WHOOP! WHOOP! NEWB ALERT! THIS IS NOT A DRILL! So I'm basically a big newb when it comes to model trains, which is funny considering our family history. Some brief background might be in order, which has very little to do with my questions, but it seems you all like stories about how people get started. You can skip past the back story below if you want. <backstory> Model trains have basically been a family tradition on my dad's side. Him and my uncles, as well as several of my cousins, are all into them in varying degrees. My cousins (as well as my dad) mainly like to put them up at Christmas time, whereas one of my uncles (we call him the "crazy" one) maintains one or more semi-permanent layouts on a regular basis. I always enjoyed them, but I was never really into doing them myself. That is, until we visited my "crazy" uncle this year and he had two very nice N scale layouts going (he gets into the whole modelling aspect like building mountains out of Styrofoam, etc). For some reason, I got "the itch" this time. I mentioned to my mom that this was something I could see myself doing when I was retired as a fun hobby, but she said if I wanted to get into it, I should learn all about it and start doing it now while I still have the family "experts" around to learn from. I started looking up some things about it, and I stumbled across the invention of DCC. Up until this point, I had no idea something like this existed. Now I'm a computer guy. In fact, I went to school for computer science. While I was there, I did a microprogramming course where we used a computer to control a block-wired traditional DC layout with 2 engines to make the engines run overlapping routes while tracking them without crashing into each other. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun with that project! So here I am learning that they've basically come up with a way of doing the same thing now, but easier and better. This pretty much sold me on getting into this now. Plus, it opens up a whole new world of potential Christmas/birthday presents for future years. My mother is always complaining she doesn't know what to get me... Now my "crazy" uncle runs basically everything under the sun (from N up to G scale), but the rest of my family is pretty much set on O scale in general, and O27 specifically. I think this comes from the Christmas tradition, since O scale is usually the "around the Christmas Tree" scale of choice, even though they do several loops with a few turnouts and side routes. When I started thinking about beginning my own collection, I had to choose a scale (three guesses what I chose, since I'm in this forum). I've never really liked N scale, as it's too small and difficult to work with for me, as well as operationally finicky. O is nice for good detail on the trains themselves, but my main attraction to the trains was always the layout itself. I loved those intricate layouts running half a dozen trains with several main loops and turnouts, along with yards and sidings for shunting. O is a problem for doing this kind of work because it takes a lot of space for something like that. Couple that with the fact that HO is the most popular scale, and thus the easiest to find a huge variety of solid stuff, and I basically made my choice right there. </backstory> Now for the relevant stuff! I understand the technical details of what's going on with DCC and I definitely want to go that route, but where I'm in basically uncharted territory is when it comes to physical track and the trains, which I thought was the easy part. One of the things I really liked about the O27 scale stuff my family did was that laying the track was really fast and easy. Just slap it down on plywood and screw it in place. But for HO, now I'm looking at having to lay roadbed down first. I've read about things like EZ-Track and it comes not recommended from what I can tell. Plain old-fashioned cork seems to be the bed of choice around here. Now, I'm not that concerned with prototypical realism here. I don't really care if the roadbed looks realistic or not, I'm more interested in the layout itself and controlling it. This leads to my first question. Is the cork roadbed necessary? What's to stop you from just putting the track on plywood, for example? If having the track placed on cork is beneficial for a particular reason, what about if I just had a sheet of cork on top of a sheet of plywood for simplicity and ease of installation? At least that way I wouldn't have to worry about trying to make cork cutouts for funny shapes. Also, it seems you usually use tacks to pin the track to the cork? I'm wondering if there is a specific brand/size that is good to use for this as well. I've heard good things about Atlas track, as people seem to like their "flex track". I'm a little confused as to what exactly this is (as in materials, I understand that it's bendable), and what the best brands of track are for HO scale. The second question is with regards to engines. I've seen plenty about Atlas in particular, seems they make good beginner engines to use? Like I said, insanely detailed and realistic models are not a big priority for me, at least not right now. I want to get started quickly and easily. The only thing I absolutely need is that the engine be DCC-ready/equipped. From my DCC research, it sounds like I'm definitely going with a Digitrax setup, since I really like their network-oriented system architecture (remember, I'm a computer guy ) and the transponding capabilities are definitely what I want for layout control and automation eventually. The only thing about this is that I need a Digitrax decoder in the engine! Now, all their recent decoders are transponder-ready, so ideally I'd like an engine that has one of these in it already, or has one of those standard slots where I can easily drop one in. If anybody has personal experience with these decoders and decoder-ready engines, your advice would be greatly appreciated! So that's my current questions. My apologies for the lengthy post, I hope I didn't bore you to death and prevent you from giving me any insights! Big thanks in advance, I'm very much looking forward to spending some quality time with this hobby.