Central Hardware, St. Louis history

Central Hardware, St. Louis history

St. Louis-based Central Hardware was one of the first big-box home improvement chains. It peaked in 1993 at 39 stores in six states in the midwest, employing 3,700 people. It was once the 19th largest hardware retailer in the United States.

Central Hardware’s motto was “everything from scoop to nuts,” a play on the English idiom “soup to nuts,” which means beginning to end. Their inventory was over 40,000 SKUs, comparable to today’s home improvement stores. Its stores regularly exceeded 50,000 square feet. That’s about half the size of a typical home improvement store today, but it was large for the 1970s and 1980s. Traditional hardware stores ranged in size from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet. Its employees wore orange vests so customers knew who to ask for help.

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Are LED light bulbs worth it?

Are LED light bulbs worth it?

I’ve been buying modern forms of light bulbs for almost 15 years now. So when someone asks me, “Are LED light bulbs worth it?” or “Do LED lights really save you money?” I can answer the question. I was more accepting of CFL bulbs than most, but I had some reservations about them. On the other hand, I really like LED bulbs.

LED light bulbs have saved me a lot of money over the years, and they have quite a few advantages besides the money they save you every month on your electric bill. I thought LED light bulbs were worth it five years ago, and I really think so now.

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Replace your UPS battery

Replace your UPS battery

My UPS started squawking one Friday evening, the tell-tale sign that the battery was dead or dying. When that happens, it’s time to either replace the UPS battery, or replace the entire UPS. Hopefully you can just replace the battery. Here’s how to replace your UPS battery.

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What happened to CompUSA?

What happened to CompUSA?

Readers of a certain age will remember CompUSA, a defunct big-box computer retailer. What happened to CompUSA? It went out of business, then came back as an undead brand, then went away again.

In some ways, CompUSA was the epitome of 1990s computer retail. It had huge big box stores with aisles of software and upgrades. It sold desktop computers, including its own house brand, Compudyne, manufactured for CompUSA by Acer. But the business model didn’t work as well in the 21st century.

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All about the Lionel RW transformer

All about the Lionel RW transformer

The Lionel Multi-control Trainmaster RW is a sturdy tin box of a transformer from early in the postwar era. The presence of a whistle controller is the only thing that really distinguishes it from a prewar transformer. Lionel made it from 1948 to 1954. If you want to know all about the Lionel RW transformer, you’ve come to the right place. You probably won’t find a copy of the original instruction manual online but this will tell you all you need to know.

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Add an outlet to a light switch line

For any number of reasons, a lot of rooms, especially bathrooms, don’t have enough electrical outlets. Those rooms probably do have light switches, though, and that’s good news. It’s possible to add an outlet to a light switch line. The better news is there’s usually more than one way to do it. Here are some options.

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Attach Marx lighted accessories and hide wiring in one step

A frequent question I read is how to attach tin accessories, such as Marx light posts and light towers, to a layout in a semi-permanent but reversible manner. I have found a way to do this, and as a bonus, it also makes it easy to hide the wires that are feeding the lights and makes the wiring simpler.

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Make display shelves out of rusty track

Make display shelves out of rusty track

Some people try to fix rusty track, while others argue it isn’t worth the bother. But if you’re in the latter camp, you still have options besides trashing it: Make display shelves out of it.

My local train shop offers questionable track to his regular customers for free whenever he gets it, rather than trashing it or selling something that an unfamiliar customer might be unhappy with. I turned down a box of O31 track recently, then came to regret it a couple of weeks later when I remembered I could have used it. But that’s OK–he’ll probably have more next Saturday. Or the Saturday after that if not. I had plenty of disused track in a big tub under my layout anyway.

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Save money on appliances

Save money on appliances

If you want to know how to save money on appliances, I have some unconventional advice: Buy used. Yes, really. Here’s how to buy used (or refurbished) appliances and save big money without getting ripped off.

I’ve had a number of friends get hit recently with appliance breakdowns they couldn’t afford, and since I’m a landlord, I’ve probably bought a lifetime’s worth of appliances in the last seven years. A dead appliance doesn’t have to turn into a financial catastrophe.

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All about the Lionel LW transformer

All about the Lionel LW transformer

The Lionel LW Trainmaster is a 125 watt transformer that Lionel produced from 1955 to 1966. They are reasonably durable and Lionel made them for a long time. That means you can find them easily on the secondary market. They can be expensive if they have their original box and paperwork. But if you just want to run a train and don’t care about the paper, you can get a serviced LW for $50-$60, and an as-is one for under $40. At 125 watts, it’s the most powerful single-handle transformer of the postwar era.

The LW is a quirky transformer so there are some things about if you need to be aware of if you have other Lionel transformers, but as long as you keep those in mind, it’s a fine transformer that will serve you well. The quirks have nothing at all to do with reliability. Lionel just designed its layout a bit differently than many of their other models. In some ways it’s the ideal accessory transformer. We’ll cover that later.

One thing to keep in mind: Unplug the LW when you’re not using it. It doesn’t have its own power switch. I plug my transformers into a power strip and turn all of them on and off with the strip’s on/off switch.

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