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Model Railroader

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"I strongly believe that no matter what your talents, you can become a successful model railroader," says Vince Crysler.

"This hobby allows you to learn many things. Finding solutions to problems that may crop up, and gaining a sense of accomplishment when you see your first trains rolling through the towns and hills you've created."

Welcome to the world of the model railroader. Small scale or large scale, it is a wonderful hobby for both young and old. People involved in this recreation spend countless hours planning their dreams, and then spend even more time enjoying their creations.

Many people around the world enjoy model railroading. Model railroaders construct miniature versions of real-life railroads. Many layouts include pieces of scenery, like tunnels, bridges, trees and railway crossings. The only limit is your imagination.

Most people who get into model railroading set up layouts in their homes. Many set aside a part of their basements. Others devote entire rooms to their projects. Some people build large-scale layouts in their backyards or gardens, or model trains they can actually ride!

No matter how big or small you go, becoming a model railroader is something you will likely enjoy the rest of your life. Many model railroaders age 50, 60, 70 or more first got into this recreation as youths and are still enjoying the hobby today.

No one knows for sure how many people are actively involved in model railroading. There are hundreds of clubs and organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

A recent survey by the National Model Railroad Association describes the average model railroader as a 44-year-old college-educated male. The survey did not attempt to estimate the total size of the hobby.

Model Railroader Magazine associate editor George Sebastian-Coleman says its circulation today stands at about 200,000. He assumes the total number of model railroaders out there is about twice that number.

The world of model railroading is one of scale and gauge. Scale is the proportional size the model train is to the real thing. This is called a prototype.

Gauge is the amount of space, or width, between the rails. There are many different scales and gauges.

The trend in model railroading is definitely high tech, meaning computer-controlled equipment. But high tech also means high prices. You can go high tech and spend lots, or opt for low-tech equipment and spend less.

Either way, quality is going up. Most people involved in this hobby agree the overall quality of equipment has improved a lot in recent years. That's the good thing. The not-so-good thing is that prices continue to creep up.

"There is no limit to the money a guy can spend on this hobby. Personally, I've spent between $2,000 and $3,000," says Yvan-Martin Levesque, a model railroader.

There are no skills required to become a model railroader. All you really need is enthusiasm and a willingness to educate yourself. There is a lot to learn in this hobby, and you really have to do your homework before you head off to the hobby shop.

Model railroading can be an ideal hobby for people with physical challenges. Unless you get into the very large-scale outdoor models, there is no heavy lifting required. A lot of the work in putting together a layout is done with your hands on a table. This is also a very safe recreation.

It is possible to make a living using your model railroading skills, but jobs in this field are few and far between. Once you've gained personal experience as a model railroader, you could use that experience to work in shops that sell model trains. Keep in mind, however, that retail work of this nature rarely pays well. If you're really ambitious, and have an entrepreneurial spirit, you could always open your own shop!

Crysler says, "Probably the best way to earn a living is to be hired by one of the big model magazines. There you can do reviews, build layouts, kits, locos, cars, all for the love of the hobby and a paycheck!"

Other employment possibilities may exist in the manufacturing end of things.

Getting Started

An elaborate setup could cost you thousands. But people with limited funds should be able to find a small kit with a minimal layout for as low as $100. How big or how small you go depends on your budget. Model railroaders agree a beginner should plan on spending about $500 to get started.

You can buy a kit that includes everything you need to get a functional train set going, or you can do your homework and buy individual pieces. Buying a kit can save you money, but the kits can have lower-quality components.

Putting a set together piece by piece costs more and takes more time, but you generally end up with better quality. The basic pieces you'll need to get started include an engine or locomotive, other rail cars, a power pack, switches and track. You'll also want to buy some scenery. Don't forget you may need to buy the lumber and hardware to set up a big train table.

First, figure out your budget. Then visit your local hobby shop and get a feel for what's available and at what price. Before you make any buying decisions, keep in mind the area you've set aside for your layout. A big setup in a small space won't work.

Before you buy, look up model railroading clubs in your area and give them a call. Talk to individual members and ask for advice. This alone could save you lots of money. Most people involved in model railroading say getting tips from experienced model railroaders is probably the best way to learn.

After your basic homework is done, head off to the hobby shop and start building your dreams. You're well on your way to becoming a model railroader.


National Model Railroad Association
4121 Cromwell Rd.
Chattanooga , TN   37421


The Train Station
This commercial site offers information on Lionel trains
A great site for beginners, packed with useful information

All Gauge Page
Fun with model railroading

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