Middle-Earth, the final frontier?

Or, on fantasy railroading & the last required blog post of the year. No, not like this, though that locomotive has a scratchbuilding appeal all its own, despite looking somewhat like the love-child of Smaug and any one of the numerous American 4-8-2s. In fact, that is precisely the point I want to make regarding fantasy railroad design; don’t mix and match different, readily recognizable prototypical elements that are clearly far above the technological level of your world in terms of both refinement and sophistication! The first locomotives, which happened in a level of technological development roughly corresponding to most fantasy worlds, considering that at least the forces of evil regularly push the plausible technological limit to the 18th century or so, looked like this. In fact, though models of these types of locomotives are not commercially available, models of some later ones embodying a similar aesthetic are, or have been in the past: see here, here, here, and here. As a general rule, you should not build for your fantasy world anything which was constructed in the real world after 1860 or so. However, the vast majority of people do not do this, but instead just plunk down any train they can get for cheap.

A Light Locomotive in HO

Or more specifically, one of H.K. Porter class 2-B-SS-K. Yes, it’s that time of year and I am on that tangent–and for those who are not familiar with my tendencies of writing subject choice on this website,  I mean Locomotive Scratchbuilding (and at last that infernal spellcheck has realized that it is NOT acceptable to separate the word components “scratch” and “building”.

Concerning my previous tirades regarding propulsion mechanisms and chassis, I now have confidence that if equipped with ample and correct tools and some commercial parts, I could indeed scratchbuild one, as in fact I did on the unfinished locomotive, which I will be referring to as the Noodle Incident locomotive from now on (for those of you ignorant, that is a reference of Calvin and Hobbes). But I digress.

Yes, I have gained in wisdom and have come now to the conclusion that, while not absolutely necessary if you are an expert machinist, for the majority of scenrios regarding myself, commercial or 3D printed parts are requisite for Locomotive Building. In fact, I have even contrived to find a brace of options for the acquisition of some attractive HOn30 3D printed locomotive shells from Shapeways for my birthday. While these are both in actuality Australian prototypes, the former is of British origin and very orthodox as to British practice, while the latter looks quite American. These do not pretend to be anything other than incomplete kits, which require power chassis and handrails to be furnished, along with, of course, paint. Not really being a British-outline modeler, I am of course gravitating towards the latter. No, I am not digressing, for that latter locomotive could in fact possibly pass off as a Porter class 2-B-2-S.

Was Tyco Really That Bad?

Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;

Four nights will quickly dream away the time;     

And then the moon, like to a silver bow

New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night

Of our solemnities.

I liken my circumstance to the Train Show thus.

After that digression, I shall now ask the question: were Tyco trains really as bad as their preceding reputation in the model railroad community makes them out to be- or were they in fact fair for their day?

To most model railroaders, these photographs surmise everything wrong with the brand (if you are not familiar with trains, this is a photograph of the prototype engine), and yes, the driving wheels are missing on the Tyco.

Yet does this mess-up typify and thus condemn the whole company production? I should say not, for a number of reasons, and I will also for the sake of a strong analysis focus upon the points most frequently (probably) criticized.

  1. The motors. Even from my personal experience, I recognize the motors and running qualities of the motive power to be terrible. That is, they only start on their own when the transformer control is turned a full three-quarters of the maximum running track voltage, and then when it does finally start it jackrabbits off and probably flies off the layout. However, this is a worst-case scenario, and bear in mind that Athearn trains at the time had rubber-band drive quite a bit of the time, which was obviously a crude, dubious and poor-running solution to the problem of power transmission. Really, their power system was about average.
  2. The finish. This includes detailing and painting and finishing. One of the most common complaints involving the range is that it’s badly-detailed, toylike crap.However, most of the fault lies in the painting, and once you strip that off, what’s underneath actually looks quite good. Sure, it has cast-on grab-irons, and oversize handrails that are usually plastic, and some of them have fantasy trucks, but virtually all period models had these faults, and they can be easily corrected if you are into model railroading enough to care. Also, most of the range was much truer to prototype, if not relating to the paint scheme, and though some of the details are a bit off, this was a universal occurrence regarding  the model train industry in the seventies. As regarding the paint schemes not relating to prototypical accuracy, bear in mind that children comprised a large portion of the market at the time, and in fact the fantasy paint schemes are in fact quite appealing, so long as the common paint overspray is nonexistent.

In summary, these were fair for their day and today have a fair amount of kitbashing potential, though they’re not something you should really pay that much money for, perhaps ten dollars at maximum depending on the model and the quality. With that, as to you who are incapable of understanding model railroading even in a very basic “I see the intrinsic fun in playing with trains” sense, refer to Willy Wonka.