My son (at age 2) operating our Christmas train

My son (at age 2) operating our Christmas train. Note we also installed a “yard fence” around the tree to protect the train as well as him.

One of my co-workers inquired about getting a train around the Christmas tree and whether I had any recommendations. Well, maybe she didn’t ask for a recommendation, but I gave her one anyway.

My mom has an HO-Scale steam 4-4-0 locomotive with passenger cars around her tree, and in college I had an N-Scale Burlington Northern passenger train. Grant, my Nebraska correspondent, has an HO-Scale freight train, and my in-laws have a large, almost G-Gauge, battery operated train going around their tree. These are all good, and many times any train will do but it comes down to your style, space, and preference. My preference is in the features and operation.

We have a Lionel Christmas freight train chugging around our tree. It is a 4-4-2 O-Gauge steam locomotive with a third rail. Lionel is the classic train to put around the tree and they are very solid engines which will last many years. They typically feature buttons on the power pack that allow you to blow a whistle or ring a bell if the train is equipped with those features. Most, if not all, of the engines chuff smoke and have working headlights, and passenger cars and cabooses are typically lighted. With the sounds, lights, and smoke, children and adults will enjoy the action and play provided.

The Lionel set we purchased was about $219 and can be picked up at any model train or hobby store, online, or at some retail stores like Target and Walmart. My wife hates the smell of the smoke, but different flavors such as Gingerbread, Candy Cane, and even Bacon, may be purchased online from Mega-Steam. There is also a switch to turn off the smoke generator if you choose. It is recommended that if you are not going to fill the stack with fluid, leave the generator switched off otherwise it can harm the unit.

If you just want to turn the train on, let it run, and not worry about bells, smoke, and whistles, perhaps a Lionel is overkill. Also, if you will have any chance of metal coming in contact with the tracks, you are best to get a battery operated train that doesn’t receive power through the rails. Toy metal cars, scissors, or screwdrivers lying across electrified tracks can cause sparks and short-circuit.

If you get a train with electrified rails, and if you have children around, I strongly recommend getting remote controlled power strips so that the trains are not operated without your supervision. Plus, many train power packs remain on when not in use so it’s always nice to have an external switch. It is advised to make sure children and adults operate the train at safe speeds as moving the throttle all the way up can cause the train to jump the track, spark, and short-circuit. Slowly move the throttle up until you reach a reasonable speed.

Once a tree has a train around it space for presents is kind of limited. A few flat presents (shirt boxes) will lay nicely between the trunk of the tree and the tracks, but be prepared to have an extra pile of presents next to your tree.

A train around your tree is definitely a wonderful addition to your festive decorating. Every decorating style is unique and I encourage you to explore your options and find one that meets your needs and desires.


About Chad Leigh Kluck

Originally from Nebraska, I am a history and railroad enthusiast currently living near Saint Paul, Minnesota. I enjoy trains, photography, and nostalgic memories, as well as the history of transportation, agriculture, eateries, breweries, and railroad towns. More...

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