Tag Archives: o gauge

Available diameters of tubular O and O27 track

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.

Continue reading Available diameters of tubular O and O27 track

Creative sourcing for O and S scale train layout figures

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┬áhave 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.

Continue reading Creative sourcing for O and S scale train layout figures

How to check a train transformer for safety

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

Why you can’t get a $50 replacement sound/control board for your modern Lionel train

Every so often, some people start raging on the train forums, or even in the pages of the magazines, about modern electronics in modern O gauge trains. The modern electronics make the model trains sound just like real trains, but eventually heat and power surges take their toll, the board goes poof, and now that $2,000 toy train doesn’t work anymore and needs a $300 replacement circuit board.

And by the time that happens, that $300 replacement circuit board might be out of production, and no longer available at any price.

Which has led to countless calls for some enterprising hobbyist to become a multimillionaire by inventing a $50 replacement board that works on every train.

There are several reasons for the situation. Continue reading Why you can’t get a $50 replacement sound/control board for your modern Lionel train

The estate find that broke my slump

I wrote a few weeks ago about finding a scarce Marx windup train at an estate sale, but I actually went a good couple of years without finding a train worth buying until recently. The train that broke my slump was at a sale close to home, and I actually didn’t even set out to buy a train that day.

It was a cold and rainy morning in St. Louis. It was Friday, and I was in between jobs. The estate sale was close, so I went. Otherwise I would have had no reason to go. I don’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but I didn’t expect to find a train. Continue reading The estate find that broke my slump

The Marx connection to Hafner

Hafner was a Chicago-based maker of clockwork-powered O gauge trains during most of the first half of the 20th century. The trains were inexpensive but durable. William Hafner developed the clockwork motor as a hobby around the turn of the previous century and put the motor in toys. Eventually he decided to make a train–perhaps he thought his two sons would like one–and he did. He even sold a set or two, but didn’t have the facilities to mass produce them, or the money to buy such a facility. So he approached William Coleman, who had an interest in a struggling farm tool company, and after Hafner secured an order for $15,000 worth of trains, Coleman agreed to use the company’s excess capacity to produce the trains.

And so began American Flyer, the company that battled Lionel for the hearts and minds of train enthusiasts for about sixty years.

But for reasons that Coleman and Hafner took to their graves, the partnership dissolved in 1914. The sons didn’t know exactly what happened. John Hafner said Coleman had promised his father a larger share of the company if the trains proved successful, then broke his promise. John Hafner said the two families had animosity afterward. But Robert Hafner recalled receiving wedding gifts from the Colemans in 1917, and said the dissolution was purely for business reasons. Going it alone, William Hafner formed his own company, rented factory space for $50 a month, and started a product line that would last into the 1950s.

Unlike his erstwhile partner, Hafner didn’t have to deal much with Lionel. Hafner’s greater concern was with this upstart named Louis Marx. Continue reading The Marx connection to Hafner

What’s an Allstate electric train?

Model electric trains from the 1950s and 1960s (and perhaps 1970s, but no later than 1975) branded “Allstate” are somewhat common, which leads to some further questions.

Yes, it’s Allstate, as in the insurance company. What did they have to do with electric trains?

Continue reading What’s an Allstate electric train?

You can’t collect everything

There’s been a fairly spirited discussion lately in the always excellent Yahoo Marx Train group about the merits of Marx tin trains versus plastic ones. Some people like them all, some people prefer one or the other, and almost everyone with a preference is apologizing to the people who prefer the other.

That’s part of what makes that group great–the lack of elitism and looking down on others whose preferences differ–but in my mind, there’s no apology necessary because very few hobbyists have the time, space, or budget to collect everything. Continue reading You can’t collect everything