If you will be starting a model train collection or if one of your children wants to begin one, then you should familiarize yourself with the terms associated with model trains. The hobby has a jargon all its own, and you will want to know what you are talking about when you are purchasing model trains for your new collection.
Here are a few of the basics to get you started. Remember to look up any unfamiliar term or ask a salesperson, especially if you are planning to purchase something immediately. You do not want to get it home and then find out that you have bought the wrong item.
The cab is one of the most important terms you can understand. You probably have seen a cab without realizing what it is called. It is the handheld (usually) device that model railroaders use to communicate with their trains. The basic cab will have stop and go but more deluxe models have stop, go, speeds, and other features. Older model train designs used a cab bus as a hub for all of the model trains being controlled by cabs in one design. Today, most people use a wireless connection, which is much easier to maintain.
The caboose is a term for one of the cars on the train. Over time, people have started to think that the caboose is necessarily the term for the last car on the train, but this is not true. The caboose is identifiable because it is the place in the train that holds the crew. Usually it was the last car on the train but not always.
The catenary is the overhead wiring that you see sometimes over train tracks. This wiring system was in place to help control the path of the electric trains as they pass over the tracks.
If you are not familiar with electricity, then you should become familiar quickly if you are planning to build model railroads. A circuit is the pathway of electricity, and this circuit emits electrical current anytime it is connected. A circuit breaker on a model train is the same as in your house. It is an electrical protection mechanism put in place on the cab to halt all current to the train if the system becomes overloaded. Frequent overloading means that you need to change your electrical set-up or you are risking a fire.
An MU is short in model train jargon for a multiple unit. It is a way of connecting several locomotives operating independently to a single cab. An MU is something that you really need to know about if you are planning on massive train designs.
Markers are the name for the lamps you will see on trains in old movies. They were the way of showing that the train was ending and to give others an idea of where the train was. Today many slow-moving vehicles are required to use a flag or triangular sign to show that they are slow-moving and that they have cargo (such as lumber) hanging from their rear. The only place you will still see markers will be on the model trains. Trains today use EDTs, or end-of-train devices, and some trains have built-in lights so that they are not swaying in the current the way the old-fashioned markers did.
A module is a standard layout for a train. Model trains come in various scale sizes, but you can identify each scale size by its lettering. For example, there are O scale trains, and anytime you see that designation, you will know that the train is the same dimension as other O-scale trains. The benefit of using modules is that they allow you to change parts or add to other standard model sizes easily because the parts will fit together.
These terms are just a few of the ones you will need to know to get familiar with model trains. You should spend a few hours at least learning these terms before you begin to purchase or put together trains. It will save you a lot of frustration in the long run because you will know what you are doing instead of finding out that you did things wrong or the hard way.