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.