Beginner's FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)

(remember: links to sub-pages at the bottom of this page)

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Welcome! This is a great hobby. It has many facets, and you can enjoy it for a lifetime!

Please note the FAQs are TEN sub-pages (links at the bottom of this page). I've tried to concentrate all that I learned and wished I knew from the get-go. I strongly encourage you to read them.

First advice:

SLOW DOWN! The decisions you make now can affect you (and your pocketbook) for a long time!

Don't be in a hurry to make decisions, and don't base them in the limited information you have right now, or just the advice of ONE "guru", the hobby is littered with "experts", and not all are experts, believe me.

I KNOW you WANT to make decisions now, but believe me, you don't see the bigger picture. Many people actually become "trapped" by committing to one way or the other early, and then cannot change to a better solution, because of $$, or frankly, ego. Basically RESIST the impulse to just buy something before you do a bit of learning.

I PROMISE that if you read through this whole FAQ (this page and the 10 sub pages), you'll have a logical and quick way to answer the questions that will direct you to your best enjoyment of the hobby. What you learn will stand the "test" of facts and reason, no matter who else is giving you advice. You won't be one of the people bemoaning buying the "wrong thing", or worse, get so frustrated you give up.

Second advice:

READ! There is a wealth of good information out there!


There are some good books, but each seems to have a bias towards one way over another. None of them are inexpensive either. There are so many beginners books that tell you the "best way" to do everything. Rubbish. There are MANY best ways! So, if you want to read books, get several.

Web sites:

There are some great web sites to read, they will normally have the biases I allude to, but at least they are free!

For older locos and good fundamentals: George Schreyer's famous web site:

I'll try to do a better job of populating this section!


I think this is actually the best source, There are many Internet forums, there is a ton of information out there. See my forum recommendations below.

I read forums for 4 years or so before I ever even asked a question on line! There is a wealth of knowledge out there, but you should search before just asking "what is the best track, what is the best locomotive, what is better, track power or battery".

But, there are "secrets" to getting the best from the forums:

    • Ask specific questions that pertain to YOUR situation. Don't ask "what is the best locomotive"?, but ask "hey I want to run short trains on a small layout, and I like logging trains".
    • When you get an answer, make SURE you get the REASONS for that answer. Listen to the reasons and make sure they make sense and apply to your situation. If the person answering you does not or can not give reasons you understand, ignore the answer and ask someone else. It's an old adage, a person
    • RESEARCH !!

Why should you research before you ask?

I realize it is easier to ask YOUR question rather than do a search. (often interpreted as lazy!)


Because you really want QUALITY advice and information. If you ask a question that has been asked dozens of times before, quite often you will get a response from just a few or even one person promoting their view.

If you read the answers from MANY people on the MANY postings, you will get a real answer. You see 10 responses to the same question over the years, you will be able to see multiple solutions and weed out the useless comments.


  • READ the existing threads
  • LEARN to search for keywords on what you have questions on.
  • ASK for help searching or links to threads on what you want to know.


There are a lot of  real experts on the forums, but they often tire of repeating the same basic questions over and over.
Asking "newbie" questions often gets you answers from the people who just like to talk a lot, NOT the real experts.

Third advice:

Join a nearby club and get some hands-on. I put this third because often a club most often will give you a limited perspective of things. There's usually one "resident guru" and everyone follows suit.

For example, if the club is battery power only, then you may never hear any of the advantages of track power.

Just learn what you can, don't take everything for gospel. Ask "why" questions, a real guru can explain the reasons for what they do.


Many hobbyists are very passionate about their hobby.There are a ton of "right" ways to do things. Don't take the first advice to be gospel, keep talking and asking questions. Good advice will make sense.

I've tried to stay impartial in the following sections, but I'm only human. My personal goals for my railroad may not be the same as you, so my garden railway may not be the right set of decisions for you.

The best advice is ask questions, listen to the answers and the reasons, and make your own decision. If someone cannot explain in layman's terms their reasons for an opinion, go talk to someone else. If their only way to support their opinion is to tear down others, again, go talk to someone else.

Advice on posting:

If you want to post on a forum, think about it first. Re-read it. Don't post when you are upset or inebriated!

Socrates had a famous "test of three":

1. Is it the truth

2. Is it saying something good? (this can be kind of a stretch, because you often are asking for help on a problem)

3. Is it useful?

Here's a youtube that is also funny, but true:

My forum recommendations:

There are several "general" Internet forums out there. I'll leave out the manufacturer-specific forums, look for those at

In recent years, many forums have become more of a social club than helpful, and I've tired of them, spending more time in battles of egos.

Nevertheless, here's my recommendations and observations:


This is an interesting story, it used to be GScaleMad, and somehow got out of control, went away and came back with a different name. Centered in the UK, it gives an interesting perspective of how it's done there. A lot more DCC, and a different set of "best accepted" manufacturers, etc. For example Massoth is big there, but hardly known in the US. Likewise ESU, and of course LGB stuff.

When I joined, very few Americans and a nice group of guys, but after a while apparently I wore out my welcome with some of the long established curmudgeons, and more and more personal comments were posted. After 8,000 posts I was gone. Funny, the day after they resumed some more of the idiot conversations from the resentful "experts". (Yep, if one loco pulling a train takes 2 amps, then 2 locos on the same train is 4 amps.)

Luckily, I took all I needed from there, and the big takeaway is the Europeans are much more patient with "magic configuration files" than understanding the issues. Seeing all the "magic" of Massoth and ESU, I now understand why so many people have problems when they try to customize stuff. Just too many "bugs" for me. But I enjoyed learning more about these products from people who have used/endured them.

The mostly UK crowd is typified by R1 LGB curves and short trains. Very few consists. A lot of interesting ways to skin a cat with an eye towards saving $$.

Worth a look, but look out for the hidden curmudgeons, my final encounter was talking down a "new and better than all other DCC" systems, a system based on modular micro computers, that will never equal the years of design and investment from the mainstream sound decoder manufacturers.

My Large Scale (MLS):

This used to be my favorite site, but it was sold to a large company, VerticalScope that has a lot of forums. The software changed, and while the old moderators carried over, they have no power, and the new owners are much less interested in fixing things, and a number of things stopped working. The "first class" membership and it's advantages basically evaporated.

After some time, and a major software update, it all works better now, since the old side was cobbled together from a number of different softwares "knit" together. The site owner used to keep it glued together, but it basically fell apart. In late 2016, for all members with first names starting with "T" and above, all pictures/files were LOST. Almost a year later still no help. A forum that is not backed up?

Over time, the site started working smoothly, the lost files and functionality mostly forgotten. Early on, like LSC, the Aristo squad had penetrated the moderator group pretty well, and for quite a while "name calling" was allowed and anti-Aristo sentiment was not tolerated, but anti-USA trains or anti-Bachmann or anti-Accucraft was tolerated. Like LSC, this stronghold has evaporated, the Kool-aiders scurrying away to dark crevices since their "gods" have been shown to be ordinary people.

There's still some jerks there, but it has settled down. The increasing "barnyard" idiocy on LSC has moved the balance back to MLS.

Large Scale Central (LSC):

This forum is free, but you can pay to get online storage, or other benefits. It's basically a one man show, unfortunately the owner does not like to be bothered with conflicts, and he is the only moderator. There used to be a lot of battles, and name calling, it got better for a while, but the old guard is back to it's nasty old habits, more interested in one-liners and "foul" behavior. Get the old guard mad at you and they will treat you rudely even though the forum motto is "Be Nice".

In 2019 the software is getting long in the tooth, and the owner says he wants to change, but nothing has happened. Picture posting and video posting is problematic, the owner enabled https:// so that passwords were not compromised, but you can still post pictures in http:// and then you get threads where some pictures do/do not show depending, so it's really worse.

I no longer post there due to irritating some pompous ass on the forum who is the owner's buddy over an April fools post on April 1.  After about 10,000 posts or more, screw them.

This is the forum associated with the Garden Railways magazine from Kalmbach. The magazine went away in 2020, and this forum has hardly any traffic. There are other Kalmbach forums, but the garden railway one is pretty much withering on the vine as the really good modeler Tom Trigg passed away in 2018. Nice people, just not enough of them.


No real large scale forums, the one you would look at is HO and larger, and clearly G scale is a very small part. The DCC forum is good though, and virtually all the DCC stuff is scale independent.


Lost of posters, definitely a "clique" where new people have to pass trial by fire. There is a G scale forum, and a DCC forum. Worth checking in on a regular basis.


Not a forum, but great source of prototype pictures. Helps if you are a person who wants to model something that actually existed.

Defunct forums:

Mostly here for the history and references you will find as you read.

Large Scale Online (LSOL):

This used to be THE large scale site, and it you had to pay money to even READ the forums and articles. Much more commercialized than the above forums. Participation dwindled and I was a member until 2012, read it most every day, and posted on it, but it has less activity than the tiny garden railway forum. I don't know what happened, but I suspect that people were put off by having to pay to read the forums ("workshops") and articles. I had read all the articles, and most are good, but there was just not enough going on that was new. They had an extensive online library of pictures that is unmatched anywhere.

Some history: after MLS refused to censor anti-Aristo-Craft posts, a new alliance sprang up between LSOL and Aristo-Craft, you can see evidence in the glowing video reviews of every Aristo-Craft product produced. Farther back in time, when LSOL was the only game in town, one day, without warning, the site just "disappeared" with the note that LSOL was closed for good. When this happened, the other forums sprang up. After about a year, LSOL reappeared, in the form of a pay only site. It has never recovered it's stance in the community. 

Update March 2012... I am NO LONGER a member... my login quit working, and when I inquired, I got an email saying my membership fee had been refunded because "I don't like them":

Enjoy your continuing downward spiral is all I have to say, the forum was pretty worthless, with so few new posts it was like a ghost town. There is a new feature though, which is a great idea, you can buy a membership on a monthly basis, only $2, but be aware it auto-renews every month. I'd encourage anyone interested to try it for a month, don't just take my word for how bad it is, try it out.

Update December 1 2013: The following notice was published:


It is with regret that I must inform our customers that after eighteen years Large Scale Online will be closing its doors at the end of the year.

Although and will shutter their doors on 12/31/2013, several of our other web sites will continue. I hope you will support them.
We will continue to sell couplers at the lowest prices and with great customer service.
We will continue to produce videos on new products, ideas and video layout tours.
We will continue to maintain our public site to help get new people into the hobby.
Our Bachelors Degrees are awarded by your life experiences or as a gift of love and support for someone you know that is a garden railroader.

I would like to take a moment to thank all of you who have supported us throughout the years.  Your subscriptions and purchases have directly supported our family for many years. We are amazed at all of the wonderful Garden Railroads we have had the privilege to visit. I can tell you with certainty that it was an absolute pleasure to be able to deal with such a great group of people.

As always, Thank You for your support.

Jo Anne DeKeles
As I predicted, the attempt to get a dollar for everything on the site, the overly glowing product reviews, and the decision to jettison any member they don't like, led to disaster. I hate to see anything in large scale "shrink",but you deserved it LSOL. good bye and good riddance.

Manufacturer's forums

There is a Bachmann forum, owned by Bachmann, much less restrictive than the Aristo-Craft forum, but you have to temper the negatives you post to a degree, or posts simply disappear. This site has evolved to be very helpful for Bachmann-specific issues over the years. It's worth checking first, especially if you need a part or manual that you cannot find, that part is very helpful. One of the moderators is VERY helpful, "Loco Bill", great guy.

I also used to frequent the Aristo-Craft forum,owned by Aristo-Craft, but got banned for asking too many embarrassing questions. (I had the option of "never saying anything negative again about Aristo-products ever again" or being banned). Adios. Forums are typically where people ask for help or opinions. Not being able to be frank and honest to a person in trouble is no help at all. That is too bad, because a wealth of information about Aristo-Craft is on this site. Many people with a lot of expertise have quit this forum, and the technical help and content has dwindled, and there's mostly mutual backslapping about how grand Aristo-Craft is.This is pretty typical of a forum owned by the manufacturer.

UPDATE: Aristo-Craft is closing it's doors at the end of 2013. Lewis Polk says the forum will continue indefinitely, but activity is going down and down, and if and or when someone makes trains from the Aristo molds, it will be discussed on another forum. Most of the activity is one member who keeps a blog of his layout, and the off topic forum which automatically posts happy birthday messages to members. It is still actively moderated.

In fact, recently there was a recent weird change and the moderators forum, which was normally hidden, was visible and you could post to it. I posted there under an alias but identified myself and let them know of this problem. Jonathan Polk responded by complaining to my Internet provider that I was "stalking" them. Ha ha ha, after I told them what went on, they had a laugh too. Well Jonathan, you are a gem, I gave you a nice warning instead of trying to hack your site. What I did do while it was "open" was to copy several posts by the moderators, talking crap about members, and showing their true colors as real nasty and hypocritical people. The next nasty thing from you Jonathan, and I'll publish them here, in big font and link from my pages. Remember I have over a million hits on this site. Just try me. I'll repay the favor.

UPDATE: Recently, a new forum appeared on the site, it was the "moderators forum"... someone screwed up and it became visible. I copied what was in there, and it was mostly the moderators talking trash about myself, R.J. and Ted. Anyone that thinks the Aristo management walked on water, email me and I'll send you copies of what these jerks wrote. To top it off Jonathan turned me in to my ISP stating I was stalking them. When I explained the story to them they laughed. The said it sounded fishy in that they had the name of the person, not just an IP address. Yep, because I posted on the moderators forum letting them know that they had accidentally opened it for all to see. Instead of thanking me, Jonathan tried to bug me. Well Jonathan, I copied all the posts there. Do it again and I'll post them here, if that is how you and your father want to be remembered.


You must appreciate that manufacturer's sites are often more restrictive on what you can say if it can show a bad light on a product. That said, it's too bad that some manufacturers cannot handle constructive criticism. The Bachmann site is not too bad, they will admit a problem, if you do not rub their nose in it. I don't think you can realistically ask for more in their case. The Aristo-Craft site is not only very controlled, but there's many times an Aristo-Craft employee or the president says "we've never had that problem" when that particular problem has been demonstrated conclusively over and over, even on their forum.

There was a USA Trains Yahoo forum: There was a lot of pictures there and it had been started by a person who has amassed a ton of data on USAT production. I've had some email dealings with him, seems like a real nice guy. Subsequently he formed a separate forum, but now there is really only the archive: Unfortunately Shawn has given up G scale and gone to HO, but the archive is still there and lots of good info.

There was the "original" LGB group on Yahoo, which used to be very active, but Yahoo groups is gone, and they apparently they never moved the group to


Click the links below to go "deeper" into the individual FAQs

  Choosing what your layout will do    Scale, what do I care?    Choose your era    Choose your power 
Track choiceSpace for the layoutRoadbed design & support  What about sound? 
DCC FAQsWhere to buy?  
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