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