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

Newsletter: March 1999

In this issue:


by Jim Herron

There was never a time like it, before or since, in the long history of American railroading. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the railroads had risen to an unparalleled strength and influence. They represented the first of the powerful corporations that came to dominate the industrial age.

Among American railroads, none was more dominant than the Pennsylvania Railroad. It carried more passengers and more freight than any other. It was the industry leader in technology and operating practices, and the richest and most powerful transportation company in North America.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, the Pennsylvania embarked upon an extraordinary program of improvement and expansion. By 1917, expenditures exceeded $160 million, an equal to nearly $9 billion today. Under the leadership of president Alexander J. Cassett, these efforts included:

  • New York's terminal project that created the Hudson and East River tunnels;
  • addition of the Long Island Railroad to the Pennsy empire;
  • widening much of the railroad's main line to four tracks;
  • electrification of the Northeast corridor and entrances to New York City; and
  • starting construction of the Hellgate Bridge.
All of these projects were unified with the building of New York's Pennsylvania Station.

Prior to the turn of the century, the desire for a direct entrance to the country's largest city tormented Pennsylvania Railroad management. In 1899, Cassett quickly exerted his new authority as president towards realizing the goal of a terminal in New York City. It was his dream to build a new railroad structure that would dwarf any structure in the United States. But the problems of how to get his trains into Manhattan still had to be solved.

In 1900 the Pennsylvania Railroad acquired control of the Long Island Railroad. Direct access to Manhattan was vital to the development of commuter traffic from the growing Long Island suburbs. The Pennsylvania planned a new Manhattan terminal that would serve both its own needs and those of the LIRR. East River tunnels would link the new terminal to the Long Island, as well as future connection to New England. P> As the Pennsylvania prepared to begin work on the terminal, the New York tunnel and terminal project was underway. This undertaking included:

  • a new double track railroad starting at junction with the main line east of Newark, crossing the Hackensack Meadows on a slight hill and passing through Bergen Hill and under the Hudson River in two single track tunnels;
  • a new midtown Manhattan station that would occupy over two city blocks;
  • four single track tunnels from the station across Manhattan and under the East River to a juncture at Long Island City with the Long Island Railroad and a future route to New England;
  • an enormous passenger train servicing and storage yard at Long Island City (Sunnyside yards) just beyond the end of the East River tunnels;
  • electrifying the new line from the junction with the main line to its connection to the LIRR at Long Island City; and the LIRR would be electrified for operation into the new Manhattan station. After thirty years, the Pennsylvania had the grand plan it needed to establish a splendid gateway to the nation's principal city.

    The station occupied an area of some 7.5 acres, extending 780 feet between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and 430 feet between 31st and 33rd Streets. 32nd Street was closed and incorporated into the site. Unlike new skyscrapers rising over Manhattan, the Pennsylvania Station was built low and horizontal, except at the center where the roof of the main waiting room soared to over 150 feet. With the tracks located from 40 to 60 feet below street level, it was unlike any other major station of its kind. Passengers descended from entrances at street level to a lower waiting room and concourse level and then descended again to reach the train platforms.

    Excavation work began in the summer of 1904 and continued nearly five years. It was one of the wonder of Manhattan, drawing crowds of onlookers to the site. For the design of the building, the Pennsylvania Railroad turned to one of the greatest American architectural firms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -- the New York partnership of Follen, McKim, Mead and Stanford White. It was one of the most prestigious architectural commissions of its day. McKim's plan for Pennsylvania Station was magnificent and practical. He planned multiple entrances and located its facilities so traffic would flow through the station. It was built for movement and worked beautifully.

    The exterior of the building was designed in the Roman Doric order from pink Milford granite quarried in Massachusetts. The entire length of the buildings facade on Seventh Avenue was a Colonnade equal to the Piazza of St. Peter's in Rome. Columns 4 1/2 feet in diameter and 35 feet high adorned the building. The main entrance in the center of Seventh Avenue was a great central pavilion, 102 feet wide and 75 feet high.

    Look for Part II in next month's newsletter.


    by Walt Sklenar

    QUESTION? What do Houston Astros All-Star Craig Biggio, Orbit (Astros team mascot), and the Houston Tinplate Operators Society have in common? ANSWER. All get a chance to play around second base at the Astrodome during 1999.

    Astrofest '99. Baseball junkies from Houston and the surrounding area have waited almost four months for this day. Autographs, running the bases, testing the speed of your fastball ... just some of the things kids of all ages come to the Dome for. And in the midst of this baseball mania - just a short toss from second base - who can it be but the Houston Tinplate Operators Society! Debuting their "home" royal blue HTOS polo shirts, about 15 club members spent most of that last Saturday in January setting up, operating, then finally packing up the portable layout.

    When the offer to display the portable layout at Astrofest '99 surfaced - thanks to the salesmanship of Jim Herron and Carl Olson - HTOS jumped at the opportunity. It turned out to be a public relations coup. Youngsters and oldsters alike took time out from their baseball endeavors to watch the trains. No doubt many never had an opportunity to get close to an operating layout such as ours. Members spent a lot of time handing out newsletters, information about the club, and a bunch of MTH product videotapes and other goodies. One of the more humorous moments was watching Carl Olson with Orbit behind the control panel!

    Polo shirts were not the only thing new for HTOS that Saturday. Thanks to the hard work of Mark Whetzel, HTOS unveiled its newest scenery module ... a nicely designed ballpark (sorry, not a domed stadium). The "Ballpark by the Tracks" drew many compliments during the day.

    It also was apparent that Astros management was impressed with the layout. Drayton McLane, owner of the Astros, stopped by on two occasions. With a little guidance from Wayne Norman, he got the chance to run a train using Command Control. And to show our appreciation for the opportunity to be there, Jim Herron presented Drayton with a Houston Astros boxcar. Jim received a nice thank you note from Drayton regarding the boxcar and the club's efforts in helping to make Astrofest '99 a success.

    From all indications, this looks to be the start of an annual ritual. Thanks to everyone who made this endeavor a huge success.


    In the June, 1997, HTOS Newsletter, seldom mentioned benefits of membership were discussed. Here are other less-recognized, but equally important, reasons and benefits of belonging to HTOS:

    1. Y2K. Industries such as banking and the airlines are spending huge amounts of time and capital to insure their systems don't shut down January 1, 2000. What about the operations of the HTOS layouts? There may not be a better way to get out of doing those chores then to say, "I need to be at the club to help work on our Y2K problem." This in fact will probably sit better with your spouse than saying you're going to GATS or a TCA meet, since the notion of spending huge amounts of money will be eliminated.

    2. Exercise. For many of us, trying to fit in an exercise program amidst our busy schedules is difficult. Think about the aerobic benefits of carrying around a box or two containing your favorite die-cast steam locomotive. And here's a heart-healthy suggestion - when bringing your engine to the club, park at ground level and use the stairs rather than the escalator.

    3. Investment. Think of your major train acquisitions as a stock purchase. The market may rise and dip, sometimes free-falling, but your train collection keeps on appreciating. Well, at least you appreciate it. Especially if like some of us, you buy two of the most collectable of everything.

    4. Brain power. As we age, certain basic thinking skills can dull. Learn to add large numbers in your head as you thumb through the latest product catalogs - and if you're really good, subtract that amount from your current bank account.

    5. Camaraderie. Finally, it just fun comparing notes, talking, story telling and laughing about all of the above with your train buddies who share the same problems. At least your spouse hasn't recommended a shrink yet.


    For the next several weeks, the portable layout will be out of commission so that much needed repair work can be done. John Grisham, Mark Whetzel and Tom Lytle have put forth an ambitious rewiring project designed to make setting up the layout considerably easier and operation of the layout be more reliable. Topside, members are busily redoing the "grass". This process involves scraping and vacuuming off the old grass, applying new paint and sprinkling new turf on the surface. At press time, we are about 75% through the scraping portion, and should be ready to start painting and applying turf by the middle of March. Needless to say, Tuesday nights will be busy for the next few weeks. Any and all help is greatly appreciated.


    Channel 8, the local PBS station, will air Riding the Rails on The American Experience March 29 at 9 PM. During the '30s, many thousands of teenagers hopped freights with the hope of finding a better way of life. Relive their experiences in this one hour broadcast.

    The O. Winston Link Photo Exhibit in Corpus Christi closes March 14. The exhibit is located at the South Texas Institute for the Arts, 1902 N. Shoreline Dr.

    The Austin Steam Train Association and the Texas State Railroad begin their 1999 excursion seasons during the month of March. ASTA is on the Internet at:

    TSRR has a Web Site at:


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