Year 2003 Toy Train Layout Update  [December 2003 update - page bottom]

Updates by year:  2011     2010     2009     2008     2007     2006     2005     2004     2002     2001     2000

January 2003 -- Installed the # 164 Operating Log Loader into the lower layout level, along with a Lionel RCS remote control track section to automatically unload the log dump cars that feed the loader. I had to replace the 4 wire cable for the RCS section as the original cable's insulation had hardened and cracked with age. The log dump cars now can stop in front of the Log Loader and automatically dump their loads into the Log Loader tray at the touch of a button. With the turn of a dial, the Log Loader activates and scoops up one log at a time and conveys it up and over into a log storage bin on the other side of the loader. The logs can then be released from the bin at the touch of yet another button and dumped into a waiting log dump car or log truck. Its a neat accessory to watch in action. This month I also received a couple of new Lionel items in the mail - a Lionel # 213 Lift Bridge and a # 14082 Pedestrian Walkover with a built in speed sensor. Have started modifying my layout to accept these new accessories and will describe the installation process in next month's update.

February 2003 -- Completed installation of the Lionel # 213 Lift Bridge. This accessory was first cataloged by Lionel in 1950, but was not produced. In 1991, Lionel issued a newly designed lift bridge that was quite different from the one in the 1950 catalog. Finally, Lionel announced in their 2002 catalog that the # 213 Lift Bridge would be produced. To install my Lift Bridge, I removed a section of the upper level track on the other side of the layout from the Hell Gate Bridge. I had to widen the upper level track bed to accommodate the bridge approaches, which needed to be secured with screws. After securing the bridge to the upper level of my layout, I installed the cables and counterweights that enable the bridge to go up and down. Using insulated track sections, the bridge was wired so the track sections approaching the bridge would have no power while the bridge was in operation. This safety feature was incorporated into the bridge wiring to ensure a train would not fly off into the abyss or hit one of the counterweights when the bridge was being raised or lowered. After the wiring was completed, it was time for operation. Moving the lever on the supplied bridge controller, the bridge slowly raised until stopping just below the rods that span the top of the bridge. Moving the lever in the other direction caused the bridge to slowly lower until it mated with the bridge approach track sections. Overall, I was very pleased with the operation and quality of this tinplate structure. Next month, I will discuss the Pedestrian Walkover installation and a new winter scene that I am creating at one end of the layout.

March 2003 -- Updated most of the current layout photos on my website and added some new ones. I now have 24 pictures of my toy train layout posted on the current layout pages. Among the new pictures you can see my latest layout additions - # 213 Lift Bridge, Pedestrian Walkover with speed sensor, and the winter scene I added at one end of the layout. Have been testing the speed sensor to see how fast or slow I can get the trains to pass by. In one of the new pictures you will see a reading of 218 MPH! I was very pleased with how the winter snow scene turned out. The one inch thick cotton ball-like sheets of Soft Snow material that I wrote about in my December 2002 update were just right for this project. I also added links to two new videos that I made this month on my video page. The videos are of the Lionel # 213 Lift Bridge and the Walt Disney World monorail. Hope you enjoy the new photos and videos.

April 2003 -- I ordered and received enough Vinylbed granular vinyl roadbed to place under my lower level O gauge outer main line track. When installed, it should make the track look more realistic and help to deaden the sound of the trains as they run around the loop. I also replaced the batteries in my Lionel RailScope locomotive and cleaned the track to obtain the best possible picture from the camera. In general, I enjoyed operating the trains and accessories after making the many layout additions over the past several months.

May 2003 -- Completed installation of the Vinylbed roadbed under my lower level O gauge outer main line loop. Took me four afternoons to complete the job. Installation consisted of 1) unscrewing the existing track; 2) placing the Vinylbed underneath to check fit; 3) cutting to fit/stretching the Vinylbed into curves where needed; 4) attaching the Vinylbed to the layout board with small screws; 5) attaching the track to the Vinylbed using small screws, and; 6) shimming up trackside accessories with Vinylbed sheets where needed. About halfway through the installation, I ran a train around the loop to check the sound difference between the track laying on top of the Vinylbed and the track directly laid on the wood surface. There was a huge reduction in train noise on the Vinylbed! At first, I thought there was something wrong with my train because it sounded strange on the Vinylbed section. I eventually realized that I was only hearing the train and not the reverberation of the train sound through the wood layout board. Based on my experience, I would highly recommend Vinylbed roadbed for use on a tinplate toy train layout. Not only does it deaden the train noise, but it makes the track look more realistic because it sits on a roadbed just like real railroad track.

June 2003 -- Found a box of 1970's era Lionel trains at a local flea market for $15. The set consisted of a diesel switcher, hopper, gondola, flat car, caboose, transformer, and track. There was some rust on the metal parts and most of the set was dusty/dirty. I cleaned the plastic parts using a toothbrush in dishwashing liquid and warm water. Applied oil to the rusty metal parts and let it soak over night. The surface rust on the wheels came off completely while the chassis rust was kept in check for now. Rust never sleeps. The locomotive motor was in like new condition and sprang to life after an initial hesitation. The set does not appear to have been used very much. In the bottom of the box, I found a pair of post war manual O42 switches that also cleaned up very nicely. There was even an original rubber man for a Lionel postwar operating boxcar stuck way down in the bottom of the box. Flea markets can be an economical way to build a train collection.

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July 2003 -- Spent a couple of weeks visiting Florida. While there, I hit a couple of flea markets and a few toy train hobby shops. Bought a Southern Railway O gauge boxcar with no obvious manufacturer markings. Another hobbyist told me it may be a Kusan boxcar from the early postwar period (late 1940's to early 1950's). Also picked up a Seaboard System Railroad paper holder. This is a large brass paper clip secured to a marble base. The Seaboard System logo is on the marble base. Am using it in the train room to keep track of those bits and pieces of paper I use to jot down layout ideas as they come to me. Before I left on my vacation, I was operating the layout and smelled something burning. Discovered that the 90 watt transformer dedicated to the layout lighting was very hot to the touch. I've been adding lights to it over the years and never thought about overloading it. Fortunately, I caught the problem in time as the transformer was not ruined. However, after returning from vacation, I spent an afternoon moving about half the wires from this transformer to another 90 watt transformer. Hopefully, this fix will last me another 9 years.

August 2003 -- My website welcomed its 70,000th visitor this month! It took about four and a half years to achieve this milestone. My site also won the silver City Station Award, as seen on my Awards page. Several criteria were used in the grading of this award: site construction, navigation, design and content. Additionally, four new website links were added to my Links page. After testing the re-wiring work I did last month on the layout, I found a few accessories in need of maintenance. The Lionel # 192 Control Tower men were not scampering in their usual fashion around the tower. I removed the tower roof and cleaned the inner mechanism. I also adjusted the height of the pole protruding through the roof as it appeared the top of the rubber men's heads were scraping the bottom of the light bulb mechanism. I reassembled it and the men went merrily on their way. If you operate this accessory on a layout for an extended period of time, it is a good idea to place a piece of aluminum foil between the underside of the tower roof and the light bulb assembly. The heat from the light bulb can melt a hole in the tower roof.

September 2003 -- Did a bit more layout re-wiring. I decided to spread the layout accessory wiring over three 90 watt transformers rather than the two I discussed in the July 2003 update. With my penchant for adding layout accessories and lighting, I feel this will give me plenty of capacity for future electrical additions. I also repaired my Lionel # 334 Operating Dispatching Board. The attendant on the board did not move when the # 90 controller button was pressed. Upon disassembly of the unit, I cleaned the carriage track and lightly oiled the carriage rollers. I also adjusted the mechanism's drive line spring tension. Testing before reassembly verified that the attendant moved when the controller button was pressed.

October 2003 -- My local Dollar Tree store had their Christmas items displayed and I noticed they had small, medium and large fir trees covered with artificial snow for their miniature Christmas Village series. There were also three different kinds of fir trees without snow, one medium and one large fir tree per pack for a dollar. I purchased several packs of the miniature trees and took them home. After I opened them, and noted how well they were made, I went back to the Dollar Tree and bought all the trees they had left that didn't have artificial snow on them. I didn't need any more trees with artificial snow as I only have a winter scene at one end of my layout. I toured six other Dollar Tree stores in the area and found more miniature fir trees. My shopping spree netted about 150 additional trees for my layout. I also purchased a few miniature hedges and some figures for a hobo encampment. I made a couple of visits to my local flea market. During my initial trip, I found one box of toy trains that had some postwar Lionel space/military items that needed some clean up and fixing. The second trip yielded a Lionel set from the 1970's that had seen very little use. I am in the process of cleaning and fixing my flea market finds.

November 2003 -- Attended the Cal-Stewart toy train meet in Pasadena. This is the largest meet on the west coast. I came home with two Lionel automatic stop stations, one prewar and the other postwar. When wired correctly, a train will automatically stop at the station and, after a predetermined time, automatically depart the station. At Cal-Stewart I also obtained some necessary parts for repair projects. Later in the month, I visited my local flea market on a day when the weather was threatening. Because of the weather there were not many sellers, but one fellow had a Lionel postwar # 671 steam turbine with tender, # 6462 gondola, and # 1033 90 watt transformer for a very reasonable price. We negotiated a bit and I left with some very nice postwar items.

December 2003 -- Added the Lionel postwar # 132 automatic stop station to the lower level of my layout. I did not wire the station's automatic stop feature since I use the e-units in my locomotives and would have to turn the e-units off for correct automatic stop operation. I am currently building a platform for the Lionel prewar # 117 automatic stop station on the upper level of my layout. This station will be facing the door upon first entering the train room, so it will be in a prominent location. I checked out the Lionel postwar # 671 steam turbine that I purchased at my local flea market last month. It was in need of some maintenance as it would not run when power was applied to the track. Upon disassembly of the locomotive, I found the motor brushes stuck to the commutator, thus causing the motor to seize. The same problem was found with the motor in the whistle tender. After unsticking both messes, I cleaned the brushes, brush holders and commutators with cotton swabs saturated with isopropyl alcohol. I used a typewriter eraser to remove some stubborn spots of gunk on the motor commutators. A wooden toothpick came in handy for cleaning out the slots between the commutator plates. One of the pick-up wires on the tender also needed to be soldered back into place. The locomotive and whistle tender ran great after performing this bit of maintenance.

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