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Reviewing "Traction Handbook for Model Railroads" by Paul Mallery

The author has been enjoying model trains for decades and enjoys helping others with his hobby and introducing newbies to it.

Front Cover. Photo by the author.

Front Cover. Photo by the author.

Title Minus and Plus

The title of the Traction Handbook for Model Railroads is partially misleading.

  • The book contains very little Model Railroad information about traction, which is another term for trolleys.
  • However, the Traction Handbook part of the title is dead-on, since the tome is loaded with information about the real-life vehicles and how they operate.

A more accurate title might be Prototype Traction for Model Railroads.


What this work does offer in its 8.5-by-11-inch, densely packed, two-column format are 70 pages essential to producing a model trolley layout.

  • The table of contents shows 10 chapters, including a page-and-a-half of glossary terms, and a five-column, one-page index for locating useful topics.
  • The text uses a smaller-than-average sans serif font, with bold-faced titles at least double in size.
  • The titles are also accompanied by numbers denoting levels and sub-levels, which makes it easier to orient your place in the work.

Except for the full-color picture on the cover and a black-and-white layout picture in the Preface, the book contains no photographs. However, several clear diagrams illustrate nearly every page, complete with figures numbers. This helps you orient yourself to the right diagram being talked about in the text descriptions.

Table of Contents. Photo by the author.

Table of Contents. Photo by the author.

Table of Contents

The image of the table of contents above reveals how the book is organized. Of special note is the chapter about the different ways in which track is laid, especially in the streets, and how traction systems handle guardrails, three-way switches, junctions and other special work.

A table translates prototype radii to N, HO, and O scales, making the information useful for modelers in any scale. For example, the sharpest 35-foot prototype radius becomes 4.8 inches in HO, 8.75 inches in O, and 2.62 inches in N.

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Scratch Builders: Enjoy!

Scratch builders who construct actual trolley models from miscellaneous materials like styrene and wood will enjoy the chapter on cars and locomotives. It talks about the different trucks and how that can translate to model power, the types of locomotives, and the varieties of passenger and non-revenue cars. Several examples are illustrated, but only in side-views.

Trolley Wiring. Photo by the author.

Trolley Wiring. Photo by the author.

Electrical Work

Several pages are devoted to overhead wiring, the devices they use, and the way they are rigged with pulloffs and supports using poles and brackets. An entire chapter discusses how to control electricity on a model layout including three-conductor control, third-rail, powered-overhead, automatic control, pole reversing, wyes, and reversing loops.

Because the book was originally published in 1974, with an update in 1992, the electrical information assumes block wiring. DCC, or Digital Command Control, didn’t exist yet, so the book is missing this vital technology.

Trolley Wiring

Trolley Wiring

Useful Endings

This reference includes a glossary of traction terms for the prototype and modeling. The index on the last page is not as useful as it could be. Unless you know the exact term that you’re looking for, you won’t be able to find it in the index. A list of diagrams would also have been useful.

My Recommendation

This is the only book of its type I know of and is required for anyone who is into model trolleys or is thinking of adding such a line to their standard model railroad. Much of the information here can’t be found anywhere else, not even on the Internet. If you’re lucky, you may be able to locate this volume at swap meets. But I am including a link to the copies of Traction Handbook for Model Railroads that occasionally show up on Amazon.

© 2020 Aurelio Locsin


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 02, 2020:

You appear to be the model train expert here on Hubpages. The information you share is excellent for people just starting with this hobby, and provide good references for others. People can get some excellent information at swap meets.

Liz Westwood from UK on November 01, 2020:

This is a very useful and well-presented review.

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