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

Newsletter: May 1998

In this issue:


by Jim Herron

With the coming of the Mike's Train House New York City Subway Set, I thought it would be appropriate to give a little history behind the NYC elevated and subway system.

The four-car set from MTH was scheduled to be in stores during April. They closely resemble the R- 44 transit cars of the present built by Grumman, but the 75-footers are compressed into 50-foot scale. They have a rounded roof and come optionally equipped with ProtoSound. People think the subway set will have only limited appeal. But, as my son says, "I don't think so." There are too many transplanted New Yorkers spread around the U. S. who are into trains and, like myself, have been waiting to run an EL on our layouts.

The first elevated system segment operated between 9th Avenue from Greenwood to 30th Street in Manhattan. Its success led to elevated lines in other parts of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, under long term franchises. The elevated railways were the earliest form of rapid transit in the United States. Steam engines first operated the elevated railways pulling wooden cars. The elevated trains were noisy, made buildings shake, and placed people below in constant danger of being hit by falling ash, oil or cinders. The necessity of the system, however, assured its continuance. By 1904, electrification replaced all the steam engines and the elevated system of trains soon went underground.

The New York City subways remain the most important form of transportation for millions of people. The city's rapid transit system is the most extensive in the world. It runs 24 hours a day, with 714 miles of track along 244 miles of routes. The longest line is 32.5 miles. The system is fifth in passenger numbers worldwide behind Moscow, Tokyo, Paris and Mexico City. In 1990 there were 20 lines, 469 stations, 3006 turnstiles, 6089 subway cars (all air conditioned) in use. In the same year, 88% of the city's subways ran on time -- a remarkable feat. The system carries over one billion people a year and is in the process of replacing tokens with new electronic fare cards by year end.

There are three major lines interconnecting the city through four counties or boroughs -- Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. They are: the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit), the oldest line; the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit), and; the IND (Independent Transit System), the newest and most modern, completed in 1940, consisting of 59 miles. There is local and express service on most routes. Subway lines are identified by numbers or letters and most are named for their Manhattan trunk line or primary street of operation.

The New York City Transit system is also one of the safest systems in the world. With its automatic signals and third rail shutoff device, it has carried a remarkable safety record over the years.

I hope the MTH New York City Transit set is a rousing success, with its station announcements, brake squeals, door opening, embarking and disembarking passengers and much more. Like the catalog says, "graffiti, muggers and panhandlers are not included."


by Walt Sklenar

The Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi will host the Railroad Photographic Exhibit of O. Winston Link from January 12 to March 14, 1999. Corpus Christi is the only Texas city to host this exhibit.

Winston Link received his college degree in civil engineering from Brooklyn Poly in 1937, but never practiced the profession (c.e. jobs at that time were scarce). He got a job as a photographer for a public relations firm, working there for five years. He then did research at the Airborne Instruments Laboratory in Mineola, Long Island until 1945. In 1946, Link went into public relations practice for himself.

In 1955, Winston Link began a five year chronicle of the Norfolk and Western Railroad's transition from steam to diesel power - the last American railroad to do so. Link spent countless hours traveling throughout its system. At a time when 35mm photography was becoming popular, Link took his approximately 2,400 images primarily using the larger 4 X 5 format.

His main focus was to photograph steam railroading at night using synchronized flash. This was no small technical feat. Consider the following:

  • Link had to set up, shoot and place a moving object in the right position, often in total darkness.
  • Trains traveled up to 60 miles per hour.
  • Most of the time he was only able to take one shot per camera for a given photo opportunity.
  • He had to maintain complete depth of field.
  • He had to visualize how the picture would look with night illumination, despite only being able to see the scene in daylight.

Using flashbulbs placed in critical locations, Link invented a lighting system that would replicate 'normal' nighttime illumination, either by reinforcing existing light sources or artificially simulating lighting that could exist. His goal was to emphasize depth and form. He started with a flash system where the bulbs were wired in parallel - that is, each bulb was wired independently. There was no easy way to check for circuit continuity (sections of bulbs could be disconnected), and the system took lots of power. By 1956, Link developed a battery-capacitor power supply with bulbs wired in series (like Christmas tree lights). If one bulb was not working, this effectively shut down the entire system. To make trouble shooting easier, Link divided the system into three separate circuits. Each of these could be continuously monitored.

Although Link originally wanted to shoot only night photos, he soon realized there were numerous additional opportunities for daylight photography. Some of these opportunities were dictated by the operations of the railroad. For example, some branches could only operate during daylight hours.

His books include Steam, Steel & Stars, published in 1987, and The Last Steam Railroad in America (1995). The latter work contains some two dozen color photographs published for the first time.

Look for more details regarding this exhibit in the HTOS newsletter later this year.


Lionel LLC has announced that the following items from their 1998 Classic catalog will not be produced:

  • 22932 Metal and 22938 Plastic High Tension Towers,
  • 22929 Lionel Factory Kit,
  • 22939 Transformer Substation.

MTH Electric Trains has announced postponement of the following from the MTH 1998 Volume 1 catalog:

  • 30-9010 Sinclair Oil Refinery,
  • 30-7615 Sinclair Flat Car with Ertl('55 Cameo) Wreckers,
  • 30-1086 Sinclair fuel truck.

Hallmark Corporation has announced the third in their series of Lionel Christmas ornaments - a die-cast metal Pennsy GG1($18.95). The GG1 follows the New York Central Hudson (1996) and Santa Fe F3 (1997) ornaments. Hallmark also announced a NEW line of Lionel-related collectibles termed The Great Railways-Series. This series includes the no. 726 Berkshire, the 2332 GG1 and a Norfolk and Western J. Prices range from $95 to $120. Items will be available through Hallmark Gold Crown stores.

AtlasO, LLC has announced two new scale freight cars in their "Big O" rolling stock series:

  • ACF 6-Bay Cylindrical Hopper
  • ACF 33,000 Gallon Tank Car (this baby is long!)
Both cars come with die-cast articulated couplers, sprung die-cast trucks, accurate painting and lettering, and true 1/4" scale dimensions and details. Each car comes in six roadnames as well as undecorated. Delivery dates for the hoppers and tankers are late Spring and early Fall, respectively.

QSIndustries has announced the following schedule for conversion of ProtoSound equipped engines to QS-2+:

  • All MTH RailKing Steamers and Diesels
  • All MTH '96, '97 and '98 Premier Line Engines, including the Scale GG-1.

Price is $69, plus $8 shipping and handling. Offer good through 7/31/98. See the QSI ad in the Oct. '97 issue of O Gauge Railroading, or call QSI for written instructions on removing the old ProtoSound board.
Do not send the engine to QSI!


The MTH Z-4000 400 Watt Transformer finally made it to retailers in mid-April (the rumors about the shipment being sent by Union Pacific were erroneous). From early indications, it looks to have been worth the wait. With all the hype about this power source, HTOSimmediately put this beast to the test on the portable layout, replacing the ZW controlling the outside AND upper loops plus the lights.

And a beast it is. In terms of size, this is the ZW's big cousin - about 2 inches longer, wider and taller. It has two variable voltage outputs controlled by arms resembling the ZW. Unlike any other transformer, continuous voltage and amperage readings are digitally displayed. There are also two fixed voltage outputs(14v and 10v). Similar to the ZW are power-on (green) and overload warning (blinking red) lamps.
During our testing, the overload warning responded immediately to a derailment. Push button control for horn, whistle, direction and ProtoSounds programming is also featured.

Anyone owning a ProtoSound equipped engine, especially later versions where locking an engine into forward or reverse is more difficult, will appreciate the programming features associated with this transformer. A recently released New York Central F3 was programmed into forward ONLY without a hitch (no more carpaltunnel syndrome from moving a lever back and forth 40 times!).

A combination of both new and old motive power from Lionel, MTH and K-Line was used to see whether this power source could keep its cool under tough running conditions. In one test, two long freights were run simultaneously on the outer loop - one powered by a pair of MTH RailKing Dash-8 diesels and the other by a pair of Lionel FM Trainmasters (one post-War, one MPC). At the same time, a trio of Lionel and K-Line 027 AlCos pulled a dummy lighted unit and a set of four lighted passenger cars on the upper loop. With all three trains running at between 10 to 11 volts for each variable output, combined amps peaked between 9 and 10. The faster FM freight was frequently forced to stop at protection blocks, resulting in periodic amperage reductions to about 6 amps. After an hour, both the shell and the exhaust air remained cool.

One interesting note on the test: the speed of the Dash-8 freight was effected by movement of the FMs. With the FMs stopped in a block (unpowered), the Dash-8s were noticeably faster than when the FMs had power. We'll examine this finding and report any interesting developments.

One complaint overheard was in regards to the fixed voltage outputs - some would have liked to have a 20 volt output to run switch machines more effectively. Well, there's one use for the ZW.

All in all, the Z-4000 seems to be a hit. The current production run looks to be in short supply already. If you miss out, take heart - a second offering is scheduled for September (presumably without any changes). Expect prices to escalate some for the second shipment.


The following MTH items are scheduled for delivery during May:

  • 20-95035 T.T.U.X. Spine Car Set
  • 20-2171,2172 Dash-9 diesels in Amtrak and BNSF paint, respectively
  • 20-2178 Union Pacific DD40AX diesel
  • 30-1129 RailKing U.P. 4-8-8-4 Big Boy
  • 10-1062 Tinplate Traditions #263 Loco and Tender (Blue Comet)
  • 10-1064 Tinplate Traditions #613 4-Car Set (Blue Comet)

A number of Premier Line and RailKing freight cars are also scheduled for delivery in May.

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