Tuesday, March 31, 2015

For Fans of O, O27 and S trains

Our CDs sold out, and now we have these DVDs. They contain all of the same great information plus more! Among the additional items are classic Lionel booklets. These include all of the following titles:

Train Layout Planning Book for Pop
Romance of Model Railroading with Lionel Trains
Scenic Effects for Model Railroads: Lionel Trains
Official Book of Model Railroading by Lionel
Fun with Lionel Model Railroading
Lionel Track Layouts

If you are running O, O27 or S trains, this DVD is a must. It has Lionel and American Flyer instruction manuals for trains and accessories, as well as guide to building layouts, making track plans, and a whole section of genuine information from real railroads.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: Parade and Marching Men

My grandmother kept a shoebox full of toy soldiers in the living room. Boys played with them when they visited. There was various army men in different shades of olive drab, a couple of Indians, some cowboys and a few other odd pieces. My cousin was a very small boy at the time. He loved to open the box of soldiers and line up all the marching men. That would amuse him for hours.

Those of us who spent seemingly endless hours marching the parade fields of Fort Dix and similar places know it all too well, Whether marching unarmed or under arms, it was part of military life. And for those of us who belong to veteran’s organizations now, the old marching skills get put to work on Memorial Day and July 4th and Veterans’ Day. Some groups march unarmed, some with rifles, and almost all have a few flags at the front.

Marching has been used by military forces ever since someone discovered that it was the easiest way to move troops with the assurance they would all arrive together. The sharp turning maneuvers were useful for controlling units of troops in battle when men fought in close formations. A side benefit was that marching taught endurance and discipline.

Part of marching was the manual of arms, a set of precise movements for both armed and unarmed drill. There were different ways to hold the rifle, to change direction, and to stand in formation. The same goes for cavalry. Marching, parade and the manual of arms were adapted to horse riders. Naturally, these appealed to the makers of toy soldiers. Sets of brightly-painted parade figures made their appearance. The old makers of flats designed everything from the ancient Egyptians on parade to the latest armies of the day. Parade poses are common in the metal figure sets. Collectors of the regiments of various armies favor them.

Over time, armies went three ways when it came to uniforms. They had a combat uniform for fighting, a fatigue uniform for work details, and a parade uniform for drill and ceremonies. Of them all, the latter was considered formal and therefore was more ornate than the others. Miniatures of armies in parade dress
has been an aspect of the toy soldier hobby that has a large following.

Of course, this was not limited to metal figures. Herald produced its sets of British Guardsmen. including the red-coated Coldstream Guards in Busbys and the Horse Guards in curaiss and shiny helmet. Britains made many sets of parade units in vinyl, including regular marchers and bands. Things went a different way with army men sold by the bag. A few men in marching poses might be included, but most of the figures were in action poses. A boy might need two or three bags to have enough marchers to fill a squad.


I remember when the Airfix HO / OO soldiers were first introduced to my neighborhood half a century ago. There were German infantry, an Allied Infantry Combat Group and a handful of others. Among them were Coldstream Guards in red and a Guards "Colour Party" in a pinkish color. We called them "parade men." Back then, they were less desirable than a case of Minesweepers and Dead Guys.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Murphy the Dog

(This post is not hobby related but it is such a funny story I thought I would share it here)

Up the country, my grandparents had a beagle named Murphy. He was a fun-loving dog. He could also be vindictive. For instance:

My brother and I had toy bazookas that shot a hollow little projectile. They did not do any damage or have much impact. We decided to use the dog for target practice, seeing as the hollow projectiles would not hurt him. The spring-loaded toys could hit a dog-sized target at about ten feet. Murphy did not like our bazookas. After an afternoon of being bazooka-ed, he had enough.

The dog slept in the garage in warm weather. There was a cool spot in there that he favored. Keep in mind that most homes were not air conditioned in those days. My grandmother even made a dog bed for him there. We left out bazookas in the garage with other toys. Next morning, the bazookas were ruined. The dog had ripped apart the cardboard tubes. Nothing else in the garage was disturbed. When we complained, we got in trouble for annoying the dog.

Another time, my cousins came up the country. Patty was about five years older than me, Jimmy was seven years older. They were throwing a football around. Being that much older than me, they were not going to include me in anything. Murphy was out there running loose. He wanted to play, too.

One of the cousins threw the ball and it hit the ground. Murphy pounced on it and got the end in his mouth. The football was half his size. They started yelling and chased him. Murphy outran the two of them and made a beeline for the woods. Patty and Jimmy lost him. It was as if that little dog struck a blow for both os us, because it amused me that they were so upset. The beagle made a fool of them. As far as I am concerned, Patty and jimmy deserved it. Irish justice!

Several years later, I was up in the woods in back of the house. I noticed something in a slight dip in the ground. Coming closer, there was something with a slightly oval shape, too regular to be natural. On closer inspection it turned out to be an utterly deflated, rotten, moldy football. The nearest houses were a quarter mile away, so there was only one way it got there. Murphy’s revenge!

Murphy was a great dog!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Standard toy Soldier Poses: the Dead Guy

Combat causes casualties. Infantrymen know this all too well. A fact of life in combat is the possibility of getting wounded or killed.

Several makers of toy soldiers decided to illustrate this in miniature. Included in the set of riflemen and machine gunners and grenade throwers was a tragic pose .He is "the dead guy." He is posed either lying on the ground or staggering back.

For kids, the dead guy was perhaps the most useless figure of all.

Herald was one of the first with a Dead guy. He is a soldier in 1950s kit with SLR rifle in hand. His free arm is raised and he is bent backwards. The intent it to make him look as if he had just caught a bullet.

Marx followed suit with an officer in a similar pose, albeit armed with a pistol. The same set had a crawling guy holding a bandage over his chest. Not quite Dead, perhaps, but in the same category as far as toy soldiers. Useless, as little boys see it.

Several companions made casualties of "enemy" figures/. Marx produced a Japanese soldier being hit ands a fallen German casualty. British makes did the same in their German toy soldier sets.

Realism or a useless addition? The Dead guy is for diorama makers. Those playing with plastic or metal Army men have no real place for him.

Fixability and O Gauge Trains

Many new trains that are only four or five years old are sidelined indefinitely. Owners cannot get parts, Replacement boards are not available. Meanwhile, owners of original Marx, Postwar and MPC Lionel can take "lost causes" and have them running almost as good as new. Parts for the older trains are available. Why do the modern trains have so much trouble?

Perhaps a change in culture and technology tells part of the tale. There was a time when every neighborhood had a fix-it shop. The owner was a master at repairing appliances. He could fix a toaster, repair a lamp, or get the vacuum cleaner working correctly. People with broken items came to him. He had his various tools, electrical tape, all kinds of wire and cabinets with all kinds of screws and nuts and spare parts. There were no electronic boards to snap in or out in those days. Indeed, appliances were made very sturdy so that they would last. Part of their manufacture included making them fixable. People did not throw things away the way they do today.

Akin to the fix-it shop was the TV and Radio repair. The shop had all kinds of tools and testing equipment. It also had a stock of every kind of tube and component available at the time. A good technician could diagnose a problem in seconds and start to work on the repair. The broken TV, radio or record player would be back ot normal. Old TVs, radios and electrical gadgets were made to be repairable.

The cost of repair was far less than the cost to replace the entire unit, be it an electric egg beater or a console TV. These stores started to phase out in the late 70s. What hurt them were the new products with"Planned obsolescence" that could not eb repaired. They could only be thrown out and replaced.

Lionel Prewar, Postwar, MPC, Marx and American Flyer trains were designed in the era when things were fixable. In the Kughn era of Lionel, fixability went out as they sought cheaper ways to remake classic trains. The move from mechanical E-units to electronic ones was significant. Mechanical E units could be fixed. Electronic ones had to be disposed and replaced.

Cheap plastic gears and other cost-cutting measures also eroded repair-ability.

Having already heard of people whose treasured locomotives from several years ago have become shelf queens, I feel fairly certain this will become a much bigger problem in five years.

I predict that part of the problem will be solved by some electronic genius who can make a general set of replacement boards that are cheap and easy to install. They might not have all the features, but they will have enough to draw customers. You can be sure his boards will be stronger and made to last. If he backs that up with great customer service, a lot of shelf queens will become runners again.

Another side market will be those who find a way to repair and restore new trains. What with the emerging 3-D printers, parts will be easily replicated. Granted that most 3-d printing available to the public has been of plastic. New materials such as metals will be available in a few years.

As a nation and a culture, we need to return to the mindset that builds fixability into the things it makes. The disposable technology is not doing us any good. It is choking our landfills, depleting our bank accounts and feeding into insanity of a merchant-driven society. Making things that can be repaired and upgraded mauy not seem as profitable. In the end, it is the only reasonable way to proceed. With the coming of 3D printers and scanners, things will slide toward fixability as the technology becomes affordable. I believe that manufacturers will have no choice but to return to making repairable goods.

Spare parts will be as easy as downloading a CAD file online.


Despite all the fancy details, sounds and command control in new locomotives, they cannot match the reliability of the old trains. The proof of quality is obvious. 70-year-old electric trains are running smoothly while their modern counterparts are becoming shelf ornaments. The old trains ran and ran. Any breakdown could be remedied. Modern locomotives seem not to run as long. Repairs and placement parts are rare.

I find it amusing that the $1,000 locomotive sits on a shelf for lack of replacement parts, while the old Lionel #671 you can get off Ebay for under $100 will run almost as wel las the day it left the factory.

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: The BAR and :Light Machine Gun

Light machine guns found their place in World War I. Such weapons as the Lewis Gun, Chaucat and German MG08 were intended to give machine guns an offensive capability. They allowed troops to move forward and start firing almost immediately. Heavy machine guns were more defensive in nature. Moving them forward took time, several men, and required emplacing them all over again.

By World War II, most modern armies of the day had developed a light machine gun for use in their infantry platoons. The weapon was standard in the infantry squads of the United States, the British Commonwealth, France, Italy., German, Japan and Soviet Russia. Each had its own version, from the handy Browning Automatic Rifle of the Americans to the more ponderous MG 34 and MG42 of the Germans.

Some of these weapons became iconic, such as the top-loaded Bren Gun used by the British and the saucer-shaped magazine atop the Russian Degtyarev machine gun. The BAR, Bren and Degtyarev were much more portable than the belt-fed German machine guns. Soldiers armed with them Allied weapons could fire and advance at the same time. That is not as easy with a belt-fed machine gun/

Where the heavy machine gun is mounted on a large tripod, its lighter version tends to have a small bipod in front. This gives the weapon more stability. The light machine gun may be light as machine guns go, but it is heavier than the average rifle. The barrel tends to be much heavier.

Light Machine gun and automatic rifle tactics varied. German squads let riflemen pin down the enemy so the machine gun could finish them off. American squads lt the auto rifle / light machine gun provide suppressive fire while the riflemen picked them off.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Review: Railroads of New Jersey: Fragments of the Past in the Garden State Landscape by Lorett Treese

While doing some research on New Jersey Shortlines, I found a few brief references to Railroads of New Jersey by Lorett Treese. I was curious and tried to find a copy online. As the book was published almost ten years ago, it had gone the way of popular rail books. Collector prices were double the list price, and higher. So I did my usual thing: wait. And soon enough, I found a new copy was available and at a small discount

Railroads of New Jersey: Fragments of the Past in the Garden State Landscape was not quite what I expected. In fact, the book was very different from the usual railroad-oriented texts. I wondered at first is this were not a light tourist guide for the very casual railfan. In fact, it was anything but light. Lorett Treese presented the history and current state of New Jersey railroading in a very different and refreshing manner.

To begind with, the state is divided into seven regions These are Skylands -Northwest, Delaware River -southwest, Gateway - Northeast, Shore Area - Monmouth and Ocean counties, Greater Atlantic City (that’s a contradiction) and Southers Shore at the bottom of the state. Treese covers each one from various angles, including histories of several of their prominent railroads, a few notable personalities, travel notes, current railroad activity and rail trails.

This is not your usual dry history.  It is like reading good stories from the viewpoint of someone who has visited the area.

Railroads of New Jersey gives you the feel of railroads in New Jersey from its beginnings to its present state. Most railroad books do not do that well.  They get caught up in numbers and details. You get the facts, but not much feel. Railroads of New Jersey gives a very different and refreshing view.

Treese also covers the railroads that mattered: Erie, Lackawanna, Jersey Central, the Pennsylvania, Reading and Lehigh Valley.  She also covers a lot of the smaller ones, and some short lines that became big lines. If you want the finer details such as locomotive rosters, you will have to look elsewhere. Railroads of New Jersey takes a different track, and does it well.

BTW - Lorrett Treese also wrote a book called Railroads of Pennsylvania. In fact, she wrote that one first


More book reviews will be coming!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: The Flamethrower Guy

One of the more spectacular weapons is the flamethrower. Films from actual combat are quite stunning, insofar as jets of flame. Whether carried on a backpack or mounted in a tank, the Flamethrower is both fascinating and terrifying

Mankind has used flame weapons since ancient times. Flaming arrows were used to cause terror and ignite fires among the enemy ranks. Pots of burning pitch were hurled by trebuchets at fortresses and formations of troops. Greek fire was used against ships. Boiling oil, very often lit afire, was poured from castle battlements upon besieging troops.

In World War I, the Germans introduced the flamethrower as a shock weapon. It was used by their elite Storm troop units. By the end of the warm, the flamethrower found a place in the arsenals of all armies. Most considered it a combat engineer’s weapon for clearing our enemy emplacements.

Until World War II, the flamethrowers spurted burning oil. That was replaced with jellied gasoline. which stuck to its target and burned longer.

The problem with the flamethrower was that it was big enough to call attention to oneself. A bullet that clipped a flamethrower could ignite it, killing the flamethrower man and anyone near him with his own weapon. That is one of the reasons flamethrowers were eventualyl repalced with weapons that shot incendiary projectiles.
The Flamethrower Guy

One of the more spectacular weapons is the flamethrower. Films from actual combat are quite stunning, insofar as jets of flame. Whether carried on a backpack or mounted in a tank, the Flamethrower is both fascinating and terrifying

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: The Heavy Machine Gunner

No weapon did as much to change the modern battlefield as the heavy machine gun. American troops first encountered them during the Spanish-American War. Machine guns changed things so much in World War I that troops had to resort to trenches for safety. The weapons were considered so powerful that several armie4s regarded them as artillery. This is not to say that there had not been other machine guns. The American Gatling Gun and French Mitrailleuse were two examples of early automatic weapons.

American Infantry companies of World War II included a heavy weapons platoon with three 60mm mortars and three .30 caliber heavy machine guns. Machine guns could be so placed that their fields of fire overlapped, making a lethal and almost impenetrable kill zone. Dead;ly as they were, the heavy machine gun had one drawback. It was primarily a defensive weapon that requires several men to operate and move.

Thanks to the automobile, machine guns could br used offensively. Mounting them in armored vehicles, trucks and cars gave machine guns the mobility to move forward quickly. A small armored vehicle known as a tankette was developed by several countries between the world wars. the size of a large automobile, tracked and lightly armored, it was thought the tankette could act as a mobile machine gun position. Tankettes proved too lightly armored and lacking in mobility to survive the battlefield. Once the war started, most were either scrapped or converted to other uses.

The heavy machine gunner in the bag of army men was regarded as a source of endless firepower.It was thought that a heavy machine gun could shoot continuously so long as it had ammunition. Little boys did not know of overheated barrels, at least until we were old enough to enlist. Our srill instructors made sure we understood the hows and whys of changing a machine-gun;’s barrel.

Several things were tried to deal with overheating. A water-filled jacket was used initially. By World War I, most armies had water-cooled machine guns. The Russians went so far as to include a small hatch into which snow or ice could be inserted. At war’s end, air-cooled machine guns also appeared. They did not totally replace their water-cooled counterparts until after World War II.

These days, light machine guns have replaced the old weapons. Heavy machine guns are mounted on vehicles. Water-cooled machine guns are all in museums. Nonetheless, the need of sustained automatic fire remains a part of modern combat.


Making a prone heavy machine gunner was a challenge for toy soldier makers. An unusual configuration emerged. Variants of it are found in Bergen / Beton. Tim Mee, and Ajax sets.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: The Radio Guy

Little boys do not fully understand the matter of field communication. They have yet to learn of such things as calling in artillery or calling for medevac. So it is that in the set of fighting soldiers, the radio guy is usually out there with the binoculars guy and minesweeper.

Man-carried radios first became practical in World War II. They have been a mainstay of combat units ever since then. The most common types are pack radios, though smaller types have been employed. The "walkie talkie" was a smaller hand-held radio in its day. Actually, it was the size of a shoebox. Smaller squad radios appeared in the Vietnam era. Neither they nor the walkie talkies had the range and power of a pack radio.

In real life, the radio guy is a necessity. The radio links a small unit with the larger. It gives access to all kinds of support. Radio can send a warning of unexpected conditions or call for additional firepower. Communication is essential.

Little boys preferred the shooting guy and the bazooka men and other weapon handlers. For playtime, the radio guy became a crewman on a howitser or some other back-of-the-lines work. Then again, who needs communication when your entire side of the battle is all in your own head?

The radio man is an essential part of every platoon. He is also a prime target for the enemy. In our day ,we were taught that if confronting the Russians, to get the radio man. Unlike us, who had all been familiarized with radio communication, only a designated radio operator was trained to handle the Russian radio. I don’t know if that has changed.

Milk Runs

Reading about the Pemberton and Hightstown, Lackawanna, M&NJ and NYO&W railroads, and the business of milk invariably surfaces. Milk could be considered white gold. It was a valuable commodity and remains so to this day.

The Port Orange Road, colloquially known as "the Wilsey" half a century ago, runs between route 209 and 211 a few miles from Otisville, NY. Near 209, a family of dairymen named Midosh, or Mydosh, had their home. The NYO&W track to Port Jervis ran about 50 feet away. Alongside the track were stone remains of what may have been a platform. Beside them was what looked at first liek a shallow foundation made of fieldstone. It was maybe 15 feet long and 8 to 10 feet wide, and only a couple feet deep. This was actually a cistern fed by a spring. Cans of milk would be placed there to keep it cold until the train arrived.

I have not actually visited this spot in close to 40 years.

The railroads were so good at handling milk that there would be only 1 degree of temperature change by the time it was unloaded. Of course, the word did not end there. Glass-lined refrigerated cars used to haul milk had to be steam cleaned. As little as a drop of milk left to sour could spoil a whole load.

Milk has been considered a form of wealth since ancient times. Excess milk could be traded ,sold, or made into butter and cheese to be sold later. It not only provided food for a family, but enough of it provided extra income. Modern dairies have refined the process to handle milk and create a range of food products: cream, skim milk, cheese, butter ice cream, etc.

The milk runs were usually done in conjunction with local passenger service. Milk cars would be among the other head-end cars. Railroads could pick up a load of milk quickly, so that there was no delay for passengers. The Lackawanna used its own fleet of glass-lined cars. When milk was picked up in milk cans, a regular refrigerated car was employed.

The milk runs ended for the railroad a long time ago. Trucks handle it nowadays. Most of the larger dairies are cooperatives of many independent farms. Trucks come right to the dairy rather than the farmer scrambling to meet the train. Milk is one of several commodities that had been valuable to the railroad, but are long since lost to other forms of transportation.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Standard Toy Soldier Poses: The Tommy Gunner

Those of us of a certain age remember a frequent item in adventure movies and TV shows. Be it a gangster flick like "The Untouchables" or a World War II movie, the Thompson submachine gun was there. The iconic weapon spurted out long bursts of .45 caliber ammunition. It could cut down gangsters, bootleggers, German soldiers and Japanese marines.

Submachine guns were devised for use in trench warfare. They were intended to be a "trench broom", sweeping away enemy defenders. In fact, the first real workout for the submachine gun was by American gangsters. The fast-firing weapons were popular with bootleggers, racketeers and bank robbers of the 1920s and 1930s. Gunmen like John Dillinger were among the first to use submachine guns against armed adversaries.

The Thompson submachine gun was an American invention. It was first supplied to US Marines and sold to the British Army. Germany developed several submachine guns such as the Erma and Bergmann. They settled on the MP38 and MP40 weapons. These were cheaply made, using mostly stamped-metal parts. The United States produced its own cheap all-metal submachine gun, the M3 "Grease gun" in 1942. Britain developed the cheaply-made Sten Gun. Russia’s equivalent was the Ppsh "burp gun".

The submachine gun is an automatic weapon, magazine fed, that fires pistol ammunition. American weapons favored the .45 caliber. British and Western European submachine guns tended more toward 9mm. The advantage was the amount of firepower these weapons produced. What they had in volume of fire, they lacked in rage and breaking power.*

In World War II, submachine guns were generally issued to NCOs, especially Squad leaders, paratroopers and crews of tanks. They were popular in house-to-house and jungle fighting. With the advent of assault rifles, submachine guns were less common. Today, they are used mainly by law enforcement and security personnel. Their lack of penetrating power makes them ideal for use by police..

For boys in the old days, a Tommy gunner was a popular figure. He had a lot of firepower and he looked cool. Weapons such as the M16 and AK47 with their capacity for semi-automatic and full automatic fire have made submachine guns obsolete except for special situations.

You can learn more of light automatic weapons here: http://www.thortrains.com/getright/shootlmg.html


* It must be noted that Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde, and Frank Hamer, the man who ended his crime spree, both favored the Browning Automatic Rifle over submachine guns. The BAR fired rifle ammunition, which could penetrate walls and break the engine block of cars and trucks. It was more accurate and could do more damage at a much greater range than any submachine gun.

The Motivation Behind Railroads

Many a railroad was financed by the folks who would be its best customers. Early railroads were planned for various reasons. One was to make it easier to get goods to a wider market. The Lackawanna Railroad originated so that its owners could get their coal and iron to the bigger cities. The Morristown and Erie, originally the Whippany River Railroad, was begun to benefit the paper mills in the area.

Sometimes things worked the other way. Several railroads were started to bring people rather than ship to them. The Tuckerton Railroad was started to bring vacationers to Barnegat Bay and Long Beach Island. Railroads to Atlantic City and Long Branch had the same purpose. Soon after the railroads arrived, land speculators came to capitalize on the situation. They were almost always the same fellows who put up the money to build the railroad!

Then there were railroads that supported other busiesses. For a time, the Tuckerton Railroad brought folks who would be passengers on steamboats going to Long Beach Island. The men who helped start the railroad happened to own those boats. The Monmouth County Agricultural Railroad, later the Freehold and Keyport, had steamboat captains among its backers. They moored at Keyport and would take freight form the railroad to New York City. The other backers were farmers and produce brokers wanting to get their goods to the bigger market in the City.

A peculiarity of the 19th Century is that the money men backing a specific railroad would have other things in common. For instance, almost all of the founders of the Lackawanna railroad were Presbyterian. In fact, a dispute between two of them, Phelps and Dodge, was taken to a religious court at one point. The folks behind the Tuckerton Railroad, such as Barclay Haines and the Pharo family, were all Quakers. It was obviously a religious thing that no train ran on Sundays on several of the railroads until much later. That was the case for the Lackawanna and the Tuckerton, among others. And it certainly limited passenger travel to resorts for a weekend visit. At one point, folks coming to Long Beach island for Saturday would not be able to get a train out until Tuesday.


The community in which I sit, Freehold Borough, has its own amusing rail history. It was the starting point of the Monmouth County Agricultural Railroad, later the Freehold and Keyport. Mos tw of what was shipped out in its early years were famr products ,especially potatoes. These were not like the ones in the supermarket today. Called White Giants, they were the size of a football. The White Giants were easier to process back then. Later came the Rothschild shirt company which lasted to about 1904, to be replaced by the Kharageusian Rug factory. The factory closed in 1964, At one time, it employed almost 2,000 people.

The Freehold & Keyport, also known as the Freehold and New York, was absorbed by the Jersey Central. That was an improvement.

On the other side of town, the Pennsylvania Railroad serviced the Barkeley Cannery on what is now Manalapan Avenue. They specialized in beans. Freehold had its own musical fruit factory!