Estimating the value of a Marx train

One of the most frequent questions I see or receive directly about Marx trains is what a Marx train is worth, or the value of a Marx train. Of course without seeing the train, it’s nearly impossible to give a good estimate, but there are some general rules that you can follow, either to protect yourself as a buyer, or to keep your expectations realistic as a seller.

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All about the Lionel LW transformer

The Lionel LW Trainmaster is a 125 watt transformer that Lionel produced from 1955 to 1966. They are reasonably durable and Lionel made them for a long time. That means you can find them easily on the secondary market. They can be expensive if they have their original box and paperwork. But if you just want to run a train and don’t care about the paper, you can get a serviced LW for $50-$60, and an as-is one for under $40. At 125 watts, it’s the most powerful single-handle transformer of the postwar era.

The LW is a quirky transformer so there are some things about if you need to be aware of if you have other Lionel transformers, but as long as you keep those in mind, it’s a fine transformer that will serve you well. The quirks have nothing at all to do with reliability. Lionel just designed its layout a bit differently than many of their other models. In some ways it’s the ideal accessory transformer. We’ll cover that later.

One thing to keep in mind: Unplug the LW when you’re not using it. It doesn’t have its own power switch. I plug my transformers into a power strip and turn all of them on and off with the strip’s on/off switch.

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Lionel CW-80 vs vintage transformers

Someone asked me recently about the Lionel CW-80 and how it compares vs older transformers. That’s a fair question, and one that tends to stir up a lot of emotions on train forums. So I’ll try to present the pros and cons in a fair manner.

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Lionel 1033 transformer troubleshooting

As I’ve written before, Lionel 1033 transformers are well regarded because they’re reasonably high wattage (90 watts), very readily available, relatively inexpensive and pretty dependable. They really only have one design flaw: the circuit breaker.

The circuit breaker in my 1033 went bad a couple of years ago. I finally got around to replacing it.

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All about the Lionel 1033

The Lionel Multi-control 1033 is a 90 watt transformer produced from 1948 to 1956. They are reasonably durable and were popular in their day, which means there are still a lot of them floating around so they tend to be inexpensive. I paid $70 for one about 15 years ago but the price has come way down; today you can get a serviced 1033 for about half that, and an as-is one for $20-$25.

Even someone who has a larger transformer or multiple larger transformers for the layout might be interested in a 1033 for the test bench, as it has all of the functionality someone would need for testing locomotives and whistling tenders.

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Using PC ATX power supplies on a train layout

PC power supplies are exceptionally cheap and plentiful these days. If you’ve noticed and wondered whether you can use PC ATX power supplies on a train layout, wonder no more. You can.

Thanks to the miracle of mass production, even the cheapest, nastiest PC power supply gives far more power output per dollar than any train transformer. So if the lights and accessories on your electric train layout can run on 12 volts DC, which is a fairly good bet, you can get a lot of wattage for very little money by repurposing an inexpensive ATX power supply, whether new or secondhand. And on a wattage-per-dollar basis, they’re about twice as cost-effective as outdoor lighting transformers, which are another popular option for hobbyists.

All it takes to use these cost-effective ATX power supplies is a bit of rewiring.

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My favorite LED bulbs for 2014

After talking about LEDs last week, a friend asked what my favorite LED bulbs today are. I’m not sure I would say I dislike any of the bulbs that are widely available today, but I do have two favorites.

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AMD hits 5 GHz

So, AMD announced a new 8-core CPU running at 5 GHz this week. It’s a bit of a hollow victory, since it basically will match the highest-end Intel Core i7 in performance, in spite of its much higher clock rate and wattage. I’m not sure what the appeal of a 220-watt CPU is, and I’m also not sure why AMD is giving Intel a few months to respond to it, because I’m sure Intel could create a 5 GHz CPU with a comparable thermal rating to compete against it, given the desire.

Also note this is the design that shares a math unit with each pair of integer cores. For some people, this won’t matter at all, but for others, it can be a deal breaker. It’s part of the reason that AMD has to crank the clock rate so high in order to compete. The problem is that Intel can play this game too. AMD scored major points a decade ago by releasing chips that were much more power efficient than Intel’s power-hungry P4. The resulting war was good for us, since now we’re getting good, fast CPUs that use 20 watts. But Intel is winning that war right now. So that means if AMD wants to play that game, Intel has more headroom to climb. If AMD can deliver 5 GHz at 220 watts, all Intel really has to do is deliver 5.1 GHz at 220 watts.

So AMD is taking a chance here. But I suppose it means that, for a time, they’ll be able to sell some CPUs to people who insist on having the fastest-clocked CPU, whether it really means anything performance-wise or not. And they probably can use the money.

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