The Greatest Hobby In The World, Or Is It?

Is model railroading the greatest hobby in the world, or the most frustrating and expensive?
After 27 years I could spend hours and hours telling you about the mistakes I have made with model trains.
But to make sure I don’t bore you, I would like to know what you think about the hobby, are you a beginner or advanced model railroader and what are your frustrations, if any?

I really want to know… please scroll fown to the bottom of this page and type in a quick response.
So go ahead and let me know – what do you think about the hobby, are you a beginner or advanced model railroader and what are your frustrations (if any)?

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926 Responses to “The Greatest Hobby In The World, Or Is It?”

  1. Shirl says:

    Just a beginner. My dad had Lionels when we were little. Just wanted to start one for my grandson and add to it each year

  2. Silentoaks (David) says:

    Hello Dan: I’m neither a beginner, although it feels like it sometimes. I had a layout in the 1970’s but after that I was never in a place where I could build another one. That is until now. I even built a building to house it. Not big but 9×23. So I am in the process of building a layout in HO. It is a little frustrating because all my track in the 70’s was brass. Now with NS and Steel, it is posing some problems. Only because I am not in a position, rolling stock, to clean the track very good. Anyhow I like what I’m doing and am looking at most everything I can to get more ideas. I am a life member of the NMRA, and have been receiving their books as we go along. Hopefully, I will get the ideas I need to continue my layout. I have also been using e-bay to up-date my scenery and rolling stock.

    Thanks for your time and efforts.l


    • Mac In SoCal says:

      I would not mix metals in your. In any case, solder power feeders to each track section to ensure power continuity. You can use Track Cleaning cars (wet and/or dry). I would have MOW train with the track cleaner run all track before each session. In each train, a car or two can be equipped with Woodland Scenic Dust Monkeys. This approach allows track cleaning to be part of regular Ops. Cleaning fluids I have had great results with are; 70% Isopropyl alcohol, Windex(really) and Labelle 105 track conditioner. Periodically clean loco wheels with products like Trix/Märklin Wheel cleaning brush. I have no connection with any products described. Clean track will ensure reliable ops. Good Luck! MacInSoCal, N Scale; SP, UP, ATSF; Transition Era, Barstow Area

  3. Brendan says:

    Absolute beginner Dan so all your advice is being read and read again. Thanks

  4. Gene Mooneyhan says:

    I had a layout in 1974, I was 18 years old then, loved it. I started this layout about 3 months ago, and am tryingbto remember all the things I learned back then, I need something to keep me active, I was an over the road truck driver for 37 years, and year before last I developed stomach cancer and they removed all of my stomach, setting around the house, not beening able to work, gets a man down. I still have an engine that I bought 40 years ago, the tyco golden eagle, that still runs great, I’m going to use it on a passenger line.

  5. wayne sund says:

    Have been interested since I was 7 years old when my grandmother took the train (steam) from Sydney back to Cairns (Qld). I fell in love with trains from that day on. Now, only recently having the time to ‘play around’ with model trains, even changed my layout twice to vision how it is going to end up. Have been taking pics as I go along to maybe send to a budding model train builder. Not too many mistakes as yet but maybe can expect some along the way.
    Doing a GREAT job Dan keeping us all together for everyone’s benefit.
    Wayne Sund

  6. Jack Whitney says:

    I am just getting started in model railroading after many years of wishful thinking. I now have a 10 x 14 foot shed and am in the process of wiring it. I am going to go with HO gauge as I have acquired a lot of equipment. I do not as yet have a layout but I cannot wait to get started. I would like to go DCC but not sure what kind to go with. Any help and information will be greatly appreciated. I do have to be careful of costs so have purchased rolling stock used, mostly from EBAY. I like the steam era best. Jack Whitney

  7. curtis hunt says:

    I love it was into ho back as a kid and now some 40 years later I’am getting back into it, but it seems that any info i want i have to pay for it. I will be making a 4×9 layout and can’t find a track layout for it. Sure i can buy lots of books that will give me the plan’s for one, back in the day if you said you were looking for it people would give you all kinds of them but now its all about the money. sure wish people loved the hobby and wanted to share greed has a way of ruining it for the beginner,

  8. Johnny T Robison says:

    I have just now started looking into starting a model railroad hobby. I am retired and had an amputation last year so I really need a hobby to keep me busy and I think I’ve found it. The main frustration that I have with this is when I find what I consider a good starting point, the web site that has a really good price is out of stock and I’m forced to wait. I have developed patience over the years so I guess the wait won’t kill me!

  9. Jack Whitney says:

    I am a beginner after many many years of dreaming about it. I am now retired (80 yrs. old) and have purchased a building that is new and dust free. I have installed air conditioning/heat, hardwood floor and have wired it for electricity. I am about ready to build bench work and have a layout. The bldg. is 10′ by 14′. I have lots of eguipment, buildings, etc. but no track yet. Eventually I would like to go DCC. I purchased your ebook and now I would like to read it but don’t know how to access it. Can you tell me how? Thanks for everything. Waiting to hear from you, I remain – Jack Whitney.


  10. JSBrunel says:

    I am recently retired and pulled my trains out of storage (late 60’s) and am really beginning all over again. O scale, things are a bit rusty and oxidized over time but I am amazed that I still have these prized possessions. Having trouble figuring out a layout, I have lots of room, dedicated to the model railroad so still trying to determine precisely what it is I want to build. Fun to think about it, but time to start.

  11. Babs says:

    Just getting going with this project. I tell everyone that it is for my 5 yr old grandson, but the truth is, it’s for ME! Got a track pack and DCC controller and am in the process of building the scenery. Biggest frustration is that this is consuming my life, but it’s so much fun. Have been in love with trains since childhood when the Denver Zephyr ran through my hometown. Still get goosebumps when I have to wait for a freight. The best hobby for sure!!!!!

  12. Carl says:

    I am a beginner I had a train set when I was 10 back in the early 50’s actually 49 I have that set along with 3 more sets, all “O” scale. I have been adding daily to it. I am in the process of wiring and insulating a newly build 12′ x 16′ building. I am hoping by the end of this week to be able to start the tables and then get them all out and start the layout. I am looking into building my own buildings so I’m looking for a good book on how to do them

  13. Okiejim says:

    What I find most disgusting is worn out – broken train elements advertised on the discount web sites as working or in ‘good’ condition. Another sad thing is the price of model kits, parts, etc…. not easy for one on limited income to get too involved in this hobby. Even a simple layout using your tips & advice gets somewhat costly if done properly. Keep up your good tips & information!

  14. Ken says:

    Hi Dan,

    I am returning to model trains after a break of 50+ years and look towards this hobby to help me recover from major radical cancer surgery. I need a stimulation and I think this will help me, my only frustration is where to locate a setup, the only option I have at present is convert my work bench in my garage to a layout. I can’t find how to download the bonus books you offered, can you help?
    Regards Ken

  15. Gerhard says:

    I am somewhat of a beginner. I believe the hobby to be expensive. My frustration is really not knowing for certain about a lot of things. Mainly the electrics. I look at a lot of stuff on youtube, but it is just too confusing. So for now I’m sticking with simple track and switch wiring and scenery.

  16. radar2609 says:

    As a kid, I played with HO cars. As an adult, I started in on HO Trains. Then I ran out of space and time. Left em alone for a few years. Then when I had more time and space, and money I added HO cars to my trains. Had a great 16×8 ft display. Working RR crossings for the cars, (simulated) lake in the center, snow, plenty of switches, 2 or 3 different controls. SO fun. And pretty expensive. But frustrating? NOT FOR ME! Now I’m retired and have plenty of time (but not so much money) to rebuild… make it even better! Just planing my board now.

    I have to THANK YOU and everyone who contributes… reading your letters, etc., I’ve learned WAY more than I ever thought I would! And thats just from my first WEEK! I am so glad to be a part of this group! People SHARING their experience. Its GREAT! And I’m sure I’ll be able to contribute too! Sincere thanks to Dan and everyone!

    Larry K.

  17. John Westergaard says:

    Just got started a year ago, I used some rolling stock from my youth. New hitchs and older ones are a pain. So far I have learned many things, have really evolve into a large layout. Looking forward to learning better ways to do things. Wish I had found your site sooner. Thanks for all I have learned. Struggling to keep cars hooked up. Engines run great trying hard to level all track.

  18. Keith says:

    I’m beginning again after taking a 14 year break from the hobby. It was only supposed to be a short break due to a move. Finally, possibility thinking got me to set up the old board. Didn’t think I had enough room, but I do. Lost my good transformers (so far), but slowly finding stuff.

  19. Keith says:

    I have a couple of questions.
    1. Are Micro-Trains couplers another name for Kadee couplers. If not, what is the difference?

    2. What’s the difference between Kadee couplers and the Accumate couplers that Atlas puts on some of theirs better cars and locomotives? By the way, I’m talking about N Scale here. All of my modeling is in N Scale.

  20. Keith says:

    One observation from this newbie. It is easy to spend a lot of money on N Scale on Ebay!

  21. DUSTY says:


  22. spudnick 107 says:

    Not new,but still learning. Having a lot of fun. It kills the winter nights. Like landscaping and model building[for landscapes] the best. Paul

  23. Earnest says:

    I am about to start on my second room size layout. I am excited and a bit overwhelmed by the task at hand. However I won’t let that stop me because of your dedication and support. Happy Holidays

  24. Malcolm Gers says:

    Started 12 m ago – got all sorts of bits ( 3 start up loops many points) but no proper layout – still thinking of my 6m x 7m garage – to be shared with wood turning equipment. Although retired I am now very busy with other things.

    • Carroll Cameron says:


      Just a couple of pieces of advice. Build a room to house the wood turning equipment in. The dust from turning will give you no end to problems with your layout.

      Take the time to accurately draw a measured track plan before you drive that first nail or screw or even before buy the material for the bench work.

  25. Henry Robbins says:

    I have been model railroading for about 35 years. Started out with HO scale powered by DC. This has been a lot of fun on a 4 by 8 layout. 5 years ago I upgraded to a much larger layout in my basement, about 40 ft. long by 12 feet wide. Still running HO scale but now with DCC. I use Digitrax empire builder for the power source. This is a good system once you iron out all the tracking and switching problems. For now everything seems to be running good. I have much fun running multiple trains at one time. Also for you new ones , it is much easier to wire up a new layout for DCC than for DC. You do not need so many blocks. I retired 20 years ago and Model railroading has been my main entertainment. This has got to be the greatest hobby in the world. Love it.

  26. Aja says:

    O.K, Dan, you asked. And thanks for asking.

    I would categorize myself as knowledgeable beginner only because it has been many years. I have had to learn it all over again, which has been more fun than frustrating. Dad bought our first HO in the late 1960’s when I was a toddler. A simple 4×8 oval. I still have the original ATSF Rivarossi steam set. It came to life again in the late 1970’s and early 80’s as an expanded 8×12 and could operate three trains on two main lines and including a yard switcher. Had layout lights, wired switches, and controlled power blocks being DC of course and a control panel built by Dad. Buildings but not much landscape scenery. I am more engineer than artist, actually a Civil Engineer. By start of college that was packed away in boxes again including buildings for 30 years. I now have time and more importantly for me, space, to do many of the things I dreamed of doing 35 years ago, that DCC now offers.

    I have about a 16×16 space plus a possible adjacent area for a helix, if needed. My plan is to build a room-perimeter layout with a peninsula and an under deck for storage and secondary yard. A true double deck may be a bit much for a room with many windows and my not wanting to rip up my walls but still considering that option. I have decided to stay with HO instead of going to N to plan for my later years (eyes, dexterity). How I wish TT scale had caught on here. I hope to refurbish most of my old stock at first (a mix of Athearn blue box and Tyco) and then add to it. My 6 engines (mostly Athearns) are in excellent shape but may not be worth the hassle to convert the open can motors so new engines are in the plan. I will not likely use much of the old Code 100 Atlas track (brass and nickel) and the switches are trash. I think Code 83 will be my choice since I am starting fresh.

    The biggest frustration, other than lack of funds to match all my desires really is my procrastination to get started on the actual build. Fear of making a huge mistake is fatal. Materials are expensive. It was 10 months ago when my “space” became available that I then started to consider getting into this again and take it into retirement but no bench work yet. While I continue on the track plan, I’ll start building several structures I purchased and try my hand at air spraying and build my soldering skills. My layout will have a lot of wiring.

    The other frustration is Era AND what can I live without on the layout. I want some lumber, mining, industry freight and passenger service at a minimum. I like all the eras and will go freelance with an eye toward a layout where operations could be somewhat realistic. For me, that is tricky. As a kid, my so-called operations were made up. On the other hand, I don’t plan to be too obsessive-compulsive on this hobby. I figure Transition Era really gives me the best options to have older and newer (say 1930-40’s trains to 1990’s if I want).

    The other frustrations, if you will, are lack of train clubs in my area (the nearest is an hour away as best as I can determine) and I live in an old rail town, too. If I had the means to start a club, I would. Train events are too seldom in my area and at least a 45 minute drive. The cost of track and trains is another, particularly rolling stock and switches are outrageous. Laying RR ties is not my idea of fun.

    It’s a long-term commitment and if I can develop a track plan that satisfies all my wants and allows me to go in stages, then I can get started and adjust for little mistakes or learning lessons along the way (part of the journey).

  27. Jim Tedesco says:

    This is my 2nd attempt at model trains, first as a young man and now as a retiree. Been working on my 11′ x 14′ layout for almost 6 years now. Made lots of mistakes and had to rebuild several times. I finally settled on HO scale as N gauge was just too small to use and maintain. I am using DCC for the ease of multiple loco operation. To save money, I have built some of my own structures and accessories. Check out my website as it is well documented on my trials, errors and progress. Yes, the hobby is expensive, as any good hobby would be, but the level of self accomplishment and personal pride is well worth the aggravation and expense. And as many have attested, it is a long term commitment. What better way to spend your remaining years than model railroading!

  28. mongoose says:

    Hi my name is Kent . I started into HO DCC when I retiree at 65. I, am 69 now I, am having trouble with rail way signals with gates and the small lights that seat beside the traces . I’ve tried ever thing to get things working . That is my pet aggravation right now . My wife tells me to forget about them but I will give up the beast hobbies there is

  29. Milton Robinson says:

    The hobby would be more enjoyable if the “rivet counters” didn’t get all the press via video, magazine covers,etc That’s why I appreciate your academy! Some of the “hobby gurus” are encouraged, others are very condescending!

  30. Hi,
    I characterize myself as a beginner. Despite with working with HO since the 70’s, I am not very knowledgeable about railroading. For instance the proper way for setting telephone poles, where to place various signal lights But I’m a work in progress. I run DC and have a 4 X 8 board. Thank you Dan for this opportunity.

  31. Thomas Dewing says:

    Hello Dan.
    It is hard to say what level I am at. I start many years ago, and started a track but never finished. I use a 4 x 6 plywood board for ‘N’ gauge train. My biggest problem is buying track, etc.. The closest store is 45 miles away.( when I started he wasn’t there.) or mail order. Switches never worked so couldn’t replace. They burnt out. Switch control not momentary so overheat switch relay. My layout is on hold until I figure out the control problem.

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