Railroad and Model Railroad Terminology

Model Railroaders & Toy Train Enthusiast, are sub cultures onto their own.    The verbiage, linguistics, terminology and lingo is specific to both expressions of playing with and  running toy trains.  It does not always  reflect  the traditional use of verbiage or lingo of the Rails.    There are enough deviations to allow me to say….A language all of it’s own.

It’s to late to attempt to change things, as it’s gone on longer then I’m old.    With the exception being, a few of us who knows the difference.

One of the ironies to a open discussion on the internet, around club layouts  or locally at CJ’s,  is we have a  international influence of model railroaders.   IE.,  Everyone from Europe, Britain, Asia, Russia, South Africa, South America, Canada and of course the good old U.S. of A., can and will discuss trains on a world wide website.   Nothing wrong with that.

I’m sorry I didn’t hear that.    You asked, “Did I leave anybody out?”  More then likely.    So let me say, we want to hear from all or our toy train and model railroad enthusiast from wherever you are.

What seems to be happening is a push toward a  universal railroad language,  which is as foreign as can be one to the other.   There have been attempts to come up with a universal model railroad language similar to the push to go metric…….. and I’m not sorry to say, no thanks.   Why not enjoy the differences and variety it presents?  Learn something new?

What do we expect from you?

Nothing!      You do not  have to use proper grammar, syntax,  verbiage and/or lingo to be a Toy Train enthusiast or a  Model Railroader.    Unless you join a club of rivet counters.  Aiiyiiyii!

**There isn’t a rule or mandate that says you have to use the lingo of either Toy Train Enthusiast, Model Railroaders or the Rails.

  • However, I would recommend and encourage you to learn the lingo of your fellow Model Railroaders or Toy Train Enthusiast.    It makes it easier to communicate.
  • Make up your own….what the heck?   Everyone else has.   But as a reminder, it doesn’t really work when you get into a discussion with fellow toy train enthusiast and model railroaders.   The “I Call It,” syndrome.   I think I’ve aptly made that point.

Did someone just heckle me?    What was your question?   Now speak right into the microphone, the usher is bringing you.    What do I prescribe to?    Good question.   There you go getting all nosy, again!  My choice is simple but not simpleton.

Here’s my take:  I’m going to build a  model of a prototype railroad and I want my lingo to reflect that of the Rails.    For example:    I model the AT&SF and other Western  American Railroads.   I prefer to come as close to the prototype as I can get.  I  also want my words, language, lingo to be that of the employees, who worked for those railroads.     Lucky for me my family of Rails, signed on with the Santa Fe.   AND thanks to them, I have a better perspective on the differences between the two worlds.   I never once heard them refer to or use the term “Turnout,”  to describe a track switch, it was always a “Switch”.   No more, no less.

You in the back row, yes you.   Did I hear you ask, Who and what are Rails?    Yes!   OK, without further a do:    We will look at the Rails and I will add in here the Engineering Departments.   You’ll see how this plays out as we continue this discussion.

  • Rails:   Defined as  those employees who work for and at various levels for the railroads.    The 1:1 foot scale, the prototype, the real deal they use Switch:  Their traditions and lingo continue to this day, although new technology is changing the face of things.
  • Engineering Departments of the Railroads are known to be influenced by  European education and engineering.     Their language, descriptive wording actually sounded foreign to the American Rails.  They use “Turnout,”  to describe the whole of the unit.    Their text, definitions, descriptive wording and traditions also continue to this day.

Several  factions impact our railroads.

  1. The Rails and the Unions that represents them.
  2. Then you have the Suits or Management and  Administration .
  3. The other major player, is the Engineering Departments.
  4. Yes, I heard you!   Good point and one of the most frustrating for our Railroads.
  5. The Fed’s and their quagmire of laws and legislation that is forever changing.   Memorize something today and it will be changed come tomorrow.

If you are looking for verbiage you can use a definitive dictionary with regard to Toy Trains, Model Railroading and the Railroads (1:1 foot scale as in the real deal past and present), here it is:

Model Railroad Terminology:      http://www.modeltrainguide.com/index.php?mode=displayarticle§ion=1&article=2

Railroad Terminology:   Here is an updated version in PDF format.   It may not open directly to your screen so check you r downloads:  https://www.bnsf.com/customers/pdf/glossary.pdf

Railfans:   Let’s not forget the track-side foamers.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_North_American_railway_terms

Railroad Rule Books:   Are a great source for to learn the rules of train operations and the proper verbiage of said Rails.

Another, Excellent Resource Available.

Chard Walker, an agent for the Santa Fe Railroad, stationed for years at the Summit of Cajon Pass, Ca.  A good friend of mine.   He wrote a book featuring Cajon Pass, Ca.,    There are two editions and I’ll be honest I like the first one better then the second edition.  In the old one you will find two pages of terms Rail Fans misuse.   The new one is entitled “Chard Walker’s, Cajon, Rail Passage to the Pacific. ”    To make room for and add  two pages  of color pictures of trains rolling through the  Summit,   The two pages of terms was removed.    In both books you will find  his descriptions,  verbiage and lingo of the rails.   May he rest in peace knowing he gave you and I a little glimpse into the world of Railroaders/Rails.   Thanks, Chard.

I will leave you with one hotly contested  example.

Although I’ve already pounded on my war drums in a paragraph or two above.   You guessed it!  The “T” word.     A major pet peeve of mine.

Anyone who knows me, knows where this is headed next.    I won’t apologize.   This is a drum I will beat… until there is no more energy left in me and I cease to exist.    Relax, I’m on the shorts…sigh…time is running out.    I heard that!     Good we won’t have to put-up…..!    Yep, I heard that.  Grin!

Regarding the U.S. of A.,  North American  Railroading:    “Turnout”,   darn “T” word.    is a word that most railroad architectural engineering departments  use to describe what the Rails, call a “Switch”.  To describe the whole mechanism.    Foreign to the American ears but not necessarily the Canadian ears.   Here in the U.S. of A.,  on the 1:1 foot scale,   there have been heated arguments between the Rails and  Engineers, over this very subject.

I was privileged  to over hear such an argument between two distant relatives of mine.   One a yard supervisor and the other a engineer….not a hog head.  “”Why the hell can’t you use the lingo of the Rails?   It would make it so much easier to communicate,””  asked the acting yard supervisor, to the engineering suit.   Well, I can’t prove it to this day but I was told they were related.  Distant Uncles, I thought and then learned more like cousins.   But that’s a story for another time and place.

So , where did the descriptive term Turnout come from?    European railways.    Seriously?   That was my first impression but read on.   I promise,  it’s not American Terminology in origin.   More on this as we continue.

Picking up where we left off.    Incidentally, those heated arguments between Rails and Engineers have continued to the present day.    The same is true of warring factions in the ranks of model railroaders.  Different factions have fought over this descriptive adverb/noun for years.  As far as my research will take me back (beyond my birthdate) I find “Turnout,” used in our toy train and model railroad wig wags.    This post here may start it all over again on some Train or Model Railroad website.    I hope not.     Does that mean we are going to be able to settle this issue here and now?    Not likely.     I think it’s here to stay.

Rick’s Story Time:   

Well my kid’s liked my stories.    Employees who worked under my tut-ledge and direction didn’t much care for them.    Model Railroaders alleged friends often  referred to my story times as, “Bull$#!+ Central.”  Not exactly complimentary but I will leave you to decide for yourself.  Gosh!

“Turnout,”    here’s an accounting of the research I’ve run down, on the history of the word Turnout and examples of it’s misuse.

Here we go.   Oh, no not again!

Worst case of arrogance I’ve ever witnessed, took place in Oro Grande, Ca on a weekend or two before Thanksgiving.    A MOW crew for the Santa Fe railroad was delivering prefab (Atlas, well that’s what they looked like) switches.   Replacements, if I recall correctly.    Accompanying us foamers was a well intention-ed model railroader / rail-fan.   He proceeded to correct the MOW Supervisor/Foreman,  as well as the other Rails and MOW employees present.    Correcting their terminology as though his word was final.   Telling them the switch they were installing was a “Turnout” and they need to learn the proper terminology.      Now that’s either a very brave or stupidly arrogant SOB uhh…err MR.    You don’t correct the workers working for the railroad.   They aren’t at fault here.   It should be the other way around.

A friend of mine said of the Rails, they are wrong to call it a switch arguing the correct terminology is, you guessed it the “T” word.   WOW, I couldn’t believe my ears.    Another case of arrogance!

Rails know their terminology and have been using it longer then model railroaders.       You have to ask yourself, do we really think we have the right to tell the rails or condemn them for our stupidity.    Now that’s arrogance to the extreme.

Where does the “T” word come from?   I was sure the “T” word,  “Turnout,” was first introduced to Toy Train enthusiast and Model Railroaders  in one of the model railroad wig wags (magazine)  in the summer of 1962.    I actually got my mother to spring for the expense of calling the wig wag (magazine).   My intent was to advise the editors of their mistake.     I could hear the laughing in the background including the following comment, “Some kid wants to straighten you guys out,” followed by giggles and lots of hee haw belly laughter.    How to win and influence friends?  Arrogance?   Hurrumph!   They didn’t win over this model railroader, as a friend and yes I’ve had and  held a grudge ever since…..Grrrrr!.

More recently:    A friend of mine started digging through his old magazines and discovered an article on “Turnouts,” and how to hard wire them in,  dated  June of 1952.     My guess was the “T” word or term to describe a “Switch” has been around model railroading types…. much  longer then that.    Sure enough after some more digging around we found an older model railroad wig wag dated April 1939 and the author of that article states, “Switches are called Turnouts but we’ve called them switches for so long….”    My first response was to think…..     Well never mind it’s not a time to be a mind reader. Obviously, model railroaders have been creating their own language verbiage and lingo for a long, long time.

During a short stint in Ohio, while working for a hobby shop.    I either challenged the wrong or right person to  prove to me “Turnout” was  used to refer to a “Switch”:  by (get this) the American  Rails.    Did I say that right?     He showed up with a very old blue print of a Colorado, narrow gauge railroad and sure enough, written in next to a switch was the inscription “Turnout”.    Quick to note here.   Keep in mind that doesn’t prove the Rails of American railroads ever used the “T” word.    It does prove the architect or engineer that drew up the plans called them “Turnouts”.     Who was he?

Our conversation then moved to the following:   Many of  the railroad engineers during the construction era of the Colorado Narrow gauge rails.    They came from Europe,  with some coming more specifically from Switzerland.    According to them the correct terminology  is “Turnout”.   To be found in the older blue prints of many of the D&RG, D&RGW and D&RGS’s plot plans and blue prints.   Signed by an engineer from Switzerland.    Name forgotten by this hobbyist.   It is also referred to as a “Turnout,” in the classical engineering manuals,  hand books and encyclopedias all of European influence.  My best research say the “T” word  originated in Britain,  as they were the first to have trains.

More recently I’ve been visiting with a former member of the railroad society of engineers and learned.    The word “Turnout” the “T” word originated from England.     As they were the first ones to build a railroad.     Ok, that might start all kinds of arguments but I had to throw that in here.

Today, you can find the “T” word on the blue prints and plot plans for the new construction going on.    The application here is to the whole of the unit.   You will also find a break down showing a “Switch Mechanism” designed to move the points as in bend the rail.   Chuck a good friend and former employee of the Santa Fe, led us in a interesting discussion at CJ’s   April 31, 2016.    Reminding us that the Rails, still call it a “Switch” and engineering departments still call them “Turnouts”.    Thanks Chuck for the heads up.

I have several friends who are Architectural, Mechanical and Electrical Engineers of varying degrees and they all use Turnout to describe the whole of the Switch.  Keeping in mind they are describing the whole of the unit which includes the moving parts.   All taking place during installation of the “T”.      Now check this out as it’s important.   Something happens the night we all show up for operations night.    It’s back to  IE., “Rick, throw the Switch” (you know… the movable part).   In keeping with the traditions of the Rails.

Long, long ago in a land of awe and admiration of the real trains that ran down the tracks.   Someone got the idea to make Toy Trains and   Model Railroading was born.       As a way of adding legitimacy to  their quest, they somehow picked up on the idea of calling switches, turnouts.  Choosing to ignore the traditions and  lingo of the Rails, and today everywhere I turn someone is using Turnout.    Misusing it for the most part.    IE.,  Throw the turnout.   No, no, no it’s throw the switch,  align the switch, bend the iron and I’ve heard align the points all used by Rails.

I could get into a even more interesting discussion on what is the “Frog?”   What makes up the whole of the frog?    Later, on that one.

End of the Story.   But not the end of this discussion.

Amtrak Train Switches Track Then Reverses To Union Station

Courtesy Of:

Uploaded on Jan 27, 2012    This is a very close look at the track switch after Amtrak Train The Silver Star goes by and stops. The track then switch electrically then the train goes in reverse for 3 miles backing into Union Station in Tampa Florida.  Thanks again, M.

What’s a model railroader to do?

  • Whether you choose to use “Turnout” in the engineering perspective or “Switch,” from  the Rails perspective.   It  will be your choice.
  • It’s all good because….   Can you guess what’s coming next?    I thought so. And everyone said:   It’s your railroad, you make the rules and you set the standards.     Darn quick learners, I like that.

On the other hand, I don’t want to hear anyone use the term “Turnout Man”!!!    I can guarantee you that was never used by the   Railroads.  Not, here in the good old U.S. of A..  It’s “Switch-man”,  the person who throws the switch, aligns the switch and bends the rail..    Is it becoming clear yet?

One more example of misapplied verbiage aka lingo.   Can you guess?   On a how to video produced by an obvious newbie he says, “I will throw the turnout”.    You don’t throw a turnout.    You throw the switch.   By now you should know that doesn’t fly.    Sheez!!!!!

In all the years I’ve been around Rails, I’ve never once heard the term “Turnout” used to describe a “Switch”.     I’ve heard them say you guys “Foamers,”  (In a uncomplimentary way)… use “Turnout” but we don’t.

For sake of discussion  here on BarstowRick.com,  you will not read where I have written….or hear from these lips the word “Turnout” to describe a “Switch”.  Except maybe for definitive purposes and only when I’m referring to the whole of the unit.   AND perhaps to appease the boys and girls who are still using IT!

You in the back…AGAIN!     The usher isn’t going to bring you the microphone so please shout it out.   Did you ask me, ” What I use?”   The descriptive wording I choose to use?    Well….   You ought to know better then to ask by now.   I will always use  “Switch,”  in the tradition of the Rails.   That’s right a…..?    And the audience answered in unison, “Switch”   How did you know?   A+  for all of you.

Sorry,… no certifications….YET!    This does not count as CEU’s.    Since when does model railroaders need  CEU’s?     COL

You may read where I proclaim in profundo,  “They aren’t turnouts, they are switches”.    You will now have a better understanding.


In various videos, some posted here, you will hear presenters mention and in some cases use the wrong application of railroad terminology as well as  model railroad terminology.   It’s a learning curve.   I will let you sort it out.

Now onward to our next video.

Amtrak Train Passes Track Switches CSX Train Passes

Published on Nov 30, 2013   This is a video I made of a automatic track switching at the Sandlers Junction in Plant City Florida after Amtrak train The Silver Star passed through then lining up for a CSX train heading in the direction the Amtrak came from.  Thanks for watching, Millenniumforce.

Model Railroading is a Global Hobby.

Keeping in mind there may be readers from different locations around the globe.    Allow me to say:

Do get to know the vernacular of the railroads you model.     Europe, Russia, Africa, Australia, China, Japan, the Middle East and etc.   Wherever and whatever rail line you are modeling.    Practice using the said verbiage, linguistics, and lingo.    Nothing like a little authenticity and realistic descriptive wording, combined with correct operations to bring a layout to life.

We are playing with the big boys now.     Drum roll please:   

Bonus:   I played percussion in a High School Band,   My favorite was the Tympani.     This  tid bit is free, no charge and I just thought it might fit in here.    (Sound man to add in a drum roll with a cymbal “tish”,  added  at the end of the next paragraph).

To the  Toy train enthusiast.   You  need not be to concerned about the discussion here to fore shared with you.    You can sit back with your cup of coffee, watch your trains roll through your imaginary scenery, across the prairies and into the mountains and never worry about what the prototype-rs and other model railroaders are doing.     You can even ignore the  infighting going on within their ranks.    I said with a reassuring  grin!    So George, did you get that!   LOL

Bonus Time:     “Wig wag”, what does that mean.    The Rails used it to identify one of the railroads monthly periodicals that tattle tales on who accomplished what, who’s kid went to college or the military,  who married who and who gave birth to whom.    “Tattle Tale” aka “Wig Wag'”   I use it here to refer to our model magazines.    That should fit right in…grin!

For those of us who know better you will hear us refer to the Switch Mechanism as a “Switch.”     To the rest of you still using the “T” word may I present to you “The Pickled Finger of Fail Award.”     I said with a big mischievous grin.    

Call it what you want.   Heck it’s your railroad your the owner and the operator.

So, did you get down to the hobby shop and pick up your electrical toggle switches, the lumber yard to get your wood for the bench-work and Lowe’s to get those all essential tools?  Done?   Congratulations.

Go have some fun and say BarstowRick, sent you. Oh that will confuse them and you will end up with blank looks and questions like…who’s he?    And don’t say the Turnout Guy,   Grrrrrrrr!!!

Thanks all for stopping in and giving us a read. Your visitation is important to us. Come on back when you get a chance and check out the rest of the website. Stay tuned there’s more to come.


Rail Size – N Scale, HO Scale and more…

There are so many different sizes of rail. How do I pick out the right one for me?   Let’s take a look at track gauges and code and see what we can learn.

What is Code?   For the lack of a better definition,  a way and means to measure the rail on you’re toy train  or model railroad track.   On the 1:1 foot scale they use lbs., to describe the rail size.

First a look at two hot buttons for now and that’s N Scale, Code 55.  We will look at the positive and negative considerations.

Two things that bother me:

  • One,  is it prototype or does it have to be?
  • Two, what actual rail size is it, when compared to the 1 : 1 foot scale?
  • Can I operate all my equipment new and old, over the various pieces of flex track available?
  • What affect will the deep flanged wheels have on performance?

N Scale, Code 55, is misunderstood for the most part.   It is problematic when operating wheels with over sized or deep flanges. At issue is the deep flanged wheels commonly known as “Pizza Cutters”.  The flanges have a tendency to come in contact with the plastic spike heads and you will see what appears to be a car bouncing down the tracks.

We will look at Code 55 in this next video.

N Scale Code 55 track comparison

<a href="/channel/UCgxI2dBc932nGMzytpVOekQ" class=" yt-uix-sessionlink spf-link g-hovercard" data-name="" data-sessionlink="ei=UkCHVPH_NOGk-APGi4HQCA" data-ytid="UCgxI2dBc932nGMzytpVOekQ">Roadwolf612&#39;s channel</a>

Uploaded on Sep 22, 2011

Thanks for watching.

Next we want to look at Switches:  Some of the switch mechanisms have given others problems and I’ve provided a video that shows how M.C.F. solved post installation problems.


Here’s how M.C.F.   solved his problems with a switch mechanism.

Atlas C55 Turnout Fixes – Throwbar Shims.mov

How to improve the throwbar of an Atlas C55 turnout by installing styrene strip shims.  Works well for turnouts already installed on layout.  Music by Robert Litton (used with permission).  Thanks for watching

Thinking ahead can prevent some of the problems as viewed above.     Since the switch is already installed M.C.F. was forced to correct the problems after installation.   To prevent this from happening again, in the future.  A pre-installation inspection of the  switch would help to resolve this issue before it got onto the layout. I would recommend looking at the road bed beneath it to make sure it was clean and smooth.   Cutting in a channel…allowing for a uninhibited movement of the throw-bar and proper alignment of the points.     If I wanted to shim it, I would of done it from underneath the switch points.

Properly Gauged Track:   Now back to the problem of properly gauged track.

Codes used  for the various scale of track.  

Model Railroading track.

  • N SCALE TRACK,   codes-40, 55, 65, 70 & 80
  • HO SCALE TRACK,  codes-55, 70, 83, 100
  • O SCALE TRACK,  codes-100, 125, 148—these codes are for scale model train track-Lionel and other three rail track may not be scale.
  • G SCALE TRACK,  codes-215, 250, 332

Courtesy of Model Builders. com

Going for Realism!

I believe the following comparisons  are for HO Gauge track.  The most common codes are identified as follows:

  •  Code 100 = 0.1 inches in height – correlates with 156 lb. prototype rail
  •  Code 83 = 0.083 “ / 132 lb. rail
  •  Code 70 = 0.07 “  /  100 lb. rail
  •  Code 55 = 0.055” /   75 lb. rail

In the prototype world, the heavier rails are used for mainlines and the lighter rails for industrial spurs and branch lines.     More on the subject can be found here:   http://www.building-your-model-railroad.com/model-train-track.html .

Begging the question:   What does the prototype, 1:1 foot scale use?   Still researching, this is a work in progress.    Stand by!   For those with inquiring minds:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_profile

Just a thought.     For us N scalers, may I suggest that  the code 55 is a tad to large a rail for our main lines.     The problem here is if we go to prototype rail it’s possible our trains won’t run as well as they do on the Code 55 and/or  Code 80 rails.     Exception being those modelers who are set-up to operate their equipment on the smaller code of rail.  IE., Narrow Gauge operations.     Wheel flange depth as already mentioned, is the key player here.

Interesting, there are those who feel this is a critical issue while other’s just run trains.     I haven’t seen any scale, little people show up to measure my track  and the  NMRA Ninja’s haven’t showed up to inspect it.

NMRA:  Curious about   NMRA.com  ?   They are busy rebuilding their website and should be finished by now.  Oh, by the way it’s coming along nicely!

On my N scale layout, I like to use Code 80, because it gives me the flexibility to operate any and all  the locomotives, passenger and freight  cars and other M.O.W. equipment, I’ve collected over the years.     Some of my early stuff has what’s been referred to as pizza cutter flanges on the wheel sets.    I’ve never been able to cut pizza with them but they look rather ominous.    Shorten the height of the rail and they bounce along nicely off the plastic  rail spike heads.    Not pretty.   I can change out most of my freight and passenger cars to Micro-Trains trucks and wheel sets.   The problem is  the older locomotives have those danged pizza cutters and I haven’t found wheel replacements for them…..YET!    Ever hopeful!

A fellow model railroader and friend of mine will simply (only it’s not a simple procedure) grind the flanges down.     Don’t look at me to try that or find me recommending such.   I’d rather put on new wheels sets.

Quite frankly, I’m tired of playing Mr. Fix It.    I’ve had to do that a lot over the years.   It was fun (sort of) a real challenge at times…sigh….    just not anymore.

More to come.    Stay tuned.


Etiquette For Visiting A Train Layout

What is the proper or preferred etiquette,  right or wrong behavior when visiting someone Else’s  toy train set up or model railroad ?   I hope to answer these questions as follows:

There are two extremes.   

  1. Toy Trains as in anything goes (crash and burn).
  2. Collector’s Layouts and Prototype Layouts,  where the railroad equipment is considered priceless and irreplaceable.
  3. Of course everything in-between.

Toy Train Set-Up:

The Toy Train  Layouts are built for younger  children and those adults still experiencing their inner child.   Here you can play with the cute little cars and unique little streets and you can move the buildings all about at your leisure.  You will be able to add your own boy or girl made sounds to the  cars revving them up (rrumm rummm)  and brakes squealing as they take curves on two wheels.  You can spend hordes of money on Tom the Tank and his friends.   You can even run the trains and crash them if you want to.     Sigh!

While on the other hand when you visit someone’s Model Railroad…well…that’s a whole a-nother story.    Hands Off!

Collector’s Pieces:

There are other toy train layouts where the trains and other  items are truly collectors pieces.   Hands free of the layout… or as already said “Hands Off,” period.    In most cases we are talking irreplaceable.  Break it you bought it.

Model Railroad:

The owners can be a bit anal and paranoid at times.   So be fore warned.    Most of them are great guys and gals but know there is a point where you… might get your hand slapped.

Those little cars and streets look inviting.   The perfect place for kids to play cops and robbers, make siren noises as they shove the fire trucks and police cars around.   It may not be obvious at first but this is a  not a good idea.  A big  No, No, NO!  I did say that is a NO, NO!  Yep, I think I did.

Don’t touch.   Repeating myself here:    There may be detail parts on the cars and the  buildings that can be easily knocked off and are difficult to replace. Never mind the cost of replacement should you break something.  I’m sure I’ve already said this but it’s worth repeating.  Do keep in mind, some things are irreplaceable.   Better to avoid breaking them  in the first place.

Never reach into the layout to point something out, pick up an object and/or touch the mountain to see what it is made out of.   Keep your hands to your self.   Preferably in your belt or  pockets.    Most owners  are more then happy, willing and able to assist you with tieing your hands behind your back…I said with squinting eyes and a  half grin!

Seek out permission from the owner to assist with various functions of the layout.       Do ask  for permission before handling or touching anything on the layout.

Do not touch the trackEVER!  The natural oils in your skin is just enough to cause dirt to accumulate .    As in “Environmental Build Up” of grease, oils, hair, dust and much more.    If asked to check and see if the track is dirty, use a tissue, rag or paper towel.

Clean hands:    It is imperative that you handle train equipment when allowed with clean hands.    Even clean hands can still leave a oily residual.

No souvenirs.  Unless the owner offers you something or there is offerings you can buy at a gift shop.

No drooling on the control panel.   I hate it when it shorts out.

Practical jokes:   I don’t think so.  This is not a time to hide a train car, move a figurine or swap houses. Leave the layout as you found it. Respect the fact that It is the owner’s layout and he or she makes the rules.   For most owners, rule  #1  is to have fun.     Just not at the expense of the owner or yourself.  

Food and drink:       Leave the food and drink outside.  Unless otherwise instructed by the owner of the layout.   Then follow directions given such as leave it under the layout, on the work bench or some such but never on the train layout.

Alcohol:    Not permitted at or around my layout.   This may differ with other owners.    What about, under the influence of alcoholic beverages.   I don’t think so.     Be sober!

Smoking:     No smoking allowed and I don’t care what you are smoking.     Electric, traditional, pot, roll your own and/or grass from my own lawn.   Not permitted….period.

Gum or chewing tobacco.    Not here.    I’m going to sound like my elementary school teacher.    No chewing gum or tobacco allowed.    Spit it out, before you get here.   Preferably in a trash can.    Have you seen the sidewalks in front of schools, public buildings and stores lately?

Regarding pot or other behavior altering and/or illegal drugs.    All of the above applies.

A Private Home Layout:      All of the above applies.

A Club Layout:      All of the above applies.

Operations Night:     Yes, all of the above applies

Approach any Operations Night, red over yellow.     Remember, this is a privilege extended to you and not a right of passage.   Loosely translated red is stop and think, yellow proceed cautiously.

First timer’s:  Let’s say this is the first time you’ve been invited to an Operations Night.    Most guys will sit out the first one.   I did.   I stood back out of the way and just observed the fun and operations.   However, you’d be better off to team up with an old timer and let him or her teach you the ropes.    Owners or members of a group have been known to personally train a first timer or newbie.   Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance.     You’ll find yourself running trains in no time.

Ask, learn and know the rules of operations.   Seek instructions for the correct way to handle the owners train equipment.     IE., Uncoupling, re-railing, throwing a switch.   Make sure you  are doing this according to the owners rule book.

Find out where the blocks are and always follow the acting Dispatchers, orders for train movements.

Get to know the control panels and how they work.

Here is an editorial addition to my thoughts shared here by a friend who invites the BVMR’s over on a regular basis, to his HO Scale model railroad, The Gulf & Pacific R&R,    

Note:  Rules of conduct,  when visiting a prototypically correct model railroad.

1.  Keep all train speeds prototypical, especially in a mountain-style layout with grades and curves.  Ask the owner his preferred maximum speed on the mainline (or take note of the speeds he runs trains at), it may be half-throttle or thereabouts. I realize this may be “boring” to some, but this is not a Lionel layout where trains run at breakneck speeds on impossibly sharp curves!  Slow speeds are also more relaxing and makes the layout seem larger.  Please also start and stop your trains gradually.

2.  Leave your 0-5-0 switcher at home.  Do not lift car ends to uncouple unless absolutely necessary (see #3 below).  Please use uncoupling sticks or the magnetic Kadee uncouplers between the tracks.

3.  In the event of a derailment where it is necessary to lift a car or locomotive to re-rail it, please remember that there are many delicate parts on the car or locomotive, such as guardrails, steps, stirrups, etc.  Lift it at a location where it does not put any pressure on any of these delicate parts; the trucks may be a good place to grasp it for this.  It’s no fun for the layout owner to have to fix the broken parts afterwards.

4.  When handling cars or locomotives, please always be aware of any adjacent scenery, switch-stands, or buildings.  They are often very delicate as well.

5.  If in doubt about anything on the layout, always ask the Owner!  He’s there to make your evening enjoyable.

Credit to John Acosta, of the Bear Valley Model Railroaders and owner of the HO,  Gulf & Pacific Railroad.   Thanks for sharing the above with us.

Do report any damage done during the operating session.    Most owner’s recognize things can happen.     It’s when we don’t report damage or oop’s…  that doors can close and none of us will be invited back, to benefit from operating said model railroad.

If I think of more or you do… feel free to contact me by using the Contact Us page, to be found at the bottom of this page.

While you are waiting think about how you would behave if you visited the Los Angeles Live Steamers Park and the Barn that Walt Disney built?

I don’t know if Amy got the job.    A lot has happened at Disneyland in the last 20 years.

Does… don’t touch apply here?

One more video and this one shows the fun Walt Disney and his side kick Ward Kimball are having!

Do note, Walt Disney himself was getting instructions on how to operate the steam engine, prior to taking the train out.

Pretty cool stuff.



Prototype?    Defined means modeling a replica of  the 1:1 foot scale, to as precise a copy as is possible in any number of smaller scales.

I for one prefer to model trains as close to the prototype as is possible.      My weakness is “Valves”,  “Stoves,” “Locomotives,” aka Steam Locomotives.      Nothing sounds better to my ears then the pulse, staccato and rhythm of a steamer.    I don’t care what wheel arrangement, shape or style it comes in.

Mike Armstrong takes us on a  virtual video tour.     Check it out.

Steam Trains Galore 2!

 Published on Aug 1, 2014

All aboard! Come along for Steam Trains Galore Part 2! We will visit a variety of different steam railroads in the western United States in the states of California, Nevada, and Colorado. As with the first video in the series, a wide variety of steam trains are included in a wide array of climates: everything from tall pine forests and coastal redwoods to high desert and scrub brush. In a similar style the the original Steam Trains Galore, this video features no distracting captions and no narration, only the sounds of the trains and nature. At the end of the video, a full list of the railroads where this video was filmed is included.

Steam Trains Galore 2 is sure to put smiles on the faces of everyone from 1 to 92, so hop aboard for this exciting adventure!

As always, comments are encouraged and appreciated!

Thanks for watching, CoasterFan2105.


Security and Your Model Railroad

Railroad Security.

No this won’t be about the 1:1 foot scale Railroad Security, Railroad Police or Bulls.    This is about securing your Toy Train Layout or Model Railroad.

Security considerations for your model railroad.

What can you do to  protect your miniature railroad?   I could probably finish this topic right here, by saying nothing.  Or at least nothing has really worked for me.    Having had my radar turned on would of helped but we already now what happens when I shut it off.   If you don’t know you are about to learn.   Sigh!

What we need to do here is establish some sort of plan to protect your model railroad or layout module,   train equipment and miscellaneous scenery items.

To start with, It will be up to you to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings and who is present.   We will talk about visitors and those wild out of control hands.   Then there are those looking for a souvenir.    Thieves know no holiday and will be at work when you least expect it.    How’s that for starters?

The first concern  most of us have is:

How do we protect our layouts from  friends and relatives with those touchy… feely hands.  You know that unsuspecting, no warning,  stop in for a visit types.   The ones that clean out the pantry and steal your fine China.   Where the kids are out  of control, having no discipline.  You know the type.

What can  you do?    Lock-up the layout room and throw away the key?  Be sure the windows are secured with security bars?   Close the shades, turn off the TV and  Stereo?   Run silent?  Don’t answer the door?   Hire a security firm to stand guard?   Put a sign up saying gone fishing see you next year!!!!    No, that’s an invitation to come right in and help yourself.    Inviting trouble.    They will find a way in, I promise.

Frustrating, yes….no?

Things to watch for.   We will jump right in here and I won’t mince words.      I set down to write this and thought of more examples then I could possibly use here or have time and space to share.     Where do I start?

Starting here and now!    Get a bunch of scale police cars with CCTV camera’s embedded in the headlights tied in to a security system that records everything with in vision of the camera.    No I’m not kidding.  Getting the required police cars may be a problem but placing camera’s in and around the scenery as in on top of a building,  will work.   On the internet are some fairly cheap camera’s.     I have them installed on my layout.   More on this, if I can find a reliable and consistently available vendor.    WeHonest has been the contact vendor I’ve dealt with in the past.    I haven’t seen him as of late.   Do ask us, on the Contact Us page.

Security Tips: 

Size Counts:     The smaller the item the easier it is to steal.    Those of us with N and Z scale layouts need to be paying attention.

Body language.   There are plenty of internet resources you can turn to learn more about this subject.   The set of the lips, look in the eye, hands and where are they?    All clues that will help you read your visitors.

The grocery shopper:    If the person that enters your home to visit your layout has the look of a shopper on his or her face.   The same as a shopper does at the local grocery store.    Chances are they are probably shopping to shoplift…something, anything, easily removed out of your home or off your Model Railroad.    If their eyes light up take note of what they are looking at.   It may disappear.

Subtlety can work against you as well.    Although the body language can be a bit more difficult to read.

Here we go you can hire these two.

Funny how that turned out….but only in the movies.

A Thief’s Invitation:

To a thief a lock and security system is just a challenge a dare of sorts.  Never mind the sign out front.  A clue there is something important or worth stealing inside.    Most, of the older systems…I might add, can be circumvented.    I won’t say how we don’t need to be teaching anyone here.

Rick’s Story Time:     Does he ever quit?    NO!

I’ve seen youngsters who will prove my point every time.   If they want  into a place bad enough, they will find a way.     Ask the  kids  in my neighbor-hood.

If I tell this story…there goes my credibility.   I was one of those once upon a time.  You know a kid!   Just not in the same vane as a person up to no good. Seldom did a locked door, locked gate or fence stop me from getting to where I wanted to go.    Consequences?   Yes and we all learned to live with them.

I might add here, mine was  getting into a church without a church key so my mother could practice on the churches organ, the pre-ludes, service hymns, offertories and post-ludes for the upcoming church services.   Choosing the stops, writing them down practicing those difficult music movements until she had them perfected.    It was all righteous.    She had arthritis and if she forgot her key my skills at picking a lock became a convenience.      It used to frustrate the christian experience right  out of our local pastor.   Of course my going in and rocking that old organ didn’t set well with him either.    Maybe this paragraph should be over in my profile, or not.

It was when I got back home and found out my cousins from Michigan, you know  the hand, up there by the almighty lakes.    They had just arrived…. as usual, unexpectedly.   Just the thought could send me into convulsions.  My sphincter got tight as….I’m sure you can think of something.    Now what do I do?   Everything on my layout was/is/will be/ in jeopardy.   Serious jeopardy.   No time to put it away and they’ve already gotten to it… while I was unlocking the church door.    Grin and bear it or throw one outstanding rage and beat the ever living….. well, that wasn’t going to happen.    I didn’t dare speak-out against them.   They were part of my mom’s holy grail of a family.  The perfect ones.   Did I just say that?    What?   What?    Then why was my American Flyer Locomotive being dragged through the dirt by one of my alleged cousins.    I wasn’t sure I was ready to claim them as family.     If his dad wouldn’t whack him I’d take care of that and am embarrassed to say I did.

After they destroyed my S Scale, American Flyer passenger set…I boxed it up and sent it home with them.    Later I would live to regret that.    I figured if they destroyed it they could live with it.   Why should I?    Now don’t go getting any ideas, I won’t make that mistake twice!

End of story but not the end of this discussion.

Setting up a diversion:

Here is what I would suggest or recommend.   That is if you get advance warning.   When it comes to family and friends, I like the idea of setting  up a diversion.     A little table with it’s own  roundy round.  Stocked with toy train equipment I don’t particularly care about.   IE.,  You can build it with old sectional track and operate  the older B-mann, Tyco, and Revel stuff.     Let them play with that and use it as a demolition derby…uhh….err…a training layout.  Expect some of the kids to take their new found toys,  outside and run it through the dirt.   No value no loss.

There is stuff on the market IE., Little Wood Trains, battery powered train sets that could distract a child for hours.  A visit to the thrift shop, old toys the kids beat to death years ago, old train stuff that doesn’t much matter and you are wondering why you didn’t throw it away years ago.   No harm done.

Check this out:

Children’s undisciplined hands can be devastating to a detailed, prototype model railroad.   I won’t make any comparisons as to how devastating…. I’m sure you can once again,  fill in the blank with your own illustrative word shopped descriptions.    Never mind the parents of these children.    Worse, because you expect them to know better.

Did you ever wonder why kids behave the way they do?    Who is setting what if any example for them?

Signs Posted:

Signs that say “Don’t Touch, Hands Off” are all good but who reads signs any way?   My favorite:  “Break it you bought it,” but I’ve yet to see anyone pay for anything.   Another favorite, “You break-a my trains, I break-a your nose”.     Nope, I’ve never broke a nose or tended to violence, and/or followed through on any threat I ever made.  Disclaimer:  Not as an adult.   Although Ive been real ….tempted!

More to the point.   Of a gun?   No that just invites trouble with a capital “T”.     Not that owning one is a bad idea.   You still have the right to own one or more.  The right  to protect you, your family and your property.    For how much longer that remains to be seen.

Mode of operations:

Here are some things you need to be aware of.    It doesn’t matter if you are at a train show selling your wares, operating one of the club layouts and or selling hot dogs.    The thieves among us all have a mode of operation.   Go ahead, you can say it in Greek or Latin, your choice.

Palming or Slight Of Hand:

A well trained and practiced thief can palm the very money they lay on the counter to pay for a sandwich and convince the cashier that he or she has already put the money in the cash register.   Change please.

Here’s how it works.    A distraction, think about this because you will read where I emphasize this time and again.    A distraction back behind the would be customer.   Someone can do this deliberately but that takes a two man team.  Most thief’s who work alone are slicker then you think.  The alleged customer  will  wait for a distraction.   It could be someone  whose order isn’t correct, the wrong sandwich.  The thief will wait for someone to  disarm/distract the cashier and attempt to confuse them.  Most likely  the thief will get away with it.    Free meal and change.

Magicians and carny’s are the  best examples of those who are skilfully, trained to perform  slight of hand tricks.   They perform daily and are practiced in their profession.    You can learn much from them.    A would be thief, practiced in the same art.    They can lift items off your person,  off your layout and out of your home.

A skilled talker can talk you out of your money faster then you think.  Making you think… it was your idea.

You want to watch out for  those  clowns who doubled and served as magicians.    Eye’s open guys and gal’s.    They are good!    The hand can distract the eye and prove itself to be faster then the eye can keep up with.      These pro’s, I say loosely,  can palm small parts such as scale auto’s, people, animals, crates, barrels, out type buildings, scenic materials and your wallet.   If they are real good your locomotives, full length passenger cars and even buildings are all fodder for the quick snatch and run.    I need to add here.  You aren’t likely to see them running.    They are usually smooth enough to carry the item out, right by the owner and out the door without making you suspicious.    At this point your brain is still assimilating what the eyes have seen and it may take a minute or two before you realize…the worst.

Another M.O.   They aren’t likely to carry these things out the door but will have an accomplice carry them out for them.    For example:   Let’s say they happen to be a passenger in your car and rode down with you  to visit the  LHS, Train Show, or take part in a Layout Tour.   The thief may ask you to carry his or her stuff out to your car without you even suspecting.    Don’t ask me how I know.

The Shuffle:

I saw an operator attempt to pull this off in front of a crowd and he almost got away with it.    He eyed something he wanted, talked to the vendor about it, attempted to negotiate a lower price and then the shuffle.    He took out of a sack, things he allegedly bought from other vendors and began to shuffle the items around  mixing it into the pile as though he was trying to decide which one to keep and which one to trade off.   I call it, the two fisted  shuffle.    Very quickly he started moving them about, much like a shell game,  verbally distracting all who were watching.   As though he was attempting to make a trade or swap with the vendor.  He dropped the item into the bag and left the others sitting on the table.   If it hadn’t been for the security types standing by watching him he’d of gotten away with it.   They were already on to him and he was arrested for having stolen goods.   Everything in the bag was stolen.   Owners of the equipment had reported him and were standing by to claim their goods.

The Distraction:

A clown,  I’ll call him Jed, not his real name.  Honest, I’m not making this up.   I befriended one and learned some lessons the hard way.   I invited him along to ride shot gun on a Sunday, rail fan and LHS visits.    This went on for much longer then I care to admit and I thought I could trust him. Radar off!!  I think you can guess the rest of the story but at least give me a chance to tell it.    He had a favorite sucker to pick on…ME!  I kept wondering why store owners who trusted me in the past were now eye balling  me suspiciously.    The clown, not in make up or clown garb.   He would walk into a hobby shop and suggest to the proprietor that they better watch me as he suspected, I was a thief.  Who is he using as a distraction?    You got it.

Thanks Jed, I appreciate every attempt you make to destroy my credibility.    Nothing like a little character assassination on a Sunday.  I would be the distraction he needed to fill his pants.   Yes, I think I said that correctly.    He had a very deep pouch that he wore under his very loose fitting pants.      Worn right over his crotch. hanging down to his right or left knee.    I had a fifty, fifty chance on that one.    He knew he wasn’t likely to be frisked….there.

One of the store attendants came up to me and told me what he had said.   I responded by saying,  stick with me and we may both learn something.   In the past I had noticed things… would show up and then disappear off his layout and I had no recollection of him paying for these items.   On this day, he attempted to get away with stealing a N scale, SP 4-8-4 Northern.  Not so easy to do or hide.   But….he almost got away with it.     The wife of the store owner noted the funny lump in his pants and called him on it.    You miss me or just glad to see me…more seriously pointing at him and asking what he’s hiding.   A sheepish grin hard luck story that followed.   An explanation that would make any sympathetic person feel guilty for accusing him.     He gave up the locomotive and I gave up a riding partner.   No more shotgun on Sunday outings.

Observant:   Hopefully, what I share here will help you to be more observant.   There is more.   You may want to follow along here closely.    Two things to watch out for.

The Switch:        No I’m not talking about a “Turnout”.    Gosh, that dammed “T” word.    There are two versions of The Switch.     Kind of like a pack rat.    More versions if you wish, that is if you want to  get technical.

1.    The Box:  A favorite place to pull this is a swap meet.    The would be buyer aka thief, looks over a bunch of stuff and starts quietly shuffling items he or she wants into an empty box.    Followed by a bunch of junk like building parts, scenic stuff, old track whatever he finds in other  junk boxes.    The thief then offers to buy two junk boxes sitting under a table (that he or she may have played with as well) and let’s say  the seller wants $25.00 for each box, a total of  $50.00.     The thief continues to negotiate suggesting a lower price of $40.00.   The  owner agrees,  knowing or thinking he knows what’s in the boxes.      The thief agrees to the $40.00 but wants the seller to throw in, you guessed it,  the other box, “Of Junk?”.     Bingo, the seller has no idea that he just sold off some valuable locomotives, a power pack and or train cars.    Whatever, the thief thinks he or she can get away with.    Slick operation but at whose cost?    Do I dare say?    Make sure you the seller. are the one to pack the box or make sure you know what’s in the box as in unpack it.

2.   Bait and Switch:    Not what you think.     In a retail outlet.   The thief attempts to negotiate a lower price for an item.   The store proprietor or sales representative,  isn’t able to accommodate the thief.     The salesperson  is only allowed to work within certain parameters as to discounts they can give.  The thief  is patient and will dicker for as long as he or she can, using every argument in the book.   Bait:   Here I’ll give you $5.00 and you can put it in your pocket…will be the implication.     There is a distraction, disturbance.   IE.,  A determined or upset customer, or perhaps someone trips and falls  just inside the store entrance.   Far enough inside, from the door, so others can enter or leave freely.    This  draws the attention of  the sales person away from  the alleged and  waiting customer.   The sales person leaves the item on the counter…oop’s… to investigate what’s going on.   Bingo…  Switch:    the would be buyer places  $5.00 more or less on the counter and quietly leaves with a portable DVD player, Radio Scanner or any number of items.    If caught he or she will argue the salesperson said he’d sell it for that price.  Arguing,  I left what the sales person wanted on the counter top,  “I paid for it”.

Are you paranoid yet?

” I think I went and scared myself!”    One of my favorite lines courtesy of, Red Skeleton. 

You don’t need to be.    It will only drive you nuts.   Yes, do be vigilant, observant, aware of what your visitors are doing.    When possible get to know the person better, prior to  you extending an invitation to visit your train layout.   Watch the hands and body language.   Sometimes we speak louder with our body language then we do with our verbiage.    Do  listen to your visitors.   You can sometimes pick up on clues that something is a miss.

For the first time visitor,  do establish a understanding.   Set down rules of conduct as to what you expect from your visitors.  IE.,   Do not touch anything on the layout.  No hands allowed.   To determine what you consider to be proper behavior. Understanding you will ask them to leave the train room if they don’t comply.

When the rules are broken and it’s clear nothing is going to  change for the better.   I’ve personally pushed a father and son out of the train room.   Letting them know their behavior and wandering,  liberating hands wasn’t acceptable .   “Show’s over… everyone outside,” I said not grinning.   When they wouldn’t leave on their own, I shoved them out of the train room.   It wasn’t pretty… on anyone’s part.

Oh yes, let me not forget to share this.   Since we looked at personality types in an earlier post,   The only help you will get now is understanding the type of person you are dealing with.   Looking at personality types isn’t likely to help you with your early warning radar.     Thieves come in all kinds of dress, coats, purses and personalities types and in wheel chairs (they don’t need).

To be aware:  Winter time is their favorite time.    Those big thick coats are perfect hiding places for stuff.   How about the lady that didn’t come in 8 months pregnant but is leaving 8 months pregnant.    Someone,  must have done a hurry up job.    Don’t let that out because every woman is going to want one

Rick’s Story Time:    The alleged friend.    Oh No!

I think I’ve already talked about the clown I befriended.    He stole so much off of me.    I’m still discovering missing items.      He thought it was funny like some big joke.   A game to see how much he could get away with.   It wasn’t until I started  inventorying my video collection of movies and train DVD’s,, train locomotives, passenger equipment and comparing it with a former inventory,  that I began to realize how much is missing.    At times he was every bit the pack rat.    Leaving something of lesser value or broken, exchanging it for something newer.   Often times I didn’t have time to take it out of the box.  True story!   Like I’ve been lying to you all this time.

After a purported friendly visit.  I discovered…well here’s the story.   I had a smooth working Life Like,  SW7, in the AT&SF Zebra Stripe livery sitting on one of the round house, ready tracks.     Wanting to do some switching with it, I turned to my round house and….you guessed it, GONE!  And, to my surprise so was he.    I found in it’s place a SP Tiger Stripe SW7, with the  motor  burned out and missing parts.   Suspicious he had it.   I checked out his layout and the AT&SF switch engine, wasn’t anywhere to be found.  What I learned next straightened out my curly hair and turned my beard white. .

JB, the owner of a LHS (not his true name) had noted this clown showing up, almost on a weekly basis and more often at times….with various pieces of train equipment and wanting  him to sell it by putting it on consignment.   He noted a customer of his, would show up on just as regular a basis, as though on cue… to buy the clowns stuff.   Usually at a price less then JB.,  could buy it wholesale.     When I mentioned that a certain locomotive on his shelf looked like the one I’m missing….we started putting things together.    It was mine.   He acted on the discovery and returned the item to me.   That’s when I put together….The clown supported his alcoholic addiction by  fencing off my goods.    But wait….the story doesn’t end here.

More then suspicious and with the knowledge of what is happening.   I set up a sting.    I placed two “Bad Ordered” locomotives onto the same roundhouse  tracks nearest the edge of the layout.    I invited the clown over.     He grabbed both of them but this time with my eagle eye on the action.     I watched his every move and let him get out the door.     He wasn’t a pack rat this time.       I waited and waited and waited some more.    A week or two later, he shows up with  the same locomotives asking me if I could fix them.  Really, well golly, gee whiz…unbelievable.   I turned them over and showed him my initials on the bottom of the fuel tanks.    Asking him why and how he happened to have my locomotives.    I didn’t mince words that day calling him a thief among other expletives I won’t use or repeat here.  Finishing with, I knew when he stole them.    Escorting him to the door, advising him he was no longer welcomed and don’t darken my door with his shadow ever again.    That was the final straw.    I’d like to think I got the last laugh.    I have both locomotives and they will get repaired as in re-motored.     It’s everything else that’s missing that makes me think he had the last laugh.

End of this story.

What to watch for:

Things to watch for when a thief is at work.  They will wait for the owner to be distracted.  A phone call and with today’s cell phones, they might initiate said call.  Sounding like a neighbor reporting something suspicious activity out in front of their house.   Drawing the owner away from the layout.   OR… Waiting for the owner to turn his or her back, to leave as in a bathroom break, any distraction and there is more then one.  Most of the time when making the heist they will move quickly.   Like a burst of energy followed by a verbal distraction.    “Oh I was just trying to put that car back on the track”.   Attempting to make it look like they are helping you…the distraction.   Gone will be a train car or more.   You will end up missing freight cars, passenger cars, locomotives, diesels and who knows what else.

Two more stories and then I will shut this down.

The Train Show:

I went to a train show, stopping by to visit with a friend who was running trains on a modular club layout.   Aptly staffed and they kept your interest with trains running.   All the while watching the visitors with an eagle eye.    You’d of thought the security provided would work very well.     Lunch time rolls around and I’ll bet you can tell the rest of the story.     You are correct.    Trains stopped right where they were running.    Everyone disappeared except for the eagle eye thief who was waiting in the not so distant shadows.    Planning to liberate train equipment and whatever else he could get his hands on.    It was slick and I won’t tell you how.    I was glad security was standing with me and I could act as a witness.    Caught him red handed.

One more heist, One More Story:     You are right I don’t quit!

At some point during one of those Sunday outings, where I had invited Jed, the clown along to ride shot gun.   A friend of mine who worked at a LHS.  He was pretty proud of a project and wanted to show off us his handiwork.   He kit-bashed  a N scale flat car with a rather unique load.    On the flat car a  Z scale,  locomotive sitting  on a piece of Z scale track.    Tied down with the tiniest jewelers chains.   It came up missing while the clown and I was shopping.    The owner of the train car,  approached me saying the last person he knew who had it was the clown.    He was distraught to say the least.    It would be years later when the truth finally came out.     I would find a picture of this same flat car and it’s load, sitting on the clowns layout.  Time had taken it’s toll and he had allegedly passed away.   His significant other, had asked me to demolish the layout, as she wanted the room restored back to a sun deck.   The picture was mixed in  with other things belonging to the clown.    Scanning the picture, I then e-mailed it off to my friend.   Again, the flat and it’s load….no where to be found.       He did not know or understand the meaning of friendship, honesty / truthfulness  and what it means to have loyalties to a friend.    What is a friend?

Prevention, what can we do?

Unfortunately, there  will be times there is little you  and I can do to prevent theft or stop  the thieves.    They can be family members, good friends, a house keeper you hire, the carpet cleaner and or any number of persons who enter and leave your home.  More then likely it will be a close acquaintance or friend of the family. True!

You need to be aware of  the unsuspecting, unassuming visitors that show up during  a layout tour.    Unless you have security and/or an off duty police officer present there is little you can do to stop them.  You can confront them and tell them what you saw but most thieves are totally desensitized and they won’t react responsibly to appeals to be honest.  They won’t rat themselves out.

Should they leave in a car be sure to get the license plate, (write it down)  to include the make, model  and color of the car,  reporting it to the police.

Although, most thief’s work alone if you are in gang related territory and the thief leaves on foot.  Don’t follow them, it could be a  trap.

You could make a citizens arrest but make sure you do know what’s involved.    You better have certifiable witnesses.   Most states require that you know, the penal code.   I can’t write anything here specific to the state you live in.    Different states have different laws governing how you handle a thief.       Get to know them and your rights.

When a crime is committed and you are a witness.  Be observant, get as vivid a description of the suspect, as you can.   What color of shirt, coat, pants, height, eye color, hair color, race and approximate age.    Did they speak with an accent and if so can you identify it.      Despite all of this…by the time the officer catches up with the suspect  they will most likely have ditched the stolen goods and removed the coat or shirt, comb their hair differently and it will be hard for you to I.D. them.    Stupid, they aren’t.   In the end, they will most likely get away with it.

Did  I hear you ask, what do I do, on my layout?

My best security is inviting friends I know and trust over to operate the layout.   Ok, so one of my former friends was not trustworthy.   I won’t let that discolor my friendship with other good friends.  Nor should you.

For those visitors… I don’t know, it’s one at a time.   I’ve learned the hard way, not to leave anyone  by themselves.   Doing that has cost me to much in lost train equipment and the replacement cost has been excessive.    I have a CCTV on my layout and it can be pointed at would be visitors and those busy hands.       Not that I have anything left of any real value.    Well, sentimental value, which you can’t put a cost to.

One last short story:    Again? 

When I worked in a hobby shop we had a fella we suspected was stealing from us.   I learned from a number of other model railroaders, they were sure he had stolen stuff from  their homes.   I knew he had stolen stuff out of mine.

At the store we had security camera’s and an employee watching the action in the store.    He was to coy to pull a heist there.    However, this is where he would set it up.  He would see something you purchased and offer you a trade.   He would approach the customer and ask questions.   What are you looking for?  Is there something you’ve been wanting?   Suggesting, he might have that or something else to trade you.  I think each of us has a wish list and could readily and easily answer his questions.  He would arrange as in offer to follow you home where the trade off would occur.    The trade off being  items of greater value.     If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.

His M.O. was to trade off stolen goods for something legit.  You know, the item you are about to give him in trade.   If caught it would be difficult to investigate.    He wouldn’t stop there.   He might have a shopping list.   He knew what other modelers were looking for.   IE.,  Say Brad, across the street wanted  a Union Pacific Passenger car of a specific description.  Say, you just happen to have one.  You are looking for Santa Fe reefers and he just happens to have a brand new set of four.  Joe blow across town is looking for a set of Santa Fe Hoppers.   And you happen to have a set.  But not for long.    He’d simply fill the order from your stock and repeat the same M.O. when he delivered said item or items to the next trader.    It would all look legitimate until you discover you are missing train equipment.

It wasn’t until we set up a sting involving a detective and other plain clothes officers that we finally nailed him.      I won’t leave you with the details or specific’s as to how we accomplished this.    We might want to use the same procedures in the future.     We didn’t recover any of the stolen goods.   As already mentioned, he was smart enough to fence or hawk them.   To keep them moving.      When it was all said and done and he was cuffed and headed for jail.   We all breathed a little easier.    He took the bait hook line and sinker.   I haven’t seen anything slicker in all my life.    Well done and a salute to the fine men and women who serve to protect us.

Closing Remarks:

Careful you never know when a thief will hit and whether or not you are their  preferred target.       Tune up your radar.     Report anything suspicious to your local police department.       Don’t take the law into your own hands.    This could lead to you being arrested.   Kind of counter productive.

On another note:   Let’s not be that person who constantly yells wolf.  A neighbor walking by your window is not someone suspicious.  Usually, the behavior of a person will be your first clue something is up.    Listen to your gut and trust your instincts.   If you perceive a threat and it’s imminent, do call  your local police department.

Any questions?

Did I leave out something important?    Like don’t carry large sums of cash.  Lock the car, truck any vehicle you own and be sure the keys are in your possession.     Get to know your neighbors.   Watch your back.     Keep a cool head when others around you don’t.     Choose your friends wisely.   Use the buddy system.      Always be alert and vigilant.   Turn off the neon sign on your forehead that says, “Sucker”.    Tune up your radar  from time to time and never EVER turn it off.

Oh before I forget.   Remember, to use the camera that’s built in to your cell phone!    You shouldn’t be surprised at what you can catch.   Uhh…err…don’t forget the video feature.

Ok, I’m done and that’s a wrap.








Common Wire-Common Rail

The Dance Of The Common!

The following is a discussion for Analog DC Operators.

What is “Common Wire or Common Rail?”      Not something you want to play with unless, you like stuttering locomotives that halt, hiccup and operate poorly.   Unexplained surges in power and throttles that don’t respond well as in unpredictable.   The Dance Of The Common.

But Rick, I’ve never heard it described as the, “Dance of the Common?”   That’s probably true because. for whatever reasons no one wants to speak-out truthfully or honestly about it.  The time has arrived.

It all started when train Operators wanted to operate more then one train at a time.   To   do so with two separate transformers referred to as Cab A and Cab B.  What they wanted to do was not so dissimilar to how the O Scalers double stacked two transformers so they could operate more then one engine in a  lash-up.   What they did for HO, was to  attach a common wire between two transformers and run the other wires out to SPDT electrical toggle switches or the green slider switches.     The idea was plausible and allegedly works well when properly wired-in.

There are two very entrenched positions on Common Wire and/ or Common Rail.     Those who are Pro and those who are Con.   All willing to fight for their position and argue…  they are right.

Allow me to elaborate:
  • Pro – Common Supporters:  Those who tie in a common wire between Cab A and Cab B., known as Common Wire.
  • Con – Will Isolate Cab A from Cab B:   The other group who woke up early on and decided the common  goes against most electrical wiring concepts.
  • You?   What about you?  I will leave it up to you to decide what position you want to take.
Historical Perspective:
  • Disclosures and Disclaimers in the form of Cautions and  Warnings:     Full  Disclosures from the various publications, wig wags (magazines)  and common rail green slider switch  providers and/or manufacturers,  would of been helpful.       
  • A Heads Up:    For  the user/consumer to help us understand the complications, consequences and  potential problems.  Would of been helpful.    Followed by  tips on how to fix said problems.   None have been forth coming to the date of this writing.
  • Verbal or written claims:  The only thing we’ve heard is it works and you have to wire it in correctly.    Really!
  • I promise:  We will get around to  talking about wiring in C-wire properly or correctly as we continue down this page.

Definitions:   What is it?

Common Rail Defined:   It  is an additional rail,  put along the outside of  the track.    Locomotives are equipped with whiskers to make contact with the rail and the common runs down and through this additional rail.     This procedure can get so  complicated that it is hardly worth the effort.

Common Wire Defined:     Is where you connect one wire  from the  output of transformer A.,  to an outlet on transformer B.      Not both wires, just one and this is called a “Common,” not to be confused with a “Ground”.   See illustrations below.

Where am I coming from?   Or on what authority am I writing this?   My own experience.   I built a layout with a common and the results weren’t at all acceptable.   Over on a post about Mentors, Rick’s Story Time, I discuss how we cured a common problem and eradicated the hiccups.   I think it dove tails in behind this post.   In the meantime if the indicator or print is green  you can click and scroll and your on board.   Do remember how to get back.

Today, you can find more video’s out there that support Common Wiring  and very few that support the DPDT Standard of wiring.    Some guys and gals  just don’t like using so many wires.   Gosh, let’s see.  It’s only one additional wire. They’d  rather do away with it and the toggles.

Do I dare say?   Allow me to point out.   You need the DPDT Center Off toggles and the additional wiring.   This way you can completely shut off the power to a track to assure no current is getting through.   If you are currently wired to a common rail or wire keep in mind,  It’s only one additional wire and in some cases the common can be busted up into the blocks required.

What you won’t, don’t or haven’t  read or heard about, is how many owners of layouts wired in with a common  are dissatisfied with the overall  performance.   Never mind the visitors that show up on operations night to operate said layout.   Gritting their teeth every-time there is a short and the whole layout shuts down.

Common rail or common wire model railroads.   I owned one of these and it didn’t last longer then a year.    Here are some of the problems I had.  Short indicator went off way to often.  Power supplies overheated and completely shut down.  I had to shut the power off so the transformers could cool down.   Breakers would shut down and eventually  reset themselves.   When, the power supply came back to life and I finished train operations for the day with more of the same frustrations.   If I only operated one train at a time it worked very well.    Set two trains to running in the opposite direction and the hiccuping, stuttering and halting caused me more grief and stress then I needed or wanted.  Not a happy camper.

There’s always an exception and I found one.   

Exception:  I only  know of one layout where the common, appears to operate fairly well.      However, I saw problems and the typical symptoms… that reminded me, of my  own common rail model railroad.    While operating on this layout I continued to note some peculiar behavior as in tell tales.  Before the owner had the opportunity to tell me it was wired in with a common, I  guessed it….correctly.  You can find it:   The Gulf & Pacific Railroad.

You Need To Know:

Tell Tale Signs or Symptomatic Behavior:

“The Dance of the Common.”

    • Start up one train east bound on cab A., (It will run smoothly at first)  and then start up the other train west bound on cab B., and they will both start to falter,  stutter, hiccup and/or stall out.
    • When a short occurs the whole layout goes down until the cause of the short can be found.  
  • Cross over from one block to another IE.,    Cab A to Cab B  intentionally or unintentionally and weird things start to happen.     I’ve seen locomotives go forward and backwards and if not detected in time you’ll swear the locomotive had a smoke generator.   Also noting  the plastic parts of power trucks or the locomotives trucks…. melt down.
  • Throw a reversing switch on a wye, turntable  and/or reversing loop and the power supply and electrical gauges all tell you, you have a short.
  • Unexplained shorts.  Transformers keep indicating a short.   Meters indicate a short.    The source is hard to determine or find as in unapparent.
  • A run away train and there’s no way to shut the controller or throttle down outside of grabbing it by hand or shutting off the designated toggle.   Ever try to find a toggle when you are in a panic mode?
  • Eventually you will start to notice Electric Motors that appear to operate poorly and will eventually lead to…burned out.
  • Plastic gears and parts in a locomotive power trucks melted down also caused by a short.
  • Transformers operate irregularly and does not respond consistently.    If you haven’t already you’ll notice you have to add more power to overcome the inertia and get your locomotives or diesels moving.
  • A quick stop as in putting the train into an emergency stop  and you’ll see to your dismay…. other trains take off on a dead run.
  • AND something you won’t see but you will discover to your dismay.    You can suffer locomotive creep on a spur you thought you had shut down.   It’s not completely shut down as the common is still open.  A open circuit.      And there’s the source of your problem    the Key to all the frustrations a fore mentioned.

It gets better or should I say worse.

The Worst thing I’ve Experienced:   

Two transformers with memory as in Momentum and Brake features both hooked to a common.   You can kill these transformers and there’s no way to recover them.    Somehow, I managed just that.

Personally, I lost five  Analog DC transformers aka power supplies. 

  1. The original,  two wire wound rheostat’s on my HO Scale train layout. 
  2. Two when I set up a model to demonstrate the Common – Tell Tales.    Two transistorized throttles with memory features such as momentum and brake.   That accounts for four of them.
  3. Then there was the loaner we used when testing someone Else’s layout.     It heated up and we  lost the memory features and it never recovered, stuck on full speed ahead


Best advice of the day….

Now that we’ve identified the problems what suggestions can I make to help you make a well founded decision?   Or resolve the problems? 

Heat will kill electronics, courtesy of David Eaton.

  • I decided enough, was  enough and that was the end of that.     It was starting to cost me monies I didn’t have.    Did you say, “Getting me nowhere?”   You are so right!
Stay Away From The C-Wire…The Common!

If you must work with analog DC then isolate Cab A from Cab B.  Utilize the DPDT electrical toggles for your block wiring.   Cut in isolation gaps on both rails in a block.

Benefits of today’s analog DC throttles.   Memory features IE.,     Momentum, Brake and etc.   You’ll find these attributes  built into most of today’s  Analog Power Supplies and DCC Throttles.   All allow for some very fine and realistic train operations.    Not worth jeopardizing.


My Hobby Shop Experience: 

You can call this Rick’s Story Time…sigh!

I worked for a hobby shop in Dayton, Ohio, and we saw a number of returns involving  everything from MRC’s and  other name brands, small Analog DC transformers,  transistorized throttles to the more expensive and finer CM 20’s.    Most having built in memory features such as brake and momentum.    Oddly, most of them  having died a very untimely death.   Why?  You might want to know..   or not!   

Disclosure:   All the above a fore mentioned transformers tied into a common wired model railroad.   You knew that was coming, right.   You did?   I thought so.

This despite my best efforts to discourage such.   Who listens to a guy behind the train counter at your LHS?   

You Need To Know: One plus or benefit for us, that is the  hobby shop…(you won’t like this)… the cash register kept going cha-ching.    Nothing like the sweet sound of the cash register as it  rings up a sale.

On a positive note:   It appears some of the problems have been engineered out of the CM 20’s.    John A. of the Gulf & Pacific HO Scale Model Railroad, already a fore mentioned.  He is operating a common wire layout  here in Big Bear Country, with  two Controlmaster 20’s.   Fingers crossed, so far it’s working.

News Update 6/30/2016:   I just learned that they are no longer servicing or repairing the Controlmaster 20’s.     Not the kind of news we wanted to hear.   Especially when they keep telling their customers,    “You can hook it up to a common”.    What, what, what did I  say?

What’s the answer?    What’s the question?    Do we need to use Common Rail or Common wire with today’s model railroads?   Good question?    The quick  answer is HELL NO!

***The  simple answer to the common wire dilemma and to those daunting, frustrating operational problems.   It can be eliminated by using  DPDT Center Off, toggled electrical switches.  This will effectively eliminate all, All, ALL.    I did say “All”?  Good I did.   It will eliminate all of  those frustrating operational problems.   Say good bye to, “The Dance Of The Common.”


Wiring It In Properly:

How many time have I heard that as a directive?   They were right you know.   There is a right and wrong way to wire in any layout.   Common wire, wrong! Not the right way… just don’t.  Block Wiring, the right way…Do by all means DO!

Here’s an example of the type of DPDT’s Center Off electrical toggle switches I use on my layout. 

DPDT 1 BacksideDPDT 2 Center Off

Points to consider:
  • It makes no sense to me to have positive electrons and negative electrons all butting heads in or on the same wire.     This usually translates into resistance, heat and usually a type of accumulative short?  As in….  heat, resulting in heated wires and/or melted  insulation which translates…SHORT.
  • Heat has been mentioned as the culprit in most electronic types of environments.     Heat will destroy electronic components, as already shared with us by David Eaton.
Common Wire:
Cautions and Disclaimers:

My best advice to the newbies:  You’d be better off to avoid this learning curve.    To  avoid the Common Wire/Common Rail methods of wiring.


FYI, How-To Common Wire Illustrations:   

The following is common rail wiring for Cab A and Cab B.

In the illustrations I use below you will see where one wire runs from one transformer to the other.    This is called a “Common”, not to be confused with a “Ground”.      Nor… as in NO,  they are NOT synonymous in the world of electrical engineering.

Common Wire Cab A Cab B

 How did I wire in my common wire layout?

See for yourself!

This next illustration will take you to an  example of the type of slider green and blue slider switches I used.   Over the years I’ve tired of hearing… “I didn’t wire it in right,” when most of my critiques never saw may layout let alone, how I  wired it in.    So here is an examples of  how,  I wired it in.   As per the instructions given  and illustrations you’ll  see here.

  • Do note, in the illustration all trains indicated are running in the same direction and reversing switches are all set to the same polarity.    Unlike what you see in the above illustration.   The common is tied together in the first slider switch…the one with the reversing sliders, allegedly designed for a reversing loop and/or wye.  You can see the “Common,”  coming out of the top of the first block of switches thus tieing in both transformers as illustrated above.
  Duel Cab Slider Switches-Common Rail.


To enlarge the illustration click on it.

You guessed it, I don’t recommend it:    Do avoid the green slider switches, that you can find at most LHS’s.    I know that just made some fine folk out there a bit edgy.     If you think I’m kidding… I’m not!!


**I’ve never found anything more frustrating to operate.  I’ve already shared this with you but it’s worth repeating.  It works fine if all trains are traveling in the same direction or you operate one train at a time.  I’ve seen unexplained short’s when operating two trains at the same time OR when attempting to make a reverse move.  Heat in the trucks of a locomotive, causing plastic gear parts to melt down, eventual loss of electric motors  as in burned up.   Throttles  stuck on full power with loss of  Momentum and Brake features.     Not pretty and not recommended.**


I Highly Recommend:

Rick Approved.   Isolating the two transformers and wiring-in   with DPDT Center Off, electrical toggle switches.    See post:  Blocks, Wiring & DPDT- Basics. 

Cab A Cab B DPDT Wire Diagram

Note the two transformers are not tied into each other.   The Rick Approved, way or means, the method of wiring-in Analog DC.    Also, there are no open circuits.  Unless you leave them open as in turned on to Cab A or Cab B.

Tell Tales Visible:

This two could be considered Rick’s Story Time.

I visited a club layout where all the “Tell Tales” were visible.    I was lucky enough to talk to the electrical engineer in charge of the wiring.   He explained that the reason the motors were stuttering is the power from one transformer was looking for a way back to it’s own pole or source.    When a locomotive was moving forward and another backwards the electrons moving toward the motors sometimes cancelled each other out causing the motor to stall.     Not the kind of performance… I want on my layout

There are club layouts across the U.S. of A. that operate with a common.  Not sure how this ill fated idea has captured the attention of so many  toy train enthusiast and model railroaders.    How it became so popular is beyond me and isn’t at all popular with this hobbyist.     Commonly referred to as Common Rail or Common Wire, or as I prefer to say, “The Dance of the Common.”    Did you hear a reverb and the voice slowed down to sound ominous – spooky.    You did?    You heard correctly.

The club layouts I’m aware of that operate their common wire layouts successfully.   They use filtered systems with numerous circuit breakers in line.   Most of these club layouts  operate with minor problems.    It’s when the common decides to dance your locomotives around, well… that’s when the trouble starts.   Did I already say?  The Dance of the Common!


Choices it’s all about choices:

Pro:   You can be one of those who:    Will work the common to the death of your power supplies and or train equipment.   Stubborn to the bitter end.    Did I say?    With their heads buried in the sand and denial at the helm.  I didn’t say that did I?   Good!  I didn’t think so but you never know.

Con:   You can be one of those who:   Think it’s crazy  to think we’d put up with common wire and all the ugly symptoms.    Choosing instead to  wire in using DPDT’s, Center off electrical toggle switches, isolating Cab A from Cab B.   Never mind the improvement with overall performance of your trains.

My mind is made up.  Can you tell?  How about you?

***With today’s advent of  DCC, the common can die a respectful death and we can say good bye to a very old and frustrating friend. R.I.P.***


Why play around with the old ways and means of operating trains and change-up to today’s engineering and technology?         You’d be amazed what DCC can do for your layout.    I’m not going to promise it’s an easy learning curve but once you’ve wrapped your head around it…you’ll find your good to go.

For DCC there’s plenty of categories to choose from right here on BarstowRick.com.   With links to those who are in the know. 

To  learn more on how to wire in your blocks with double pole double throw, center off electrical toggle switches  go to:   DPDT Wiring In Your Blocks.

The schematic and link  is courtesy of Ty’s Blog.   Pictures of toggles are courtesy of Amazon.

The thoughts and opinions shared and/or voiced here are mine although,  shared by many in the hobby.

What did you say?   You still want to operate your train with a common wire?    Go ahead.     It’s your choice!  Uh-oh why do I smell a hot acrid electrical smell.  Is that hot plastic, I’m smelling?   Is something burning?

I promise I won’t do an… “I told you so.”

That’s a wrap…for now.



Blocks, Block Wiring & DPDT Toggles

Blocks,  Block Wiring & DPDT Toggles – Control Panel Basics with an added bonus or two.   Also an introduction to DCC.

I heard you asking:  Why would I have both DCC and Analog DC in the same discussion?  Good question.   Uhh…err…because I didn’t make the video.    Not to worry.   You’ll find both the Analog DC with DPDT’s and the DCC way of doing things in the first video presented here.   A video courtesy of  Green Frog.  You will get a brief introduction to DCC, translated, “Digital Command Control,”

Traditional Wiring and/or Block Wiring  is   presented.   The author of the video uses a   “Double Pole Double Throw, Center Off toggle,” for the various blocks he wants to wire-in.

FYI:  You need to know. For sake of this presentation I will use:

  • DPDT in place of “Double Pole Double Throw, Center Off Electrical Toggle”.
  • Switch, in place of turnout.     I’ve  never heard rails / railroad employees, use “Turnout,” to describe a “Track Switch.”  It is simply called a, “Switch“.    For sake of discussion here I will use either “Track Switch” or just “Switch”.

The following  video presents a written introduction to the  wiring basics.   Don’t miss-out on  the discussion and presentation that follows.   Illustrated how-to’s, for block wiring  and wiring-in  a control panel.   Do note the gaps as illustrated in the video picture below.

Building a Model Railroad Series #5–Wiring & Command Control

Uploaded on Dec 3, 2008

Purchase at — www.greenfrog.com
This video begins with introduction to command control and its primary differences with the basic transformer. A.J. Ireland of Digitrax makes it simple with easy to follow steps as he shows how to install the decoders in several locomotives. Next, wiring of the Apple Valley Branch track is shown complete with a reversing loop.   I hope that helps and thanks for watching, GreenFrogVideos.  

The video is for sale so feel free to do an oogle google search or go to the website indicated above.

A DPDT  switch.  Learn how to hard wire it in and it will allow you to wire-in Analog DC and /or DCC for the purpose of either shutting down power to the tracks.   With multiple uses for any other  purpose as you see fit.   For example:  The track where you store your locomotives or diesels.   The old school way of wiring-in two cabs Cab A & Cab B, to each block.   Once you learn how to wire them in and isolate one cab or throttle  from the other. You will discover the fun you can have with analog DC., dual cab operations.

For Block Control:  This is  the type of DPDT Center Off Electrical Toggle Switch that I prefer to use and highly recommend.

DPDT 2 Center OffDPDT 1 Backside


  • High Current Ratings 20 Amps @ 125vac
  • Screw Terminals x 6
  • DPDT On-Off-On
  • Illustrations courtesy of Amazon.com seeDPDT Center Off.

Disclaimer:  Of course with DCC,  some of the toggles you’d use for Analog DC,  won’t be necessary.

Analog DC:  So, I hear you saying  you want to stick with Analog DC.   Something about DCC makes you uncomfortable.     I understand that and you aren’t alone.

Thanks to a mentor who showed me how easy it was to wire in  Cab A and Cab B..     I soon  had it figured out and the layout up and running smoothly.   I still operate trains this way.

***You can expect wiring to be tedious and mundane but the rewards are awesome.    The key is keeping the polarity the same all the way around the layout.***

Blocks:    What are they?

Here are some things that made it  easy for me to  transition from a Toy train layout that didn’t have blocks to a  Model Railroad, with blocks.    Are you ready to make this happen on your layout?

What is a block?  This was a question I had early on in my model railroading… in-experience.   I heard my family of rails discussing the various blocks and sidings they work.   Where they would wait in the hole, for an oncoming train or make switching moves spotting a train car or two and picking up car loads.

The answer I got shouldn’t of surprised me.    They said, “It’s a small square toy with alphabet letters on it.”   Thanks a lot guys.  Hee Haw, Hee Haw, Very Funny!   The concept is not so dissimilar.   Did I just do a simile?

Putting all that behind me I persisted with my question and learned the following:


The simplest answer is they allow you  to  keep a safe distance between one train and another.   Trains are to remain one block apart.   They are also called Control Points on the 1:1 foot scale.    On most railroads the block starts and stops on the diverging end of a switch.

A Rails Perspective of a Block:

My family of rails / railroad employees talked about a “Block,” describing what it is and/or  isn’t.     The best example of this is:   Most blocks on the mainline of a  railroad are approximately one to two miles in length.    Longer or shorter in specific settings.  IE.,  Such as a long  run through siding.   Long enough to hold the longest freight out there.      A set of signals protects each block.  Either the ATS,  ATB, CTC or a Track Warrant system will protect each train movement through each independent block.

What a block isn’t:   Run through yard tracks, yard ladders, rip track,  industrial spurs, set out tracks, dead end spurs and roundhouse tracks.    Yard tracks are usually known by a number IE.,  Yard Track #1.   Industrial spurs are known by the company they serve IE.,   A&P Canning Company spur and so on.

Rule Exceptions:  There are exceptions to most rules.   One example:  A dispatcher will give permission via a track warrant, to allow a second train to  proceed into a block already occupied by the first train, to operate or move up close behind it.   With rules requiring slow orders, to prepare to stop and avoid fouling  the switch on the main.    To move up behind said train for the purpose of allowing a third train with priority orders headed in the opposing or same direction to pass by safely.     During the era of shorter trains this worked out just fine.

Train Orders:   Historically,  train orders were  written on Flimsies (on real fine paper in triplicate)... by station agents, who  hooped them up to the train crews.   Today it’s done by signals along the right of way and radio communications.    In earlier times, the Flimsies would direct crews and instruct them as to which siding they should take and what trains to wait for.   Also locations  where the track speeds  are slower –  Slow Orders.   This is where slower track speeds are required,  for on going track maintenance usually due to MOW (Maintenance of way) crews often referred to as track gangs.    Alerting to the  presence trackside and/or working on a broken or misaligned piece of track.   After passing such a location to proceed back to normal track speed.

A Model Railroaders Perspective:

Control Panels:    The real railroads use a control panel and so will we.   We need to talk about a control panel and how it works.    Asking myself what can I use here that will help you understand the purpose of and function of a control panel?   For those of you who are having a hard time relating to the whole idea.   This may  be the tough or difficult part for you.

I didn’t think we needed a control panel for DCC?  My favorite heckler is asking.   You are correct if you use the DCC decoders for switch machines.    Then it’s all in your hand held throttle… but… you may not like it.   You may find yourself having to look up the switch you want to throw and control the train at the same time.   If that doesn’t work for you…  yes, you will need a control panel.

I’ll see if I can find a picture of the Mini DPDT’s, I like to use to activate my switch machines.    Ah, here we go, found one and a resource you can use to buy yours.

Mini DPDT’s


Mini-Toggle Switches DPDT Spring On – Center Off – Spring On

Picture courtesy of We Honest and he can be found on E-bay.   See:    http://stores.ebay.com.au/wehonest/

I use these mini DPDT’s for switch machines / solenoids that need a momentary on, to throw the switch.    IE., Kato and Atlas switches.   You will need to install these into a control panel.  Preferably a map style control panel.    OR you can throw all your switches by hand.    For example:  (1)  Atlas switches need to be wired into the AC side of your power supply.     (2)   Kato switches will need to be wired into the  DC side and  wired to  reverse the current, center out, hot to the switch machine.

Control Panels and Blocks:

Back to blocks and how best to wire them in.  So, let’s introduce you to the basics, how-to wire in a DPDT and the making of  a control panel.

Looking out into your faces, I can tell, I really can.    Those of you with paid tickets to hear this presentation are following along and catching on quickly.   For those of you following along at home as free loaders.   What?   What?  What did I say?   You fine folk…  appear to be teachable.    You’ve learned well…so far.   I said with a reassuring,  Grin!

Blocks Start and End At…….

You did ask, “Where does a block begin and end?”   You didn’t?   Ok! You did!    Allow me to  explain how this works.

Most begin and end at a switch as in “Track Switch.”  The block begins or ends on the diverging end or the frog end of the switch.  Where the tracks split.

At a point that is safe where two trains, one that occupies the main and the other the  siding, so they won’t collide, side swipe and I’m sure there other examples you can think of.  Keeping in mind they  aren’t allowed to foul the switch or occupy the switch while stopped.  For example:   Looking toward the diverging side of the switch, a little ways after the two tracks separate.    Most railroads have a clearance requirement as to how many feet back from the switch a waiting train is  required to be.        On most model railroads this will hold to be true as well.

On a model railroad the blocks will be isolated  from each other.       One DPDT toggled electrical switch per block.   Both rails per track will be cut, just short of the switch creating an isolation gap.

I think I’ve already emphasized the following but it’s worth repeating.    I won’t cut a switch track rail,  as illustrated by other authors.    You are just asking for trouble.  I will move back from the switch and cut in the isolation gaps into the attached track.    I did say on the diverging end of the switch?   I did?    Good!

Diagrams  Illustrations:

Here is a diagram that may help you.     Dual cab control.  Cab A and Cab B…with power packs isolated from each other.   Note the color code of the wires.   Cab A,  Red and Green.   Cab B, Blue and Orange.   You can click on the image to enlarge it and the fuzziness will correct itself.

Cab A Cab B DPDT Wire Diagram

Do note:    How they set up the blocks for the tracks.    Also note how the blocks are cut in just behind the diverging end  of the switches.  Credit for the diagram above goes to  TY’s Blog.

Allow me to share some pictures from my layout.    A work in progress even as I write.

Oh dear, someone talk me out of doing this.   Quick!   Am I really going to show you this?  To late.  May a higher  authority help us all. Just so you understand it isn’t (is not) always about how clean or organized your wiring looks but that it works.    It doesn’t need to be an art project.

You can click on the picture for a larger image.


In the first  picture above, up toward the middle top, you can see an “A” and to the left  of it a “B”.     This is where two sets of wires for Cab A and Cab B come in to the backside of a temporary control panel.    You can also see M1, M3 and MST.   These are out going wires to my  independent blocks on the mainline.


In the second photo above, you can see how my wiring is color coded and bundled.    Making it easy to trace a set of wires and look for problems.   IE., A worn out spot where the  insulation has gotten old and rubbed off with two wires rubbing together to cause a short.    Often referred to by some electricians as an “Accumulative Short.”  As it accumulates over time to become a short. I’ve never seen or had that happen  but there’s always  a first time.

Wrapping or winding your wires together?   Right about here might be a good place to say… I don’t, as in do not, wind or wrap my wires around each other.    You can see that’s true in the pictures above.    I see no benefits in doing such and view it as something similar to superstition.    Although, many hobbyist have been doing this longer then I am old.    I don’t need to go back to basket weaving.    Although, I’ve seen some mighty fine work by my native brothers and sisters.

What you don’t see in this picture is the backside of the control panel and the DPDT’s, center off, electrical toggle switches.  Film uhh…err…photos, at eleven but don’t hold your breath.

That was quick, I found them.   Here is the photos, I promised.   Good you didn’t hold your breath I don’t see any bluish-purple faces out there.    No one needing CPR, whew!

I’ve found this control panel useful when mentoring a newbie.  This control panel is one of those I’ve used as a teaching tool and/or temporary control panel.     I color code my wiring,  the Red and Yellow (Yellow) is Cab A and  Green and Blue is Cab B.


Pretty easy to follow the wiring  in the first photo above.    The clear wires with tails going to the bottom of the picture, are the ones that go out to the track blocks.    You can click on the images for a larger and clearer picture.


The second picture  is the face of the control panel.  Commonly referred to as a straight line or linear control panel.    Looking at the toggled electrical switches.   # 1 is set to center off.    #2, #3 and the Yard Lead are all set to Cab B.      Cab A to the left and Cab B to the right.   Should you place Cab A to the left of the control panel and Cab B to the right it will feel down right natural.

For now do ignore the Atlas Blues and the smaller push buttons,   which are momentary on.    They are to activate the solenoid in  the Atlas switch machines.   The blue sliders are a  poor way to do this but works fairly well as in… okay.   Sort of…!  Newbies can use them to get acquainted with wiring in their switches.  Downside:  They can wear out and or  get stuck to ON and burn out the solenoid in the switch machine.    Don’t ask me, how I know.   I didn’t know switch machines had built in smoke generators.

A model railroad will have dozens of blocks depending on the owners perception of how to use them.      It will be about How many  trains  he or she feels they need to run at one time and/or have on the layout at any given time.   As in multiple sets of trains.

To much information, to quickly?   You’ll find other posts here where others build different kinds of control panels.   Feel free to look through the categories and browse to your heart’s content.  I’m counting on you to grasp how this works and figure it out for yourself.

You won’t learn anything if you don’t get busy and build your own control panel.    Trial and error although frustrating can be a good teacher.   More to come so don’t give up on this project, yet.


Splicing and Isolating the  wires:

As much as possible,  I want my home runs to be one continuous piece of wire.    Highly recommending such.      Of course 18 gauge wire or  bigger is better but I do have some 20 and 22 gauge wire on my layout on short runs.      The idea is:  Larger wire equals  less in-line resistance or power drop.

I’m a die hard solder, kind of guy.    I don’t much care for suit case connectors or wire nuts.  Now being recommended by electricians.    Why?   I’ll get to that.  Soldering:   Downside they took the lead out of the solder which is what conducted electricity.     If you solder you need to make sure the wires touch.   So suitcase connectors and wire nuts are in and feel free to use them.

Wire Tubing or Shrink Wrap and Electrical Tape  to isolate any  splice and you can find such in the pictures above.     Here’s some examples:

Picture courtesy of Amazon.com, see:    Shrink Wrap – Wire Tubing.

Colored Electrical tape to isolate my spliced wiring.    If I haven’t already said, It’s all about color coding my electrical wiring.

Picture is courtesy of Amazon.com,   see:   Colored Electrical Tape.

Blog Tutorial:   If the print is red you can click on it and you will find your self high-balling to the recommended post.      Do remember how to get back.   You know the box and arrow thing.

Helpful Tips:

Switches or Track Switches and Rail Joiners:

Caution:    A word to the inexperienced  newbie and perhaps affirmation for some of us who know better.

Cutting Isolation Gaps in the Switch Mechanism:    By now you may of seen a How To  Video or read in a model railroad wig wag how some guys and gals talk about or demonstrate how-to cut in isolation gaps,  in the switch mechanism. Where they will  cut in isolation gaps specifically before and after the frog.  I don’t recommend it.   Especially for  any in-experienced hobbyist.    Do not attempt to   dissect a Peco or any other switch track… pre-mortem.   Not at today’s cost of switches.   

Best advice of the day, leave them alone!  Unless you want maintenance issues down the road.    There is a much  simpler resolution to the perceived problem.   More on this in the presentation I make here on BarstowRick.com, regarding  DCC Friendly Switches.

Using rail joiners with wires soldered to them.    You saw an example of that in the video.    Again, something I don’t recommend.  What happens if you need to solder the rail joiner to the rails?    I think you can figure that out.   Where did the wire go?   How come I don’t have any power in this block?   You can visit Soldering Procedures here on BarstowRick.com to see a better way to accomplish the same thing.


Bonus:    This may or may not help!

For those having trouble wrapping their heads around the idea of a control panel.

It can sometimes be difficult to wrap ones head around the idea of a control panel and how it should work.    There are those who’d rather wire in directly to the track and just run trains in a circle.      If you want more then this and are still having a hard time understanding the concept of a working a  control panel, the following may help.

Control Panels – Comparatives:

When it comes to a control panel I have, what I hope are some helpful verbal pictures with some illustrations and comparisons to look at.

A car has a basic control panel.  Although that’s all changing with the advent of electronics and an assortment of gizmo’s.   All there… to distract the driver from his primary purpose…driving the car.  Airplanes have advanced and complicated instrument panels.    Air controllers have complicated screens to work with.    Railroad,  Yard Towers and Dispatchers  have some rather complicated control panels.    As will our toy trains or model railroads.    I know not the kind of news you were hoping for.

Have you ever played some sort of instrument?

  • Music as in playing a piano or organ.   Whether it is singing a solo,  or being a part of a  quartet or choir with four part harmony or a variety of options thereof.  You have to be able to read and follow the music and present it, as it’s written.  I know that in order for me to get a harmonic sounds out of either a piano,  electric or pipe organ, I have to play or press down certain keys to get the harmonics I desire and pull certain stops to get the sounds I want.     See: “Screwing Around.”  Drop down to the video with a Pipe Organ in the picture.    You’ll get the idea.

I look at a control panel for my model railroad, in the same way.    In order to get my trains to move through various routes on my layout I have to pre-set the toggles to specific settings.   Toggling track switches and setting various block toggles to Cab A or Cab B..   All dependent on the throttle I’m using and the route I wish the train to take.  Done correctly  my trains will move freely around the layout without peril to each other.    You know…crashing.  I might add here this is by far more simpler then trying to play a piano, organ or other forms of key boards.   Using of course the same principles.

Wiring in DPDT’s electrical toggle switches.    Once I learned how to hard wire in a DPDT electrical toggle switches and solder them in, it was off to other adventures,    Wiring a car IE., Adding fog lights to my car, putting in a stereo system and much more.    Mom wanted lights in the kitchen over the sink…no problem.    Keep in mind only one individual toggle or electrical household switch is used for each function mentioned  above.

  • Sound boards:   To clarify not DCC sound boards.   Control panels for on and off activation of microphones for live performances on stage.   Some of the teens and I got together and put together a  type of control panel (sound board) for powering up microphones.   To be used for  church meetings, small acoustical bands, various plays or skits and a choral group or two.    A lot of what we did was not so dissimilar to the control panels, I made for my model railroad.     We used DPDT electrical toggle switches  and pots, to control the level of sound desired.    Did I mention home made control panels?    Not the best in the world but it worked.   Finally, Radio Shack and Mackie came out with some excellent sound boards and it was possible to eliminate the feed back aka squealing.     Well…in the hands of trained operators and sound checks prior to the event.   You guessed it.    Trained operators following proper procedures.

Trained Operators:  Precisely where we need to get you to.    That’s what I wish for everyone that reads this.  Now getting sound technicians trained….that’s a bit more complicated and another one of those stories for another time and place.

  • With the right control panel on your layout and a complete understanding on how to use it you can begin to enjoy the benefits of model railroading.     For some of you, this will be an extremely difficult learning curve while for others  building your  control panels will be a snap.    For those who catch on quickly…heck, you might teach me some new tricks.  I might learn a thing or two from you.

I hope this helps to get you started and headed in the right direction.   As a reminder there are other examples of control panels and how to build them here on BarstowRick.com.    Be sure to take time out to meander, gander, browse and as they say today surf BarstowRick.com to see what’s possible.  Although the original form of surfing was by far more fun then today’s  version.

For a glimpse of the 1:1 foot scale in action.   Check out:  http://www.barstowrick.com/prototype-train-operations/



News Alert:   Pardon the interruption.  

There’s a reason why I have added links to the items mentioned above.  You are going to need them and here’s why:

Radio Shack Bulletin:  I need to add here the things we took for granted and purchased  from Radio Shack, in the past, are no longer available.  Things are disappearing off the shelves and at a faster pace then I thought possible.   Our local store is closing.   A real disappointment.    The corporate suits decided to leave behind the items that built Radio Shack.   To create a new corporate image and  turn it into a telephone store.  A lot of us told corporate they were making a mistake.   Nobody was listening.   Phones?  You can only saturate the market to a specific point before everyone has a phone.   They had a great market for  Radios,  (C.B. & Ham kits)   Stereos, Home Theater sound, superb speakers and amplifiers.   Scanners to listen into the Railroad chatter between the dispatcher and crews.   With  many of the electrical components, gadgets and those essential 12 volt DPDT’s.     Stuff made  for private home use or building a public address system. Gone.  Some can still be found on their website but don’t expect that to last very long.

I used to work for Radio Shack, as an associate for a store in Kettering, Ohio.    Loved it and we had great stuff to sell.   The training was questionable but the information shared with us is still useful to this day.     As our local  Representative and Associate here in Big Bear Country said, “We don’t sell those things anymore.” Gone!  Mark my word, a mistake but they didn’t ask me.  Say good bye to an old friend.    Sigh!

This is not a paid  political announcement.   Nor is it meant to slander R.S..    Not my fault they can’t see there way out of the box.

Enjoy your wiring projects and thanks for stopping in to give us a read.    I hope you found the information here helpful.   Do note the resources I gave you to find and purchase your own electrical gadgets.


Photos of wiring and control panels are courtesy of myself aka Rick Howland.   Video courtesy of GreenFrogVideos.     Other graphics and credits are already noted.


Advice to Newbies Part #2 Discover…

You Just Discovered….????

You just discovered you have more questions then answers.    You are one of those that doesn’t know a Block from a Siding,  a Yard Spur from a Run Through track and a DPDT from a SPDT.    Never mind,  a Transformer from a Throttle or DCC from Analog DC.  How about a Power Station?   Blocks versus Power Districts and much, much more.   Oh dear, looks like we have some teaching to do.    (Sound man to key up theme from Mission Impossible).

Nothing to be ashamed of.    Nothing wrong here, everything normal….    Keep in mind…so was I, once upon a time.

You will find some or many of the answers to your questions already posted here.   So please take the time to browse this blog and  see what you can learn.     If you find you  are still lost…don’t give up.    Model Railroading is a serious learning curve and it may take a while to get you up and running.    Allow me to say,  “It’s by far easier today then it was when I first started”.  You can quote me on that.    Just don’t get me started.   We will take it one step at a time.

Do be honest with yourself and any help you get.    A lot of us like to Mentor a newbie and guide them along.    While other’s of us are retired and not so anxious to help, as in…   just tired.

I won’t be your mentor or teacher in a direct way.   Most likely I’m to far away to do a show-you demonstration.   What I hope to do is direct you in a positive direction and get you started on the learning curve via verbal pictures and the How To Videos.

You’ll read where I say,  this is all about discovering model railroading for your self.    The first layout is a teaching layout.    And other things that won’t seem very helpful at first.    Be patient…Rome, wasn’t built in a day.

This will be a mission of self discovery.   You will research and discover for yourself the oddities and intricacies of toy train or model railroading construction, scenery and operations.

Discover for yourself the rewards only model railroading can bring to you.

Have any questions or want to add a comment?   You can contact me through the “Contact Us” page.


Mentor’s & Volunteer Enablers – A Word or Two

Advice To Would Be:  Mentor & Builders of Model Railroads…those Enablers.    “Word’s Of Experience” & Maybe Some “Wisdom”.   To all of us, it’s time we talk.

Originally I had posted this under the title of “Words Of Wisdom”.   I decided to change it as  my voice of experience will be talking here.   What word’s of wisdom you may find here, will be subject to your interpretation.

I’m only sharing this here to help the  would be enablers such as mentors and volunteer model railroad builders  so, they don’t make the same mistakes I have.  Sounds like a country western song title.  “Momma, don’t let your son make the mistakes I have”,  sung with a mournful voice.

Perhaps a bit of wisdom can be found here.  Hind sight is 20/20. Looking back is always clearer, then looking forward.  Proving my crystal ball doesn’t work any better then anyone else’s.

Let’s get this train underway.  Looks like the dispatcher has given us a Track Warrant to move into the next block.

Are there persons, specific personality  types who are to much trouble to work with and for?  Is it possible there’s someone I won’t be able to work with?  Who simply lacks the understanding, know how and aren’t teachable?   Do you really want to know?   Then read on.

Personality types:  I took in a seminar where the subject matter was about various personality types and temperaments.    A behavioral study of sorts.  Does Temperament Sorter, sound familiar? It will to some of the management types out there.   Of course by now the titles of such seminars and college classes  may  have changed but the information is pretty much the same.    The idea being… to help, aide and assist  an employer with choosing the right people  best suited  for specific types of jobs.  Or to find out if the candidate for a particular position is someone you can get along with or not.      If you are in middle management or administration and you haven’t attended one of these motivational seminars,  it would be a good idea to attend such.    This information is available on the internet and I will only scratch the surface.     For our purposes here, I would suggest that if you haven’t already, you need to recognize the personality type and temperaments of the benefactor who receive your services.    Keeping in mind that once you have committed to helping a candidate you are going to spend umpteen hours assisting them.   The obvious question is, “Do you have time for that?”

Note the following discussion  isn’t fail safe.   However, it will help you to understand the person or persons you are dealing with.     I could write a book but other qualified authors have beat me to it.

Getting to the point, the study of personality types and temperaments is so extensive and involved, so much so I will leave it to the professionals, to sort it out.  Here on BarstowRick.com I won’t be getting into a persons head…again the  professionals.  I won’t get into typing a person.   Instead, we will look at verbal and body language  indicators that something is amiss.

I hate starting out on such a negative note.  Who to avoid?   I fully believe that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy this hobby.  It is unfortunate but my experience has taught me that it’s possible we may need a new approach.    If your radar isn’t turned on and mine wasn’t a time or two.   Well, you’ll get the idea as you read on.

This will be about those difficult types.    When you think about it, they are the only ones you need to concern yourself with.

Our own sensitivities:   We all have sensitivity issues.   We are all sensitive even if we deny it.   Denial is always a safe place to be until you are ready and willing to grab the bull by the horns and look the situation straight in the eye.     For each individual that reads this, there will be  different types of persons, as in those you find that are extremely difficult  and/or intolerable making it impossible   for you to deal with as in personality clashes.   Get ready to recognize those types and look out for the  difficult ones.

Said another way:   We each have our own sensitivities, in-sensitivities and tolerance levels.   We  each will  deal with our own sensitivities  differently.   Keeping in mind there are some things aka behaviors,  we simply won’t put up with or tolerate.

About me:   Yes, I have a temperament and it will most likely show through here a time or two.   Yes, I have sensitivity issues.   Just like each and everyone of you.

What was that, yes you in the second row beside the cute blonde?   What about me with regards to being a mentor or builder of model railroad layouts?  My favorite heckler is at it again.    Always redirecting me back to the subject at hand.   Grrrr!

I’ve been both  and in some cases  acted as both at the same time, not recommended.     Volunteering my time to help others so they could share in the fun.    Let’s recognize that the learning curve isn’t always fun but  eventually most of us will seize the moment, over come the challenge it presents and  finally get there.    Sadly, in some cases building or mentoring someone turned out to be anything but fun and could be written off as a lose.    It just wasn’t going to happen.

I used to volunteer my time at.   No charge,  No strings attached.   Just fun!    You’ll read more here as I’m preparing to give you a few examples of what I’m talking about here.

My first question, to either the builder or mentor are you being paid for your services or are you volunteering your time?    It makes a difference.    How?    It should be obvious.   See if this sounds right to you.   A volunteer has leeway.   If I’m volunteering my time, I will do it my way and in my time.    If I’m being paid to do a job I will do it your way.    Uhh.,,err sort of!     The paid person will usually…not always… build whatever the owner wants.   The exception being he or she has to  be a terrific sales person.    Selling the owner on the best way to built said layout and in some cases when working alone mentor the owner.

Best advice I could give all parties:   The contractee would be wise to listen to the contractor.   If you get my drift.  Now that we have a better understanding.   I will get into this more as we drift down the rails.

Oh, finally I get to ask a question.    Is it ok if the owner hires somebody who knows absolutely nothing about toy trains or model railroading?    I don’t think so.

One exception would be you are throwing together some Lionel three rail stuff then knock yourself out.    I don’t know how you could go wrong doing that.

Candidate:  You’ve met a person who might appear to be a worthy candidate to help. He or she wants a model railroad built for them but has no idea how to accomplish it. Here are some warning signals as in indicators you may need to pay attention to.

Tuning up our radar:

Let’s take a look here and see what we can learn.   A lot.   Just in case you don’t read the rest of this post.   In the end this may or may not work out.    We do end on a positive note but first some instructions  and discussion  before we face down the negatives.    Tuning up our radar.

Advice to the Builder:

First:   Interview your candidate.   Start off with asking them what they want and if the answer is “I don’t know”.     After some video’s, reading assignments of various Model Railroad Wig Wags (magazines) and a few tours of others layouts and the answer is still, “I don’t know” and this continues to be the case.    You’ll need to look at the obvious here.     Proceed red over yellow as in stop think about this and proceed cautiously.

Ask them to draw up a plan of what they want.   At this point, you may discover they aren’t able to visualize that dream layout. Now that’s not a curse or stupid.   Some people just don’t have that ability.   Caution this may get more then just iffy.

You don’t want to build a layout and find out to your dismay, as heard from the owners lips, “That isn’t what I wanted.”  they said as though you were expected to read their mind.     Let’s not get to this point after the fact.   Yes, I’ve had that happen.

Second:   Establish a wish list.    Find out what the owner of the future model railroad wants.    After compiling the list and as much information as you can… you do the following.

Third:   Submit a model railroad track plan for approval.  Having the benefactor sign off on it.   They agree and sign off,  perhaps a bit to quickly.    May I suggest you ask questions that  lead back to the actual layout design. If they seem to have a hard time answering those questions.    It may be time to review the plans and the benefits with them.     Don’t proceed if all indicators are saying they don’t know as in understand,  what it is you are talking about.

You are hearing, honest questions and attempting to answer them.    The response is a blank expression (body language speaks louder then words).  This may be an indicator that more teaching or training…is required.   IE.,  Explaining what a block is, how does a toggle work and what section of track or block  it controls.    How the throttle on a transformer works and what makes it go.   What is the purpose of a switch machine and how does it work?   How to use a passing siding and more…much more.

The Trouble Starts Here:

Here we go or should I say this is when the trouble starts.  Despite all the negative indicators you….   yes you.   You got this… right, it’s about you!   You stubbornly turn off your radar and plow right through all the warning signs,  right past the caution signals,  the red over red  signals, past the brakeman signaling a warning to stop and right into  the torpedo’s.   Warning train wreck in progress.

Someone call the big hook we’ve got a mess to clean up.     Sigh!

You proceed to build the layout and you have a temporary main up with a temporary control panel in place and the person has no idea how to use it.   Don’t think I haven’t been here… to many times to count.    Ever optimistic this would work itself out when everything is screaming,  red over red,  halt production!  Until… the owner can prove he or she knows how to run the model railroad, as is.

Advice To the Mentor:

As a mentor, you find yourself dealing with similar problems as is the builder.    Best described as a quagmire.    Not good.  It’s not your job to build the layout but you can certainly show and teach the mentored, how.    Are they teachable?

Let’s say you find yourself repeating instructions time and time again and the person isn’t learning. Continuing, You explain how a DPDT electrical toggle switch works or is wired in.  You do a demo on how to  hard wire it in.    You learn they aren’t able to duplicate what you just taught them.    No matter what you do they aren’t responding appropriately.     You should be asking yourself:  Are they teachable?

Time to evaluate the situation:  At some point here it will be time to evaluate or reevaluate what’s going on. If your radar isn’t picking up the negative feed back.  Perhaps you are ignoring it.  I have.    Ever optimistic this will work out in the end.  Do you think it’s time to  turn your radar on?   Time to release the air and put the emergency brakes on.

Who do you help? Or not?

Let Start with you the mentor or builder.   What is driving you to mentor or build a layout?   You may need to look at  and reevaluate your own thinking.

Quite often we can let our sympathy for a person become our driver.     Beware, this isn’t always a good thing.

One fella I built a layout for used sympathy to lure me into doing the work he didn’t want to do.   When I finally turned on my radar and reevaluated what was going on.  I realized I’d been played for a fool.

Earlier, I talked about indicators so let’s look at those.   Who qualifies as a  difficult  person… the type you may want to avoid?    

Hostile (is obvious), Joker, Silent, Non-Committal  and generally shows no ambition to learn  and/or  help to get things done.  If it’s all of the above.  You have a bigger problem on your hands then you need.    Topping the list:  It’s the silent ones you want…no…need to worry about.    Communication or the lack of ability to communicate is and will be the key here.

Verbal Indicators:  Something may be amiss,

Arrogant, as in this person always uses an “I” message.   I did this, I was involved with.   I led the campaign.    I master minded.    I alone did….   I know more then….     You are going to have a hard time teaching this person anything.

More Verbal Indicators:  You’ve been working with the candidate and after hours of discussion and you might think you are finally getting somewhere and the party you are mentoring responds.  “” I don’t understand why I can’t put the track on the floor or on the kitchen table? What’s all those circles on your paper? What do you mean we need wiring? You have to many toggles, why do I need all of those toggles? What do you mean a DPDT? I just want to turn on the transformer and see the trains run.””  Then build them a roundy round, dizzy maker of a Toy Train layout and be done with it.    Get off this train at the next watering stop.

Continuing:     Let’s say you are lucky enough to over hear the person go to another mentor or friend and say,He told me I have to do it this way, I don’t want to do it that way. Why would anyone tell me I have to do it that way?”” Or it starts with “How dare he…?”  Working one against the other.    Time to pull this train into the station and call in a new crew.   Let someone else  build his or her layout.

“The Whiner,”  with that screechy  voice.   Actually, the whiner’s voice is optional.  I guarantee these types aren’t fun to work with or for.   “This isn’t right, that isn’t good, why did you do it that way?”

The unteachable:  You wouldn’t believe who I heard the following from:   “” I don’t know what I want, I don’t know what this is, I don’t know what you mean, I have no idea what you just said.””  You should be asking yourself are they teachable?  Let’s see we’ve already thrown that idea out here….haven’t we.   Starting to sound repetitive.  Signal indicator is Red over Red.    Time to head for the diner and get some lunch and  find some time for yourself.

In my book, (No I haven’t written a book but you never know, it could happen). the most difficult  kind of personality to deal with.  (Cue to sound man, sound track from Alfred Hitchock’s, Twilight Zone, bring music up slowly) .    And the winner is:

The Entertainer.    Always the person who is the center of attention and/or has to be the center of attention.  Thinks it’s his or her job to entertain everybody.    A laugh a minute.    A type of Arrogancy would fit in here.   This person is one who will most likely do anything they think is funny.    Some examples:    As in this person, may think it’s funny to annoy you, distract you translating that as having fun.   Possibly….with some of the worst and obviously biased jokes.   A game of get your goat. Pull your chain.   IE., Fart at the table or worse yet, fart in your face.   And may I add what’s the difference?    It’s still in your face.   Will wave off anything you say as though it’s not important…you don’t know what you are talking about….you dumb A$$.  In a conversation with friends, will make you out to be a liar almost every time, “Oh that isn’t true”.   Master of the put downs and zingers.   Always knows more then anyone else around them.    In front of friends throws a stick on the ground and tells you to fetch it.   Among other things.   What this person doesn’t realize he or she isn’t funny at all.  Sick?  Yes.  Most of the time they have no idea  how sick they are.  Maturity as in growing up, would of helped this type.  Do I dare say it’s….time to find a seat in another train car.

Is it safe to say nobody really likes a clown?  

The WORST, and professionals would agree with me, “Passive Aggressive”:    Silent, Non-committal.  This type will  destroy what you worked on to prove they are in charge. Will not take direction. Disrespects you and the time you put in on their train layout.   Pays you back by sabotaging the work you’ve done. Hires someone to work on the layout while taking advantage of your free volunteer time.  AND the paid off…stiff messes up the work you did.   The volunteer work at no cost.     Requiring hours to fix it.    Perhaps stabbing you in the back and you learn about it much later.   That’s the problem with this type, it may only become clear after you have given considerable time to help them build their toy train layout or model railroad layout.

You can only hope that at times in your face… then you’d have something to confront him or her with but that isn’t likely to happen.  In general, this type is a pain to work for and with.  Time to set the emergency  brakes and get off this train.

Did any alarms go off?    No…Yes?

Qualify Your Customer:  One of the things we used to say in Sales, is to qualify your customer.   Find out what the customer is actually looking for.    Know your customer and their needs.    Of course we started with the most expensive items first and worked back to the inexpensive.    Slowly!

So where do you start?   In the case of difficult types and your radar is telling you there is a problem.  I’d recommend you start with a Toy Train layout, roundy round and build up from there.   Start cheaply and simply.

Looking back, with regard to my dealings with various individuals I worked with and for.   I should have qualified the benefactors and properly assessed their capabilities.    Qualify the customer.   Read the writing on the wall.   It’s a good idea to call it, what it is.

In co-dependent work shops we talk about detaching our emotional feelings from those with addictive behaviors.   IE.,   Alcoholics, drug addicted and etc.    Suggesting here that if you have bumped into a difficult type you detach from the person. The idea is to let the person with the addiction find their own way out.   The same could be said here.     It’s time for the benefactor to do some self discovery!

Helping someone who isn’t teachable, doesn’t comprehend, doesn’t know what they want…. is a mission impossible.   To detach yourself from the person,  doesn’t mean giving up but getting real.   When it comes to building a train layout. As already suggested start simple.  Setting up a simple roundy round and then walk away to let them learn and discover for themselves…. the joy of toy trains.

If it becomes a war of the wills… you won’t win!

Do note, everything I’ve shared here I’ve actually experienced.  Yes, I’ve walked off… departed that train at the next station.    Bye bye!   And it wasn’t easy after the hours of hard work put in.

 When things go from bad to worse:  Unless you can play the role of a really good martyr.  Who does?   Most of us don’t.  I learned the hard way. Truth is if you work for a boss that sounds like  any of the indicators mentioned here, you are playing the role of a martyr and swallowing your pride….daily.   More often then you think. It becomes the norm.   In the  volunteer world,  you want to avoid those difficult personality types. In most cases you’d be wasting your time.  Ask me!     I’m waiting….grin!   Humm, my heckler is silent!

Quick Thoughts on the subject at hand.

  • When does all your efforts become a waste of your paid for or  volunteer time?    When it’s no longer fun!
  • Life is to short to put up with….do I need to finish this?
  • There are those we will clash with as in personality clashes, I know of no way to avoid this.  It happens.

Summary:   Avoid loud, aggressive and obnoxious personalities,  “For they can  be a vexation to the spirit,” author unknown to this hobbyist.

In conclusion but never finished:  Seek out those who can be helped and teach them to help themselves. A win, win for sure. Did I just hear you say, “By far more rewarding”?   Yes!

*****A positive note:   On the flip-side*****

A more desirable type to work with is a Serious, Quick Learner, Fun Loving, Full of Energy and Honestly Interested.

What you wanted to hear back at the start of this discussion,   I don’t want to do it like that…not that way!!!! It won’t work!!!  Not for me!  Let me show you on paper what I have in mind.   At first this started out sounding like the characters described above BUT there is a difference.    The party you are about to mentor said, “Let me show you on paper what I have in mind”.  A vision of things possible.   Alright!  Now we are talking. Now we are getting somewhere.   Now the creative juices  just kicked in.   You’ll hear your self asking,  So what is it you want and let’s get that built for you?

Know who you are talking to.

Here’s a head scratch-er for you:  I was attempting to mentor a fellow model railroader.  I suggested using DPDT’s instead of…    You’ll get the point.  He responded,  I want to use a SPDT and not a DPDT… OOP’s, that last one isn’t likely to come from an inexperienced model railroader. 

One more of Rick’s Short Stories.   I think you’ll like this one.

I built a roundy round layout for a youngster who wasn’t expected to live.    At first it was meant to be an entertainment layout.   Instead,   It became a teaching layout as he would try his own hand at remodeling it, building new buildings, adding in track switches, changing the scenery, pushing his cars around on the layout with those all important varoom and siren sounds.   Yes, it was destroyed in the process and that doesn’t bother me at all.  It was consumed by a little boy’s joy.

If you haven’t already caught on:   I’m so thank full to report…He did survive.   Good news, music to my ears, he absolutely enjoyed that layout. As an adult, In his own words, “It was the best dammed layout”.   Me?   I couldn’t ask for more.   Lot’s of  job satisfaction for having built it for him.   Knowing  he enjoyed it.  There is no greater reward, no greater joy and/or greater thank-you,     

Reflection on my personal  past:  I had loads of fun building many of the toy train and model railroad  layouts .    In some cases I was given carte blanche to do so.  What I failed to note was the owner’s ability to operate these, “Darn Complicated Railroads,” as my dad would say.  For the new owner’s it was frustrating, frustration upon more frustration.  Because, they had no idea of the concept… used to build them.   They couldn’t operate, “The confounded layout,” as one described it.  Totally dissatisfied!   End result it came crashing down. Sad but true!

Who’s fault is it?   A whole lot of it is mine.  Did I really say that?  I preferred to ignore the obvious and never mind things I couldn’t foresee.    For some of my benefactors, I  overbuilt the layouts.    Ever optimistic it would work out in the end.  I’m sure you are ahead of me here.     In some cases it worked out great (as Tony the Tiger would say) and sadly in all to many memorable cases, it was a miserable failure.    Model Railroads in the hands of incompetent operators.

Despite the disappointment,  today…look at all the fun I had.   Including job satisfaction. Yes, it was fun!     Would I do it again?   I don’t know…probably.     If I could have my youth back along with all the energy the answer would be yes.     Sigh!

Closing it up here:

Well…all I can say is you’ve been forewarned.   Now go have some fun helping someone else.   No greater reward then when it all works out wonderfully.


NMRA Gauge-How To

The NMRA Gauge

There are all kinds of tools you can use to build a model railroad.    One of the most important  is a NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) all purpose Gauge.   This tool will help you work toward eliminating most derailments.   You can check track gauge, wheel flanges, frogs and switch points.    You can buy them for just about any scale you choose to work in and the last I heard, you don’t have to be a NMRA member to own one.   I purchased mine from a LHS.  Believe me when I say, “You don’t want to be without one”.

Here’s a NMRA Gauge-How To Video Tutorial.

Uploaded on Dec 31, 2009

Model Railroader Senior Editor Jim Hediger demonstrates how to use this versatile model railroading tool from the National Model Railroad Association. You’ll learn how to maintain standards for zero derailments. For more than 400 model railroad videos visit http://mrr.trains.com/Videos.aspx

Thanks for watching, JimH.

The sound has obviously been dubbed over but the information shared is right on.

One more bit of advice.   If you have to force the gauge into the track or to check a set of wheels —it’s out of gauge.     Fixing the problem will be your next challenge.


1 2