23 April 2013

Mystery Train from the Old Navy Yard

Seeking out old Lionel trains (and cars) has become a habit of mine recently. I decided to get started back after Christmas when I realized that there are too few people running Lionel or Marx or other O gauge electric trains. In fact, it almost seems like the hobby has been in decline since the 1980s. So I decided to keep this tradition alive somewhat.
However, it often appears that though there is plenty of old working model trains out there- the collectors have created a somewhat inflated value of these trains and accessories. It just makes the hobby more exclusive because toy trains have become equated with gold- notwithstanding the trains and accessories made of gold, if there are any. So what I often see is anything with a Lionel on it automatically becomes something of value even if it is come or unexceptionally built.
The trains of the Post-WWII period (and those before) were exceptionally made for the most part. But there was plenty of low cost yet durable pieces produced. Are they valuable?
Perhaps. If they were not played with or taken out of the box- they have some value. What amazes me is the whole original box which drive the value up. Crazy but there is some sort of demand for this artifact.
I like to run them. Boxes don't interest me. Neither does rarity. But both play into this aspect of the hobby. Learning how to fix and refurb this things is of more value.
So we come to today's featured item- a little Lionel switcher engine. These little workhorses would be the main motive force in a rail yard- pulling and shunting freight cars and organizing train consists.
But what switcher is this? None of the catalogues have anything like this black one.

Blurry 51 Switcher Painted Black

So we do a little research and refurb.
This item came from my father's set of Lionel trains. I brought it home to see if I could get it working. The center set of wheels appeared to be seized. Typically you be able to move them.
I did a little surgery on this engine- took it apart and cleaned armature with alcohol, oiled the axles, lubed the gears. It is decent piece with a simple motor and a plastic shell. No lights. On the side below the windows I could make out "Navy Yard, New York 51." The shell was definitely repainted as I could see the original light blue color on the inside. So this must be Navy Yard Vulcan Switcher which was produced in 1956-1957. It is hiding under some paint and the side rods are missing.
My father had painted it to match the color of the switchers he saw at Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railway (aka The Omaha) shops near his home in St. Paul. My great grandfather worked there so there was an affinity for that railway. Lionel and most toy train manufacturers at the time did not have a massive stable of railroads for which they made their equipment. In fact, Lionel has only produced 1 uncatalogued car with the Omaha road name- LIONEL 6-52110- in 1997 for the Lionel Collectors Convention. If you want a Omaha Road train, you needed to model it yourself. Thus this is what my father did.
Underside of old 51- you can see some of the old color
After the surgery, I got 51 on the track. He hesitated a bit when the track was powered, then sputtered forward, then stopped, then forward. Eventually 51 started running with a little noise- slowly at first then faster after the second loop. The switcher has 3 settings- forward, neutral, and reverse. His top speed is not very much and I believe it is recommend that he haul only a few cars. Right now this is one of the more reliable engines in my yard. It goes through the switches and crossovers perfectly and never derails.
Lionel made a few variations of this engine- this article on E-Train shows them all and some more. In good condition these units are rather collectible and can run a little over $100. But I think that dead ones could be resurrected and made for running at less cost.

Runners starting to bloom

Tammy is cheered on while running
Still feeling chilly up here in the 'Go, yet this weekend runners started to bloom out of the ground. It seemed that everywhere I went I noticed someone running. Even I ran this weekend- which has been rare this year because I run during the week. The weather cooperated mostly this weekend. The temps touched the 40s. It rained later on Sunday.
But why all the running now. Well, here are a few of my  theories.

  1. Treadmill burnout.
    I cannot imagine day in and day out doing the treadmill all winter. Running may be about the body but there is a huge aspect of running that is mental. I often burn-out running the same routes. When I find a new one my pace is more chipper. I feel more confident.
  2. Fargo Marathon in less than a month.
    Yes, many may have realised that marathon day in Fargo is drawing near. Time to train. Time to get used to the pounding of the pavement. Although, the hardcore of those anticipating on running a PR at the Fargo Marathon will probably have been training since January. There is a formidable population of runners who do take on winter and wind chills and the dreaded ice to train. I do it myself. But I have rarely met them on my runs. I think I maybe ran past only 3 or 4 the whole of this winter. Fortunately there are a few indoor tracks in town.
  3. Getting ready for the flood.
    Sandbagging  may seem like a simple task but really it is an endurance activity. Think of it like a triathlon without the separate events. Fill. Lift. Carry. Place. Do that for six hours and you realise you need to train. It is getting to be old hat in this region- after winter, then flood. This year the flood is playing itself out long and cool.  And without a permanent solution- sandbagging and all its variations will continue to be a task each "after-Winter."

Flood or no flood, Fargo Marathon will go on according to their recent newsletter. They have 2 flood contingency routes. Which they choose I cannot tell? The last time the flood gutted parts of the route, a dual loop was utilised for the marathon. Some liked and some did not. But whatever happens I am sure Fargo will be out in force to watch and Rock On the runners.
This will be a particular poignant event since the events that transpired at the Boston Marathon. I would never have thought that such violence would collide with the sport of running. It seemed like something out a Harrison Ford film I saw in college without the part where Harrison Ford gets the perpetrators moments later.

05 April 2013

Dangers of Twin City bike commuting and the M200

Raleigh M-200
I've a little bike commuting in the Twin Cities. The vast metro area has plenty of bike lanes and routes connecting the inner core. Not so much the on the outer ring suburbs. Sure you can get around them but trying to go from one municipality to another is a trying activity because the way the highways cut everything up. However from the West and SouthWest burbs one might connect with the Cedar Lake Trail into downtown Minneapolis. Nothing that vast exists on the Eastside of the Twin Cities except perhaps the Gateway Trail and a route along Pt Douglas to Battle Creek that then follows the river.
But this post is not about routes. It is about danger and specifically this article from the Star Tribune: Bicyclist survives Molotov cocktail on Minneapolis’ Midtown Greenway.
The guy was biking through the Greenway in Minneapolis during the day and faced certain explosiveness from a bomb! Crazy! He goes on to say he has encountered other "missiles" as well. I never though that a commute in the Cities would require armour plating. I thought angry, annoyed, distracted drivers were the only threats. Apparently a group of "stealthy" bicyclist agitators has arisen in the TCs.
On other bike topices, pictured above is my transitional ride, the Raleigh M200. I found this late model mountain bike besides a dumpster one day. Nobody was taking it so I  just brought it to the garage and made some modifications and additions. It is a pretty quick bike due to its aluminum frame. It shares some similarites with the M40 that was my primary bike in the early 2000s. The M200 did not get much use but now it is getting some love.

03 April 2013

The Old Caboose- Lionel SP Caboose 6257 but illuminated

Since I've moved into a house I have been able to enjoy an old hobby-model railroad. Quite a few of my pics of trains and scenery have shown up on Instagram or Facebook.
The hobby seems like it is dying out to an extent- or has the potential to flicker out of popularity. I see fewer and fewer trains at the stores these days and much less a the hobby shops out this way. RC seems to be the hobby of choice. To find some supplies I need to head down to the Twin Cities and make a stop through Scale Model Supply to get what I need. Used to be a few stores that sold trains in the 'Go. In fact one of them used to be located where my church meets. Google pages say there is one- but on the map it is a house. There is an annual train show in October.
I digress.
Well, I had HO trains growing up. But just got into O scale this year, mostly because the size would be good for kids and my dad had a collection of Lionel trains. But before I set up to borrow my Dad's trains, I needed my own. Thanks to E-Bay I acquired some working Lionel trains and track. And that whole thing will be an entry for another time.
In the moment I have I will write about a caboose a friend of mine gave me the other day. He found it at an antique store. I tend to find vintage Lionel at antique stores. Often it is overpriced. Some Lionel stuff just is not that rare. This an example of a less rare car from the early post-war days.
Lionel 6257
It is a Southern Pacific caboose numbered 6257 which Lionel first introduced in 1947. Not sure this one is from 47 but it does have evidence (2 brake wheels) it was not made that long after. But the carriage of this caboose seemed a bit out of place for the 6257.

It seems to be a carriage made for a illumination. Plus there are the 2 boxes which do not appear on any variety of the 6257. So we have a mystery to unravel. Lionel made 2 illuminated cabooses of the same style numbered 6357 and 6457. The 6457 was the only one with the battery boxes and 2 brake wheels. So what it looks like we have a 6257 body on at 6457 carriage. When it was done, I am not sure. I doubt it was something the factory did- although Lionel did re-use its parts in unusual ways. It was probably something a previous owner did with spare parts.
I need to get this caboose a new bulb and fix a wire connection to the truck to get it illuminating again. It is a pretty sturdy caboose and certainly is better made than a few of the cabeese I have.

02 April 2013

The transitional spring

How easily we forget the tentacles of winter in this region. Last year's early spring put a spell on us. Made us think that we're not that cold.We're pleasant once February rolls past.
Not this year. The snow is still on the ground as April arrived. Its disappearing act has been hampered by the cooler temps that haunt our nights. It is that transitional season without a name. Sun, ice, and breeze.
For us ice bikers it is also the season of re-freeze. In the morn, vast sheets of ice on our paths. In the evening, a malignant transitory lake to throttle through. I have 2 of them on my route.
ice culprit
The one above knock me off my ride. It was a slippery one with no way to practically avoid it. I tried the side and it got me good.
I had changed my ride for the week. The old winter bike is not in good shape. It's pedal crank arm is falling off again. The rear gears are not working because the derailleur wire is broken. I gerryrigged it into a single speed and that worked for a while. But recently the rear derailleur arm likes to come up and get caught on the chainstay. Can't bike with the being a possibility.
So I set up the transitional secondary bike for this season, an old Raleigh Mountain bike I found in the garbage at my former apartment. It is a really great bike but I cannot ride upright enough on to make it my main ride. But it is lightweight. I left the studded tire on the Trek winter bike- but perhaps should habe swapped it out with the Raleigh. I might not have wiped out so bad.