Tips for using Dept. 56 and Lemax-type buildings with Lionel trains

A frequent question I see regards the proper scale of snow village-type buildings, like Department 56 and Lemax, and whether they’re suitable for use with Lionel electric trains.

The answer is that their scale varies, but the buildings work very effectively with traditional Lionel trains, or, for that matter, 1:64 S scale American Flyer trains. Many hobbyists have built elaborate winter-themed layouts using these buildings. Typically the scale runs from anywhere from 1:64 to 1:48, with lots of selective compression to make the buildings fit an approximate footprint. The very same thing is true of the Lionel trains of the 1950s, so, intentional or not, they end up being a pretty good match.

The figures sold with these buildings, on the other hand, tend to be much larger–very close to 1:24 scale. This discrepancy bothers some people more than others.

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Re-attaching prewar Lionel trucks

This past weekend I scored a poorly repainted Lionel #602 baggage car (made from 1915-1923) and an Ives #71 passenger car (made 1923-25) at an estate sale. The Ives was in good shape and original, but one of the Lionel’s trucks was detached and one of the hook couplers was broken. Fortunately I was able to find the loose truck, and the repair was as simple as you can get. Read more

The estate find that broke my slump

I wrote a few weeks ago about finding a scarce Marx windup train at an estate sale, but I actually went a good couple of years without finding a train worth buying until recently. The train that broke my slump was at a sale close to home, and I actually didn’t even set out to buy a train that day.

It was a cold and rainy morning in St. Louis. It was Friday, and I was in between jobs. The estate sale was close, so I went. Otherwise I would have had no reason to go. I don’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but I didn’t expect to find a train. 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

Kickin’ my wireless oldskool, WRT54G-style

I found a couple of old Linksys WRT54G routers and decided to load DD-WRT on them. The first one, an abandoned-by-Linksys WRT54GS model, gave me some trouble, which led me to buying a TP-Link unit to run DD-WRT on. The second unit, which was a vanilla WRT54G, still had firmware available on Linksys’ site, so the upgrade was somewhat straightforward–it went by the book, at least. I installed the latest Linksys firmware, then installed the DD-WRT mini build, then upgraded to the full build.

Linksys WRT54g obsolete
This Linksys WRT54G was one of the best pieces of computer hardware of its day. I can’t recommend it as a router anymore but it can still help you out as an access point.

After getting DD-WRT running on it, I configured it to behave as an access point on channel 6. I was surprised at how strong the signal was. Years ago, I ran a pair of WRT54G routers, and they struggled to cover the house. It’s possible that was due to age, or perhaps I was getting too much interference from my neighbors since we were probably all running our wireless on the default channel in those days because none of us knew better.

As for my WRT54GS, when I tried to upgrade it, I got a nice message stating, “Upgrade are failed!” Nice. Too bad it didn’t add “All your base are belong to us.” That’s when I learned you need to install the last Linksys upgrade first, then upgrade from that. So I downloaded that from some forum, tried flashing that, and received the same message. So I set it aside, figuring I bricked the unit. A few days later, after getting the WRT54G running, I fired up the GS, visited its configuration page, and… found DD-WRT running on it! Upgrade are failed? More like all your upgrade are belong to ME.

In all honesty, I probably got lucky. It’s always best to go by the book on things like this.

The WRT54G is limited, of course, to 802.11b and 802.11g (54 megabits max) but as a complement to a more modern router, it still has a few tricks left. If you have one laying around, it won’t cost anything aside from about 30 minutes’ worth of effort to load DD-WRT on it and see what it can still do for you.

And if you don’t happen to have one laying around, it’s not hard to find a used WRT54G. I find them at estate sales, garage sales, and rummage sales pretty frequently because a lot of people set them aside when they either buy newer, faster routers or their ISP forces them into an all-in-one unit. Don’t pay too much for it, because it’s aging technology, but I’d say they’re worth grabbing for $5 or less.

How I fixed a Lionel RW transformer

How I fixed a Lionel RW transformer
Lionel RW
The Lionel RW transformer, produced from 1948 to 1954, is one of Lionel’s larger single-throttle transformers.

I had a Lionel RW transformer that I bought nearly 10 years ago, at one of my first estate sales. I’m sure I remember using it after I bought it, but it was far from in working order when I found it this time. The accessory posts all showed voltage, but the critical A and B posts showed zero volts when connected to the U post, no matter how I turned up the handle. So while the transformer could power accessories, I couldn’t run a train off it using the variable output.

And I was uncomfortable using it without knowing exactly why part of it wasn’t working.

Fixing turned out to be easy, however.

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Don’t build a drill press out of PVC pipe

This past weekend, Lifehacker posted instructions for building a makeshift drill press out of PVC pipe. Although the finished contraption looks kind of cool, it’s not something you want to build yourself.

My drill press cost me $40. It’s far better and far safer, even though it’s still possible to injure yourself with it. But structurally it’s as sound as it gets, and acquiring it didn’t take me all weekend, either. Read more

How to build Lifehacker’s retro coffee table on the cheap

Lifehacker posted a nice weekend project this week, a retro coffee table, but the price tag seems steeper than it needs to be. If you’re craving some retro goodness but think $300 is a bit much to spend to play old video games, I have some ideas for you.

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The Card wasn’t real!

Somehow I missed this a couple of weeks ago, but the former owner of the most valuable baseball card ever, a 1909 tobacco card picturing Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner, admitted to altering it sometime before he sold it. This card, sometimes called The Card, was owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky for a time in the 1990s, so The Card is sometimes also called the Gretzky Wagner.

The story of the T206–T206 being the designation that the founder of baseball card collecting, Jefferson Burdick, assigned to that particular set–Wagner is shrouded in mystery anyway, and the Gretzky Wagner, even more so. The Gretzky Wagner was even the subject of a book published in 2008, appropriately titled The Card. Read more

Value Village and Affton could be very good for one another

There’s a Value Village thrift store in Shrewsbury that’s being displaced because the plaza it’s in–the same place I used to go to buy Commodore gear–is going to be demolished to make way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Whether Shrewsbury needs a Wal-Mart Supercenter when there’s one six miles away is another question for another day.

Value Village needs someplace to go, and Affton has an available retail space that’s been empty since the hardware store previously occupying it went out of business more than a year ago. County councilman Steve Stenger (D-Affton) wants to block the move, essentially saying that Affton is too good for a place like Value Village. Read more