N gauge trains


What Supplies Should The N Scale
Model Railroad Hobbyist Buy From
Model Railroad Hobby Shops or Online?

Article by Tony Neilson

What to Buy?

When it comes to N scale supplies, there are seemingly endless choices to make for the model railroad hobbyist. All model railroads have three major components. First, you need track to run on. Second, you need a locomotive and at least one car of some kind to make a train. Third, you need a source of power for the locomotive. Some thought about each element should help you begin to form a plan.

N Scale Track

If you are not going to be building a permanent track arrangement, the type of sectional track which includes simulated plastic roadbed is a good choice. It is a bit sturdier than other types and will tolerate more rearrangement than non-roadbed rails if you wish to try several configurations before settling on a track plan for permanent construction.

Bachmann EZ-Track, Kato Unitrack, and Atlas True-Track are some examples of N scale supplies to consider. Straight and curved sections in various lengths are available, as are turnouts, crossings, re-railers, and other special components. One very nice feature about this kind of track is that the roadbed sections usually have some kind of keyed slots and tabs on the ends to hold the sections together as the train passes over the rail joint. They also make it much easier to keep the railheads at the section join aligned when the sections are joined.

N Scale Rolling Stock

The next consideration for the model railroad hobbyist is about acquiring locomotives and rolling stock. A big first question is, do you like modern trains, or are you more fascinated by trains from the steam era and the first half of the last century? Do you have a particular road name that you find interesting for historical or personal reasons? Do you love sleek passenger trains, or do you find the huge variety of freight cars endlessly interesting?

One very popular method of acquiring the first bits of rolling stock is to purchase a boxed train set which typically has a locomotive of some kind and road name, and a set of freight or passenger cars and a small oval of track (the plastic roadbed kind is common) included. Bachmann, Atlas, and Kato have a variety of these sets (and numerous other N scale supplies), with the sets ranging in price from about $150 and up. These sets usually do NOT include the third most important part of the layout, the power pack.

If you have settled the steam versus diesel question, the next single most important question about N-scale models is how well they run. As of this writing, the most popular locomotive manufacturers are Kato, Bachmann, Athearn, and Atlas. In the early days of N-scale, poorly made equipment was common. Today, however, much better design, attention to detail, and fine workmanship make all of these products suitable. Kato, in particular, has a reputation for extremely smooth running and finely detailed locomotives. Bachmann, which once had a very bad reputation, has produced the Spectrum line of locomotives which are now very well made and detailed as well. In general, prices reflect quality. A quality locomotive will usually be a bit heavier, which helps it pull longer trains more smoothly. A cheap, poorly running locomotive can be a source of unending frustration with any scale of model. Invest as much as you can comfortably afford, and you will benefit from hours of reliable operation.

N-scale trains are powered by direct current (DC). Power packs are rated by the amount of current they can supply to the layout. Most power packs have two types of outputs. One is a variable voltage that operates the locomotive motor. The other is a fixed voltage output that is usually used for accessory power. Here again, there’s a choice to be made. Starting out with a small power pack will get you going with minimum expense and can power a single train on a modest layout. Upgrading to a larger or more sophisticated power pack can be easily done at any time. Farther down the road, a sophisticated control system called Digital Command and Control (DCC) can be installed to allow the simultaneous operation of several trains at once on any track. It is even possible for a computer to completely control all operation on the advanced layout, including animated accessories and scenic features.

N Scale Parts and Pieces

Of course, a boxed set is not the only way to go. Individual locomotives, cars and N scale supplies are available from many sources. If you don’t have a local hobby shop or train store to browse in, a Google search will bring dozens of on-line web sites that cater for the needs of the model railroad hobbyist in the way of trains and accessories. Once at a site, you can easily spend hours going through on-line catalogs searching for just the right mix for you. As with boxed sets mentioned earlier, Kato, Athearn, and Bachmann Spectrum locomotives offer excellent performance for the price. For short trains, a small switch engine in steam or diesel is a great way to start off. Teaming one with a few assorted freight cars will give you experience in operating and creating a layout without causing personal bankruptcy. Their popularity and quality make it no problem to liquidate equipment if you find N-scale modeling just isn’t for you.

No discussion of purchases would be complete without a mention of eBay for N scale supplies. There are thousands of products available on eBay for purchase. Some are new from commercial vendors; others are for sale by individuals. All purchases on eBay (not just trains) should be approached with some caution and care. If you haven’t bid on an item on eBay before, it would be best to start with something small such as a single freight car or set of cars for which you have a notion of the approximate retail price. Bidding can get ridiculous on some items so you need to know when to stop and let it go to someone with less patience. You also can’t really tell anything about the condition of an item on eBay.

Some model train hobbyists – maybe ALL railway hobbyists – seem to have an inflated opinion of the condition and worth of a piece. Start with something that you can afford to be disappointed in if you are not a veteran bidder. Normal cautions of eBay trading apply to train equipment just as much as to other items. Look for a high rating on the seller and user feedback on the sale process with that individual or company. If you are a beginner, it would be best to start with new equipment from a reputable retail source rather than eBay. That way, you can be sure that the equipment you are buying will be as you expect. When you have more experience, though, eBay is a very useful source for adding those bits at a bargain or that you can’t find anywhere else.

There is a “gotcha” in the N-scale world to beware of, though. Much of the older N-scale equipment produced is equipped with what is known as a “Rapido” coupler. It is not realistic, nor is it compatible with more modern knuckle couplers produced today by Micro-Trains and others. Fortunately, it is a pretty simple task to install knuckle couplers on most cars. The trucks on most cars are held in place with friction by a small pin called a “bolster” pin. This pin can be pulled out with a pair of needle nosed pliers and the old truck removed and replaced with one having a knuckle coupler. Conversion of locomotives is a bit harder, but kits are available that can do the job if care is taken. A pair of conversion trucks will cost between $7 and $10, depending on the type of car and style of truck. Knuckle couplers also have the advantage of being able to remotely uncouple by way of a special magnetic track section.

Small N scale Railroads  


Model Train Resources

N scale book

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N Scale Model Railroading

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Space Saving
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 n scale supplies