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A train layout photo

A number of people have asked me to post a photo of some trains, so here’s a photo of a train, with some scenery, mostly hand-made by Yours Truly.

You’ll have to click here to see it, as it’s larger than my blogging software allows.Gatermann will notice that the tender is facing the wrong direction. Just pretend I’m auditioning for Ebay.

The train is a Marx. The locomotive is Marx’s CP locomotive, a gift from my fiancee. It’s one of Marx’s more desirable locomotives because it’s attractive, but common enough to still be affordable. It’s called a CP because it’s loosely based on a Canadian Pacific locomotive of the 1930s. With the exception of the Pennsylvania Merchandise Service car, all of these Marx cars are worth between $3 and $5. The Pennsy car is worth a bit more. It’s not particularly rare, but Marx made a lot of variations of it, and collectors like to get all the variations, which drives the price up.

The tiny gas station on the left is my design. Yes, the sign reads “Farquhar Oil Co.” Now you know the source of some of R. Collins’ fortune. This was one of the first paper buildings I tried to design and I think it turned out OK.

The confectionery and penny store are based very heavily on a series of building-shaped candy containers made by West Bros. around 1914. They were a lot of work but I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. They are paper as well.

The buildings on the right are free downloads from a company called Microtactix. They specialize in wargaming. Those two buildings happened to be about 20% undersize compared to mine, so I blew them up a bit and used them. Not quite the look I’m going for, but they’re close enough for now and they were easier than designing my own.

The tin lithographed train station in the distance was made by J. Chein, probably in the late 1920s. Chein made a lot of tin litho toys; I don’t know if their trains were windup or if they were strictly pull toys. It’s in terrible condition but putting it on the back of the layout obscures that somewhat. Guys like me are conditioned not to worry about scale too much; the Chein station is close enough, looks the part, and cost me a fraction of what a Marx station would cost, which in turn would cost a fraction of what a comparable Lionel would cost.

The block signal behind the confectionery is Marx, as is the red tower. The “snow” is white tissue paper, and the streets, which aren’t very visible, are a cobblestone pattern printed on paper that I cut out and affixed to the tissue paper with tape. Not very traditional and definitely not durable, but it worked.

It’s not much, but it’s a decent start of what I’m envisioning. I think if I draw a neighborhood of buildings in the style of those West Bros. ripoffs, it’ll make for a nice layout reminiscent of what a good toy train layout could have looked like in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as reminiscent of city neighborhoods that are rapidly vanishing forever, to make way for more convenience stores and Walgreen Drug Stores–oops, they don’t call them that anymore.

I helped my girlfriend move this weekend

It’s been a long weekend and I’m exhausted, but I like the situation my girlfriend finds herself in now. She has an apartment in the Holly Hills neighborhood in south St. Louis.Holly Hills is a pretty swanky place to live, if you have a house. The apartment situation is a bit different. A comparable one-bedroom apartment in the working-class suburb where I live would cost about $200 a month more than what she’s paying, and some of her utilities are included. You won’t find that in Mehlville. What you’re more likely to find is an apartment like the one where I lived for nearly five years, which was in a fairly safe neighborhood, but the building was about 20 years old and was falling apart, in spite of them wanting $550-$575 a month for a one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen so small you couldn’t have both the fridge and the oven doors open at the same time.

And I noticed, as I looked down Gravois Ave. towards Holly Hills Ave. from Loughborough, that this neighborhood still has class. A block up the street is an old sign that reads 4 Sports & More. Twenty years ago, that was called The Baseball Card Store. The name of the guy who owned it escapes me, but I remember going there frequently to buy baseball cards. He retired about 10 years ago. Under the new ownership, the shop didn’t last long. It’s a shame, really.

Next door is what used to be a Rexall drugstore. I don’t know if the Rexall was still there 20 years ago. It’s a payday loans place now, a sign of the times. It wasn’t as easy to get a credit line 20 years ago, so it wasn’t as easy to overextend yourself.

On the end of the strip is an old-fashioned hardware store. The couple who own it are getting up in years so I don’t know how long it’ll still be there. It’ll be a shame if it closes. It’s not like those big box stores. Those two know exactly where everything is in their store, and they can tell you exactly what to do with it. No, I’m not being impolite. The two of them really are handy. And from what I can tell, she’s the handier of the two.

Across the street, there’s Elicia’s Pizza. It’s a local chain that serves up St. Louis-style pizza. It’s ultra-thin and sliced square. As far as famous St. Louis chains, it probably ranks fourth, and it may be a distant fourth, in numbers and fame. Quality-wise, I’d rank it second behind Fortel’s. We ordered pizza from there on Saturday. I kid you not, they had it ready in less than 10 minutes flat.

I have no idea what the proper name for these things are, but there’s a big clock on a pole on the street, too. It looks like the ones you see in a movie, or on a train layout or one of those ceramic villages. And it works.

It’s obviously not the bustling commercial district it once was, with about half the storefronts closed up, but it has charm and character. Who’s going to get nostalgic at the sight of a strip mall in Mehlville or Oakville?

Closer to her apartment, it’s a residential district. On the way there, you can see $200,000 homes and you can see a handful of $500,000+ homes. It’s near a big city park. The homes are old, so the trees are mature. One of the streets is even split to allow more trees to grow in the middle. It’s a gorgeous sight in the fall.

I’m happy for her. She has a nice apartment. She’s free from a very overbearing roommate. Her utility bills are about to take a dive. She has three grocery stores within two miles. And the neighborhood looks like a postcard.

I wish I’d known about the place when I moved back to St. Louis six years ago.

Tin litho buildings for a traditional pre-war train layout

In 2004, after being back in the hobby a few months, I decided I didn’t want a train layout like the ones I saw in the magazines, which all take a hi-rail approach. The layouts looked nice, but they all had the same buildings and figures on them. I wanted to do something different. That got me looking for tin litho buildings for a traditional pre-war train layout. And it started a quest that continues to this day.

Don’t get me wrong. Today I have more than enough tin buildings to populate an 8×8 layout. Had I known what I was looking for from the start, it would have taken a lot less time. I might as well share my experience.

Read More »Tin litho buildings for a traditional pre-war train layout

What day is it again?

Passing a few minutes before a movie started tonight, my girlfriend and I went into a nearby store to look around. And what did we find?

Christmas stuff.

Am I smoking crack, or is it still August?I probably shouldn’t encourage them, but I bought some stuff. Many of those collectible holiday village sets happen to be sized about right for O scale Lionel trains. Those that aren’t are usually sized about right for HO scale. I doubt it’s an accident. Around 100 years ago, J. Lionel Cowen convinced everyone that a train belonged around the Christmas tree. These days, ceramic villages and figures are more popular than the trains, and the big brands are every bit as overpriced as anything Lionel or MTH have made in the past decade, but they’re still sized so they’ll look right if a Lionel train escapes from the attic and ventures into the neighborhood. New traditions have a better chance of usurping older traditions if they fit in with them first.

These weren’t Lemax or Department 56. They were cheap knockoffs. This particular series of knockoffs pairs up O scale-sized figures with HO scale-sized buildings. Not my thang. I’m anything but a scale bigot but half-sized buildings get on my nerves.

But I bought a few figures. They came four to a package for a dollar. You’re lucky to pay less than $4 per figure at a hobby shop. For my four bucks, I got 16 figures.

Yes, the figures are dressed in heavy coats and there’s snow on the bases they stand on. So I won’t have them on the train layout at the same time as my open-top convertible 1:43-scale cars. But the availability of the figures makes it just as cheap and easy to make winter scenes, just like the 50-cent Homies figures make it cheap and easy to make summertime scenes.

Useless trivia answer: If you’ve ever wondered where 1:43 scale toy cars come from, they come from trains as well. The British decided that O scale should be 1:43, and Hornby decided it would be nice to be able to sell cars with which boys could populate their cities. The cars became popular toys in their own right, and the 1:43 scale was copied by other companies, so 1:43 scale cars lived on long after Hornby stopped selling O scale trains.

End useless trivia.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Useless Christmas merchandising in August. I decided I wanted 16 vaguely O scale figures in winter dress more than I wanted $4.24.

But I passed on the wreaths and the holly. I can’t think of any good use for those in my basement.

Vintage signs and lighting for your toy train layout

I couldn’t have possibly found this site too soon: http://www.gatewaynmra.org/download.htm.
Besides photographs of six vintage building signs, there are also numerous other photographs for download that might be useful, and also some articles with really good tips.

Emphasis is more on serious modeling in HO or N scale than in toy-train O or S gauge, but in the case of the photographs, all that means is you have to print them bigger in order to use them. And the tips for assembling and improving models from kits hold regardless of type.

I also found this tutorial on lighting your railroad buildings with Christmas lights. Seeing as most places have them on sale for 50, 60, or 75 percent off while they last this time of year, the timing’s pretty good.

One guy in rec.models.railroad suggested using yellow LEDs to light your buildings, but seeing as a strand of Christmas lights is dirt cheap and I don’t have anything to cannibalize yellow LEDs from, I may go the Christmas light route first.