Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Railroad and Holy Days

When Jews from Eastern Europe emigrated to the United States in the late 19th Century, they discovered a profound difference in living conditions. Back in Russia, Poland and the Ukraine, Jewish communities were regularly purged and plundered in what were called ‘pogroms". The Jews had a hard time keeping what they had. In the United States, there were no purges, no pogroms. The result was newfound prosperity, and the resorts came soon after.

The Catskill resorts were a thing all to themselves. They opened annually in time for the Passover holiday and closed soon after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the Fall. Workers trickled back, often to the same resort every years. The first wave came in time to open for Passover. Numbers of workers grew until the Memorial Day weekend. After Labor Day, many left. A few remained for the High Holy Days guests. It was convenient for folks observing holidays to have the resort take care of all the details.

The New York Ontario and Western Railroad had a part in this. It arranged special trains to serve folks going to the resorts. Even after passenger service officially ended, the O&W ran excursions to the resorts, especially on holy days and other special occasions. The railroad made arrangements to accommodate a special clientele.

The route to Monticello was long. Trains would come up to the Middletown area and then have to go all the way to Port Jervis. There they would turn and head to Monticello. It was a long trip on those old coaches. Service ended by 1957, when the O&W folded.


There were seasonal workers who returned to the same resorts year after year. These included cooks, laundry folks, handymen, service staff, and a host of others. Once the season ended, they headed for other places. Some made the trek to Florida to pick up seasonal jobs. Others went to New York or other cities. Of the latter, there were those who worked all summer and then "went on the bum" for the off-season. They would hole up in shelters and residences. The resorts fell on hard times and more than a few closed since the old days. With them goes a way of life defined by seasonal work.

There were seasonal workers who could do well. They held onto their money and worked both the Catskills and Florida each years. In the end, they had the money to leave seasonal work behind. The opposite type were those who spent their money as fast as they earned it and ended up bumming in New York until next Spring.

I was able to speak with several of the seasonal workers in the 1980s. It was between seasons when they were doing other work in the New York City area. They told of the world behind the scenes in resorts and other summer vacation places. Thanks to them and to some facts about the old NYO&W, we get a story of a way of life that is fading into history.

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: The Binoculars Guy

Binoculars are associated with officers and forward observers. Indeed, the Ideal and Tim Mee sets’ officers have a pistol in one hand and binoculars in the other. Other brands had their officers looking directly through binoculars. For boys back in the days of dimestore soldiers and bags of plastic army men, that kind of binoculars guy was pretty much useless. He was just standing there staring at something. Neither fighting nor leading, the binoculars guy was never a favorite.

While other soldiers run or crawl or shoot or do something, the binoculars guy just gapes at the world and does nothing. Granted, some can be fitted into the hatch of a toy tank, They are not too bad perched in the turret of an armored fighting vehicle. Maybe they can eb used as an extra crewman on a howitzer of part of a machine gun team. But other than that. not a favorite.

The binoculars guy was unappreciated by little boys, especially compared to such favorites as the bayonet guy, shooting rifleman and machine gunner. Forward observers are not as cool as the fellows who throw the grandes and shoot their weapons.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Clamtown Sail Car

While researching the Tuckerton Railroad, I came across an amusing legend. Until 1886, nearby Long Beach Island was reached by boat. A few small steamers plied the area, ferrying people from the mainland to the Island. To better accommodate customers, the Tuckerton Railroad ran a spur line from the Tuckerton - Parkersville area to Edge Cove on the Bay. Steamboats such as the Pohatcong and Barclay took passengers from the Cove to Long Beach Island. Edge Cove was also used by baymen to bring their catches of fish, clams and oysters ashore. Because of the abundant shellfish, Turckerton had at one time been called Clamtown.

Regular rail service on the Tuckerton commenced in 1872.

Demand for a railroad connection started the long process of building a rail link to the island Several attempts were considered. The Pennsylvania Railroad reorganized its Pemberton and Sea shore Railroad charter in 1879. This allowed the effort for a rail link to begin. The link ran from Manahawkin to Barnegat City Junction on Long Beach. From there, the line ran North to Barnegat City and south to Beach Haven. The completed line ended a need for steamboat ferries from Edge Cove. As a result ,the Edge Cove spur was abandoned in 1886.

According to the local legend, some of the baymen fitted an abandoned flat car with a mast and a sail. The "Clamtown Sail Car" used wind power to run from Edge Cove to Tuckerton. They used it to haul their catch. Apparently, the thing ran for severle years until someone took it on an unauthorized trip and wrecked the sailcar.

The track from Tuckerton to Edge Cove remained in place for many years. A photo here circa 1890 shows a family riding an old side car drawn by a horse toward Edge Cove. There must have been a few pieces of obsolete rolling stock abandoned by the railroad.

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: the Officer with Pistol

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: The Officer

Most of the troops in a set of soldiers carry the main infantry weapons of the army they represent. One who does not is the officer. Usually depicted wit ha pistol in hand, the officer stands our for his lack of heavy weaponry. Every set has an officer of one sort or another.

Of course, every set of toy soldiers has its commander. From sets representing Revolutionary War troops to War of 1812 / Napoleonics, Civil War and modern forces, there he is. In sets for the 18th and 19th centuries, the officer may have a sword, or pistol, or both. 20t hand 21st Century officers have pistols. The officer’s weapons are defensive. The pistol has been considered a "back-up" weapon because of its short range. Swords were the back-up weapons of an era where bayoneted muskets were the close-quarter weapons of choice. The idea of a lightly-armed officer was to keep his focus on leading the troops rather than getting into the shooting himself. He was to lead the fight. It is rather hard to observe the enemy and one’s own troops if one is actively engaged in firing at the enemy.

Officers in sets from the "horse and musket" usually wield a sword, which was a symbol of authority since the Middle Ages. In many places during Medieval times, only nobility could wield a full-size sword. Many things from that era are retained in modern officer corps. Saluting and the deferential "Sir" when addressing a commissioned officer are Medieval holdovers.

Swords fell out of favor after the Civil War. Revolvers and other "repeaters" relegated swords to ceremonial uses. Soon after, magazine-fed automatic pistols increased an officer’s firepower for times when the enemy got too close. While his range did not increase, his defensive capacity imrpoved greatly wit hthe advent of the automatic pistol. The US M1911 .45, German Mauser "broomstick" 7.65 automatic pistol and 9mm Parabellum Luger defined the new era of hand guns.

Most of the officer figures are posed as if they are leading their troops. Only a few are firing their pistols.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Fishy Cargo

One of the more unusual rail cargoes was eelgrass. This was an aquatic plant whose unique properties made it desirable. Eelgrass could be used to stuff mattresses and insulate homes. The sea plant did not rot, was odorless and fire-resistant. It grew in great volume along the New Jersey Coast. Eelgrass was abundant in Raritan Bay and Barnegat Bay

The eelgrass was harvested and then strewn on the beach to dry. From there, it was carted off to the nearest railroad station for shipment to the big cities. Small lines serving the shore made good money shipping eelgrass. It was a money-maker for the diminutive Tuckerton Railroad that served the Manahawkin area of Ocean County and the resorts of Long Beach Island.

A blight in the 1930s nearly eliminated eelgrass. As a result, the harvesting and shipping of the sea plant came to an end. Railroads lost a valuable commodity. Only the clammers and oystermen rejoiced at the retreat of eelgrass. The seaweed was inhospitable to shellfish.

Fish, clams and oysters were another cargo of the Shore area. They would be packed in barrels with ice and sent to Philadelphia and New York. At one time, oysters were packed in milk cans. A new lighter container was invented to make shipping them easier.

Oysters were very popular in the late 1800s. Aficionados of the shellfish could tell from what waters an oyster came. Northeastern oysters were prized and would be shipped to oyster lovers out West. The Stillwell company even constructed a special "oyster car" to haul the popular shellfish across the country.

In recent years, regulations and various environmental problems have made clamming and oyster gathering less lucrative. Baymen have to work more to get less. Hopefully this will turn around, thanks to scientists and environmental specialists working to restore shellfish populations along the Jersey Coast.

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: The Grenade Guy

A staple of modern soldiers from World War I to the present is the grenade thrower. Most sets of Army men have one. Usually, he is poised to throw. The arm holding the grenade is cocked back; his free arm points forward toward the target. American and British, throw a grenade that is shaped like an egg or a ball. Russian and German soldiers are generally depicted with a stick grenade that looks like a potato masher. The Japanese can be armed with either.

The original grenades were clay pots filled with gunpowder and odd fragments of stone, bone, metal, etc. They had a fuse that would be lit, and then the bomb was thrown off the castle wall at besiegers. A smaller, throwable version was developed that used a hollow clay or iron ball. It was filled with gunpowder. A fuse protruded from the top. A man would have to light it and throw it very far at the enemy.

Special troops were trained to throw grenades in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Called grenadiers, their task was to hurl grenades at enemy troops. The largest, strongest men were selected for the job. The problem was that grenades were unpredictable and there were accidents. if a grenadier were shot while getting ready to throw, he might drop it. The result would be bad for fellow grenadiers alongside him. Thus the grenadier title came to denote elite troops and the grenade itself was relegated to defensive works.

By the 20th Century, a more reliable fuse was available. Grenades were used for clearing trenches. Two methods of projecting grenades were available. Hand grenades were made to be thrown. Rifle grenades were launched, using a rifle as the launcher. The common type of grenades were fragmentation and concussion. Egg-shaped grenades were made to break into shards as they exploded. Stick grenades relied on concussive force rather than fragmentation.

There was no special grenade thrower in armies of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Grenades were issued to all infantrymen. The egg-shaped ones could be put in pockets or clipped to one’s field gear. Stick grenades could be tucked into a belt or boot. Every man usually had them.

The grenade was taught in basic training by the US Army. Among things taught were how to throw it into a bunker and through a window. Also, how to go from prone position to throwing on one knee. There was more, of course. The way we were taught to throw was like throwing a football. This is different from French and British methods.

One amusing thing about grenade thowers is a figure from a British company. It is supposed to represent an American soldier. However, his pose is more like that of a fellow pitching cricket, the English equivalent of baseball.

Here is a link showing the grenade throwing used by various armies:

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Funny Train Story

It was a miserable day. There had been drizzle and gloom and dampness. It was also Friday, the end of the work week. We had gone to a customer way pout by Belleville or Kearny that day. I was dropped off at the Newark Subway way out near Bellville so I could make my way home. That way I could go right to Penn Station in Newark and catch the next train ot the shore.

The Newark Subway at the time rode under the city and then through an open cut out to the edge of the suburbs. The "train" was actually a pair of PCC trolley cars.

Being more used to subways and PATH trains and regular railroads, I found the Newark subway station to be a bit spare. Just concrete walls and a small sidewalk alongside the track. Waiting there, barely protected from the drizzle, i noticed something written on the wall. It was in pencil and it said:

" We don’t run trains through your bathroom. Please don’t pee in our station."

I burst out laughing. On that miserable gloomy day, that silly joke was the bright spot. Things got better from there. The subway / trolley arrived and scooted me to Newark, and the train to the Shore was there but a moment after I arrived at its platform.

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: The Bayonet Man

Every bag and set of soldiers in combat poses has at least one. Be it Revolutionary War, Napoleonic Era, Civil War, the World Wars or the Cold War, there he is. As children, we thought he was a guy with a "knife" at the end of his rifle. The proper name for it is a bayonet.

The first bayonets evolved out of a need during the "pike and musket" warfare of the 17th Century. If musketeers did not have time to reload before the enemy closed with them, their only recourses were a short sword / long dagger worn at the hip, or to swing their firelocks like clubs. This left the musketeers at a disadvantage against attackers with longer weapons such as pikes or halberds. A solution was devised to turn the musket into a rudimentary short pike. A small dagger was fitted with a handle narrow enough to fit into the muzzle of a musket. This was the first bayonet.

Of course, musketeers using bayonets would never have been able to fire their weapons. That is, until someone added rings to the bayonet handle so that it rode under the barrel.

The problem was that the technique of the bayonet was derived from that of the pike. The thinking was that as the bayoneted musket was actually a small pike, it should be handled the same as its larger brother. The theory did not match with fact, and the bayonet fighting systems derived from pike work were awkward.

The French sought a solution, so they turned the problem over to their fighting masters. These were the masters of swordsmanship and related arts such as stick and quarterstaff fighting. The fencing masters devised a better bayonet method that made best use of the peculiarities of the musket. These systems can be described as "bayonet fencing" for they had thrusts and parries inspired by those used with swords.

The French systems spread. George McClellan studied several of the French styles in the 1850s and derived the system used by the United States in the Civil War. Russia had favored the bayonet charge. With a high percentage of larger men in their army, they could overwhelm their enemies in close combat. The bayonet fencing used by Russia still influences their method to this day.

The development of the rifle with internal magazine saw some changes to bayonet methods. The techniques of the 20th Century differed to accommodate weapons with larger stocks and odd shapes. For one thing, more striking with the rifle butt was taught. Systems further evolved to make best use of natural body movements.

Some feel that the bayonet’s time has passed. Yet in every war even to this day, there is some battle that is decided by the bayonet. For instance, an enemy position was cleared by a Scots unit who ran a bayonet charge at the Iraqis.

To see more of bayonet styles, check out this column in our "How men fight" section:

The British bayonet of 1805 is the method derived from pikes.

The Future of O Gauge?

This past Summer, I bought a "new" Williams locomotive via Choochooauctions. It was several years old and had never been run. Someone had opened the box and looked at it, but did not even remove the cardboard packing by the trucks. I paid chump change for it. Even by the standards of the days when Williams was still making his own trains, this was dirt cheap.

When I belonged to a train club over ten years back, there was a Williams dealer among the membership. I got some great bargains on locomotives I wanted. Williams made the locomotive types in the road names I preferred. Price and quality made me a repeat customer.

K-Line also had a lot of really nice trains at reasonable prices.

By the end of 2004, I had all the trains I wanted. There were specific locomotives and favorite liveries and the various freight cars I had liked since childhood. My only purchases since then were a Marx set with shiny 6" passenger cars, a Monsters Inc animated boxcar to run at the Ocean Grove show, and the Williams F7AA this past summer. I had not looked at catalogs in a few years. When I took a look recently, it was a bit overwhelming. Prices were sky high for Lionel and MTH, but that was to be expected. What really surprised me were the prices for Williams by Bachmann.

We were told that the train makers moved production to China to cut costs. That is no longer the case. Chinese made goods have gotten quite expensive. At the same time, manufacturers who moved there are stuck with China. The Chinese government would make it difficult if not impossible to move their tooling elsewhere.

Another issue I hear with trains of recent manufacture are quality problems. Bad gears are among the complaints. Another is the failure rate of expensive locomotives from Lionel and MTH. These are the things that add to the cost. But the height of absurdity is a list price over $800 for a modern version of a popular old transformer. On the used train market, the original that inspired it goes for under $150 nowadays.

This hobby’s future depends on attracting new people. That means younger people who may not remember Lionel’s glory days. (For anyone under 40, the Lionel name is going to have a lot less allure than it does for those who grew up prior to the 1970s.) We really need a train maker who can make his wares at a reasonable price that is attractive to newcomers and old. timers. They do not need the same fancy things that one finds in the expensive trains these days. Simpler, fewer features, but sturdy quality would be enough for a start. Louis Marx did it for half a century. If someone does not do it now, the ranks of O gaugers will shrink until there are not enough to support the manufacture of new trains. All that will be left are the buying, selling and trading of old trains.

Now is the time to attract new O gauge railroaders.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Railroad Book Reviews

The Lackawanna Story by Robert J. Casey and W,A.S. Douglas, 1951

An interesting thing about older books is that it gives yo uthe feelings of the time they were written. In the case of The Lackawanna Story, it is the feeling of railroading a decade before the Erie merger. That feeling pervades this book, which goes back before the time of railroads to the early settlers of eastern Pennsylvania. The book meanders with tales of individuals looking for sources of coal and iron, and of their desire to find ways to get it from Pennsylvania to customers as far away as New York. Most focuses on the business side and the personalities at the top. This book was not written so much for the railfan as the business reader.

As histories go, The Lackawanna Story reads as if it were the work of the company’s public relations department. Not much about the folks who did the work, but an awful lot about the folks at the top.
Nice for folks who like corporate history, I guess, but not as good for railroad fans or model railroaders.

Railroading in New Jersey by John Cunningham. 1951

Here is a book that began as a serial in a Newark newspaper. Railroading in New Jersey is a series of articles on the railroads and the adventures in The Garden State.for railfans and history buff, it covers from the first characters to railroad enthusiasts. Railroading in New Jersey is about the folks in charge and the folks who ran the trains and kept them running. A pleasure to read! The book does not get bogged down in technical details. It is about the people, from engineers to commuters.
If you can find a copy, get it! A good read!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Shortlines and Model Railroads

A model railroad is in every way a miniature railroad. In fact, most have had to truncate some of their dimensions to fit available space. Just look at distances. A scale mile in O gauge 1/48 is 110 feet. It is 82.5 feet in S and 3/16" O27. It is 60 feet 8 inches in HO, and 33 Feet in N scale. How many home railroads have that much space? And that is just one mile! Modeling a railroad mainline in full scale would be almost impossible. A 50-mile route would take 5,500 feet for O scale, 4,125 in S. 3,330 feet in HO and 1,650 feet in N. Most home railroads’ longest dimension runs from 8 to 16 feet. While club tracks can be larger, few have a longest side reaching 100 feet. Obviously, distances must be truncated.

Unless you are a large club with several members running a massive pike at once, your operation is limited. There are real railroad resources which can help you develop a functioning pike in a smaller area. Short lines and branch lines are real railroads with a more limited scope than Class 1 railways. They handle less distance and fewer tasks than the big roads. For a model railroader, using them as inspiration can make a satisfying and realistic pike that can be handled easily by a lone operator. It does not matter if you want to model a Class 1 or smaller operation.

The smaller pikes can show you the way.

For one thing., you can get a feel for working in a more limited area with smaller facilities. There is the benefit of seeing how shorter distances are handled. You also find inspiration for designing your own small railroad. Operating in a scaled-down fashion, the methods of smaller railroads can easily be applied to your own home railway.

Short lines tend to be more specific in the customers they serve and the commodities they haul. For instance, the Morristown and Erie started out hauling pulp wood to paper mills and delivering their paper to large connecting railroads for shipment across the nation. The Freehold Branch in New Jersey started out hauling marl, an agricultural product, and produce. The big commodity was potatoes heading to processing plants in northern New Jersey and New York. The old Middletown and Unionville connected the Erie and the O&W. The Raritan River Railroad hauled sand, brick and gravel as well as serving various companies along its route. One of these was a munitions company. You can use these as examples to help develop your own specialties for your home railroad. Those specialities will determine which types of equipment will be predominant on your pike.

Your railroad can be a mainline pike, branch or shortline. Which ever you choose, short and branch lines can certainly help you put together a small railroad that works!

This link goes to a PDF copy of a booklet about a New Jersey short line named the Rahway Valley Railroad. It operated in Northeastern New Jersey, connecting with the Lehigh Valley, Jersey Central and Lackawanna railroads. You can get some good ideas from this entertaining little book.

Also, check out the historical societies formed around various short, branch and bridge lines. In my region, the ones that come to mind are the Raritan River Railroad, Freehold branch of the Jersey Central, Middletown and New Jersey (formerly Middletown and Unionville), the Morristown and Erie, Hoboken Shore Railroad, and the Lehigh and Hudson River (a bridge line).


To give you an idea of how commodities affect your choice of equipment, here are soem examples:

If you are hauling pulp wood, expect to use gondolas. For paper, boxcars provide adequate protection from the elements. The potatoes and produce in Freehold were only going to be in transit for less than two hours, so boxcars were used. Longer hauls might require refrigerated cars. Sand and gravel tend to use hoppers. Brick would use gondolas are flat cars, depending how it was stacked and bundled. munitions would move in boxcars.

Sand, gravel, brick and coal emphasize pulling power rather than speed in locomotives. Potato trains require less power and so could accommodate more speed in their motive power..

Authentic Medieval Fighting Methods for Realistic Miniatures

People have become so enchanted by the Asian fighting arts that they forget that we had arts of our own. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Warriors did not merely swing their weapons any which way. They were trained in a variety of techniques for the weapons of their day. There were distinct systems of fighting and respected master teachers of these arts.

Several Medieval fechtbuchs ("fight books") have been preserved into modern times. They show the fighting methods of their day. Most had been written as manuals for training warriors. Here you will find authentic information, with illustrations, on how men fought in the olden days. Imagine how much more satisfying your Medieval and renaissance figures will be if you make them in poses and with the weapons of their day.

One good manual from 1612 is the ‘Jacob Sutor". It contains materials from several older texts, hence its inclusion of later Medieval two-handed swordsmanship and Renaissance sword and dagger. The text also shows use of pole weapons and other techniques. Though the drawings may seem crude, they can serve as a reference for the miniature maker

Next is the Fencing manual compiled from the works of Talhoffer, a 15th century master. The abridged version includes sword play, polearms and various dagger and unarmed techniques. Talhoffer wrote at least three works, and they can be found online in pdf format. One must be careful with his work to separate techniques for battle from those used for organized dueling in his era. The duels used stylized weapons and had peculiar rules of fighting.

Fortunately, we compiled a section of Medieval warfare that draws from a variety of manuals. It covers Medieval broadswords, arming swords, lances, fighting from horseback, spears and daggers and other weapons. The old drawings show authentic poses that can guide the Medieval miniature enthusiast in creating more realistic figures. They also give a better idea of what European fighting was like in those times.

An authentic miniature is a better miniature. Using authentic weapons and techniques as your guide, you can make your Medieval and Renaissance miniatures all the better.

By the way, we also compiled a section showing fighting methods of later armies, from the days of Pike and Musket on up to the present. These are drawn from authentic military sources. This link takes you there:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Warriors of the World

One of my fondest memories is the old "Warriors of the World" by Marx. These were hard plastic soldiers in the 60mm to 70mm scale size. They were sold in small boxes, each of which had a small card wit ha "bio" of the fictional person whom the figure was supposed to represent. The soldiers were all painted.

Unlike the old painted metal dimestore figures, Marx’s hand-painted warriors covered a wide variety of armies and conflicts. Even the best dimestore figures only covered 20th century American soldiers, cowboys, Indians, knights and perhaps Parade men and the Civil War. Marx went so far as to cover our allies and enemies in those conflicts, as well as other eras such as Romans, Pirates and our Revolution.

Figure quality varied. Many of the first ones were cast in white plastic and completely painted. Later ones might be cast in colored plastic, with only the faces, hands, weapons and details painted.

Marx made larger sets with up to eight figures.

My favorites were the Army and the Vikings.

In recent years, I have acquired a few of the Warrior of the World figures. Looking as an experienced military miniature buff and toy soldier maker, I am amused as well as impressed. The Warriors of the World are toy figures, first and foremost. They do not have the historical accuracy of military miniatures. The Vikings look more like Gauls or ancient Germans. Many of the other soldiers have details which are not proportionate. And some of the Civil War guys are missing essential field gear such as cartridge boxes.

These were molds in Hong King and Europe. Figures were painted in Hing Kong, Holland and Germany. Some turned up a few years ago on the Ukraine but nothing has been heard more recently The Ukrainians cast up Vikings, Romans, Egyptians, Knights. Indians and Cowboys. Other molds were in Hong Kong. Several years ago, recasts of the American World War I and Spanish-American War troops turned up in dollar stores.

Accurate or not, we had a lot of fun with these soldiers half a century ago/. And it is fun to have a few of them today. The hard part is finding examples whose weapons are other details are unbroken. The hard plastic did not stand up well to boys’ play.


Most of the molds for the Warriors of the World still exist. The figures have been recast in recent years, usually in softer plastic and solid colors. Molds are in the Ukraine, Hong Kong and possibly Mexico.


Marx’s Hong Kong facility also turned out smaller-scale version of the Warriors of the World for hand-painted playsets. Figure size ranged from about 25mm - 1/72 scale to 30mm - 1/60. Playsets included Iwo Jima, with copies of the 60mm and 54mm Gis in 25mm against 40mm Japanese troops and Knight and Viking sets that pitted 25mm copies of Viking Warriors of the World against 30mm knights. There were also sets of US versus Germans, Wild West fort with cavalry versus Indians, Revolutionary War with blockhouse, Civil War, Cowboys & Indians, Vietnam, and a weird Charge of the Light Brigade set with early 19th Century British cavalry against Asian Indians.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Peculiar Roadnames

Many a Lionel steam locomotive sported the road name "Lionel Lines." American Flyer adorned many of its tenders with its own name, sometimes with a real railroads road name beside it. Marx had "Marlines" as its own road name. Cabooses were often marked to match their respective toy company’s road name.

These toy company roadnames are but one quirk of the model railroading hobby. There are others. Marx trains would customize its train sets for a customer, provided he ordered enough of them. Allstate, the insurance company and brand of tires and car batteries from Sears, was one such logo. Its old logo with a map of the 48 contiguous states was imprinted on E7 and S1 diesel locomotives, tenders for steam locomotives, tank cars, gondolas and cabooses. In fact, the Allstate versions of the E7 diesel locomotive were cast in a most unsettling shade of orange. Neither Sears nor Allstate had any real-world railroad equipment bearing their marks.

Marx’s other big roadname quirk was marking some of its tenders for steam locomotives with "Penn Central". This was really funny because Penn Central came along too late for steam. Its predecessor roads. The New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroads had halted steam service of any kind in 1957.

It gets even funnier when you look at some of Marx’s Penn Central cabooses. While some are in a Penn Central / New York Central Emerald Green, many are in orange or white. Marx compounded the Penn Central silliness with those colors!

As roadnames go, the biggest fluke in model railroading has to be the Docksider. Also know as a "Little Joe" to the B&O railroad men, this small 0-4-0 locomotive worked the Baltimore and Philadelphia docks. Its tight wheel base made it ideal for handling sharp curves. The Docksiders were saddle-tank locomotives. Two eventually had the tanks removed and were given tenders. There were only four of these interesting little tank engines. Apparently, they spent their entire careers with the B&O.

The first models of the Docksider were made by Varney in HO scale. Others were made in various scales by Bachmann, LifeLike, Rivarossi, IHC and MTH, to name a few. The models of the C-16 tank saddle-tank locomotives were made in B&O markings, of course. One can also find them in roadnames for the ATSF, C&W, PRR, UP, Nickel Plate. CNJ, and even an orange one bearing a white NH. Docksiders are among some of the most popular locomotive types in HO scale. There are also N and O models.

A previous article discussed the anomaly of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s S2 locomotive. only one was built and it was a failure that was soon scrapped. Despite that, it was so popular in O Gauge that Lionel made several runs of them in four different model numbers from the late 1940s through the `1950s. What the S2 did not three-rail O gauge, the Docksider did for HO. The C16 fared better than the S2 in real life. There were four of the little tank engines and they served for almost 40 years.

One might expect an occasional goofy road name in O. HO prides itself on being more "to scale". The numerous examples of Docksiders in unprototypical road names call that into question. Fun as they may be, the goof road names reminds us that we cannot rely on the model makers to get it right. We need to do our own research.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Art, Trains and Houses

During the first half of the 20th Century, three artistic movements affected the aesthetics of design. First was Art Nouveau, a very fluid style. It thrived until the early 1920s. Next was Art Deco, a curious blend of modern, Neo Egyptian and Neo-Babylonian motifs. It was the rage from the early 1920s until the 1940s. In the 1930s, the Streamline style emerged. It was notable for its sleek lines and feeling of motion.

Three of the best examples of Art Deco are the Chrysler Building, Radio City and Rockefeller Center in New York City.

Streamline styles are found in the M10,000 and Burlington Zephyr.

The GG1 is a blend of Art Deco and Streamline. F and E cab units are mostly Streamline. FA and PA cab units are mostly Streamline with a hint of Deco.

Popular art movements had great influence in their day. They did much to affect the design of the First Generation Diesel locomotives and the steam Streamliners such as the Dreyfus and Vanderbilt. Architecture, jewelry and even clothing styles were also touched by the art of the day.

Note that just because a new artistic movement takes hold, the previous ones do not fade away. The old tends to abide alongside the new, especially when it comes to buildings and trains. Look at older Main Streets and you will see storefronts bearing the motifs of the era in which they were erected. Art Deco and Streamline stand alongside subsequent building styles. There may be a few changes over the years, but the essential motif is still perceptible. Consider this when designing your miniature towns and streets.


The majority of houses and other structures in a town will be those popular when the town was founded. Newer style homes and buildings are erected among them. So it is that one can find a neighborhood that has structures from the Revolutionary War era to the present standing side by side. One can very well find a 1950s Ranch type home tucked in between a Colonial split-level home and a current style frame house. The only settlements where all homes the same era and style are planned developments rather than towns and cities.


If you want to see Art Dec oand Streamline, look at advertising art of the 1920s to the 1940s. Advertising likes to use current motifs, so you get a good idea of the guiding aesthetic in he time they were drawn.

Infantry Basics

The most common toy soldiers are infantry figures. Artillerymen, vehicle crewmen sand support troops are less frequent subjects for miniature soldiers. That being the case, it helps for both diorama makers and those writing game rules to understand the most basic infantry organization.

During the 19th century, the most common infantry unit was a company of 100 men. The 20th Century saw a very different organization. Weapons and methods of warfare made the Civil War type company obsolete. What developed was a different structure wit the company divided into smaller units called platoons. Each platoon was further divided into units called squads.

By the 1930s, the basic infantry squad had three components: riflemen, an automatic weapons team, and a command section. The squad could be divided as needed. For instance riflemen could be divided into two or more teams supported by the automatic weapons crew. They could be used as a single team to defend a position. Squads were versatile.

The basic infantry squad has from 9 to 18 members. German, British and Soviet forces in World War II had ten-man squads composed of a commander, riflemen and a three to four man automatic weapons team. The US Army squad was 12 to 13 men with riflemen, two scouts and a three-man automatic rifle crew. Japanese squads were 15 men and Italians squads eventually grew to 18. The US Marine Corps started the war with a 9-man squad and ended with 13 men. Though not official, US Army and Marine squads increased the number of automatic rifles as the war progressed. By war’s end, most had two or three automatic rifles.

Automatic weapon teams had three to four members

Squads were commanded by a sergeant. His assistant was a corporal.

Depending on the army, three or four squads made a platoon. German and British platoons also had a small mortar team. US units held the mortars at company level. The platoon was normally commanded by a Second Lieutenant.

Three to five platoons made a Company commanded by a Captain, American companies had three rifle platoons, a heavy weapons platoon with heavy machine guns and mortars, and a headquarters platoon.

Here is the monkey wrench in the works. Even in peacetime, units were rarely up to full strength. The organization table of squads, platoons and companies differed from what was really available. During wartime, there were more shortages due to casualties and such. That was reflected in smaller squads, platoons and companies. For instance, German companies in early 1945 were often whittled down to the size of a couple of understrength platoons.

The tendency has been to increase the squad’s firepower as it becomes available. In some ases, modern squads are smaller than their 20tth century counterparts but have more firepower. Grenade launchers, light machine guns and similar weapons have made a modern squad almost as powerful as a World War II platoon.

Infantry organization changed from time to time. In World War II, some armies changed year by year. You can find resources that explain the organization of the armies that fought the Spanish-American war, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and modern times. Always bear in mind that an army took time catching up to new doctrines. Also, units were rarely to full strength.


A problem for Infantry in World War II was the tank. Giving the infantry an effective anti-tank weapon was crucial. One attempt was the anti-tank rifle, a heavy-caliber weapon that fired a steel bullet backed by an oversized powder charge. These weapons tended to be heavy and only marginally effective. Anti-tank rifles had little effect as armor thicknesses increased. Anti-tank cannons issued to infantry battalions also became obsolete. The other solution was the use of the shaped charge. American forces had an anti-tank rifle grenade and the bazooka. Late in the war they received recoilless rifles. German troops used the panzerschreck, a large-caliber bazooka, and the panzerfaust, a portable anti-tank grenade launcher. By the Vietnam er, disposable single-shot bazookas like the M72 LAW and portable anti-tank grenade launchers like the Soviet RPG were the norm.

In American squads, rifle grenades and bazookas were the responsibility of the assistant squad leader.

The 14 Pound Rule

When I belonged to a train club over ten years ago, I was amazed at how some fellows were constantly buying new trains and selling old ones. There were few pieces they wanted to keep. The problem for some was that they bought on the spur of the moment. Later, they realized they bought something that they did not want to keep. Reselling often meant a loss. Few items grew in value over the period of a couple of months.

I found many a good bargain from them. Of course, my way of buying was a little different.

Many years ago, my wife and I came up with the 14-pound rule. It is simple: unless an item hits you like a 14-pound maul on the bridge of the nose, don’t buy it.

Ask yourself when confronted with an item that looks appealing: does it pass the 14 pound rule?

We have avoided spending a lot of money on things that were marginal. We have also eliminated buyer’s remorse.

Sometimes the fellow club members who had buyer’s remorse would want to sell their disappointments at a very nice discount. If what they had passed my 14 pound rule, the I got something worthwhile at a bargain price. Money that may have been wasted on impulse buys was saved for things worth keeping.

And what goes for hobbies also goes for clothes, housewares and everything else. The end result is having things that satisfy rather than things to regret. Try it! You will appreciate the results.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

All Gauge Revamp

The All Gauge Model Railroading Page at is getting a complete overhaul this year. Many of the old files are being updated. For instance, the section with the old O / O27 Instructions will be receiving larger, clearer images. We do not have the old bandwidth limitations, after all. The paper kits will be fixed and some will be reformatted in newer, more popular formats. Our links page will soon be revised, with old broken links discarded. A new policy will determine which new links are accepted.

Another goal is to add a few hundred more track plans in several scales. I also want to update some of the information on trains. For instance, the trend in couplers for HO has changed and needs to be addressed.

Our garden railroad was destroyed by Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, as well as some snowstorms. This summer I hope to rebuild it and to make photos of every stage. The idea will be to share techniques so others can do likewise.

If I am healthy enough this year, I will also begin to show the building of a large O / O27 layout.

Endorsements and reviews: our endorsement policy has changed greatly. We will continue to take care of our friends. Others may find our approach a bit more daunting. For one thing, I will no longer buy items to review them. I will not review things I have not handled and used. Anyone who wants a review has to provide the goods and expect us to tell it like it is. Anyone who wants further endorsements has to help support the site. The same goes for anyone wanting special announcements. While we will continue to support individual hobbyists without obligation, we will expect some kind of quid quo pro from groups, companies and organizations. As a rule of thumb, if you are profiting from the hobby, then expect to offer us some support if you want us to do the same for you and your products or services.

I am selling CDs that include Postwar and MPC Lionel "how to" manuals, layouts guides, support materials, American Flyer manuals, HO guides from both makers, real railroad resources and a lot of vintage hobby materials. The files are too big to host online, and the price of the CD is reasonable. Anything extra we make goes to support the website. You can order it here:

(If any of you are into tanks or WW2 military stuff, check this out: )

That is about all for now. We figure the revamp pf the site will be ongoing throughout 2015, and at some point will include a much easier interface for visitors. We get over 1,000 visitors per day.


If you look at the Timpo solid figure of a GI with an anti-tank weapon, you may notice that the back end has some kind of cover. People think he is firing a bazooka. Actually, it is a recoilless rifle. The weapon acts like a bazooka in that it has a backblast and is a man-portable antitank weapon. However, it is direct-fire artillery rather than a rocket launcher.

The original M18 recoilless rifle used by the US forces in World War II fires a 57mm diameter projectile. At that time, there was a 57mm antitank gun using conventional ammunition. The antitank gun had greater range and striking power. It also had a recoil and was large enough to need a carriage to move it. The recoilless rifle used a rifled barrel like its wheeled cousin. However, part of the weapon’s energy was exerted out the back of the weapon. To compensate for loss of compression, the little recoilless rifle had to pack three times the propellant of the conventional round. The recoilless rifle had greater accuracy and range than the bazooka and was far less likely to be sent off-course.

While it could be fired from the shoulder like a bazooka, the recoilless rifle was capable of being mounted on the same tripod as a .30 caliber machine gun. That gave it stability, which translates to better accuracy at longer range. The weapon could be put into an open emplacement so long as nothing was behind it.

Recoilless rifles have their weaknesses. The two biggest ones come from the backblast. Because of the blast, the weapon cannot be used from enclosed spaces such has rooms or enclosed bunkers. It needs space behind it to take the backblast. The same backblast also gives away the weapon’s position. It makes a flash and a lot of smoke that lingers around.

The big advantage came in the Cold War era with the 106mm recoilless rifle. The HEAT round it fired could disable almost any tank on the battlefield, in its day. Though not man-portable, the weapon could be mounted on a light vehicle such as a jeep. Light, mobile, yet powerful. A crew could fire and speed away before the enemy could return fire.

Monday, February 2, 2015

MTH, Lionel, and My Real thoughts on it

Years ago, I had fun rattling the folks who defended their favorite brands of trains ardently. I thought it ridiculous that people could side with a brand of toys with more ardor than religious fanatics to their own concept of Divinity. And I still do. When a hobby evokes such strong emotions, something is definitely wrong.

Truth be told, this was all a source of entertainment for me. Buffoons used to amuse me. Older and wiser, I realize that buffoons are actually pathetic. This goes for any buffoons, not just train nuts. Nonetheless, I think people who attach that much significance to a brand of toy are extremely foolish. Allegiance to family, religious denomination and nation are reasonable. Giving the same to a company that makes toy trains is not.

While I found it amusing to poke and prod those who engaged in the petty squabbles, I never said where I stand on it. My thoughts as to brands and manufacturers and the personalities behind the products is simple. Make something I like and price it within my range. If I like it enough, I will buy it. At this time, I am not buying because I have everything I wanted, and then some. When I was buying, it was that simple. Whoever got there first with the thing I wanted and priced it right was going to sell me one. It did not matter all that much if it was MTH or Lionel or K-Line or Williams.

Of the various brands, I favored K-Line because they usually had what I wanted the way I wanted it.

As to the personalities and their doings, from promotions to lawsuits and all the rest, who cares? The competition is their business as is everything else that goes with it. The one fact is that Lionel has gone through five or six CEOs in the time they have competed against MTH. Another is that MTH has established itself in other scales such as S, HO and Large Scale where others have not done as well with them. Lionel gave up on HO a long time ago. The closest it comes to Large Scale is its assortment of cheap battery-powered sets for kids.

The hobby has changed, and not for the better. Prices are ridiculously high and I see little to attract newcomers to the hobby. Over $800 list for a new rendition of an old transformer? Locomotives starting at over $300 a pop? And it is all made in China. The only way this hobby is going to gain ground with new people is if someone can make items in lower price ranges. Louis Marx did it and got through the Depression a lot better than his competitors. We need someone to focus on the entry level of this hobby. Otherwise, numbers will diminish as the current generations enter old age and attrition accelerates. Without new people joining the ranks of O gauge model railroaders, there won’t be enough to support manufacturers. We could very well end up where the hobby becomes a matter of people collecting and running old trains because nobody is making new ones.


Bullpups and Other Anachronisms

The British Bullpup

In the 1950s, Britain was looking for a modern weapon to replace the ole bolt-action enfield. One popular prospect was a .280 caliber "bullpup" assault rifle. The early British model was the EM-5. In 1951, this intriguing weapon looked like a sure thing for the British forces. The tune changed in 1952 due to compatibility issues with NATO and military politics.

Busted Bazooka and Bullpups
By then, the British toy makers were preparing their new series of Postwar troops. Herald, Lone Star, Crescent and Timpo fielded regulars and paratroopers armed with the new rifle. To be fair, some also had the SLR, which became the standard British rifle. Every set of soldiers made at that time had at least a couple of men with the EM-2. Due to the cost of new molds and such, the soldiers remained unchanged for decades.

America had its version of the story. In the 1960s, different versions of the M-60 light machine gun were being tested. One such version had a curved magazine that attached from the top, like a Bren. It was pictured in several sources as a likely "jungle version" of the standard, belt-fed M-60. The top-fed magazine proved impractical and never entered service. By then, Tim Mee had sculpted its new troops with modern weapons (M16s, etc). They went with the experimental M-60, thinking it would be adopted by the Army. The result is that peculiar light machine gunner that has been part of Tim Mee’s Vietnam-era soldiers since 1968.

The Marx 54mm army troops, first series, has some anomalies of its own. Most of the troops are armed with M1 carbines instead of rifles. Then there is the machine-gunner firing a weapon mounted on a tripod. Is it an MG42 or an M-60? Looks to be the latter. Another anachronism!

You might expect toymakers to flub, but even serious miniature sculptors are known to flub occasionally. For instance, the Monogram Merite series Special Forces soldier has his ammo pouches on wrong. I know because they issued us the same pouches when I took basic training.

The lesson is obvious: you must know. You cannot rely on manufacturers or sculptors or model kit companies to get their facts right. They have been known to make some big mistakes. The ball is in your court!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Intelligence Bulletins, Tanks, World War II and Cold War

One of the peculiarities of World War II were various intelligence bulletins intended for front-line units. There were several types issued by different authorities. They gave recent information on various enemy and allied forces. Reading them, you can see how our side viewed the enemy at the time. You can understand how our knowledge of enemy weapons and capabilities unfolded with experiences gained in battles and campaigns.

Intelligence bulletins were issued almost monthly from 1942 into 1946. They covered the latest intelligence on enemy forces. Aimed at combat units, the bulletins discussed enemy weapons, tactics and combat techniques. This was valuable information for the men on the line. It is equally fascinating today to read how the bulletins revealed such "new" enemy weapons and the Panther tank and the fortifications at Buna.

Technical and tactical trends was a series that went into greater detail on technicalities.

The Special Series was a mixed bag of small books covering allied and enemy forces. It included books on spotting foreign vehicles and weapons. There were also books on lessons from various battles and translations of enemy combat manuals. These valuable resources give us insight into our understanding of the enemy and how he worked.

I recently compiled a DVD that has an assortment of intelligence bulletins, special series books and other intelligence resou8rnces from World War II. This puts them all at your fingertips. You get an amazing mass of information on all aspects of the war as our troops fought it.

There is a second DVD that covers tanks and armored vehicles from World War I to the Cold War. It has over 150 files on everything from armored cars to heavy tanks. Most of these have been out of print for over 15 years. If tanks fascinate you, our Tank-onomy DVD will bring you hours of enjoyment.

Check them out here:

Backblast! Reality, military miniatures and skirmish wargames

There was a video of the civil war in Syria that showed men using a Soviet-era recoilless rifle. They were in a room and had aimed it out the window. The room was enclosed. After some chatter in Arabic, the men fired the weapon. What happened next was pure chaos. The recoilless rifle’s backblast turned that room into an instant of turmoil, causing damage to the walls and scattering everything about. Fortunately, the Soviet recoilless rifle was of a relatively small caliber. Having fired the 106mm recoilless rifle, I know darn well that its backblast confined to a room like that could have done serious damage to the crew as well as the back wall.

By the way, there is also footage out there of an Arab insurgent firing an RPG as one of his cohorts gets within three feet of the rear end. The firing knocked the man to the ground, possibly killing him.

A plain fact of bazookas, LAW M72s, anti-rank rocket launchers, TOW missiles and recoilless rifles is a backblast. These weapons do not have the recoil of conventional artillery. Instead, excess force is expended out the rear of the weapon. This is the backblast. Standing behind such a weapon can be fatal. In fact, I know of an account of men being trained to use a bazooka late in World War II. The loader did not move his head out of the way and was killed by the bazooka’s backblast.

Firing rocket launchers, RPGs and recoilless rifles requires having enough open space in back for the backblast to expend itself. This means that these weapons cannot be fired safely from enclosed spaces. There has to be open space. Firing from a foxhole or trench is possible if the rear of the weapon faces over the top of the hole. Firing from inside a bunker, a house, enclosed vehicle or average sized room is going to harm the firer and his pals more than the target. Unless they knock out some walls, soldiers in a house dare not shoot a backblasting weapon.

Many a diorama has been made foolish by placing bazooka men and recoilless rifles without consideration of backblast. Likewise, many skirmish rules for wargames do not account for it. They allow rocket launchers and recoilless rifles to be used from within bunkers and buildings. Realistically, a backblast area must be considered for both dioramas and game rules. Dioramas need a clear area behind the weapon. Game rules ought to forbid use of these weapons from houses, inside bunkers and other enclosed spaces.

(Rifle grenades like the ones used in the World Wars did not have a backblast. Panzerfausts did. Though the backblast of a panzerfaust was weaker than that of a bazooka, it was dangerous enough that a warning was placed on the weapon.)

Favorite Locomotives: K-line MP15

One of the best O gauge locomotives is the K-Line MP15. The real MP15s were built in the 1970s, descended from the SW series of switcher. The originals were built between 1974 and 1984. Most used DC in their traction motors. A smaller, later batch used AC. They were very reliable machines and most are still in use. Not bad for equipment that is anywhere from 30 to over 40 years old.

The MP15 was one of the K-line’s first original locomotives. The first ones were made about 1987 in Chessie and Santa Fe liveries. Their previous offerings used recasts of Marx or KMT parts. It can be considered a scale model, though it is made for three-rail track. The MP15 is a good puller. It runs a bit fast for the scale-speed fans (weenies).

I have a few of these little powerhouses. Back in the 90s you could get them cheap. My first was a Rock Island MP15 that came with a caboose. I bought it for two reasons: it reminded me of the old black ATSF NW2 I had as a kid. It would go well with a couple of Rock Island E7s by Marx I had. Next came the Kenecott Copper version fro m the K-Line collector’s club. The green locomotive with yellow trim was based on equipment used by Kennecott Copper ,a Western mining company. I received a second one from a friend a couple years later, by the way. The third acquisition was a Timken version from the club. Then came a Pennsy version as part of a trade. I find it amusing, since the Pennsylvania Railroad had been absorbed into Penn Central six years before the first MP15 rolled out of the factory.

By the way: The Rock Island Railroad folded 14 years before the MP15 was introduced. K-Line was none too careful when it came to anachronisms. I have seen MP15s in Lackawanna and other railroad’s liveries that had folded long before the actual locomotive was manufactured.

K-Line made a train set called the "Greenport Scoot" based on a long Island railroad train. At one end was an Alco FA, and the other had an MP15. K-Line’s set had three passenger cars in between. I saw the real thing and it had more than three cars. The real train used the MP15 for motive power and as the cab in one direction. The FA cab was unpowered and used to control the train in the opposite direction. As I understand it, the MP15 / FA combo has not been used for a while.

In the world of model railroading, it is not unusual to find locomotives painted in liveries that were not prototypical for their type. I remember a few years ago a company called IHC had HO models of the FM C-Liner painted in every scheme possible. The real locomotives only had a handful of road names. IHC had at least 15. The real corker was Marx, who produced tenders for their low-priced steamers with Penn Central painted on the side. K-Line was doing nothing unusual in having some of its MP15s in road names that never had them. For most, this is not an issue.

And for those who insist on prototypical realism, a reminder that they have to do their own fact finding. They cannot rely on model train makers to get it right.

That MP15 switcher by K-line is a real gem, and it was priced just right. As I understand it, a company called RMT is planning to offer a remake of them. RMT has been able to buy items from China made with the old k-Line tooling. Will they be as good? You tell me. I have enough MP15s to keep my railroad in good order, so future purchases of the switcher from other makers are unlikely.