Make display shelves out of rusty track

Some people try to fix rusty track, while others argue it isn’t worth the bother. But if you’re in the latter camp, you still have options besides trashing it: Make display shelves out of it.

My local train shop offers questionable track to his regular customers for free whenever he gets it, rather than trashing it or selling something that an unfamiliar customer might be unhappy with. I turned down a box of O31 track recently, then came to regret it a couple of weeks later when I remembered I could have used it. But that’s OK–he’ll probably have more next Saturday. Or the Saturday after that if not. I had plenty of disused track in a big tub under my layout anyway.

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Cleaning Lionel Fastrack

Lionel Fastrack has some advantages, but after a decade or so of using it under a Christmas tree, I have to say staying clean isn’t one of them. Here are the secrets of cleaning Lionel Fastrack safely.

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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 wide. O27 track stands about 7/16 of an inch tall, while higher end O gauge (also sometimes called O31) track stands about a quarter inch taller, at about 11/16 of an inch tall.

While we’re on the topic of track, here are some tips for connecting track if your new track isn’t going together as easily as it could.

Here are the available sizes, in ascending order.

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Tips for connecting traditional tubular track

I saw a question earlier this week about working with Lionel tubular track. It doesn’t snap together quite as easily as modern Fastrack does, but it’s a lot cheaper, especially if you already have a bunch of it on hand.

I probably have 100 linear feet of tubular O27 track (Lionel, Marx, and K-Line) on my layout, so I’ll give some tips for working with it.

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Fixing track that gets hot at the track joints

I saw a question about a Fastrack layout getting hot at a track joint. That’s a conductivity issue causing voltage drop, which in turn causes the heat. While not likely to be dangerous, it’s a sign of inefficiency and can lead to other problems, such as the train slowing down at some parts of the layout. Poor conductivity also causes motors to run hotter than they should, which can eventually damage the armature.

I can think of two fixes, none of them especially expensive or time-consuming. And although this question was about Lionel Fastrack, it can happen with other makes of track too, and even other scales.
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How to clean inside Lionel tubular track

If the outside of your Lionel track is rusty or dirty, there’s a chance the inside is too. Here’s how to clean inside Lionel track.

The condition of the inside of the track is the standard reason people give for discarding old Lionel track rather than trying to fix it. But if you’re willing to put in some effort, this problem, too, is fixable.

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A Lionel Fastrack review

How Lionel Fastrack compares to traditional tubular track and competing O gauge track is a common question. I own both, so I can probably make a comparison.

For the most part, it’s not bad. But it’s not perfect. For some people, the drawbacks are easy enough to overlook. For others, they could be showstoppers. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

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Top posts of 2010: A retrospective

I don’t normally do this, but then again, I’ve never had these kinds of statistics at my disposal either. So I’m going to take a minute to look back at the most popular posts of 2010, and pontificate a little about what I think each one might mean.

I really only have good statistics since October, so it’s a little unfair, but incomplete stats are better than none. I see some interesting patterns in what people ended up reading, some of it surprising, some less so.

We’ll take it from the top, rather than like a DJ.

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Screw sizes and tips for various common types of Lionel track

So, maybe you set up a loop of track and an electric train for Christmas, and now you’re thinking about a permanent layout. I’ve been there.

Once you build a table, you’ll need to attach your track. Screws are the most common way to do that. Read more

Homemade toy train track

For some reason, a lot of people are interested in making their own Lionel train track. I don’t think it’s practical, but it’s definitely possible.

I found a 1944 Popular Mechanics article on making your own DIY Lionel train track. During World War II, toy production all but stopped, so short of buying from stores like Madison Hardware that sold old stock, making your own was all you could do. Even Madison Hardware had to resort to creativity, building a machine to straighten curved track sections to make straights so they would have straight track to sell.

The article used scrap tin salvaged from cans, wire salvaged from a coat hanger, and a homemade jig made of flat steel bar and wood. It was possible to make both straight and curved sections, although the article didn’t elaborate a lot on making curves.

I don’t think it’s practical, at least not today, when clean used O27 or O31 tubular track sells for $1 or less per section and most dealers take in used track faster than they can resell it. The jig will cost more to make than a circle of track costs, and then there’s the trouble of locating suitable metal sheet to use, which is likely to cost more than the track as well. Then there’s the time involved with cutting the metal, forming the rails, and assembling the track. It’s something to do because you really want homemade train track, not to save money.

But I do think the article is interesting from a historical perspective. If you found some track in a stash of 1940s trains that appears to have been homemade, there’s a pretty good chance the person who made it found the instructions in Popular Mechanics. And there’s a pretty good chance whoever made it didn’t have any other source for track at the time.