The new spur

This weekend my son and I installed a turnout on his layout. The turnout serves a spur to the winery, which we built last fall when we returned from Osoyoos (where there are lots of wineries).

It’s hard to believe how much fun we’ve had with the Bachmann Thomas set. We bought it when his sister was born and he was a very helpful and understanding three year old.

To tell the truth, I didn’t have much hope two years ago that the trains would last as they have, but they’ve proven surprisingly robust. The only failures the trains themselves have had have been the couplers, and Central Hobbies had replacements for those. The track, on the other hand, started to fail after being put together and taken apart about a dozen times. Bachmann E-Z track relies on the rail joiners to conduct the electricity, and those get looser and looser with each set-up; I spent a good fifteen minutes of every set-up going around with pliers to tighten them all. As the rail joiners were loosening, the connector for the power feeders was also beginning to fail, and finally that put a stop to the whole operation.

That’s when I decided to build a board and fix the track down permanently. The board is a big piece of blue styrofoam (not the beady stuff, or we’d have beads all over the house by now). We had to use two pieces because I couldn’t find a single wide piece, and couldn’t have squeezed it into the car if I had. The styrofoam is covered with bristol board, glued down with water-based contact cement, which holds the two pieces together; we didn’t put as much on the bottom, and the layout is consequently slightly bowed, but not enough to affect bullet train operations.

When not in use, the layout hides behind the toy wardrobe in out living room. It is light enough that my son can take it out and set it up himself. The trains and buildings (which tend to be mockups of my scratch-building efforts) get stored in a basket on a shelf, along with the original power pack. The power connects to a humongous wall transformer and hooks to the track using a phone plug. Set up takes about thirty seconds.

Thomas, Annie and Clarabel were joined by Percy, some troublesome trucks and a brake van. For two years, a circle of track was surprisingly entertaining. In the initial construction, I pondered a siding, spurs, in fact, I pondered building the whole first Gorre and Daphetid, and it would have been fun, but it would have been too much. A circle was perfect.

You might scoff at Thomas and Percy, but they have some things going for them. First, we have read all the books many times, and so, they reinforce one another – we’ll read the books then play with the trains or vice versa. Second, and much more importantly, they have only two axles (except Thomas who has three), and no trucks (bogies). It turns out that trains with trucks are remarkably difficult to put on the rails for small hands, but my son was able to rerail the English-style wagons after a few tries when he was only three.

And so it went for almost two years: Thomas would get put on the track and would run around and around with Annie and Clarabel, to be replaced by Percy, then Annie and Clarabel would get taken off and replaced with troublesome trucks and the brake van, then usually the whole cavalcade would be put on together. They run at a variety of speeds, not always full throttle as you might expect.

I bought the turnout over a year ago, expecting to install it on the next rainy day, but the circle of track just wasn’t losing its luster, until this weekend when it was found, and it needed to get installed.

Everything needs to be learned, and seeing that it takes some mental gymnastics for a five year old to predict which way the train is going to go through the switch, I’m even happier that we stuck with a plain circle for two years.

Now, however, we have a source of traffic. It’s going to be hard to avoid building a staging yard, introducing car cards, a timetable, train orders and a dispatcher. Oh well, we managed to keep from converting Thomas and friends to P4, I’m sure we can keep the Ops SIG at bay for a couple of years too.

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