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Houston Tinplate Operators Society - Lionel, Trains, Layouts: Newsletter

Newsletter: November 1997

In this issue:

The Twentieth Century Limited

by Jim Herron

When I was young, I was lucky enough to travel to Chicago and back with my father on the New York Central crack passenger train called the "20th Century Limited." It took the all-water route, flat with beautiful scenery, taking under 20 hours to reach Chicago from New York City. The trip took place in the early part of the 1950's and I still remember it vividly. There were beautiful upholstered cars, a dining car, pullman sleepers and big gray diesels pulling the train out of Grand Central Station in New York. Going through the Hell Gates and seeing all the hustle and bustle of passengers, the trainman and conductors walking to the train on a red carpet was the thrill of a lifetime for a little boy who loved trains.

The history of the 20th Century Limited goes back to the late 1890's when the New York Central and the Pennsylvania railroads tried to best each other on the New York-Chicago run. The Pennsylvania Railroad train was called the "Broadway Limited" - running across Pennsylvania through the Alleghenies, Horseshoe Curve, Altoona, Pittsburgh and on to Chicago. The two trains met in the last fifteen miles of track and raced into Union Station (if they were on time!). Each claimed the best service, on-time records, price and luxury.

The competition between the Century and Broadway Limiteds became the most celebrated rivalry in the history of American railroading. They kept pace with each others in matters of service, speed and luxury. Competition between the two was keen, but not cut throat. Both considered their crack trains a source of pride, prestige and publicity.

Over the years, both the speed and amenities of the 20th Century were constantly improved. The first Century consisted of three sleepers, a diner and a library-buffet car. Later versions included cars with drawing rooms. The train became so popular that it was run in several sections, with the wooden cars being replaced by all steel between 1910 and 1912. By the mid-'20's the train was being called a "national institution." In the 1920's the Atlantics were replaced by the Hudsons which hauled the 20th Century until they were replaced by diesels in the 1950's. In 1938 the Dreyfuss Streamlined Hudson hauled the Century.

The 20th Century Limited was a great service and the inspiration for songs, plays, movies and radio shows. Unfortunately, due to automobiles, highways and airplanes, the service slowly went down hill after World War II. In 1957 day coaches were added to the 20th Century Limited, forever tarnishing the famous train's glamorous image. It ran until 1967 when it was finally terminated.

National Model Railroad Month

by Walt Sklenar

November is National Model Railroad Month, and the San Jacinto Model Railroad Club is sponsoring a 1997 November Layout Tour in the Houston area. The 50 layouts featured in this tour include those operated by railroad clubs and belonging to private individuals. The HTOS club layout is one of three O gauge (the other two are privately owned), and will be viewed during our regular show hours each Saturday during the month. This will mean a busy month for operating the portable layout-your help is certainly needed to handle operating the layout and answering questions from the public. Of the 50 layouts in the Houston area, most are HO. For more info, contact Jim Lofland @ 713-246-3150 or Norman Beveridge @ 281-997-7836.

News from Chesterfield via York

by Jim Herron

One item of significance coming out of the York Train Show was from Lionel, and centered around Trainmaster for everyone. Lionel, LLC, announced its intent to make its TrainMaster Command Control System technology available, free of charge, to all manufacturers of O gauge trains. This would allow participating manufacturers the opportunity to offer its customers the option of upgrading their operating system to full TrainMaster Command Control. Locomotive conversion would be accomplished by plugging in a signal receiver into a connector in the engine. This receiver would be available from Lionel Authorized Dealers on or about June 1, 1998 for no more than $95.

Lionel also announced that it will issue a 1998 "Toy Fair" catalog in January. It will contain 72 pages of locos, rolling stock and accessories in the Classic Line. "There are brand new engines, brand new accessories, and brand new technology." Says Sr. VP Judy Hoffman. Lionel will introduce several new locos in a variety of road names.

Mike Schneider Visits the New Madison Hardware

by Mike Schneider

Imagine a lonely warehouse in a run-down section of Detroit, Michigan. Imagine inside, 20,000 square feet of 10 foot high racks loaded with mostly Lionel trains and accessory parts. Wake up!! You're at Madison Hardware! Well, it's actually the location of the contents that once was the original Madison Hardware in New York City.

My dream began while I was planning a recent vacation, realizing that Detroit was on the way to a family retreat in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I decided that a stop to a real shrine in American model railroading history was in order. I learned from our very own Jim Herron ("road warrior supreme") that the contents of the original MH were now stored in a warehouse just south of downtown Detroit. What a bonus!! Visions of post-war relics started dancing in my head.

I immediately called the number Jim had given me and was greeted by a crusty old voice. "He-ll-o Ma-dis-son Harrd-ware." Shaking, I inquired about a tour of the facility. The voice shot back, "We take visitors by appointment only! We prefer mail order if you want to buy. And if you're looking for pristine 6464s, they were gone a long time ago." Man!! I felt like I had jumped in front of a Big Boy! Undaunted, I squeaked, "If I made an appointment, may I make a purchase?" The silence was deafening. Then the reply, "Sure". The date was immediately set.

As Cheryl and I approached Detroit, the visions started appearing again. Upon arriving at the lonely warehouse in a run down part of Detroit, we entered the front door and were greeted by an elderly gentleman. "Follow me to the freight elevator." On the way up (to toy train heaven?), he informed us about the 10 loaded semis it took to complete the move from New York. My heart started to race. Upon opening the gate, we were led to an area that held three operating displays and told to stay in the room and look around. The area was roughly three times that of our club space. The displays were flanked by large bins containing mostly rolling stock from the post-war and MPC periods. Large bins loaded with post-war cabooses, aluminum passenger cars and tank cars. Around the corner racks of MPC boxed sets. Now I'm getting dizzy!!

In the center of the room, next to the largest of the operating layouts, were islands holding items for sale with prices attached. My eyes immediately honed in on a post-war Northern Pacific GP-9 in excellent to like-new condition. Upon further inspection it appeared to be a repaint. But I don't care - I'm an operator first!! Ugh-oh! Here comes our guide back. "We can give you the tour now, but first, there are some rules." Great! Here I am, a big kid in the mecca of candy stores and now we have rules? "There are areas where you can look, but if an area is roped off, don't go beyond the rope. Cheryl pinched me, "Honey! Did you hear him?" All I could do was nod while thinking... if there were ten truck loads, maybe I could get to five.

(To be continued in December newsletter)

Product News

by Walt Sklenar

Mike's Train House (MTH) Electric Trains has released their 72 page 1998 Volume 1 catalog. Typical to their recent catalogs is a variety of RailKing and Premier Lines engines, rolling stock and accessories, as well as their "Tinplate Traditions". Highlights of the RailKing motorized line include a New York Transit 4-Car Subway Set, SD-90 MAC in two roadnames, 4-6-4 Hiawatha Hudson and the Union Pacific Big Boy steamer. All RailKing engines can have ProtoSounds optionally installed The newest RailKing operating accessory is the Speedee Car Wash, and includes an Ertl '49 Coupe. The car is "watered down", glides into the rotating rollers, then leaves the bay to be "handbuffed". Another interesting accessory is the fully decorated and painted Sinclair Oil Refinery. The semi-scale RailKing rolling stock is headed up by and an operating rotary snow plow in two roadnames (Pennsy and D & RG), MTH flat w/ Ertl '64 Mustangs and the Sinclair flat w/ Ertl '55 Cameo wreckers. Passenger Car Sets available are three 4-car O-27 Streamlined Sets, five 4-Car Madison Sets and five Streamlined Combine/Diner Sets.

In the Premier Line, the most talked about (most expensive, small dealer allotment) items have to be the Union Pacific DD40AX Centennial diesel and the Southern Pacific AC-6 Cabforward steam engine. Measuring 24" and 31 1/2", respectively, these beauties operate on 072 track and come with a number of features. A Dash-9 Boxed Set, lettered for the BNSF, is also featured. The set includes four Husky Stack Cars painted to match the Dash-9 (orange and green 'pumpkin' livery). New designs in the Premier Line rolling stock includes a Coil Car, 4-Bay Hopper, and Wood Chip Hopper. Officially unveiled is the Z-4000 400 watt transformer.

The Tinplate Traditions feature the classic #9E and 263-E Loco and Tender, each in two paint schemes (including the Blue Comet in the latter). These engines are available in either the 'traditional' (AC motor/E-unit/whistle) or 'contemporary' (DC motor/ProtoSound/ProtoSmoke) configurations. The Stephen Girard and 613 4-Car Passenger Set compliments these locos.

This is a sampling of the catalog. For a complete look, visit a local retailer.

Eastwood Automobilia's latest catalog contains several items which should appeal to O gaugers and especially Lionel fans. These include the Lionel Freightliner Tractor Trailer (1:54 scale, measures 14 3/4" long), Lionel County Streets and Sanitation Set (1:43 scale streetsweeper, pickup and figure included), VW Beetle Convertible and a '36 Coke Ford Pickup Truck.

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