This, my friends, is the post that officially announces to the internet the fact that I will sometimes write things that are only interesting to a very small cross-section of the population. Actually, come to think of it, it might only be interesting to…um…none of my four readers. Ha ha! Thus, I will first babble about completely unrelated things. Such as: I’ve been shaving my legs with baby oil lately. One of my friends saw it on Pinterest and – completely accurately – describes the results as making one’s legs as smooth as baby dolphins. Actually, she said, “I have baby dolphins for legs.” Try it! It’s amazing.
So! All rambling aside, let’s talk trains. I’ve mentioned before that Bear is into Thomas. Well, what I never knew before I had a train-enthusiast child is there’s not just one kind of Thomas train on the market. There’s the Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway, which is what most people seem to start with (here’s a pretty good photo of what I’m talking about), and there’s the Take & Play Thomas stuff. And then – THEN, my friends – there’s the Trackmaster line. This is what Bear is currently obsessed with. He first encountered them when visiting my parents, who bought a bunch of the stuff on eBay, and he fell in love. The tracks and trains are plastic, and the trains are battery-operated, and he loves them with all of his heart.
I can talk a LOT about these Trackmaster trains. I can tell you about the different manufacturers (they used to be made by TOMY, now they are made by Fisher-Price) and about the different tracks and about how some of the TOMY engines have batteries in their coal tenders and some have batteries in their engines. Interestingly, my Bear favors the TOMY trains and tracks, so we buy a lot of ours on eBay. (Only 3.5 years old and already a hipster, favoring the “vintage” models, yes?). This is all kind of irrelevant to today’s discussion, but I tell you all of this to illustrate how into these trains we are. I have even, thanks to a handy YouTube video and a newly acquired soldering iron (from the woodworking department of a craft store), re-wired a train that originally took a C battery and adapted it to take a 9V battery so it would go super-fast. (Do you want to do the same? Check this out.). So yeah, we are INTO these trains.
But! One thing that has always driven us a little crazy is the fact that the Trackmaster trains only have couplings on their backsides. The wooden trains have magnet-couplings both on their fronts and their backs, so you can hook multiple engines together. The Trackmaster trains do not – you can just hook an engine up to a tender or any of the train cars, but that’s it…
Ta da!!! Want to know how we did it?
HOW TO PUT FRONT COUPLINGS ON TRACKMASTER TRAINS
Here’s what you’ll need.
(1) Box cutter.
(2) Replacement couplings. I bought ours here.
(3) Little screwdrivers. These are from a kit I got at Radio Shack. You’ll need one phillips head one and one flat one. (Actually – what you’ll really need is a special security key one, but I don’t have one of those, so I improvised.)(Some of the screws have little triangle indentations instead of looking like normal screws. Apparently, you can buy special screwdrivers for them, but you can also improvise by using a flat head screwdriver on one side of the triangle. )
(4) Trackmaster train. I think the one we used is a TOMY Gordon.
(5) That hacksaw-ish thing up at the top. I have no idea what it’s called, but it came in my tool box. You can probably get away without it, but it helped to have it.
Once you have all that stuff, you’re ready to get started. You should also be warned: you’re going to be cutting into the plastic on your train, so you should not do this if you aren’t okay with that.
First, reach into your little baggie of couplings and pull out one of the hook ones, like so.
Next, let’s say hello to our train. Hi there, Gordon!
Turn Gordon upside down. You’re going to be unscrewing this red panel from his underside.
The key here is to keep your train flat on your work surface. There are lots of things inside these trains, and – at least with the older TOMY ones – parts can fall out and be hard to get back in correctly.
Here’s what it will look like inside. Those little silver bar thingies are particularly annoying if they fall out. Also, your train will probably be a lot cleaner inside – this one was made in the 1990s, so it’s a bit grimy.
Here are some parts you’re going to want to pay attention to, so you can put everything back together correctly. First, see this white thing? You’re going to want to make sure that hole at the top goes over the black pole thingy. Incidentally, the red and blue wires connect the battery (which on this particular train is in the coal tender) to the engine’s motor. If I were teaching you how to rewire Gordon to use a 9V battery, we’d be talking about those wires more).
Lastly, be careful of these little buggers. Some folks on the internet refer to them as magnets, but I think they are actually weights. If your train was made in a different year/by a different manufacturer/is a different one of Thomas’s friends, the magnets may be placed in a different location. For example, in one of our trains, two weights are vertical and one is horizontal. This can be a real pain in the neck if they fall out on you – it took me forever to figure out how to put them back in correctly in one train, and the damn thing wouldn’t even run with the weights in the wrong places.
So! Now it’s time to get cracking. If you are a kid and you are reading this, DO NOT TRY TO DO THIS PART ON YOUR OWN. You could really hurt yourself because the tools I’m using here are ridiculously sharp. By “hurt yourself,” I mean “lose a finger” or “cut off your arm” or something equally excruciating. So, stop reading and go find an adult to help you.
I found it easiest to take my hacksaw thingy or whatever this thing is and start sawing back and forth a bit on the plastic where I wanted the hook coupling to go. I think you could probably start out with a box cutter, but the saw worked best for me. If you are using this exact tool, be careful. I’m not positive that I was using this thing right, because sometimes the blade part would loosen up and I’d come close to cutting off an arm or a finger or something. (See kids? If you’re still reading, go find an adult.)
The goal here is to cut a little hole in the plastic that is wide enough and deep enough to hold the coupling.
Once I got a little cut going, I then found it easier to switch to the box cutter and kind of shave a little plastic at a time by slicing thin pieces off.
Here’s another photo of the box cutter in action.
Finally! A little half-moon-shaped hole!
Here’s a better photo of it. Excuse my gross unmanicured, bitten-to-the-quick fingernails. It’s a bad habit that I’ve had since childhood.
Next, you’ll probably need to cut a hole in this piece, too, if you want the train to close back up again nicely. This is a little trickier because you don’t have as much plastic to work with, but the technique is still the same. (Can it be called a technique if the person doing it is clueless? Because I was clueless.)
See? Tiny half-moon hole.
Now, make sure you put the wheels back on, because it’s time to close this baby up! I don’t know why I didn’t take a photo of this stuff, too, but you’ll need to lay the coupling into the hole you created, making sure the hook’s opening faces downward, and make sure that white loop thingy near the wires (I posted a photo of it earlier) is lined up properly, too.
Finally! He’s done!
We added front couplings to several of our trains, and I’ve promised Bear that I’ll order some more so we can do it to the rest of them. I’m sure we just killed any resale value these things will have, but let’s face it – I’m too much of a hoarder to ever sell his beloved trains, when he outgrows them, anyway. (Also, can we talk about how tragic it’s going to be when he outgrows these things? I can’t even think about it!!)
And there you have it: how to put a front coupling on a Trackmaster engine! We will resume our regularly scheduled drivel tomorrow!