Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My model railroading history

I have been a model railroader for a long time. I was given my first train set when I was just two years old and have been playing with trains ever since. My parents bought me a big Triang-Hornby OO set in 1970 when we returned to India from a stay in America. It included a large oval of track, several turnouts and a big lot of freight cars and passenger coaches.  Not much remains of this set except for a Britannia Pacific and a few coaches.

This train set gave my brother an myself a lot of enjoyment but like many modellers, high school and college prevented me from pursuing the hobby. When I was a graduate student at Syracuse University in the 1980s, I attended a model train show by chance at the State Fair grounds and got hooked again. Of course, as an impoverished graduate student, there was no way to build a proper layout but I did manage to get a small oval of N gauge track that used to run trains around my Sun Sparcstation monitor.

I resumed model railroading in a big way after I started work at IBM in 1992. On my birthday, with my wife's encouragement, I bought a small Märklin starter set and and some additional tracks to go along with it. Why Märklin? I had always coveted Märklin trains as a child - my best friend Jayashankar Srinivasan had a Märklin set. Although my Triang-Hornby set was very nice, I felt that Märklin had a complete system that seemed to offer a lot of exciting operational possibilities. In particular, I was fascinated by the possibility of controlling trains by actual operating signals.

Over the years, I built a number of Märklin layouts, culminating in a medium size C-track layout that I completed in 2006. I used an Uhlenbrock Intellibox to control my trains along with JMRI-based custom software that I wrote myself. A video of my trains is incuded below

By 2007 however, I was becoming increasingly unhappy with Märklin for a number of reasons. In particular, Märklin uses a proprietary non-standard three-rail system - there is a central rail that is used to power the locomotives. Consequently, Märklin  is the sole supplier of tracks for this system. The geometries of the track system leave a lot to be desired in my opinion. I created a small switching layout to explore the 2-rail world. This little layout turned out much better than I had expected.

After much thought, I decided to switch to the two-rail system. I then dismantled my Märklin  layout and sold off most of the track and rolling stock. I have started building a new layout based on American prototypes. I will be documenting the construction of this layout in this blog.

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