Category Archives: How-To

Give a young person a gift that will last a lifetime by introducing them to model trains.

Model Trains

We here at Walthers believe model railroading is the world’s greatest hobby and we love to help bring others aboard. Model trains have been around for nearly 100 years and have seen changes that have taken the level of sophistication and accuracy to new heights never dreamed of before. What used to take many of hours of work can now be purchased off the shelf at your local hobby shop or ordered online from one of hundreds of different retailers.

Why so popular?

Model railroading has so many facets as a hobby. Engineering, electronics, sculpting, carpentry, history, teamwork, and exceptional creativity. This makes it very appealing to creative and intelligent people who love watching the giant machines roll down the tracks. They want to preserve the awe struck feeling they have every time a behemoth locomotives pulls its cars past. For some there is a specific place in time they wish to capture, for others its specific models of locomotives and cars…right down to the engine and car numbers. All over the country people have these same memories that they share with each other, building bonds that last a lifetime. For some people, they like to create the world in a way they would like to see it — a world of their own design.

Historical HO Scale Model Trains

Model trains preserve history

Real trains, like everything else in this technologically driven world, are changing very quickly. But for many modelers, preserving the past is a key part of their hobby fun; while an actual steam locomotive may have been scrapped decades ago, a three-dimensional working miniature becomes a snapshot in time like no other.

Why hobbies are so important to people

Hobbies are very important, because without them we live day-to-day habit-filled lives that don’t give us much escape. Hobbies, especially model trains, provide many positive experiences and effects:

  1. 1. Meeting new people
  2. 2. Experiencing new things
  3. 3. Building self-esteem and worth
  4. 4. Flexibility and creative satisfaction
  5. 5. Clearing your mind
  6. 6. Having something to look forward to
  7. 7. Setting and accomplishing goals

Model Railroading is a great hobby because it will give you an opportunity to relax and build skills at the same time while expressing yourself in fantastic ways.

Father and sons working on a model train layout

Share the love for model trains

Connecting with family is also much easier when common interests are shared and enjoyed. Model trains appeal to curious young people who enjoy solving problems, and have an eye for detail and like to challenge themselves to acquire new skills and learn new things.

Imagine how much fun it can be to enlist and receive help from a young person on a part of your layout or a kit project. Nearly every skill that can help young people develop can be found working with model trains.

Toddler boy playing with thomas model train

A great way to start

Simply throwing young people at an existing layout can be stressful for everyone involved — kids are inclined to touch things – as are a lot of adults. Instead of using your prized models, make the investment in some basic equipment everyone can share. A few minutes spent learning how to handle and operate less fragile cars and locos now can really pay off down the tracks, opening the doors to helping them start their own model railroad. So, where should you begin?

First buy a set, you can find hundreds of train sets on walthers.com.

Expand the basic track from just an oval to something a little bigger by adding a track expansion set.

Take a couple of hours and build a model railroad layout base with grass mat together, or buy a kit like this one from Woodland Scenics.

Add some landscaping or points of interest.

Add some structures using kits or pre-built buildings.

From there, the sky is the limit. As young people grow their interest in model trains will grow as well and before you know it they’ll be teaching you things!

More information

The places to find model railroad information are abundant with programs across the country designed to help get young people into the hobby. There are also programs and websites to help kids who are already engaged in the hobby. Model railroad museums around the country are great places for young people to really get a look at mature layouts.  Milwaukee’s Trainfest and other model train shows have programs that help young people get involved. Each year young people absolutely love the layouts at model train shows. Online articles like this one and several forums are also great places to find information to bring young people into the hobby of model trains. More and more social media content around the hobby is being developed as well as video.

Walthers is leading the efforts to bring younger people into model trains. If you have ideas that you’d like to share with us on how to find success while getting young people involved in the hobby or if you are currently helping to pass along your love of model trains, send us your thoughts to growthehobby@walthers.com

We love hearing from and learning from you! Some of your ideas may be featured in future blog posts or features here at Walthers. We are committed to this cause, and know that some of the very best ideas come from you!

John Tews Cornerstone® Engineered Bridge System Project

Summer is often the busiest time of year for construction work along prototype railroads, and for modelers it’s a perfect time to begin those bigger modeling projects before the fall rush!

John Tews from nearby Sussex, Wisconsin, recently finished rebuilding and expanding part of his HO Scale Timber River Railway with new Walthers Cornerstone® Engineered Bridge System kits. Local railfans and the company photographer were on hand to document the project from start to finish in the following photos… John, take it away!

 

My Timber River Railway is a point-to-point layout set in 1974 that connects the iron range of Minnesota with the ore docks in the Duluth-Superior harbor. Heavy coal, taconite and iron ore trains make up the bulk of traffic, but we also run various local jobs as well as Amtrak service. For years I’ve hosted regular operating sessions, but casual visitors like to see trains in action without stopping and starting. While I’d install removable “bridges” to permit access to the railroad there was no continuous run trackage available for display. Giving some thought to a permanent solution, I dispatched a TRR survey crew who found a suitable location near Emco Junction. A check with a 6′ level showed only a 1/4″ difference in elevation between County Shops Siding and the Chisholm Yard. The proposed route provided an easy grade for long, heavy trains and a continuous run for visitors.

 

Walthers would like to thank Mr. Tews for his contribution to our blog and the hobby. About the author…

Celebrating its 50th year of operations this summer, John Tews’ HO Scale Timber River Railway continues to inspire modelers worldwide. An active member of the National Model Railroad Association, John achieved Master Model Railroader certification in 2002, and is well known for his 20+ years as Executive Director of Milwaukee’s own Trainfest®. John and his layout have been featured in numerous magazine articles and videos, as well as recent Walthers Showroom Updates. Retired after 36 years with Wisconsin Electric, John, his wife and two dogs make their home in nearby Sussex, Wisconsin.

Tips and Tricks for Searching Walthers.com

 

Our mission here at Walthers is to provide everything you need to build a great model railroad. One of the ways to ensure we fulfill that mission is to make our catalog of products easily accessible to our online customers. As a service to those of you who enjoy browsing or shopping our online catalog, we’ve provided a few simple tips and tricks for searching Walthers.com.

Basic Search

On your desktop, the easiest, most efficient way for you to find a product is to enter the exact name (Merchant’s RowI) or SKU number (ex: 933-3028) into the search bar on our main page. Unfortunately you may not always have access to that information, or you might only have a general idea of the product you’re looking for. In these instances, start with the most basic search term, such as, “locomotives.”

At the time of publication, searching for “locomotives” on Walthers.com issues over 10,000 results. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who have their product pop up on the first page, you’ll want to utilize the search filter to narrow down your results.

Whether or not you have a specific item in mind for purchase, chances are you know which scale you’ll be buying. If you’re buying a gift, or are unsure of the scale you need to buy, navigate to the “Getting Started” page on our website, under “Resources,” for a quick Scale Reference guide.

Drop down the Scale arrow and choose the size you’re modeling. After deciding your scale, there are a few different options for narrowing your results further. Perhaps you’re modeling a particular railroad, in which case, filtering by Road Name would be your best option. If you tend to favor a particular brand, you can search by Manufacturer Name.

For purposes of this article, we’ll search for the Roadname Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe.

Our product results have went from over 10,000, down to a more manageable 243 locomotives. From here, you can filter by Price, Sound (DCC), and Category (Diesel, Rail Car, or Steam). If you’d like your train to ship as soon as possible, filter your results by choosing in stock items only.

Now that we’re showing in-stock items, you can browse through the individual results, or refine your search for items on sale.

If you’re happy with the search results, go ahead and click on the product to learn more or place an order. If you’d like to see a wider variety of products, you can eliminate select filtered criteria.

For example, perhaps waiting for an item to come into stock isn’t an issue, or it’s not necessary that the item to be on sale. Uncheck the boxes to populate larger results.

This brings the search results back up to 243, giving you a wider variety of locomotives to choose from. We’re no longer exclusively showing items on sale, but if you’re conscious about price, you can utilize the “Sort By” filter, located on the upper right hand side of the results, to organize products from least to most expensive.

You’ll see the displayed products went from more than $300 down to roughly $40. Maybe you’re looking to invest a little more into your layout, and you budgeted $250 for this locomotive. Head over to the filters and select a price range of $100 – $250 to see what that price range delivers.

Once you’re in a price range you’re comfortable with, you can either browse through the results, or select a Manufacturer Name. We’ll select WalthersProto(R).

Again, you can now sort by price, best match, or click on a specific item to purchase. The combinations of what and how you can search are many. You can quickly drill down the results when looking for a particular product, or you can use the interactive filters to explore new additions to your layout.

Advanced Search

When you know that you want a particular product and don’t have the product name or SKU #, the Advanced Search is an efficient way to narrow down item choices. (is it the best option or simply a different option, based upon preference?). It provides the same search parameters as the filter search, but you’re able to check all your boxes at once for a streamlined process. You can also search for discontinued products here, by checking the “Include discontinued out of stock products” box.

Start an advanced search by clicking on the Advanced Search link under the search bar on the main page.

For this example we will use some of the same search filters as the previous exercise, and choose locomotives for the Category, HO from Scale, enter Santa Fe under Keywords, and we’ll pick only in stock and on sale items.

Upon pressing the search button the site quickly displays items meeting your outlined criteria, without choosing each filter individually.

Wild Card Search

Another way to search Walthers.com is by using a wild card search. Say you have one of the WalthersMainline(R) PS-1 boxcars and you’d like another. Looking at the box you see the number series is in the 910-23xx series. In the search box you can simply enter “910-23* PS-1” and the result will be all of the cars numbered in this series.

But, say you simply want more WalthersMainline 40′ boxcars, regardless of body variation. You can simply put in “910-* 40′ boxcar” and they’ll all come up as results, plus possibly a few other items towards the end that contain the word “boxcar” in the description.

We hope these help get you to what you’re looking for faster, and opens up the ability to explore even more product for your railroad. If you would like additional search tips and tricks, click here for more information.

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.

Choosing the Right Model Railroad Track

Model Railroad Track – Choices are plentiful, which is right for you?

Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned modeler, every model railroad needs good track. It’s important to choose the track type that best suits your needs.

One Piece at a Time: Sectional Track

If you like to simply run model trains, want to get up and running quickly, or you don’t wish to mimic real-life track arrangements, sectional track might work best.

Sectional track is great for beginners. It consists of fixed-radius curves, multiple lengths of straight track and turnouts (also called switches) that match, or are compatible with, the basic track sections. Rail is often slightly oversized for sturdiness. If you are beginning, or started with a basic starter train set you are likely familiar with sectional track.

Roadbed vs Conventional Track

Generally speaking there are two common types of sectional track, roadbed and conventional. Here are some explanations.

Roadbed Track
roadbed model railroad track

Roadbed track combines rails, ties and ballast roadbed (on real railroads ballast is crushed rock that holds track in place and aids rainwater drainage) into a single track piece. Some roadbed track has hidden electrical contacts for added reliability. In recent years roadbed-style track has become standard in many train sets from Z to O Scales.

Roadbed-style track is a great way to get started because it provides consistent electrical reliability – track pieces lock together in alignment making it great for beginners. It can be set up anywhere (even on carpet) and its profile negates the need for roadbed, so you can simply affix it to plain sub-roadbed like a wood or foam tabletop.

Its appearance looks like heavy-duty mainline track with perfectly aligned ties and manicured ballast – a far cry from the look of real track or track on secondary lines and branches. There are methods of weathering, painting and ballasting that will improve realism, but it’s another step you have to consider if realistic appearance is important to you.

The disadvantage to roadbed track is once you choose a system, you’re locked into its geometry including curve radii, turnouts and straight lengths. Some manufacturers make only a limited selection of track pieces, so you may have to compromise as you design your track plan. Very few systems have conversion track sections to join with other makers’ systems, but most do offer a transition piece for connecting to conventional track. That said, there are many large layouts built using roadbed track because of its reliability.

Conventional Track

conventional model track

If you can see through the spaces between the ties on your track then you have conventional track. Nickel silver rail molded onto injection-molded ties is a quick definition for this kind of track in most scales. At one time conventional track dominated the model railroad industry – it was standard in train sets and was available anywhere trains were sold. While still popular with layout builders and very widely available, it has been largely replaced by quick-setup roadbed track in train sets.

Conventional track offers far more choices for track planning. Many advanced model railroads are built using conventional track. It’s available with a variety of rail sizes in most scales, so fine scale modelers can choose scale-height rail, also referenced as rail “Code,” and ties that look like wood or concrete.

track options

Sectional conventional track, like roadbed track, is fast and fun to set up – but you must set it up on a suitable base or roadbed. Because this type of track is open, using it on uneven surfaces, carpet or dirt is not advisable. Many modelers choose strips of cork or foam roadbed between the track and benchwork/layout table to suggest a subgrade and reduce noise and vibration.

Unlike with sectional roadbed track, most conventional track is interchangeable with that of other makers provided the rail size, or “Code,” is the same. Some manufacturers also offer transition track or rail joiners so you can mix rail sizes. A variety of turnouts that match or complement sectional track geometry are available. As with roadbed track, the geometry of conventional sectional track “systems” limits your track planning if you stick solely to sectional track.

Looking for more flexibility, why not flex track?

Flex Track

Flex (flexible) track is available in most model railroad scales and each system has a unique appearance. Here is a sampling of HO and N scale flex track sections. As you can see in the second image the track is easily bent to custom curvatures.

In addition to fixed-geometry sectional model railroad track, flexible conventional track is also available, and that’s where conventional track shines!

Flex track allows nearly unlimited possibilities for adding various curves because it has no fixed geometry. It can be bent to very gentle or sharp curves. Use care to not make the curves too tight – 18″ to 22″ radius is usually the sharpest for most equipment to run smoothly. Additionally, turnouts that mimic real track geometry are also offered, mostly for use with flex track, however, they still work with conventional sectional track. With flex track an added advantage is that there are fewer joints in the track over long distances, so electrical continuity is much improved.

Flex track, however, requires more skill if you’re planning a layout beyond what sectional track offers.

If flex track appeals to you but you’re just starting out, it’s a great learning opportunity. Using flex track requires special, but easy-to-learn skills. Practice track cutting using flush cutters, rail saws or a rotary tool with a cutoff disc. For smooth curves, learn how to use a radius tool to plot out a centerline on your sub-roadbed. Some modelers use a mix of sectional and flex track out of convenience or if they’re expanding a sectional track railroad.

Finally, you’ll have to affix your model railroad track to your roadbed and layout base so it stays put. Don’t attach it directly to plywood or boards – it’s noisy and real track is usually elevated for drainage, so it just won’t look realistic enough.

When you consider purchasing track from Walthers.com we’ve put together some search links for you to browse model railroad track more effectively.

https://www.walthers.com/products/layout/track-and-accessories/flexible-track/show/120 – Flex Track

https://www.walthers.com/products/layout/track-and-accessories/roadbed-track Roadbed Track

https://www.walthers.com/products/layout/track-and-accessories/sectional-track Sectional Track

Model Railroader has great track articles here: http://mrr.trains.com/mrvp/how-to/track