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.

There are two things in the box that can arrive dead straight out of the box: the transformer and the motor in the train. Margins on boxed train sets are relatively thin, so the quality control isn’t quite what it could be, which is why my friend almost ended up with a train that didn’t work on Christmas morning. And as I recall, getting through to technical support after Christmas wasn’t very easy. They were friendly enough once he got through, but it took a couple of days to get through.

Set it up prior to Christmas, and you’ll have a few business days to get help, either from the manufacturer or from the store you bought it from. They won’t be as busy then, and if the store you bought it from can help you, it can save you the embarrassment of a gift that doesn’t work.

All you need is to plug together the smallest circle of track you can, connect the transformer, and put the locomotive on. If it runs, great. Put it back in the box as best you can. And if anyone notices it was opened beforehand, just say you tried it out to make sure it worked. Some guy named Dave told you to. I’ll take the blame for that.

Besides, trying out electric toys before Christmas used to be a tradition. I clearly remember my uncles testing out toys at my grandmother’s house, behind locked doors, before re-boxing them and giving them to my grandmother or my aunts to wrap them. Some of the intent may have been to tease my cousin and me, but every single time we unwrapped a present, it worked.

If it doesn’t run, contact the store or the manufacturer, who may have some scripted steps they want you to try. But trust me, every train maker I’ve ever dealt with has been far, far better to deal with than any computer manufacturer. The sooner you try it, and the sooner you contact your potential help, the better your chances are of saving the gift.

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