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Ryan  Kunkle

Model Railroad Trains

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Converting Prototype Curve Measurements to Models

Wednesday April 16, 2014

Curves are a part of any railroad, real or model. But we look at and measure our curves very differently than the prototype.

If you're planning your layout based on a prototype, you may come across curve measurements on track charts. These are normally measured in degrees, not as a radius like we typically use in modeling. Fortunately, converting from degrees to a radius for your scale is not all that difficult once you understand how the two are related.

What may be more challenging is finding room to fit that prototype curve on your platform. Our model train curves are much tighter in general than what the prototype can handle. How much tighter? The answer may surprise you. Read on to see how your curves measure up.

Mixing Model Train Brands

Monday April 14, 2014

With so many train manufacturers represented on the hobby shop shelves, things can be a bit bewildering for a newcomer to the hobby. What works together and what doesn't is all too often discovered through trial and error. While most items in a common scale or gauge will work together, there are some exceptions.

The good news is that even when products don't work together, there is almost always away to fix the issues. These basic guidelines will help you avoid incompatibility while not missing out on all the best products the hobby has to offer.

Wire Gauge Standards for Model Railroads

Friday April 11, 2014

"What size wire do I need?" We've all asked this question at least once. It's one of the most common whenever the topic of wiring a train layout comes up.

wires
From track power to control panels, a model railroad can use many different types of wire.
©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

While the right answer can vary depending on your situation, there are some general recommended practices when it comes to wiring our railroads. In some cases, manufacturers will make specific recommendations for their products. When those aren't around, these general tips should steer you well.

Remember when wiring your layout, the colors and organization of your wiring are just as important as the size. Careful planning below the platform is just as important as what you do above.

Electronics Glossary for Model Trains

Thursday April 10, 2014

Building on the electrical basics outlined earlier this week, if you start working on electronic circuits for model trains, you're bound to run into some common components. Diodes, resistors, capacitors... each has a specific function and when combined they can make almost anything possible.

While not an all-inclusive list, this glossary will help familiarize you with the most common components you'll find in model railroad electronics. What will you build?

Electrical Basics

Monday April 7, 2014

Wiring and electricity are frequently one of the more challenging parts of this hobby to understand. But model trains are also a great way to learn about electricity and how to use it safely and effectively.

Like everything else, it helps to start with the basics. So if you don't know an amp from a volt, this glossary of basic terms should help get you started. Thanks to manufacturers' easy-to-use products, you may never need to fully understand the complexities of what makes a modern control system work, but knowing the basic principles can still get you out of many frustrating situations.

Norfolk Southern Heritage Model Round Up

Wednesday April 2, 2014

Since their introduction two years ago, Norfolk Southern's heritage units have created quite the stir on the rails and in the hobby shop. I can't remember any other prototype program spurring so many manufacturers to create new product. From N to G, many manufacturers have tooled new, or repurposed old models to add the Heritage Fleet to their product line. And the list is still growing!

Heritage
The Heritage locomotive are a thrill in any scale.
©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

To help make sense of your options, I've compiled a list of all of the manufacturers who have put out or announced some or all of the Norfolk Southern Heritage Fleet. Complete reviews of each are beyond my means, but I've included some basic points about each to help guide your purchases. Of course a quick online search will yield lots of individual reviews of the various products.

So whether you're tracking them down on the rails or for your layout, there is a Heritage locomotive for every taste!

The Challenger 4-6-6-4

Friday March 21, 2014

No look at the American Locomotive Company would be complete without including at least one of its finest steam locomotives. In addition to being the largest dual-service steam locomotives ever built, the Challengers were also one of the most prolific. With 240 serving on nine different railroads, these big locomotives got around. And Alco built all but 27 of them.

Challenger
The Clinchfield owned six challengers via the Rio Grande originally intended for the Union Pacific. This is an American Flyer S Gauge model.
©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

While they pulled freight everywhere from the Poconos to the Wahsatch, the Challenger will forever be best associated with the Union Pacific. The Challenger originated on the UP and the railroad would go on to purchase 105. But its one Challenger, No. 3985, whose second career as an ambassador for the railroad has kept the class in the spotlight and converted thousands of fans in its travels.

As the world's largest operational steam locomotive (at least until Union Pacific completes its plans for Big Boy 4014) the Challenger has been popular with model makers as well. While the mass-produced models all represent the Union Pacific's later Challengers, examples of the wheel arrangement can be found in all the major scales from Z to O. Learn more about the interesting history of the type - one of Alco's greatest - and see a list of available models in this locomotive profile.

Alco's S-2

Thursday March 20, 2014

Even as Alco was building its biggest steam locomotives, the future of railroading could be found on the assembly floor in the form of smaller diesel switchers. Alco's S-2 was a versatile switch engine. With 1000 horsepower, the locomotive was just the right size for rail yards, branch lines and industry.

S-2
A pair of S-2s await their next move in the RF&P's Potomac Yard.
©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Alco and its Canadian counterpart Montreal Locomotive Works sold just over 1500 S-2s in ten years. The locomotives found work on scores of railroads and industrial companies all across North America. From the coach yard to the steel mill, the S-2 provided reliable power.

The S-2, and its nearly identical twin the S-4, have been reproduced in many of the popular scales. It's easy to add this standard switcher to your layout. Learn more about the history of the locomotive, its spotting features, original owners and available models in this locomotive profile.

RS-3 - Alco's Jack of All Trades

Wednesday March 19, 2014

Among Alco's most lasting contributions to the development of the diesel locomotive, the road-switcher design may be the most significant. Starting with the RS-1, Alco's concept and general form for a locomotive that could do any job became a standard for the entire industry.

RS-3
The RS-3 found work on railroads of all sizes.
©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The RS-3 was Alco's best selling road switcher, generating over 1400 orders in six years of production. The 1600 horsepower diesels were found in switching, freight and passenger service on railroads of all sizes.

The reduced operating and maintenance costs afforded by these new locomotives sent many steam locomotives into retirement. While sales may have lagged behind EMD's GP7, the RS-3's role in ending steam can not be overstated.

Hundreds of these reliable locomotives outlived their original buyers and went on to serve multiple railroads. A handful of survivors remain active today on short lines and excursion railroads around the country.

The RS-3 has been popular on model railroads too. Made by many manufactures in multiple scales, it is easy to add one to your layout. Get more history, a list of original owners and manufacturers in this new locomotive profile.

Bowser HO MLW C-630M Reviewed

Tuesday March 18, 2014

If you're looking for something to break the monotony of SD40-2s and GE -7s, then one of Bowser's big Alco's may be just the thing for your model railroad.

C-630M
Bowser has captured the unique lines and sounds of the C-630M in HO.
©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

A C-630M is reviewed here, but Bowser has been producing models of similar quality of many of the big Alco and MLW Centuries. Like the prototype, these models feature a unique look but also that distinctive Alco sound. Thanks to their Tsunami sound decoders, these locomotives sound as good as they look.

The C-630Ms careers lasted much longer than their slightly older Alco counterparts. Although they spent most of their time north of the border, C-630Ms did wander south on interchange runs occasionally and at least one has found work on American shortlines after retirement.

Read the complete review for more information. About the only thing missing is that big plume of black Alco smoke!

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