The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading

  NUMBER 152


© May 25, 2010   

 ©Discover Live Steam. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.


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How to make your own Large Scale Backyard Railroad
Part III "Choosing Your Backyard Train"

Continued from Part I and Part II


Basically, you only have 3 options


Written by Tom O'Connor
photos by and graphics by Tom O'Connor

I first entered the hobby of large scale railroading in August of 1997. Like many train enthusiast, I have been a “train nut” since I was a child. When I was invited to visit a live steam railroad club in northern Illinois I had no idea that such large scale (ride-on) trains existed. Wow! I was blown away and the little boy inside of me was on full fun alert! This was great! I joined the club and proceeded to learn all I could. There were members who built their own trains, and some that purchased their trains pre-made by specialty small manufactures for the hobby (many of whom are listed on this website). There were three scales of trains represented at this train club. The largest regular running scale train there was 1.5” scale. Followed next by some members who ran 1” scale trains and a few members who ran their ¾” scale trains from time to time.
I choose to get into the hobby with the 1.5” scale trains, because I just liked that larger size from among the three sizes represented at the train club. Since I had the means to do so, I bought my first train from one of these manufactures as a ready-to-run train. This is probably the most expensive way to obtain a train, but like I said “I had the means” and I was not wanting to wait to get into the hobby.

As I see it, there are three basic areas of this hobby. First is building or collecting large scale model trains. There are those who build their own trains, either from scratch (possibly with supplied plans) or from a manufacturer’s kit. I’ve met guys in my train club who have taken as much as two to even ten years of work to build their trains. Some of these have spent that much time building a steam engine alone! Most of the steam engines I’ve seen that have been built by hand have been exquisite, but there are a few that I’ve seen that lack some detail and overall quality. So if it is your intention to buy a train from someone, be sure you either know your large scale trains or find someone who does. These trains can range from a few thousand dollars for a very basic gas engine driven model to the mid twenty thousand dollar range and much more in some cases for a nice steam engine.

So, after ten years in the hobby and a couple of trains later, I decided that I wanted to have a train for my backyard (not simply to run a train on the existing railroad of the club I was in. I wanted among other things to be able to play trains with my grandchildren when they visited. I love sharing my trains with friends and family and even business associates but running out to the train club (a ½ hour drive) wasn’t always conducive to a social visit to my home.

Here I am in 1997 with my
Backyards Rails GP50.

I found my vintage Tom Thumb Streamliner in Texas. Further along are photos of this train I call the “Success Express”.

Thus started my quest to have a back yard railroad. I fell in love with the G-16 trains that came on the Discover Live Steam website for sale from time to time, but they were too expensive for my budget. To my thinking, the size of the G-16 train is perfect! No derailments, no scrunching into the train, and a “wow” factor that drops people’s jaws!

I watched the “for sale” section of Discover Live Steam regularly and found a rather unique train. It’s called the “Tom Thumb Streamliner” and I haven’t located another one exactly like it. It was operated for years in San Antonio TX as an amusement train at a local drive-in movie theater. It is a 13” gage train and is similar to the G-12 trains but a bit larger and somewhat of a different double drive shaft arrangement.    The size was perfect for my backyard train.

My five-star experience powering my engine with the Total E Toys system

Before. The loud pull start garden tractor engine had to go.

I was quite happy with the basic train that I purchased from an advertiser on the Discover Live Steam (for sale ad). I find Discover Live Steam to be the very best large scale RR site on the Internet. Well, I suppose that is natural because my brother Jim O’Connor is the founder and editor in chief.

I already knew that I wanted to make the train my own by repainting it and dolling it up a bit. I choose to name it “The Success Express” after the business seminars I do for the HVAC business.

The gas engine was a real problem for me. It was loud and not in a good way. It sounded like a lawn tractor and I couldn’t have that. Yes, this was a scale train but I wanted it to look and even sound as real as possible. I was thinking of possibly replacing the 10 hp gas engine in my new train with an electric motor. But I had many questions and even doubts as to if an electric motor would be a mistake and make my train underpowered.

Before. The train as it looked in Texas when I purchased it.



After. The new drive system, batteries and sound system.

I researched different engine replacement options and then I came upon Dan Tack of has developed an electric drive system that couldn’t have been more perfect! This is exactly what I was looking for and included benefits that I was thrilled to discover. Benefits that the original gas engine didn’t provide, such as being reversible, and now having breaks, and an incredible sound system with nice big speakers. I’ve actually had people look to see if a real train was coming!!

I have no connection with Dan Tack whatsoever, but I’m very happy to endorse his products because of the quality and performance I’ve experienced with them.

After. The train as it looks today in Illinois. 

Another thing about Dan Tack is that he is a real large scale railroader himself and is perfectly happy to talk to anyone about railroading and give suggestions from his experience for free.

So now my railroad is up and running flawlessly. And as for me, that’s really what I’m looking for. When the grand kids or other company or even neighbors come over now, all I have to do is turn a key and we’re off and riding trains! I have four Trojan batteries in my engine (as recommended by Dan) and I couldn’t be more pleased with the running time. I am able to go at least two days with pretty heavy use before I need to recharge!

The graphic equalizer for the sound system.

Here's Dan Tack’s electric motor drive system I used in my locomotive. It was quite easy to install because Dan ships it with easy instructions to follow. I highly recommend going to his web site or even calling Dan directly. He has helped me with other electrical problems with my train at no cost to me. He’s the MAN!!

Written by Tom O'Connor
photos by and graphics by Tom O'Connor

Parts included in the kit.


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