Year 2006 Toy Train Layout Update  [December 2006 update - page bottom]

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January 2006 -- My postwar Lionel # 3520 rotating searchlight started lighting and rotating sporadically. I decided to give the car a complete going over, as I've had it for about 25 years, and have done no maintenance on it in all that time. Disassembled the car and scrubbed the metal chassis and plastic generator with a soft toothbrush in warm water and dishwashing liquid. I did this carefully so not to get the vibrating coil wet, as it was still attached to the flatcar. The pieces looked almost like new when I was done. I hadn't realized how dirty the car had gotten over the years. After thoroughly drying the metal chassis, I started to look at the mechanics of the car. There is an ingenious on-off switch hidden inside the plastic generator. This switch controls the searchlight and rotating head action. The metal switch contacts had oxidized, so I cleaned them using a cotton swab saturated with isopropyl alcohol. After that, I noticed the insulation was cracking on two wires, so I cut to length a couple of new wires and soldered them into place after unsoldering the old wires. The little rubber fingers on the drive washer in the searchlight housing were nearly worn off. I scraped out the old drive washer and replaced it with a new one, using double sided tape to hold it in place. After reassembling the searchlight car, I tested it on a track section. During the test, the searchlight would periodically go out and stop rotating. I had a suspicion that the ground connection on the coil was loose, as I had tuned up just about everything else on the car. It turned out that two of the metal tabs holding the coil motor to the metal flatcar chassis had pull up just enough to cause the problem. After reseating the tabs, the searchlight was tested again and passed with flying colors. I noted what I had done in an index card file that I keep for train maintenance and repairs. This file provides a historical repair record for the locomotives, rolling stock and accessories on my layout.

February 2006 -- I purchased a postwar Lionel # 497 Coaling Station at a local toy train show in January. I had the chance to test it out this month. The Station was in fairly good shape when I bought it. It just needed some dusting and two drops of oil on the motor armature shaft. The rail side bin raised and lowered with no problem. The storage hopper doors were a little balky, but judicious use of a little oil had them springing back to life. I did have to order an O gauge track blade so I can use this accessory on an O gauge siding. Hopefully, the Station will be up and running on the layout in my next update. I added a Department 56 Lionel Electric Train Shop to the winter scene on the layout. Department 56 buildings are the perfect size for an O gauge train layout. The Train Shop blended in well with the winter scene and looks really sharp at night when it's all lit up.

March 2006 -- The # 497 Coaling Station was installed on the layout. I decided to place it at one of the transfer table track spur ends. This placement would not cause any clearance problems with locomotives or rolling stock. Also, it is fairly close to the edge of the layout table where it is within reach, if necessary. The Station was placed on its own Vinylbed roadbed section to mate with the spur line track. It blends in very well with its surroundings. I have yet to hardwire the Station to layout power. Plan to power it from a nearby accessory transformer. The Station wiring was not completed because I had to make business trips to Las Vegas and Hawaii. While I didn't get any toy trains on my trips, I did pick up a 1959 Cadillac convertible scale model, complete with surf board and "Hawaii" written on it. I will have to find a nice, sunny spot on the layout for the Caddy.

April 2006 -- Completed the wiring and final touches of the # 497 Coaling Station installation. I did hardwire it to a nearby accessory transformer for ease of use. I disguised the controller cable, which was laying on top of the layout board, with lichen (reindeer moss) bushes. Operationally, I have found the Coaling Station to be a very reliable accessory. I also added to the layout a Lionel postwar # 395 Floodlight Tower and # 494 Rotary Beacon. These towers add interest to the layout, especially at night with all the room lights off. Another little chore done this month was cleaning the inner loop O27 track. I knew it was time for a cleaning when my Lionel RailScope locomotive, with built-in camera, kept stopping on the track. This locomotive has four drive wheels with rubber traction tires, so that only leaves the other four wheels for electrical contact with the rails. If the track gets too dirty, this locomotive will tend to stop when run at slow speed for camera operation. After the track was cleaned, I was able to continue uninterrupted slow speed camera operation. Another benefit of clean track was fewer lines of static in the camera-transmitted TV picture.

May 2006 -- Let's talk Plasticville! I have a number of Plasticville layout buildings that I received from a relative. Most of the buildings had missing pieces or broken parts. I had not thought about getting replacement parts until I came across a website that listed Plasticville reproduction parts. Upon contacting the webmaster, I was able to track down needed parts for my Plasticville Barn, Church, Diner, Fire House and School. Additionally, I bought a Plasticville Telephone Booth and Greenhouse on eBay. I remember the Greenhouse from my childhood. My original Greenhouse parts had been chipped and therefore did not fit together well. It didn't survive my childhood. So it was nice to find a replacement Greenhouse for the layout with all the pieces intact.

June 2006 -- The great thing about collecting is you never know what you will come across next. I was fortunate to obtain a prewar Lionel # 455 Electric Range for the train room. This miniature range was made by Lionel in the 1930's for girls to use and came with a set of cookware. The dimensions of the range are 25" wide, 11" deep and 33" high. The range has a working oven and two hot plates (burners). There is a temperature gauge on the oven door and a red light to let you know when the range is plugged into a wall outlet. Everything on the range works wonderfully. The chrome and porcelain on the range is in great shape except for a few nicks on the legs. The range looks like it may never have been used. It will make a great conversation piece in the train room.

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July 2006 -- Received a parts order from Lionel. I had ordered elastic tie-downs for some flatcar loads, a set of cannon shells for my # 3666 cannon firing boxcar, and door springs for a couple of operating boxcars. After getting these parts installed, I had clear tracks for an operating session. I chose two reliable locomotive sets to pull a pair of freight consists. The lower level mainline freight was headed up by postwar # 2356 Southern Railway ABA F3 units. For the upper level with O72 curves, I chose the 1966 version of the postwar # 773 Hudson steam engine coupled with a 1950 12-wheel tender. I set the Cab-1 remote control for the lower level and prewar V transformer knob for the upper level to desired speed settings and watched the trains go! For me, there is something very therapeutic about sitting back and watching trains run on the layout.

August 2006 -- Shot a couple of new layout videos. They may be seen on my site's Video page. I also ordered and installed a 9VBRTV for my Lionel RailScope O27 locomotive with video camera. The 9VBRTV replaces the six AA batteries that I have been using to power the camera. Not wanting to disturb the RailScope camera and locomotive wiring, I elected to install the 9VBRTV in a trailing boxcar. In the past I've used a postwar Lionel Fire Fighting Instruction Car, placed behind the RailScope locomotive, to carry a battery pack for camera power. This boxcar has a handy slot in the top to accommodate the two wires running from the locomotive to the battery pack. I unsnapped the battery pack and snapped in the 9VBRTV. I needed to replace the chassis of the Fire Fighting Instruction Car, as it had no pick-up rollers on the trucks to provide power to the 9VBRTV. In my parts box, I had a spare chassis for a postwar Lionel Generator boxcar, which was from the same mold as the Fire Fighting Car. I added two trucks with pick-up rollers to the chassis and ran a wire from each pick-up roller to one of the 9VBRTV power leads. The other 9VBRTV power lead was grounded to the metal chassis. After reassembling the boxcar and placing it on the track behind the locomotive, I powered up the RailScope track and within seconds there was a camera picture on my TV! When the train is in motion, I can see no difference in picture quality between running the camera with batteries and using the 9VBRTV. The only difference is when power is cut to the track; the camera picture goes off within a few seconds. This is fine for my purposes, as I don't have to remember to turn off the camera when I am finished with an operating session. I think the 9VBRTV is a quality product and wish it had been available years ago.

September 2006 -- Wanted to add some life to a Plasticville Station Platform on the layout, so I finally used the Scenic Express railroad people that a friend had given me last Christmas. Since the figures came without stands, I opted to use Accent Glue to keep them upright on the Station Platform. Accent Glue keeps figures in place, but does not leave a residue once the figure is removed or repositioned. On another subject, I purchased a Three Mile Island boxcar on eBay. I first saw this boxcar at the now defunct Lionel Train and Seashell Museum in Sarasota, FL. I think it made an impression on me at the time since it hadn't been that long since the Three Mile Island incident. I was always stumped when I periodically would look for this boxcar, as I thought it had been made by Lionel. It turns out that it was a Lionel boxcar that had been professionally repainted by another manufacturer. When I happened upon the boxcar auction, I had to win it as a reminder of the wonderful museum I had visited so long ago.

October 2006 - Attended my first toy train meet of the Fall train meet season. It was a local club meet with a good selection of old and new trains for sale. Picked up some train parts and also three Kusan boxcars from the 1950's that were selling for a very reasonable price. I didn't know very much about Kusan, but the boxcars were well made and thus piqued my interest. After I got home, I dusted the boxcars off and oiled the wheel bearings before putting them on the layout. The Kusan boxcars looked good with my Lionel rolling stock and the couplers mated well with Lionel couplers. During a visit to a local toy train hobby shop, I purchased an out of print book about Kusan Trains and proceeded to read up on their history. The book explained that American Model Toys, Auburn Model Trains, Kusan and Kris Model Trains were all toy train companies that used the same dies and molds, at various times, from 1948 until the molds were sold to Williams Trains in the 1980's. It was interesting to read about the history of these small toy train companies.

November 2006 -- Visited a local area toy train hobby shop that had recently relocated. The new shop was smaller than the previous location, but the owner had made good use of the available space. There was actually more display space for trains he had for sale than in his old shop. I found a postwar Lionel # 6650 Missile Launching Car to upgrade one in my collection that had a broken coupler. I also picked up a couple of interesting toy train transformers. One transformer was a Kusan (KMT) DC power supply. I bought this one so I could test a KMT two rail locomotive that I've had sitting on a shelf for a few years. The other transformer was a Superior Toy Products HO DC transformer. What is interesting about this transformer is the inner workings are hidden inside a silver-painted metal oil tank with the Mobil gasoline logo on it. The transformer handle is a small black slide switch near the base of the oil tank. The transformer wiring connections are also near the base on the other side of the transformer. I had never seen one of these before and thought the oil tank would look good somewhere on the layout. Visiting toy train hobby shops are enjoyable because I never know what I'll come across next.

December 2006 -- Toy trains around the Christmas tree are a holiday tradition in many homes. Having a separate layout room, I had not celebrated this fine tradition in years past. However, this year was different. Last summer I bought a Lionel Polar Express passenger train set that I planned to put under the tree this year. The set came with Lionel's new FasTrack track system, which was very easy to assemble. In just a few minutes the Polar Express set was up and running around the tree. It came with four action figures from the movie, which could be placed at various points on the train. Shortly after setting up the Polar Express, I received an early Christmas present - a Kusan Satellite Train set that was made in the late 1950's. This set came with enough two-rail track to make an extended oval. I set it up on the living room floor not far from the Polar Express set. The Kusan set has an Alco locomotive, "Compressortron" flatcar that launches a polystyrene foam satellite, floodlight car, gondola, operating radar car and caboose. The set was missing the transformer, so I made use of the KMT DC transformer that I mentioned in last month's update. As a result, I have two toy train sets in the vicinity of the Christmas tree this year.

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