N-Scale Trains: A Slippery Slope

Train MovingTo be honest, I never saw myself as a train geek. Sure, I’ve always loved seeing model trains rolling around nicely designed layouts. I think my first experience was the grand old layout at MOTAT, and since my son was old enough, we’ve made regular trips to view the amazing club layouts at the Model-X exhibition. I always took the position that these incredibly detailed dioramas were the domain of a peculiar type of geekery; one that I might delve into once retired, but not before. I never saw the irony as I spent hours carefully painting a single 20mm Eldar Farseer over the course of several days, while frowning on the fine-scale geekery of railroad modellers.

Sure, I’d done a tiny bit of research into trains, assuming that the most popular HO scale was the only way to go, and that the complicated setup of switched track sections was the only way to run multiple trains on a single track. The commitment required for HO scale just didn’t sit well with me. I don’t have an entire room or basement to dedicate to trainery.

Then I somehow stumbled across N Scale and DCC. I could describe N-Scale in great detail, but you’ll be better served by the knowledge that ‘N’ is short for Nine, as in Nine millimetres, being the track gauge in N Scale. Additionally, Wikipedia (as usual) has more than enough information on the genre.

As a computer and electronics nerd, my discovery of DCC was even more exciting. Once again, Wikipedia can tell you more than you’d ever want to know about Digital Command and Control. From my point of view, using electronics to address and command trains just makes more sense than old fashioned Direct Current.

N Scale is a much more manageable size, allowing me to build a layout based on a polystyrene sheet so that it can be stored away when not in use. It is extremely early days at the moment, but I’ve grabbed some track, a locomotive and some rolling stock from the incredibly useful team at nscalesupply.com. As usual with any decent online retailer, shipping to New Zealand can be expensive, but as long as you group items together, it ends up significantly cheaper than buying locally (not to mention the fact that most of the local hobby shops have little if any useful N-Scale items).

I’m currently playing with layout designs on bare polystyrene, but am nearing the time when I can commit a layout to glue. I will need a hot-wire cutter (which Stu kindly reminded me about) to start sculpting the required shapes (ramps, a mountain with a tunnel, and a small stream) from the polystyrene. My initial layout plan is shown below. I think I need to add a sharper turn on the entrance to the switching yard so I can add more length to the yard. The top track and spur will be elevated about 2 inches, and I’m planning a mountain tunnel on the top left.

N Scale Layout

Stay tuned.

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  1. DCC sounds great, totally the way to go as I’ve seen my father in law’s antique Hornby Dublos struggle to change circuit loops, and your initial rail yard/spur line set up looks ok but dammit man you need more track!

    Also if you’ve got a Canadian diesel locomotive you’re going to have to get good at simulating snow in N scale 🙂

  2. Yeah I’m running DC at the moment because DCC is not cheap 🙁 But I’ll get there eventually.
    I’d love to have more track but space is a premium. Softly softly at this stage 🙂

  3. hi there good luck with the layout i amm at the same stage as you after completing a ho scale n gauge by far better, more track i guess you have heard of flexi track, cheaper than buying individually, hot wire i use a souldering gun i bought from bunnings, shaped like a pistol comes with different souldering attachments, plus by using wire you can make a bigger loop for sculpturing, and the whole set up is cheaper than buying a hot wire set up.
    have fun

  4. Hi Ben
    I have just stumbled onto your site.good Job! and all the best for getting going in N scale. I thought I would let you know, that i operate a small business for N scale items,here in NZ as we found that the shops didn’t cater for N scale very well. I have them listed on Trademe under “jewelsone” accessories and American-rail”. for rolling stock. I specialize in “special” orders eg: per requirement. If you are in Dunedin at any stage please come and view our train room…and show layouts. all the best glad there is another N scaler and not an HO (horribly oversized) modeller… :0)

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