Model Railroading — Blog Post #1
I have enjoyed model trains for as long as I can remember. My earliest experiences were Lionel and American Flyer sets that my older siblings had. I specifically remember the American Flyer Alco PA New Haven A units, the huge couplers, the track with pins in the rails to connect the track sections. My uncle had traveled while he was in the military overseas and he had brought home some Marklin sets that I played with when we visited his home.
My first layout was the classic 4’x8′ plywood setup with a simple oval of track and a single siding. I remember the one locomotive I had, a steam engine. I also remember the glue used to attach the ballast to the track getting up into the gears and motor of the locomotive.
The track plan was a simple oval with one siding. The track was sectional with cork roadbed. I don’t remember the rolling stock I had at that time. This was a 2-rail DC setup. I remember taking apart the transformer, expecting lots of complicated parts inside. Instead, all I found was the actual transformer, a single rheostat and some slide switches. I really liked the green jeweled pilot light. I don’t recall much else about that layout, it must have been back in 1965 or so.
I had enjoyed the Marklin trains I had seen at my uncle’s home. I had been to International Toys in San Francisco on my birthday to get a Rigi aerial cable car set made by Lehmann one year and they also imported Marklin. I liked the European prototype cars and locomotives, they were more colorful and there was a larger variety of shapes and colors. For my birthday I got my first Marklin set from Engine House in Sunnyvale. This was the 2953 starter set with the 3 axle steam locomotive 3029, two green passenger cars 4040, an oval of track and a transformer. I had wanted to get this set for some time, but when my birthday arrived, they didn’t have the set in stock so I got the individual pieces instead.
I also got two pairs of manual switches, some buffers, the mechanical crossing gates, an uncoupler and some bridge piers. I setup my layout on a table at home. I played with that set a lot and added things over the years. The uncoupler was the first remote controlled accessory I had, and I was fascinated with the wiring, the control panel and the different colors of wire. You won’t be surprised that years later I chose to major in Electrical Engineering at college. Marklin is 3-rail AC, very different from my previous layout. My father knew some German and the Marklin boxes were labeled for multiple languages so I could at least guess what each German word meant.
My second Marklin locomotive was the 3021 V200 diesel. I got a larger transformer at Kiddie World in San Jose. It had a red pilot light and a label that showed it had a maximum power output of 30VA. This was many years before the internet, so I had no resources to find out what VA meant. I knew that voltage multiplied by current was watts, but I couldn’t figure out why this transformer wasn’t rated for some number of watts. It would be many years later, in my junior year of college, in a class on electromagnetics, that I ran across reactive power and it all made sense. I went to college to find out what the label on that transformer meant.