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,
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
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
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
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