True 1:48 O scale cars (as in autos)

True 1:48 O scale cars (as in autos)

Scale-oriented O scale enthusiasts often bemoan the lack of true 1:48 O scale cars (as in automobiles) to go with their O scale trains. Often they go so far as to call 1:48 scale autos non-existent. That’s not entirely the case.┬áThere are 1:48 scale vehicles out there. Finding them just requires some creativity and imagination.

I know of more than 20 1:48 scale vehicles suitable for O scale train layouts. They fall into two broad categories: ready made diecast vehicles, and plastic 1/48 scale model car kits, which require assembly. The model kits tend to be costlier but allow a greater level of detail. Not only that, some of the model kits are 4-door sedans, the perfect ordinary car. For the realism-craving hi rail or 2-rail enthusiast, they are hard to resist.

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Why Bowman sold out to Topps, or how Topps bought Bowman

Why Bowman sold out to Topps, or how Topps bought Bowman

Virtually every schoolboy who is interested in baseball cards knows the story of how Topps bought Bowman. After World War II, Bowman was the leading brand of baseball card, or, at least from 1948 until 1951. Then, in 1952, Topps released its landmark 1952 set. Bowman and Topps battled for baseball fans’ nickels and pennies until 1955. Then, in early 1956, Topps bought Bowman, and that was the end of Bowman until the late 1980s, when Topps dusted off the brand name and started issuing Bowman cards again. And Topps faced precious little competition in the baseball card field until 1981, when Fleer and Donruss won the right to produce cards.

That’s the story as I knew it. But there’s a lot more to the story, starting with the details of the purchase. In January 1956, Topps bought its once mighty rival for a mere $200,000. Normally a company sells for 10 times its annual revenue, and Bowman had sold $600,000 worth of baseball cards alone just two years before. The purchase price makes no sense, until you dig a bit deeper.

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Why accordion-style flexible drain pipe is against code

flexible drain pipe
An example of a flexible coupling

From time to time I see accordion-style flexible drain pipe (also sometimes called flexible waste pipe) in use, much like the one on the right. St. Louis County inspectors take an exceptionally dim view of these, and I always wondered what the big deal was, since literally every hardware and home-improvement store in St. Louis County sells them. Why would they sell something if it isn’t okay to use it? Read more

Advice for upgrading from a CRT to an LCD

Like a lot of people are doing these days, my brother- and sister-in-law replaced a CRT TV with an LCD. I helped my brother-in-law hook it up last weekend, and we got it working, but probably could have done things a little bit differently.

A lot of inexpensive LCDs have a limited number of inputs in order to meet a price point, and that’s what we ran into. The LCD had just as many inputs as the TV it replaced, but with some cable shuffling, we would have been able to make the new TV easier to use.
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Creative play with boys

On Saturday morning, my wife went out for a few hours to run errands and left me home with the boys. And when she came home, I was on the living room floor building a garage out of Mega Bloks (an oversized Lego knockoff for toddlers) with them. My oldest is really, really into Cars right now (the Pixar movie, not the New Wave band), and that improvised Mega Blok garage was just about the greatest thing ever–well, maybe just all day, which in a 3-year-old’s mind, might as well be forever.

“I never would have thought to do that with boys,” my wife said.

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Upgrade diary: HP Pavilion a305w

Wow, what a slug. Want me to tell you how I really feel?

Typical Black Friday special from years past. Cheap, but what a limiting future. Here are your handful of options. As far as I can tell, there are about eight of them.

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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.

End of the innocence

Honeymoon’s over. The purchase is getting rocky. I’ll tell you about my troubles so you hopefully don’t repeat them.Mistake: We used the mortgage broker our realtor recommended. She got us preapproved quickly enough for us to get our bid in… barely. The rest of the process to get approval went at a sloth’s pace. And then? She slapped us with a 5.625% interest rate and $2,600 in closing costs. She had a vaguely plausible explanation for both, but the closing costs were highway robbery and the interest rate was half a percent higher than it could have been.<p>

Having been lectured by my accountant once about closing costs, I tried to negotiate. Everything’s negotiable, he said. Nothing’s negotiable, she said.

"So I really should just pay cash for this house?" I asked.

She laughed. "If you can." She thought she had me over a barrel and she was going to take advantage of me.

Hopefully she learned a lesson, but I doubt it. Don’t give a Scotsman reason to reconsider parting with money, because once you do, you’ve lost him.

I was out of fight at that point, but my wife called the bank we use most of the time. She told the agent about our 5.625% interest rate and $2,600 closing costs, and asked if she could beat that, and if she could, how we get out of the bad deal.

She talked to us about our goals and our finances and suggested a Home Equity loan. The rate would be low, the payments would be flexible, we could get approved quickly, and there would be no closing costs.

It’s an unconventional answer to the problem. But for a first property, with uncertain expenses, it gives some flexibility. Let things stabilize for a year or two, then get a conventional mortgage if need be. The conventional mortgage gives long-term flexibility, but a HELOC gives short-term flexibility.

So it pays to call around until you find a loan officer with some creativity.

And true to her word, we had approval on the HELOC in three days. That’s how long it took sloth lady to get us just a preapproval.

The house: Now I know why the house was cheap. Superficially, it looked good. But when we started poking around with an inspector, we found out the house was an Uncle Louie Special. Uncle Louie re-did the wiring, the siding, the plumbing, and almost everything else in sight. Uncle Louie did a reasonably good job of laying tile and painting, but when it came to anything else… Well, the inspector said, "He sure didn’t let not knowing what he was doing get in the way of him finishing a project."

He said a few other things too, but it’s probably best not to repeat them.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take professionals to fix most of Uncle Louie’s work. And it won’t be cheap.

The inspector’s advice: Make the decision with the numbers, not with your heart. Which is good advice. The realtor’s job is to make you fall in love with the property. The inspector’s job is to bring you back to reality.

Sometimes the reality isn’t what it first seems. But sometimes you can still make it work anyway.

That’s what we have to learn next.

The economics of mass transit

I think I’m going to take the train to work tomorrow.

It won’t save me any time, although with some creativity I could save five minutes some days (but lose five on others). I do figure it can save me some money.I drive 76 miles to and from work every day. My car gets about 35 miles to the gallon, but I just put more than $30 worth of gas in my car and I’ll have to do it again in a week at the rate I’m going. I’ll spend about $6.50 driving to and from work tomorrow.

I also had a bunch of maintenance done this week. I figure the consumables in my car–oil, timing belt, shocks, tires, compliance bushings–cost me about a nickel a mile, so potentially it costs me more like $10 to drive to and from work every day.

I’m not factoring in depreciation since I intend to keep the car 10 years, and I’ve only had it five. But going by the IRS’ standard mileage deduction, my commute costs a whopping $38.38 a day. And I don’t get to deduct that. Ouch.

The closest Metrolink station is 8 miles away, but the route from it to work is impractical–it’ll add almost an hour to my commute both ways. I need to go to a station closer to work and catch the train there. I figure I can drive about halfway, take the train the other half, and not end up spending three hours on the train every day.

A monthly Metrolink pass costs $60. Assume 21 working days, and that’s $2.86 a day. Even if all I was saving was gas, it’s worth doing. But I stand to spend $2.86 to save $5.50. That’s a good deal. Or if you ask the IRS, I stand to spend $2.86 to save $19.19. Even better.

If gas goes to $4/gallon like some are predicting, it becomes an even better deal. And there’s nothing I can do to control the price of gas.

Nothing, that is, except burn less of it.

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