Aficionados of old toys, particularly building kits like Erector and Meccano, or prewar tinplate trains made by companies like Lionel and Marx, know all too well that the tin plating on unpainted parts can wear off with time, and with it, bring unsightly rust.
When restoring a piece, they’ll often use a replating kit to apply a new coat of tin. But sometimes you want a piece to look better but can’t justify the expense of a replating kit, or the piece is too badly pitted to replate well and need an alternative.
Continue reading Aluminum paint is a cheap alternative to replating
This month’s Social Engineer podcast featured psychology professor Dr. Ellen Langer, whose specialty is mindfulness. Dr. Langer brought up a lot of important things, including the idea of work-life integration rather than the more difficult work-life balance, but another thing she briefly touched on really resonated with me. She brought up a study, originally done in the late 1970s, where a group of 80-somethings were immersed in 1959 for a week. At the end of the week, they didn’t act like 80-somethings anymore.
That got me thinking about the power of nostalgia.
Continue reading Nostalgia can make you younger
Lionel used 15 different types of light bulbs in the postwar era, but in most cases–87% of catalog numbers, and a lot more than that in actual number of items produced–you can get by with two.
Lionel almost always specified 14 or 18 volts. Using an 18-volt bulb in place of a 14-volt original, or a 22-volt bulb in place of an 18-volt original results in longer service life. And there were two base types that Lionel used more than any other. Continue reading What size and voltage to use for Lionel train light sockets
Years ago, I brought a Lionel 2026 locomotive in for repair that had belonged to my dad. It ran poorly, and either dad or his kid brother had taken it apart at some point and lost some of the parts, including the front truck.
And then, when I got the locomotive back and I put it on the track for a test run, it derailed constantly. The front truck just wouldn’t stay on the track, no matter what I did.
Continue reading Preventing front or rear truck derailment on Lionel locomotives
Every so often, the topic of lamp oil as a cheap substitute for smoke fluid in Lionel and Marx trains comes up.
The topic has been beaten to death on many closed message groups, but finding the answer isn’t always that easy. But, in short, it’s not a safe thing to do.
Continue reading Don’t use lamp oil as smoke fluid in Lionel trains
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.
Continue reading Extra ties for Marx, Lionel, and/or American Flyer train track
When using vintage Lionel transformers, it’s important to make sure the power cord isn’t broken or frayed to avoid the risk of electric shock or starting a fire.
That said, replacing a power cord safely is a lot easier than most people make it sound. It’s possible to do the job safely with simple tools and a few dollars’ worth of parts from the nearest hardware store. Here’s how.
Continue reading How to replace a Lionel transformer’s power cord
One of my coworkers, a guy with an infectious laugh named Jamaal, organized a get-together on Friday. My boss asked me if I was going.
“Sorry, it’s my son’s first Pinewood Derby,” I said. I had to explain to my boss what that was–I don’t think he was ever a Cub Scout or Boy Scout–but he was intrigued.
For whatever reason, when I was a kid my dad didn’t take the opportunity to teach me as much as he could have when we built Pinewood Derby cars, but I told my boss the only good physics lesson I ever got in my life was when Dad explained to me how a Lionel train worked. Here’s something cool you can do with math and science, and I never had a teacher show me anything cool you can do with those two things. Continue reading Lessons from my son’s first Pinewood Derby
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 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.
Continue reading Tips for using Dept. 56 and Lemax-type buildings with Lionel trains
In spite of what a certain O gauge magazine tells you, vintage toy train transformers aren’t inherently unsafe to use. Age can take their toll on them, so you want to give them a good safety inspection, but as long as they pass the safety inspection, they can give you a long, productive service life.
All of my train transformers are at least 50 years old, and I expect my sons to inherit them in workable condition. Continue reading How to check a train transformer for safety