Rick Gardner, Model Train Enthusiast Extreme

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The History of Model Railroading & Train Building
Model Train Dictionary - Frequent Questions
Track & Roadbed - Control & Electrical - Locomotives & Rolling Stock
Scenery - Toy Train Questions
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The ABC's Of

Advice for a painless start in the hobby. There are all kinds of ways to get started in model railroading, but perhaps the most common is with a train set. Before we look at train sets, let's review the different scales.

Modeling Scales

Model railroading scales are described by letters such as N, HO, S, and O. This alphabet soup may seem confusing at first, but the letters are simply shorthand to describe the ratio of the model's size to its prototype, which is what model railroaders call the real thing a model is based on.

By far the most popular is HO (pronounced aitch-oh). HO scale models are 1:87 proportioned, meaning one foot on the model represents 87 actual feet. An HO scale 40-foot boxcar is about six actual inches long.

The second most popular modeling scale is N scale. With a ratio of 1:160, it's a little more than half the size of HO scale. An N scale 40-foot boxcar measures just over three actual inches long.

Many model railroaders use the terms "scale" and "gauge" interchangeably, but they really mean different things. Scale, as we already learned, is the ratio of the model to the prototype. Gauge is the distance between the rails. Standard gauge on North American railroads is 4'-8½", but many railroads, especially in the 1800s, were built to narrower gauges. Three feet between the rails was the most common narrow gauge in the United States. To indicate narrow gauge models we use a small "n" and the gauge of the track prefaced by the scale. For example, an HOn3 layout is one where the buildings, figures, and trains are HO scale, but the rails are spaced three (scale) feet apart.

Although narrow gauge is appealing, most modelers start off modeling standard gauge railroading, so that's what we'll concentrate on here.

Choosing a Scale

Which scale is best for you? That's a personal question that only you can answer. Maybe you were given some old trains or have received a train set as a gift. In that case, you'll likely want to stick with that scale, at least for now. (Many modelers change scales at some point as their interests develop.)

If you're starting from scratch, visit a hobby shop that specializes in trains and ask the clerk to show you trains in each of the scales.

Look around a typical hobby shop and you'll quickly notice HO scale offers the widest variety of locomotives, cars, and accessories, often at the best prices. The minimum radius for an HO scale curve is 18", meaning a complete loop of track can fit on a standard 4 x 8-foot sheet of plywood. A wide variety of N scale equipment is also available, although the prices will, as a rule, be slightly higher than for a comparable HO model.

The two larger popular indoor scales, S and O, aren't available in every hobby shop, but you may want to consider them. For many years the selection in these scales was marginal, but that is changing, as S and O scales have seen an influx of new locomotives, cars, and structures in recent years.

Each scale offers its own unique advantages. If you want the scenery to dominate the trains, or if you have only very limited space, look closely at N scale. If product availability is the most important factor, you'll likely be happiest with HO. And if you want the trains to really be the stars of the show, you'll likely find larger scales like S and O are the best choice.

Finally, practical factors will enter into your scale choice. Other matters to consider include how much space you have, just how much you like to build models, and how comfortable the size is for you. For now pick a scale that feels right, with the idea that you can revisit your decision in a few years after you have some practical experience.

Although a train set is the most traditional way to get started in model railroading, it's not the only one, nor necessarily the best.

The most important thing to look for in a train set is reliability. I recommend you pass on the low-priced train sets like those found in discount chains and toy stores. These typically have poor-running locomotives, inadequate power packs, and brass track. Some sets make up for the deficiencies in the trains with lots of extras - buildings, trees, telephone poles, and the like - but all these are available separately.

Your first concern should be with locomotive quality. You want the best one you can afford, even if it means a set with fewer cars or no frills. It should come as no surprise that in general the more expensive the set, the better the quality of the locomotive that comes with it.

You don't need to start with a train set. In many cases it's just as easy to ask the hobby shop staff to recommend a locomotive and several cars, along with a decent power pack. If cost is a concern, put the money into a good locomotive and power pack and purchase fewer cars and accessories.

Just a few years ago track was the main bugaboo with any N or HO scale train set. The sections would easily come apart, dirt and carpet fuzz would get into the locomotive mechanism, and electrical conductivity between individual track pieces was sporadic at best.

That's all changed. Newer sectional track from Atlas, Bachmann, Kato, and Life-Like includes track sections mounted on plastic or vinyl roadbed which locks the sections firmly together, ensuring mechanical and electrical contact. I'd recommend using this type of track until you're ready for a permanent layout. Also, use track that has nickel silver rails. Both brass and nickel silver corrode and oxidize, but the oxidization on nickel silver is more conductive than that on brass, so the trains run better. And purchase several turnouts and more straight and curved sections. These allow you to vary the train's route, which will hold your interest longer than if it just chases its tail.

Getting Rolling!

So break open that train set box, or round up those cars, locomotive, and track and set it up - under the Christmas tree if you want.

You may find definitions of some basic model railroad and prototype (real railroad) terms to get you started in the hobby.

We have also created a list of frequently asked hobby questions regarding garden railroads and toy trains... Enjoy!

Dictionary Of Model Train Terms...

Accessory:
an item intended to complement a toy train set but generally not included with it, such as a switch, a building, or a trackside light. Some accessories, such as billboards, tunnels, and many buildings, are static, while others, such as coal loaders, control towers, or gatemen, have an operating feature.

Airbrush:
a miniature paint sprayer that gives a controlled application of thinned paint.

Articulated:
locomotive with a jointed frame that is flexible in at least one direction.

Benchwork:
a frame that is the foundation of a model railroad or toy train layout. L girder and open-grid are two popular types.

Block:
an electrically insulated zone of track.

Body Shell:
the housing of a locomotive or car that covers the interior workings. Sometimes referred to as the "cab"

CA:
short for cyanoacrylate adhesive, also known as super glue. A high-strength adhesive that can be used on metal and styrene plastic.

Cab Control:
a method of controlling model trains in which one power pack is used for each train so the power pack can be connected to one set of blocks and remain disconnected from all others. Only one engine or set of engines can be controlled in each block.

Can Motor:
a permanent magnet motor enclosed in a metal "can" (housing). A can motor is generally direct current (DC)-only.

Chassis:
frame and mechanism of a locomotive or car; what the body shell sits on.

Chemically Blackened:
a metal part treated with chemicals to achieve a painted or blackened look. Manufacturers use these processes on wheels, trucks, and frames.

Coil Coupler:
(see coupler) a toy train connecting device that uses a solenoid to open and close it; the electricity to operate the solenoid comes via a device beneath the truck that slides along the track, activated when a button is pushed and current is provided.

Command Control:
a way of controlling trains by sending electronic messages through the rails. Each locomotive has a decoder or receiver which only responds to the messages specifically directed to it. Engines can be controlled independently anywhere on a layout. Also known as Digital Command Control (DCC).

Consist:
cars which make up a train; also a list of those cars. Locomotive consist is a group of engines put together to pull a train.

Couplers:
are the devices by which cars and locomotives are hooked together. The most widely used coupler is known as a "knuckle" coupler. These generally replicate full-size couplers as used on U.S. rolling stock. Not every knuckle couple available will mate with every other, for a variety of reasons.

Crossover:
two turnouts (a.k.a. switches) and a connecting track that allow a train to be diverted to a parallel track.

Die-Cast:
a manufacturing process in which molten material is poured or injected into a metal mold. The molds are always metal in this process, but the material cast may be metal or plastic. There are other casting processes, such as sandcasting or lost-wax casting, but these are less common.

Duckunder:
an area on a layout where you must bend down and go under the benchwork to gain access to another part of the layout.

EOT Device:
An end-of-train device (sometimes called a FRED, or flashing rear-end device) that has replaced cabooses. Along with a flashing light, many EOTs can transmit information on brake-line pressure and speed to the locomotive.

E-Unit:
the mechanism that provides the reverse sequence on toy trains; there are two-position (forward-reverse) models and three-position (forward-neutral-reverse) models.

E Unit:
a General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) six-axle streamlined passenger locomotive of the 1930s-'60s.

EMD:
abbreviation for Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, manufacturer of prototype locomtives.

F Unit:
an EMD four-axle streamlined freight/passenger diesel of the 1940s and 1950s, made in several variants.

Factory Prototype - Factory Sample:
manufacturers produce these preproduction models for executives and employees so they can work out plans to design and decorate the final model. Most prototypes/samples were never intended to leave the company, but over the years many have made their way into the hands of collectors, giving them a glimpse of the production process. The terms are most often used with regard to toy trains.

Factory Error:
usually a train with faulty paint or lettering (decoration), or a part (factory installed) that varies from most examples. They are often worth more than a similar, but correct, item.

Flextrack:
prefabricated flexible sections of track used on a layout. It usually comes in straight, 3-foot-long sections which can be bent as needed. Other kinds of track are sectional (rigid pieces of straight and curved track that come with train sets) and handlaid (built with handmade ties, rail, and spikes).

Frame:
the base structure of a locomotive or car, without trucks, motors, etc.

Free-Lance:

Gauge:
the distance between the inside of the heads of track rails. Standard gauge on real railroads is 4'-8 1/2". Narrow gauge means rails with a width less than standard gauge. For example, On3 means O scale trains with 3 scale feet between the rails.

Gondola:
a long, flat, open car with short sides and ends for hauling items like iron, steel, and scrap.

refers to the level of the ground or the ground surface upon which track is laid.

Ground Throw:
a machine that is used to move the point rails of a switch. It is built to a low profile, close to the ground, hence its name. An upright machine that does the same job is called a switch stand.

Hardshell:
a scenery base made by dipping paper towels in plaster or using plaster-impregnated gauze and laying it over a light support structure like cardboard.

Heat-Stamping:
process of lettering using a hot metal dye and a colored tape ribbon. Heat-stamping leaves a slight impression on plastic or metal surfaces.

Helix:
a rising curve which turns around an axis like a corkscrew. Used on multilevel model railroad layouts to allow trains to move from one level to another.

Hi-Rail:
broadly speaking, hi-rail refers to modeling prototype railroading as accurately as possible using toy trains on a layout with realistic scenery.

Homasote:
a pressed paperboard often used for roadbed on a model or toy train layout.

Hopper Car:
an open-top car for hauling items that don't need protection, such as coal and gravel. Unloaded through doors in funnel-like bins in bottom of car. Covered hoppers have roofs and carry grain and other items that need protection from weather.

Intermodal:
shipments that are carried by more than one mode of transportation, mainly containers and piggyback trailers.

Kitbashing:
Taking one or more model railroad kits (often structure kits) and changing the construction process or combining parts to make a unique model.

Large Scale:
toy trains manufactured since 1970 that use No. 1 gauge track. The trains themselves are scaled (if at all) to different ratios, including 1:22.5 (G scale, originated by LGB and also used by Bachmann).

Live Steam Locomotives:
model trains that run on real steam. Their boilers contain water that is heated by a fire. The cylinders function in much the same way as a full-size locomotive's.

Magne-Traction:
Lionel's patented toy train system, dating from 1949, for increasing locomotive traction by way of magnetized axles.

Magnetic Coupler:
a post-1947 Lionel toy train coupler that uses either a movable metal plate or a metal shaft to open the coupler. A magnetic coupler requires an electromagnet to operate.

Main Line:
is the primary track that defines the railway and which connects the railway's most important destinations. It does not include spurs, branch lines, yards, sidings, or passing tracks.

Module:
a section of a layout built following a standard pattern or dimensions. Each module can be connected interchangeably with any other module built to the same standards. Ntrak is an organization that has developed standards for N scale modules.

MOW:
maintenance-of-way equipment. Used by a railroad to keep track and roadbed in good condition.

Operation:
running trains on a model railroad layout in a way that simulates real railroad activity.

Passing Siding:
a track that parallels the main line and joins it at both ends. It is usually long enough that an entire train can pull into it so that another may pass in the opposite direction.

Point-To-Point:
a type of track plan whereby the train begins its journey at a dead end and ends it at another. The track does not form a continuous loop, nor are there turning or reverse loops at the ends.

Points:
can refer to an entire switch or turnout or to the actual rails that move within a switch to change the direction of the train, also called point rails.

Rail Joiner:
the device that holds rail ends together and in alignment. Commercial, sectional track comes with slide-on joiners. Clamp-on joiners are also available.

Reefer:
a refrigerator car. Similar in appearance to a boxcar but uses ice or mechanical cooling equipment.

Reproduction:
a newly manufactured model train that's closely patterned in style, color, and materials after an older train that is long since out of production.

foundation of built-up earth under tracks.

Rolling Stock:
freight and passenger cars.

Running Board:
walkway along roof or along sides of tank cars.

Scale:
the size of things on a model railroad relative to things on a real railroad. For example, in the most popular scale, HO, models are 1/87th full size. Other popular scales are Z (1/220), n (1/160), S (1/64), and O (1/48).

Scratchbuilding:
making a model from raw materials and parts, not using kits.

Semi-Scale:
in toy train terminology, almost a true scale model.

Styrene:
short for polystyrene, a versatile plastic commonly used for modeling. Comes in sheets, blocks, and rods of many different thicknesses and sizes.

Tinplate:
originally, this term came from a reference to the tin-plated steel used to construct toy train track and cars. People outside the toy train hobby often use this term to refer to nearly all aspects of toy trains, particularly the metal models made before World War II.

Traction:
city and suburban trolley lines; equipment run by electricity.

Train Set:
a train sold as such by its manufacturer, with or without track and transformer.

Transformer:
strictly speaking, an electrical device for raising or lowering AC voltage, but in toy train parlance, and AC power pack for controlling train speed and direction.

Truck:
assembly holding a group of two or more wheelsets together beneath a car.

Turnout:
a piece of track that allows a train to go from one track to another. Called a switch on a real railroad. Referred to by number. For example, a no. 6 turnout spreads one unit for each six units of travel measured from the frog (the point at which two rails join to form a V).

Universal Motor:
an open-frame motor that has a wire-wound armature and a wire-wound field coil in series, allowing it to operate on AC or DC.

Variations:
slightly different production versions of the same numbered set, locomotive, or piece of toy train rolling stock. Often, the differences are slight and may involve subtle changes in color, lettering, or detailing.

Wheelset:
a pair of wheels connected by an axle.

Weathering:
making shiny new models look more realistic by dirtying them up with chalk or paint.

1. Why are some scales written with a lower case n, as in HOn3?

Consider it a handy abbreviation that describes not only the modeling scale but also the track gauge used for a particular model pike.

The "n" signals that it is narrow gauge -- in this case, 3 feet. (Standard gauge track has rails 4'8-1/2" apart.)

Other variations include Gn3, On3, HOn2-1/2, and Nn3.

2. Which is better, HO or N scale?

Both... Each scale offers advantages that the other can't match, and for a particular modeler, this makes all the difference in the world.

HO is the most popular and thus has the broadest availability of rolling stock, building kits, and other scale materials needed to complete a scene.

Most modelers simply like its middle-of-the-road size. But it's difficult to run 50-car trains on even medium-sized HO layouts.

In N scale, size does matter, especially to those who simply don't have much space for a layout.

And product availability hasn't been an issue in more than a decade as the scale continues to expand.

But N scale is not for the vision impaired or for those who enjoy some "heft" in their trains. Simply put, it's a matter of choice, not superiority.

3. What is the NMRA?

The NMRA, or National Model Railroad Association, is an organization devoted to the development, promotion, and enjoyment of the hobby.

It establishes and publishes standards and recommended practices used by the hobby industry

So, for example, cars and locomotives produced by different manufacturers are compatible with one another.

There are NMRA conventions and meetings held at the national, regional, and local levels.

4. How do you figure grades, and how steep can they be?

Expressed as a percentage, grades indicate how steeply tracks climb.

A 2 percent grade means a rise of two units for every 100 units of travel -- or simply a rise of 2 inches for 100 inches.

Even at that seemingly minuscule rise, a locomotive loses roughly half its pulling power.

Each additional percent increase reduces the pulling power of a locomotive consist pulling power by half again.

The key to determining how steep to make a grade is to decide how many cars you plan to pull and what's practical in the available space.

Realistically, anything greater than 5 percent is asking too much from your models.

1. What is meant by a no. 4 turnout?

In a no. 4 turnout, the diverging rails are one unit apart when measured four units past the point of the frog.

Thus, for every four foot feet of travel past the frog, the rails are one foot further apart, as long as the track stays straight.

A no. 4 is a pretty sharp turnout, and no. 6 and no. 8 turnouts, while longer, are more realistic and reliable for model operations.

2. What is meant by "code," as in code 40 track?

The "code" is simply the rail's height in thousandths of an inch, so code 40 rail is .040 inches high, regardless of the modeling scale it's used in.

The term is not used in prototype railroading, where rail size is typically expressed by to by pounds per yard instead of height.

3. What is Homasote, and why do so many layout builders use it?

Homasote is a pressed paper product made by the Homasote Corp. It's recycled newsprint and comes in 4 x 8-foot sheets that are a half-inch thick.

It's usually used as wall-insulating material. Homasote's main advantage is that its density allows it to hold spikes well, yet it's soft enough that they can be driven in with a pair of needlenose pliers.

This is a particularly attractive feature for those who handlay track.

Homasote has its disadvantages: It has poor dimensional stability and tends to expand when exposed to high humidity.

This problem can be addressed by sealing the product with paint or shellac. It's also difficult to cut Homasote without generating a lot of dust and dulling saw blades.

One solution is to use a knife-type blade (no teeth) in a saber saw. To find a dealer in your area, call the Homasote Corp. at 800-257-9491.

Other roadbed options are Vinylbed (available from Hobby Innovations, P.O. Box , Mountain City, TN 37683) and cork, available in strips from several suppliers.

4. How do you prevent derailments?

Poor trackwork, faulty wheels, sharp curves, and unrealistically high speeds are often the culprits.

Checking whether the wheels and track are in gauge (using a National Model Railroad Association standards gauge) is a logical first step if a particular car or section of track seems to be at the center of recurring derailments.

Well-laid track is important.

The rail joints should be smooth from the time you first lay the track. Avoid S-curves; trains weren't meant to serpentine.

A straight section between two divergent curves will do wonders.

More advanced trackwork methods include superelevating curves, installing longer turnouts (no. 6 and greater), and reducing the number of rail joints through the use of flextrack.

The trucks on your rolling stock should always swivel freely. Any build-up of grime or dirt on wheels should be removed before it causes the car to wobble.

Speed and sharp curves don't go well together. Real trains would never be subjected to the curves we use on model railroads, and few freight trains travel faster than an automobile on the freeway.

So a model locomotive traveling 100 scale miles per hour on a sharp curve can easily derail.

5. How do you keep track clean?

Dirt on track is caused by a mix of dust, oil, and oxidation. Obviously a dry, dust-free environment is the best defense, and all but impossible.

A well-vacuumed carpet, a clean furnace filter and air conditioning help, but dust is an ever-present guest.

However, keeping the grease and oil from the gears of your working locomotives from reaching the track is achievable.

Never overlubricate your locomotive. The excess will only migrate downward over time.

Once the track is noticeably dirty, clean the railheads with an abrasive block, liquid track cleaner on a lint-free cloth, or a track-cleaning car.

Excessively dirty wheels can make the track dirty in short order.

6. Do you have to solder track?

Soldering track has two advantages: better electrical conductivity and reinforced rail joints that stand up to stresses such as wood expansion, layout moving, and rail shifting.

The key to good soldering is to start with a clean surface, use a non-acid core solder and a liquid resin flux, and use a hot iron to avoid melting the plastic ties. Don't overdo it; a little solder at the joint is all you need.

Control & Electrical...

1. How big of a power pack do I need?

Remember these handy rules when purchasing a pack: Amperes determine the amount of power. Voltage determines speed.

Electrical rating (measured in voltamps, VA, meaning volts x amps) is what matters.

Any pack will work on a big layout if enough feeder wires are attached to reduce electrical resistance and the resulting voltage drop that slows trains down as they get farther from the power source.

A more powerful pack will be able to run more locomotives. If the amperes drawn exceed the pack's capacity, the pack begins to overheat.

The pack that comes with a starter train set (rated as low as 7 volt-amps, or just 0.7 amps delivered at 10 volts) will run one (maybe two) locomotives at the same time.

A 14 VA pack will easily power three or four locomotives. Don't throw away that tiny starter pack in train sets. It comes in handy for powering accessories separate from your main power source, freeing the bigger pack to run just locomotives.

2. How do you wire a reverse loop?

The common method is to insulate the reverse loop at both ends, run separate feeder wires from the power pack to the loop

Then install a double-pole, double-throw (DPDT) toggle switch between the power pack and the non-loop feeder wires.

While the train is in the reverse loop, you would throw the DPDT switch to reverse the polarity on the remaining track sections, allowing the train to leave the loop with ease.

Locomotives & Rolling Stock...

1. What should I look for in buying an engine?

Are more expensive engines better? Modelers should consider these elements: realism, running capabilities, and level of detail.

Beyond that, you'd use the same considerations as deciding whether to buy a \$1,000, a \$50, or a \$5 watch.

Obviously, there should be more inherent quality and value in an expensive locomotive, but the mid-priced version is often an attractive and well-equipped alternative.

It's the inexplicably cheap one that warrants caution.

Manufacturers do make models of varying qualities. Atlas, Kato, and Life-Like (Proto 2000) excel in making fine plastic diesel locomotives with a high level of detail and excellent running characteristics.

Expect to pay \$75 or more for those models. Athearn, Bachmann (Spectrum), Con-Cor, and Walthers cover the middle ground with engines priced from \$30 to \$70.

Steam locomotives, with their array of moving valve gear and rods, cost more to produce than the equivalent-quality diesel.

2. Should I oil my trains?

Locomotives, yes. Freight and passenger cars, probably not. In model equipment, oil's primary purpose is to reduce wear and tear on moving parts, particularly those subjected to intense friction.

Locomotives will eventually break without proper lubrication applied to motor bearings and gears due to the constant stress they are under to transmit power.

It's also important to use the right lubricants on those parts for maximum performance.

Freight and passenger cars have friction points, but under far less stress. Today's models reduce friction by using acetal plastic sideframes and needlepoint axles.

Oiling is unnecessary; once the oil becomes dirty and breaks down, it will actually increase friction.

3. What is a talgo truck?

It's a freight or passenger car truck with the coupler mounted on the truck frame instead of on the carbody itself.

Truck-mounted couplers are common on train set rolling stock. Advanced modelers often modify or replace talgo trucks in favor of using body-mounted couplers for realism and reliability.

4. Should I replace my horn-hook couplers with knuckle couplers?

Modelers replace their horn-hook (HO) or Rapido-style (N) couplers for two reasons: realistic appearance and operation.

Magnetic knuckle couplers are made by Accurail, Bachmann, InterMountain, Kadee, McHenry, and Micro-Trains.

Scenery...

1. What is Hydrocal?

A trademark product of U. S. Gypsum (USG Corp.), Hydrocal plaster's biggest advantage is its strength.

Paper towels dipped in a soupy mix of Hydrocal and applied to a structure of balled paper or interwoven cardboard strips make a remarkably strong scenery shell.

Hydrocal also takes detail very well when cast in rubber rock molds.

Its drawback is that it is more difficult to carve and detail, unlike softer molding plaster that modelers usually prefer as the top coat on plaster scenery.

2. What is ground foam?

It's just what it sounds like: ground up pieces of foam dyed to represent grass, weeds, soil, shrubbery, and tree foliage.

Woodland Scenics and AMSI are leaders in the field, but other manufacturers offer similar products.

The material can be applied with diluted matte medium or white glue; it can also be applied directly to wet paint.

Toy Train Questions...

1. What's the difference between toy train operating and model railroading?

Model railroading refers to the entire hobby, one that includes both small-scale model trains and toy trains.

Some participants prefer toy-like replicas of real trains or even fanciful representations because they look neat, feature many different colors, and bring back memories of their youth or when railroads helped build the United States.

The majority of the people involved with the toy train hobby consider themselves both collectors and operators.

Collectors cherish their vintage and recent toy trains as examples of innovative design and manufacture.

They usually display their trains on shelves or in showcases and may study the features to learn more about their production and value.

Collectors may be generalists, who collect any type of train that suits their fancy. Most likely, though, they specialize and search for only those trains made by a particular company or during a certain era.

Some hobbyists, recognizing the value of their trains, sell to other collectors and even speculate on the potential investment value of their collection.

Operators regularly take their trains out for a spin around a layout of track, often with scenery.

Most hobbyists build their own layouts, though a few have layouts constructed for them, in basements, garages, or spare rooms in their homes.

2. Does operating toy trains involve advanced carpentry or electrical skills?

You don't have to be a highly skilled craftsman to enjoy toy trains. In fact, one of the benefits of the hobby is that you can learn about these disciplines at any level you choose.

In the course of pursuing the hobby, many people learn about electricity, woodworking, and working with plaster and art materials.

Some may also learn about the operation and significance of real railroads throughout American society.

Best of all, participating in the hobby enables families to spend more time together.

Spouses and children contribute time and talents to searching for a collectible or building a layout.

That's why model railroading is such a wonderful hobby.

3. What is the difference between gauge and scale?

Gauge refers to the distance between the inside edges of the running, or outside, rails on a piece of track.

The most popular gauge of track in the toy train hobby is O (pronounced "oh"), which measures 1.25 inches between the running rails.

Scale refers to the ratio of a miniature train's measurements compared to the dimensions of a full-sized, or prototype, train.

For example, an O scale train has a 1:48 proportion to the real thing, meaning that 1 inch on the surface of the model equals 48 inches on the surface of the prototype train.

Toy train manufacturers generally have not made trains that are completely to scale because doing so might increase production costs and leave the trains unable to negotiate the sharp curves on typical layouts.

Increasingly, however, firms are making trains that deserve to be called scale models.

4. How do I determine the value of my trains?

First, you need to identify your trains. That means learning what their gauge is (measure the distance between its wheels), which company made them, and what number was assigned to them (look for names and numbers on the sides and bottom of models).

Second, you have to assess the condition of your trains. The Train Collectors Association has established several grades to guide you. (From highest to lowest):

Mint: brand new, often in its original, unopened packaging with all original paperwork included.

Like new: free of any blemishes, nicks, or scratches with original condition throughout. Boxes in pristine condition often are sold with the item.

Excellent exceptionally clean with minute scratches or nicks but no dents or rust.

Very good: clean, with a few noticeable scratches, but otherwise free of dents, rust, and warping.

Good: quite a few scratches with some small dents and dirty spots.

Fair: well-scratched, chipped, dented, rusted, or warped.

Poor: particularly beat-up; these items often are used for parts or restorations.

Having identified your train and evaluated its condition, you can ascertain its value in several ways.

First, check with hobby shops that deal with toy trains. The owner or a collector may have ideas.

Second, attend swap meets and train shows and, while there, ask some of the dealers about your trains.

Third, consult price guides, which can be purchased at hobby shops and from publishers.

Once you have ideas on what your trains are worth, you can decide whether to keep or sell them.

If you decide to sell or a retailer expresses interest in buying your trains, remember that you're selling at wholesale.

You should expect to receive about 50 percent of the value listed in price guides because retailers expect to make some profit on the transaction when reselling your trains.

5. What are the best places to find toy trains?

Believe it or not, there are still trains waiting to be discovered.

Considering that large numbers of American households probably had a toy train at one time, it stands to reason that many are still out there gathering dust in attics or basements.

The key is finding them. There are several places to look.

One of the best places for a beginner to get a feel for collecting toy trains is to visit a local hobby shop or attend a swap meet or train show.

Dealers set up tables on which they place trains they want to sell. This is an excellent way to see merchandise before you buy. Go with an experienced collector on your first visit and, if you decide to buy something, be prepared to haggle over price.

A second way to acquire trains is through mail order. Select what you want from a catalog or advertisement, mail in your payment, and receive the train you want.

But be careful. Start by asking your friends in the hobby about their mail-order experiences. Buy from mail-order sellers familiar to you or having a good reputation.

Above all, make sure the firm has a return policy in case you're not satisfied with your purchase.

Auctions are a third place to purchase trains. Bidding is an acquired technique, however, so study it and ask an experienced toy train auction-attending friend to go with you.

A pocket price guide also is handy to bring so you don't overspend for an item.

A fourth source for trains is estate sales and garage sales at private homes. Many times trains found here are in better condition than those found elsewhere.

Look under "Electric Trains" or "Miscellaneous - For Sale" in the classified advertising listings in your local newspaper.

Bargains may be less common in these venues, however, because non-hobbyists tend to think their trains are worth their weight in gold.

6. How much does it cost to get started?

One of the best ways to get started in toy trains is to purchase a set that you and your family can enjoy together, particularly around the winter holidays.

A set has everything you need to operate trains, including a locomotive, cars, track, and a transformer to control speed and direction.

Many O gauge sets can be found for \$100 to \$400. If that's too steep, consider purchasing a used set from a local hobby shop.

Check the Yellow Pages or the dealer directory in the back of an issue of Classic Toy Trains for hobby shops near you.

7. What's the difference between toy train and hi-rail layouts?

Toy train layouts are those that are not necessarily meant to look realistic. They have a playful, toy-like appearance.

Often these layouts showcase colorful trains, accessories, and vehicles placed on indoor/outdoor carpeting.

Trains for different gauges may be operated on adjacent track systems. The result is an exciting mix of trains where operation is the focus.

Hi-rail layouts are similar to scale model railroads in that realism is the goal.

Trains, structures, scenery, and figures are all placed, painted, and detailed to look real. However, when it comes to track, hi-rail layouts still use three-rail (or two-rail, in the case of S gauge).

8. Who have been the major manufacturers of toy trains, past and present?

Everyone has heard of Lionel, the giant of the industry.

Joshua Lionel Cowen launched the firm in 1900, later developing Standard gauge (2 1/4-inch gauge) and helping to popularize O gauge.

Lionel became the pre-eminent toy train manufacturer during the late 1940s and '50s.

In 1969, General Mills secured the rights to manufacture Lionel trains under the names Model Products Corp. and Fundimensions.

Richard Kughn acquired those rights in 1986 and formed Lionel Trains Inc.

He, in turn, sold control in 1995 to Wellspring Associates, an investment firm that uses the name Lionel Corp.

Also well-known is American Flyer. Founded in 1907

The American Flyer Manufacturing Co. made windup and electric Wide gauge (the competitor to Lionel's Standard gauge) trains

The A. C. Gilbert Co. bought the firm in 1937 and offered O and HO trains.

After World War II, Gilbert switched from O to S gauge.

Lionel purchased the rights to produce American Flyer trains after Gilbert went out of business in 1966 and introduces a few Flyer products each year.

Marx offered affordable trains for the masses since the time its founder, Louis Marx, began making inexpensive windup and electric trains in the early 1930s.

Consumers looking to purchase inexpensive yet attractive metal or plastic toy trains kept Marx strong well into the 1960s.

Before Lionel entered the scene, Ives Corp. dominated the toy train manufacturing in America.

Founded in 1868, this toy firm developed a mechanical clockwork locomotive that gave its trains the edge of self-propelled motion.

Around 1900, in response to competition from European toy makers

Ives produced colorful electric locomotives with the first automatic reversing units.

Heightened competition from Lionel and American Flyer led to Ives declaring bankruptcy in 1928.

Among current toy train manufacturers, a few stand out.

MTH Electric Trains makes detailed O gauge trains and accessories and in recent years has built three extensive product lines (Premier, RailKing, and Tinplate Traditions) that compete directly with Lionel.

K-Line also offers affordable O gauge trains, track, and accessories.

The firm has recently upgraded its product line with scale-detailed diesel locomotives and freight cars, die-cast metal rolling stock, and semi-scale, die-cast metal steam locomotives.

Three other key O gauge manufacturers are Atlas O (realistic track, rolling stock, and building kits, plus diesel and electric locomotives),

Weaver/Quality Craft Models (scale-like brass steam locomotives, plastic diesels, and freight and passenger cars), and Williams (locomotives and all types of rolling stock).

Two firms supply much of the new S gauge equipment. American Models offers a variety of steam, diesel, and electric locomotives, as well as freight cars, and passenger cars.

S Helper Service has become a major manufacturer of train sets, diesels, and freight cars.

9. What kind of tools will I need?

For collecting trains, no tools are really needed, although a few screwdrivers and needle nose pliers are useful for securing parts.

Anyone planning to build a layout should obtain clamps, drill, electric saber saw, hacksaw, hammer, hot glue gun, measuring tape, motor tool, pin vise, safety goggles, soldering iron, utility knife, and wire strippers.

10. What types of track are there?

Besides the obvious size differences between O and S gauge toy trains, O gauge track comes in a variety of measurements that allow hobbyists to create circles of track with different diameters and so operate trains of varying lengths and sizes.

O-27 track means you can build a circle of track with a 27-inch diameter

Shorter locomotives with a few cars run best on this track. O-31, O-42, and O-54 track can be used on most average-sized layouts.

While O-72 track creates the largest curves for longer locomotives and trains.

Operators seeking realistic track can select from GarGraves (available in rigid sectional or "flexible" versions)

The 21st Century Track system by Atlas O, and the Rite-Trax system from MTH (a modular system with pre-formed plastic roadbed).

11. How do I get started operating my toy trains?

Many hobbyists operate their trains on a layout. This is, at its most basic level, a piece of plywood to which track is screwed.

Simply placing track on carpeting, with its uneven terrain and fuzz, will wreak havoc with wheels and engines.

Most layouts are more elaborate than just a piece of plywood

It's from that base that hobbyists build something larger, often with varying elevations, scenery, accessories, and structures.

Then they discover just how enjoyable operating toy trains can be.

12. How can a hobby shop help me pursue the hobby?

A hobby shop is an invaluable resource to toy train hobbyists.

Here you can find all the newly manufactured toy train merchandise, from locomotives and rolling stock to accessories, structures, and scenery-making materials for a layout

Also available are hobby-related books and magazines that make the hobby more enjoyable and practical.

In addition, many hobby shops sell vintage trains that they've purchased from other collectors.

These facilities usually repair old and new models. The helpful, knowledgeable people on the staff should be able to solve any problem with your trains.

13. I don't have a lot of room in my house. How can I be in the hobby?

Lack of space shouldn't prevent you from enjoying toy trains - just start small in your collecting or operating goals.

Find a few trains you like and display them on shelves. Then build a 3 by 6-foot or 4 by 8-foot layout.

Or join a toy train modular club, which allows members to build layouts in small sections that fit together to make a larger layout.

It's best to start small and work your way up to larger layouts.

Eventually you may find, however, that your passion for trains will lead you to convert part of your basement, garage, or attic into a room to display your collection or layout.

Even better, get your family interested in the hobby. They'll discover why toy trains are a big part of what we consider the world's greatest hobby!

Garden Railway Questions...

1. What are large scale trains?

"Large Scale" is a term that denotes trains that are larger than 0 scale (1:48) but smaller than the trains that are large enough to ride on.

Large-scale trains generally run on gauge 0, gauge 1, or gauge 3 track.

2. Do you leave them outdoors all the time?

Most people bring their trains indoors when they are not running, even though most brands can withstand prolonged exposure to the elements.

Some people have built tracks that run indoors through the walls of their houses or into an outdoor shed or storage area.

However, the rest of the infrastructure-track, bridges, buildings-stay out year round.

3. Can a garden railway be built in areas that receive snow?

Certainly. A garden railway faces all the same natural hazards as a full-size railroad, including rain, sleet, snow, and gloom of night.

That's all part of the fun. People in the northern climes often have working snowplows to clear their lines.

These can take the form of a simple wedge plow mounted to a locomotive's pilot or to a gondola car pushed ahead of the engine, to working rotary plows that will toss the snow 8' or more to one side.

Snow, of course, is one of those things you can't scale down. A moderate 6" snow scales out to 12' in 1:24 scale.

Keep this in mind when expecting your plow to clear the track. Also, light, powdery snow is much easier to clear away than the wet, heavy stuff.

Sometimes there's nothing to do but get out a shovel and scrape it off yourself if you want to run trains.

Another hazard is ice on the track. This is one that is difficult to overcome, and some days all you can do is go back indoors and finish that project you started.

4. Won't I get electrocuted if I run electricity outdoors?

No. Our trains, like those in the smaller scales, run on low-voltage DC, usually 18-24V.

Thus, it is perfectly safe to run your trains outdoors, even in the rain or snow.

However, the power pack should be kept indoors at all times and should be connected to the mains via a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which is available at your hardware store.

That way, should something malfunction within the powerpack (which is unlikely), the breaker in the GFCI will trip and all will be well.

5. What's the best way to lay the track?

There are many, many ways to lay track outdoors, none of them right or wrong. The following method is similar to that of full-size railroads.

Dig a trench 2"-3" deep along the line where you want your track to go.

Fill the trench up to the level of the bottom of the ties with crusher fines, decomposed granite, or some other crushed rock.

Do NOT use pea gravel or squeegee. This is river rock, and the stones are round. They will roll against each other and against the track, and are unable to securely hold the track in position.

Crushed rock has "teeth" and, when tamped, will lock against itself and the track.

Tamp the ballast with a stick or a brick to seat it and level it. Place the track in position, level it up, and fill the trench with more ballast.

The top of the ties should be even with the top of the trench. Tamp the ballast around the ties until it is firm.

Do this with a stick, and take your time. It will take a while to properly ballast and tamp, but this is time well spent.

Track will change with the seasons. It will contract in the winter and expand in the summer.

The ballast method allows the track to move freely, eliminating the buckling rails and broken ties of track rigidly fixed to a wooden or concrete base.

Also, if you live in the frost belt, frost heave will move the track around, perhaps necessitating a once-a-year realignment.

Ballasted track makes this an easy operation.

6. How do I keep the track clean?

Constant cleaning of the track is probably the biggest thing that drives people away from track power.

However, track-powered railroads are probably still the most common.

Mechanical cleaners (as opposed to solvents) are still the most effective, unless your track is coated with oil, say from a live steam locomotive.

Start out by brushing any dirt, sand, or debris from the track with a small broom. The track can then be cleaned.

A drywall sander, which amounts to sandpaper on a stick, is a popular way of cleaning the track, since it allows you to stand up.

Scotch-brite pads from 3M also work well.

Proprietary track cleaners, like Joe Black's sanding pad in a rolling chassis, also work well.

These must be pushed around by hand or by a battery-powered engine until the track is clean enough to run a track-powered locomotive.

There is also a track-cleaning locomotive, manufacturered by LGB. This unit, though somewhat expensive, has received good reviews.

It has two grinding wheels on it that polish up the rail head nicely. Fears of grinding the head down to a nub have so far been unsubstantiated.

7. What's the best kind of rail to use?

Rail for garden railroads is currently available in aluminum, steel, brass, nickel silver, and stainless steel.

Each material has its advantages and disadvantages. There is no easy answer, because of the many interests of large-scale hobbyists and the fact that there are many excellent products available.

Talk with your local hobby shop or make connections through garden-railway societies or modular railway groups in your area to find hobbyists who are willing to share their experiences.

There are many bulletin-board and chat groups on the Internet where you can ask questions. Conventions and hobby shows also provide resources for those in need of information.

8. I am interested in building a garden railroad with a live-steam engine. Where can I get a kit for one or information on them?

Kits are offered by Roundhouse Engineering of England and by Aster of Japan. Aster is available in the United States through Hyde-Out Mountain.

You can visit a local hobby shop to see if they carry any of these kits, or go to the online hobby shop assistance directory.

A two-hour videotape, Introduction to Small Scale Live Steam Locomotives, is available from Sidestreet Bannerworks.

Next Joplin, MO Tri-State Model Train Show Date!

Where Do I Go Next?

To help you take the next step in your modeling, we've compiled this list of resources as a starting point. Here, you'll find information on train shows, publications, videos, and Web sites with the appropriate contact information.

Hobby Shops:

To find a shop in your area, check your Yellow Pages or check the hobby shop directories at the back of most model railroad magazines.

To locate a shop that offers workshops for beginners, go to greatesthobby.com., trains.com

Provides up-to-the-minute information about all scales and types of trains.

You'll find the latest news releases, train shows, new model railroad products, and even fun and games for kids.

hobbyretailer.com

Your best resource for locating a hobby shop near you or anywhere in North America

Simply type in a city or state to find shops in your area.

Tracks Ahead program on PBS: mptv.org/trax_main.htm

This half-hour show features collections, layouts, and garden railroads in all scales of trains.

To order video tapes of past episodes, call 800-9RAILTV (972-4588).

Train Shows:

There are dozens of shows held throughout the year all across the country.

Check the Calendar of Events section of Classic Toy Trains magazine or Trains.com for details.

There are several sponsors of large shows held in different cities. Contact them directly for show times and locations:

Great Train Expo Shows, P.O. Box 34, Elmhurst, IL 60126, 630-279-4048, www.greattrainexpo.com

Greenberg's Train and Hobby Shows, PO Box 1192, Lombard, IL 60148, 630-355-5029, www.greenbergshows.com

National Train Show, (an annual show sponsored by the National Model Railroad Association), 4121 Cromwell Rd., Chattanooga, TN 37421, www.nmra.org/convention

World's Greatest Hobby on Tour, (family-oriented train shows), CIA, Inc., 105 S. Villa Avenue, Villa Park, IL 60181, www.wghshow.com.

Publications

1:64 Modeling Guide, P.O. Box 56, Somerville, NJ 08876-0056, 908-304-5545, modelingguide.com

Canadian Railway Modeller Magazine, Box 99 Station F, 355 Henderson Hwy, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, R2L 2A5, cdnrwymod.com

Mainline Modeler, 13110 Beverly Park Rd., Mukilteo, WA 98275-5847, 800-810-7660

Model Railroad News, P. O. Box 1080, Merlin, OR 97532-1080, 541-955-1096, modelrailroadnews.com

Model Railroading, 2600 S. Parker Rd. Ste. 1-211, Aurora, CO 80014, 303-338-1700, modelrailroadingmag.com

N Scale, 13110 Beverly Park Rd., Mukilteo, WA 98275-5847, 800-810-7660

N Scale Railroading, P. O. Box 77296, Seattle, WA 98177-0296, 206-364-1295

Narrow Gauge & Short Line Gazette, P. O. Box 26, Los Altos, CA 94023-0026, 800-545-4102

Railmodel Journal, 2403 Champa St., Denver, CO 80205-2621, 303-296-1600

Railroad Model Craftsman, P. O. Box 700, Newton, NJ 07860-0700, 973-383-3355, rrmodelcraftsman.com

S Gaugian, 7236 W. Madison St., Forest Park, IL 60130, 708-366-1973, www.heimburgerhouse.com

Ztrack Magazine Ltd., 6142 Northcliff Blvd, Dublin, OH, 43016, 614-764-1703, ztrack.com

Books

Getting Started in the Hobby, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 800-533-6644, www.modelrailroaderbooks.com

Getting Started in the Hobby, by Marty McGuirk, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 800-533-6644, www.modelrailroaderbooks.com

Videos

Building your first model railroad, presented by World's Greatest Hobby, available in DVD or VHS, Click here for a preview or here to order.

Allen Keller Productions, 7410 Lebanon Church Rd., Talbott, TN 37877, 423-586-7928, allenkeller.com Video tours of great layouts

Green Frog Productions Ltd., 4880 Lower Roswell Rd., Ste. 40-419, Marietta, GA 30068, 800-227-1336, greenfrog.com How-to and prototype videos

Model Trains Video, 515 Willow Ave., Woodburn, OR 97071, 800-920-6020, model-trains-video.com How-to model railroad videos

Pentrex, P. O. Box 94911, Pasadena, CA 91109-4911, 800-950-9333, pentrex.com Layout visit and prototype videos

Clubs & Associations

National Model Railroad Association, 4121 Cromwell Rd., Chattanooga, TN 423-899-4869, nmra.org

National Association of S Gaugers, 280 Gordon Rd., Matawan, NJ 07747, nasg.org

Ntrak, 15913 Brawner Dr., Dumfries, VA 22026, ntrak.org

A listing of regional and local clubs can be found in the Coming Events section in each issue of Model Railroader magazine.

Toy Trains

Publications

Classic Toy Trains, P. O. Box 1612, Waukesha, WI 53187-1612, 800-533-6644, classictoytrains.com

O Gauge Railroading, 33 Sheridan Rd., Poland, OH 44514, 330-757-3020, ogaugerr.com

S Gaugian, 7236 W. Madison St., Forest Park, IL 60130, 708-366-1973, www.heimburgerhouse.com

Books

Toy Train Collecting and Operating, by John Grams, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 800-533-6644, www.cttbooks.com

Greenberg Pocket Price Guides, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 800-533-6644, www.cttbooks.com

The O Gauge Railroading Primer, 33 Sheridan Rd., Poland, OH 44514, 330-757-3020

Your First O Gauge Layout, by Mike Ashey, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 800-533-6644, cttbooks.com

Videos

I Love Toy Trains series, TM Books & Video, Box 279, New Buffalo, MI 49117, 800-892-2822, tmbooks-video.com

Clubs & Associations

American Flyer Collectors Club, P. O. Box 13269, Pittsburgh, PA 15243

Lionel Collectors Club of America, Business Office, P. O. Box 479, LaSalle, IL 61301, lionelcollectors.org

Lionel Operating Train Society, P. O. Box 62240, Cincinnati, OH 45241, lots-trains.org

Toy Train Collectors Society, Louis A. Bohn, 109 Howedale Dr., Rochester, NY 14616

Toy Train Operating Society, 25 W. Walnut St., Ste. 308, Pasadena, CA 91103, 626-578-0673, ttos.org

Train Collectors Association, P. O. Box 468, Strasburg, PA 17579, 717-687-8623, traincollectors.org

Publications

Garden Railways, P. O. Box 1612, Waukesha, WI 53187-1612, 800-533-6644, gardenrailways.com

LGB Telegram, P.O. Box 3332, Hershey, PA 17033, 717-312-0617, www.lgbtelegram.com

Steam in the Garden, 6629 SR 38, Newark Valley, NY 13811, 607-642-8119, steamup.com

Books

Garden Railroading: Getting Started in the Hobby, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 800-533-6644, www.grwybooks.com

A Beginner's Guide to Large-Scale Model Railroading, by Marc Horovitz and Russ Larson, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 800-533-6644, grwybooks.com

Explore the World of LGB, edited by David Buffington. Available through LGB of America, 6444 Nancy Ridge Drive, San Diego, CA 92121, 858-535-9387, lgb.com

Getting Started in Garden Railroading, by Allan Miller, Krause Publications, 715-445-2214, krause.com

The Large-Scale Model Railroading Handbook, by Robert Schleicher, Krause Publications, 715-445-2214, krause.com

Videos

Building a Basic Garden Railroad, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 800-533-6644, grwybooks.com

Broadcast Images, Inc., 9340 Hazard Way, Ste. B, San Diego, CA 92123, 858-974-7999 Tours of garden railways

Digital Video Images, Inc., P. O. Box 2584, Littleton, CO 80161-2584, 303-220-8998. How-to and prototype videos

Sidestreet Bannerworks, P. O. Box 460222, Denver, CO, 80224, 303-377-7785, sidestreet.info Beginning garden railway and live steam videos

Clubs & Associations

LGB Model Railroad Club, Inc., 1854 Erin Dr., Altoona, PA 16602, 814-962-4326

A listing of regional and local clubs can be found in the Club Directory in every issue of Garden Railways magazine. gardenrailways.com

Web Sites

Garden Railways Online www.gardenrailways.com

Large Scale Central, largescalecentral.com

Large Scale Online, lsol.com

myLargeScale, mylargescale.com

Small-scale live steam resources, nmia.com

A.A.R.
Association of American Railroads, the trade association that represents the common interests of the railroad industry in such areas as standards, public relations, and advertising.

A.C.
See Alternating Current.

A.C.C.
See CA.

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.

A.C.I.
Automatic Car Identification; See Kar Trak.

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.

Airbrush
A miniature paint sprayer that gives a controlled application of thinned paint.

All In One Track
Model track that includes simulated roadbed or ballast. Also called combination or "click" track.

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.

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

Ampere or Amp
Unit used to determine the amount of an electrical current.

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

Articulated
A steam locomotive with two engines (i.e., cylinders, rods, and wheels) under one boiler.

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

Backdrop
A painting or scenic photograph on the wall behind the layout. It can be as simple as a cloudless sky or it can echo the scenery of the layout and create an illusion of great distance.

Defective, out of order.

Ballast
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.

Balloon Track
See Return loop.

Benchwork
Supporting framework for a model railroad layout. L girder and open grid (sometimes called butt joint) are two popular types.

Big Hook
Wrecking crane.

Block
On a real railroad, a section of track defined for the purpose of controlling trains. On a model railroad, a block is an electrically isolated section of track.

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

Bolster
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).

Boomer

Booster
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

Brass (also brass hat, brass collar)

Bridge
A structure that supports a track passing over a depression in the terrain or a stream. A through bridge has a floor structure, which supports the track between its side beams or trusses, while a deck bridge has its supporting structure below track level.

Bridge Guardrail
A set of steel rails mounted inside the running rails on a bridge or other structure to keep derailed cars in line.

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. One end is normally a solid mounting while the opposite end allows for expansion and contraction.

Bright Boy
(brand name) An abrasive rubber block used to clean track.

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

Bunk, Camp, or Outfit Car
A passenger or freight car converted into movable living quarters for track workers.

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.

C.A.
Short for cyanoacrylate adhesive, also known as super glue. A high strength adhesive that can be used on metal and styrene plastic. Sometimes seen as ACC for alphacyanoacrylate cement.

Cab
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".

Caboose
The car that carries the crew of a freight train. It's almost always at the rear of the train. Slang terms for the caboose include buggy, bouncer, bobber, cabin, cage, crummy, hack, palace, and way car.

Camelback
A type of steam locomotive with the cab astride the boiler. The Camelback was a solution to the problem of forward visibility past the wide firebox required for burning anthracite.

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

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

Circuit
The path of an electrical current.

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.

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.

Clear Board
Green or proceed signal.

Clearance
The space that's 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.

Click Track
See All-in-one track.

Climax
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. See also Shay and Heisler.

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.

Code
Height of model rail as measured by thousandths of an inch. Code 83 is .083" tall, code 70 is .070", and code 55 is .055".

Combination Track
See All in one track.

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.

Configuration Variable (CV)
In DCC, number programmed into a decoder that controls its behavior. These numbers remain stored until they are reprogrammed. An address is an example of a configuration variable.

Consist (pronounced CON-sist)
Cars which make up a train; also a list of those cars. A locomotive consist is a group of diesel units put together to pull a train. Also known as "M.Uing" (from multiple units). In DCC, with basic consisting, the command station sends the same commands to each loco in the consist. With advanced consisting, each decoder-equipped locomotive responds to the address of the consist, enabling the command station to control the consist with a single command.

In DCC, the address to which all digital decoders in a consist respond.

Continuous Rail (also welded rail, ribbon rail)
On the prototype, rails that have been welded together to form a single rail hundreds of feet long, eliminating most rail joints, which are the weakest part of the track.

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

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).

Coupler
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.

Crossing
A track arrangement that permits two tracks to cross but does not allow trains to move from one track to the other. (Also called a "diamond" from its shape.) A level intersection between two tracks or between a track and a highway.

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

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

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

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

Cut of Cars
A number of cars coupled together. The addition of marker lamps and an engine makes the cut of cars a train.

C.V.
See Configuration variable.

D.C.
See Direct Current.

D.C.C.
See Digital Command Control.

D.C.C. Bus
Heavy-gauge copper wire used to distribute the electrical power from the booster around the layout. Each booster has its own set of track bus wires. Accessory decoders may be connected to a track bus. The wire gauge of a track bus must be appropriate to the rating of the associated power station and load.

A car or train, usually passenger, moving empty; a passenger traveling on a pass. Empty freight cars are referred to as empties.

Decal
A type of lettering material for models. The letters and numbers are printed on specially prepared paper and then coated with varnish. The lettering is applied by soaking the decal in water to dissolve the film between the ink and the paper and placing the layer of varnish and ink on the car.

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

Decoder
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.

Derail
(verb) to leave the rails; (noun) safety device placed on the track, usually on a siding, to prevent cars from rolling onto the main line - a minor derailment is preferable to a major collision. It may have a cast steel frog that diverts one wheel up and over the rail to stop a car well short of the clearance point. Some derails consist of a single switch point that's normally left open to stop any moving car clear of the main track.

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. Used for control of most model railroads before command control.

Division
A portion of a railroad considered as an operational and administrative unit.

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 Slip Switch
A special condensed track component that combines the functions of two turnouts in a shorter distance.

Doubling a Hill
Splitting a train and taking it up a steep grade in two parts, one at a time.

D.P.D.T.
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. Some DPDT switches have a "center-off" feature.

Draft Gear
The mechanism which connects the coupler to the frame of the car. In the model world, the coupler mounting box is sometimes called the draft gear.

Drawbar
Any coupling, either a solid bar or couplers, between two pieces of rolling stock.

Drawbridge
A movable bridge that spans a navigable waterway.

Drybrushing
A painting and weathering technique in which most of the pigment or paint is removed from the brush before the brush is touched to the model. The "dry brush" is then stroked lightly over the model to bring out raised details and textures.

Dry Transfer
Transferable lettering or images on waxy clear film. The lettering material is made of thin plastic with pressure sensitive adhesive, and the letters or images are released from the waxed carrier sheet when rubbed onto a model.

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

Electrostatic Grass
Flock that simulates grass. A charge of static electricity makes the fibers stand upright.

Elevated
A reference to a high-level right of way, often constructed on a fill, to provide clearance underneath for another track or a roadway.

Elevation
The measured height of a specific location above a base line.

Enginehouse
A building in which locomotives are serviced and/or stored.

Epoxy
A two part resin and catalyst adhesive that cures rather than dries. The most useful for model building is the type that sets in 5 minutes, called "5-minute epoxy".

Expansion Joint
A special slip joint that includes an open space in the center to allow the rails to expand or contract.

Extra
A train not authorized by a timetable schedule.

Facing Point
A track turnout positioned so its points face oncoming traffic.

Feeder
Electrical power wire attached to rail.

Fill
Roadbed built up above the surrounding terrain to maintain a relatively even grade.

Fixed Cab
A cab or throttle permanently mounted to one location.

Flange
The part of the wheel that runs below and inside the top of the rail to guide the wheel.

Flangeway
The space between a running or stock rail and a guardrail for wheel flanges.

Flash
A thin web of material on a cast part, the result of mold sections not meeting tightly.

Flexible Track
Track in long sections (usually 3 feet or 1 meter) that can be bent to any desired curve. Also called "flextrack".

Flextrack
See Flexible track.

Freelance

Frog
The X shaped rail assembly where rails cross in a turnout or crossing.

Function Buttons
Buttons on a throttle that control locomotive accessories such as lighting and sound.

Function Mapping
In DCC, changing a decoder's CVs to determine which function button controls which function output.

Function Outputs
Wires on a decoder that power locomotive accessories such as lighting. Function outputs are most commonly used to control sound effects and the front and rear headlamps of a locomotive.

Gandy Dancer
A track worker.

Gantlet (not "gauntlet") Track
Overlapping parallel tracks which share a single roadbed and track structure to pass through a narrow obstruction like a tunnel or bridge.

Gap
A slot cut through the rail to break the electrical path.

Gas Electric
A self propelled car powered by a gasoline engine driving a generator, which supplies current to motors on the axles. Gas electrics were often used for branchline and local passenger service from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Gauge
The distance between the inside of the heads of track rails. Most railroads in North America and Europe are built to a standard gauge of 4'-8½". Narrow gauge means track with a width less than standard gauge. For example, On3 means O scale trains with 3 scale feet between the rails.

Geep
See G.P.

The metal coupling on the end of an air hose.

Gondola
An open car with a flat bottom.

G.P.
General Motors designation for its four-axle "general purpose" locomotives. Also referred to as Geep.

Grab Iron
Handholds on the sides, ends, and roofs of cars.

The vertical rise or fall of a track per 100 units of distance, expressed as a percentage. A 2" rise in 100" is a 2 percent grade.

Arrangement that allows track to cross a road or highway on the same level.

Ground Foam
Synthetic foam rubber ground up and dyed for use as a texture element in scenery.

Ground Throw
A low level manual switch stand used to move and lock the switch points to select a route through a turnout.

Guardrail
An additional rail used on the inside of rails to help wheel flange follow the proper route (as in a turnout or crossing), or to keep derailed cars on the track structure (as on a bridge).

Handlaying
Process of laying model track using individual ties, rails, and track spikes.

Hardshell
A technique for building scenery made by dipping paper towels in plaster and laying them over a temporary support structure, creating a rigid, self supporting form.

The pair of extended ties that support a switch stand.

Mail, baggage, and express cars, usually run at the front of a passenger train.

Heisler
A type of geared steam locomotive used by logging railroads. It had two cylinders arranged in a V connected to a driveshaft which in turn was connected to the trucks. See also Climax and Shay.

Helix
A rising curve which turns around an axis like a corkscrew. Used on some multilevel layouts to allow trains to go from one level to another.

Helper
A locomotive added to a train to help it climb a grade.

High Iron
The main line.

Highball
A proceed signal.

Homasote

Hood Unit
A roadswitcher, so called because of the construction of the locomotive, with the machinery covered by a hood rather than a full-width cab.

Hopper Car
An open top car with funnel like bins and unloading doors or gates in bottom of car. Covered hoppers have roofs to loads that need protection from weather.

Hostler
A workman who services locomotives between runs and moves them around an engine teminal.

Hotbox
An axle bearing that has become hot because of lack of lubrication.

Hy Cube
A boxcar that is taller than standard and thus has a higher cubic capacity.

Hydrocal
A hard, quick-setting plaster often preferred for model railroad scenery and made by U.S. Gypsum.

In The Hole
In a Siding to Meet or be Passed by Another Train.

Industry Track
Side track where freight cars can be left so a railroad customer can load or unload them.

Instruction Packets
In DCC, the regular packet format used for most digital commands.

Insulated Joint
A mechanical rail joint that doesn't pass electricity.

Insulated Rail Joiner
A plastic rail connector used to insulate joints.

Interchange
A junction of two railroads where cars are transferred from one line to the other.

Interlocking
A mechanical or electrical system of signaling which ensures that only one train at a time is allowed to move through a junction.

Intermodal
Shipments carried by more than one mode of transportation, mainly containers and piggyback trailers.

Interurban
An electrically operated light railway between cities and towns, as opposed to local streetcar service.

Johnson Bar
The manual reversing lever of older steam locomotives.

Joint
An end to end mechanical rail connection using a rail joiner to maintain precise alignment.

Joint Bar
A formed-steel bar, bolted in place, used to join sections of prototype rail.

Journal
The load bearing part of an axle. The weight of the axle is carried by the journal bearing, which is enclosed by the journal box.

Junction
A location where main and/or branch lines diverge or cross each other.

Kar Trak
An outdated system used to keep track of all railroad equipment. It employed ACI (automatic car identification) reflective labels on all rolling stock, trackside scanners, and computers.

Kingpin
Pin or screw used to mount model railroad trucks to locomotive or car body. Center pin is the more common term for the prototype.

Kitbash
To combine parts from different kits to produce a model unlike the straight kit models.

Kitbashing
Taking one or more model railroad kits (often structure kits) and changing the construction process or combining parts to make a personalized model.

Lap or Three Way Switch
A special track component that combines two overlapping turnouts to connect one track to three tracks.

L.C.L.
Less than Carload Lot, any shipment of freight too small to fill an entire car.

Lichen
A plant used to model trees and bushes.

M.U.
Multiple unit, a method of controlling several diesel or electric cars or locomotives from one cab. M.U. cars are electric passenger cars for operation on electrified portions of a steam or diesel railroad, as in a suburban district. Interurbans, subway cars, and RDCs are technically M.U. cars, but the term is usually reserved for steam road electric cars.

Main Line
The track serving as the main route for trains. Some heavy-use lines have two or more main tracks.

Maintenance of Way Equipment
The machinery and rolling stock used to keep track and roadbed in good condition.

Markers
Lamps formerly hung on the rear of the last car of the train to show that the cars are indeed a train and to indicate its status. Later substitutes were used, such as reflector paddles. Now replaced on freight trains by end-of-train (EDT) devices; passenger trains now typically have built-in marker lights.

Matte Medium
An artist's material used as an adhesive for ballast and scenery materials.

Milepost
A trackside sign with a number indicating the distance from an established starting point.

Module
A section of a layout built following a standard pattern or dimensions. Each module can be connected interchangeably with any other module built to the same standards. Ntrak is an organization that has developed standards for N scale modules.

M.O.W.
Maintenance of way, the job of keeping track and roadbed in good condition.

Narrow Gauge
Track with a gauge less than 4'-8½" (standard gauge). In the U.S., 3-foot and 2½-foot gauges were used. In modeling, narrow gauge is labeled first with the scales, followed by an n (for narrow), followed by the track gauge in feet (e.g. Hon3).

Nickel Silver
A silvery colored alloy of brass used for model railroad rails.

N.M.R.A.
National Model Railroad Association, a worldwide organization of hobbyists who gather to exchange information and promote creative development and fellowship in model railroading. The NMRA's standards and recommended practices ensure compatibility of mechanical and electrical components from different model railroad manufacturers.

N.M.R.A. Gauge
Flat steel standards gauge issued by the National Model Railroad Association for checking track gauges and clearances in some scales.

On time.

On The Ground

Operation
Running trains on a layout to simulate the movement of freight and passengers.

Operations Mode Programming
In DCC, also known as "programming on the main". Changing the CVs of an individual locomotive on a track other than the programming track. Not all decoders or DCC systems support this.

Packet
The sequence of bits used to encode the instructions upon which a decoder operates.

Pantograph
A current pickup device for electric locomotives and cars.

Piggyback
The movement of truck trailers on flatcars. Also called trailer-on-flatcar (TOFC).

Platform
A loading dock for freight or passengers. A high platform is even with the car floor, while a low platform may be at any height below floor level.

Points
The two connected short rails in a turnout that move to change a train's route.

Portal
An entrance to a tunnel or the framing at the ends of a truss bridge.

Power District
An area of the layout connected directly to its own booster, electrically isolated from any other boosters or power districts.

Power Pack (or supply)
A model railroad control device containing, at the minimum, a transformer and rectifier to reduce 120-volt AC house current to a lower DC voltage for running model trains.

Profile
A scale drawing which shows the grade alignment for a section of main track.

Programming Track
A short piece of track electrically separated from the main trackage. It is used to program any CV, including the decoder's address. CVs may also be read back to the cab from a decoder on the programming track.

Prototype
The real, full-sized object after which a scale model is made.

Pull The Pin
Operate the uncoupling lever.

Pullman
A sleeping car or parlor car operated by the Pullman Co.; by extension, any sleeping car.

Pulse Width Modulation (PWM)
Used to control the speed of a DC motor by applying pulses of a constant voltage of varying width. The wider the pulses, the faster the motor turns. This is the method of motor control used by DCC decoders.

Puzzle Switch
A slang term referring to the special track components, including single or double slip switches used in extremely congested areas.

The size of a curve measured from its center point to the center line of a curved track.

Rail
A specialty shaped rolled steel beam with a wide base that's fastened to crossties to guide trains along the right of way and carry their weight.

Rail Code
The height of model rail in thousandths of an inch: code 100 measures .100" tall, code 83 is .083" tall, code 70 is .070", and code 55 is .055."

Rail Diesel Car (RDC)
A self propelled passenger car built by the Budd Company.

Rail Joiner
A formed sheet-metal mechanical connector used to join model rails end to end.

Rail Nipper
Flush-cutting pliers used to make clean, square cuts in soft metal rail.

Railfan

Rick Gardner, a person who is just nuts about trains.

Jayne Gardner, a person who is being driven nuts by her husband Rick, a Railroading Extremist about trains.

The wider, top portion of a rail that the wheels run on.

Rectifier
A device inside a decoder for converting electrical AC current into DC current.

Red Board
A train order signal indicating orders to be delivered.

Reefer
A refrigerator car. Similar in appearance to a boxcar but has ice or mechanical cooling equipment.

Relay
An electromagnetic switching device commonly used to control polarity, power, and signal circuits.

Rerailer
Section of model track used for getting cars and locomotives back on the rails.

Resistor
Restricts the flow of electrical current to lower its voltage or limit its current.

Return Loop
A section of track that reverses the direction of a train running through it; on the prototype more often called a "balloon track".

Reverse or "S" Curve
Opposing curves connected end to end.

Reverse Loop
See "return loop".

Right-of-Way

Rip (repair-in-place) Track
The track in a yard where minor car repairs are made.

Riser
A vertical piece in the benchwork that supports a track board or subroadbed.

On real railroads, the foundation layer of earth on which the track is built. On a model railroad, a strip of wood, cork, foam, or other material that simulates the ballast profile of a real railroad.

A general purpose diesel that can be used for both yard switching and road duties. Also called a hood unit.

Rolling Stock
Nonpowered railroad cars; freight and passenger cars.

Roundhouse
An enginehouse like a sector of a circle in shape, and usually surrounding a turntable.

RS
American Locomotive Co. (Alco) "road switcher" diesel locomotive.

The maximum grade that controls train size on a given route.

Runaround
A switching maneuver in which the locomotive uncouples from its train, pulls ahead, backs past on an adjacent track, and moves forward to couple onto the rear of the train; also the track itself where the move takes place.

Running Board
Walkway along roof or along sides of tank cars and steam locomotives.

Saw By
A maneuver by which two trains can meet at a siding that's too short to hold either one of them. (If neither train fits, it's a double saw-by.)

Scale
The size of things on a model railroad relative to things on a real railroad. For example, in the most popular scale, HO, models are 1/87th full size. More Information.

Schedule
That portion of a timetable that lists the class, direction, number, and timings of regular trains.

Scissors Crossover
Two crossovers interlaced with a crossing in the middle which allow trains to pass from one parallel track to the other in either direction.

Scratchbuilding
Making a model from raw materials and parts, not using kits.

SD
General Motors designation for its six-axle "special duty" diesel locomotives.

Sectional Track
Track in short, rigid pieces (fixed length and curve radii) that are easily joined to each other.

Shay
A type of geared steam locomotive used extensively in logging, mining, and industrial railroading. It had three cylinders mounted vertically on the right side of the boiler driving a crankshaft geared to all the axles.

Short Line

Siding
A side track with a turnout at each end. Passing sidings are long enough to let trains meet each other.

Single Slip Switch
A special condensed track component that combines the functions of two turnouts in a short distance. Allows only three possible routings, not the four of a double-slip.

Slug
A weighted locomotive unit with traction motors but no diesel engine or generator. Used in conjunction with a diesel locomotive for additional tractive force.

Smokejack
A chimney on a car or building.

Snowshed
A structure built over the track in mountainous areas to protect the tracks from snow and avalanches.

SPDT
Single-pole, double-throw. A type of electrical switch used in model railroading. See DPDT.

Speed Table
In DCC, table of parameters specifying the motor voltage in response to a speed and direction command. Individual speed tables can be programmed for each locomotive, allowing locomotives from different manufacturers to work together in a consist.

Spike
On a prototype railroad, a forged steel fastener with an offset head that's driven into the ties to secure the rails.

Spiral Curve or Easement
A curve of gradually increasing radius that makes the transition between a tangent or straight track and a fixed-radius curve.

Spot a Car
To place a car in its designated position, as at an industry or on a station track.

Spring Switch
A turnout held in one position by a spring so that facing point traffic always takes the same route but trailing point traffic can run through the turnout from either track.

Spur or Spur Track
A dead end track, one with a turnout at only one end.

Standard gauge
In North America, the standard gauge between rails is 4' 8½".

Stub Switch
A pointless turnout that changes its route by gently bending the approach or "fly" rails sideways (image).

Styrene
Short for polystyrene, a versatile plastic commonly used for modeling. Comes in sheets, blocks, and rods of many different thicknesses and sizes.

The bottom or foundation layer of model track, usually made from plywood.

Superelevatio
Raising the outside rail of curved track to help trains negotiate curves more easily and at higher speeds.

SW
General Motors designation for its diesel switchers.

Switch
Electrical switches are usually called toggles. In a turnout, the "switch" is the assembly of moving points that select one route or the other.

Switchback
A track layout that requires a change of direction.

Switch Lock
A padlock or an interlocking device that secures a switch so it cannot be moved.

Switch Machine
A single- or double-coil electromagnetic mechanism for directing trains to one track or another at a turnout. A remote-control device that moves the switch points to select a route through a turnout.

Switch Motor
A motorized point-moving machine.

Switch Rod
A metal rod that connects switch points to each other and to a switch stand or switch machine.

Switch Stand
Manual device that allows a turnout to be lined (changed) from one route to the other.

Talgo
A type of lightweight passenger train now operated by Amtrak in the Northwest. In the model world the term is applied to truck mounted couplers.

Tangent
A straight track.

Tank Engine
A steam locomotive that carries its fuel and water supply in tanks hung over or alongside the boiler or on a frame extension at the rear instead of in a tender.

Tender
A car attached to a steam locomotive that carries extra fuel and water for the locomotive.

Third Rail
An extra rail mounted alongside the running rails to supply current for electric locomotives or traction cars.

Throttle
The speed control of the locomotive; in the model world, a potentiometer or other speed controller.

Tie Plate
A forged steel plate used between the rail base and the tie top to help spread the load.

Tie
The structural element placed at right angles to the track center line to support and hold the rails in gauge. Most ties on real railroads are still hardwood, but increasingly some are made of prestressed concrete. On a model railroad ties are either plastic or wood.

Timber
Any heavy wood beam used in railroad construction.

Timetable
The authority for the movement of regular trains subject to the railroad's operating rules.

Toggle (switch)
An electrical switch with a lever control and snap action (as opposed to a slide switch or push buttons). The household light switch is a 110 volt example of a toggle switch.

Track
Two parallel rails affixed to wooden or concrete ties; plastic or wood in model form.

Trackboard

Track Bu
See Bus, or bus wire.

Traction
Public utility transportation; by extension, all electrically operated trains.

Trailing Point
A turnout with its points facing away from the direction of travel.

Transformer
Changes high-voltage 110-volt AC house current into low-voltage AC current to power your DCC system.

Transition Curve
See Spiral curve or easement.

Truck
The wheel axle frame assembly under each end of a car or locomotive; the framework supporting railroad wheels.

Turnout
A section of track with movable rails to divert a train from one track to another. Also "switch," although technically the switch is only the moving parts of a turnout. "Turnout" also avoids confusion with electrical devices. Referred to by number. For example, a no. 6 turnout spreads one unit for each six units of travel measured from the point of the frog.

Turntable
A revolving bridge commonly used to turn locomotives in an engine terminal.

Uncoupling Lever
Also called a cut lever. The device which raises the locking pin in a coupler to allow the knuckle to open for uncoupling.

Unit
A single diesel locomotive.

Unit Train
A freight train that carries a single commodity from source to destination and returns empty.

U.S.R.A.
United States Railroad Administration. The USRA was responsible for the operation of the country's railroads during World War I.

Varnish
A passenger train. Wooden passenger cars used to be given many coats of varnish.

Vestibule
The enclosed area at the end of a passenger car where the side doors are located. Early passenger cars had only an open platform. Around the 1880s narrow-vestibule cars came into use, with a vestibule only as wide as the passageway between the cars. The full-width vestibule followed soon after.

Volt
A unit of electrical pressure. Commonly, 0 to 9 volts of DC are used for Z scale model railroading, 0 to 14 volts DC for N and HO scale, and 0 to 20 volts DC for large-scale model railroading.

Walkaround Cab
A cab or throttle that is handheld and connected by a cable to a plug connected to the cab bus at multiple points around the layout. Memory-equipped walkaround cabs allow a train to maintain speed and direction while the cab is unplugged from the cab bus.

Walkaround Control
A system that allows the model railroad operators to walk along with their trains.

A railroad you can walk around in the course of operation without having to duck under any part of the benchwork. Walkaround controls may be built into the benchwork.

Water Column
A standpipe adjacent to the track and connected to a water supply for filling steam locomotive tenders.

Weathering
Making shiny new models look more realistic by dirtying them up to simulate road grime, the action of sun and rain, and general evidence of use.

Welded Rail
Real rail sections that have been welded together to eliminate track joints. Also called continuous rail.

Wheelset
A pair of wheels connected by an axle.

Wheel Stop
A wedge shaped device mounted on the railheads to keep a car from rolling off the end of a track.

White Glue
An adhesive primarily for joining wood and paper materials.

Wireless Cab
A handheld cab that has no cable connection to the layout. Wireless cabs use infrared or radio waves as a method of transmitting information.

Wireless Cab Base
A base station for one or more wireless cabs. Connected to the command station via a cab bus.

Wye
Type of turnout where the two legs curve away equilaterally, forming a Y. Also a triangular track configuration for turning a locomotive or a train or for joining a branch to a main line for operation in both directions.

Wye Switch
A turnout that diverges equally in both directions.

Yard
Collection of tracks used for sorting and storing cars.

Yard Engine (also yard goat)
A switching locomotive.

Tri-State Model Train Show

Next Show Date... March 29, 2008
Show Times... 9:00 am to 3:00 pm