Big Indoor Trains™ Primer Articles
Big Indoor Trains™ was started in early 2007 to answer questions about using big trains indoors all year round. Many of our readers bought their first train to run around a Christmas tree or around a holiday village such as those made by Hawthorne Village™ or Dept. 56™. So they often had questions that neither the collectible village suppliers nor the hobby shops could answer. This page and several other Big Indoor Trains™ pages we added early on were created specifically to "fill the gap." However, we keep attracting readers with other needs and interests, and several have begun contributing their own articles, so the range of topics we address just keeps growing.
To keep our focus, we try especially to serve people using trains and accessories that are larger than HO, although many scenery ideas apply to the smaller scales as well. Trains you'll see on our pages include:
- On30 trains from Bachmann (these trains are about the same scale as the O gauge trains, but they run on HO track. The first mass-produced On30 trains were made to go with Dept. 52 Christmas Villages, but we have readers and contributors who have On30 industrial railroads and other non-Christmas railroads alike. In fact, On30 is often cited as the fastest growing indoor scale.
- O Gauge/O27 offerings from Lionel, MTH and similar manufacturers. These have a tradition that goes back nearly a century, and they are still attracting new hobbyists.
- S Gauge trains, which that are nearly as large as many O gauge trains but run on two rails. This scale was championed by American Flyer, and still has hobbyists today. Interestingly enough, many Christmas Village structures are about S Scale (1:64) in size, so we include S scale versions of many of our projects, even for folks who don't have S gauge trains.
- Hawthorne Village trains, most of which are built on chassis from Bachmann's On30 trains, but which are usually decorated to commemorate a holiday or some other special event or person.
- Large Scale trains, which were designed to run outside, but many folks run indoors as well. These trains are also about the same size as the Standard Gauge trains that Lionel introduced about a century ago, and which are still beign collected today.
If you would like more information on those different kinds of trains, please see our article Sizes and Scales of Big Indoor Trains. Interestingly enough, all of these trains can be used with holiday villages, with permanent model railroads, and even around Christmas trees. So it's not surprising that many of our projects and scenery suggestions will work with any of the trains on that list. If you have any of these, or even some other kind of train that you're not finding help with anywhere else, please keep checking back, and especially keep asking questions and making suggestions - that's how we grew from a couple of pages to a major reference and project idea site in just a couple of years.
At first we tried answering as many questions as we could on our Letters to the Editor™ page. But as we got more and more questions, we began posting articles about "Big Indoor Trains" and the accessories and scenery that people use with them. In addition to the growing list of articles below, we almost always have several more articles in the works. So please check back every so often. In fact if you would like to be notified when a new article is posted, please Join our Mailing List.
In addition, you can help by sending us project tips, article ideas, and photos of your railroads and villages. We want this site to be as useful as possible to as many people as it can be. As the hobby grows, we all benefit.
Our list is growing slowly but surely.
Introduction to Trains and Towns
Real Trains We Model
- 30" Railroads - On30 is a fast-growing hobby and the trains are sure "cute." But do you know there is a century of fascinating history behind those "teakettles" and the thirty-inch-wide tracks they ran on? There were a few passenger trains, but there were hundreds of industrial railroads that would be fun to model, along with the mining towns, logging camps, and river towns they served. New, April, 2008!
- Small but Mighty - 30" Power - This article reviews the "real-world" steam locomotives that pulled 30" trains in North America (and elsewhere, to some extent). Baldwin, Shay, and other manufacturers made some amazing developments in their efforts to maximize power on minimum rail gauge and weight. The article also gives real-world examples (when possible) of the engines that are available as detailed models in On30 scale and suggestions for modeling 30" railroads in Large Scale as well. New, May, 2008!
- The Little River Railroad - Our sister site, Family Garden Trains™ profiles a standard-gauge logging railroad with common carrier aspirations. This Smoky Mountain railroad used compromises and combinations of equipment that hardly anyone would believe today if it wasn't for the photographs. Includes many unique modeling suggestions for modeling this kind of operation with On30 trains. Five new articles, August, 2008
Scenery Project Ideas
- Portable (Foam-Based) Indoor Displays - Using a foam-based portable scenic foundation to display your trains and towns to their best advantage. Updated, October, 2007!
- Easy Indoor Lakes and Rivers - How to get the effect of waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and streams on both temporary and permanent indoor railroads and display villages.
- Easy Homemade Trees - How to make realistic and inexpensive trees using (mostly) natural materials. Updated, October, 2007!
- Desert Accessories from Playmobil Products - How repainting carefully-chosen toys can add fun details to a Large Scale desert landscape New, August, 2008!
- Bringing Autumn to Your Railroad or Display Village - How two easy crafts can make your model railroad or display village look like it is enjoying the fall season. New, September, 2008!
- Add Spring Color to Your Village or Indoor Railroad - How to use "Easy Homemade Trees" to brighten your railroad or display village for spring. Updated, November, 2008!
- Modeling Sea Grass - an easy and inexpensive addition to any seaside railroad or display village. January, 2009!
- Modeling Palm Trees - This easy project adds a tropical feel to your setting.
- Creating Custom Backdrops for Your Indoor Railroad
Tinplate train fan Ed "Ice" Berg describes how he combined graphics from many sources to create a detailed, colorful background for his Marx-based railroad. Get some ideas about how to bring your blank walls to life. New, November, 2010!
Building Project Ideas
- Easy Street Scene - This popular building project uses downloadable building graphics and a little cardboard or foam board to build up a convincing downtown scene that is only a few inches deep - perfect for shelf layouts, tight spots, and dioramas. We also provide links to high-resolution graphics that will work for any scale. - April, 2008
Photo-Based 3-D Buildings - Bob Anderson used our building front graphics to create an entire Large Scale downtown setting for a local train show. It was so well received, he's already thinking about how he can make it better for next year. If you have an indoor railroad of any kind, this could give you some inspiration.
- New, December, 2010!
Build a Vintage-Style Cardboard Stone Cottage - Here's a new building project that is pired by the vintage cardboard houses folks used to set around their Christmas tree in the early 1900s (before glitterhouses became common). This building uses free downloadable graphic paper to put a realistic stone veneer on an old-world cottage and fence. It works with Christmas villages, or with a little customization, would dress up any indoor railroad. updated,
August, 2008, with a "brick cottage" option!
- Log Cabin Building Flat - This "building flat" uses downloadable graphics and foam board or cardboard to dress up a narrow corner of your railroad or village. The techniques in this project can be used for almost any kind of building you want to represent in a tiny space. December, 2007
- Build a Vintage-Style Barn and Silo - This building project uses downloadable graphics to put realistic shingles and siding on an old barn and silo. Like the stone cottage above, it works with Christmas villages, or with a few changes, it would dress up an indoor railroad. January, 2008
- Building a Vintage-Style Cardboard Log House
Project designer Howard Lamey provides this tribute to a kind of "glitterhouse" (see below) that found its way to many Christmas scenes and indoor railroads before and just after WWII. A "loggie" is sheathed with corrugated cardboard with the "sheath" missing on one side. Following Howard's instructions, its easy to build this future family heirloom for your indoor railroad or Christmas display. New, August, 2010!
Note: Most of the articles listed on this page actually began as responses to reader questions, so if you have a question that isn't answered in these pages, please contact us. In the meantime, our Letters to the Editor page includes many of the most-asked questions from Big Indoor Train lovers all over the world.
We will be adding links to other related resources here from time to time (in fact, we had more links, but those sites closed down - check back once in a while as we will be attempting to replace them.)
- A Brief History of Christmas Villages - From our Family Christmas Online™ site, a look at where holiday villages come from in the first place (and how trains got into the mix).
- The On30 Information and Resource Center - Larry Rickert's collection of articles about On30, including some nice project articles by several different people.
- Paper Creek Model Works - Paper Creek sells texture paper and structure patterns that you can use to make very realistic buildings for your indoor railroad. They also have a nice how-to article, and a free downloadable outhouse in scales from Z to O, to give you an idea of how easy it is to use their patterns.
- Evans Design's ModelBuilder Software - a way to easily design and print walls and roofs for cardboard or foam core buildings you design yourself. This site also offers a free downloadable building pattern and directions to give you an idea of the quality of their program's output.
Watch this page: more articles are in the works.