Pauley's Suggested Method
for New Model Railroaders

As I've said elsewhere, my simplified methods are not intended to replace or challenge a more traditional approach. These are just some ideas for those who may want to start quickly, easily and relatively inexpensively. Of course, there is no scientific study here. It's all just my opinion based on personal experience.

But if you do find any of the following useful, please let me know.

Also note that these ideas and suggestions are presented in no particular order. But I think "research" is one of the most important steps to take. Fortunately there are many great places to conduct research: forums, publications, videos, manufacturer sites, etc. (If you live in an area with a hobby shop that has a good selection of train equipment, you are lucky, and I envy you.) Most of my entire model railroad education was accomplished on-line.)

Keep in mind that much of the advice and suggestions you receive may be authored by and aimed towards experienced users, so don't get frustrated. (I provide a few helpful resources in the "links" section and I'm hoping to expand the list.)

Hopefully model train shows will be returning soon. Keep your eyes open for one near you. They are fun and very educational. And most have a great selection of vendors.

One of the first decisions you'll make will be to determine the scale in which you want to work. HO is the most popular, N comes in second. I would imagine some folks might need to secure a space before they choose a scale. And if you're starting by pulling an old set down from the attic, whether HO, Lionel, American Flyer or anything else, then most likely, that will determine your scale.

A note about Z scale: the small size makes it appealing for those in "space saving" mode. But the selection of equipment and vendors in Z scale is limited. Also, I think working in such a small scale would be more difficult for a beginner until they have a bit of experience with model trains.

If you're buying new, you'll probably have to choose between DCC (Digital Command Control) or DC (Direct Current).  As I've had little experience in wiring layouts, analyzing each is beyond my ability, and there is lots of information on-line.

Briefly, from what I've experienced, DCC, generally the more expensive of the two, simplifies the operation of several trains and switches. My main layout is DCC.

DC was the "standard" way to run model trains for many years. From what I have experienced, it's simple – as long as the layout is relatively simple. (My newer N scale layout is DC.) I know that there are folks who run large, DC layouts which required lots of wiring. However, to be honest, wiring track is an area I've avoided.

Find a work area – obviously the largest possible. Don't forget that besides your layout, you'll need room for a workbench and storage. If you are not intending to scratch build benchwork, find a suitable table. It will be a plus if you are comfortable drilling holes though it, but it's not necessary.

If a dedicated space is not possible for your layout, another option is to put it on a piece of plywood that can be slid under a bed or a table. Obviously this means you'll be spending a bit of time on the floor or lifting it to a table when you want to play.

You may already have envisioned your layout before you start. Or it may take a while. At some point, you're probably going to come up with a hard copy of the plan. This could be something as simple as a drawing on a napkin, or an elaborate layout using the software described on the previous page, or anything in between. Personally, I've spent many satisfying hours with graph paper, a pencil and a ruler.

Dive in – keep it simple. Get some buildings – kits or complete. Scale vehicles are a fun addition. Try some scenery. Buy small quantities of material until you think you're going to need more.

Most importantly, send me some pictures!