September 2019 Print

Fort Pitt Division


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Fort Pitt Division Activities

2019 Summer Outing: Everett Railroad Steam into the Cove

The 2019 Fort Pitt Division Summer Outing took place on Saturday, September 21.  Sixty-three participants enjoyed a marvelous day of sunshine and fellowship aboard the Everett Railroad’s Steam into the Cove.  For many, the day began with a bus ride on a Lenzner Coach from Pittsburgh to the Hollidaysburg Depot while others chose to drive.  Everyone left the depot at 1:00 on a beautifully restored private coach, #1194.  Steam engine #11 took us on a three hour excursion from Hollidaysburg, through Morrison’s Cove to Martinsburg, PA. Our journey included a 40-minute stop in the town of Roaring Springs where we were served ice cream by the local historical society.  Many members took advantage of the glorious sunshine to stroll through the town park.  The pond, complete with fountain, mill and swimming ducks provided many Kodak moments.







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Calendar of Events

Mark Your Calendars

October 17-19, 2019: TCA Eastern Division Meet:York Fairgrounds. 334 Carlisle Avenue, York, PA 17404

November 24, 2019: Ft. Pitt Division Holiday Train Meet: Syria Shrine Conference Center

January 26, 2020: Ft. Pitt Division Train Meet: Syria Shrine Conference Center

March 6 - 15, 2020: Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show:David Lawrence Convention Center

April 23-25, 2020:  TCA Eastern Division Meet: York Fairgrounds. 334 Carlisle Avenue, York, PA 17404




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TCA National News

The Rio Grande Chapter of the Desert Division hosted the 65th TCA National Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico from June 22 – 30.  The Hotel Albuquerque, the convention headquarters, buzzed with the sounds of division members’ model train layouts.  The Kids Club contributed with modules created by teens along with numerous activities for younger children to enjoy.  Friday and Saturday were busy days as the Train Market Place opened and “Meet the Expert Sessions” were presented by Peter Gerity, Julius Zschau, Roger Carp, Peter Atonna and Jonathan Peiffer.

The convention offered a wide variety of tours for members to enjoy headlined by a 64-mile ride on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad from Antonino, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico.  Other tours included trips aboard the Railrunner to Sante Fe for visits to either museums or historic churches.  For history lovers, there were exciting excursions from which to choose, including the Bandelier National Monument, Acoma Sky City Pueblo, Los Alamos, site of the Manhattan Project and the National Museum of Nuclear Science.  Of course, there were bus visits to view some outstanding layouts of Desert Division members. Friday night was capped by a sensational performance by the Tablao Flamenco Dance group.


The convention concluded on Saturday evening with a wonderful banquet.  Members were treated to an excellent dinner featuring choices of beef, chicken, salmon or a vegetarian option. The evening concluded with a lively auction conducted by Greg Stout.



Win Big Campaign Year Two

The TCA has launched year two of the Win Big campaign with more winners and more prizes.  This year, the top five TCA members in recruiting will receive a $500 gift certificate to spend on trains, plus one year of paid TCA dues.  Plus, all TCA members who recruit at least 3 new members will receive one year of paid TCA dues.  Simply help a prospective new member to fill out their TCA application and print your name, TCA number and division at the bottom of the TCA member application. 

Research shows that the new generation of members in our hobby are more operator oriented and that grandparents are key to building family and young people’s interest in trains. The Win Big Membership Campaign began on September 1, 2019 and ends on May 31, 2020.  For more information, see the four-page color advertisement in the September issue of the National Headquarters News or go to

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Member Feature

John DeSantis

Many Pittsburghers know John DeSantis as the director of the annual Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show.  Most TCA members recognize him for his extraordinary collection of standard gauge trains.  Recently, I sat down with John to discuss how his love of these trains began.

John DeSantis was born in 1952.  His parents bought him his first train at the age of 2.  Their initial trip to the train store resulted in sticker shock, but eventually they purchased a used standard gauge set from a Fisher Body worker.  Though the standard gauge era was coming to an end, Prewar trains and accessories could be found.  Throughout John’s childhood, Christmas and birthdays brought exciting new pieces.  One year, he received a gift he had long been dreaming of, a Lionel signal bridge.  Each year more was added so that by high school, the shelves above his bed were filled.

When he graduated from high school, John attended Georgetown.  His first weekend in Washington, D.C., he visited local resale shops, leaving his name and dormitory phone number.  Shortly thereafter, he received a message at Georgetown to call Graham Claytor.  John returned the call and a visit was arranged for dinner and to see his trains.  Mr. Claytor had beautiful trains, not just standard gauge, but live steam!  That evening, they ran a loop of live steam trains.  As they talked, Claytor told John that his trains were a collection though John did not really comprehend the difference.  Soon, it became a ritual.  Every Thursday, there would be dinner at the Claytor home after which they would run live steam trains until midnight.  It wasn’t until a few months later that John came to realize that Graham Claytor was the Secretary of the Navy, who later became the first president of Amtrak.

Occasionally, John and Claytor took the train to New York, where they met people like Louis Hertz.  As a teenager, Hertz began writing monthly articles in Railroad Model Craftsman.  His work led him to interviews with executives like Joshua Lionel Cowen and to write books including Riding the Tinplate Rails and The Complete Book of Model Railroading.

After college, John returned to Pittsburgh to the family floral business in Gateway Center.  During the Christmas season, he set up trains, which he ran at lunch time in the lobby of the downtown building.  Each day, hundreds of people would stop to watch the trains.  One of those visitors was Lou Redman who told him, “You must join TCA!”   The first meet John attended was February 1975.  When he walked into the ballroom of the Holiday Inn Greentree, he said, “I was like a kid in a candy store.”

Sometime in the mid 1970’s, John was contacted by Carey Williams, “a 20-something” who had a protype tender lettered P&LE that was never put into production.  Inquiring about the asking price, Williams replied $150.  John consulted with Lou Redman who responded, “And where are you going to find another one of these?”

John has never specialized in one manufacturer.  At some point, he came to the understanding that he wanted one of everything made, every variation in every color.  Collecting prototypes has been the thing that has kept him going, the thing for which he is known.  One of his prized pieces is The Brute, the great Lionel icon from the pre-war era. Hand made in 1924 at Lionel's design/fabrication facility in Italy, the St. Paul type locomotive is a giant version of the 381 - which is itself the largest locomotive Lionel ever marketed. The Brute however is twice the size of its 381 baby brother, so it was too big to actually operate on standard gauge track, and too heavy to be used by a child. Therefore, only the one prototype was ever created. The Brute did however become the focal point of the Lionel Archives display in the Manhattan Showroom for more than fifty years, until the unique piece was sold in 1961 when the archives was dispersed. It has passed through the hands of several prominent collectors since then, most recently residing for nearly forty years in the renowned collection of Al Cox in Seattle. It has now found a new home in Pittsburgh!

TCA National Strategic Planning Committee

John DeSantis is the Chair of the TCA Strategic Planning Committee, so I asked him to give us some insight into this group.  John is very proud to be a TCA member, saying, “We are very fortunate that this organization has been held together by thousands of volunteers.”  He considers it an honor to have served as a member of Strategic Planning Committee since its inception and to have chaired the committee for the last five years. Here is John’s description:

“The Strategic Planning Committee is comprised of the organization's top elected officers along with past presidents and representatives of key assets like the Museum and Library. Meeting twice a year at York, Strategic Planning guides TCA National's ongoing activities to assure continued vitality and growth, and annually provides to the Board of Directors the comprehensive plan which directs all of TCA for the coming year. Most recently we have focused the organization on increasing value to members and establishing TCA's online presence and website as the one-stop resource for ‘Everything Trains.’  Over the next few years, all members can expect to discover exciting new ways in which TCA helps them to enjoy the hobby.”

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Community Service

H.J. Heinz III VAMC Layout

In the Spring issue of the Lockon, the volunteer work of Division members Terry Hudon and George McKee was introduced.  This article continues their story.

The ceramic project at the H.J. Heinz III Veterans Administration Medical Center began over twenty-five years ago.  Ed Connell, American Legion VAVS Representative recalled therapist, Jim Cristelli encouraging patients to participate in making ceramic houses and buildings as part of their therapy.  They responded with such enthusiasm that a model train layout was planned to showcase their work and to provide entertainment.  Beginning with donated trains and scenery on 4x8 sheet of plywood, in time the display grew to six sheets!

Mr. Connell pointed out that over the years, the hospital underwent numerous remodeling and renovation projects and consequently, the layout went into storage.  As a result of several relocations, items were misplaced or lost.  Many times, Connell requested that the display be brought back to show how ceramic therapy has helped veterans.  Finally, with the assistance of the Keystone + Mountain + Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters, new bench work was constructed. 

The new model train layout was built and is maintained by four veterans.  Ed Connell heads the project and was the person who was able to get approval from the Veterans Administration to rebuild.  George McKee and his wife Phyllis created all of the scenery including roads, airport runways, army tent, recruiting and induction centers, mountains with tunnels, steel mill backdrop, gardens, greenhouse, and provided at least one hundred O-gauge people and animals.  Terry Hudon was deeply involved in converting the track from the original O-27 tubular track to modern MTH.  He was able to climb on the platform to make connections and adjustments that Ed and George could not.  Terry also  donated equipment from his own collection in addition to obtaining contributions from TCA member friends.


The layout is totally dependent on donations as the project does not receive any funds from the Veterans Administration.  John Brady of Brady’s Train Outlet graciously provided over 200 pieces of MTH track.  Scenic Express has also made donations and given discounts on necessary materials.  Moving forward, the project developers are hoping for monetary donations.  Their goal is to run and control the trains with handheld devices.


George and Phyliss McKee have been volunteers at the VA for four years.  George works assisting veterans in the library and Phyliss teaches and assists in the Ceramic Studio.  For nearly two years, Terry has volunteered as an in-patient visitor.


Kids Club

A Train Display in a Cemetery? You've Got to be Kidding!

Four years ago, the Fort Pitt Division Kids Club was asked to provide a model train display for The Homewood Cemetery Founders’ Day. A train display at a cemetery sounded more than a little strange, but always open to new experiences and opportunities to “show off” trains, Tom Garrity met with Jennie Benford, Director of Programming for the Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund.  Ms. Benford describes Founders’ Day as “a way for the cemetery to reach out to Pittsburgh, to invite people to visit the cemetery, and to celebrate our amazing history.”  Further, she says, “19th century American cemeteries were founded not only as burial spaces but to serve as a natural oasis in an increasingly urban/industrial landscape.  These cemeteries were meant to be places not only of solace but of education, with visitors learning about the history of their community.”

The Founders’ Day theme for 2016 was Transportation and Tom quickly discovered many notable persons in railroad history buried there.  Leaders of the Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, and the Wabash Railroads are interred in the Homewood Cemetery, thus a train display began to make sense.  A layout was planned with PRR, P&LE, and Wabash trains and a poster honoring railroad pioneers, Robert Pitcairn (PRR) and Joseph Ramsey Jr. (Wabash). It was determined, beginning with that first year, a cemetery should be a central component of the Founders’ Day layout.

Because the theme for 2017 was World War I, military trains were featured prominently on the tracks.  In his research, Tom discovered Christene Miller Clemson, a world renowned contralto was buried there.  During the war, Ms. Clemson went to train stations to sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” for departing and returning soldiers.  In her memory, our display included a station with a figure of a woman singing for troops.  That year, a military funeral was added to the layout cemetery. Our World War I display included a special tribute, which was a huge crowd favorite; a WWI military uniform was proudly exhibited as well as several letters and mementos sent home from the war.


Each year, our Kids Club layout has been displayed in Reception Hall of the Cemetery’s 1924 Tudor Gothic chapel.  In 2018,  the cemetery celebrated its 140th anniversary so the theme selected was a big party.  Our display contributed a carnival, a baseball game, and a drive-in movie theater to the day’s festivities.

This year the theme was 79,000 Stories.  After careful consideration, we chose the names and stories of 15 who are at rest in Homewood Cemetery. Our layout featured a city street with shops owned by multiple generations of the McKee family and a freight terminal area highlighted by a Heinz distribution center and a Mesta Machines plant.   Also, part of our display was Frank Curto Park complete with a grand piano dedicated to Erroll Garner, the jazz pianist and composer of Misty.


The highlight of our 2019 display was an homage to a recently fallen Pittsburgh Police officer.  Many visitors commented on the police station adorned with a large, black wreath and the haunting police funeral in our cemetery.


Jennie Benford concludes that “While Founders’ Day is first and foremost a celebration, the Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund works to tie every aspect of the afternoon to some aspect of the Cemetery’s history.  The TCA Fort Pitt Division for the Cemetery rises to this challenge every year, acknowledging people of note who are at rest within the cemetery via specific train cars or elements of the landscape… Considering that The Homewood Cemetery is the final resting place of many of Pittsburgh’s railroad titans and workers, the TCA Fort Pitt Division train displays are a fitting homage.  AND they’re fun!”



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Trains of Local Interest

The Montour Railroad

Second in our series of model trains of local interest. Special thanks to Rich Pike for his help with this article.

When you say the name “Montour” today, most people think of the beautiful recreational trail where hundreds of people walk, run or ride bicycles each day.  Growing up in the Postwar era, a different image emerges.  The senses are filled with the sights, sounds and smells of diesel switchers pulling hopper cars loaded with coal.

The Montour Railroad Company was organized in 1877 by the officers of the Imperial Coal Company.  Beginning in 1879, it shipped coal from mine to market until it’s final run in 1983, when the Champion Preparation Plant closed.[1]  Thanks to MTH, Atlas, Weaver and the Imperial Train Company, those images have not been lost.  An extensive roster of model train items bear the road name, Montour.  Though there are pieces in HO and N scale, due to space limitations, we will limit our discussion to O gauge.


MTH has produced a substantial number of pieces with the Montour road name including 5 locomotives.  The Montour had many SW-9 diesel switchers.  MTH created #30-2327-1 and non-powered SW-9, #30-2327-3 in black.  

At the request of the Imperial Train Company, they made 2 Mikado steam engines #30-1640-1 and #30-1639-1, and SW-9 #76 painted red, white and blue.  Montour Railroad Switcher #76 had been smashed by a flat car that broke loose while carrying a road grader in October 1974.  When it was repaired, it was repainted to celebrate America’s bicentennial.



MTH made RailKing Steel Caboose (30-7795).  For Imperial Train Co., they created O Scale Premier CA-1 Woodside Caboose, #41 & 48 as well as red Bobbers (#20-91352), #28 & #29 and Tuscan and yellow Bobber (#20-91649) #27.



Passenger Cars

Less well known, the Montour offered passenger service with 12 stops from October 1879 until the mid 1920’s.  MTH created a 4-car set of O Scale 64’ Woodside Coaches (#20-62071) for Imperial Train Co.


The primary business of the Montour Railroad was shipping coal and many hoppers were created by MTH, Weaver and Atlas.  MTH:  O Scale Premier 2-Bay Offset hopper car (#20-97488), road numbers 8032 & 8035 and Premier #20-97518 Coal Goes to War, #514 & #517.


Atlas die cast 4-car set, road numbers 7428, 7429, 7432, 7434.


#8493 USAR 55-Ton Hopper cars, Road numbers include: In black: 15011,15039,15042, 17394.  In white: 15041 &15246


Weaver created a series of black hoppers, 12 ribbed and 12 unribbed.

A curious addition to the Weaver’s roster is a box car #9527.  We have not been able to determine if the Montour Railroad ever used box cars.


MTH has created a bridge as well as a passenger station with the Montour name.


Comments welcome!

We invite your feedback to our series of local interest model train cars.  Questions, suggestions, corrections are appreciated.





[1] Schaeffer, Gene P., The Montour Railroad. The Montour Shops, 2008 Pittsburgh, PA 15234

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