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The Fun of Lionel

January 8, 2009

Lionel New Haven Alco FA with AMTRAK consist

After many years of being a “serious” prototype modeler, I was very pleasantly surprised when I had a chance to play with a classic Lionel layout today. I had shunned Lionel stuff for being unrealistic and bulky, and cringed every time I saw that third rail, but today NONE of that mattered. 

Tugging the throttle of a mighty ZW transformer is an experience I’ll never forget: The sheer POWER. Watching that New Haven Alco FA hum to life and see the streak of faded orange zoom around and around followed by brightly colored cars hitting the 027 curves at 250 scale miles per hour was just sheer joy!

Half the fun of Lionel is the SOUND. Now I’m not talking TMCC sound and all that modern “prototypical” sounding stuff, I mean:

-The powerful hum of a ZW transformer

-The growl of the locomotive as you crank up the throttle

-The cacophony of steel-on-steel that a good consist of cars makes at speed

-The rapturous clunking of a 10 car train clomping across a 90 degree crossing

-The electric “GNEEEEEEE” of operating a remote switch

-The  noisy tinplate trackwork flexing and moving against the plywood base 

-The various ancillary metal sounds that blend into the background providing a fully enveloping world of pure audio magic.

Lionel Boxcab

Owning KATO diesels and running on nicely laid HO track, the rush of activity, the thrill of being trackside with my models has faded over the years due to the sound systems not being able to capture the heavy track sounds, just the high-pitched steam and diesel sounds. Lionel managed to capture that, and with the playful and bright colors recapturing the gleeful feeling of  being 6 again with my friends’ CNJ 2-4-2 pulling a variety of rolling stock around what seemed to be a huge sheet of 4X8 plywood.

What a rush, a feast for the eyes and ears. I recommend rediscovering LIONEL again if for nothing else than the sheer fun!

It reminded me what the purest fun of model railroading is like and renewed my enthusasiam for trains and model railroading in general.

The mighty LIONEL ZW transformer

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2009 3:47 am

    I do N-scale but in the back of my mind I really want a Lionel train set, every year I say that I am going to get one to go under my Christmas tree, but I always manage not to buy one, why is that?

  2. January 8, 2009 5:04 am

    Chris, I think it mostly stems from the fact that LIONEL and 3-rail O in general is annoyingly expensive. (Locomotives are one example, for instance the same locomotive, an SW9 is $30 in N, $40 in HO, but $450 in O!!!) A good throttle is also painfully expensive.
    What we take for granted as resonably priced in HO & N scale is horrendously expensive. Some of the reproductions are even out of this world in price.
    The ironic thing is that stuff we generally think as expensive (Trackwork, Switches, reliable non-collector locomotives) are actually pretty cheap.

    If money isn’t any object, then it’s probably space concerns. The simple oval with figure 8 extension layout I operated on today takes up the same space as my garage-filling 9X12 HO layout, you feel kind of robbed of space.

  3. Bean-oh railroad permalink
    February 25, 2010 7:56 pm

    I think you hit the nail on the head. I am lucky to have my father’s prewar Lionel tinplate set. But today’s O gauge locos are very very expensive! So are the cars. They also take up a lot of space, even with simple ovals. But they do have a real charm of their own.

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