Restoring Tootsietoys and other early diecast vehicles

Restoring Tootsietoys and other early diecast vehicles

Restoring Tootsietoys can be a fun and satisfying way to enjoy old toy vehicles. Whether you want your childhood toys to look nice again or just enjoy bringing new life to neglected examples, it can be as easy and as affordable as you want it to be.

I’ll talk specifically about Tootsietoys here, but the principles apply to other vintage diecast cars of the same era like Hubley or Midgetoy.

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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

Remove black marks from wood floors

I tried to remove black marks from wood floors with Bar Keeper’s Friend recently, and I’m happy to report it worked pretty well.

Here’s the story: I had some mysterious black ring-shaped marks on my hardwood floors. I traced them to metal ends of furniture legs. The long-term solution is to put the furniture on leg cups, but one still has to contend with the damage.

The pros use a floor bleach whose active ingredient is oxalic acid, but finding it is hard, and finding it in household quantities is harder. But there’s a cheap, readily available household alternative: Bar Keeper’s Friend. It costs a couple of dollars and you can buy it at big-box stores like Home Depot, hardware stores, grocery stores, and even some discount stores. It’s usually in the cleaning aisle next to the Comet. It’s good stuff to have on hand anyway, because it does a great job of cleaning up pretty much anything you’d use Comet on, but it literally eats rust spots for lunch so it’ll take care of chores Comet doesn’t.

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Things I wish I’d known about AT&T U-Verse before I signed up

Things I wish I’d known about AT&T U-Verse before I signed up

As I wrote earlier this week, I’m a new AT&T U-Verse customer. Prior to that, I was using old-school POTS with a DSL connection. Between the phone service, DSL, and long-distance calls, I was spending around $75 a month. So it looked like I could switch to U-Verse with the 250-minute voice plan and 3-megabit Internet, save some money, and get a bit of an upgrade in connection speed.

I was mostly correct.

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How to clean inside Lionel tubular track

If the outside of your Lionel track is rusty or dirty, there’s a chance the inside is too. Here’s how to clean inside Lionel track.

The condition of the inside of the track is the standard reason people give for discarding old Lionel track rather than trying to fix it. But if you’re willing to put in some effort, this problem, too, is fixable.

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The Western Electric 500

Another year, another cordless telephone/answering machine.

I bought a cordless phone to replace an aging and failing 2.4 GHz model this week. Our luck with modern phones makes me long for the old days.

I like the old Western Electric 500 (also known simply as “The Bell Phone”) because it was specifically designed not to break.We own three. My wife and I both have a habit of picking them up when we see them cheaply at garage and estate sales. I see at least five a year, but I only buy if it’s cheap. Maybe there’s some book somewhere that says a Model 500 in a common color is worth $20, but I won’t pay that much for one.

They’re annoying to use for dialing, of course, since they’re strictly old-school pulse. But we can use the cordless phone when we need to dial, or the green Southwestern Bell Freedom Phone I bought for my first apartment, which somehow still works after 10 years.

When it comes to just answering the phone and talking on it, they’re just like any other corded phone, except the handset is a bit heavier.

The other annoying thing is that they don’t ring, but tonight I found a cure for that. Opening the phone up and moving one wire usually cures that problem. (Follow the link and scroll to the last section of the page.)

How reliable are they?

Well, tonight I opened up the one I keep in my office to rewire the ringer, and I found it was made in 1957. After 51 years, it’s still going strong.

We have one in the bedroom too. It’s a later model, made by Stromberg Carlson under license, dated September 1978. Although it looks just like a Western Electric, it feels a little bit lighter and less rugged to me. Nevertheless, after 30 years it still works fine.

Those are really good track records, in an age when we tend to think of things as nearly indestructible if they manage to last five years.

And I’ll admit I like the retro look they have about them. Although I’m not old enough to remember the days when it was illegal to plug anything not made by AT&T or a subsidiary into your phone jack, these are the phones pretty much everyone had up until 1984, when the government temporarily broke AT&T up. My parents and grandparents used these phones. And when my house was built in the mid 1960s, it was almost undoubtedly equipped with a 500 too, and I’d be willing to bet that 500 served as its primary phone well into the 1980s.

I wouldn’t want to trade everything in my house for 1949 technology, but just like my old IBM Model M keyboards, I definitely have a thing for those heavy old-fashioned phones.

\"I\’d like to have my rotary back.\"

I heard on the radio this morning about an 82-year-old who up until two months ago was still paying AT&T $29.10 a month to lease a rotary phone.

I’m just barely old enough to remember those arrangements–when the government broke up the AT&T monopoly (the first time, before it rebuilt itself) consumers were given the option to opt-out. They could even buy the phones they had been leasing, if they desired–or they could return them.I actually own two of those old rotary phones. I like their looks, and they’re built like tanks because they were designed to operate trouble-free for decades. At a budget of $29+ a month, Western Electric could afford to build them like that, and it was cheaper to build them to last than it was to repair or replace them.

Dialing on a rotary is a bit of a pain, so I usually call out using a modern touch-tone phone. But if the phone rings, and the phone in the room I’m in happens to be one of those Western Electrics, I’m just as happy talking on that as on any modern phone.

I have some advice for her: If she wants her rotary phone back, she can get one. They’re considered collector’s items these days, but the phones we used from the 1960s onward aren’t terribly expensive. I think my wife got the two we have for $5 each. I see them at antique malls all the time, priced anywhere from $10 to $30. Unused or refurbished Western Electrics cost $50 from While $50 is awfully high compared to the $8 phone from the store down the street, it’s still less than it costs to rent one for two months.

And I’d rather buy those old phones than buy the new stuff. I’ve had to replace at least two phones since I went away to college 13 years ago. The only thing that really ever goes wrong with those Western Electrics is going out of style.

There is one drawback to those old Western Electrics though: both of the phones I have have the ringer disabled. The story I’ve heard is that it cost extra to have ringers on more than one phone, so when people wanted multiple phones, they would disable the ringers to save money.

Supposedly, from what I’ve read on Usenet, it’s not hard to re-enable the ringers, but I’ve never found good instructions for how to do it. I could take one of the phones apart and look around, but then I run the risk of not being able to get it back together again. But I suspect that disabled ringer is the main reason most of those phones ended up in the basement.

At at any rate, if you’re one of those 750,000 who’s still leasing a phone because you like them, cancel the service and go find yourself a secondhand replacement this weekend. You’ll save lots of money and not sacrifice any quality.

Some painting tips for around the house

My mom and girlfriend and sister spent some time this past week painting my house. I can paint a little, but it’s not something I enjoy as much as they do, and I’m definitely not as fast as they are.

I made a couple of small contributions. It was strictly a case of me applying things I’ve learned from model railroading. So there is some tangible benefit to that time I’ve spent playing with trains after all.

So here’s everything I know. (This is gonna be a short one.)Remove latex paint drips and spills with rubbing alcohol. Latex paint is water-soluble, but alcohol does even better. A rag dipped in alcohol makes quick work of the nasty stuff.

Don’t paint wall plates and registers with latex paint! In a lot of older houses, you’ll run across these things, painted in a misguided attempt to make them match the room color. The result always looks like crap, because latex paint is intended for drywall, which is porous, and plastic and metal aren’t. The result is you get a thick, gloppy mess that peels really easily.

If you want to paint those metal registers or plastic wallplates, paint them with a paint designed for a nonporous surface. Find a can of spray paint whose color is a nice complement to the room color (you probably won’t find an exact match). First, prime it with two superthin coats. Spray a thin coat that just puts a colored haze over the surface and let dry. A few hours later, put on another thin haze. Next, paint with the desired color in the same fashion. About 3-4 of these coats will cover it with a very nice, smooth, durable layer. People who’ve been doing this much longer than me say Krylon is the best brand.

What to do if someone already ruined your register with several thick coats of latex. I had a return vent cover that was covered with about three thick, ugly layers and the texture of a poorly done ceiling. I took it out to the garage, chucked a wire wheel into my drill, and ground off all that paint, all the way down to the metal. For stubborn spots, I used my Dremel rotary tool with a grinding bit chucked into it. I then primed and painted it. The result doesn’t look quite new, but it looks far, far better than it would with any coat of latex paint on it.

For plastic wall plates, it’s not worth the effort. Buy a 25-cent one and paint it the color you want. But saving a vent cover is easy.

Free stuck and painted-over screws with a pair of locking pliers. Lock a pair of pliers (I use the Vise-Grip brand) around a stuck screw as tightly as it will go, and turn. You’ll have to re-lock and turn several times but if you work at it, the screw will come out. To clean off the paint so you can reuse them, you can just carefully chip off the paint–you’re more likely to injure yourself than the screw–or soak in alcohol. I cleaned out two slotted screws by sawing along the painted-over slot with a small razor saw intended for hobby use. After just a little convincing, the paint just lifted out. I guess slotted screws have one advantage–just one–over Phillips screws after all.

For rusted screws, try soaking them overnight in a glass of cola. The phosphoric acid in the cola attacks the rust. You could also try chucking a bit of aluminum foil in your drill or rotary tool and polish it. Aluminum oxidizes much more quickly than iron, so the aluminum rubbing against the rust will de-oxidize the iron and give you a shiny surface again. Drive the screw into a piece of scrap wood and then paint it to keep it from oxidizing again. Then remove the screw and re-use.

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