History of Model Trains and Railway Modeling August 09, 2014

Railway modeling is best described as a hobby where rail transport systems are modeled on a smaller ratio or scale, thus becoming model trains. The scale models of rail transport systems include tracks, rolling stocks, locomotives, buildings, roads, signaling, model figures, vehicles, and lights. Historically, the first model railways were known as the “carpet railways” (which ran on any floor without the need for a scaled-down track); these began to appear for the first time in the 1840s. Electric trains started to make an appearance in the early part of the 20th century, but both these and the “carpet railways” were shabby likenesses to the real railways. Today’s railway modeling is much more sophisticated.

General description and scales of models

Hobbyists involved with railway modeling can invest considerable amounts of time in their hobby, and this can range from simply owning a train set to actually investing hours and lots of cash in creating a huge and realistic model of both railroad and scenery. The layout through which model trains pass can vary from oval or circular tracks to more realistic places that are modeled precisely to scale. The scales of model trains run the gamut from huge to very small. For instance, the rideable and biggest live steam trains feature scales of 1:8, while Z-scale is a scale that features the smallest type of model trains, basically matchbox-size. Some of the most popular types of scales for model trains are H0, S, O, Gauge 1, G, N, and TT. The newly introduced T Gauge and Z-scale are increasing in popularity at this time.

Landscaping the model railway

Landscaping the model railway can sometimes be a very meticulous exercise for hobbyists because it involves extra special attention to detail. Sometimes termed “scenery building,” landscaping is all about making a fantasy world or copying an actual location for your model trains to pass through. Making a sub-terrain is the first step in model-train landscaping; it consists of using materials like cardboard strips, screen wire, or stacks of Styrofoam sheets. Next, the scenery base covers up the sub-terrain, and on top of that comes the ground cover consisting of natural lichen, colored sawdust, ground foam, or commercial scatter materials. Buildings and trees can be bought in kits or even made out of materials like candytuft or Western sagebrush. Rocks and water can be either cast in plaster or simulated with rippled glass, respectively.

Methods used to power model trains

Model trains run on different forms of power, but the most common method of power for a model railway engine is low-voltage DC electricity; this is supplied through the tracks. While there are manufacturers like Lincoln Company that use AC electricity, they are a rarity in the business. Some of the earliest types of model trains were powered by clockwork as their controls could be found on the locomotive. Electric trains in the late 19th century and early 20th century ran on batteries since it was a challenge to get electricity into homes back then. Model trains that run on live steam are usually found in sizable, outdoor gauges. Sometimes, gasoline-electric types of model trains are used by hobbyists, and in more rare cases, petrol-hydraulic and petrol-mechanical engines are available, but these are more costly than normal electric models.

The Evolution of controlling model trains

Throughout the history of model trains, the means of controlling them has gone through key changes. The earliest model trains were spring-driven and so operated until they simply ran out of power because there was no way for the controller to vary the model’s speed. When electric trains were introduced in the late 19th century, this allowed operators to control the direction of the model trains by varying the voltage or current. Today, most modern railway models are computer-controlled because of the advantage this provides. Controllers can control the model trains by way of small circuit cards hiding in the actual models; this permits operators more realistic control.

Well known model train manufacturers

As the railway modeling industry progressed, certain manufacturers became more popular than others on account of the quality of their products. Currently, there are dozens of model train manufacturers in operation, but only some of them have achieved well-known status thanks to the quality of their products. In the US market, Bachmann leads the way in terms of popularity, producing high-quality model train kits that are sold affordably and in many places. Other American brands like Lionel and American Flyer, while once popular decades ago, faced bankruptcy and ceased operations. Internationally, Germany’s Marklin and the United Kingdom’s Hornby are both successful and famous manufacturers of model trains in their countries.

To learn more about model trains, consult these links.

Model Train Die Casting History: A history of two manufacturers of model trains.

Past and Present History of Lionel Model Trains: History of the Lionel model train company from their own website.

A Personal History on Railway Modeling: One man’s chronicle of his personal history throughout the decades with different types of model trains.

History – Train Collector’s Society: The history of model trains from the standpoint of the United Kingdom.

The History of an American Brand of Model Train: A short-but-informative history of the American Flyer brand of model trains.

Ideafinder – The History of Lionel Model Trains: A quite long history of this particular model railway company.

History of Model Trains according to O-Gauge.com: Another website that provides a short history of model trains.

The Earlier History of Railway Modeling: A web page that provides mainly the earlier history of model trains.

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