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

Newsletter: May 1999

In this issue:

When York Becomes YORK!

By Patty Norman

YORK. Among train lovers, this one word represents the big meet, the largest sale, the chance to see all the things that you have only read about, and the opportunity to find those much needed items for your layout and train collection.

Many times we'd been asked, "Have you been to YORK?" And our answer was always "not yet." Actually we'd been through York many times, as it is on the way to the homes of my sister and Dad. But for 50 weeks during the year York is merely York.

Last month we were there when York became "YORK". The impossible finally happened - my husband Wayne got vacation days during the York show. Together with our 4-year old son Alan, we flew from Houston to Cleveland, then to Harrisburg on Wednesday. We hit every air pocket on the latter leg - flying in a puddle jumper - and would definitely recommend Amtrak over this plane. (If you want a more vivid description of the flight and its affects you have only to ask Alan.)

Our first day in YORK was Thursday. We were told that all the vendors would set up booths at their hotels, and in the parking lots. To add to the confusion there are two Holiday Inns off of Route 30. We started our day at one of them, parking in someone's yard for a few dollars and proceeded to cruise the streets and parking lots. We purchased a 3386 Bronx Zoo giraffe car almost immediately, and then passed on a 334 Operating Dispatching Board that was on our list because the price seemed a bit high. Within an hour we went back to the vendor but it was already sold. This will be remembered as one of the big three that got away.

After the streets, we checked out the tent and ballroom inside the hotel. There were about ten 3356 Cattle Cars in various conditions we inspected without making a purchase. We found a set of Old Glory boxcars that I was interested in, but they were priced $39 over book value. Wayne offered the vendor book value and we were surprised when he took it. He commented he needed one of those books (go figure?!) We also found a 364 Lumber Loader in great condition and purchased it. We ran into Jerry (from J.R.'s Hobby Depot) - it was great to see a familiar face in the crowd.

Around 4 PM we were joined by my brother-in-law Larry (whom Wayne reintroduced to trains in December, and who is now hooked on Command Control, Lionel, etc.), my sister and Alan. After finishing up at this Holiday Inn it was time to head for the other one. We were disappointed there to find that most of the parking lot vendors had packed up, and the ballroom vendors were packing up as well. All was not lost, as we did have time to purchase one more giraffe car and to find an aquarium car for my sister. The women in our family go for animated cars and accessories, the men seem to be hooked on engines. I also noticed a 51004 Blue Comet tinplate reproduction set in "O" gauge. I had thought this was only made by Lionel in Standard gauge so I hadn't even put it on my list. Now it moved to the top of my list. My engine choices are based on color and attractiveness. Just how many black steam engines can one want? When the booths closed down we headed to Lancaster for dinner and Dutch Apple dinner theater.

On Friday morning we were up bright and early, fought our way through the traffic on 30 and arrived at the York Fairgrounds in time to have a complete breakfast before the show opened. Upon opening we headed directly for the purple hall and made a deal with the Blue Comet owner (incidentally he was Lou Palumbo, author of Views from the Underground in the TM price guide). In that building we ran into one of HTOS' own - Jim Gottardi - who very kindly explained the traffic flow. We had been much too in awe of the whole experience to notice the arrows on the floor.

While in the purple hall we checked out the TM booth and were excited to see the "I Love Toy Trains Boxcar" that they are selling. See us if you want a preorder form. We found a few of the K-Line Hershey cars that we are collecting and checked out the Ross custom switch display and some parts dealers in this building. Periodically, Wayne went back to the car to put away the latest and heaviest purchases.

We were surprised with the crowds. Each aisle was completely packed and it was hard to see the items on both sides without doing each building twice. As this was a "work" day we concluded that a lot of train people are either independently wealthy or own their own businesses. We had expected Saturday to be the busy day.

Throughout Friday and Saturday, we were able to cover almost all the halls (except somehow we missed the gold one). Some were covered more than once. We also saw the Lionel tent with prototypes of some upcoming cars and engines. Alan ran their Command Control display very proficiently which surprised the workers. Here we lost the hourly drawing for the Toy Fair car at least 4 times.

MTH was out in force. Mike himself was there, along with new items and a repair booth, all part of their section.

An unexpected surprise was getting to meet Angela Trotta Thomas. She signed two children's books for Alan and displayed her new paintings.

Each night after the show, we had a show & tell time at my sister's. Here Alan would explain how each accessory worked. If he pays as much attention in kindergarten as he has to toy train videos, his school future should be great.

In conclusion, we will be at YORK again. Or at least we will be there if we are able to find a way out of our house, where the exits are, at the moment, loaded with boxes shipped from "YORK"!!!!!!!!!!!!

Check out Wayne and Patty's York Awards later in this newsletter!

Rebirth of a Legend

By Jim Herron

Growing up in New York City in the postwar era had many advantages. There was so much to see and do. For a boy, it was like the center of the universe. I gravitated towards trains and planes. The trains came honestly, as I came from a Pennsylvania Railroad family.

I loved traveling on trains with my parents, riding to Baltimore, Harrisburg and Cape Cod on the Pennsylvania, New York Central and New Haven Railroads. Two of my favorite rides were coming out of New York City, crossing the lift bridge over the Harlem River and the Hellgate Bridge on my way up to New England.

The Hellgate Bridge was simply majestic; an architecturally magnificent structure privately built by the Pennsylvania Railroad and completed in 1917. The bridge rises over 300 feet above the East River tributary known as "Hell's Gate" because of the tremendous rip tides and currents that pass through at changing tides. Long Island Sound dumps its water through this fast-moving, narrow tributary to the East River and eventually to the Narrows and the Atlantic Ocean. The Hellgate Bridge can accommodate four trains on the 1017 feet long span.

The idea for the Hellgate Bridge was conceived in 1912 was completed five years later on April 17, 1917. It was a private venture, the brainchild of the Pennsylvania Railroad chairman who wanted to connect the northeast through New York City's Pennsylvania Station. Since Penn Station, completed in 1910, had no outlets to New England, tunnels and bridges were envisioned. A company was formed as a joint venture between the Pennsy and New Haven Railroads, calling itself the New York Connecting Railroad. This entity still exists today. This company built an eight-mile stretch which included the Hellgate Bridge, Sunnyside train yards and access to the Brooklyn Piers. It cost more than $30 million dollars and was a vital link to New York City. At the time of its opening, it was (and still is) considered one of the most awesome architectural feats in American history.

The bridge spans the river at 977 feet. It contains over 18,900 tons of steel and remains the longest steel arch bridge in the world. No other, in its entirety, is as massive or as beautiful. During World War II, the Hellgate Bridge helped transport troops and goods to Europe from many New England naval ports.

On my way to Manhattan last fall I crossed the Triborough Bridge from Queens to Manhattan, parallel to the Hellgate Bridge and was surprised to see that after years of neglect, it was getting a facelift. It had been cleaned, scraped, repaired and painted a deep, dark cranberry. After collecting rust for over fifty years, it was again the imposing structure I remembered from childhood. It was sheer joy to see this old friend get a well-deserved new look. I hope it lasts a long time.

Why all of this Hellgate attention? Lionel is finally coming out with an "O" gauge Hellgate Bridge this fall in its Heritage Catalog for about $400. It will be finished in its early cream, green and orange colors. It will be redesigned so as to accommodate two trains on two tracks and will be able to be entered at track level, too.

The original Hellgate Bridge by Lionel (#300) was a standard gauge bridge built from 1928 to 1942. It was strictly a pre-war accessory. Though pricey, they were popular and appreciated in value. MTH and T-Rail have recently made reproductions of this pre-war bridge.

Why it took Lionel 57 years to produce another one is quite a mystery, but at least they are doing it first class with brass plates, girders, and structural designs, just like the original one.

Of course, the "new" Hellgate will be a bit more expensive than the original one, priced at $16.50. The dimensions of the bridge will be 30 1/2" in length, 11 3/4" in width and 11 3/4" in height (# 305/6-32094.)

If you are a serious train runner or collector, order fast. Lionel has recreated one of the best loved of model railroading accessories. Finally, the rebirth of a Lionel legend!

Tinplate Trivia

By Walt Sklenar

Here are the answers to last month's Tinplate Trivia quiz on Lionel postwar boxcars.

     1. 6464-125	     D. NYC Pacemaker 
     2. 6464-150	     I. Missouri Pacific			
     3. 6464-175	     C. Rock Island (Silver)				
     4. 6464-225	     J. Southern Pacific "Overnight"			
     5. 6464-300	     A. Rutland			
     6. 6464-325	     G. B & O "Sentinel"			
     7. 6464-375	     H. Central of Georgia			
     8. 6464-475	     B. Boston & Maine
     9. 6464-650	     E. Rio Grande			
    10. 6464-900	     F. NYC (Jade Green)

The New Haven 6464-725 had several variations. Which is deemed most valuable?
A. Black body
B. Orange body
C. Green and orange body

You find a Western Pacific 6464-1 boxcar with ORANGE lettering. You have:
A. A highly sought after piece
B. One of the more common 6464 boxcars
C. A fake - ORANGE lettering was not used on this car

The year the B & O "Sentinel" 6464 boxcar was produced:
A. 1953
B. 1956
C. 1959

This car had a "watermelon" paint design:
A. Central of Georgia
B. B & O "Sentinel"
C. Missouri Pacific

Which of these Western Pacific boxcars is most prized by collectors?
A. Blue body, orange feather
B. Silver body, yellow feather
C. Orange body, blue feather

Portable Layout Update

Progress continues at a steady clip towards making the portable layout a pleasure to look at and a joy to operate. As of this writing, we have completed about 80% of the scenicking, and should be laying down track and switches by mid-May. The electrical guys have their hands full, mostly because of the 1,000+ electrical contacts which require soldering. Stay tuned...

York Awards

Wayne and I have gotten together to highlight our greatest finds at York:

  • Prettiest Engine: Blue Comet
  • Most Sentimental Purchase: Larry found the train set he and his brother played with as children.
  • Most Challenging Purchase: A Disney set with a DC motor we plan to convert to AC
  • Best New Car Bargain: 19824 U.S. Army target launcher for $20
  • Hard to Find Award: Many accessories we had been unable to find at GATS
  • The Three That Got Away: Hiawatha reproduction set, 334 Operating Dispatching Board, 1987 LOTS Blue Dow tank car
  • The One That Almost Got Away: Steam Clean and Wheel Grind Shop that Wayne and I walked right past but Larry noticed (don't tell Alan we have this - it won't fit on our current layout and has to wait for the new addition)

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