How To Beat The High Cost Of This Hobby!

July 2011


      So how can someone of limited means participate in a hobby which seems to be available only to those with deep pockets? Well, although it is true that many products in the toy train arena are costly, there are also products that are rather affordable. Low-end products are very reliable and can be improved both cosmetically and functionally. Adding small parts and accentuating details with paint can transform the appearance of an inexpensive locomotive. Simple electronic additions, like capacitors or diodes, will improve motor performance dramatically. What is key is the knowledge and skill to make these improvements, not the cost of them. So you can make up for what you don't have in your wallet by applying often simple techniques provided you take the time to learn new skills, and then do the work. Many older tried and true techniques that were abandoned when elaborate electronics and command control features were added to the hobby are still very relevant with the lower end product. Where does the time come from? Most people do have a few extra minutes a day if they eliminate something else from their routine. Instead of spending time on the computer or other electronic devices, just pull away from these things for a while and get involved in a hands-on project, or at least use the power of the internet to gather the information you'll need to make these easy modifications. YouTube has many instructional videos, like those on learning how to solder or build model railroad scenery, and sites like this are full of useful tips, for free. Knowledge is powerful!!!

Here are some concrete tips:

     1. Start with a basic train set which will have track, transformer, and a train. Sets are often the best combination of products at a good price in one package. It only takes one set to make a layout. Add more track and the train can travel over any distance. Scenery can be as simple as recycled cardboard and inexpensive drywall mud, later painted with cheap paint. Dried garden materials can be used as trees and shrubs.

     2. Buildings can be made from scratch from sheet styrene bought in bulk. Not a lot of money, but it will require some time and imagination. Figures and automobiles can be found in the toy isles of discount and dollar stores.

     3. Buy things over a long period of time. When you see someone's layout, it often represents a lifetime of purchases where the total cost has been spread out over 20-30 years, or even longer.

     4. Buy what you need or want when it is at its lowest price. Great deals on trains and things like animations are around right before or after Christmas, but the early bird does catch the worm!

     5. Go with HO scale, the most affordable of all the scales, but its smaller size might become an issue as you age when your vision and dexterity are not their best. We all get old. Even with good health, the body changes as we age.

     6. Save, save, save! Very simple advice, but just save up for what you want. Buy less fast food, conserve on energy costs, or get used to wearing last year's clothing, but just save some bucks here and there, then spend it wisely. Your most expensive purchase will be that first train set. Expect to spend about $250 for the first 3 rail train set, but after that the expenditures will be much smaller. Check the prices of everything in a set to see the combined value of the individual items. If it is a good deal, then buy the set. If not, buy the individual pieces separately. Just that simple. And don't determine fair prices by eBay. The eBay prices are often the highest for an item. Check online stores and your local hobby shop. By all means, do comparison shop. Always buy wisely.

     7. Keep it small. Small layouts are just as good as larger layouts. Yes, they are! Don't get lulled into the mindset that your layout needs to be big with long trains and broad curves. Simply not the case. Small can be great, even better! The hobby industry wants you to build big because you will buy more product, typically. Small layouts can be wonderful, and portable, so they can move when you move. And you can finish them in less time. But most importantly, for many only a small layout is feasible. Do it now with what you've got in time, space, and money!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Added as of November 5, 2011, some of my videos are on YouTube.


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