A Few Tips for Your First Model Train Set
By Melissa Martinez
First, when deciding what parts or kits to buy for your first model train, age is one of the biggest considerations. You must think before you buy! If you are buying the model train set or parts for yourself, then you can go to the shop (or online), browse the shelves or listings and make an informed decision for yourself. This is the easiest possibility.
But life is rarely that easy, right? Let’s say the model train is for a friend, or a family member. What if it is for a specific family member- say, a child? It is difficult to know what each child can handle, or what is appropriate. Though whole kits may give you an idea on the box of what to look for, if you are buying separate components this may not be the case.
A good rule of thumb- a child 8 years of age or older (if they are a patient child and will always have adult supervision) can handle the same size (scale) of train that that average adult can (obviously unsupervised). If the child is under the age of 8, then you must go for a bigger scale of train. This is because the larger the train (and therefore scale), the larger the parts of the train. Little hands won’t be able to handle the intricacies of small pieces and particularly a small track. Even with constant adult supervision, trying to give a five-year-old a small-scale train would be an exercise in futility at best. (see the list at the end of the article for the types of scales and their popularity).
You must also take space into consideration before you buy. Sure, that 12-year-old nephew of yours is smart, and can handle a nice, complex train. But perhaps his bedroom is tiny and he doesn’t have room for one with as much track as you are thinking of purchasing. You must ask yourself- is there anywhere else he can put it? Or anywhere at all that it might be able to go? Will his (or her) parents approve?
Of course, you also have to think about what type of train it is. Is this an outdoor train that is meant to circle the yard? In that case, bigger is likely better (depending on the size of the yard). Is this a train set that is highly detailed, such as an “Old West” scene, or a historical train track or site? Then you will not only need a large area to build it in, but a large area to display it in once it is finished (you certainly would not want your masterpiece to be mired to the garage, now would you?).
Ok, I know what you are thinking. With so many things to think about, how do I choose?
Luckily, I have compiled this list of sizes for you so that you can at least have an idea of what you are going to be looking for before you head into that hobby or craft shop, or before you start your online shopping. Hope this helps!
- 1:87 scale: This is by far the most popular of all of the scales of trains you can possibly find. This is fine for adults and children 8 and up, provided they always have adult supervision when they will put together. Eight is a bit border line, though. If you think a child around that age needs something a bit more juvenile, try on of these other scales listed. This scale is also known as the HO scale (pronounced like the two letters, H and O, not like the hoe gardening tool).
- 1:160: This is another popular scale. It is much smaller than the popular HO scale, but many model train enthusiasts still value this scale of train highly. It is known as an N scale, and is only recommended for adults. The pieces are really too small for children.
- 1:48: This scale is popular more in North American and the United States imparticular than in other areas. It is also known as the O scale.
- 1:64: Slightly larger than the O scale, this is a popular intermediate scale that is for older kids and adults. This is known as an “S” scale train.
- 1:220: This is also known as “Z” scale. This is one of the tiniest scales out there and is only recommended for experienced model trainers.