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Traction Guidebook for Model Railroaders: Review

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

Modeling with trolleys, street cars, and trams, also known as traction, has the advantage of using curves as tight as 5 or 6 inches in HO (1/87). The resulting small layouts perfect for today's space-starved apartments, condos and houses. In addition, a trolley consist can be made up of just one self-powered car. Information on this aspect of model railroading is hard-to-find and rarely appears in model railroading magazines.

Fortunately, the Traction Guidebook for Model Railroaders by Mike Schafer delivers with 120 pages of useful know-how divided into the sections listed below.


Prototype in Retrospect

Three chapters cover prototype lines from the past:

  • Lehigh Valley Transit, a Northeast interurban with private rights-of-way, rapid transit, and operations on the side of roads.
  • Fort Dodge Line, an Iowa interurban that operated freight and passenger service into the early 1950s.
  • Pacific Electric with distinctive Red Cars that made Los Angeles the public transportation capital of the U.S. until the arrival of the freeways.

Each chapter shows mostly retro one-page black-and-white photographs illustrating the lines plus a map or two of the routes. A text description then details the equipment, the line’s advantages and disadvantages, and how each transportation company disappeared under the onslaught of the automobile.

A Pacific Electric car negotiates dual-gauge trackage in Los Angeles in 1951.

A Pacific Electric car negotiates dual-gauge trackage in Los Angeles in 1951.

Model Electric Lines

These three chapters detail two homebound pikes, the Bemis Street Railway and the Southern New York Railway, using pictures and a track plan, with a description of operations and some information on construction details. The third chapter in this section talks about how modelers added a streetcar line to an existing conventional HO layout, the Lake Port and Terminal Railway, and how you can do the same.

Traction and Modeling

These seven chapters should prove the most useful for those starting to get into the traction aspect of the hobby since it covers the practical aspects of modeling. Topics include:

  • How interurbans planned their right-of-ways through cities, towns and rural areas, and the variety of equipment available to the full-sized lines.
  • Step-by-step instructions on building and powering a trolley car from scratch, complete with a parts and tools list.
  • Descriptions of how traction track work lay buried in city streets, and some methods of duplicating that in the smaller scales.
  • Overhead wire – how it worked in real life, and how to model it so it powers scale trolley cars.
A modeling tip from the book.

A modeling tip from the book.

Prototype Plans

The section with the most chapters, albeit each one only one or two pages long, consists of diagrams of actual cars including:

  • a Pacific Electric Niles car
  • a South Shore Lines steel coach
  • an Ohio Public Service combine
  • a Railway Post Office interurban
  • an Illinois Terminal System (ITS) parlor-observation car
  • a Sacramento Northern interurban
  • portable substations for electric railways

Each chapter reveals side, top, front and back views in HO-scale-sized diagrams, with a few interior arrangements. These illustrations are clearly intended for those who want to scratch-build their own cars.

Designs for Traction Layouts

Three chapters cover shelf layouts, table layouts and around-the-room layouts. They offer nine versions of model pikes with top views, clearly marked track, and samples of scenery and structures. Though clearly primarily designed for HO scale, each plan has a conversion table so you can see them in other scales like O and N.

Options include the rural terrain of Hampshire Hills Traction, an interurban shortline and industrial switcher called Modest Empire Traction, and combinations of passenger and freight like Liberty Bell Traction.

My favorite is the one based on the passenger-carrying Muni of San Francisco, with its up-to five percent grades, a subway station, and a cable-car turntable with “hordes of little people.”

Track plan for the San Francisco Muni.

Track plan for the San Francisco Muni.

Where to Buy

The book first appeared in 1974 and is dated in its formatting and presentation. All of the photos are in black and white but some color is used to highlight diagrams. Model railroading has also advanced beyond some of the techniques, tools and models.

However, much of the information still remains solid, making the tome an excellent introduction to trolley modeling. You can sometimes find the book in swap meets or eBay. (I bought my copy at a train meet for $4.) Amazon also occasionally sells it as shown in the link below.

© 2020 Aurelio Locsin


Aurelio Locsin (author) from Orange County, CA on June 16, 2020:

No reprints, Liz, but you can find them sometimes on eBay or at model railroading swap meets.

Aurelio Locsin (author) from Orange County, CA on June 16, 2020:

I wish I knew the answer to that, Farcas. Unfortunately, HubPages hides those statistics from its writers, so I have no idea.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 06, 2020:

This guidebook does sound like a classic. I can understand why you like the San Francisco "Muni" version. My husband and I have ridden on that trolley and enjoyed the ride. The turntable portion of it is fascinating.

Farcas Ionut from Bucharest on June 06, 2020:

Hello, I see you are an expert on HubPages. I am thinking to be active again but I would love to see some statistics.

May I know how much CPM are you getting for 1,000 impressions? I have a big group on telegram and I can easily drive traffic to my articles.

Your answer will be highly appreciated.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 04, 2020:

This looks like a collector's item. Are there many of these books still in circulation or has it been reprinted? I used to be interested to go with my father to exhibitions. It's amazing what modellers can achieve and this looks like a very useful guide.