Jump to content

Your first model train, how did you get started?


Recommended Posts

So this has come up in a lot of topics, but I thought it would be fun to have a topic with folks recalling their first real model train!


mine was in 1971 with a few cigar boxes of cars, engines and atlas sectional track that a family friend found at a garage sale for $10 and gave to me. He had small loops of O, HO, and N scale he had set up around an xmas tree at their house the previous Xmas and I thoroughly enjoyed!

Main functioning loco to start off with was a minitrix fm switcher and an 060 that I totally stripped down cleaned and relubed. Started doing various layouts with the track I had on a couple of cardboard tables. I Frankensteined all the partial car parts into a set of cars. Then found the local hobby shop and a toy store had big n scale selections at decent prices. I earned money in a bunch of ways and as soon as I had 2 or 3 bucks in my pocket for a car, box of track or point. The first car I think I bought was the Bachman depressed center missile car, it was just too weird. first loco I bought was a minitrix u28c with the following xmas present money.  Great N orthern was my line as I love the blue they used and the mountain goat logo, so the first layout was to be yakama wa area.

Luckily my best friend literally 2 doors over and the other side of the block got the infection from me right away so we were both smitten! Layout were started by both of us from the old atlas track planning booklet at about 3’x6’ and grew to about 4’x8’ (Max my mother would allow in my small bedroom) wirh about a half dozen expansions! Lasted until college and the had to trade the layout for a desk in the place of the layout! But the layout had run its life well.


later I got to go to japan for 6 weeks to attend a scientific conference in Kyoto (conference was 5 days, rest I added on to just go explore). Riding thousands of km on japanese trains rekindled my interest in trains and model trains. Took a few years but slowly got back into us intermodal, but then stumbled an old aurora 200 on ebay (before there were many Japanese trains there in the very early ebay days) and discovered how much more variety was available and my trip had widely opened my eyes to Japanese trains and the fact you could put a train in just about any scene you wanted. This just snow balled and when we moved to dc I fell in with a bunch of Japanese model train hooligans and of course we formed a gang...


the one great thing is that all the plastic model building and later model train building I had done got me a great job as a junior in high school building exhibit models for the Monterey bay aquarium, that later in life started a new career. I always tell kids you never know the oddest little things you do when young may later end up leading into very interesting things later in life so don’t be shy at playing with a lot of fun things. Folks use to come in and see the huge exhibit models (in the end most of the aquarium in 3/4” scale) and would ask this young whelp how he had gotten the job and experience to build it and I would say working on my model train layout! First time mr Packard asked me that question he got a big smile on his face (which he rarely did), but I was too shy to ask him if he had a model train...



  • Like 8
Link to comment

ok, I will dive in..

I had a Hornby freight master set, added a Lima prairy tank and Hornby Pannier. A few Lima GWR coaches.

I took my bedroom door off and put U shape end to end with large paper mache 'mountain' on it also saved up to get  the Hornby turntable £15 if I remember correctly.

all sqeezed onto the door. I ran it as a preserved line.

Hornby platforms probably looked awful but I remember it as great.. 

amazing to think Hornby set track could fit a half oval on a door!


PS don't think my skills have changed much 😄

Edited by Tonytramman
  • Like 4
Link to comment
Yavaris Forge

That's an interesting question.

My first train (excluding wooden ones as they aren't really prototypical) was a Märklin starter set with a German Br 86 and some freight cars. I got it when i was six. Back in 2008 with the financial crisis going on the prices on used H0 trains dropped and my father acquired quite a lot of rolling stock. My younger brother got interested in the whole matter pretty soon as well.

In 2016 I began switching to n scale with a purchase of a Tomytec Railway Collection 205 series.

Edited by Yavaris Forge
  • Like 4
Link to comment

I started at Christmas 1997 with a TT gauge starter set. It contained an E94 with 3 freight wagons and an oval from TILLIG. I still had this locomotive and other models in my collection until 2014, until I radically switched to the Japanese N gauge. Today I regret having sold the E94 as it was the very first model I owned.

  • Like 4
Link to comment

My first model train has been the Mehano "Alpine Express",  a dirt cheap oval with an extremely basic 0-4-0 tender-locomotive and three equally basic freight wagons. It didn't last long, as the quality was quite iffy, and in around a year, it was "out-of-service".


After this prelude, my first "proper", longlasting, model train set has been the Lima-Hornby "Treno Merci" (freight train) with the iconic FS E656 electric locomotive, wich i recieved as a gift for my 10th birthday. I have fond memories of it, and i still have the two brown E-type gondola cars, wich still run perfectly, while the E656 has now become a "spare parts donor", after the motor brushes completely worn out by the extensive usage.

Within the next months i also recieved the Lima "Holiday Express" startset (with the generic 0-4-0 steamer with separated tender and a few good-quality freight wagons), and several other "individual" items of rolling stock from other family members (among those, the Lima Re 6/6 and matching SBB EW II coach). 

My first layout began with a wooden board with the size of 1x2m, made to fit under my bed, wich started out with a single loop with a siding, but as it become too bulky to have in the house, two years alter it was moved to my granmother's house (wich lives closeby), and it eventually evolved into this:




Later on, the layout gradually expanded, until i deemed the older one was not sufficient, so after several redesigns, it was changed into this:




But this didn't last long, as the track plan did not allow as much possibilities (or was fun) as the former one, and with my interest in model trains slowly decreasing, the "V2" layout was eventually dismantled. Plans for other layouts followed (among those a concept for a two-track 8-shaped one), but none of them ever came to fruition.


My interest for model trains remained quite low until recently, when i discovered this forum, and on the fateful day of a few summers ago, i bought my fist japanese model train, Kato's  E231-500 Series; and the rest is history...

  • Like 4
Link to comment

Interesting question. I had a few start over the years. My relationship with model trains was intermittent, probably because my dad was the main infection vector and he left my mother before I went to school, moving to California for two years to work on his PhD before coming back to France. My dad built a HO layout with his twin brother when he was a kid and my uncle had a largish N scale layout when I was a kid. Model trains were part of the family tradition, though my grandparents never let me play with my dad's layout. I really would love to get the locomotives, the art on the boxes were amazing. Originals from the 60s/70s.

My first train was a steam train with two passenger cars. Big scale. I cannot remember the maker. I always thought it was a Playmobil train, something similar to this one. I was quite young, under 5. I would have to dig into my mum's family albums to find out what it was. I think she still uses an old box of rails to store old pictures.

Around 5 or 6, I got my first model train: a HO starter set by Jouef with an Orange TGV, some rails, and a plastic tunnel. It got misplaced in our constant moves. I had the tunnel much longer than I had the train and the rails.

In the 90s, my dad bought me my first N scale set: a Fleischmann starter set. I also got a few bits and bops throughout the years : rails, a couple of Arnold coaches, and two locomotives that he bought when the big Parisian department stores stopped selling model trains. The last thing I ever got was a Kato Eurostar. I still have all these in a box, in Berlin.

I got back to model trains and N scale after I moved to Berlin and visited Tokyo for the first time.

Edited by disturbman
  • Like 4
Link to comment

My first train was a Lima starter set in 00 gauge in the late eighties or early nineties. It included a British Rail class 52 “Western” and 2x Mark 2 coaches in BR blue and grey. I think I got it for Christmas and my brother received a Lima Intercity 125 with working headlights at the same time. I was at first envious but that Western ran very well as it was ridiculously heavy. 

The first train I bought myself was a Railfreight Class 37 in grey again from Lima in 00 gauge. I seem to remember buying it from the Engine Shed long before it became Gaugemaster. 

It was a Scottish loco with split head code and snow ploughs. Not really in-keeping with the rest of my fathers and brothers trains but it was awesome. I weathered it with some shaved graphite from a pencil to look like smoke residue and grime. I’m sure if I saw it today it would look horrendous but at the age of 13 it was the best thing ever.


I never really liked the Hornby stuff growing up. The yellow ends always looked too orange to me and more toy-like. Lima felt like a model rather than a toy. I did always want the Hornby 225 though. I’ve heard they’re going to bring out a new one.

I think my dad sold everything off in a big job lot to start buying steam locos for his 60s Southern Layout. Shame as a few pieces like that have lots of great memories attached to them. 

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Martijn Meerts

We already had an H0 layout up on the attic when I was born. My father built it, and at least 1 of my brothers regularly played with it. Since we were always getting into fights about who got to run what, we added a simple elevated dogbone on the back of the layout where I could run my own train that I got from 'Sinterklaas'. This was a Lima starter set with a V200 and some cars (freight i believe)


I collected H0 for a while, mostly just got old, used stuff, not from any specific era or country. I didn't know much about trains at the time, and when I at some point got a Marklin F7, I tried to run it on our H0 layout, which obviously didn't work 🙂


Due to space limitations, and due to having played with some N-scale that my oldest brother had, I ended up selling most of the H0 stuff, and bought a Minitrix starter set with a NS1100 and 3 passenger coaches. From there things grew, built some layouts, then school happened and the hobby got put on the back burner. Before I really got back into it, I moved to Norway, where I picked up some Marklin starter sets initially. At some point a local store there sold the Kato 800 series shinkansen, so I started collecting Japanese from then on.


Eventually I moved back to the Netherlands, bought a house with a hobby room, and started working on the large Japanese layout. Since it was a large project, we also built a computer controlled layout for my father to run trains on. This layout stayed up until my father wasn't able to walk up the stairs anymore. This was also about the time I lost most motivation to work on trains considering I had always done it with my father. We did end up buying a pre-built layout from a friend to put in the garage, but by then my father's health went down pretty quick.


It's taken a long time, but I do feel somewhat motivated to work on things again now, so we'll see how far I get with the various projects I have going on now.


  • Like 5
Link to comment

Another one who started with a Hornby Freightmaster set.  I can remember going to the toy shop with my dad on his bike (I had a little seat in front of him on the crossbar!) and hanging onto this set for dear life ... not quite sure how my dad coped with being able to see where he was going!


I just had a look back through my old emails and found my first Japanese models were in 2004 - a 500 Series and 100 Series Grande Hikari, along with various Viaduct track sets.  Happy days. I also added an E2 and a 651 Super Hitachi not long after.  That lasted for a couple of years before I had to let it all go, along with all of my British OO Gauge and really glad to have come back to Japanese railways after all of these years 🙂

  • Like 4
Link to comment

A Hornby clockwork OO set ca. 1976. Somewhere I have a photo of a very young me grinning like it's the best thing since sliced bread watching it go round.


Followed a year or two later by a Lima British HO proper trainset.

  • Like 5
Link to comment

My first train set was a small OO Hornby steamer with a few vans at a fairly young age.  The second set, after I had started modelling, was the one that launched the model railroad — an HO Tyco set with a generic (and very cute) diesel switcher and a couple of freight cars.

Still have my first scratchbuilt model for that layout, an old coaling tower for the yard made from individual strips of balsa:



  • Like 11
Link to comment

Mine was this exact Lima OO tank engine. 



It came in a set with a few freight wagons, a caboose, a transformer and a small oval of track. I got it from Santa in 1979 at the age of 7. I was thrilled. I had been asking Santa for an electric train set for a couple of years and had been receiving well intentioned but suboptimal offerings. This trainset finally restored my faith in jolly old saint nick. 

  • Like 3
Link to comment

Christmas 1978..... LIMA "TOKAIDO" start set    (Shinkansen 0 series)  like the first photo published from Socimi here


still run !!! (box cover lost, broken panto, some scratch on blue strip and yellowed plastic..... but priceless! )

and 20 years after, one Kato E1 basic set found used (before internet era was near to impossible to find japanese N scale trains in Italy).... and "shinkansen-ite" continue in combination of "TGVirus" started in 1981 with the firt PSE...




  • Like 5
Link to comment

I have been a lifetime lover of trains. I'm sure I had toy trains as a baby. My grandfather worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad in Montana that ran through my tiny home town in eastern Montana. We used to take the occasional train trip off to the big city of Billings, Montana. I grew up seeing the train as the way you escaped to more exciting places. I would watch the streamlined passenger trains pass through town and dream of where they were going - Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, and points beyond. 


I know I started with model trains young - taking over my older brother's 0-Scale, 3 rail trains as barely a toddler. We had a figure 8 tacked to a sheet of plywood for a while that would come out in the unfinished basement once in a while. I think that piece of plywood eventually got used for some project of my father's, and the track and trains remained loose after that.


The first model train that I had of my own was a western themed small HO scale set that was toy-like, nearly shorty style train with a small tank loco, maybe 3 cars, and a caboose. The locomotive was super simple - just a basic open frame motor that drove one of the 2 axles with a rubber band belt. It ran extremely reliably, and I had it for many years. I have searched the internet to find out what that little set was - no luck. I can't find any reference to it anywhere.


The first layout I had was the all-in-one styrofoam base n-scale set at the top of this page:


It would have been a Christmas present when I was 7.  It was a gift from Santa Claus that I woke-up to find on Christmas morning. I somehow eventually caught on that my older brother and father stayed up on Christmas Eve to put it together. We lived in a tiny house, so there was no room for it to be out permanently. It came out when I wanted to play with it, and was stored under my parent's bed covered with a dry cleaning plastic bag to keep the dust off it as much as possible. The locomotive was a Bachmann, and it was an operating nightmare. It rarely made it around the entire circuit without stalling and needing a push. It eventually died altogether and we had to mail it off to Bachmann for repairs. I remember it was months before it came back, and the shell was slightly loose and somewhat out of place when it came back. I eventually purchased some other n-scale trains and built a small layout of my own. There was nowhere in my hometown to buy any supplies, so I had to buy them mail-order or at a hobby shop in the big city when we went there. N-scale was generally horrible at that time - poorly running locomotives and everything sort of out of scale. I somehow got an Arnold catalog - probably sent-away for it from an ad - with amazing European trains and photos of unbelievable layouts in it.


I moved on to HO-scale trains. In the U.S., HO has generally ruled as the scale of choice for modelers. I took a long break from high school through college and into my late 20's before I started-up again when I needed another winter hobby besides drinking beer with my buddies.


My first trip to Japan was in 1993, but I continued modeling 1930s U.S. railroads in HO. In 2012, our home was severely damaged in a large wildfire, and all of the HO-scale items that I had built were damaged by smoke and water and were trash. We were going to Japan regularly, and I had fallen for Japanese railroads. I decided to switch gears completely and started my Japanese n-scale collecting and building after that.

  • Like 7
Link to comment

When I was a teenager I got a Triang passenger train set one Christmas. That really didn't last long and it wasn't until I moved to Belleville in 2004  that I again got into modeling.

Edited by bill937ca
  • Like 4
Link to comment

Dec 2017 I walked into either Yodobashi Camera (most likely) or Joshnin Denki in Osaka and bought one.  I ended up with a few on that trip, from both places, which is why I don't remember which place I got the very first one.


Now, that may be the first model train I bought/owned in life, but it was not the start of the interest.


My brother had a Tyco H0 set he got for Christmas or a birthday or something, when I was in middle school, back in the late 70s.  A friend of mine and I got into dreaming about building big layouts and the fleets of trains we would have.  We even started making a mountain with wire and plaster and stuff like that. But it never went anywhere.


Later in HS we went on a German class trip to Germany for 3 weeks to Göppingen and the Werner Heisenberg Gymnasium.  One of the things we did was take a field trip to the Märklin factory and get to see their production of model trains, as well as their "museum" room that had lots of stuff you could try.  That was fun.  But as someone who was starting their senior year that Fall and was a computer and D&D nerd, it remained on the back burner.  A few years later I was in Germany living, doing work with my church, for a couple years, and we road trains very often.  Weekly if not more often.  (This is 86-87).  I started looking at the various 1:1 scale trains we were riding and learning more about them.  Interest piqued.   A few years later I was working for DEC in Munich and I went into some toy/hobby shops and saw the model trains.  I am not sure if this early 90s was when I saw the Arnold Digital stuff or on later trips in the late 90s when I visited Germany multiple times, but I liked the N-scale Arnold stuff and the idea of Digital control really got me interested as it was much more versatile, in my mind, than boring old DC, one train at a time...  On my visits in the late 90s I picked up a few Arnold catalogs and brought them home to plan out my new ideas for layouts and setups...  I did not do anything with the dreams as I lacked space to do anything.  I was single, renting, and had also gotten interested in firearms (due to the US politics of the mid 90s) so at the time was spending most of my money there.  But I had the catalogs and would look through them and dream about when I owned my own house with my own family etc.


I got married in 2000 (August).  In 2003 (January) our son was born.  The wife is from Japan so we started traveling to Japan as often as we could, about every other year.  One thing we did was visit toy stores, Yodobashi, etc. for kids toys, books, etc.  We also rode lots of trains around.  (We did not get JR Passes for several trips so did not ride Shinkansen and stuff until later but rode the local and regional stuff a lot).  All the train riding was fun, and I saw all the Tomix and KATO stuff in the stores and was very interested, but knew I needed to wait for my son to get older.  But I saw the Tomica Plarail and got my son his first 500 Shinkansen set when he was less than a year 🙂   He grew up on Plarail and still has a huge collection of both Japanese and Thomas.  He still looks at it when we go but it has been a few years since he last bought any.  There is one or two he is interested in still but otherwise he is saving for his kids.  We got a bunch of DVDs from Japan, including ones about trains, so he grew up learning and talking about Nanpu and other trains.  Daughter also eventually showed up.  In 2017 I decided it was time to pull the trigger as the son was 14 almost 15 and the daughter 9 almost 10.  Old enough to be able to play with and use N scale without damage.  And like most things I do, I overdo it.  When I got home I found this group, and enlarged my collection...   Still just have a 4x8 "table" made of a frame and foam sitting on a banquet table, but am planning on more permanent digs once we get moved next year.


And while not everything is DCC (yet), I am using DCC, having figured out that that was the "new" standard that came from the Märklin efforts via Lenz.  (And Arnold used Märklin / Lenz).  The aspect that got me interested back in the 90s.



Edited by chadbag
  • Like 6
Link to comment

This one, in 1981. My parents brought it back from a trip to Australia. I eventually built my first layout with the stuff in the set. I wish I had some pictures of it.




Edited by Grant_T
  • Like 5
Link to comment

My first set was a Lima 0 gauge 4F (LMS Black) with a selection of wagons (16t minerals, some sort of bogie hopper and a clearly continental bogie tank wagon) finished off with a GWR toad brake van. Lots of fun was had until a 'friend' wired the connections up to the wrong terminal on the ancient H&M controller and fried the motor.


Next followed up with some second hand 00 (Airfix class 31 and a Triang 3MT tank), before I got my first N gauge stock (an Intercity 125 in Intercity 'Executive' livery, plus a class 101 DMU) in 1986. N gauge suited me as my Dad had an extensive N gauge Continental collection (mainly German, but some Austrian and Swiss stuff) and a number of exhibition layouts over the years. I spent many years hankering after an SBB Crocodile as he had two...an itch I didn't get to scratch until only a couple of years ago when I finally obtained the brown version...in H0!

  • Like 4
Link to comment
5 hours ago, Grant_T said:

This one, in 1981. My parents brought it back from a trip to Australia. I eventually built my first layout with the stuff in the set. I wish I had some pictures of it.


Awesome! I spent forever trying to find a picture of my actual train set. 


I still can't find it, but I found the transformer that came with it. I don't know why it makes me so happy just to see these things again. 



Edited by gavino200
  • Like 8
Link to comment

Straightening up the basement storage area this weekend, I found a shoe box with some of my original n-scale bits that have survived the decades.


I remember buying these 3 Chicago and North Western passenger cars as a youngster. It was a huge splurge on my part - $12.50 for the 3 of them was probably many months of saving. I know I hesitated, but I had never seen model railroad cars this beautiful. I didn't know until I got them home that they were lighted too (with a single bulb in each car), which made them all the more amazing. They are at least 50 years old now and have survived in quite good condition with the original boxes (minus the inserts for 2 of them). There is a short in at least one of them that causes my power pack to tilt. I may have to troubleshoot them. I will be surprised if the light bulbs are still good.


They were sold by Atlas in the U.S., but are marked "Made in Italy" on the bottom. Maybe made by Rivarossi?





Edited by maihama eki
  • Like 5
Link to comment
11 hours ago, maihama eki said:

They were sold by Atlas in the U.S., but are marked "Made in Italy" on the bottom. Maybe made by Rivarossi?


Yep. Rivarossi produced several US models for Atlas, and among those, the C&NW passenger cars and related E8 locomotive.


The 1972 Rivarossi catalog has the above three models on page 18.  All three were avaible in the UP, PRR or C&NW livery, but on the catalog they're pictured with one livery each.

Edited by Socimi
  • Like 3
Link to comment

Grazie, Socimi. It is nice to connect these to their origin. As a kid, I always wondered if there were other cars to fill out the consist, but it seems there were just these 3. I would have died to have that C&NW E8 to pull them. They were pulled around my too small track layout by a Bachmann Santa Fe F7 in Warbonnet colors that ran very poorly.

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment

Oh man maihama, you got me wanting to go pull out my old locos and cars! I remember those days when freight cars were 2-2.50, specialty freight was around $3 and passenger cars were $4-5! I use to have a big train of the little atlas ore cars as those were $1.50! My best friend lived a couple houses down and we were always doing odd jobs, pulling weeks, planting stuff, laying brick, scraping and painting my dads small boat, etc to make a few bucks and rushing down to the local toy store that had a drain department on the second floor loft or down to the old fashion stamp, coin and hobby shop to totally smudge up their display cases to figure out which car to buy next! L then leaned making wood toy and the metal sculpture could earn me a lot more money and they it was mail order from those good old price lists you would get from mailing in from ads in model railroader with your SASE.



  • Like 2
Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...