Monday, September 19, 2016

Railroad book review: Conrail Guide to Freight Equipment Volume I: 1976 - 1987 by Larry De Young

Back in the 1970s, the major Northeastern railroads were facing a dire future. Penn Central was falling apart after the merger that created it. The Erie-Lackawanna was overburdened and poorly maintained. The Jersey Central was barely holding on. Enter the USRA and the result was Conrail, a government sponsored merger of the Penn Central, Erie-Lackawanna, Reading, Lehigh Valley, Jersey Central and Lehigh & Hudson River. The Conrail Merger created a super-power railroad.
Granted, Conrail was not as colorful as its predecessors. The Conrail colors were blue with white lettering and a curious white logo that looked like an old fashioned opener. Actually, it was supposed to represent wheels on rails.
Conrail painted its locomotives and cabooses the same blue with white lettering. Most freight cars were in conventional colors such has boxcar red. That is, the cars that were repainted. Many cars from roads that Conrail absorbed had their logos and names painted over, and then a white CR added.
The Morning Sun Conrail Guide to Freight Equipment Volume I: 1976 - 1987 by Larry De Young did quite an extensive look at Conrail equipment. And though some may complain that there was a lack of revenue-earning passenger equipment - Conrail handled the old commuter lines until NJ Transit and Metro North took over - that would have been redundant. None of the passenger service cars had been repainted by Conrail. They carried the liveries of their respective former roads. The book focuses on Conrail-painted equipment and spares us the rest. Also absent were cars whose original logos and names were painted over with a blue patch with white CR letters. This book is strictly Conrail paint.
The one thing that amazed me was the number of cabooses that were illustrated. These had been repainted Conrail Blue and have a variety of origins. After all, Conrail had inherited the fleets of six roads. The rail historian and model railroader is treated to a great assortment backed with good information on the origins and other particulars of the various cabooses. There is also plenty on boxcars, insulated boxcars, hoppers, covered hoppers, flats and more. Also included are non-revenue equipment, cranes and business cars.
In all, The Morning Sun Conrail Guide to Freight Equipment Volume I is a useful reference with great photography. Good editorial decisions have kept the focus on Conrail and spared the reader any redundant materials. This is all original Conrail paint. And it is mostly from the early years when Conrail was establishing its identity. Railroad modelers and railroad historians interested in Conrail and Northeastern railroads will find this a great reference.
I like the Morning Sun Color Guides and have the ones for EL, DL&W / Erie, CNJ / LV, NYC, NH and Conrail. The color photography is superb and they are a great reference. Though I am not the rivet-counting collector, I enjoy seeing the various car types and such. Then again, I am the same way about armored vehicles and have several references books to them. Whether it’s an Erie-Lackawanna 40' boxcar or an M3 Medium "Lee" tank, I enjoy those details.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Starcraft. Bag O' Terran Marines and Bag O' Zerglings

I am pretty much unfamiliar with Starcraft and Warcraft. The only thing that caught my eye were these figures, which Billy Hill posted in the Army Men Homepage FB page. What with my recent work on sci-fi topics, I had to have them. They looked like superb characters for a sci-fi skirmish game.
Starcraft Terran Marines
I ordered a bag each of Terran Marines and Zerglings. What I gathered from a Starcraft fan site is that the Marines are armored and use weapons that fire metal spikes. The Zerglings are creatures with sharp appendages that can do great harm in hand-to-hand fighing. They seem to be a mix of insectoid, crustacean and reptilian features.
Terrna Marines and Zerglings
This reminds me of a starter set for Warhammer 40,000 from ten years or so past. We carried it in a hobby shop where I worked at the time. The game set had Space Marines versus a swarm of buglike critters. Starcraft’s Marines and Zerglings seem like a similar kind of nerdware.
On pages and sites of those selling the figures, each stated that each bag has nine figures. One said there were nine figure and six poses of the marines. He was mistaken. In reality, there are three each of three poses. The marines have one pose rushing with rifle pointed, one standing with rifle up, and one rushing with shield and rifle. There are three Zerglings in three poses. (Zergling sounds like something they would name a Pennsylvania beer). The figures have a lot of overhangs, which means they were originally molded in parts that were assembled prior to packaging. Marines are in light blue; Zerglings are brown.
Marines and Ajax Spacemen. Marines are shorter but just as thick.
Despite their thickness, the marines are about 54mm to 60mm size. It is their overall thickness that dwarfs Star Wars and Galaxy Laser Team figures. These guys are thick. The Zerglings have all sorts of appendages and it takes a while to figure which part is the head. Detail on marines and Zerglings is very nice. They could easily be fit into a game like Laserblade. (When I finish the Sci-Fi supplement for OMOG, I will have to accommodate figures like these. They are too cool!)
Marines with Galazy Lasrer Team. Marines are much larger.
The Terran marines resemble the space-marines of popular nerdware Warhammer 40,000. Of coure, they are not the same. I am sure that nerds who play both Warhammer and Starcraft can point out all the differences.
Zerglings with Galaxy Laser Team
These Terran marines and Zerglings would both look great if they were painted.
Marines and Hasbro Star Wars 54mm figures. Similar height, but the thickness of the marines makes the Star Wars figures look smaller.
Even if you do not want to add elements of Starcraft to skirmish games, you could use both Marines and Zerglings for other things.
Zerglings and Star Wars figures.
Good plastic sci-fi figures are a treasure. In 2015, we had Hasbro’s excellent Star Wars Command figures. These were 54mm size and had a nice variety of types and poses. An interesting set was a 40mm scale bag soldier set of Aliens Colonial Marines and Aliens. Though far from ideal, they gave fans of the Aliens franchise something with which to work. An old favorite, reissued by Tim Mee is the Galaxy Laser Team. The team is a source of various figures, from turtle-monsters to conventional astronauts. Throwing the Terran Marines and Zerglings into this mix could provide some intriguing scenarios for space skirmish games.
Marines and MPC Astronauts (Mercury - Gemini Type). Marines are massive compared to astronauts.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: The Lionel Fastrack Book by Robert Schleicher

I came across the Lionel Fastrack Book in Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago. The mark-down price was $8.00 and change. I bought it. I had read a couple of other books by the author, Robert Schleicher. They were reviewed here a few months ago.
The original list price of The Lionel Fastrack Book was over $25. In my opinion, it was not worth the list price. This was mostly a book about building layouts. Many of the track plans were cribbed from older Lionel publications such as The Manual for Model Builders. Most layouts used wider radius track. Obviously, the preferred audience is people who have a lot of space to build a very large layout.
Large layouts by hobbyists were used for illustrations. These were basic green tables with a little scenery and a few operating accessories. The impression I got was that the layouts could be changed on a whim. The book took the time to discuss TMCC far better than Schleicher’s prior work, the Big Book of Lionel. In that book, mention was also made of Fastrack but no layout plans were offered.
Not bad for a beginner to use, but he would still have to learn to use TMCC or Legacy as well as get a handle on the track system. Though conventional blocks were discussed and illustrated, the author pushed TMCC and Legacy.
The talk on scenery, accessories and other accompaniments was all too brief and Lacking. For the most part ,scenery was stuff just placed on the table. There was little reference to serious scenic effects. The emphasis was on temporary or quick-change layouts rather than realism.
Frankly, the book lacked that indefinable quality that would have given it weight. It did not make me enthusiastic about making a layout or using Fastrack. Almost all of the information could have been gotten from Lionel’s own manuals and instruction sheets.
Not bad for $8.00 and change. Not worth $25. Aside from the emphasis on Fastrack and a but more detail on TMCC, there was really nothing new here. It does not do for Fastrack what the old K-Line Track and Accessory manual did for tubular rail and conventionally-operated trains.
The emphasis on large layouts using wider radius curves means that layouts will have to be bigger, and that requires having the space and the money to do it. The author claims that wider curves allow operators to use Lionel’s largest locomotives.

I run my trains conventionally and use O and O27 tubular rail. I have a lot of it and see no point buying other track. These new systems do not offer me enough of an incentive to change. Ditto for TMCC. I had tried it a few times and found it was not as much fun. The price of a TMCC or Legacy or even DCS system is daunting. So are the prices of locomotives equipped for them. The Lionel Fastrack book reminded me, by comparison, that it’s all about enjoying the trains. For me, that means transformer control and tubular rail.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Review: Morning Sun Books: NH Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment

Morning Sun Books: NH Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment
by David R. Sweetland, Stephen Horsely
The New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad connected New York City with Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Commonly known the New Haven, it was the largest and most powerful of the New England railroads. I first learned of the New Haven through Lionel Trains when I was a child. The black boxcar with NH in block letters was very appealing. Over 55 years later, it still looks fine.
The New Haven was a very attractive railroad. Its original color was green with yellow trim. Its logo at that time was New York, New Haven and Hartford in cursive script. The color scheme changed under a company president named McGinnis. Though a failure as president, he introduced the bright color scheme of black, white and orange with block letters. Known as the "McGinnis Scheme", it made the New Haven the most colorful Northeastern railroad.
I have no personal connection with the New Haven, except for having ridden Amtrak from New York to Boston’s Back bay station a couple of times in the 80s. Amtrak followed the old New Haven route. My interest was due to the attractive boxcars, locomotives and passenger cars. It was a big part of Northeastern railroading for many years, until it was absorbed into the Penn Central merger.
This week, I received the New Haven Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment by Morning Sun Books. It covers the era of color photographs: 1940 to 1967. Most of the photos were taken between 1955 and 1967. Some show older equipment that was still on the line. Most photos are of equipment that was current at the time.
The quality of the photos is excellent. This has been a constant through all of the Color Guides I have seen: the Erie-Lackawanna, CNJ & LV, Erie & DL&W, New York Central and the New Haven. This volume covers boxcars, flat cars, hoppers, gondolas, MoW, cranes, cabooses, cars converted to head-end or MoW, and passenger cars. Because of the interest of the authors and the involvement of the New Haven Historical and Technical Association, there is information of rebuilt wood boxcars and captions with specific details of most cars.
Other companies have published photo galleries showing New Haven rolling stock, but they are not in color. This color guide is in crisp, sharp color. The photos are excellent and they give you a much better feel for the equipment. Good photography is a standard in Morning Sun Books. I have ten of their books and the color images in each are superb.
I recommend NH Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment to fans of the New Haven Railroad.
I am primarily an operator of O and O27 trains. I have a few railroads that I especially like. One thing I enjoy is running models of trains in the livery of those railroads. I like having good references to the motive power and rolling stock of those roads. The Morning Sun books have been useful to me. They average about 130 pages and are chock full of excellent photographs.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Review: Tim Mee's Desert Patrol Set

Tim Mee Desert Patrol

When I see some of the low-grade toy soldiers and vehicles from China, I wonder who is going to raise the bar. Then another of the new Tim Mee products comes along and sets things straight. The new Tim Mee has several advantages. Top among them is quality. Superior plastics, better colors and for the multi-piece items, superior construction.

A few months ago, I reviewed Tim Mee’s Combat Patrol set. The set included two of the Tim Mee jeeps and cannons. They have been around for over half a century. The new releases are a quality item. Not your average plastic toy soldier vehicles, at least not these days. Everything is better that the cheap stuff coming from China.

Now, Tim Mee has released this same set as Desert Patrol. The difference is that it is molded in tan plastic. Those of us of a certain age may be reminded of a television series called Rat Patrol. And those who have watched the news over the years have seen tan vehicles similar to the ones used by every Middle Eastern army. There were tan jeeps used by the British 8th Army, the Israeli forces, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and a host of others. We saw them on the news in footage from a dozen little conflicts and incidents.

The Desert Patrol is perfect for those wishing to arm their Tan armies in the battles of Green Versus Tan. The color is just right. Each set also comes with stickers to place on the jeeps and guns. And again, it is the quality that stands out. Knockoffs, clones and cheap copies cannot stand up to these recasts of the original Tim Mee jeeps. They are sized just right for 2" to 2 1/2" soldiers (1/35 to 1/30).
The header card of the Desert Patrol set depicts a jeep with a 37mm antitank gun.  The actual guns included in the set are the same ones that Tim Mee has made since the 1950s. They are small field guns, rather like the infantry guns used during World War II. I surmise that they could be used as field guns or howitzers of 75mm to 105mm bore. I am also reminded of the British 25 pounder field gun. Tim Mee used to include the same gun in their Civil War sets of bagged soldiers. Instead of the tires, the Civil War guns were fitted with red spoked wheels. They looked like World War I vintage French 75mm guns.

The field guns, like the jeeps, are sized just right for 2" to 2 1/2" soldiers. They go well with the Tim Mee Vietnam-era soldiers, as well as the old World War II troops. You can easily make a crew for these guns by converting other toy soldiers. They are among the best cannons for army men ever made.
For toy soldier enthusiasts, the Tim Mee Desert Patrol is a great addition to your collection and your army. This is a quality product that stands far above the general run of Chinese and Mexican made  vehicles.

(Thanks to camera problems, I had to borrow pictures from the Tim Mee site. These accurately depict the Desert Patrol set and what is in the bag. As you can see, the guns and jeeps are nicely colored in tan. )

Would you liek a set of your own? Here is a link to Victory Buy and Tim Mee on Amazon:

Friday, July 1, 2016

Navy Train Layouts: Track Plans for O27

Navy Train Layouts for O27

I was thinking of military trains and small layouts. Many train makers have produced Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force trains. Lionel and Marx made them in O and O27. American Flyer had a few military type cars in S gauge, and Model Power made an HO Army Train.

As an Army veteran, my first thoughts naturally go to the Army type trains made by Lionel, Marx and Model Power. Marx made olive-drab military trains in both tin-litho and plastic. Many of these are expensive thanks to the collectors.

When looking for inspiration for a military layout, inspiration was almost in the neighborhood. Earle Naval Ammunition Depot is a few miles from here in Colt’s Neck, NJ.  Ar least, that is the main base. Earle also has a smaller installation with a large pier near Leonardo, NJ, on the Bayshore. The pier is used to load military ordnance to ships. It is connected to the main base by a private rail line and a private road called Normandy Road.  The base and the pier are about 15 miles apart.

Making a full scale layout would require 900 feet for 1/87 HO, 1650 for 1/48 O and 1237.5 for 1/64 O27 and S.

I like to design layouts for small spaces. The Earle Ammunition Depot gave me an idea of how to make an interesting O27 layout. It revolves around the concept of a facility at each end.  The loop-to-loop design allows for continuous running and a point-to-point operation.

Our first railway is a simple 3 by 8 foot dogbone type with a pier on one side. Each loop also has its own siding. The area between the loops is where I diverge most from the prototype. Earle’s railway runs through woods and open spaces and past small towns. Our model has two bridges over a small inlet. Bridges over water help contribute to the nautical theme.

The next two are a 6 by 6 by 3 and a n 8 by 6 by 3. They are meant to fit in a corner. Two have the bridges.

Finally there is a 6 by 6 by 3.  It has neither bridges nor pier, but they could easily be added.

These simple track plans allow plenty of action in a limited space. They are ideal for smaller locomotives and rolling stock. Marx train enthusiasts have a choice. on one hand, each layout would do well with tinplate and the 6 and 7 inch tin litho cars. Scale fans could use most of the plastic and tin scale cars. Most of the tin steamers would be fine, as would the 400 and 490. and the diecast 999. For diesel, the 70 tonner and S1 are Ideal.

Those using Lionel type trains might consider the old O27 trains, the smaller K-Line O27 (recasts of Marx) and Industrial Rail cars. K-Line and RMT’s version of the Marx S3 switcher would be ideal. Both the k-Line and Lionel O27 Alcos and the O27 Boxcab would also be good choices.


Making a Navy train ought not be too difficult. One can find cheap cars at shows. The cars will need some work, such as removing rust and general repair and repainting. The Navy paints a lot of its vehicles Battleship Gray. Some of their switchers were painted Engineer Yellow. You can find photos of Navy trains online

Lionel made several Navy and Coast Guard trains.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: Color Guides to Freight and Passenger Equipment, Morning Sun Books

Morning Sun is a publisher of high-quality, color railroad photography books. I first came across them when I got back into the O gauge hobby in the mid-1990s. They were pricey even then. I bought one on the Lackawanna railroad and a couple for the Erie Lackawanna. The quality of materials and photography and printing were first-rate.

Back in the 1990s, there were not many railroad pictorial resources on the Internet. Pictures from the Net opened at excruciating slow speeds. For the railroad fan, books were the way to go. Several publishers served the hobby. Railroad Avenue Enterprises produced mainly black-and-white photo books of Northeastern railroads. Carsten’s and Quadrant offered both black-and-white and color books. Morning Sun published hardcover books with excellent color photography. Other publishers added to the field.

 One series of Morning Sun books is its Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment. Each guide is devoted to a specific railroad or railroads. Each has color photographs of passenger cars, freight rolling stock, cabooses, non-revenue and maintenance-of-way cars. The color pictures cover cars in use in the 20th century. Some of the cars still running in the 1960s and 1970s had been built decades earlier. (The books I have cover railroads which were absorbed into Conrail in 1976, hence no 21st Century rolling stock.)

The Color Guides I have cover the Erie-Lackawanna (1960 - 1976), New York Central (up to 1968), Lackawanna and Erie (up to 1960), and Jersey Central and Lehigh Valley (up to 1976). The pictures are clear and crisp. They cover most, if not all, types of rolling stock and the various paint schemes used when these cars were photographed. They are a handy reference for the railfan and model railroader. I am impressed how the publisher tried to get as many variations of paint schemes and rolling stock as possible. Considering that the books were published years after the actual railroads disappeared, it is a noteworthy achievement.

The New York Central Color Guide is my most recent acquisition. It was published in 1994. The book covers the common variety of New York Central rolling stock prior to the Penn Central Merger. Most of it is post-1940. Some of the cabooses that were still in use were built in the late 1800s. They are included. This is a good, basic book of the Central’s rolling stock. I understand that other volumes had been added. (For my purposes, this one is enough.)

I have been told that some of the Color Guides may be missing a few elements, such as the steel-sided Reading streamliner cars. Be that as it may, the Color Guides are still an excellent resource. Be aware that like all of Morning Sun’s books, they are expensive. Current book prices for all of Morning Sun’s inventory ranges from $44 to $59. They average about 100 to 135 pages


For my kind of railroad interests, the color guides of my favorite roads are a useful asset.  They contain enough information and imagery to satisfy my interests. Scale modelers might use them to supplement the more detailed car books with blueprints. O / O27 operators like myself will find the color guides more than adequate, at least for those who are interested in the prototypes as well as the models.


Morning Sun aims mainly at the aficionado of railroad photography. Its books each contain hundreds of color images, each devoted to a specific railroad or theme. They average about 128 - 130 pages. Of course, these books cover railroads in operation since color photography was available. A railfan interested in roads from the 1940s to the present can usually find his favorites. Some roads get more coverage than others. For instance, there is a LOT of material on the Erie-Lackawanna. One series on that railroad is up to at least Volume 9. Books like these are for the serious rail photography buff.

Here is a link to Morning Sun