Model Railroads and Freight Cars

Written by Bonnie Gringer



Model railroading is a hobby that involves a variety of components, and it is suitable for people of all ages. People can pursue this hobby in ways that fit their innate interests and skills. Delving into model railroading can be an enjoyable way to learn about history. Enthusiasts can also learn useful construction and carpentry skills in the process of building the benchwork and track layout. Even artistic and electrical skills will come into play in the process of designing and building a model railroad.

Scale and gauge will among the first considerations for someone just beginning to dabble in model railroading. The term “scale” describes the measurement ratio between a model locomotive and the full-sized locomotive. The term “gauge” describes the distance between the track rails. Scale and gauge correspond directly with each other. HO is one scale and gauge often used by hobbyists. This size is large enough to show intricate details, yet it is small enough to enable layout construction in the home. N is another option for home enthusiasts, and this scale and gauge is smaller than HO. Someone with limited space for a layout might opt for N scale and gauge.

Providing power to a track is a fundamental part of layout construction. Wiring with straight direct current is appropriate for a simple track. However, if a track grows and becomes more complex, the power supply will need to grow to accommodate the expanded tracks. Multiple electrical blocks enable switching between different power packs to operate more than one train on the layout. Model railroaders operating an expansive layout often use digital command control to manage multiple trains, guiding each train independently and simultaneously.

The topography and scenery that surrounds the train tracks is another important component of a layout. Fields, mountains, rivers, trees, and structures are the components that make the layout look and feel realistic. The model railroader has virtually infinite options when designing and creating scenery. Although scenery may seem complex, the materials and tools are quite basic in nature. Many hobbyists use foam insulation sheets as the foundation for scenery. Adhesives and paint products help with creating various features such as grass, foliage, dirt, and buildings.

Explore model railroad construction and layout options by visiting the following resources:

  • Background-Building Using Your Computer and the Internet (PDF): Model railroad enthusiasts can use their computer to create backdrops for realistic scenery.
  • Building a Simple Layout (PDF): A layout involves a track plan with straight, curved, and turnout sections of track. The hobbyist must choose a plan to use, which might include a rural setting or a switchyard.
  • Model Railroad Engineer: Civil Certificate (PDF): Anyone pursuing the model railroad hobby will need to learn the craft. Joining clubs is one way to gain expertise in model railroading. The National Model Railroad Association is one club that supports model railroaders.
  • Model Trains for Beginners (PDF): This instructional guide explains scale, gauge, and important tools used by model railroaders.
  • Scottsdale Model Railroad Historical Society (PDF): Explore the possibilities of model railroading with the story of a railroad park in Arizona.
  • Model Railroading (PDF): A model railroader has several choices for gauge and scale. The layout can be simple or complex, depending on personal desires.
  • Building Model Railroad Topography and Scenery With Foam Board (PDF): Foam board is one option for constructing topography and scenery in a model railroad. Foam board comes in large sheets, and people can cut it into the sizes needed for construction.
  • Layout Maintenance (PDF): A hobbyist must consider many details when constructing a layout. The humidity level in the room, insulation, wiring, and lighting are just a few issues to tackle when designing a model railroad.
  • Ten Tips for Freight Yard Design and Operation (PDF): Some enthusiasts choose to design and construct a freight yard, which requires specific components and staging to create the layout and make it realistic.
  • Building Your Model Railway: Epochs (PDF): To create a realistic layout, the model railroader must consider the periods during which locomotives were running. Different models were running during different periods, so an authentic railway would not combine locomotives from different eras.
  • Airbrushing for Model Railroads (PDF): A hobbyist might use airbrushing to add color to scenery or a railway car. Airbrushing enables more control and precision than aerosol paint.
  • Electronics for Model Railroads (PDF): Electronic technology has changed how model railroaders control train layouts with sophisticated power sources, circuitry, and wiring options.
  • Building an Early Combine (PDF): Explore specifications for building a combine car for a model railroad.
  • Standards and Recommended Practices for HO Modules (PDF): Some enthusiasts might choose to build modules when constructing a layout. A module is a section of a structure that fits together with other parts to create a full layout.
  • Dave Frary’s Nantucket Project (PDF): View pictures and read information about a model railroad display that was designed for the Nantucket Historical Association.
  • Model Railroading Tips for Plastic Modelers (PDF): Using plastic components and structures is one option for people building a model railroad layout.
  • 3-D Printing and Model Railroading (PDF): The rise of 3-D printing has created a cutting-edge option for making cars, structures, and scenery for a model railroad layout.
  • Communications for Model Railroads (PDF): Depending on the era chosen for a model railway layout, the designer will need to include an appropriate method of communication for the locomotives and sidings.
  • Track-Laying Tips and Techniques (PDF): Learning model railroad terminology will be one of the first hurdles for someone delving into model railroading.
  • Virtual Railroading (PDF): Traditional layout planning involved pencil and paper. Current technology enables hobbyists to plan a layout on the computer using computer-aided design.
  • Structures/Scenery (PDF): A model railroader can use kits to build model railroad structures. Many of these kits enable the construction of realistic structures that fit with specific eras.
  • O-Scale Trains (PDF): This publication offers model railroaders support and resources when constructing a layout in O-scale.
  • Using Computer Power Supplies on Model Railroads (PDF): A model railroad layout requires power for moving trains and tracks, lighting buildings, and operating switches. A computer can supply this power, and this document provides information about this power source.
  • Building a Stub Switch Using a Fast Tracks Assembly Fixture (PDF): A stub switch is a turnout option for people building tracks from older eras. This type of turnout does not feature moving switchpoints.
  • Foam Roadbed Construction (PDF): Some enthusiasts use extruded foam insulation to build scenery. This material is light in weight and easy to cut with hand tools.
  • Designing Small Shelf Layouts (PDF): A small shelf layout appeals to many model railroaders because this type of layout fits into small spaces and can be finished in less time.
  • Detailing Scenery (PDF): One of the most important aspects of a layout is the scenery. The model railroader will use common tools to build scenery, including scissors, a hobby knife, paint brushes, craft paint, adhesives, kitchen strainers, and awls of different sizes.