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

Newsletter: February 1999

In this issue:


At the HTOS January business meeting, officers were elected for 1999:

  • President: Jim Herron
  • Vice-president: Carl Olson
  • Treasurer: Jim Lynch
  • Secretary: Don Trial

Walt Sklenar agreed to continue his role of newsletter editor. Happy railroading to the new officers. And on that note...


by Jim Herron

Along with the rest of the newly elected officers, I look forward to serving HTOS during the coming year. If the first month is any indication, it should be a very exciting time. Let us all continue our spirit of volunteerism and make the club prosper.

Club members approved a proposal to put a giant "for sale/items wanted" bulletin board in the back behind the blue curtain. Fellow train club members items can advertise trains they have for sale and want. It will be open to HTOS current members and friends of the club) and local TCA members. If you have something to sell or want to buy, post a notice on the board. The board will be open for posting to local TCA members and friends of the club on Tuesday evenings from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Current HTOS members can post at any time. There is a limit of five items per person on the board. Each notice expires after three months, so please put a date on yours showing the date when it was first posted.

Our new secretary, Don Trial, is getting together a club directory, containing the addresses and phone numbers of all members, old and new. Please help him out by providing your home and work phone numbers, fax number, cell phone number, e-mail address and home address. (Obviously if you don't want to share some of this information, it isn't required.) Don promises everyone will be able to read this directory!

Mark Whetzel has designed an HTOS letterhead in color, showing a Lionel Hudson, Madison cars, a red # 394 beacon and our HTOS Texas crossing gate logo. The letterhead contains our web site address and telephone number.

By the time everyone reads this, our Astro Fan Fest preparations should be in full swing. Let's hope it is as successful an event as our G.A.T.S. show, particularly in giving us visibility. By then our club polo shirts will have arrived and been distributed. They are royal blue, with "H. T. O. S." and "Houston Tinplate Operating Society" written in orange letters on the upper left front of the shirt. They are made by Outerbanks and will cost about $18.00 each. We hope to see everyone at the Dome wearing their new shirts!

One last thing . . . let's get all of our dues for 1999 paid up by the end of the month for all active members and see how many new members we can bring on board.


by Jim Herron

The Long Island Railroad is unique among American railroads. With some 300,000 weekday passengers and annual passenger traffic over 75 million, the little 334 route mile Long Island Railroad hauls more passengers than any other railroad in the world. It is the only railroad that derives the majority of its revenues from passengers and is the only major publicly owned railroad (other than Amtrak) in the U. S. It is the only railroad that consistently loses money on freight business and considers its freight losses to be a burden to its passenger service.

There was a time when the Long Island was a perfectly ordinary railroad. Chartered in 1834, the LIRR completed a line from Brooklyn to the Northeast tip of Long Island - Greenport - in 1844. For a brief six years, the railroad was a link in service from New York City to Boston via Greenport, a ferry and a short line Connecticut route. In 1850 a through route was established and killed the LIRR bid for a long haul route. Shortly thereafter it settled down to focus developing its lines serving Long Island. By the end of the century, the LIRR had assumed its present form.

Purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1900, the beginning of electrification in 1904 and the inauguration of through service into Penn Station in 1910 set the Long Island firmly on the course that soon made it the nation's largest commuter carrier. For a brief period, LIRR was a moneymaker for its parent, the Pennsylvania RR, but then the line was caught in the grip of commuter traffic ineffectiveness and fares that were frozen at 1918 levels for almost 30 years by the New York Public Service Commission. The LIRR paid its last dividend in 1933 and ran in the red almost continuously from 1935 onward.

By the end of World War II, the railroad had reached a serious state of deterioration. By 1949, the LIRR had entered bankruptcy. That, coupled with inadequate earnings and accidents, started the LIRR on a course that would make it the first major publicly owned railroad in the U. S. Late in 1965, the State of New York made a down payment to Pennsy of $10 million on an agreed purchase price of $65 million. Along with the LIRR, the State received a long-term lease for the Pennsy's East River tunnels and Penn Station, plus LIRR indebtedness. The Pennsylvania retained title to the Bay Ridge Brooklyn Freight Line. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) assumed control of the road in 1966 and has operated and improved it since that time. New faster cars were added. Service was improved. It became the "Route of the Dashing Dan." It also had a fantastic safety record and ran about 95% on time. The MTA is trying to bring the road into the 21st century with new engines and a series of ultra modern passenger cars.

Today all of the trains are air-conditioned and have airline-type seating. The LIRR is also hoping to become totally electrified by the 21st Century and to keep and improve the present level of service.

For years there were no efforts to build an LIRR "O" gauge model. Lionel did produce RS-3 power and dummy units #8360 in gray and silver. Last year K Line produced the Greenport Scoot, a five-car set (3 passenger and 2 diesel), complete with a pair of passenger car add ons. The passenger cars are blue with a red one thrown in for good looks. It is an attractive set and looks like it will someday be a rare collectible one.


by Jim Herron

What do you do when you have a young child who loves to play with your toy trains? The only way to avoid unhappy confrontations and many trips to the repair shop is to build a kid-proof portable layout.

Begin with a 4' x 6' sheet of 3/4" particle board. The extra thickness will help with soundproofing. The perimeter should be reinforced with 2" x 4"s. Two additional 2" x 4"s are attached to the center of the particle board as cross beams for strength. A 4' x 6' piece of cork is nailed into the top of the particle board. Dark green indoor/outdoor carpeting can be used to cover the top and the sides of the board. It can be screwed or stapled down. As an alternative, the indoor/outdoor carpeting the exact size of the top of the board can be screwed or stapled down and the exposed sides of the board painted Lionel blue and/or orange. Heavy-duty wheels are mounted onto the 2" x 4"s at each corner. This provides mobility so the board can easily be placed under a bed when not in use.

For track, I recommend buying new Lionel "O" gauge because of the clearance of engines and passenger cars on the O-22 switches. For this board, I used four 3 1/2' straight sections (less clickety-clack and better conductivity), 2 straight half sections, 11 O-31 curves, three switches (two right hand and one left-hand) and a #260 red bumper. The resulting layout design will have an outer oval, an inside loop/passing track and a spur off the inside loop. (Parallel to the inner loop, another 4' section of "O" track may be added for a trolley line, with two #260 red bumpers.) Fiber pins should be installed for non-derailing at the switches and the spur. All of the tracks need to be screwed down.

Power for the layout is supplied by a 125-watt Lionel LW transformer. The track should be wired with an illuminated green lockon (LTC lockon with green light), with a separate switch for power to the spur.

For the most modest landscaping, Moondog roadbed can be used. For my son's layout, I placed a Noma station and Plasticville post office, fire house, church, ice cream stand and a Lionel #394 beacon on one side of the inner loop road. On the other side of the street are Plasticville gas station, bank and police station and 3 crossing gates. Lionel #410 billboards are used as fillers.

Operating trains are led by an MTH RailKing Amtrak Dash 8, with passenger cars. A cityscape background, 6' long by 18" high was added later for depth and effect.

It took about 12 hours to complete this board, at a cost of about $600, including the rolling stock and engine, but excluding the background cityscape. This price was the result of shopping many train shows! If you buy in a store at retail, the cost will be greater.

Shopping list:


  • 4' x 6' 3/4" particle board
  • 4' x 6' cork
  • Two 6 foot and two 4 foot 2" x 4"s to go around the perimeter of the particle board
  • Two 44 inch long 2" x 4"s for interior bracing
  • Box of #6 1" black flathead screws (electric screwdriver is essential) or heavy duty staple gun and staples
  • Green indoor/outdoor carpeting to cover the particle board with enough left over to wrap around edges (can be purchased at Home Depot). If the sides are left exposed, Lionel blue and orange paints may be found in the Ralph Lauren paint line.
  • 4 heavy duty wheels
  • Small box of 1" nails

Layout Materials

  • Four 3 1/2' straight sections of Lionel "O" gauge track
  • 2 straight half sections
  • 11 curves
  • Three switches -- two right-handed, one left-handed
  • One #260 red bumper
  • Fiber pins
  • #6 1" black flathead screws
  • 125-watt Lionel LW transformer
  • LTC lockon with green light
  • #290C on/off switch

Optional Trolley Line

  • 4' section of "O" track
  • 2 #260 red bumpers


What a difference a day makes! At the Tuesday, January 5th HTOS business meeting - the outlook was bleak for the portable layout being at GATS. But thanks to the negotiating (or bribery?) skills of our newly elected president, GATS officials reversed their decision the following day. A bit of frenzy due to the change in game plan, but HTOS members really stepped up to make this GATS a huge success! The crowds at the George R. Brown seemed larger this year, perhaps because the show was held a week later than has been tradition over the last few years. It seemed like the portable layout was always surrounded by mobs of people. Both the young and young at heart really seemed to enjoy the giraffes, looking through the plexiglass cubicle and just simply watching the multitude of trains. We passed out a lot of club flyers, and hopefully picked up a few new members. Our workshops had good response, especially Patti Norman's "Designing a Christmas Layout". She actually wound up doing it twice on Sunday, due to several wayward soles! The club's raffle of the MTH RailKing Genesis Set was a huge success. In the end, everyone (including the GATS folks) was happy that HTOS and the portable layout were there! And ... HTOS is already confirmed for the next Houston GATS in September!


MTH # 30-2508 handcar. Before Christmas I picked up an MTH handcar for under $60. It really looks great and runs even better. The detailing is nice: two train men pumping the handle to make it forward and in reverse as fast as they can. It runs cool for long periods of time at a nice, smooth clip. A recommended buy. JWH

Lionel "Command Controlled" Whale Aquarium car, #19845. One of our members recently purchased this car and is quite pleased with its operation. It is not cheap, being the tenth in the series of aquarium cars Lionel has put out and the most expensive at about $200. The detailing and color (royal blue with Marine Transport lettering) are eye-catching. The sounds are fantastic -- just like whales talking, with volume control and an on/off switch as added touches. This 3435 (come on guys, let's get original!) is a worthy running and collector piece. It is an above-average, well-lighted accessory car to run. P. S., it is made in China. JWH

Lionel Mainline Die-Cast Mast Signal and Walkout Cantilever Signals. At least from outward appearances, these scale crossing signals make it seem that Lionel is serious about capturing its share of the "true to life" O-gauge market place. Lighting of the LEDs - 2 in the Mast Signal, 4 in the Cantilever - can be controlled by either using a #153 contactor (provided) or wiring these accessories to an insulated track section (highly recommended). These signals are a classy way to warn your vehicular traffic of oncoming trains.

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