Copyright 2000  T. Sheil & A. Sheil  All Rights Reserved

Trains and the Holidays

Every holiday season, millions of families bring out the old train set. Trains are part of the family tradition. Whether it has been around for four generation or is an entirely new set, the train plays a key role in the fun

You can make your holiday train safer and more fun. Just follow these tips:

1) If you have a live tree, water it daily. A moist tree is a safe tree. When it becomes dry, it is time to remove it.

2) Use a fire -retardant tree skirt around the base of the tree. The cheap cotton tree skirts are not safe. Spend a few extra dollars for a better tree skirt - and the better ones last year after year.

It pays to think of fire safety, since so many decorations involve light and electricity. Where there's electricity and light, there's heat.

3) Keep metal away from train tracks. Be especially careful if you use tinsel. Tinsel can cause a short circuit if it falls across the tracks. (Tinsel can also be harmful to pets and small children).

4) Check your transformer's wall socket wire and plug. If it is frayed or worn, have it serviced. The same goes for corrosion. Rust means it's time for refurbishing or replacement. Make sure your transformer has a built-in circuit breaker for added safety. If not, replace it.

5) Check all wires for splits, cracks and wear. You can replace track and accessory wire with 18-gauge stranded wire from any electronic or electrical supplier.

6) Sparking happens when contact rollers and wheels hit gaps or rough spots in track. If your track is old, replace it. It does not cost much to replace track. O gauge tinplate track ranges from 75 cents to $1.30 a section; HO runs about the same. N scale track runs about 50 cents a section.

7) Lubricate gears on locomotives with lubricant, and oil axles. Make sure to oil the center rail contact roller, if you use O gauge.

8) For added safety, get a fire -retardant material (such as a fire retardant vinyl) and cut into strips to place under track. This will catch sparks AND it makes the Yule display look even better!

9) Don't leave trains running unattended.

Train Sizes

Most people do not know the sizes of trains. Trains are measured by the Gauge, which is the distance between the outer rails of their track. Scale is a secondary measurement shown as a fraction. In scale, the higher the number, the smaller the train. Here they are:

G - very large, 1/32 to 1/20 scale trains. G track has two rails, and its gauge is 1 3/4 inches

O and O27 - 1/48 scale trains, with a gauge of 1¼ inches. O and O27 track has three rails. Famous brands of O and O27 are Lionel, Marx, MTH, K-Line and Williams.

S - 1/64 scale trains with a 7/8 of an inch Gauge. S has 2 rails. The famous brand of S is American Flyer

HO - 1/87 scale trains with a gauge of 5/8 of an inch. HO track has 2 rails.

N - 1/160 scale trains with a gauge of 3/8 of an inch. N has 2 rails.

Picking a new train for the holidays

There are many kinds of trains out there. If you are looking for trains to run as a Yule Tree display, you need something that is attractive, safe, and durable. The best trains for this are O gauge, O27 gauge and G gauge.. They are large, well-made models. Smaller trains are fine for hobbies, but are not as good for the holiday display. Small children and pets make short work of HO and N scale trains.

Your best bet is to go to a reputable hobby dealer. O, O27 and G gauge sets usually provide enough for a simple display. They ought to include a train, track, transformer and instructions.

Avoid trains done in "Christmas Colors." They end up looking ridiculous. Most of those trains are not as well-made as the ones in regular railroad liveries. Instead, find a colorful train in realistic railroad markings. Popular railroads in this region of the Jersey Central Lines (CNJ), NJ Transit, Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads. Other popular roads are Southern Pacific (Daylight), Santa Fe and Chessie.

Picking Trains as Gifts.

The most important factors in giving trains as gifts are the age of the recipient and the space he has to use them. Not all trains are created equally.

For children 5 and under, try the wooden Brio type trains. You can find them in larger toy stores. They are safe, durable and have loads of play value.

Older children can run battery-operated sets. These are safe. Electric trains that use household current require a more mature hand. Unless there is plenty of adult supervision, they are not for children under 8.

For children 8 and up, you may give an electric set provided there will be adult supervision. The best kind are O and O27 sets. These are sturdy, durable trains that are packed with fun. HO and N trains are too small and delicate for young hands. The best O and O27 sets are MTH and K-Line brands.

For children over 10 who like building models and are good with the way they handle toys, you might try HO. Keep in mind that HO works best when tacked down to a board, making what we call a "layout." The smallest practical HO layout is 4' by 6', with 4' by 8' being better. Do not buy the cheap HO sets sold in large toy stores. Those sets tend to have cheaper materials and manufacture. Go to a reputable hobby dealer. The best HO starter sets are Atlas and Athearn brands.

For folks over 12 who have very little space, N scale works., It requires being tacked to a board, but it can make a complete and busy layout in an area of 4' by 3'. N is not good for folks with poor eyesight.

If people have a lot of room, you might consider G gauge. G is often used in outdoor railways. Trains are large and robust. Bachmann and Aristocraft make the best G gauge sets.

Never give trains in Christmas colors as gifts. Christmas sets lose interest two days after the holiday. Likewise, avoid anything that looks "cute." Pick trains in genuine railroad colors. Both children over 4 and adults dislike "cute" trains. If you think something looks "cute," then buy something else.

Be aware of pets and small children in the area. Consider this: to an average house cat or dog, an N locomotive is the size of a mouse, HO is the size of a rat, and S is the size of a squirrel. If rambunctious pets or small children are present, go for the larger trains.

Click here to return to The All Gauge Model Railroading Page, for best and most free resources for all scales and gauges of model railroading.

published by T. Sheil & A. Sheil Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved