Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The CGRR Is Back Running Again!

We're back in operation out here in Cherry Grove. We drove the final spike on the new main line with 96" diameter curves on memorial Day. Here's the line in operation:


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

So What's the Latest?

So what's the good news? I get asked that all the time by Standard Gauge Hobbyists! Well, at least once a week. Here's the roundup heading into June, 2007:

There is a nice set of auctions coming up, specifically from NETTE, Stout Auctions and a couple of eBay Live Auctions. If you are in the market for Classic Era Standard Gauge and maybe a McCoy boxcar or two, check all of these out. NETTE isn't published yet however I expect it will be a good one.

Maurer also has some auctions coming up as well, keep checking their Calendar area of their website.

MTH has some substantial tinplate shipments coming up. I am going to check next week with MTH to see "what's on the water". Stay tuned.

Personally I have started a few projects. I ripped up all of the track in my trainroom and started re-arranging things and hanging what little shelving I can. In a nutshell, I am starting a layout. Looks like Sievers Benchwork is the best option, I'd like to stay compatible with the SGMA. My room was trashed and with a few recent acquisitions, I just thought it was time to move everything off the floor, clean up the floor (which was disgusting by the way). Floor layouts absolutely make for the filthiest floors (I don't mind a little filth but when my wife declares my space a "superfund site" and plans on hiring trained staff to clean it I think I should take the initiative. I'm going to run a nice huge oval of Gargraves Phantom track (the one that can handle standard and O gauge) as well as MAYBE an inside track of Standard. I'm going to do a Monorail as well as an elevated section of 2 7/8. Yep, this layout will run DCS pushing AC and DC.

If anyone has any tips, friendly advice or just plain pictures of layouts going up or down, let me know.

Lately I've had diddly for money so the acquistions have been few and far between. I've purchased a little McCoy here and there although I am not a McCoy collector thus I am almost done. I like it but I don't have room for it. I've also focused on some rare Postwar Standard Gauge. The kind of stuff Arno likes. I picked up a UP McKeen Trolley via Rich Art and some Pride Lines items. By the way, I have no idea of what's up with Pride Lines. I've been asked and I don't know. John and his family are private people so if they would like me to let everyone know what's up I will, otherwise I'll wait until they say something. Suffice to say everyone is a bit concerned because we haven't heard from him in a while. His recent works are outstanding.

Typically when summer is upon us lawn mowers come out and trains get stored. The various magazine out there are concentrating on absolutely nothing important. At least in the standard gauge world or in the prewar world, the articles have been pretty weak. I have to say, I subscribed to Kalmbach's "Classic Trains" and it is excellent. The recollections of the various old timers coupled with the wonderful photography just makes the magazine superior. It really does stand out amid its' peers.

I am also planning on attending several trolley museum events. Summer is a great time to get out and see some real trains. Steamtown in Scranton is probably going to my first stop.

Any thoughts on potential East Coast destinations?


Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

It's Memorial Day again. I was watching the wonderful parade here in Connecticut and a thought occured to me. Why do we have to designate our trains as prewar vs. postwar? I know it's convenient but it is kind of grim. We use one of the most dreadful experiences in life as the distinction or split between two eras of toy train production. I know the direction Lionel took was distinct after World War II but with all of the new prewar like tinplate coming out, maybe we should scrap the whole war thing altogether? I now have prewar MTH gear (pre-Iraq that is). Maybe I'll just go by the year of manufacture from now on. Toy trains (to me) have always been about the color and the excitement of travel by human beings. The idea of going places and seeing new things is what attracts me to all trains. Seems like whenever war and trains go together it is memorable but not necessarily happy.

Brings to mind a quote from Rod Serling (another hobby of mine, the Twilight Zone):

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs, and explosions, and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, ideas, predjudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, predjudices can kill and suspicion can destroy. A thoughtless, freightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all it's own for the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is, is that these things can not be confined to the Twighlight Zone.”

And here is a little Youtube from today:

And a neat picture of something the army calls a "mule". It is one of my favorite military vehicles.

To my friends that are in Iraq; we miss you and come home safe. To my friend that was in the Battle of the Buldge in World War II - I will never forget you or your history. And to my family that died in World War II - I shall always miss them.


CGRR Coming Down The Home Stretch

What we have here is the final stretch of track bed under construction. Once I get this section done, all that remains is to cut and fit the last sections of the main line and drive the final spike.

The track rests on wooden planks, that in turn are nailed to underlying supports buried in the sand.

Hopefully, later today we'll have trains running for the first time this season.


Friday, May 25, 2007

CGRR Trackwork Continues

Happy Memorial Day holiday to all!

Since this weekend marks the official beginning of the summer season, here is an update on track work in progress here at the seashore on Fire Island. By the way, the name of the railroad is the Cherry Grove Rail Road (CGRR) & Fire Island Traction Company. In past years the right of way was shared by the CGRR and the FITC, with freight and trolley service operating on the same single track main line with 42" diameter curves. This limited the size of freight consists to short trains that could be pulled by road switchers. The new CGRR mainline will have 96" diameter curves and will be exclusively freight and long trip passenger service. The FITC will have its own single track end to end (not a loop) reversing service, with an anticipated start up date later this summer. The CGRR will be back in operation as soon as track and electrical work is completed, probably within a week. The addition of a powerful locomotive, probably an SD90MAC is in the works.

Read about the history of the CGRR & FITC here.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Joe's kicking butt!

Joe is s really kicking some serious scratch built gluteus maximus!

He's shrank down most of the most famous 2 7/8 gauge items to standard gauge size. Check out how beautifully these things scaled down. He told me that much of his work involves trial and error.

The payoff is obvious. The 2 7/8 next to the standard gauge version says it all. Hopefully somone like MTH will catch the idea and pay Joe for some consulting on this gear. He's on to something, no doubt about it. This is just one of those plain old smart ideas.

There's some irony, I was reading a Lionel catalog yesterday and it was discussing Railsounds 5.0. It was saying how the new Hiawatha can have multiple levels of sounds (louder chuffs, quieter whistle, etc.); every sound is adjustable. Practically everything is adjustable.

While quite interesting and entertaining for a couple of minutes, I'd rather have any of these trains in my collection versus the entire feature set of a new sound system. It's almost like the movie "Field of Dreams". "Make great trains and they will come." Concentrate on making innovative trains with an eye on the past and future. All of these toys had prototypes. Some are closer to the prototypes than others. Regardless, Joe has put some great ideas into metal. He's made me a little jealous because I want to be able to do the same thing. The first thing that should tell anyone is that he's on to something.

That moldy coal room in my 110 year old house may be getting some nuetrocrete soon....


Friday, May 18, 2007

New Layout Addition

Glenn sent me these pictures of his changing layout. It's a bit dusty because he had to move some items to make way for the new monorail!

He's ordering more track from MTH, right now the monorail track that came with the set can't traverse his entire layout. After Glenn adds the track this monorail will have plenty of room to stretch out and run.

Interesting thing I noticed about these pictures - this monorail looks great with O gauge or standard gauge. I know, scale really isn't an issue in the world of tinplate toys. The monorail fits nicely and that's something most of us couldn't have experienced with an original.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Trackwork At The Summer Cottage

I leave my Standard Gauge tinplate at home when I'm out at the beach house on Fire island. Here I play with some different trains - #1 gauge, commonly referred to incorrectly as "G Gauge" trains, that run on 1-3/4" inch 2 rail track and are powered by DC.

I've had a small garden railroad in Cherry Grove for eight years. This year I'm revamping the railroad by eliminating the 42" diameter curves and replacing them with 96" diameter curves. This will allow me to run some of the more interesting locomotives and rolling stock that require large diameter curves.

Laying the track work, and gardening, presents some additional challenges at the beach. Cherry Grove is situated on a sand bar, a barrier island. My track is laid on wooden support planks, unlike most garden railroad track, which floats on gravel or stone beds like real railroad track. So I go out an collect wood that has washed up after a storm and use that as the base for the track work. This has worked well for eight years. Soon I hope to be able to run trains again, after I finish laying all of the new wide radius track.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Friday, May 11, 2007

Leland Revisited

Here's one advantage I have over traditional printed media. When I find some interesting things even after I finish writing I can go back and post after the fact.

To the left is what I spoke of concerning attention to detail. MTH wrapped the end of each track to make sure the pins would NOT get bent or damaged. The pin color also matches the track - nice touch MTH!

Here's a tighter shot of how the track comes together. Again, this track is really top shelf. I hope MTH further utilizes this system. Maybe some switches?

I attempted some tight shots of the power car. The couplers between cars are really interesting. They are just metal rods that go into each car. No, these aren't Proto Couplers or anything like that. I'm not sure anyone would ever need it to be that sophisticated. Once you see how dang easy these are to use, using standard gauge couplers (with the height differences and different standards) is just a lesson in frustration. It's one of the few times gravity will be a couplers friend.


More Leland Youtube!

Here's some more Youtube on the MTH Leland Monorail. Believe me, the more you play with this thing, the cooler it gets! I'll put one up of it running as well.

Operationally, the use of the Leland Detroit Monorail is pretty straight forward. Since there are no switches, crossovers, etc. the focus is really on the trackplan. The curves for this set are pretty tight. Which brings me to another "what if?".

This was just something I was thinking while I was putting this together - what if there were larger curves? Could MTH/Leland Detroit do something like an extended car Blue Comet Jersey Central version? How about a New York City version? I'm not advocating wider radius track but the option does offer up some opportunities. Even with the current radius as tight as it is, I think different size cars would work depending on their balance. I hope this is something MTH considers. Maybe a freight set like a "Harmony Creamery" delivery set in deep green and brown or a President's Special set in Rolls Royce Blue (tell me that wouldn't look incredible???) How about a Leland Detroit Prosperity Special in Copper and Nickle?

A note about workmanship on the whole set: it is obvious that this set took some time to produce. The paint on all of the cars is perfect and the construction of the cars is flawless. I am picky about the quality, look and feel when I pay $600 plus for a set of anything, trains, dishes or otherwise. I have not been disappointed in the least. No slots or tabs or any indication of manufacturing difficulty shows in this set. It's very much consistent with the Jersey Central 384 set in terms of quality and construction. The battery was charged and did recharge itself as I used the set. This was a nice touch on MTH's part, especially since the instructions indicated a battery charge may be in order out of the box.

One more thing: MTH did include some extra light bulbs, some plastic window inserts and additional rubber feet for the bases. Did they have to? Probably not. Was I glad to see them out of the box? You bet. These are the parts and pieces that frustrate railroaders. When you have a new item and run it for a couple of days straight and blow out a light bulb or whatever, it can be frustrating.

Last Impressions:

The set was worth the wait. There are some minor nits that were probably just as evident in the original 1930's version as there are in the 2007 version. This product presents a great chance to own a very unique toy, regardless of whether it is on a train layout or not. It would work well anywhere, including but not exclusive to a Marx layout, a toy room, a toy collection and so on. I am impressed with MTH listening to their customers; they overpacked the set and it is clear that the out of box experience is important to MTH. First perceptions are everything. I'm anxious to hear the thoughts of others that have purchased the set. Hopefully the success of this set/accessory will help justify the manufacture of other items that might seem risky to a manufacturer. I know that this isn't an inexpensive product/accessory. With that said, it's a toy that still has a strong intrinsic value of playability and long term worth. Future generations will likely enjoy this toy.


PS This is what your train room will look like when everything is unpacked. If you see this on eBay and someone says "just out of the box for pictures", I'd be very interested to hear/see how they got it back in the box. I doubt they can pack it as well as MTH did out of the factory.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

And Even More Leland Detroit....

For every bit of criticism I throw at this toy, I know there are about 20 really good things I can say about it.

The paint is spectacular. That's adulation #1. The colors are luminous; you can't help but feel very optimistic when you see the color that comes out with this set.

The details are well done such as the track. The pins on the track are painted and the paint on the track is extremely resilient. The track also uses copper fasteners (you can see them in the picture to the left). Kudos to MTH for paying attention to little details. The payoff is huge.

The sounds are are just right. I didn't use DCS to control them however long term I definintely will. The fidelity of the sounds is quite good and unlike many large standard gauge engines, the sound on this set is not booming or overwhelming. I especially like the "tinking" sound of change hitting the bottom of the fare collector. There are definitely no Metrocards on this express! I could definitely leave the sounds on all the time and not be bothered by them. The idle sounds are not too loud and not too explicit. They are general enough so that they can be listened to without getting repetitive.
The Monorail really does fly around this track. The one thing I really enjoyed about running this versus a traditional toy train was that the cars really can't come off the tracks. Regardless of how fast I ran it, I know it could never really get damaged or become a flying projectile.

I also have to say this - I did not use all of the track, hangers and bases MTH included. The entire setup makes a substantial sized oval. Much bigger than the room I was in. I felt this was wise and smart on MTH's part. One reason I was not terribly upset about not having a transformer or some kind of power pack with this set was because of the amount of track and related accesories i recieved with the set. I liked the fact that MTH left it up to me to for size and scope. I hope they continue to sell more track and accessories for this wondeful toy. It's an investment I know I'll be making. Some extra cars and maybe some new sets would be nice as well. I'd love to see this in a 1939 World's Fair livery.

There is one thing I'd also like to see from MTH. Occasionally the monorail would slip a little. MTH encourages doing a couple of things like charging the Protosound battery and oiling the train. I'm curious if MTH will come out with a Magnetraction like motor for this or something to give the power car a better grip on the track. Even a traction tire around the wheel would likely be a huge help. Not a big deal but if you have even the slightest grade, the wheel on the power car can slip. If there's any lubricant on that wheel or track at all, the slippage is even a little greater. Not a major issue, probably was very evident in the originals as well.

More on the way!

Leland Unboxing Continued

The Lockon for the monorail is kind of funky. MTH really captured this thing well. I have never seen much of this done before.

The lockon is basically a bit of copper that fits inside of the track. It works and I understand the design, I just wish MTH had put in one small feature....

There is no transformer with the set. I know, I know, MTH listed the contents in the catalog and it wasn't there. Most of the major power is attached to my trains in the attic. Most of MTH's RTR sets that come with track also come with a transformer. The transformer that I used actually came from the 384E Jersey Central set. It actually worked out well. It's a nit.

The other thing that I would have liked to see is in the lockon. It's one of the few places where I would have liked MTH to deviate just a little from the original. The lockon has two screws for the ground and hot power lines. In many of the MTH lockons that I have used, they have put holes through the screws so the wire from the transformer can be threaded. In this implementation, they want you to put the wire inbetween the washers on the lockon and lock down the wiring using the thumb screws and washers. Maybe I have it wrong but I don't think so. It's not a big deal, I just like the way MTH does it on their O gauge and standard gauge lockons. Maybe I got used to it, now I just plain count on it.

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, check out the paint on this base. MTH really did a great job on every part of this set. The bases are heavy and cast and the red paint really stands out on them.

Ok, I know what you're thinking. I've spent a substantial amount of time discussing the particulars, show the set running! Here's a Youtube of the Monorail doing the station stops.

More Leland Monorail UnBoxing

Here's how the new MTH Leland Detroit cars come packages. This packaging is some of the strongest I've ever seen. You'd have to drop this off the top floor of a New York Skyscraper to damage these items.

I have seen original Lelands and these are virtually dead on replicas. I bought the Proto 2.0 version of the set so the only way to really tell is by the noises this makes when it starts to roll.

Let me just say why this set is so heavy. If you are averse to metal, don't buy this set.

There's almost no plastic in this entire set. The only plastic seems to be in the power car. I don't remember but I think the original power cars seem to have Bakelite and metal motors. If you like or love metal like us tinplaters, this is one heck of a great set.

The metal makes this seem very heavy. The actual cars are very light. The power car is a bit heavier because it has a counter-weight on it.

The hangers, rails and bases are very well painted. Matter of fact, the color on the whole set is excellent.

My guess is that after some recent hassles with paint chipping or scratching, MTH put in a process to make sure that out of box experience was positive.
Meaning they put in some process controls to make sure items come off the assembly line or from the paint booth and stay pristine until they hit the hands of customers. Also, while we were setting this up we noticed that the paint colors were extremely bright and the overall quality of the paint on the entire set is superior. We (purely by accident) did several actions that should have scratched or marked the paint. Any O gauge or standard gauge loco would have seen a mark or even a scratch had we done this anywhere else. Since I have some experience with scratching and screwing up tinplate items I was suprised at the resiliency of this paint, especially on the track. Red paint always seems to show scratches and rub marks better than any other paint and the bases and poles seem to be immune. It's a development I hope MTH extends to other tinplate products.
Here's the track for the monorail. Setting this thing up was quite different than setting up a circle of train track and slapping on the transformer. Doesn't work like that. I could see why this may not have appealed to every father and every boy in the 1930's.

For every two sections of track you need one hanger and one base. Seems pretty obvious, right? Well, if one of the hangers isn't secure in the base the track is at an angle. Guess what isn't going up an angle? That's right, the Monorail slips. And when I went to adjust one base with a complete oval of track, I pulled up on hanger and 5 other hangers came out. I love Jerry Lewis (the comedian) and I actually started looking and acting like him while I was setting this up. Everytime I'd set up a base I would pull three or four more! A quote from Jerry Lewis came to mind: "I've had great success being a total idiot." Here's this wonderful toy in front of me that took me years to get my hands on and I can't even get the round hanger into the base!

More later - Marc

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

TCA Vision

The TCA just put up a really cool new web feature called "TCA Vision". It requires Flash 9.

I gotta say, every time I see a TCA or TTOS publication it makes me glad to be a member. They really are one of the best outlets for information and news in the toy train world.

This is the first attempt and it's a great one. There are some presentations from York, specifically the MTH/Mike Wolf session.

It's fun and I'd highly recommend watching! PS I think you should join too if you haven't already!


Leland Monorail UnBoxed

Well, after a couple of years, it's finally here.

The first Leland Detroit Monorails in decades. The patent for the first monorail parts dates from 1931. My guess is that these are really the first monorails that have been delivered in about 75 years.

First off, let me say this box is not for the timid or weak kneed. It weighs 37 pounds and is bulky! There's a very good reason. (later)

This is the usual hobby shelf MTH box. Notice what you get with this set. There's a lot of stuff in this box. I know that isn't terribly descriptive but look at the little text and you'll get the idea.

Ok, this isn't the most exciting set of pics but it is telling. The top three boxes are the cars (one power car and two passenger cars). The packaging is intense. It was definitely designed to take a major, major beating. You'll see in the subsequent pics. There was real thought put into how this gear was packed and it was worth it, the set is awesome.

We've entered the Leland Detroit antechamber The boxes underneath are the hangers, track, and so on.
The hangers are wrapped in bubble wrap. Have no fear, they are well done. Out of the many hangers I opened they were all absolutely perfectly painted. Not a scratch, dent or mark on them. Pretty impressive. But more on the paint in a while....

I have lots of pics, some movies and so on. Drop me a comment on this post if you want me to keep going with the opening....


Sunday, May 06, 2007

What A Bridge! What A Book!

Man, if you're a fan of the Hellgate Bridge, both the prototype and the tinplate reproduction, (and who isn't?,) then this book is for you. Published in 2006 by the Long Island-Sunrise Trail Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, this immensely enjoyable book is packed with great photos and construction details of the Hellgate as well as a comprehensive history of the NYCR, "Long Island's Other Railroad," the railroad that built it.

How special is this book? The publisher's note gives you an idea: "The photographs selected for this volume are meant to supplement and clarify the text more than to simply provide 'pretty pictures.' A couscous effort was made to choose photos that have not been seen previously, even though some of them are less than perfect exposures."

Here's an excerpt to wet your appetite: "Erection of the great arch produced quite a spectacle for people on either shore and those on passing vessels in the river. Utilizing a large derrick some 150 feet in the air, two or three sections of the arch were put in place each week. By February 1915 the backstays behind the two towers were in place, and over the next seven months the two halves of the arch gradually neared each other. Finally, on October 1, 1915 the two sides met with only one-quarter inch of variation. Such a triumph of engineering was unheard of when the milestone Brooklyn Bridge was built in 1883."

Believe me, this is a must-have book for Hellgate Bridge fans!


Saturday, May 05, 2007


So I've been watching this thing for a couple weeks, patiently waiting for the auction to start, and had been watching the auction live for the whole morning, and right before this comes up I pick that time to call a friend of mine and got lost in a conversation with him and looked up to see it hammered down on my screen for only slightly less than I was willing to pay for it. It is to cry.

Unless it is a Jimmy Cohen special, this is a very rare trolley lettered for a Baltimore street. Lionel did that, and the ones known include Preston street and Curtis Bay. I have never seen this one before, but it is a major street that goes out from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. It went for about the same price as a normal #2 in this condition. My only consolation is that the buyer was probably planning to outbid everyone, regardless of price.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What Price Happiness?

Every once and a while, but thankfully not too often, I think about some of the prices I paid for trains and accessories in the past. Did I pay too much for that AF President's Special? Yes, probably. How about that IVES 324R set, they go a lot cheaper now than what you paid for it. Yes, OK, that's another one that I probably have too much into it. I often hear friends or associates say something like "I can get my money out of it if I have to." I wonder if that's true. I wonder if it matters. I have a friend who makes his living selling toy trains. It's become a tough way for him to put money in his wallet. I can see why he should be concerned about his toy train investments, because for him, it's also a job. But for me it's just a hobby, albeit an expensive one at times. The bottom line for me is that I don't look back with regret at my toy train purchases. These great collectibles have given me a great deal of pleasure. You can't put a price on happiness. Enjoy what you have collected and don't worry about whether or not you overpaid for it. Who cares?