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April 10, 2010

My collecting taste in model trains recently expanded beyond the borders of North America. Receiving a Great Western Railway pannier tank steam locomotive as a birthday gift made me start looking at foreign trains a lot more. One benefit of the British rolling stock was its short length, perfect for the small layouts I’ve been building. All the foreign layouts on the Micro/Small Layouts website had already got me thinking about European trains. And now I’m in Europe. To the detriment of my supply of Euros, I’ve seemingly been buying trains left and right.

My first acquisition I stumbled upon near the Vatican during our trip to Rome. While wandering around looking for somewhere to eat lunch, I stumbled upon Giorni Modellismo, a very elegant model shop several blocks away from St. Peter’s. I had been looking online at prices, and knew that the only thing in my budget would be Lima “Hobby Line” products. I asked if they had any, and to ease communication the clerk brought me a Lima catalog to let me point at the things I wanted so he could look up on their system if they had any. They didn’t have anything in stock that I pointed to, so he eventually just went and found on the shelf where the last few were. All they had was a 1st class coach in the Trenitalia cream and green paint scheme, but I was afraid it was as close as I might come to finding the sort of cars we’d been riding in on the Regional trains, so I bought it. From what I gathered, Lima was out of production.

Lima Trenitalia 1st Class coach, in the "XMPR" livery.

I was thinking of just contenting myself with a passenger car, since an engine from any other company than Lima was looking to be far too expensive. All the engines I was seeing were highly detailed models with DCC already installed, for more than 200 Euro. But having a piece of rolling stock and not being able to run it was driving me crazy.  I finally found a Lima Hobby Line loco for 46 Euro at Dreioni Gioccatoli in Florence.

Lima E424.309 in Trenitalia "XMPR" livery.

This locomotive is amazingly detailed and a good runner for the price. Even though it says “Made in China” on the bottom, it doesn’t feel like it is. There is a certain well crafted Italian quality to it. It has the heavy frame and motor arrangement of an Athearn loco, along with a traction tire on each truck, making it a good puller. The shell is held to the frame by the buffers, which act as pins. The only downside to the way it’s constructed is the lack of NEM coupler pockets, as the drop-loop couplers are integrated with the truck frames.

The details more than make up for any deficiency in the couplers. The horn at each end is brass, the headlights are directional (important on a double-ended loco), and there are separately-applied windshield wipers. The most amazing detail of all, however, is the pantographs. They have little springs that hold them in the up position, but they can also be lowered by pushing them down and clipping hooks on the collector at the top under the springs. This appeals to me, because in point-to-point operation it adds the work of “turning” the engine by lowering and raising the pantographs so the pantograph that is up is the one to the rear of the direction the loco is traveling. On a small layout with a short end-to-end run, it gives the operator something else to do to make the trip longer.

The sprung pantographs are amazing on this loco.

In order to run the train, I also had to buy track and a controller. As I quickly opened the boxes  in a rush of  excitement to get it set up on a table in our studio, I was expecting to need at least a screwdriver. To my surprise, the Hornby controller was a completely plug-and-play system. The wall transformer plugged into one side of the controller, and the power to the track plugged into the other. And then, I was blown away by the connection of the power lead to the track. The end of the power lead consists of two plastic prongs, one longer than the other, with copper contacts running through them to the ends. The track has holes under the rails in the plastic between the ties that are spaced to fit the prongs. You thread the prongs into the holes, and one contact is under one rail, the other contact under the other rail. This system would be much easier to hide than the standard American rerailer/power terminal arrangement. It could also be handy for easy wiring on a small portable layout.

This is the layout...for now...

The entire system looks rather slick when placed on the two pieces of black foamcore left over from last year’s class. I was content for a month or so, but the train looked short. The next time we went to Florence I expanded the service  my little railroad is providing with two Lima FS (State Railways) freight wagons and a Hornby snap-together road crossing. Then I expanded it again over spring break with a Swiss baggage car by Lima and another FS boxcar by Roco that were on sale at the hobby shop in Como. The passenger train still seems short, so I think another passenger car is in the works the next time I go to Florence.

For me, the investment has been worth it. Not only has the train helped me fight homesickness while being almost completely cut off from friends and family back home for three and a half months, it’s the best souvenir I could buy. Every time I send it rolling down my track at home, I’ll be back in Italy, riding the train like we’ve done so often here. And that’s the best lasting memory I could hope for.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Dan from Rome permalink
    January 19, 2012 9:42 pm

    Nice Loco, i’m waiting for two like this. Blessing from Italy.

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