I'm going to start off by saying that is that I have been playing with trains ever since I was born, but I didn't start modeling until around the mid 1990's.
Difference between a model railroad and a train set in my opinion:
The difference between a train set and a model railroad to me is that modeling consists of having a layout with scenery and roads that have a purpose. Generally all of your building should have access to them in one way or another. It could be that there's a house with a driveway going to the edge of the layout that is on a fictitious road off the layout or a road that just connects things, but doesn't go off of the layout. Having a diner that is set against a cliff with 4 sets of train tracks between it and the edge of the layout with no possible way of getting to it seems a bit unrealistic to me.
I consider myself an average run-of-the-mill guy who didn't major in model railroading and has basic skills in wiring, but I'm creative and decent at painting. My biggest challenge is that I don't have steady hands so I need to find unique ways to steady my hand when doing something like painting a straight line or placing the Z scale cars on the track. N scale cars are not a problem.
My scales in chronological order:
LGB - When I was born my father got me a set of LGB trains which I would watch go around for hours at a time. Over the years I got (or my father got for me) some additional cars, another locomotive, switch tracks, extra track, and some buildings. I still set the trains up around my Christmas tree every year where they stay until my wife says enough.
HO - Once I got a bit older my father let me play with his HO trains which was a pretty decent setup on a 4x8 board. It was with these trains that I learned the joy of running 2 trains at once and the heartache of running trains too fast when they flip on the corner and fall to the floor. As I got older I painted roads on the table and helped my dad build houses. Once I got a little bit older I got my very first HO train set. It was Christmas and I got an Amtrak locomotive and three cars. I was so excited that I told him that he got trains for Christmas. He then reminded me that it was MY name on the gift and they were mine. I was sold! As time went on the layout became less his layout and more my layout. CAUTION: NEVER SPRAY THAT SNOW JUNK ON YOUR LAYOUT. ONCE IT COMES OFF IT NEVER TOTALLY GOES AWAY!!!
N scale - I was always fascinated with N scale because of its smaller size and the fact that you could do more in the same amount of space of the HO layout. I dismantled the HO layout and used N scale Kato unitrack for a little while which I found to be fun, but I wanted more. This is when I truly began a model train set on a 4x8 board. Fast forward 7 years. With the 4x8 board basically finished (I don't think a layout is ever truly finished) I decided to build an extension that basically doubled the size into an "L" shape. I got track laid down and build a nice area that would eventually model the NJ Transit terminal in Hoboken, NJ. Unfortunately time was not on my side, I got married, and moved out of my parent's house before I could get any further. Whenever I visit I make sure to run a few trains.
O Gauge & O Scale: I got a Lionel NJ Transit passenger set for Christmas one year. I added onto that by buying some O Scale Atlas Comet II passenger cars.
Z Scale - living in a townhouse I didn't have room for a big layout and didn't intend to spend the rest of my life in it, so I wouldn't want a permanent layout anyway. This is how I found myself in Z scale. It doesn't take up much room and how cool is it to be able to walk around with your layout! I decided that I would spare no expense when building it. It would be small, but I'd make sure it'd pack a punch.
What's next - Next I hope to have an HO and an N scale layout once I get a house with a good size basement. The HO layout I would like to build in the garage and attach pulleys so I can raise it up out of the way when I'm not using it. I intend to have my main layout be N scale and over the years have been writing down ideas of how I'd like it to be.
Feel free to send me questions or comments.
Let me know if there's something you'd like more detail on or a process that I didn't touch upon that you'd like to know about. Just use the form to the right to contact me. Thanks!