Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BL-2: My strange fascination

Image: Contemplative Imaging
I have a strange fascination... when I was a kid I had a friend that lived about 2 miles away. On weekends either my mom would take me to his house or his mom would bring him to our house to play. We both had HO scale trains. Mine were for "real" railroads - Santa Fe and Southern Pacific. His were Pennsylvania Railroad (whatever the heck that is) and other eastern lines. He also had weird tastes in locomotives - his prized possession was a BL-2. Really. The ugliest American diesel locomotive ever made. He moved away in 3rd or 4th grade and I never saw him or a BL-2 again. Until this year. I didn't see my long lost friend, but I saw a BL-2 at a blowout price from Trainworld.It was painted in factory demo colors and it didn't look half bad. Besides, who can resist a brand new O Gauge locomotive for only $100, even if it IS a BL-2? Certainly not me... so I went ahead and ordered one. When it arrived it looked just as good as it did in that flyer. Maybe not the best looking diesel in the world, but also not as ugly as I remembered. So I put it on my oval of Fastrack... and a funny thing happened. I actually started to LIKE the thing. Sure it runs too fast, but that's how Williams engines roll:) Then last week Trainworld sent out another flyer. This time they had Rock Island BL-s on sale at blowout prices. So I ordered one. Along with an EF-4 painted for the Virginian. BL-2s??? Electrics??? Eastern roads??? SOmething is happening to me and I don't know what...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I'm tired of being an armchair model railroader...

So I finally ordered the track for my $100 Layout (that's per month, not "total"). I had a hard time deciding what track to run, what track plan, blah blah blah and I finally decided I'm sick of piling up more and more toy trains with nowhere to run them. Since there's no such thing as a perfect layout anyway (especially when you're trying to cram an O Gauge layout onto a 4x8 table) I decided to just stick with the FasTrack that came with my Polar Express set. For my track plan, I used SCARM (a free layout design program) to draw up a simple layout based on Lionel's D-290 display layout. For now I'm leaving off the upper loop, but I might add one later with HO scale track so I can run my On30 Porter and Shay locomotives. One reason I decided to stick with the FasTrack instead of going with Atlas track is the built-in roadbed means I can run on the carpet until I get my train table built. Here's what the track plan looks like:

(Related links: A $100 Layout, Free train layout software)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Snooze, ya lose...

One thing I've learned is that if you model an obscure short line, you need to buy equipment when it's available - 'cause if you wait, it might be gone. When I decided to model the Eureka Mill Railroad in On30, I thought I'd have to compromise on the ore cars and use Bachmann's 4 wheel version - then I found out that Wiseman Model Services makes an exact scale kit of the actual car. They're kind of pricey at over $30 each ($59.95 plus shipping for a 2 car kit) but I really wanted them - so I bit the bullet and ordered 5 kits listed on eBay. I don't know if I bought the last 5 kits, or if I did if any more will be made, but the maker is now showing 0 (zero) availability. Since this is probably a limited demand item, it wouldn't surprise me if I got the last 5 kits. Waiting can cost you like that... That happened to me last year - I'd been wanting a Dolores Conoco Oil plant and an Ouray engine house for my Sn3 layout since around 2009 and kept putting off the purchase - until last year, when I found out both kits were out of production and no longer available. Lesson learned - buy when available because what you want might not be available later. Anyway, I'm glad I was able to get a complete set of the correct ore cars for my On30 Eureka Mill Railroad...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

More on On30 - more than I imagined...

When I first started looking into On30 I couldn't find much information on US 30" gauge railroads... and I still can't, at least not on the internet. But... The Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette has an excellent series on 30" lines starting with the July/August 2005 issue. Most of the lines are mining or plantation roads that used Porters, but the first line featured - the Crescent Tramway - used 2 Shays; 1 Class A and 1 Class B (both were 2 truck Lima shays). In fact, the Crescent Tramways first locomotive was the first Shay to be operated west of the Mississippi. So, I take back what I said about On30 "sucking" except when it's used to "freelance" a 3 foot gauge line. I haven't been able to find pictures of either locomotive, but the Bachmann On30 shay is about the right size and should work great. For a little variety you could add the Wiseman modern conversion kit to the second locomotive. I already bought a Bachmann Porter for my Eureka Mill Railroad but I'm probably going to pick up 1 or 2 Shays "just in case." I really love these early mining railroads...

UPDATE: Couldn't resist - ordered my Bachmann Shay tonight - also a set of 10 ore cars for my Eureka Mill Railroad (Wiseman kits). I hope I'm not getting addicted to PROTOTYPE 30" gauge railroads...

Monday, July 29, 2013

On30 - I take it back, sort of...

Last week I said I think On30 sucks. What I meant was, it sucks as a medoum for modeling 2 foot or 3 foot gauge prototypes. I stand by that. However...

Once I was looking for a specific car - a 1973 Dodge Coronet station wagon. Every week I would search on line using several different search engines, plus I would manually check Craigslist postings in every city I could find listings for. Over the course of a whole year, I only found one and it was in poor shape. I was talking about it with one of my friends, and he did find one it would probably be in Reno (where I live). He'd read some artical that stated most people searching for a car - no matter how rare - eventually find it withing 20 miles of their house. So last year, sure enough, I found a 73 Coronet wagon in Reno. Not just any Coronet either - this one was a rust free big block car with factory metalic blue paint, and the price was actually very reasonanble. I didn't end up with the car (my wife said I could get it but I'd have to sell the Buick) but it proved my friend's point. So back to talking about On30...

When Bachmann started selling affordable On30 locomotives and rolling stock, I really liked it. I just couldn't bring myself to model a 3 foot gauge railroad with 30 inch gauge track. I searched high and low on line for prototype US railroads that used 30 inch gauge track and came back empty every time... so I figured the Bachmann On30 equipment - as cool as it is - would never be of any use to me. However...

Over the weekend I was looking through one of my favorite books (Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California, Vol. 1) and something jumped off the pages at me - the Eureka Mill Railroad - a real 30 inch gauge prototype railroad. Not just any railroad either - this one was practically in my own back yard. It took ore loads from the Virginia and Truckee over a 1.12 mile line to a stamp mill on the Carson River. The entire equipment roster constisted of a single 0-4-0 Porter, ten 5-ton ore cars, and two flat cars. At the south end of the line, the track was built on top of the flume that provided water to operate the mill. Talk about and interesting little sort line. So On30 turns out to be a great scale/gauge combination after all. You just have to find the right prototype...

Monday, July 22, 2013

On30 Sucks

There, I said it. There's a lot to like about O Gauge, but On30 is NOT one of them. Not to disparage the work of some incredibly talented modelers, but there is very little to like about On30. I know... if it sucks so bad then why is it so popular? Well, there are reasons.... here's where On30 came from, what's wrong with it, and some better alternatives...

Where did On30 come from?

At one time, O Scale narrow gauge modeling was expensive. The only locomotives available were expensive brass imports, and detail parts, trucks, etc. were hard to find. Then one day a couple of really talented modelers decided they wanted to experient with O narrow gauge without buying expensive brass locomotives. They noticed that HO standard gauge track scales to 30" gauge in O Scale - "close enough." They built a few locomotives based on HO scale mechanisms, freight cars using HO scale trucks, and slapped them on to a 1/48 diorama - and On30 was born. Because the modelers involved in this experiment were incredibly talented, the trains and diorama looked great in spite of the track gauge being way off.

Later, a major manufacturer (Bachmann) was looking for an easy way to come up with some trains that would work well with the Christmas Villages made by Dept. 56 and others. HO Scale was too small, and O Gauge was too big. Running smaller O Scale narrow gauge equipment probably seemed like the perfect solution at the time. The smaller equipment looked better with the Dept. 56 buildings, and the HO scale track meant they wouldn't have to come up with a new track system.

Many modelers who'd never considered O Scale narrow gauge before (because of the expense) took note. They saw the cheap prices of of the Bachmann On30 equipment and noticed the work done earlier by Paul Scoles, etc. Suddenly O Scale narrow gauge was affordable and had potential. Instead of selling their trains to Christmas Village collectors, Bachmann started selling lots of On30 equipment to model railroaders. In fact, sales were so good that soon they (and other companies) were making dedicated On30 track, more prototypical On30 locomotives and rolling stock, and soon a whole new cottage industry was born - On30. So what's wrong with that? The main problem I have with On30 is the gauge is wrong whether you're modelling a 2 foot or a 3 foot gauge line. The other problem I have is that the 30" compromise is totally unnecessary and it keeps manufacturers from producing equipment in prototypically correct gauges.

What's so bad about On30?

If your modeling a 2 foot gauge line, the track is 25% too wide. If you're modeling a 3 foot gauge line, it's 17% too narrow. It might not sound like much, but if you're familiar at all with real narrow gauge lines, you can instantly see the problem with models of either 2 foot or 3 foot gauge equipment sitting on 30" gauge track. Still not convinced? Three foot gauge track is 50% wider than two foot gauge track - percentage wise, that's almost exactly the same as the difference between 3 foot narrow gauge track and standard gauge. Can you imaging modeling a 3 foot narrow gauge line and a standard gauge line using the same track? I hope not...

The really galling thing is such a compromise is totally unnecessary. Today, most On30 equipment is built on dedicated On30 running gear and runs on dedicated On30 track - both of which wouldn't cost any more to manufacture than correctly gauged 2 and 3 foot models. That horse has already left the barn though, and now we're stuck with the unprototypical monstrosity called On30.

What are the alternatives to On30?

In O Scale, there really is no cheap alternative to On30. If you want a correctly gauged O scale narrow gauge layout, you're going to have to pay the price for expensive brass imports. Switching to S Scale would be a good alternative. Sn2 locomotives (mostly Forneys) show up on eBay pretty regularly for less than $300 (though running gear for freight and passenger cars can be a problem). Used brass in Sn3 shows up fairly often too (I picked up a painted SP #8 for $450 and an unpainted C16 for $275) or you can get Railmaster Hobbies locomotive kits for around $500. Thanks to P-B-L, rolling stock kits are readily available and affordable. Finally, if you don't mind the track gauge being slightly off HO track scales to 42" in S Scale which is closer to 36" track percentage wise (and also visually) than 30" track. Tyco makes a 4-6-0 that's exactly scaled for S so you could get a R-T-R Sn42 steam locomotive for less than $100.

So what's my problem?

Nothing really. It's just so disappointing that On30 has become so popular at the expense of the correct On2 and On3 scales. There would have been almost no downside for the manufacturers to produce correct On2 and On3 models and track, and so much upside for narrow gauge modelers. The fact they went with the initially convenient solution is a big disappointment, at least to me.

(Photo: Brain Toad)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Owens Valley Trip

Taking some time off in the middle of July to visit the Owens Valley. Big deal right? Well it is for my trains... first, I still have an old 4x8 train table my dad helped me build when I was a kid. I never got around to building a layout a layout and it's been sitting in my parents' garage for about the past 40 years... so I hope to dismantle it enough to fit in the back of their pickup so they can haul it to Sparks for me the next time they visit. If I can get it here, it will save me a lot of time and money - and I really want to get started on my 3 Rail layout...

Second, I'm going to spend about a day at the Laws railroad museum taking lots of pictures. In my world, the SP standard-gauged the Jawbone branch at one point so I can justify modeling it in O Gauge. Well, it turns out they actually DID intend on standard-gauging it at one point but never got around to it. In fact, the Laws depot had the roof cut back in 1920 in anticipation of standard-gauging the line. So, my standard gauge Jawbone line will be a little more prototypical than I'd thought before. The buildins at Laws are small and will fit nicely on my small layout so I plan on taking lots of pics.

Finally, the Owens River Valley Electric Railway was a planned line from Laws to Bishop. No track was ever laid, but the right-of-way was built and for the most part still exists. So... I'm planning on traversing as much of it as I can, also hoping to take lots of pics. I'm especially interested in the area of Bishop the line would have terminated.

Now that I think about it I might have some old HO Scale stuff down in Bishop too... will have to look for it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Two boxcars for my $100 layout...

I'm old enough that I don't feel the need to receive birthday presents. My parents, however, insist on getting me one every year. It's always hard to decide what to ask for because I don't want them to spend a lot of money, but I also don't want something unless it's not a piece of junk. The past few years I've taken to asking for things they already have, like my dad's 35mm camera that he used when I was a kid. (It's broken now, but has a ton of sentimental value to me). This year though, I really couldn't think of anything. My mom announced that they'd decided to get me something for my train layout. I groaned inwardly... I couldn't think of any quality toy train stuff that wouldn't go above my self imposed price limit. My birthday came and went and I hoped my parents had forgotten about getting me something. Then at my son's birthday, my mom brought it up - "Have you found something for your layout that dad and I can get you? We really want to get you something..." <groan>... I told her I'd been looking but couldn't find anything I really needed, hoping this answer would satisfy them for at least another month. Not happening... the next night she called me and asked if I could pick something out soon because they wanted to order it before returning to their home in Bishop. <Gulp> - they want me to pick out something NOW? Where am I going to find something that I like and is also AFFORDABLE? Then I remembered Ready Made Trains. I've been kind of focusing on my HO scale Timesaver layout so O gauge wasn't even really on my radar. I do need some rolling stock for my $100 Layout (that I'll get around to building some day...) and these particular two cars actually have a family connection - my dad's uncle used to work for Western Pacific, and the Santa Fe car is just like the real ones I saw many times as a kid when we visited my grandparents in Sacramento and when I'd go on business trips with my dad in the summer to Mojave. Just as importantly, they're affordable - only $20 each which is a great price for O Gauge rolling stock. They arrived yesterday, and they're gorgeous. I'm happy with the cars and my parents are happy about getting me a birthday present. Next year though I'm going to lay down the law and tell them all I want is to spend the day together and eat some of mom's home cooking...

Related Pages:
Cheap Toy Train Layout
RMT Trains

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Customer service - above and beyond.

One of my pet peeves is vendors who list an item online but don't really have it in stock. Sometimes it's a bait-and-switch, other times just an honest mistake, but it ALWAYS aggravates the heck out of me - especially when it's something I've been searching for a long time or it's being offered at a really great price. Usually the vendor issues a refund. If they're nice, sometimes the refund comes with an apologetic explanation. If they're trying to make sure I never do business with them again, the refund may not be issued until I 'remind" them. In any case, no harm no foul because I got my money back so the vendor is freed from the obligation to deliver the product.

When I ordered my BL-2, it was listed at a really great price - about half what most vendors were charging for it - as part of a blow out sale at Hobby Station. A couple days after placing my order I recieved an email stating it would be shipped the next day and that they'd send me a tracking number. Well, I didn't recieve a tracking number but I wasn't too worried about it, sometimes things fall through the cracks and based on the email I figured they had shipped it but forgot to notify me. Then about a week after the email saying they were shipping I got another email from them with the dreaded "Product Name" in the subject line. Now I knew what happened - they were out of stock, "gee, sorry for the inconvenience" and informing me of a refund. When I opened the email though I was surprised in a very good way...

Dear Ken,

I apologize for the delay on shipping your order. We actually ran out of the ones we had on special and I've been trying to get another one for you.

I will email your ups tracking on Wed or Thurs and I do hope you will come back to us again in the future.

Thank you for your business.

Instead of taking the easy way out and just giving me a refund, they took the time to find a locomotive for me - one that I really wanted - and were even willing to take a loss on it to fulfill the order. I believe them on the price - all the vendors showing this locomotive in stock are asking $165 or more. So to Hobby Station - a heartfelt Thank You and my hat's off to you for customer service above and beyond.

I hope to have some time to run it this weekend and write up a review of the BL-2.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Coming soon... my WBB BL-2 (and vendor) review...

It looks like I'll be getting my BL-2 after all:) Was having serious doubts, but I have a tracking number now and according to UPS it will be here "Monday, 06/03/2013, By End of Day." Based on previous experience with UPS it will probably arrive sooner:)

Was having my doubts about the vendor, I have a special animosity for those who advertise what they don't actually have in stock. I believe in this case though it was an honest mistake on the vendor's part and it looks like they've made it right. Can't ask for more than that:) More to follow, for now I'll just say they were willing to lose money on the transaction to fulfill the order.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Still waiting on the BL-2

I really hoped I'd have the BL-2 by now. Called the vendor yesterday, no phone answer so I left a message. Never had any luck with that style of customer "service" before so wasn't expecting much. Well, they responded via email and said it will be shipped today and they'll email me a tracking number this afternoon. We'll see:) I'm really looking forward to getting this. I think it'll be the last of my O Gauge locomotive purchases for awhile. I need to start building my freight car roster, and I'd really like to find O Gauge versions of the MDC 34' Overton passenger cars. And of course there's the SP Castro roundhouse kit from banta Modelworks that I "need"...

Friday, May 3, 2013

All Wound Up

It's really interesting to watch the different preferences and trends that come out in the different scales. For example, N Scalers seem to like to model big, modern equipment. This makes sense because N scale lets you fit more railroading into a given space than any other main stream scale. HO scalers seem to trend towards "prototypical operation." This also makes sense - HO equipment is big enough to operate well, small enough to fir quite a bit of railroading into a given space, and so much is available that you can easily model just about any era or type of railroad you want. O gaugers - as far as I can see so far - are collectors, operators (but 'operation' has a different meaning in O gauge than it does in HO scale), and the "gotta-have-its." When you look at the history of O Gauge along with what's available now, that makes sense too.

Something that cracks me up is the way certain factions get wound up about certain things. In HO scale, there is a vocal faction that claims you don't have a real model railroad unless you're practicing "prototypical operations" (as defined by them). They especially hate 4x8 layouts, because "real trains don't chase their caboose around an oval." S Scale has a very vocal faction that can't stand American Flyer and seems to think the world would be a better place if AF had never existed - or at least if AF fans would shut up and stay hidden.

What really cracks me up though is seeing O Gaugers getting all bent out of shape about something not being prototypical. I'm not talking about the Proto:48 guys, the "2 Rail Scale" guys, or even the "3 Rail Scale" crowd. I'm talking about those who like to run O27, Hi-Rail, and Classic O Gauge trains. In other words, trains that are TOYS by definition. So... they're running on track that is too wide for scale, with a 3rd rail (VERY prototypical...), and curves that are the equivalent of 13-1/2" to 18" radius in HO scale(!). The cars and locomotives have wheel flanges you could use to cut pizza and couplers that resemble lobster claws (over-size claws at that). The cars overhang on curves like you wouldn't believe, in many cases they're not correctly proportioned for scale (or may not even be 1/48 scale like they're supposed to be), and these guys get their shorts in a wad over things like incorrect reporting marks or windows that don't fit flush.

If all they did was complain it would just be funny. If they asked the manufacturers to correct the "problem" it would be ammusing. But those aren't could enough for this group. No, everyone else MUST AGREE WITH THEM that whatever they're having an issue with IS INDEED A PROBLEM and if you don't agree, you're either a "blind loyalist," you spent too much money on whatever is in question and you're "trying to justify it," or worst of all you're somehow trying to "take financial advantage" of "someone." In other words, if you don't agree with them, you're stupid, evil, or both. There was a recent thread on Lionel 18" aluminum passenger cars on O Gauge Forums and it got so bad the moderators had to delete it. I didn't have a dog in this fight so it was fun to watch... but it still bothers me that people engaged in a fricken HOBBY think that everyone else has to like the hobby the same way they do...

Related links:
S Scale Rant
O Gauge Forums

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Ugly Duckling

OK, I couldn't resist... To me, the BL-2 is just about the ugliest diesel locomotive ever made. For some reason though I have a strange fascination with it. I never thought I'd actually buy one, but just about every toy train dealer on the Internet is having a blowout sale on Williams by Bachmann locomotives, and Hobby Station has had the BL-2 for only $89.00 + shipping. At that price I couldn't resist... even though I have no use for a BL-2, none ever ran on the roads I like (Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, Western Pacific), and it's fugly. I bought mine in the GM Demo paint scheme which at least isn't as ugly as some of the RR paint jobs. If Hobby Station runs out, Pat's Trains has them for $99.95 plus shipping - still a good price.

(Update: the day after I ordered mine, the listed price for the demo paint went to $164 at Hobby Station and Pat's Trains now shows it as Out Of Stock)

Related Links:
Hobby Station
Pat's Trains

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

$100 O Gauge Layout???

Cruising the O Gauge forums lately, two things really stand out. First, Lionel seems to be going for the high-end buyers (i.e. the stuff in their new catalog is really expensive) and second, lots of people are working less hours or have lost their jobs and can't afford expensive trains. It's kind of a dosconnect for me and it got me thinking about how much I spend on trains (way too much). How much money do you need to spend on toy trains to have fun with the hobby (i.e. a nice layout with a couple of nice trains)?

I don't think I can build an entire layout for $100, but if I spend $100 a month I can probably have a pretty nice layout in a year or so, and have just as much fun with the cheap trains as I've been having with more expensives ones. So in the spirit of that, last month I bought a K-Line steam freight set in nice condition. I got it for $77.33 (there were 15 bids at end of auction) plus $15 shipping, so the total was $92.33, comfortably under $100. I didn't spend any money this month, so I'm banking this month's budget for June when I'll need to spend about $200 on track.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cheap Fun

When I first got into O Gauge trains I wondered how it got so popular when the "good" engines cost $400, $500, maybe up to $1000 or more. I soon found out you don't need expensive locomotives to have fun with O gauge. I bought this Atlantic (with tender not in picture) for only $89.95. Shortly after, I got another similar one for only $50 (no tender though). These things are perfect for kitbashing - they're cheap, so if I mess something up I'm not out a lot of money. They're big (bigger than HO locomotives anyway) so they're easy to work on. The factory detailing is kind of course (especially on the 8800) to they look really nice with just a little improvement. A lot of fun for the money...

One or two things I've noticed about O Gauge...

Something I find interesting about the different model train scales and gauges are the different cultures that seem to exist in each. Some of these are probably related to the size of each scale, but size doesn't explain all of it. Take N Scale - from what I can see, the dominant culture in N Scale is big, modern equipment. That kind of makes sense because N Scale is the only scale that lets you model big, modern equipment somewhat realistically in a reasonable space. Given the small size, imaging what you could do with a branch line in N Scale - your model of SP's Jawbone Branch could suddenly look spread out and desolate just like the real line was. But... there's almost no small steam available in N Scale, I guess because the vast majority of N Scalers have no interest in it.

HO Scale has a lot of diversity - it's pretty easy to get anything from the earliest steam to the most modern diesel locomotives. The big thing in HO Scale seems to be fidelity to scale - not just accurate models, but good scenery, weathering, and "prototypical" operation. Simplicity seems to be frowned on. It's almost like you don't have a "real model railroad" unless you have an overly complicated track plan and/or an "official" operating scheme in place. HO is almost ALL scale, and lots of people in HO like to build kits or scratch build their equipment. There's almost NO "toy train" activity in HO, and anything that even hints at having toy roots (i.e. 4x8 layouts) will get a lot of derision from self-proclaimed experts.

S Scale is kind of funny. Don't get me wrong, I love S Scale. From reading the forums though I get the impression that the most enjoyable part of the hobby is forming a strong opinion and then denigrating or questioning the intelligence of anyone who disagrees with that opinion. If you don't believe it just try asking questions about American Flyer in a 1/64 "scale" discussion group (to be fair, some of the Flyer guys act the same way, but not as bad as the rivet counters).

When I got started in O gauge, the first two things I noticed were that (a) anything goes (high rail, tinplate, 2 rail scale, 3 rail scale, standard gauge, etc) and (b) O Gaugers are mainly into running (as opposed to "operating") and collecting trains and not so much into building lits or scratch-building. I guess that's because the main thing in O gauge is to have fun with your trains:) The second point confused me a little though. O Gauge has a HUGE pick of reliable, inexpensive locomotives and rolling stock that are perfect for kitbashing, and almost no one takes advantage of that fact. Not that their's anything wrong with that, I just thought it was a little wierd when I noticed it.

So, in a nutshell...

N Scale - big, modern equipment because pretty much that's all that's available

HO Scale modellers take their modelling pretty seriously

S Scale is being ruined by rivet counters. No, it's being ruined by some people's insistance on maintaining compatibility with outdated American Flyer equipment. No, it's being ruined by a few people demanding over-detailed, complicated, fragile "scale" models. No, it's being ruined by the continued existence of HiRail wheel flanges and "lobster claw" couplers. No, it's being ruined by blah blah blah...

O Gauge is mostly about having fun with trains.

I think moving to O Gauge was a good choice:)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New to 3 Rail!!!

I've been into model railroads as long as I can remember. In fact, one of the first actual conversations I remember having with my Dad was what locomotive to buy. See, my parents had bought me a toy train set (don't remember what brand) that had plastic track and multi-colored plastic locomotives and cars. At the grand age of 5 or 6 I'd decided that the green and red locomotives weren't "realistic enough" so we were discussing the all black locomotive with the white smoke box front - much more "realistic" to my kid eyes:)

Fast forward to 11 years old... my parents had agreed to get me an electric train set for Christmas. My friends across the street had a Lionel set, but I wanted an HO Scale set. After all, I was 11 years old - much too old for toy trains. Nope, I was going to be a Model Railroader. So I got my Tyco set (a Shifter Action Freight Set iirc) and I was off and running. My Dad helped me build a 4x8 table to put the layout on, we built some buildings together, and I never got around to building a layout because I couldn't decide on a track plan. Eventually I got into model airplanes and cars, and the trains sat in the garage until... 2000, my 10-year old step son moved in with us. I wanted something we could do together and thought about my old model trains. That would be fun. By now my tastes had progressed enough that I didn't even consider the Tyco trains "realistic enough" any more, so I started looking for something even more realistic - and I found it in a P-B-L model of Southern Pacific's "Slim Princess" in Sn3. A few years later, I got a couple River Raisin standard gauge SP steamers (also brass) and started putting together a fleet of freight cars. Yes sir, now I'd really arrived... highly detailed models of a prototype that I love in a scale that was big enough to work with easily. Except... I didn't have room for a layout, so my beautiful brass models sat in boxes in my closet. I also bought a little American Flyer, but it was hard to find stuff that was in decent condition and reasonably priced. Meanwhile, I started working on a small HO Scale switching layout.

Then last Christmas (2012), our younger (7 years old) son said he might like a train under the Christmas tree. My HO trains looked too small under the tree, and I wasn't about to let him play with my expensive S Scale brass. I thought about buying an American Flyer set (actually American Models) but they didn't have anything that really caught my fancy. The only choice left was O Gauge... so I bought a Lionel Polar Express set. What the heck? I know it's just a toy, but after all it's just for running under the Christmas Tree, right? RIGHT??? Little did I know...

The train set arrived in the mail and I didn't really know what to expect, but for less than $200 I wasn't expecting much, especially after some of the tales of broken transformers, non-working locomotives, etc. I'd read about in the reviews. I opened the box and it actually looked pretty good - better than I expected, and the locomotive especially looked a lot nicer than some of the American Flyer locomotives I'd managed to acquire. I set it up under the tree and turned it on. Hmmm, this is pretty neat:) Maybe I'll get a couple extra cars and some more track and build a permanent layout. Maybe I'll see what's available on eBay and...

Oh. My. God. Short story is I quickly spent WAY too much money on... TOY TRAINS. What have I been waiting for, for the last 35+ years??? These things are FUN!!! So that's my story... after 35+ years of being a Scale Snob (in spite of never even having a layout), I'm in love with Toy Trains. For having fun with trains, NOTHING beats them. I still like my scale stuff, but for now playing with toy trains is IT. I'll be 49 years old next month, and I've finally arrived:)

Related Links:
Lionel Christmas Layout
S Scale Trains
A bit about Tyco Trains