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

Newsletter: January 1999

In this issue:


by Jim Herron

In the railroad's heyday, the largest, busiest and most impressive railway stations were big city terminals -- the railroads' crown jewels. Terminals featured distinctive architecture and were designed by well-known, renown architects. They were often the cities' most imposing edifices, ranking with cathedrals, palaces and capitol buildings. Before airline and automotive travel, the railway terminal was the principal inland gateway to a city. Big terminals were intended to handle a large and often increasing volume of passenger traffic, so they had to be designed for efficiency. They were also meant to inspire awareness and confidence and to encourage railway travel.

Some terminal buildings, like Grand Central Station, remain a testament to that time. The Grand Central Depot built in the 1870's had become over-crowded and congested by the turn of the century. Electrification was mandated by the New York legislature in 1904, following a fatal collision in the smoke-filled approach tunnel. By the time construction began on the Grand Central Terminal in 1906, all routes to the station were fully electrified, eliminating the use of polluting steam engines in Manhattan. The station was completed in 1913. It was a Beaux Arts architectural masterpiece. Grand Central's architect (Reed and Stern/Warren and Watmore) employed radical new designs to reduce congestion, including broad, gently sloping ramps instead of staircases to bring most passengers to the trains. The few staircases were very wide to help in the flow of traffic. A lower level concourse separated commuter traffic from long distance traffic, vastly improving operating efficiency. Grand Central's builders anticipated continued growth of passenger traffic and designed the terminal to handle a greater volume of traffic than had ever existed. Unfortunately, shortly after Grand Central Station opened in 1913, the growth in passenger traffic began to level off as automobile travel gained popularity.

When the new Grand Central Station was finished, the largely underground, two-level terminal was the largest railway station in the U. S. It is still one of the largest in the world. The main concourse is a magnificent, awe-inspiring space, with the ceiling rising 125 feet above the floor. A huge, round marble information center rests in the middle of the marble main concourse, as does The Oyster Bar -- a famous snack and watering hole for travelers. Huge arched windows light up the concourse along the sides of the terminal.

For many years, Grand Central Station was the largest and busiest station in the world. Its 103 tracks occupy two full levels below the streets of Manhattan. On both levels, loop tracks allow trains in the station to be reversed easily, though this feature is rarely used now. The terminal was used by the New York Central Railroad, the Hudson River Railroad, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, Amtrak, Metro North Commuter and Penn-Central.

At the height of its popularity, the Grand Central Station complex was a city within a city. It has been said that you could spend your entire life beneath the surface without having to emerge for any product or service. There were stores that sold just about any merchandise anyone might need. There were more than 100 restaurants, one of the best bakeries in the city, a post office and even an emergency hospital.

Although Grand Central Station is still one of the major railroad stations in the world, people viewing it for the first time in recent years would have seen obvious signs of decay that are, in many ways, a monument to the rapid decline suffered by the New York Central, and railroads in general, since the end of World War II. This year a restoration was finally completed on the inside of the terminal. You can again gaze upon the constellations painted on the ceiling, the gilded information desk and the magnificent arched windows as they were when they were originally built. It is like stepping back in time.

In coming months, we will continue with the history of New York's Pennsylvania Station.


by Tom Lytle

WOW! I think that might express my sentiments on my first "religious" experience traveling to the model railroading Mecca of York. If you arrive early, you might be fooled into complacency by the apparent lack of activity, as I was.

Then you go off in search of souvenirs and blammo - the world descends as if lightning from heaven. All of a sudden, there are thousands (it seems like millions) of the faithful about you. And most all of them bring trains - Lionel trains and their assorted paraphernalia, to sell to YOU. There's never been a GATS like this.

If you have ever gone to a train show like a NMRA show and wondered: "Well, there certainly are a lot of trains, but where are the Lioneltrains? I mean, after all, Lionel trains started the hobby!" York IS Lionel's revenge on all of those atrocities formerly committed. If the NMRA people could see the ferocity of these people. If they could have such membership in their ranks. Oh, ... the world would be a different place.

York, Pennsylvania, is deceptive in its own right. You look at the map. You see a small town. You think, well it's just a small place. Its probably a quiet, peaceful little place out in the Pennsylvania rolling hills on the border of the Dutch and Amish country. It is. But, it has also been there a long time. It has history. Furthermore, it has industry. Big industry - Harley Davidson, York Air Conditioners, Caterpillar Tractor and York Barbells, just to name a few. Therefore, surprisingly enough, it also has a good deal of traffic. Industrial traffic. So quiet is relative.

Then there's the event. It starts off slow and then it builds. I arrived Monday before the Friday-Saturday show. I had heard that people started showing up then. I drove around. Boy, that map they send from the TCA about York is really deceptive. The Fairgrounds are big. It's just that they are further away from the highway than I had imagined. It's about a third the size of the Dallas Fairgrounds. And they were empty. That was actually expected.

Next were the hotels and special venues. There are four. The Holliday Inn, the Holliday Inn at the mall (formerly the Sheraton), the Best Western, and the Valencia Ballroom. When I first got there, nothing (and I mean nothing) was happening. So the next day I went to Gettysburg for some tourist action. Then came Wednesday... KABLOOM!

All of a sudden, the parking lots were full; not only of cars but vendors. The streets were full. The vacant lots were full. All of these people had set up shop in every square inch of space and were selling trains. It took hours to go through all of this. And that's just one place. Then you drive to the next venue and start all over again. Much like Mecca, you ambulate around the city in search of the next train venue.

I have to say, THIS was quite a shock. One of the reasons I'm writing this is to enlighten the uninitiated. I'm so glad I ran into acquaintances who had been here before to tell me what and where to go. Because when they pull back the curtain, the view is magnificent.

A word to the wise. All of those tailgate parties are wonderful but, they are not part of the TCA sanctioned nor protected event. There are some high stakes commodities on the table. A single engine can run several thousand dollars. There are fakirs and charlatans. It is quite easy to be taken advantage of. If you play at this level, don't go swimming alone. Use the buddy system.

Then came Friday. If you thought what you had seen so far was big, you hadn't seen anything yet! Now the focus is to the York Fairgrounds. Overnight the population swells. The place is a sea of cars and people. There's the blue hall, the silver hall, the yellow hall, the gold hall, the purple hall, the red hall, the black hall, the white hall, and the green hall. Each venue is stuffed with trains and paraphernalia. You simply can not imagine the size and scope of this event. More vendors. More people. More trains. I didn't think I could go through all of this, but I did.

Oh, by the way, if you get hungry, there are tons of food vendors there too. However, none of the serious stop to eat. There aren't enough hours in the day. And when the day is done, you don't want to eat either. Just go to bed and get up the next morning and do it all over again. I have to say that Saturday was a bit quieter than Friday.

All in all, I have to say that the trip was worth it. I don't know if I can afford to do this every six months, either physically or mentally (how about financially, Tom?). But every couple of years, yes. At the very least, do it once. It Is Worth It!


by Tom Lytle

Recently, I had taken note that a most important piece of test equipment for toy trains was again being manufactured. It is the Stationary Roller Platform from Precision Manufacturing in San Antonio Texas. Decades ago this company had built these devices in all scales for the model train industry. Then, either their interest, or the interest of the customer waned. For a long time this product had not been seen. Then finally, at a train convention, I saw them again. I placed an order. Now I have a very fine piece of test equipment.

When working on motive gear, there are two ways to test - either hook up the electricity with clip leads and run the unit upside down; or be very quick on the directional control and run the engine back and forth on a small length of track. The roller platform lets you run the engine right side up on rollers bearing its own weight at just about any speed you'd like. It is a very well made piece of hardware, measuring a little over three feet long on a wooden base. Finely milled roller units slide into the base to support however many wheels your engine might have. Enough are supplied for a Big Boy.

The platform allows work on E-units, steam drivers, motors in motion, and a host of other inventions. It costs about $250. I can not think of money more well spent for the backshop. I think it is essential.


by Walt Sklenar

Here are the answers - highlighted by blinking - to last month's tinplate trivia quiz

The year Lionel Corp. introduced their most popular accessory - the Automatic Gateman.
A. 1935
B. 1940
C. 1947

The year the shanty on Automatic Gateman changed from sheet-metal to plastic.
A. 1948
B. 1950
C. 1952

The year Western Pacific, New York Central and MoPac 6464 Boxcars were introduced.
A. 1954
B. 1957
C. 1960

Engine which led the Big Haul Freight Set (cataloged in 1954).
A. Wabash F3 A-A
C. Lackawanna FM Trainmaster.

The year Magne-Traction was introduced by Lionel.
A. 1950
B. 1954
C. 1958

The third road name, after Santa Fe and New York Central, for a postwar F3 diesel set.
A. Western Pacific
B. Baltimore and Ohio
C. Canadian Pacific

The year Wabash and Illinois Central F3s were introduced.
A. 1954
B. 1955
C. 1956

Lionel specifically designed some F3s to be run on O-27 track. Which was the first?
A. Santa Fe #2243
B. Texas Special #2245
C. New Haven #2242
(Do you know what year the first O-27 was produced?) 1954

The year the #456 coal ramp was introduced.
A. 1930
B. 1940
C. 1950

Lionel introduced a 4-8-4 model of the Norfolk & Western J in this year.
A. 1952
B. 1957
C. 1962


During most of the month of January (between GATS and the Katy TCA meet), the portable layout will be undergoing significant under-the-table rewiring. This endeavor will be headed up by John Grisham. In the interim, Mike Schneider and Tom Lytle have gotten the back layout into operational state. What does this mean?

For at least two Saturdays in January - the 16th and 23rd - the back layout will be open and running for the public. For most of us able to make these Saturday runs, this represents a whole new operating challenge. Mike Schneider especially recognizes this, and has put together an operational guide designed to get you through the intricacies of running a layout with four ZWs. If you opt to run trains on either of these days, you must first read through the guide plus give yourself some time to play at the controls. The best option is to attend a Tuesday night meeting - hopefully with Mike and/or Tom there - and familiarize yourself with the controls.

Speaking of controls, this creates another control issue - that of crowds. It is not realistic for one person to man the controls on the back layout and police the front area. Let's show our support and have at least two (if not more) operators for these Saturdays.


  • January 9-10: Great American Train Show at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
  • January 30-31: Lone Star Division TCA Meet in Katy.

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