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GSoF Rail Stories and Taless

Rail Stories & Tales


We’ve all heard about “Brownie Points”. How the benefit us at work, school, etc…
But here is the story of how they came about in the 1890s. Mr. G. R. Brown, General Superintendent of the Fall Brook Railway (and later part of the New York Central System) devised the management concept of “Discipline without suspension.” Automatic firing of an employee was replaced by the employee receiving negative points on their record. Management observing the employee using safe, positive behavior could add positive points to the employees’ record, and thus negate negative points.

Thus the points became known as “Brownie Points.”

And, the popular opinion/rumor that the Girl Scouts lay claim to this about 1930s is NOT true !

Of course, today in industry, one “Aw s**t” wipes out all your Brownie Points, and you must start over!


There was once a poor conductor. His job was to collect the fares from people riding the train. This was many years ago and the fare was a nickel. And every day he would walk the length of the train collecting the fares from the travelers.

He then met a beautiful woman that he wanted to marry. But he was a poor conductor and really couldn’t afford a wife. As he thought about it he decided to pocket every fifth nickel to help out. So it was that for a while he was taking every fifth nickel to help pay for his home and food.

Now as things like this progress his wife became pregnant. This threw our poor conductor into a tizzy. How could he afford to support a baby. His solution was to take an additional nickel so that he was taking two nickels out of every five. Things went along ok for a while but his wife became pregnant again. So our poor conductor decided to follow his pattern and now he was taking three nickels from every five.

At this point someone in management noticed that the revenues from the run were going down and after an investigation our poor conductor was arrested. He was tried in a court of law and found guilty of grand theft from the railroad. Now this was many years ago and the railroad held a great amount of power. They demanded his life for such an affront and giving in to the political pressure the judge sentenced our poor conductor to death.

The day of the execution came and the prison staff strapped him into the electric chair. At the appointed hour the warden give the order and the switch was thrown. Nothing happened. The prison staff checked to make sure that the connections were correct and the warden again give the order. The switch was thrown. Nothing happened. So a third time the staff checked to make sure that even the connections to the power lines were correct. Sure that all was in order the warden gave the order a third time. Again nothing happened. As the law at the time demanded our poor conductor was released having survived three attempts at execution. As he was leaving the prison the warden asked if he had any idea why he survived.

The answer was “I guess I am just a poor conductor.”

The Most Interseting Model Railroader

Chances are you know this guy, or someone like him, or someone who thinks he's him. Even if you don't, you're sure to recognize at least a few of these traits in some model railroader you know. Jason Parham, Secretary of the Steel City Division of the Southeastern Region, wrote what follows with some assistance from Bob Beaty. Enjoy!

• He once scratch-built a Big Boy . . .in 1:1 scale. • He has been known to work a "Timesaver" switching layout in less than 10 seconds. • Out of 125 possible points, his NMRA Model Contest entries routinely score well above 200. • John Allen once thanked him for visiting his railroad. • His trains of thought require real trains to pull into sidings. • Miniature Wonderland is but one module from his home railroad. • He has single-handedly pioneered the live steam hobby, in Z scale. • Contest judges receive score sheets, from him! • His operating sessions are so dose to the real thing that FRA inspectors have knocked on his door. • He doesn't have to count rivets because he already knows how many there are. • Model railroading magazines have been known to subscribe to him. • There is a prototype for everything, but only because he said so. • He is ... the most interesting model railroader in the world!

Funny, it doesn't mention anything about him being an MMR.

Have you ever wondered about the origins of Labor Day?

It's not just a day off and an opportunity to get together with friends and family. The day has its roots in Chicago, with a strike at the Puilman Palace Car Company. The Pullman Strike of 1894 turned deadly when thousands of U.S. marshals and U.S. Army troops clashed with striking rail-car workers, angered by the loss of jobs and a cutin wages. When the strike was settled, Congress passed legislation creating a national Labor Day holiday.

In 2014, even after Labor Day has come and gone, there is reason to celebrate: In August, the Park Service joined with the Illinois Historie Preservation Agency to hold a public hearing on a proposal to establish the Pullman National Monument as Chicago's first national park. NPCA wholeheartedly endorses the plan to designate the site using the Antiquities Act, and staff in our Chicago offices have spent the last two years leading efforts to make it happen.

The story begins with George M. Pullman, an American industrialist who founded the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1867 to manufacture luxury passenger railcars. In 1880, he developed the Town of Pullman in what is now the city of Chicago to provide a place where his employees could work and live. But during the economic panic of 1893, Puliman reduced wages without reducing rents. The famous strike followed, disrupting freight and passenger rail service nationwide. In the 1920s, Pullman employees created the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African-American union with colleetive bargaining rights, a group that was instrumental in advancing the black middle dass.

The National Park System will always be a work in progress, but the designation of sites like Pullman helps to ensure that our most important American stories are captured for generations to come.

An episode of “This is Atlanta” produced by Alecia Steele aired on WPBA broadcast channel 30 in mid-December 2013. It featured a model train segment with the NMRA Piedmont Division and Chattahoochee Express Operating Group. Enjoy.... Click here to view a 30 second promo. Or you can click here to watch the entire 9-minute segment.

Happy Holidays from Norfolk Southern !!! Click for short holiday message.

This steamer through the city of Bogota, Colombia really struggles to start this train. An extra water bottle (tender) and 14 lit passenger cars round out this mid-December Christmas 2013 excursion.
Click here to watch the action. - 2 minutes Enjoy!

Enjoy a look back at John Allen's fabulous layout, the G&D RR (Gorre & Daphetid). It was probably the most realistic model railroad at its time (maybe even today!) John was a professional photographer and initially delved into model railroading to create subjects for his well framed and lighted shots. The G&D filled a whole basement in his last home. John passed away in January 1973. Unfortunately, a tragic fire consumed John's home shortly after his death and only a few items were saved for posterity. Enjoy a look back at John Allen's fabulous layout.
Click to watch the G&D revival - 10 minutes.

This is a first-person story of a cab ride in 1970 on a Pennsylvania GG-1 locomotive, as told by GSoF member John Hollner, III. My First Trip on a GG-1 ! (Requires Microsoft Word 97 or later.) Wikipedia GG-1 info.
And a collection of some GG-1 photos.

Excerpts from a variety of good old train movies with stars of the 20s, 30s and 40s and a lot of comedy to boot. These are some of the wonderful slapstick movies I remember when I was a child. Teriffic entertainment.
Click here for 4 minute video !

Here is a clever Union Pacific '150-year timeline'. Wait for it to load, and then click on one of the black bars.
Click here to begin !

************** Master Model Railroad Accumulator **************

It has come to my attention that we need to recognize a special class of people in the Model Railroading hobby: The "Accumulator". This should not be confused with the "collector". Collectors put together assortments of things in a logical, reasonable manner. There is some organization, rhyme or reason to their acquisitions. Accumulators, on the other hand, accumulate "stuff".

This realization of the concept of "accumulator" came to me one evening when I was browsing eBay. It was further reinforced when I looked in the closet in my shop (the "Unbuilt Kit Repository.")

I thought it might be nice to offer proper recognition to those individuals, like myself, that tend to accumulate stuff. Here goes:

First, to qualify for "Model Railroad Accumulator" you must present a notarized affidavit which establishes that one of your friends, acquaintances, or spouse has said to you upon returning from a train shop or show, "What in the world did you buy that for?"

After establishing that you can qualify for "Accumulator" you can gain further points toward "Master Accumulator" by showing that you have a proper "accumulation". The following items are offered as an example of what might be useful in establishing an accumulation. Remember, quality counts, against you.

1) An unopened box of fiber tie brass flex track.
2) At least 6 turnouts salvaged from your old layout with the glue and ballast still sticking to them.
3) A non-working Selenium rectifier.
4) A Wabash Valley B&O Wagon Top box car kit.
5) An Arbour Alleghany partially built.
6) A complete collection of Ideal building kits.
7) A shoe box full of horn-hook couplers that you saved from kits when you replaced them with Kadee’s.
(N Gauger’s can substitute Rapido couplers).
8) Several unopened boxes of dried out Lichen. (You get extra points for boxes of the BRIGHT fall colors).
9) A box of Perma-Scene.
10) Several cheap train-set power packs.

I am sure you can add to the list. Remember, the criteria is that the quality should be low, very low, and that turning the item into something of reasonable quality should require far greater effort than any reasonable person would expend.

I respectfully submit this for your consideration. I further suggest that we combine our intellectual capabilities, and after a suitable time, award the prize of "Master Model Railroad Accumulator with Gold Leaf Clusters" to the person we deem has presented the most outstanding accumulation.

Quips and sayings:

"The real joy to be had from riding trains begins where their usefulness ends."
............. John Mason Brown.

"My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing,
But there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going."
............ Edna St.Vincent Millay

"No other machine, in its day, has been a more faithful friend to mankind or has contributed more to the cause of industrial prosperity. No other machine soehow is so human and so gentle, yet, when unleashed is capable of such prodigies of strength - nothing quite so graceful in action and nothing quite so romantic. Those of us who have lived in the steam age of railway will carry with us always the most nostalgic memories."
......... R.F. Hanks, 1960.

Automobile trivia, with a rail twist !

1. When roads were not available, what paths did early cross-country motorists follow?
Railroad tracks served just fine, although the ride could get quite jolly!

2. When did the term automobile become popularized and where did the word originate?
Automobile is the French word for a motorized car. It was first introduced into the US in published reference to motor vehicles in 1897.

3. Where do we get the word station wagon?
In the 1800s most of the larger cities had depot wagons which carried people to the local railroad station. The term station wagon became synonymous with depot wagon.

4. In 1902, T.H. Shevlin, a native of Minneapolis, had the distinction of being issued the first speeding ticket. How fast was he going and how much was he fined?
Shevlin was fined $10 for driving over 10 mph.

Click to watch a 2-minute news report on Atlanta, Georgia's Auburn Avenue light rail project announcement

A prototype for everything! Click to watch a short video on plastic-tie track.

Watches & Railroad History

If you were in the market for a watch in 1880, would you know where to get one? You would go to a store, right? Well, of course you could do that, but if you wanted one that was cheaper and a bit better than most of the store watches, you went to the train station! Sound a bit funny?

Well, for about 500 towns across the northern United States, that's where the best watches were found. Why were the best watches found at the train station? The railroad company wasn't selling the watches, not at all; the telegraph operator was. Most of the time the telegraph operator was located in the railroad station because the telegraph lines followed the railroad tracks from town to town. It was usually the shortest distance and the right-of-ways had already been secured for the rail line. Most of the station agents were also skilled telegraph operators and that was the primary way that they communicated with the railroad. They would know when trains left the previous station and when they were due at their next station. And it was the telegraph operator who had the watches. As a matter of fact they sold more of them than almost all the stores combined for a period of about 9 years.

This was all arranged by "Richard", who was a telegraph operator himself. He was on duty in the North Redwood, Minnesota train station one day when a load of watches arrived from the East. It was a huge crate of pocket watches. No one ever came to claim them. So Richard sent a telegram to the manufacturer and asked them what they wanted to do with the watches. The manufacturer didn't want to pay the freight back, so they wired Richard to see if he could sell them. So Richard did. He sent a wire to every agent in the system asking them if they wanted a cheap, but good, pocket watch. He sold the entire case in less than two days and at a handsome profit. That started it all. He ordered more watches from the watch company and encouraged the telegraph operators to set up a display case in the station offering high quality watches for a cheap price to all the travelers. It worked! It didn't take long for the word to spread and, before long, people other than travelers came to the train station to buy watches.

Richard became so busy that he had to hire a professional watch maker to help him with the orders. That was Alvah. And the rest is history as they say. The business took off and soon expanded too many other lines of dry goods. Richard and Alvah left the train station and moved their company to Chicago -- and it's still there.

YES, IT'S A LITTLE KNOWN FACT that for a while in the 1880's, the biggest watch retailer in the country was at the train station. It all started with a telegraph operator: Richard Sears and his partner Alvah Roebuck!

This is a true story. A common scam of the day was for wholesalers to ship unordered price inflated goods to retailers then negotiate a lower price to prevent the return of the goods. In 1886 23 year old Richard Sears was the station agent for the Minneapolis & St Louis RR at Redwood Falls, Minnesota when a local retailer refused such a shipment of gold watches. Richard worked out a deal with the wholesaler and made about $5000. He moved to Minneapolis and started the R W Sears Watch Co, and then moved to Chicago where he hired watch repairman Alvah Roebuck as his first employee and later co-founder of Sears Roebuck & Company. Richard retired in 1908 a very wealthy man, but died in 1914 at the very early age of 50.

Source and acknowledgements to Digest Number 1801 of Train Editors:

How many gold/silver spikes were used at the joining of the 2nd American transcontinental railroad? This is the event that happened in Promontory, Utah in 1869. Answer: 4 spikes, plus one aurelwood tie with a silver plaque, and a silver plated spike maul. Read more at this website: Utah, 1869
The first railway linking the Atlantic with the Pacific was begun in Central America in 1850, completed by 1855, and traversed 50 miles from the Carribean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. It began in Colon, Panama and went southeast to Panama City. More at: Panama Railway.

Click here to go to a website loaded with old railroad-themed newspaper cartoons.

Enjoy a four-minute video for the "Real Collector" in all of us !

Click HERE !

A short video on how model railroading can improve one's life!
Click HERE !

            In December of 2005, the Bennett Levins arranged for disabled veterans to 
            be taken to Philadelphia for the Army-Navy football game. Read more at: 
             The Liberty Limited   
And just to verify, read:

            The 2nd Saturday of every July, in Laguna Niguel California, people line
            up along the Amtrak right-of-way and "moon" passing trains. Read more at: 
            In 2008 it got a bit our of hand; in 2009 the city promised to tame it down.
            There have been reports that this activity also exists on the Amtrak ride from 
            Denver to Salt Lake City. Some rafters mooned the train right next to the Colorado 
            River. It must be some sort of thing to do.  Some of the train riders knew about 
            it and were expecting it...

Regarding the origins of the "Standard Gauge" of 56-1/2", it is said thought to have originated from the Roman chariot ruts in 2000 year-old city stone roads. Also, the perpetrated story that the Space Shuttle rocket dimensions are based on this dimension, or the "width of a horses ass..." is true or false? Is it ?

See railroad gauge discussion at:

                Fierce-throated beauty !
                Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music'
                  thy swinging lamps at night'
                Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling
                  like an earthquake, rousing all.

                --- Walt Whitman, "To A Locomotive In Winter"


                      The railroad track is miles away,
                          And the day is loud with voices speaking,
                      Yet there isn't a train that goes by all day
                          But I hear its whistle shrieking.

                      All night there isn't a train goes by,
                          Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
                      But I see its cinders red on the sky,
                          And hear its engine steaming.

                      My heart is warm with the friends I make,
                          And better friends I'll not be knowing,
                      Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
                          No matter where it's going.

                            --- Edna St. Vincent Millay

A mother and her young son were riding the B&O Railroad from Baltimore to Chicago  ..
The little boy, who had been looking out the window, turned to his mother and asked, 
'If big dogs have baby dogs and big cats have baby cats, why don't big trains have 
baby trains?'

The mother, who couldn't think of an answer, told her son to ask the conductor.
So the boy went down the aisle and asked the conductor, 'If big dogs have baby dogs 
and big cats have baby cats, why don't big trains have baby trains?'
The busy conductor smiled and said, 'Did your mother tell you to ask me?'

The boy said, 'Yes, she did.'
Well then, you go and tell your mother that there are no baby trains because the 
Capitol Limited always pulls out on time. Ask her to explain that to you.

Enjoy Railroading !