model train set on track

Reefer Madness

e*Train Issue: Apr 2002   |   Posted in:

compiled by Bob Mintz

Marketing 101 – What they really mean

Since it’s now shopping and catalog time, it would be best to provide a translation for marketing terms used in any of today’s products, including our beloved trains:

  • NEW — different color from previous design.
  • ALL NEW — parts not interchangeable with previous design.
  • EXCLUSIVE — imported product.
  • UNMATCHED — almost as good as the competition.
  • DESIGN SIMPLICITY — cost cut to the bone (manufacturer’s)
  • FOOLPROOF DESIGN — no provision for adjustment.
  • ADVANCED DESIGN — copywriter doesn’t understand it.
  • IT’S HERE AT LAST — rush job: nobody knew it was coming.
  • FIELD-TESTED — manufacturer lacks test equipment.
  • HIGH ACCURACY — unit on which all parts fit.
  • DIRECT SALES ONLY — manufacturer had argument with distributor.
  • RUGGED — too heavy to lift.
  • LIGHTWEIGHT — lighter than rugged.
  • YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT — finally got one that worked.
  • UNPRECEDENTED PERFORMANCE — nothing we had before ever worked like this.
  • REVOLUTIONARY — it’s different from our competitors.
  • BREAKTHROUGH — we finally figured out a way to sell it.
  • FUTURISTIC — can’t figure out another reason why it looks as it does.
  • ENERGY SAVING — achieved when the power switch is off.
  • DISTINCTIVE — a different color or shape than our competitors.
  • NO MAINTENANCE — impossible to fix.
  • REDESIGNED — previous faults are corrected, we hope.
  • HAND CRAFTED — machine that assembles it is operated without gloves.
  • PERFORMANCE PROVEN — will operate through warranty period.
  • MEETS QUALITY STANDARDS — ours, not yours.
  • SATISFACTION GUARANTEED — manufacturer’s, upon receipt of the check.

Any honest reader will have to admit that some of these terms, especially the Years of Development, apply to both Lionel and MTH.

I’d love to take credit for the above, but I first ran into it in ’83, in a third generation (at least) photocopy, probably originating in a business magazine. I’ve no idea who the author is/was, but he/she really understands advertising.

Why do freight trains with two or more locomotives often have at least one turned backwards?

The Answer:

You’ve seen this on long freight trains, haven’t you? How in the world did they end up with backwards locomotives? It looks as if it’s a contest to see in which direction the train will move once the locomotives start to pull. Is this any way to run a railroad?

A key element here is the fact that locomotives are bi-directional: they can move and pull a load just as well no matter which end is pointed forward. The other factor is that it isn’t easy to turn one of them around and it’s time consuming. So why bother?

Of course the first locomotive at the front of the train will always face forward. Anything else would look stupid. And any engineer willing to run a train while facing the rear is probably operating with a loose caboose.

Railroads and rocket boosters

The engineering history of railroad tracks is an interesting bit of technology trivia that will increase your knowledge of the space shuttle booster design and make you chuckle at the same time. I can not verify the accuracy, so you be the judge. Enjoy the US standard railroad gauge (width between the two rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used?

Because that’s the way they built them in England, and the US railroads were built by English expatriates.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did “they” use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?

Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions.

The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads?

Roman war chariots first formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.

Thus, we have the answer to the original question.

Now the twist to the story…

There’s an interesting extension to the story about railroad gauges and horses’ behinds. When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who >designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site.

The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses’ behinds. So, the major design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a Horse’s Ass!

Amtrak Train Hits a House

An Amtrak Special train carrying Seattle Seahawk fans home from the football game collided with a house in Sumner, WA (South of Seattle). Amtrak regularly runs football specials for the Hawks home games.

The train was on it’s trip back to Portland at about 11 PM when it collided with the house in the town of Sumner, WA. The house was being moved, and was crossing the tracks on a public grade crossing at the time of the collision.

The crossing has lights and gates, and they were working. The house movers saw them come on, but could not get the house off of the tracks in time to avoid a collision.

It appears the engineer saw the obstacle, as the train stopped not long after the collision. The house was demolished, and what was left of it was moved off the tracks with a trackhoe so that the mainline could be re-opened.

Men moving house had seconds to react to oncoming train December 25, 2000, 12:00 pm.

TACOMA — Anthony Payne says he had about 10 seconds to react to the oncoming train.

It was closing in on midnight Saturday and he and a friend were on the roof of a house being pulled by a semi-tractor-trailer rig, lifting low-hanging wires out of the way.

The house was on the tracks.

And there was no time to get out of the way of the Portland-bound special Amtrak train carrying 90 Seahawks fans.

“I just screamed `TRAIN!’ and he ” – driver Jeffrey Douglas Pounder, 45, of Auburn – “started to try to pull out of there,” he said.

When the train hit, Payne, 25, of Auburn, was thrown into the air. He slid into a gully, landed in a grassy field and walked away with only a scratch and bruise near his right eye.

“If he hadn’t moved it forward, I know that I’d be dead,” Payne said.

The other man on the roof, David Higman of Seattle, slid through the debris to the ground, unhurt.

No serious injuries were reported, though Payne and several people from the train were treated and released by area hospitals.

The house was demolished. The train engine was taken out of service. Most of the 90 Seahawks fans on board were bused to Portland.

Pounder – cited for driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license – returned to the site after talking with authorities to help with cleanup.

Pounder, who has an unpublished telephone number, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Debris – 2 x 4s, rugs, sheetrock, insulation and more – littered a 300-yard stretch of track on Sunday. Folks came from miles around to see the aftermath and take pictures.

“There was no reason for that thing to be on the tracks,” said Amtrak spokesman Kevin Johnson.

“It as an unscheduled train,” noted spokesman Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. A deputy in a car was escorting the rig, but was at the next intersection and did not see the collision, he said.

Pounder had the permits required for moving the house, Washington State Patrol Lt. Dan Eikum said.

The house had been owned by Auburn residents Larry and Mickey Fassbind, who gave it to Pounder in exchange for his removing it from their property.

“Kinda makes you feel kinda sick. It’s my house, my kids were born in that house,” said Mickey Fassbind.

Pounder. who operated Emerald City Moving and Restoration, had spent months preparing the 35-year-old, 2,200-square-foot house for the move, they said.

“He (Pounder) had all his permits. This train wasn’t supposed to be here,” Mickey Fassbind said.

The Fassbinds donated the house several months ago to an Alaska Airlines fund-raising auction to benefit a child whose mother died last January in the crash of Flight 261 off the California coast.

A couple bought the house for $580 but didn’t claim it after learning it would cost $20,000 to move, the Fassbinds said.

RARE is the car you are selling. SCARCE is the RARE car you want to buy.

“The only one word oxymoron that I know of is “collectable.”