Wooden ties for electric train track

Someone asked me the other day about the dimensions of the metal ties on vintage electric train track, presumably to cut some wooden ties to match. So I pulled some track out of my stash, got out my caliper, and took some measurements.

Vintage electric train track from American Flyer, Lionel and Marx had large gaps in between the ties. Filling those gaps makes the track look more finished and a bit more realistic.

Matching them exactly using the wood and the tools available to you may be difficult, but you don’t have to be exact. I have some tips for that as well.

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How to mail a baseball card

If you sell cards, odds are at some point you’re going to have to mail a baseball card. You can mail a card cheaply and give it good protection.

One would think people would realize sticking a baseball card in an envelope in between two pieces of cardboard cut from a Federal Express overnight envelope and wrapping a sheet of typing paper around the package isn’t enough protection for a baseball card in the mail.

Even if you write “Do not bend. Deliver Flat.” on the envelope.

Doing it right isn’t too hard, doesn’t cost a lot, and your customers will appreciate it.

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Extra ties for Marx, Lionel, and/or American Flyer train track

If there’s one question I see over and over again, it’s what to use to fill in the gaps between the three ties that American Flyer, Lionel, and Marx put under their track.

I don’t recall anyone else ever suggesting what I do: I salvage the ties off discarded, rusty, or otherwise damaged and unusable track.

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Avoiding counterfeit baseball cards

Several times now, I’ve seen people like me, who used to collect baseball cards, went on hiatus, then came back, ask how to avoid counterfeit baseball cards, or at least detect them before it’s too late.

There’s a surprisingly simple answer that often works really well.

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The case of the fake 1935 Babe Ruth

Quick: Why is it easier to find a 1935 Goudey Babe Ruth on Ebay than the 1935 Goudey card featuring four of his former Yankee teammates, the less-than-immortal Red Rolfe, Johnny Allen, Jimmie DeShong, and Dixie Walker?

Because Red Rolfe was more likely to end up clothespinned onto bicycle spokes, right? Right?

That’s likely, but definitely not the only reason. Read more

In the city, a $6 antenna is all you need

There are a lot of good plans for DIY antennas on the web that you can make for less than $10 worth of parts, which is good considering the flood of $50 antennas on the market that are little more than hype.

A couple of years ago I made a Gray-Hoverman antenna. I had no complaints about how it worked, but it wasn’t very durable. And in St. Louis it was overkill–it picked up everything tvfool.com said I could get indoors and nothing more. No SIUC PBS station for me. A Gray-Hoverman is probably more useful along the eastern seaboard where the cities and TV stations are closer together.

Rather than fix the Gray-Howerman yet again, or build something else, I bought a basic, traditional-looking RCA ANT111F for $6. Even the simplest DIY antenna, made primarily of a cardboard box with aluminum foil, costs $3-$4 in materials to make and my time is worth more than the difference. If my kids were a bit older, a DIY antenna would be a great science experiment to do with them, but they aren’t.

I did find my reception in the basement, below ground level, was pretty abysmal. The range seemed to be less than five miles, and I could only get about five channels. But on the first floor, with the antenna about seven feet above ground level, my range is 10-12 miles, depending on the strength of the distant signal, and I could get 30 channels. To improve reception in the basement, I connected a longer cable to the antenna (using a cheap keystone jack as a coupler) so I could put it up in the ceiling, closer to ground level. When I did that, I could get 24 channels, though the signal strength wasn’t all that good.

One thing to remember when changing or repositioning an antenna: always scan for new channels afterward.

Scratchbuilding, Marx-style: Finishing the roof

This is a continuation of something I wrote well over a year ago detailing how I build Marx-style boxcars out of simple materials. Train season is starting up again soon, so it’s about time I finished this story.

Once the box that will become your Marx-style boxcar is dry, it’s time to tend to the roof.

This method won’t produce a contest-quality roof by any stretch, but it will produce something that will blend in well with Marx cars. The idea here is to produce something that most hobbyists can accomplish in an evening and that won’t overwhelm the other cars in the train. Read more

Setting up Retropie on the Raspberry Pi

I bought a Raspberry Pi over the weekend intending to turn it into a retro gaming system. I’d rather not have a mess of systems and cartridges out for my kids to tear up and to constantly have to switch around at their whims; a deck-of-cards-sized console with everything loaded on a single SD card seems much more appealing.

I followed Lifehacker’s writeup, which mostly worked. My biggest problem was my controllers. NES and SNES games would freeze seemingly at random, which I later isolated to trying to move to the left. It turned out my Playstation-USB adapter didn’t get along with the Pi at all, and was registering the select and start buttons when I tried to move certain directions, pausing the game.

When I switched to a Retrolink SNES-style pad, the random pausing went away. The precision reminded me of the really cheap aftermarket controllers of yore for the NES and SNES. I concluded my controller, which I bought used, was worn out. Ultimately I ended up switching to a Logitech controller, which worked well. Read more

My greatest estate find

If you’ve been reading this blog for a few years, you know I kind of like trains. But my favorite way to buy them isn’t to buy them at a train store. I like to buy them from estates.

One week, I spotted a few late-production Marx 6-inch cars and a plastic locomotive in an estate ad. I tallied up $30 worth of trains in the picture, and figured I’d be lucky if they asked $60 for it. But I decided to take another look at the picture,  just in case.

This wasn’t an ordinary train. Read more