Frequently Asked Questions (and answers) about our layout and our club

Frequently Asked Questions
about our club and our layout

The Bow Valley Model Railroad Club often gets questions about model railroading and our club so we thought we would provide some basic information on the subject.

Here are the most often asked questions we get: Click on a question to go directly to the answer.

1. What scale is your layout?
2. How long does it take to set up your layout?
3. Who owns the layout? What about the trains?
4. Where do you set up your layout between shows?
5. How do you make your scenery?
6. Can I join your club?
7. How can you run several trains (locomotives) on the same track at the same time?
8. Where can I get model railroad items?
9. How much does it cost? How much did your layout cost?

1. What scale is your layout?

The most frequently asked question about our layout when we display it at model railroad shows is "What scale is this?" Our modular layout is HO scale.

Scale represents the proportion of the size of the model to the real thing. Scale is often spoken of as a ratio. For example, a real locomotive would be 1:1. HO scale is 1:87.1. This means that an HO locomotive is about 1/87th the size of a real one -- you would need 87 HO locomotives lined up end to end to equal the length of a real locomotive of exactly the same type! Actually, HO scale is 3.5 mm to the foot!

There are several popular scales:

1 foot =
Advantages Drawbacks
1.385 mm
very small, increasing availability very small, may be difficult to work on
1.905 mm
more layout in a smaller space could be harder to work on details
2.54 mm
not common, very limited availability
3.5 mm
very popular, very good availability
4.0 mm
British standard, good availability, runs on HO gauge tracks larger than HO so not usually combined with HO
3/16 "
good compromise on size not very common, not a lot available
1:48 (varies)
1/4 "
larger size, easier to work on takes up more space
1:23 (varies somewhat)
13.55 mm
used for garden layouts takes up more space, cost

For a complete reference to model scales, see Wikipedia List of scale model sizes

Something often confused with scale is gauge. Gauge represents the distance between the inside of the two rails on a piece of track. A real railroad (in North America) has a gauge of 4 feet eight and one half inches!

Typically HO scale trains run on HO gauge track. But they could run on N gauge track -- if they represented narrow gauge equipment. People would be the same size but the distance between the rails would be smaller. Trains built to run on G gauge track come in different scales -- that is they are slightly larger or smaller in size but the distance between the rails is the same.

2. How long does it take to set up your layout?

It depends a bit on the size of the layout. You would think smaller layouts would be a lot quicker to set up than larger ones but, in fact, when we have a larger layout, we also have more members on hand to help. On average, we can set up a good-sized layout for a show in about two hours.

3. Who owns the layout? What about the trains?

The club helps members build the tables for the modules but after a member displays a module in three shows, the module is then owned by the member. Members are responsible for obtaining all the track, buildings, accessories, scenery, locomotives and trains that go on their modules. So members own their own modules and trains. The club owns the digital control equipment (DCC) used to run the trains at shows but members may also obtain their own DCC components to use on their own home layouts or on the club layout at shows.

4. Where do you set up your layout between shows?

The club does not have any permanent space (and therefore doesn't have to pay any rent!) so there is no place where we can set up our layout in between shows. Some members set up their own modules in their homes either as part of their home layout or stand alone.

5. How do you make your scenery?

There are many methods to make scenery. Plaster, Fiberglas and foam can all be used as a base and shaped as required. This is then painted or stained and covered with various materials such as ground foam, fine gravel, model trees and any number of other items. In addition, some members have painted backgrounds on their modules. Any model railroad hobby shop will have books to show you how to make scenery.

As a general rule, our club has found that plaster scenery is relatively heavy and tends to chip when carried around a lot so most of our modules are relatively flat. This reduces both the weight and the likelihood of chipping. We can create depth by using buildings, trees and other structures. We have some modules which use pink construction insulation foam for scenery as this is very light. Our river modules are an example of this type of scenery.

6. Can I join your club?

Unfortunately, probably not. As our club has no permanent space, it just meets in members' homes and this limits the number of members we can accommodate. Our club meetings are very well attended so there is usually no extra room for more members. Nevertheless, we occasionally do have space to accommodate one or two new members, so contact us if you are interested.

7. How can you run several trains (locomotives) on the same track at the same time?

Carefully! If the operators get talking to people or are distracted in some other way, interesting things can (and do) happen!

From a technical point of view, we use what is called Digital Command Control, or DCC. The particular brand we use is made by Digitrax. A high-frequency square wave AC voltage of about 12 to 16 volts is applied to the track at all times.

The DCC command station receives signals from a handheld radio throttle, translates the signals into digital commands and then sends these over the track circuit to locomotives which have a digital decoder installed in them. Each locomotive decoder is programmed to a different address and the commands sent out by the command station contain the address of the particular locomotive which is to respond.

By this method, individual locomotives can be started, stopped, reversed, have their speed adjusted, their headlights turned on or off, various sounds activated, and so on. The whole system works very much like an ethernet computer network but with signal packets sent over the rails instead of over a special cable.

If you want to set up a small train set of your own, you don't have to get this complicated. Just get an ordinary locomotive and an ordinary power pack along with some track and you're in business. "Ordinary" HO trains use variable voltage DC current on the rails and you cannot control multiple locomotives on the same track at the same time.

8. Where can I get model railroad items?

There are some good model railroad hobby shops in Calgary. See our Links page for details.

There are usually model railroad items for sale at model railroad shows and other similar events.

There is an annual model railroad auction (October) and an annual model railroad flea market (spring) in Calgary where used or previously owned items can be obtained. Watch the Calgary Model Railroad Society link on our Links page for details as they become available or check with local hobby shops which often have brochures for this type of event.

To see most of the vast array of model railroad items currently in production, see the Walthers Model Railroad Mall on our Links page. Many of the items listed can be obtained at local hobby shops. If they don't have an item, they will probably be able to order it for you. Remember, though, any prices quoted on this site are in US dollars and local prices may be different.

Experienced modelers sometimes order model railroad items using the Internet from e-Bay, model railroad suppliers, and many other sources. If you know what you want, have a good idea of its value, and can determine its condition, this can be a useful source for such items. If you have not done this before, its probably a good idea to check with someone who has used this method previously as they can give you valuable tips on what to watch out for and how best to proceed.

9. How much does it cost? How much did your layout cost?

You can spend anything from a few dollars for used equipment up to hundreds or more for good quality items. Larger scales (O and G) are generally more expensive. Visit some of the local hobby shops to get some idea of costs.

Over the last few years, the quality and variety of model railroad items has vastly improved and, as you might expect, prices for higher-end items have changed accordingly! Also, the Canadian dollar has a significant impact on what you will pay for many items since most manufacturers price their products in U.S. dollars!

As for our layout, we don't want our wives to know so we can't really say! It changes as members change their modules and add more rolling stock (locomotives and trains).


For further information, see our Links page.

Bow Valley Model Railroad Association, Calgary - 2022