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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Do insulated vinyl blinds work?

Back in November, I bought a bunch of insulated vinyl blinds on sale. Installing them took about a week–I had to replace all the hardware, which involves drilling, so I had to be careful what I did and when so as to not wake the kids–but they’ve all been up almost a month now, and it didn’t take long for them to leave an impression. I know you’re asking, “Do insulated vinyl blinds work?” I have to say yes.

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Spending money to save money

Last month our budget billing for our electric bill reset, and I got a pleasant surprise. The monthly bill is $7 less than last year. That’s $84 a year, which isn’t huge, but it’s significant–especially considering I never hear anyone say their electric bill went down. Only up. I had an idea in the back of my mind to spend the savings on another energy saving project, to keep the momentum going in the right direction.

Then my wife mentioned she’d like some new blinds. And the timing could scarcely have been better.

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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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How to fix modern plastic toys

How to fix modern plastic toys

Yesterday my son handed me a piece of broken toy train track. Last night I fixed it. At first I figured it would be easy–wood’s just a matter of gluing and clamping. But this one had a funky plastic connector. I got a lesson in how to fix modern plastic toys, and the best glue for plastic.

The plastics used in today’s toys are less brittle and arguably stronger than the polystyrene they used when I was a kid. The downside is that when they do break, it’s a lot harder to glue them. Normal super glues won’t work well, and the plastic cements for gluing model kits together–my old secret weapon–won’t work at all.
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Fixing erratic Lionel Fastrack

Lionel Fastrack is popular, and in some ways it improves on earlier Lionel track. Unfortunately it’s also more prone to manufacturing defects. Here’s how to fix Lionel Fastrack.

If your new Lionel train slows down at some point on the track, or it has trouble tripping your accessories, you’ll have to either return your track, or do a fast and easy DIY repair.

Remove the piece or pieces of track where the train slows down, or the piece adjacent to your misbehaving accessory. Flip the track over, and you’ll see several tabs that hold the metal rails to the plastic roadbed. Try to wiggle the pins a little. They shouldn’t move much, if at all. If any of them feel even slightly loose, slowly and carefully pry the pins up with a slotted (flat-blade) screwdriver. You want to straighten the tabs completely, but work slowly so you don’t break them.

With the tabs straight, the rail should raise up slightly for you. You don’t have to raise it very much. Now take a small piece of clean aluminum foil (a piece the size of a thumbnail should be plenty) and stuff it into that opening with the screwdriver or some other small, pointy object, like a toothpick. If the foil balls up, that’s fine. You want to insert it completely, but not so far that it rattles around–the majority of the foil should stay in contact with the pin. Don’t use too big of a piece, because you’re just trying to close a small gap. When you reassemble, the bit of foil should squish down into whatever gap is there, just enough to let the power flow.

Now you can push the rail back into place, mashing the foil down as you go. If it won’t sit level with the other rails, you used too big of a piece. Either fish the piece out, or stuff the piece in further, and try again with a smaller piece.

Once the rail is in place, flip the track back over. To secure the rail, you have two options. If you’re not so confident in your work, twist the tabs slightly with a pair of needlenose pliers. The twist will hold the rail in place without risk of breaking any tabs, since it stresses the metal in a different place, keeping metal fatigue at bay. You’ll be able to get away with disassembling and reassembling at least a couple more times this way.

If you’re confident in your work, slowly and carefully bend the tabs back into place.

Repeat the procedure for any piece of track with loose pins. You shouldn’t notice any difference in the track’s appearance, but the once-loose pins shouldn’t wiggle any more.

While aluminum isn’t the best conductor of electricity, aluminum foil is a readily available household item, and it’s a far better conductor than air.

After tightening your pins, reassemble the track and try running your train again. If it still runs erratically, you probably have at least one more track section with one or more loose pins.

While you could return any bad sections of track for replacement (Lionel customer service is far better than any customer service I’ve seen in the computer industry), I find it’s much easier to just fix the track myself. The cost of materials is negligible, and it takes maybe five minutes.

I use a circle of Fastrack around my Christmas tree every year. I like it because it keeps carpet fuzz out of my trains, and it keeps grease, oil, and dirt from the trains off the floor underneath. But last year I noticed my train was always slowing down in one corner, and I didn’t like that because I didn’t like having to constantly adjust the throttle. This procedure fixed all that, and I haven’t had any problems with it since.

Want to cut your heating bill? Want to be more comfortable? Shrink-wrap your windows

I spent the afternoon putting plastic film on my windows. It was supposed to be a short project, and I do get better at it every year, but it still ended up taking about an hour per window.

I think it’s time well spent. According to one article I read, it can cut your heating bills by 30 percent. That’s some serious money.

The film comes in kits that you can buy at hardware or discount stores. The two brands I see most often are Frost King and 3M. I like 3M better–I think the tape holds better and comes off more easily at the end of the season, and I think the film is a little bit higher quality–but I buy the kits in the spring at a steep discount and store them until winter, so I don’t really get to pick and choose much. And I don’t think the 3M is superior enough to be worth paying full price to get.

I have 10 windows. Four are newer and more efficient, so I don’t put film on those. Maybe I should. Five of the others have those awful aluminum frames from the 1960s, and many of them are single-pane. I’m going to replace those windows in a year or two, but in the meantime insulating them makes them leak heat considerably less, and it’s cheap. Buying off season, it probably costs me $1 per window.

I have another trick to save money. I tried this out two years ago, when I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have any money. I ran out of film and I still had windows to do, but I had saved my scraps. So I taped some scraps together with clear packing tape (a big roll costs $1 at Dollar Tree) to make a piece that fit one of the remaining windows. It worked fine. It didn’t look good, but at the time I was making $400 a week doing odd jobs so I didn’t care about appearances.

This year I wasn’t going to do that. I had so much film, I was going to have some left over to do one of the smaller windows next year. But the piece for my sliding glass door was considerably smaller than the box said, and of course by the time I realized it, I’d already cut the piece and ended up with something that covered approximately half the door. Worse yet, it was 8 pm and all the stores were closed, so going and buying a new kit, at full price, wasn’t an option. My Scottish blood probably would have staged a revolt at that, but the option wasn’t on the table.

I can justify it another way too, though. Oil is at $100 per barrel now. Do I need to consume more oil just to avoid having seams in my sliding glass door? I think I’ll save some money and conserve a small amount of oil and live with the seams.

One way I found to reduce the seams is to mount the scraps on the window as tightly as possible, then put packing tape over the joint. I used to lay the pieces on the floor and tape them together before mounting, but I think taping the mounted pieces ends up looking better, and the process goes faster. Surprisingly, when I shrink the film with the hair dryer, it doesn’t seem to have much negative effect on the cheap dollar-store packing tape I use.

Some people skip the kits altogether and just buy the tape (3M’s tape is available separately), and either buy a roll of shrinkwrap film from a packing supply store or a big roll of food-grade film from Costco and use that. That may be an even cheaper option than buying the kits off-season, and it’s certainly more convenient. I don’t know what those rolls cost, but I would think one of those would last at least three or four years, if not 10. Plus there would be very little waste.

At any rate, I never sat down and did the math, but I know this fall ritual ends up saving me money. (All I remember was that my gas bill was dramatically lower the first year I did this, without making any other changes.) If the potential really is 30 percent, I think I’ll do the newer windows next weekend to try to squeeze out a little more.

Dave and Emily’s healthy vegan whole-wheat pancake recipe

So Emily wanted pancakes. I didn’t mind cooking but I didn’t want to go to the store for eggs. I don’t think we set out to make a vegan recipe, but that’s what we ended up with. This recipe is cheap, easy, and healthy, with no added sugar, no bad fats, and no cholesterol.

It’s only six ingredients, so it’s not much harder than pancakes from a mix, but much healthier.2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (I recommend premium aluminum-free baking powder)
1 teaspoon sea salt (table salt works but sea salt gives a little more flavor and lower sodium)
1/2 cup applesauce (I prefer unsweetened)
2 cups vanilla soy milk (vanilla soy milk adds flavor and some sweetness)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add applesauce, oil, and milk. Don’t worry too much if it’s lumpy. Cook on a griddle until you see bubbles, then flip, using a little olive oil to keep it from sticking if necessary. Recipe makes about 12 pancakes.

Serve as you would any other pancake. Try it with fruit and applesauce if you want something healthier than maple syrup.

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