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

Newsletter: November 1998

In this issue:


by Jim Herron

One of the last places you would expect to have a railway had one. The Bermuda Railway was in operation only 17 years, making its first run on October 31, 1931 and its last in 1948. When it opened, it set records for being the slowest and most expensive railway built in its time, with construction progressing at a mere two and half miles per year! When completed, the Railway was 21 miles in length, had 16 stations and reached into almost every parish on the 16-mile long island. The story behind the development and building of the Bermuda Railway has all of the drama of a Victorian novel.

In 1922, after decades of haggling and planning, the government of Bermuda approved the construction of a railroad line from St. George to Hamilton, the capital, to the far end of the island in Sommerset. Residents, however, did not cooperate. They refused to sell their land to accommodate the railway, so the proposed route was drawn along the coast. The rocky, hilly Bermuda coast is as treacherous as the infamous reefs surrounding it. This presented numerous problems for the engineers who had to construct 33 trestle bridges, 16 of which were over water, as well as a swing bridge. In addition there were long tunnels, passing loops and numerous unmanned railroad crossings.

On its maiden run, 150 local dignitaries, including the governor, were treated to a train ride from Hamilton to Sommerset. En route, the train stalled on a hill because it couldn't carry the weight of all of the passengers. Half of them had to walk up the hill. The Bermuda citizenry was happy with the railroad because they no longer had to rely on horse-drawn carriages and bicycles for transportation on an island that permitted only limited use of motorized vehicles. During World War II, military troops who flooded the island commandeered the railway for their own use. Because of a shortage of parts, the railroad fell into disrepair. In 1948 the government sold the railway to the government of Guyana, rather than repair it.

All that is left of the Bermuda Railway is a trail along the old line, broken into seven sections. Each takes one and one-half to three hours to walk. In 1984, the government opened the Bermuda Railway Museum in what had been the Aquarium Station on the old line. A visit to Bermuda today makes visitors yearn for the days of the Bermuda Railway. A taxi ride from one end of the island to the other sets you back about $65! The only other forms of transportation available to non-residents are ferries, buses and motor scooters. Residents are permitted small cars, but the import tariffs run about as much as the purchase price of the cars. If the government had not been so shortsighted back in 1948, the "Old Rattle and Shake", as it was locally known, would still be running.


by Walt Sklenar

Earlier this year, AtlasO announced their first diesel locomotive offering - the EMD SW-8 and SW-9. The initial run included six or seven different roadnames for each switcher class, as well as undecorated. In early October, the first of these diesels arrived at dealers, and included the Jersey Central SW-9.

The SW-8 and SW-9 were produced by EMD in the early to mid '50s. These switchers were extremely popular, with most major railroads in the US and Canada adding them to their rosters. The Jersey Central acquired 11 of the SW-9 models, nine at the end of 1951 and two more in December 1952. For the most part, CNJ relegated their switchers to duty within yard limits or industrial track. One exception was the "HO Drill". CNJ painted their SW-9s in their dark green paint, without the yellow striping found on some their road units. They were numbered 1084 through 1094.

The AtlasO scale version reflects the prototype very accurately in appearance, based on available photos. The only difference I could note was that the handrails on a few engines were painted yellow. The CNJ insignia and detailed lettering are very well done. These engines have see-through steps, footboards and etched metal grills. The hand rails, being scale, are extremely delicate - they will not take ANY rough handling (most of these have to be assembled by the consumer due to their delicate nature). The unit has directional lighting, though not constant voltage. The cab interior is especially nice - the painted engineer and conductor figures are seated forward ready for duty, without having the motors or electronics sitting in their laps. How is this possible for an engine measuring a little over 11 inches end to end?

A pair of flywheel-equipped can motors mounted horizontally powers these engines. The motor arrangement and linkage to the trucks are very similar to that of the Weaver RS-3. This provides ample room for the electronics board to sit atop the mechanical works and not intrude the cab space.

So how does it work? Being primarily a yard switcher, I wanted to see just how slow this baby would run. Using a ZW on the club's back layout, I was able at about 5 volts to run it at a very steady scale speed of 17 mph. I suspect that one might get even slower speeds using TrainMaster or the MTH Z4000. Nevertheless, very realistic. I did not have the opportunity to test the pulling power, but rumor is that it is very good. Not surprising considering the 8-wheel drive, four of the wheels having traction tires.

The sound system for these engines is made by Dallee Electronics, and includes prime mover, horn and bell. Not having access to a bell button, I was not able to test this feature. The prime mover is most apparent at startup, and as the engine begins moving or comes to a stop - it is barely audible once it gets going, apparently by design. This, to me, was a bit of a disappointment. The quality of the horn sound is good - not surprising, it bears no resemblance to any Lionel or MTH engine in this class.

There are two small buttons on the bottom of the engine, which allow flexibility in how it is operated. Button #1 allows either neutral first or forward first movement as you sequence through forward-neutral and reverse. The second button allows the option of forward only movement, and can be set at any time regardless of the last direction of movement. The die-cast couplers need an uncoupler track by which to operate - there is no transformer-controlled uncoupling feature in this run.

All in all, AtlasO has done itself proud for its entry into the O gauge diesel market. Like their hoppers, don't expect these engines to be on store shelves very long.


by Jim Herron

With the new issue of the Lionel's Union and Confederate General Sets (see PRODUCT NEWS), along with MTH's Texas, I thought it might be interesting to learn about the history of the General.

The storied Civil War locomotive, the General, was built in 1855 by Rogers, Ketchum and Grosvenor of Patterson, New Jersey, for the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which had its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The locomotive cost $8,850. Because of the difference in gauge between northern and southern railroads in 1855, the General had to be moved by rail to Jersey City, then shipped to Savannah, Georgia. It was then transported by river steamer 120 miles to Augusta, Georgia.

The 4-4-0 General weighed 106,760 pounds, including the tender. The water capacity was 1,750 gallons and it had a 600-gallon oil tank. It could carry 3.5 cubic feet of sand and had a traction effort of 8,500 pounds. The General was 50 1/2 feet long and 15 feet high at the smokestack.

Captured by federal raiders in 1862, it was recaptured by Confederate forces after its historic 82-mile trip from Big Shanty near Marietta, Georgia to a point near the Georgia-Tennessee border. It helped move supplies for the Confederates during the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain in July 1864 and survived the siege of Atlanta, although retreating troops tried to blow it up. The General continued in service through the 1880's. At one time the prototype General was owned by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which still has copies and diagrams of the original General plans. In 1893, it went on exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair and has been an exhibition piece ever since.

Comparing my two Lionel versions of the General -- a non-smoking with Magnatraction and a smoker -- with the new MTH General, I still prefer the Lionel. Chalk it up to sentimentality! Even though the MTH is beautifully detailed, has a metal rather than a plastic body, smokes, is a strong puller and is a lot heavier, give me a #1662 any time. After 40 years, it still runs as good as that Christmas day in 1959 when I received it.


by Walt Sklenar

Within a matter of days, both Lionel LLC and MTH Electric Trains released the first of their 1999 catalogs (44 and 70 pages, respectively). If there isn't at least one item in either of these catalogs that captures your fancy, you're either: a. tapped out financially; b. out of closet space; c. fearful of repercussions from your spouse.

Let's start with Lionel and the second installment of their Postwar Celebration Series. Heading this group of engines, rolling stock and accessory is the Jersey Central Trainmaster - #2341 in its infamous blue and orange paint (not prototypical, but does it matter?). Of local interest will be the Texas Special F3 A-B Set. Both come "fully loaded" - CommandControl, full RailSounds, etc. Another motorized unit is the GN Rotary Snowplow. There are three rolling stock pieces - #6262 Wheel Car, #6469 Liquified Gas Tanker and #6343 Barrel Ramp Car. Operating accessories are the #3434 Poultry Dispatch Car and #282 Triple-Action Magnetic Crane. Lionel originally produced these items from 1954 through 1963.

New product lines include the American Civil War Series - a pair of train sets representing the Union and Confederate Armies, each led by the General steam engine (track and transformer not included). Lionel is also launching a series recognizing not-for-profit organizations important to the well being of the US. The first of these is a D.A.R.E. Boxcar.

he third offering in the Centennial Series includes a SD-40 diesel, 4-pack Tank Car set and Porthole Caboose. Their paint scheme is a lime green and white. The second engine in the Custom Series and The Phantom II should entice engineers who like non-prototypical paint schemes.

Diesel motive power in the 'Classic Line' is highlighted by a Pennsy PA1 A-A Set utilizing the new Odyssey motor and a newly designed H12-44 switcher in three road names (Pennsy, SF and C&NW). Steam power in the form of 4-6-2 Pacifics (4 roadnames) and 4-6-4 Hudsons (3 roadnames) are offered.

Rolling stock abounds in this catalog, with Lionel continuing to offer both single cars and sets. Rolling stock sets include a Denver & Rio Grande Stock Car 4-pack, NY Central Reefer 4-pack (both of these have phenolic resin bodies), J.B. Hunt Flatcar & Trailer 2-pack and an ACL Passenger Car 2-pack. Perhaps the single most popular rolling stock piece will be the NYC 2-Bay Covered Hopper, which is also covered with graffiti (98' ... LIONEL RULES ...). Other items include a NYC Firecar and Instruction Car set, Depressed Center Flatcar w/ Backshop Load, Bunk Car and Seed Car for the Pratt's Hollow Series, Easter and Valentines Boxcars and Gondolas, and a Custom Series Consist (two flatcars w/ vehicles plus an observation car).

Lionel accessories include the reissue of the Oil Drum Loader, No. 465-99 Sound Dispatching Station and Electric Coaling Station. The Route 66 Café (PUT A "DINO" IN YOUR TANK) is the first in a series of "imaginative" accessories by toy designer Mike Fulmer, and certainly goes beyond what you might think a Sinclair Café should look like. Also new are Highway Barrels, Construction Signs and a Die-Cast Billboard.

MTH continues to add new engines, freight cars and accessories to its growing inventory. New steam engines in the RailKing Line include a Southern Pacific Cab-Forward (runs on 0-31), 4-6-0 Camelback ("almost scale") in two roadnames and the 4-6-4 New York Central Empire State Express. New diesels in this line include an E-8 AA Diesel Set in two paints (NYC Lightning Stripe and SP Daylight), NW-2 Calf Switchers to compliment their previous NW-2 release, RDC Budd Car Set (B & O and SF) and "near scale" SW-8/SW-9 Switchers (same roadnames as some of the AtlasO). All these engines come optionally equipped with ProtoSounds.

There is a slew of RailKing SemiScale Rolling Stock, including the latest MTH Auto Transport Flat Car w/ErtlÓ '68 Camaros. No less than seven 0-27 passenger sets - 3 Streamlined and 4 Madison - grace this catalog.

In the Premier Line, steam engines big and small highlight the motive power. The monster of the catalog is the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone Steamer - a cool 32" in length! On the short end is the Pennsy 4-6-0 G-5 Steamer, measuring 20 1/2" end to end. MTH is also offering their version of the EP-5 Electric, in New Haven and Great Northern paint. F-3 and PA sets in new roadnames, along with the GG-1, make a return appearance.

New designs in the 0-Scale Rolling Stock include nicely detailed Coil Cars and a Pennsy N-8 Caboose. Five 5-Car 70' Passenger Sets are available.

The new RailKing Operating Accessory is a Passenger Station featuring moving people - "Train arrives...passengers board...train departs". It will be interesting to see the mechanics behind this one!!

Check out all the products from both these catalogs at your friendly local dealer. See you all in the soup line.


Here are the answers to last month's Post War Aluminum Passenger Car quiz:

  1. C
  2. F
  3. I
  4. J
  5. G
  6. B
  7. A
  8. D
  9. H
  10. E

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