Take apart a Hot Wheels car without a drill

Take apart a Hot Wheels car without a drill

I get the question all the time how to take apart a Hot Wheels car without a drill. This trick doesn’t work on older cars with metal bases. But you can indeed take apart newer cars with plastic bases without drilling the rivet. The trick is to use a soldering iron to heat up the rivet and the plastic base enough to let you take it apart. So here’s how to open a Hot Wheels car with a soldering iron.

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Repair Lionel ZW binding posts cheaply

Repair Lionel ZW binding posts cheaply

If your Lionel ZW or VW transformer lights up and hums but doesn’t output any voltage on one or more of its pairs of binding posts, there’s a good chance one or more of the binding posts is bad. It’s possible to repair Lionel ZW binding posts cheaply.

By far the most failure prone part of the Lionel ZW and VW is the binding posts where the wires connect to your track. Fortunately, there’s a workaround that works sometimes. But if you want something better than a workaround, a proper repair is cheap and not difficult.

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Repairing Marx one-way couplers

Repairing Marx one-way couplers

Marx one-way couplers were an effort to provide trains that could automatically couple and uncouple. The design was exceptionally reliable, as long as the trains were carefully stored after use. It’s not uncommon today to find them in inoperable condition, but it’s possible to repair them.

Prior to World War II, every train manufacturer tried different ways to make trains that could automatically couple and uncouple, with varying degrees of success. None were particularly realistic, and Marx’s design was probably the ugliest, but did I mention it worked really well?

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Fix a Marx 999 that derails a lot

Marx’s most popular locomotive might be the 999, because it can pull anything Marx made–6-inch tin, 7-inch tin, 3/16-scale tin, 4-wheel plastic, and 8-wheel plastic–without looking out of place. It really only has one problem: The front trucks on many 999s are prone to derailments.

Counterintuitively, the fix for a 999 is the opposite of how you fix the same problem on many other O gauge electric trains.

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How to remove a plastic Lionel truck rivet

In the 1970s and early 1980s when Lionel was part of General Mills, one cost-cutting measure they took was to attach trucks to car bodies with a plastic doohickey. It’s not really a rivet, but more like a clip, and it doesn’t exactly hold the trucks steady.

Removing them isn’t difficult but the method may not be immediately obvious. And sometimes these Lionel cars really did use rivets. I can explain how to remove those as well.

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How to customize Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars

How to customize Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars

It’s fun to customize Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars. I tend to buy representations of pre-1950 cars and un-hotrod them so they’ll look like they belong on my O27 (1:64-ish) train layout; others buy them, paint them differently and put different wheels on them to make something different from what Mattel sells.

It’s a job you can do with simple tools and materials, at least at first. But like many things, you can keep it as simple or get as advanced as you like. And while you won’t do your first car in 15 minutes, it’s easy to divide a car project into 15-minute-per-day steps, especially if you work on two or three of them at once, and at the end of a week you’ll have a few nice cars to show for your time and effort.

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An easy DIY Lionel-compatible high-side gondola

My preschool-aged boys and I made train cars this weekend. Yes, I introduced my boys to the idea of making train cars from scratch–scratchbuilding.

They aren’t finescale models by any stretch. But the project was cheap–no more than $30 for the pair of cars, total–and it was fun.

Here’s how we made these simple train cars, so you can too. Read more

Cheap train accessories from Big Lots

Yesterday while the wife was scooping up cheap groceries at Big Lots (also known as Odd Lots in some parts of the country), I spied some useful stuff in the toy section.

They were cheap playsets, priced at 99 cents and $1.99, sold under the “Mini Wheels” and “Superior” brand names.The 99-cent sets generally consist of two or three plastic vehicles and a couple of figures; the $1.99 sets feature a vehicle, a couple of figures, a building, and a random assortment of plastic scenery items such as signs, gates, and the like.

I picked up a school set, a construction set, and an emergency set. The doctor and the paramedic will look good with the Plasticville Hospital, which was one of the last gifts I gave my Dad before he died. Construction workers are easy to place, and the kids from the school set will look good in conjunction with the K-Line figures from Marx molds that I already have. The school building looks pretty institutional and will probably just be a generic building flat in the back of the layout; I’ll see if I can pick up a used Plasticville or Marx/K-Line school building cheap at some point.

The school set sports a table with an umbrella; I have no idea how that fits into a school setting but it’ll look great sitting outside my O scale soda fountain building. I may have to pick up another school set mostly to get another table.

The actual scale of the items varies a little. These are cheap toys, not scale models. Adult figures scale out to about 6’7 or so in 1:64 (S scale) and a little over 5′ in 1:48 (O scale). The vehicles generally look like they scale out to about 1:72 but some of them, particularly the construction vehicles, would be fine in 1:64 and passable in 1:48. The buildings are about right for 1:64. They’d be fine on any traditional-sized American Flyer or Lionel or Marx layout and even rivet-counter modern hi-railers could find some usable parts inside.

The quality of the paint jobs on the figures themselves varies. I’ll probably end up doing some touch-up. I’m not sure yet what kind of paint will adhere well to the rubbery plastic they used, but I may be able to get by with just spraying some Testors Dullcote on them, touching up the offending areas, and then following up with more Dullcote. You don’t get a lot of quality for 99 cents, but for me, improving cheap toys to give them a home on a train layout is a big part of the fun.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Big Lots, it’s that not all stores carry the same things at the same time. I have three different stores within reasonable driving distance of me and there isn’t much consistency between them. These sets have also been spotted at other discount stores but I’ve only ever seen them at Big Lots.

Converting Bachmann On30 cars to O or O27?

There’s always a discussion about the cost of O gauge/O scale somewhere, mostly because it’s hard to find new locomotives for less than $500 and new train cars for under $75. You’d think this was a hobby for trial lawyers and brain surgeons.

One guy pointed out how much bang for the buck he’s getting when he buys On30.

Now, a bit of terminology here. O scale is 1:48 scale. One quarter inch on the model is equal to a foot on the real-world equivalent. O27, the cheaper brother of O scale, is actually 1:64 scale, though it runs on the same track. “Serious” hobbyists often look down on O27, but the nice thing about O27 is it lets you pack a lot more into a smaller space.

So what’s this On30 stuff and what’s the difference between it and regular O or O27 scale?

I’m glad you asked.

On30, On3, and the like refer to “narrow gauge.” Most train track in the United States has its rails 4 feet 8 inches (or 8 1/2 inches) apart. That’s “Standard gauge.” Occasionally, a railroad would lay its track 3 feet apart, or 30 inches apart, or some other measurement narrower than 4’8.5″. This was especially common out west in regions where they had to deal with a lot of mountains. On30 refers to 1:48 scale models of 30-inch gauge trains. On3 refers to 1:48 scale models of 3-foot gauge trains. On2 refers to 1:48 scale models of 2-foot gauge trains. And so on. I’ve talked more about On30 here if you want to know more.

Now it just so happens that the distance between the rails on regular old HO scale track measures out to 31.3 inches in O scale. For most people, that’s certainly close enough. O scalers have been living with track that’s 5 scale feet wide ever since we decided that O scale was 1:48, back in the 1930s or so.

So Bachmann, the makers of the cheap HO and N scale train sets you see at Hobby Lobby, decided to take advantage of this convenient accident, make some 1:48 scale cars, put narrow trucks on them, bundle some HO scale track and commercialize On30. So now it’s actually easier in some regions to get a Bachmann On30 train set than it is to get a Lionel O train set.

I found this page on converting Bachmann On30 cars to S scale. What the author did was remove the Bachmann trucks and couplers and substitute American Flyers. Since S scale stuff is even more scarce than regular O scale, this is a slick trick. And, as you can see from the pictures, for the most part the stuff still looks right. Rivet counters won’t like it, but if you’re a rivet counter you’re probably not reading this page anyway. For people starved for inexpensive trains, or for trains, period, they’re fine.

Well, I like my Lionels. I’m not going to convert to On30. But I don’t like Lionel prices. So I build some of my own stuff, and the stuff I do buy, I buy used. So I’ve amassed a pretty sizeable collection, even though I’ve spent a lot less than most hobbyists will spend on a single locomotive.

But I’m always looking for something new and different.

A K-Line passenger car costs $117. A Bachmann passenger car costs $28.

A pair of K-Line freight trucks costs $8. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

You can’t put freight trucks on a passenger car. That’s what I’m thinking. Freight trucks are different from passenger trucks for some reason. Something about people wanting a smoother ride than cows.

But you get the idea. $36 is a lot less than $117.

K-Line passenger trucks are $25 apiece. That’s more than the car. But $78 is still less than $117, though I’d just live with using freight trucks, myself.

If the S scalers can do it, why can’t we?

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