Monday, April 30, 2012

Scale Roller Coaster

Ok, here is something you don't see very often. A real and true (and really cool) 1:48 scale wood roller coaster! This is a perfect addition to 99% of the layouts that have a decent amusement park. I'd like this even without the Amusement park. Hit the link here to see this thing in the Hammacher catalog.

Very cool scale model.  I am debating how much room I would need.... Now let me see (I'm doing some precise calculations... 2+5 is 11, 9 + 13 = 4...)  Perfect.  Just enough room on my layout!


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mega Brute is getting some attention....

This mega-Brute is getting some attention... The Youtube hits are nearly off the charts. I would recommend watching this in another window to get the full size and scope (just click on the Youtube video twice or use the expand button). Ok, a little background: This is my friend Al's Brute. He desperately needed more power and wanted to add a third motor however MTH immediately came back to him and said "not a good idea". So Al decided to make a few changes: 1. Added the third motor which MTH promised but didn't deliver 2. Added 381 style marker lights on both ends 3. Added pilot wheels to both ends 4. Exchanged the headlight castings with the larger, flared number board style used on American Flyer. From Al: Personally I think it looks great but i'm sure there will be those who cry "foul" for defacing a legend. Adding the third motor was a no-brainer, it was virtually a drop in conversion with a little creative wiring. The marker lights were another story, but I think the effort was worth it. Without them, the face just looked blank and boring. The pilot wheels were from a Lionel 9E and were a simple drop in addition with no modifications whatever. Upon disassembly I found that each end of the Brute had 8 pounds of weight in it along with traction tires. I removed the weights and traction tires and found that in the new configuration, with the engine tethered and all three motors slipping, the current draw was less than half of what it had been in the "as built" configuration. It has enough traction to start the train on 2% grade with no wheel slip whatever. Since I run mine on the level and don't expect to see any more cars manufactured for it in my lifetime, I'm not too worried about the board! Marc

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Passing of Another Great Train Maker

On April 14th, Mr. Dick Mayer passed away.  This is important for a number of reasons.  Not just because the  guy was a decent human being, he had a family and spent his life earning an honest living.

The guy was part of the great train society that happened after WW II.  It was for tinplate enthusiasts that wanted something more than what Lionel had produced prior to the war.  The Bob McCoy's, the Jim Cohen's, the John Davanzo of Pride Lines.  And now Dick Mayer.  All of these people had one thing in common: a can do attitude and a will to see something into reality that wasn't already there.

That's pretty damn impressive stuff.  Nowadays (and I am guilty of this), if I don't get my updates and tracking information on the web on my new/latest gadget from whatever online or big box store I have a hissy fit.  We've been made into a land of people that can't build anymore.  We just hope that someone out there will take our money and whine and moan when the quality isn't up to snuff.  And it almost never is.  I can tell you stories about trains, gadgets and furniture that falls apart after it leaves the box.


I can tell you for a fact that guys like Dick Mayer could care less about any of that.

My introduction to Dick was that I was very new to collecting tinplate trains and a friend of mine that was helping get around in the TCA suggested I give him a call.  I ordered an Ives 3243 from him.  I waited about 2 years....  And after I found the cancelled check, I got irate.  I called Dick and asked him what the hell was going on?

That's when Dick talked me down and explained the realities of limited production.  Quality takes time. Good machining takes time.  "I don't make things that people sell at swap meets, my stuff doesn't change hands very often" he told me.  He was right.  His Ives production was as good or better than Ives.  And everything I bought from him was as good or better than anything else I'd ever had or seen.  I also had the pleasure of becoming friends with his co-worker, Butch.  Butch is a character and he is a storehouse of toy train knowledge and honest to goodness experience.

I bought pretty much anything else he would sell me.  McKeen cars, Toonerville stuff.  I really wanted one of his Black Diamond sets, it's just that he really couldn't make them anymore, they were literally all spoken for for almost a half a decade!

So I went in kicking and screaming to Dick and he made me into a lifelong customer and wide eyed kid.  The stuff he made is still a marvel.  He was an expert in lots of different aspects of toy trains.  However I never detected him as a die hard toy train person.  Jim Cohen was die hard, he had many layouts and many unique experiences with rare trains and even extensive time with Louis Hertz in the Ives Factory.  Dick wasn't that involved in that aspect of the lore and history of toy trains.  I never heard or saw him build a layout (his place in Escondido was too small).  But the guy had parts.  And connections (more on that in a minute)...

I've always found it kind of fascinating: the differences between toy train makers on the West Coast and East Coast.  Their experiences were very different growing up and absorbing the trains and then eventually getting into collecting and operating.  I'll leave it up to Arno Baars to detail some of this stuff in his book but suffice it to say, they all approached the problem of how to get more and better trains and parts the same way and differently.  Yep, I know that sounds crazy, but it isn't.

These guys were all interconnected.   Every time I mentioned something new and interesting to Jim Cohen about Dick Mayer, he had said that he spoke to him about this or that some time ago.  Whenever I spoke to Dick about something I needed for a McCoy motor, he would tell me how wonderful Bob and Margaret were.  They all knew each other!  Even on different coasts.  And they swapped parts and stories and ran up phone bills before there was a flat price for long distance and phone service.

Dick was part of a larger community.  One that supported and actually became an ecosystem.  It's why a guy like him is such a big loss.  All of these people created great things.  The things still exist but the knowledge and experience don't necessarily follow the items.  And in Dick's case as in the case of the people I had previously mentioned, he was an artist.

I can tell you that several people have his trains you may or may not believe.  They are just that good.  When you see Dick's McKeen, you really do think of the age of streamlining and a unique industrial design.  The colors are bright and probably not what Lionel or Flyer could have or would have used.  His Toonerville Trolley has a very unique movement to it and moves flawlessly both in O Gauge and in Standard Gauge.  And his Bi-Polars are huge, varied and just monsters!

I won't go much further other than to say that we've lost someone I think is important.  Not just because he had the guts to rely on his own two hands to feed himself and his family (although that does gain my instant respect).  It's because he saw something that wasn't there and built it.  And it is art.

Good luck Dick, you will be remembered for your art as much as your personality.  Your legacy will endure.


Saturday, April 07, 2012

Coming up at York

Honestly, I used to remember York fetching significantly more fanfare than it seems to be catching now.  This one little item is kind of exciting though: MTH is releasing a new Tinplate Catalog at York.

This is still a marvel to me.  That even in 2012 tinplate trains are still getting produced.  I have to say, even if MTH has one gem like the Chromate Brute cars (or the Brute itself), I shall be very excited about this catalog.  I know, it takes MTH a while to produce the promised products in the catalog.  Yes, I know, they come from China and some people don't care for foreign production.  Yes, I know, many folks would rather have original Lionel or Flyer.  I've heard it all before, numerous times.

Regardless, I think the new catalog is a great thing and I am looking forward to it.  Why?  Well because I like things like Chromate Brutes and oversize cars.  Those are things other manufacturers didn't have the guts to do.   And let's not forget one very big thing: when I started collecting these years ago I didn't get a shot at $15 State Sets.  When I'd go to a show or an auction the average price of a decent green or brown State set was in the neighborhood of $15k.  The Blue Comet sets were a "steal" at $7.5k.

Um, right.  So you can go and pay $15k for a State Set.  I'll take the MTH one for $1500 bucks.  Trying to find a decent Armor Train in O gauge?  Go ahead, even with mountains of cash you may never find a decent set.  I'm thankful that Mike and his team are working for us!

Looking forward to the new catalog!