Building The Archistories Z Scale Turn Of The Century House

Ztrack teamed up with Archistories to create a nice little series of turn of the century houses in z scale. They have 5 different color homes that can be assembled in a variety of ways so you really could build a nice little neighborhood. I have built a few different N scale structures over the years but never in z scale. I was a little concerned about how they would go together as I looked at the pictures with the incredible detail so I thought I would give it a try.

Archistories Turn Of The Century House Z Scale

I decided that I was going to try something somewhat new for me, that is following the directions, building in the sequence called out it the plans. I was also going to set up an area with proper lighting and work at a slow deliberate pace. For tools, I had just the basics. For cutting a single edge razor blade. I know a hobby knife is the tool of choice but I have used razors for years building R/C airplanes and it is just what I am comfortable with. I also used the razor blade as a straight edge, sliding pieces flush in position. For applying glue, a simple tooth pick. I also used the tooth pick to position very small pieces. A small sanding block was used to clean up parts if necessary (only on the thicker stock!) I also have an old balsa block that I have used for years that I could use to pin the assemblies down. I used it as a cutting board at first but found that as it was soft it wasn’t a real good choice for cutting card stock. I did use a tweezers to place the tiny little handrails on the porch but I think using the tooth pick was a good choice for the window frames and trim. For glue, I simply used thinned Elmer’s Wood Glue. With the card stock it worked so well for me! It was loose enough move smaller parts into final position and really set up fast.

The kit is built starting with a substructure. This part of the process is straight forward using a thicker stock that has interlocking tabs. Cut the parts out only as needed, you will lose them! I used my razor and good lighting to cut the tiny little tabs that hold the parts to the stock. Follow the sequence and dry fit everything first. I did pin some of the smaller substructures to my block but the main section didn’t seem to require it. I did make sure everything was aligned properly before glue set.

Once the substructure is built you will place the siding, which is much thinner than the stock on the structure, so use a light touch. Dry fit first to see where each panel should sit in relation to the adjacent panel. If it is positioned correctly, your windows should be centered. Take care when applying glue to stay away from where the clear window will sit.

Now the windows and doors. This was not near as bad as I thought it would be. First you insert the clear window without glue. Make sure the glass is sitting down flat. I did have to trim one piece. I think I had a little glue residue in the spot from adding the siding. If the glass doesn’t sit flat, the frame won’t set in properly. Now you will insert the tiny little window frames. I found if I added just a little glue on an edge or two on the frame, it wouldn’t slide around when I added the frame. I used my toothpick, the little touch of glue held it while I put in place. I added glue with my tooth pick to the outer frame and lowered in place. There are etched outlines where the window trim should line up. The window frames and trim pieces are very thin. This is not a complaint, they look great, just treat them with care. You may want to decide at this point where your entry and addition may go as a window frame may interfere with attachment. This may also free up a window frame in case you damage one.

The roofing is fairly straight forward to apply as is the trim. With some of the tiny trim pieces you will need to refer to the parts diagram to make sure you are grabbing the right piece. Again, do not cut the part until you are ready to install. Same goes with the stair pieces and chimney. I have to comment on the chimney. There are 5 pieces on this part that is maybe 1/8” square. But with the thinned wood glue, patience and proper lighting, very doable.

The final section to build is the porch. Hopefully when you get that far, you have honed your skills a little as you are dealing with some very delicate little frame work. This area gave me a little trouble. While trying to push down on the roof section, I used a little to much pressure and crushed a corner of the porch! Fortunately, I was able to fix and hide as it was up against the structure when done.

Once all the parts are completed, you have options on where you want to position the entry, addition and porch. You can create a variety of looks. My final choice in part was to hide my mistake!

To say my take away from the Archistories Turn Of The Century House kit build is very positive would be an understatement. I in no way consider myself a craftsman but by working slow with the proper tools, lighting and glue plus following the directions in the sequence given, I am very proud of the what I built.

Model Railroad Layout Design Software

Model railroad layout design software may not be needed for a basic layout or if you have a layout plan already that calls out track pieces needed. But if you want to have a little fun or if you are designing a more complex set up, you may want to give AnyRail a try. AnyRail model railroad layout design software is easy to use and works with any scale and really is very moderately priced for what it will do.

AnyRail has an extensive library of track sections from most all suppliers in all scales G-Z (including some I didn’t know existed!) I do mainly z scale and I am very impressed that the library has all the manufactures latest turnouts, crossovers etc. so I can design with current pieces available. As you get into the other scales, you will be pleasantly surprised with the choices. Most of my layouts are fairly simple table top designs with no elevation. Below is a super simple double oval for z that uses a crossover switch so you could run two trains. Pretty boring layout but I wanted to show what you can do in under 5 minutes with the AnyRail model railroad layout software. I drew this with their free limited version that limits you to 50 track pieces.

Simple Double Oval With Rokuhan Track Drawn In Under 5 Minutes With AnyRail.

Now check out a more complex design drawn with AnyRail model railroad layout software. Here is where you can see how this is really a fun software and the real power of it!

HO Scale Layout Drawn By Michael Carver With AnyRail

Click here and you will see more examples of what users have drawn with this software. There are some incredible designs that have even more detail. Some really simple little layouts, some fill a whole garage! You can really plan your dream layout and envision not only what will work but what you need for track. You can also place buildings trees, mountains, hidden tracks, power breaks, elevation and so much more. And here is another cool thing from the site I realized, you can download the examples into your copy of AnyRail and modify! What a great idea.

As I mentioned at the outset, this model railroad design software from AnyRail is simple to use. It is very intuitive and reminds me a little of Power Point with simple drag and drop usage. If you spend any amount of time with the software you will become very proficient very quickly. You can try the limited version for free. It limits you to 50 track pieces, the full is really the way to go with a great price point.

I have to laugh when I think about how I used to tell my father that he should have a computer to design his massive n scale layout. After I would tell him all the benefits of model railroad layout design programs, he would reach into his pocket, pull out his mechanical pencil, click it a couple of times and say “I have my computer right here”. For those of us not as smart as him, I recommend giving AnyRail a try.

AZL Brass

AZL Brass is so hard to come by. When AZL releases anything brass, I would buy it up. Below are just a few pieces of AZL that have come up for bids over the years on ebay. It’s incredible what some of the items have sold for! Others have been let go way to cheap. This is a good page to watch. if you are looking for AZL z scale brass. Click on any of the images and you will be taken to current offerings on ebay. Many times, you will find nothing at times though I have seen 5 or 6 really nice pieces com up.

AZL Brass SP E-8 Locomotives. Only 10 produced!
AZL Brass ATSF PA 60 Produced.

The AZL brass Santa Fe PA is one of my favorites. While 60 where produced, I have only seen one maybe two come across ebay in ten years. I guess everyone else loved them to. The chrome finish on these was very well done.

AZL BrassSP | D&RGW Krauss-Maffei ML-4000

One of the more recent releases, the AZL Krauss-Maffei ML-4000 locomotives demonstrate the need to buy quick. I think they were sold around $900 and so sharp. I had a D&RGW I had bought to hold on to but had to let it go.

Check out some of the current AZL offering on ebay!

Marklin Mini Club 88035 D&RGW Bumble Bee

Click image top view available Marklin 88035 on ebay.

While you may have a hard time finding period correct cars to pull with the Marklin Mini Club 88035 Denver & Rio Grande Western 2-6-0 steam locomotive, you won’t have a hard time liking it. This just another example of a wonderful little Marklin steam locomotive. With a five pole motor and the small radius capacity of the D&RGW Marklin locomotive, it can do well on even on small table top layouts. While the locomotive has been out of production for some time, you can still find the Marklin Mini Club 88035 D&RGW 2-6-0 Steam locomotive on the aftermarket. They seem to hold there value quite nicely though so keep an sharp eye for a good buy. Check below to see what is currently available. And by the way, you could argue the Marklin 88035 2-6-0 a great little excursion train or display locomotive for a train museum on your layout!.

The natural addition to the Marklin 88035 D&RGW locomotive is a nice set of D&RGW passenger cars. The 87910 D&RGW Overland Passenger car set is more common than the locomotive. Some of the pricing seems to be a little steep so be patient. Both come up at a good buy now and again

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Marklin Mini Club F-7 Z Scale Locomotives

Marklin z scale locomotive F-7 Southern

The Marklin Z Scale F7 locomotive is a great piece that many Marklin collectors and just general z scale modelers love to own. While one of the most common Marklin F7 is the Santa Fe with the red war bonnet, you will find a variety of road names including Burlington Northern, Southern Pacific, Pennsylvania, Alaska, B&O, Chessie System, Burlington Route and more. You will also find some variations of the Marklin F7 like a version of the Southern Pacific, the Starlight Express and others that you will only find in a set. Earlier units had a 3 pole unit while later models have a 5 pole. So what is the difference of a 3 pole verses a 5 pole motor? The biggest thing you will note is better low end speeds and a quieter motor. Marklin changed over to the 5 pole versions completely in their F7’s by the end of 2000. If you have an older Marklin Z scale F-7, you can change it over to a 5 pole with not to much trouble.

Marklin z scale locomotive Chessie F-7

You will also find some Marklin Mini Club F-7 B unit locomotives and some A-B-A sets as well. You may be able to find Marklin F-7 starter set here and there as well. The “Meet Me In New Orleans” set actually has a Southern F-7 passenger set along with a 2-8-2 freight set and lots of track and even two controllers! Below you will find a few of the current offerings of used F-7 Marklin locomotives on ebay or you can click here to find more.

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Z Scale Brass Locomotives

AZL Z Scale Locomotive Brass Santa Fe PA-1

I remember being a kid and looking through Model Railroader and drooling over the brass locomotives. Most of them were HO and O scale, maybe a few N here and there. Today, while rare and expensive, you can find brass in z scale. And their small size only enhances the marvel of these brass works of art. They are hard to come by, so just how do you get your hands on a brass z scale locomotive? Sorry to say your best chance is the aftermarket, particularly ebay. My advice to you is if you see one with a buy it now price and you want it, grab it! I have seen some great buys, I have seen some overpriced units but I have never seen one not sell!

AZL Z Scale locomotive KRAUSS MAFFEI ML4000

The AZL brass locomotives are by far the most pricey, and the most interesting. You will find C449W locomotives, a few E-8’s and SD45’s every now and then. The real hard to find ones, and brass z scale steam locomotive MTLthe price reflects it, are the PA-1 and the GS-4. I think I have only seen one of the Big Boys, and one FP45’s, I don’t recall ever seeing a Challenger. Some of these locomotives like the PA-1 had very low production numbers, we are talking 10! You will also find the MTL Mogul’s here and there and they are such a cute little locomotive, and really not spendy. Every now and then you will also see a Zthek or Huet switcher. These are brass built up on Marklin chassis. I really wish someone would pick these up and produce these, Z scale needs these small switchers. Think how much more appeal a small Noch layout would have with a US switcher rather than a Marklin 0-6-0 or small diesel. FR makes some outstanding z scale brass locomotives but they are European.

z scale locomotive brass big boy

More brass is on the drawing board for z scale. I strongly suggest if you here rumors of what is on the way, pre order if you can. If you miss out, you will most likely pay dearly later if you really want you. Heck the way z brass on the resale market is going, you may want to add a couple to your retirement portfolio!

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Marklin Mini Club Z Scale 81535 Starter

marklin 81535

The Marklin Mini Club 81535 Starter set is a great little steam era starter set from Marklin that offers something you just won’t find anywhere, a 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive for the Northern Pacific Railroad. You will find a lot of z scale Mikados from both Marklin and AZL, but if you want a Pacific in z scale, the locomotive you find in this set may be the only way to fill the bill. The Marklin z scale Pacific feature a 5 pole motor for very smooth operation. While it fits a broad protoypical range, you will find it is a very attractive representation of the 4-6-2 steam locomotive.

Many of the 4-6-2 locomotives found their use in passenger service, but it still looks right at home in pulling a freight consist. In the starter set, you will get the Marklin Mini Club 4-6-2 steam locomotive (Northern Pacific road number 2259) a Great Northern gondola, a Spokane, Portland & Seattle flat car and a Northern Pacific caboose. You will also get an oval of track and controller. This really is a cute little set. It has been out of production for some time but you will still find them for sale here and there. Sometimes you will see the locomotive itself come up for sale as well.

As mentioned above, the Marklin Mini Club 81535 set that included the 4-6-2 locomotive has been out of production for some time. The set’s hold up well and the 5 pole motor still provides for a very smooth running locomotive even by today’s standards. Below you will see a few of the current listings for the sets containing a z scale Pacific locomotive or click here for a more thorough search.

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Marklin 88075 Commodore

The Marklin Z Scale NYC Commodore Vanderbilt 4-6-4. This is one of my favorite Marklin Z scale pieces. Modeled after the classic road number 5344 New York Central Locomotive. This was J3-1 type 4-6-4 Hudson locomotives that was streamlined and became known for pulling the 20th Century Limited until 1937. While the claim was made that the streamlining allowed the locomotive to pull up to 12 percent more weight, in my opinion it was as much that as a marketing move. This was one beautiful machine! The Marklin Z scale 4-6-4 Commodore holds the same allure as it’s full size counter part. Having seen pictures of the Marklin 88075 Commodore and seeing it in person, I can tell you, pictures don’t do it justice. The Marklin Commodore Vanderbilt is a metal body locomotive with a five pole motor for smooth operation. Also features a working headlight and all six wheels are driven. If you have run any of the 5 pole Marklin Z scale locomotives you know they are just a joy to run, velvet smooth. You may have a challenge finding the right consist of passenger cars to pull behind the Commodore Vanderbilt, you may have to bend the prototype a little but well worth it. I have always thought a spur could be added on your layout for a Railroad Museum where you could feature some of these classics no matter what the era you are modeling. Like many of the classic US steam locomotives that Marklin produced over the years, the 88075 Z Scale NYC Commodore Vanderbilt 4-6-4 has been out of production for some time but you can usually find them here and there in the aftermarket and they tend to age well. Below you will find a few examples of the Marklin Mini Club 88075 Z Scale NYC Commodore Vanderbilt 4-6-4 currently available one ebay.

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Getting Started In Z Scale

Getting Started In Z Scale

I remember being young and my father coming home with an Atlas N scale starter set. I can still picture the box with the Santa Fe diesel locomotive and the 0-8-0 steam locomotive. Inside you received a small oval of track, a locomotive a few cars and caboose and a controller. It was a great way to get started, you could open the box and run your trains. You can have the same experience with z scale. There really are just a couple choices for z scale starter sets. Marklin has offered starter sets for years, since the start of z scale in 1972. Micro Trains offers a starter set both with and without track, neither with a controller. offers the MTL sets with controller and track ready to go and also offer custom AZL/Rokuhan packages as well in an effort to give you the same out of the box experience that is common in other scales. As we have stated in other posts in this series have stated, you end goal will likely influence what you start with. If you want to open a box and start in the hobby today, check out our ready to go z scale starter sets on line. Start your model trains memories today with a ready to go z scale starter set. But fair warning, it is an addictive hobby!

Z Scale Track

z scale starter set

Choosing your z scale track is much easier than choosing your locomotive or rolling stock. Choosing your layout…. that may be a little harder. Let’s take a quick look at track. For z scale layouts, you have a few basic choices. The originator of z scale Marklin, Rokuhan, Micro Trains or hand laid track. As with so many aspects of this hobby, your end goal will determine your track choice. If you want the ultimate in realism you will likely hand lay your track. Even your switches can be hand laid. Check out Fast Tracks for supplies and jigs for laying your own track. If you are going to add ballast to your track, you will want to either use Marklin or hand lay your track. Marklin turnouts are very reliable and can even help avoid derailments if you go the wrong way over a switch. They offer a variety of turnouts, straights, curves and even adjustable track to help you make your layout. Rokuhan and Micro Trains line offer track with a pre installed roadbed. While you cannot achieve the level of realism that adding your own ballast offers, you can achieve a very clean and operational layout using this type of track. The Micro Trains Line of track is somewhat limited so my recommendation is the Rokuhan as they have a large selection of turnouts, crossings, flexible track along with the standard curves and straights. I am biased towards Rokuhan. I like their selection and and the way their controllers connect to the track and work with their power turnouts. Atlas is now offering z scale turnouts and will likely continue to increase it’s offering in z as well.

Choosing A Z Scale Controller

Z Scale Controllers I know, the controller is really a boring thing. Z scale locomotives are incredible little pieces of equipment. While the detail on these little gems is absolutely incredible, especially when compared to the first z scale locomotives Marklin introduced in 1972, one thing has stayed the same over the years, they use tiny little motors that can be fried by controllers made for larger scales. Buying an oval of z scale track, a locomotive and a few cars and then hooking it up to your controller used in N scale or HO scale, can make for an very disappointing z scale experience. Not to worry, there are several good good choices for you, all fairly inexpensive. Let’s start with the original, the Marklin Mini Club controllers. Marklin Mini Club Controllers When Marklin introduced z scale,they were smart enough to offer a complete set that came with the correct controller. The familiar 6272A is available used on ebay, usually for around $40-$60 and is a real work horse. The model 67271 usually sells for $125 or so new and used on ebay for around $75. These are both excellent choices, I lean towards the 67271 as it is the more modern version and has easy to use hook ups. Rokuhan The Rokuhan Company continues to add value and versatility to the z scale line. Currently they offer the RC02 and the RC03 controllers which both offer the constant lighting feature. They also both are expandable in that you can snap on turnout controllers and other controllers on the end of the controller. The RC03 comes with two turnout control switches already installed. Both can be operated on AA batteries or you can purchase a AC adapter. Cost ranges for about $40 for the RC02 and $75 for the RC03. MRC While MRC does not offer a z scale controller per say, the MRC1300 is available modified for safe use for z scale. Usually they are easily identified by the yellow sticker on the front of the controller. Usually selling for around $50-$60.

z scale locomotive

Choose Your First Z Scale Locomotive

Nothing is more important to any train than the locomotive. No locomotive, no train! Aside from being the key part of your z scale railroad, the locomotive is one of the more interesting aspects of the hobby. Car after car may go by but your focus is on the locomotive. Finally, the type of locomotive you prefer will have an impact on your layout, especially on radius of the turns. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the locomotives available. If you missed part one on controllers, please check it out here. Below you will find a few considerations on the z scale locomotive.

One of the most iconic locomotives has to be the Marklin 0-6-0 that was introduced in so many starter sets in 1972. These little locomotives are still around and you can find them on ebay used for around $50. These little guys are still a great choice for small radius layouts, like 120mm or even less they did just fine. So if you are modeling a small European railroad with tight curves these little locomotives do well. But for the purposes of this series, we are focusing on US prototypes. which brings up one of the problems in my opinion with z scale, their simply isn’t enough small z scale switcher locomotives available.

Marklin offers several US locomotives including steam locomotives. They have made available 2-8-2, 4-6-2 and 4-6-0 steam locomotives which seem to do ok on a 145mm radius. Their F-7 diesel locomotives also do well on a smaller radius turns. Marklin has recently released E-8/9 units, not sure what the recommended radius is on them, but on larger locomotives, a larger radius makes for smoother operation and looks better. Another very cool Marklin unit is their GG-1 locomotive.

American Z Line, or AZL has really opened up the door to z scale railroading with very nice selection of locomotives. Steam offerings include the Mikado, a real workhorse for many prototype and model railroads alike. But their is also some real high end steam units available, including several versions of a Big Boy and a SP Cab forward, both in brass. Sold out and very hard to come by are the AZL GS-4 units and Challengers. While AZL recommends a 220mm radius on the Mikado, some report running them on 170mm. 195mm seems to be a realistic minimum. As for the bigger locomotives really need 245mm plus.

AZL also offers a wide variety of diesel locomotives as well. Smaller GP38-2 locomotives can be had for under $100 and are billed as entry level locomotive. They really are a great value and can be upgraded to DCC and Micron Art offers a super detail kit if you want to dress them up a little. They do well on a 195mm radius and are available in variety of roads. Other smaller diesel locomotives include GP-7’s and 9’s, and GP30’s. A very nice series of SD70 and SD75 locomotives is also available with more modern diesel power promised this year. The E8/9 units have been an awesome addition to the z scale line up as well. Micro Trains Line has been offering diesel locomotives for some time. While they have made some very nice SD40-2, GP35, GP9 and F7 units, currently their F7 A&B units are by far the most readily available with a nice variety of road names. Marklin, AZL and Micro Trains all use different couplers. While AZL & Micro Trains couplers are compatible, Marklin is stands alone so you would have to convert them or use a conversion car to use them with cars and locomotives other than Marklin. We will address couplers a little bit later.

Great Northern z  scale passenger cars

Z Scale Rolling Stock

Z scale rolling stock selection continues to grow and grow. You have the standards, you know box cars gondolas, tankers and more. But what continues to amaze me in this tiny scale is the selection of road names and road specific details. You will find all the big road very well represented along with some small obscure short lines. Manufactures include American Z Lines, Full Throttle, MTL, FR, Marklin and others. While much of the rolling stock tends to be modern, there is plenty of older stock to choose from. Full Throttle is always producing steam to diesel era rolling stock that is perfect for smaller layouts. Passenger car selection is really being represented well by AZL and MTL.

A Quick Bit On Couplers

The question always comes up on couplers. If you are coming to Z from N or HO, you are likely familiar with MTL couplers. MTL couplers are standard on the MTL line. AZL & Full Throttle offer their own couplers. They are all compatible however the MTL is the only one that operates magnetically. Marklin z scale couplers are not compatible with these type of couplers. The obvious solution is a conversion car with Marklin couplers on one end and MTL, Full Throttle or the AZL on the other.

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AZL California Zephyr

If you are doubting if z scale is a progressives scale or if there is a future with it, consider the California Zephyr announced by American Z Lines. We will have it by end of year 2019 and it is a testament not only what can be done in z scale but to the drive that AZL has to produce iconic z scale pieces.

The AZL California Zephyr in z scale will be available in several configurations. There are four 11 car sets and how about this little addition, the single PRR car that ran weekly as a through service to and from New York City! Yes z scale is alive and well indeed. You will need some pulling power so AZL is offering F3 A/B units in D&RGW, Burlington Route and Western Pacific.

Here is the blurb from AZL them selves: AZL is proud to offer the legendary California Zephyr operated jointly by the CB&Q, D&RGW and WP between Chicago and Oakland. Scaling both the Rockies and the Sierras, it was the most scenic train route in North America. The CZ traveled 2,438 miles starting in 1949 until 1971 when Amtrak took over. All passenger cars were made by Budd. Originally a 10 car consist in 1951, but increased to 11 in 1952.

AZL also offers the single PRR car that ran weekly as a through service to and from New York City. The CZ railroads ordered 6 complete sets and AZL have made 4! All three railroads used EMD F3s as pulling power which AZL also offers separately. The correct F3 assignments were: CB&Q A-B-A, D&RGW A-B-B-A and WP A-B-B.

Would you like to see the AZL California Zephyr in action? While I am sure you would like to see it in action on your layout, for now, check out the videos below. You could easily design and operate a complete layout just around this one set. And with z scale, you can do it full justice and have a long running train in just a tiny little space with loads of scenery and sweeping curves. Yeah, z scale is cool!

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