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Z Odyssey

Taking the Plunge

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My First Steps in Z
NOVEMBER 2004

After months of coveting the amazing layouts I saw on other people's websites, the time came for my big decision: was I going to take that first fateful step and spend money on Z scale 'stuff'? I figured out a great way around this dilemma - I asked my wife for a Marklin starter set for my birthday. If it turned out to be a hit, then great. If I absolutely hated it, then at least I didn't feel like I'd wasted my money. After all, I didn't buy it! The set I chose was the Z Gift Starter (Marklin #81567).

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At this point, there are two major manufacturers of Z Scale locomotives - Marklin (who first developed Z Scale in 1972) and Micro-Trains. Both manufacturers sell locos, rolling stock, track and accessories separately, but starter sets are a great way to get up and running quickly and (relatively) cheaply.

If your local hobby or train store doesn't carry Z scale, a quick Google search or glance at Ztrack yields a ton of retailers for everything available. Since I'm just getting started, I haven't had too much experience with any of them yet, but it is always helpful to be able to compare prices, shipping and service. Listed here are the ones I've found most helpful. Some have very competitive prices and even photos of the items to drool over! (Since I live in California, most of my links are around the U.S. - my apologies to the rest of the world. Here's your chance to enjoy the benefits and fun of doing your own research.)

My Marklin set included a loop of track, which I decided would become my test track. I bought a cheap artists' drawing board to mount it, and stuck everything down with good old white glue. Not only does this allow me to do tests; I can also run trains while I am planning and building the final layout!

DECEMBER 2004

Disaster! After several hours of running fine, my new Marklin loco began faltering and finally siezed up altogether. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. Having heard so much about Marklin's great reputation, the wonders of German engineering, and so on, my first experience was souring rapidly.

My first message on the Z Scale Forum was a cry for help, and the members came through with some swift and helpful answers.

Based on their suggestions I first of all cleaned the track with a track eraser and isopropyl alcohol, and cleaned the loco wheels - no dice! Next step was to test all the electrical connections with my trusty multimeter - power was running AOK! At this point I was pretty sure the problem had to be with the loco motor. Since I didn't yet have the confidence to begin tinkering under the shell, I took it down to my local train store, where they tried a few tricks and basically pronounced the patient DOA.

Despite the fact I was muttering curses about Marklin under my breath, I pulled out my warranty card and discovered I had 2 years in which they would take care of my new baby. Next day it was on it's way to the Marklin HQ in Ohio, and within a week I had a brand new loco and a nice note of apology from Marklin.

I'm pleased to say I have no more problems. The loco runs like a dream, Marklin is once again a fabulous company and I got to enjoy running trains on Christmas Day. Life just doesn't get much better!
Marklin Z Gift Starter Set (#81567)

Includes: 1 German Federal Railroad (DB) class 74 tank locomotive with the new 5-pole mini-club motor, 1 gondola with a gift as a load, 1 "Privatbrauerei Ganter, Freiburg" beer car, 2 sections straight track, 10 sections curved track, rerailer and power pack. Track plan brochure. Train length 169 mm (6-5/8"). Can be expanded with the 8191, 8192, 8193 and 8194 SET track extension sets or as desired.
Related Links:

(Major Train Manufacturers)
(Internet Retailers)

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My Marklin Test Track