CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Friday, September 30, 2022

40th Anniversary of Cheers!


It was 40 years ago today on September 30, 1982 that the greatest television show ever created first aired. My mother famously tells me the story about how she would stay home and watch it when it first came on while my father was out bowling. I remember how haunting the theme music was when hearing it as a baby, and even today it still has a hold on me. In the late 1990s while in high school, I discovered it when Fox began showing reruns late at night. It resonated with me then, and it still does today. Indeed, whenever am sick I usually binge watch this and I feel a lot better.

In 2003, upon turning 21, I took my father to Boston and had my first [legal] beer at the Bull and Finch Pub. It was this old establishment that served as the basis for Cheers, and the show's Hollywood set drew a lot of its visual inspiration from this place. 

Nearby in Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston they built a replica of the Cheers bar for tourists to go to, and naturally I stopped by there as well. Sadly, that closed in August 2020... a victim of the pandemic... but the Bull and Finch lives in.

While I would put Cheers up against any show today and I think it would hold its own, at the time it was revolutionary. Long story-arcs which spilled over seasons, embedded flashback bits that long-time viewers would appreciate, and the subtleties of letting jokes find their rhythm instead of forcing them on the audience (which is what happens in all current comedy shows today), and no laugh tracks made it a ratings juggernaut for several seasons. 

But waxing long about Cheers on a train blog just doesn't seem right. If only there was a way to make this post train themed. Hmmm...

Lionel trains were featured in two opening scenes of Cheers. The first was the episode "Adventures in Housesitting" (Season 7, Episode 11), where Norm and Cliff fight over the old Lionel train set in Norm's attic:

The second one was in the episode "The Stork Brings a Crane" (Season 8, Episode 6). In it, Cliff has found a way to use Lionel trains help serve beer to the patrons at the bar. However, Norm has alternate plans:

For other Cheers fans, my favorite episode is from the Fifth Season titled "Dinner at Eight-ish". Anyone who is married or otherwise in a relationship will understand the issues that this episode is based on. Also, I really love the "Bar Wars" story arc.

The show may be long over, but it will continue to live on!

Monday, September 26, 2022

Custom Lionel 607/608 passenger train

Whenever I go to the train shows I see old Lionel, American Flyer, and Dorfan passenger train sets for sale. Usually they are the large "Standard Gauge" size, which is roughly that of modern G scale. They have a toy-like charm that attracts me. I thought it would be fun to buy a set of passenger cars and paint them up how I liked. However, standard gauge was too large and I didn't want to invest in another train size that I would only be able to operate occasionally under the Christmas tree. So I looked to the smaller on O gauge.

Lionel made several sizes of tinplate trains that ran on O gauge track, and I was most interested in the larger 710/712 series cars. But they are expensive, so I settled on the smaller 600-series for my first attempt. (For a brief history on the various types of Lionel 607/608 passenger car sets, see this helpful website.)

One thread on the O Gauge Magazine forum was inspirational on showing how it was possible to take apart and put together the cars, and even though it focused on standard gauge coaches I liked how he did it. 

Then I ran into a picture of the Lionel Collector's Club of America "The Lakeshore Limited" set, and I really liked the color combination of the dark cherry metallic and cream. However, the roofs transition to black in the middle and I didn't like that at all. I also didn't like the truss rod  castings underneath the car (painted cream in the picture) but since I was using a different style of passenger car I didn't have to deal with them.

I planned to pick some up some 600-series coaches at the next train show I went to, but that was in March 2020 and Covid hit... and the project took a back seat. For two years. Finally, in 2022 after talking it over with a friend he offered to sell me a box of beat up 607/608 cars for a good price. I didn't need them all, but I figured I could get enough parts for 2-3 good cars. I bought them without really looking to see what I had.

When I got home, I noticed that I had one 607 coach and four 608 observation cars! That does not make a train. And none of the cars matched. Some had brass journal covers and some had nickel. I had three different observation platforms painted gold, silver, and custom made job that looked like tin cut from a can and hand-soldered on. The truck sideframes had different style stampings. The roof mounting screws weren't all the same. Three had black underframe tanks with silver ends (which I wanted) and one had formed truss rods (which I didn't want but its is easily removable). It was a hodge podge. But, I got them at a great price so I didn't complain. I just got to work.

A series of videos on Youtube by a guy named "Darth Sante Fe" (here is one) walked me through the entire process of disassembly. I picked the best observation car that matched the coach and took off the roofs by unscrewing them. Then, the window panels were removed by unbending the fragile metal tabs. 

Parts were sorted into piles, including some which I knew I was never going to use. 

I used a small glass container filled with lacquer thinner to strip the paint. This, and an old toothbrush, worked well. I later bought a metal brush to make it easier to get into the corners.

The fuel tank assemblies underneath were cleaned (I discovered that some were blackened steel, and others were painted steel... another set of inconsistencies!) and then sprayed gloss black. The nickel-plated ends were buffed shiny and sprayed with clear gloss to keep them from tarnishing.

The truck sideframes were carefully spread apart just enough for the wheel assemblies to fall out. I was surprised to learn that the wheels rotated independently on the axles. I cleaned and polished them, and removed any rust. I masked the middle rail truck rollers and then the trucks were painted gloss black.

I had also masked the tops of the trucks because it transfers current to the body for the interior lights.

Some of the truck journal box castings were brass and some were nickel. Replacements for both are available, but I wanted to reuse what I had. So, for consistency I painted all of the journal covers I with Testors gold paint. I also painted the observation platform railing with the same gold paint to match.

The bodies were next cleaned of all paint using lacquer thinner, and that was a tedious process. I wish I had access to a media blaster to get it all out. Thankfully, the inside corners aren't easily seen so I didn't strive for perfection there. 

To give my train a second coach I purchased a spare 607 coach body on Ebay, but its trucks and roof didn't match what I already had! However, I managed to scavenge trucks and roof from one of the surplus observation cars. When I was done, I still had enough parts for at least one complete 608 observation car. Maybe for the future...

Also, the extra coach 607 that I purchased later had a bent steel underframe piece and no fuel tanks.

To match the other coaches I removed the underframe assembly and then drilled holes to mount some surplus fuel tanks which I took from the parts supply.

I was finally ready to start painting the bodies! I used automotive primer and spray paint because I wanted really durable paint, and automotive colors come in a lot of metallic options. Here, I selected Duplicolor "Medium Garnet Red Metallic" (BGM 0380) and the matching primer. This stuff costs 2-3 times as much as regular spray paint but the nozzles are wonderful and the paint goes on nice and smooth. It should... it is used on real automobiles! One thing I noticed is that it required frequent shaking or the metallic particles inside would spray out inconsistently. I built up the color in many light coats.

I finally got smart and screwed hooks into my ceiling beam which were very handy for hanging projects that needed to dry after painting, such as these coach bodies.

The undersides of the coaches were masked as well to allow for electrical conductivity with the trucks. 

The window inserts were straightened and then painted with Ace brand "Najevo White Gloss" (17185) which looked a lot like creamy white. I couldn't find a comparable auto paint color but many of the stores had empty shelves where car paints should be.

The original Lionel window inserts were discolored, dirty, and damaged, so I replaced them all with strips of clear styrene that I cut to size.

These were lined up on the inside of the coach wall inserts and pushed down until the metal spikes pierced the clear plastic. Then, the spikes were bent down to hold the clear plastic in place. 

The coaches were reassembled by reinserting the tabs into the slots and bending them over. The lower ones were especially difficult to get to because the metal window inserts and clear plastic window glass blocked access. Perhaps at the factory the clear plastic was added after assembly of the sides?

Then, the tanks were installed on the bottoms of the coaches.

I struggled with couplers. I didn't like the clunky, hard to use original latch couplers, but also didn't want to install Lionel knuckle couplers because they would be too large and lose the sense that this is still a toy train. So, I looked for some simple hook-loop couplers and found some American Flyer reproductions on EBay (AFO-3000-1) which would work. I drilled out the shanks for the mounting bolts, then cut off the excess and filed everything smooth. 

I used 2-56 screws and nuts with 4-40 washers (one car required 6-32 washers because the old holes were so large) to attach the couplers. 

While the roofs were off, I also installed some wires onto one truck of each car which had a pick-up roller and ran it up into the body of the car. I purchased no-flicker lighting circuit boards and LED strips to light up these cars, and I may eventually add them. I don't know yet. But at least the wiring is in place if I decided to do so.

Finally, I could screw the roofs back on. A common problem with these cars is that the roof doesn't want to go on nice and tight, and I had to work around the edges until they fit properly. But once they were screwed on, the project was finally finished. I had considered adding lettering and numbers to the cars, but at this point I am going to skip it. So, with that, my cars were complete.

It was a fun project, but I am not sure I would do it again. It was a lot if work, and I had to learn as I went because I didn't have any experience with tinplate cars. I much prefer plastic models assembled with screws instead of tinplate cars fixed with bent tabs and soldering. Also, for as much time as I spent stripping and priming the bodies, the paint just wants to chip off. That is a bit disheartening. If I am careful with them they will hold up, but original Lionel coaches feature nice baked-on enamel and I hoped this automotive paint would have been similar. Perhaps next time I will look into having the cars powder-coated. I also discovered, much to my chagrin, that the finished train looks a lot like the rare uncataloged Macy's special set.

I also still an engine to pull the train, and I am looking at a Lionel 252 diesel electric or maybe a 249E steamer. Who knows? I guess it depends on what I find for sale at the next train meet. And I still have a bag of parts left over!

This project was very special for me as I worked on it during the many times I had to run between the hospital and our house while my wife was in in the hospital in labor with Harrison. I would come home, feed and water the dog, spray a coat of paint, play with the dog, and go back. This continued after he was born while he was in the hospital. Then, Harrison came home and the project halted for months. But now it is finished, and someday I will give it to him.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Then and Now: West Waterford station (1958)

Here is a shot dated June 28, 1958 taken in West Waterford, NY. It is facing southwest, and the old D&H passenger station is on the left. You can see that the area is double tracked, and a siding breaks off to the right of the viewer and approaches the photographer. In the distance is the bridge over what I think is the Canal. And the road crossing is Washington Avenue.

I wasn't familiar with the area but didn't remember ever seeing a passenger station in my journeys, so I recently drove over and decided to check out what was left. Short answer... nothing. The picture below is taken from about the same place. I don't know when they took the station down, but it is now just grassy brush.

A closer view from the crossing which shows the same white house in the center of the first picture. 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Three cabooses

Here is an interesting shot showing cabooses from the three railroads that formed Guilford, though because it is dated July 1983 it technically predates the legal creation of Guilford. That is Maine Central #655, Delaware & Hudson #35717, and Boston & Maine #461 cabooses. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

15th Wedding Anniversary

Today is my 15th wedding anniversary! I know, I can't believe it either. They say time flies when you re having fun, and that is pretty much true. Our first date in 2004 was tracking down long-lost Arcade and Attica caboose #304. I knew it was somewhere in western New York but that was it. My wife, while shopping in a Dollar General store near its location, overheard some people talking about it. We put our information together and obtained the address.

After taking pictures of the caboose, which was looking very ragged, we then went to eat at a nearby restaurant called the Side Street Station. It was train themed with various train pictures, model trains, and other railroadiana. A train also ran along the ceiling. It was a fun meal, and though (I think) I had been here once as a kid with my parents it was a lot more enjoyable to go with my lovely girlfriend.

Several years later our wedding was held nearby, and so we came here during our Honeymoon to eat lunch. Sadly, we found out that they were closing the very next day! They did give us one of their menus to keep as a souvenir.

Fast forward several years and in 2014 for my birthday weekend we went back to Arcade. We rode the trains one day, photographed them the next, ate wings at the original Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, and spent a wonderful time in western NY. But, the highlight of the trip was a surprise I had planned for my wife. I took her to a bright red caboose in downtown Arcade which was next to an ice cream stand. As we were were eating our ice cream and touring the caboose she saw lots of pictures of it on the inside, including some of its restoration. Finally, it dawned on her that it was A&A caboose #304! It had been relocated to Arcade and fixed up. She really enjoyed that part, and I got another picture of myself next to it (this time from the other side).

I hate that cupola because I don't remember ever seeing an A&A picture with it, but oh well.

We have been back many times since, and I love how we can share it together. My wife loves flowers, so I think this is a good picture combining one of her passions with one of mine. 

And now our family has grown a bit, so here is a recent picture from the live steam club showing us all together. I am not sure if Harrison enjoyed it our not!

I love you honey! Happy Anniversary!

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Then and Now: Simmons Machine Tool Company (1989)

Here is a shot taken in North Menands showing a northbound D&H/NYS&W train passing by the old Simmons Machine Tool Company (now called NSH USA Corp.) building in August 1989. The train is just about to cross Simmons Lane, which is out of frame on the right. Currently to the left of the train is an approach-lit railroad signal that lights up when trains are in the block. When I am in the area I sometimes stop and look at the signal to see whether a train is near.

Here is a shot of the same building taken in September 2022. It really looks nice now.

This building still has a railroad siding embedded into the pavement outside its southern wall. The roll-up door allowed train cars to be spotted inside.

Around the building was an assortment of railroad wheels, pallets, steel pieces, dollies, and junk.

In the shot below from April 2018 you can see the same assortment of stuff but in different places. I guess they just can't bring themselves to get rid of it. It would make for an interesting scene to model. Also on the far right in the distance is the afore-mentioned train signal.

Here is what the building looked like in 1986. There were a lot more sidings in the area on both sides of the mainline, though the track leading into this structure was pretty overgrown and looked like it wasn't used anymore. But if you look closer at the building, the roll-up door is open. Perhaps it was still used for trucks or forklifts.

Here is a satellite shot (north is to the right) of the Simmons Machine Tool Company facility, which has the yellow star on it. You can see the old siding entering from the left. Just across the street is another complex (the former Ramsey Chain, marked with an orange star) that Simmons expanded into. It too had a railroad spur into into as evidenced by the curved structure. Much of the information here is from Dominic Bourgeois' fantastic Delaware & Hudson Bridge Line Freight 1960-1983, Volume 1 book.

When I moved to Albany in September 2005 I explored this area and the location of the orange star had a bunch of Quonset huts. 

They were all in pretty rough shape, but what really caught my eye were the assortment of railroad wheels all just lying about. There were different sizes, and some looked like locomotive wheels (note some have gears) and others looked like freight car wheels.

Imagine my surprise to discover that between 2005 and now, the Quonset huts were removed and a generic gray steel structure was erected in their place. It is less of an eyesore, that's for sure.

They still build machines that recondition railroad wheels too! (Edit: See comment below) I guess the ones outside are there to stay for a while longer.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

CP local switching Surpass and Global

I drive through North Albany on my daily commute but rarely ever see C.P. switch the few local industries in the area. That includes the Surpass Chemicals (on the west side of the main line) and the Global Companies fuel distributors (on the east side). More about Global here.

The last time I saw any activity was a couple of months ago, but I was on my way home for a family night and didn't have time to stop and watch. The time before that was in 2020 in the morning on the way to work. I have also seen it work late at night in the past. Frankly, I don't really know what schedule it is on.

That all changed last week (9/01), when as we were driving out on a "date night" to a local food place I saw the headlights and tall cupola caboose of the local heading north in north Albany as we drove over the tracks on I-90. I said we should keep going but my wife convinced me to pull off at the nearest exit and chase it. She argued "what do we have to lose if we can't catch up?" Well, catch up we did!

When we got there I could see one guy in an orange hi-vis vest lining the switch into Surpass, and I assumed that they would be dropping off the white tank car in there.

They did back it down off the main line, but they didn't take it all the way in. They just left it. I later discovered that they were just spotting it off of the back of their train. Perhaps another train will come and push it the rest of the way into the facility at a later date. 

I had a few minutes to watch them perform the above maneuvers and counted at least four crew members (one in an orange shirt, two in yellow vests, and the engineer). Perhaps someone was a trainee. I talked with them and they said that their job signed on five days a week, though they didn't switch every industry every day. Hopefully, once I figure out my new scanner I will need to listen to know when they are working because I can drive here from my house in about 15 minutes.

I looked across the road and noticed that the security gates into the oil distribution facility were open, which meant that I would get to see TWO industries switched! I had plenty of time to figure out where I wanted to watch and take pictures. My wife showed me how to use her smartphone (which I had been using all along as I didn't bring my camera with me) to take videos and pictures at the same time. God, do I love my wife!

Here is a video of the train backing into the facility:

The track backed in and they used the loads to first couple with a string of empties and pull them out. The caboose was serving I guess as a portable bathroom (mandated on all trains) and perhaps as a shoving platform, though it was never on the end of the train. Between it and the engine was a covered hopper, which my wife correctly identified as a safety spacer car which is required when moving propane tank cars.

The train coupled to the empties.

After a few minutes (perhaps to exchange paperwork and such) it pulled the empties out and then left them down the mainline.

Here is a video of the train leaving the facility with the loads closest to the engine, and the empties behind them:

After that the security gates were left open, so I knew that they would then push the loaded cars into the facility. But, by this point I decided we could head out. We needed to get to the food store before it closed, and Harrison was still in a good mood.

On the way home about a half-hour later we drove by the area and saw the local backing slowly southbound for its return trip to Kenwood Yard. I can't recall if the white tank car was with them on the end or not, though I don't think it was.

It was a great evening overall.