Model Railroad Review by Papa
When you collect trains as long as I have, you can’t help but pick your favorites. In my collection, I have about 30 engines, over one hundred different model railroading cars, and enough O scale track and accessories to fill most of the floor space in my house. When I look over at my collection, it’s easy to see that Lionel trains are my favorite.
I prefer Lionel O gauge model trains for a number of reasons. First, is nostalgia. That’s where it all started with the first Lionel train set that our dad bought for me, my brother, and himself. (You can read more about my first train set in A Love Affair with Model Railroading here.)
I also love the weight and size of the Lionel O scale model railroading engines. Lionel trains are heavy, and you should use both hands when you pick one up. And watch out for little hands – small children will definitely need help moving the engines around the train room.
Many of Lionel’s engines are equipped with working headlights and and sounds. There are illuminated cabooses, and passenger cars with people who move on the cars. I have model railroad freight cars that carry and dump loads of “wood”, “coal”, and “feed”. Searchlight cars and other operating cars can be quite fun. You would be amazed at how often new models and O scale accessories are added by Lionel!
One of my favorites cars is the Lionel US Army boxcar 3665, which includes an operating plastic missile launcher. I personally enjoy the wide variety of flat cars and all the different loads you can model. The detail on tank cars for oil and gasoline are amazing. If you look hard enough you can find models that relate to the history of your town, state and country. We used to have a Reynolds Aluminum plant where I live, and I was able to find two Reynolds bauxite cars for my O scale trains. One of my newer log dumpers carries the Weyerhaeuser logo, to represent the mill that used to be in our town, too.
Another fun aspect is finding vintage “post war” era railroad cars. I found a vintage milk can car, Lionel 3472, that can carry 7 “milk cans” and unload them onto a side platform. I was given a post war era cattle car and unloading side platform, Lionel 6656, with 15 “cows”. Since each car can only hold 5 “cows” I have been looking for more of these vintage stock car and now have two. (Please note that vintage accessory pieces like the milk can station or the cattle corral were made to work on the track available at that time, Lionel “0-27” three rail metal track and will not work with modern FasTrack without adapter track section and some shimming due to dimension differences.)
You can model specific railroad lines, which adds a lot of color and variety to the model railroading layout. I have always been a fan of Union Pacific railroad, while my son prefers Burlington Northern. My grandson is up to date and likes BNSF railway. I also enjoy freight lines like Pennsylvania railroad, NYC, Rio Grande and Santa Fe. With all the real life railroad mergers, you can see some of these road names still operating today on actual railroad systems.
Lionel is my favorite model railroading manufacturer because of the wide availability of sets and accessories, coupled with affordable prices. But that’s not to say that Lionel trains are cheaply made. Their remote control sets can now include Bluetooth ( e.g. Pennsylvania Flyer LionChief Set-with Bluetooth), and for the more discerning model railroader hobbyist, Lionel offers more expensive engines with remote control couplers (Lionel Southern LionChief Plus 4-6-2 Pacific Steam Engine w/Bluetooth), and other options like a wider array of sounds, lighting, and more sturdy construction of the engines.
My favorite thing about Lionel model train layouts is they’re so easy to expand. Combine your favorite engines with add-on sidings that have decoupling sections (like the Lionel FasTrack Siding Track Pack)and you can create a working train yard with multiple sidings for each train line or style of load like freight cars or hopper cars.
For those who want to look beyond Lionel trains, another brand I enjoy is MTH (Railking). I was happy to acquire a vintage NYC docksider set made by MTH. Although Lionel is still my brand of choice, I also look for Atlas, Menards, and Industrial Rail O scale model railroad sets.
You’ll enjoy Lionel trains because they are fun, full of features and best of all, expandable. Playing trains with family and friends has created rewarding experiences that I’ve cherished for half a century, and I know they’ll do the same for you and your loved ones, too.
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