Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Spam Roundup, April 2017

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.

Things that make you go "Huh?!"

- I love reading through an article that can make men and women think. Feel free to visit my blog: hemorrhoids natural cures [I'd rather not think of hemerrhoids, thanks.]

- You're supposed to brush after every meal. If she could feel the mike on her lips why whould she accidentally bite down. [Dental care seems to be the common theme with those two sentences, but what it had to do with a post about classic radio I couldn't say.]


"Lumbering along" tells all!

My short post about vintage Japanese tin toys continues to attract the spambots. The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along pulled in some interesting comments this time.

 - Wonderful post however I was wondering if you could write a little more on the subject [Wasn't 300 words enough?]

See those two green lumber trucks? They're what all the fuss is about.
 - I believe that you need to publish more about this subject matter, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people do not speake about these subjects [Well, if you think there's a need...]

 - this page definitely has all the information and facts [OK, I'll leave it alone. Jeesh!]

Accent on the positive (expressed with an accent)

- If you wish for to get a good deal from this article then you have to apply such methods to your won weblog.

 - You could certainly see your enthusiasm within the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who aren't afraid to say how they believe.

 - I really like what you guys tend to be up too. This sort of clever work and exposure!

And finally, a comment that says it all.

 - Incredible points. Great arguments. Keep up the great spirit.

That's all for this month. May the great spirit descend upon your won weblog. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Baldo Resists

The comics section of the daily newspaper is an interesting place. Most days, humorous strips are just that -- humorous. One expects Doonesbury to include political commentary in the mix. But other comic creators occasionally do more than simply entertain.

I found the following sequence from Baldo (Feb. 14-17, 2017) especially powerful*.  Baldo's creative team, Hector Cantú and Carlos Castellanos have occasionally shared their thoughts on Latino and minority issues before in Baldo.

But not like this.


For many, the election of Donald Trump  (on both sides of the aisle) signaled a cultural shift. Criticism and dissent would not be tolerated, especially from minorities.

The strips from 2/14-2/16 form a three-part story. Part 1: the vocal dissident disappears. Part 2: the strip goes dark (and silent). Part 3: the clearly rattled lead characters return with safe, "government-approved" humor.

Point made.

The fourth sequence provides a more nuanced coda. Billy is a minor recurring character who feels he's the victim of reverse discrimination. Real-world Billys perceived the election as a sign that their side was on the rise. And they could finally tell those people exactly what they thought of them.

In Baldo, this shift is represented by the return of Billy, "sent to keep an eye on things." He's always on the lookout for foreign threats. And (in the strip) he always misidentifies them -- as in this strip. Maybe that's why the sequence didn't have the seal of approval from the FBMC.

*I know not everyone shares my political views, and so I'm sure not everyone will agree with that statement. As long as we can all disagree with respect, I'm cool with that.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 052 - One String Pulley

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

052. One String Pulley

For this building set, the mechanical toys look the most convincing to me. The construction of this one string pulley was simple -- once I got started. 

The illustration shows two grooved discs for the drive belt. But the set includes no such pieces. So I built up the represented piece using a fiberboard collar sandwiched between two wooden discs. 

As a static display, it was satisfactory. Had I wanted to have something that actually turned the second axle, I probably would have used a rubber band for the belt, and a single wooden collar on each dowel to prevent it from slipping off. 


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lessons from York: What We Saw (Part 4) - American Flyer flown

Pre-war standard gauge AF trains.
We saw about the same amount we
normally do at this show.
Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby.

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them.

In Part 1 I outlined the reasons for what I see as a major shift in the hobby. Basically, younger collectors seem more interested in operating their trains rather than simply displaying them. And that, I think, explains what we say this time at York -- the results of upgrading.

And it wasn't just limited to Lionel. We saw a lot of postwar American Flyer sets, locomotives, and rolling stock.


A little background

American Flyer trains, like those of Lionel, have a long history. The company started out in 1907 as a low-cost alternative to the higher-priced (and higher-quality) German imported toy trains. In the 1920s and 1930s, it competed directly with Lionel, offering trains in the same track gauge. A.C. Gilbert (or Erector Set fame) bought the company in 1937.

In 1937 A.C. Gilbert bought American Flyer. It seemed
to be a good match.
Toy train production ceased during World War II, and when it resumed, American Flyer had changed. Lionel continued to use O-gauge track, with a middle rail for the motor's electric pickup. American Flyer went with S-gauge track and used the same two-rail electrical system as the new H0 trains.

Flyer was never as successful as Lionel and went out of business in 1967. Children who received American Flyer trains in the 1950s grew up to be American Flyer collectors in the 1970s. It was a smaller group than Lionel collectors, but no less enthusiastic.


Limited resources

Unlike Lionel trains, which were in continual production even after the original company was bought out, American Flyer trains were not reintroduced into the market until the 1990s.

American Flyer, 1955. We saw plenty of these pieces, both in sets and for
individual sale.
So if you wanted to have an operating S-gauge layout, you were pretty much confined to vintage Flyer equipment


S-Helper Service helps

S-Helper Service and American Models jump-started the S-gauge operator's market in the early 1990s. These independent companies produced their own lines of rolling stock -- and eventually locomotives -- for S-gauge operators. S-Helper Service was purchased in 2013 by MTH, one of the largest toy train manufacturers in the US. American Models is still in business.

An example of MTH's S-gauge offerings. There's a greater variety
of road names and more realistic detail in these cars, compared
to vintage American Flyer rolling stock.
In the meantime, Lionel had purchased the assets to the old American Flyer line of products and started reissuing old trains. And they also began offering new products.

A sampling of Lionel's American Flyer-branded S-gauge trains. Like MTH,
Lionel offers models and road names never made by Gilbert

So what does that mean?

New products mean modern materials. New S-gauge cars roll more easily than older AF. The electronics in the locomotives offer remote control and more reliable operation. And there's a greater variety of road names and locomotive types, which lets the operator model the rail lines he wants, not just the few Flyer offered.


What did we see?

A LOT of American Flyer trains. But not from the prewar era. No, most of the American Flyer we saw was post-war. Train sets from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as individual locomotives, freight cars, and passenger cars. We didn't see a lot of postwar accessories, though.

Conclusion? As with their O-gauge brethren, S-gauge operators are trading in their aging Flyer pieces for newer, better-running equipment.

So what didn't we see? 

Across the board, anything that would be useful for modern toy train operators was in short supply. We didn't see operating accessories, buildings, crossing gates, billboard signs, etc.

The hobby has indeed changed.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Kate Loder Piano Music - a Victorian composer returns

In the 1840s The Musical World called Kate Loder (1825-1904) one of the finest pianists of the day "without reference to her age or sex or country." Loder was young, female, and British at a time when audiences preferred their musicians older, male, and foreign (preferably German).

Loder came from a musical family and exhibited an early talent at the piano. Her musical life is too rich to detail in a review.

Among other things, she performed Mendelssohn's G minor Piano Concerto in the presence of the composer. She was close friends with Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann. Like Clara, she enjoyed a successful career as a concert pianist and composer.

Then she married.

In the Victorian Age, the wife of a prominent surgeon did not perform in public. Kate Loder Thompson concert career was over. She did perform, teach, and compose privately throughout the rest of her life.

So what was her music like? This release features her two published collections of studies, plus a few short piano works.

The Twelve Studies Books 1 and 2 document her impressive technical ability, and also her musicality. Though some are quite didactic, Loder, like Clementi, manages to make them more than just finger exercises.

The Study No. 9, Book 2, for example, has a hint of Mendelssohn about it. On the other hand, the Study No. 5, Book 2 seems to be inspired by Chopin. That influence sounds even stronger in her later piano works, such as the Voyage Joyeux in A major (1868).

Ian Hodson performs with a calm assurance and tasteful musicality. He's able to bring out the musical contours in the studies, giving them music form instead of letting them just be a jumble of notes.

If you're interested in women composers, this release is a must-have. But that shouldn't be the only reason to explore Kate Lober's music. It doesn't sound especially youthful, nor feminine, or especially British. It simply sounds like what it is: well-constructed music of the middle Romantic period.
And that should be reason enough.

Kate Loder: Piano Music
Twelve Studies, Books 1 & 2; Romance in A flat, Pensée Fugitive; Two Mazurkas, Voyage Joyeux
Ian Hobson, piano
Toccata Classics
World Premiere Recordings

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dick Tracy's Spirit - Part 3

Dick Tracy recently concluded a storyline involving Will Eisner's creation, the Spirit (Dec. 2016 through Mar. 2017). In Part 1 I tried to fill in the background of this important comic strip character (for those who came in late). In Part 2 I looked at how parts of the Spirit's mythos were handled by Mike Curtis and Joe Staton.

It's not my intention to rehash the entire story arc, but in this final installment I want to look at a few details embedded in the story.



By now, Boston Charlie (of "Terry and the Pirates") is now a supporting character in Dick Tracy. So it's not surprising to see him piloting in a mysterious figure for an exclusive auction. Also shown are Oliver Warbucks, ("Little Orphan Annie") who's found a home in the Tracyverse. The last panel shows the Spirit's archenemy, the Octopus, and his henchman, Mr. Carrion.



Up for auction is an immortality formula. The Spirit relates the last time he encountered one, which was also the first time he met P'Gell in 1946, who would became a love interest/opponent throughout the series.

P'Gell's first appearance in the Spirit, 1946.
More P'Gell from 1947. Note how her features look a little less exotic.




I have to admit I liked this sequence. Commissioner Dulan and Chief Patton are trading stories about their respective crime fighters. Sammy Strunk, the Spirit's sidekick, isn't impressed. What I find amusing about the first panel is that the middle character has served both as superior and sidekick to the hero. Pat Patton started out as Tracy's assistant, and became police chief only because Tracy turned down the offer.




The immortality formula is being auctioned off by Perenelle Flamel, widow of Nicolas Flamel. The name may be familiar to Harry Potter fans, but Flamel's story predates JK Rowling.

Nicolas Flamel (1330-1418) was a scribe and printer in medieval Paris. He was also an alchemist -- not unusual for the time. Centuries later, he was credited with finding the Philosopher's Stone, actually turning base metal into gold, and developing an elixir of life. These legends continued to grow, and far outgrew the original person.




Its always fun when Diet Smith, Chester Gould's original plutocrat mixes with Oliver Warbucks. Warbucks mentions Doc Savage had an immortality formula in 1934. I'm not sure about that, but I do know Lester Dent's pulp character did encounter such a formula in 1939's "The Crimson Serpent."

And we see who Boston Charlie was transporting -- the Dragon Lady, Milton Caniff's quintessential villain from "Terry and the Pirates."

It's the details such as these that make the story, I think. As always, Curtis and Staton tell a great story.

This panel from the end of the story arc is a study in shadow and
light that is worthy of Eisner.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Duet for B-flat Clarinet and Bass Clarinet - Part 3

As part of my Diabelli Project flash composition series, I wrote four sketches for a B-flat clarinet and bass clarinet duet. Even when I was sketching them out, I knew they were part of the same four movement work. 

In Part 1 I posted the third movement, which is where I started with this piece. I then moved on to the opening movement, which I posted in Part 2

I finished up the sketch for the second movement (below). In the original Diabelli Project sketch (bottom), I had thought this would be a slow movement. But I liked the one I came up with better. Two slow movements were too much. And when I really looked at the music, I could see that it would work at a faster tempo, too. 

So here's the result. The alternating seconds which serve as the rhythmic accompaniment get handed from one instrument to the other. But it's always there, always defining the pulse as 3+3+2. That's why I made the meter 8/8 instead of 4/4. 4/4 implies an eighth note grouping of 2+2+2+2. 

Now it's on the finale.



And here's the original Diabelli Project sketch (No. 147) this movement grew out of.



Friday, May 19, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 051 - Trapeze

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

051. Trapeze

The trapeze had one major challenge -- and it's one I've had to deal with before. Stacking  one long dowel atop another isn't very stable, even with a wooden collar spanning the joint. Fortunately, those dowels didn't have to support a lot of weight. 

I also didn't get the "rope" as long as it in the illustration, but after fiddling with the dowels for over a half hour, I went with what I had.




Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lessons from York: What We Saw (Part 3) - 6464 No More?

It appears such displays are moving from the
collector's home to the open market.
Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby.

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them.


In Part 1 I outlined the reasons for what I see as a major shift in the hobby. Basically, younger collectors seem more interested in operating their trains rather than simply displaying them. And that, I think, explains what we say this time at York -- the results of upgrading.

And that upgrading, I think, has affected one of the mainstays of toy train collecting -- the Lionel 6464 series box car.

A little background

 From 1953 to 1969 Lionel Trains made a semi-scale box car that would become the standard for O-gauge railroading. It's known as the 6464 series, from the catalog number prefix all these box cars share. 29 different models were made. They were found in both high-end and entry-level sets. Some were available separately.

The Lionel 6464-300 from 1955-56. All the box cars in this series start with
6464. 

Stamp collecting for trains 

The 6464 box cars look good on layouts, but the primary reason these boxcars have retained their value over the years is their desirability as collectables. There are two different door types, four different body types, one of which has two different roof types. There are variations in the colors and applications of the graphics. There are factory samples, production prototypes, and factory errors.

Some of the box cars are readily available. Some, like the pastel-colored box car for the ill-fated Girl's Train are extremely rare. Just like stamp collectors seeking all the denominations of a single stamp design, train collectors have been filling their shelves with row after row of just 6464 box cars.

Taking it off the shelf

Vintage 6464 box cars have appealing graphics, and they look great in a train rolling along the track. But there are some disadvantages for the collector/operator.


  1. The cars (especially the ones from the 1950s) are somewhat heavy, which limits the length 
  2. The wheels don't turn that easily, increasing the strain on the locomotive. 
  3. Only about 17 road names are represented. If you like the Norfolk & Western, for example, you're out of luck

But the 6464 box car remained an influence in the hobby long after they were discontinued. When MPC took over Lionel in the 1970s, they reused the molds to issue their own "collectible" line of 9700 box cars. While some of the graphics were interesting, the cheapening of the plastic and trucks made these less desirable.

An MPC/Lionel 9700 box car from the 1970. Compare it to the original 1950s
version above. It's easy to see that the plastic is cheaper, and the
graphics not quite as crisp.


As time went on, others (including the new Lionel) offered better quality box cars designed for the operator. The advantages over the classic 6464 cars are:


  1. Modern 6464-like box cars are much lighter than the vintage cars 
  2. Needle nose axles produce minimal friction, allowing the wheels to spin freely, reducing strain on the locomotive. 
  3. Between all the manufacturers, hundreds of road names (both of current and defunct railroads) are available. If you like the Norfolk & Western, you can find examples of their box car liveries from the 1940s through the modern era.

6464 galore

So what did we see at York?

Tons of vintage 6464 box cars, including several examples of the Girl's Train model. If, as I believe, the trend is towards operation, then a wall of box cars has perhaps lost its appeal. Virtually all of the graphics of the original 6464 box cars are now available at much lower prices.

If you want a green NYC box car on your layout, why not use the Mikes' Train House version instead of the vintage Lionel one? It's less expensive, it runs better, and it looks just as good.

A 6464-900 Lionel NYC box car from the 1960s. 

The MTH version. 


We've always seen 6464 box cars at York, but never like this. There were tables with nothing but boxes stacked in four or five layers. And they were all there -- all 29 models.

Prices seemed a little soft, too -- about $40 to $120. Is this just the beginning?

Next: American Flyer's flown

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Quattro Mani - Lively Lounge Lizards

I love everything about this release. The performances are top-notch, the theme is focused, yet within that focus is an amazing variety of compositions and styles.

This recording is with the new Quattro Mani duo piano team (Steven Beck replaced retiring Alice Rybak in 2013). Though the Susan Grace/Steven Beck chemistry is slightly different than that of Grace/Rybak, there's no diminution in quality. The Quattro Mani perform with a single vision, and all the virtuosity and energy the program demands.

"Lounge Lizards" features piano 4-hands works by (mostly) contemporary American composers. It's a program that delights, challenges, and ultimately entertains the listener.

The most challenging work is the oldest: Charles Ives' 1925 "Three Quarter-Tone Pieces." In context, though, it seemed like a work that finally found its own time. As played by Grace and Beck the work has a beautifully expressive quality.

Fred Lerdahl's "Quiet Music" opens the program. Though quiet, motifs move in and out of phase with each other, creating a restlessness and forward motion that carries all the way through the 13-minute piece.

John Musto's unabashedly neo-romantic "Passacaglia" seems to be music written by a pianist for pianists. And it sounds like a great deal of fun to play.

"Of Risk and Memory" by Arlene Sierra is a more introspective work, with the two pianists seemingly playing against each other. For me, the tension this conflict generates between the players made this work one of the most exciting on the album.

The title track, "Lounge Lizards," documents Michael Daugherty's somewhat checkered past with four cocktail piano bars. Of course, this is Daugherty, so the lounge music is more than just lounge music.

It's actually a well-constructed four-movement work that uses the language of Muzak to say something far more substantial. Kudos to percussionists John Kinzie and Michael Tetreault for their sometimes ironic, sometimes cheezy, yet always appropriate interpretations to Daughtery's score.

I love this album.

Quattro Mani: Lounge Lizards 
Steven Beck, Susan Grace, duo piano 
Works by: Fred Lerdahl, John Musto, Charles Ives, Arlene Sierra, Michael Daugherty 
Bridge Records 9486

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dick Tracy's Spirit - Part 2

Dick Tracy recently concluded a storyline involving the Spirit (Dec. 2016 through Mar. 2017). Last week, I shared some of the basic backgrounds for Will Eisner's creation (see: Part 1). But importing a comic book character from the 1940s isn't just as simple as drawing it accurately.  Mike Curtis and Joe Staton had to strike a delicate balance between the accepted canon and modern sensibilities.

Ebony White was always a valuable aide for the Spirit.
But sensibilities for acceptable cartoon
exaggeration have changed greatly
since the 1940s.
A Changing Cast of Characters

The Spirit had a fairly stable cast of supporting characters. There was Police Commissioner Dulan, who was one of the few people who knew the Spirit was resurrected policeman Denny Colt. Dulan was the reason the Spirit was able to work with -- and under the sanction -- of the police department.

Ellen Dolan, the commissioner's daughter, was the love interest of Denny Colt/the Spirit. She was more than just a convenient damsel in distress. Ellen Dolan was competent, capable, and often more than a match for the men in her life.

Like many masked crime fighters of the 1940s, the Spirit had a youthful sidekick. Ebony White was drawn as an African American stereotype, but his character was anything but.

Most comic scholars agree that Will Eisner wasn't inherently racist, just a product of his time. But times change. By 1949 it was clear that Ebony had to go.

And so he was replaced by Sammy Strunk, who would fill out remaining three years of the Spirit's run as his sidekick. For true Spirit fans, Ebony White remains the Spirit's true sidekick. But for new readers in 2017? No way.

(L-R) Sammy Strunk, Commissioner Dulan, the Spirit. I do wonder how
he managed to board a commercial flight with a mask and traveling
under an alias...

Singing a song


Although Ebony White was gone, he certainly wasn't forgotten. Staton and Curtis had the Spirit singing the song "Every Little Bug" in several sequences. The tune first appeared in a Spirit comic in 1946, and was a running gag through 1950.



The tune was written by Ebony White, and was on the Hit Parade (at least in the Spirit's world). Sheet music for the tune was also published in the real world (Will Eisner, lyrics; Bill Harr, music), although it was less successful outside of the comic strip.



The Lunar Connection

In the course of Staton and Curtis' story, it's mentioned that the Spirit has been to the moon.

By 1951 appeal for the masked hero had pretty much run its course. After World War II superhero comics were on the decline, and popular tastes were changing. Will Eisner employed Wally Wood, one of the premier science fiction comic artists, to help steer the Spirit into a new direction.

In 1952, the comic was rebranded "Outer Space" with the Spirit parenthetically mentioned. The six-part story involved the first moon expedition. The crew was a mix of scientists and criminals, earning their pardon by participating in was could well be a fatal mission. The Spirit came to keep the cons in line.

It was a gritty, mostly somber tale with stunning artwork. And it pretty much marked the end of the series. After the Spirit returned to Earth, there was one further adventure (with the Spirit as a UFO hunter), and the comic was canceled.


 Since the Moon also played an important part of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy strip, it seemed only natural that the subject arises in conversation.


Next week: the ever-expanding Tracyverse

Monday, May 15, 2017

Duet for B-flat Clarinet and Bass Clarinet - Part 2

As part of my Diabelli Project flash composition series, I wrote four sketches for a B-flat clarinet and bass clarinet duet. Even when I was sketching them out, I knew they were part of the same four movement work.

In Part 1 I posted the third movement, which is where I started with this piece. Here's the first movement.

Those seemingly random notes in the margins do have a purpose. I like to set a general metronome marking for the piece to begin with. I then calculate how many measures would encompass a minute at that tempo, how many for 30 seconds, and how many for 15 seconds. This helps me with the overall proportion of the movement.

In the upper right is the approximate playing time of each movement. Once again, this helps me keep the overall structure of the work in balance. (I'll be filling in the times for the second and fourth movements when they're completed.)



And just for comparison, here's the original Diabelli Project sketch this movement grew out of.




Friday, May 12, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 050 - Swing

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

050. Swing

This toy marks the halfway point of the 100 Toys project. Not to give too much away, but I've already looked ahead on the instruction sheet. On average, it looks like the toys get much more complex as we progress. 

So what about toy no. 50, the swing? It runed out to be another construction made challenging by artistic license. The illustrator could make the dowels as long as they needed to make the picture look good. 

The builder (me) didn't have that option. I had to use the lengths issued with the set. So, as you can see, the taller dowels are balanced on shorter ones. The metal pillars provided a good deal of stability; putting fiberboard collars on the taller dowels helped, too. But still, it's a pretty rickety affair, though it did photograph well. 


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Lessons from York: What We Saw (Part 2) - Powering Up

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby.

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them.


In Part 1 I outlined the reasons for what I see as a major shift in the hobby. Basically, younger collectors seem more interested in operating their trains rather than simply displaying them. And that, I think, explains what we say this time at York -- the results of upgrading.

If you have more than a 4' x 8' train layout
in the 1950s, you needed a Z transformer.

Power base

Most Lionel train sets of the 1950s and 60s came with small 35-watt transformer power packs. For the small oval or figure eight, the supplied track could make, that was enough power to keep the train moving.

When the owner of one of those sets built something bigger and more elaborate on a tabletop, though, 35 watts didn't cut it.

Bigger layout, bigger power demands

In order to overcome power drops in longer loops,  a 75-watt or higher-powered transformer was required. If one had two trains running, then a transformer with dual controls was a must. So the Z transformers (250 watts) and ZW transformers (275) became increasingly desirable. Lionel stopped making these powerhouses in 1969.

As more collectors turned to operating layouts, the demand for these transformers increased, as did their price. And they became scarce. Because once they were installed on a layout, they were out of circulation.

 The Lionel ZW transformer. At one time, this was the
ultimate power source for a large 0-gauge layout.

Power shift

This show we saw vintage Z and ZW transformers at virtually every table. Why?

I think the older transformers no longer cut it. Beginning in the late 90s, manufacturers installed printed circuits in their locomotives.

Some were for sound effects, which became increasingly realistic as digital sound technology advanced. Other circuits allowed for sophisticated remote control. The older transformers limited some of those functions.

So Lionel, MTH and other current manufacturers built new transformers for the new generation of trains. The MTH Z-4000, for example, provides 400 watts of power, and connectivity for newer remote control functions that didn't exist in the 1960s.

I think operators are trading up, and when they replace their Z or ZW with a Z-4000, the vintage transformer goes up for sale. There were many at this show, and prices were lower than I've ever seen them.

If you wanted to create a strictly vintage  layout, you were in luck. But most just passed them by without a glance.

The MTH Z-4000 transformer. While its form gives a nod to the vintage ZW, its electronics and functionality
is strictly 21st Century. 


Next: 6464 no more?