II, Class III Railroads
The seven major U.S. railroads with average operating revenues in excess of $250 million or more are known as Class I; railroads with revenue of between $20 and $250 million are Class II; less than $20 million earns a Class III rating.

Classification Lights
Lights on the front of the locomotive that indicate the type of train. White lights show that the train is an extra; green indicates that another section of the train is following.

The space that is required for rolling stock to pass an object or other equipment. Vertical clearance is the space between a car roof and an overhead object or structure.

Clearance Point
The location near a turnout frog where equipment on one track may safely pass equipment on the adjacent track.

A type of geared steam locomotive used primarily by logging railroads. The two cylinders drive a jackshaft parallel with the axles. Power is transmitted to each truck through bevel gears and a driveshaft; rods couple the axles on each truck.

Closure Rails
The rails connecting the points and the frog of a turnout.

Coaling Station
A structure for storing coal and transferring it into locomotive tenders.

Height of model rail as measured by thousandths of an inch.

Command Control
A way of controlling model trains by sending electronic signals through the rails or by wireless link, either radio or infrared. Each locomotive has a decoder or receiver that responds only to the messages specifically directed to it. Engines can be controlled independently anywhere on a layout.

Command Station
The “brains” of the DCC system. It receives information from the cab, forms the appropriate DCC “packet,” and transmits this information in an NMRA DCC-compliant signal to the track via the booster.

Common Rail Wiring
A wiring system wherein one rail is electrically continuous. A single wire connected to it serves as a common return for two or more cabs.

Cars which make up a train; also a list of those cars.

Control Bus
A cable connecting the command station to its boosters.

Cookie Cutter
A type of table construction in which the plywood tabletop is cut alongside the track and then elevated above the level of the rest of the layout (or dropped below).

The device that fastens cars and locomotives together.

Covered Wagon
A diesel cab unit, A or B, as opposed to a hood unit.

Cowl Unit
A diesel unit that looks like a cab unit but differs structurally in that the carbody is merely a full-width hood rather than a structural part of the locomotive.

A track arrangement that permits two tracks to cross but does not allow trains to move from one track to the other.

Two turnouts laid frog to-frog to allow trains to move from one track to another parallel track.

Centralized Traffic Control, remote control of turnouts and signals by a dispatcher or control operator.

Roadbed dug into the surrounding terrain to maintain a relatively even grade.

Cut and Fill
A right of way construction method that removes earth or stone above grade and uses it to fill in gaps below grade.

The Conductor on October 23rd, 2009

A painting or scenic photograph on the wall behind the layout.

On real railroads, a layer of material – usually crushed rock, cinders, or gravel – on top of the roadbed that holds the ties in position and facilitates drainage. On a model railroad, ballast is simulated by fine gravel spread between the ties and alongside the track.

Supporting framework for a model railroad layout.

Big hook
A wrecking crane.

On a model railroad, a block is an electrically isolated section of track.

Block signal
A signal at the entrance to a block indicating whether the block is occupied by a train.

The crosswise member of the frame of a car at the truck (body bolster) or the crosswise piece at the center of a truck (truck bolster).

In DCC, the booster takes the low-current signal from the command station and “boosts” it to the high-current signal needed by locomotives to operate DC motors, etc., in conformance with NMRA Standards S-91. Also referred to as power stations or power boosters.

Branch line
Secondary line of a railroad.

A structure that supports a track passing over a depression in the terrain or a stream.

Bridge pier
An intermediate support used between bridge spans.

Bridge shoe
An iron or steel casting which transfers the weight of a bridge to its supports.

A braced, coupler height blocking device that keeps cars from rolling off the end of a track.

Bus, or bus wire
A main wire, or trunk wire, running under a model railroad. Shorter branch wires, such as track power feeders, are connected to it.

The Conductor on October 20th, 2009
Howdy y’all.  I’ve decided to start a glossary of model railroading terms for all you model train enthusiasts to refer to.  I’ll add to it over time and would love to have your suggestions as well.  Here it is starting with “A”:
Access hatch
A hole in the benchwork and scenery, sometimes concealed with a lift out section of scenery, for emergency access to parts of the layout.

Accessory decoder
Decoder that provides power and operational control of one or more layout accessory devices, such as turnouts, signals, cranes, animation devices, lighting, etc. Also known as a stationary decoder.

Used by the command station to communicate with a specific decoder. It can be either 2- or 4-digit, depending on the system, and is typically part of the locomotive’s road number. Addresses are unique to each decoder.

Alternating Current (AC)
An electric current that reverses its direction of flow at regular intervals. Each move from zero to maximum strength and back to zero is half a cycle. A full cycle includes excursions in both the positive and negative direction.

Meter used to measure current strength – for example, how many amps a locomotive draws when it stalls.

The American Railway Engineering Association is the prototype railroad organization which establishes right of-way material specifications and track construction standards.

Automatic reversing
A circuit that senses short circuits and reverses the polarity. Used commonly with reversing loops, wyes, and turntables.

The Conductor on October 17th, 2009

The first self-propelled steam locomotive had its maiden outing at Pen-y-Darren, Wales UK in 1804.  Since then, the steam locomotive has evolved with awe-inspiring  results.  Here are some of the astounding achievements of the steam locomotive, as chronicled by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Heaviest train pulled by a single locomotive
The heaviest train ever hauled by a single engine is believed to be one of 15,545 tonnes (34,270,820 lb.) made up of 250 freight cars stretching 2.5 km. (1.6 miles) by the Matt H. Shay (No. 5014), a 2-8-8-8-2 steam engine which ran on the Erie Railroad in the US from 1914 until 1929.

Fastest steam locomotive
The highest speed ever ratified for a steam locomotive is 201 km/h (125 mph) by the London North Eastern Railway ‘Class A4′ No. 4468 Mallard, which hauled seven coaches weighing 243 tonnes (535,722 lb) down Stoke Bank, near Essendine, between Grantham, Lincolnshire, and Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, UK, on 3 July 1938

Longest non-stop run by a steam locomotive
Locomotive No. 4472 (the Flying Scotsman) completed a non-stop run of 679 km (422 miles), hauling 535 tonnes (1.179 million lb), between Parkes and Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, on 6 August 1989. The time was 9 hr 25 min 15 sec.

Most powerful steam locomotive
The worlds most powerful steam locomotive, measured by tractive effort, was No. 700, a triple-articulated or triplex six-cylinder 2-8-8-8-4 tank engine built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1916 for the Virginian Railway, USA. It had a tractive force of 75,433kg 166,300lb when working compound and 90,519kg 199,560lb when working simple.

Fastest steam car
On 19 August 1985, Robert E. Barber broke the 79-year-old record for a steam car when Steamin’ Demon, built by the Barber-Nichols Engineering Co., reached 234.331 km/h (145.607 mph) at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, USA.

The Conductor on October 15th, 2009

For all you beginner model railroaders out there looking to build a nice first track, the Tehachapi Loop is a great option.  It’s a wonderful section of track, and it is relatively easy to build.  Now the exact size of your layout will be dependant on how much space you have to build your track, but here’s a topographical map of the Tehachapi Loop to start.  Below that you’ll find a Z-scale rendering of the track layout.

Hope this helps get you started!  Happy Railroading!

The National Model Railroad Association North Central Region Northeast Hoosier Division 3 2009 Annual Convention starts tomorrow, October 15, 2009 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  This wonderful model railroading convention continues on through October 16, 17, 18 at the Fort Wayne Marriott.  If you’re in the Fort Wayne area be sure to check out this convention because there will be lots of great model railroading demonstrations, track layouts, track building clinics and contests of all sorts including a NMRA model train layout and photo contest.  For more information go to

The Conductor on October 12th, 2009

Atlas has announced that it is releasing a few new model railroading locomotives in May 2010.  Specifically, Atlas is manufacturing a series of HO SD-24 and SD-26 locomotives, and here are the details.

With over 220 units produced by EMD between July 1958 and March 1963, the SD-24 locomotive generated a total of 2,400 hp with its turbocharged 567D-3 prime mover and C-C wheel arrangement.

The majority of SD-24s produced were purchased by four roads: Chicago Burlington & Quincy, Santa Fe, Southern, and Union Pacific. Atlas’ HO scale model features details unique to each road name:

Burlington (CB&Q): High nose, single-chime air horn on short hood, Gyra-light on short hood (non-operating), winterization hatch

Santa Fe: Low nose, 3-chime horn mounted on left side of hood behind cab

Southern: High nose, 5-chime horn mounted on cab, bell detail on short hood

Union Pacific: Low nose, 3-chime horn mounted between 2nd and 3rd radiator fans, winterization hatch

The Atlas Master™ Series Gold versions of these locomotives are able to use all of the QSI® Quantum System™ sound features on DC layouts with use of the Atlas Quantum Engineer™.


  • Separately-applied roof piping detail
  • Golden-white LEDs
  • Realistic die-cast underframe
  • Five-pole skewed armature motor with dual flywheels for optimum performance at all speeds
  • Directional lighting
  • Factory-equipped with AccuMate® knuckle couplers
  • Painted crew figures
  • Separately-installed scale windshield wipers, metal grab irons and fine scale handrails
  • Highly detailed coupler cut bars
  • Multiple unit hoses and trainline hoses
  • Piping on trucks
  • Atlas Master® Silver Series Additional Features:

  • NMRA 8-pin plug for DCC (Decoder-ready)

    Atlas Master® Gold Series Additional Features:

  • Electronic Dual-Mode® Decoder (e-DMD) that allows your locomotive to run in DCC or traditional DC

    QSI® Quantum System™ Features Including:
    (Atlas Master Series Gold locomotives only)

  • Dual speaker system
  • Authentic diesel engine sounds
  • Squealing brakes
  • Doppler effect
  • Air let-off in neutral
  • Coupler impact sounds when operated with DCC
  • Helper mode that mutes the whistle and bell for double heading

7910_BeautyShot (Small)

The Conductor on October 11th, 2009

The Train Mountain Railroad is the longest steam powered model railroad in the world.  Located in Klamath County, Oregon, the Train Mountain Railroad is over 25 miles long!  Here’s the astounding track plan:

TrackPlanCentralSmall 264x300 Train Mountain Railroad

The Conductor on October 8th, 2009

ATH951981 Athearn Trains HO RTR SD40 2 w/81 Nose, BN/Bicentenial #1876

This is Athearn Trains new HO RTR SD40-2, due to be released in early March 2010.  Athearn Trains certainly has made some great locomotives in the past, and this beautiful locomotive looks like it’ll continue to build the reputation of Athearn Trains.  Here’s a closer look at the technical data of this prototype:

Key Features:

– Fully assembled and ready to operate

– Upgraded tooling

– Separately applied wire grab irons

– Separately applied air tanks

– Celcon handrails

– DCC ready wiring harness installed

– Prototype specific details applied

– McHenry scale knuckle spring couplers installed


Prototype specific details that may be applied to this model:

– Nose length

– Grilles

– Fans

– Battery access doors

– Exhaust stack

– Bell

– Anticlimbers and snowplow

– Headlights

– Fuel tank

– Dynamic brakes

– Electrical cabinet/Air Filter Box

– Air Horn

– Truck sideframes



DCC: Ready



COUPLER STYLE: McHenry Scale Knuckle

ERA: 1975 – Present