2001 - A Sound Odyssey
Views from the Underground
January / February 2001
When I was a young boy, older people used to say, "someday you are going to
need a college degree even to get a job as a ditch digger". We know it still hasn't come
to that in today's job market. However, I think you need a college degree to operate
some of the trains today. Command control, proto sounds, signal sounds, loco sounds,
programming engines are all part of today's jargon that relates to running the toy trains
of current manufacturers.
These new sounds and operating options are really neat, "when they work".
But, there seems to be no middle ground in this technology, they either work well or
they don't work at all. There is nothing more frustrating than to see a 500 or 1000
dollar engine sitting there on the track not moving at all. That's what happens when a
board shorts out, the engine is out of program, a light bulb is not working, a broken pin
in the teather between the engine and the tender, the battery is weak, or a number of
other problems that could be impossible to find by the average train collectors.
A bad board is a major problem because local service stations usually do not
carry a supply of these items and that the costs average about $150.00 just for the
part. We are talking at least 3 to 4 week turnaround just to get this fixed and if it is
over 1 year old, $150 to $200 repair charge. Now that's scary considering the
thousands of engines that were sold over the past few years that contained these new
Another major problem is that none of these boards are compatible with other
engines even made by the same company. Recently I took in a repair of an engine that
was purchased from our store in 1995. This engine sold for $800.00 and only had the
sound of steam a bell and a whistle. The sound board was bad and a new board would
need to be installed. Luckily the engine still had a mechanical reverse unit so the piece
could still operate, only with no sounds. I will not name the company because this
problem is somewhat similar to all manufacturers. In any event, I was told by the
company that the part I needed would cost $175.00 and they do not have any left for
sale. Now I had to tell the customer this bad news, worse news scenario. Needless to
say I have one angry customer and we are now trying to get a part from another
company to substitute. The engine will no longer be in original condition and the
customer will be $200.00 poorer.
Something has to be done by the manufacturers of toy trains to address the
issue of cost of replacing electronic components, as well as the availability of
replacement parts in the future. I still feel that the trains today are far superior to
those available prior to 1970. However, the costs on maintaining of the electronics may
be a major factor in the future value of today's trains.
Christmas Season of 2000 was another banner year at our shop in both the
number of sales and people. I saw many old customers as well as new folks getting into
the hobby. Its always nice to see the youngsters getting their "feet wet" in toy trains. I
continue to see many grandparents buying trains for the grandchildren, but keeping the
trains at grandpa's house so he can play with them when the grandchildren go home.
I still don't know why the train manufactures don't put any accessory terminals
on the transformers of the starter sets. This seems to be a problem and limits any
expansion for a new train buyer.
I sold many starter sets this year and in my store , MTH out sold Lionel and K-
Line starter sets. However, I had more than a few MTH engines returned and quite a
few remote power supplies also went bad. All of them were fixed and returned by MTH
with a 3 or 4 week turn around. It seems that the U.S. Mail and U.P.S. are the big
winners here. We pay to have the trains shipped to us at the time of purchase and it
then has to be returned to the factory when it breaks and again sent back to us when it
is repaired. We should get some frequent flyer miles or something for all of the time
these trains spend on the road. Many of these problems could be solved if the factory
would have parts available so that the service station can do the repair on site.
Thanks for visiting my website at www.undergroundrrshop.com.
We have now put an up-to-date inventory list online and we'll try to keep it updated monthly.
T.M. Books and videos have been real good friends and we are sharing
information so I will try to keep you folks up to "snuff" with all of the new train B.S. that
I can get from time to time. So keep the T.M. website on your list of regular visits to
read the latest "Views from the Underground".
I see where Lionel is threatening the union in their Michigan plant to settle up or
they will be moving their operation to the orient. I really don't have a side in this one
because I don't have all of the details but from this vantage point it looks like the Lionel
factory will be located in the orient. If you would have said that in the 1940's they
would have said you were nuts. One never knows.
Well that's it for now, I'll be heading south in February. I'll be writing my next
column in March.