The Val Ease Central Railroad ©

Taking Z Scale to the Public Around the World
(Text and photos © Copyright Jeffrey MacHan)

System Joerger helps put the F-U-N into the Fun Set

Just think for a moment how lucky we are to have tinkerers like Jeremy Brandon in our midst.

Thanks to him we have a terrific little electronic doodad that really puts the FUN into the Märklin Fun Set. The Fun Set is that 'cute' little transparent suitcase with an oval of track, a blue 0-6-0, a reefer and the practically useless 9-volt battery holder. Excuse me, I am exaggerating about the 'useless' part. If you use an almost dead 9-volt battery, the box will allow you to set your loco off at a slow speed in your choice of directions. However, if you are like most of us, you'll slip in a fresh battery and get a real shock as your little steamer leaps to life and scampers around the oval at 200 scale km/hour.

The Märklin FUN set adorning my desk on Take-a-train-to-work-day
The Märklin FUN set adorning my desk on Take-a-train-to-work-day.
Jeremy, being the Z crusader that he is, along with his passion for electronics, just couldn't abide by the obvoius shortcomings of the Märklin control box. You might have heard that he came up with an ingenious gem of a slip-in speed thingy. Anyway, it fits inside the battery box and transforms the Fun Set from a gimmick into a miniature model railway set.

Jeremy sent me one of his speed control gadgets and I promised to write an article about putting it to the test. When I went to open my souvenir Fun Set from Mârklin, I stopped short when I saw that I would have to remove the label from the handle. A sudden attack of "collectoritis" came over me and I balked at defacing my souvenir.

Well, I finally came to my senses in preparing for the "Take a Train to Work Day", last November 15th. This day is a not-so-subtle way for the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) to get people to embarass themselves in front of their co-workers and employers. Worked for me! It dawned on me that a perfect way to do show-and-tell at work would be to take the Fun Set, a bunch of brochures and an invitation to the next train show in town. Of course, this would be the moment that I would open the set and instal the System Joerger whatchamacallit. OK, what tools would I need? Not being one to follow instructions, printed or otherwise, I took along a small jeweller's screwdriver (to pry open the back plate off the battery box), two 9-volt batteries (that I mistakenly assumed were fresh) and a kitchen vegetable paring knife (a crude substitute for the drill called for in the instructions).

To make a long story short (too late!), I did use the drill template included in the box with Jeremy's speed dial. I positioned it along the side of the battery box and twisted the point of the paring knife in the dead center of the drill hole target. Then I removed the template and twisted the knife blade in circles until the hole I had made in the soft plastic was about the same size as the illustration on the instruction template. Popping off the back with the screwdriver was easy. I shook out the plastic shavings that had collected inside the box and smoothed the edges of the hole I had made using the paring knife.

Just as the instructions said, oops, I guess I did take a look at them after all. Well, you gotta put the battery in the right way! Jeremy's whatsit slipped into place just like it was designed to. I plunged a battery into place and holding it there with my thumb, I slowly turned the red speed knob...nothing! Dead battery? Reversed battery? have to slide the brown direction button on top of the battery box to the side in order to complete the circuit to the track. I clicked it to the side and turned the red knob again. Lo and behold the 0-6-0 crawled off around my little oval of track. It even ran backwards...slow, fast, fast, slow!

Installing the, um, speed circuit was quick, painless (except for the time I jabbed myself with the paring knife!) and easy. In fact, it was harder putting the Märklin snap track together than modifying the battery box. There are two things that I would do differently at next year's 'Take a Train to Work Day', take a fresh battery and put my coffee somewhere else!

Thanks to Jeremy Brandon, my 'cute' little model railway was a great hit with my co-workers. I never had so many people I had never met before in my office. Even the BIG boss dropped by. Well, my secret is officially out at work and...I still have a job!