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The greatest European tinplate train collection in the United States is on display

Two years ago, Jerry Greene made a splash when he attempted to put his huge, one-of-a-kind train collection up for auction. He had quietly amassed 35,000 train items, and only a handful of people knew about it.

Transporting the collection to Sotheby’s let that cat out of the bag. It became the subject of a short feature in the October 2012 issue of Classic Toy Trains, and relentless speculation on all of the major online toy train forums.

The collection, now known as the “Jerni collection,” didn’t sell–it was a one-buyer-take-all affair–so now portions of it are on display at the New York Historical Society.Read More »The greatest European tinplate train collection in the United States is on display

Using a Lionel (or other brand) O or O27 transformer with HO or N scale trains

Here’s a good question: Can you use Lionel O or O27 transformers (or, for that matter, American Flyer S transformers) with HO or N scale trains?

The answer is, not directly. It will make a terrible noise if you hook it up. But you can make it work properly if you add a bridge rectifier. Look for one that’s 10 amps or more; don’t expect to have to pay more than a couple of dollars for one.Read More »Using a Lionel (or other brand) O or O27 transformer with HO or N scale trains

Why publish in Classic Toy Trains?

On one of the few remaining train forums where I do anything but lurk, the magazine Classic Toy Trains came up in discussion. Someone said, “It ought to call itself Classic Lionel Toys and be done with it,” and the discussion progressed from there.

Being that my next published work will be in that particular magazine, I thought I’d address some of the concerns/comments that came up.

Read More »Why publish in Classic Toy Trains?

Lionel Super O track

If there was ever a cult following in Lionel-dom, Lionel Super O track has it. Super O was Lionel’s answer to American Flyer 2-rail track. Invented in 1951, patented in 1954 and finally introduced in 1957, it featured numerous plastic ties with a molded-in woodgrain, a 36″ diameter, and a thin copper center rail.

Lionel introduced Super O track in 1957 as a more realistic track system to replace its traditional toy-like 3-rail track. The thinner center rail and additional ties didn’t look exactly like real track, but it was closer.

Read More »Lionel Super O track

Lionel Fastrack review

How Lionel Fastrack compares to traditional tubular track and competing O gauge track is a common question. I own both, so I can probably make a comparison. Here is my Lionel Fastrack review.

For the most part, it’s not bad. But it’s not perfect. For some people, the drawbacks are easy enough to overlook. For others, they could be showstoppers. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Read More »Lionel Fastrack review

Buy wooden trains cheap

My son likes wooden trains. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since I like the bigger metal (and sometimes plastic) trains that run on O gauge track. The downside to Brio and Learning Curve (Thomas) trains is that sometimes they seem to cost nearly as much as Lionel, even though they’re essentially carved blocks of wood. But I learned how to buy wooden trains cheap.

There are several ways to save money on them, it turns out.

Read More »Buy wooden trains cheap

Cars for trains

Vehicles are a frequent topic of discussion on the various O and S gauge train forms. At times these discussions can get rather heated.

Since use on train layouts is rarely the objective of the companies making various diecast vehicles, there’s no true right answer to what one should or shouldn’t use. This is my personal philosophy. Take it for what it’s worth.

I run prewar and postwar Lionel and Marx trains on my layout, primarily. Most of them are undersize O27; I only have a handful of American Flyer cars that might perhaps approach proper 1:48 O scale.

Prior to the early 1970s, Lionel paid no particular attention to scale. Therefore I see little need to break out the scale ruler and be anal retentive about what vehicles will and won’t go on my layout. A Lionel 6014 Baby Ruth boxcar is very close to 1:64 scale, although it’s riding on trucks that are very close to 1:48. The famous Lionel 6464 boxcars are about 1:55 scale. Marx had a whole line of 1:64 scale O gauge trains; its cheaper plastic cars are also very close to 1:64. Some of its “deluxe” cars were closer to 1:60–somewhere in between the Lionel 6014 and 6464 in size. Maybe making them bigger than the 6014 for about the same price made them seem to be a better value for the money.

And for that matter, while A.C. Gilbert’s American Flyer division paid more attention to scale, Gilbert wasn’t shy about shipping off-scale stuff with the American Flyer name on it either. The trains themselves were pretty close to scale, but many of the accessories and buildings were too large or too small.

Needless to say, it doesn’t bother me then that a Matchbox VW Beetle is 1:55 scale but a Matchbox model of a larger vehicle, say a ’57 Chevy, will be 1:64 or perhaps even a bit smaller. If it’s the right era, I’ll use it.

Besides, park any of them outside a Plasticville house, and it’s clear to anyone that it’ll fit inside that garage. Therefore, it will look believable.

I do pay attention to era. Even a casual passer-by can tell the difference between cars from various decades. And I do think era sets the tone of a layout, so I draw my line at 1949. Postwar fans have it easier, as there are tons and tons of great vehicles from the 1950s and 1960s available. Since I stick to pre-1950, generally speaking I can only count on each manufacturer of Hot Wheels and Matchbox type cars offering one or two vehicles per year that I can use. If I drew the line later, I could probably find a couple dozen cars per year to buy.

Many cars have to be modified to suit my purposes, since I want everyday city street scenes, not a hot rod convention. In the case of the Hot Wheels ’32 Ford Delivery sedan I picked up at Kmart tonight (along with baby formula and a cordless phone–you gotta love it), the car is pretty tame. No jacked up wheels, no overly funky colors. It does have flames. Remove the flames with some nail polish remover or purple cleaner on a cotton swab, and I can probably pass it off as stock to a casual observer. Other times, it’s necessary to drill out the rivets on the bottom, swap out the wheels for more conservative ones, and maybe even strip and repaint the vehicle.

According to a car buff on an S gauge board I read frequently, prior to WWII cars tended to be painted dark shades of green, brown, blue, red, and black. Fenders might be a different shade of the body color. After WWII, the colors lightened up and two-tone paint jobs became popular.

The need to swap wheels means sometimes you have to buy cars just to get their wheels. So I’ll look for cheap vehicles with conservative-looking wheels to use as donors. This adds cost, but consider some people pay $20 and up for each vehicle on their layout. Compared to that, it’s still cheap.

Some people get irritated at having to modify vehicles before using them on the layout. It doesn’t bother me all that much. I think it’s part of the fun, and the result is that I have vehicles that don’t look like anyone else’s.

Lionel at Target

On Sunday, I went to Target largely because I had a coupon, but I also wanted to get a gift for my son.

I had heard Target was selling Lionel trains again like in 2006, and I’d seen a picture of the endcap, which included a Lionel teddy bear in addition to the trains. I wanted one.

Read More »Lionel at Target