I Wore Out My Welcome

We visited the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale Arizona this week and found it a joy. I must admit that I went there to see toy trains in action. Peg went with me because she likes a day out no matter what. My secret plan was to take her through the parts of the park she would enjoy first, then I would finish with a visit to the Model Railroad Building.

The history of this park begins with an evil “one-per-center” who bequeathed his personal estate including  his backyard railroad on one hundred acres to Scottsdale. I’m talking about a Walt Disney style railroad that one rides on and drives like an engineer. Scottsdale made it into a public park.

We arrived there and headed for the restrooms. A playground opposite crawled with young moms and their toddlers climbing all over the playground. A line of yellow school buses queued at the entrance and lines of kids ushered by teachers boarded. We proceeded to the train station and bought tickets for two of the attractions that required them. The museum consists of a historic train depot from Peoria, Arizona. A gentleman wearing a Railroad Conductor’s uniform and cap took our tickets and greeted us warmly.

Immediately, the first display case caught my attention. Inside were three HO-scale model railroad cars depicting the train that carried President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s casket to his home in Hyde Park from Warm Springs, Georgia where he died. Since the cabinet stood next to the Conductor who took our tickets, I asked him if the real Pullman cars represented by these models are still in existence. He pointed out the window at two cars standing next to the building, and said, “there are two of them.”  The Conductor’s name tag read “Bob.” Peg and I spent thirty minutes in front of that display case asking Bob questions about the history of FDR’s death and his use of private Pullman Rail cars as his personal transportation while he served his presidency. We learned that in the beginning of his term, the government leased a car for his travel needs. After WWII began, the Secret Service purchased a car and had it made bullet proof. This car became U.S. One.

We finally broke from Bob and moved into the first car on display. Peg and I were reading and looking at historic photos when Bob appeared from nowhere to continue his personal tour. His knowledge of this era of trains is significant. If you visit the Park, I recommend you ask for Conductor Bob. FYI, tour guides are not part of the package. Bob took a shine to us because we are good listeners.

Bob took us through his effort to have the President’s Pullman on the Register of Historical Places. It took several years and loads of documentation to finally get approval, and they never told him that he got it. Bob is not one to let these things slide so he followed up. He learned from the Feds that they send official notification to the State official in charge of historical places. His boss finally pressured Arizona to send a letter of notification. I read the letter posted on the wall and learned his name is Robert Adler.

We finally moved into the  second car. Bob led us and explained each compartment. His attention to detail was amazing. We learned too many things about the sleeping habits of FDR. At the end of this long car is a parlor room where the president held meetings. In it is a couch, and several easy chairs. Pictures of FDR taken from inside this room filled the wall above the windows. Several more people entered and Peggy moved to leave, but Bob grabbed her by the arm and held on. Strange I thought, what is that all about? With all the people coming through the room we shuffled aside. Bob continued to hold on to Peg’s arm. He looked like he wanted to dance with her. Ultimately we learned why he did that. He asked her to sit in a chair in the corner of the room. She finally did sit down with his gentlemanly help. Bob then posed her in the chair placing one arm on the rest. He then pointed to a photo near the chair.”You are now sitting in the same place where FDR sat while traveling in this car.” Bob had posed her in the exact sitting position that FDR had in the photo above. It was a Kodak moment.

By this time, my blood sugar was screaming for nourishment. We lunched on the worst hamburgers ever cooked on the patio under an umbrella and watched the birds.

The miniature train was next to the lunch wagon so we headed there for our ride. It takes all of ten minutes to traverse a very nice figure eight through the park.

Finally, we found the Model Railroad Building. Three separate clubs operate the three layouts, O-gauge, HO-gauge,  and teensy-weeny N-gauge. All of them are works in progress with club members working on separate projects to complete building mountains, bridges, tunnels, towns, roads, to make realistic dioramas of life with trains.

My camera began to slow down, and I had to change batteries after taking just a few photos. We completed the O-gauge layout when a nice young woman came up to me and politely said, “I’m sorry sir, but it is after four o’clock and the building closed at four.” She guided us to the exit, and unlocked the door to let us out. As we left I said to her, “this is the most respectable place I’ve been thrown out of.”


The Original Version of FED EX


Conductor Bob poses with Peg

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The Clock is from Scottsdale’s sister town in Switzerland


Roald Amundsen, first explorer to reach the South Pole.

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Bob posed Peg like FDR


FDR sits in same chair in same place on the Roald Amundsen Pullman car


All Aboard!

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Toy Trains Go Serious

Many men have memories of a toy train set from childhood. Usually, the train was a gift from Santa or maybe even Dad and Mom. The train sets had names like Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx.

My own recollection is one of spending hours of great fun running the train around the Christmas tree imagining trips across country as the engineer. The set I ran was never really mine. It belonged to the family. In our house, Christmas was the only time the train came out. Our parents allowed us to set it up after decorating the tree. The track layout was an oval with an extension forming a second longer oval. Two switches allowed the engineer to take a shortcut across the short oval. We also had a steel-truss bridge, and a crossing gate.

My dad worked for the railroad and he encouraged us to be interested. In my case, the encouragement was minimal since the mere sight of the set coming out of the closet made my juices flow.

Yesterday, Grandma Peggy and I visited the Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club open house in New Lenox, IL. The size of the layout is amazing. The club claims it is the largest 3-rail O-Gauge layout in the Midwest, and I believe it. I have seen one other layout that I think is more impressive, and it is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The museum layout is different, in that the trains use only two rails.

"The Great Train Story" exhibit in t...

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The Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club formed in the spring of 1994. The membership is over one hundred and fifty. They own a seven thousand square foot industrial condo clubhouse, and use every square foot effectively. Several new projects are in process as the members continue to build their railroad.

We spent two hours inspecting the details of the villages and watching one of the longest container trains I have ever seen give it a realistic experience. The container train was one of four to six trains running on different  rails all around the layout. They even had a short line trolley shuttling between two points. One very obvious omission was a passenger train, even though several vignettes were train stations with people waiting for trains to arrive. The club probably did that on purpose to remind us of the lack of passenger service available in America today.

The mezzanine level contained three traveling layouts which the club takes to  shows away from the clubhouse. These layouts really amused little kids. One was a carnival, with rides, another had a Thomas the Tank Engine train, and the third layout allowed the kids to play with wooden trains.

I got a valuable education in photography during my visit. It shocked me to learn that my point and shoot camera got what seemed like good photos with the available light. Near the end of the visit, I turned on the flash to photograph a very dark scene, and realized a huge difference in color. At home, I realized all the photos taken without the flash are blurry. It never occurred to me that the camera would keep the aperture open longer to gather light; an automatic time exposure. The blur happened because of my shaky one-handed reach toward the vignettes. All of the moving trains blurred because of the speed at which they were moving. I must get over my reluctance to switch to video mode. I’m just too old for video photography, even though I won awards for my home movies a very long time ago.

Follow this link to the Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club website where they have lots more photos.

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