Newsletter

January 2020 Print

Member Feature

History of My D-224 Lionel Dealer Display Layout

By Bryant H. Robey

From my earliest remembrances, I’ve loved trains!  One of my first real train memories is of a trip to Pittsburgh around 1952 which included a close-up encounter with a PRR GG1!  That’s not something a 6-year-old soon forgets!  My father and I shared the excitement every Christmas as I opened, and then we played with, my first Marx freight set in 1950 (4 years old), and successively with a 2026 steam engine, Lionel Santa Fe passenger set, BUDD RDC car, Virginian FM diesel, etc., etc. I was hooked!!  All the way through my high school years I always had an active 12’ by 12’ layout ready to roll somewhere in our home.

In 1958, a then new Lionel dealer layout, the D-224 was displayed in a department or hardware store probably in western Pennsylvania or western New York.  In 1961, the layout in like new condition was purchased by a good friend of my father and my Godfather, Robert Apple, a prominent attorney in my hometown of Smethport, PA.  He hoped it would please his young son Johnny who was autistic.  Sadly, after a short period of time, it became apparent that it was too much for Johnny to play with unless he was totally supervised.  After a dangerously close encounter with an unresolved short circuit, which actually melted one of the circuit breakers, the layout was disassembled.  Since he knew I loved trains, he offered it to me!

Over the next dozen years, the layout was stored in my mother’s garage in Smethport, PA while I noticed girls, finished high school, went to college, got married and moved into my first house. During that time, it lost its packing crate and much of its “newness”.

Then in 1975, I installed the layout in an alcove in the basement of my small first house in Castle Shannon, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, this required reducing the length of the layout by cutting off about 4” from the right end and reconfiguring the related track runs and mountain.  I know, what was I thinking? But back then I was more interested in standard gauge trains and saw the layout as a novelty that was fun to run and filled the space perfectly, not as a collectable piece of Lionel postwar history. I was able to replace all the track with then easily available new old stock Super O track, however.

1984 was the beginning of a new chapter in my life with a new marriage, much professional development, many moves. Throughout, the now derelict layout, missing its mountain but still holding on to its rusty track, was stored, but not lovingly.  At least I had the good sense to retain the 4-inch piece cut from the layout many years earlier as well as all the pieces of the by then utterly destroyed mountain.

 

Finally, in 1994, I returned my hobby attention to my first love, Lionel postwar O gauge model trains. I really wanted to resurrect the layout, but dedication to my profession and caring for a 160-year-old farm home and property took all my time. Consequently, the layout sat mostly in unheated and sometimes damp storage waiting for some love!  During this period, I did work my way through upgrading all of the wonderful accessories on the D-224 as well as stockpiling Super O track for the day I could start the restoration.

In 2016, with my retirement from a career in architecture, I finally had time to get the house and outbuildings in good order.  I also had more time for collecting and running model trains including buying and selling small collections.  During the winter of 2019, we added a partial mezzanine space to our large nine-year-old garage, shop, and office building.  This new space included an extension of my second-floor office/train room, a portion of which became a dedicated new home for the D-224 layout.  From June through December of 2019, with the help of many friends and fellow train lovers, I totally restored the layout!  

  

The sequence and detail of the restoration are offered in a separate document, which will be posted on the Fort Pitt Division website, hobbytraincollectors.org

 

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

The Holiday season is my favorite time of the year.  Like most families, we have our traditions. Each year, there is a trip to Baltimore where our daughter and granddaughter perform in the Nutcracker.  Thanksgiving dinner is hosted by our older son and his wife while Christmas Eve is at our younger son’s home.  The Christmas Day celebration is at our house.  Lovingly crafted Christmas quilts are hung throughout the house and the mantle is adorned with Baby Snow figures.  In the living room is a beautifully trimmed tree under which my wife displays her Polar Express and American Flyer train sets, complete with a Department 56 winter scene.

Almost everyone associates model trains with Christmas.  The Canadian Pacific, a Class 1 railroad has drawn upon that association to help local food banks across North America.  Two years ago, my wife and I began a new tradition, to visit to the CP Holiday Train.  In 2018, we travelled to Saratoga Springs, New York and this past November, to Windsor, Ontario. 

  

The Holiday Train was originally planned as a one-time event to raise awareness of hunger in Canada.  The first train departed Montreal on December 15, 1999.  That year, 42,000 people came out to see the train and $230,000 dollars was raised to support 190 food banks across the country.  Encouraged by the response, beginning in 2000, the Canadian Pacific has run two Holiday Trains across the North American continent, one across the United States and one through Canada.  The two trains combined travel 7,600 route-miles over 22 days, with 160-175 scheduled stops.  As the creatively animated trains traverse North America, they stop in towns, large and small along the way.  At each stop, the side of the performance car drops down revealing a stage.  The crowd which has gathered is treated to a concert of Christmas music and an appearance by Santa Claus.  Local dignitaries gather on the stage and are presented with a check for their food bank.  In Windsor, Ontario, where my wife and I saw the Holiday Train, the donation was $7000!  As of 2017, the CP Holiday Train has helped to provide 4.5 million pounds of food and $14.5 million dollars for local food banks.

  

When the train, with its thousands of LED’s pulls into the station, it is a beautiful sight.  It’s a wonderful way to begin the holiday season and the only cost is a bag of non-perishable food items.

  

If you would like more information about the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, please see the December 2018 issue of Trains magazine, see their website, www.cpr.ca/en/community/holiday-train

 

A Gift from the Heart, or A Christmas Surprise

Ferdinand “Fritz” Baldt graduated from Swissvale High School and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  Later, he received his Principal’s Certificate from West Virginia University and became an administrator at Beverly Elementary.  Nicki (Necolle Stroup) attended Taylor Alderdice High School and California University of Pennsylvania.  Though they grew up about a mile apart, it wasn’t until they both took teaching jobs in Elkins, West Virginia that they met.

The Baldts were married and had a daughter, Heidi who was born in 1981.  Each Christmas, she and her father enjoyed setting up a train around the tree.  Plasticville buildings were young Heidi’s contribution to the display. 

Nicki became friends with Judy Sinkule, a kindergarten teacher at North Elementary, the school where Nicki taught.  Judy’s husband, Ron was an avid train collector.  He told Fritz about the TCA and soon they were making regular trips to the Fort Pitt Division meets in Monroeville as well as York.

Fritz and Ron enjoyed train shopping together, especially their trips to York.  For many years, the Baldts and Sinkules made the journey including one memorable April when they drove through a snowstorm on a West Virginia mountain top.  On another adventure, they found York in a day long rainstorm.  The ladies decided to wait in the car while the men braved the elements in search of Pre-War treasures.  Fritz was a discerning shopper, carefully examining potential items before making a purchase.  When he returned to Elkins, his selections were thoughtfully placed on the shelving unit his father had built for him. 

During Heidi’s high school years, Fritz developed cancer.  Despite his illness, it was very important to him that Heidi have as normal a high school experience as possible.  She was captain of the flagline, served as the choir accompanist, attended her prom and applied to and was accepted by Point Park College.  Sadly, about a week before her graduation from Elkins High School, Fritz passed away.

The next fall, Heidi went off to college in Pittsburgh and Nicki continued teaching in Elkins.   The trains, which held so many wonderful memories remained parked on those shelves in tribute to Fritz.  In 2005, my son, David met Heidi.  They fell in love and were married in May 2009, one day before the tenth anniversary of Fritz’s death.

Nicki has now retired from teaching and is spending more time in the Pittsburgh area.  At Christmas, the family including Nicki, Heidi and David were gathered at our home to celebrate.  After sharing a marvelous dinner and lively conversation, we moved to the living room to open gifts.  I was puzzled when they presented me with a large, heavy package.  To my amazement, it was a beautiful 262E train set from Fritz’s collection.  This was truly a gift from the heart.  Nicki will never part with any of Fritz’s treasures.  I can only hope that seeing his 262E running on my layout brought her and Heidi as much joy as it did me.

Back to top

Trains of Local Interest

The Carnegie Science Center Miniature Railroad and VillageTM

~Thanks to Andrew Spate of the Carnegie Science Center staff for his help with this article

 The Carnegie Science Center Miniature Railroad and VillageTM is celebrating its 100th anniversary but it did not begin on Pittsburgh’s North Shore; it actually began in Jefferson County.  Charles Bowdish was a soldier in World War I who received an honorable discharge due to a congenital heart problem.  Returning to his home in Brookville, Pennsylvania, he began to construct models of buildings around the community.  Each year at Christmas, his set up a display of Lionel trains that included his structures.  On Christmas Eve, 1919, Charlie hosted his brother’s wedding and reception in his home and guests were entertained by the trains.  Word spread and hundreds of people came to Bowdish’s home to see his enchanting railroad village.  What began as a party amusement became a Brookville Christmas tradition. 

Each year, the Bowdish home was opened to the public from Christmas through January with thousands of visitors, every year. Eventually, the crowds became overwhelming and in 1954, the Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science purchased the entire layout, complete with trees, landscaping materials and over fifty buildings for a mere $192.40.  Included in the price was room and board for Charlie so that he might oversee the setup, and he remained involved for many years.  Finally, in 1992, the redesigned Miniature Railroad and VillageTM opened in the Carnegie Science Center. 

Director Patty Everly and her staff will tell you that the Miniature Railroad and Village seeks to be much more than trains that run on a display.  Rather, it is an opportunity to showcase the rich history of the Greater Pittsburgh region.  The focus is on communities as far north as the I-80 corridor, as far east as Altoona and as far south as Uniontown.  The display currently contains over 100 constructed animations including many of Pittsburgh’s most well-known landmarks.  This spring, the Science Center plans to launch a crowdfunding effort to keep Charlie Bowdish’s dream alive for another one hundred years.  Details will be forth coming.

Bowdish Model Railroad

For those who may be interested, the Bowdish Volunteers maintain a replica of buildings and activities around Jefferson County in the Jefferson County History Center.  The display is currently closed but will reopen on February 29, 2020. Model trains run on the last Saturday of every month.

 

Trains of Local Interest:  Carnegie Science Center Cars

In this installment of Trains of Local Interest, we focus on the Lionel cars made for the Carnegie Science Center.  According to Andrew Spate of the Science Center staff, the series began in 1999 as a fundraiser in partnership with Lionel.  Because of the success of the program, it continued until 2013, with a new car being released each year except 2007 and 2010.  There are thirteen cars in the series including ten box cars, two flat cars and one caboose.  In the photograph below, you will notice that there are fourteen cars.  In 2012, Lionel reissued the 2002 flatcar carrying the Requin submarine as part of a Navy train.

The first car in the series was #26750, a blue and white box car released in 1999.  The last one was #37098, a flatcar carrying two space capsules.  The cars were uncatalogued by Lionel and were only available through the Science Center.

 

A complete listing of the cars will be posted on our website, hobbytraincollectors.org.

 

Comments welcome!

A big thank you to Bob MacDowell for his response to our Trains of Local Interest article on the Montour Railroad in the September issue of the Lockon.  Bob contributed additional pictures which can be found on our website, hobbytraincollectors.org. We invite your feedback, as well. Questions, suggestions, corrections, pictures are definitely appreciated.

 

Back to top

Calendar of Events

Mark Your Calendars

March 6-15: Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show, David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh

March 29: Fort Pitt Division Train Meet, Syria Shrine Conference Center, Cheswick, PA: Members: 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Non-members: 10 - 3

Back to top

Fort Pitt Division Activities

Locomotion Days at the Carnegie Science Center

The 2020 Locomotion Days, which took place on January 11 & 12 at the Carnegie Science Center was a huge success.  On display were toy trains in gauges Z, N, HO, O and G.  Fort Pitt Division Members played a large role in the festivities.  The Hi-Railers and the Kids Club set up their traveling layouts on the third floor in the beautiful PointView Hall.  Endless streams of families were educated and entertained, and many young enthusiasts took advantage of the opportunity to run the Dinosaur train using a handheld controller.

 

 

Christmas Party

The Fort Pitt Division Christmas Party was held on Saturday, December 14 at St. Gerard Majella Church, in Penn Hills.  President Dan Glover said, “This year's Christmas party was a lot of fun. Sam & Jayne, as usual, made the party a success along with Sam Jr. and friend preparing and cooking the pizzas. Great job!! Santa Claus made an appearance and all the kids got Christmas presents. Thanks to all who came and thanks to all who made the party a fun time!”

 

  

November Division Meet

Christmas was in the air at the Fort Pitt Division Holiday Meet, which took place on Sunday, November 24, at the Syria Shrine Conference Center in Cheswick.

 

Friends shared stories throughout a busy day of model train shopping.

  

Highlights of the day included the Hi-Railers modular layout and an appearance by the “Train Doctor,” Joe Mania, who had a table and answered numerous questions about toy train repair and maintenance. 

  

194 members attended the meet along with 39 family members and 12 guests.  There were 272 public attendees, not counting children during the open 10:00 to 3:00 session.  

We are grateful to Carl Abinanti for all he does to make our Fort Pitt Division meets a success.  Thanks to everyone who participated and look forward to seeing you at our next meet on March 29!

 

Do you have an idea for an article our readers might enjoy?  The Lockon is always looking for new insights.  Whether you have a complete story or just the start and need some help, contact [email protected] to discuss your idea.

 

Back to top