Entering Model Railroading With $500
Sat, 2012-07-07 16:25 — SurvivorSean
Well this isn't something I planned on posting, but I thought it is one myth that needs to be busted. There is only so many things you can say to inspire others when you first get into the hobby. Your layouts will be limited in size, industries will be typical either condensed or spread out. Fact of the matter is the reason why you see so many super layouts both home and club in the pages of magazines and online is because they are done by those who have learned quite a bit from the hobby, and reached bigger goals. But if I was looking in the heads of most modelers I would always see that most can never get big enough.
Regardless, they all started somewhere. My start like many others was a 4 x 8 or slightly smaller if I recall because it just allowed 18" radius curves. The 4x8 was a step up for me because I was getting real now 22" radius curves was the minimum radius. Now for most in the hobby 22" is very tight and only recommended for industries. I do recall having a passenger train on my 4x8 though but it kind of looked silly.
Generally before you do anything, you need to consider what your goals are first. Is operations important to you? Is continuous running important to you? How much room do you have. Remember this is about how to get into model railroading with $500. Considering that some people spend what amounts to the cost of a new car on their layouts that is a good entry fee to get you started. If you believe money will be tight for years to come you may want to also consider how you can take what you have an expand it later. Personally I wouldn't go into modular, but it is something you can look into.
If you just want to run in nice scenery and don't care about operations you can get a 4 x 8 to get you started. Train sets are a good source to get you in, but I personally wouldn't recommend it. Most train sets are 18" radius curves, and the stock in many cases are difficult to make look more realistic. This is up to you, remember this is your empire. A train set can cut some of the costs down, but assuming you want to buy something your not going to just ditch if money is tight, let me take you a different way.
Personally I believe purchasing a 4 x 8 is a cheap way to get you in. If you have a little bit more money you can certainly consider other forms. What open or L grid and other methods give you is the ability to put realistic geometry in your scenery. I am not going to go into that as I have personally never done this. Simply put I never had to as I was in a club before it ever came to this decision.
Depending on what you are looking for will alter the decision here. Lets say for example you value a bit of a run over complex switching. Keep in mind no matter how big you make it, it will never be big enough. Take the 4 x 8 and cut it, or have it cut into 2 sections of 2 x 8. This can either be a 16' straight shelf section or can be used in an L if space is limited. For the sake of argument lets create a small 3 track yard no longer than a say 4 feet on the longest track. To maximize length of the yard tracks have the top track flow to where the bottom track will come out. For example the top track can be your mainline 6 inches deep, and the bottom track is 2 inches deep. The other side of the yard can be a latter and also sub in for your connection to the outside world 2 inches from the edge. This allows you to use shelf or box staging at the end of the layout.
Lets say in this layout we will have 3 industries for sake of argument. They can be set whatever way you like. Now switches get expensive so I won't recommend another run around track if you have facing point spurs. Since track planning is really beyond the scope I won't get into solutions for this.
So for track work you are looking at about 7 switches. You will want 1 engine, and at least say 6 cars. Now this I haven't priced all of this out but I believe it is attainable for $500. There are plenty of deals out there if you look around. Regardless this will certainly get you started. So where do you go from there?
Scenery, ballast, buildings, are all things that can be done cheaply or free in many cases. Many of the things you need for ballast can be found in natural soil, even old railroad ballast (grind down of course). You will find tons of stuff out there used that is in good condition, provided your careful that it works.
Once you have your layout built at this level, you can begin researching on detailing what you already have. Many of the best modelers have done what they have done on budgets and not buying up the best ready to run thing they can get their hands on. Honestly I haven't done any of the tough stuff personally. But that doesn't mean you can't learn from others who can show you tricks to get more bang for your buck. But this I know is how I would start in the hobby today if I was limited and didn't want to join a club or if none was around.
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