Making gradual improvements, starting with whatever bugs you the most

A long project can be paralyzing at times, making it hard to figure out where to start. A trick that I learned in model railroading is to just work on whatever small percentage of the project that bothers you the most. Then, when that’s done, cycle back, create another subproject that fixes whatever bugs you the most now, and keep making incremental improvements like that until you get where you want.

I’ve used the same trick on home improvement projects, and I applied it to this web site over the course of the last few weeks, doing a series of incremental improvements. It led places I didn’t expect it.
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Non-derailing Marx switches

The Marx 1590 is the best O27 switch ever made. It’s durable, works well with all makes of trains (just put a track pin in the center rail where the switch pivots so that Lionel trains can pass), and can run off accessory power without modification.

The only downside is that it (allegedly) can’t be set to automatically switch to a position to accommodate an approaching train like a Lionel 1122, which makes it unusable in a reverse loop. That’s true if you wire them the way Marx said to wire them.

Here’s how I wire them to get that coveted feature.

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An excellent story about collectors of old signs

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiled three local sign collectors this weekend. Bill Christman, Greg Rhomberg, and Jim May go around buying old storefront signage, particularly enamel-painted metal signs with neon lights.

“Most businesses are branded franchises, so you see the same signs over and over, repeating every few miles,” said Tod Swormstedt, who operates a sign museum in Cincinnati. “But the old signs — the hand-carved shoe or the gold-leaf lettering on a window — were iconic and what made each neighborhood unique. People miss that.”

So I guess I’m not the only one who misses that, but it sure seems like we’re a minority.

2011 retail tinplate finds, at Big Lots and Shack

If you’re a tinplate fan like me, it would behoove you to make a trip to Big Lots sometime this week. Big Lots has a selection of building-shaped cookie tins priced at $5 each. The buildings include a town hall, post office, bakery, and general store. Additionally, my old friend Radio Shack is selling a building tin full of AA and AAA batteries for $10 until December 10 (it’ll be $20 after that).
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Using two or more transformers together on a train layout

Using two or more transformers together on a train layout seems like a good thing to do. It’s a common practice in consumer electrical devices to chain multiple batteries together to get more power. So it stands to reason that you could chain multiple small American Flyer/Lionel/Marx transformers together to get more power.

It doesn’t work that way–you can’t chain two 90w transformers together to get 180 watts. But there are still reasons you might want to use multiple transformers; say, to control different blocks of track on your electric train layout.
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