How To Build Rolling Stock
That Looks Great And Runs Well

Rolling stock is an all-encompassing term for freight and passenger equipment you'll run on your model railroad. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before you rush out and buy the latest and greatest on display at the hobby shop or on the internet:<

  • Does the rolling stock fit the era I'm modeling and do I care?
  • Is it from a railroad that I want to represent on my layout? 
  • Do I want a ready-built model or would I like to build a kit? 
  • Will it go around the curves on my layout? 
  • Have I left enough clearance beside and above the tracks? 
  • Do I want to just display it on a shelf or am I going to run and handle it?
  • Will I let other people handle it? How about my kids?
  • Do I really need it? 
  • Can I afford it? 

We would all probably like to skip the last question when we see a piece of rolling stock we'd like to add to our layout. It's an important question because most of us have a budget we should adhere to because our wives and significant others have other uses for the money, like food. When you want to sell it you'll get practically nothing for it.

There is a trend today to take the easy road and buy ready-built cars. Let's face it, some of those Rapido Canadian passenger cars and those Kadee freight cars look and run fantastic.It's nice to have a couple of them. I'm no different. Especially tank cars because they are so much more difficult to build convincingly.  However, spending $30+ for a piece of rolling stock can really dent the hobby budget. And in G scale you're looking at $100+!

There's also the satisfaction that comes from building a kit. A simple Athearn or Roundhouse freight car. A more difficult box car from Branchline trains. Or taking one of those Ambroid one-in-a-thousand cars you squirreled away many years ago and attempting to finish what you once started. Even if it doesn't come up to todays's standards, so what. You enjoyed making it. That's what counts.

You could also try your hand at scratch building something. Maybe a simple flat car or boxcar. Parts are readily available and you can buy the couplers and wheel sets.

Are you freelancing or following a specific prototype? 

You can buy an undecorated car or kit and add the reporting marks or have decals made for your own railroad and apply them.

What about era? Will you be running modern high stacks or just 40-foot freight cars with roof walks from an earlier era? Does your train have a van or caboose or a flashing end-of-train marker?

Will the car you want to buy run and look right on your curves? 

Do you have tight radius curves like 18" in HO or 9" in N scale? Or do have nice broad 36" HO curves with easements?

Are you going to weather the car with paint or chalks?

How much will it be handled? Do you plan to do a lot of coupling and uncoupling by hand? Are there lots of fragile detail parts?

model railroad car toteTop of car tote with handles
model train car tote containerCheap car tote

How about carrying the cars to a train club or show or someone else's layout for an operating session? Here's an inexpensive solution for storing and transporting cars.

At our Nottawasaga Model Railroad Club, we use plastic tote boxes that you buy at Wal-Mart and similar stores. We add a couple of straps with wooden dowels as handles for the top tray.

The separators are plastic pipe caps glued to a piece of ABS pipe that you buy in the plumbing section of a hardware store. 

The cars rest on styrofoam and are separated by styrofoam dividers that are cut to match the length of cars to be carried. We have separate toe boxes for locomotives.

There are also commercial carrying cases that you can buy.

Lots of questions. I'll try to supply some guidance with these links:

Adjusting couplers

Weighting cars

Rolling stock tips

Marker Lamps Lighting Tip

At the end of the day there's only one big question to answer. How much do I really want this piece of rolling stock for my model train layout?

Have fun.

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