Home Page Column from July 2001

Hello everyone. Anything new in the hobby? That's certainly a rhetorical question since there has actually been quite a lot of news over the past year. It has been almost that long since we came out with a new issue. With the development of many other websites in the hobby, along with the various bulletin boards, it seems as if every rumor and breaking news item swept through the Internet without the help of Toy Train Revue On-line. It crossed our minds to report on these items as well, but we realized that in most of those cases we would just be repeating what everyone seemed to already know.

Best case in point is the closing of Lionel's manufacturing facilities in Michigan. The last Lionel item produced in America was the 6-28074 Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 Berkshire. Though trains are no longer produced domestically by Lionel, they are still producing some track here. Over the course of the past six months, factory workers have been released from their jobs. At the time of this writing, the remaining employees who will lose their jobs are scheduled to do so at the end of August. The total number of people released is approximately 350. From what we understand, these workers, who are members of the UAW union, have been given generous severance packages.

Although it has been a while since we've produced a new issue, it does not mean we haven't been working on one. As it has been so long since one was produced, we had a few articles stacked up. We thought that instead of putting them all in one issue, we'd save a few for the next issue. So we are halfway there to having another new one ready. I hope to have it posted in the fall. In the meantime, we have some fine articles in this issue. An interview with talented designer Mike Fulmer, an article by our friend Lou Palumbo, we continue our series on TM's studio layouts with a piece on our OO layout, and an article on how to add a postwar-style horn to modern era diesel locomotives.

As you may have noticed, Toy Train Revue is 10 years old. It was conceived first and foremost to provide the 3-rail O gauge hobbyist with honest reporting on many important issues. These issues in their various forms include market reports, news among manufacturers, interviews that cut through the rehearsed corporate rhetoric, and entertaining and informative pieces. We hope you've enjoyed it all so far.

October 12, 2001: Lionel Names New Chief Executive Officer
Lionel announced a new CEO today. Click here for the press release

DID YOU KNOW The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches? That is an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used?

Because that's the way they built them in England, and the U.S. railroads were built by English expatriates. Why did the English build them that way?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used. Why did they use that gauge?

Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing. So why did the wagons have that particular odd spacing?

Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that was the spacing of the wheel ruts. So who built those old rutted roads?

The first long distance roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads?

The ruts in the roads, which everyone had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels, were first formed by Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

The U.S. standard railroad gauge of 4 feet - 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Specifications and bureaucracies live forever.  So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's "patoot" came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back end of two war horses.

Now for the twist to the story.

When we see a space shuttle sitting on it's launching pad, there are two booster rockets attached to the side of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRB's. The SRB's are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah.

The engineers who designed the SRB's might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB's had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site.

The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains.  The tunnel is only slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses' rumps.

So, a major design feature of what is arguably the worlds most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's rear end!

Written by an unnamed University of Michigan professor.