How to attach wires to the posts of a Lionel train transformer

It took me 20 years to find out I was connecting the wires to my train transformer wrong–and this applies to American Flyer and Marx just as much as to Lionel–and I don’t want the same thing to happen to you. I was making it far, far too difficult to attach wires to the posts of a Lionel train transformer.

Modern transformers have a groove in the post to accept a wire, but vintage transformers don’t. If you’re having problems with the wires coming off your transformer while you try to cinch them down, here’s how to connect to a vintage transformer in three simple steps.

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Available diameters of tubular O and O27 track

Available diameters of tubular O and O27 track

A frequent question, especially for those who are just discovering or rediscovering vintage Lionel and Marx trains is what sizes of track are (or were) available, and how many pieces come to a circle.

Unlike other scales, Lionel marketed its track by diameter, not radius. As you undoubtedly remember from geometry class, radius is the distance from the center of the circle to the edge, while diameter is the distance from edge to edge. So a circle of O27 track is approximately 27 inches wide. O27 track stands about 7/16 of an inch tall, while higher end O gauge (also sometimes called O31) track stands about a quarter inch taller, at about 11/16 of an inch tall.

While we’re on the topic of track, here are some tips for connecting track if your new track isn’t going together as easily as it could, and some tips for screws to attach track to the table.

Here are the available sizes, in ascending order.

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Nostalgia can make you younger

This month’s Social Engineer podcast featured psychology professor Dr. Ellen Langer, whose specialty is mindfulness. Dr. Langer brought up a lot of important things, including the idea of work-life integration rather than the more difficult work-life balance, but another thing she briefly touched on really resonated with me. She brought up a study, originally done in the late 1970s, where a group of 80-somethings were immersed in 1959 for a week. At the end of the week, they didn’t act like 80-somethings anymore. It seems nostalgia can make you younger.

That got me thinking about the power of nostalgia.

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What size and voltage to use for Lionel train light sockets

Lionel used 15 different types of light bulbs in its O gauge electric trains in the postwar era, but in most cases–87% of catalog numbers, and a lot more than that in actual number of items produced–you can get by with two.

Lionel almost always specified 14 or 18 volts. Using an 18-volt bulb in place of a 14-volt original, or a 22-volt bulb in place of an 18-volt original results in longer service life. And there were two base types that Lionel used more than any other. Read more

Lessons from my son’s first Pinewood Derby

One of my coworkers, a guy with an infectious laugh named Jamaal, organized a get-together on Friday. My boss asked me if I was going.

“Sorry, it’s my son’s first Pinewood Derby,” I said. I had to explain to my boss what that was–I don’t think he was ever a Cub Scout or Boy Scout–but he was intrigued.

For whatever reason, when I was a kid my dad didn’t take the opportunity to teach me as much as he could have when we built Pinewood Derby cars, but I told my boss the only good physics lesson I ever got in my life was when Dad explained to me how a Lionel train worked. Here’s something cool you can do with math and science, and I never had a teacher show me anything cool you can do with those two things. Read more

Why you can’t get a $50 replacement sound/control board for your modern Lionel train

Every so often, some people start raging on the train forums, or even in the pages of the magazines, about modern electronics in modern O gauge trains. The modern electronics make the model trains sound just like real trains, but eventually heat and power surges take their toll, the board goes poof, and now that $2,000 toy train doesn’t work anymore and needs a $300 replacement circuit board.

And by the time that happens, that $300 replacement circuit board might be out of production, and no longer available at any price.

Which has led to countless calls for some enterprising hobbyist to become a multimillionaire by inventing a $50 replacement board that works on every train.

There are several reasons for the situation. Read more

Model railroading as fan fiction

Dan Bowman sent me this a couple of weeks ago, and I found myself agreeing with it: Model railroading is a form of fan fiction.

It seems like a good way to look at it. Every model railroad is a compromise. By my rough estimations, it’s 4.1 miles from Dupo, Illinois to Cahokia, but even if you model in Z scale, you’ll need 97 linear feet to model that line. I would think it would be very difficult to build a Z scale layout of that size–it would take a huge basement–and only put two towns on it. So, at the very least, people put their towns closer together and use a fast clock to make up for the compression. Some people compromise a lot more than that. Read more

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