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 there are TEN sub-pages (links at the bottom of the 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".

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.

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.

Second advice:

READ! There are many Internet forums, there is a ton of information out there. Some books are OK, but many are biased or too narrow in focus. See my forum recommendations below.

I read forums for 4 years or so before I ever even asked a question on line!

Let me reinforce something right now: Do NOT join and ask if battery power is better than track power, or if you should use brass or stainless steel rail!

READ! 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 "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.

While searching and reading the forums (see below for my forum recommendations) you will also find personal sites that have a wealth of information on specific locomotives, track laying techniques, etc. I found one in particular that is great, and is responsible for the tone and layout of my site: George Schreyer's site. Hint: there is something in bold that says: "If you don't look anywhere else, look here." Do what George says.

Third advice:

Join a nearby club and get some hands-on. I put this third because often a club WILL probably give you a limited perspective of things. 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 it for gospel.


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 Internet forums out there. There are some Yahoo group forums, but other than manufacturer-specific ones (which you will get into later) there is not one I can really recommend. 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. A nice group of guys, but be careful, American "wit" does not always translate. More and more Americans are joining. Unfortunately some make America look stupid, but that's ok, since most Europeans already think people from the US are all screwed up ha ha!

You can definitely see a slightly different side of the hobby, where R1 curves are the rule rather than exception, and DCC is not a huge source of violent negativity as it is usually on LSC and MLS. Pay attention to the differences in languages and word meanings.

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. Used to be the #2 forum behind MLS, but with the change in ownership of MLS, and other changes, this is really the #1 Large Scale site. There is a more active group of modellers. 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.

From Bob McCown (forum owner) in late 2019:

And some info on the history of the software for LSC.  Originally (18 years ago) I spun up PunBB for the initial incarnation of LSC.  Within a year, it was obvious that it was not up to the task of anything resembling a high-traffic forum, so I switched to PHPBB.  That worked....ok... for a few years, and then I switched over to an early version of Zenforo.  Within a year I switched to SocialEngine, and have been on SE ever since.  

I no longer post there due to irritating some pompous ass on the forum who is the owner's buddy. All over an april fools post on April 1. Screw them.

Secret chat commands:

    • /me text.... sends just the text without the time and avatar?
    • /c name  - should switch chat channels -- nothing
    • /join - not working
    • /leave - not working
    • /w or /whisper user name message - does not seem to work
    • /mute and /unmute
    • /team - does not work, see /t below
    • /code allows code but you can embed html directly
    • /t (some text) puts the text into "what shall we talk about" at the top of the chat
    • font sizes 1 through 7
    • <strong>

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 no longer work. The "first class" membership and it's advantages are all screwed up, and the fact that the forum software was a number of different softwares "knit" together is now clear, especially as it becomes "unraveled". The site owner used to keep it glued together, but it's a shambles now, it exists for income, not for the good of the hobby. 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? In early 2017, people are leaving in droves. In 2018 it got even worse as moved to Google cloud.

There's a lot of good people on it, but there's also a number of old school guys. 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 only forum worth reading on a regular basis is the Live Steam forum, it still has a great number of experts and good people.

There are powerful editing and picture posting functions. There is a caveat to the forum software though, if you are not a first class member, you don't get the WYSIWYG editor, and posting pictures and links is more complex. You can post Youtube videos also, but again, you have to do it "just right". Unfortunately, the only really fair and helpful moderator is somewhat burned out, and the rest have pretty much gone silent except for one self-aggrandizing one.

This forum is in a downward spiral, with fewer and fewer posts. I hit the 20,000 post mark and left. I did come back now the the jerks are mostly gone, and the ego moderators have quieted down, but I just don't anything new there any more, and very little stimulating posts. I post there to help newbies with issues and how to get started.

(note this may change, so then go to and find the garden railway forums). Free to read, you must register to post. Only 4 subforums, not a real large group, but nice people. Withering on the vine as the really good modeler Tom Trigg passed away in 2018. Lots of ads and popups if you are a subscriber to a Kalmbach publication. Unfortunately, not really worth the effort, just like the magazine's slow demise, changing from every other month to quarterly in 2018.


No real large scale forums, the one you would look at ia 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.

Trainboard : 

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:

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

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.

There is a Bachmann forum also, 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. I have not gotten any information from this site that was not on MLS or LSC. 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", good place to get information on repair or specific parts.


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. Susequently he formed a separate forum: Unfortunately Shawn has given up G scale and gone to HO, but the forum is still there and lots of good info.

There is also the "original" LGB group on Yahoo, which used to be very active, but still people there. Used to be very controlled, you could not say anything negative, but some real experts there, so a good place to ask tricky questions.




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 choice    Space for the layout    Roadbed design & support     What about sound?  
  DCC FAQs    Where to buy?