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Houston Tinplate Operators Society - Lionel, Trains, Layouts: Newsletter

Newsletter: August 1997

In this issue:

LIONEL'S Consumer Catalogs

By Jim Herron

Remember when you were a kid and couldn't wait for Christmas to come? There was the excitement of going to the department store or hobby shop to receive a new Lionel catalog with all of the new cars, trains, locomotives, diesels and, of course, accessories. Remember the #455 oil derrick, the milk can and cattle car, crossing gates, saw mills, ice stations and rocket launchers? Every child across the U.S. got to see their wish in full color on the glossy pages-- a Santa Fe F-3 2343 in the red and silver warbonnet with streamlined silver ribbed passenger cars trailing in a cactus-studdded, purple desert -- and hope to find it on Christmas morning under the tree. Will it be there? Do I have to wait until next year's catalog?

Lionel won the hearts and minds of the kids of the post-war generation through their colorful catalogs. They made us use our imaginations and our creative skills, building layouts and dreaming about expanding them the next year. Lionel knew that our Dads were soft touches with the check book when it came to buying trains. The catalogs gave them a chance to wish along with us and live their dreams through us. We, the children of yesteryear, inspired by those catalogs, helped make Lionel trains an American institution. If one were to tally all of the products Lionel has distributed over the years, the Lionel Catalog likely ranks as the best known, most read and most widely circulated. It started in 1902 but got lost in the third quarter of Lionel's first century. Thank goodness someone had the good sense to bring it back, with all of its color, excitement, new products and innovations! The early treasures of our childhood -- those beautiful catalogs we remember so well -- are now considered highly collectible in their own right. Now that the cattalogs have returned, our children and grandchildren can share with us the same things we shared with our parents and, perhaps, grandparents.

Joshua Lionel Cowen, the founder of Lionel, once asserted that if a boy still liked trains by the age of 16, he would love them for life. Implicit in this statement was Cowen's realization that values instilled early in one's lifetime would not only be resistant to modification later on, but would likely be passed along from generation to generation. I can honestly say that truer words were never spoken. My grandfather, a Lehigh Valley engineer, and his seven boys all loved trains. His sons, including my father, passed that love on to me. Here I am more than 60 years after my grandfather retired from the railroad, doing the same with my three year old son, Andrew. These are the things that dreams are made of!

Editor's Note: This story was written prior to the issue of the latest Lionel catalogs.

Product News for September 1997

By Walt Sklenar

Mike's Train House 47 page 1997 Volume II catalog hit the streets at the end of June, again offering a variety of Premier Line, RailKing and Tinplate items. Here is a sampling from the catalog.

Motive power in the Premier Line includes:

  • SD 40-2 in four paint schemes.
  • RS-27 in three paints (including the AlCo Demonstrator).
  • EMD E8 A-B-A set in three roadnames.
  • Scale Norfolk and Western 4-8-4 "J"
  • All above have ProtoSmoke and ProtoSound included.

Never before produced rolling stock in the Premier Line includes:

  • Hot Metal Car (four trucks, rotating container drum).
  • 100 Ton Hopper.
  • There are also box cars, tankers, husky stack cars and cabooses.
    To go behind the E8s or the "J".
  • MTH has 5-Car 70' scale passenger sets.

The RailKing Line offerings include:

  • 0-8-0 switcher in two roadnames (NYC and Northern Pacific).
  • Southern Crescent PS-4 4-6-2 Pacific.
A Southern Pacific Water Tender can be added to the SP GS-4 set to be released this fall.

RailKing semi-scale rolling stock is headed up by an Operating Crane Car (NYC and Northern Pacific) and a MTH flat car w/ Thunderbirds. Following in the footsteps of the Sinclair Gas Station, another operating accessory - the Operating Firehouse - may be the hit of this catalog. It features an operating bay door through which an Ertl Fire Truck enters and exits, sound and light effects, and a fireman that slides down a fire pole. An interesting layout accessory being offered is the Prewar #47 Crossing Gate and Signal.

The lone ready-to-run set is the Chessie Construction Set, which includes an F3 diesel, two RailKing freight cars and an operating caboose, RiteTrax and 75 watt transformer.

In the Tinplate Line, MTH is offering the 400E, the biggest of the standard gauge steamers. Available in gray or black, the 400E can be ordered with either a traditional motor, whistle and E-unit or with a Pittman Drive Train, ProtoSmoke and ProtoSound. Also in the Tinplate Line are two windup tin toy cars - the Amos 'n Andy Fresh-Air Taxi and the Hi-Way Henry jalopy. Whether you think the news is good or bad, MTH's next catalog is due out in October!

Lionel's latest Heritage and Traditional Catalogs reached retailers in late July. For those of you who do not know the definition of Heritage in the language of Lionel, it means: No dealer discounts.

The new Heritage catalog is limited to either engines or train sets, unlike the previous catalog which offered the Bascule Bridge and the 6464 Series VI Box Car set. One piece of advice, make sure you are sitting down before you gander at the prices!

Included in the catalog are:

  • NYC NW-2 switcher ($599.95).
  • Warhorse ATSF Hudson Freight Set including four 9464 boxcars w/ Santa Fe slogans of the 40's and an illuminated caboose ($1299.95).
  • SOO Line SD60 Diesel ($699.95).
  • Union Pacific Unit Train in two options:
    • A single GP-7 diesel (RailSounds, etc.) with matching bay-window caboose and 6 die cast coal hoppers ($749.95).
    • a GP-7 powered and dummy unit ($499.95).
    • C & O Heavyweight Passenger Car 4-pack ($399.95).
    • Northern Pacific F3A-B Diesel Set ($599.95).

All engines are Command-equipped, have RailSounds 2.5, Magnetraction, and Electrocouplers. All Heritage items have a lifetime limited warranty.

The traditional catalog is all of four pages (is this the stuff of dreams or what!) Items include:

  • Spokane, Portland & Seattle 4-6-2 Steam Freight Set (die cast steamer and matching bay window caboose, three 6315 Hooker chemical tankers, track and transformer).
  • Virginian Rectifier Freight Set (2329 Command-equipped Virginian Rectifier w/matching porthole caboose, three coal hoppers lettered for the Virginian, N & W and C & O RRs).
  • AT & SF F3B Diesel w/ RailSounds.
  • 1997 Lionel Centennial Series GP9 diesel w/all the Lionel bells and whistles.
  • 1997 Lionel Centennial Series High-Cube Boxcar 4-Car Set.
  • Lionel Holiday RailSounds Boxcar stocking stuffer (Plays Silent Night plus other holiday sounds).

K-LINE Electric Trains has issued their 1997 2nd Edition Catalog. New items include:

  • collection of passenger trains from Tracks Across the USA, celebrating the excitement of regional railroading.
    These sets are:
    • The Greenport Scoot (Long Island Railroad).
    • The Southerner (Southern Railway).
    • City of Los Angeles (Union Pacific).
    • Rocky Mountain Rocket (Rock Island Railway).
    The latter three sets include an AlCo Powered 'A' diesel; Combine, Vista Dome and Observation Cars; track and transformer. Available separately is an AlCo dummy 'B' unit with horn, and Pullman and Coach cars. The Greenport Scoot includes an MP-15 diesel, two Coaches, Parlor Car, an AlCo dummy 'A' unit, track and transformer.
  • Two new beginner sets are the Keystone King and Overland Flyer. Both sets include an MP-15 diesel, four freight cars, caboose, accessories, and track and transformer. The only difference in the sets is the roadname of the diesel and caboose - Pennsylvania (Keystone King) and Santa Fe.
  • K-LINE's newest F-7 paint scheme is the Circus Transport Railroad, available in powered 'A' and 'B' units.
  • Also new in the CTR series is the Lions & Tigers & Bears Heavyweight Baggage Car, a Classic Stock Car and Classic Wood-sided Reefer.

K-LINE Collector Club (KCC) members can purchase two new additions to the Pennsy Fleet of Modernism streamliner passenger cars. These are:

  • AlCo FA-2 A-B-A diesel set.
    painted in the two-toned Pennsy tuscan with Loewy metallic gold pin-striping. Each 'A' unit has two motors.
  • Pennsy Express Service Classic Boxcar.
A sneak preview for KCC in 1998 is a Kennecott Copper Corporation work Caboose, with a rotating, illuminated searchlight.

Atlas O has announced that their 3 bay cylindrical hopper, due out late this year, will initially have six road names:

  • Burlington
  • MKT
  • Wayne Feeds
  • Conrail
  • Erie Lackawanna
  • W. R. Grace
Except for Wayne Feeds, all road names have been in their HO line. Still no word on what their initial diesel offering will be.

Blue and Orange Seeing Red?

By Walt Sklenar

CTT's September issue announced two personnel changes at Lionel. Jim Bunte, Lionel's Vice President, Design and Creative Services, has left the company and returned to California. Boe Kanerek, editor of The Inside Track newsletter, has also left Lionel. No word as to their replacements, or what their new employment is. These moves, in conjunction with the release of their new catalogs, cannot help but fuel the speculation regarding the future of Lionel, and the marketing direction the company is taking. It seems a safe bet that for the majority of consumers Lionel's new offerings will be (at the very least) disappointing, unless a broader Traditional catalog is issued soon. Retailers may be caught between a rock and a hard place on this one. According to one local dealer, their agreement with Lionel is such that they must purchase at least one of every Heritage item, regardless of whether or not they have a reasonable chance of selling it. One club member - Mr. New York Central - may have put the future consumer sentiment best after reviewing the Heritage catalog: I'm not going to buy it, even if it says N.Y.C.!

New Product Report for September 1997

By Walt Sklenar

MTH's new PCC SEPTA (Southeast Philadelphia Transit Authority) RailKing Trolley is what everyone has been waiting for to add to their layout or collection. It looks great, runs smoothly, can operate on O-27, operates in forward and reverse, and has great lighting, sign board, headlight and four tail lights. It costs about $99 and is already selling for up to $150 at shows. The gold and cream colors are authentic SEPTA and the detailing is superb. Coming next in 1997 is a San Francisco muni equipped with ProtoSound.

The new Lionel #55 Tie Ejector car has just come out. It looks and operates like its early counterpart with good coloring and smooth operation. The price is reasonable, particularly considering what a post-war one would cost at a show. If you're into small motorized units, this is a nice addition to the collection.

The MTH Texas & Pacific Locomotive & Tender, blue and silver Mohawk, with beautiful machining caboose is now available. It is strong starting, has lots of power and looks like an old Lionel with great detailing. Traction consists of two rubber tires and it includes a smoking unit, ProtoSound and an on/off switch for the smoke unit. Club member Don Trial is very pleased with its smooth operation. After purchasing this unit, Don won an identical one at the Lone Star Division TCA meet a few weeks ago. Now he's have to either start a roundhouse depot or sell one of the locomotives! Anyone interested in Don's second one should contact him and see if he'll make a deal. Congratulations Don on your good luck!

MTH RailKing C & O Allegheny - this 2-6-6-6 brute, measuring 26" long, is the second articulated RailKing steam engine produced by MTH. The detail, smoke and sound systems, and pulling power are what you come to expect from RailKing steam engines. It should look and perform like a champ pulling a long consist of coal cars. This was so impressive in the catalog that even an HTOS engineer with blue and orange underwear bought one!

MTH 8000 Gallon Tankers - a new release in O-gauge, these scale tankers should look good on any size pike. Lettered for Conrail and Norfolk and Western Railroads, they measure 10" long. The detail is superb, the cars have a good heft to them, and they roll very well.

The Hellgate Bridge

By Jim Herron

On a fine spring day last year driving through New York City on the way to the York (PA) TCA meet, I crossed the TriBoro Bridge in Manhattan. It had been more than a year since I had last crossed the bridge. I looked east and couldn't believe my eyes: The Hellgate railroad bridge had been cleaned, scraped, repaired and repainted a deep, dark cranberry! After collecting rust for 50 years, it had become a forlorn-looking mass of peeling paint that looked as if it was ready to fall into the river. Now it was again the majestic structure I remembered from childhood.

The Hellgate Bridge gets its name from the Hell's Gate tributary of the East River it spans, where Long Island Sound flows into the East River through to New York Harbor. The Hellgate railroad bridge has always fascinated New Yorkers and I believe it is one of the most classic and unique arch bridges ever built. I remember travelling across it as a youngster headed north to New England on the Cape Codder.

Lionel shared the Hellgate Bridge with non-New Yorkers through its #300 model, which ran from 1928 to 1941. It was considered standard gauge and was really an architectural toy train masterpiece. I remember seeing the Lionel Hellgate Bridge on display at the Lionel showroom at 15 E. 26th Street, at Madison Hardware on E. 23rd Street and in early Lionel catalogs. I could imagine Joshua Lionel Cowen seeing the beauty of the bridge and deciding to build a Lionel version. The bridge was not cataloged after World War II. Though considered a standard gauge accessory, it is seen mostly on 'O' gauge layouts. It is a large piece of equipment and carries a current value of between $500 and $2500, depending on the condition and box. MTH reproduced the bridge several years ago, which sold briskly. Occasionally these are seen at shows for $500 to $750. The idea for the Hellgate railroad bridge was conceived in 1912 and the bridge was completed in 1917. It was a private venture, the brainchild of the Pennsylvania Railroad chairman who wanted to connect the northeast through New York City's Pennsylvania Station, as the gateway to the world. Since Penn Station, completed in 1910, had no outlets to New England, tunnels and a bridge were envisioned. A company was formed as a joint venture between the Pennsy and New Haven RR, calling itself the New York Connecting Railroad. This company built an eight-mile stretch which included the Hellgate Bridge, Sunnyside Yard and access to the Brooklyn piers. It cost more than $30 million and was a vital link to New York City. At the time of its opening - April 1, 1917 - it was considered one of the most awesome architectural feats in American history. The bridge spans the East River at 977 feet six inches, rising to a maximum height of 305 feet above mean high tide. It contains 18,900 tons of steel and remains the longest steel arch bridge in the world. No other, in its entirety, is as massive. During World War II, the Hellgate helped transport was goods to Europe from New England. Today Amtrak and Conrail trains operate on the bridge.

By the 1950's and 1960's the Hellgate was in a perpetual state of disrepair. It was always in need of scrubbing and painting. The railroads faced brisk competition from the airlines on short and long hauls. Also a factor leading to a decline in the railroads and the bridge was the post-war automotive boom, signaling the beginning of a mobile urban society. With cash flow diminishing, maintenance not necessary to safety was deferred.

It is a joy to see this old friend get a well-deserved facelift. May it last another 75 years!

Layout Update for September 1997

By Mike Schneider and Walt Sklenar

This is a very exciting time during construction of the permanent layout. Most of the work to date has been of a nature that is not readily visible. Now we need some hands! Don Trial is leading the charge to ballast the track, and needs your help to speed up the process. Your level of expertise does not matter. Check in with Don for an assignment. Tom Lyttle is continuing on the mountain, committed and dedicated to the monster.

We are also looking for a way to skirt the display. Your input is always welcome. On a final note, one loop of the layout will almost always be functional during this phase of construction. It is suggested that each member bring a good running piece(s) and take your turn at the throttles. It is the only way to get a feel for the layout.

Till next month, keep ballasting!

Work on the portable layout in the days preceding GATS had beneficial results. Archie Julien inserted new connectors for the table joints, allowing for quicker leveling and attachment at the show. Several members (Mark Whetzel, Walt Sklenar, Will Esken) worked on new curved track spanners. The end result of this work was much smoother operation during the show! Also of note was the construction of four scenery modules, all of which were unveiled at GATS. Read more about these in the GATS review.

New Members for September 1997

By Walt Sklenar

HTOS is happy to welcome the following new members:

  • Robert West from Houston
  • Jim Lynch from Smithville

August 1997 GATS show report

By Walt Sklenar

The Great American Train Show (GATS) at the Astroarena August 9-10 was an exciting two days for HTOS. Those who set up the layout Friday night had it up and running by 7 PM! (a new record?) The layout ran almost trouble free both days of the show. Better yet, the layout looked great thanks to four new scenery modules constructed by Aimee Atkinson, Mark Whetzel and Walt Sklenar.

Utilizing the roadside diner and a Plasticville house, Aimee constructed a 20" x 24" scene on Styrofoam. The module is located at the corner of the layout next to the 90 degree crossing. She incorporated a billboard, trees, grass, and different sized ballast (road material) to create a nice little scene; about 1 day of work.

Mark's long-awaited park scene took steady hands and nerves of steel to position between the inside loop and the switchyard. The park included a live steam (i.e. N scale) railroad with a station (HO scale), a scratch built fountain, a pond spanned by a railroad bridge, gazebo, swing set, three slides and a teeter-totter.

Mark also brought his three building city scene - Gulf Service Station, grocery store and hardware/pharmacy. This was placed between the outer and inner loops adjacent to the long arch bridge.

Walt constructed a small horse corral to fill a small space between the outside and inner loops adjacent to the wooden bridge. Measuring about 18" by 4", the base was made from Styrofoam painted brown. Grass and ballast for a dirt path were glued on the Styrofoam. Fence for the corral was thin strips of basswood. Horses were purchase at Toy-R-Us, people in the scene were from Life-Like.

The club received many compliments regarding the layout and, as always, the expressions of the kids made the hard work worthwhile.

The importance of having a layout where people can get up close and personal was brought home by a child who attended the show on Saturday. She was blind, but was able to recognize objects up very close. Her mom took her around the show in a wheelchair, with her other kids in tow. The wheelchair allowed the little girl to get her face up close to the wooden bridge and see as best as she could (possibly for the first time) what made those clickety-clack sounds (apparently these sounds had always fascinated her). She also got a chance to feel the shape of one of the boxcars we had brought. They came back several times during the afternoon. Aimee gave the women information about the club, and hopefully they will become regular visitors.

A special thanks goes to those who helped during this event.

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