Tag Archives: ho scale

Another creative source for S gauge figures: Liberty Falls Americana

In the 1990s, there was a brand of collectible village called Liberty Falls Americana, made by a company called International Resource Services and sold in department stores. The product line consisted of porcelain buildings that are close to HO scale, but the figures are pretty close to 1:64 S scale.  Made-to-be-collectibles tend not to hold their value very well, which means they’re still inexpensive today, and not hard to find on Ebay.

Set in the American West in the late 19th century, the figures are passable on a train layout even if your layout is set in a later era. Women in long, formal dresses won’t look out of place near a church, for example. Perhaps there’s a service or a wedding going on. Men in suits and hats work in that setting as well, and men tended to dress much more formally up to the 1950s than they typically do today, so the male figures in suits and hats wandering around the commercial district are perfectly believable on a traditional American Flyer toy train layout.

Then again, if you want Western figures to complement an American Flyer setup featuring a Casey Jones loco, the Liberty Falls figures are the very best thing you’ll find.

Sometimes the figures come painted and sometimes they’re just stained pewter. If you can score some painted figures, of course, they can go straight to the layout. Painting unpainted figures can be part of the fun too.

Creative sourcing for O and S scale train layout figures

Hobby shops frequently carry a decent selection of figures for O and S gauge layouts, but if you look at the magazines long enough, you start to see almost all of them have the same figures–and they’re probably the same figures the shop near you sells as well.

There are ways to get a better variety of figures so your layout can have something distinctive about it–and the good news is you can save some money doing it as well.

Continue reading Creative sourcing for O and S scale train layout figures

Looking back at Sam Posey’s Playing With Trains

I finally got around to reading Playing With Trains (here’s a Nook link), sportscaster Sam Posey’s 2004 memoir of 50 years as a model railroader.

Of course I was mostly interested in the first couple of chapters, where he talks about growing up with Lionel trains. It’s more a personal recollection than a complete history, which was his intent, but that’s good. The history of the consumer perspective often gets lost. He and his mother regarded American Flyer as more realistic but flimsier; Lionel was rugged but ran on unrealistic 3-rail track.

Here’s another interesting tidbit: Growing up in the 1950s, your big toy was either a train set or a fort playset–normal families couldn’t afford both. I was vaguely aware that the fort playsets existed but didn’t know that about them. Continue reading Looking back at Sam Posey’s Playing With Trains

What’s an Allstate electric train?

Model electric trains from the 1950s and 1960s (and perhaps 1970s, but no later than 1975) branded “Allstate” are somewhat common, which leads to some further questions.

Yes, it’s Allstate, as in the insurance company. What did they have to do with electric trains?

Continue reading What’s an Allstate electric train?

Replacing old Lionel DC transformers

For a while in the 1970s and 1980s, Lionel used DC power in its least expensive O27 train sets. They stopped this practice a good 25 years ago, but there are still plenty of those sets kicking around.

Here’s how to figure out what you have, and track down a suitable replacement. AC and DC power supplies are not interchangeable, and you can seriously damage your train if you use the wrong kind.

Continue reading Replacing old Lionel DC transformers

E.R. Johnston, the train dealer, the myth, the legend

Something today made me think of Johnston Electric, a legendary, long-gone train store in St. Louis’ Dutchtown neighborhood that sold Lionel, American Flyer, and HO scale trains.

I was in the old Marty’s Model Railroads store in Affton one afternoon several years ago while Marty was going through a box of trains he had bought earlier in the day. He found some manuals, catalogs, and other paperwork, which he set aside. Then he pulled out an old newspaper page. “I wonder why he saved that?” he asked. He set the paper down, then something caught his eye. “Oh, that’s why,” he said, and pointed at an ad on the page.

“Johnston’s,” it read at the bottom. “3118 Chippewa Street.”

“I spent many, many hours at that place when I was younger,” Marty said.
Continue reading E.R. Johnston, the train dealer, the myth, the legend

Christmas Eve, a train that wouldn’t run, and a happy ending

It was Christmas Eve. I finished playing Santa, then I plopped down in front of the computer to unwind and signed into Facebook. Internet pal John Dominik posted a status update about buying a Bachmann N-scale train set and it not working, and how he knew he should have tried it out before Christmas Eve. I offered to help. He related the epic troubleshooting he went through–OK, perhaps it wasn’t epic, but his account of the things he tried was longer than the Book of Jude and several other books of the Bible–and, frankly, there wasn’t anything I would have thought of that he hadn’t already tried. He went beyond that and even tried things I wouldn’t have tried. Or recommend, for that matter, but that’s OK. He mentioned he’d had a set of HO trains when he was younger, and that gave me an idea. I asked if he still had that power pack, because, if he was willing to do a little creative and sloppy wiring, he’d be able to get that new Bachmann set working with it. He said he did.

The temporary fix worked, and Christmas Eve was salvaged. John said he hoped Bachmann would be cooperative about the bad power pack.

Continue reading Christmas Eve, a train that wouldn’t run, and a happy ending

Fifteen minutes a day

I’ve been spending entirely too much time on train forums lately. So have a lot of other people. Places that used to be good for learning things have turned into cliques, or worse yet, hateful arguments over stupid things like whether Lionel O gauge is more popular than HO scale (something that hasn’t been true since about 1957, and I’m shocked anyone has believed otherwise since about 1960).

A few months ago, someone actually posted something helpful: a suggestion that you spend 15 minutes a day working on your hobby instead of talking about it.Fifteen minutes isn’t a lot of time, but that’s the point. You can almost always find 15 minutes. And 15 minutes isn’t enough time to accomplish anything major, but you can accomplish lots of little things, and getting those little things out of the way can make things more productive on those days when you have a big block of time you can dedicate to it.

Here are some 15-minute projects I’ve accomplished in the last couple of weeks:

1. Drill holes in the supports under the table to accommodate a bus wire.

2. Run a bus wire around the underside of the layout to make wiring anything and everything above the table a simple matter of running feeder wires down to the bus. I needed four: one common (or ground), one for each loop of track, and one for lighting.

3. Run feeder wires to one track section or one building. Or two if there’s enough time.

4. Remove one building from the layout and put glazing in the windows. Spend as many days as necessary on that building.

Here are some other ideas for 15-minute projects:

Install one streetlight. Wiring can be a separate project if need be.

Assemble one Plasticville kit.

Make one tree.

Place a couple of figures someplace to make some kind of interesting scene–the best layouts are made up of mini vignettes that tell lots of stories.

The cool thing is that most of these build on one another. And while there was no visible benefit to the first two projects, which admittedly took several days to accomplish, now I’m at a point where each of these 15-minute projects creates something highly visible.

Also note that a lot of people would consider steps 1-3 one big project. The problem is that such a project, even on a small 8×8 layout like mine, can consume a whole weekend. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t sit under my layout messing around with wire for hours at a time. I believe that I often accomplish as much in four separate 15-minute sessions as I do in a couple of hours because I can keep my focus.

And there’s another nice thing. At the end of my 15 minutes, I’ve accomplished something with some tangible benefit. It’s OK if it isn’t visible, because it will be in a few days. Spend 15 minutes on a train forum, and you might learn something or help someone else, but depending on the forum, it seems more likely that somebody’s just going to make you mad.

If I manage to keep this up, in a year I will have spent 91 hours and 15 minutes working on the layout. There’ll be days when I won’t have 15 minutes, but I should be able to find that much most days. Even if I only do it half the time, I can still spend more than 40 hours working on the layout next year.

And I’ll accomplish more than I would have if I’d taken a week’s vacation and spent it working on the layout. Because we all know that will never happen.