Rick’s Rants

You found my rant. Good!
I think out loud and let you in on my thoughts.
I write to entertain as well as make a point.
Hang onto your hat it will get windy.

Recent Review:  A good friend and confidant said of this posting that all I hear is you whining.    Thanks!
I’d expect that from anyone who has attended any co-dependent work shops .     YES, I do whine but that’s not all.   I fume, spit nails, growl, snarl, hiss and gosh whatever adjectives and expletives you want to add.     My boiler gets to the boiling point and the safety valve lifts off.

I do accomplish something here as I give you resolutions to some of the problems I present here.    It isn’t all bad.    Now then It’s up to you to decide what is beneficial, helpful and/or full of bull-puckey !

  • #1, Traction Tires 
  • #2, Pulling Power

Rick’s Rant #1

To be followed by Rant #2 and then #3.     #1  you are paying for and #2, is free…I said with a mischievous grin.   Oh and #3 was … oh well you’ll catch on soon enough.

Every so often something sticks in your head and won’t go away.    A tune, an idea, something that frustrates, frustrates and frustrates some more.    Then as the years roll by you look around and discover to your dismay and displeasure “While some things have changed,   nothing has changed.”   Or saying it another way,  “Some things have changed while nothing has changed…at all.”

Fifty years from now you’ll wake up to discover that model railroaders are still dependent on  a Binky and they won’t give it  up.   Sucking the life out of it.   It’s happened to me so I know it can happen to you.    You may find yourself wondering  why and when   it became the popular a thing to do?     What am I talking about?    Here is where it gets controversial as there are two entrenched sides willing to fight for what they think and believe is the  best problem resolution for a traction device.    Getting to the point:  Those dreaded, cursed, downright insulting and other expletives I can’t and won’t use here…Traction Tires.    What are they thinking?

Traction Tires aka TT’s the poor man’s excuse for a good running locomotive.  You can quote me on that.   I said that!


What in the heck is a traction tire?   My heckler in the back row, in the last seat just woke up.   Somebody get that guy a pillow and blanket.    A binky if he needs it.

No it wasn’t a metal tire used on the 1:1 foot scale IE.,  Locomotives, Diesels, Traction and Trolley lines, Electric  Motors and other assorted  front end power.      Yes, even the prototype maintenance crews had to change out metal tires on steam locomotives, from time to time.    But why should modelers have to worry about a broken thing that looks like a rubber band.   I thought we got rid of rubber band drives…forever!  Now you can find them on the wheels of our miniaturized  head end power…in any gauge or scale.

I count rivets but really….I don’t WANT to spend my time in the shop or at my work bench tearing down a locomotive so I can replace a flipping traction tire.  Are you getting my drift here?     It (my head end power) should be out on the layout pulling trains.    Where it belongs!!!!!!

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about:  It is not so dissimilar to a rubber gasket but placed on the wheels of toy train locomotives and diesels… to add traction.     Kind of like chains on tires during a snow storm.    A traction device.

The first American Flyer locomotive (steam engine) I owned had traction tires and it spent more time in a San Jose  Hobby Shop.  You know the song:   Do you know the way to San Jose?    Yes,  I hear that play in my head every time I think about the infamous city of  San Jose, Ca..   That darn locomotive…. IT SPENT MORE TIME IN THAT HOBBY SHOP...More Time In San Jose...waiting for traction tire replacements then running around on it’s own track.  Should I say my layout…such as it was.    Never mind the cost to get this done.

Then along came my HO train layout with stoves and diseasels (sp intended) that operated with traction tires.    I got to where I  detested those dreaded traction tires. 

It wasn’t to long before I started my own personal boycott.   Time for a moratorium on all products with those confounded gadgets.   I wouldn’t buy a locomotive or diesel with them darn TT’s on the wheels.    That worked for awhile…until…I started experimenting with and  putting in grades on my layouts.  The cookie cutter method.  Changed the landscape of my layout and future layouts forever.  Yep and it worked out just fine.   No more Flat Lander Railroading!

Eventually this will happen to you.   The metal wheels will actually slip inside the traction tires.     Which begs the question are we stuck with them, you know TT’s?

Grudgingly, I lifted the moratorium and called off the boycott.   Grumbling all the while…. going  back to purchasing locomotives with the unforgiving TT’s.   I fought with them, ordered more then I needed, used more and broke more then I thought possible.   Tore into the locomotives with a vengeance which usually meant… it ended up on the deadline, parted out or worse awaiting the scrappers torch.  This went on for more years then I hate to think.

TO THE RESCUE:   Then along came Bull Frog Snot.    You don’t have to take my word for it but this stuff is amazing.   At first glance it didn’t appear  likely to give me the troubles and headaches, like those I’ve had in the past.   I have experimented with it and am very happy with the results.   After a few years of operation I am satisfied with the results.     Here’s a helpful How To link:   http://bullfrogsnot.com/howtoinstall.asp

My New Years Resolution for 2015 is to remove all traction tires and replace them with Bull Frog Snot.

I did get some done but not all of them, yet!    You know how new years resolutions go.

Next up:   Pulling Power.

This kind of dove tails into the previous discussion.

Sad to say:  Many of my earlier locomotives from the 70’s through to the  90’s aren’t pullers even with the TT’s.    Interesting to watch but in most cases they must work in a multiple lash-ups to make it up my 2% grades.   In some cases:   Specific to certain models and manufacturers.  These bad boys can’t pull them selves up the same grades…even with the TT’s.    Said another way, I still  have locomotives that pull less then 10 cars of anything up my 2%  grades.   Do I dare tell you they are shelf queens and/or eventually found the bottom side of a trash can.

Hopefully in the near future  (I’m getting short on future) we can find a way to solve that problem.    Locomotives properly geared, weighted over the drivers, and metallurgy that leads to  metal wheels that will make the pull.

What has amazed me is every scale:   From Z Scale all the way up to G Scale, has and still uses traction tires.    Scratching my head and wondering why we haven’t solved this problem by now?    Well, we have that is with the arrival of   BullFrogSnot.

One of the things I keep hearing is it leaves a residue on the track.    On my layout I have what professionals call Environmental Build Up or dirt on the rails of the track.     No one has shown any proof of finding BFS residue on any club or home layout.     I need to look at some lab reports before I buy into that lame excuse.      Proof!

Rick’s Rant #2.

Locomotive pulling power or lack thereof!

Locomotives that won’t pull more then ten train cars up my 2% grades.    Sad to say most of the locomotives and diesels I own  will not pull the ten car maximum required.

Many of my 90’s  analog DC locomotives have decent pulling power but when DCC showed up they started removing the weights to make room for the decoders.     Pulling power has suffered as a consequential result.

I don’t think this discussion will ever be brought to a satisfactory conclusion with one exception, as already mentioned.   Bull Frog Snot.

I certainly like what I see on my layout.   I’ve heard from others that they are happy with the BFS. A very simple application and if it wears down (not likely) it’s easier then sneezing to fix it.  I’ve yet to experience any wear and tear with my BFS applications.

The real answer is properly weighted locomotives with the weight directly over geared up drivers.    Better electric motors and metallurgy that is designed to give us the best traction available as in  grabs the rails.     Do I dare say without eating up the rails or wheels!

There’s hope:  Look for good things to come from Kato, ConCor, InterMountain, BLI, & FVM.  To name a few.   Core-less motors, properly weighted,   excellent details, operates extremely well and all done with minimal  derailments.

That wraps up us this rant.    More to come as I can go on like this for  hours.   Just don’t get me started.   Oop’s I think we already did.

On a positive note:  Despite the purpose of this rant, vent or whatever you want to call it.   A whole lot of grumbling over something I have no control over.    Hopefully, someone is paying attention and  it will make a difference.    Did you say I was dreaming again?  You did.    You maybe right.

We have a lot of good things going for us.    It isn’t as bleak as I may make it sound.    Frustrating, frustrating, frustrating to no end… that’s true.    I’d give up, if I didn’t think there was hope for a better day for us toy train enthusiast and model railroaders.

It’s going to be pricey and are you willing to pay the price?

Stay tuned more to come!




DCC & Sound

As a kid, I set trackside wishing my trains at home sounded like the stoves and motors I saw working the train yards.   Today,  FINALLY  we have accurate sound synched and  generated in the locomotive.  What took them so long?    Oh we had sound but it was hardly the answer to a little kids wishes.

There’s nothing like hearing a locomotive move about a train yard.    See-sawing back and forth as they build a train.   To have a scaled down version doing the same thing on my train layout…WOW!

DCC  Sound Decoders are all relatively new and only getting better.  Doppler sound has been built into some of them and you will have to experience it to appreciate it.  Nothing like hearing the correct sounds coming from the locomotive or diesel of your choice.

Tony’s trains has submitted a number of You Tube Video’s for your viewing pleasure.   DCC Sound Decoders for your locomotives and diesel engines.     Here’s a link to their website:   http://tonystrains.com/tonys-tv/  

All of the DCC Sound Decoder  units illustrated are available at Tony’s Trains and other LHS’s.   Of course subject to availability.  I mean if you buy up their stock and don’t leave me anything to buy…I think you get the picture.

Video?   Did someone say something about a video?   Here’s a sampling of what you will find.

HO Rivarossi Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-6 Allegheny with Tsunami Sound

A 2-6-6-6 Allegheny really well detailed model featuring Tsunami DCC sound decoder.  Features two 1.25″ speakers located in tender
Smooth running mechanism.     Thanks for watching, Erik Fiske.

You will also find various How To Install a DCC decoder, Tips.  All  you need to do is take the time to browse.    Click and scroll.

For the local BVMR’s, Tony’s is our Go To Place for advice and quality products regarding decoders.  http://tonystrains.com/category/tonys-tips/dcc-sound/

Are you ready to add some realism to your toy trains or model railroad?    I’ll leave you to decide.

Have fun!



Non-Flickering Lights

Non-Flickering Lights In Passenger Cars,  Cabooses and MOW Equipment.

One of the frustrating things with toy trains and some model railroads is the flickering  lights for engines, passenger cars and cabooses.    Darn flickering lights.   Like some kid playing with the light switch, a poorly working intermittent generator and/or a lightening storm.    Let’s not forget what happens when you shut off the power to the engine, slowing it down to a  stop.   You guessed it… the lights dim and  go off.   How about the number boards or clearance lights that should stay lit?    How about dimming the headlight and/or turning it off and on during train operations.? What to do?   For far to many years this hobbyist and fellow modelers put up with   intolerable lighting systems that were less then acceptable.

Over the years, some have emphasized to clean the wheels and track.   Although a necessary maintenance issue…at all times on any miniature railroad.  It doesn’t always solve the problem.

Along came constant lighting and yes it’s been around a while but not long enough.    Electronics for model railroading has been an uncomfortable area for many modelers because we simply don’t understand it.    Alas the times they are a changing.

Then along came DCC, and everyone begin to wonder how this was all going to work out.  Things were looking up and lighting problems were being resolved.  The DCC decoder is designed to handle many of these problems and the only thing difficult is hard wiring it into the  diesel engine or locomotive.

Constant lighting arrived before DCC and I will provide   a link to a constant lighting circuit that will work for both Analog DC and DCC.    How?    It has a bridge rectifier and the correct resistors built  into  it which means you can operate your train equipment on either AC or DC power sources.   Operate conventional light bulbs or LED’s.   Courtesy of: Jim Betz circuit.   Click and scroll.


This is the same circuitry John A. uses on his HO Scale, Gulf & Pacific Railroad.   One he highly recommends.

Watch this Railfan Special as it moves through Hannah Vista.     In the next video courtesy of John A., you can see how well the constant lighting circuit works.

Railfan Special through Hannah Vista

Published on Feb 28, 2013

A Cab-Forward, protected by a ATSF FP45, pulls a Railfan Special of ATSF passenger cars through the yard of Hannah Vista one evening in 1965.  Thanks for watching John A.

Southern Pacific local arriving at Sarah’s Valley in 1964.

Published on Mar 18, 2012

On my HO scale “Gulf & Pacific Railroad”. The crossing gates are NJI, powered by AZATRAX infrared sensors.    Again we appreciate you stopping by to visit, John A.

Stay tuned more to come.


DCC Lighting & Electronics

The most unique thing about DCC aka Digital Command Control is the lighting packages and sound  options available via the DCC decoders.

For example lighting packages for your stoves and diesel engines, passenger cars, cabooses and M.O,W. aka maintenance of way equipment.

In this next video tsgmultimedia gives us an introduction to light packages for your locomotives and diesel engines.     Some of us have waited along time to actually be able to  add lighting packages to our railroad equipment.    Lighting with options and choices.

N Scale DCC Ditch Lights & HO Scale Trains Too! 

Dan shows an HO scale switcher he has been working on, shows off an N scale locomotive with working ditch lights, and details a HO scale box car in this podcast,

Lighting up your railroad whether if be street lights, working signals, lighting packages for you locomotives or passenger cars brings your layout to life.    You can’t go wrong with LED’s and DCC.   Have I ever steered you wrong?

Stay tuned more to come.


Track – Kato Unitrack Tutorial

A tutorial on how to use Kato’s Unitrack sectional track.

There’s been all kinds of arguments over whether this is sectional track or not.    It comes in pieces, goes together in pieces and comes a part in sectional pieces.   It is without a doubt sectional track.   You could argue this isn’t your Grandpa’s or  Grandma’s sectional track and that would be true.

Kato’s Unitrack is by far better then anything else I’ve seen on the market in the last 50 years.    Better then what I’ve seen  to date.   I would have appreciated this track system back as a youngster.   Yes, I was a youngster once upon a time… many moons ago.    Funny, but I still see things through those youngsters eyes.    That’s enough about me now how about you and Unitrack, for your layout?

One of the most unique sectional track programs  is Kato’s Unitrack.    They’ve done an excellent job of putting together an all but flawless system.    Bullet proof?   No!   Bullets will  penetrate right through it,   BB’s will damage it.    So don’t go shooting at it.   What?   What?    What did he say?

The system is as close as I’ve ever seen to what I would describe as a perfect system.   It is available in N Scale and HO Scale.   I question, whether you need a tutorial or not.    It’s that simple to put together.

The system is Plug and Play, User Friendly and DCC Safe.   

Allow me to introduce you to Kato Unitrack.   Here is a  link to Kato’s Unitrack:  http://www.katousa.com/N/unitrack.html

Bob E. aka PowerSteamGuy1790 put his layout together with…what else?    Kato Unitrack.  Bob  has provided a great deal of information including tutorials on How To install various track switches, crossovers and the double slip crossovers.     There is a list of subjects in a menu.   Once you are in to his website, feel free to use the navigational tools to find your way around it.   Click on the assortment of topics available to learn more. The New JJJ& E.,  Here is a link to get you started: http://powersteamguy1790snewjjje.blogspot.com/searc/labe/Versatility%20And%20Flexibility%20Of%20Unitrack

Kato put out the following blog.   I found the numerous video’s illustrating what can be done to be very helpful.   I’d love to bring all the videos here but you’ll find a nice collection of shorties to watch.   I hope you won’t mind my providing you with links to some of the best videos  out there.    Check it out and do come back.   http://www.katotrainlayouts.com/VIDEO.html

A basic set-up and a great place to start.    Warning fun ahead!

Kato Unitrack Demo #1

A thread at TrainBoard.com about Unitrack made me decide to film another video as a “demonstration”.   Thanks for watching SimRacin14.

I think I’ve already said this but it’s worth repeating.   I don’t know how you could go wrong using Kato’s Unitrack.   Unless you use momma’s kitchen table.   She isn’t going to like that.  Not a good idea!   One way to turn her against the whole idea of, “Trains in the house.”   We don’t want that kind of reaction from the feminine power brokers that prevails in our lives.   I said with an all knowing grin!

Do I dare say, the easiest way to get a layout up and running.



Screwing Around

The fine art of screwing around.     Toy Man Television brings us an interesting perspective to the hobby.

Disappointed?    It’s not what you thought?  You were hoping for something else.     Right?  That’s ok there’s plenty of that around, just not here.  This is very much in-line with the theme of  toy trains, model railroading and rail-fanning .   With some other examples  of  screwing around.

Screwing around as it turns out is more then just a fascination with something.    Here we will let our host describe what’s happening.   We celebrate with Toy Man Television, his one year anniversary.      Salute!     Check it out.

One Year Show!

This week marks one year of Toy Man television! 52 shows! So we are clomping down memory lane looking at bits and pieces of the last year and looking forward to the next year.   Thanks for watching!

Next a little ghost chasing.   Oh, but again not what you expected.  Grin!

Ghost Tracking Urban Railroads. The Salt Lake & Fort Douglas 2

This week we are back to the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railroad to finish looking at the line to Fort Douglas, Red Butte Canyon, Salt Lake Brewery and Wagener’s Brewery. Cool old photos of a time when beer flowed and steam trains ran in the streets of Salt Lake City!

One more to go.   You might remember where I talked about all the stops on a organ and what it takes to get specific sounds out of it.   Comparing it to a control panel on a model railroad.   If the stops aren’t set correctly you aren’t going to get the melodic harmony out of it.    The same is true with your control panel.    We divert from the topic of trains for a minute or two,  to enjoy another interest of mine.     Toy Man Television does it again.     Oh how much fun, I could have with one of these.

The Organ Loft;  Silent Movies & Organ Music in a Chicken Coop.

When it comes to screwing around Toy Man Television, has it figured out down to a science.

Thanks for watching.

Have fun!


The Gulf & Pacific Railroad

The Gulf & Pacific Railroad.

Night Lighting & Green Screen Video

John Acosta has developed a real sense of night time travel on his Gulf & Pacific HO Scale Model Railroad.  Trains still run after sun down.    Check out the night lighting both on the layout and inside the passenger cars.

“All Aboard”    Conductor has given the highball.

Arriving at Hannah Vista Union Station 

Another attempt using the “green screen” method; riding in a dome car while arriving at Hannah Vista as the train comes through the yard and stops at the passenger platform.

Departing Hannah Vista Union Station

We’re looking rearward as we depart Hannah Vista Union Station on Santa Fe’s “Big Dome” 506 late one balmy summer evening in 1963, as the stainless steel cars snake through the yard throat in the industrial area of town onto the mainline, passing the commuter depot of East Hannah Vista on the left. My new 808 #18 micro-cam with “blue screen” method was used for this shot.   Thanks for watching, John A.

Gulf & Pacific Railroad

A video of my HO scale layout, from one end to another at “nighttime” with “in-cab” and “run-by” views. It’s not perfect but hopefully you get the idea; this is 17 minutes long, so grab a bowl of popcorn, a cold drink, and enjoy!   Again, thanks for watching JohnA.

Photography brings to the eye what we miss when just looking at the layout unassisted.   Looking at the layout at night is reminiscent of the times I stood trackside after the sun had set and the cool breezes started up.     Here John has utilized the night lighting and photography  well to show us his layout.    The green screen is a plus and gives me the feeling I’m actually riding along.   Thanks John!

It’s all about fun!


Railroad Safety Procedures

Railroad Safety Procedures:

“Safety First” has been  Santa Fe’s motto.

Today it’s called “Risk Management.”

Did you ever wonder how the crews communicated with each other  before there was radios.   You got it Hand Signals.    You’ll find other videos on the same subject here on BarstowRick.com.    A must see for the inquisitive mind.

Take a look at this safety film.    See if the switchman looks familiar to you.

Getting Off on the Right Foot –  Railroad Safety Film Circa 1972, courtesy of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Published on Jan 11, 2013

GETTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT by the Union Pacific Railroad, is by far and away THE BEST railroad safety film I have ever watched . . . in my opinion. This is the film that was shown when I hired out braking for the Santa Fe in January 1976 — the film was just a few years old then. I don’t know if the Archie Bunker looking switchman (ALL IN THE FAMILY was a popular TV show about the same time) was an actual old head switchman, or a professional Hollywood stunt man, but if he was the latter, he picked up the ways and mannerisms of a real switchman fast!!!     Thanks for watching RJM.

I thought the switchman looked familiar.

Note of Caution:     Question of the day.   How can we model railroaders refine the signals down to something safer then waving arms and elbows around a toy train or model railroad?   My left elbow is infamous for taking out smoke stacks, station roofs and much more.   In case you missed it, the full, exaggerated moves that the rails make won’t work in our scale model railroad environment.     I don’t want to get tossed out of  an operations night because my elbow split a scratch-built  train station in half.

Seems to me there is a video where a group of guys modified the hand signals.    Still looking.   If you find it first let me know.

Stay tuned more to come.


Rick’s Rant #3 !!!!!!!

Rick’s Rant #3:  Quality, Train Equipment… or the lack thereof.    You may have read Rant #1 & #2.     By now you should have some idea of what to expect next.      Just my chance to growl, snarl and vent a little.  GRRRRRRR!!!!    Sigh!

You may or may not need to know, this post was my original rant.     Hey, I just work here I don’t explain it.   Everything normal all        ,  you can fill in the blank.    Did I hear,   Fubar?

The way this works:  Oh, I’m not a happy camper.    The first rant was supposed to be this one but the organizational skills of the web engineers…well…that’s a different rant for a different time and place.  This rant doesn’t fall into place so this will be the last rant, that should of been  the first rant…I think you get it.

Now, I went back and attempted to fix it but computers can be just as difficult and unyielding as those  miniature trains of ours.   So, I simply changed the numbering of things to accommodate this difficult, con-fangled and unyielding programming for this website.    Never mind this new contraption called a computer.    Frustrate, frustrate, frustrate.    The wave of the future but someone needs to work out the bugs and find a hacker smacker.   Sorry, this should be a different rant altogether.    Look at it this way a rant within a rant.  No charge.    Aiiyiiyii!

This Rant (wherever it fits in)  will be a work in progress.    I have some things to Rant about some things that in today’s world probably doesn’t amount to a hill of bean’s.   It’s all about the BS we put up with over the years, as in  yesteryear?   Wondering out loud if things have really changed?

In the formative years, I kept hearing from manufacturers and sellers of  products, “Oh things have changed, things have improved, and we fixed that old problem.”   Then why am I as unhappy with the latest model as I was and still am with the old one?    One of those beloved, I say cynically,  manufacturers or model train providers has the initials of BM.  Any implied message is strictly a coincidence or not.  They werejust the worst products ever.  My sucker light was on to many times and I suckered for their products more times then I care to admit to.   The Sucker Light, how do you or I turn the neon light, that sits on our forehead… off?    I heard that.    You said you didn’t sucker for them.    How old are you.    Twenty two years old?    Hunhu!    Of course you didn’t.

You’ll understand my frustrations as you read on.  I figured this is as good a place to do a RANT and be a FOAMER.   So, hang onto your hat the wind is going to get gusty and the foam deep. 

What we needed back then and still do today is affordable train equipment.   Hell-o, hell-o,  knock, knock did anyone out there hear that?     What we got was way to toy like, caricatures  and way to expensive worthless, non-operating train stuff.     Someone must have heard us because, today, we’ve witnessed a lot of major changes.     Right along with the upgrades in quality.   There’s been a shift to higher prices (the cost of better products) and has many of us wondering where the tipping point is.   Pondering:   Will this become the rich mans hobby?

Even the pathetic pricing I see on some on the infamous auction web sights.   Gold diggers in every camp.  Selling  old junk like it was the Crown Jewels.   In case you missed it,  I don’t mean for that to be complimentary.

Old junk wasn’t worth the MSRP back when it first came out…. let alone now.

“Today,” I know you thought this was about yesterday and it is.   Bear with me a minute or two.     “Today,” I hear and read where various hobbyist  whine and growl about the less then prototypical couplers or some cab that is one scale inch to long.    They should have grown up with me.    Then they’d actually have something to cry about.

Where did I put my crying towel?    In the wash it was starting to look briny.

I started my serious Model Railroading at the age of 12 and as of this writing I’m now 65.  My first toy trains showed up at the age of 4 but but hardly an official start for model railroading.    Ok, so I started with toy trains but got serious about things lateron.    I’ll let you mathematical brainy-yack’s   do the math.    Now you know how long I’ve been a type…. of model railroader.   More on this type…later.   Now, you have some idea how far back my experience  goes.

When I  started out with my first teaching layout.  I was surprised when my mother took an interest in it and helped me with my scenery.    The layout turned out to be rather unique and bordered on awesome in appearance but I couldn’t get a train around the track without it derailing.      The track curves were to tight and the train equipment including the couplers was anything but prototype.   It all came to an end when the vectors showed up.   Munch, munch, munch and my paper-mache mountainous, “Park Hill,” scenery began to collapse.    What’s a guy to do?

There wasn’t much out there and a lot of serious modelers were scratch building their own train equipment.   We could buy Varney and Mantua products but they were way to expensive for what you got.     We had Brass locomotives but someone forgot that a superbly crafted locomotive needs to run like one.    What were they and we thinking?

Athearn, Tyco and Revel were the cheapest main stays.  I cut my model railroading teeth with these brands.    Not the best products in retrospect but ones I could afford to buy.    Mowing lawns, polishing mortuary cars, bagging at the grocery store, working on a ranch (helping raise a calf and colt), harvesting various crops IE., Apricots (my favorite) and later working as an ambulance attendant and as a funeral directors assistant.     First I had to pay for school supplies, new clothes and then trains.

The only viable source for track was Atlas.  Tru-scale came along but didn’t stay around long enough for me to buy much of their track stuff.   One or two switches that ended up on the main.     Nice!

The only real affordable source for train equipment was Athearn.   Oh, yes as already mentioned there was Revel and Tyco but they soon branched out into slot cars,  forgetting their toy train customers.   You know those of us that help build their toy companies.  It was,  almost ten years before we saw them back and producing ….well…barely acceptable train engines and train cars.   They qualified as caricatures or just plain  toys.    Nothing remotely prototypical about them.    If you didn’t scratch-build you weren’t going to get anything remotely close to the real deal.

Some where in the late 50’s and early 60’s.   There was a slight hint of better things to come.   It was interesting what they were coming up with  for HO scale layouts.   S Scale had gotten so expensive and it took a large area to set up a layout.  Larger then a 4X8 piece of plywood.   Lionel was in and out like a revolving door.   You didn’t know if they were open for business and producing toy train equipment or currently being sold off to a new owner.   Plastic body shells started showing up at hobby shops and the quality had taken a step backwards.   Toy trains… perfect for under the Christmas Tree but that was just about all (pause fore affect)  they were good for.

Most of the stuff was toyish in appearance.  As was Lionel or three track O scale.   What HO scale brought to our train tables and/or gave most of us wanna be model railroaders,  was hope.    Hope that things would someday improve and there would be a horn of plenty.   It took long enough.   Darn near my whole lifetime.    In the meantime it was scratch-building or kit bashing to get what I or anyone else wanted.   I don’t know how many locomotives I rebuilt from the chassis up.  Not many I can assure you.    That wasn’t my area.

In the mid  60’s something took a turn for the better.    Thank goodness for ConCor and later Rivarossi.    Concor, produced a wide variety of HO Scale  train equipment including full length passenger cars.

Oh they looked good but not on my tight radius curves.     Change was in the wind.    The question of the day:   On what track and what radius are you going to run them on?  For sale at the LHS,  18″ radius curves and I would soon learn by default they were to tight and the cars looked like they were going to string-line any minute and all to often did.     Those tight radius curves…what were we thinking?   What are we still thinking as things haven’t changed much….in that department.

N scale started showing up in the LHS, in the 70”s.   N scale didn’t have Athearn and wouldn’t for a long time.  We had those BM products that would literally tear themselves apart while operating on my layouts.   Most of the stuff produced was right out of a kids toy box.    Lousy.

In both HO and N scale:   ConCor, Atlas, Life Like and some Model Power……. must of heard Rick’s Rant’s, and came to the rescue.   We started to get cars, locomotives and diesel engines that resembled the 1:1 foot scale.   Now, Now, NOW we are getting somewhere.

Sure my FIRST layouts that I built for myself was/were the pits.  It would be safe to say the worst ever. By now, you’ve read here where I call the first layout “A Teaching Layout”.  Ok, maybe I called it something else that started with a Finkel Farkell FD’d aka Messed Up…..layout.   FD does not stand for funeral director.    I’ll leave you to play with that in your head.  I can hear what you are thinking.   

For years I was a mortician aka funeral director.    Having done so longer then I care to account for.     One of the reasons this hobby was so attractive.    I mean you can’t be on call and go out and join Little League, the Wrestling Team, or the High School Football Team.    I could go out to the football game, rodeo and do stand by with the Ambulance.   I managed to ride a bull.   Not once but twice.    But that’s another story for another time and place.

That’s what happens in a family operated business.   Uhh…err…hours spent sitting by the phone waiting for someone to         depart.   I think you get the picture.     But let’s not get into all that I have some bitching and moaning to do about those formative model railroad years.   That first layout taught me plenty.    I’ve never enjoyed something more or  been so frustrated with anything in my whole life.

As a teen, I almost left the hobby. Just about had it with the HO Scale,  the “A”…….. sectional “BRASS” track, lousy rail joiners that loosened up over time.   A common wiring theory, more like a mistake, that cost me plenty.  They were using us as suckers…. guinea pigs.   And, if you think things have changed…I don’t think so.

“They” …… who the well is THEY?  Some sort of authoritative board that sits back determining for the rest of us what’s right and wrong?  Critiquing our every move.   Kiss my ….ever widening….@$$…yeah I thought you could finish that.    You guessed it.

The best performance of our model trains was actually the worst performance when compared to today’s  train operations.

  • Those cursed rail joiners would come loose, lose contact and we’d end up dragging our locomotives around the layout like we did with our wind-up trains.    AND  THEY wonder why I solder, them RAIL JOINERS  to this day?
  • Those cursed green slider switches.    Only good for on or off, SPDT but not much else.
  • Train cars that wouldn’t stay on the track and reverse moves that looked like a truck wreck during tomato season on Pacheco Pass.    You know between Los Banos and Gilroy, California.  Tomato Season could be worst on that forsaken pass… then a winter storm and icy roads in Big Bear Country.    True!   Ask me!  I worked to many of those truck wrecks and auto accidents.    Worse then an ice and snow storm  over Tehachapi Pass.   That’s enough about my chosen occupation.   Getting back to my hobby of choice.
  • Does anything come without a frustration or two?

In HO, never mind those lousy horn hook couplers. What were they thinking?  In N Scale, those dratted boxy looking Rapido couplers.   American Flyer wasn’t any better as was some of the G Scale couplers.    Lionel trains could have knuckle couplers but we couldn’t?  I don’t think so!!!! Why the hell can’t the rest of us have them?   Alleged copyright issues.   The competitive edge.    Bull $#!+ !

NMRA didn’t help, some argument between them and a company making HO knuckle couplers.  I suspect it was with Kadee, or so I’ve heard.  NMRA adopted the horn hook as the official coupler.  That will teach the twins at Kadee a thing or two.   They did what?  Yes they did…and called the horn hook coupler something fancy  Uhh…ERR,  X2F, never mind what the F….stands for.    I know, I know this is a family show.

And, And,  AND!!!   THEY didn’t bother to standardize them.   One train car would literally pull the following car off the track. Blame the coupler…to stiff.    Yes, they’d center alright.   They’d straighten out the curve and pull the following car off the track.   Centering yes but big deal….of all things…. that was the least of our problems back then.   Those horn hook couplers were to stiff when they needed to be flexible.  Never mind how they’d uncouple on a down hill grades.   There wasn’t a coupler made that worked  well.   The horn hook was anything but special and they are TO THIS DAY still selling them.   Why?   What?   What?   WHAT?  They belong in a trash can.   Right along with a bunch of others.    See what I mean when I say some things have changed while nothing has changed.     Fubar!

Thank the great guy above for what happens next.

  • It was Kadee that came to our rescue.  Providing knuckle couplers for both the HO and N Scale Model Railroad Enthusiast.  Finally we can have Knuckle Couplers.    A shout out of Thanks to the Kadee Family and the guys and gals that work for them. Well done. We don’t need any other stinking couplers.  Par excellence.
  • Today, they’ve branched out to other scales as well.
  • For American Flyer, someone figured out a way to steal Lionel’s knuckle coupler and make it work on the American Flyer cars.   Way to go….who ever you are.

I’m just about done venting…uhh…err…  Ok Ranting!  Your right I’m almost done throwing out all those zingers and spitting nails.   Although the boiler is about to blow and I may need to shut the fire down and drop the ash.    Well, at least for the moment.   Is the smoke boiling out of my ears?    I feel like I need to blow off steam, shut the fire down and take a siding to cool off.    

Back to the 60’s:  You’ve got to love the 60’s.    If not you missed out. Ok so maybe that wasn’t such a cool time.   Disease, immorality, something that was called “Free Love” but at a cost.  Vietnam, don’t get me started.   It wasn’t as good as some would have you to think.   But, that’s another story for another time.    But since you asked!   My heckler in the back seat.      Never mind what I kept seeing  riding in the back of our ambulances and sadly…later on the embalming table.   Oh, and things haven’t changed…even now as in not yet!    Sad!

Getting back to trains and reflecting on the past.    We were going through the early stages of mass production of model railroad products and it was one serious, school of hard knocks, one hell of a learning curve.   In the first place there wasn’t enough of us out there to justify making a thousand different types of locomotives or diesel engines.  Never mind that coveted paint job of a Eastern (American) Railway.      Quality control wasn’t even thought of.    We saw some of the worst stuff!!!  If you didn’t scratch-build everything yourself you were up shit creek without a paddle.   Everything from the cheap plastic  to the brass stuff was junk.     No one had figured out how to engineer and build a smooth working engine or a long lasting locomotive mechanism.     With one exception.  Something was looming on the horizon.    Uhh…err…not at Horizon the owners of Athearn, today.    Although that may be the case.

Athearn, was a trend setter as Irv Athearn, constantly made improvements to the diesels engines and train equipment he sold.    He and I visited on the phone a number of times.    We’d share and swapped out ideas.   I wasn’t the only one.    He stayed in touch with his customers and knew them well.    Calling me by my first name.   He was a listener, listening to our input and hearing our suggestions noting our wish lists.

One of the features I liked about Athearn and miss today.   Did I hear my favorite heckler ask, “What is that?”   I’m getting there, I’m getting there.     Well, give me a chance to tell you.      You could find a parts list and if you needed parts they were available.    Not so today.    Where’s that picture of the cat flipping everyone off?    I was going to send it to the boys and girls at _______  yeah, I thought your interpretive skills could fill in the blank.  You are so right.

Then in the 90’s something happened to change the face and infrastructure  of model railroading forever.   Here is that sunrise over the horizon, I was talking about earlier.    Mr. Kato, took a look at what was available and came to the same conclusion most of us had.   Not good.    He went to work, engineering and improving the prime mover.  I have no idea how he managed it.    He came up with a mechanism that finally set the standard for locomotives and those motors for generations to come.

The first one to hit a LHS aka local hobby shop, I worked for in Dayton, Ohio was an HO,  Stewart F3 shell in SP Black Widow livery over a Kato mechanism.    I’ve never seen anything run so smooth in all my life.    Next was an N Scale,  Atlas SD9 shell in the SP Black Widow livery, over a Kato mechanism/chassis.    I had to have them and worked an extra weekend or two so I could buy them.     I still have the N scale SD9, and not so long ago,  I gave Steve the HO F3.    Me thinks I started something as he now owns three  more Stewarts, with the Kato Mechanism.      A shout out of Thanks to Mr. Kato, and a fine family of superb products.

What did you ask?   Yeah, I have a heckler that sits in the back of the room, in the last row and the last seat.    I think he suffers from “I didn’t get enough attention at home  syndrome / disorder.”     What the well do you want?     Oh, you thought this was going to be a bitch and moan session.    It is.    I’m indirectly bitching and moaning about all the other manufacturers that couldn’t figure out what Mr. Kato,  so graciously engineered.     Where did they have their heads all this time.    Where the sun don’t shine?    You agree!   Finally something we can all agree on.     So, are you going to order pizza or not?   Pineapple, no meat on mine.    To much cholesterol.

Check back in, I can go on like this for hours.   Sigh.    More Rant to come.     Well, well it takes me a while to remember all the things that had me spitting nails.

Oh and the BM stinky products I mentioned earlier.   You won’t believe how that company has turned around.  Or at least we hope it has.     Some pretty neat stuff coming out of there.   How-beit the mother company behind it has made a real effort to destroy the reputation of other providers and their product lines.   That’s what you get when you go to off shore manufacturing.    What are they thinking?    Didn’t I already ask that?

I’m not finished…have chores to do and at my age?   Oh I can spit nails for hours over what I’ve gone through just  to enjoy this hobby.   I said not, grinning!

Some things were very rewarding while others seemed like a long frustrating experience with little to no hope of and for a better future. Seriously!

Thankfully things have changed and it is truly fun to operate trains on my layout.     Even if it isn’t perfect.

It was a CHALLENGE and it still is.    No I didn’t say Challenger although I’d love to see one of those pulling a first class train over my layout.


So, if you are up to the challenge I can guarantee you’ll have one.    The upside, with today’s products and the variety and/or cornucopia of products available  will make it  easier then ever.    Celebrate what you have today!    Why?    Because it can all go away faster then you might think.   Now go have some fun and if you think about it, stop and take the time to thank an old timer or two for their patience with the hobby, during their lifetime.

Have fun!


Noted, the website engineers must not have liked my comments toward them as this posting has been rated as content: BAD!   COL.

Advice To Newbies Part #1

What kind of advice do I have to give a Newbie in the hobby.    Let’s see, where should I start?   Judging from the 160 plus posts here.   I’d say, I have a lot to share with you on the subject.

There are Toy Train enthusiast who just like to play trains. As in run their trains usually around in circles and use their imagination to fill in the blanks.  A fun way to enjoy and play trains.

The more serious minded, come under the category of Model Railroaders. They are more interested in operating realistic trains. With varying levels from caricatures to the prototype.

Then there’s Prototype rs, who usually  keep bumping it up a step at a time until they are operating like the real railroads. You will find these guys and gals choosing an era and prototype equipment… detailed to the zenith, with everything being to scale.  Hat’s off to the guys and gals who know how to make this happen.

You are in good company!

Walt Disney, started out as a, you guessed it, a model railroader. He was a live steamer and  had a backyard layout that attracted  numbers of fans on Sunday’s.   He and his dear wife ended up with high numbers of visitors and ultimately this is what inspired him to build  Disneyland.   Yes, that’s correct.    I thought you might like to know, who you share such enthusiasm with.

Here is a cartoon inspired by such model railroading adventures.   All based on a Garden Railroad.

Donald Duck – Train in the garden

Train products make it much simpler to get started and the videos provided here are by far more informative then the pages of How To’s, we used to read in the50’s and 60’s.    You could call these the formative years of Toy Trains and Model Railroading.

Glancing backwards at my experience:    We had some excellent model railroad wig wags (magazines) and the How To books, for the time.   Just as inspiring and appropriate today as the first printing.  Uhh…err…to a point.  Electrical/electronics… engineering topics are old hat.   DCC and newer  electronics’s has it all over them.  Some of the scenery techniques are a bit old hat but I’ve seen today’s modelers use the same techniques and  procedures.

Today’s How To Video’s, give us the visual as well as specific and interpretive How To’s.  You will find over (last count) 100+ How To Videos, here on BarstowRick.com.    I wish I’d had them back when I first got started.   We’ve never had it so good!!!   You will find a number of categories in the upper left hand side of this post.   Click and scroll.  I think,  I’ve already said that…somewhere.    Yep, I did.

Building the first layout:   Your first layout will always be  a teaching layout.    It will teach you much about model railroading.   The Do’s and the  Dont’s.  The first time out, I wouldn’t be to concerned if it doesn’t turn out perfect.    It’s not supposed to.

Stay tuned for part two,  advice to newbies with something more then just a introduction to model railroading.   Click and scroll and you will be off and running to Advice To Newbies Part 2:   


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