With the exception of a few failed attempts in HO by Tyco and Life Like, “operating accessories” and “operating cars” are generally found only in “toy” trains, those made in O and S gauges. Here, unlike in “scale” model railroading, they found an enthusiastic following. Most don’t look anywhere close to the prototype structures or cars they are meant to represent, if there even was such a real item.
Being that they were developed in an age when small motors, solenoids, and relays dwarf today’s circuit boards and micro servos, they were based on very simple, if sometimes rather clumsy, electro-mechanical movements. Often, the more complicated ones didn’t work reliably or last long.
American Flyer made a number of trackside accessories and “action” cars which operated pretty well, didn’t look too bad, and have stood the test of time. In point of fact, when MTH Trains started making operating accessories, one reason that they chose to reproduce the Flyer ones was that they were good originally, and of course, they fit O gauge trains even better than they fit S gauge trains.
Of the many “action” cars American Flyer had made, the #717, 714, and 914 “Log Unloading Cars” and the #719 and 919 “Operating Dump Cars” were very popular and plentiful.
They fit easily in any train, and some of these even came in certain sets. Operation was simple, a solenoid dumped the tilting bed of the car to one side and the logs or coal slid off the car and into a trackside pan. Only a trackside activation rail and a push button were required. Today these cars demand a collector price well above what they sold for originally.
MAKING YOUR OWN
While S gauge is still pretty much dominated by collectors and those who love running the old trains just as they were made on one side, and the S “scale” model railroaders on the other, there is a growing group of “Hi-rail” enthusiasts.
“Hi-rail” is defined generally as those who tend toward “Scale” trains and operations, while using the original, as manufactured track, trucks, and couplers. The term itself comes from the height of the “toy” rail when compared to “scale” rail. Many “scale” folks started out by doing “hi-rail” many years ago because there was so little S scale available. In those days what we now call “kit bashing” was common as old American Flyer trains were then plentiful and very cheap compared to some of the complicated and expensive “scale” kits.
Even among model railroaders, there are “mavericks” that think outside the box and as most of you know, I am one of those! The idea of making my own “operating cars” started many years ago, but really never came about until I was working at a local hobby shop which sold more “toy” trains than “scale” trains. Every month, the sales of O gauge, three rail was in step with the sales of HO and N “scale” trains!
There was also a train club that was more or less headquartered at the shop. They had started with a modular HO layout, but some of the members also had Lionel and MTH trains, so a second modular layout was built for three rail. This made the group
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