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Buying Passenger Cars (Old-Timey).  Top row, left to right, Bachmann, Delton. Bottom row, left to right, AristoCraft, LGB. PIKO (not shown) is similar to the Delton coach in proportion and size. Click for bigger photo. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running wellGarden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden TrainsTM

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Buying Passenger Cars ("Old Timey")

Here's a confession. I love passenger trains. Even when I'm doing freight operations, I like to have a passenger train running somewhere. And when I run trains after dark, I especially love the look of lighted passenger cars circling the track.

But folks who are new to the hobby are realizing that the passenger trains they really want have all been discontinued, some for years. The truth is, as of Oct., 2021, there are far more choices in the used market than in the new market. And not all of those choices are equal.

This article will cover a lot of ground, but it should be especially helpful to:

  • Anyone who has bought a starter set with two passenger cars and wants to expand it

  • Anyone who is considering a passenger train, but wants to make the best choice for reliability and future expansion.

Why "Old-Timey"? - With the exception of Lionel's toy-like trains, all of the other Large Scale brands, past and current, put two "old-timey" cars in their passenger sets. Railfans call the wooden cars they represent "varnish," and such cars were used from the birth of the railroads well into the 1920s (though by the 1930s, they were mostly used for excursion trains or short lines, and almost none outlived the Depression).

Eventually "varnish" was replaced by "heavyweight" cars and then by streamliners. And both kinds of cars have been modeled extensively. However, no US-style Large Scale starter set has ever included either (again, we're discounting Lionel's entries).

Why Expand a Passenger Set? - Not only is a longer train more fun to watch on a big railroad, but all of the "varnish" you can buy in Large Scale is too short; in some cases, it's ridiculously short. Adding more cars to your train helps camouflage that.

Possible "Snags" - When you're trying to find additional cars to go with a 2-car passenger set you already own, you may run into some snags:

  • Most of the Large Scale passenger trains have been discontinued, so you will probably have to go to the used marketplace to find anything useful for them. With the attendant risk that the seller may not be telling you everything you need to know.

  • Many sets never had "spare" cars you could order separately. In some cases, if you were really attached to a particular train or railroad, you might have to buy another whole second set just to get one more useful car.

  • Some sets never had more than two cars - a combine and an observation car. And you can't reasonably put more than one of either in a train. Yes, there are ways around that in Bachmann's case (see below), but it's still inconvenient, and in some cases impossible.

Kinds of "Passenger Cars"

Before I get into brands and the new-or-used choices, I'd like to review the kinds of passenger cars you're likely to find in US-inspired Large Scale train sets.

To help you visualize, I've also included thumb-nail examples of each car type from the four brands you're most likely to encounter in this context: Bachmann, LGB, PIKO, and AristoCraft. Clicking each thumbnail will give you a much larger picture of the car.

Please note that AristoCraft is out of business and Bachmann stopped making most of these cars years ago, but you will still see them on eBay and elsewhere. Tips on buying these used are provided further down.

  • "Full" Baggage/Mail Cars - typically no room for passengers and big sliding doors on both sides. These carried passengers' baggage, but many also carried mail, as well as packages from independent shipping companies. On a few very large routes, some cars were dedicated to mail only, with postmasters sorting mail as the car travelled.

    Bachmann's 'full baggage' car.  Click for bigger photo. LGB's 'full baggage' car.  Click for bigger photo. PIKO's 'full baggage' car.  Click for bigger photo.

  • Combine Cars - "Combination cars" were actually fairly rare on big railroads, but they're a favorite of model train manufacturers because they can do "double-duty," both as a baggage car, and as a coach. The "baggage" portion of the car served the same purposes as the "full" baggage cars, just on a smaller scale.

    Most Large Scale passenger car sets include a combine car. Several of Bachmann's freight and Christmas sets have included a combine instead of a caboose. That's not a "dodge;" some short lines that hauled mostly freight and only a few passengers did just that.

    Ordinarily, you wouldn't have two combine cars in the same train - if there were enough passengers or enough freight to justify two cars, you'd have a "full" baggage car and a coach.

    Bachmann's 'combine' car.  Click for bigger photo. LGB's 'combine' car.  Click for bigger photo. PIKO's 'combine' car.  Click for bigger photo. AristoCraft's 'combine' car.  Click for bigger photo.

  • Coach - A car that would carry only passengers, and have benches from one end to the other. If your train is more than two cars long, this is the one you should probably try to have more than one of.

    Bachmann's coach.  Click for bigger photo. LGB's most common varnish coach.  Click for bigger photo. PIKO's coach.  Click for bigger photo. AristoCraft's coach.  Click for bigger photo.

  • Observation Car - A sort of coach with a gated platform at the end, where passengers could step out and watch the scenery receding. These were not nearly as common on 19th-century or short line RRs as coach or baggage cars, but they did occur on "some prestigious" routes. Of course, due to their purpose and design, you would ordinarily have only one of these on a train.

    Of the four manufacturers we have chosen to represent, Bachmann and AristoCraft are the only ones who made observation "varnish."

    LGB has made a car that is sometimes called an "observation" car, but it's really a "sight-seeing" car with open sides, to accommodate tourists on tours of mountain lines, etc.

    Bachmann's observation car.  Click for bigger photo. AristoCraft's observation car.  Click for bigger photo.

What About Sleepers, Diners, etc.? Folks used to modeling mainline railroads will ask, where are the sleepers and dining cars? In the Large Scale train sets that model "old-timey" or Narrow Gauge trains, they are missing altogether. If you are looking for those cars, you're going to be looking at 20th-century-inspired cars like "heavyweights" and "streamliners," and those NEVER come in sets.

What About Other Manufacturers?

"Fallen Flag" companies like Kalamazoo, Delton, and Hartland Locomotive works (HLW) also made passenger car lines, many of which still turn up today. But they may not be your "first choice" if you're just starting out. They're all discontinued, some for decades, so coming up with a whole set you like might be problematic.

  • Kalamazoo's passenger cars are more toylike than any of the cars listed above. They generally come with fictitious road names like "Mountain Central RR," though I have seen them in Union Pacific, D&RGW, and Virginia & Truckee livery. My recommendation would be to skip these unless you like the look and can get enough to meet your needs in your first purchase or two. The chances of you picking up a Kalamazoo UP or D&RGW coach and never finding a mate are pretty good. And they won't look right with any of the other brands we're discussing.

  • Delton Locomotive Works made two lines in 1:24: a "shorty" line that is well detailed, but a little cartoonish in its length, and a longer coach line that is more believable. Neither of these lines are as tall as the cars from Bachmann, LGB, or Aristo. I like them both, but they've been discontinued a long time, so getting a whole set of what you want in either line could be tricky.

  • Hartland Locomotive Works (HLW) inherited some of the molds from Delton, so they have cars that in some cases are virtually identical to Delton's. Again, they are not as tall as Bachmann, LGB, or Aristo, so you will certainly never be able to "mix and match." If you can get enough of what you want at one go, go for it.

  • USA Trains once advertised a series of "shorty" varnish under the Overton name. Again, if you see a train's worth of cars you like, go for it. But if you just get one, you're very unlikely to find it any company.

Actually, I love Delton and HLW products, but I've spent a very long time trying to track down particular pieces, and you might never find the ones you want, if you can't get them on the first "go."

Buying New (or at Least from Companies that are Still in Business)

PIKO D&RGW Passenger Train.  Click for a bigger photo.Only one company is currently making passenger sets that resemble any of the varnish that ran on real US railroads - PIKO. If you don't have any trains at all and you want to start with a passenger set, they may be your best bet. They are solid and have excellent customer support. Just know that PIKO trains tend to be a little smaller in scale than the other makes we mention, so if you get started with PIKO, you may find yourself staying with PIKO (nothing wrong with that, of course).

LGB's 'Lake George & Boulder' set.LGB does not make a train set that includes the LGB passenger cars shown above. They have made toylike sets like the one shown at the right. And a couple other "shorty lines." If you can track one down, you'll find it's reliable and cute as a bunny, but these aren't the sort of trains we're focusing on in this article.

That said, LGB still manufactures the more realistic cars we showed in the tables above. So if you get started with a train of these, there's a good chance you'll be able to keep buying pieces for it in the future.

Why "In Business" Doesn't Mean "In Stock"

Model train manufacturers make things in batches. Early each year, they take orders from their biggest customers (store chains, distributors, etc.). Based on that interest, they order a fixed number of each model or train set from the factory with the intention of delivering them to the stores that summer or fall in time for Christmas sales.

Sometimes the demand is so great, they make them again the next year and the next. In Large Scale, D&RGW is a constant because of the constant demand.

But sometimes, product moves slower or in less volume than expected. And it's never reordered, at least until the last item is off the last shelf in the country. So, for many less popular railroads, when it's gone, it's gone. In the case of PIKO, who hasn't built up the backlog of stock, even popular railroads, like PRR, can be discontinued after a few years.

So if you are shopping for a passenger set for a road that isn't as popular as, say, D&RGW, try to get any extra cars you want at the same time. They may be totally unavailable in a year.

"Out of Business" May be Worse

The same dynamic affects the out-of-business brands even more. For example, many of Bachmann's train sets included the only passenger cars they ever made for that line. Usually a combine and an observation car. (It's possible to turn Bachmann observation cars into coaches by replacing the gate fixture with ordinary handrails, so that doesn't mean all bets are off, but it might mean that you might have to buy another whole set just to get one more car you need.)

Bachmann did make extra cars for some sets. Pennsy, D&RG, and D&RGW probably got the biggest variety of add-on cars, and those still turn up from time to time on eBay (as of October, 2021). B&O got an add-on full baggage car, but not an add-on coach (to my knowledge). Tweetsie got an add-on coach, but not an add-on full baggage car, etc. That said, most add-on cars are hard to find, too . . .

AristoCraft also had their favorite lines, as did the smaller companies mentioned above (Kalamazoo, Delton, and HLW).

So if you're looking at any of those lines, consider seeing what's available or likely to be available before you "take the plunge."

What About Mixing and Matching?

You may be able to "mix and match" different brands in different trains, depending on how your railroad is laid out, but you won't want to mix and match different brands in the same train.

Every product mentioned so far makes different accommodations to meet the needs of outdoor hobbyists running trains on 48" curves.

  • Different brands have different measurements that make them look funny next to each other.

  • Different brands have different levels of details.

    • AristoCraft varnish has the best detail, but they are absurdly short. (A few serious hobbyists have cut up two Aristo cars to get a car that's more realistic in length.)

    • PIKO and LGB are similarly detailed, but they are not in the same scale, plus the PIKO cars are much shorter.

    • Bachmann's cars are the closest to "prototype length," but they have the least detail. Also, though their height and width are similar to LGB's, things like their windowframes are different enough in proportion to stand out.

Shopping for LGB

Though LGB is still in business (after several bizarre twists), they still manufacture in batches, and some products that their retailers usually keep in stock may be hard to find between batches.

So, even if you're planning on shopping new, you might want to poke around auction sites, etc, to see how much product in your favorite line is generally available used - just in case.

Construction - LGB varnish is very solid and reliable. They are second only to Bachmann in length, so a train of those is generally more believable than a train of shorter cars from other companies. They have a cleaner, more detailed look than most (but not all) of the Bachmann cars.

They do come with plastic wheels, which increase drag and gum up your track in hot weather, but those can be upgraded with metal wheels, or even with ball-bearing wheelsets.

Unusual Options - LGB's no. 3082 closed vestibule coach, a line that is currently unavailable, but nice to have if you can get it.  Click for bigger photo.One surprising variation you might see in the used market are the LGB "closed vestibule" coaches. Instead of open platforms at each end, there are doors over each set of steps and a pretend "diaphragm" that - on the real trains - made it safer to go between cars when the train was running. Many railroads adopted this safety accommodation in the late days of varnish. (All heavyweights and streamliners incorporate closed vestibules.) These haven't been available for years (as of Oct., 2021), but they still turn up used. (I have only seen them in D&RGW yellow. If they made these in PRR colors, I'd probably be first in line.)

Unusual Features - One interesting "feature" is that many LGB coaches have plugins on the end to hook the coaches into the locomotive for lighting. If you have an appropriate LGB locomotive, you just need the right connecting wires to have each coach lit. There are workarounds, of course.

Possible "Cons" - Outside of cost and the stock plastic wheels, these are very minor in LGB's case. For example, LGB coaches have some of the windows molded "open," which resulted in a pair I kept in a less-than-airtight garage hosting mouse nests, apparently for very skinny mice. Better than wasp nests, I suppose.

Another potential downside is the plastic railings. On other brands like Bachmann and AristoCraft, plastic railings and handrails turn brittle with age and longtime UV exposure. I haven't had experience with the railings of LGB failing, but be sure to check them out if you buy a used one, and keep them all out of sunlight when you're not running them.

"Pros" - LGB's reputation for quality, including sturdiness, and quality assembly and paint jobs is well-deserved (though AristoCraft's cars exceed the level of detail.)

I shouldn't have to state this, but it helps to have the company still in business so there's at least some customer support, and the possibility of a future reissue of a line you're invested in.

LGB coaches seem very sturdy; they hold up well to use and most accidents. So if you buy new and take care of them, they should last a lifetime or two. And you can often find good product in the used market. Just make certain you get good clear photos of all six sides before you commit.

Shopping for PIKO

Because PIKO coaches haven't been out long, there is very little on the used market, but you may find your favorite RR in the new lines. Paint and graphic quality is very good, and they come with interiors. They're also very sturdy, and a string of them will look good on your railroad, as long as you don't get any "rivet counters."

Possible "Cons" - because these are fairly new, there is a very limited number of road names, and some roads have only two car styles. They're also "shorties," so they're "cute as a bunny," but won't impress folks who want a more realistic railroad.

Like most of the cars on this page, they come with plastic railing, which may be the first "weak spot" of any car used outside for a very long time.

For me the biggest "con" is that they come with plastic wheels and no lighting. If you want lighting, you have to buy metal wheels and a lighting kit, both sold separately. That said, some manufacturers don't even offer those options, so it's something at least.

Pros - Sturdy, great paint and graphics, relatively inexpensive, look fine on tight curves. Also, like LGB, the company is still in business, so customer support is available.

Shopping for Bachmann

Bachmann made the least expensive passenger trains of anybody on this list - by far. But they also made the greatest variety, so if you're modeling a less popular railroad, you stand a better chance of getting what you need.

Bachmann varnish is also the closest to a realistic length of any car on this list. Designed when LGB was almost the only other player in town, they're as long as they could reasonably be and still go around 48" curves.

Sadly, although Bachmann is still in business, their passenger cars have all been discontinued. (A single car is occasionally advertised in their online site). So everything I say about these will relate to shopping for them on the second-hand market. To be honest, I have plenty of experience with that, having acquired several sets for my clinics and display railroads. In the process, I've encountered several rare sets, so you may find some of my comments unbelievable, but they're based on cars I have owned or at least had my hands on.

Construction - Bachmann cars feel a little flimsy compared to the others on this list, and some of them were made as cheaply as possible. Nevertheless, I have never had a Bachmann passenger car shell break, and the shell is the same on all of them. So even if you start out with a cheapy, you can usually upgrade it.

Couplers - Bachmann knuckle couplers are uneven in quality. I have had some sets that are extremely reliable and some that come uncoupled for no reason at all every other time around the track. Since most folks don't do switching operations with their passenger cars anyway, folks have been known to pin the couplers into closed position. It takes a little longer to hook a train together, but it stays together. I also have found Bachmann's LGB-style couplers to be a little fragile, but once coupled, they tend to stay coupled. And a friend with even more trains than I do has replaced all his Bachmann couplers with Kaydee. So there are options.

Wheelsets - Starting with plastic wheels, Bachmann eventually went to wheels that were plastic but had a metal rim, a big improvement over plastic wheels. Then they seem to have gone to all-metal wheels, which give the cars more stability and reduces derailments (as long as they are in gauge, another issue with Bachmann.)

Pay attention when you're shopping. But if you have your heart set on a set with plastic wheels, you should know it's easy to buy replacements and upgrade that - just remember to count it into the total cost of ownership.

Bachmann Paint Jobs - All Bachmann "paint jobs" are very clean, though there are quality differences worth noting.

  • Many sets have the color molded into the shell and the lettering silk-screened on. Note that the colors are about as accurate as anyone else's, and the silkscreening is always top-notch. But to me it's not quite as nice as the sets that have the color painted on.

  • A number of sets have the color painted on, then the lettering silk-screened on. They may have extra, highly complex graphics as well, rivaling any mass-produced model train out there. I have seen painted Bachmann coaches that have faded after extreme exposure to the sun over many months or years, but overall, they tend to retain their appearance very well.

Lighting - This has been handled three ways.

  • A few early sets came without lighting, but as of Oct. 2021, Bachmann's parts department has lighting kits available (using the battery option below).

  • Most kits come with a battery compartment underneath the car. You slide a little door open, push in a 9v battery, slide the door shut, and slide a switch. At the end of the run, you switch them all off. At the end of the season, you have to remove the batteries if you don't want a nasty surprise next spring.

    Many folks love this because the lights don't flicker like they do on all cars that pick up electricity from the track. They are especially great for folks using battery power.

  • A few common cars had track-powered lighting, but it is mostly confined to premium Christmas sets like the long-discontined "Holiday Special." I prefer this, because I don't always remember to take batteries out of things, (or to turn them off as the end of the running session.) but my battery-loving friends despise it.

Upgrade Options - Though many sets were issued with at least some upgraded options, most lines were produced in only one version, so you get what you get. But upgrades are still possible, at least until Bachmann's parts department runs out of stock. So if you come across a set in your favorite colors with minimal options, you may still have a good start on your passenger train.

If you find the cars you need and the shells are in good shape, you can add (battery) lighting kits and metal handrails (as of Oct. 2021). If your set comes with plastic wheels, you can replace them with metal wheels from LGB, AristoCraft, or other Bachmann sets. (Plus several others that I won't list because they made more than one size of wheel and it gets confusing.)

Observation Car to Coach "Hack" - Most Bachmann sets that were produced in only one version include a combine and an "observation car." And you can really only justify using one of each in any single passenger train.

But the "good news" part of this is that Bachmann's "observation cars" are really only coaches with a fancy gate assembly on the rear end. If you want to add a coach to a train you already have, there's nothing to stop you from getting an observation car, pulling the fancy gate off one end, and putting standard handrails there.

You may be tempted to buy a second set just to get the observation car. I wouldn't ordinarily, but if the loco on the second set is working, that will give you a backup. And you can always put the loco and combine from the second set to work as a freight train (substituting the combine for a caboose.) That said, if you see someone selling just the observation car for a reasonable price, don't let the gate scare you off.

Possible "Cons" - Not quite as solid as the other brands listed here. Occasionally glitchy knuckle couplers. Some sets come with no lighting and plastic wheels. Many sets have only two cars, and none you can buy separately. Many cars come with at least one wheelset out of gauge.

One big "con" is the ability of the plastic handrails to completely disintegrate after exposure to the sun. (Again, as of this writing you can still buy metal handrails, so it's not a "death blow" to the car.)

One other thing that I've never heard anyone else complain about - varnish coaches had a cable and turnbuckle system under the floor that maintenance people could adjust to keep the car from sagging in the middle. On the Bachmann varnish, this is represented by flimsy plastic standoffs and a thin plastic "cable" running between them. If you are not careful how you pick the cars up, you can break this easily, even on brand new cars. Again, nobody else seems to complain about it, but that's an area for improvement if these are ever reintroduced.

Possible Pros - Many road names are available. All "paint jobs" are clean, though some are fancier than others. Upgrade options are available. Replacement and upgrade parts are currently available, both from Bachmann's parts department and from "junkers" you find at train shows. If you choose to go this route, I do recommend you track down the parts you need earlier rather than later - some parts are already becoming hard to find.

Shopping for AristoCraft

AristoCraft made the most highly detailed cars on this page, by far.

Unfortunately, they chose to model them after a single prototype that was far, far shorter than 99% of the varnish that ran on US railroads. Every time a hobbyist would complain, they would trot out the same haggard photo of the one decrepit "Sierra" coach that they took the measurements from. But coaches that short weren't used on PRR, B&O, NYC, L&N, UP, SP, or virtually any other railroad whose name you would recognize just by the initials.

That said, they were highly detailed, and the interior details of the lighted coaches are unusurpassed in varnish of any scale. Now I'm going to break down the key differences between their "starter" and "upgrade" sets.

Unlighted Coaches These chiefly came in train sets. The "curtains" that were silkscreened into the windowframes appear closed and there is no interior. There is also no reasonable provision for adding lighting or interiors, although some brave souls have done just that. As I recall, these may have plastic or metal wheels, but that's an easy upgrade.

In my experience, many of the unlighted coaches have flimsy plastic handrails that are susceptible to turning brittle if they're exposed to too much sunlight. So that's a consideration.

In at least one case, the sprayed-on paint job on the unlighted coaches is better than the molded-in color of the lighted version.

That said, if you're running ONLY in the daytime, you should be reasonably happy with the unlighted version.

This is the interior of an illuminated Aristo Christmas coach, I took the photo to show how well/badly various plastic figures fit inside.  But you can see that the seats have armrests and the lighting comes from little 'lamps' mounted prototypically to the sides of the coach.  Click for bigger photo.Lighted Coaches - These came most often in individual boxes. The "curtains" appear open, and there are highly detailed interiors with separate "lamps" mounted on the sides of the cars. Lighting is through track power, through sprung carbon rods pressing against the inside of the wheels (when the carbon runs out, they sound like your car's brakes going out, though).

I took the photo to the right for another article to show how well/badly various plastic figures fit inside. But you can see that the seats have armrests and the lighting comes from little "lamps" mounted prototypically to the sides of the coach.

Couplers - The AristoCraft knuckle couplers are the most reliable knuckle couplers ever packaged with Large Scale coaches. They are double-sprung, putting pressure on the coupler to stay closed when it is closed. When I had mostly Aristo and was mixing in cars from other companies, I was putting Aristo couplers on cars from other brands.

That said, Aristo couplers don't couple automatically with other brands, so if you mix and match brands, you'll find yourself manually forcing the couplers together by closing them both, putting one knuckle on top of the other and squeezing until they sit together. Then doing it again, because at least one of the couplers will uncouple the first time you do this.

Of course, keeping passenger trains coupled once they're on the track is much more important that the ability to hook and unhook them quickly. And if you have an all-Aristo passenger train, you have both.

Paint Jobs and Details - Most Aristo passenger cars have the color molded in, which to me makes them look more "plastic" than the few that have been spray painted before assembly. The lettering and any graphics seem to be silkscreened on, and they are very crisp. Beyond that, there's a great deal of detail on the outside. This includes some little metal trim pieces between the windows that can come loose if the cars are stored in hot damp places. So when you get a car out to run, take a look to make certain you're not leaving some irreplaceable bit in the packaging. The closed vestibule on one end of an AristoCraft passenger car.  Click for bigger photo.

Closed Vestibules - Except for one discontinued line of LGB coaches, this is the only varnish set described in this article that has "closed vestibules" instead of open platforms. The doors over the steps can open, providing an additional level of detail. If you're modeling a mid-19th century railroad, open platforms are fine. But by the early 1900s, most railroads were putting closed vestibules on their passenger cars, so fewer people would die trying to get from one car to the next on moving trains. So if you're modeling 1900-1935 (when most varnish was retired), you'll notice that closed vestibules are more appropriate.

Ironically, this means that - unlike Bachmann - you can't convert an AristoCraft observation car to another coach. Aristo's observation cars look great, but there's no reasonable way to get a vestibule on the "open" end of the car.

Loose Window Tip - Aristo's windows are glued into place with something that doesn't age well, maybe cyanoacrylate ("Superglue"). So when they get bounced around in shipping, the windows can come loose. Usually they stay inside the shell and it's no trouble at all to glue them back in place. But it has caused a number of complaints on behalf of eBay customers who see a "ready-to-run" coach in the photos and get one that seems to have "some assembly required."

Possible "Cons" - Unrealistic car length, which you can somewhat compensate for by running more cars in your train. Also, the plastic handrails on some of the unlighted cars can turn brittle if they're exposed to too much sunlight.

Possible "Pros" - Very sturdy construction, and very high level of detail inside and out.


Of course, the notes above reflect only one person's experience, and other folks will have different opinions. For example, some of my opinions about car length probably stem from having once been an "indoor railroader" with scale-length coaches. Folks new to trains might not be bothered at all.

In addition, I've been in the hobby long enough to see pieces wear out, so I know where their weak spots are. Folks who've only been in the hobby a short time, or who have so many trains to "rotate" that they never put much wear on any of them may not share my opinions about the longterm viability of, say, plastic handrails or underbody cables.

So, yes, like nearly everything else I post, "your mileage will vary."

But I thought it would be helpful for newbies to have at least a clue when they start looking.

Here's a brief recap.

  • LGB - Very solid. Best overall compromise between realism and reliability. Lighting circuit works best with an appropriate LGB locomotive. Relatively limited range of road names.

  • PIKO - Solid but short, very limited road name choices. Relatively inexpensive, upgrade options available.

  • Bachmann - Discontinued. Most realistic length, but lack fine details. Many upgrade options. Wide choice of road names - if you are patient enough to wait for them to come up on eBay. Observation cars can be converted into coaches if you want a longer train. Handrails and underbody cabling are prone to breaking or turning brittle.

  • AristoCraft - Also discontinued. Very solid. Most detailed, inside and out, but unrealistically short for most railroads. Wide choice of road names, but you have to be patient to catch them on eBay or wherever.

  • Other Discontinued Brands - Except for Kalamazoo and Lionel, whose passenger cars are very toylike, brands like Delton, HLW, and even USA Trains have made nice products. The problem is, most of these don't go together well,

    So, if you can find enough cars from any of those lines to make a train you like, go for it. Otherwise, you might wind up with a single car that goes with nothing else you own.

Keep in Touch

If you're headed toward or past Springfield, Ohio, please let me know, and I'll see if we can work out a quick visit.

Finally, please let us know about your ongoing projects. Ask questions, send corrections, suggest article ideas, send photos, whatever you think will help you or your fellow railroaders. In the meantime, enjoy your trains, and especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks,

Paul Race

Return to the Family Garden Trains Home PageReturn to Family Garden Trains' Home Page - The home page with links to all the other stuff, including design guidelines, construction techniques, structure tips, free graphics, and more.

To read more, or to look at recommended Garden Railroading and Big Indoor Train products, please click on the index pages below.

Visit our Garden Train Store<sup><small>TM</small></sup> Bachmann Starter Set Buyer's Guide

Click to see buildings for your garden railroad

Note: Family Garden TrainsTM, Garden Train StoreTM, Big Christmas TrainsTM, BIG Indoor TrainsTM, and BIG Train StoreTM are trademarks of
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Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel trains.
Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel trains

Visit related pages and affiliated sites:
- Trains and Hobbies -
Return to Family Garden Trains Home page
Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page
Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden RailroadingBig Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads
Visit Lionel Trains. Click to see Thomas Kinkaded-inspired Holiday Trains and Villages. Big Christmas Train Primer: Choosing and using model trains with holiday themes Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs Click to see HO scale trains with your favorite team's colors.
- Christmas Memories and Collectibles -
Visit the FamilyChristmasOnline site. Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page Click to sign up for Maria Cudequest's craft and collectibles blog.
Click to visit Fred's Noel-Kat store.
Visit the largest and most complete cardboard Christmas 'Putz' house resource on the Internet.
- Family Activities and Crafts -
Click to see reviews of our favorite family-friendly Christmas movies. Free, Family-Friendly Christmas Stories Decorate your tree the old-fashioned way with these kid-friendly projects. Free plans and instructions for starting a hobby building vintage-style cardboard Christmas houses. Click to find free, family-friendly Christmas poems and - in some cases - their stories. Traditional Home-Made Ornaments
- Music -
Heartland-inspired music, history, and acoustic instrument tips.
Best-loved railroad songs and the stories behind them.
Learn important guitar chords quickly, to jump start your ability to play along on any song. With a few tools and an hour or two of work, you can make your guitar, banjo, or mandolin much more responsive.  Instruments with movable bridges can have better-than-new intonation as well. Resources for learning Folk Music and instruments quickly Check out our article on finding good used guitars.
Carols of many countries, including music, lyrics, and the story behind the songs. X and Y-generation Christians take Contemporary Christian music, including worship, for granted, but the first generation of Contemporary Christian musicians faced strong, and often bitter resistance. Different kinds of music call for different kinds of banjos.  Just trying to steer you in the right direction. New, used, or vintage - tips for whatever your needs and preferences. Wax recordings from the early 1900s, mostly collected by George Nelson.  Download them all for a 'period' album. Explains the various kinds of acoustic guitar and what to look for in each.
Look to Riverboat Music buyers' guide for descriptions of musical instruments by people who play musical instruments. Learn 5-string banjo at your own speed, with many examples and user-friendly explanations. Explains the various kinds of banjos and what each is good for. Learn more about our newsletter for roots-based and acoustic music. Folks with Bb or Eb instruments can contribute to worship services, but the WAY they do depends on the way the worship leader approaches the music. A page devoted to some of Paul's own music endeavors.