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Big Indoor Trains(tm) Primer- A collection of 'how-to' articles for people using big trains indoors. On30 Display Trains
O Scale Accessories
O Gauge Christmas TrainsOn30 Christmas Trains

Written by Paul D. Race for Big Indoor TrainsTM

Big Indoor TrainsTM Primer ArticlesClick to sign up for the 'Trains-N-Towns<sup><small>TM</small></sup>' newsletter, with articles about display villages, indoor railroading, and much more

Big Indoor TrainsTM was started in early 2007 to answer questions about using big trains indoors all year round. Many of our readers bought their first train to run around a Christmas tree or around a holiday village such as those made by Hawthorne VillageTM or Dept. 56TM. So they often had questions that neither the collectible village suppliers nor the hobby shops could answer. This page and several other Big Indoor TrainsTM pages we added early on were created specifically to "fill the gap." However, we keep attracting readers with other needs and interests, and several have begun contributing their own articles, so the range of topics we address just keeps growing.

To keep our focus, we try especially to serve people using trains and accessories that are larger than HO, although many scenery ideas apply to the smaller scales as well. Trains you'll see on our pages include:

  • On30 trains from Bachmann (these trains are about the same scale as the O gauge trains, but they run on HO track. The first mass-produced On30 trains were made to go with Dept. 52 Christmas Villages, but we have readers and contributors who have On30 industrial railroads and other non-Christmas railroads alike. In fact, On30 is often cited as the fastest growing indoor scale.
  • O Gauge/O27 offerings from Lionel, MTH and similar manufacturers. These have a tradition that goes back nearly a century, and they are still attracting new hobbyists.
  • S Gauge trains, which that are nearly as large as many O gauge trains but run on two rails. This scale was championed by American Flyer, and still has hobbyists today. Interestingly enough, many Christmas Village structures are about S Scale (1:64) in size, so we include S scale versions of many of our projects, even for folks who don't have S gauge trains.
  • Hawthorne Village trains, most of which are built on chassis from Bachmann's On30 trains, but which are usually decorated to commemorate a holiday or some other special event or person.
  • Large Scale trains, which were designed to run outside, but many folks run indoors as well. These trains are also about the same size as the Standard Gauge trains that Lionel introduced about a century ago, and which are still beign collected today.

If you would like more information on those different kinds of trains, please see our article Sizes and Scales of Big Indoor Trains. Interestingly enough, all of these trains can be used with holiday villages, with permanent model railroads, and even around Christmas trees. So it's not surprising that many of our projects and scenery suggestions will work with any of the trains on that list. If you have any of these, or even some other kind of train that you're not finding help with anywhere else, please keep checking back, and especially keep asking questions and making suggestions - that's how we grew from a couple of pages to a major reference and project idea site in just a couple of years.

At first we tried answering as many questions as we could on our Letters to the EditorTM page. But as we got more and more questions, we began posting articles about "Big Indoor Trains" and the accessories and scenery that people use with them. In addition to the growing list of articles below, we almost always have several more articles in the works. So please check back every so often. In fact if you would like to be notified when a new article is posted, please Join our Mailing List.

In addition, you can help by sending us project tips, article ideas, and photos of your railroads and villages. We want this site to be as useful as possible to as many people as it can be. As the hobby grows, we all benefit.

Available Articles:

Our list is growing slowly but surely.

Introduction to Trains and Towns

Real Trains We Model

  • 30" Railroads - On30 is a fast-growing hobby and the trains are sure "cute." But do you know there is a century of fascinating history behind those "teakettles" and the thirty-inch-wide tracks they ran on? There were a few passenger trains, but there were hundreds of industrial railroads that would be fun to model, along with the mining towns, logging camps, and river towns they served. New, April, 2008!

  • Click to see article.Small but Mighty - 30" Power - This article reviews the "real-world" steam locomotives that pulled 30" trains in North America (and elsewhere, to some extent). Baldwin, Shay, and other manufacturers made some amazing developments in their efforts to maximize power on minimum rail gauge and weight. The article also gives real-world examples (when possible) of the engines that are available as detailed models in On30 scale and suggestions for modeling 30" railroads in Large Scale as well. New, May, 2008!

  • Click to see article.The Little River Railroad - Our sister site, Family Garden TrainsTM profiles a standard-gauge logging railroad with common carrier aspirations. This Smoky Mountain railroad used compromises and combinations of equipment that hardly anyone would believe today if it wasn't for the photographs. Includes many unique modeling suggestions for modeling this kind of operation with On30 trains. Five new articles, August, 2008

This photo shows three of the scenery ideas on our primer pages combined.Scenery Project Ideas

Building Project Ideas

  • Click to go to articleEasy Street Scene - This popular building project uses downloadable building graphics and a little cardboard or foam board to build up a convincing downtown scene that is only a few inches deep - perfect for shelf layouts, tight spots, and dioramas. We also provide links to high-resolution graphics that will work for any scale. - April, 2008

  • Click to go to article. Photo-Based 3-D Buildings - Bob Anderson used our building front graphics to create an entire Large Scale downtown setting for a local train show. It was so well received, he's already thinking about how he can make it better for next year. If you have an indoor railroad of any kind, this could give you some inspiration. - New, December, 2010!

  • Build a Vintage-Style Cardboard Stone Cottage - Here's a new building project that is pired by the vintage cardboard houses folks used to set around their Christmas tree in the early 1900s (before glitterhouses became common). This building uses free downloadable graphic paper to put a realistic stone veneer on an old-world cottage and fence. It works with Christmas villages, or with a little customization, would dress up any indoor railroad. updated, Click to see article.Click to go to article Click to go to article Click to go to articleAugust, 2008, with a "brick cottage" option!

  • Log Cabin Building Flat - This "building flat" uses downloadable graphics and foam board or cardboard to dress up a narrow corner of your railroad or village. The techniques in this project can be used for almost any kind of building you want to represent in a tiny space. December, 2007

  • Build a Vintage-Style Barn and Silo - This building project uses downloadable graphics to put realistic shingles and siding on an old barn and silo. Like the stone cottage above, it works with Christmas villages, or with a few changes, it would dress up an indoor railroad. January, 2008

  • New for 2010! Click to see free plans and instructions for a vintage-style log cabin Christmas decorationBuilding a Vintage-Style Cardboard Log House Project designer Howard Lamey provides this tribute to a kind of "glitterhouse" (see below) that found its way to many Christmas scenes and indoor railroads before and just after WWII. A "loggie" is sheathed with corrugated cardboard with the "sheath" missing on one side. Following Howard's instructions, its easy to build this future family heirloom for your indoor railroad or Christmas display. New, August, 2010!

Click to go to article.Special Features

  • New Feature! - Department 56? Village Trains - Learn about train sculptures and real electric trains that Dept. 56? has issued over the years to go with its collections, as well as current products that look good with Dept. 56? villages.

  • Click to go to articleNew Feature! - "Tribute to Tinplate" Articles Here's a popular series of projects that pay "Tribute to Tinplate," based on the tinplated-steel trains and towns of a century ago. Free downloadable commercial-grade graphics and instructions will help you inexpensively add an authentic vintage look to any indoor railroad. Most projects have multiple pre-scaled plans and graphics, plus scalable graphics for the smaller scales, so you can easily add a vintage look to ANY railroad or holiday village, no matter what size your trains and towns are. We have more on the drawing board, so be sure and check back.

    • Click to go to article Building the Tin City Bridge - Add an eye-popping feature based on the classic Lionel Standard Gauge bridges. Works great with collectible villages, vintage O and S-gauge trains, On30 trains and more! Free downloadable plans, graphic files, and step-by-step instructions are provided. New, October, 2009!

    • Building a Vintage Tin-Style CottageClick to go to article - This project is inspired by a popular pre-war tinplate house that was made to go with standard gauge trains, like the early 1900s-era Ives and Lionel. Our own commercial-quality graphics and instructions, as well as Howard Lamey's plans and assembly details are all free, to give your railroad a vintage tinplate look with a few cents' worth of materials. Many options are available, and most graphics and plans can be downloaded directly from the article. New, July, 2009!

    • Building a Vintage "Lithograph" Station Our first "Tribute to Tinplate" article pays tribute to the lithographed stations of seventy-to-ninety years ago. Click to go to articleThis particular project was inspired by an American Flyer station that was made to go with O gauge trains during the "golden age of toy trains." Free downloadable commercial-grade graphics and plans are available in several scales. Instructions for building this project inexpensively from scrap cardboard are also included (although you could build it from tin if you really wanted to).New, June, 2009!

    • Click to go to articleBuilding TinPlate-Syle Store Fronts - Not one, but three buildings! The West Brothers' tinpated candy boxes saved money by using one plan with multiple sets of graphics to get maximum use out of their pattern expense. We've followed their example with projects inspired by three of their most popular buildings. Use our free downloadable patterns and plans to add a vintage-style business district on your railroad or display village. New, July, 2009!

    • New for 2010! Click to see tinplate-inspired store fronts with seaside themesBuilding (Tinplate-Style) Seaside Storefronts - A great addition to a favorite project series. Sticking with the West Brothers outline, we have replaced the brick and stone with clapboard painted in the colors and themes that brighten coastal towns on both coasts. Colors are compatible with Howard Lamey's Sandy Shores beach-inspired collection. New, May, 2010!

    • Click to go to Article Building a Lithograph-Style Switch Tower Every big railroad "yard" had one of these "control towers" that let railroad men watch and operate the switches so trains could be built up, cars could be sorted out, and everyone went where they were supposed to. This "Tribute To Tinplate" with graphics by Paul and assembly tips by Howard Lamey is easy, inexpensive, and impressive. Includes free plans, instructions, and vintage-inspired graphics in three different sizes you can choose from to match your existing trains and towns. New, December, 2009!

    • New for 2010! Click to see tinplate-inspired store fronts with patriotic themesBuilding Flag Day Store Fronts - The latest addition to a new favorite. "Ye Olde Flag Shoppe," "Yankee Doodle Candy," and "Ye Old Fife and Drum Musique Store" projects are all ready to add some 1776 flavor to your railroad or collectible village. Click on the picture for free downloadable graphics, plans and instructions. New, July, 2010!

    • Building a Vintage-Style Diner - Near most busy rail stations stood a diner inspired by the efficient, familiar railroad dining car. Folks coming and going knew they could "nip in" for a quick cup of Click to go to article"Joe" or "drop in" for a home-style meal with all the "fixin's." This project is about the same size as Howard's tinplate Marx coaches, but graphics for bigger versions are available. To get the most "tinplatey" effect possible, Howard used a real steel roof, converted from half of an old eyeglasses case. But even if you don't have that particular resource, this is a great project. New, December, 2009!

    • Click to go to articleNew Feature - Building a Tinplate-Inspired Lamp Post The ideal accessory for the Lewis Park Station, or any station or city hall on your railroad or holiday village. No, they don't actually light, but they are cheap and easy to build and add a great deal of vintage interest to any setting. Free downloadable plans are available in several scales.

    • Click to go to articleNew Feature - Building a Tinplate-Inspired Watchman's Shanty Back in the day before automated crossings, these were common sites alongside busy rail crossings. Howard's exclusive design pays tribute to a series of tinplate structures that go back a hundred years and include three different scales. His free plans and instructions will help you dress up any indoor railroad or holiday village.

    • Click to go to articleNew Feature - Building a Tinplate-Inspired Railroad Crossing Sign This is the ideal accessory for the Watchman's Shanty project. Based on a series of products that are now available only as expensive collector's items, this easy and almost-free project will add texture, interest, and period to any model railroad or holiday village.

    • click to go to Building Textures pageTinplate Textures - This section includes brick, shingle, siding, door and window patterns inspired by the tinplate buildings that Lionel and other companies made to go with their toy trains a century ago.

      The Tinplate Textures page provides most patterns in three different scales to help you find the best sizes for your existing railroad or holiday village.

  • What is a Glitterhouse? - Click to learn how to build vintage-style glittered pasteboard buildings.Click to learn how to build vintage-style glittered pasteboard buildings.Remember when Christmas Villages were made of cardboard instead of china and resin? Get a head start on celebrating the original Christmas village tradition! Articles on collecting and building authentic, vintage-style pasteboard houses, just like the ones we had growing up. Sure, they're not scale, but they are lots of fun! Updated, September, 2008.

    This section includes several articles on building glitterhouses and typical accessories, including:

    • Building a Glitterhouse - A detailed primer on building your own vintage-style cardboard Christmas house, includes bonus "church conversion" plans for making the same core structure into a small church. Includes free downloadable plans and directions. Updated, September, 2008.
    • Click to see detailed directions for building this vintage-style pasteboard house.Click to see detailed directions for building this vintage-style pasteboard house.Building the Little Charmer - A new glitterhouse project that is a step up from our beginning glitterhouse. Includes free downloadable plans and directions! - August, 2008.
    • Building a Picture Window House - Another new glitterhouse project. This one includes unique features such as a sand finish and picture window that reveals a "Christmas scene" Includes free downloadable plans and directions. September, 2008. Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this vintage-style Christmas house.
    • Winter Trees from Floral Picks - A quick and inexpensive way to add interesting textures to your winter railroad or Christmas village. December, 2007.
    • Building the Union Station - This original project by designer Howard Lamey is inspired by two traditions - the cardboard Christmas houses that were popular in US homes between 1928 and 1965 and the Lionel station that was popular for most of the 20th century. October, 2008!
    • Click to go to articleSusan Yasinsky's Adirondack Glitterhouse - A fan of Howard Lamey's site has sent us an example of a unique project. Her "Adirondack" house came after she had made several traditional glitterhouses and wanted to try modeling a real building. This article shows what a little self-confidence can do for you. New, July, 2009!

  • Click to see an easy Halloween billboard project for any scale. Click to see the Spook Hill<sup><small>TM</small></sup> Water Tower project Click to see the Spook Hill<sup><small>TM</small></sup> projects.Introducing Spook HillTM, a series of free, 100% original Halloween building projects in O or S scale, enough to give you a complete Halloween village, including: Updated, September, 2009, with three new Halloween building projects!
    • Spook Hill #3, a unique, easy-to-build Water Tower to serve last month's project, the Spook HillTM Station This is another 100% original, 100% unique project from Howard Lamey. With a little adjustment, this could serve any holiday, O gauge, or On30 model railroad. Free, downloadable plans and graphics. New, August, 2008!
    • Spook HillTM Billboards, the easiest Spook HillTM project yet, a great way to add last-minute fun to your Halloween or Autumn village. Free, downloadable plans and graphics. New, September, 2008!

  • Click to see the Sandy ShoresIndexWelcome to Sandy ShoresTM - New for 2009! For those who like summer, or looking forward to summer, Howard has designed a series of seaside projects that are so much fun, you can almost smell the salt water. Includes many free downloadable plans, photos, and detailed instructions.

  • What Do Trains Have to Do With Christmas? - Have you ever wondered why trains around the tree seem as natural as a star or angel on top? This article explains why the answer may be important to everybody with great Christmas memories. It also explains the history of On30 trains, such as the Bachmann? and Hawthorne Village? trains many people are using with their holiday villages - Updated, December, 2007!

  • Availability and Pricing of Big Trains - Most model trains are made in batches that may or may not last out the season for which they were built. This article explains why products seem to come Visit our BIG Train Store Buyer's Guide Pagesand go so quickly, and why we gave up posting prices for anything in our "buyer's guides."

  • About Subscription Trains - With Hawthorne Village collectible trains, you get the locomotive in the first shipment, a car in the next, a car and the track in the next, and so on. This article explains the whole thing in more detail, in case you're wondering just what you'll get and when, if you order a Hawthorne Village train.

Other Resources

Note: Most of the articles listed on this page actually began as responses to reader questions, so if you have a question that isn't answered in these pages, please contact us. In the meantime, our Letters to the Editor page includes many of the most-asked questions from Big Indoor Train lovers all over the world.

We will be adding links to other related resources here from time to time (in fact, we had more links, but those sites closed down - check back once in a while as we will be attempting to replace them.)

Watch this page: more articles are in the works.

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Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page Return to Family Garden Trains Home page Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading Big Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains and towns with holiday themes
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads

Note: Big Indoor Trains(tm), Big Train Store(tm) Family Garden Trains(tm), Big Christmas Trains(tm), and Garden Train Store(tm) are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications(tm) ( All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
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