Archive for November, 2009

Railroad Signaling

November 29, 2009

A member of a Yahoo group on railroad signals has an interesting Web site here. There are PDFs of manuals for downloading although the one I wanted downloaded as a blank page. I’ve notified the site owner in the hope that it can be fixed. There’s something for everyone interested in the prototype on models.


Budd passenger car models by Walthers

November 29, 2009

I’m particularly interested in the genesis of Walthers’ Budd cars because the PRR and N&W owned Budd sleeping cars. However, these versions had “slab” sides and not the corrugated sides common on the cars built for other railroads. I’m currently modifying a Walthers sleeping car to model N&W’s Randolph Macon College sleeper that I road in the 1960s. So far I have stripped away the corrugations from one side of the car. (I’ll post more about this project as I proceed).

A post in a Yahoo group on passenger cars led me to this Web page. Obviously, the author did a lot of research to document the genesis of the cars Walthers has released as HO models. For others who share my interest, you can find the page here.


November 28, 2009

I’m in the business end of the model railroad hobby, so I get to go to a lot of shows.  But being in the business end doesn’t preclude me from still being interested in the trains, operating them and collecting them.

I recently attended a regional model railroad show in Milwaukee called Trainfest and going to this show was an opportunity to see people in the industry that I haven’t seen in a while and also see operational model railroad displays and perhaps buy a small thing or two.  There are a lot of fun things on display.

When I go to shows like Trainfest, I  am always reminded of something that Bernie Paul said when accepting a Model Railroad Industry Association award.  Bernie was an interesting guy.  Nat Polk another interesting guy in the model railroad business, described Bernie this way: “Well, Bernie is an interesting person. He started after all of us. Actually, he started as a kid in the back of his mother’s candy store selling model airplane stuff. When the war came along, he owed me about $3,000 which at that time was a tremendous amount of money, and I thought he was going to be drafted. He was put into 4F because he had an ear defect, so we were saved by the bell. Bernie started to distribute goods. Then, he slowly moved out into bigger and bigger places and became a distributor, and after a while started AHM, Associated Hobby Manufacturers.”

Anyway, Bernie has an interesting reputation in the hobby industry, but at the MRIA award breakfast, he rose to the occasion.  To paraphrase him, he noted that the model railroad industry has been described as “dying” on several occasions.  Model railroading was dying in the 1950’s because of television.  Model railroading was dying in the 1960’s because of slot cars.  Model railroading was dying in the 1970’s becuase the real railroads were dying.  Model railroading was dying in the 1980’s because of video games.  And he then told us to just keep on doing what we do at the very best that it could be done and things would take care of themselves.  It was a rare moment and a lot of people in the business felt much better, because Bernie was right.

Here are two people that didn’t get the memo about model trains being dead:

Father & Son Look at Tinplate Train Display

Father & Son Look at Tinplate Train Display

And we are still here.  It’s a wonderful hobby.

Thoughtful Analysis?

November 13, 2009

WOATHere’s a new book that may have a timely analysis of our current circumstances with poor passenger rail service.  The forward is written by the subject of my post on May 29, 2009.  I’ve only read the information at this link, not the whole book, but I intend to buy a copy. If you’ve had an opportunity to read it, please post your comments here. I certainly agree with the author that restoration of passenger service must be a national priority.

Old Tooling Never Dies

November 10, 2009

Model trains have been with us for a very long time, and because they are, ahem, toys, we don’t always consider the fact that they are also manufactured products.  In our pursuit of creating a world in miniature, many do not consider the real world aspects of the model train business.  That is, someone sat down to make models of trains, and for the most part, to make model trains which yielded a profit for the effort.  Many model train enthusiasts have a difficult time with this minor detail, and more than a few actually resent those who do make a profit in the business of model trains.  Let’s face it, if there wasn’t any money to be made in the model train business, there wouldn’t be a model train business.

The manufacturing process is a complicated one.  The potential model train entrepreneur has to first figure out what can be manufactured that will make a profit.  Of course, these days, it usually means manufacturing in China, but the overall process is the same.  Once a decision has been made about what to manufacture, then there is the designing of that item, the engineering of the item, the actual manufacture of the items, then packaging it, bringing it back to the United States, marketing of the item, then shipping the item to dealers who then sell the item to the end users, us.  This piece is about the manufacturing aspects of the process.

In most cases, the model train is manufactured with both plastic and metal.  This is called the tooling.  There is a mold or molds for both plastic and metal parts, metal stamping jigs for forming other metal, electrical wiring and motor manufacture.  In all, a complicated process which will produce an item which may actually sell.  It may sell enough to make a profit.  Once the tooling has been made for an item, the manufacturer stands a greater chance of making a profit if a lot of an individual item can be manufactured and sold.  Which brings us to an example.

Early H0 Trolley

Early HO Trolley

Our manufacturing example is a simple trolley car, one that shows up many times on eBay, although this first car is much rarer than those that were manufactured later.  Apparently, the first company to distribute this car was “The HO Train Co., of Philadelphia, PA.”  The actual manufacturing is “Made in Japan”, so this means that it was after World War II, probably in the early 1950’s.

As of this writing, I have no idea as to who the principals of The HO Train Co. were, but there are a few suspects since at least two other model train manufacturing companies have been based in Philadelphia (this would be Bachmann Brothers and AHM).  There are no other clues.

By the 1960’s, the tooling for this unit had changed hands, and Mantua (of Woodbury Heights, NJ) was manufacturing it under its “Tyco” name in the United States.  One online source states that it was 1962 – 1963, which seems to be correct.  Mantua added more value by manufacturing track for the car.  At the same time, the operating trolley poles, which were expensive to produce, disappeared and were replaced with dummy plastic pieces that gave the car a semi-realistic appearance without the added expense.

Early Mantua Trolley Set

Early Mantua Trolley Set

This set used a group of “D” cell batteries for track power to run the trolley.  The cars manufactured by the HO Trolley Company and the early Mantua production had two axles, with one electrical pickup per axle, which resulted in erratic operation.  At the same time, the car was an accurate representation of the prototype car.  Here, an early Mantua set:


Early Mantua Trolley Set


Early Mantua Set, with track

In addition to the powered trolley, Mantua included a non-powered trailer car, creating a two car trolley “train”.

Eventually, Mantua realized that the poor performance that resulted from one electrical pickup per axle was interfering with potential sales.  Rather than extensively (and expensively) redesigning the power mechanism of the trolley, Mantua chose to use an existing power mechanism from their diesel locomotive line.  This mechanism was a proven unit, but it also had the wrong axle spacing for the trolley car’s short wheelbase.  The difference is small, and most people do not notice it.

Economies of Scale

As mentioned earlier, “once the tooling has been made for an item, the manufacturer stands a greater chance of making a profit if a lot of an individual item can be manufactured and sold. ”  Perhaps the best example of this comes from the mouth of a production manager for a German model train manufacturer.

While visiting the United States, this manager attended a garden railway event, where other manufacturers were exhibiting their wares.  Standing in front of one booth, this manager was slack jawed in wonder.  The display of model trains featured a tank car, a box car, a refrigerator car and a flat car.  But what was different was that there were at least fifty different cars on display, each with a different paint job and lettering scheme, making for many different products from four basic tools.  “So many products, so little tooling….” were his words of awe.

His company was to put this into practice with several different locomotives, trying to create as many possible permutations of manufacture without the necessity of massive tooling expenditures; paint is cheaper than hard tooling.  It got to the point that the German company was commissioning real locomotives to be painted in a special paint scheme and then producing a model of this locomotive.  Eventually, the market wised up to this ploy and the practice has ended, but not before at least thirty five variants of the same locomotive had been manufactured.

Mantua did not beat the trolley as badly as the Germans did, but they did manufacture several different paint schemes using their basic trolley tooling:




Beal Street


Wabash Avenue




Nob Hill


Main Street


Coney Island

There are those who cannot leave well enough alone, choosing the redecorate a perfectly nice Factory paint job.  Their numbers are legion, and some are actually well done:


Green & White Livery


Piedmont Terminal


Maintenance of Way

Production of the trolley car by Mantua ceased at some point in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.  Newer cars with better drive mechanisms and features have entered the market since then, and these little trolleys are largely relegated to the collectors.

Sleeping Car Mystery

November 2, 2009

In the post War years Norfolk and Western acquired sleeping cars from Budd. Each one was named for an online college or university. I rode in a roomette on Randolph Macon College on one of my trips with my Uncle Paul. (See earlier posts). Sleeping Car March 8, 2009

But here’s a mystery. One of these Budd-built cars was named for Hollins College.

Hollins College 1
The earmarks of a Budd-built car are clearly visible. However, I’ve run across two photos of “Hollins College” on the Web. Given the roof line, the end rivets, this is clearly a Pullman-Standard sleeping car. Does anyone know how this came to be?