Friday, March 23, 2007
In Praise of Roadbed
Well, I broke another promise to myself. The first one was that I was going to be the last white man in Houston to do my own lawn (you have to realize, I come from a Northern blue collar town where, to quote Garrison Keillor, an able-bodied man would no more have someone do his lawn than cut his food). But down here the lawn cutting season runs all year long and labor costs are, ahem, minimal (I have an agreement with my guy, I don't check his INS status, he doesn't look at my tax returns). A quick reflection on the time/money ratio finally brought me around...five years too late if you ask me. But I digress (actually, you can't really digress until you get to the point first). I had promised that my layout would be strictly period - nothing would be on it that was made after 1915 (except the MTH std gauge track - nothing is more miserable than trying to get trains to run on old track). That also goes for the materials - only plaster and wood. However, ever since I saw Tom Sefton's layout in "Great Toy Train Layouts", I had been enamored with Lionel's rubber roadbed. It was patented in 1930, quite a bit later than my layout's period date. I wasn't enamored with a comment I read somewhere that said it took him 20 years to acquire it all (over 600 feet!). I had not seen much of it at train shows, and when found, it was always too expensive. Fortunately Ebay seems to have increased the supply, and the average prices, as far as I can tell, haven't changed much since the 80's when I started getting into standard gauge. Throw in a little inflation and now it doesn't seem so expensive anymore, at least for a small oval like mine. And in fact, with a little digging it can be inexpensive. I completely forgot to bid on a lot of it in Stout's Auction a month or so ago (and I mean "lot" as in a lot - about 50 pieces, pretty evenly divided between straight and curve), and it went for less than $2.00 per piece. Another lot showed up on Ebay a few weeks later and to atone, I bought it for about 5 times that price. I only got 6 curve and 12 straight, but the high price was probably because I got two switch bases and a crossing base. Of course I have no crossing and only one switch on my layout (me and the Galapagos Finches are the prime exhibits to disprove Intelligent Design). Installation was a piece of cake, but true to form, I couldn't use the switch base because there wasn't enough clearance with a nearby track. So a friend of mine helped out by digging up some pretty bad pieces that wouldn't be sacrilege to cut up and fit under a switch. If you look closely, horrible things were done to this poor split pin Lionel switch. One swivel rail was removed and a jumper for the early Lionel slider shoes installed across the gap (not attached when the pic was taken), the other swivel rail was spiked into place, and the switch stand had to be removed and museum-waxed into place closer to the rails to avoid being hit by a Carlisle and Finch Interurban on the other track. Don't cry for it, it was a pretty shot switch when I got it, and I can reverse all the changes.
Anyway I would highly recommend using roadbed. That is, unless you like the loud rumbling effect of Standard gauge on a plywood table top; the roadbed really cuts down the sound. I don't know why MTH doesn't recreate this stuff. It seems to me that every layout is a potential market and its a good way to increase the appearance of the track. In fact, its a great way to add something new to an existing layout without having to create new real estate. The fact that I work to produce petroleum, chief component of rubber, has no bearing on my opinion. Lets face it, the 4-wide-ties-per-section look is getting really old (marklin came out with it arond 1891). Note how good the 2" gauge Finch track looks compared to the Lionel tubular track; the roadbed at least helps even the score.
P.S. no need to point out the conditional craptitude of the Lionel 10 set, and the fact it was made in 1925, not 1915. It was the first Standard gauge set my dad bought me, and he didn't buy much more. Its a keeper.
- Alex P