8 Essential Rules for Storing Model Trains 

As model railroaders, we put a lot of time, effort, and money into building something special. If you’re like us, you’ve probably spent years developing a collection of structures, scenery items, and of course, rolling stock to fit your needs. While the goal is always to include as many of these items as possible on your layout at one time, things don’t always work out this way. Plans can change, making certain scenery items obsolete, and often when it comes to rolling stock and locomotives, we simply end up having more in our collection than we have space for on our layout.

While some fortunate modelers may have the space to feature a massive classification yard where they can store and switch out their entire rolling stock collection as needed, most of us usually need some degree of external storage. 

In this article, we’re going to look at eight useful “dos and don’ts” for storing your equipment off-layout. 

Do: Store Your Collection in Their Boxes

The best way to store anything when you’re not using it is by keeping the original packaging. Whether for trains, track, or structures, holding on to the original box will ensure a safe means of long term storage. Items which include their original packaging will also retain a higher resale value than those without them, so even if you plan to use another storage method, make sure to hold onto those boxes!

Since many boxes come with partially see-through packaging, it’s worth mentioning that they should be stored out of direct sunlight to avoid fading and heat-related damage to both the box and the model inside. You can also buy some silica gel packets to absorb any moisture from the air.

Don’t: Wrap Trains & in Newspaper, Bubble Wrap, or Clothing

Storing your trains in these materials for long periods of time can open up a world of potential danger.

Here’s why you shouldn’t use these methods:

  • Newspaper can leave permanent smudge marks through ink transfer when you handle the trains.
  • Bubble wrap can also leave marks, and can damage delicate components such as railings if the models are packed too tightly.
  • Old clothing can hold anything from residual dirt and dust to detergent and dyes. These elements can ruin models over time, removing color and detail; potentially leading to corrosion. Loose strands and fibres can also catch on small details and damage them, and hairs can find their way into motor mechanisms. 

Do: Wrap Your Trains in Acid-Free Tissue Paper

Wrapping your trains is a good idea, but if you use an acidic tissue paper, this will eventually become brittle. This leads to the acidic properties seeping out of the paper, which could discolor or corrode your stored pieces. This is especially crucial to consider if you’re storing for a long period of time and don’t have the full original packaging for the item.

To avoid over-handling of items in storage, you should label them. It would be best if you produced an inventory checklist of where things are to minimize how much sorting you’ll have to do when looking for something.

Don’t: Combine Items for Storage

You should always aim for one train, one box. Likewise with buildings, trees, rolling stock, or other detail pieces. If items go together, such as a specific passenger consist or train set, keep them separate but ensure you store them together. Don’t tie them together or use rubber bands. 

Do: Develop a Safe Method for Short Term Storage

Unless you can fit all of your rolling stock on your layout at one time, you’ll likely be swapping out cars and locomotives fairly frequently. Obviously storing them in their original boxes, while safe, will make any swap cumbersome and time consuming. For short term storage of items constantly in use, we recommend using dense foam padding (cut to size) in either a cardboard or wooden box, or even a drawer under the layout. 

Cars and locomotives can be stored upright or on their sides (providing you also cover the base of your storage container with a layer of foam) and should be separated in rows to ensure maximum protection. This will allow you to safely and efficiently store your most frequently used items without the need to package them up after each use. 

Don’t: Store Trains Loose in Boxes

If you have an appropriately sized box or have retained the original box but lost the styrofoam housing for the model, don’t simply put the item back loose into the box. This will allow it to roll freely with any movement, potentially damaging it, and won’t provide the padding or protection needed for storing with other boxes. 

Do: Use Robust Storage Containers

Sturdy cardboard or wood containers are ideal for safe storage of your collection. All you need to do is cover any staples, screws, or anything else that may rust or potentially come into contact with their contents. As mentioned earlier, you can also store items in drawers, whether in their original packaging, or on their own in a foam cradle with other models. 

If you still want to display your models when you’re not using them, a display case is a great option which can double as both storage and decoration for your train room. They free up storage space, and allow you to view your models even when not on the layout. 

Don’t: Use Acidic Odor Emitting or Green Wood

Woods that omit acidic odor, or green wood (wood that has recently been felled) can be potentially disastrous for your trains and other items in long term storage. Whether it’s acid or moisture seeping into your storage, both have the potential to ruin your collection over time. 

Do: Store Your Models in a Climate Controlled Space

While it might be tempting to store your collection out of sight in the attic or garage, this can create a range of problems. Fluctuations in temperature can cause plastic to expand or potentially melt if the space gets hot enough, and spaces such as attics and garages can often be damp, which will lead to damage to exterior packaging and potentially cause metal components to rust. Similarly, cold and dry storage can lead to performance issues with locomotives. 

Your best bet? Store your trains where you run them, in a climate controlled environment within your house. If you have no other choice but to use an attic or garage, consider adding a dehumidifier to mitigate some of the effects of changing conditions. 

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to storing your trains. However, once you have a system, a suitable space, and a way to catalog what you’ve stored, you’ll find it’s easy to keep your collection in pristine condition. And getting your storage habits right early-on will save you from a lot of problems in the long-run.