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  No, this page does not give advice on playing the stock market. Its purpose is to share advice on maintaining "rolling stock" or the cars and locomotives that roll on a model railroad.

Keeping your cars on the track, and your trains together will greatly decrease your frustration, and increase your enjoyment in this hobby - and most of these tips are relatively simple to put into practice.
  Car Weight
Wheels and Trucks
Problem Cars
General Model Railroad Information


One of the easiest things you can do to keep your cars on the track is to adjust their weight to an optimum amount. Although some cars are sold at a good weight for reliable running, most are sold light. This saves the manufacturer money for materials and shipping, but frustrates anyone looking for reliable operations, since the cars are prone to jumping the track on curves and rough track.

The most widely-used recommended weight guidelines are those calculated by the N.M.R.A. Their recommended weight for HO-scale equipment says that each car should weigh 1 ounce, plus 1/2 ounce per inch of car length. Some modelers claim this is too heavy, and cuts the length of train their locomotives will pull, and others claim it is too light, and that by adding even more weight they can keep the cars on the track even better, but in the years I have used the N.M.R.A. recommended weights for my cars, I have had very few problems, and those have been caused either by other problems with the cars, or by problems with the track, or by the one "lightweight" car in the train.

In other scales, the recommended weights will vary. Be sure to use a good-quality scale to measure the weights of your cars.
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Wheels should roll smoothly so that the locomotives will not be overworked pulling the trains. An axle that doesn't turn easily can also "hang up" on switches or track joints.

Wheels also need to be "in gauge" - the correct distance apart - to match the distance between the rails. An N.M.R.A. gauge is a useful tool for this purpose, and the same tool is also useful for checking track work.

Trucks are the things below the car which hold the wheels. The trucks need to be able to rotate easily, to allow the cars to easily roll through curves and switches. The car should also be able to rock side-to-side on the trucks, to allow the car to pass over uneven or imperfect track.

Attaching the trucks to the car using screws allows them the trucks to be secured, tightened or loosened as needed, and replaced when necessary.

Some modelers want their cars to be detailed as accurately as possible, and a variety of trucks are available to replicate the prototype trucks used on the real railroad cars upon which our models are based.
Some modelers like "sprung" trucks, which are trucks that have actual small springs that allow the car to adjust to uneven track, but other modelers find that they can be troublesome. This is one area where I can only recommend that you use whichever kind works better for you.
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Couplers are the parts of the cars that connect them to the other cars in the train. Some model equipment comes with "horn-and-hook" type couplers which don't look very realistic, and don't work realistically either. Most modelers change these, replacing them with couplers from Kadee, or with Kadee-compatible couplers from other manufacturers.

Couplers need to be at the correct height to ensure reliable operations. If they are not the same height, they can slip past each other and uncouple, breaking the train in two. Checking the coupler height can be done using Kadee's coupler height gauge, and adjustments can be made using washers to raise the car, or offset couplers to raise or lower the coupler head. Links to some suppliers are on the links page.
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Some cars have special problems. Long cars require wider curves and better quality track because of their size. Also, very long cars should not be coupled to very short cars because the couplers of long cars swing further to the side as the cars go through curves, and this can lead to one car being thrown off the track. The same problem affects the real railroads, and their rules limit which cars can be coupled together. An 86-foot boxcar coupled to an ore jenny is a recipe for trouble.

Sometimes it is hard to tell if a derailment was caused by a problem with a car, or a defect in the track. One way of testing this is to remove the car that jumped the track and see how the rest of the train runs. If one car is derailing in several different places, this is probably caused by a problem with the car. If different cars are derailing at the same spot, this hints at a track problem. Of course, this isn't a foolproof method, but it can help you diagnose the problem and correct it.

In order to reduce derailments, you should try to:
   make your cars run so well that they will tolerate even the worst track and
   make your track work so well that it will accomodate even the worst cars.
If they are both perfect, you should never have a problem. Well, we can all dream, right?
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Locomotives pull the trains. Regardless of how many cars or what kind of cars are in the train, you need at least one locomotive. There are some special considerations for locomotives. Their couplers need to be at the right height, just like the cars, but they also have motors and gears to transmit the power from the motor to the wheels.

Locomotive wheels must be in gauge and clean. The electrical pickup from the track is made through the wheels, so a good wheel cleaning is a good idea before any show or operating session. Whatever electrical pickups transmit the power from the wheels to the motor should also be in good condition. Too loose, and contact may be lost. Too tight, and they will create excess drag while wearing out too soon. If the pickups are worn out, they should be replaced. If you are not sure how to do this yourself, your local hobby shop may know who does repair work in your area.

Gears and motor bearings should be clean and very lightly oiled. Do not overdo it! Too much oil can get into places where it does no good, and just collects dirt. If you know what you are doing, the motor brushes can be replaced when they are worn, but beware of taking apart something if you don't know how to put it back together properly.

DCC, or Digital Command Control, is a a system that allows each engineer to control one train, without needing to select which section of track they are operating. Although DCC can make operations easier, it cannot compensate for a poorly-running locomotive. Do a "tune-up" before trying to convert a poor runner into a DCC engine, or you will be disappointed with the results.
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The appearance of rolling stock and locomotives is important to some modelers, who enhance their models using aftermarket detail parts, paints, decals, and weathering chalks.
Some suppliers of these materials can be found on the links page. These materials can also be found at better hobby shops.
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