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And Now For Something Completely Different

So my reloading bench is currently occupied by Lionel 665 and Lionel 2046 Hudsons in various states of disassembly.

I had acquired both as basket cases, and decided they’d had enough time sitting around my garage and got around to getting them back into running condition. The 665 needs more attention, requiring a some new parts, polishing years of grime and corrosion off the rods, replacing the motor brushes, tuning the E-Unit, and a new paint job after gently squeezing a dent out of the cab roof. The 2046 so far just needs a new eccentric crank and some attention to its drive, but it’s a decent runner as is.

For information and reference, both the Postwar Lionel site and the collection of repair manual PDF’s at Olsen’s have been invaluable. So far my main sources for parts have been Olsen’s and Just Trains, but I note that the online Lionel parts market is in desperate need of some web 2.0. Or even 1.0.

One might reasonably ask why is a grown-ass man spending time playing with toy trains? The short answer is that I’m a grown-ass man and I do whatever the hell I want. I could say they’re “for the kids”, but neither of mine have displayed a lot of interest in them after a few minutes of running. I am, however, fortunate to have a couple of nephews who are entranced by the whole thing and now ask to see “Uncle pdb’s trains!” rather than “Uncle pdb’s house!” But the real answer is that I’ve always enjoyed model railroading, and for reasons of lack of money and a general finescale snobbishness missed out on the whole 3-rail experience. These models are crudely detailed and “wrong” in several nitpicky ways, but their charm lies in their heft and presence and kidproof ruggedness. And the racket they make as they race around the track captures the track side train watching experience a lot better than a rivet-counted correct model sitting on a shelf.

There’s also the appeal of working on a hefty mechanical device that not only can be repaired and serviced, but is worth the effort. Both the 665 and 2046 represent the happy years of Lionel’s postwar existence, when they shipped all-metal trains of high quality that were designed to take a beating, get some wear parts replaced, and come back for more. The current iteration of Lionel has lost its way, preferring to ship highly profitable, plastic trains full of cheap Chinese electronics that aren’t intended to be played with, broken, and repaired.

By contrast, I recently picked up an Athearn Genesis model of a recent prototype. It is, and I use this term deliberately, perfect. It was fairly expensive, but it’s a good value, as the detailing is both superb and accurate, right down to the locomotive specific details. This out of the box model would have been winning contests ten or fifteen years ago, and now anybody can get one.

But there’s nothing left to do to it. You put it on your shelf, or layout, and run it, and that’s it. It doesn’t need any work. It doesn’t need me. The 665 does. There may be an analogy in there about Glocks vs 1911s, but c’mon. It’s just toy trains.

{ 6 } Comments

  1. Ambulance Driver | March 11, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    This grown-ass man would play with toy trains for hours at a time if you let him.

  2. Gladorn | March 12, 2014 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I need to track down and fix up our old toy trains… That is if my brother didn’t snag them. We “loved them to death” when we were kids. It’s kind of a shame, too. My dad gave us his old set from when he was a child, but we abused it. (Dude, we were kids. Not conservationists.)

    This past Christmas my mother in law spent big bucks on a holiday train set to go around the tree. (I could have gotten it for much less but it was her impulse buy.) Initially I thought it was a waste. I was the one who had to set it up. My daughter and the cats kept knocking it over. But it sure wet my whistle for another train set.

    I need another hobby like I need another hole in my head.

  3. Tam | March 13, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I have a little N-gauge layout waiting for me to find a cat-free nook in which to set it up.

  4. NotClauswitz | March 19, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I had a childhood buddy with a BIG basement HO layout that he and his dad worked-on and about which I was always envious – especially his engagement and interaction with his dad. My dad was a preacher and always busy doing Churchy-stufff.
    I attempted to replicate my friends layout it in N-gauge on a table-top in my room since we had far less space available to devote, but the petite size of the cars and engines and my clumsy big hands made it a no-go…And I didn’t have the finances at age 14 to do much.
    So instead I drew elaborate *pictures* and diagrams of my fantasy, ideal layout, and spent a LOT of time imagining what it would be like: train-tracks winding through a forest and meadow and mountain , and *inside a mountain* was a secret air-base runway that little 172-scale air-planes could launch from, and in the lake below the same mountain ~a submarine base!~ As for the train it was mostly Army cars and tenders with artillery pieces. I could return to making schematics and drawings of it again. I think it was the only fun thing I remember at all about Jr. High School.

  5. NotClauswitz | March 19, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Oh yeh, surfed-in of the Gun-Up magazine link Magnum P.I…

  6. Wes S. | March 24, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    And what’s wrong with model trains?

    I’ve got a bunch of HO stuff sitting around – models of Frisco and Rock Island prototypes, mostly, including one of Bachmann’s dandy 2-10-0s – waiting on space for a layout (I’ve got only room for a tiny Euro-style bookshelf layout at this point, alas).