model train set on track

Why Were Home-Made Trains Built: Part-3 What to Build (Tips of the Trade from the Tipster!)

e*Train Issue: Dec 2022   |   Posted in:

By Clem Clement, Past President, TCA#64‐987 Winter 2023 e*Train

*REPLACE BROKEN PIECE. Obviously, a sliced broom handle makes a good replacement car wheel. I also have used a broom handle slice to replace a lost puck on my grand pappy’s crokinole set. BROKEN TOYS are a good source for wheels and steamer‐top gingerbread.

Here is one I bet you did not know: A cake decorating set gives you what???? The old sets with a squeeze bag and aluminum tubular shape nozzles that are just right for steamer smoke stacks. So are small funnels.

*BUILD A CATALOGUED PIECE CHEAPLY. Erector sets are wonderful for making a crane car, flat car, gondola, or tanker. The pully wheels from an erector set make truck wheels. A slice of a bike tire and you have a belt for an erector motor power drive. Remember TInker toys? The round end connector is a fine truck wheel.

*NEED A LONGER/BETTER/TRAIN? I have several passenger cars cut, soldered into longer car.

*CUSTOMIZE/ALTER A PIECE. (Wood over electric loco outline to make diesel‐shaped loco) (I have 2 similar.)

*FATHER/SON /GROUP PROJECT. A scout project comes to mind. Good for all involved.

*STILL NO MONEY. What do I say??? Keep Pressing Forward.

*ADD A “PLAY VALUE” PIECE. Tank cars look great running down the track, but they have little play value. Gondolas and box cars are the best for riding marbles, pocket frogs, pennies, candy, gram’s buttons, jacks, on‐ and‐on. Ever seen a tanker car cut in half? I have an Art Wieman‐built cut tanker. Looks great but not so good for carrying open  liquid. If you live on a farm, you just have to carry some loose corn around (You all know that loose corn is perfect for your buddy’s wedding! Suggestions: include pull off of a hub cap and adding a hand full of kernels. Also corn on the roof is fun: as it blows off, it makes a great noise. A spud makes a great missile coming out of a plugged exhaust pipe. With the right design, corn down the window slot on the driver’s door will rattle every tIme the door is slammed (Or the corn germinates) for me, cheese on a hot manifold and a loosely wired rocket on between two spark plugs, grabs the cake.

I had a success where the loose wire did not collect to the nearest plug fun TIll 20 minutes down the road. BAMMMMM and it blows the plug wire as well so the groom had to stop and reset the plug wires in his monkey suit’   (How did I get so far off subject…)  Another trick with cans is to tie a string of cans to the axle housing. That way the groom has to get under the car to remove them. Gone are the days the flash bulbs came with 115v sockets.  I’m done here!

*COPY FAVORITE TRAIN: My bud had a red dumper that I loved. I built one out of wood but it just wasn’t the same. I never did get one.

*A LITTLE MAGIC: I have several rusty/beat‐up trainsets restored by me on one side only (I restore the best side, so the other side is the “worstest”. I set up the set on the far side of my layout. I quiz a visitor as to what do you think about the set. A little scruffy, eh?? I wave my hands about, speak “abrfakaphoolooie”, bring the train around to the front of the layout and WOW the train’s all perfect!! Then comes the encouragement of saving your special thing, restoring them and saving money and enjoying them longer. I tell them most of the colors are local rattle can paint.)

*CHALLENGE: I built a tank car out of a wooden veggie box end and a 3 inch oak branch.  Took me forever to cut the oak.  I had one 4 inch nail and a light hammer. I pounded for a long time before the nail bent and then I could not get it out. Hand drilling oak is not fun neither. I think it eventually went out the door. I did learn something about carpentry in  building a long shed with an attached roof to protect the freight car.

*FUN: All this activity is based on the concept of the pursuit of happiness.

AVAILABLE PARTS *OATMEAL CARDBOARD CANS *KITCHEN FOOD CONTAINERS: A Kitchen parts toy engine made with kitchen food-can-ware is one of my favorites. I own a fine tin loco made entirely of kitchen cans. When visitors visit my train room, I test the cooks among them on what came in the containers. We know all but two cans the size of sardine cans, but no attached key.   Did I mention that an empty gallon paint can opened up with tin snips make makes some nice sheet metal? So does the steel metal in the top after the rim is removed (Wear good gloves when do engineering. 3/8 pineapple juice can 6 make lovely corrugated roofing for a village shed.

*BARN IRON/GARAGE STUFF: In an older homestead/ farm there are always interesting items available for conversion to a train piece. Nose around (I have a loco and tender built from old toys welded together.

*GRAMMY’S BUTTON DRAWER: (brake wheels, etc.)  

*TRASH SITES: Sources of parts. If I want to build a homemade train, where do I get what?  As it should be, many great trains and parts there of went to the WWII manufacturing efforts of the US. (I understand it was illegal to snoop in the metal piles waiting for a scrap pickup at your curb.) I think about the trains lost due to war damage around the world. I may have written about this before, but when I lived in North Highlands, (near Sacramento, CA) there was a huge dump near Roseville. So big that they had a worker assigned there to manage the placement of trash the citizenry dropped off. The worker laid out some tables and had a sale area. Anything he could make a buck on was there. I bought several trains during my visits sometimes bringing back more stuff than I took there. There once, I bought a bucket of Lionel 4‐ wheel freights for @10 cents each!

*LOCAL WOOD: Wooden dowels were a prize find for me. Cargo for flat cars, sliced for train wheels, smoke stacks, Wooden thread spools sliced were perfect for flanged train wheels. Fruit and veggie crates provide all kinds of wood for wooden homes, stations and shed construction.

*FLEA MARKETS/HERSHEY/CARLISLE MEETS Car Shows: The big car‐parts meets like Hersey/Carlisle/ Englishtown, and others are suffering for many reasons. The economy, pandemic, eBay, reduction of stuff in old barns, etc. At those shows, we all hoped for dealers who had lots of unidentified parts. Then you could sort thru the collection for a rare part you needed. Now, it comes up on eBay and the whole world gets a shot at it’s purchase. For example, a very rare production car used the ‘36 Ford fuel gauge in it. Car parts shows have been a great source of trains/parts  for many years. For years a ZW Tranny would jump for $25 dollars. Not now, dealers are now more knowledgeable and train price guides are everywhere.

*HOBBY STORES/GOODWILL: I had a deal with a Goodwill store to buy any trains they received at twice their asking price. (A stinking $50 dollar set nearly broke me.) I just visited Hobby/Lobby for some cotton string for the hook on a Lionel #219 crane. Most anything can work (Wooden clothes pin ‐flat car stakes)

*UPGRADE PIECE: wood over electric loco outline to make diesel‐shaped loco (I have 2 similar.)

*GIFT FOR SOMEONE (Gramps to Grandson; wanna build a steam engine?)

*MIND SPARKED BY SOMETHING: We had no TV. So, I was always searching something I could copy.

*CHALLENGE: With me limited to nails pulled from fruits and veggie boxes, I learned how shorten them, straighten them and make do. I split many a board before I learned to drill them first.

*SHAPED PIECE: (A coffee can becomes a water tower. A bent straw affixed as the spout.)

*AND 50 MILLION OTHER *:Living behind a Piggly‐Wiggly grocery store, gave me first choice of the fruit and veggie shipping boxes they threw out. As a kid, I knew the company’s labels who made the best box side slabs, ends and other wooden pieces. This was before plastics took over.

*ANTIQUE STORES: When you go into one of those, ask in a calm voice “Do you have any toys/trains, please.” They get this question frequently. Anything with wheels might be a better question. Or do you have a junker booth? Or where are the serious collector booths (get their phone number.) I used to do well with local antiques in out of‐the‐way stores. One time a dealer from the edge of the earth showed me the recommended price in the book. I commented that the price guide was old and out of date, Scout piece had dropped value and, by noting the flyleaf, I had written that guide!  No good came of that, for sure. With eBay, everybody thinks Marx is gold (And it sometimes is.) A true surprise came to me in a huge box of Marklin HO. It turns out US embassy get catalogues and special deals. This load came to me thru the family of a retired State Department worker. The trains he purchased were off color, different design, pieces that did not sell well in the US and end of the run pieces and uncatalogued items. (The bad news the entire box was in a garage that burned. The top two layers were melted into one piece. All trains below were water soaked and left that way to dry. I still got into 4 digit of sales.

*A really fun challenge was finding tools for my 1929 seven passenger Packard touring car. I would ask for the tool locations in the store. I would find Fords‐marked tool at $15‐to $50 and up. Unidentified tools were very cheap. 7 (I’m faking up a frame for a Lionel 402 wannabe. The body is sheet Tinplate and not strong enough and twists. So, some erector set “L” beams are being bolted into a rectangular frame to square up the twisting loco. I have a vast collection of well‐painted bolts, nuts, screws, etc., thus a bolt can look like it was in place sometime in the 30’s. Did I mention that furniture shops sometimes have a nice collection of furniture wheels and rollers? If you need a blind driver, there you go…