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Lionel train light bulb chart

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. Since knowing when can be difficult, here’s a Lionel train light bulb chart.

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 »Lionel train light bulb chart

Creative sourcing for O and S scale train layout figures

Hobby shops frequently carry a decent selection of figures for O and S gauge layouts, but if you look at the magazines long enough, you start to see almost all of them have the same figures–and they’re probably the same figures the shop near you sells as well.

There are ways to get a better variety of figures so your layout can have something distinctive about it–and the good news is you can save some money doing it as well.

Read More »Creative sourcing for O and S scale train layout figures

How to check a train transformer for safety

In spite of what a certain O gauge magazine tells you, vintage toy train transformers aren’t inherently unsafe to use. Age can take their toll on them, so you want to give them a good safety inspection, but as long as they pass the safety inspection, they can give you a long, productive service life. Here’s how to check a train transformer for safety.

All of my train transformers are at least 50 years old, and I expect my sons to inherit them in workable condition.Read More »How to check a train transformer for safety

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

The estate find that broke my slump

I wrote a few weeks ago about finding a scarce Marx windup train at an estate sale, but I actually went a good couple of years without finding a train worth buying until recently. The train that broke my slump was at a sale close to home, and I actually didn’t even set out to buy a train that day.

It was a cold and rainy morning in St. Louis. It was Friday, and I was in between jobs. The estate sale was close, so I went. Otherwise I would have had no reason to go. I don’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but I didn’t expect to find a train.Read More »The estate find that broke my slump

The Marx connection to Hafner

Hafner was a Chicago-based maker of clockwork-powered O gauge trains during most of the first half of the 20th century. The trains were inexpensive but durable. William Hafner developed the clockwork motor as a hobby around the turn of the previous century and put the motor in toys. Eventually he decided to make a train–perhaps he thought his two sons would like one–and he did. He even sold a set or two, but didn’t have the facilities to mass produce them, or the money to buy such a facility. So he approached William Coleman, who had an interest in a struggling farm tool company, and after Hafner secured an order for $15,000 worth of trains, Coleman agreed to use the company’s excess capacity to produce the trains.

And so began American Flyer, the company that battled Lionel for the hearts and minds of train enthusiasts for about sixty years, until 1967.

Read More »The Marx connection to Hafner

You can’t collect everything

There’s been a fairly spirited discussion lately in the always excellent Yahoo Marx Train group about the merits of Marx tin trains versus plastic ones. Some people like them all, some people prefer one or the other, and almost everyone with a preference is apologizing to the people who prefer the other.

That’s part of what makes that group great–the lack of elitism and looking down on others whose preferences differ–but in my mind, there’s no apology necessary because very few hobbyists have the time, space, or budget to collect everything.Read More »You can’t collect everything