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

How to write reviews without getting sued

In a well publicized incident that happened earlier this month, someone who wrote a bad review on Amazon about a cheap router got threatened with a lawsuit by the router’s distributor, Mediabridge. Amazon retaliated by banning the distributor from selling on Amazon. But unfortunately, this means we have to think about how to write reviews without getting sued.

By the time this happened, the review was no longer on Amazon, so all I’ve heard about the review is secondhand. Ars Technica published this guide to writing reviews without getting sued and I think it’s good advice, but of course, having written dozens, if not hundreds of reviews myself, I feel inclined to elaborate. I actually value online reviews by people who bought the product and tried to use it. I value them a lot, so I want people to write reviews, and not be afraid to do it. And since I went to school for this stuff, hopefully I can say something helpful. Read more

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

“It’s your happy place.”

Someone told me today that she didn’t quite get the appeal of model railroading, that it must be a male thing. And that’s fair: Model railroads were first invented by a dollhouse maker so they would have something to market to boys. That company still markets trains, but no longer markets dollhouses, so I guess you could say it was successful.

Here’s how I summed up the appeal.

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A cheap and easy replacement for insulators on American Flyer, Lionel and Marx track

When you’re dealing with vintage toy train track, sometimes the insulators on the track will be damaged or missing. This will cause a short circuit and keep the train from running. This is one of the most common problems with vintage track.

But there’s a cheap and easy repair using material from an unlikely source: 2-liter soda bottles.

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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

Measuring the voltage and amperage of your train transformer’s output

Sometimes you want to know how many volts your train transformer is feeding your trains, in order to avoid damaging the motors. And it’s also helpful to know how many amps you’re pulling from your electric train transformer, so you don’t damage the transformer.

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Greenberg’s Marx Trains Pocket Price Guide, 9th edition: A review

I received my copy of the new 9th edition of the Greenberg Pocket Price Guide for Marx trains this past weekend. Marx used to print on its packages, “One of the many Marx toys. Have you all of them?” This book won’t completely answer that question, but at the very least, it gives you a start, and helps you avoid paying too much for the ones you don’t have yet.

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Good news for Marx train enthusiasts

Kalmbach has decided, after more than a decade, to release a new Greenberg Pocket Price Guide for Marx trains (here’s my review). Although the O’Brien Collecting Toy Trains guides have a section on Marx, the Greenberg guides have always been more complete and more accurate. The most recent O’Brien guide from 2006 completely omitted Marx’s 3/16 line, a difficult flaw to overlook. That’s why the out-of-print Greenberg book from 2001 remained the standard for all these years and in recent years used copies commanded prices of $100 and more.
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