1981 Fleer baseball cards

1981 Fleer baseball cards

It’s just my opinion, but I think 1981 Fleer baseball cards get less respect than they deserve. It ended Topps’ 25-year monopoly on baseball cards and, frankly, I think it’s a nicer set than the Topps or Donruss sets from the same year.

Yes, compared to the smooth and polished Topps, the Fleer set at times looked like amateur work. But they didn’t make as many mistakes as fellow upstart Donruss did. And they tried some things with their set that Topps had been unwilling to do. The 1981 Fleer baseball cards got some critical accolades at the time, and frankly I think it’s an underrated ’80s set. It didn’t contribute a lot to the most valuable cards of the 1980s, but it certainly helped shape the decade.

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Where Lionel trains are made

Lionel is an iconic American brand, and I often hear people refer to it as a made-in-the-USA company. But it’s been a long time since that’s been where Lionel trains are made. Or at least the majority.

It turns out Lionel has a bit of a history with that.

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The common post on a Marx transformer

When you want to phase transformers, it’s good to know the common (in Lionel terms) or base (in American Flyer terms) post. It’s a shame that Marx didn’t label which of its posts was common. So here’s how to find the common post on a Marx transformer.

It’s a good thing this is fairly easy to figure out, because Marx transformers are dirt cheap. I bought one for exactly one dollar at the last train show I attended, and the vendor wanted to sell me a box full of them for $5.

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Marx vs. Lionel

In the 1950s, Marx and Lionel took turns being the biggest toy company in the world, largely riding on the popularity of O gauge trains. Neither company particularly liked the other, but both owed some degree of their success to being compatible with one another. Because of their interoperability, the two makes of trains are frequently compared and contrasted even today.

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My Angry Birds pals

“Dad!” my sons approached me breathlessly. “Did you know they’re making an Angry Birds Transformers?”

“I’m not surprised. They’ll make Angry Birds anything. Angry Birds Do Taxes. Angry Birds This Old House. Angry Birds This Old Car.” And then, for the coup de grâce, I added, “Angry Birds Beavis and Butt-Head.”

Do I need to tell you my very young boys quickly lost all interest in Transformers and wanted to know everything about Beavis and Butt-Head? OK. They wanted to know everything–and I mean everything–about Beavis and Butt-Head. Especially Butt-Head. Read more

The high-dollar cardboard box

There was one other interesting quote in the Post-Dispatch’s Top 10 collectibles for value this week:

10. Boxes (yes, simple boxes!)

For a starter, wooden boxes of all types with and without locking mechanisms, souvenir boxes, tea boxes, cigar boxes, jewelry, knife boxes and the list goes on for value. If you can put something in it, somebody wants to give you money for it.

Don’t get too excited, but a box doesn’t have to be made of wood to be valuable. Even a cardboard box can have some value, depending on what came in it. But don’t get too excited. Read more

Lionel in the non-hobby media

Cnet took a field trip to the official Lionel repair facility and wrote a feature story about it. It’s nice to see the attention outside of the hobby press, since it’s frequently news to people that Lionel is still around in any form. Read more

Striking royalty.

It wasn’t what I set out to do, and it definitely wasn’t what I expected to do. But genealogical breakthroughs rarely are either, it seems.

My mother and I have now collected more than 9,000 relatives in our genealogy. Needless to say, you literally need a computer to keep track of all of that. There are three families I feel the greatest affinity for. Two of them are Scottish, and Highlander families at that.Both of those families are pretty much dead ends. I can trace one of them back to Scotland and go back a generation or so. I can find plenty of people with the name, but can’t prove relation, mostly because the church that contained most of the birth and baptism records burned in the 1780s.

The Farquhars are tougher. I have an idea when the patriarch of my family was born. Of course I know he was a member of Clan Farquharson. I know he was born in Aberdeen, possibly as early as 1714 and possibly as late as 1729. I found an Adam Farquhar in Aberdeen–with parents even!–during the right time frame, but the death dates didn’t match up. I don’t believe there were more than a dozen or so Farquhar families in Aberdeen in the early 1700s, based on the books I can find, but, once again, without parents’ names, I can’t prove relation to any of them.

So the holy grail–tracing my roots directly back to Farquhar Shaw, patriarch of Clan Farquharson–remains elusive. For now at least.

My search for clues about Adam Farquhar’s identity led me to his second wife, Elizabeth Andrews. I suddenly realized I’d never researched her at all. I researched Adam’s first wife, because it was an interesting story. His father in law disapproved of the marriage, apparently because Adam wasn’t a Quaker, and disowned her. But besides that, one of the descendants of Adam Farquhar and Hannah Gaskill married Walter Percy Chrysler. So I chased those stories, even though they were outside my main bloodline.

Soon after Hannah Gaskill died, Adam married Elizabeth Andrews, daughter of a Quaker minister and missionary. I found the Andrews family had been in the United States since the first half of the 17th century, and the line lost steam at Edward Andrews, born in Barbados in 1618. Pretty impressive.

But Samuel Andrews, a carpenter and shipwright who settled in New Jersey, married Mary Wright in 1663. Mary Wright’s parents emigrated from England, and the Wright family happens to be very well documented. Normally, when a line gets to be a certain age, you start expecting dead ends. The Wright line itself was, but the mothers’ lines just kept on going, and usually with precise dates. Not "about 1630" like I’m used to seeing. I’m talking "18 October 1476."

And once I got into the 14th and 15th centuries, I started seeing titles and French names. I started to get suspicious. I got especially suspicious when I searched Google for more information on some of these people and found they had Wikipedia entries.

Last night I stopped for the night at John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster. Skimming his Wikipedia entry, I saw he fathered a king. Literally. Henry IV, King of England, was John of Gaunt’s son.

I shouldn’t have stopped. I learned today that John of Gaunt’s father was King Edward III of England–one of England’s most successful kings, known for a number of things, among which was war with Scotland.

War with Scotland? ARGH! What was my full-blooded Scot great great great great great grandfather thinking?

I’m sure the bigger question to most people is how a middle-class guy from Missouri who spent five years of his childhood in Farmington–Farmington!–could be related to a king. Directly.

Think about it. The genealogies of commoners burned, so they were lost. I’m sure I have ancestors who lived in the 1300s who were potato farmers with no money, but I have no idea who they were.

The royal genealogies were preserved. And somewhere down the line, the royalty with the least chance of ascending to the throne had to marry someone, and if there wasn’t any royal blood left to marry, they had to marry commoners. Wealthy commoners, hopefully. But commoners nevertheless. But as the generations wore on, the chances of those descendants marrying royalty lessened. Some couldn’t even get land, so they emigrated to the colonies.

Most genealogists believe that every modern European is related to Charlemagne. And if you have English blood that emigrated in the 1600s, I’ll say there’s a very good chance you’re related to William the Conqueror. Both of my parents are.

I haven’t traced Henry III back to William the Conqueror and Charlemagne yet. Yes, the two of them were related. That’s just a matter of time.

I’d frankly be more excited about tracing one of my Scottish families all the way back to the founder of the respective clan, but I’ve just hit the genealogical equivalent of a home run. A World Series-winning home run, perhaps.

I’ll take it, and wait for technology to help me get those holy grails. Perhaps DNA testing will help. The option is on the table.

You still think outsourcing is a good idea?

Don’t be fooled by the topic I put this in: This has potential implications for any area of manufacturing.

Lionel, the most famous U.S. maker of toy trains and model railroads, has been found guilty of industrial espionage and ordered to pay $40 million to competitor MTH Electric Trains.

What happened? Well, both Lionel and MTH outsource their production. As it turned out, some work that was done for MTH ended up in Lionel designs as well.I really don’t think anyone has a good grasp of what happened, but the story I heard is that a contractor who worked for MTH’s subcontractor designing locomotives moonlighted for Lionel’s subcontractor, and that he reused some work that he did on an MTH design on a Lionel design. MTH claims Lionel knew about this. Lionel claims it did not.

Regardless of who you believe, somebody was wronged. R&D work for one company ended up benefiting its competitor, and now that mistake is costing lots of money.

As a consumer, I’m disappointed because I’ve been led to believe that Lionel and MTH do their own designs and outsource production to Korea and China. Evidently they outsource some of their lucrative R&D as well.

Apologists for both companies have said that Korean companies tend to be related by blood or marriage and that workers routinely move from company to company, taking trade secrets with them and using them. That’s the corporate culture. U.S. corporate culture, of course, is exactly the opposite. We demand that you somehow forget all of your proprietary trade secrets when you change employers. Or at least don’t use them in your new job.

The products involved in this case aren’t the $20 locomotives you see at Hobby Lobby or Toys ‘R Us either. We’re talking premium products that sell for five figures here. I’ve seen them in person–they’re definitely impressive looking. But they’re playthings for people who make six figures per year, minimum. I like O gauge Lionel stuff an awful lot. But I don’t expect to ever own one. They cost more than I’m willing to pay for a computer.

I suspect that with those kinds of profit margins, they could have afforded to build them in Michigan or New Jersey, where Lionel understands how its workers work and its workers understand how its employer works. That’s the scenario if you assume Lionel is innocent. If you assume Lionel is guilty, well, that scenario makes industrial espionage much more unlikely. It’s always best not to allow yourself to be tempted to do something wrong–it’s easier to avoid temptation than it is to resist it.

And if they’d had to raise the price of a $1,400 locomotive by another $100, I doubt too many people would have screamed. Especially if the words “Proudly made in USA” were prominently featured on the package.

There’s some question whether there’s even room in a $100 million hobby for both Lionel and MTH. When your industry is worth $100 million as a whole, and you have to share that pie with four or five competitors, you can’t really afford a $40 million jury award, can you?

Saving a few bucks in labor and R&D may have just cost Lionel its life.

Finding my roots

A friend asked me a question. I still haven’t found the answer.
In search of the answer, I found, preserved in Google’s cache (I don’t know how much longer it would have been there) my father’s family tree, going all the way back to 1746 in, of all places, New Jersey. (The furthest back I’d ever been able to go was about 1840.) Supposedly my Farquhar ancestor who came over on the boat was one John Farquhar, who arrived in either North Carolina or Virginia sometime in the 1730s. But my source on that is about as reliable as the Weekly World News.

It appears that John Farquhar was actually the brother of my direct ancestor, a Scotsman who was named, appropriately (I think), Adam Farquhar. And John did eventually end up heading south. Adam headed west.

I never could trace Adam’s family back. There’s a huge gap between 1729, Adam’s birth date, and 1382, when Farquhar Shaw, the founder of Clan Farquharson, lived–“Farquhar” used to be a Gaelic first name, which can be translated “beloved man” or “honest man,” but Shaw was so highly regarded that his descendants called themselves “Farquharson,” literally, “Son of Farquhar.” Later, some of his descendants shortened the last name back to “Farquhar.” So how are Adam and Farquhar Shaw related? All that’s known is that Adam’s father was born between 1700 and 1710. We don’t even know his first name.

Anglos have always had problems with the name “Farquhar”–it’s pronounced FAR-kwur, in case you’re wondering–but we always hear goofy variations of the pronounciation, and far-out spellings. Adam apparently often went by “Adam Forker.” The children of his second wife tended to retain the Scottish spelling and pronounciation, while the children of his first wife tended to go by “Forker.”

Adam’s Farquhars mostly ended up in Ohio, and a lot of his Forkers ended up further west, in Kansas. One of his descendants, Della Forker, married a Kansan named Walter Percy Chrysler–the founder of Chrysler Corporation.

How many people can say their half fourth cousin twice removed married Walter Chrysler?

Probably more than you think. My great great great grandfather Dr. Edward Andrew Farquhar had 11 kids.

Dr. Edward connects me to a trio of other people you’re likely to have heard of–at least if you’re American. Dr. Edward married Elizabeth Stratton, whose great great great grandmother was named Deborah Adams. Deborah Adams’ father was named John Adams, and he was born in Plymouth, Mass., in 1630. That fact made me really start to wonder. You’ve probably heard of some people named Adams from Massachusetts.

Declaration of Independence signer Samuel Adams and U.S. presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were descended from an English immigrant named Henry Adams. Henry Adams’ grandfather, also named Henry Adams, had an older brother named Richard. Elizabeth Stratton is descended from Richard Adams, making her the sixth cousin three times removed of John and Samuel Adams. Which makes me the sixth cousin eight times removed of John and Samuel Adams.

This stuff is addictive.

Oh, and to answer the other obvious question: not counting the Adams family–which I’ve traced back to 1392 and expect to be able to go back at least one generation further–I can trace my earliest ancestor back to 1462, in England.

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