Friday, March 23, 2007

The luck of the Irish...

(Train sightings on 3/17&18/07)

certainly wasn't with me on this St Patrick's Day weekend when I headed track side. On Saturday, after spending the whole morning shoveling the ice-encrusted snow that fell on NJ, I decided to head out towards Three Bridges to see if anything was running on the Lehigh Line.

Caught Black River & Western's crew shuffling cars around for Sunday's pickup by NS at the Three Bridges interchange. The engine they were using was BR&W 752 (GP9, ex-CLP 752, ex-BN 1879, ex-NP 256)).

From there it was on to Flemington Jct (CP 51) to see a crew less NS 18N sitting on the siding. Motive power was NS 9963 (C40-9W) and NS 6594 (SD60).

Under Sunday's sunny skies, I headed back out hoping to photograph some winter railroading scenes. From 8:15 until 10:58, not a single train was seen on the Lehigh Line. Had me wondering where NS's intermodals were?

The drought was broken when NS 18N was seen taking the siding at CP 64. Motive power would be NS 9150 (C40-9W) and NS 8569 (C39-8). It would hold there for a westbound that fell into the unseen but heard category. After that WB'er passed, 18N would pass by Stanton Station with its forty-three autoracks at 11:37 and take the siding at CP 51.

Deciding to munch on the buttered bagel I brought along while waiting, that also became a problem. The cold morning temperatures had frozen the buttered bagel halves together! A frozen bagel and no trains showed that the luck of the Irish certainly wasn't with me on this St Paddy's Day weekend.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Potter" puts model trains back on track .....Yahoo story

Received the following Reuters story via email. Do not know the original date.
Also see our blog post of 3/6/07, and note that we carry both Lionel and MTH products year round, not just at Christmas.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sales of model trains are picking up steam again thanks to deals linking them to Harry Potter and The Polar Express movies, along with a new approach to marketing the old-fashioned toys Lionel, one of the big names in model trains in the 1950s, has watched as its business had to focus less on selling toys to kids than serving an older but much smaller hobbyist market.

Folk-rock singer Neil Young, 61, is so passionate about trains that he bought a fifth of the company in 1995. Now, the company is bringing trains back to young people, and sales are up 40 percent in the last two years.

Lionel signed deals to bring out "Harry Potter" and "The Polar Express" trains, and filled shelves at department stores such as Macy's and Target, instead of just hobby shops.

"We're a resurgent brand based on nostalgic appeal," said Jerry Calabrese, chief executive of Lionel.

Last Christmas, the company advertised toy trains as the ultimate gift by setting up displays at Macy's Santaland and Grand Central Terminal in New York. Forty percent of Lionel's sales of $70 million in 2006 came during the Christmas season.

This sort of advertising is as much geared to children as it is to parents who remember Christmas train displays when they were young, said Andy Edleman, vice president of marketing for MTH Electric Trains.

MTH sells its trains with promotional DVDs and catalogs that portray parents and children enjoying trains together.

"We almost make them feel guilty," Edleman said, before adding that "people would prefer family participation and nostalgia" to things like Game Boys and PlayStations.

Companies such as Lionel and MTH also showcase their products at events like the World's Greatest Hobby on Tour. The show has attracted roughly 290,000 attendees in 11 cities since it was established in December 2004, said Dave Swanson, chairman of the tour.

At the show, children can play with Thomas the Tank Engine toys and ride giant trains while parents can run locomotives using wireless handheld devices.

"Our company and others are trying to infuse trains with as much technology as possible," Edleman said.

For example, in most MTH starter sets, a single handheld throttle allows users to command multiple engines and tracks.

Users can control the amount of smoke coming out of a locomotive and track the number of scale miles (km) a train has traveled. There is downloadable software to program new sounds and features into trains.


Mark Guiffre, 34, a member of the West Island Model Railroad Club in Long Island, N.Y., said that such technology had made model railroading better, partly because users can run trains and switch tracks just by punching a few buttons.

It's ideal for young people because they do not want to spend a lot of time assembling the train sets, said Brett Einhorn, 16, of West Babylon, N.Y.

"They just like to run them," he said.

The West Island club tries to bring in new members by holding several shows each November.

"Fathers bringing their kids to the club is the most important part of model railroading," Guiffre said.

Lionel's golden years lasted from the mid-1940s through the 1950s, according to "Toy Train Collecting and Operating," a book by train expert John Grams. Sales started dropping in the 1960s because of company mismanagement and the decline of trains as a mode of transportation. In 1969, Lionel found a steady market in baby boomer collectors who fell in love with trains as children. But these hobbyists aren't getting any younger.

"Our membership is getting about 10 months older on average per year," said Jeff Pape, 61, a member of the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club in Portland, Ore. "We're up against trends in culture. If you have a job, that job consumes you. There are less vacation hours, less ability to get a day off ."

Kelly Shaw of Classic Toy Train magazine estimates that the average age of the publication's readership is 59.

Dick Christianson, managing editor of Model Railroader magazine, said the resurgence in trains would probably start up a whole new, younger generation of model railroaders. One day they'll remember they had a train as a kid and say, 'Hey, I wonder if Mom has that in her attic somewhere'," he said.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Where is it?

This scene was photographed in NJ at a CP that no longer exists. The rail line still remains active to this day. With those being your clues, I ask "Where is it?"

Stop in the store to give us your answer. We would love to see you. If you cannot stop in, send us an email. Our address is

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A black and blue Sunday...

(Train sightings on 3/4/07)

along the Lehigh Line in Manville and Three Bridges. Every unit seen today had either a NS or ex-CR unit. Even CSX's Q300 had a ex-CR as a leader and NS 9294 for power. In time sequence, the trains seen were as follows:

7:51-NS 214 (Manville); NS 7141, NS 7136, NS 7147 and NS 7144 would take the Port Reading Secondary to its destination.

8:35-NS 11J (Manville); PRR 6718 (ex-CR 5578) and NS 9552 was in charge of ninety-nine autoracks, estimated length was 9,300 feet and weighing in around 5,000 tons (at least that what was mentioned over the radio. NS 9552 was the leader on Saturday's NS 18N.

9:35-NS 24V (Manville); not definte about this intermodal's symbol that had NS 2610 and NS 2727 for power.

10:00-NS 212 (Manville); NS 6685 and NS 9810 was the power consist for this train.

10:54-CSX Q300 (Manville); Thank goodness for having a scanner or else I might have mistaken this for an NS train. Power was NYC 8457 (ex-LMS 717) and NS 9294.

??:??-NS 20K (Three Bridges); Place this train in the heard but not seen category as I was in transit from Manville to Three Bridges when I heard it on the scanner calling signals at MP 45. [Chicago, IL to North Bergen, NJ]

11:08-NS 20W (Three Bridges); Yes, that is the symbol heard over the scanner as it passed by MP 45. Motive power on this intermodal was NS 2743 and NS 2766. [Los Angeles, CA to Croxton, NJ]

12:20-NS 18G (Three Bridges); had a PRR leader and second unit was an NS diesel. Sorry about not jotting the numbers as the pencil's point broke-DARN!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Engineering a comeback

The following is an article from a New Jersey newspaper, the Star-Ledger, about the Lionel company and its president, Jerry Calabrese.

Please note that we are a Lionel dealer, and we have Lionel products year round, not just at Christmas. We have track and switches, locomotives and cars, accessories and complete sets, and the all important Lionel catalog. Come in and check us out.

We also have products from other O scale manufactures such as MTH and Atlas.

Engineering a comeback
Jersey native is turning around venerable train maker Lionel

Tuesday, February 27, 2007
BY TOM JOHNSON Star-Ledger Staff

Jerry Calabrese inherited a train wreck of a company in October 2004 when he took control at Lionel, the more-than-century-old model train maker.

After losing a $41 million judgment in a trade-secrets dispute, the nation's biggest toy train manufacturer was propelled into bankruptcy-court protection.

Beyond the legal dispute, Calabrese, a New Jersey native and a former top marketing executive at Marvel Comics Group, faced an even more daunting problem. Lionel's business was primarily driven by a small, aging and shrinking customer base.

Even though train hobbyists are passionate enough about collecting to spend up to $1,400 a year, Lionel had done too little to attract younger people to one of the world's oldest hobbies in an era of sophisticated video games.

"A lot of people had no clue that Lionel was still being produced," says Louis Caponi, of Springfield, Pa. and president of the Lionel Collectors Club of America, an organization with about 10,000 members who are hard-core collectors of model trains. "It got to the point where Lionel was catering exclusively to the collector, and not the general public."

These days, Lionel appears to be back on track. Late last year, a federal appeals court threw out the verdict in the trade-secrets case. The toy-train maker also is making inroads in luring another generation of model-train enthusiasts.

Sales at the privately held company rose to $64 million last year, a 40 percent gain compared with two years ago, Calabrese says.

"We've made a lot of progress in the last couple of years," says Calabrese, who started out his career as a reporter and editor at the Daily Record in Morristown prior to moving into the business side of publishing. "We should be out of bankruptcy this year, and the business, itself, is doing better than it has done in easily the last 20 years."

Lionel is happily chugging along again by trying once again to become a pop-culture giant, not just selling to avid hobbyists, who spend as much as $2,000 for one of its more than 300 replica steam locomotives or engines.

"Hobby was everything," says the 58-year-old Montclair resident in an interview in Lionel's New York offices. He said hobbyists were 100 percent of the business when he was recruited to become chief executive by Wellspring Capital Management, an investment group that includes rock star Neil Young as a minority partner.

In the past year, Lionel began selling its trains, not just in the 1,200 specialty model train shops around the country, but at high-end retail outlets, such as F.A.O. Schwarz, Nieman Marcus, Fortunoff and Macy's. In fairly elaborate displays, the stores showcase low-end train sets, which sell for between $200 and $300.

"We haven't been in those outlets in 50 years," Calabrese says. "For the first time in a half a century, a kid could walk in and see a train running in a beautiful layout and get a sense of the magic of what this thing is."

Lionel is hoping some of those youngsters turn into avid collectors, some one like Calabrese's cousin Victor, who got his first train set back in 1958 and was hooked. "Victor probably owns 150 pieces of incredibly expensive equipment," he says.

It is a strategy that seems to be working, says Neil Besougloff, editor of Classic Toy Trains. "They're putting a lot of emphasis on selling train sets. They're finding new customers outside the realm of the traditional train hobbyist."

Calabrese's background in marketing and licensing, areas he grew to know well selling X-Men and Spider-Man at Marvel, have served him well at Lionel. The toymaker has done well winning licensing from popular children's movies, such as coming out with products linked to "The Polar Express," the Christmas movie starring Tom Hanks.

This year, Lionel will roll out a Harry Potter set, the Hogwarts Express.

The company also has benefited from technological advances in toymaking that have helped reignite interest among avid hobbyists. They now make engine replicas all the more exact and produce added train sets that are more accessible to first-time buyers because they are easier to assemble, Calabrese says.

When he was a kid, Calabrese jokes you had to be a "Mr. Fix-it to make a train set work. The breakthroughs in technology are such there is no reason to put people through what they used to have to go through 50 years ago. We are trying to be American Girl for boys. It is not just for hobbyists anymore," he says.

Lionel once had manufacturing operations in Irvington and Hillside, but its operations were moved to Chesterfield, Mich., when it was purchased by General Mills. Wellspring and Young, who holds patents on model train engines, bought the company in 1995.

Lionel is negotiating with the owners of the Prudential Center arena in Newark to possibly open a Lionel museum or exhibit as part of the Broad Street renovation going on there, Calabrese says, but nothing has been finalized.

"Lionel has enormous roots in Essex County. It employed thousands of people," says Calabrese, including his uncle who worked for the company. "It was like the Xbox of its day."

Today, Lionel outsources its manufacturing to Asia. Its worldwide work force has shrunk to about 90 employees, but the collector Caponi has little doubts it will be around in the future.

"Somehow this company has a history of weathering all the storms," he says. "This is just another storm."