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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>.  This is my S Gauge railroad, about 1968, negatives just discovered.  Click for bigger photo. 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

Well, we're two years into the new house this month and still catching up on things we were going to get done right away. Sadly, for this audience, the garage bay that was going to give us enough room to start a small S gauge and O27 railroad is still full of boxes waiting for me to finish the shelves. I did get my outdoor railroad off to a good start and had folks over to see it before the snows came early again. My indoor railroad activities have to do with revisiting a topic I visited last year - the electric-powered Lionel Polar Express trains.

By the way, I came across the negative from a photo I took of my S gauge railroad in 1968. That's it in the title photo. Clicking on it will show more of the scenery.

The following articles and links are included in this newsletter.

Polar Express Comparison for Big Indoor Train Operators.  Click to go to the article.Polar Express Comparison for Big Indoor Train Operators

We started BigIndoorTrains about 2004 to provide resources and tips for our friends who were into O27, On30, and S gauge, in addition to friends who were just getting into trains, as often as not, as part of a Christmas display. Almost as soon as we got started, the Polar Express movie and the products that resulted gave that entire aspect of the Big Indoor Train hobby an unexpected boost.

Lionel has been making O27 Polar Express trains since about 2005. In fact, the first batch sold out as soon as they were off the boat, and there were some "backorders" under the tree that year, where there should have been train sets. It has remained one of Lionel's most popular train sets ever, and is certainly the most popular Christmas-themed train ever made.

The S Scale Polar Express locomotive compared to the O27 version.  Click to go to the article.

This year we are comparing the O27 version to the more realistic and more expensive "American Flyer" S Scale version Lionel released for the S gauge collectors market a few years ago, and which was also popular.

When I was researching the article, I realized that simple things like measurements of the O27 train were hard to come by online, so hopefully, this article will be helpful even to folks who already have the O27 set or every intention of getting one.

I also learned about some differences between the early O27 Lionel Polar Express sets and the sets being made today. They're all good sets, don't get me wrong, but there have been some updates.

If you're a Flyer fan, you may be glad to see some exceptional models that were recently made in your scale. Some were limited editions (including the Polar Express set profiled in this article), but hopefully they indicated Lionel's willingness to give Flyer fans more of what they want.

Click the following link to go to the article:

The Pullman Clock Tower, apparent inspiration for Santa's workshop in the Polar Express movie. Click for bigger photo.North Pole City Suggestions

Our friends at the OGR (O Gauger) forum have identified the source of inspiration for Santa's workshop in the movie - the Pullman Clock Tower, which once stood sentinel over the vast Pullman sleeper car works. Technically, if I post a photo of the CGI building from the movie, or graphics that would help you build one, I'd be violating copyright. But since the original is still standing, there's no copyright on that structure.

I apologize for not having a high-rez photo of the clock tower (yet), but if you click on the photo to the right, you'll see a larger version with the people photoshopped out. At least it's a start.

Over at the OGRforum, folks have been discussing various ways to recreate such buildings for their own "Polar Express" - inspired railroads. Here's a warning - an O-scale rendition of the clock tower will be as large as a dollhouse. These guys don't propose any easy-peazy solutions, but they might give you some ideas.

Click the following link and scroll down:

If you still need inspiration for a North Pole City building project, look at other grand bricks from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. You may have such buildings in your own region. One near us is the Cincinnati Music Hall, for example.

The Cincinnati Music Hall did not - to my knowledge - inspire any of the buildings used in the movie, but is another example of the grand brick architecture that the city's downtown structures emulated. Click for bigger photo.

On the other hand, if you want to stick with the Pullman theme, here's a line drawing showing what the factory looked like when it was in production. Remember, each of those doorways on the side of the tower represents a structure that would hold an eighty-foot car. You don't have to make your structure that deep, of course. I apologize for not having a higher resolution photo of this drawing, but I found it, unattributed, on Pinterest, and the site that the thumbnail came from has apparently been taken down.

This drawing shows the buildings that surrounded the Pullman clock tower when the Pullman factory was in business.

Our Outdoor Trains Have a Home

The train station-themed shed for our outdoor railroad. Click for bigger photo.Folks who have been following know that we moved in November, 2016 and spent most of the warm weather in 2017 planning and building our new outdoor railroad.

One of the features we wanted to add eventually was a place to keep short trains on the track and ready to go at a moment's notice. In 2018, we added a shed that provides just enough room for that task, patterned after a nineteenth-century country train station.

We kept an online log of our progress, which so far has come to twenty separate articles. If you want to follow our planning process in great detail, you may find them interesting. However, I have to confess that our plans changed constantly as the earlier parts took form and gave us a better idea of what we were looking at.

To save folks who just want an overview from a "deep dive" into the article series, we've added a 4-page pdf that gives a very brief overview of how we built the NEW New Boston and Donnels Creek railroad in the back yard of our new home.

Click the following link to download the PDF:

If you want to follow the entire sequence, including the plans that changed as we went along, click the following link to start the sequence of articles. Feel free to skim, especially the first six articles or so.

By the way, if you're wondering what this has to do with indoor trains, I have been hoping to set up a small O27 outdoor railroad, once I was finished with my major Large Scale projects. Maybe adding an S Gauge section as well. Next year, both the Hogwarts Express and the Polar Express may make an appearance at our annual November open railroad.

Test Your Trains Early

A 1920ish photo showing a Lionel starter set #37 with a #114 boxcar added in.  This photo was sent to Ted Althof from Rob Shoeberlein of the Maryland State Archives.  Click for a bigger photoHere's a tip I try to share every year at this time: If you only have one train, and you're going to set it up in December, test it now. Every year, starting in early December, I get deluged with e-mails from anxious, upset folks whose train set doesn't work when they set it around the tree. Trust me, the train manufacturers' repair departments are already working overtime by Thanksgiving.

Nobody with a cherished old heirloom wants to hear that the only way they'll have a train around the tree by this year's Christmas is to buy a new one, but that happens.

Because I write articles and do clinics, etc., I have backups, and backups for my backups, but even I get caught up unexpectedly, when a specific train I was counting on suddenly decides not to behave. Again, it is often reparable, but not in time to use as I had planned.

Click to go to our article about trains and Christmas.What Do Trains Have to Do With Christmas?

Over the years, I have also operated a Christmas-themed web page called When folks wondered why a train guy had so much to say about Christmas and vice versa, I published an article that explains why Christmas and trains seem to go so well together.

In fact it just seems natural, somehow to see a train station decorated for Christmas (like my backyard structure two photos up), or to see a train of some sort running under the Christmas tree (like the old-timey photo just above this section).

If you want to know why that is, click the following link to go to the article:

Don't Wait Too Long to Order Trains

Here's a quick recap of where you can see train reviews in our Buyer's Guides. Starting about Thanksgiving, the remaining trains tend to go fast. Though I'm usually pretty good at guessing which trains will be in high demand every year, the ones that I expect to be slow sellers sometimes sell out first and the ones that I think will sell out first are still around next year. So the moral is, if you have your eye on some specific train, please order it soon to avoid disappointment.

In fact, one Lionel train I specifically chose to highlight in this newsletter sold out between the time I started the newsletter and the time it was ready to publish (about six days). The moral - as always this time of year - is "Don't wait too long."

Why do I have links to Amazon and hardly anyone else? I used to try to link to any vendor I found with good stock, but many of them had so little that I had to take the links down as soon as they went up. Amazon lists links from other vendors with stock, so even if their primary warehouse runs out, you have a good chance of getting the train from someone else they list. And if Amazon has the train in stock, they tend to ship MUCH more quickly than some of the other vendors.

If you click on the Amazon link for a specific train and it is low or out of stock, you can sometimes see similar trains in the "Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed" section. Just be certain you select a train comparable to the one you were searching for.

Click to jump to the Lionel PageO Gauge Trains in Railroad Names - To see the Lionel trains that are painted for PRR, NYC, UP, GWR, and other "real-world" railroads, click the following link:

Click to go to this pageO Gauge Trains in Christmas Colors - Last year, Lionel offered more trains decorated for Christmas than they have ever offered at one time. This year not so much. Several of last year's nice sets are still available for now, though.

Click the following link to see Lionel's Christmas-Themed O gauge offerings:

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.

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

See Large Scale trains that are kid-friendly.Large Scale Trains for Kids - 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 go to this pageLarge Scale Trains in Railroad Names -

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

Click to go to this pageHawthorne Village HO Sports Trains -If you've wanted to start collecting one of these sets and you've been putting it off, you should check now to see if your favorite team is still available. Several teams are not.

To see the sports trains that were available the last time I went through the list, 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 and holiday season!

Paul Race

To view the Trains-N-TownsTM newsletter for July, 2017, click on the following link:

To read more, or to look at recommended Indoor or Garden Railroading products, you may click on the index pages below.

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Note: Family Garden TrainsTM, Big Christmas TrainsTM, Big Indoor TrainsTM, Big Train StoreTM, and Trains-N-TownsTM are trademarks of Breakthrough CommunicationsTM ( All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
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Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel trains.
Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel trains

Click to see exclusive, licensed train and town collections featuring Disney characters and graphics.!

Visit related pages and affiliated sites:
- Trains and Hobbies -
Return to Family Garden Trains Home page
Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page
Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden RailroadingBig Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads
Visit Lionel Trains. Click to see Thomas Kinkaded-inspired Holiday Trains and Villages. Big Christmas Train Primer: Choosing and using model trains with holiday themes Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs Click to see HO scale trains with your favorite team's colors.
- Christmas Memories and Collectibles -
Visit the FamilyChristmasOnline site. Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page Click to sign up for Maria Cudequest's craft and collectibles blog.
Click to visit Fred's Noel-Kat store.
Visit the largest and most complete cardboard Christmas 'Putz' house resource on the Internet.
- Family Activities and Crafts -
Click to see reviews of our favorite family-friendly Christmas movies. Free, Family-Friendly Christmas Stories Decorate your tree the old-fashioned way with these kid-friendly projects. Free plans and instructions for starting a hobby building vintage-style cardboard Christmas houses. Click to find free, family-friendly Christmas poems and - in some cases - their stories. Traditional Home-Made Ornaments
- Music -
Heartland-inspired music, history, and acoustic instrument tips.
Best-loved railroad songs and the stories behind them.
Visit musings about music on our sister site, School of the Rock With a few tools and an hour or two of work, you can make your guitar, banjo, or mandolin much more responsive.  Instruments with movable bridges can have better-than-new intonation as well. Acoustic-based, traditional, singer-songwriter, and folk music with a Western focus. Check out our article on finding good used guitars.
Carols of many countries, including music, lyrics, and the story behind the songs. X and Y-generation Christians take Contemporary Christian music, including worship, for granted, but the first generation of Contemporary Christian musicians faced strong, and often bitter resistance. Different kinds of music call for different kinds of banjos.  Just trying to steer you in the right direction. New, used, or vintage - tips for whatever your needs and preferences. Wax recordings from the early 1900s, mostly collected by George Nelson.  Download them all for a 'period' album. Explains the various kinds of acoustic guitar and what to look for in each.
Look to Riverboat Music buyers' guide for descriptions of musical instruments by people who play musical instruments. Learn 5-string banjo at your own speed, with many examples and user-friendly explanations. Explains the various kinds of banjos and what each is good for. Learn more about our newsletter for roots-based and acoustic music. Folks with Bb or Eb instruments can contribute to worship services, but the WAY they do depends on the way the worship leader approaches the music. A page devoted to some of Paul's own music endeavors.