Price: $124.99 (no. 85072) Features: O-31 operation, camera mounted in cupola, interior illumination, die-cast trucks and couplers, camera on/off and reset controls. Current production: Burlington Northern, Chessie System, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Pennsylvania RR, Reading, Santa Fe, and Union Pacific.
Someone at Lionel must have done the same thing! The no. 85072 O gauge CupolaCam camera caboose permits us to see what is going on our train from a caboose cupola-level perspective.
Opening the box
This caboose is a great choice for housing a built-in video camera. The Lionel model is a standard extended-vision caboose, which is about as nice as they come.
The scale model has terrific platforms on both ends of the car. You’ll find safety tread on the deck and safety striping on the steps. The platforms have a support structure with a ladder running to the roof. There are brake wheels and safety chains at the gap in the railing.
There are add-on grab irons on the corners and end of the platform, and the doors open – crews will have no trouble getting in and out! There are also grab irons above and along the outer sides of the end windows. The roofwalk running along the top has see-through decking.
The top of the cupola is just as nicely detailed with its corner grab irons and radio antenna. A smokestack adorns the roof further to the rear. The car has interior illumination that can be turned on or off. There are crew seats and a well-hidden camera lens inside the cupola. There are center-mounted red lights on both ends.
The car has thumbtack-equipped die-cast couplers. Take a look at the underside and you’ll find a battery box and undercarriage detail for the brake line. You will also find three controls: the interior light switch, the camera on/off switch, and a button for resetting the camera.
But as nice as the car is, the real draw is the camera.
Lights, camera, action
First, the boring-but-important part: reading the instructions.
The magic happens via Wi-Fi. Don’t worry if you use Android (PC) or iOS (Mac). The car includes a disc with software for either computer operating system. The company hasn’t forgotten smartphones. You can download the Lionel app from either the Google Play store or the Apple App store for free.
We had a bump or two getting the app to load (inside a building with a weak Wi-Fi network and all that). Once downloaded though, we found it easy to use.
The track needs 5 volts or so to activate the camera. The train does not need to be moving. Next, we connected to the camera through the settings on our phone. You’ll be able to view what the camera sees on your device.
The caboose has no microphone. This is rigged for silent running.
There are some controls on the app’s screen: Live video, snapshot, and record are the most important. Live is self-explanatory – you see what the camera sees. Snapshot takes a photo of what the camera is seeing. Pressing Record saves a recording of your journey.
Hook ’er up and let her roll. You don’t need to record to just watch.
During testing I was a bit of a contrarian and ran the caboose on the front of a train (which looked unrealistic but made for cool video). Running from the back of the train was good as well.
If you record, you can save the recording, delete it, or email it from your device. (Hello YouTube!)
Don’t expect high-definition quality. The picture is good, much better than the K-Line camera car we tested many years ago. We did observe, while running the caboose on a straight line, the camera focused and remained focused. Swinging in and out of curves, however, the footage got a bit blurry. Interesting to me was that the blurry curve video made it seem the train was moving even faster than it was.
We tested the camera with an Apple iPhone, but the image is more impressive on the bigger screens of an iPad or Android tablet.
This Lionel model adds a dimension of fun I really hadn’t expected. The product looks good, generates a decent trackside image, and is reasonably priced. The only danger is getting fixated on the video and failing to see that train rolling at you at high speed!