A common question is whether Marx trains will work with Lionel crossovers, or vice versa. The answer is not well, but with a caveat. A big caveat.
A frequent question, especially for those who are just discovering or rediscovering vintage Lionel and Marx trains is what sizes of track are (or were) available, and how many pieces come to a circle.
Unlike other scales, Lionel marketed its track by diameter, not radius. As you undoubtedly remember from geometry class, radius is the distance from the center of the circle to the edge, while diameter is the distance from edge to edge. So a circle of O27 track is approximately 27 inches. O27 track stands about 3/8 of an inch tall, while higher end O gauge (also sometimes called O31) track stands taller, at about 11/16 of an inch tall.
Here are the available sizes, in ascending order.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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