looking for information on starter train. Please Help!

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by kybluberi, Jul 22, 2003.

  1. kybluberi

    kybluberi New Member

    Jul 22, 2003
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    Hi everyone! I am a mom looking for a good hobby for my son. He loves to build things and put things together. I wanted to start him on something that would grow with him. He is 11 years old and I know nothing about train sets. I was amazed when I logged on and saw all the train stuff. I dont know where to start. I was hoping you all could give me some input... thanks
  2. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Oct 31, 2002
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    Hi Sherri...

    Welcome to The Gauge. There are a lot of people with a lot of information who have helped me lots in the past, so you're in good hands here.

    Having only recently started myself (I'm a bit older than 11...!) I have found the following to be helpful:

    A starter track pack, like those available from Atlas, are good. They are sectional track (as opposed to flextrack) and will allow you to set up an oval or circle to get things going.

    You can get track packs with "roadbed" included - that is a plastic bed under the track that simulates the gravel bed real tracks sit on. This is especially good for setting up the track temporarily - like on the table, carpet, or around the Christmas tree.

    However, you may find that a complete starter set (i.e. one with track, locomotive, cars, etc) will become limited quickly. You (the user) will begin to look for things to "add on" almost right away. Also, the transformer, and trains from the starter kits are sometimes not so good quality.

    MRC makes good transformers (power packs). Other people may tell you about "DCC", of which I have no knowledge.

    So, you may be further ahead picking up a track kit, but buying the transformer, a loco, and a few cars (sometimes called rolling stock) separately.

    Kits for rolling stock are relatively cheap. If your son enjoys building models, he will like this aspect of the hobby. There are also all kinds of buildings and other structures to make, as a layout progresses, that will test his modelling skills!

    I might also suggest that you find a good train shop or local hobby shop (LHS) that specializes in trains. One other thing would be to find out if there are any shows in your area that you can go to with your son to see what is available, even if you don't purchase anything.

    Good luck - I am sure that others here will offer some sound advice. Don't be afraid to ask more questions.

  3. rsn48

    rsn48 Member

    Feb 28, 2003
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    First lets start with the bad news, its all good after this piece of news. Model rail roading is not a cheap hobby, but if your son likes it, you'll never have to worry about what to get him for Xmas, Birthdays, etc.

    I will edit in some links for you to look at in terms of track plans. Check them out, chose one, print it out and take it to your LHS (local hobby shop).




    Find either a "train" only hobby shop, or one that is just about that way. Since I don't know where you are exactly, here are three stores listed for Kansas in the back of Model Railroad magazine.

    1)Kansas City Area
    J's Hobby Haven
    5303 Johnson Drive (913) 432-8820

    2) Topeka
    Fun For All Hobbies
    2033 S.W. Gage Blvd (785) 272-5772

    3) Wichita
    Engine House Hobbies
    2745 Boulevard Plz 1 - 800 - 586-4443

    The best thing you can do is stay away from "Train sets". There are some good ones out there, but most have a bad power pack, a crappy engine and cheap cars. Also don't be shy about buying a good used engine. A good engine used is better than the best cheap engine. An old saying that really applies to model railroading goes - " Buy the cheapest of the best, not the best of the cheapest."

    Don't be afraid to start slow - that way when you do buy it will be quality.

    And now some cheap ways to get your son interested - this will work I guarantee you. Go rail fanning with him. Start a thread called "Looking for good rail fan locations in Kansas" or where ever home is and request some good locations and good times to go. Then go with him and spend an hour or two there - bring pop. On the way back, hit Mc Donalds for a cheapie snack. Do the Mc Donalds thing or equivalent every time you go out - he will soon enjoy it.

    Buy Model Railroad magazines. Better still, if at one of these stores they have cheap older MR (Model Railroader) magazines, get those. As some one once pointed out, the magazine isn't "used" until you have read it.

    When you buy from the store, tell the clerk or owner you want a "good runner" when you buy an engine. Print this out and take it with you to the store - show it to the clerk. I can't stress enough, if there is something good "used" buy it. Half my engines are "pre-owned."

    As you say, you want a hobby that will stick with him. The normal "teen" profile of a teen in the hobby goes something like this: teen gets into hobby and loves it, teen stays active until leaving home or college. Young adult meets his wife, has kids and moves on, not thinking of trains. Then around 35 - 45 years of age he goes to a train show, buys a Model Railroad magazine or sees some ones layout and their interest is rekindled. He is then in the hobby for life. Of course, some never leave it. I didn't get into it until I was 47 and it brought my son and I very close together. Lots of rail fanning and wonderful memories, many times of sharing while sitting around waiting for trains to show. Camping in camp grounds close to train tracks. Learn the hobby with your son and you will have a very close relationship, I promise.

    Oh and one last thing, almost any kid that gets into the hobby turns out okay - (no jail time and things like that). Somehow the hobby keeps their time and minds occupied.

    I'm editing this in: Let your son choose the track plan, but maybe a visit or two the train store first to get the feel of prices - then with the budget you have, let him choose a plan. It is important that he choose it.
  4. BillB

    BillB Guest

    Hi Sherri -

    You didn't say what scale loco you were intersted in. For younger folk I would say HO is the way to go (scale is 1:87). HO is (still) the most common modeling scale, and there are lots of locos and cars (rolling stock) to choose from.

    The other major scale is N scale.
    (for "nano-" - no, just kidding)
    At 1:160, it is about half the size of HO models.

    Some of my impressions on HO scale plastic locomotives:

    The "best" diesel locos, for superior detail and running ability are the Atlas Masters and Katos. But they are expensive - about $100 discounted.

    Next comes Life-Like Proto 2000 (P2K), Atlas Classics, Stewarts, and Athearn Genesis. Still very good detail, but the drives (motors) are not quite as "smooth" as a Kato or Atlas Master.

    Life-Like Proto 1000 (P1K) and Athearn "Blue box" (kit) or "Ready-to-roll" (R-T-R, already built) come next - less detail, but very trustworthy (if not as smooth) drives.

    To avoid: Bachmann diesels, Tyco, Life-Like (generic), and especially Model Power!

    If your son is interested in steam locomotives, some of the best are the Bachmann Spectrum 2-8-0 and the new (and very expensive!) Broadways. The P2K diesels are also good (but also expensive). Athearn Genesis steamers have good detail, run smooth, but have very little pulling power (can run with only a few cars).

    I would suggest for starting out to try Athearn Blue Box or R-T-R and save the more expenive locos for your son to grow into after having some MRR experiance. You can buy these individually (and so can choose what exact loco and rolling stock you want) or in a set (I would avoid the "John Deere" and other such loco sets that have no basis in the real world. Athearn does make an AMTRAK set that I have seen, and other major railroads (UP, BNSF, CN, etc) might be available (I don't look at sets much). The Athearn sets come with Bachmann E-Z track, which plug together - a good way to start, as Andrew said.

    DO go to a REAL MRR hobby store to look about and ask questions - check the yellow pages for your area. Avoid generic hobby stores - the Hobbytowns, Hobby Lobbys, etc. tend to sell lower quality stuff or have less selection. And the clerks are usually not very knowledgable. But at the MRR stores, do look out for high prices! I was in the Wichita store and their prices in general were much too high! Shop around (or you can always ask us for the going discount price for a particular model). We can also give you the web sites for internet dealers, if you want.

    This is a GREAT hobby, and could be one that gives your son a lot of enjoyment for his entire life!

    Good luck with the shopping !!!

    - Bill
  5. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Feb 3, 2003
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    Being relatively new to the hobby myself, and having raised a few boys, I can only offer you the following based on my experiences.

    You can spend hundreds of dollars on just one locomotive or accessory, but I wouldn't recommend anything close to that for starters. You can buy an inexpensive set for under $100 complete with an engine, cars, track, power pack and maybe a few accessories. Yeah, all you have is a train set that goes in a circle and the power pack will be kinda cheap, but you have to start somewhere to see if this keeps the interest. I started off with one of these in HO scale, ran it for a few hours and found it took a lot of space to do what I wanted, and I went and got another inexpesive set in N scale plus a couple of structure kits. I found I could work easily in that scale so I started to build on that. Since N is about half the size of HO, I can get the same amount of track and scenery in one quarter the space. Only one consideration you need to think about.

    There are a lot of good books and magazines on the subject you can find at your local hobby shop, and a lot of experienced help both there and on-line. If your preference is buying on-line, there are literally dozens of stores that you can get information from and purchase anything you would need, and a bunch of forums like this for getting help and seeing what others are doing. Although, I have to admit, this is one of the best around.

    When your 11 year old gets his first car, I'm sure it's not going to be a Cadillac. The same goes for a hobby. It's fun, rewarding and teaches skills beyond modeling, but like anything new, ease into it to be sure it the right thing for you both. I can't count how many things our boys got started on and dropped cold before they found their nitch.

    One of our boys strayed and I can tell you first hand, anything you spend on a hobby pales in comparison to what you will spend both financially and emotionally when a child goes off on the wrong path. You are doing the right thing.

    Good luck,

  6. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Aug 15, 2002
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    Great choice in hobbies! I was around 10 I guess when I started my first HO scale layout. Before that I had what amounted to toy trains.

    As mentioned, the first choice to make is scale. HO is most popular, has the most available for it and is reasonably priced. If you can dedicate a spare bedroom large enough for a 4 X 8 ft. sheet of plywood and a couple of people, or better yet a corner in the basement or garage, HO is probably the best place to start. If space is a concern or you need a portable layout that can be taken down at times, N is the clear choice. A 2 X 4 ft. layout in N is equivelant to an 4 X 8 in HO, in just 1/4 the area. We have some folks here planning portable layouts in N on old interior doors, which are strong and lightweight.

    N scale door layout

    The next thing would be to try to get some exposure to others, and get the ideas flowing (dreaming it up). Model railroading is a game of immagination, expressed in a 3D model for all to see. A subscription to Model Railroader or some supervised web surfing will help him get his immagination working overtime! The NMRA has a lot of useful information and a good Beginners Section that probably covers this very topic better than I. If you want to see some fine workmanship, the Photography Section here on the-gauge, is full of fantastic examples of what can be done. A lot of gauge members have their own websites linked on this Unofficial Members Links Page. Please note that although our members are fine people, their websites are not verified or approved by me or the-gauge, and I suggest adult supervision whenever a child is on the internet.

    Fianlly on the expense of the hobby, it certainly can be expensive, but a prudent shopper can keep costs down. There are bargains to be had at places like Trainworld where they currently have two high quality Proto2000 locomotives for $30 each in their Closeouts Section and some very inexpensive Pola Building Kits. Use of common inexpensive materials to build things has been a tradition in modelrailroading that goes back to before WW2.

    This is a hobby that will get him hands on experiance with art, engineering, electronics, and wood working. It teaches patiance, planning and self disiplin. But most of all it's FUN! Let me know if there's any way I can help.
  7. sumpter250

    sumpter250 multiscale modelbuilder

    Jan 19, 2002
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    Your son " likes to put things together", so, without additional information, like, he likes to build car models, or plane models, I'll go on the assumption that he likes the building/assembling, as opposed to the final product. In this case I can't think of a better hobby than Model Railroading. Chosing this hobby lets the modelbuilder do it all. Trains, buildings, cars, planes, scenery, bridges, and much, much more.
    There are several of us here on the gauge who have shown some of our beginning work, and first layouts. It might help overcome the frustration that comes with "not being as accomplished", to see what our first attempts looked like.
    He will need encouragement, it was my mother who was most supportive of my modelbuilding. Taking the time to point out how things look, in the real world, why those things are "interesting",
    will help develope the awareness of the small details, which will help the modeling process. At 11, he will most likely need financial help as well.
    Finally, when you set up the parental controls on the internet access, make sure he can get to the gauge. There are really good people here who can answer questions, and teach, and support.
    "The worlds greatest hobby" isn't just corporate promotion, for the development of artistic skills, a healthy inquisitiveness about the world around us, and the comradery of good people, model railroading has a lot going for it. Hope you and your son, enjoy being part of it.
  8. TR-Flyer

    TR-Flyer Member

    Nov 25, 2001
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    Hi Sherri:
    Great hobby. Lots o' ways to get involved. A lot depends on your son.
    1. Is he careful or rough with his things. N & HO equipment is not real sturdy, i.e. they have a lot of fine detail that can be easily broken. S and O gauge equipment is larger and sturdier. Check out the "All Gauge Page" listed by rsn48 to see more about the different gauges and what that means. It's also just a great site.

    2. He likes to build things, does that mean he has the patience to work on something for several days in order to get it built or is he more the type to buy it, build it and play with it the same day? If he's a "patient" builder, then look into kits, used equpment, and "buying things "a la carte". If he's more a "play with it" kind of guy then look into ready to run (RTR) stuff so he'll get hooked on the action. Then maybe he'll want to start buying RTR "a la carte" and then work his way into kit building so he can get just what he wants. In any gauge, the greatest variety of stuff is kit built or scratch built.

    3. If he's a "runner" more than a scale modeller, S & O gauge have lots of operating accessories. Car loaders, whistles, blinking lights, etc. These are mostly RTR and add a lot of fun to a layout.

    4. There's a Great American Train Show coming to Witchita in November. At a show like this you will see a number of working layouts and probably 100-200 vendors selling equpment, memoribilia, etc. It's a great place to see just how many options there are in the hobby. Also a good place to buy equipment, used and new. Try and check it out if at all possible. You'll never find a hobby shop as big as a GATS show.


    Let us hear from you. If you give us some more info we can give you some more info.

  9. yellowlynn

    yellowlynn Member

    Jul 8, 2001
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    You can look around at hobby shops for used and so on, but I can do you one better. I have about 40-45 locos I want to sell off. Kansas shouldn't be too expensive postage. I have Bachmann, LL, Athearn, P2k, and Atlas. I will send you at least 2 locos, several cars, track, (not the best, but works ), several cheapo power packs, and, I believe I have several bldgs that need putting together. I will send this to you for cost of postage only. If anything fails to work once you recieve it, I will replace at my expence.

    I am 73, have too much, and a very soft spot in my heart for kids. I have done this in the past and the pleasure is mine. If you can do better locally, jump on it, and no hurt feelings.

  10. Clerk

    Clerk Active Member

    Nov 6, 2002
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    Hi Sherri.
    Welcome to the Gauge.

    You have just received some of the best advise possible from some great guys. Think very hard on it.

    Also, you can't go wrong with Lynns deal. If I had a 11 year old boy, I would jump at his offer. I have seen his posts' on here a number of times and have great respect for him.
  11. BillB

    BillB Guest

    Sherri -

    I second Clerk's comments about Lynn - he is a fine gentleman, widely known on the MRR forums. Sounds like a good offer to me!

    You might also let your son investigate some of the other MRRing forums other than "The Gauge". Each forum has it's own "flavor" - and sometimes some arguements, but some of the most knowledgable (and nice) MRR folk hang out there!

    Besides this forum (perhaps the most friendly of the bunch), my other favorites are:

    The Atlas forum (they discuss all aspect of MRRing, just not Atlas products - and you will quickly find out what people think of a new model there!):


    Then there is Trainorders - you can get good modeling info there on their MRR forum. There are also other forums on the various real railroads (AMTRAK, for example), and also train "news" of the day about real railroading. You can look for free, but it costs ($7) to join the discussion (and get some web space to store digital photos, etc.):


    (PS - TOs seems to be down right now - try later!)

    You might check them (and the Gauge) out yourself to see if they will work for your son's age. But it helps to have folk to talk to and especially to ask questions from when you are a beginner (or even a older modeler!).

    There are also forums about DCC (digital command and control), when your son gets into it (Digitrax, one DCC maker, has a great forum that answers all my questions!).

    Good luck with the hobby!
  12. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Aug 15, 2002
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    Re: trains

    Rock on Lynn, the world needs more of you. If you can turn one kid on to trains and off to drugs, it's all worth it. Three thumbs up to you!
  13. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Mar 25, 2002
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    Hi, Sherri.
    I just want to say that my first Lionel set, 1953, very much middle of the pack, cost $57. Doesn't sound much now, but at that time, my father was paying $55 a month rent.
    You will find that quality generally goes up with price (or is it the other way around), but that quality also means finer and more fragile.
    Model railroading is a terrific grounding for learning about mathematics, physics, art, geology and geography, business, mechanics and engineering; heck, it's the centre of the universe around which everything else revolves!