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

Newsletter: April 1998

In this issue:


by Walt Sklenar

Mike Schneider may be gaining a reputation for visiting some of the most significant model train locations in the mid-West. The lobby of the Cincinnati Gas & Electric (CG&E) Co., located downtown at the corner of Fourth and Main, is transformed into an O gauge toy train wonderland the last six weeks of each year. Hailing from Cincinnati, Mike remembers childhood visits to the layout with his dad. While on a family visit there in 1995, he saw a newspaper clipping from the November 24, 1995 Cincinnati Enquirer. This front page article discussed the 50th anniversary of this model train display. Off went Mike with brothers and nephew to CG & E.

The origin of this layout dates back to 1936, when the B & O Railroad built a 16' x 24' display at a cost of $50,000. Installed in a freight car, the portable layout toured the railroad's various routes through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland. The CG & E location became one of the most popular stops. In 1946, the B & O decided to discontinue the tour and locate the layout at their company museum. Due to the popularity that the layout generated at CG & E, the company requested to display it annually. B & O not only granted their request, but also gave CG & E full responsibility of the layout. The rest is history.

Since taking ownership, the layout has gotten bigger and more elaborate. It is now 36 by 47 feet, making it one of the largest portable layouts in the world. Trains run over more than 1,000 feet of track, with five to eight trains usually operating at one time. The layout is capable of running up to 11 trains at once. Relays are used to control train movement.

The display represents the Cumberland (Maryland) Division of the old B & O during the time period from the late '30s to early '50s. Scenery includes over 80 buildings (many scratch-built), more than 40 block signals, hundreds of "people", 150 cars and trucks and 1,000 trees.

The CG & E engine roster includes almost 50 engines, with about 60% being steamers. Both freight and passenger trains run the rails. Rolling stock includes 100 boxcars, 11 cabooses and over 50 passenger cars.

The twenty CG & E employees and retirees who work on the display are referred to as the "Train Group". One retiree has been involved with the layout for almost 50 years!! They meet monthly in the summer and weekly in the fall to work on the display prior to assembly. They estimate that to assemble, operate, disassemble and store the layout takes 3,000 man hours during that peak 12 week period. During the six weeks that the display is operational, four to five people are on duty at a given time (one to operate the trains, others to answer questions).

As for its popularity, check out these numbers. In 1994, over 200,000 visitors walked through the CG & E lobby in the 41 day operating session - that equates to about 500 visitors/hour (just a tad busier than the HTOS public viewing sessions)!! Each year, 500 school buses bring students to the display. Perhaps the best part about it is that admission is FREE!! And they give away cookies!!

So what were Mike's impressions of this layout. "Very realistic, everything a scratch-built layout should be". About half the layout is transformed into wintertime - which he described as "breathtaking". With the delicate nature of the scenery and buildings, the viewing public is not allowed close contact with the layout. However, a number of vantage points are set up where viewing is made easy. One of his most lasting impressions from his recent visit was the sight of fathers hoisting children on their shoulders to get a better look. Mike was also impressed with the fact that the layout does break down, and hopes to smooze his way to a first hand look as to how the layout is put together. It's not hard to envision Mike at the controls, either!


by Jim Herron

"There is nothing permanent, except change." In the second of three parts, we continue to review the loss of identity of America's railroads after World War II, through merger, absorption, bankruptcy or business failure.

  • C. & E. I. (Chicago & Eastern Illinois) was sold to L & N in June 1969. The initials of today's 575 mile C & EI are found within the M. P. Buzz saw.
  • Pittsburgh & West Virginia created in 1917 was bought into the Norfolk & Western in October 1964, along with the NKP and Wabash.
  • Kansas, Oklahoma & Gulf, a 327-mile route, was absorbed by the Texas & Pacific in 1964.
  • Great Northern, the best transcontinental railroad, became part of the Burlington Northern.
  • Lichfield & Madison, a 44-mile coal hauler, was absorbed into the L & M in January of 1958.
  • Georgia & Florida, a short line, was rescued from receivership by the Southern Railroad in 1963.
  • Seaboard R. R. consolidated with the Atlantic Coast Line and became the Seaboard Coast Line in July of 1967.
  • Norfolk Southern merged with Southern in 1974.
  • Cotton Belt Route, the St. Louis Southern, became a part of Mo Pac and its parent, Southern Pacific RR.
  • Akron, Canton & Youngstown, a 169-mile route, was taken over by Norfolk & Western in 1964.
  • Illinois Central merged with G. M. & O in August 1972.
  • Western Maryland, a 861-mile coal route, is now part of the Chessie System.
  • Spokane, Portland & Seattle lost its banner to Burlington Northern in 1970.
  • Texas & Pacific, a 2100-mile main line, was lost in a takeover by Missouri Pacific.
  • Spokane International, a 150-mile route, was acquired by Union Pacific in October 1958.
  • Wheeling & Lake Erie, a 500-mile route, was absorbed in December 1949 by Nickel Plate Route.
  • Tennessee Central, a 285-mile carrier, shut down in August 1968. L & N took over most of the route.
  • Savannah & Atlanta, a 144-mile route, merged into S. R. Central of Georgia in 1971.
  • Chicago Great Western, a 1400-mile route, merged into Chicago and Northwestern C & N W in July 1947.
  • Rutland Railroad, a 400-mile route was abandoned after reorganization and a strike in 1950.
  • Charleston & Western Carolina, a 342-mile road, merged with ACL in 1959.
  • Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, a 273-mile route, was merged by the I. C. In August 1972. Erie, Peck's Bad Boy of Eastern railroading, went through three bankruptcies and finally merged with the Lackawanna in 1967 to become the Erie Lackawanna R. R.
  • New York, Ontario & Western, a 541-mile coal hauler, eclipsed CM as the nation's largest railroad to be abandoned in 1957.
  • Mississippi Central, a 149-mile bridge route, was acquired by Illinois Central in 1967.
  • Columbus & Greenville, a 168-mile Mississippi short line, merged into Illinois Central Gulf in September of 1972, but was later dismantled.
  • Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast R. R. fell to parent Atlantic Coast Line in 1945.
  • New York, New Haven & Hartford had less than 200 miles of routes, but was a large, colorful eastern passenger railroad that merged into the Penn Central in 1968.
  • Long Island Railroad, a model passenger and largest commuter railroad in the U. S., was owned by Pennsylvania Railroad which let it file for bankruptcy in 1949. First a redevelopment, in 1966 it became an arm of New York State's Metropolitan Transportation Authority.


    by Jim Herron

    The passing years found the ornate finery of dining cars giving way to more simple furnishings and decor. There was more emphasis on seating capacity and efficiency of operation. Dining cars also became larger as the years passed. Standard diners were 72 feet long in the '20's and accommodated 36 passengers. By 1950 they reached a length of 85 feet. A staff of eleven manned the dining car.

    Railroads developed pride in their dining car menus, which in turn attracted travelers from all over. Many railroads produced dishes related, in many ways, to the territories served, adding to the pleasure of the journey, as well as appeasing the appetites of the travelers. Dishes such as chicken gumbo offered on the Southern Pacific, southern corn cakes with syrup on the Southern line, barbecued lamb on Union Pacific and the Chesapeake Bay fish dinner on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway introduced travelers to regional cuisine. Unfortunately, with the advent of Amtrak, the dining car as we knew it came to an abrupt end due to operational costs and manpower. They were replaced by snack cars with vending machines selling sodas, sandwiches and candy. Yes, they still do serve hot coffee!!

    So, another part of American railroad history has faded quietly into the history books. The great recipes served during the Golden Age of Railroading still survive and many cookbooks can be found to tempt the palate, as some of us have already experienced.

    (Look for Part I of IN SEARCH OF A DECENT MEAL in the March 1998 HTOS Newsletter.)


    by Walt Sklenar

    K-Line Electric Trains has released their 1998 Toy Fair Catalog. New products include a GP38-2 scale diesel powered by two flywheel equipped vertical motors. Detailing not typically seen in O gauge engines includes motor driven rotating fans, fold down drop steps at both ends, sliding windows and opening cab doors. These units also feature die cast trucks, steps, pilots and fuel tank, directional lighting and operating marker lights. The only sound unit is the standard diesel horn. The GP38-2 retails for $333, and comes in Chessie, U.P. and BNSF paint. Matching scale cabooses with smoke units are also offered. Classic Rolling Stock freight cars include die cast Scale Hoppers lettered for the Santa Fe, Peabody Short Line and Pennsy (3-pack), Boxcars in Lehigh Valley (white), Burlington Route and ATSF, and a Hooker Tank Car with die cast chassis. The Western Pacific Collection is the new K-Line set on the block, and includes an F-3 A-B-A set (with six motors), tank car, Die cast scale hopper, stock car, wood-side reefer, boxcar and O Scale caboose.


    There is no question HTOS members know how to have a good time!! Case in point - on a Saturday morning in March, with the enticement of bagels with cream cheese, donuts and hot coffee, about a half dozen members convened at the Mall location to have the ultimate fun...clean up the back room! This refuge to rolling stock and engines, sections of layouts and whatever else folks had decided to store got the ultimate facelift. More shelves were added, a lot of junk removed, the remaining stuff organized into areas by owner. What a difference!! One problem though - not all the items in the back room could be assigned an owner. These unclaimed items will go to a special area for a short period of time (maybe two months), after which time anything remaining will be auctioned off at a Tuesday night meeting. Proceeds will go into the HTOS treasury.


    Two new MTH RailKing products seem destined to grace the HTOS portable layout. The #262 Crossing Gate/Signal is an excellent reproduction of the Lionel original. This die-cast accessory operates smoothly, looks great, and has internal electronics to produce a realistic alternating flashing of the warning lights. The Passenger Station with 2 Platforms is the latest release in the RailTown Buildings line. The station itself is two stories and has interior lighting. The platforms are also lit, and can be attached to one or both sides of the station. Total length is 39 inches!!

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