Friday, April 10, 2015

REVIEW: Model Railroading with MTH Electric Trains by Ron Adelman

Model Railroading with MTH Electric Trains by Ron Adelman 2002 text Ron Adleman, 2002 design Krause publications

Though over 12 years old, Model Railroading with MTH Electric Trains by Ron Edelman still applies to newcomers today. Make no bones about it: the title says it all. The focus is on using MTH products for model railroads. There are no materials on other track systems or tools. The book is about MTH trains, RealTrax, MTH power supplies and DCS. The Forward, Chapter 1 Introduction and Chapter 2 History of MTH Electric Trains all promote the brand and put it in its most favorable light.

Subsequent chapters handle the stages of putting together a model railroad with MTH equipment. There is plenty of good information on track work and track planning, building the platform for a layout, and then setting up tracks, wiring and scenery. Adelman uses a 4' by 8' layout based on Santa Fe’s Raton Pass as an example of how it is done. He describes the trackplan and scenery as well as the lineside industries. Included is a chapter on how to use MTH’s Railware track planning software. A form of RR-Track, it is an easy system to learn and gives great results.

There is plenty of good advice, from building your railroad with a purpose to the benefits of researching real railroads. A person could learn to make a very good layout based on the information contained in Model Railroading with MTH Electric Trains.

Illustrations were not numbered, but their placement on pages mitigated that. All the illustrations were in the right place with accompanying text. Navigating my way through the book was easy.

The section on the MTH DCS command system was well-done. A person could read it over and be able to set up the basic configuration. Some books talk about command systems. This one showed how to use it.

Another chapter had a "Dispatcher game" for simulating real railroading. The book ended with an interview of Tony Lash, who was something of a hero among MTH fans for having a massive layout. Like I said at the start, this book was an MTH project intended to carry MTH’s message through and through.

For someone who wants to use MTH equipment throughout, Model Railroading with MTH Electric Trains by Ron Edelman is worth consulting. The materials is presented well and the accompanying illustrations are excellent. By the same token, it is dated. I do not know the state of MTH’s Railware nor what improvements have been made to DCS in the past dozen years. Since it does not appear that other books introducing newcomers to MTH model railroading are out there at this time, Model Railroading with MTH Electric Trains might be the only game in town

The focus is on Realtrax, and the appendices include ten different track plans that can be copied or adapted using Railware. Keep in mind that this information is 12 years old, and newer equipment might be available. As a primer on MTH, Model Railroading with MTH Electric Trains by Ron Edelman can’t be beat. Even a dozen years later....


In the matter of MTH versus Lionel and RealTrax versus FasTrack, I am not involved. I have loads of tubular rails and switches which I use. For those unfamiliar with the doings around O Gauge, MTH and Lionel have been engaged in a fierce rivalry for a long time. Among their customers, each has a small stable of diehard fans who love their favorite and hate the other. These hardcore fans’ intensity reaches that of religious fanatics at times. And with my background in religion and esoteric spirituality, let me tell you that such fervor is rare outside the fields of religion and politics.

The plain fact is that MTH and modern Lionel can make a nice train. I have bought from both on several occasions. I would not have bought more than once if I thought they made junk. Most of what I have from MTH and Modern Lionel are rolling stock. There are a few locomotives such as the Chessie F3 and Docksider by MTH, and the train set 4-4-2 and PA by modern Lionel.

With MTH and Lionel and anything else, be your own judge. Don’t let these partisan fanatics drive you away from one or toward the other. Buy what you like. With competition, you have choices.

I would like to get a recent version of MTH’s Railware for a future review.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

REVIEW: The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher, 2nd Edition, 2011 (1st edition, 2004)

The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher, 2nd Edition, 2011 (1st edition, 2004)

When Barnes and Noble offered copies of The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher for $8.98, I jumped on it. The book supposedly covered Fastrack and the Lionel Legacy system. I was curious to get a few good facts about both. Having read an earlier work by this author, The Lionel Train Book from 1986, I felt assured I would get the information I wanted.

Indeed, The Big Book of Lionel starts out boldly. It goes right into trackwork, floor layouts, impromptu layouts and permanent ones. Trackplans with wiring are illustrated. Many were taken from earlier Lionel works, such as the instruction manuals and the Model Builder. (Track plans from 1940's Handbook for Model Builders have shown up in subsequent Lionel works as well as those by K-Line and others.) All of these are shown with the standard O gauge tubular track system that had been a staple for Lionel for about 100 years. Fastrack was mentioned in passing throughout most of The Big Book of Lionel. All illustrated track plans were for Lionel O tubular rail.

The work takes the reader through layout building, conventional wiring for blocks, signals, switches and even a few illustrated pieces showing how to wire TMCC. There is advice to use the widest curves possible so as to run Lionel’s longest full-scale O locomotives and passenger cars. Schleicher reads like an advocate for Lionel’s biggest, feature-laden (and most expensive) trains.

By the time you get to the section about locomotives, you might come to the conclusion that the author bleeds orange and drools blue. The Big Book of Lionel is 100% pro-Lionel and does not have a contrary thing to say about the company or any of its products. Mention is made of outside scenery makers Scenic Express and Woodland Scenics, but there is not a single word about Lionel’s competitors or their products. If The Big Book of Lionel were your only introduction to O Gauge, you might get the impression that Lionel was the only game in town.

Schleicher includes tips on everything from troubleshooting locomotives, switches and track to repainting old freight cars. He covers operating cars and action accessories. This is where lineside industries get mentioned. Amid all this, the author includes his "waybill" game for directing model freight operations. Advice on scenery ends with a discussion of structures, including basic weathering techniques. So far so good.

My major beef with the book to this point was that illustrations were not numbered. Any reference to a track plan or other items was given by chapter number. You had to read the track plan description to figure out which plan he meant. That was not easy when the reader was sent to Chapter 4 for a plan that was actually in Chapter 3. Equally frustrating was trying to figure out which plan he meant when the descriptions were similar. Even an experienced track-planner like me found this confusing. Using an illustration or page number would have been so much easier. The author or the editors dropped the ball. In my opinion, a major flaw, especially for a book aimed at newcomers.

A second criticism was the focus on layouts using the widest curve to the exclusion of layouts for tight spaces. Schleicher left no room for Lionel’s smaller cars and locomotives, nor for packing action into a smaller space. What with many apartment and condominium dwellers out there, such layouts would have given them greater access to O gauge.

The cover of The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher makes a conspicuous announcement: Includes FasTrack! Indeed, there was a whole chapter about Fastrack added to the text. Following it was a chapter on Lionel’s Legacy system. Fastrack started getting popular around 2004, when Lionel placed it in all of its train sets. It competed against MTH’s RealTrax, which had been issued in MTH train sets starting in 1998 or 1999. Both types of modular rail had become very popular.

I mentioned that in previous chapters, Fastrack was spoken of mainly in passing. There were a few statements covering some of its attributes. I fully expected the FasTrack chapter to give more complete coverage. Granted that the track was discussed, explained and illustrated. However, in the whole book, there was not a single track plan drawn for FasTrack. The author’s only suggestion was to buy another book which he had written about Fastrack Layouts. He even advised people not use FasTrack plans on the Internet because of possible flaws. "Buy my other book" just does not cut it.

The last chapter described the Legacy system and how it was an improvement over TMCC. Some specific details were given.

The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher is a good book. It has a lot of very good information presented in a way that should delight newcomers. It is not a great book. The problems of navigating pages by use of cumbersome descriptions is poor editing. Likewise, what with FasTrack being popular since 2004, the lack of track plans specific to the track system is an omission too big to bear. I wonder if it was done intentionally to divert customers to his other book. Nowadays when tubular is rarely used by newcomers, all the space devoted to tubular plans seems almost anachronistic in a work aimed ar beginners.

I have a feeling Barnes & Noble offered the sale price to make room for a new edition, or clear out excess stock. At the $8.98 price offered by the bookseller, it was well worth the price. Frankly, I do not think The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher would be worth the suggested list price of $29+.


I have always used tubular rail and will continue to do so. By the same token, I see the popularity of FasTrack and realize that it is a product that must be addressed. As for TMCC, Legacy and MTH’s competing DCS, nobody talks of the price factor. That stuff is expensive. It adds $100 to the cost of locomotives equipped with it. The various elements of the systems are themselves expensive and can add hundreds to the cost of a layout. I had tried TMCC on a club layout years ago and thought it was ponderous and overpriced. Any supposed benefits were not worth the cost., My opinion has not changed.

O gauge could become a rich man’s hobby/ The push for longer, scale trains, complex electronics and massive layouts ignores the average fellow with limited space and a limited budget. Folks ran their trains conventionally for 100 years and many continue to do so today. I am one of them

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: The Lionel Train Book by Robert Schleicher,

The Lionel Train Book by Robert Schleicher, edited by John W. Brady ©1986 Lionel Trains, inc

(This is one of the first books Robert Schleicher wrote for folks getting started with Lionel trains. I am reviewing it as a prelude to reviewing his later word, The Big Book of Lionel, revised and updated in 2011.)

First, let it be known that the Lionel "How to Operate Lionel Trains and Accessories" manuals were excellent. They were included in train sets from the 1940s to the 1970s. They all followed the same basic format, from starting and basic track work to building a model railroad. Lionel supported them with other small publications that focused on everything from track layouts to essentials of railroading.

How I ended up with a copy of The Lionel Train Book, I cannot remember. In this I am like many rail hobbyists. The way a few books came into the home library is forgotten. They may have been a gift or part of a larger order some time ago.

The Lionel Train Book includes most of that good Lionel "old school" information. This book was written in what hobbyists know as the MPC era. At that time, tubular track was the norm for O and O27 gauge trains. There was no command control or digital railroad sounds. Train control was a matter of wiring track in blocks. Wiring was conventional. Trains and accessories used the same electrical mechanisms as they had for over 40 years (at the time). Only a few very new accessories had been added since the original Lionel folded in 1969*.

So why bother?

The Lionel Train Book does not read like a manual. Its manner is more conversational. It begins with a feel for Lionel trains and the company that made them. Then, the book delves into aspects of Lionel train operation such as trackwork, wiring, blocks, transformers and all the essentials. The bonus is that it goes further into layout building, toy train operation and scenery. Many things that were barely touched by the old manuals are covered well in the Lionel Train Book.

The book uses design and building of a 4 by 6 foot layout to illustrate some of its techniques. The layout is a tubular pike, using mostly O27 track and a few pieces of regular 31-inch O. It would handle the smaller types of O27 trains best. Supplementing these are layouts and plans clipped from older Lionel materials.

For its time, the Lionel Train Book was an excellent text for those getting into the hobby. Copies are hard to find and may be sold at collector prices. Then again, there have been other books written since then that are more up-to-date insofar as O gauge and technology. (Keep in mind that I am doing this review as a prelude to his 2004 / 2011 work "The Big Book of Lionel")

*Lionel has been through several incarnations. The original company ran from 1900 to 1960, when it was acquired by Roy Cohn. Yes, that Roy Cohn. He owned it from 1960 to 1969, when it went bankrupt. Corporately, it was the same entity under Cohn’s control. In 1970, tooling and trademarks were leased by General Mills, who put Lionel Trains under its MPC model kit subsidiary. This would be Lionel’s second incarnation. Lionel was bought by collector Richard Kughn in 1986. He sold it to an investment group called Wellpsrings in 1994. It has had a few revisions since them.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Lesson in Leadership

I have recently been examining the histories of short line railroads. It is part of a hobby project. The short line railroads all operated in this region at one time or another. Unlike the massive railroads like the Santa Fe and Union Pacific with thousands of miles of track, most short lines are lucky if all their rail adds up to 20 miles.

One thing that kept coming to the forefront was a matter of personality. At one point or another, a short line would thrive and surmount almost any obstacle. The line may have had hard times previously, and may even have failed years afterward. Nonetheless, it experienced a time of success that stood out. The one thing that all of the short lines had in common during their best times was an uncommon excellence in leadership. Very often, it was the will and insight of one individual in a leadership position that guided a short line railroad through a period of its greatest success.

I am reminded fo what General John Pershing said about leadership. He stated: "A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops."

John Pershing was an amazing leader. In World War I, he not only led our Army, but managed to negotiate the political quagmire of dealing with our French and British allies. Pershing had been leading men for years before the World War. We can trust his estimation of the impact of leaders on their troops. The situation with short line railroads confirms the verity of General Pershing’s statement. A good leader makes a rinky-dink railroad thrive, and a bad leader can sink a giant railroad.

One such dynamic leader was George Clark of the Rahway Valley Railroad. Clark had experience in railroading in the West. He was brought in to run the Rahway Valley Railroad. Where leaders of big railroads sit atop several levels of bureaucracy, a small line improves with hands-on leadership. George Clark knew it. He was able to do every job on the railroad and understood every aspect from billing and paperwork to loading boxcars by hand. Clark was innovative and practical, He could see the rising competition from trucking and worked to mitigate its adverse effects on the Rahway Valley Railroad. The man had no pretensions about his small railroad, the competition ,and what it took to survive. Clark surrounded himself with good, reliable people. He was decisive and thoughtful.

When George Clark retired, his son took over his job. George Jr. had learned well and had the same traits as his father. Unfortunately, he died three years after assuming command of the Rahway Valley Railroad. No replacement could match Clark’s talented leadership. Today, the Rahway Valley Railroad is gone.

Another small railroad with good leadership was the Morristown and Erie. It stared with a character named Melnick whose railroad construction methods were haphazard, at best. The McEwan family took the reigns and everything improved. The McEwans were successful owners of paper mills in the region. Their business acumen set the Morristown and Erie Railroad in a profitable direction. The Morristown and Erie was able to survive against competition from trucking in the mid-20th century and the closing of plants that had been its customers. As with George Clark of the Rahway Valley railroad, the McEwans were up to all challenges.

In the 1960s, a new regime took over. Led by Andrew Cobb, it proved a disaster, Cobb and his crew started investign in non-transportation entities. They led the Morristown & Erie to bankruptcy. Fortunately ,the person charged with maintaining things under bankruptcy proved capable. The railroad was then acquired by Thomas Peterson. With Ben Friedland, he revived the Morristown and Erie. The small railroad thrives to this day, despite competition and changing markets. Good leadership accounts for a large part of it.

Here is a case where the experiences of short-line railroading confirm General Pershing’s insightful quote about leadership. Be it armies or trains or other businesses, leadership calls the tune. A good leader can make a rinky-dink operation succeed. History also shows that a bad leader can sink a first-class operation. Consider this carefully, because it is often the difference between success and collapse.


There is a booklet available about the history of the Rahway Valley Railroad. Here is the link: