Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Yet Another Disease

In this case a relapse of a condition I had as a child - I've come down with a case of Electric Trains. It is often overlooked as a harmless hobby, but the fact is that acquiring and operating model electric trains can become a mania, one that takes over lives and breaks families apart.

I exaggerate, of course. And I never actually got into it on a railfan level, or invested great sums of money in equipment. But when I was in grade school my mother let me indulge in a small N gauge layout (2-1/2' x 5') and a nice little collection of locomotives and rolling stock. (N gauge refers to the size, in this case one of the smallest; appropriate for apartment dwellers, as you can fit a longer track in a smaller space. HO is the most popular, twice the size of N; and O gauge are the large and very detailed trains, and the most expensive.)

Test track
Uploaded by AviatorDave.
When I went off to college, I sold my layout and about half of my trains with it. The ones that I really liked, like the hard-to-find trains and cars from our local area, I boxed and have kept stored for the last 20 years. Last week I took them out of storage, at first just to show Gail, but then I got fascinated all over again. I took a long piece of extra track from my workbench and taped it to my computer desk, and set about refurbishing my locomotives. The tiny gears and electric motors hadn't moved or been oiled for two decades, so it could have destroyed them to just put them back in service. I spent the next few days happily disassembling the locomotives, cleaning and lubricating the tiny mechanisms (one steam switcher engine is about 2 inches long!)

I got them all working again, including one that my long-departed uncle gave me, that never worked. Gail heard me across the room, zipping the little engines from one end of my desk to the other as I tested them. Well, that can only be fun for so long... I should really put up a simple oval of track and run them for a while. You know, just to keep them in good working order. I don't have any more track, but I bet I could find some cheap - on eBay! Yes, I went into the model train area on eBay, and yes, I found and purchased over 100 pieces of used track for a song. But I also found a zillion other electric train items, and I have browsed there endlessly since. (It's staggering to see how much people spend on this hobby; one perfectly-detailed O gauge train and coach set went for over $3,500!)

I also bid on and won a steam engine (for the much more modest sum of $37.98), a Pennsylvania Railroad K-4 "Pacific" that was built in larger numbers than any other train like it, back in the days when the PRR was the largest railroad in the world. I always wanted one to go with my set of Pennsy passenger coaches, even though I have a nice little GG-1 that works well with that train. The K-4 that I bought is an older model, well-used but serviceable, and even if the motor is bad I can replace it with a 5-pole motor that will run more smoothly at low speeds.

So now I have another project to keep me busy - I will scrounge up a piece of plywood, set it up next to the spare bed and nail down some of my eBay track in an oval or two. When I can't get around much, I can run my trains and hear the wheels click, and watch the drivers churning away on the old steam engines. Especially the pride of my old fleet, a Lackawanna Railroad "Hudson" heavy steam engine and a matching set of Lackawanna coaches, in handsome grey and maroon livery. Good clean fun.