Tag Archives: 8 wide

The Lego Trains Book by Holger Matthes: A Review

No Starch Press reached out to Brick Model Railroader recently and offered an advance copy of The Lego Trains Book by Holger Matthes. We graciously accepted the offer, and have decided to write and share some of our thoughts on it.

A very attractive book cover.

Before even opening the book, I’m reminded of the (former?) comprehensive resource book for those looking to get started in the hobby. Perhaps some of the older train builders are familiar with “Getting Started with Lego Trains” by Jake McKee, also published by No Starch Press, as far back as 2004. I remember buying that book online and reading it cover to cover more times than I can count. This book predates the end of the 9-volt era, so a new book for Lego trains has been long overdue, and there were certainly some big shoes to fill.

My own tattered copy of Jake McKee’s Getting Started With LEGO Trains.

The Getting Stated book included a solid introduction and a great review of the current market for Lego trains. At that time, the Santa Fe, My Own Train line, and more was available. There was also plenty of information on effective use and operating tips for the old 9 volt system, as well as a comprehensive list of equipment needed to start running a 9 volt layout.

There were also some instructions for those looking for an instant way to jump into 6-wide 9 volt building. While I never actually built any of the models, I definitely wanted to. They were good models because they were appealing to look at, easy enough for a beginner but complex enough to learn real techniques.

As I’m writing the introduction and background information about Jake McKee’s book, I haven’t looked through the book, save for a relatively brief skim and a glance at the instructions included. So without much more delay, let’s dive right in.

First off, I have to say the photography quality is amazing, so big points to photographer Andy Bahler. Following acknowledgements, Michael Gale (of the PFx Brick team) offers a well-written foreword, briefly discussing his lifelong fascination with trains, and growing more and more into modeling them in Lego. The introduction is also very well-laid out, allowing the reader to become familiar with the official Lego website, as well as Bricklink and Brickset. Nomenclature (set numbers, part numbers according to Bricklink, etc.) is also discussed before moving into the real content.

Holger does an amazing job describing the history of Lego trains in vivid detail, from #182 to #10233 Horizon Express, and everything in between. Train operation, track availability, parts, wheels, and more are covered for each train system. I feel the Getting Started book did not do enough of this. Holger certainly has not missed a detail, even including a summary and a look at each system from a current perspective.

An example of the Blue Rail era history.

Moving into the Power Functions era (current), each component which may be used in train building is laid out and described, even shortly describing the possibilities of building your own drive trains. Monorail and even narrow gauge is covered. In all, awesome history.

Next is a section titled “Basic Principles.” I love this section, as it contains a lot of information I wish I had several years ago. Holger describes basic part naming and shows numerous examples of each type, and also describes the studs and anti-studs system (which gives Lego the clutch power, for those unaware). He also details technic connections, and legal vs. illegal connections. SNOT techniques are covered with convenient color-coded diagrams. All of this information gives the reader a great foundation for diving right into building their own MOCs. Other cool techniques demonstrated in this section include brick-built striping and using parts to simulate different textures.

There’s even a Reverse Engineering Challenge!

The next section is titled “Designing Your Own Models,” and gives plenty of thoughtful content regarding various building scales, including the old 6 wide – 8 wide debate (as well as 7 wide, to make Andy Mollmann happy), and designing locomotives and cars to run on the track geometries on the current market.

This section also includes some hardcore Lego train engineering practices, such as trucks, couplings, pivot points, and more. There is also information regarding effective steam locomotive techniques! For those of you who have been pulling your hair out with failed steam locomotives, I recommend this section. I often describe building steam as a dark art, and it sure can be sometimes, but Holger has done a great job making a lot of potentially difficult information easy to read. Concepts like wheel quartering and basic steam locomotive components are covered here. One of the things I particularly like about the steam locomotive section is that Holger lists a few key design points to consider before or while building.

Showing the custom rods from TrainedBricks, and some good points to consider when building a steam locomotive.

Power Functions drive train basics, along with use of train motors, is included here as well. From there, the Holger moves into modeling details and key features of a particular prototype, such as colors, doors, windows, roof design, and more. Further still, track and layout design is discussed, explaining the differences in curve radius, and BlueBrick (a Lego track software).

The next section dives into case studies with very specific techniques and features. Those of you interested in reverse-engineering Holger’s Vectron electric locomotive, this section is for you. The BR10 model is also discussed in detail, and there is a link to Holger’s website for instructions.

Speaking of instructions, that’s the final section! There are instructions for five of Holger’s AWESOME models, with links to his website for his BR80 locomotive. Sorry North American builders, nothing on our side of the pond in this book. (Maybe Cale and I can fill the void sometime…?)

In all, I have to give this book a 10/10 score. There was not a detail that was skipped over. This is certainly the new Getting Started With LGEO Trains, without any doubt. The instructions may be for foreign (to me) models, but they offer a lot, not to mention the countless other photos and well-written paragraphs full of useful stuff. I would recommend this book to anyone, even myself. There’s plenty in here I haven’t even thought of.

Well done, Holger. Thank you for your amazing new contribution to the amazing LEGO train hobby. I’m confident this will be the go-to book for a long time.

Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge – A Question of Scale

On the last installment of the Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge series, Mike Pianta asked what scale the locomotive will be if I build it as an 8-wide model. Fortunately, that’s just the topic I had planned to cover in this post.

Generally LEGO® train builders fall into two camps: 6-wide and 8-wide. Traditionally, official LEGO train designs have been built to a “scale” of 6 studs wide. Since the LEGO Group’s trains aren’t really scale models, the width of the design is less important than the playability of the set. Builders wishing to add more realism to their models tend toward the 8-wide “scale” (roughly 1:48) which is a good match to the scale height of a minifig.

For the Matson’s Landing layout, I had originally decided to go with an 8-wide, 1:48 scale. This would allow me to quickly convert real life measurements into studs (real measurement, divided by 1.25, equals number of studs). However, as I began researching logging locomotives to build, I had a realization.

Logging locomotives are really small.

Climax Locomotives
Climax Locomotives

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve settled on building a Climax locomotive. While researching, I found that Climax Manufacturing Company, in their catalog, offered three different models of geared locomotive. The Climax “A” style locomotive is most like the Clishay locomotive that I wrote about before, with an upright or T-style boiler on a basic flat frame. The Climax “B” style is a more traditional looking machine, though the angled side-mounted pistons drive gears beneath the locomotive, instead of directly moving the driving wheels. Their “C” style locomotive is basically a style “B” with an additional tender and more wheels. After reading through the Climax catalog, I really liked the look of the Climax “B”. The gearing is more involved than what I had originally planned, but a challenge while building is always a good thing.

With a definite prototype model picked out, my next step was to research measurements. I took to the Internet in search of articles, photos, and builder’s drawings. I was fortunate to find a mention of scale drawings of a Climax “B” in the February 1985 issue of the magazine Railroad Model Craftsman. I was even more fortunate to find that I had a copy of that issue in my personal magazine collection. I quickly found the issue and read about the Cario & Kanawha Climax No. 5.[1]

(Tip: If a model railroader in his 80s offers to sell you 30 years worth of modeling magazines, especially Model Railroad Craftsman, buy them).

While the article on C&K No. 5 was interesting, what I was really after were the scale line drawings by Ed Gebhart. The basic dimensions shown on the drawings where close to what I had read in the Climax catalog, so I felt fairly certain that any other dimensions would be correct. I scanned the drawings and loaded them into LEGO Model Scaler, an online tool by Paul Kmiec, a.k.a Sariel, of Poland.

LEGO Model Scaler
Prototype drawings in LEGO Model Scaler

LEGO Model Scaler is an awesome tool. Upload an image from the web, draw a known dimension over top of it, enter how many studs that dimension should be, and hit the calculate button. From there on out, any other dimensions you draw over your image will be shown in studs. Incredibly handy for building truly scale models. The other nice thing about the tool is that if you enter your dimensions at a 1:1 scale, you can quickly find dimensions that aren’t listed on the drawings. For instance, on the C&K No. 5 drawing, the narrow gauge track is dimensioned at 3 feet wide. Entering 3 as my base dimension in Scaler, I can quickly see that a Climax “B” locomotive was only 7.5 feet wide. At my target 1:48 scale, this would only be 6 studs wide. While this does fit the scale, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for the PF components (battery box, IR sensor, and motor) needed to run the locomotive.

Climax Rear
Too narrow?

With this in mind, I thought about a few options. I could keep the original scale that I had settled on, and put the PF battery box, and possibly more, in a separate car that would always be attached to the locomotive. Stephen Pakbaz did this very successfully with his Shay Engine. I see the Matson’s Landing layout as a switching layout, however, so I really want the locomotive to be independent of any other cars.

Another option would be to build the locomotive in scale with the track. Climax locomotives were offered in both standard and narrow gauge. Narrow gauge would give me lots of room for electrical components and details, but the model, and therefore the layout, would be huge.

A third option, which I’ve decided to go with, was to base the locomotive scale on the size of the driving wheels. Measuring the standard LEGO train wheel, which I’m planning on using for the drivers, I found them to be about 2.5 studs wide. Looking at the wheel diameter listed in the Climax catalog, I found that the prototype wheels were, on average, 28 to 30 inches. Using these dimensions, and LEGO Model Scaler, I found that I could build my locomotive at roughly 1:33 scale. This should allow me enough space to keep all of the PF parts on board the locomotive, but still be small enough to have a workable layout in the end. Oddly enough, I found that the Climax, at 1:33 scale, turns out to be 8 studs wide. So, while the scale isn’t originally what I had planned, the dimensions are.

In the next post, I’ll go over the start of the locomotive build, and my iterative process for building a (hopefully) functioning model.

[1] Kline, Ben. “The Mystery of Cairo & Kanawha No. 5.” Railroad Model Craftsman, February 1985, 73-76. Drawings by Ed Gebhart.

Carriages matter

Einheitswagen I der Rhätischen Bahn (side) by Leuchtstein

We as Model Railroaders have a tendency to love locomotives. This is pretty understandable, seeing that without loco’s, our trains would just be big pieces of metal rusting on tracks. However, we should not neglect our carriages, because they deserve our unconditioned love as well. Thankfully Leuchtstein at 1000steine has understood this as no other and has build the iconic Einheitswagen I from the Rhätische Bahn, the well-known narrow gauge railway in Switzerland.

Continue reading Carriages matter

Little Red Riding Zug

Germany has always been one of the more respected Railway countries in Europe. Their transport system, combining ICE, IC and Regional trains with busses, trams and metro’s, has always been a fan favorite in Europe, definitely if your country shares their longest border with them. But even the Germans had some issues with the profitably of certain routes. As a solution, in 1950 the Uerdinger Schienenbus was introduced. In the year that the first ones are becoming 67, and thus reach (future) legal retirement age in Germany, Florian (Flogo) has managed to recreate one of them in our beloved bricks.

Uerdinger Schienebus VT 98 by Flogo

Continue reading Little Red Riding Zug