My name is Hagen Langbartels, built in 1980, living in a small town 40 minutes to the lower right of Hamburg, Germany and I play with trains.
How it all began
I got my first “train set” when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I don’t remember exactly when and it doesn’t really matter anyhow. We visited my uncle and picked up two moving boxes with model railroad items. It was the model railroad, Märklin H0 of course, my father and my uncle had in their childhood. Back home we unpacked everything and started setting it up. It contained several pieces of track, two locomotives – the ubiquitous V200 and the smallish BR24 steam engine – lots of track, lights and buildings. My first model railway was setup on the carpet in the living room. For about a two weeks. For Christmas I got some sheets of particle board, some tracks, wires and glue and scenery materials. My father helped me to install the boards in my bedroom. My first “real” model railroad was about 2,7 x 1,35 m in size and contained a three track oval with a station and later we added a tunnel over the two outer tracks for almost one long side of the layout. Later another small extension was added and some switching opportunities for small industries were built. We moved to a new house in 1995 and I could use a whole bedroom for the layout. The layout was lengthened another 90 cm to a total size of 3,6 by 1,8 m but the layout of the tracks basically stayed the same. In 1997 I tore the layout down and packed everything in boxes. For the next 17 years it stayed in the attic and even moved to a new attic.
Resurrecting a hobby
I always kept an interest in model railroads but never enough to leave the armchair. Around 2010 I got hold of a large archive of model railroading magazines. I had access to issues of the german magazine MiBa of about 60 years starting in 1948, even including special issues. I read a lot. And I looked at many pictures. One day I went into the attic and started to unpack my model railroad. I started setting up a layout with my old tracks, cars and locomotives on an old rug. Just as I had as a child, but this time I was the grown up and my children could play with the trains.
Technology had made quite some progress during my hiatus. Digital control was relatively new when I left the hobby and I wanted to give it a try. I ordered parts to convert my locomotives. That includes replacing most of the motor and adding a decoder. I used Märklin conversion kits. I had four locomotives – a V100/BR212, two V200 and the good old BR 24. I was able to convert the diesel engines, but the conversion kit did not fit into the steam locomotive.
For Christmas I got myself two new locomotives – a branch line steam locomotive (BR 50) and a switcher, the V60 with remote controlled couplers (Telex). And lots of modern Märklin C-Track.
Plans and Doubts
I drew a lot of plans. Either to fill the garage in my basement – cars really don’t belong into the house – or to fill a good part of my attic. Most of the plans based on C-Track. I had read a lot about planning and operations. I had large ideas.
Somehow I stumbled across an american railroading magazine. Model Railroad Hobbyist. It’s free, so I made an effort to get all issues and read through most of them. I was not used to american locomotives. To my eyes they looked awkward. I really didn’t like them. At first. But the more I looked at them, the more I liked them. It was around 2014 when I read articles written by Lance Mindheim. And I saw his photographs of his layouts, dirty locomotives and rolling stock. And I started to like it.
There is not enough Prototype
I bought the book “How to build a switching layout” from Lance Mindheim. And I was in doubt, wether german railroads and Märklin Track would make me happy. I liked the idea to build a small, prototypical switching layout a lot. And I liked the modern prototype, both american and german. So I made heavy use of Google Earth and looked for scenes I could model. I came to the conclusion, that it would be hard to find small prototypes for a modern layout in Germany but there are still a lot of small railserved Industries in the United States and Canada. So I decided that I will switch my efforts to US Model Railroads.
A Question of Scale
Converting to another prototype took one decision away from me: 3-Rail (Märklin, AC) or 2-Rail. In H0 scale the vast majority of available models is 2-Rail or DC. So that was simple.
But which scale? I had experiences with H0 and I thought, N-Scale would be too small for my tactile capabilities. So I decided to start in H0 scale. In late 2014 I bought my first H0 US locomotive: An Athearn Genesis MP15AC in CSX yn3 paint scheme, with sound. At a german hobby store I ordered some track and cars and other accessories and started my first tests. I really loved this locomotive.
Planning for Operations
I made new plans. Eventually I finalised on building a small – modular – switching layout with three different industries and all turnouts facing the same direction for simple operations. It was heavily inspired by the concept of the “Palmetto Spur” by Lance Mindheim. I acquired a further locomotive – another Athearn Genesis: Norfolk Southern GP38-2 with sound – and all parts and rolling stock I would need for this layout. I was looking forward to build it. It was achievable and had quite some operational potential. But it should not happen.
After spending about a year on drawing plans, buying supplies and working on a concept, I thought it might be a good idea to get in concat with other modellers, in person.
So I contacted the local US-Group of the FREMO. They have their regular’s table every month in Hamburg, a 45 minutes drive away. I drove to Hamburg, parked my car and walked to the restaurant. Pitch black. The location was closed. So, I was nervously going to meet some people I didn’t know and just before the first contact hit this roadblock.
I found the telephone number of one of the groups members and called him. That evening he wasn’t attending himself, but he read the message in the WhatsApp-Group that the location was closed and the group had moved to an alternative location. The new location was about 10 minutes of walk away.
I had no idea whom to expect and how to identify the group, but when I entered the restaurant I heard someone talking about ballasting track. Normal people don’t do that in public. So I asked if they belong the the club and they did. There were three of them: Dirk, Wolfgang and Robin. All were N-Scale guys. I introduced my self and my plans and got some helpful feedback. Even better: They invited me and my kids to visit them at their next meeting. It was a small meeting in the workshop of a fellow model kit manufacturer. After that evening, I immediately joined the club.
Sell all your H0 Stuff!
That Sunday my kids (7 and 9 at that time) and I drove to Hamburg to have a look at this americaN-meeting. We were heartily welcomed and after just a few minutes we were holding a throttle in our hands and my son ran his first N-Scale train. We ran trains for the next four hours, until we had to leave. It was a warm and welcoming atmosphere and lots of kind people. We learned a lot and hat lots of fun.
On the way home my son told me, as wisely as he is, to get rid of my H0 stuff and convert to N-Scale. You can run more trains in the same space, he said. That’s what I did.
Live changing moment
That happened in February 2016. I got rid of my H0 Stuff (not as fast as I wished, but eventually it was all gone) and replaced it by even more N-Scale stuff. My daughter liked running steam engines – mainly because we had to use hourglasses for getting water and keeping track of the water level – and my son liked operating road switchers. At that time I had little knowledge about the prototype and thought choosing Union Pacific would make things easy, because they didn’t change their paint scheme. Little did I know.
But anyhow, I stuck to UP and I even managed to keep most of my acquisitions to a relatively narrow time frame between early 1950s to the end of the 1960s. I chose this period because there might be the occasional steam engine and the majority of the cars are still short, so you can have more cars in the same space. If we have a meeting with a more modern theme – or even earlier, other members bring plenty of rolling stock and let us play with it and that’s fun too.
I started to build my first modules in summer 2016 and built about 22 m worth of modules so far (as of late 2020). I have attended or even organised some modular meetings, if ever possible my kids do accompany me. In 2019 my modules were part of an exhibition layout built out of FREMO americaN Modules.
I do not regret choosing N-Scale and joining this group. I met so many kind people that I can share my interests with, learn new things and can have fun.