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The official e-newsletter of Big Indoor Trains<sup><small>TM</small></sup> and Big Christmas Trains<sup><small>TM</small></sup>.  In prewar Scranton, PA, the Miller brothers set up elaborate railroads, not only in their own home, but in stores and other public places.  This photo is from an unknown year, blown up from a little 2x3 print.  Click to see it as big as the fellows editing it digitally could get it without turning it to a blur. Visit Big Indoor Trains<sup><small>TM</small></sup> primer pageOn30 Display Trains
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Written by Paul D. Race for Big Indoor TrainsTM and Big Christmas TrainsTM

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Trains-N-TownsTM, the Official Newsletter of,, and

This newsletter is for people who like O scale, O gauge, S scale, and Christmas trains, including people who combine On30 or O gauge trains with collectible villages. It is produced in conjunction with the Big Indoor TrainsTM, Big Christmas TrainsTM, and HalloweenTrains.comTM web sites.
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In this Issue

This is the time of year when people start to remember trains. There are two train shows in our area, seasonal activities at permanent locations (like the EnterTrainment Junction), and lots and lots of reader questions.

Usually we can help, but sometimes we get questions when it's too late to help. Like the folks who have a train they love, who get it out of the box about December 15, and realize that something is wrong with it, and they "need" to get it fixed by Christmas. If you have a train you want to use for Christmas, check it out by Thanksgiving, if not before. Even then it will be too late for several brands - this time of year, the repair departments get slammed, too. But it won't be too late for you to shop for a replacement if you need to. Don't sound so shocked. Trains are not THAT expensive any more.

Back when my Dad was a kid, a train set cost as much as, say, a refrigerator. Many families justified it as an investment in family entertainment, the same way some folks might justify a home theater today. The difference, of course, is that trains are interactive. You don't just sit there watching actors pretend to have a life so you don't have to get one of your own.

I grew up in the 1950s, when a good train set only cost as much as, say, a washing machine. In our family, we would decide on a track plan. We would set up the track. We would arrange the buildings and accessories. We would set up the scenery. As often as not, we MADE the scenery. Brown paper wrinkled up for mountains, or maybe something more permanent with hardware cloth and plaster. Trees we made out of twisted wire or carefully selected twigs with dyed lichen glued to the "branches." "Evergreens" made of pine cones spray-painted green, and maybe tipped with white to look like snow. Signs and billboards made by cutting the product picture and name off of the box the real product came in. Buildings made from cardboard boxes, with Xacto-knife carved windows.

Our family's S Gauge railroad, circa 1964.  Plasticville and homemade cardboard buildings, trees made from dissected artificial flower stems, etc.  Click for bigger photo.Even if you could afford building kits, you had to put them together, and if you wanted them NOT to look like plastic, you had to paint them. And when you ran the trains, you could hook up freight trains, deliver cattle cars to one siding, coal cars to another. And every so often you had to clean the track and the locomotives' wheels. A far cry from today's so-called "entertainment," and - to my mind - much better investment in the kids' imagination and inventiveness.

Maybe that's one reason why my sites have scores of do-it-yourself projects - they're not only a way to keep the cost of the hobby down, but they're a good way to let everybody participate who wants to. It's also one reason I like garden railroading (sorry, I'm off topic, but bear with me) - it gets the trains out of the basement and back into shared family space, like the seasonal railroads and "train gardens" of old.

This month's articles actually start with a photo tour of a c1941 Lionel Christmas railroad and the logic puzzle its track plan poses. Followed by more trainroom graphics that could be used to make nice Christmas gifts for the railroader in your life, hint, hint. . . Plus some seasonal reminders and an invitation to some upcoming seasonal Christmas train activities in southwest Ohio.

As always, we have more projects in the works, so stay tuned.

Finally, please accept our wishes for a great rest of the year. And please enjoy any time you can spend with your family in the coming months.

Topics discussed in this update include:

Click to go to article1941 Automated Switching Layout

Back in the golden age of pre-war Lionel, the Miller brothers, of Scranton, PA, were "pushing the envelope" of automated model railroad design. A railroad we now know only by photographs looks to have been set up in such a way that the train would go three different routes before repeating itself, courtesy of automated switching. In 2005, putz house collector and Lionel fan 'Papa' Ted Althof attempted to reconstruct their design, with several imaginative "edu-guesses." His last design is shown, along with vintage photographs and a narrative of how the thing should work. We have yet to find anyone who as actually tried it, but the photos are informative in their own way.

Click on the following link to see the photos and Ted's notes:

Click to go to articleMore Trainroom Signs

It has rained almost every day since Labor Day here, which is a problem when you're supposed to be getting your outdoor railroad ready for a big open RR in a few weeks. But in case you're dealing with inclement weather yourself, here's an idea - get started on some Christmas gifts using our free resources. We've added the round amber RR sign, a Wells Fargo handbill, and a few other bits, including authentic lettering for making your own crossbucks.

Click on the following link to see the trainroom signs we have so far:

Click to go to articleChristmas Train Day, 2014

Mark Your Calendars! - Again! - Oops, we had to reschedule again. Our seventh annual Christmas-themed open railroad on our own New Boston and Donnels Creek is currently scheduled for November 23 this year (2014) (near Springfield, Ohio). We're hoping for more trains and other great activities for the whole family. One thing I'm personally working on is trying to get some of the kids' trains onto bigger track circles, etc., so they run better and kids don't get disappointed by things derailing and uncoupling. Check back for details, as well as information on other Christmas-themed open railroads in the area.

Click on the following link to see the page of information we have so far:

Big Train Availability for October, 2014

At the risk of sounding redundant, this is a reminder that:
  • The economy is improving enough for people to start buying trains again,
  • Several manufacturers underordered last year and are still trying to catch up, and
  • If you want a specific train under or around the tree this year, you shouldn't wait too long.

I'm already taking down train descriptions and photos that I just posted in our buyer's guides a few weeks ago, as well as getting disappointed e-mails from folks who waited too long to order some specific product. Once again, I hate seeing folks disappointed, and I hate having to tell them all the same thing (they should have ordered earlier). So these postings are "pre-emptive," so to speak.

On the bright side, some of the most kid-friendly Large Scale (garden-sized) trains that disappeared from shelves quickly last year are now back in stock, for now.

Here's a quick recap of where "Big Train" markets stand as of October, 2014:

See Large Scale trains that are kid-friendly.Large Scale Trains for Kids - Last year, several of the trains we have posted disappeared very fast. Fortunately, the suppliers have reordered, and some delightful trains are available as of this posting. There are several trains that work as well under the tree or on the bedroom floor as they work outside.

To see Large Scale trains that are designed to be kid-friendly, click the following link:

Click to jump to the Lionel PageO Gauge Trains in Railroad Names - Lionel has issued a number of new trains and has reissued several existing sets with a different locomotive or different cars. This year, trains pulled by F (streamlined) units and freight diesels are also available. I expect the diesel trains to sell quickly - they always do. Several of the other sets are getting "thin" as well. If you were thinking about getting a Lionel set or adding to a Lionel railroad this year, don't wait too long.

To see the Lionel trains that are painted for PRR, NYC, UP, and other "real-world" railroads, click the following link:

Click to go to this pageO Gauge Trains in Christmas Colors - This year, Lionel has more trains decorated for Christmas than they have ever offered at one time. Again, some of the units are already in short supply. And I expect others, like the Peanuts-themed train, to sell out quickly.

Click to go to this page.On30 Trains in Christmas Colors - Hawthorne Trains used to order specially painted On30 train sets from Bachmann to sell in "collections." They featured art from folks like Thomas Kinkade and Al Agnew, as well as cultural icons like Coca Cola and "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Several of these classic collections are still available new, although I don't think any new sets have been ordered since 2009. So once they sell out, they are gone forever. And yes, I expect to get a lot of disappointed e-mails, based on experiences with other Hawthorne Village trains that have disappeared over the years.

These come one piece at a time, except in some cases you can order a "super saver set" in which the first three "issues" come in the first shipment, and after that, the subsequent pieces come one at a time. To see which collections are still available, click the following link:

Click to jump to this page.On30 Trains in Railroad Names - These are almost non-existent this year. If you haven't got into On30, this may not be the year to start. On the other hand, if you have an On30 railroad, several individual locomotives, cars, and self-propelled units are available. Click the link below and scroll down to see the links for those products.

Click to go to this pageLarge Scale Trains in Christmas Colors - These are perfect for big displays in bank lobbies, etc. And they are "jaw-dropping" around the tree. A couple of the most popular Bachmann Christmas-themed Large Scale sets are available. But the best (and probably most fleeting) news is that as of this writing, two LGB Christmas sets are available. I expect them to go VERY FAST. A Bachmann "Lil Big Hauler" Kids train decorated for Christmas might be the best solution for folks who want a real train around the tree, but whose kids still have "pokey fingers." I expect them to go fast, too, just not as fast as the LGBs. The Piko Christmas set that is available this year has a very nice paint job as well, and seems reasonably solid.

To see the Large Scale trains that are decorated for Christmas, click the following link:

Click to go to this pageLarge Scale Trains in Railroad Names - Bachmann "Big Hauler" train sets are still available, although they have obviously cut back on ordering new sets, and their most popular current set seems to have sold out since June of this year. Starter sets from Piko and LGB are available, although I expect the LGB set to go very fast - in fact, one I posted in June is already sold out.

To see our best currently-available recommendations, click the following link:

Click to go to the discussion forum signup page.Big Indoor Trains Discussion Forums Reminder

In April, we announced a new discussion forum for folks who want to share projects, float ideas, ask and answer questions, etc. relating to garden trains. We've had a couple thousand hits, and quite a few people signed up, but then hardly anybody posted anything. Don't be shy. Again, our experience is that new forums (like long coal trains) take a while to gain real momentum. But once things get going, we think you'll be glad you got onboard early.

In the meantime, I'm using the forums instead of "Letters to the Editor" to publish our answers to reader questions. This way other folks can chime in if they have something to add or they think I've said something wrong, and we all learn together.

To sign up for the discussion forums, please click the following link:

To check the forums out without signing up, please click the following link:

Keep in Touch

Each month, we get more interest in this newsletter, in the site, and in the trains and towns we discuss. We welcome your questions as indicators of what we should be working on next (also, we always try to answer reader questions quickly). In addition, if you have any photos, tips, or articles you'd like to share with your fellow hobbyists, please let us know. All of the hobbies we report on grow best when we all learn together.

In the meantime, please accept our very best wishes for a great autumn and holiday season!

Paul Race

To view the Trains-N-TownsTM newsletter for September, 2014, click on the following link:

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