Model Railroading- prototypical or not prototypical? Everyone in the model railroading hobby models in different ways for different reasons. Some people just run their trains, some detail and paint them, others collect but have no layout, and some mix-match all the above.
There is no good or bad way of having fun in the hobby, but modeling something prototypical can sure bring it to life. This article is for those who are into prototypical HO scaled modeling, and is a short reference for those who want to know what manufacturers are close and not. This in no way promotes any company, and is mainly opinion, with facts thrown in from extensive research.
Kadee, ExactRail, Rapido, and Tangent are among the top prototypical manufacturers out there. Their models tend to be on the high price end however. They usually are available ready to run. Branchline and Fanaro-Camerlengo also are other great companies with correct models, but mainly come in kit form. These kits take patience, and a good eye. Next would be Atlas, Athearn Genesis, Bowser, then Proto. You have to be careful with some of their models- most are correct, but a lot have been found to have major mistakes. Genesis tends to be correct, but Athearn’s RTR’s tend to be correct and some not. With those manufacturers, always check before purchasing, if you are a particular modeler. These manufacturers make pretty good prototypical models, although these days their pricing is high, at times too high when bought new. How much is too high, that can price modelers out of the hobby (hint to the manufacturers)?
Then we have Accurail, Athearn RTR and “blue box”, Walthers, Bachmann, etc. where most kits and RTRs are incorrect in most cases, unless you want to do a lot of modifying. Things that would be incorrect would be anything from sills, ends, roofs, paint colors, paint schemes, scale measurements, etc. This could include all or only some of those things.
CURVES & TRACK WORK
Also when it comes to track layouts, it’s a good idea to have the yards, mains, sidings, etc. layed out that makes sense, or matches the real world. This can also include things like prototypical curves. When you look at real-life curves, looks can be decieving. What may appear as a tight curve or turnout, actually is not. Don’t have the room? It’s best to model the scale that you have the real room for. Or, there are ways to hide things that look out of scale, such as using a tunnel, wall, scenery, etc. to help hide tighter curves, etc. There are many layouts out there with highly detailed and potoypical scenery. However, their curves and switches/turnouts are not much to scale. If one was to go through all of the work to make the scenery and buildings look real, why not the track work as well?
For example, the ex-PRR/PC/CR-now NS Horse Shoe Curve is about 9.25 degrees. this equals out to be about 86″ radius in HO scale. Yes, that’s a huge radius, so that shows how much most of us have not been modeling our HO layouts true to scale for all of these years. It’s easier to be done in N scale, which equals out to be about 46″ or so radius. The tightest main line track on a Class 1 railroad was about 10 degrees on the Erie RR, and the tightest in a railroad yard on a Class 1 was about 14 degrees on the NYC (the higher the number in degrees, the tighter the curve. The higher the number in inches in HO/N/etc., the broader-less tight the curve). We can do it in HO if we have the room.
And turnouts/switches should really be no smaller than #8s in all sidings and yards, and no smaller than #10s or larger on main line crossovers. With these practices, trains run and look much better in all directions, especially long trains. Also weighing freight cars down like bricks does not fix derailing problems- checking wheel guages, trucks, frames, trackwork, etc. should resolve those problems. We shouldn’t try to cram as much track as we can with little space that we have. But if we have the room for those real curves, and larger switches, then why not? Currently, Micro Engineering makes pretty good HO track, with the spike heads not resembling scaled watermelons. They only make #6 switches however- they should be making #8s and higher, which only makes sense if they go to the trouble of getting their other track looking per scale. Peco and Walthers track is ok, but pricey. There’s always the option of laying your own track using track pattrens as well.
SCENERY & WEATHERING
It’s great to weather things. Make paint flat, look rusty, dirty, and more. Yes there can be a few glossy cars, as railroads did re-paint equipment as well. But it takes some imagination and a good eye in order to weather something, without it looking like it literally had paint spilled all over it. It is always best to use scaled trees, weeds, brush, poper colors, etc. Imagination is a great thing for this as well.
Again, if it’s your railroad, you can model how you want, however it’s important to accept everyone’s tastes from runners to scaled modelers, and the main thing is to enjoy the hobby. By the way, we do not endorse any of the manufacturers listed in this article, but use them as examples when shopping for what you are looking for at the present time in the model railroad hobby. There will be more in-depth articles related to prototypical scaled modeling, with list of what models have been studied, with car types, road names, numbers, etc. in the future. Keep checking back!
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