The Conductor on September 18th, 2009

Anyone who has ever assembled or tried to fix something on their own will speak to the necessity of having the right tool for the job.  Model railroading is no different.  You will save hours of time and immeasurable amounts of frustration by simply assembling a basic set of tools for working with your model trains.  Over the course of your time model railroading, you’ll inevitably acquire many tools to help you build your track, assemble and fix your locomotives and rolling stock, and adorn your setup with all types of scenery.  Here’s a great list of essential tools that will set you on the right track.

1) X-Acto Knife — Get yourself a good X-Acto knife with several spare blades.  I’ve found that both the pointed-tip blades (no. 11) and chisel-tipped blades (no. 17) are great for cutting anything you’ll need to cut when working with model trains.

2) Scale Rule — You must have a scale rule to help you with your building.  I recommend a steel 12″ ruler to start, but clear plastic rulers are also great because you’ll be able to see through them to follow markings as you build your track.  In addition to helping you to build your track to scale, rulers will also serve as great straight-edges for cutting.

3) Tweezers — You’ll need a pair of tweezers for handling all the very small parts used in model railroading.  Both straight-tip and curved-tip tweezers are good, but make sure they have fine pointed ends on them as they’ll be much better in gripping and grabbing small train parts.

4) Files — Needle files (or jeweler’s files) are great tools for cleaning and shaping plastic, wood, and many other materials you use in building a model railroad track.  Pick up an assortment of these and you’ll be happy you did.

5) Pliers — Needle-nose pliers are essential for model railroading.  You’ll use these to hold parts securely as you build your model train track, as well as assembling locomotives and rolling stock.  They also come in quite handy when bending wire, cutting wire, and various other methods of manipulating wire and metal.

6) Screwdrivers — Pick up a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers.  These small screwdrivers will be small enough to get into any of the tiny spaces associated with model railroad building.  It is also a good idea to have medium sized Phillips head and flat head screwdrivers available for the larger screws that are found on the larger scale model trains.

7) Pin-vise and Drill Bits — A Pin-vise is a manual drill driver, and it is well used in drilling small holes in wood, plastic and other materials.  It is a very helpful tool.  Also, I recommend purchasing drill bits ranging in size from no. 61 (.040″) to no. 80 (.0135″).

8 ) Flush Sprue Cutters — Flush sprue cutters are incredibly easy to use and cut and trim model train parts so accurately that very little, if any, additional filing is necessary.  Flush sprue cutters will save you time in assembling your model railroad track, and they will really help you to build a great looking track.

As you spend more and more time model railroading, you’ll inevitably assemble a tool set that includes many more than just these tools.  But this list of tools is all you really need to get started.  Happy Railroading!

The Conductor on September 13th, 2009

For many people new to model railroading, the question of model train gauge versus model train scale can be quite confusing.  Here’s a simple explanation.  Gauge is the measurement of distance between the two outside rails of the track.  Model train gauges have been standardized to assist in easy identification of these specific dimensions.

Model train scale is simply the fractional equivalent for the gauge, and inches are used as the units of measurement.  For example, a model train designated as 1:48 scale dictates that 1″ of the model train equates to 48″ of the train it was modeled after.

Here’s a helpful chart:

Gauge Designation

Distance Between Rails



2.125″ (54mm)



1.75″ (45mm)

1:22.5 or 1:20.3

No. 1

1.75″ (45mm)

1:29 or 1:32


1.25″ (32mm)*



1.169″ (43mm)



.875″ (22.5mm)



.75″ (19mm)



.650″ (16.5mm)



.471″ (12mm)



.354″ (9mm)



.256″ (6mm)


* O gauge measures the distance from the center of each of the two outside rails.

The Conductor on September 11th, 2009

The National Model Railroad Association will be hosting its 75th Anniversary Convention in Milwaukee, WI on July 11-18, 2010.  The official website is  Start making your travel arrangements now, because the 75th Anniversary Convention is sure to be an exciting affair.  Happy Railroading!

The Conductor on September 10th, 2009

The AAR wheel arrangement system is a method of classifying locomotive (or unit) wheel arrangements that was developed by the Association of American Railroads. It is essentially a simplification of the European UIC classification, and it is widely used in North America to describe diesel and electric locomotives. It is not used for steam locomotives. This system counts axles instead of wheels. Letters refer to powered axles, and numbers to unpowered (or idler) axles. “A” refers to one powered axle, “B” to two powered axles in a row, “C” to three powered axles in a row, and “D” to four powered axles in a row. “1″ refers to one idler axle, and “2″ to two idler axles in a row. A dash (”–”) separates trucks, or wheel assemblies. A plus sign (”+”) refers to articulation.  Here are several examples of AAR notation that will help in determining the size and configuration of model railroading locomotives and model train rolling stock:

  • 1A-A1 -> means there are two identical trucks, or wheel assemblies under the unit. Each truck has one powered axle, and one idler axle, with the idler axles to the outside. Examples include Budd RDC Diesel MU (DMU) cars.
  • 1D ->means there are two trucks, or wheel assemblies. The “1″ truck is under the front of the unit, and has one idler axles. The remaining 4 axles are rigidly mounted to the frame behind this lead truck . The only known examples are a series of diesel locomotives built and owned by the Texas-Mexican Railway.
  • 2-A1A -> means there are two trucks, or wheel assemblies. The “2″ truck is under the front of the unit, and has two idler axles in a row. The “A1A” truck is under the rear of the unit, and has one powered axle, one idler axle, and one more powered axle. An example is the FM OP800 800 hp (600 kW) railcar, six of which were built by the St. Louis Car Company exclusively for the Southern Railway in 1939.
  • 2-B
  • 3-A1A
  • A1A-2
  • A1A-3
  • A1A-A1A
  • A1A-B+B
  • B
  • B-1
  • B-2
  • B-A1A
  • B-B
  • B-2-B
  • B-B-B
  • B+B+B
  • 2-B+B-2
  • 2-B+B+B+B-2
  • B+B-B+B
  • B-B-B-B
  • B-B+B-B+B-B
  • C
  • C-B
  • C-C
  • 1-C+C-1
  • 2-C+C-2
  • 2+C-C+2
  • 2-C1+2-C1-B
  • C-C+C-C
  • C+C-C+C
  • 1-D-1
  • 2-D-2
  • D-D
  • 2-D+D-2
  • B-D+D-B
  • 1B+D+D+B1
  • (B+B-B+B)+(B+B-B+B)

That’s all for now, and Happy Railroading!

The Conductor on September 9th, 2009

The Whyte notation for classifying steam locomotives by wheel arrangement was devised by Frederick Methvan Whyte and came into use in the early twentieth century. Whyte’s system counts the number of leading wheels, then the number of driving wheels, and finally the number of trailing wheels, with the groups of numbers separated by dashes. Thus, a locomotive with two leading axles (four wheels) in front, then three driving axles (six wheels) and followed by one trailing axle (two wheels) is classified as a 4-6-2.  Here’s a good diagram detailing the Whyte notation for several different locomotives.

whyte Whyte Notation

The Conductor on September 7th, 2009

I personally love Lionel Model Railroading Locomotives, but there are several other excellent locomotives on the market.  The Atlas O Industrial Rail 4-4-2 Atlantic Steam Locomotive is a new product from the Atlas Model Railroad Company, and I think it’s a great locomotive.

According to Whyte notation, a steam locomotive that has a two-axle leading truck, two powered driving axles and a one-axle trailing truck is referred to as a 4-4-2 or “Atlantic”.  Atlantics, while not well-fitted for mountain runs or long distances, were perfect for short runs at 70-100mph due to the large diameter driving wheels the possessed.  Built for passenger service, many railroads employed the use of this type of steam locomotive for express, commute and local service.  One of the most well-known fleets of 4-4-2s were those in the service of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who had many in operation on their rail lines.

The Atlas O Industrial Rail 4-4-2 Atlantic Steam Locomotive is based upon the Pennsylvania Railroad prototype, and features Die-Cast Steam Locomotive and Tender, transformer-activated whistle and bell sounds, electrical pickup on both locomotive and tender, an illuminated headlight, puffing smoke, and is realistically painted and lettered.  Check it out when you have the chance, and Happy Railroading!

The Conductor on September 4th, 2009

Ever wondered how long the longest model train in the world is?  Well, here’s your answer.  An HO (1:87.1) scale model train measuring 110.3 m ( 361 ft 10 in) made up of 3 locomotives of type “lore” and 887 carriages was constructed by Miniature Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany, on November 27, 2005. If the model had been a full-scale train it would have measured 9.607 km (5.969 miles) long.

record train

Here’s the link to the Guinness World Records webpage:

Happy Railroading!

The Conductor on September 3rd, 2009

IMG 0329a 300x225 More from the Yard Sales!

IMG 0330a 300x225 More from the Yard Sales!

Here’s another yard sale find from this past weekend: the Lionel 250 Watt Type ZW Trainmaster Transformer.  I was so happy to find this 250 Watt ZW, it’s the Rolls Royce of Transformers.  There’s only one ZW.  No single product has come to symbolize the legend of Lionel more than the Lionel ZW.  Molded to original dimensions in classic phenolic resin, the ZW can run up to four trains at the same time on different layouts, plus accessories.  The two engineer-type handles provide independent control of two variable voltage circuits, each with built-in whistle, direction, and bell controls.  Two additional accessory circuits can be set by means of dial-type controls to any desired voltage.  Or, if you prefer, you can control all four outputs with a single handle!  The ZW controller can be powered by any combination of one to four 135-Watt or 180-Watt Lionel PowerHouse Power Supplies.  And if you use the TrainMaster Command or LEGACY Control system, you can adjust each output using your walk-around remote control up to the level pre-set by its corresponding ZW handle.  It’s a great way to help less-experienced railroaders keep their trains under control while enjoying the thrill of independent remote-controlled operation.  Happy Railroading!

The Conductor on September 1st, 2009

Over the years I’ve found that yard sales are a great place to find all sorts of model railroading locomotives, rolling stock, track of all gauges, and various track scenery pieces.  I stopped by a few yard sales this past weekend and here’s some of what I picked up:

IMG 0323a 300x225 Yard Sale Goldmine!

IMG 0327a 300x225 Yard Sale Goldmine!

IMG 0324a 300x225 Yard Sale Goldmine!

I was extremely excited to find these Lionel Sante Fe O Scale locomotives, as they are hard to find and often very expensive.  I picked them up for the bargain price of $12!  And the Con Rail rolling stock was a good find, too.  More on these Lionel locomotives and the Con Rail rolling stock tomorrow, as well as pictures of the Lionel Trainmaster Transformer I found at the same yard sale.  Happy Railroading!

The Conductor on August 30th, 2009

Hey y’all!  I was just reading a bit about trains, and I came across something I’m struggling to believe.  Apparently, the Union Pacific Railroad is the 2nd largest real estate owner in the United States (the U.S. government being the largest).  And west of the Mississippi, the UP Railroad is the LARGEST landowner!!  Can any of you model railroad enthusiasts out there confirm this fact for me?  I sure would appreciate it.  Happy Railroading!!

Union Pacific Railroad