HO Model Trains - Why Collecting HO Model Trains Is The Best Way To Start

By John Landers

HO model trains are probably the most popular model trains for anyone to collect. “HO” is the term used to describe the gauge, or the proportion of the model train size to that of the actual train or prototype that it represents. HO model trains are 1/87th, or 1:87, the size of a real train. HO model trains are approximately 8.9 inches long and have a height of 2 inches.

This is in comparison to the first model train ( the O model trains) that were in vogue for about fifty years and were first produced in the the late ninetheeth and early twenthieth century. They are 1/48 the size of real trains, measure 16.1 inches in length and have a height of 3.1 inches.

HO model trains were first made in England around 1930, which makes them a great collectible. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that hobbyists in the United States began searching them out as an alternative to the “O” gauge model trains, which at that time was the most common size model trains for American collectors.

There are basically three reasons why the HO model trains have widespread popularity:

1) The number one reason is size. Its 1:87 proportion makes it just the right size to amass a nice number of cars and to build a handsome display in the comforts of your home. HO model trains are also just the right size for displaying many of the authentic details as are on the “real trains.”

In contrast, if you were to collect the “N” gauge model trains you would have to customize, paint, and make other alterations to get an authentic look and feel that captures that of the prototype. Most people simply do not have the time nor patience that is needed.

2) The HO model trains are preferred by both collectors and the manufacturers because those who design and model the trains can engrave the details of the model with remarkable accuracy. The tracks for an HO model train can be tightly curved and because HO trains are very light, they have excellent speed.

Manufacturers also have a preference for HO model trains from a cost perspective because the parts are small; therefore, less precision equipment is needed for designing them and fewer raw materials are used in the manufacturing process. However, because the parts are small enough for young children to choke on them, collectors need to take this into consideration.

3) Something else that makes HO model trains so popular is the fact that they are more widely available than any other gauge on the market. This make them very attractive as collectibles and for hobbyist who are just staring out. The abundance of HO model trains increases the likelihood that a new collector or hobbyist will stick with his or her new found hobby .

Some Tips On Collecting HO Model Trains

The first thing you need to do is decide what kind of collector you are. Keep in mind that there is a big difference between collecting HO model trains and modeling or operating them. An operator will purchase model trains for the purpose of putting them on a layout and running them. A person who is a modeler will often buy the trains and spend time customizing them.

As a collector of HO model trains, you will buy model railroad trains and may put them on display or tuck them away. From time to time you may take the trains out to admire them, but rarely, if ever, will you run them. It is acceptable to do a “test run” to verify that the locomotive is working, but keep in mind that the value is determined by the degree wear on the internal mechanism as well as the exterior appearance.

You will also want to get yourself a reliable price guide and if you can find one on HO model trains, all the better. The Greenberg’s Guide is a good source to start.

One of the essential consideration for collecting an HO model train or any collectible is the condition. Don’t get so caught up in the excitement and process of collecting without making sure that what you are buying is in good working condition. Here are some questions you’ll need the answers to:

1) Does the original packaging come with the train set?
2) Are the original instruction included?
3) If so, what is the condition of the packaging?
4) Are all of the original parts there?
5) Are all the train cars there?
6) Are there any missing pieces – like the tracks?
7) Are there any broken parts – for instance the track couplers?
8) Does the engine work?
9) Is the power pack working?

In addition, make sure that you check for signs of weathering because this will quickly lower the value of the HO model train. The exception is if you can obtain a provenance of some kind that can verify that the weathered look was the work of a pioneer in the model railroad hobby field.

How To Display Your HO Model Trains

If you would like to put your HO model trains on display, you can choose between small plastic boxes that can be stacked on top of one another or elect to go with more elaborate full-size display cases complete with glass shelving. For those who have a HO model train working collection, your focus should be on creating a layout that will showcase the train as it go around the track. Any scenery you choose should be secondary to the HO model train layout and blend into the background.

Determining The HO Model Trains' Value

I mentioned the Greenberg’s Guide for ascertaining the value of HO model trains. There is also an abundance of model train shows where you can take your trains and have them appraised by experts to get an idea of how much your collection might bring on the open market. When transporting your model trains take the time to carefully package them from any damage.

Collecting model trains as a hobby or as collectibles has been a favorite past-time for kids and adults alike for many years. Regardless of your motivation for getting involved, HO model trains is a great way of not only getting started, but to also get a sense of the history behind the railroad industry. And besides that, it is a load of fun!



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