A frequent question I read is how to attach tin accessories, such as Marx light posts and light towers, to a layout in a semi-permanent but reversible manner. I have found a way to do this, and as a bonus, it also makes it easy to hide the wires that are feeding the lights and makes the wiring simpler.
Some people try to fix rusty track, while others argue it isn’t worth the bother. But if you’re in the latter camp, you still have options besides trashing it: Make display shelves out of it.
My local train shop offers questionable track to his regular customers for free whenever he gets it, rather than trashing it or selling something that an unfamiliar customer might be unhappy with. I turned down a box of O31 track recently, then came to regret it a couple of weeks later when I remembered I could have used it. But that’s OK–he’ll probably have more next Saturday. Or the Saturday after that if not. I had plenty of disused track in a big tub under my layout anyway.
When you want to phase transformers, it’s good to know the common (in Lionel terms) or base (in American Flyer terms) post. It’s a shame that Marx didn’t label which of its posts was common. So here’s how to find the common post on a Marx transformer.
It’s a good thing this is fairly easy to figure out, because Marx transformers are dirt cheap. I bought one for exactly one dollar at the last train show I attended, and the vendor wanted to sell me a box full of them for $5.
Sakai trains were made in HO and O gauge by a Tokyo-based manufacturer and sold abroad, particularly in the United States and Australia after World War II. Sakai’s O gauge product bore a curious resemblance to Marx. I have read speculation that Marx once used Sakai as a subcontractor, and Sakai used the tooling to make its own trains rather than returning it to Marx, but there are enough differences that I don’t think that’s the case.
What I do know is that Sakai’s O gauge product was a curious blend of cues from Lionel and Marx and the trains worked pretty well. They’re hard to find today, but not especially valuable since few people know what they are. They turn up on Ebay occasionally.
To held tracks hold together without nailing them down permanently, AC Gilbert marketed its #694 track locks. Sometimes people also call these track clips. The locks are u-shaped pieces of tin that came in a brown envelope with instructions on the front. If you’ve lost the instructions, or bought the clips secondhand and never got them, here’s how to install American Flyer track locks.
These track locks are indispensable for setting up a layout on the floor.
I’ve seen a number of videos lately made by people putting dashboard cameras on their trains, which gives a view of a layout that we don’t usually get to see–the view from the trains themselves. I’ve found a cheaper option. Hit up Ebay for an SJ4000 camera, which, if you sort the buy-it-now listings, you should be able to get for less than $20.
If that’s too rich for your blood, look for the Mini DVR 808, which is keychain sized and costs more like $5.
Don’t expect the world for that kind of money, but you can get a surprisingly good view of your layout from a perspective you’ll never see in person with one.
It’s not quite like getting to ride in your trains, but it’s not bad, either.
I had a Marx 999 that didn’t run well when I pulled it out of storage. When pushing it along the track a few times didn’t yield any measurable improvement, I decided I’d better take it apart and give it a thorough cleaning.
In this case, I worked on a Marx 999, but everything I did applies to any other O gauge train Marx made except for the very late 490 locomotives, whose motors don’t seem to have been designed to let you do any more than replace the brushes.
It’s not uncommon to find model trains with unwanted paint on them, or original paint that’s damaged beyond the point of being able to rehabilitate it. Fortunately, the price is usually low on these trains, and there are numerous household chemicals that can strip the paint off these trains and give them a fresh start.
These tricks also work with other toys and plastic models, but while some of these methods seem to be unknown in the train community, some of them are very well known among collectors who restore vintage plastic model kits. This is an example where knowledge across disciplines can be very valuable, so I hope the car and airplane modelers won’t mind me sharing their secrets.
The Lionel LW Trainmaster is a 125 watt transformer that Lionel produced from 1955 to 1966. They are reasonably durable and Lionel made them for a long time. That means you can find them easily on the secondary market. They can be expensive if they have their original box and paperwork. But if you just want to run a train and don’t care about the paper, you can get a serviced LW for $50-$60, and an as-is one for under $40. At 125 watts, it’s the most powerful single-handle transformer of the postwar era.
The LW is a quirky transformer so there are some things about if you need to be aware of if you have other Lionel transformers, but as long as you keep those in mind, it’s a fine transformer that will serve you well. The quirks have nothing at all to do with reliability. Lionel just designed its layout a bit differently than many of their other models. In some ways it’s the ideal accessory transformer. We’ll cover that later.
One thing to keep in mind: Unplug the LW when you’re not using it. It doesn’t have its own power switch. I plug my transformers into a power strip and turn all of them on and off with the strip’s on/off switch.
Someone asked me recently about the Lionel CW-80 and how it compares vs older transformers. That’s a fair question, and one that tends to stir up a lot of emotions on train forums. So I’ll try to present the pros and cons in a fair manner.