I decided recently to restart my model trains collecting hobby;I entertained this naive idea that it would be a
simple affair; I would pick up a loco and some carriages, get some tracks,buy some accessories like some flextrack,a
train station,a power pack and I should be sorted.
Realization hit me that this hobby is all about making decisions and how fat your wallet is;if you think about
it, you may even come to think that there is even an aspect of Zen in it!Sounds less like a hobby and more like
something all too serious?? Read on...
What are these decisions I talk about?First off,decide on the purpose for which you would buy model trains;are
you going to display them in a glass case,spend time occasionally running them on a track and tinker with them or
think of them as disposable gifts for small children??Model trains(made by reputed manufacturers) are far too
precious and expensive for the small ones to knock them about on the living room floor!For display purposes, even
something that actually doesn't work may be appropriate(provided that they look good in a case).
If you want to operate them and spend time pottering about,there are many more choices to be made...
Let's start by deciding is the scale of the trains to buy; a few popular scales are "OO"(or Dublo), "HO", "N"
and "O".Between these scales, "O" is the biggest; choose this if you are loaded with money and room to spare to run
them!"N" is the smallest; some people may feel the need for something more visible and detailed-this is where "OO"
and "HO" come into the picture.To me, these two scales represent a comfortable middle path to the other two
"OO" or "Dublo" are popular in Britain and other Commonwealth countries, where companies like
Rovex,Tri-ang,Hornby,Wrenn,Bachmann,Bassett-Lowke and Graham Farish made them. "HO" is more of an American and
European affair with manufacturers like Lionel,Marklin,Atlas,ROCO, TRIX, HAG, Faller, Noch, Viessmann(the list is
almost endless)."HO" stuff are slightly larger in scale to "OO";this disparity means you cannot mix and match them.
From what I have seen so far,"HO" trains are made to superb detail; they are amazing to behold.But they may be
more expensive than their "OO" counterparts.Also, "HO" trains are easy to disassemble and customize than some of the
vintage Hornby stuff!!
Couplings(how locos,tender and the rolling stock are joined together) can differ between various manufacturers;
there's the ubiquitous Hornby tension-lock coulplers(which look really removed from reality),the European couplers
and the Kadee(the latter is by far the closest to reality).Different couplers are incompatible to be joined
together.So even if you buy stuff from different makes in the same scale,prepare to do some conversions to use them
Then consider 3-rail and 2-rail.Early train sets came out in 3-rail arrangement,electrically different from
later 2-rail.Mixing these two types of track is not possible due to the electrical disparity and due to dimensional
variance of the rails themselves!
Tracks may be made out of Steel,Zinc plated Iron,Copper/Zinc and Nickel/Silver;the last type is most preferable
because they need the minimum care to be operational.
There are clockwork trains,trains that run on battery packs supplying electricity to the tracks and those that
electrify the tracks from the current from a wall socket.the first two modes of powering trains are no longer
employed for model trains.The third type can also come in two arrangements;the plunger pick-up(looks artificial,an
older method) and from the wheels themselves(with wiper contacts on the insides of the wheels of the locomotive).
All older trains had the electrical motor inside the locomotive unit, making it heavy..nowadays you get the
motor inside the coal tender unit and the locomotive with freely-turning wheels considerably lighter than before.
With me so far??Take a breather and..as far as controllers go, you get DC(Directional Current) or DCC(Digital
Command Control) with sound(Train running sounds).DC(analogue) is cheap and easy to use whereas DCC is complicated
and EXPENSIVE!!Even certain vintage train models can be converted to DCC, using a chip placed inside...
The trains you buy could be inexpensive plastic-body ones or die-cast models, with plastic or metal
wheels.Detailing depends on different ranges of products.Which particular train model(A4s,A1s,Diesels,Electrics) to
buy is up to you to decide..pick something that is pleasing to you!Remember that trains like the A4 type and the
Flying Scotsman sell for premium prices.
Trains are sold in many different conditions.If you are too lazy and have a wad of money to spare, go for "Mint
In Box(MIB)" or "Boxed" items.Generally, if the original undamaged box and accompanying paperwork are sold with the
train, expect to pay a top price.The "unboxed" but "Superb" and "Very good" should be nice,too-without costing you
too much. The "Good" and "Fair" ones should also be fine but lookout for marks,damages or other such blemishes that
could sometime mean small but doable repairs."Restoration" means the trains do not run, broken or just
rusted-out;expect major repairs or replacements."Spares" means they could only be taken for cannibalizing for parts
and are simply beyond repair.
When buying locomotives and tender units from auction sites like eBay,ask the seller for a good description and
photos that depict the train from various angles(preferably the undersides,too) to really see the condition of the
items.Look for original boxes and other related manuals if you think of maybe selling them later(believe me, you
WILL, when your collection grows).If you collect for keeps,such extras may not be that necessary.
When you read all this and do some searching on your own on the net, you will come to realize that:there are
many fine trains in the world and you may never own most of them but if you enjoy with what you get, it will get you
through moments that you keep wondering why are we on this earth!Now if that is not Zen...