Train sets are a great way to get started in model railroading, since they contain everything you need to get up and running right away. As your knowledge and interests develop over time, you can expand your set to include more trains, tracks, and accessories as you see fit. For now, let’s stick to the basics.
You can buy train sets at some hardware stores, department stores, toy stores and other locations. Your best bet is to visit your local hobby shop, first. Not only will you find a better selection of higher-quality sets, but you’ll meet helpful and friendly people who will be able to assist you in make an educated purchase. What’s more, a good hobby that specializes in trains will also carry additional items that you can buy to expand your set, including trains, track, structures, scenery supplies, and more. Finally, most hobby shops will help you repair or replace defective items should a problem arise.
When choosing a train set, one of the important to consider who will be using it. Children under 8 will not appreciate or handle well trains made to “finescale” standards with lots of fragile details. There are many O scale and S scale train sets available that are meant to be played with and can stand up to the abuse of normal wear and tear. HO scale train sets are generally fine for children 8 and older. If children are not factor, then the choice is scale is completely your own personal preference. Some train sets are powered by diesel locomotives, others use steam engines. The cost range for entry-level train sets can range from $50 to $150 dollars, depending on the size and quality of the set. Your local hobby shop can help steer you in the right direction if you’re unsure where to begin.
Model trains work much in the same way as real ones do. A powered locomotive pulls cars around a track. The only difference is that model trains are operated by small low-voltage electric motors! The diagram above points out the basic parts of a typical diesel locomotive, many of which are shared by our models. Let’s look at some of the terminology you may hear when you’re looking at trains. The location of the horn and headlights should be obvious. On a real train, the engineer will sound the horn to warn motorists and pedestrians at railroad crossings, and also to signal the crew. A locomotive’s headlight is always on when the train crew is aboard and the train is moving, even during daylight hours.
The cab is where the engineer sits to operate the train. Trains are connected to one another by couplers. These are mechanical devices that are manually controlled and allow cars to be connected to one another, forming a train. The assembly of wheels that the locomotive runs on are the trucks. On a real locomotive, this is also where the motors are located that make the train move. Diesel fuel is stored in a fuel tank slung underneath the locomotive body bewteen the trucks. On a real locomotive, rooftop cooling fans keep the diesel engine from overheating. Details may differ from model to model, but you’ll find these same basic parts on every locomotive you’ll encounter.
Most train sets are operated by conventional power packs supplying 12 volts D.C. to the rails, which is picked up by the locomotives and the small electric motor inside to pull your train. Some locomotives are designed to run off an advanced power system called Digital Command Control. Some are designed to work with both. If you decide to expand your set with additional locomotives, check with your local hobby shop to make sure they are compatible with your power system.