Today we’re going to flirt with our unoffical price limit in The 2023 PopCult Gift Guide as we devote our picks to HO Scale Model Railroading.

We’re going to recommend an O scale set in tomorrow’s set of Big Ticket Tuesday picks, but today we’re sticking with the traditional scale, and in fact, we’re including a fourth pick that exceeds the hundred-dollar limit I’m trying to observe this year.

Our picks include three structures in HO Scale, and our bonus pick is a good starter set, for those of you who want to indoctrinate a new fan into the hobby.  If the stucture is available in different scales, I’ll include links.

Let’s look at those structures…

Menards Rocket Launching Tower Model Railroad Structure
Made and sold by Menards
in O Scale and HO Scale
$60 to $100 at Menards (with some weird rebate discount).

I just told you about this a few weeks ago, but here we go again, just in case you missed it.

Menards, who just arrived in Barboursville a couple of years ago, have their own line of model railroading products nestled among their hardware, groceries, work clothes and home goods, and they are a godsend for model railroaders. This is a major retailer who does not have an extensive toy department, but they have provided a lifeline to hobbyists who might now have a hobby shop nearby.

They have a full line of fully-assembled structures, with an easy-to-use plug-in power system, so you can just pick them up, find a space on your layout, and plug them in. When I saw they were doing a Saturn V rocket, I was hoping they’d eventually release it in HO Scale (they usually put out an O Scale version of their structures first), and now they have released this rocket and launch tower in both scales, and I’m going to quote from their website, so I don’t get any details wrong…

The mightiest rocket of the American space program was the majestic Saturn V of Apollo fame! Rising 363 feet into the air, the 6.2-million-pound giant could produce 7.6 million pounds of thrust – more than enough to transport three Astronauts to the Moon! Thirteen Saturn Vs propelled thirteen trips to the Moon!

The Rocket Launching Tower salutes the American space program and allows you to include a rendering of this technological marvel on your own HO gauge layout.

The basics: This is fully assembled and decorated. There is illumination of the launch tower and red flashing warning lights on top of the structure. At the base of the rocket platform you’ll spot rapidly flashing red LEDs. Below the platform is a grate that house Menard’s water vapor “smoke” system. Carefully add water, and when power is applied, a visible torrent of vapor can be seen – simulating launch!

The Rocket Lunching Tower requires a 4.5-volt power supply sold separately (Menards SKU nos. 279-4061/4361, 4062/4362, or4050). Power may be applied through either a rear table-top plug in, or from below the building with a pigtail connector.

The HO Scale Launching Tower has an 4-¾ by 4-¾ inch foundation with a height of 9-3/8 inches. There is a complex array of structural support beams as well as conduits for electrical line or fuel for the liquid-powered rocket motors.

It has a massive tower structure with six levels. Five feature support arms reach out to the rocket. The rocket itself is a good model of the real thing. It is white, and decorated with black striping and an American flag. An Apollo capsule is up top, and you’ll find rudders and engine nozzles at the bottom.

The four rapid-flashing red LEDs warn folks that something big is about to happen. Then water vapor flows out at a rapid rate, suggesting the countdown is almost complete! Next stop, the Moon!

I was able to pick this up in Barboursville, but I may have gotten the last one. It can be order from their website, using the links above for the appropriate scale. Here’s a quick look at it in action…

Merchant’s Row VII — Kit
Walthers Cornerstone
In HO Scale

This set is a kit, which means you have to build, paint (some of it) and apply decals. This can be a fun, relaxing and rewarding part of the hobby, if the person on your shopping list is so inclined. Be sure to find out first if they enjoy doing this, because if you don’t like doing it, then it can be like hell on Earth.

In the event that they like to build stuff, then this is a wonderful kit that will fill up space on their train layout and look great doing it. The storefronts are visually flexible to work in eras from the 1940s to present, and the customization possibilities are endless.

Walthers describes it thusly,

Model a modernized business district when you add the Cornerstone Merchant’s Row VII to HO commercial areas big or small. Perfect for steam-, diesel- and modern-eras, the detailed structure kit includes three updated store under one roof plus:

New Left-corner block with 3 different stores
Modernized facades and entrances
Fits late 1940s to the present
Full-color 1950s-1960s vintage signs for different businesses
Great addition to big city or small town business districts
Separate back porch, downspouts and stairway
Easily mix and match with other Merchant’s Row kits (each sold separately) to create a custom business district
Molded in four colors and clear plastic

This is a great kit that can be bought or ordered at any local hobby shop, or ordered directly from Walthers, or at a discount at the link above.

Drive ‘n Dine
Woodland Scenics
in HO Scale and N Scale
Around $85

This is a cool pre-built set, in two pieces, of a nostalgic, 1950’s style drive-in restaurant. I picked it because it looks great, and it’s a bit reminiscent of Dairy Queen or the original Shoney’s. This cool scale minature is loaded with details.

As the folks at Woodland Scenics say…

Drive ‘n Dine sets a nostalgic scene on any layout and features loads of details. Two carhops on skates deliver tasty treats, and a man in a bright red convertible waits for his order. Additional details include a vintage styled signage, soda straw supports for the awning, benches, picnic table, several bicycles, light poles and more! See photos for footprint.

This structure comes with pre-installed LED lighting made for use with the Just Plug® Lighting System.

As I write this, the HO version is marked down almost to the price of the N Scale version if you order directly from Woodland Scenics at the links above, but you can probably beat even that price if you shop around online or go to a local hobby shop.

Bachmann Trains – Santa Fe Flyer Ready To Run Electric Train Set
Currently $130 via Amazon

Our bonus pick today exceeds the $100 mark, but it’s a great entry-level HO Scale train. Perfect for any new fan of model railroading.

It’s not too expensive, has an iconic Santa Fe “Warbonnet” engine and it’s got Bachmann’s “EZ Track” system, which is a godsend for those of us who grew up in the era of teensy metal connecter widgets.

It’s a basic set, as they say on the Amazon page:

Complete Ready To Run Freight Train Set
Powered by a EMD FT Diesel Locomotive with Operating Headlight
Includes; Open Quad Hopper Car, Gondola Car, and Off-Set Cupola Caboose
36″ Circle of Snap-Fit E-Z Track, Power Pack and Speed Controller
HO Scale 1:87

Santa Fe Flyer Ready To Run Electric Train Set – HO Scale. Hauling freight across the deserts, mountains, and cities of the American landscape is the Santa Fe Flyer. Powered by a mighty Santa Fe FT diesel locomotive with its distinctive “war bonnet” paint scheme, this sleek and powerful train deftly handles the ever-changing terrain of the Southwest United States. The Santa Fe Flyer includes: EMD FT diesel locomotive with operating headlight, open quad hopper, gondola, offset cupola caboose, body-mounted E-Z Mate couplers, 36″ circle of snap-fit E-Z Track including 11 pieces of curved track and 1 curved plug-in terminal rerailer, power pack and speed controller, illustrated instruction manual.

It’s not loaded with bells and whistles, but it’s a good set for kids and adults to begin their entry in the hobby.

You might want to shop around, because while Amazon usually has the lowest prices, sometimes sets like these go on sale at other websites and in hobby shops.