Beginners (very much) questions

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by Agrajag, Jun 22, 2005.

  1. Agrajag

    Agrajag New Member

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    I've been a fan of the hobby for MANY years and used to subscribe to Model Railroader and hang out in all the local hobby shops. However, I've never managed to actually get intot he hobby personally. My father won me over initially with his beautifully maintained American Flyers set, though I personally like the size of HO gauge.

    Anyway, fast-forward. I have a 10 year-old now who grew up loving trains and has one of the largest "Brio" and "Rockenbock" collections I'm aware of, but is now growing out of that.

    He just came home with another great report card and, as a reward, asked if he could get a set of "real trains".

    The biggest concern I had was to see what his interest level would be before diving in fully. To that end, we just went to Toys R Us and bought a $30 "Life-Like" starter set that is, of course, purely junk (called Golden Rails, though retail was $80). To offset that I also took him to a real hobby shop to show him what was possible and available and picked up a couple additional stock cars, more of that basic, but child-proof Life-Like track (Power-Loc I think they call it).

    He also saw a locomotive that had "real" smoke and I figured, okay, at $50 it'll work to show him that things can be a lot better than what he started with, still without going nuts.

    So now he has that starter set and some decent rolling stock and one nice 0-6-0 steam engine.

    We got home and he was enamored from the moment we started. It was great to see him struggle to get the cars onto the track. I kept using that to enforce the authentic nature of this real hobby over that of toys he was familiar with and that all seemed to implant wonderfully.

    Then some issues cropped up. First, the "better" locomotive is a Bachmann USRA 0-6-0 w/Smoke & Vanderbilt Tender (#50701). The first thing we noticed is that none of the rolling stock will couple to it. Apparently this loco uses real couplers which is nice, except for this issue. Second, the smoke was a joke and really hurt all the impressions I made. We added the smoke oil and it smoked alright. Out of the wheels and everywhere but the smoke stack. One of the things that won me over as a child was the beautiful smoke that came out of the stack of the American Flyer steam locomotive my Dad set up.

    I also wonder if I should bother changing out couplers and trucks and what that process should entail. I'm curious to get into the hobby now too if I can bring him along with me so there's more than just his involvement to consider. Can all this early stock be converted to Bachmann or Kadee couplers? If so, which?

    What should I look to do next to get my son and I to the next level? I know his biggest interest is more track so that he can build mammoth layouts like his Brio days. The landscape doesn't matter to him. It's all about being able to tear it down and build it back up in another configuration, more intricate than the one before. Right now he's got a standard circle made into an oval with 4 straights so that's clearly got to be addressed. The question there is, do we invest in more of this Power-Loc business or get out now and go in a better direction?

    Thoughts?
  2. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

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    Welcome to the Gauge Agrajag. The best thing you could do is go back to the hobby store and talk to the folks there. They could show you stuff and advise you.
  3. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

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    I also wonder if I should bother changing out couplers and trucks and what that process should entail. I'm curious to get into the hobby now too if I can bring him along with me so there's more than just his involvement to consider. Can all this early stock be converted to Bachmann or Kadee couplers? If so, which?


    Welcome to The Gauge and back to the hobby of your youth. :wave: Your couplers can be changed over using the Kadee Talgo Truck Conversion kit http://kadee.com/htmbord/page146.htm One package gives you enough to do 12 cars. Use them with their standard #5s.

    What should I look to do next to get my son and I to the next level?

    To succeed...Be patient. ;) I highly recommend Linn Westcott's "HO Model Railroad That Grows", now out of print but readily available on eBay. There are many other options out there and I'm sure more will be brought to your attention as fellow Gaugers chime in. This is the book and layout that started it all for me 30+ years ago and produces one of the best 4x8 layouts in a small space IMHO.


    I know his biggest interest is more track so that he can build mammoth layouts like his Brio days. The landscape doesn't matter to him. It's all about being able to tear it down and build it back up in another configuration, more intricate than the one before. Right now he's got a standard circle made into an oval with 4 straights so that's clearly got to be addressed. The question there is, do we invest in more of this Power-Loc business or get out now and go in a better direction?

    That track is great to start with when your thowing something together to run trains on. It makes a stable line that won't pull apart, perfect for the ardent rearranger. Eventually work your way towards sectional and flex track on a cork roadbed once you have an idea what you wanted for a layout.
  4. Agrajag

    Agrajag New Member

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    First I should say that I did go and talk to the person at the local hobby shop and he came right out and said, "Look, I know NOTHING about the trains. The owner does but he only comes in to drop off stock these days." I live in southern NJ and there's just not the depth of model railroading choices around like when I was a kid. Nearly every town had a store specializing in it. They're almost all gone now.

    Still confused about trucks and couplers. If the one engine is a Bachmann coupler, would I just want to go that way or is Kadee really the way to go? I realize that there's a whole religion to this sort of thing.

    I also looked at the Kadee link above and the illustration made no sense. Remember that the first several pieces of rolling stock he has all has the fully plastic Y-shaped cheap couples and trucks on them. I'd prefer to get everything converted over to real couples and metal wheels, etc.

    Also, do metal wheels impact the power distribution along the track?

    Lastly, how long before I start seriously thinking about something as advanced as DCC? As a kid that was my biggest goal. Get to DCC ASAP! Never made it.
  5. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

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    First I should say that I did go and talk to the person at the local hobby shop and he came right out and said, "Look, I know NOTHING about the trains. The owner does but he only comes in to drop off stock these days." I live in southern NJ and there's just not the depth of model railroading choices around like when I was a kid. Nearly every town had a store specializing in it. They're almost all gone now.

    That sounds typical :rolleyes: but not insurmountable. Here and www.2guyzandsumtrains.com are just some of the many forums out there to go to. My favorite hobby shops are still around in Baltimore so I can still tickle my nose with the smell of wood kits and dazzle my eyes with shiny brass lokeys. There are too many trains discount houses to worry about supplys. When in doubt, just bring it up here, we'll twist yer gourd three ways from Sunday :D :thumb:

    Still confused about trucks and couplers. If the one engine is a Bachmann coupler, would I just want to go that way or is Kadee really the way to go? I realize that there's a whole religion to this sort of thing.


    I used to modify the coupler on one car by clipping off the horn and the lower half, leaving just the hook. It looked semi-real and could mate with any of the other knuckle types out there, you just can't do any switching moves. Hooks will do you fine 'til you're ready to get serious about operations and switching. Then you can use the toy stuff as fodder for practice like so>>> http://www.the-gauge.com/thread10172-flea-market-fixr-upper.html

    I also looked at the Kadee link above and the illustration made no sense. Remember that the first several pieces of rolling stock he has all has the fully plastic Y-shaped cheap couples and trucks on them. I'd prefer to get everything converted over to real couples and metal wheels, etc. Also, do metal wheels impact the power distribution along the track?

    The talgo conversion is explained on the package, I've done it on several cars that otherwise couldn't receive a coupler. It's basically a tee shaped peice of plastic that twist mounts into the pocket, providing the necessary pin for the new coupler. Metal wheels are great, I do it to all my rolling stock. It helps keep the track clean and adds needed weight to each car. Intermountain, Atlas and Kadee are my favorites. Why three different brands? Because there are subtle differences in the width of various trucks, trial and error will tell you which fits where.

    Lastly, how long before I start seriously thinking about something as advanced as DCC? As a kid that was my biggest goal. Get to DCC ASAP! Never made it.

    Get the layout up first... :p
  6. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

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    The Bachman coupler on the engine should be Kadee compatible. There are a number of firms making couplers that mate with the Kadees. We have some really choice comments on the forum; general impression is that when you get serious, Kadee will be best. Use the others until they need to be replaced.
    The choice on what to put on the cars will depend on a lot of things.:: the easiest but most expensive is to buy Kadee couplings mounted on trucks. The other choices are changing the couplings but keeping the original trucks, or cutting the coupling and its mounting off the truck and screwing a coupler to the floor of the car.
    Metal wheels have no impact on power distribution (as long as there is insulation somewhere!) but have a number of advantages.
    The best time to go for DCC is before you have to lay out several hunded dollars for decoders in a lump sum.
    How much smoke fluid did you put in? a drop or two should be enough.
    I've been to southern NJ a few times. Certainly didn't find any hobby shops. Now northern NJ, that's a different story.
  7. JeffGerow

    JeffGerow Member

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    Welcome back to the wonderful world of HO

    It's most important for your son to be able to build and re-build and the sectional track with roadbed and connectors is really the only way to go. Even then, to keep the frustration level low, it would be smart to provide a smooth level, carpet free surface to set-up the track, a layout table or... And if that leads to a more permanent layout, so be it -- but let him make that decision. (Of course if you want to build your own layout at one end...)

    As far as engines, you're lucky that there are now so many good looking, good running locomotives around -- unfortunately, what you have purchased is not. I, too, started by buying a Toys-R-Us Bachmann "set", but since it wouldn't even go up it's own trestle, I took it back -- and visited a hobby shop that I'd been passing ...

    Both LifeLike and Bachmann make very good engines -- they also make some very bad ones -- Look for the Lifelike Heritage Series (excellent steam), Proto 2000 (fine detail and good running) and Proto1000 (less detail but still good running)
    Bachmann's Spectrum series are far superior to their "old" line (any with smoke, unfortunately).
    Broadway Limited started offering engines with sound that work on both DC and DCC and they're pretty good runners as well.
    Athern's new steam is very pretty and runs well
    In Diesels (which I have one for track cleaning) there are some additional steller manufacturers: Atlas and Kato as well as the above

    As far as smoke, really the only way to get it the way you remember is to get an American Flyer HO engine at a local train show. Unfortunately, they're old power hungry motors and unless you're talented with machine tools and electronics, you'll have to run it on DC

    As far as DC - DCC , if you can afford it, go for it -- just the ability to independantly control multiple trains on the same track is worth the admission -- especially now that there are so many systems at every level of cost and complexity. I have and love NCE and they just announced a starter system built into the handheld controller and it can attach to the bigger system. Go to train shows, trek to hobby stores, find out about open houses and try various systems if you can -- get what you are most comfortable with. The Northern DE, Southeastern PA, Southwestern NJ area has a November Open House program that is quite wonderful (I have picked up a brochure at Mitchells (Train store in Northern DE, on Rt.202) which includes maps and schedules.

    Standardize on Kaydee couplers and metal wheels. Visit the Kaydee website for conversion information specific to mfr's and model numbers. Get a coupler height guage (not necessarily from Kaydee) and use it. For cars like you already have, here's what I have done: remove the trucks and couplers. I use Kaydee trucks (mainly because I like the actual springs), but you have lots of options -- just must have metal wheels or you'll be spending all your time cleaning track. I then assemble a Kaydee #5 coupler in it's box (after burnishing the shaft of the coupler so it's polished) and generally glue it to the underside of the car. The truck or the coupler pocket may need shimming or fileing -- thus the guage

    That's enough rambling from me for now -- now go have fun with trains
  8. Agrajag

    Agrajag New Member

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    Started with a drop. Then added two drops and ran that out. Then tried a third time with 4 drops and ran that out. All acted the same and all blew out the bottom and sides. When we slowed the locomotive to near-stop, it came billowing out of the stack.

    Is this cause to return it? I have NO idea how this works. I'm assuming it's just oil on a hot surface. I'm thinking perhaps I can take it appart and run a funnel to force it back up the stack.

    The interesting part, and here's where I need real experience, is that the American Flyer steam engine I spoke of before, would smoke for many minutes. This smoke, in all cases, for mere seconds.

    Forgive me but as a novice I could read that both ways. Do you mean the Pro-Loc/Ez-Track way (that's sectional, has a roadbed and connectors) or do you mean, as I THINK you do, that we should immediately switch to more traditional track with the small connectors and use separate roadbed (perhaps cork)? I showed him the differences and limitations tonight and he's pretty gung ho to go for investing in traditional track.

    On locomotives, the funny part is that the Life-Like Santa Fe engine seems to have loads of power to spare where the Bachmann (still inexpensive but costing more than the entire starter set) can barely pull itself around the track. What should I be spending on a decent locomotive or two at this point in time? We certainly don't want any monsters for now and theming isn't too much of a concern so far. We have SO much more to learn regarding the basics at this point.

    I'm really sorry to hear that. Why, out of curiosity, is that? Such a pity. I clearly recall it not only lasting quite a while but also belching out in traditional spurts. I have some pictures of that around here somewhere. I wonder if I might not do better to get some small incense, line the stack to keep heat out and drop that in there. <grin> Joking, a bit....

    Thanks also for the help on the couplers everyone. I'm also tracking down the book mentioned earlier. My Model Railroad Encyclopedia has apparently gone missing in all these years. Not too happy about that loss. Was really hoping to find a Model Railroading for Dummies book. <grin> Probably is one.
  9. yellowlynn

    yellowlynn Member

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    smoke

    I had an American Flyer at one time that smoked. The puffing was done by a cam on an axle that worked a tiny bellows to make the smoke come out in puffs.

    Lynn
  10. Agrajag

    Agrajag New Member

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    Thanks Lynn. At least I know my memory hasn't gone yet. <grin>
  11. green_elite_cab

    green_elite_cab Keep It Moving!

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    well i can help you with the 0-6-0 problem. your lifelike santa fe engine has a regular old motor on truck in it. its just a motor and gears.

    mean while, your o-6-o probably has a brass fly wheel, which creates the slow stops of the real thing, and also the motor is probably a kind that makes it run at prototypical speeds. my equivalent of your engine is a ge-44 tonner, and it is like that, its slow, and very weak. it can barely pull a regular old train.

    its all different motors and electronics. your steam engine probably has nothing wrong with it, other than the smoke, but i'm not familiar with that particular model. i have a lionel 4-4-2 steamer that barely smokes, and a challenger but i need to install teh smoke unit on it.

    is the o-6-0 a spectrum, or standard bachmann train?

    i reccommend in the future gettign athearn trains, you can usualy get a kit for cheap, liek GP-7 for $28, and it will look nice, and run great. my GP-7 has been camping, ( don't ask how it got in my back pack, cause i don't know) survived the elements, and survived my family and cats, and it still runs beautifuly, so they are defently worth it. you can also switch out the couplers realtively easy, assumeign you got spare Horn hooks on hand. as long as you think you or your son can put it together, its worth it.

    also, which hobby shop did you go to ( sounds liek Allied hobbies), i also live in southern NJ, around mount holly and that area, if you are close to there, i might be able to reccomend some good hobby shops. one really nice place is M&G hobbies, on route 130 in delran. just put it in a search engine and you'll get their site. i share your pain with few good hobby shops around here. the majority are up north in like edison and newark.
  12. Agrajag

    Agrajag New Member

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    It's a standard Bachmann. I wasn't too familiar with Spectrum when I saw the boxes on the shelf so I didn't give them much of a look. Now I know better. Athearn has always been on my list but this one shop didn't have very much from them at the time (more due in).

    The hobby shop was D & K in the Barclay Shopping Center. I didn't even know it was there until tripping over it one day.
  13. JeffGerow

    JeffGerow Member

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    As far as the track, when you know what you want and are going to tack it down, is when I'd use flex track and good switches, solder the rail joiners together and have drops every 6' -- all mounted on a good solid surface (3/4" plywood or 2" foam comes to mind) with roadbed (I use cork, but there are other good options as well, homosote and foam to name a couple)

    If (while) you're still setting up on the floor (and especially carpet) using the sectional track with roadbed attached is a very good idea. It also allows for constant changing to see what you'd really like, or what configurations to include when you do tack it down.

    The Bachmann 0-6-0 that you have will never be a good runner and if your disapointment with the smoke gives you justification for returning it - DO! Then purchase a Bachmann Spectrum 2-8-0 (which cost between $50 and $150 depending on where you get it). Not the best available but a good workhorse and probably the least expensive steamer with good detail that works. The IHC steam engines also work very well and can be had for $40-$100, but their level of detail is not so high (there's often a flywheel visible in the cab).

    As far as smoke, apparantly Mike's Train House's new HO K-4 steamer will include smoke as well as sound (and they do some neat things with smoke in O) -- but it will cost up around $300...
  14. stuart_canada

    stuart_canada Member

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    well welcome to the joys of model railroading.
    coupler conversion, the coupler on the bachmann unit can be switched out easily enough for one that fits the rest of the cars. that is the quick and dirty way to do it.
    But had you had more knowledge before you made your purchases you would decided on the coupler style that is for you. But no bigger you can change it anytime you want, i changed to kadee style 25 years after getting into the hobby.

    Locomotives that is a hard choice to make, can be based on many factors:
    Steam, disel,
    size of layout
    size of pocket book
    then brand names
    then how realistic you want the locomotive to be.

    I recommend for little kids an there hands and play time with the unit
    keep in the middle of the road price wise
    athearn blue box special,
    Life Like Proto 2000
    Bachmann Spectrums
    all good runners in my opinion but some help from dad is required to add the details to them

    get a few of the beginners books on wiring, track laying and remember to keep it small enough thathe can play with
    have fun
  15. Agrajag

    Agrajag New Member

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    Sounds like I'm on the right path. What's the situation with track? The old track I'm used to as a kid.... Is that what's being referred to here as sectional track?

    Aside from that whose track do I want to be getting? Every company seems to see it and I'd hate to buy a bunch and find out later that I really want someone else's track. I believe, if I'm catching on, today I want nickel-silver instead of steel.
  16. green_elite_cab

    green_elite_cab Keep It Moving!

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    yes deffinitly nickel silver, steal isn't so bad i don't think, but brass can get ugly according to some. my layout has got every type of track on it imaginable, and you know, despite what people say, brass doesn't get that badly corroded or dirty as people make it sounds, but i still say nickel silver.

    there is also a cool brand of track i heard of called Tru track, i think atlas makes it. they take the regular old track that we are familar with, and put it on a realistic road bed. the beauty of it is, if you decide to use the track on a layout with cork roadbed, you can actualy remove the section of track from the road bed, unlike the power lock, which is a strange shape at the end, or EZ-track ( the vareity i own) whoe tabes break off like that. Kato also makes its own roadbed track, but its kind expensive. i do hear it is good quality, but nothing beats snap track and cork.