Toy Train Basics
At Stockyard Express we deal exclusively in O-Gauge or 1:48 scale models. You will find that the terms scale and gauge are thrown around a lot when talking about model trains. Scale refers to the size of the model which is 1:48. Gauge refers to the width between the rails just like in the real world. In the real world tracks are spaced 4 feet 8.5 inches apart which is called Standard Gauge. In O-Gauge this distance equals 1 1/4 inches.
Throughout the years there have been many forms of O-Gauge. Lionel popularized Standard O and O-27. O-27 is considered the oldest and refers to the O-27 diameter curve which is the tightest curve in the hobby. Models are scaled down to fit on these tight curves. Today O-27 has given its spot to O-31
RailKing vs Premier
MTH has two product lines in their catalog, RailKing and Premier. RailKing products are scaled down a little bit to make them work on smaller layouts. If you are a beginner RailKing is the way to go. Don’t worry though, RailKing products are packed with details and look great and run great. Nearly every RailKing locomotive can run on O-31 curves which is the next step up from O-27. Most freight cars can traverse O-27 curves while passenger cars need O-31. RailKing products tend to be less expensive than their Premier counterparts.
Premier Line models are built to exact proportions. If you want the most realistic models ever made Premier is the way to go. You will find that Premier models are more expensive than their RailKing counterparts. They have more specific minimum curve requirements. Diesels tend to have minimum curve requirements of O-31 or O-42. Steam can range anywhere between O-36 to O-72.
Now we need to talk about track and curves. The curve diameter you have determines which models you may run on your layout. Models have what is called a minimum curve. The greater the diameter of curve you use determines which locomotives will fit on your layout. For example a locomotive with a minimum curve of O-27 can run on any curve size above that but a locomotive with a minimum curve requirement of O-72 cannot run on anything less than O-72. It will derail and cause all sorts of problems.
It should be noted that if O-42 is specified it just might be able to run on O-36 curves. The fairly recent introduction of O-36 has led to the discovery that engines who say they need O-42 can operate on O-36. You should experiment first by placing the locomotive on the tighter curve to see if it fits before operating.
There are many different brands of track in the O-Gauge world. Each has its pros and cons and each has its own unique characteristics. At Stockyard Express we carry Lionel Tubular, MTH RealTrax and ScaleTrax, and Lionel FasTrack. Any O-Gauge train can operate on any O-Gauge track system as long as the minimum curve requirements are met. Here we will just give a general overview of each system as one can write books on each system.
Lionel tubular is the original track system. If you are going for a classic 1950s look this is they way to go! If you have original tubular track make sure to check for rust as that can cause electrical problems.
MTH RealTrax is supplied with every MTH Ready-to-Run train set. It is very durable and sections lock together tightly. It has the roadbed built-in and has a blackened center rail. The rails are also shaped in the form of real rails. RealTrax is used on the Original Layout at Stockyard Express.
MTH ScaleTrax has the lowest profile of any O-Gauge track system. If you want realism ScaleTrax is your answer. The center rail is thin and black making it almost invisible. The solid outer rails are shaped like real rails and are very durable. Scaletrax does not have built in roadbed, so you get to create your own using either foam or cork roadbed along with your choice of ballasting material you can create a railroad that looks just like the real one.
Lionel FasTrack is similar to Realtrax as the roadbed is built in. At the same time it is similar to Lionel Tubular as the rails are essentially tubular. It has a light grey built-in roadbed with closely spaced ties moulded in. We opted use FasTrack on the Stockyard Express Railroad so as to show off the broad choice of curves it has to offer. Diameters range between O-31 and O-96.
Each of these brands have a full line of switch tracks, cross-overs, and other specialized track sections. Reading catalogs is a great way to compare what each system has to offer.
With any track system you have to periodically clean your track. Dust, traction tire residue, smoke fluid and other materials will build up over time causing electrical problems. Using a rag, sponge, or track cleaning car with a cleaner such as denatured alcohol will make your track look shiny and new. Never use steel wool to clean track! It will only damage your track and make it useless.
Proto-Sound, DCS, & Proto-Smoke
All locomotives produced by MTH after 2009 are equipped with Proto-Sound 3.0 and the Digital Command System (DCS). Before that there was Proto-Sound 2.0 which introduced DCS to the world in 2000 and before that was Proto-Sound 1 which did not have DCS. Proto-Sound offers full digital sound which is recorded from real locomotives. For example if you have a SD45 model it sounds like a real SD45. DCS allows you to do operate up to 100 trains at the same time individually along with what seems like a million other amazing things which is covered in depth in our DCS and Proto-Sound 3.0 Section of our website.
The big difference between PS3 and PS2 engines is the elimination of the battery. The battery in PS2 engines was used to power the engine over breaks in track power and keep the sounds, control and motor running. These batteries would need to be charged and replaced over time. PS3 engines have a capacitor which never needs charging and will never have to be replaced. You can easily swap out the battery of a PS2 engine with a capacitor or what we call a BCR and you will never have to worry about replacing it again. Electrical boards have also been improved. More memory is available in PS3 engines allowing for future features. The final difference is in the lights. In PS3 engines have LEDs which draw less power, never burn out, and are brighter.
PS1 engines can be upgraded to PS2 with a simple upgrade kit. PS3 upgrade kits will succeed PS2 kits by the summer of 2015.
Almost all MTH engines have Proto-Smoke which makes them the best smokers on the market. The smoke units inside of these locomotives are tied in with the sound set and have been known to set off fire alarms. You can set the chuff rate at lets say 4-chuffs per revolution of the drivers on a steam locomotive and the smoke will puff out of the stack at the same rate. For a diesel, when it revs up the smoke output will increase and will decrease at slower speeds. You have the ability to vary the volume of smoke output of the locomotive and even shut it off entirely. You can use any specially produced toy train smoke fluid, MTH has about 13 scents of smoke fluid to choose from. Never put more than 10-15 drops of fluid inside and never ever operate your locomotive without smoke fluid inside the unit! Shut off the unit entirely if you choose not to run with smoke. You will burn out the smoke unit and the electrical boards if there is no fluid but it is still on making for a very expensive repair.
Power & Control
You may be wondering why O-Gauge track has three rails. The answer is simple. The 3-rail track makes it easier to wire track to a power source and operate. The center rail is positive and the outer rails are the ground. The electricity flows out of your transformer’s positive connection to the center rail and is picked up by the rollers on the bottom of your locomotive. It then leaves the locomotive through the wheels and returns to the ground connection on your transformer completing the circuit.
There are two ways to control your trains, conventional and command control. Conventional control involves altering the amount of electricity on the track with your transformer. More electricity will make your train go fast and less will slow it down. Command control puts a constant 18 volts of power on the track and remote command is then used to tell the engine telling it what to do. You can control your locomotive like a real one using command control.
Buildings, Accessories, Scenery & More
While trains look great by themselves they really come alive when you build an environment for them to run on. At Stockyard Express we carry all of the fantastic buildings and accessories from both MTH and Lionel along with products by Woodland Scenics. Buildings today come with lights, come with varying levels of detail both inside and out, and come in a variety of styles. Accessories make your layout come alive. Are you attracted to coal trains? Why not add in an operating coal loader! The list of accessories is long and continuous. You can even make your own up!
Scenery is usually where some people start to doubt their artistic prowess. It may seem daunting at first but this is possibly one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hobby. There are books, magazines, videos, and people who can all help you make a great looking layout. There are also countless products out there made by Woodland Scenics and Scenic Express that you can use. The New Layout at the store was built in order to showcase scenery. This layout is never going to be truly finished as we can just keep adding in more details as time goes on.
What you have just read is a basic summary of what our trains are capable of doing. It may seem like a lot but over time it is all very easy and fun to learn! We here at Stockyard Express are happy to answer any and all questions you have. We enjoy demonstrating everything our trains can do and we are happy to share our knowledge with you. Remember there are no rules to model railroading, anything goes, it’s your layout and your empire. Be your own Empire Builder!