Bachmann vs Lionel

Bachmann vs Lionel

Comparing Bachmann vs Lionel is a contrast between two very old, established names in electric trains. Lionel, in one form or another, has been selling trains since 1900. Bachmann, the largest seller of trains in the world, was founded in 1833, though they started selling trains in 1966.

Ironically, it was Lionel that got Bachmann into the train business. In the 1940s and 1950s, when every kid wanted a Lionel or American Flyer train, Bachmann sold buildings under its Plasticville brand so kids and dads could build towns for those trains to run in. As the focus shifted to smaller scales in the 1960s, Bachmann moved with it, with greater success than the companies it once shared a symbiotic relationship with.

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Fixing HO or N scale electric trains that won’t move and make noise

Fixing HO or N scale electric trains that won’t move and make noise

A common problem with HO, N, and other scales of electric train that run on DC power is that when you put them on the track, they light up but don’t move and instead make a weird noise.

The cure is usually simple, involving switching a couple of wires.

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Christmas Eve, a train that wouldn’t run, and a happy ending

It was Christmas Eve. I finished playing Santa, then I plopped down in front of the computer to unwind and signed into Facebook. Internet pal John Dominik posted a status update about buying a Bachmann N-scale train set and it not working, and how he knew he should have tried it out before Christmas Eve. I offered to help. He related the epic troubleshooting he went through–OK, perhaps it wasn’t epic, but his account of the things he tried was longer than the Book of Jude and several other books of the Bible–and, frankly, there wasn’t anything I would have thought of that he hadn’t already tried. He went beyond that and even tried things I wouldn’t have tried. Or recommend, for that matter, but that’s OK. He mentioned he’d had a set of HO trains when he was younger, and that gave me an idea. I asked if he still had that power pack, because, if he was willing to do a little creative and sloppy wiring, he’d be able to get that new Bachmann set working with it. He said he did.

The temporary fix worked, and Christmas Eve was salvaged. John said he hoped Bachmann would be cooperative about the bad power pack.

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Gluing Plasticville – or not

Tacky WaxA frequent complaint I see about the Plasticville buildings that people have been using with Lionel and American Flyer trains for more than a half century is that they don’t stay together well. This especially seems to be a problem with the modern reissues. Maybe the old molds are starting to wear out after all this time. Gluing Plasticville is an option. But here’s how to make Plasticville stay together without glue.

There is a cheap, easy, and non-permanent solution. Put a dab of Tacky Wax the size of a small pea on each corner. Usually one on the top and bottom where two pieces meet is sufficient. You can also use a couple of dabs on the bottoms of the walls to hold the building in place on non-carpeted surfaces. And when you want it gone, just roll it off with a finger when you disassemble the building. That means it won’t harm the value if you use it on collectible vintage Plasticville pieces.

Even though it’s non-permanent, it’s resilient. If you take your buildings apart at the end of the Christmas season, you can leave the wax on the pieces and it will work again next year. You may just have to tweak the placement of the wax a bit.

Tacky Wax also works well for holding figures in place. I’ve never had a passing train knock over a figure held down with it.

A 1 oz container goes a long way. I bought a single container and after I finished tacking down everything that isn’t supposed to move on my 8×8 layout, I still had some left over. The figures held strong for a couple of years. When the occasional figure finally does get jostled enough to fall over, I can just put it back. Usually I don’t even have to add more wax, and it will stay put for another couple of years.

I hope you found this helpful. If you like Plasticville, maybe these tips for cleaning it will help you too.

An O scale glossary of sorts

I just spent some time explaining some of the terminology that goes along with Lionel and other O gauge and O scale trains. So I thought maybe a definition of some terms might prove useful to somebody.

Gauge — the width of the track. O gauge track is 1.75 inches wide. “Gauge” and “Scale” are often used interchangeably but they aren’t the same. Very few Lionel trains made up until the mid-1990s that ran on O gauge track were actually true O scale.

Hi-rail — realistic scenery using toy trains. The term originated because Lionel O gauge and American Flyer S gauge track are much taller than scale.

Narrow gauge — Track that is less than 4’8.5″. This was used for short, private railroads (such as in and around mines) and in mountains, where smaller trains presented a cost or mechanical advantage. Some modelers model narrow gauge lines because it can be possible to model an entire railroad in a relatively small space. Narrow gauge models are designated as the scale, followed by the letter n, and the track gauge, i.e. HOn2, On30.

O27 — The cheapest track system used by Lionel, Marx, Ives, and American Flyer. A circle of O27 track measures about 27 inches from one side to the other. This curve is very sharp, so trains intended to run on O27 track tend to be undersize.

O27 profile — O27 track stands about 3/8 of an inch high, so “O27 profile” track refers to straight and wide curves that will plug into O27 track.

O31 — This was Lionel’s costlier, more durable track. Its wider curves allowed for bigger trains, and since the rails were made of heavier metal, sometimes it can withstand being stepped on. A circle of standard O31 track measures about 31 inches in diameter.

O31 profile — straights and wide curves made the same height and thickness as O31 curves.

On30 — Narrow gauge trains running on track that’s a scale 30 inches in gauge. This was popularized by Bachmann, because HO scale track is very close to 30 inches wide in O scale. Bachmann seized this idea, using HO track and mechanisms to make O scale trains. There wasn’t a lot of 30-inch gauge track in the real world, but it caught on and now is possibly the largest-growing segment of the hobby.

Prewar — trains made before World War II. By and large these trains are more colorful and less realistic than those made after World War II.

Postwar — Trains made after the end of World War II but before Lionel Corporation sold its train line to General Mills in 1969. Technology advanced rapidly during these years, allowing the trains to become more realistic and gain new features. Since these are the trains Baby Boomers grew up with, they are very popular.

Scale — the size of a model in relation to the real thing. O scale is 1:48, meaning a quarter inch on the model equals a foot on the real thing. S scale is 1:64, meaning 3/16 inch on the model equals a foot on the real thing. An O scale model of a 6-foot tall human being is 1.5 inches tall. When people talk about “scale trains” in the context of O gauge, they generally mean 1:48 scale trains of recent production that have much greater detail and scale fidelity than trains produced during the postwar era.

Standard Gauge — Large-scale Lionel trains made until the 1930s. There was actually nothing standard about it, but it caught on. They were big, loud, gaudy, colorful, and toylike.

standard gauge — Four feet, eight and a half inches. This is the standard width of railroad track. When someone talks about “standard gauge O” or “standard gauge HO,” they’re talking about an O scale model of a standard gauge train.

Super O — a form of track introduced by Lionel in the late 1950s to address some of the shortcomings of tubular track. It was much more realistic, and while it developed a cult following that remains to this day, it didn’t really catch on.

Tinplate — Before plastics, most trains were made of tin-plated steel that was formed into shape. Either the metal was printed with a design (usually lithography) before it was formed, or it was formed and then painted with enamel paints.

Tubular track — the oldest form of toy train track, invented by Marklin in the 1890s, made of steel sheet formed into a tube and crimped onto a small number of large, oversized ties. Lionel’s O27 and O31 track are both tubular. A number of companies now offer newer track with a higher degree of realism.

Tin litho buildings for a traditional pre-war train layout

Note (1/4/2017): I wrote this blog post many years ago after deciding to try something different.

The approach to train layouts has changed a lot over the years and I assumed in the 1930s it was similar to the 1950s. I’m no longer certain it was. That said, if you want to know about how to make a 1950s-style layout that looks prewar, I have blog posts about vintage tin buildings and newer tin buildings that describe what I found after years of searching. If you want to know what’s available for you to buy for your own layout, check out those two links.

If you want to hear my questions that started my research, read on below.

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Converting Bachmann On30 cars to O or O27?

There’s always a discussion about the cost of O gauge/O scale somewhere, mostly because it’s hard to find new locomotives for less than $500 and new train cars for under $75. You’d think this was a hobby for trial lawyers and brain surgeons.

One guy pointed out how much bang for the buck he’s getting when he buys On30.

Now, a bit of terminology here. O scale is 1:48 scale. One quarter inch on the model is equal to a foot on the real-world equivalent. O27, the cheaper brother of O scale, is actually 1:64 scale, though it runs on the same track. “Serious” hobbyists often look down on O27, but the nice thing about O27 is it lets you pack a lot more into a smaller space.

So what’s this On30 stuff and what’s the difference between it and regular O or O27 scale?

I’m glad you asked.

On30, On3, and the like refer to “narrow gauge.” Most train track in the United States has its rails 4 feet 8 inches (or 8 1/2 inches) apart. That’s “Standard gauge.” Occasionally, a railroad would lay its track 3 feet apart, or 30 inches apart, or some other measurement narrower than 4’8.5″. This was especially common out west in regions where they had to deal with a lot of mountains. On30 refers to 1:48 scale models of 30-inch gauge trains. On3 refers to 1:48 scale models of 3-foot gauge trains. On2 refers to 1:48 scale models of 2-foot gauge trains. And so on. I’ve talked more about On30 here if you want to know more.

Now it just so happens that the distance between the rails on regular old HO scale track measures out to 31.3 inches in O scale. For most people, that’s certainly close enough. O scalers have been living with track that’s 5 scale feet wide ever since we decided that O scale was 1:48, back in the 1930s or so.

So Bachmann, the makers of the cheap HO and N scale train sets you see at Hobby Lobby, decided to take advantage of this convenient accident, make some 1:48 scale cars, put narrow trucks on them, bundle some HO scale track and commercialize On30. So now it’s actually easier in some regions to get a Bachmann On30 train set than it is to get a Lionel O train set.

I found this page on converting Bachmann On30 cars to S scale. What the author did was remove the Bachmann trucks and couplers and substitute American Flyers. Since S scale stuff is even more scarce than regular O scale, this is a slick trick. And, as you can see from the pictures, for the most part the stuff still looks right. Rivet counters won’t like it, but if you’re a rivet counter you’re probably not reading this page anyway. For people starved for inexpensive trains, or for trains, period, they’re fine.

Well, I like my Lionels. I’m not going to convert to On30. But I don’t like Lionel prices. So I build some of my own stuff, and the stuff I do buy, I buy used. So I’ve amassed a pretty sizeable collection, even though I’ve spent a lot less than most hobbyists will spend on a single locomotive.

But I’m always looking for something new and different.

A K-Line passenger car costs $117. A Bachmann passenger car costs $28.

A pair of K-Line freight trucks costs $8. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

You can’t put freight trucks on a passenger car. That’s what I’m thinking. Freight trucks are different from passenger trucks for some reason. Something about people wanting a smoother ride than cows.

But you get the idea. $36 is a lot less than $117.

K-Line passenger trucks are $25 apiece. That’s more than the car. But $78 is still less than $117, though I’d just live with using freight trucks, myself.

If the S scalers can do it, why can’t we?

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