November 6, 2006

Suspension of Model Train Disbelief

The inimitable Jacob Berkman has a link on his blog to a video which did two things for me. One, it made me instantly and burningly nostalgic for the Lionel Train sets my father gave my brother and I, which there's no way I could afford to buy now what with Lionel being worth more than gold these days or some such crap. Two, it made me realize what it was about model trains that always broke the illusion for me, no matter how much backdrop, scenery, squinting and low-light I applied. Yes, I realize that every model railroader (of which I am not) probably knows this, but I hadn't. See, even when you get the scale speed correct (which isn't hard) the problem is always the turns. While real trains can go around turns as sharp as you find in a model train set, they never, ever do so at any speed higher than a crawl. Hence, seeing the model stock zipping around the corners is what breaks the illusion for me.

Update: My pedantic-because-he's-correct brother informs me that one reason for the 'strangeness' is the ratio of gauge to car length, reflected in Lionel trains by the 'O' rating. The O rating determines the minimum radius of a full turn of track in inches; most Lionel O gauge stock is O27, which (as my bro points out) is waaaay shorter w.r.t gauge than reality. This is true. Lionel makes other engines, though, some of which go all the way up to O72 (mostly the more insanely detailed and hence expensive steam replicas) - these, by nature, would be unable to make those sharp turns I described above and hence would be restricted to curves that would ameliorate that sense of wrongness.

Also, Jacob tells me that of course one can set up a train set to slow down in the curves. He said it with a great deal more disdain for my ignorance than I can convey here, all of which, I'm sad to say, was warranted.

Posted by jbz at November 6, 2006 8:41 PM | TrackBack

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