Tag Archives: Model Railroader

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

The best glue for paper models

If you’re looking for the best glue for paper models, you’ve come to the right place. To build a paper model that lasts, use a pH-neutral PVA bookbinder’s glue. My wife, who has a master’s degree in art education, specifically recommended Books by Hand PVA Adhesive. Although it looks and smells and feels like regular white glue, I find it does a better job of not warping the paper and not bubbling. And for longevity’s sake, you want something that doesn’t change the pH balance of your paper. Books by Hand glue is pH neutral.

I started building model structures with Books by Hand glue in 2004. Those miniature buildings still look like I built them yesterday. Continue reading The best glue for paper models

Model Railroad Hobbyist

Model Railroad Hobbyist is a monthly online-only magazine about, as the title suggests, model railroading. The quality of the content is very high–I’ll argue the writing, editing and photography give Model Railroader and/or Railroad Model Craftsman a run for the money. I really think which is best in any given month has more to do with the reader’s interests than anything else.

If you’re interested in model railroading or any other hobby that involves trains, dioramas, or both, it’s worth bookmarking and visiting every month. Perhaps more frequently, as you peruse back issues for gems you missed in the past.

Contract time

I received a contract today from Classic Toy Trains, a sister publication of Model Railroader and Discover. If you haven’t heard of CTT, there’s a chance you’ve heard of one of the others. It’s an article about the venerable Lionel gateman accessory, and some tricks for improving its operation.

I don’t know yet when they plan to publish it, but when I find out, I’ll make an announcement.

Kalmbach, the owner of CTT, has a long tradition of excellence dating to the 1930s. I’m thrilled to write for them.

Making trees from wire, plaster and lichen

I like this tutorial because it uses common materials and works for almost any kind of train: Making detailed oaks and maples.

It doesn’t hurt that the results look good too.I don’t think there would be anything wrong with using these trees on a tinplate prewar O gauge, Standard Gauge, or 2-inch Gauge (Carlisle & Finch and the like) layout. I don’t know if hobbyists were using these techniques 100 years ago, but the materials were all available then.

Lichen is available at craft and floral supply stores. You could also buy floral wire there to use in the project in place of electrical wire. Plaster is available at craft and hardware stores. And you can paint it with craft acrylics, available at craft stores and even some discount stores.

A lot of projects require a good hobby shop close by, and not everyone has one of those anymore. Living where I do, there are three good shops within 15 minutes of home (one is only about three miles away) but some projects require specialty items those stores don’t have. About a year ago I went to the estate sale of a model railroader who was extremely good at building and superdetailing kits. Virtually everything he had came from a hobby shop much further away.

The first thing I thought when I saw this project was that I could probably go out and buy everything I needed to make some of these even if I was visiting my in-laws in southeastern Missouri. And I might not even have to drive 30 miles to the nearest Hobby Lobby to get what I need.

It might be the first project I’ve ever seen where this is true.

If you think you can do it so much better, then do it yourself

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately on the Classic Toy Trains forums. It seems like every time a new issue hits the street, someone has to find an article that has something wrong with it and point it out.It started a few months ago when my friend and mentor Joe Rampolla published an article about adding a capacitor to a toy train to make it stall less often and run more smoothly. The claims, as far as I can tell, were false (I had my longtime friend Steve DeLassus, who has a degree in electrical engineering from Washington University, check them out).

But practically every month since then, someone’s publicly taken issue with something in the magazine.

It’s not about a vendetta against a single author. One issue it was Joe. But last issue it was repair expert Ray Plummer’s advice on repairing a Lionel 2037. This issue it’s the legendary Peter Riddle’s article about getting Lionel’s TMCC and MTH’s DCS (two rival control systems) working together on the same layout.

In the case of each of these articles, the things the author said to do work. There might be an alternative way to do them. But that’s the nature of the hobby. Doesn’t it seem like Model Railroader publishes an article at least once a year about making trees, and not one of those articles has been a repeat since at least 1972 (and possibly 1942)? And if you were to read a complete run of Railroad Model Craftsman, you could probably find another 50 different ways to make trees.

Fifty or a hundred people having different ways to do it doesn’t make the guy who wrote the first article about making trees wrong.

In the case of Ray Plummer, what Plummer said matches what my local repair guy said and did when my Lionel 2037 had problems. When the pilot truck is adjusted within specifications, the 2037 and its many cousins run just fine. Plummer’s critic said the pilot truck is a poor design, and when you lengthen the truck to change its pivot point, it works more reliably.

That’s possible. I don’t know the theory behind pivot points. One of my best friends happens to be a mechanical engineer and maybe he could confirm that for me.

What I can say is that Plummer’s advice preserves the historical integrity and collector value of the locomotive. While modifying the pivot point probably wouldn’t make the locomotive worth any less to someone who just wants to run it, it would make it worth less to a collector.

I can also confirm that Plummer’s advice worked just fine on the locomotive that once belonged to my Dad. It’s almost as dependable as my Honda now.

As far as this month’s article to hit the avalanche of criticism, I don’t use any command control system on my layout and I have no interest in doing so. So I don’t have any experience that would back him up, and neither do either of my engineer buddies.

But I trust Peter Riddle. Riddle has written more than a dozen excellent books about trains. Wiring is a subject that confuses almost everyone, but I’m confident that a fifth grader could read one of Riddle’s books on wiring and understand it, then proceed to wire a Lionel layout effectively. Seriously.

I’ve heard the argument presented in these arguments that if an author is wrong about one thing, the reader loses confidence in everything he says. I don’t buy that argument. Riddle’s advice that the Lionel 1121 switch is a good match for early Marx locomotives isn’t entirely correct. From my own experience I know a Marx locomotive will bounce if it enters the switch from a particular direction.

So do I doubt what Riddle says on the other 95 pages of the same book? No. I also know from experience that the things he says on the other 95 pages work. And I know that even though that Marx locomotive bounces through the switch 33% of the time, it doesn’t derail every time it bounces. So maybe he’s never seen the problem I observed.

I’ll daresay there’s at least one mistake in every computer book I’ve ever read. It doesn’t mean I stop reading computer books. I’ve been wrong once or twice before too. Just ask my boss.

Actually, come to think of it I’d really rather you just took my word on that one.

This criticism bothers me on another level too. Writing an article and getting it published isn’t an easy task. For most people it probably takes about 40 hours’ worth of work. CTT pays $70 per page, and a typical article is 3-4 pages long, so you do the math.

How many people want to spend a week of their lives writing an article only to have some self-styled expert rip it apart in five minutes? Is it worth putting your neck on the line for $300?

Most reasonable people would say no.

I’m sure this is largely an ego thing. Most people regard published authors as special people. So when someone knows something that a published author doesn’t, it must make for some kind of a high.

But the price is also high. How many great ideas languish in the mind of a would-be author, never to see the light of day, because the benefits just don’t outweigh that onslaught of criticism if it happens?

So the next time you catch a mistake in print, that’s great. It means you know enough to be an author. So think of something you know better than anyone else and go write an article and advance the hobby.

Of course, criticism is easier than craftsmanship. Zeuxis made that observation 2400 years ago, and it’s just as true today as it was then. Unfortunately.

Another take on Google’s digital library

CNN has an interesting analysis of Google’s attempts to digitize millions of books.

I still argue this project can only be a good thing.The article quotes Tim O’Reilly, and while anyone who knows me knows O’Reilly and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, he’s right when he says the biggest problem an author faces, by far, is obscurity.

I have a real-world example that I’ve seen firsthand. About 18 months ago, I was introduced to a pair of obscure books written by master modeler Wayne Wesolowski. Today, Wesolowski is best known for hand-building a huge model of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train, but an earlier generation knew him as someone who published articles in magazines like Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman on an almost monthly basis.

In the early 1980s, Wesolowski wrote a couple of books. Both were printed twice under different titles, but one dealt with building model railroad cars from scratch and the other dealt with buildings. At the time I was introduced to them, the books were believed to be rare, and it was impossible to find a copy of either of them for any less than $125.

Today, it’s still possible to buy used copies of the books for $125, but if you shop around, you can get them for a lot less. I found a copy of Wesolowski’s ABCs of Building Model Railroad Cars for less than $12 earlier this month. It sold before I could click on the link, but I found another copy for $18. I snapped it up immediately.

Wesolowski’s books may not always be possible to find for less than $30, but it’s pretty easy to find them at or around that price with just a little bit of patience. I believe what’s happening is that people who otherwise would have never known the book existed started looking for it, which in turn caused used booksellers to look for it. In the meantime, the sale of used books online has drummed up a lot of press, including in the New York Times, causing still more copies of the book to come off dusty shelves and into circulation, driving down prices and possibly driving up sales.

If snippets of text from this book were searchable online, as opposed to vague mentions on an obscure Yahoo discussion group, who knows what would happen to these books’ sales? Maybe it still wouldn’t be enough critical mass to ramp up publication again, but it’s possible. At the very least, it’d be a bonanza for used booksellers, whether it’s people who do it for a living or people who are thinning out their personal book collections.

In turn, that extra commerce can only help the economy.

When in St. Louis, don’t miss the City Museum

So, not wanting to celebrate the Anheuser-Busch-mandated holiday of New Year’s Eve but not wanting to sit around at home on a Friday night either, a good idea came up: Go to the City Museum.

It claims to be unlike any other museum you’ve ever seen. While that may be debatable, it does have something for everyone.It’s a very hands-on museum designed for exploration. The first level is almost like a catacombs, with secret passages and the like. Wear comfortable tennis shoes. You’ll need them.

The other two levels are a bit more museum-like but still hands-on. Each level has a large slide that goes down to the lobby. Yes, adults can fit in the slides too. I know because I went down each of them about three times.

You’ll find a level of art and artifacts and various activities. Included is a very large, elaborate, and critically acclaimed HO-scale model railroad that was built by St. Louisan Pete Fordyce in the 1950s. Fordyce was a frequent contributor to Model Railroader magazine and the layout is reasonably famous, as far as model railroads go. Anyone who ever built a plastic model kit as a child will be impressed with it; a model railroader could probably stand there for hours studying the techniques.

The top floor has a very large exhibit dedicated to architecture. The artifacts include doors, windows, cornices, and even entire storefronts. Most artifacts have signs telling where they came from and why the building was demolished–sadly, usually for something stupid and generic like a chain store or a gas station. There are exhibits about the histories of door hinges and doorknobs. How can hinges and knobs be interesting? They weren’t always the boring, bland mass-produced affairs you see at Home Depot today.

Outside, there are lots of things for kids (big and small) to climb on. I didn’t climb much; as much as I would have liked to climb up to that airplane and go inside it, climbing up three stories on semi-open girders to get there is more than my nerves can take. Judging from the number of people climbing on it, I’m in the minority and that’s a good thing.

I absolutely recommend it. At night when the admission is only $5, not only is it cheaper than going to the movies, but you’ll get some exercise and if you’re not careful you just might learn something. During the day it’s far less expensive than going to an amusement park.

Incoming link: http://trainboard.com/grapevine/showthread.php?t=56703