Clay Maynard: Model railroading is mix of technology and artistry
Did you know that Yuba City has one of the largest model-railroad hobby stores in the country?
With 12,000 square feet of wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling electric trains and accessories and a warehouse, The Western Depot in Yuba City claims to be one of the largest model-train shops in the United States.
It is located at 1650 Sierra Ave. in Yuba City (west of Lowe's) and can be contacted at 673-6776 or online at www.westerndepot.com.
Model railroaders say that you are never too young or too old to enjoy trains. From toddlers with Thomas and Friends toy trains to adults building complex electric train layouts, people of all ages enjoy model trains. For some, model railroading has become a lifelong hobby even into their senior years. Thus, the saying, "The only difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys."
Understanding model railroading is not as simple as one would imagine. For example, model trains vary considerably in size, from smaller than your little finger (Z and N gauges), to being big enough to ride (narrow gauges). However, the most popular size is HO gauge used by about 75 percent of model railroaders.
O gauge is the Lionel standard that typically has a center rail, and HO is about half the size of O gauge. S gauge is the American Flyer standard that is between the HO and O gauge sizes.
G gauge is larger than O gauge and known for garden railroading because it can be used outdoors. Orchard Supply Hardware usually sells G-gauge train sets around Christmas.
As an excellent go-to source for answers, "ABC's of Model Railroading" is the ideal book for beginners because it explains all of the basics. It is available at The Western Depot for $9.95.
Model railroading is a fascinating technology because it requires lots of imagination and artistic talents along with electrical and mechanical abilities. In fact, Walt Disney summarized this combination by calling it "imagineering."
Sections of track must be planned to fit together perfectly, and they must be electrically isolated from other sections, so multiple trains can run simultaneously. There is also an art to planning and building mountains, towns and scenery that sets model railroading apart from other technologies.
A group of five or six model railroaders meets at a house in Marysville every two weeks to run HO- and O-gauge electric trains on a 15-foot-by-20-foot layout that fills a two-car garage. Entering the garage is like stepping into another world where imagination becomes reality.
The owner, Rick, has been working on his train collection and layout for years, building detailed and realistic miniature scale structures, buildings, bridges, mountains and train yards. He runs multiple trains that pull as many as 25 freight cars each.
There are some layouts that use computer control for trains, switches and anything else that enables complex railroad operations to run automatically. Even small, wireless video cameras are mounted on engines, so a computer or TV monitor can show the tracks ahead. The view is like that of a train engineer at the throttle.
In the United States, real full-sized trains run on rails with the American standard gauge of 561⁄2 inches (measured from rail to rail). Some believe it was based on the old Roman chariot wheels, while others dismiss this as simply an urban legend. One thing for sure, the American standard is an odd size, and anything smaller than 56 1⁄2 inches is called narrow gauge.
Private companies have used 36-inch narrow-gauge railroads for years to give rides and move products like logs, but these are usually commercial and not hobby trains.
Other narrow-gauge trains include the 7 1⁄4-inch and 7 1⁄2-inch gauge outdoor scale models that are big enough to ride. It seems that almost everyone loves to ride narrow-gauge scale model trains.
Here are some great train shows you may want to consider:
• Oct. 5-7, Train Mountain Museum, Chiloquin, Ore., http://trainmountain.org.
• Oct. 19-21, Sacramento Valley Live Steamers, Rancho Cordova, www.svls.org.
• Nov. 10-11, The International Railfair, Roseville, www.internationalrailfair.com.
• Jan. 19-20, 2013, The Great Train Expo at Cal Expo, www.greattrainexpo.com.
• Feb. 23-24, 2013, World's Greatest Hobby at Cal Expo, www.wghshow.com.
Also check out the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento, www.csrmf.org, and the Klamath & Western Railroad at www.knwrr.org.
Country singer Merle Haggard built an electric train layout that ran throughout his house in Bakersfield. He sang many songs about trains like one with the lyrics, "I love my woman, but I won't give up my train." Play it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nScvxvoIrc.
Clay Maynard of Yuba City is a technology consultant and chairman of the San Francisco Bay Area Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Vehicular Technology. Email him at ConsumerTechTalk@comcast.net.