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Set up a Holiday Train Display

December 24, 2008

Setting up a train around the tree should be an undeniable childhood experience, regardless of culture or religious faith. It could be a small N scale loop around a tiny potted conifer, or the traditional 7 foot Noble Fir with a loop of Lionel O27, American Flyer S, or HO rushing around the tree.
Atlantic around the tree
Scale is important in three ways.

-Child-based durability- My Parents gave me N scale for Christmas when I was three, and no matter how careful I was, it always got damaged. Larger, more toylike LIONEL offerings would be better for the kiddies. LGB G scale trains are nice too, but a pain to store year-round unless you’re a serious Garden railroader due to the unwieldy, heavy, and large boxes that are needed for storage. HO scale is a perfect compromise, and very expandable with 100,000+ parts you can enhance your train set with.   

Train around the tree

Time to set up / disassemble – Smaller scales will set up faster. HO seems to set up in less than 10 minutes, while troubleshooting a half-century old LIONEL set, finding all those blasted (probably lost) pin-shaped track connectors and maintaining those noisy old grease-bucket locomotives could drag on onto hours. LGB is the only other scale that sets up fast and nicely. 

-Size –You, or your parents probably don’t want the entire living room covered in mainlines, sidings and branch lines, engine terminals and bridges that could turn into a mine field late at night with just the tree lights on.

The K.I.S.S. principle applies here.Keep It Simple Stupid, as Lockheed aviation’s Kelly Johnson proclaimed, also applies to ’round the tree train setups. If you already have a model railroad, do you really need another more temperamental floor-based version of your plywood central? Probably not. Stick to the loop of track, avoid switches because unless you’re crazy about DCC, one train is all you’ll be running under the tree anyways. For larger scales like O scale, anything more than O27 is probably Overkill (pun intended) You don’t want a 10 foot diameter loop around the tree, as that complicates the “present zone” which lies just outside the loop of track. You want to be close to the tree while you open your gifts, don’t you?

 time lapse photo of SP NW2 zooming around the tree

Most importantly, just have fun! This is the PUREST form of the hobby of model railroading, and something to be shared with as many people as possible. This classic staple of holiday tradition should be passed from generation to generation responsibly and lovingly…then just crank up the throttle, sit in a comfy chair or track side and watch your mighty locomotive pull it’s colorful train of cars endlessly ’round the tree and relax.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda Smith permalink
    February 21, 2009 9:51 pm

    Hi – I just got started with n-scale trains and one of my first ideas was to make a Christmas train. You have an awesome blog with so many valuable posts. You obviously love your trains. I think I’m going to enjoy mine. My husband is a Lego train enthusiast and we did make a Lego Christmas train that goes around our Christmas tree.

  2. March 19, 2009 11:49 am

    This is a fantastic article…brings back great memories from childhood at Christmas…Thanks

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