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