How to disassemble a Lionel 1001, 1060 or 8902 locomotive

Disassembling a Lionel 1001, 1060, 8902 or 8302 locomotive isn’t too difficult. The biggest problem is knowing where the three screws are that you have to remove.

These particular locomotives weren’t really designed to be repaired, but there’s some basic work you can do on them with household tools. The 8902 and 8302 locomotives can be cheap sources of a motor for other projects.

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Department 56 scale: The definitive guide

Department 56 scale: The definitive guide

The Department 56 product line is rather extensive, but there are items they don’t produce and likely never will. If you want to complete your village with other items, or use Department 56 in other settings, such as a train layout, then scale might matter to you—and “Department 56 scale” is undefined. Here’s how to make sure the things you want to use together will go together, size-wise.

The answer, by Department 56’s own admission, is that it varies. But since I see the question come up again and again, I’m going to tackle it. It varies, but there’s a method to it the madness.

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Fixing HO or N scale electric trains that won’t move and make noise

Fixing HO or N scale electric trains that won’t move and make noise

A common problem with HO, N, and other scales of electric train that run on DC power is that when you put them on the track, they light up but don’t move and instead make a weird noise.

The cure is usually simple, involving switching a couple of wires.

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Convert scale between wargaming, diecast, trains, and slot cars

Borrowing materials and models from other hobbies can often be productive, and in the early stages of a hobby, often it’s a necessity due to a lack of products available. But it occurs to me that other hobbies borrow from model railroading more often than the other way around, and that means there are untapped resources available. To do that, you need a way to convert scale between wargaming, diecast, trains, and slot cars.

In that spirit, I present a chart of scales. Two neglected train scales, O and S, it turns out, can borrow heavily from elsewhere to make up somewhat for the greater selection of products available for HO and N scale. But this chart will, I hope, prove useful to other hobbyists as well.

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Using a Lionel (or other brand) O or O27 transformer with HO or N scale trains

Here’s a good question: Can you use Lionel O or O27 transformers (or, for that matter, American Flyer S transformers) with HO or N scale trains?

The answer is, not directly. It will make a terrible noise if you hook it up. But you can make it work properly if you add a bridge rectifier. Look for one that’s 10 amps or more; don’t expect to have to pay more than a couple of dollars for one. Read more

Don’t write 3D printing’s obit yet

Christopher Mims argues that 3D printing is the next Virtual Reality. I think he misses the point. I see 3D printing as having a bright future, but not because I see it as necessarily the future of mass production. I see 3D printing taking over the fringes, because it makes small-scale manufacturing practical.

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A simple way to make sure a Christmas-gift train works on Christmas morning

Last Christmas Eve, I helped one of my Internet pals figure out why his brand-new N scale train, purchased as a gift, didn’t work.

He got lucky. He had his old train available, which he was able to steal parts from to get it to work that morning. Not everyone is that lucky. Tonight marks one week until Christmas, so I have some advice for you if there’s an electric train of any sort on someone’s list.

Set it up one night this week and make sure it works.

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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.

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No reason for brand wars

On one of the train forums I frequent, a legitimate question quickly degenerated into brand wars. And brand wars are one thing, but when people hold their preferred company to a different standard than the other company–in other words, one company is evil because it does something, but their preferred company does the same thing, it isn’t productive.

Actually, I see very little reason for brand loyalty as it is. I drive a Honda and I use a Compaq computer. Do either of those companies have any loyalty to me? No. To them, I’m just a source of income from yesterday.I don’t like the categorization of companies as "good" and "evil." Companies don’t exist to be good or evil. Companies exist for one reason: Make money. And one thing to remember is that companies will always do exactly what they think they can get away with.

In the case of the toy train wars, the two antagonists are Lionel and MTH. MTH is a scrappy underdog that got its start building trains as a subcontractor for Lionel. A business deal went bad–in short, Lionel left MTH high and dry on a multimillion dollar project, so MTH decided to go on its own and sell the product Lionel decided it didn’t want, but Lionel didn’t like the idea of one of its subcontractors competing with it while also making product for them, and understandably so.

MTH and Lionel have been mortal enemies ever since.

A few years ago, MTH accused Lionel of stealing trade secrets. The specifics are difficult to sort out, but someone with intimate knowledge of some of MTH’s products started designing equivalent products for Lionel. MTH sued and won, to the tune of $40 million. The case is now in appeal.

There’s no question that Lionel benefited from this contractor’s knowledge of the competing product. The question is who knew this was going on, who authorized it, and what an appropriate punishment would be. The only people who are questioning guilt have blinders on. There is no innocence here–just possible degrees of guilt. The other question is appropriateness. Lionel doesn’t have $40 million in the bank. Arguably the company isn’t worth a lot more than $40 million. So that $40 million judgment is essentially the corporate death penalty.

MTH is anything but perfect and holy, however. The thing that bothers me most about MTH is its attempt to patent elements of DCC (Digital Command Control), a method for automating train layouts. It’s an open industry standard, widely used by HO and N scale hobbyists. So MTH was seeking to collect royalties on something that’s supposed to be free for everyone to use. That’s a particular pet peeve of mine, and it’s the reason I haven’t bought any MTH products since 2003.

I came close to relenting this weekend though, when I saw some people bashing MTH while holding Lionel up as some kind of perfect, holy standard. It made me want to go buy a bunch of MTH gear, photograph myself with it, and post it on some forums so I could watch these guys have a stroke about it. Fortunately for them, I have better things to do with $200 right now. I also looked on my layout, and I don’t know where I could put the things I would have considered buying.

I’m more familiar with the computer industry than I am with anything else, and if you mention any computer company, I can probably think of something they did that would fit most people’s definition of evil. HP? Print cartridges that lie about being empty. Lexmark? Same thing, plus using the DMCA to keep you from refilling them. Dell? Nonstandard pinouts on power supplies that look standard, but blow up your motherboard if you try to use non-Dell equipment. IBM? Microchannel. Microsoft? Don’t get me started. Apple? Lying in ads.

As far as I’m concerned though, the most evil company of all is Disney. Disney, of all people? Yes. Disney is the main reason for the many complicated rewrites of copyright law that we’ve had in recent decades. Whenever something Disney values might fall into the public domain, Disney buys enough congressmen to get the laws changed. Never mind that early in its history, Disney exploited the public domain for its gain as much as anyone (which was its legal right), even to the point of waiting for The Jungle Book to fall into the public domain before making the movie, in order to avoid paying royalties to Rudyard Kipling. The problem is that now that Disney is the biggest kid on the block, it’s changing the rules it used to get there, so that nobody else can do it.

Unfortunately I’ve even seen not-for-profit corporations, companies that exist mostly to give away money, do dishonest things and essentially steal. If a charity can and will do these things, you can be certain that a for-profit corporation will.

So I don’t see any reason for brand loyalty, aside from liking a product. If you buy a company’s products and you like them, fine. Keep buying them. But that doesn’t make the people who prefer a competitor’s product evil. They didn’t sign off on the decisions, and your favorite company has done its own share of underhanded things too, whether you know it or not.

And there’s certainly no reason to go to war for your company of choice. It wouldn’t do the same for you.

Confessions of a mediocre modeler

Spookshow is an N scaler’s autobiography of his hobby experience.

I agree with him that he isn’t a master modeler, but if he’s mediocre, he’s upper-tier mediocre. The biggest difference I see between his layouts and the layouts in magazines is the photography–their photographers take clearer, “poppier” shots, and they don’t take photos of the layout’s weak points. (What you don’t show is as important as what you show.)He talks about everything that went into building his layouts, including his thought process, and his philosophy on the hobby. It’s interesting to watch another hobbyist think, and it’s kind of refreshing to see it from the point of view of someone who isn’t full of himself. A lot of hobby sites tend to pat the author on the back a lot (mine may have too much of that attitude too, for that matter), so I find this guy refreshing.

This site is worth spending some time reading, certainly. I don’t do N scale and I don’t go after the realistic look (I may try it someday, but not now) but his insights are very useful.

I don’t know if this attitude is a general thing, or if it’s just one particularly vocal modeler and it seems like a lot because he just talks too stinking much, but I get really irritated with a tunnel-vision approach to the hobby. I can still learn a lot from people who take a different approach from me. I think I can learn more from them than I can from the people who think just like me. After all, we’re probably all stuck in the same rut. I even look at what the tabletop wargamers are doing. They build scenery too…