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

Newsletter: September 1998

In this issue:


by Jim Herron

The Lehigh Valley Railroad has a special role in my family history. My grandfather worked for the Lehigh Valley for more than 50 years, starting in 1887 and ending in 1937. For many of those years he was an engineer, running the Black Diamond from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to New York City. My father grew up with six brothers and two sisters in a large house on a bluff overlooking the yards and station in Wilkes-Barre. Three of my uncles were engineers and firemen on the Lehigh Valley. Everyone in the family loved trains -- both the real and toy ones.

The first line of the Lehigh Valley Railroad was completed in 1841 for the purpose of moving anthracite coal. The railroad was soon deeply involved in all aspects of the coal business -- mining, marketing and transportation. Rail acquisitions made the Lehigh Valley the dominant carrier and mine operator in the Eastern end of Pennsylvania's anthracite coal country.

Near the turn of the century, through acquisitions and expansions, the general merchandise and passenger service finally exceeded coal tonnage in revenue. The LV was a small railroad in an era when the local depot was the center of activity, a sort of social stopping-off point where people flocked to the trackside to see who was arriving or departing. It was an era of elegant wooden Pullmans, bowler hats, and boys in knickers and women with parasols. These were the halcyon days of the LV.

The LV was always on the cutting edge of motive power technology. From its earliest days, the company's motive power innovations and ever-larger locomotives kept the LV in the forefront of engineering. In the last years of the 19th century, the LV had some of the highest locomotive axle loading capacity of any railroad and its standard bridge loadings were commonly used by other railroads. Many locomotives built in the later years of the 19th century were in use until well after World War II. In 1925, the company's first diesels were purchased from the Alco-GE consortium. The 300-horsepower machines went to work within the city limits at terminals that were reached by car-float. From that year on, the LV acquired a new diesel engine each year, sampling various builders. All these early diesel switchers performed well and remained on waterfront and other special assignments until after the World War II boom.

In 1931, the Lehigh Valley purchased large modern steam power in order to compete with parallel railroads. In 1951, the last steam engines were taken out of service, some of which had only seven years of use.

The Black Diamond service of the LV was absorbed in the merger of the Erie Lackawanna, Pennsylvania, New York Central, New Haven, Jersey Central and Reading, months shy of its 130th birthday. This merged entity became the Conrail freight system in April 1976.

Happily, one richly historic piece of LV rolling stock still survives: business car #353. This class heavyweight not only survives, but it thrives. The Pullman Company in Chicago built the 100-ton LV 353 in 1916. It was and is completely self-contained, with kitchen, dining room, three bedrooms and a combined office/observation room. The LV 353, operated today on charter service by the LV Black Diamond Limited, retains the essence of its appearance when it was part of the LV passenger system.

Lionel, MTH, Williams and Weaver seem to like the Lehigh Valley. They have produced a variety of engines, a Black Diamond passenger set, and a variety of rolling stock. MTH came out with a ProtoSound A-B-A F3 set last year. Weaver has produced several diesels, including the C-630, C-628 and RS-3. Williams has had LV Madison passenger cars. Budd cars, box cars, cabooses, ore cars, searchlight cars and tank cars are plentiful. I think Weaver did the best job of any in 1995 with its LV 4-6-2 #1078, black and Cornell Red version of the "John Wilkes", which started its life as a K-5 Pacific in December 1916 and received its stylish Art Deco shrouding in 1938. This train worked the Wilkes-Barre to New York City run.


by Tom Lytle

May marked a new adventure for the Tinplaters. Because the back layout is going to feature the ability to simulate railroad operations, I arranged a session on an existing operating layout in town so that the members could get a taste of train operations. Ken Caulking, a Houstonian with his roots in O gauge, graciously offered his HO layout to the high-speed destructive tendencies of the Tinplaters.

The Casey Lines is housed in a special room, approximately twenty by twenty feet, at the rear of Ken's domicile. The layout is a point to point with about four circles between them. It has four cabs for the mainline, and a cab for the yards at either end. There are a lot of single track stretches with numerous passing sidings along the route from Gulf Port to Pete's Burg. When multiple trains are running along the main in both directions and wayfreights are spotting and retrieving cars off the mainline along the way, you can be sure that excitement and thrills are soon to follow.

Members Jim Gotteri, Bob West, Tommy Roe, Mark Whetzel, Victor Alvarez, and myself along with their cohorts made the journey that went from 7 PM to midnight. Most of the time was spent learning how to just run the trains. Four cabs on the mainline are a trick and a lesson in 'block sharing'. The other conceptual challenge was resetting switch states after use. This along with the unfamiliar territory kept everybody busy. The Whetzels actually got into some of the operational details. They were trying to run a wayfreight through on the mainline with all of the other bi-directional traffic as well.

Our sincere thanks to Ken for his gracious hospitality. We look forward to a return visit.


by Jim Herron

John D. Rockefeller called rail tank cars his "secret weapon" in developing Standard Oil, his small oil company, into a monopolistic force in the industry by controlling transportation. At the turn of the century, Standard's Union Tank Line subsidiary built tank cars to serve only Standard Oil refineries. Rockefeller avoided Congressional pressure on his monopoly by making Union Tank Line a separate, independent company. It still served only Standard Oil. After the Supreme Court broke up the monopoly in 1911, Union Tank Line began to serve other oil markets.

The company changed its name to Union Tank Car Company in 1919 and developed new construction and safety technology to serve the growing petroleum market in the 1920's. During the Depression, Union acquired thousands of surplus tank cars and began leasing them back to shippers, setting a trend in the industry that continues today. A leader in technological developments to increase efficiency and safety in transportation of fluids for over 100 years, Union Tank Car is the largest tank car lessor in North America. (It is still controlled by the Rockefellers!)

One of the most interesting tank cars manufactured by Union Tank Car is the 50,000 gallon "Whale Belly", the largest ever designed. It can be seen in the yard of the Galveston Train Museum. At the time of its construction, the Whale Belly had the capacity to transport 50,000 gallons of liquefied petroleum, gas or ammonia. It is 89 feet long, weighs 175,000 pounds and rolls on 16 wheels. It was introduced in 1963 and was in service for more than 20 years, on lease to major chemical companies in the U. S.

(See last month's HTOS newsletter for HISTORY OF THE RAIL TANK CAR, also by Jim.)


Lionel LLC has announced cancellation of the following from their 1998 Volume I Classics catalog:
  • 18961 Erie AlCo PA-1 Diesel
  • 22920 Steam Service Siding
  • 22929 Lionel Factory
  • 22933 Gang House
  • 22935 Hot Box Detector
  • 22938 High Tension Tower


by Tom Lytle

Well, I have to say, I had my doubts about whether I'd ever see this engine. I ordered the 3rd Rail C44-9W diesel when the ad first appeared. I had been eyeing the Weaver SD45, but when I saw this, I switched my focus. After delay upon delay upon delay, I finally got word this summer: IT was actually going to show up (i.e. I had to pay for it). And when it got here, IT was worth the wait!

This is a highly detailed brass model, painted in the Santa Fe warbonnet colors. I set it beside the equivalent MTH model on the back layout. It glows in the dark. If you never thought you would see detail to surpass MTH, let me direct your attention to this jewel. Jim Lynch flinched and gritted his teeth.

Beauty doesn't stop there. The insides include a QSI direction and sound system, which is equivalent to MTH in every way. The power comes from a Pittman DC motor. These are the same motors that O Scale engines use. They are very strong and they can creep oh so slow. We pulled Jim's ultra long train of scale cars around the back layout with absolutely no problem. Finally, each axle on the trucks is geared through its own differential.

This is a way cool engine. Be sure to catch it on the layout.

MTH has final gotten the RailKing version of the Milwaukee Road Hiawatha out the door. Both the engine and passenger car shipments were late in coming. However, true to form, MTH has put out a beauty. The engine is a Hudson version of the streamlined engine. Milwaukee Road actually started with Atlantic's, which were lighter and faster. But they did not have the pulling power of the Hudson's.

As far as appearances go, I can not complain, the engine and passenger cars are beautiful to look at. I think the trend here is simply to reuse the car and engine models from previous RailKing offerings. The cars are of the extruded side aluminum with the interior seating detail. The cars are not completely accurate to the Hiawatha configuration, since Milwaukee Road did not run Vista Domes. There was nothing that interesting to look at between Chicago and Milwaukee. Two, and most notable, the Hiawatha had its own, very distinct, streamline concept implemented on the observation car: The "Beaver Tail". This is not modeled in the RailKing offering. Nevertheless, this set still looks good.


by Aimee Atkinson

The Hospital Is Now Open!

Just a quick word to let you know that all those who have the urge to play Doctor can do so! The train hospital is now open and ready for any operations that may need to be performed on sick trains and accessories. BUT! Like going to the REAL hospital, there is a bit of paperwork involved. Paper tags that were purchased ages ago are being put to use. Here's the lowdown:

  1. All items must be tagged.
  2. Fill out the tag as completely as possible with the following:


    Name of the item

    Owner, if known

    The symptoms, what's it doing or not doing

    If you work on it, list date and what you did

  3. Place the item on one of the orange gurneys, ER trays and place on the shelf under the counter.
  4. When an item is fixed, the card becomes its medical history and should be filed in the filing cabinet under "Repair Records".

I know we have a few people who have started their medical practice already! I also know a few of you are going to balk at the administrative requirements. Get over it!!!! We as a club are responsible for many valuable and expensive trains. We need to make this area work for us instead of using it as a holding area for dead trains (that someone really needs to repair or take home- you know who you are!). That's all for now. See you in Trainland!

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