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Buy wooden trains cheap

My son likes wooden trains. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since I like the bigger metal (and sometimes plastic) trains that run on O gauge track. The downside to Brio and Learning Curve (Thomas) trains is that sometimes they seem to cost nearly as much as Lionel, even though they’re essentially carved blocks of wood. But I learned how to buy wooden trains cheap.

There are several ways to save money on them, it turns out.

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Fighting Web rage

There’s something about the Internet that turns people into jerks. Or maybe there’s something about jerks that turns them on to the Internet. — Tim Barker, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

I loved that lead, and the rest of the story is good too. I first started using the Internet in 1993, and I first went online sometime in 1986 or 87.
I think people who started going online in the 1980s and early 1990s tend to be more polite because in those days, “going online” usually meant dialing into a computer that a hobbyist set up in a spare bedroom for the purpose of attracting like-minded people who wanted to talk about shared interests. It was an expensive hobby–generally the computer had to be dedicated to the purpose, and the operator had to pay for an extra phone line, and the software to run the operatiion cost money too.

Whenever someone would start acting rude, it didn’t take long for someone to step in and remind the person that he (in those days, it usually was a he) was essentially a guest in someone’s house, and he had to play by the owner’s rules or get thrown out.

There were still disagreements, of course, and if there were too many people I didn’t like on a particular bulletin board, I’d quit calling. At first I took it personally, but considering that in 1990 there were literally hundreds of bulletin boards running in St. Louis, it was always easy to find a new hangout.

One of my friends from those days ended up being the best man at my wedding. I ran into someone else I knew from that timeframe back in December at a train show. He and I probably talked for more than an hour, catching up.

The big problem today is that people think they own the Internet because they pay $20 a month for Internet access, so they have the right to go anywhere they want and say and do anything they want. And they also think they can do this without anyone knowing who they are or where they live. The combination of unlimited entitlement and zero presence of fear tends to bring out the worst in bitter, unpleasant people.

The thing is, you don’t own the Internet. That monthly fee just gives you the right to use it. If you hop in your car, drive someplace, and pay the cover charge, you don’t own the place. If you start threatening people or otherwise making things unpleasant, the guy who pays the rent can throw you out.

The anonymyty is a bit of a myth too. Ask anyone who’s been sued for downloading MP3s. Tracking someone down online is sometimes difficult, but it’s never impossible. There’s a guy on a train forum I frequent who uses the cryptic name of LS51Heli. Hiding behind a cryptic username, a throwaway Gmail address, and a bunch of false information in his user profile, he relishes in taunting and harassing anyone who disagrees with him–and some people who don’t.

But the security LS51Heli thinks he lives under doesn’t exist. Ask Lori Drew, the woman whose online bullying drove Megan Meier to suicide in 2006. Knowing nothing more than the name of a neighbor, hundreds of people tracked her down. A friend and I spent a couple of hours one Sunday night and Monday morning tracking her down, before her identity became widely known. Most of the tools we used were a bit more complicated than a Google search, but everything we used is free and open on the Internet, ready for anyone to use–provided they know where to look.

I can’t speak for anyone else’s motivation, but we unmasked her so that we could keep her away from his kids. Once a bully, always a bully. We never did anything else with the information.

I’ve never felt the need to go unmask LS51Heli. But it could be done.

Usually the troublemakers on train forums will eventually get banned, and then they’ll slink off to another forum and complain about how their rights to freedom of speech got stepped on. One forum in particular tends to be a real magnet for these people, and they refer to the more mainstream forums as “North Korea,” “Iran,” and “Iraq” while they talk about goings-on at the places that banned them and poke fun at the forums’ owners and anyone they don’t like.

They forget that the person who pays to run the web site has rights too–including the right to throw out unruly guests.

The Internet would be a much more pleasant place if we all remembered that we’re just guests in someone else’s house. I pay my monthly fee, but the site operator’s bill is a lot higher than my $20 a month. It’s no different from visiting my sister. It costs me $20 to drive there, but she pays the mortgage, so she owns the place and she makes the rules.

Setting up the tree and the train

Although some of the people in our neighborhood had their Christmas stuff up well in advance of Thanksgiving, my wife and I did the traditional thing, setting the tree up the day after Thanksgiving. We use a pre-lit artificial tree. Growing up, I remember stringing lights on the tree and taking them back down was always the most tedious part of the job, so I decided that if someone didn’t invent it before me, I’d invent the pre-lit Christmas tree.

Someone else did, of course. The next time I get a great idea I need to move on it more quickly.

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Aliens on my train layout

I bought a couple of aliens for my train consist today. At the annual TCA Ozark Division train show at Lutheran South that happens every December, I spotted some lonely American Flyer bodies sitting neglected on a table. There were two steam locomotives, a gondola, a boxcar, and a caboose. I looked at the locomotives but there wasn’t any way I could remotor them with parts I had available. I did buy the boxcar, and then came back for the gondola.

I spent a total of $3 for these artifacts from 1958. Not bad.The problem for me is, they’re from 1958. American Flyer was doing S gauge in 1958. I’m into O gauge.

But that’s OK.  S gauge is 1:64 scale. O27 (which is the flavor of O I like, because it’s what I grew up with) is supposed to be 1:64 scale. Hold an American Flyer S gauge gondola up next to a Lionel or Marx O27 gondola, and they’re awfully close to the same size. Sure, there’s some difference, but when you look at real trains, not every boxcar is exactly the same height, and not every gondola is exactly the same height and length either.

K-Line took some criticism when it dusted off the old Marx O27 molds, outfitted them with S gauge trucks, and tried to market them to S gaugers because the Marx boxcars are taller than the American Flyers, and when you measure the Marx car with a scale ruler, it’s a funny length. But most people don’t notice. When I put a Marx O27 boxcar next to my Flyer 805 with O27 trucks on it, the difference wasn’t as pronounced. You can tell the Flyer is shorter, but something about the O gauge trucks makes the difference harder to notice.

It took me about 10 minutes to outfit the Flyer gondola with some spare Lionel trucks I had kicking around. Then I decided I wanted a conversion car, so I put a Marx truck on one end and a Lionel on the other. It looks good with my Marx and Lionel gondolas.

It took me considerably longer to get the boxcar in running order, since I had to fashion a frame for it. So I grabbed a bunch of junk from the scrap box and I fashioned a frame. That ended up taking me a couple of hours to do (I can do it a lot faster when I’m doing several at once and I have all my tools and materials in order). For what I make per hour, I could have bought several nice boxcars, I know. But this was more fun than what I get paid to do, and besides, nobody was offering to pay me to do anything today. And besides, rescuing a lonely boxcar off the scrap heap is a whole lot more meaningful than just plunking down some cash.

Once it was all together, I grabbed Dad’s old Lionel 2037 and put it on a loop of track on the floor with the Flyer 803 and 805 and a Marx boxcar that I rescued from a similar fate about a year ago. I had to work out a few kinks of course, but it wasn’t long before the consist was running smoothly.

I know a lot of people who run 1950s trains tend to do so homogeneously. It tends to be all Flyer or all Lionel or all Marx. But all of them have their strengths. For one, all of them did cars that the others didn’t. While American Flyer’s locomotives are amazingly smooth runners–even their cheapies–I don’t think American Flyer made anything that has all of the positive attributes of the Lionel 2037: It’s no slouch in the smooth running department itself, it’s a great puller, it’s reliable, and it’s common as dirt so you can easily find a good one for around $70. And as much as I like Marx, Marx never made anything quite like the 2037 either. The Marx 333 can’t pull with a 2037, it’s nowhere near as common, and these days it’s more expensive too.

But Marx and American Flyer made plenty of cars in plenty of roadnames and paint schemes Lionel never made. And when they did overlap, there tended to be some differences, just like you see in real life. So turning some dilapidated American Flyer cars into O27s was a nice way to add some unique rolling stock to my roster.

I’m happy. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more American Flyer cars that need running gear.