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How To Make Your Model Railroad Look Real

Aug 18, 2007
It is important when you go to the trouble of building a model railroad that the finished product looks real. The primary way to do this is to work to a plan and consider the essential characteristics of your particular railroad.

The choice you make about the layout of your track will depend not only on the available space but on the work you want your railroad to do. At first it will be enough just to have the locomotive pull cars around, pass onto a siding, switch onto a branch line. You have a toy train with a wide choice of powerful locomotives, dozens of accurate, scale-modeled cars, and so many interesting accessories and buildings that you can keep your budget unbalanced for months. Isn't that enough, you ask?

Of course it is enough to give you countless hours of pleasure. But you can increase that pleasure and extend it for years by developing your model railroad so that it has a special character, a personality of its own - a personality that is a reflection of you. A model railroad is a toy, yes, but it is much more than that, as dozens of bankers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, truck drivers, bookkeepers, salesmen, and just plain people, young and old, will testify.

You and a few hundred thousand other model railroaders have made the manufacturers of trains fit their products to your plans in demanding realism from them - track that looks like real railroad track, cars and locomotives scaled so they look like real cars and locomotives. You enjoy these things and smoke and the choo-choo sounds because they reproduce the real thing. Your pleasure will be increased if you make your layout and your handling of trains reproduce, as closely as possible, the real thing. You can do this if you have a plan.

Your plan need not be rigid and inflexible. It should be made to increase the joy of railroading, not to hamper or reduce it. A plan can save you time, work, and money.

One of the first buildings for your pike will be a station. If you are handy with tools, you may want to make your own, but if not you will buy one of the beautiful stations put out by the manufacturer of your train. You will find in your hobby store stations large and small, old-fashioned and modern. Which one will you purchase?

Knowing the character of your railroad, having a plan for its development, will help you decide what accessories you need. If your pike is going to be laid in farming country, for instance, you will not want a large city terminal, but a smaller way station.

No matter how fascinating you find the talking station that announces the destination of your train and calls, 'All aboard' you will know that it does not really fit if you have only a freight train. Instead, you will want a freight station, and if you like movement you can get one with a loading device that lifts heavy crates onto your flatcars and gondola cars.

With all of your accessories, buildings, and scenery, the same question will present itself - what fits your particular railroad as you create it? You may plan to have your system carry out all kinds of operations eventually, with both passenger and freight trains, the latter carrying many different kinds of material. This follows the practice of most real railroads and is all right, provided you have space for enough track with appropriate buildings and terrain.

However, there should be some dominant aspect of your railroad's work. This is true of most real railroads, even when they carry on many different kinds of work. The Erie, for instance, is known primarily as a freight road, the Chesapeake and Ohio as a coal-carrying road, the Long Island as a commuters' line.

There are systems whose biggest volume of business comes from carrying cattle, others factory goods, still others wood pulp or perishable foods or oil. These primary functions give a certain character to the different railroads, no matter how many other things they also do.

By considering the functions of your particular railroad you can build a railroad that looks as real as you can possible make it.
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