By K. Richard Douglas
In 2011, TechNation featured Dennis Duck as the Professional of the Month in the October issue. While the focus was on Duck’s work and experience as an HTM professional and his experience with the ham radio, not as much was said about his passion for model trains.
Today, Dennis Duck, CBET, is a certified senior biomedical equipment technician in the Healthcare Technology Management department at Baylor Scott & White Healthcare-Grapevine, in Grapevine, Texas.
Like many others, who have a fascination with model trains, Duck first had his interest piqued when he was a child.
“I got my first model train when I was eight. My brother helped me build a simple layout on a sheet of plywood with plastic buildings and streets that were spray painted on it. This was what got me started with HO scale model trains,” Duck says.
He says that he began expanding the layout in junior high school.
“I took that sheet of plywood, and again my brother helped, by building a table frame for it in our basement laundry room. I ran under-table wiring to power the tracks and the switch track motors to switch them remotely. I made power poles out of leftover plastic rods, strung wire on them with miniature Christmas tree bulbs and powered them with a doorbell transformer mounted to the tabletop for a power substation. I also made an aircraft parts factory from wood paneling and its loading dock from popsicle sticks,” Duck adds.
He says that the layout had to be disassembled and stored when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1987.
“While I was in the Navy, I never lived anywhere I could set up a layout, so I went to model train shows whenever I could. This gave me the opportunity to gather ideas for my next layout and to buy pieces for it here and there since it can be a very expensive hobby to get into,” he says.
Model trains have remained a passion of the many baby-boom generation hobbyists who owned them as kids. The trains come in many scales, from the smallest Z-scale to the largest G-scale. The HO-scale is 1:87. The tracks come in different gauges to fit the different train scales. The HO scale is the most popular today.
Duck explains that there are quirks and potential mishaps that come along with the hobby.
“One of the biggest challenges of this hobby is patience. It takes planning as well as trial and error. Just because the train cars are similar and all the same brand, that doesn’t guarantee they will all roll smoothly on the track. One car might need its coupler height adjusted, or its wheels realigned if it keeps derailing. And even with planning, the layout may have to be modified due to size or dimensional restrictions. Pets can also affect the planning – especially cats,” he says.
After his previous experience laying out interesting set-ups, his current efforts are going into a landscape that reflects his past surroundings, making it more personal. Duck’s description of its features makes clear the seriousness that real model train enthusiasts go to in order to recreate real life.
“My current setup is still a work in progress, a year after I started building it. The main focus of the layout is a one-block section of my hometown, set in the late 1970s to mid-1980s,” Duck says.
“The co-op grain elevator my mom worked at, the other grain elevator in town, and the pole yard for the power company my dad worked for, with two directional tracks for mainline rail traffic and two side tracks, one for the elevators and one for the pole yard. I have the main lines going through this section, then to a loop on both sides of it, with multiple spur tracks to park unused rail cars and engines. I have yet to add ground texture, gravel, lights, signals and plants to it, as well as finishing wiring the spur track sections,” he adds.
The Internet Brings New Options
Social media and Internet marketplaces did not exist when many of today’s model train enthusiasts started practicing their hobby. It has changed many of the dynamics of the pastime.
“I don’t currently belong to any model railroading clubs or organizations, but I am a member of some of the model railroading groups on Facebook. I’ve used many ideas and suggestions to build my layout as well as repair some of the engines and cars from my teenage layout,” Duck says.
He says that the majority of the components in his current layout were purchased from vendors on eBay.
“I have spent over a thousand dollars for the components of this layout, and with the right research, I got most of these items for less than retail cost,” he says.
“I don’t have any antique or rare engines or cars, but two of my engines have preinstalled digital command control (DCC) with sound, meaning they have sound, movement and light features that are controlled by the different function buttons on the power controller. Engine revving, a bell ringing, horns, talking, directional lighting, etcetera. The rest of my engines are either DCC capable (just add the controller chip) or need a controller board and chip installed,” Duck says.
What would he suggest someone new to model trains consider?
“As far as advice for someone getting into model railroading, start with planning your layout according to the space you have available for it. If your space is limited, a smaller scale (N or even Z scale, the smallest I know of) might be the best scale for you,” Duck says.
He says to pick the era you want to model – steam, early diesel, modern diesel, passenger, freight or both.
“The layout can be of an actual area/location, or whatever you want it to be. Many people have outdoor or garden layouts using large scale trains. If you have the funding, time, space and patience; the only other limit is your imagination,” Duck adds.
While mobile video games and virtual reality may be satisfying to some, the simple joy of watching a model train snake through an elaborate layout is hard to beat. This biomed has discovered that what was a fulfilling pastime decades ago can be the perfect escape today. All aboard.
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