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5 years ago I inherited a beautifully maintained 1950's Lionel train set with two old "brick" transformers (Trainmaster "Type TW" and "Type KW") and a 665 Locomotive with tender and caboose.  I set it up around the Christmas tree the following year for our 3 year old and he was immediately hooked.

Every year since then, I've added pieces.  The second year, I added a bunch more track and bought him his own Williams/Bachmann Baldwin 4-6-0 Steam Locomotive. 

The following year, I got a track switch and a Lionel Gantry Crane (which quickly snowballed into buying Gargraves gantry crane track, custom track connectors to connect that to the rest of my track, and, of course, a Cab-2 controller, all necessary to operate the gantry crane).  Now I know why the gantry crane itself is so cheap

Last year, he asked for something with a remote and some cooler sounds, so I got a "Tier 4 Lion Chief" engine set, which he loved. 

My problem, which you have quickly recognized, is that I have no idea what I'm doing, no idea what I'm building towards, and no idea how to get any of these things to work together... and yet my son remains really excited about continuing to build the collection and we're even considering making space in the house to have it more permanently set up so he can tinker with it.  At the moment, I'm using one of the old transformers to power the gantry crane and then powering the track by connecting it directly into a fasttrack section thru the little transformer that came with the lion chief.  this means I can't really run the other classic trains on the track and it also means I'm totally underutilizing my Cab-2.  I was so unbelievably impressed with myself that I figured out how to control the gantry crane, but i still haven't figured out how to use the cab-2 to trigger a track switch or do anything else.

I've been reading about the Base 3 and Legacy Powermaster components, which seem to potentially allow for Cab-2 control of a wider range of units and I thought that might be a cool thing to add, but maybe thats overkill based on where I am and how quickly I intend to grow the collection?  I also thought about just adding another accessory or two this year, but would love to get something else that he can control with the Cab-2 remote. 

Thank you friends for any advice in advance of the holidays here so that I have time to get him something really special that continues to keep him excited about this hobby!


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I think at this point having a dedicated train table for him would be a great next step.  Having a regular place where he can use them will be huge. Plus the other thing I think is being able to share it with you . to work together on the table and the track and scenery will really make him happy. It doesn't need to be huge, especially with a young guy,might be easier if it is manageable. He will have a lot of fun helping to design the track layout, too.

The transformers you have are fine (the KW is like 190 watts input/160 out), the only thing is I recommend having them looked at to make sure they are okay, the cord is good and so forth.

With control systems the new cab 3 can control pretty much anything, it can control that crane, it can control the lionchief engine, any legacy/tmcc engine, but I don't know if you need that right now and it will add $$$$ to your cost. The cab 2 remote will work with it, one other thing cab 3 does is allow controlling it via an App that runs on phones, tablets, etc.

One thing I would recommend is getting a legacy powermaster. The powermaster can be controlled via the cab 2 controller, and what it does is allow you via the cab 2 remote to basically do anything you can do with the transformer handle/whistle/direction button. The powermaster varies the voltage to the track, and allows running conventional engines (like the 1950's lionel/bachman engines) from the remote. Your son may enjoy that, so he can walk around and do things while running the trains, like bring the train to the gantry crane, back a car onto the track, then use the crane to load/unload.

Kids enjoy the accessories, so that is something else I recommend. Things like crossing gates or the watchman are usually popular, or things like coal loaders, barrel loader, etc (and there are all kinds, new and old). Having spurs on a layout with switches and accessories or things they can do makes it fun for the kids.

The biggest thing is (might be controversial on here), let his imagination guide it, even if it seems strange to you. A 7 year old's imagination is large,let them decide what they want, even if it is having cows grazing in a house's "yard" or having a unicorn riding in a gondola car.

I can share that my 8 year old loves switching operations.  We make a game of it.  My layout is pretty simple - a few interconnected loops with sidings and a passing track. We’ll pull out an assortment of freight cars and create a simple index card for each one. We’ll shuffle the cards and that’s the train he has to build.   I don’t have scenery or buildings but we will designate the different sidings as a destination.  A passenger train will sit on the passing siding and every so often I’ll tell him to pull over and let the passenger train through. 😝  I have a CAB1 that he knows how to control pretty well but being a technology kid, he likes the Bluetooth app on the phone.   I have zero accessories but he thoroughly enjoys our little running sessions.


You mentioned the CAB2; I presume that means you have the CAB 2 hand-held controller AND its Command Base. That equipment will "talk" to Lionel locos equipped with TMCC and Legacy technology. An appropriate Lionel POWERMASTER device will enable you to control conventional locos with the CAB2.

The Lionel KW would be a suitable source of track power via the two throttles to two separate tracks. The KW has a lever for whistle control, but no button for bell sounds in locos so equipped. However, a separate device can be installed to activate the bell sound. The KW offers 190 watts total capacity - plenty!

The CAB2 has built-in buttons that can control switches - IF the switches are equipped with built-in COMMAND CONTROL functionality. Check to see if your switch(es) have that feature. If so, refer to the instruction sheet for set-up of the switch(es). If not, use traditional Lionel switches (such as O22) with standard switch controllers. FYI, I like the retro look of the vintage controllers, but to each his own.

For simplicity, I suggest that you provide power to all operating accessories with the TW with its "throttle" set to 14v.  Distribute that voltage to all accessories through on/off power switches and to track switches (turnouts) through a terminal block. This method will provide auxiliary power to all devices.  Operating accessories only draw power from the transformer when the device is turned ON, so the TW would be adequate. If done that way, its whistle control lever would remain unused.

Christmas layouts are wonderful, but temporary. Set-up and take-down time is "lost motion, time, and effort" that could be invested in a permanent layout for year-round positive fun for you and your son. If you have space in your house for a layout (a spare bedroom, a basement, or an attic), go for it. There are many layout planning books available, and track-planning software makes the design process creative and efficient. BTW, I use ANYRAIL software.

Carry on ...

Mike Mottler    LCCA 12394
Great Grandfather to a 9-year old


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  • Matthew as Operator

Thank you, Guyute: this thread is heartwarming: a perfect holiday subject.  Admit it, Guyute, you are enjoying all this as much as your 7-year-old son, just as you should.  Keep enjoying it, for your son is never going to forget it, and he will love you all the more for this experience.  Bigkid's response strikes me as exactly right.

This past Monday, I helped a fellow set up, test, and for the first time run a K-Line SP set he bought from a True Value hardware store. When all was proved to be in fantastic shape, I showed him how to run it, sat back, and watched a 7-year-old with gleaming eyes.

The kicker: he's 45 years old; he bought the train set and stuck it under his bed in each place he lived, first from parents' home to apartments to his own home. That's 45 going on 7.  Yes!

Last edited by Golden Prairie Railroad

It will definitely be worth it! About fifty years ago my grandfather started me with a small doortop loop/layout - I loved it!

And even though you didn't ask... He set me up with a Lionel 1033 transformer, because there is a pair of throttled terminals that only reach up to 11~12 volts)  My mid-70s Lionel switchers ran just fine with that much voltage - but not terribly fast like they did at 20+ volts available on most other post-war transformers - and much less likely to send the train over the edge. I used to like to see them run FAST and its a shame - because my first trains were smashed to bits from numerous trips off the table

It sounds like you're on the right track.  Here are some thoughts based on my experience as a kid (early 2000s):

- Find a space for a table.  My father cleaned up the pile of scrap lumber in a corner of the basement, accomplishing two things at once (clean part of the basement, give me a layout).  Understand this will likely grow.

- Help him brainstorm a permanent track plan, but don't start building it right away.  Let him set up and change things on the table.  My father and I had planned a L shaped table, but just built one half of it at first so I could start playing around, then once we had the second half actually started on the build. 

- Encourage him to do a lot of the research and planning, and then construction (including wiring).  OGR, CTT, and other magazines are good for kids, even if above their "reading level".  They can also provide a good way of encouraging young readers. (i.e. I want to understand this train thing so I'll push through the difficult reading)  The skills I learned building and wiring proved immensely useful as well (both the physical skills and the mental approach).

- A track plan with two isolated loops (perhaps with an insulated crossover) was/is a great solution for allowing the use of remote and conventional control on the same layout.  They don't have to be boring either.  I mentioned above the L shaped layout, that gave interest in and of itself, and enough space for the outer loop to climb a grade, cross over the inner loop, cross back over, and then descend. 

- A newer power source might be a good idea just for peace of mind.  (better insulation and more importantly better circuit breakers)

- Understand the layout plan will either be set in stone in his mind, or change daily.  Both are ok.

My son is 5 and has been around trains most of his life.  Every year we have had at least one train up under a Christmas tree. As he has gotten older more trees seem to have more trains and trains pop up through out the year.  This year he got the lionel Toy Story set from grandparents for his birthday and that has been up in his room since.  I also finally built a table for a permanent layout.  He just seems to love every bit of it.

I will say, it sometimes surprises me on what keeps his attention.  For example, today we added one bench and 5 people to a station and just trying to follow his thought process was fun to watch.

From my experience the remotes are nice, he will control trains with a transformer but he likes to be closer to what he is trying to do or sit in the middle of the track when we had it on the floor.

The only operating car we have is moe and joe which unloads lumber, and he really enjoys that.  I don't think you can go wrong with any operating car or accessory.

Uncoupling and/or operating tracks have been a pretty big hit.  He is very into reorganizing cars on a train, this just gets better with switch tracks.

Two mainlines has also been quite nice he is into trains passing each other and "dad you control this one and I will drive this one, but honk when you pass me" or "stop so the people can move from my train to yours."

As others have said just keep him involved. If you have a plan talk it through with him, take him to the store to help pick up or out stuff and let him help try to set it up.

Last edited by Raptor Rails

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