“It’s your happy place.”

Someone told me today that she didn’t quite get the appeal of model railroading, that it must be a male thing. And that’s fair: Model railroads were first invented by a dollhouse maker so they would have something to market to boys. That company still markets trains, but no longer markets dollhouses, so I guess you could say it was successful.

Here’s how I summed up the appeal.

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Clean up the white goop on postwar Lionel and American Flyer with a hair dryer

I picked up some dilapidated postwar American Flyer wheels at the local train store this afternoon to fix up some stuff from my junk box. The wheels were covered in milky white goo/powder/gunk/residue/stuff–whatever you want to call it. Almost anything molded of black plastic–wheels, couplers, truck sides–by Lionel or American Flyer in the 1940s and 1950s is prone to this. Fortunately, the fix is easy. Aim a hair dryer on high at it, and watch the whiteness melt away, leaving clean plastic behind.

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Remembering Rossino’s

I thought of Rossino’s, a hideaway Italian restaurant in St. Louis’ Central West End the other day. And then today, I saw the obituary for Nina Lee Russo, one of the owners of the secluded yet popular restaurant.

The obituary mentioned the restaurant closed in 2006, when the second generation wanted to retire. But the obituary mentioned some other facts that explained a few things. Read more

Is landlording profitable?

Is landlording profitable? The answer is yes. Where people disagree, I think, is on the timing, and perhaps to a lesser degree, on the strategy.

My wife read an article yesterday on real estate investing that made her mad. I’d link to it, but I can’t find it today–maybe it was pulled. But the premise was that you shouldn’t invest in real estate, because being a landlord isn’t a quick way to get rich.

I agree with the second part. But the first part doesn’t logically follow. In fact, I don’t care who you are, probably the best thing you can do for yourself is forget about trying to get rich quickly. I speak from experience. Read more

The stupid juice–it burns

John Dominik has been on a tear lately. Yesterday he wrote twice; the latter piece, The Stupid Juice–it Burns, shows an attitude that’s far too rare these days and frankly is one of the best pieces I’ve read in a very long time, anywhere. He laments people’s tendency to act as if those who disagree with them are subhuman and have no right to exist.

If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you do.
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How computer and energy technology don’t relate

Bill Gates says the rapid advance of computers created unreasonable expectations for the advancement of energy technology. The argument makes sense. And while desktop computers did advance very quickly, I think people have a misconception of even how quickly computers developed–which makes it worse, of course. Some people seem to believe the computer was invented by IBM and Microsoft in 1981. Far be it from Gates to lead people to believe otherwise, but the direct ancestors of modern desktop computing date to the early 1970s, and the groundwork for even that dates to the 1940s, at the very latest.
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Why can’t St. Louis repurpose buildings like Baltimore does?

I had the opportunity to visit Savage Mill, near Baltimore, recently. Savage Mill is an old textile mill dating to the 1820s that fell into disuse in the 1940s. Today, the complex houses a variety of businesses. While the place has vacancies–the economy is still struggling, after all–it’s crowded, and it’s a great reuse.

It makes me wonder why we can’t do the same thing in St. Louis.
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Lake Forest Pastry Shop, and other old St. Louis bakeries

Lake Forest Pastry Shop, and other old St. Louis bakeries

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story this week about vintage baking. It profiled Chris Leuther, an area baker with 30 years in the business who collects old bakery equipment and recipes from long-gone, but beloved and not-forgotten bakeries such as Lake Forest Pastry Shop.

The money quote: “I’ve worked in a lot of bakeries and talked to a lot of bakers, and when it comes right down to it, so many of these places worked from almost exactly the same formula… A lot of times different places made exactly the same cake. It seemed special because it made a special memory — but that’s all it is, a memory.”

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Stan Musial and his frozen appendix

Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold (who also happens to be a former classmate) dug out an interesting story about Cardinal great Stan Musial.  In 1947, he was diagnosed with appendicitis. Team doctor Robert Hyland was reluctant to recommend immediate surgery, as it would sideline Musial, the team’s best player, for nearly a month. So instead, he froze Musial’s appendix, Musial sat out five days, and played the rest of the season before having the appendix removed.

This curious, um, cure caused a lot of head shaking and questions. So I did a little digging. 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.