model train set on track

Book Review: Classic Toy Trains magazine’s Command Control for Toy Trains by Neil Besougloff, 2003, Kalmbach Publishing Company, Waukesha, WI, USA

e*Train Issue: Jul 2003   |   Posted in:

by Don Woodwell

Overall Impressions:

Neil’s book is an excellent description of Lionel’s TMCC and MTH’s DCS, today’s 3-rail command control systems. It is a primer targeted at those who have no experience with either system and therefore no biases. In simple, straightforward language, Neil describes and compares each system including their strengths and weaknesses, and offers a five-point guide for selecting the system that best meets individual hobbyist’s needs. This is the first book of its kind that does not require any technical know-how to understand 3-rail command control principles or application.

Specific Comments:

1. Book format:

  • The 104 page book’s 8-1/2″ x 5-1/2″ size is fine for its purpose as a quick reference guide and primer for command control.
  • It’s glossy soft cover design and bright colors make it very attractive.

2. Writing for reader Level:

Neil writes at a basic level without presuming any reader technical knowledge. He does not attempt to explain the underlying technical principles of either command control system. This is a refreshing departure from the usual pundit’s technical hyperbole so often found on the various Internet discussion groups. It’s clear that Neil sees command control in a different light than many hobbyists. After reading his explanations of Lionel and MTH products and ways to use them for added enjoyment when operating toy trains, I felt less intimidated and more willing to give command control a try.

3. Aids for Understanding:

  • Lightbulbs: Tips for “Layout Builders”, “Advanced Operators”, “Star Wiring”, and “Upgrading” are just a few of the twenty subjects called out for special focus.
  • Q/A: Used very effectively in Chapters 2, 10, and 18, this technique proposes answers to the questions most frequently asked by inexperienced command control operators.
  • Cross-reference arrows: Criss-crossed arrows in the margin are a sign that readers should refer to another Chapter for relevant information.
  • Diagrams: Track and command control component diagrams are simple, and easily understood. While acceptable there were not enough diagrams to illustrate all the connection alternatives. For example, Neil describes in words how to connect a Lionel Powermaster or TPC without a diagram. I read what he said, and got it wrong. I had to ask an experienced TMCC user for help.

Component Photos:

  • The component photos were acceptable except for instances where the component did not match the caption (page 19, AVC not TPC; and page 39, TPC, not QS-3000; page 78, Fig. 14-3, DCS handheld does not show the menu of sound-effect abbreviations, and Fig. 14-4 does not show the signal strength mode).
  • Many of the photos were not actual locomotives or tenders but drawings of such. I would have preferred seeing actual locomotives including close-up photos of their underside switches, or under-the-shell components.
  • The TMCC CAB-1 buttons are frequently shown in full or part based on text descriptions, but the DCS controller is shown only once in full view at the end of the book (pg, 95). Discussions of this component from page 59 to 94 only showed it from “the waist up”.

Glossary & Index:

  • Both of these are very helpful to understanding many new terms.


  • This first of its kind book is a must for every 3-rail train hobbyist considering command control for the first time as well as for those experienced in one of the other system.
  • The illustration shortcomings in the book do not detract from the message of encouragement for those of us who still have not even dipped our toe into the command control pond.
  • Neil and Classic Toy Trains has done the hobby a great service by writing and publishing this book, and I look forward to a new and expanded edition that builds on the base that he has created.