Thursday, April 27, 2006

New MTH Catalog

I'm not going to jabber too much about the new catalog. It has been posted online at the MTH website and my blogging colleagues have done an admirable job covering the introduction.

A few observations:

At some point, I'd like to see a larger discussion on the channel, specifically hobby stores and resellers. I am going to save this for another post because I have some strong feelings about it. My strong feelings percolated up again when MTH withheld the catalog from the website to drive retail business. I understand the business goal MTH is trying to achieve, I'd like to hash out our feelings on toy train resellers a little bit. One of the very interesting things is that I know some dealers have read my blog yet I've only heard from one of them (and that is because he has a McCoy Carousel). I'd be interested in hearing from them....

I think that MTH did a great job of walking the line in this catalog. I like the PDF release on the web by the way, I think it is a good way to get a solid catalog out in an electronic format that is safe, printable and secure.

As to "walking the line", the line I am referring to is old standard gauge versus new standard gauge. Lots of people perceive new standard gauge as anything that doesn't have a prewar Lionel counterpart to represent it. I'm ok with that. Old standard gauge is stuff that was produced prior to WWII and is reflected by mass manufacturing of the time (IE: Lionel 392, 400e, 390E, 200 and 500 series boxcars and so on).

As far as I can tell, most everything in the new catalog has been reproduced in the modern era (meaning in the last 35 years) at some point in time or another with a few exceptions like the monorail. I like the Chrome 1134 (I'm a male of the species, I like shiny toys and things that make sparks). What caught my eye was the Civil Defense searchlight car and the graphics on the 200 and 500 series cars. This is really taking something old and making it their own. I like it because we can take that creative impulse and do things with it: IE a Civil Defense train or a Beer Train or whatever.

The same with the 1694's pictured above. Three different engines and three different sets of cars. It's somewhat linear but it does give us a substantial set of choices that we didn't have before and for product that costs an arm and a leg for originals.

Why should you care? Couple of reasons:

1) Because it is a strong product strategy in a small market segment.

Sounds like gibberish because it is. But the logic behind the gibberish is a reality; the standard gauge and O gauge items are profitable, modular and can be produced in large enough quantities to satisfy us nuts that buy this stuff. But not get produced so much that the stuff is being given away on eBay for diddly. I recently sold an old MTH caboose on ebay for 12 bucks. The caboose was great, there were just tons out there that were in the box, like new. Most of the eBay MTH out there now is from dealers speculating or with left over stock. That's actually good for us.

2) Because MTH really does care about us as a segment.

I like the fact that MTH's founder knows ALOT about prewar trains. That wins huge kudos in my book. I also like the fact that he tries new paint schemes on old favorites and has the guts to try some new things like the Leland Monorail and the 101 bridges. The 101 bridge is tough; in my experience you can't run trains over that bridge with any kind of speed without suffering a derailment and something going airborne. That bridge is best set up in slow areas and in places where no speed is needed. It looks kind of silly leading up to a Hellgate. The point is that it's a neat item nonetheless and one I sought after for a long time before I found an original that wasn't banged up.

I could provide quite a few additional reasons why I like the new catalog. The bottom line is that I hope the catalogs keep coming and that Mike Wolf and Team get access to more ideas and different trains. I've heard quite a few people that don't like MTH (they usually email me after I write something like this). One more thought: the more standard gauge track that gets put out, put down on a layout (modular or non-modular (KIRK IS DA MAN!!!)) the better it is for us as a hobby and for manufacturers everywhere here in the United States. The numbers for our hobby aren't exactly flying up. They may get better as the 78 million baby boomers fly to Florida and get rec-rooms with something besides ping pong tables and plasma screen TV's. I'm not going to stake any of my savings on that though. So the more exposure that is out there for standard gauge, the better off we'll be.

15 years from now when my house is bucking under the weight of tinplate I don't want to have to go out of state to get a lock on (or make one myself) for my standard gauge track. Just my 2 cents.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Trains Newswire....

I am blogging from many miles away (actually in an airport). I thought that this was worth paying an ridiculous amount of money and jumping on broadband (ok, I just wanted to look at eBay as well).

Trains Magazine has a neat newswire service that tracks major stories related to all trains big and small. Kind of cool for us nuts that can't get enough of wheels rolling on metal.

By the way, I love the new carpet colors the SGMA picked for the modules. I'll be interested to see how this looks in concert with all of the color prewar trains have to offer. I also think the colors they picked will lend themselves nicely to other gauges like O gauge and 2 7/8. Any thoughts?


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Modules, Catalogs and other stuff...

I think I'm going to lay off the module pics, Kirk posted them on the forums and I don't really want to replicate the bandwidth plus work that has already been done.

This new MTH catalog is driving me nuts. I'd love to know where the post is where I can see its' contents. I wish I understood MTH's method to their madness with this "sort of" weekend release/York/After York showing.

I am kicking myself as I would really like to go to York next weekend. I always get stuck with one thing or another. Last year it was a wedding, this year it is family in town. I am beginning to think there is a family conspiracy to deprive me of trains that I can't afford! In the spirit of Passover I implore my family: Let my people go!

Wouldn't you just love to see that red (or maybe orange) engine on the left produced in standard gauge? Heck I might even settle for O gauge! If I see one more rendition of the GG1 I think I am going to yak up a hairball that looks like Raymond Loewy. I wish I had a little voodoo doll of the train manufacturer's management. I wouldn't hurt them or anything but I would travel into New York City or Boston once a week and prop up the dolls in historical stations where they could soak up the creativity and history that went along with amazing trains. Maybe then they'd stop recreating the same stuff over and over again.

Speaking of some cool new trains, I was leaving a meeting the other day on Hudson Street in Jersey City, NJ and saw quite a few New Jersey Light Rail Trolleys rolling along. I know this was a difficult project for New Jersey but this is a really nice line. Check out their website at: I'll tell you what caught my eye - they just created a new paint scheme. I didn't have my camera but the trolleys look really nice. Definitely a strong candidate for a standard gauge model. There are some strict rules about taking pics of the trolleys but I will see if there are any ways I can snap a few without getting a ticket or worse.

While on the subject of trolleys: one of my readers put me on to a Toonerville collectors club. I wrote the editor and he sent me a couple of newsletters. I am mailing my dues to him next week. The newsletter is really very sharp and there are some special offers on Toonerville toys. These are really nice toys (not junk). I will post the whole brochure for the club in the next few days. I am excited about joining this club, I've already learned some things about Fontaine Fox I definitely didn't know. It makes collecting and learning about these items very, very interesting. As soon as I can get near a scanner and an SD card (without pictures on it), I will get the info posted.

I hope you and your families have a wonderful Easter and Passover!


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Standard Gauge Modules Cont

Assembled tops completed 12:15 pm

Tops and Legs ready to use 1:00 pm

Completed 36 x 48" module

More posts from Kirk shortly. This is some very cool stuff. Glad I have been procrastinating with that benchwork!


Standard Gauge Modules

Here is one of Kirk's recent posts on the Modules. I liked it so I posted it. Have fun at York!!

Hi Guys-

This is what it is all about! I assembled three prototype modules using Sievers Benchwork for the frame and legs. This establishes the critical dimensions but does NOT prevent anyone from building compatible modules using good quality lumber. I would suggest we all paint the frames and legs the same color (flat black?).

The Sievers Benchwork is constructed of clear nominal 1x4 boards (actually 3/4" x 3 1/2"). There are 1/4" holes every 4" (measured from the front edge), and 1/4" holes every 4" on the front and back. These will be used to connect the modules to each other and the legs to the frames with 1/4" bolts, fender washers and wing nuts. They could also be used to attach a decorative skirt or plexiglass shield if desired. There are also 3/4" holes centered between the 1/4" holes on both ends and in the cross braces that can be used for wire conduits. All holes are exactly in the center of the 1 x 4 boards.

For a flat top carpeted module of the kind shown here, 1/2" plywood was glued to the top of the frame and commonly available commercial carpeting was glued to the plywood top. Completely covering the plywood is Baylink Varsity brand Emerald Green (#3788) carpet, with strips of Baylink Varsity brand Smoke Grey (#3830) carpet representing ballast. In my opinion it looks great! A careful look at the picture labeled Vertical dimensions shows the 1/4" bolt holes centered 2 1/4" below the top of the plywood, and 3 1/4" below the top of the rail ( the combined height of the two layers of carpet and the track is 1"). Modules with full scenery can be made to mate easily with the flat top modules if desired. With the leg levelers in the middle of their adjustment range, the top of the track is at 42 1/2".

Sievers Benchwork Arrives at 11:00 am

Sievers Parts Sorted 11:15 am

More in the next post....


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Some Ancient Brass

Here's an original 54. I know, it needs a dusting and a polishing. It's a gorgeous engine that is probably pushing 100 years old.

I have to dust about 300 to 400 trains and pry some goo off my floor.

Dirt aside, what's interesting about this brass is that you can see some of the copper peaking out in the lower left of the corner. No, it isn't blantantly copper but you can see the coloring moving more towards copper and less towards brass.

This engine is a pet project of mine, I am going to get it running. Any ideas on the best way to shine it up without destroying the patina in the long run?

Here is something a little newer:

It's a prototype B&O #5. You can see quite a few of the weld spots on it. Even with a little dirt and a pantload of fingerprints, the brass looks really nice.

Next up: some Nickle Plated gear!

My point in these little blurbs is that natural colors or the colors of nature are frequently just as exquisite as the variety of colors that find their way onto old toys and specifically toy trains. Metallurgy is a science that works with nature to create some stunning effects, wouldn't you say?


Sunday, April 09, 2006

New Haven Commuter Train

I was just standing around in Bethel, CT today and I lucked out. Camera, an empty memory card and two crossing gates closing. Can't ask for much better than that.

Also, check out the neat little station in this town. It's a Prewar station.....

It still is the Metro North (not the New Haven) but I love seeing the colors and seeing this thing go flying by on a Sunday. It was two cars and a loco but it was cruising at about 45 MPH and it could have been brand new (the whole consist wasn't).

When I think of postwar trains, this is what I think of! M

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Ode to Brass III

This is a 30 year old Cohen #7. I have a real #7 as well and it looks identical, almost no different.

My point is how the metal ages. I am going to go into Nickle Plating at some point.

Couple of questions: How many people polish their brass and/or nickle engines? Can the brass handle repeated polishings or is it just better to leave it unpolished?

I live in an area where many people used brass and copper for cooking utensils. The stuff seems to look great, even after 200 years.

I've also heard quite a few people coating brass engines with sealant to avoid the tarnish. I don't personally think that this is a great idea but I've spoken to one or two collectors that swear by it.
This car was produced in brass. There really is no comparable Lionel counterpart. It does match the 1912 and or #7 beautifully. I find the coloring almost timeless. I wonder if the copper and zinc mix could be changed to make the coloring darker or lighter?

One thing I don't like about brass though (and this is a cautionary note to collectors); brass can be aged quickly by exposing it to amonia fumes. This can age an engine or car very fast that really isn't old at all. How do I know? Well, I had a "trusted seller" that I bought a substantial number of trains from do exactly the above. He weathered some new items and sold them to me as original. This was about 15 years ago before I knew the difference and knew what to look for.


Ode to Brass II

This is a typical Cohen 1912. Check out the rivet detail. My apologies on the flash kickback.

Not exactly prototypical but between the rivet detail, the door detail and the nice red paint, this is one classy looking engine.

Hold on, there are more pics...

Say it ain't so...

Paul Wasserman saw this on eBay and I just had to post it. Everyone on the Yahoo Groups is getting a decent chuckle (and rightfully so). The seller is claiming it is a nice set in good condition and is calling it by the incorrect naming/nomenclature.

As per usual, a seller that knows exactly zero about toys and trains is yet again implying that this "rare" set in excellent condition is worth millions (I am exaggerating but the concept is the same). I won't dwell on this too long because we already know that 1) the set sucks. 2) it is in rancid condition and is not worth what they are asking. 3) it is highly probable the seller knows nothing about trains. It might be a fun restoration project and the whole set is probably worth $75 to $100 at most.

Ok, having said that, there has to be some amazing new Java based technology that corrects silly eBay posts. Come on, enough knowledgable folks have posted on eBay, there has to be a knowledge base out there to know what really sucks and what doesn't. There has to be some software that will look at all of the descriptions based on similar wording and can optically compare the pics and make some judgement calls.

Or are some buyers and some sellers just destined to be clueless forever?


Friday, April 07, 2006

Ode to Brass

Color got me thinking about brass. Brass is used substantially in HO trains, especially imports. It's easy to articulate parts in brass, the metal is soft and it has tremendous flexibility.

But it's the color that really stands out. I know it isn't necessarily prototypical but for some reason shined up brass and nickle look really classy on a toy train.

Now the above is an opinion and it's a subjective one at that. This stuff is all in the eye of the behoder.

Where this gets kind of interesting is when we get to the next few pics I put up. But before I do that, I wanted to cut in these engines from the Lionel catalog.

These are easily two of the nicest standard gauge engines ever made. Come on everyone, you can't tell me you don't look twice when you see these. There's something about the color of a metal without paint that is naturally nice to look at.

The real topic for discussion though is why quite a few of the early train manufacturers opted for a metal like brass? It is very easy on the eyes and is easy to grip. Plus it doesn't seem to scratch deeply or damage easily. It does tarnish and need polishing. But it looks mighty good when plied in the right hands.

More pics coming to get some thought going around brass trains....


#199 Layout

Why did I put this layout out there? There's one on eBay right now. Yes, I know the pictured isn't the same as the one on eBay. I still like it.

This proves that standard gauge packs a punch even in a small space.

Since I have seen so much benchwork discussion on the groups, I also thought that I would show off the simplest benchwork that also gets some of the nicest results.

A few other things that have been on my mind: Check out the new Tinplate Times. I loved Mike Isenberg's article on the 114 station. The patience that man has! The station is absolutely glorious; I wish there was a comparable model of the first Grand Central. I am referring to the one Commodore Vanderbilt built when steam was still allowed in New York City. The only station I have seen that is close is one of those old Marklin one's that go for $40,000 everytime they are auctioned.

I also really, really enjoyed the Orange Show Model trains. Yes, I know they aren't standard gauge but what a find they are! I was wondering about the mechanics of reverse engineering them? They were made before the age of plastic and I would be very interested to see their inner workings.

I've also been looking at the O Gauge Watch Blog. Really a nice job. To be honest, much of the O gauge world is like hitting snooze for me at 5 am. I know I'll see and hear it again in 15 minutes and I'll still be annoyed. But this guy has a talent for writing and a knack for putting links in the right places. He also hones in on some really nice train related items. Honestly, it's a brilliant site and I often think that if CTT were doing their job, this would be what their site should look like.

Ok, now to my site; I've been slacking off lately. Actually, the computer world and my job has kept me pretty busy lately but it has also given me some time to daydream. Typically this is done in any one of many important meetings.

I also bought (with my meager paycheck) a couple of neat Cohen 2 7/8 gauge pieces. I say this because of the story around them. My wife knows my paycheck has been sucking wind lately so when a box showed up, she was naturally irritated and curious. After she left for work I quickly unpacked the items and precariously placed them along with the other loads of stuff on my desk. A small inventory of my desk:

CD's with data on them.
CD's with music on them.
5 2 7/8 gauge trains.
10 PDA's.
1 Flat Panel.
100 pieces of paper with really important things on them.
50 unopended bills.
Catalogs, advertisements and general standard gauge stuff.
Parts and pieces to trains, computers and so on.
A mickey mouse clock.
More Lionel advertising from the 20's and 30's.
A Dept. 56 Train Store.
A Tiffany lamp
Stuff from my job and bills I plan to look at in 2007.

Ok, with that said, the trains were safely upstairs, my wife came home from work and my wife said "What was in the box?" Think Marc, think....

"Porn I bought on eBay." It just popped out. I had no excuse she hasn't heard before.

I thought that would disgust her and make her want to run in the other direction. She gave me a face and came back 10 minutes later; "Nobody sends you porn in a heavily packed box with $30 worth of postage on it." "This was rare Indian porn." The hole was dug and I was driving my leased vehicle straight down to hell.

"Ok, I bought a train". "That's what I thought" she said. "By the way, can you pay my Macy's bill?" said my wife. The road to hell is paved with 2 7/8 gauge track, not good intentions.