Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mr. Fix-it

Most kids, when they dream of and look forward to Christmas think about the snow, or the lights, or putting up decorations, or opening presents. I looked forward to those things as a kid too, but the thing that Christmas meant more than anything to me was that we got to set up the train around the tree.

This was dad's train, a collection of Lionel engines, tracks, and cars accumulated since the time he was a kid (and we know that was a very long time ago). Somewhere about the time I was 12 or so I was allowed to take over the annual "setting-up-of-the-train." I enjoyed it a lot. Probably because of the fantasy of running the machines, pretending I was actually in the engine and making it go, the wires, the set up, the layout. It was kind of the analog version of Sim City.

So fast forward a couple of decades and now I have the train, though the excitement has worn off a little, it's still fun to get excited about seeing it run yet another year, especially through the eyes of Reece, who just can't get enough of it. Anyway, crawling around on the hardwood, trying to assemble a couple of tracks, and get wires to plug into the right things, and set the wheels just right on the track to avoid a short, and don't touch things or you'll get a little shock just didn't have the same appeal it used to.

One of the set of engines that we had was this diesel model. A Union Pacific engine that just never quite worked right. I have memories of it roaring but not moving. Seemed it didn't have the weight the cast iron engines had to pull a lot of cars. Even when the load was lightened, it still moved reluctantly. I can remember dad taking it to have it worked on. I think this happened more than once. A little lubrication, an adjustment here or there, and it at least moved again, but still didn't compare to the robustness of the locomotive models.

Well today I ran the train for a while--Reece and Lindsey couldn't wait for me to do it! and all of the sudden the U. P. train just stopped. Light stayed on, but the train made no sound and went nowhere.

This happens occasionally. Tracks become separated, or the engine is sitting on a dirty part of the track, making a poor electrical connection, but nothing I did could get it moving again. So I picked it up and examined it. I found a loose wire underneath where the gears are. OK, that could be something--question is, do I want to get into this tonight? I figured out how to pop the top off and when I flipped it over on the inside, I discovered a different loose wire which had broken from the top of the motor.

I decided to operate. I found my little soldering pen, some solder, got my wire strippers, and went to work.

Reece just couldn't stand it. Totally beside himself with curiosity. Using that iron again brought back all the memories of breathing in that second-hand lead-rich smoke.

Anybody who has ever done any soldering will tell you it's a three handed job. I was having a hard time getting the iron hot enough....

..So I switched from the 10-watt iron to the 75-watt gun. THAT did the trick.

Put it all back together, and the final result: