Of the early Model trains made mostly for the toy market, a lot of were powered by clockwork. Real control of the model trains was only possible by methods of levers on the locomotive itself, which enabled the operator to make the train stop, to go, and, in lots of models, to reverse.
Although this made control of your model railroading rather crude, the designs were adequately large and robust enough that grabbing the controls on the locomotive as they ran around the track, was fairly practical. Some accessory producers likewise established unique tracks fitted with slowing and stopping gadgets that set off levers on the locomotive, therefore, automating these aspects of control.
The early electrically operated model trains used a three-rail system with the wheels resting on metal tracks with metal sleepers that supplied power and a different middle rail. This middle rail offered the power for the train through a skid under the locomotive. This kind of model train control was only possible since most of the products made use of in making the model trains were metal at that time as the plastics used in some present day manufacture were still several years away. This all-metal manufacture suggested that the tracks and locomotive easily conducted electricity.
When makers started to develop more precise in-depth model trains, accuracy in all the associated accessories became more crucial as an enhancing number of makers attempted to acquire a share of the rapidly growing market of model train enthusiasts.
As an outcome of this, some model train systems adopted a two-rail power. The wheels were separated from each other, and the two rails carried the positive and negative supply or the two sides of the power supply. Other model train systems used a row of small metal studs to replace the central rail, permitting existing three-rail models to utilize tracks that appeared like the more practical two-rail systems which were entering prevalent use.
Today the most common control method uses DC [Direct current] power with the positive and negative charges on the two rails. Some model systems nevertheless use AC power on the three-rail system.
The very earliest Electric model trains ran on battery power as few homes were wired for electrical power in the late 19th or early 20th Century. It is interesting that low-cost model train sets running on battery power are becoming more common again. But most model train operators relate to these as toys and real enthusiasts rarely use them. These battery powered model trains can make an important contribution however to this pastime. They can introduce young children to the joys and pleasures of being a model train operator. Many of the older model train lovers today recall that their very first experiences with model trains were with toy trains given to them as presents that ended up being the delightful beginnings of a lifetime hobby.
Lots of garden train and larger scale design train systems still use battery power today. This is required because of the problem in obtaining a dependable power supply through the rails situated outdoors where safe circuitry and insulation can be a problem. The high level of power consumption and the subsequent high current drawn by large scale garden model trains is, therefore, more quickly and more securely satisfied by using lead acid batteries, like those used in contemporary cars.