Category Archives: Holidays

10 ways to prepare and maintain your holiday train

Many of us, even seasoned modelers, have trains we bring out only for the holidays. After all, what’s a Christmas tree without a holiday train running ’round it? It’s a tradition that can be traced back over 150 years. But, to make sure it keeps running reliably there are a few preparation steps you may consider to keep the fun rolling under the tree or for any temporary setup!

  1. Carefully unpack and inspect your train for any damage

Even the most rugged model train is subject to damage in storage. Its box may get kicked, dropped, wet or crushed and the train inside can be damaged, which is common. Check the couplers to see if they’re all there. Re-position dislodged wheel sets. If present, clean off smoke fluid that may have seeped out. Make sure to remove Styrofoam bubbles, paper scraps, foam rubber crumbs and anything else that may stick to your train or track.

  1. Inspect and clean the track

As with the trains, track needs attention to ensure reliability. Inspect for missing joiners, broken clips on roadbed track, loose rails, bent rails and other defects and replace broken parts or sections. Clean the railheads – even though they may appear clean, they may have a thin film of corrosion or dirt (especially in high-humidity regions), and it’s easier to clean them before assembly than crawling under the tree! If you’re not sure which cleaner to use, here’s a link to a variety of cleaners for model trains.

  1. Clean and lube your locomotive

Take a closer look at the underside of your locomotive or trolley. Clean out visible dust, pet hair, carpet fibers, tinsel, glitter, tree skirting and lint. If you find fibers wrapped around exposed gearing or wheels and axles remove it with a toothpick, dental pick or small tweezers. Clean the wheel tread for electrical reliability. If your train has a smoke unit, make sure to inspect for fluid that has leeched out and clean it off. If you’re not sure what to use check out the cleaner link above for a few suggestions.

Sometimes, but seldom, locomotives need light lubrication. Plastic-compatible lubricants must always be used and they should be applied sparingly only to exposed gearing as noted in the lubrication instructions of your locomotive. One drop is normally enough, too much can cause electrical problems and can attract lint and dirt.

  1. Inspect your power pack

Safety is the most important thing to consider. Make sure all of the wires are in good condition with no fraying or missing insulation. If you find a problem you may need to replace the power pack or wires.

  1. Freight and passenger cars need love too

While rolling stock simply follows along, cars have their own maintenance needs. Check for fibers and debris on the wheels and axles and remove them as you would on a locomotive. If the cars are lighted you may want to clean the wheels the same as you might clean loco wheels.

  1. Test run

Before you set up your entire layout hook up your power pack to a couple of pieces of track and test run your locomotive and cars back and forth to make sure everything works. Check the couplers and make sure they stay together, if not then repair or replace. If you have a smoke unit, add fluid according to the manufacturers’ instructions.

  1. Clear the way

Setting up track is much easier with plenty of space to work. Many folks set up the track before setting up the tree, and some set everything up on a board. For best results choose a level, or near-level surface. Make sure to leave a few inches clearance above the train and any tree branches and ornaments. Keep tinsel (especially metal tinsel which can cause electrical shorts) far, far away. Also keep Christmas village buildings and scenery at least two inches away on either side.

  1. Set up your track and hook up your power pack

Roadbed-style track (with a simulated ballast base) can be set up on any surface including carpet with no bad effects on your trains. If you have conventional track (you can see through the spaces between the ties and rails) consider inserting wood, cardboard or even tape that’s wider than the track to provide a fiber-free surface. Just a single carpet or tree skirt fiber, or tinsel can ruin a locomotive if it gets caught in the mechanism. Here’s a hint for reliability: if you’re using conventional track try a piece of duct tape on the underside of six or eight ties at each track joint to hold the pieces together as the track moves under the weight of the passing trains.

  1. Get your trains on the line

When you’re satisfied with your track layout go ahead and put your trains on the track. If you find that the tree, buildings, presents or other decorations make rerailing the trains difficult consider a rerailer track (you may have one already) or rerailing tool. Here’s an assortment of rerailing tracks and tools.  Although there are many choices you may consider a ramp-style rerailer to help with rerailing cars in the limited confines of space under the tree.

  1. Run like Rudolph!

Crack open the throttle and let your trains run! For safety, keep an eye out for obstructions as presents get moved around and track shifts on soft surfaces.

The tradition of having a holiday train is one that still exists because it’s fun. Keeping those trains running takes a little bit of work and when done correctly can make the holiday train even more fun. If you’re considering a holiday train for the first time or giving one as a gift, consider starting with a train-set.

Holiday Gift Guide for Railroad Modelers

With the holidays upon us it’s time to start thinking about appropriate gifts. While it’s always the most fun to give a gift that will be appreciated, treasured or used regularly, gifts for model railroaders, or any hobbyist for that matter, can be tricky. If you’re not a train modeler or enthusiast it can be especially challenging, so if you would like to save a lot of time, consider a Walthers gift certificate, or to put more effort into the giving experience here are some tips to make gift giving for your favorite railroader a rewarding experience.

To begin with, make an effort to observe where your gift recipient’s interests lay within the hobby. Are they getting, or did they just get started with a train set? Do they only set up their train around the tree at Christmas? Do they have a small layout? Do they have a large model railroad empire? Is there a specific railroad, location or era (steam locos, diesel, modern/current era, somewhere in the middle) he or she is interested in? Do they only collect models? Finally, and this one is very important, what scale trains do they have interest in? Asking some questions upfront can go a long way towards holiday success.

Starting out – Holiday gifts for beginners

A train around the Christmas tree, winding its way through a Christmas village is a long standing tradition that dates back to the 1800s. It’s also a fun part of decorating a Christmas tree and it’s where many kids see their first toy train set! As a starting point for purchasing a train set check out the Walthers Holiday Gift Guide. This selection of kids’ sets, starter sets as well as train-only sets offers trains in all scales covering a variety of interests. Not sure of some of the features and benefits of the sets? Check out the Train Set advisor for some tips and information about train sets.

Train sets are also the most common way people get started in the hobby. They provide the basics – a train, track, power pack and perhaps some accessory buildings and scenery. Often, interest in model trains starts with toy trains at the holidays. Thinking of giving a train set as the beginning of a layout or long-term hobby? Make sure the train set is compatible with supporting products like extra locomotives, cars, track, buildings and scenery.

Does your railroader already have some trains?

Beginning hobbyists and those building their first layout are relatively easy to buy for since they don’t yet have a lot of materials for their railroads. They already have some trains or know they want something more than a starter set. Extra locos, cars, track, vehicles as well as scenery materials and other accessories are all fun gifts. If you’re looking for these add-ons, the MOST important thing is to find out the scale of trains they already have – trains of the wrong size simply won’t work.

Again, train-only sets are a great option since they provide extra locomotives and cars without the track. Another great choice for those who have interests beyond their train set is a how-to book about various modeling subjects. There is no end to the options for reading about trains.

Beyond beginners

So, your favorite modeler has been into trains for a while. Model railroaders who are past the beginning stage have already developed an interest in the hobby. Do they keep their trains set up all year long – a permanent layout? By now they know what they want or need. If not, are they in a train club that has a layout where they run their trains?

As far as gifts go, again, choosing the correct scale is very important. If they are already building a layout perhaps scenery, details and other accessories will be appreciated. Of course, more trains always make great model railroad gifts. Model railroaders in this group will also tend to be replicating railroads from specific parts of the country or even road names, locations, and periods in time.

Longtime modelers

Seasoned model railroaders typically know exactly what they need for their collection, layout or other railroad interest. Chances are they may have even refined their interests to a specific kind of train, era, location or railroad name. The train-only sets, Christmas-themed items and accessories are a whimsical way to give a dyed-in-the-wool model railroader a gift. If you know their specific railroad interests there are plenty of books about real railroads.

Not a modeler, just likes trains?

Anything train related is a sure bet for the train lover on your list. They enjoy real railroads, seasonal trains, railroad themes, history and motifs, but may not have model trains. Books, puzzles, calendars and more are shown on our Books, Videos and Railroadiana pages. Anything train related is a sure bet for the train lover on your list.

Something for everybody

Finally, there are some gifts that all train enthusiasts will like. The Walthers 2018 Reference Book is the source for all kinds of HO, N and Z Scale trains, buildings, vehicles and accessories. But, thousands of all-scale products such as adhesives, tools, scenery materials and scratch building supplies usable in any modeling scale as well as for some crafts and diorama projects are also shown. Still unsure of their interests? Walthers also offers gift certificates usable for anything we make or sell.

So you see, there are literally millions of options when buying for the model railroader on your list, visit your local hobby shop, go to a model railroad show, or to buy the gift that makes their holiday special.