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Friday, 6 December 2013

Guide to a Simple Train Around the Christmas Tree

Since the first model train came into existence (Lionel in Germany in the 1830's) , kids and adults alike have dreamed of a Train around the Christmas Tree. It has become a special Holiday Tradition in many homes.

Remember the simple track you used when you were a kid?  Remember the train stopping or not running properly around the tree?  This was most likely because of all the dust, pet fur and other nasty surprises that can get drawn into the wheels and gears of the Locomotive.
 The train sets today have EZ Track (HO & N scale sets) or FasTrack (O scale sets) so you can put the track directly on the floor or on fabric and not have to worry too much about this problem. Although learning to maintain your locomotive is a good idea. Cleaning the wheels and gears weekly if you run it frequently, just to have that uninterrupted level of fun!

N & HO EZ-Track, O Lionel FasTrack

So let's get to why you are here:  Setting up a Simple track and train around your Christmas Tree!
Things You'll Need:

  • Electric Train Set, with  track and power pack (choose a scale suited for the area you have- the most popular are HO (1:87 scale), O (1:48 scale), and G (1:22.5 - 1:25)
  • piece of plywood (optional)
  • Christmas Tree with a stand

  1. Your Train - After a year in storage, your trains may need a little cleaning. In addition to brushing off the dust, the track and wheels need to be thoroughly cleaned. Older, steel track is prone to rusting if stored in humid locations. If your track shows signs of rust, save your time and just replace it. Clean wheels with paper towels and cleaning fluids.
    After extended periods in storage, it may be necessary to disassemble, clean and re-oil locomotive gearboxes. Do not over-lubricate.  (If you bring in your Train, we can teach you how to do this. There is no cost unless replacement parts are needed) Check power supplies and wires for any signs of wear or distress. Replace if needed.  There are many different sets with Steam and Diesel Locomotives, in different scales to choose from should you need to purchase one.
  2. Track - See how much track you have (most sets for HO come with a minimum of a 36" circle or 36"x 48" oval- which is usually enough for a simple 'around the tree' layout). Most O scale sets come with a 40"x 60" oval- but check the box first!)  When adding more track into your oval or circle, you MUST add two.  Meaning, if you add a rerailer track that's 9" to one side, you must add an equal size to the opposite side so the layout doesn't bend and break. This is the same for curves.  If your track does not have roadbed built into it, place down a piece of plywood first.                                                       
  3. Measure the area from the base of the tree out to make sure you have enough track for around the base of the tree. Keep in mind where the presents will go.  We usually have a space to either side of the track (on the outside) so we can run the train while opening gifts.                                                              
  4. Keep It Simple - If you are only running the train for the Christmas Season, keep your track plan simple (to an oval or circle). If you want it a little more than just the traditional track plan, try these: 
    HO  Oval with incline

    HO  or O  plan

    Twice Around The Tree plan

    Twice Around The Tree Finished in O scale

    For small tree - HO scale plan.     For a larger tree- O or G scale plan

  5. Assembling the Track and Testing the Train - Assemble the track, Make sure your electrical connector track is in an accessible position with the wire hookups facing the outer rim of the track circle.
    Connect the power pack to the track as directed by the instructions and test the flow of current using the model engine. Make sure it can circle the track at half speed without hitting a bump or falling off.
    Test the train one more time before putting the tree in place and decorating.                                          
  6. Make it Kid Friendly - Christmas trains are meant to be enjoyed by all ages, and they are a great introduction into the hobby for children. One easy way to make any model train display more kid-friendly is to make them part of the action. In addition to running the trains, kids will want to help build and decorate the layout. Incorporating kid's toys into the display is a great way to make it personal and still keep a holiday feel.                                                                                                                         
  7. Cleaning - If your trains are running beneath a Christmas tree, you'll probably find yourself pulling needles off the tracks by the end of the season. There is no great secret to keeping needles off the tracks (even an artificial tree will probably lose a few.) 
    Make sure you can reach all the way around the tree to clean. Make sure vacuming needles won't result in losing other scenic material or details.
    One additional concern for under-tree-trains is the power supply. Make sure your electrical circuit can handle the needs of both the trains and the tree lights. And make sure the cords for both don't interfere with the tracks.
  8. Packing and Storing

    ©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.
    Next year's display begins when you put this year's away.
    • Before you pack, take the time to clean track and wheels again.
    • Pack trains, tracks, power supplies and all accessories carefully. Use original boxes if possible.
    • Store your trains in a dry place. Store fragile items where they will be safe.
    • If possible, give your locomotive a brief break-in run periodically throughout the year.

Some Final Tips to keep in mind:

  • The lower branches of your tree will need to be trimmed up to allow enough room for the train to circle as well.
  • The temptation may be to get a big train with lots of buildings, switches, figures and lights, but under a Christmas tree, limited space makes this impractical.
  • For the same reasons, a Christmas train should be limited to a single engine and four cars.
  • If your train set comes with securely locking tracks, you can avoid using plywood as long as the track will stay steady (for example, on a hard wood floor). Carpeting can create problems.
  • If your train wobbles or comes off the track easily, disassemble the rail cars and glue weights inside to keep pressure on the track.
  • Experiment with speed, but remember, a train flying around the track will also fly right off.
  • If children will be operating the train, very young kids may have more success with a larger train gauge like 0 or G. It will be easier for them to hook the cars and place them on the track.
  • While the voltage of a train power pack is not great enough to cause real damage, you should use a watering can with a long spout if you are using a live or cut tree. Water can damage the train and cause a short.

Thank you for reading our blog. Please feel free to leave a comment or email us a comment. 
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Happy Hobbying!

Want to learn more:
First Model Railroad
Maintaining Your Locomotive
Replacing Model Train Wheels
Small Layout Holiday Ideas
Twice Around The Tree- Full Article

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  1. Thanks for sharing this post with us...its really very informative....Super Glue or Cyanoacrylate.

  2. Glad you enjoyed our post. What other topics would you like to see on our blog?

  3. Guide to a Simple Train Around the Christmas Tree ...

  4. Because there are so many pieces, there are an infinite amount of ways to set up the track. All of the pieces are made of solid beech wood.

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