My grandson, Joshuah, has always been interested in trains.  When we travel, he is the only one in the car that actually likes it when we have to sit and wait at train crossings.  He has ridden on steam trains in Wyoming, Colorado, and South Dakota.  He has train books, train hats, trains pins, train videos, a train lamp, a train clock, a train watch, and even a CD of train sounds.  

He has had a wooden-rail, non-electric train set since he was about 3 years old.  When he was 6 years old, I let him start playing with the Lionel train set I had as a youngster.  This old train set is pretty boring.  Just a few cars and an oval track laid out on the basement floor.  But Josh still enjoyed it.  A few months ago, the transformer quit working and he started bugging me to get it fixed.  It was then, that I asked him if he would like to have a electric train set of his own.  Silly question!  Of course, he wanted a train set of his own.

At first I thought about getting him a Lionel set much like the one I had when I was his age.  After looking at several Lionel sets, I realized that they probably would not be adequate for someone as enthusiastic about trains as Josh.  Unless you have a huge amount of space to dedicate to a G-scale layout, you're pretty much limited to a train layout that sets up on the floor and goes around in circles.  That could be fun for about an hour or so, then it starts to get rather boring.  And, because it's set up on the floor and will have to be dismantled from time to time, there's not really much you can do to spruce it up with buildings, people, scenery, etc.

I realized if we were going to build any kind of realistic model that would fit in Josh's basement, and be the kind of layout he would enjoy for a long time, it would have to be an HO-scale or smaller layout.  I looked at several HO-scale layouts and the smallest practical layout would still be at least 4' x 8' feet.  The basement in his house is rather small and a 4' x 8' foot layout would probably be a little big.   It would fit, but it would take up a lot of real estate.  That's when I started thinking about N-scale.

I didn't know very much about N-scale and I wasn't sure it would be appropriate for an 8 year old.  I also didn't know if Josh would enjoy a train layout that small.  The Lincoln Area Model Railroad Club puts on a train show two times each year and their second show of the year was coming up in November.  I decided Josh and I should go to the local train show and check out some of the train layouts on display.  That would give me a chance to get his reaction to the N-scale layouts and see what kind of equipment was available in this scale. 

The largest layout at the train show is HO-scale.  It is a permanent layout set up by the Lincoln Area Model Railroad Club members, who have obviously been building it for many years.  Some coal trains running on the layout are over 10 feet long.  Josh always spends lots of time at this layout.  In contrast, the N-scale layouts are quite modest in comparison.  They are a little bigger than the common basement set ups, but not by much.  If you just ask an 8 year old which layout they like best, naturally, they are going to pick the big one.  So, I had to get Josh to concentrate more on the train locos and cars, rather than the layouts.

He was leaning toward the HO-scale trains until we stopped to look at an N-scale layout running a steam loco.  The steam loco was equipped with digital sound and Josh thought the sound effects of the little steam engine where "sweet" (his favorite word at that time).  I have to admit, I also thought the sound effects were "sweet".  It was at this point that I asked him if he thought he would like to have a train set with a train this size.  He said that would be "sweet".

Ok, so he would enjoy the N-scale trains, but was he old enough to properly care for a train set this small and delicate?  N-scale is really tiny and the equipment is much more fragile than the larger scales.  On the way home we talked about how a model train (especially a N-scale model train) was not really a toy and how it couldn't really be "played with" like other toys.  I was impressed that he seemed to immediately grasp the difference.  He began to tell me how he would take "very good care" of a train set.  He even started telling me about the "rules" he would have for his train set.  Even though I knew he (or his friends) would eventually break a thing or two, I also got the impression that he would feel bad when it happened and that he would take as good a care of it as any normal 8 year old was capable of, maybe more.

So, we decided we would build an N-scale layout.  Josh wanted to get started right away, but I said we should probably wait and see if Santa brought him a train for Christmas.  Then we would know what kind of layout to build.  He wasn't thrilled about waiting, but he agreed.

The tabs on the left chronicle our adventures as we build Josh's N-Scale layout.

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