January 2009 -- Research is another aspect of toy train collecting. This month, I acquired a collection of Kris Model Trains and Frank's Roundhouse O-gauge rolling stock. These trains are Lionel-compatible and a bit more to scale than the Lionel # 6464 boxcars. Kris trains were made during the 1970's and Frank's in the 1980's. What sometimes confuses collectors about these trains is that both companies used similar tooling to produce their rolling stock. Frank Rash, the owner of Frank's Roundhouse, even painted Kris trains for a time. Sometimes Frank's boxcars are found in Kris boxes, which leads to even more confusion between the two companies. Included with the collection I acquired was a numerical listing of Frank's Roundhouse rolling stock. I belong to an Internet toy train group that has been researching Frank's Roundhouse in order to compile a comprehensive production list. The group had been developing their own list based on Frank's cars owned by group members and another, previously known, list. The discovery of this additional list, along with the cars in the collection I acquired, helped to identify fifteen additional Frank's cars that were previously unknown to the group. Time this month was devoted to cataloging and photographing the Frank's Roundhouse cars and also trading information with other group members. If anyone has information they'd like to share regarding Frank's Roundhouse production, feel free to contact me.
February 2009 -- Caught up with some projects on my Lionel layout. Had two Lionel postwar # 2456 Lehigh Valley short hoppers in need of some attention. There was some surface rust on the trucks and spots of white mildew and dirt on the plastic bodies. I removed the metal trucks from the bodies and saturated the rusty sections with oil. While the oil was penetrating the rust on the trucks, I turned my attention to the mildew on the plastic bodies. Using an old soft-bristled toothbrush, I applied some Crisco vegetable oil directly on the mildew. After applying the oil, I let it set for a few minutes before wiping it off. For those wondering, something in the vegetable oil gets rid of white mildew. The hopper bodies looked great after the vegetable oil was wiped off and the remaining grime was removed by washing the plastic bodies in warm water and dishwashing liquid. I left the bodies to thoroughly air dry and returned to the rusty trucks. I was able to scrape off the worst of the rust and the remaining rusty spots were given a fine coating of oil to keep it in check. Upon reassembly of the trucks to the hopper bodies, the wheels were oiled where they ride on the axles and the hoppers were ready for service. I also placed on the layout, near the #12782 Lift Bridge on the upper level, a newly acquired Lionel postwar # 347 Cannon Firing Range Set. This scarce accessory was included in three promotional Sears sets made in the 1960's. The # 347 has a battery of four cannons which, in sequence, fire a silver-colored wooden projectile. In addition to the # 347, Lionel also made the # 3666 Minuteman cannon-firing boxcar and the # 6651 USMC cannon-firing flatcar during the same time period. It is interesting to note that all three of these cannon-firing items use different size shells!
March 2009 -- Robert's Lionel Trains Layout has been on the world wide web for 10 years now. I started my site in March 1999 to share this great toy train hobby with others. In 10 years time it has grown from a single page of narrative with a few photos to over 135 pages of information, photographs and videos. According to the hit counter on my home page, there have been almost 300,000 visitors to my site during that time period. I initiated this monthly update column in January 2000. All the updates since that time have been archived on the site. One can read month by month about my layout progress or go to the search box on my home page to look for a particular topic. I've drawn inspiration from many over the years, but two people in particular stand out. Charles Wilber, the webmaster of Tandem Associates, has helped me from day one in web coding and especially graphics. I've also received encouragement from Joe R., webmaster of Joe's Layout. Joe has encouraged me to think outside of the box and expand my horizons. I wish to thank both of these fine gentlemen, who have helped me make my site what it is today.
April 2009 -- Had some good operating time on my Lionel layout. Put modern era Northern Pacific # 18131 and Southern Pacific # 8260 F-3 diesel locomotives to work on the lower level pulling various freight cars around the layout. The Northern Pacific engine was working well when it suddenly stopped on the track. After trying to coax it back into action a few times with the transformer, I noticed that one set of drive wheels was working and the other was not. I pulled the engine off the track and placed it on my maintenance table. After removing the shell from the chassis and examining the two motors, I noticed the wire clip to one of the motors was disconnected. It probably had been loosely installed at the factory and eventually came loose during operation. The engine ran fine after the wire clip was reattached and the engine reassembled. A prewar American Flyer # 9962 Illinois Central Green Diamond streamliner graced the upper level track. This is the only American Flyer locomotive I have in my collection, and the looks of this streamliner set really caught my attention when I first saw it for sale. I'm always amazed at the craftsmanship used in the making of prewar trains - no doubt a reason for their longevity. Also spent a few hours putting together some Kusan cardboard cutout signs and structures. These cardboard cutouts were included in some Kusan train sets in the 1950's. The cutouts featured a "Kusan Villa" switch tower, railroad crossing gate, billboard, an automobile engine shipping crate, and various highway/railroad signs. The cutouts were designed in such a way that no glue was needed in the assembly. I created a web page in the Kusan section of my website with pictures of the assembled cutouts.
May 2009 -- Super-O track was produced by Lionel from 1957 to 1966. I decided to incorporate some Super-O track into my layout. I contacted a Super-O track seller, who provided me enough track and connectors to remake a siding on the O27 loop and a display track at one end of my layout. To make the siding even longer, I relocated the # 455 Operating Oil Derrick and # 460 Piggyback Platform. It was fairly straightforward to unscrew and remove the existing O27 track and then replace it with the Super-O. I even used the same screws to permanently attach the Super-O to the plywood board. The Super-O track looks great where I added it to my layout. Some day I may add more Super-O track. Also this month, I purchased an interesting item, which was originally offered for sale by Taylor Made Trucks several years ago. It is a flatbed tractor-trailer truck that carries a non-powered locomotive. The truck and locomotive are labeled "Lionel" and decorated in orange and blue Lionel colors. At the flick of a switch, the truck's headlights and trailer lights come on, along with the lights in the locomotive. Pressing another switch activates the truck engine startup and braking sound effects. The locomotive is of the same mold as the old Kusan "Beep", or four-wheel switcher locomotive. The story I've heard is that hobbyists were removing the locomotive shell from the truck and installing it on a powered chassis, thus creating a powered Lionel locomotive. Apparently, Lionel did not care for this and would not license anymore of these trucks.
June 2009 -- Two handcars in my collection were in need of repair. One of them was a Lionel postwar # 65 handcar, which had been out of service since I obtained it. This handcar had been previously altered, as someone had added two brown reproduction figures. These figures had since hardened with age, thus causing the whole mechanism to freeze. Additionally, there had been a chemical reaction between the original vinyl figures and the handcar that caused the yellow plastic body to melt where the figure's feet were attached. The melted area had been crudely repaired with green putty. Using a moto-tool, I smoothed out and cut slots in the putty area to mount replacement figures. I painted the putty yellow to match the handcar body. Before placing the new figures on the handcar, I oiled the motor and wheel bearings and tested the handcar for proper operation. After successfully testing the motor, I installed the replacement figures and the handcar looks and operates much better than before. The other handcar to be repaired was a Lionel prewar # 1100. This handcar features plaster of Paris figures of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. I've been searching for an original replacement hat for Minnie's head, as the hat was missing when I obtained the handcar. I finally won an eBay auction that had several parts for these old handcars; one of the parts being Minnie's hat. After receiving the parts, I was able to mount the hat on Minnie's head using an original nail that was also supplied from the auction. In looking over the other parts, I decided to replace Mickey's torso on my handcar with the better one from the auction. The torso in the auction also had the original tail, which was a bonus. The swap entailed removing one long woodscrew that held Mickey's torso and head together, replacing the torso, and then reassembling the parts with the woodscrew. I noticed the woodscrew holding Mickey together on my handcar was not an original, so I used an original screw from the auction parts. Finally, since Mickey now had a tail, I wanted Minnie to also have one to match. So I disassembled Minnie, fashioned a tail using a black electrical wire cut to length, and added it to the torso before reassembling. Mickey and Minnie are now complete on the prewar handcar.To Page Top To Page Bottom
July 2009 -- This was toy train club convention month. Fourth of July week was the Train Collectors Association (TCA) 55th National "Star Spangled" Convention in Phoenix. The convention hotel was well appointed and the food superb. The home layout tours were one of the highlights for me, as I enjoy seeing what others have done with their layouts. The convention hall had operating layouts for all to see and a trading hall for members. I came home with an HO-gauge Schuco Disneyland-Alweg monorail set, which was originally offered for sale in the 1960's. These sets were not big sellers at the time, because they were expensive and did not run very well. The poor operation was due to the hard rubber used on the drive wheels, thus causing the monorail to stall on the track. The seller I bought the monorail from had replaced the original wheels with softer rubber reproductions, tuned the motor, and guaranteed it to run well. It's always nice to deal with a fellow club member who really knows their stuff. A picture of the monorail may be seen on my Kusan layout page. Later in the month, the Lionel Collectors Club of America (LCCA) held their national convention in Sacramento. This convention was more focused on Lionel trains. The club gave registrants a Santa Fe Sacramento Mining Exchange mint car, with James Marshall Company graphics. There was also an LCCA store where members could buy a number of train items. A small layout was set up in the hotel lobby and Lionel had a larger layout in one of the convention rooms. At the business meeting, it was revealed that the club was in the best financial condition since it was founded 39 years ago. It was good to hear the LCCA was doing so well financially. Lionel representatives held a nearly two hour long seminar, where upcoming catalog items were shown and questions answered. The trading hall was small, but packed full of trains. I came away with a set of Lionel postwar # 224 U.S. Navy Alco A and B units. Overall, July was a great month for toy train conventions.
August 2009 -- After acquiring several new items over the past few months, I spent some time taking photos of the collection and updating my toy train inventory. In the process, I found some things in need of cleaning/repair. Candidates for a dip in warm water and dishwashing liquid included plastic bodies from a postwar Lionel # 6475 Libby's Crushed Pineapple Vat Car, # 6014 PRR Bosco boxcar, # 6044 Airex boxcar, # 6424 flatcar, # 6801 flatcar with boat, and a Kusan U.S. Navy Alco locomotive shell. I replaced the cracked plastic body of a # 3530 GM Operating Generator Car with an unblemished original. Also making an appearance on my repair bench was a Unique Lines tinplate steam engine and tender. The Unique Art Manufacturing Company made toy trains from 1949 through 1951. I had never attempted a repair on a Unique locomotive, but found the components similar to other manufacturer's electric trains. Overall, the engine needed a good general cleaning. Additionally, the motor commutator and brushes were cleaned up using a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol; three wires with hardened and cracked insulation were replaced; one of the two slide shoes, which pick up power from the center track rail, was adjusted and; the headlight bulb replaced. After lightly oiling the motor armature and wheel bearings, and lubing the gears, the colorful tinplate locomotive roared to life when I applied power to the track. I was very impressed with the performance of this engine. The e-unit (direction control) was very quiet and made positive contact every time track power was interrupted. I enjoyed seeing this engine come alive again after a 50 plus year hibernation.
September 2009 -- Came back early from lunch one day, and decided to see what Lionel auctions were about to end on eBay. An auction entitled "Lionel Trains" caught my eye. The auction contained the engines and rolling stock of two 1958 postwar Lionel sets. One was the #1599 Six-Car Texas Special Freight set, headed up by # 210 Texas Special Alco AA units. The other one was a #1608W Merchants Limited Diesel Passenger set, pulled by # 209 New Haven Alco AA units. The New Haven Alcos are somewhat hard to find, so I decided to bid even though the auction pictures were not very clear. It turned out my bid was high enough to win and, upon receiving the trains, I was pleased to find all the Alco shells to be in excellent condition. The Texas Special units were ready to run - I didn't even need to oil the motor armature shaft or lube the gears. However, the New Haven powered unit had some internal battery damage that needed attention. I removed the C-sized battery holder and used a moto-tool attachment to grind off the brown corrosion which was present. Next, I treated some rust spots on the chassis by soaking them with oil. I noticed most of the blackening on the metal chassis was gone on one side of the powered unit, probably as a result of an earlier attempt to clean up the battery damage. I was able to restore the blackening on this side of the chassis by applying several coats of gun blue to the metal. The headlight wire insulation was cracked, so I unsoldered it and replaced it with a new wire. The headlight bulb holder needed a good cleaning to ensure positive electrical contact. I disassembled and cleaned the motor and gears, then reassembled and oiled/lubed as needed. The battery holder was reinstalled and a battery placed into it. Before putting the shell back on the chassis, I tested the locomotive on the track for proper operation. The engine ran great forward and backward, and the horn even worked! I am impressed with the pulling power of these Alco locomotives. Their Magne-Traction is still strong after 50 years.
October 2009 -- Attended the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division York, PA train meet. This was my second time in attendance, the first being eight years ago. I wrote about my initial York experience in the October 2001 monthly update. My experience this time was different in that I did not have a list of train items that I was looking for. Instead, my goal was to walk around to see what was there and chat with other toy train fanatics. I started by visiting the TCA National Toy Train Museum in Strasburg Wednesday afternoon. I was there in time to hear the Lionel presentation and spent an enjoyable couple of hours looking at all the toy trains on display. While at the museum, I met up with Bill, a fellow Frank's Roundhouse train enthusiast, who has been spearheading the development of a spreadsheet which catalogs Frank's production. I had been corresponding with him via the Internet for awhile, so it was nice to finally meet him in person. Thursday at noon was the official start of the meet. It was pouring down rain outside, but there were lots of trains to see inside. I managed to cover about three-fourths of what there was to see the first day before my feet gave out. Friday morning, I finished up and made a few purchases - an O22 switch, a Lionel postwar # 57 AEC switcher and an unknown manufacturer of a Neuman Wholesale Drug boxcar. Before leaving the meet, Bill and I spoke with Frank's son, who had also been involved with Frank's Roundhouse production, and obtained some good information regarding questions we had about some of Frank's cars. Overall, it was a different York experience for me, but just as rewarding.
November 2009 -- There were three toy train meets/shows, which I attended. First, there was a local show, which I did not have to travel very far to see. It was a smaller show with a variety of trains and operating layouts. There was also a live steam line set up outside for kids, big and small, to ride on. The second meet was the Cal-Stewart show in Pasadena. It's billed as the largest toy train meet west of the Mississippi river. This year it was in the new convention center. The exhibit hall was large enough to accommodate the trading pits, operating layouts, auction area, and demolition derby/train races. There was a large variety of trains for sale and, for train club members, a fabulous Welcome Party just prior to the start of the meet. The third show was a Great Train Expo. It was located on a county fairground, which hosts permanent year-round HO and O gauge train layouts. There was a surprisingly good selection of three-rail postwar trains for sale here. From these meets, I was able to acquire several new items of Lionel postwar rolling stock; a Kusan collection, which consisted of space/military items and a number of diesel locomotives and; a desirable KMT Alaska Railroad boxcar in like new condition. November turned out to be a great month for toy train meets/shows.
December 2009 -- This is traditionally the time of year that the greatest number of visitors will stop by to see the trains running. With that in mind, I cleaned the tracks, added some power feeders to track sections where the trains slowed, and replaced an old manual prewar switch that was giving me operational problems. I selected and serviced three reliable locomotives to run on the three track loops. I've noticed over the years that children under 10 years old are content to watch the trains, while older children want to get in on the action and operate a train. I've also found that kids enjoy operating trains with a remote control instead of a transformer. My lower level O31 mainline is controlled by Lionel's TMCC remote control. So I let 10 and 14 year old sisters take turns operating a train with the remote. I added extra rolling stock to the locomotive on the mainline to keep the train speed in check, but it turned out the two girls were very careful when operating the train. One of the neighbors also stopped by with his young sons (I would guess they were 5 and 7 years old). The two boys were quite taken by the trains and their dad said he was going to find a place at home to set up a train set. Hopefully, between the in-person and website layout visits, a few new toy train engineers will join the hobby.
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