N gauge trains


Giving Your N Scale Railroad a Function
With Miniature Scenery and Structures
To Complete The Story

By Tony Neilson

It’s almost inevitable that the new N scale modeler will imagine owning a huge layout in the future regardless of the amount of space available, but it’s really a better idea to take a look at what the new railroad is supposed to do. That’s usually the best starting point, rather than just rushing ahead and starting to lay track.

Just as with real world prototype railroads, a model railway needs to have a purpose and a reason to operate. It needs to operate efficiently (just like a real railroad needs to), and it needs to have a part of a scene, but in the case of a N scale railroad it will have miniature scenery to replicate real life scenery. So, the first thing to do is ask yourself some searching questions like:

• Will the miniature railroad be sporting long trains of container stacks or coal cars?

• Will the railroad be a logging or mining railroad from the late 19th or early 20th century?

• Will your N scale layout depict some other scene from history, from the modern day, or maybe just a scene from your imagination?

Whatever you decide is entirely over to you as it is your N scale layout. However, it is a really good idea to picture the final scene before you get started buying your model trains, laying the track, making structures, or miniature scenery.

For the modeler who envisions long trains, N-scale makes a logical choice no matter how much space is available.

One visit to a local train show will usually allow you to see actual 100 car N-scale trains in operation on a modular layout set up for the event. Not only do the trains run well and look good, but it’s easy to create scenery that portrays the trains more closely to their true proportional relationship to their surroundings.

The most interesting layouts start with a core industry that the railroad serves. A railroad needs a reason to exist, and industries that can best benefit by bulk transportation of product are often the best place to start. Manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and timber are all industries that make very effective use of rail transportation. Answer the question of “why is this railroad needed in my imaginary world?”, and you are off to a solid start in planning the layout. A great feature of N-scale railroading is that you can start with a small industry and have plenty of room and opportunity to scale up as your industry grows.

Planning the Scene Complete with Miniature Scenery - Start with a Story

It sometimes helps to tell a story about your railroad. Try writing a short story about the industry, or make a series of notes or an outline about it.

Consider this paragraph:

“When Charles Oglethorpe, a carpenter and craftsman of children’s sleds, settled in Cliffhanger, Colorado in 1903, he opened a small shop and factory to make his products. Oglethorpe’s sleds were twice as fast as any on the market, and his business soon grew to the point that the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad put a short line track extension into Cliffhanger from the main Denver to Salt Lake City line to bring his sleds to market. By 1912, Oglethorpe had cornered the sled marked and was shipping thousands of sleds a month…so many that the Milwaukee Road also created a line from Cliffhanger to Billings, Montana, which had an immense sled shortage. Cliffhanger’s population exploded, and the Oglethorpe Sled Company became Oglethorpe Industries, a manufacturer of all kinds of wooden products.”

The totally fictional paragraph describes a situation in which the Oglethorpe Company needed rail service to ship its first products, and then later became the reason for more lines to come into town. Cliffhanger can now become both a rail junction town AND a manufacturing hub. With manufacturing comes population, and with population comes passenger service! One paragraph or just a set of notes will give your model world an excuse to spring to life.

Another approach is to take a real railroad and model its operation in a certain spot at a certain period in time. Some modelers have taken this to extremes. One layout is known to model a certain day in a certain year in a certain town. It’s more common to see something like the New York Central freight operations in Schenectady, NY in 1933 being modeled. Such models based on a real railroad are said to be “prototypical”. The real railroad is the prototype for the model. The location is constructed to be as much like the real community and surroundings as possible.

Prototypical or not, setting a layout operation in a certain period of time gives the railroad temporal context as well. Buildings, vehicles, advertising, and surroundings can all be period appropriate to make the scenery and setting authentic. Plus, it’s great fun to tell the story! 

Model Train Resources

N scale book

Getting Started In
N Scale Model Railroading

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N scale Track Plans

Space Saving
From Plan To Performance

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 N scale miniature scenery


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