What works for me in O scale, and probably applies to some smaller
- Always use two hands. Always.
- Pick up trucked cars/locos by the trucks
- Gently feel at the contact points to test for small breakable parts
such as steps. Before applying force shift grip if needed to avoid
- Always separate steam engine components, e.g., separate the engine from
the tender, pick up each part separately
- Pick up steam locos with one hand on the cylinders and the other hand
gripping the cab floor and bottom of frame. On articulated locos the cylinder
pick up point is the front cylinders, and carefully allow the boiler to
swing to one side against the U of your fingers to stablize it for
carrying. Pick up tenders by their trucks.
- Some older steam locos have drawbars that are screwed to both the
engine and tender, and have to be handled as a unit. To pick them up I
put one hand on the cylinders. The index finger of the other hand goes
under the cab roof and with the same hand grip the tender sides. That
way one hand controls the tender and loco as a unit.
- Pick up multi-units one unit (by the trucks) at at time. E.g., as an
extreme example, separate an ABBA set and pick up four times.
- Before inverting the piece to work on it (always use a soft cradle to
hold it), check for hinged detail parts that could open. Use blue
masking tape to hold them closed so they don't flop open when you turn
the piece upside down which springs the hinge when you lay the piece
down in the cradle.
All that seems like a lot, but believe me, avoiding repairing that
detailed piece is worth it. And unfortunately, I have learned the
above pointers the hard way.
Of course, as others have posted, dealing with pieces not getting
handled by visitors/operators can be an art in diplomacy.