Old Newbie seeking advice for HO Pennsylvania

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Joined
Nov 7, 2021
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108
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Rhode Island and Philadelphia
Happy Thanksgiving! I might go train shopping this weekend, but don't want to make a stupid purchase.

As a kid I had an all-metal O scale freight train that I loved, but it died in a house fire. Now 50 years later I’d like to get a simple setup and run it, but need to go smaller, so HO is my choice. Just for my husband's and my (and the cats?) enjoyment. I am thinking, first get engine & tender, and add cars later. Quality, not quantity.

What makers and sellers are good? I did read the other newbie thread and saw a few names. My thoughts :

- do NOT need box, not a legacy collection or gift
- pre-owned or new
- want to start with HO Pennsylvania engine and tender, either mid-century steam or streamline, or someday both.
- would add a few passenger cars later, Tuscan red preferred, Pennsylvania, probably 1940s-70s
- must run well
- They should be heavy, feel very solid when you pick them up, and detailed.
- Is radius a concern with some engines?
- do NOT need smoke or announcements
- DO want working headlight, interior lights, and simple horn.

I have been to one train store in RI (Grandpa's) and will visit another this weekend. Thanks for any advice at all!
 
Joined
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273
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Lubec, ME
Yes radius is a concern especially for steam. I would recommend 24 inch minimum for HO even if the engine claims to be able to navigate a smaller radius.

If you want a horn you will need one equipped with a sound decoder which will also give you a bell and other sound effects. I would recommend DCC control which is better for sound and for controlling multiple trains.

For manufacturers of quality equipment check out Broadway Limited Imports especially for PRR steam.
 
Joined
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Messages
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Location
Rhode Island and Philadelphia
Yes radius is a concern especially for steam. I would recommend 24 inch minimum for HO even if the engine claims to be able to navigate a smaller radius.

If you want a horn you will need one equipped with a sound decoder which will also give you a bell and other sound effects. I would recommend DCC control which is better for sound and for controlling multiple trains.

For manufacturers of quality equipment check out Broadway Limited Imports especially for PRR steam.
Thank you! Maybe the horn isn't important enough to go up in price and sophistication to DCC. Followup question (for anyone), are there problems if you assemble a consist from different manufacturers, or different eras within one manufacturer?
 
Joined
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We had our family Christmas yesterday and I had previously dropped heavy hints. My husband got me this Light Pacific locomotive (Mantua, new, eBay) and my brother got me the PRR P70 (Broadway Limited, rjstrains, new). I love them! Guess I should get some track, huh. I do have a question, is this engine too small to pull several, let's say six, passenger cars? This diecast engine weighs a ton and the car is plastic, but when we rode the Light Pacific 425 from Reading recently, they added two more engines to the consist so they could pull 17 cars. Is that relevant to model trains?

IMG_8063.jpg
 

Devil's Advocate

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Followup question (for anyone), are there problems if you assemble a consist from different manufacturers, or different eras within one manufacturer?
For a basic layout this is unlikely to be an issue. Run any locomotive and whichever cars you like. The main issue is running multiple locomotives at the same time from different manufacturers.

I do have a question, is this engine too small to pull several, let's say six, passenger cars? This diecast engine weighs a ton and the car is plastic, but when we rode the Light Pacific 425 from Reading recently, they added two more engines to the consist so they could pull 17 cars. Is that relevant to model trains?
Any locomotive I ever owned could easily pull six cars and if yours fails to then I'd assume something is broken. The power ratio is mainly an issue for model clubs and major layouts.
 
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Using different engines or manufacturers: Not a problem if you use DCC because you and program the speeds of the engines to match each other. It takes a bit of work. Put the engines on a piece of track. Tell your DCC controller to control both trains as if they were one (Multi-Unit) but don't attach them together. Run the engines at a low speed. Do they go the same speed? If not, adjust the settings so they do so. Then do that with the next speed settings. Takes some time but it works great.

Pulling cars: If you buy the cheap junk cars with plastic wheels (and sometimes even better cars with steel wheels), they are probably too light and on a long train or on curves or turnouts (switches) they will often derail. Use steel wheel cars with good metal knuckle couplers. Then go online to find the NMRA specified weight of that size passenger car and add weights to the car to be sure it complies. Then they will run their best with minimal issues. However, the heavier the cars, the harder to pull so look at youtube videos, search the internet or test them yourself to see whether it strains a single engine. Better engines have better motors. Having trains climb means more pulling power is required.

But your best bet before investing in anything is to join a model railroad club and you will not only get help from fellow club members but will learn a lot and generally will have access to the club's equipment like DCC programmers, etc so you don't have to buy them yourself. I learned a LOT, got another member to fix an expensive engine that slipped out of my fingers and fell to the floor in pieces, and learned how to change couplers, clean wheels and tracks, etc.
 

Trollopian

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We had our family Christmas yesterday and I had previously dropped heavy hints. My husband got me this Light Pacific locomotive (Mantua, new, eBay) and my brother got me the PRR P70 (Broadway Limited, rjstrains, new). I love them! Guess I should get some track, huh...

View attachment 26321
Congratulations to you, and also to your husband and brother for savvy gift-giving strategy. Having a model train fan on one's shopping list is a real blessing. You can always get them more cars, locomotives, cabooses, trackage, trestles, turntables, little buildings, tiny people, etc. In that respect, trainfans are almost as prized as smokers (think ashtrays, lighters, etc.) but minus the lung damage. My particular favorite place to shop for my brother-in-law, whose mum found his vintage-60s "N" gauge set in the attic a decade or so ago, is Pittsburgh's S.W. Randall's traditional toy store: Websites | v1.21.15 | sw-randall-toys-and-gifts. So any members who're visiting Pittsburgh on the Capitol Limited or Pennsylvanian, pay a visit to Randall's, just 3 blocks from the station. Yinz welcome.
 
Joined
Nov 7, 2021
Messages
108
Location
Rhode Island and Philadelphia
Congratulations to you, and also to your husband and brother for savvy gift-giving strategy. Having a model train fan on one's shopping list is a real blessing. You can always get them more cars, locomotives, cabooses, trackage, trestles, turntables, little buildings, tiny people, etc. In that respect, trainfans are almost as prized as smokers (think ashtrays, lighters, etc.) but minus the lung damage. My particular favorite place to shop for my brother-in-law, whose mum found his vintage-60s "N" gauge set in the attic a decade or so ago, is Pittsburgh's S.W. Randall's traditional toy store: Websites | v1.21.15 | sw-randall-toys-and-gifts. So any members who're visiting Pittsburgh on the Capitol Limited or Pennsylvanian, pay a visit to Randall's, just 3 blocks from the station. Yinz welcome.
Much appreciated! I hereby repay you with Apponaug Color and Hobby. Sadly they are not walking distance from the PVD or KIN station, and since driving thirty minutes in Rhode Island and/or crossing a bridge means you have to stay overnight, bring your jammies. Youse is welcome.
 
Joined
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Be sure to get some miniature figures of widows and orphans waiting for trains on the railroad that was sure to always pay dividends.;)
Birthday List: widows and orphans, moonshiners, mooners, outhouses, guys sitting on logs crapping, set of five prisoners in striped outfits, at least fifty hoboes, etc.
 
Joined
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But your best bet before investing in anything is to join a model railroad club and you will not only get help from fellow club members but will learn a lot and generally will have access to the club's equipment like DCC programmers, etc so you don't have to buy them yourself. I learned a LOT, got another member to fix an expensive engine that slipped out of my fingers and fell to the floor in pieces, and learned how to change couplers, clean wheels and tracks, etc.
I'm afraid. What if I really get into it and start competing with their ultra-cool layouts, buying tons of stuff, making my own mountains, etc. The problem is, I'm not retired and don't have a basement for a layout, and don't want to abandon my husband for a club. (He might enjoy it too, but he can't stand up for more than a few minutes, bad feet.) My ambition at this point is a simple oval that can be taken off the dining room table when we have company, and a few more buildings to go with my Woodland Scenics bank. But, I like the suggestion and will look into it. Thanks for your other advice too.
 

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My advice is to start small. A compact but fully finished diorama is more impressive to me than a huge layout that has been stretched thin and sparse. Consider replicating a real location with which you are intimately familiar. Something near where you lived or otherwise close to your heart. Build that area until you feel comfortable with the results. That section becomes the first "subdivision" of your layout and then you can start another one. This time choose something a bit more adventurous. Carefully positioned buildings, bridges, and tunnels can divide sections in a visually appealing manner and provide opportunities for you to explore different areas and ideas. A varied layout also gives guests more options to find something that piques their interest. Just my opinion though.
 
Joined
Nov 7, 2021
Messages
108
Location
Rhode Island and Philadelphia
My advice is to start small. A compact but fully finished diorama is more impressive to me than a huge layout that has been stretched thin and sparse. Consider replicating a real location with which you are intimately familiar. Something near where you lived or otherwise close to your heart. Build that area until you feel comfortable with the results. That section becomes the first "subdivision" of your layout and then you can start another one. This time choose something a bit more adventurous. Carefully positioned buildings, bridges, and tunnels can divide sections in a visually appealing manner and provide opportunities for you to explore different areas and ideas. A varied layout also gives guests more options to find something that piques their interest. Just my opinion though.
That's great advice. We'd have to design small in our house anyway. No standable basement or attic...
For twenty years I photographed Main Streets all over the country, and have hundreds of color pictures of blocks of storefronts. I'm thinking of using small prints of them as a 2D backdrop to a portion of the track. Here's one I just stuck behind my new train, just to get an idea. But, then I don't get to buy fabulous HO scale buildings.
Another idea is to do an area of the Schuylkill River Valley where I've been studying the abandoned canal system. I could create Port Clinton and its train yard with some canal boats going by in the slackwater of Blue Mountain Dam (pre-1948) at the Schuylkill Gap. Amazing place.

Main Street, Smithville, Texas
©2003 Sandy Sorlien

Smithville_HO_Lo.jpg
 

Trollopian

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My particular favorite place to shop for my brother-in-law, whose mum found his vintage-60s "N" gauge set in the attic a decade or so ago, is Pittsburgh's S.W. Randall's traditional toy store: Websites | v1.21.15 | sw-randall-toys-and-gifts. So any members who're visiting Pittsburgh on the Capitol Limited or Pennsylvanian, pay a visit to Randall's, just 3 blocks from the station. Yinz welcome.
Serendipitously, Pittsburgh's beloved S.W. Randall's toy store is profiled in yesterday's local Post-Gazette. See A toy story: S.W. Randall has thrived for more than 50 years delighting children and the young at heart. Excerpt:

"Trains, he [Cohen] noted, remain 'a big deal.'

'You wouldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe how many requests we get for trains. And it’s good after Christmas, too, because they’re still playing with them. Look how old school that is. That came out in the ‘30s, electric trains.' ”
 

Willbridge

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When RTD's contract DBOM consortium had trouble with the phase break just east of Union Station, I was one of the few non-technical people who understood what it was. That knowledge came from setting up a feeder line to the far side of our Lionel layout when I was in 8th grade. One either had to match the AC phases so that the two shoes on the Lionel streetcar wouldn't short out when they were in different blocks from each other or put in a phase break that could be coasted.

[Note to non-modelers: Lionel 0 and 027 toy trains and Märklin HO model trains use AC power. Other HO model trains use DC power and the issues they come across are useful for understanding trolley coach or light rail systems -- or the Seattle monorail!] I wouldn't press one of my family to take up model railroading, but if they have an interest, it's a lot more enjoyable form of learning than classroom time.
 
Joined
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When RTD's contract DBOM consortium had trouble with the phase break just east of Union Station, I was one of the few non-technical people who understood what it was. That knowledge came from setting up a feeder line to the far side of our Lionel layout when I was in 8th grade. One either had to match the AC phases so that the two shoes on the Lionel streetcar wouldn't short out when they were in different blocks from each other or put in a phase break that could be coasted.

[Note to non-modelers: Lionel 0 and 027 toy trains and Märklin HO model trains use AC power. Other HO model trains use DC power and the issues they come across are useful for understanding trolley coach or light rail systems -- or the Seattle monorail!] I wouldn't press one of my family to take up model railroading, but if they have an interest, it's a lot more enjoyable form of learning than classroom time.
That also happens with DCC systems which are essentially a kind of AC as the track power is a square wave that goes + and - with the width of the square wave pulses used to send 1's and 0's to the decoders onboard the locos. With large layouts you need multiple "power districts" powered by boosters, kind of the equivalent of substations in the real world. at gaps in the rails between districts one needs to insure the phases are the same. We ran into this problem at the club layout I worked on when I lived in Massachusetts, where I was tasked with designing our DCC system.
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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That also happens with DCC systems which are essentially a kind of AC as the track power is a square wave that goes + and - with the width of the square wave pulses used to send 1's and 0's to the decoders onboard the locos. With large layouts you need multiple "power districts" powered by boosters, kind of the equivalent of substations in the real world. at gaps in the rails between districts one needs to ensure the phases are the same. We ran into this problem at the club layout I worked on when I lived in Massachusetts, where I was tasked with designing our DCC system.
The DCC systems came along after I was into 1:1 scale railroading, but they're another example of how educational the hobby could be.
 
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