I’m not where I imagined I would be, but I can’t think of a better dream come true.
“Shining Time Station” was my first foray into the world of trains, and it will stay buried deep in my heart for my lifetime. I still have all of my old die-cast, probably lead-based paint, Thomas & Friends trains in a box at home, somewhere. I will never give them up.
My first electrified set was an HO scale Life-Like Santa Fe freight set with an extra little green switcher. I loved that train set. I played with it so much, and my parents often had to yell at me to get to bed. I would have stayed up all night playing with it.
My train set took over our pool and ping-pong tables for a long time. I don’t know how many extra dollars I added to the electricity bill, but I gladly pay the extra bucks, now. I’ve always been an HO railroader, but this new train repair job necessitates that I begin amassing sets in all the other scales. I have a nice new G set, I pieced together an N set, and I have two O scale sets with some extra engines and rolling stock. I am very proud of my train sets, and I am not ashamed to admit that they are my vise. Some people become alcoholics, substance addicts, or whatever. “My name is Michael, and I am a train hoarder.”
I wasn’t really expecting to get into model train repair, but I am very glad I sent my boss an inquiring e-mail regarding their train department. I had never heard of HobbyTown USA. I just Googled “train shops near me,” and it appeared in a list of several places. I happened to inquire about a train department job right as their established train repair technician was about to move away.
I really lucked out! I was very fortunate to train–**slaps knee**–with Jim, the only Lionel Certified train repairman north of San Antonio in the state of Texas. He taught me everything he could in two weeks. A patron brought in an HO scale 2-8-8-2 steam locomotive with a broken crank rod support assembly. It had been dropped or gripped too hard, and it had come loose from its pop-riveted frame. I tried to think how best to secure metal to metal without the use of a flame torch. The plastic of the wheels would melt if exposed to my micro torch’s flame, so I decided to drill out the rivets, thread the bore, insert some screws, and sealed the threads with super glue and solder.
I “passed with flying colors!” That singular engine was my big test, and Jim felt very comfortable leaving his patrons and their trains in my hands!
Thus far, the engine has not come across my bench, again, so I can only believe that my repair work has held. To date, I have had only one repeat repair, and that was today. Somehow, the manufacturer forgot to insert a drive shaft in the body of a diesel locomotive. The engine’s back set of driving wheels wouldn’t turn. The front ones slipped and spun out while the back wheels were dragged behind. That is no way to travel! I took an oversized drive shaft from a parts locomotive of similar model, cut it down to appropriate size, and inserted it into the customer’s engine. It held for a little while, but the modified shaft couldn’t hold up to the demands of the conductor. Such modified parts only go so far. We swapped that engine for an identical new one, and all was well, again!
The internal wiring of some modern O scale engines is impressive.
Below is an articulated Union Pacific Challenger. It’s body is so long, it almost can’t handle the curve.
This is the inside of a 6-8-6 turbine steam locomotive from the first half of the Twentieth Century. It had lots of corrosion and crud built up inside it, but it still ran right out of the box in which it had been stored for almost half a century.
One of my best repairs was an O scale Lionel Polar Express engine. A lady brought it in on my day off, so I couldn’t receive and spot-diagnose it for her. My first thoughts when I pulled it out of its box were how many cotton fibers had built up in the crank rod assembly. It took a while to cut and clear those away, but I still couldn’t get the engine to do anything after a full cleaning and lubrication. I replaced the broken primary crank rod, flexed other crooked rods, and checked all the solder joints. Still nothing. I had the lady bring in the tender and LionChief remote, and that was all that it really took. I got it to work, tested it in every what I could think of, and saved the lady and her family hundreds of dollars. They had purchased the set less than a month prior, and this was a five hundred dollar set. Such high-end sets should never experience such problems, but shit happens. I fixed her train, and she was happy and relieved!
As I was working on her engine and we were talking, we got on the subject of Harry Potter. She and her family are all huge Harry Potter nerds, and they almost bought the Hogwarts Express set versus the Polar Express. They initially wanted something Christmasy. The more she and I talked about its different features and design, the more she wanted it. After she left with her newly repaired engine, she promptly walked back into the store and marched back to my bench. I was already holding my breath, and I almost shat my pants when she said, “I dropped it.”
…………to be continued.