Model Railroads and the Track to Being a Child Once Again

Ken SkoppBy: Ken Skopp

I was 5 years old visiting my grandparents in Waterloo, Wisconsin, where a train track sat next to the farm. One day as I was playing near the track, a steam engine began moving freight cars back and forth. After some time had passed, the steam engine stopped. The engineer leaned out of the cab and asked me if I would like to take a ride in the engine.

“YES!” I screamed in the excitement that can only come from a youthful boy looking for an adventure. I was taken 5 miles down the track and back.

I didn’t realize it right then, but I was bitten by the “train bug” and there is no cure.

Now fast forward 60 years, my wife bought be an HO scale train set for Christmas made by the Bachmann Company. It came complete with a steam locomotive, three passenger cars, a small DC power pack, and a loop of track. I owned model train layouts before, but it had been 20 years and it wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as my new layout. My previous layouts mainly consisted of a track with some buildings and a sheet of plywood.

After being an “armchaTrain Setir railroader” thinking and dreaming about building a model railroad, I decided it was time to start working on a brand new layout! Purchases of Model Railroader magazines was only the first step in getting information on all that was currently available in the model railroad hobby. I wanted my track to be more than just a piece of plywood. It needed realistic track work and scenery.

One day, I visited Rider’s Hobby Shop and found a flyer listing a local train show. I started going to train shows to see what new products were available in locomotives and cars. I was amazed at how many shows there are here in Michigan, as well as in Indiana!

I spent a year visiting hobby shops and going to local train shows. Two years ago this past November, I attended a train show right here in Wyoming at the Home School Building hosted by the Grand River Valley Railroad Club (GRVRRC). The club had a test track at the show and invited me to visit their club! Once there, I realized just how real this hobby can be and decided to join the club.

Train SetOver the past three years, I’ve been working on a model railroad layout in a 9′ x 10′ room in our condo basement. Roger Fenske, former president of the GRVRRC, helped me build the bench work, lay the track, wire the layout, and create realistic scenery and backgrounds.

The GRVRRC has been an amazing resource for myself and other to share and exchange skills and information about our model railroad enthusiasm. From creative design to electrical engineering, there’s always something to learn and improve on.

The model train industry has come a long with the Digital Command Center (DCC) tracks. Up to the advent of DCC control, trains ran on electrical current from a DC transformer that powered the electrical motor in the locomotive. You could only run one locomotive at a time on your layout. If you wanted to run more than one locomotive, you had to divide the layout into isolated electrical blocks or segments. The wiring and controls for that kind of undertaking is complicated and not very flexible.

Train SetWith the advance in computerization and miniaturization provided by the DCC, each locomotive has a computer chip in it with an individual address. With a DCC control cab, you can send signals to each individual locomotive address. This allows you to control the direction of motion for that particular locomotive address, plus speed and sound functions.

Having the ability to run multiple locomotives around a track is really something, but the biggest advancement to the model trains are the sounds. You can hear the sound of your steam locomotive as it moves, ring its bell, and blow its whistle just like a real train.

I now have a Pere Marquette Railroad Steam locomotive chugging around my train layout. At the same time, I can have a diesel switcher locomotive switching cars in the train yard, both at the same time, and both with realistic sound effects.

My knowledge of model railroads grew when I visited the GRVRR Club’s train show here in Wyoming. This past August, I became the Club’s Train Show Coordinator! We have a show this Saturday, November 7th and invite everyone to come join! It’s a great way to learn about the hobby, meet new people, and bounce ideas off one another.

Train SetIt’s not just for adults either, there will be LEGO Train layout and LEGO play area for children!

When the train bug catches you, there’s no escaping it. We hope to see you there!

Grand River Valley Railroad Club Fall 2015 Train Show

When: November 7, 2015 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Home School Building, 5625 Burlingame Ave, Wyoming, MI

Cost: $5 (Kids under 12 are free)

Operating Layout: LEGO Layout, Thomas the Train layout, G scale, S scale, HO scale, N scale, Z scale

  • A miniture city at GRVRRC Headquarters
  • It might looks like real rock and trees, but it's Styrofoam that has been shaped and painted!
  • It even has its own industrial complex.
  • The track covers two rooms and is constantly being added to and improved.
  • Ken Skopp's basement train track